Lyle heard it long before he saw it.
He and Melanie had just walked out with full bellies when a faint, almost indiscernible shriek reached his ear. It was one he’d heard before and loathed to the extreme.
It was the sound of a scryling.
“Can you find your way home on your own?” Lyle increased his pace and asked.
“I think so, yes….why?” Melanie took note of the frown between the young man’s brows.
“Because I’m being followed.” He replied calmly.
“What?!” She yelped in surprise. “We’re being followed?!”
“No, only me.” He shook his head. “Just now I heard the call of a scryling. “ He recalled the cloth Sera had taken some time ago. “They aren’t native to this area and are great trackers. If one is here it could only belong to a Noble. I think Seraphina has to be the one using it to find me. She has something with my scent on it. I need to lead it away and confuse it before I can go home, but I need you to leave now so it won’t become familiar with your own scent.”
Melanie looked around anxiously. This wasn’t a laughing matter. That girl was resorting to tracking him with some weird creature now?
“Won’t it pick up your smell on me?” But she calmed herself and brought up an important point.
“I can deal with that.” He assured. “Don’t worry about it. Just go and let the other’s know what happened. Tell them to stay inside.”
With that, he ripped a piece of his clothing, pricked his finger with a blade and smeared a bit of blood on it.
“They track by scent and scrying magic.” He explained under her concerned gaze. “I think she had some of my blood so I’m going to leave behind pieces of clothing with my blood on them all around the city and hide. Should fool both it’s senses.” Lyle heard another faint shriek, closer now. Even he was starting to feel an urgency. “I’ll be back before nightfall. Hurry and leave.”
“Okay...be careful.” Melanie didn’t want to waste time. She nodded and went on her way.
Lyle didn’t bother to watch her go. He immediately set to work and started tearing a few more strips from his coat. He then took off in a sprint. He ran as fast as he could, down streets and alleys, sometimes even stopping by shops to hide the pieces of cloth.
He followed no set path and sprinkled them out randomly. But he didn’t only run. Sometimes he walked or jogged. Maybe an unneeded caution, but news of some weird guy running all over the place is almost certainly bound to stand out.
Lyle cursed under his breath from time to time, a bit resentful. His date had been interrupted and now here he was building up a sweat just so that obsessive girl didn’t find him.
He felt lighter than he had in good while just staying by her side and watching all her cute, ever-changing expressions. From happy to mad to gloomy all in the space of a few seconds. It was a bit different from Sophia. She had more control and tried to restrain herself. Melanie didn’t have that, or at least not as much as she thought she did.
Again, as open and honest as any sunflower or daisy.
The thought brought a smile to his lips as he casually dropped one final piece of cloth. That should make over a hundred, right?
Now came the part he disliked.
After walking for another ten minutes he found himself back at that graveyard area he’d been taken to the other day by Val. The place brought up the memory of her poisoning him and all the anger he’d felt at the woman that time spiked up once more.
Well, he knew it wasn’t exactly her to blame though. At least, not entirely.
Despite the bad encounter he’d had and the terrible impression of the area it’d spawned, he still felt this the most suitable place for the next part.
There were almost zero visitors and the ground was soft, a little moist. Cold as ice, or near enough, but he’d been through worse.
The last time he’d had a run-in with scrylings he had to hide out in a swamp that smell of shit and piss. This was much more preferable.
He heard a shriek just a while ago and knew the critter was determined in it’s search. Must’ve been trained well. Lyle found a secluded spot. He dug his hands into the earth and rubbed his face with the cold mud. Then, once that was done, dug deeper and deeper until there was a narrow hole just enough for him to stand in.
He hopped in, covering himself in the dirt until the hole was refilled. The damp, freezing soil robbed his body of it’s heat and caused a shiver. But he hardened himself and endured.
Scrylings really did have an acute sense of smell. It wasn’t enough to just spread out your scent, you had to hide the source of it too. Eventually, it would leave, forgetting the smell once it didn’t find what it was looking for.
Fortunately, their scrying magic was very primitive. Unfortunately, it could take hours before it decided to head back.
And so he waited.
The minutes ticked by. FIve minutes. Ten. Twenty. Then then the hours. One, two, three…
He felt like an icicle. His muscles cramping, desperate to move. The stinging pain was almost a relief. But the numbness set in soon enough and the shivers stopped.
If he were a normal person he knew he’d be facing a dire situation, under serious risk of extensive hypothermia. But this wasn’t his body’s limit.
The only thing truly put to the test was his patience. He kept an eye on the sky. He kept hearing the scrying somewhere up above. Sometimes far, sometimes so close he’d think it was right on top of him.
He didn’t dare to look when that happened. Scylings had an innate intuition when it came to certain things. They could tell when a person saw them. It’s why they were so hard to avoid.
As soon as their imaged entered your eyes, your’s would enter theirs.
You could only avoid this by blindfolding yourself. If there was total darkness then you were also safe.
Lyle didn’t much care for losing his sight when he didn’t have to, so he didn’t use any sort of blindfold and just looked down or shut his eyes when he thought it was nearby.
This trick of his was a bit risky since if it found him it’d take a while to get out, leaving him vulnerable. But he doubted it would attack anyway.
Finally, after a full six hours, it gave up it’s search.
Lyle waited an extra hour to be sure it was gone before struggling his way out. He felt grateful he had heard it that first time. Had it found him it’d report back to it’s master and continued to track him after, leading Sera right to him.
Wild scrylings could even track you for weeks, sometimes months, if it spotted you. It’d be damn near impossible to lose unless you were smart and, admittedly, a bit lucky. That’s why he was positive. He was pretty fortunate to have caught it’s presence, otherwise things would have been bad.
Lyle dusted himself off as best he could and slowly warmed himself up. His sleeping muscles felt like they were being pressed upon by a legion of needles. They were stiff as a board brought a new wave of pain with each movement.
Then made his way home.
It was a bit late in the evening when he arrived.
Cecelia was the first to welcome him. “You okay?” She asked upon seeing his dishelved appearance.
He nodded. “Everything hurts, I’m freezing and need a bath. But yeah. I’m fine. Thanks.” Lyle replied.
“You look dreadful.” Melanie fussed, “Your hand…” She took the wrapped palm into her own and inspected them. He had to make a good few cuts. He bandaged them with a strip of cloth earlier.
He willed his shaking hands to stillness as soon as he saw her coming. He didn’t want to worry them.
“Move it.” Iris gently moved her away. In her arms were various ointments and gauze. “We can’t leave it like that. Come sit down.” She tugged on his sleeve.
“I’ll go make you some tea.” Melanie didn’t know what else to do. “And maybe start a soup.” She hurried over to the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Cecelia stopped Iris. “He needs to warm up first. Those kind of wounds won’t kill him.”
“They can if they get infected.” Iris argued, annoyed this chick was getting in the way when she was trying to treat her brother.
“Cute you’re so concerned,” Cecelia’s cool tone persisted, not at all backing down, “ But he’s had worse. Besides, wrap them now and they’ll just get wet later on. Wait until he’s done.”
Lyle agreed. “These aren’t anything that require immediate attention. Let me wash up first.”
Iris sighed. “Well, I guess you’re right.” She relented. Then perked up. “I’ll draw you a bath.” And ran off, a mere streak of gold as she left.
“I feel she’s becoming a bit more thoughtful,” Cecelia commented. The way she took the initiative to bring the ointments and start a bath for him was unlike the girl.
And Lyle noticed it, too.
“Maybe” He acknowledged.
Cecelia fell silent, walking back to her seat and staring into the fireplace’s flames as Lyle was about to head back to his room to take off the ragged, sullied clothed.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” She spoke up unexpectedly.
He looked back. “With the date?” Her silence was all the confirmation he needed. He continued without missing a beat. “I did, yeah. For the bit we were able to have.”
“I see. That’s good.” And she said nothing more.
Lyle regarded her a moment longer. Normally she wouldn’t bother to ask. Even when he was dating Sophia she never had.
He wouldn’t call her on it though. Instead he continued on his way.
He quickly peeled off the mud-crusted clothing and threw them into the fire of his room’s furnace. With a small wet towel he did what he could to take the majority of the dirt off from his arms and legs. After about fifteen minutes of that he heard Iris pop in.
“The bath is ready!” She informed cheerfully. “You can go in now.” And froze. She saw her brother standing there with nothing but a towel around his waist. The only thing on him besides that was the bandages covering his upper torso and arm.
But they couldn’t hide the toned body underneath. Although his skin was quite pale from the chilling weather it only gave him a colder sort of a charm, like a figure carved from alabaster.
With his hair and eyes darkened from special dyes it made him look almost like an entirely new person.
Iris felt her cheeks warm. Her brother was attractive no matter how he changed, but each disguise made it just that much easier to forget certain little details. Such as, their blood relation.
“Thanks.” Lyle smiled at the thought of a warm bath. He caught her looking at him strangely. “Is something wrong?” He walked over after taking a bathrobe from his closet. He waved a hand in front of her face. “Iris?”
She blinked. “Huh? What? Ah….um, no, it’s nothing.” She shook her head from a wave of strange thoughts that’d suddenly pervaded her mind for a moment.
“Huh.” He shrugged. “Alright. Anyway, if you’ll excuse me.” He nudged her a bit and walked passed.
Iris slapped her cheeks as she found herself staring at his retreating back. She then went to the kitchen to help Melanie with the cooking. Or rather, to learn. However when she got there she found the place empty except for a simmering pot of soup over a low flame.
Hm? Where’d that woman get to now?
Lyle, on his end, approached the bathing room quickly. It wasn’t far and he could see a hint of steam rise from the open door that led to a changing room, and beyond that, the bath.
It was very large, a perfect square around ten feet wide capable of easily holding four or five people.
He stepped inside leisurely, dropping the towel to the tiled floor. Next was the bandages. They had to be changed.
As soon as he walked inside he felt a heavenly warmth pelt his face and body. He let out a shiver, getting goosebumps. This was a much-welcome feeling, that warmth.
Lyle slipped into the bath with a sigh, enjoying the hot water lapping against his skin.
The heat was endlessly pleasant after several hours caked in cold dirt.
He took a rag and applied some body wash before thoroughly rubbing his limbs once more.
So immersed was he in the act that he nearly didn’t catch the soft patter of footsteps behind him.
He was instantly on alert.
“It’s just me.” A familiar voice called. “Young Master...ah. Um...L-Lyle. ”
“Melanie?” He only slightly calmed. He slid deeper into the bath to try and hide the markings. “What are you doing? I don’t need anything.”
Melanie came in wearing only a white towel covering her front. She had to admit, this morning was trying on her. It was fun and enjoyable being with him, just the two of them, despite it having been cut short. But while it made her happy, she couldn’t help remembering all the other women who kept looking at him either.
Somehow, she disliked it. For some reason, it bothered her. Maybe more than it should. She kept thinking about it off and on all this time and it made her chest tight whenever she thought of it.
Did she really have the right to be so upset? Even though they’d only gone on a single date, one that hadn’t even ended properly? The question was agonizing. Yet...well...h-he was her boyfriend. So, yeah.
She was restless. That’s why before she even knew it, she was here. Having summoned up all her courage, she suppressed the embarrassment in her heart and kept moving forward.
“That’s...I just noticed how stiff you were moving and thought you’d need help washing your back. “
“I don’t.” His voice was strained. He could sense her just behind him and didn’t dare look back. “Just go. I--”
“I-It’s fine.” She cut him off, her voice going up a few octaves. “ I want to….can I?”
Melanie knelt down. He felt a hand on his shoulder. An evil fire instantly sprang to life.
His will was tested for the second time today, and this time the battle was a lot harder than just staying still.
Melanie could tell he was tense. As she’d done many times before, she started a slow and careful massage. She could barely see anything past the steam and most of his body was hidden by bubbly water.
But she could feel the taut, steel-like muscle under her palms. She was intimately familiar with these strong, steady shoulders yet each time she did this for him, these massages, she couldn’t help but think her touches lingered just that little bit longer than they actually had to.
A sudden urge swelled within her.
Lyle’s head was turned upwards. His eyes met Melanie’s own. They were bright, clear, and just full of so much affection.
Her kind, pretty face was all he could see. And their lips touched. She kissed him softly, gently. A little shy, a little bold.
And then deeper, more fervent, as she grew in confidence. A strand of stray hair fell and tickled his cheek. Her hands wandered, from his face to his shoulders and chest.
He was the first to break contact. “That’s enough.” He clasped the young woman’s wrists and held them away. It felt a monumental effort to stop her.
The woman didn’t seem interested in that, however, because she slid into the bath right beside him and started after his neck.
“Melanie...listen to me.” The words had to be forced out. Her hand got adventurous yet again and traveled down.
The girl felt intoxicated. It was amazing. Touching him, tasting him, they both set her skin on fire in the sweetest way possible.
“Young Master…” She breathed. “It’s alright. I’ll help you relax, okay?” Then her hand brushed something hard. Something that felt...daunting.
It was solid, hot and even twitched.
She determined to treat this as one of her dreams and forged ahead tentatively.
She was still too apprehensive about doing THAT... but if it’s just this much, then…
Her hand lightly grasped that hard thing, moving up and down while going for another kiss. There was something addicting about having his lips on her’s and she needed more.
Lyle couldn’t let this continue. “I said, that’s enough.” His voice harsh and maybe even cruel-sounding. But his sanity was being tested and he couldn’t help it.
That rough, almost angry tone made Melanie realize just how uncalled for her actions were. Her ears burned. “I’m sorry.” She stood abruptly. “I shouldn’t have...I just--”
“It’s okay. “ His voice sounded raw. He cleared his throat and went on. “Don’t apologize.”
“Are you mad?”
She thought he was upset about it? Silly thing.
“Of course not. It’s just not a good time.”
Melanie was boiling with shame. If he hadn’t stopped her she wasn’t sure what she’d have done. It wasn’t what she’d planned at all!
“I’ll go after all.” She smiled shakily and crawled out of the bath, wanting to escape.
Lyle couldn’t watch her leave. There was a voice telling him that if he took even a single look he might not be able to stop himself from bringing the woman back. His hands ached to grab her, the desire damn near driving him mad.
Only after a long while did the fires in his chest subside.
Lyle slept early and woke up at the crack of dawn. With a clear mind free of worldly desire, he got dressed and left a note saying he was on his way to the Workshop.
It was finally time to get some answers. Hopefully.
He’s going to seriously work on banishing these assholes from his and Iris’ bodies. Then, once that’s done, he’ll get the hell out of here and enjoy a proper goddamn date with his new girlfriend.