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When Lyle returned to Melanie's tent he was much calmer. 

But Melanie noticed something was wrong, so she asked, "Young Ma--Um, L-Lyle." She corrected herself, "Is something that matter?"

"Other than me having to listen to the mad ramblings of a deeply disturbed woman, no." His tone was bone-dry, but he couldn't help it.

"Woman? Who?"

He ran a hand through his hair, sighing. "That woman I saved. Lady Seraphina. She said--" He stopped, breaking off.

"What did she say?" 

"No...It's nothing. A bunch of nonsense, that's all."

Of course it was nonsense. What that woman said, how could it be anything but? All but outright saying that he...that they....

...He didn't even want to think about it.

He didn't believe a word of it. The girl had problems, and he wanted no part in her sick delusions.

"How's Iris been?" He changed topics, crouching down to rub her golden hair.

"She was moving around a little, maybe a bad dream, but she's fine.  

"Hm." 

"Are you worried? That Lady Iris would take it hard?" 

Melanie was very concerned. The poor girl never liked seeing women being close to her brother and being exposed to something like that just a while ago, coupled with the kind of words her brother said to her, may cause her some heartache. 

"Maybe. But I think it's long past the time where she can continue as she has been."

In just a few more years Iris will be considered an adult. Children had to grow up fast in a world like this, especially Nobles. 

He hated having to say those kinds of things to her. He wasn't quite so dense as to not know they'd cause her some pain. But it was needed, right? 

If he didn't make moves to allow Iris to stop her excessive attachment to him, that thing...Livia, was it...would just use it against her.

Though even to him that sounded like a weak arguement. 

It was frustrating. If not for these things that they were hosts to he wouldn't have to try changing things between them at all. Not like this, not so suddenly.

"Young--Lyle!" Melanie once more had to correct herself, smiling sheepishly. "Don't you think that you should talk to Lady Cecelia as well? She...will probably worry about this as well."

He shook his head. "It's not really anything to do with her." Lyle responded. 

"Oh."

Melanie squirmed. She didn't know why, but it seemed like recently he didn't really like to discuss matters pertaining to Lady Cecelia. Maybe it was just her imagination.

"Alright, well, I'll be going then. It's been a long night." Lyle moved to pick up Iris' sleeping body.

"Wait!" Melanie unexpectedly grabbed his arm, causing him to give her a curious glance. "Can't you just stay a bit longer?" 

"Is there something you wanted?"

"Oh, no...I mean, can't we just sit down for a while?" 

"I can, but...why?

Melanie was at a loss for words, unsure of what to say. 

Lyle noticed her dilemma."I guess it doesn't really matter. If that's what you want, then I've no problems with it."

Melanie brightened, relieved, and it wasn't long before they were sitting on the ground next to Iris.

Several long minutes passed in silence. They didn't talk, or even really look at each other. Time flew by without them speaking a word.  

Lyle yawned, making Melanie shift.

"I'm sorry." She spoke softly. "Wasting your time like this, even though you must be so tired after everything that happened."

"Don't worry about it, it's fine." He waved off her concern.

"No, it's not. I don't even know why I asked you to stay. Only a few hours into our relationship and I'm already being a bother to you."

Lyle laughed scornfully. "Please, when have you ever been a bother?"

"Remember the first few weeks I began working for you?"

Lyle thought back to that time, his lips curving upwards. "You were pretty clumsy back then, weren't you?"

"Worse. I was a complete mess..." She sighed. "Mother gave me death-glares every other day. I didn't know how to do anything properly." 

"No one's good at something the first time they try it." Lyle told her comfortingly

"Except you." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. 

"No, I'm no exception. I just have a knack for learning quickly. And I wouldn't be too concerned about your past mistakes. It's not an easy job, you know? There's many schools that offer training courses on the subject, even."

 "Training that I obviously lacked." Melanie replied miserably.

"Maybe, but I didn't mind it at all. I found your clumsiness pretty cute."

"I think you're the only one who'd say that."

She lapsed into silence once more.

Then, after a few moments, she spoke again. "Lyle?"

"Yeah?"

"You really do like me, right?"

"Of course I do." He frowned. 

"And you won't...you won't regret it later? Us?"

"No. I wouldn't. Melanie, what's with you? Asking questions like that."

She looked away. "I'm your servant.  Entering an equal relationship with someone like me, anyone else in your position would feel--"

"Incredibly lucky, I know." He cut in. "Unfortunately for them, those other people aren't in my position. Meaning the honor is all mine."

"Is there honor in it?" She asked bitterly. "For you, with me?"

"I, at least, feel there is." Lyle replied evenly.

"...I'm sorry."

"Again with the apologies. Alright, what is it for this time?"

"For saying all these weird things." She muttered. " It's just that I've never had any experience when it came to things like this and I'm scared that I'll mess up somehow, cause you trouble."  

Lyle folded his arms, stifling another yawn. "I think that's normal, isn't it? "

"I wouldn't know. But either way, I don't like it. What if that actually happens?" 

"If that happens, I'll deal with it. Although I don't know what sort of trouble you think you'll bring me."

" But what if--"

"Melanie, you like to overthink things. Don't. I like you, and you like me, what else do we need to be concerned about?"

Melanie wanted to disagree. There were a lot of things she could think of that they would have to be concerned with.

But she didn't say anything.

"Melanie."

"Ye--?"

There was a small pause in her brain just then, a momentary blankness as she felt his lips pressing softly against own.

It caught her completely by surprise and she didn't have any time to prepare herself for it. But it wasn't unpleasant, just the opposite.

When the kiss was broken she was almost regretful.

"I'm sure you've got a few things you aren't telling me, but whatever your troubles are you can let me know all about them when you're ready. If it's something about us, you won't ever have to face it alone."

Melanie couldn't deny it, she felt her heart warm at the words, making her chest swell with indescribably sweet feelings.

She nodded, a happy smile lighting up her face, and laid her head on his shoulder.

She said nothing further, but felt much more at ease. The soothing quietness settling deep into her bones. 

There was a strange heat that came to life in her body, making her extremely relaxed and comfortable.

In almost no time at all, she'd drifted off into sleep...

Lyle stared at her sleeping face out of the corner of his eye. She must have been pretty tired, to fall asleep so quickly.

He didn't dare move, afraid to wake her.

He realized that his body reacted strongly towards her closeness, but somehow...it was a little more muted. He noticed it before, but ever since he got back that fire was more calm than it had been. More tame. 

He'd kissed Melanie quite a few times by now. Although he did feel quite a bit of lust, of arousal, it was not as pronounced as it had been before. A small touch used to be enough to test his endurance. That wasn't so anymore

Before, just a little contact with the opposite sex set his entire body on fire. Now it gave a warm heat but little more. Slowly rising, yet much easier to control.

Lyle noticed that he was never under as great a pressure as he had been that first time, that the fire was becoming easier to withstand.

But this was too exaggerated.

It was like, somehow, the fire had been doused.

How? Why? What changed?

Lyle had no answers, but he didn't bother with that for now. Instead he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Then slowly let it out. Making deep and even breathes in a steady rhythm, he continued like that for several minutes.

He took note of the rising fires within him.

His consciousness was entirely focused on that strange, almost alien energy. He could feel it swirling around inside him, becoming hotter and hotter as time went on.

Lyle could almost see it. blue-violet flames, pulsing in conjunction with his own heart, rising ever higher with each beat.

He imagined a dark space where nothing but the flames remained.

He imagined himself, grasping for them. No...was it really just his imaginings?

And as soon as his hands touched the fires, he could feel an intense warmth spread everywhere. A searing heat. It burned. A wave of pain could be felt from his hands, flames licking them everywhere...Consuming him... 

Lyle fought back, wanting to open his eyes, wanting it to stop. But something held him here, to this place, against his will. 

One of his arms tingled, and it was like the fires were being absorbed into that arm. Soon the flames began to die down, being sucked in at a rapid pace. Lyle felt like he wanted to scream, but no sound came. 

His fingers twitched uncontrollably, his entire arm feeling like thousands of needles were stabbing into him.

Lyle forced his eyes open, his breathing rough.

There was a few minutes of him simply regaining his bearings, trying to get his heart to stop pounding against his chest.

Just when he thought everything was fine he heard a small hissing noise by his feet and looked down. He stiffened, eyes wide, not making a move at all.

There, right by his feet...was a snake...

What's more, it was a very strange-looking one. With a golden base but black stripes. Green eyes and a purplish tongue that darted in and out of it's mouth at times. 

It looked as if the snake Mark on his arm had been given life, it's stripes being very similar to the pattern he saw on the Mark. 

The snake was very ethereal, too. Beautiful. But the more beautful something was, the more dangerous it could be. 

Where had this thing come from? Lyle thought this, but didn't have time to ponder on it more. He didn't hesitate at all, his hand struck forward with lightning speed and tried to catch the snake before it could do anything to them--Yet his hand met only air.

His hand had moved through the snake's body!  

Greatly shocked, Lyle looked at the thing dubiously. 

Snake, what snake, this thing obviously wasn't an ordinary snake!

"What are you?" Lyle wondered aloud. But of course, it didn't answer. 

Seeing how it made no hostile movements, Lyle gradually became a little calmer. He stared at it warily, not taking his eyes off of it. 

"I can't touch you. An illusion? No, wait..." 

Was this because of what happened just now? All of that, could it have actually been real? He was trying to control that strange energy, but he couldn't tell if what he "saw" was true or not. Although that pain...at least that was real enough. He felt it's lingering touches even now...

 Was this snake the result of that somehow? 

he snake peered up at him, perfectly still. 

What was it waiting for? 

Lyle suddenly had a thought. An idea. 

But, surely not, right? 

...Without much hope that it would work, he sent a mental command to the snake. 

To his surprise it listened obediently. It stood up and licked Melanie's face with it's tongue, then settled back down away from her and awaited further commands.

...Lyle could hear Melanie's breath quicken, then see her little mouth open and her face flush feverishly. She shifted uncomfortably in her sleep but calmed down quickly.

Seeing this made Lyle knit his brows. What a strange reaction. What was that? 

Lyle wanted to perform a few tests just then. He gazed at the snake intently.

I wonder...if I can make it go away?

And as soon as the thought entered his head, the snake slithered towards him. Lyle froze, not sure what it was going to do.

The snake moved towards his arm. When it made contact, it started to vanish. It's head, it's body, the tail, everything faintly glowed with an inner golden light. Then the snake broke into small particles before being absorbed into his arm.

Amazed, Lyle's mouth nearly fell open.

He felt a surge of something flowing from his arm to the rest of his body, a warm power that made him feel at ease. He tried to grasp that power, that energy, and imagined the snake coming back out of him. 

He saw the snake Mark on his arm flash, then the snake mysteriously popped back into existence. He made it re-enter his body.This time it didn't move towards him at all, just directly breaking down to a golden dust and being absorbed into his arm. 

Then he made it come out again. In, out, in, out, it didn't show any sign of annoyance. 

It listened every time. 

Then, by chance, he closed his eyes when the snake was out of his body. What happened that time shocked him even more than anything that had happened before then.

I can  see through this thing's eyes, Lyle shouted inside his own mind, excited.

At first he thought it was his imagination, but no, that wasn't the case!

He moved his hands, eyes still closed, and could see himself making the same exact motion in real time. 

He could see every breath of his and Melanie's, every rise and fall of their chests. 

This...this was just...amazing!

He was already picturing all the potential uses for this.

Lyle wondered about something, however. Could other people see it too? It had, as far as he could tell, no real physical body. Yet he could hear it's movements on the ground. And it was able to touch Melanie. Strange, very strange. 

 To what extent could he control it? This snake...it had to be made up of pure energy, right? So then what, exactly, can he make it do? Could he make it grow? Could he produce more? And what was that reaction it caused in Melanie?

He had a few questions, but no answers yet. Lyle had another thought: It someone stabbed it, would it get hurt? Die? If it did, would there be any backlash to Lyle? 

 Lyle knew he couldn't touch it, but it could touch others. Maybe it depended on his instructions? If he willed it, could he touch it then?

Lyle decided to run some other tests. First, touching it.

Looking at the snake, he slowly reached for it. Willing it to become solid.

...Nothing.

 Maybe he just didn't have the hand of it yet. 

No, well, let's move on. 

He chose to spend the next several minutes with his eyes closed, sending the snake outside of the tent.

He could see, with crystal clarity, a few mercenaries around campfires. He saw Murphy lose in a round of cards, and saw Nyk quietly drinking from a mug.

No one noticed the snake at all. It wasn't small, it was the size of Lyle's leg. And with it's unique colors there was no way it wouldn't attract attention.

So, no could see it. Lyle wanted to know if he could make people be able to see it, but decided not to at the moment. Since he didn't know what would happen if it was attacked. 

Which was another thing. Lyle wondered if it had any attack capabilities, but had no way of confirming this as of yet. What was off, though, was that each time the snake's tongue came out of it's mouth Lyle could...smell...a faintly sweet fragrance from all around him.

Each one was subtly different, almost none entirely the same. He followed one particular trail and it led him to one of Val's archers. The woman, to the eyes of the snake, had a red flame in her chest as she was talking to one of the knights. It's core was a deep blue.

Was that...lust? 

Now that he got a good look, the knight right there was a bit good-looking. Hm...

Lyle could see the same red-blue flames in his chest too. Could he see such things in this form? Or did it mean something else?

He told the snake to follow another trail. This time it led him to another woman. But there was no bit of red in her chest, nor was she talking to any man. No, she did smell a bit fragrant but that was all.

He tried again, and found a woman that did have it. This time it was stronger, pulsating slowly, a living fire in her chest that was twice the size of the last one as she stared at another woman across from where she sat. 

...Lyle followed several more trails, and each one led him to a different woman.

A few of the woman, very few, gave off a cleaner smell. Sweeter. He didn't know why, but a few of them did. Whatever the case with that was, each trail led to a woman.

No men.

What's more, he had a burst of insight into the snake's mind. Yes, it seemed to have some form of sentience itself. And it appeared to think of the women as...prey. He wasn't sure how else to put it to words. Was it tied to Azamat in some way? Judging from what he was seeing, it would make a lot of sense. No, actually, it had to be. Lyle was trying to control the "sexual energies", the fire, that was coursing inside him at the time.

Then, after that mishap, the snake was born. So obviously it was tied to that thing. Yet it was very similar in appearance to the snake Mark on his arm. And it's eyes were the same shade of green too. Was it a mix? Did the energies from those things reach a boiling point inside him and produce this...creature? 

But why could Lyle control it? Why did it feel like a part of him? This new "ability", just why did it manifest in him now? 

Lyle was frustrated that he didn't know any of the reason for this. So he chose to not worry about it for now. 

Lyle found that he didn't detect any scent from the males. At least not at first. But when he tried, when he gave it a few minutes, he detected a peculiar odor wafting off from them.

It wasn't bad, exactly, but it wasn't good either. Like dirt. Earth-y.

The snake had no interest in them, but it could clearly see a few of the men with small flames of red in their chest that came and went with seemingly no clear pattern.

Lyle wanted to know a bit more about the snake and it's abilities. Thinking back to the reaction it's touch made in Melanie, he wanted to try it again.

He spotted a small band of women to his left, all sitting around a fire and talking to one another. Val was among them, almost forcing a pint of some sort of alcoholic beverage down another woman's throat while wearing a large smile. 

Lyle told the snake to get closer to the foot of one of the females in the group who was seated a bit aways from the others. No one noticed a thing. They couldn't.

The snake did nothing but touch her a little, laying by her feet. This went on for a long minute. At first there was no change in her face, yet Lyle saw that mysterious flame in her chest rise higher every second. It was like oil had been thrown on it, making it go wild. 

 It didn't take long before the woman's eyes started to cloud over.

He could see how she swallowed and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She folded her hands and leaned forward, her pupils becoming larger as she licked her lips, looking parched. Then she let out a sigh, her breath visible due to the coldness. 

The woman closed her legs, as if she had to pee, and he could see her breath becoming quicker. Rougher. More...erotic?  

The girl rose suddenly, saying she was going to sleep early. A few curious glances were thrown her way, but no one noticed anything off.

Lyle followed her, but didn't enter the woman's tent.

A few moment later he could "smell" a faint sweet and spicy scent. A moment later he could hear soft, muffled noises. His hearing was in fine working order even in this form... no, it was even better. As such, being so close to the tent let him hear everything perfectly.  

It was obvious what the woman was doing.

He left her, feeling a little guilty, but ultimately putting it aside.

Lyle felt a little angry too. He should have know, this snake's power was as perverted as one could get! It seemed like it was little more than one giant, living aphrodisiac! 

He was thoroughly annoyed. Such a useless, perverse, pathetic excuse for a power....

Why, of all the possible abilities he could get, did he have to be stuck with being able to conjure some sort of...of ero snake? 

Lyle felt a great sense of injustice. He felt dirty. 

...But it looked like this snake did indeed have quite an effect on women. Ugh. What a joke. 

He decided never to use it in such a way.

Regardless, this would prove useful. Probably. No one could see him in this form and that meant he could spy on people if the need arose. That one hateful ability aside, the snake may be able to help him gather information if nothing else. If used properly, that is.

He didn't know the range of this thing, however.

He knew that he could control it when it was at least within a hundred or so feet from him, but that was all. 

Maybe he would experiment more later, but not now.

He wasn't sure how he was able to hear things, either. Snakes, could they hear? He didn't think so, but it didn't matter. He could hear, which was a good thing. No need to question it. Besides, this snake wasn't a normal one anyway.

If it had fangs and could help him in a fight, even better. And...maybe that other power would have some use. If he was fighting a woman, maybe he could distract her using is? Although he was a bit loath to do so...

He told the snake to come back, then opened his eyes.

The snake disappeared into his arm and that was the end of it.

He once more wondered why this ability suddenly manifested. What, exactly, was the reason for it? 

This was beyond just trying to control a form of energy. This was conjuring a sentient or semi-sentient being from seemingly thin air. That snake was like...like a Familiar, almost. 

Lyle understood that something had to have changed for this ability to be triggered, but didn't know what it could be. He was only trying to gain control of his Anima, of the power--the fire-- that was always raging inside of him when he touched a woman. That was all. 

This was not the result he would have expected. It sparked a nagging suspicion at the back of his mind, because he knew that something wasn't right but he just couldn't figure out what it was. 

He hated not knowing things. Not understanding things. It irked him to no end. 

With his mood taking a decidedly downward turn Lyle's gaze turned to Melanie. Her sleeping face was so peaceful and serene that he couldn't help feeling a little more at ease. But he also noticed that her cheeks were...oddly red. 

Smiling bitterly, he carefully extracted himself from her arms and stood up. After that the pinkish hue to her cheeks slowly died down, but her brows furrowed as if she were uncomfortable. After a moment her arms groped around in the air, seeking something.

This didn't last long, Lyle putting her arms to her side and covering her body with a blanket. 

As he stared down at her there were a few beastly thoughts that entered his mind, unbidden. But he squashed them down, as he always did recently. Knowing that these urges were not to be trusted, and especially not to be given in to.

He took a deep breath and forced himself to settle down, though it was a struggle. 

Lyle felt a moment of helplessness as he looked at her. Honestly, what was he doing jumping into another relationship so soon?

 He didn't exactly like it, it was as if he was making a mockery of his past relationship with Sophia. Like she could be replaced so easily.  

Lyle felt he was making a mess of things. He hadn't even cleared the misunderstanding with Sophia yet...

Melanie was right about one thing, when looked at from a different perspective it would seem as if he only wanted this relationship to happen due to guilt over what he did, or almost did, to her.

While not entirely wrong, it wasn't right either. 

He liked Melanie.

She was sweet, and simple, and he wanted to see if they could have a future together once all this was over with. 

He did want to take responsibility, but he also wanted to get to know her better. It was obvious that she had feelings for him, and they weren't simple master-servant or sibling-like feelings either. 

Lyle had feelings for her, too. 

He'd come to appreciate her presence in his life, her quiet care. 

So he didn't propose this option half-heartedly. It was only after much deliberation, much thought, that he laid it out on the table in the first place.

There wasn't anything stopping him. 

He had many opportunities to form relationships with other women in the past, but he never did because he was loyal to Sophia. To the idea of "her and I".

That...wasn't part of the equation anymore.

Meaning there was no reason to not be with Melanie. She already made her own feelings clear, she told him that she wanted this. Maybe not those exact words, but even so.

Since she chose this, he intended to see it through. To take things seriously.

Yes, he thought that maybe he was rushing into another relationship pretty fast.  But he wouldn't pay that any mind. 

He wanted to focus on his relationship with Melanie for now. He could clear things up with Sophia later on at some point, but he wouldn't dwell on things. 

No, he'd move on. With Melanie, he would concentrate on themselves and not worry about whatever misgivings he may have.

Of course, before he could truly do that he first had to deal with his and Iris' own problems.

Thinking this, he picked up Iris and left Melanie's tent. 

Lyle's tent wasn't far, just a short walk. Cecelia was nowhere to be found, at least not that he could see. Maybe she was already sleeping. 

He carefully laid Iris down on the wide bedroll and covered her in a blanket. He'd had two, one for each other, but the girl kept on finding her way to his side so he just got a wide one and tried to keep her on her own side using a pillow or two. 

He took off his boots, pants, shirt and other pieces of clothes, changing into a light shirt and trousers. Lyle never did like sleeping in nothing but underwear. 

He considered stripping Iris of her clothes, but decided against it. She just wore a dress, and although a little frilly it was still nothing that would really get in the way. And he didn't want to disturb her too much, so he left it alone.

Lyle let out a soft sigh as he laid down and covered himself. The night was, of course, cold. Took two thick blankets to shield themselves from it. 

He laid there, staring up at the ceiling of the tent, listening to the sounds of nature. He touched the scar on his chest, his thoughts heavy. 

Thinking of all the strange things that took place tonight, Lyle found sleep to be an elusive mistress. 

And it was a long time before he finally succumbed to its sweet embrace.

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