Axel kept his arm firmly around Lynus’ shoulders as he guided him upstairs toward their room. When they had returned to the inn, Lynus was understandably bombarded by concerned guildmates and family members. It was of little surprise that what had transpired at the hospital had already reached gossip circles.
From what Axel knew and understood; nothing like it had happened before. There had been a few rowdy patients who had snuck out during their stay or some who barricaded themselves in their rooms for whatever reason. But no one had ever gone as far as to take a medic hostage. Though many explorers saw medics as dead weight in the labyrinth, in the hospital they are invaluable. And were meant to remain unharmed.
What happened today defied acceptable belief.
Axel tried to reign in his protective anger directed toward the gunner. He had been reassured that the man had not been sound of mind at the time. In fact he was suffering from a madness curse. He was lost in his own delusions. And he was made that way by someone else. Potentially, at least.
“Well,” Lynus murmured as they walked into their room and he dropped his medical bag onto the table near the window. “That was a morning I hadn’t anticipated.”
Axel nodded his head idly as he closed and locked the door out of habit before he turned to watch Lynus carefully. “Honestly, I thought there was something suspicious going on when you got that note this morning.”
Lynus made a sound of agreement as he placed his head hand upon his right shoulder and rolled it idly. “Hm. You can understand the secrecy, though, can’t you?” he said. “If the general public knew that there is a potential curse-maker running amok, every twinge and twitch would be a curse or hex.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
Those patients would probably be more troublesome than those who were actually cursed. And the last thing the hospital and staff needed right now.
Axel was about to ask Lynus something along the lines of whether or not he was really ok but paused when he saw that he was staring out the window, his hands resting a top of the table in front of him. And he was trembling ever so slightly.
“What’s wrong?” Axel asked as he immediately stepped up behind him and wrapped his arms around the lithe medic.
“Sorry,” Lynus automatically murmured before he shook his head and lifted his hand to point at his own forehead with his index finger. “I’m just realising that I just had a gun pointed at my head. One shot could have…”
Axel shifted his hold on him to turn him around and pulled him against his chest, threading his fingers through his hair when Lynus buried his face against his shoulder. “I know.”
It was going to take quite some time for him to rid himself of the sight of Lynus fruitlessly tugging at the arm that was around his neck, being held like a human shield, his feet just barely touching the ground. But it was his eyes that killed him the most. Wide and full of fear.
And yet…there was a small shimmer of relief when his gaze locked with his.
Lynus’ arms slipped around him to desperately grasp at the back of Axel’s shirt, his grip tight. “You were the first thing I thought of,” he murmured. “And it actually made me feel calm. Strange, isn’t it?”
That prompted Axel to hold him closer. “Sorry I wasn’t there.”
But…one bullet. One single bullet had the potential to take Lynus from him forever.
That thought killed him the most.
“No, not that again,” Lynus said as he lifted his head from his shoulder to look up at him, making absolutely no attempt to remove himself from his arms. “No one could have predicted this. It happened so quickly and, thankfully, it ended just as quickly. If anything, we should blame the one that placed that madness curse on the patient in the first place.”
Axel sighed as his hands snuck up to Lynus’ hair and pulled it free from its usual binding. “I’ll try to remember that logic.”
Lynus smiled at him as his hair fell down to his shoulders and framed his face. Axel liked it whenever his hair was free from his usual ponytail. The soft orange strands brought out the beautiful violet of his eyes. He briefly wondered if he could convince the gorgeous medic to leave his hair out more often.
However, another thought soon appeared and he couldn’t help but frown.
“Dr Stiles mentioned something about healing the curses and it hurting you,” Axel said as he curled a strand of Lynus’ hair around his finger idly. “What did he mean?”
Lynus sighed softly. “Whenever I removed a curse from a patient I felt a sharp pain in my chest,” he explained. “It wasn’t excruciating by any means, but it was alarming and startling.”
Lynus smiled tiredly at him as he slid his hands along Axel’s back, down to his sides before slipping up to his chest where he idly trailed his fingers along the collar of his shirt. “Yeah. Could you tell?”
“I can tell.” It honestly wasn’t hard to tell.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Lynus suddenly said as he looked him in his eyes, a small smile on his lips. “You want to tell me to stop healing these curses if they hurt me so much, but you won’t say it because you know I’m going to keep healing anyway, so want to be supportive. Am I right?”
Axel said nothing as he stroked his cheek because, yeah, that was going to be his next trail of thought.
Lynus smiled at him as he pushed up onto his toes to place a soft kiss to his lips. “I’ll find a way to stop it from hurting, ok?” he said as he pulled back. “Don’t worry. I won’t push myself again like I did today. Don’t be angry with yourself.”
“You know me so well,” Axel murmured as he leaned forward to press his forehead gently against Lynus’.
“And you know me so well.”
Axel couldn’t help but chuckle lightly before he pulled back and readjusted his hold on Lynus’ slightly, slipping his arms around his waist. “You’re exhausted. Get some sleep.”
Lynus’ hands tightened around Axel’s collar, not wanting him to pull away just yet. “Only if you stay as well.”
That was a given, actually.
… … … … …
It was nearing dinner time as Axel did a quick patrol around the inn. Lynus had gotten a few hours of rest and was currently in the tearoom with Lirit and his books, the two of them studying whatever they could to learn more about the hexes and curses that seemed to be plaguing the city.
Though Axel was indeed antsy himself, on guard for any possible threat, he was unwilling to stray too far from Lynus. Of course, that was no surprise.
When they both crawled into bed together, Lynus fell asleep the moment he got himself comfortable against Axel’s side and stayed asleep for a few hours without waking even once. Axel got a couple of hours in himself, but he spent the majority of that time simply watching Lynus as he slept, cradling him against his chest and idly playing with his hair. There were a few times where Lynus murmured or whimpered in his sleep, but Axel was thankfully able to lull him back to peacefulness by either kissing his forehead or gently running his hand up and down his back.
But he had to admit; it was somewhat alarming how quickly Lynus fell asleep. He had expected him to be somewhat restless over what had just happened.
He must have been so exhausted.
What kind of hexes where they dealing with?
Axel was half way to the tearoom when Jhon’s voice, he stopped and turned in the direction of the front foyer. “Hey, welcome back,” he said as Jhon with Tobyn and Macerio just a step or two behind him came into view. “How are things at the hospital?”
“More patients are coming in,” Jhon answered with a slight frown as they approached him, the three of them looking uneasy and somewhat agitated. “Hamza is staying, more so to keep an eye on Dr Stiles.”
Axel felt himself frown, too. “I see.”
“He fell asleep when he returned,” Axel answered before he motioned over his shoulder with a tilt of his head and folded his arms across his chest. “He’s in the tearoom now with Lirit. And his books.”
Jhon nodded his head before he looked over his own shoulder at Tobyn and Macerio. “You two go ahead,” he told them simply, prompting the two to immediately head toward the tearoom and slip inside. “Straight into his research, then?”
“It’s fine,” Axel said. “It takes his mind off seeing that gun in his face.”
Jhon winced. “That’s a sight no one wants to see.”
No, but at least he lived to see beyond it.
“You’re on edge,” Jhon suddenly stated.
Axel gave him a half smile as he shifted anxiously on his feet. “Who isn’t? Shen’s checking out the back garden as a few guests complained of noises out there and Chi-hung’s prowling around the inn, sniffing around. Binah wanted to stay with Lynus, but Becky hadn’t been feeling well, so Lynus asked her to keep her company instead. Matron wanted to keep the two together anyway so she could keep an eye on them. Rahas is, well god knows where, probably ‘secretly’ checking up on the Cosmos Guild. And Magnus was helping Lynus with his research, but got alarmed when he couldn’t find Zanna.”
“I see. I’m sure Zanna is just curled up somewhere,” Jhon said as he idly rested his hand upon the hilt of his sword that was strapped to his side, before he unexpectedly reached out with his other hand to rest upon Axel’s shoulder. “And you?”
Axel felt a sigh of frustration slip past his lips. “I’m trying to accept the logical fact that there was literally nothing I could have done to protect Lynus from that ordeal.”
Jhon squeezed his shoulder and gave him an understanding smile. “It’ll take a while.”
“Yeah…” Axel murmured as his gaze flickered over in the direction of the tea room.
However, he frowned when he felt a light tug on the back of his shirt. “A-Axel?”
Axel immediately turned around, unintentionally dislodging Jhon’s grip on his shoulder to find Magnus standing just behind him, Zanna curled up in one arm, the other raised as if he had been trying to get his attention.
“What’s wrong?” he immediately asked.
“There’s s-someone outside,” Magnus said as he cradled Zanna against his chest. “I-I think they’re alive, but I’m not sure…”
“Think?” Axel repeated as he shared a concerned glance with Jhon before he turned his attention back to their alchemist. “Where?”
Instead of telling them where to find this…ah potential dead person, Magnus turned on his heel and led them toward the back of the inn and then outside. He led them toward a small darken area of the back garden, a place that saw very little foot traffic.
There, lying on the ground between a small bed of daisies and pressed against the wall of the inn was a figure seemingly wrapped in tattered clothing and…chains?
“How did you stumble across this?” Axel asked Magnus in a hushed voice.
“I was l-looking for Zanna and found her staring at them,” Magnus explained as he continued to carry said orange-furred kitten in his arms. “She wasn’t scared. Just staring.”
Jhon slowly unsheathed his sword as he pushed Magnus back a few steps behind him with the other. “Stay back just in case.”
As Axel crouched down next to the unmoving form, he immediately understood Jhon’s apprehension. Tattered robes and chains were the chosen clothes of hexers, after all. Still, whether or not this figure was a hexer, they appeared to be in need of help. And as a member of the Guardians Guild, it was his duty to help others in need.
Besides, he couldn’t feel anything…malicious from the form. Hexers always made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up on end. Mostly because they were unpredictable at best. And, well, because they weren’t exactly mortal.
But this person was breathing. They were obviously still alive.
“What do you think?” Jhon asked him as he, too, ventured just a little closer. “They appear to be a hexer, after all.”
“Yeah,” Axel murmured before he heaved a sigh. “Let’s drag them inside. They could either be a victim themselves, or the perpetrator. Either way, we can’t leave them.”
“Fair enough,” Jhon said in response as he quickly sheathed his sword and set about helping Axel to lift the limp figure from the ground before unceremoniously hefting them over Axel’s shoulder in what many people would dub the ‘fireman hold’.
Despite the weight on his shoulder, Axel easily pushed himself back to his feet and carried the still unmoving form back inside the inn. As he wondered where he should take the potential patient and what to do with them, Lynus suddenly appeared from the tearoom with an expression of confusion on his face.
“Axel?” he called out. “I feel as if there’s a strange presence-oh!”
When Lynus noticed that Axel was carrying someone over his shoulder, he gasped aloud before his hand flew up toward his mouth in shock. “W-what happened?”
“Don’t know,” Axel answered honestly as Jhon and Magnus appeared on either side of him. “Magnus found them like this. Where do you want them?”
“Place them on the couch over there,” Lynus immediately instructed as he pointed back into the tearoom.
As Axel walked into the tearoom with his new cargo, the others occupants of the room all made sounds of surprise as well before they hurried to clear the way for him to place the still unnervingly still form onto a couch by the window. With Jhon’s help, he was able to place the person down onto the couch and was finally able to see what they looked like under the lighting of the room.
Their face was drawn and pale, their hair a strange colour – not quite grey, but most certainly not white either. There was a braided red band around their forehead and their tattered robes were a maroon in colour. He also had gold chains wrapped around him, secure in place with a strange round bell.
They had to be a hexer.
Axel hoped he hadn’t made a terrible mistake letting them inside.
“Let’s see,” Lynus murmured as he stood next to Axel, making no attempt to usher him away, instead simply lifted his hands over the still form and closed his eyes. “A hexer. Male. And…”
Lynus suddenly drew in a sharp breath and his hands shook ever so slightly. “There are…so many curses,” he muttered as he opened his eyes and nibbled on his bottom lip. “I don’t…I don’t know where to start.”
So…the guy was a victim, too?
Axel glanced up at Jhon and shared a look of concern with him. Jhon nodded his head ever so slightly before he indicated to everyone else to keep back, to stay in that protective loose circle around Lynus and the hexer.
Lynus pulled his hands back for a moment before he swallowed thickly and lifted them back over them. “I wonder if…”
Before Axel, or anyone else for that matter, could ask him what he was wishing to attempt, a soft refresh spell tumbled from Lynus’ lips and he hands glowed a soft green.
But then Lynus suddenly screamed in pain, the sound so harsh that it was like it was ripped from his throat, and lurched forward. His hands flew up to grasp at his chest as he stumbled back a couple of steps, his legs all but crumbling beneath him.
Axel immediately sprung forward and practically scooped Lynus into his arms. He cradled him against his chest as one arm wrapped around his waist to keep him standing as the other wound around his chest, immediately realising that Lynus was desperately taking in gulps of air. “What? What’s wrong?”
Lynus coughed and wheezed for a few intense moments before he drew in a slow, shaky breath. “I-I feel as if I had just been punched in the chest…” he whimpered.
Axel frowned. “Those curses. You removed them, didn’t you?”
Slowly, Lynus nodded his head.
Axel wanted to yell that he shouldn’t have done that. Not after what happened to him. Not after sleeping for several hours straight from sheer exhaustion. Not after admitting to him that removing curses hurt. But he didn’t say anything. He gritted his teeth and held him closer when he heard him breathlessly whisper something.
A soft groan suddenly echoed through the room and that sound prompted everyone to immediately turn their attention back to the robed figure on the couch.
Axel immediately glanced over at Jhon, silently telling him to keep everyone back just in case, which the blond-haired protector promptly did so. Axel then turned his attention back toward the hexer and pulled Lynus closer toward him.
They watched, with some alarm, as hands slipped from the tattered robes to push himself up into a sitting position on the couch. He touched his head as he twisted to plant his feet on the floor, vocalising a few more aches and pains.
He then sat up straight and didn’t seemed all that concerned that he was in a room filled with strangers. He looked back and forth between them all, his expression unchanging from that of stoic interest.
“Good,” he suddenly said as he tilted his head to the side. “You are suspicious of me.”
That…wasn’t quite the response Axel was expecting.
“Comes with the territory,” Axel said as he kept his arms securely around Lynus, positioning him so that he was between him and the hexer.
“Hm,” the man unexpectedly hummed in an idle way as he straightened his posture. He then tilted his head forward, as if greeting them in some way. “My name is Mahogany. I am a representative of the Curse Academy.”
Lynus peeked around Axel. “Curse Academy?”
“Yes,” he replied as he turned his light red eyes in Lynus and Axel’s direction. “As the name suggests, it is a place where hexers can learn their craft and become accustomed to the life of a hexer.”
Right…hexers were made, not born.
The hexer known as Mahogany unexpectedly tilted his head to the side as he regarded Lynus with a curious expression. There was no malice or ill-intent in his gaze at all, yet he seemed to recognise him somehow. “Ah, the Miracle Medic if I’m not mistaken.”
Lynus blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”
Mahogany nodded his head in a rather sagely manner. “Tales of your healing abilities have even reached the walls of the Curse Academy.”
While Lynus flushed a pretty pink at the prospect, Axel couldn’t help but frown slightly. “Is that so…” he muttered.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Mahogany said as he bowed his head forward slightly again.
“Oh, ah, y-you as well,” Lynus returned as he timidly pushed away from Axel’s chest, though allowed for him to keep an arm across his stomach to pull him back at the smallest hint of danger. “Um, sorry, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
Mahogany folded his hands upon his lap as he unexpectedly pushed back against the couch and seemed to get himself comfortable. “You wish to know how I came to be in this predicament.”
Lynus blinked before he nodded his head. “Well, yes. And who or what placed all those curses upon you.”
“As I had stated before, I am a representative of the Cursed Academy,” Mahogany began to speak without even a hint of hesitation. “And I am on the trail of a few wayward students. They are fledging hexers and are interested in knowing how much power they actually possess.”
Axel, along with probably everyone else in the room, was momentarily surprised by how forthcoming he was with that information. “On you?” he asked.
Mahogany nodded his head. “On anyone they deem vulnerable.”
Axel felt a surge of frustration rush through him as Lynus held his chin in thought.
“So Hexers are behind all these curses…” Lynus murmured more to himself than to anyone else.
But Mahogany heard him regardless. “Hm?”
“Oh sorry,” Lynus said as he dropped his hand from his chin and turned his focus upon the hexer once more. “Let me explain.”
Lynus then spent a minute or so explaining to Mahogany what he had encountered at the hospital and how he believed the one responsible for the cursed patients had to be a hexer. Through the entire explanation, Mahogany sat silently, barely making a sound and his expression hardly changed.
After Lynus was done, the room fell into a semi-uncomfortable silence as Mahogany turned his gaze down toward his lap, where his hands were folded neatly.
“It’s just as we had feared,” Mahogany unexpectedly murmured under his breath.
Axel studied the hexer silently for a few moments. Though he was still wary of him, especially after Lynus’ shocking reaction to removing the curses, he could also feel that Mahogany wasn’t a threat. Not at the moment at least.
Still, he wasn’t about to drop his guard.
“These students attacked you too, right?” Axel asked him, Jhon and the others seemingly ‘content’ with staying silent in the background, allowing for Axel and Lynus to communicate with the mysterious and suspicious hexer. “What exactly is it that they’re trying to do?”
Mahogany glanced up at him with a surprisingly weary expression. “That’s just it. They’re testing their skills and abilities on an unsuspecting public.”
Axel felt his eye twitch. “So basically for shits and giggles?”
“In other words; yes.”
“That’s…infuriating,” Lynus whispered as he subconsciously turned toward Axel.
Mahogany’s gaze lingered upon Lynus for a few silent moments. “But you can remove these curses?”
Lynus turned to look back at Mahogany before he slowly nodded his head. “Well, yes, but only one person at a time and not without consequence.”
Mahogany tilted his head in interest. “Please continue.”
“Well, after I release the curse, I get a sharp pain in my chest,” Lynus explained as he placed his hand over the centre of his chest, his fingers unconsciously curling around the fabric of his shirt. “Here.”
“Your heart chakra,” Mahogany said simply, not looking or sounding surprised in the slightest.
“Y-yes, that’s right.”
Mahogany turned his gaze back down toward his lap, his red eyes narrowing ever so slightly. “Hm. I wonder if they realise this.”
“Is it…normal?” Lynus asked almost hesitantly before an expression of concerned appeared on his face when Mahogany unexpectedly tilted to the side, and Lynus unconsciously took a step toward him. “Oh, are you all right?”
A flicker of discomfort appeared on Mahogany’s face. “…It seems that the curses’ aftermath still lingers.”
Though Axel wasn’t at all comfortable letting Lynus near the hexer, he also knew better than to interfere when he was in his famous ‘mother-hen mode’ and made sure to stay within an arm’s length of him as Lynus made his way over to Mahogany.
Lynus pressed his palm against Mahogany’s forehead and his brow furrowed slightly. “Let’s find you a room,” he said as he helped Mahogany to his feet, the hexer making absolutely no attempt to furl himself back into his robes like all the other hexers they had encountered. “You need to rest.”
A very small smile of gratitude appeared on Mahogany’s lips as he allowed Lynus to take him by the arm and aide him toward the door.
“Huh, he’s walking?” Macerio suddenly whispered from the back of the room. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hexer walk before.”
Axel felt a frown tug at his lips as he promptly followed the two out. Come to think of it, neither had he.
“We’re still suspicious of you,” Axel said as Lynus helped Mahogany into a room that was thankfully located close to the main foyer.
Mahogany glanced over his shoulder at him and nodded his head in acceptance. “As you should be,” he said before he stumbled slightly and had to rest for a moment against the doorframe of his new room. “But I am no threat. My energy levels are dangerously low, aren’t they, Mr Lynus?”
“Yes, they are,” Lynus said in response, concern evident in not only his voice, but in his body posture as he waited patiently for Mahogany to regain enough strength to push himself into his room. “In your current state, I wouldn’t even suggest solid foods for a few days.”
“I’ve always preferred broth anyway,” Mahogany murmured as he drew in a sharp breath and took a few shaky steps into the room.
Axel waited outside the room, still very much on guard, but also somewhat confident that Lynus was in no immediate danger. The slow manoeuvring of his hands and the shuffling of his feet, and the difficulty he had keeping himself upright; that type of fatigue he was displaying was something that could not be faked.
Lynus lingered in the room for a few moments longer than probably necessary, but he soon stepped out and closed the door behind him. He then turned to lean against it with a sigh. “Asleep before he hit the pillow,” he said.
“He’s certainly a character,” Axel muttered as he stepped in front of Lynus and placed his hands on his hips.
Lynus gave him a tired smile as he placed his hands upon Axel’s arms and nodded his head. “Hexers certainly are unique,” he said before an expression of sheer weariness appeared on his face. “Dr Stiles won’t be pleased when he finds out that there is more than one hexer who is potentially behind all the cursed patients.”
“He’s going to be pissed?”
“That’s going to be a bit of an understatement, really.”