Back in the safety of the inn, Hamza had immediately gone in search for the others while Axel escorted Lynus to the room Mahogany was currently staying in. Axel had wanted to be in the room with him, but Lynus felt it would be better if he spoke to Mahogany on his own. Though the hexer didn’t seem to be intimidated by Axel, there was a possibility that he may keep certain facts hidden or would be reluctant to answer some of Lynus’ questions if Axel was standing tersely and on guard by the door.
Of course, it took Lynus about five minutes to convince Axel that he was going to be fine. And at the end he had to settle for Axel standing guard just outside the door.
In all honesty, though, Axel’s protectiveness was appreciated. He felt an enormous sense of security at knowing that Axel would be just outside the door. If anything should go wrong, Axel was a mere few steps away.
Not that Lynus felt that he was in any kind of danger being within Mahogany’s presence. The mysterious hexer was still in a very fragile state, health wise. Physically too, most likely. And, honesty, Lynus just could not see or sense Mahogany holding any ill intent toward him.
But after what happened just moments ago, he was still on edge. And with Axel’s aura strong and true close by, he felt safe.
Drawing in a deep breath, Lynus softly knocked on the door before trying the handle and slowly opening it. He peeked inside to find Mahogany sitting up in his bed, pillows piled against his back and the headboard, the bedsheets pooled at his waist.
Mahogany turned to look at him the moment he stepped through the door and tilted his head to the side. “Hm? You look haggard. Did something happen?”
Lynus gave him a weary smile as he closed the door and crossed the floor to stop by an empty chair next to Mahogany’s bed. “We had an encounter with someone we believe to be one of the students you’re looking for.”
Mahogany’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly, though his stoic expression remained unchanged. “And you got away without a curse?”
Sinking down onto the chair, Lynus dropped his bag next to his feet but within reaching distance. “He managed to bind Axel’s legs and Hamza’s arms, but I was able to remove them easily enough.”
“He didn’t curse you?” Mahogany asked him.
“No, surprisingly,” Lynus answered with a slight shake of his head. “He tried, though. A cranium curse, I think.”
“I see…” Mahogany murmured as he turned his gaze down toward his lap where his hands were folded neatly and he started to mumble to himself. “He failed? I find that hard to believe…”
He said something else, but Lynus was unable to catch the words. “Pardon?”
Mahogany flicked his deep red eyes in his direction and seemed to simply look at him for a short moment before he shook his head. “No, it’s nothing.”
Lynus decided not to push him. Instead he bent forward to retrieve a notebook from his bag. He had more pressing matters to address first. “Do you mind if I ask you a few more questions?”
Mahogany nodded his head, having anticipated that he would most likely be interrogated for answers. “Very well. But please note that some of the things I tell you, you may not fully understand. The life of a hexer is…a mysterious one.”
“Yes, I understand,” Lynus responded as he flipped his notebook open to a spare page and pulled out the pencil he kept in the spine of the book. “I’d like to start with why I get this pain in my chest whenever I remove a curse.”
“The pain you feel in your chest is your body’s way of informing you that the curse you had encountered is deliberate and powerful,” Mahogany explained readily, without even a hint of hesitation in his voice. “And it, in turn, has the power to affect you, the one who is able to remove it.”
Lynus nodded his head as he jotted down the information. So chances were, the more powerful the hex or curse, the more violent the reaction will be upon its removal.
In other words, they probably knew exactly what they were doing.
“Is there any other way to remove these hexes without there being repercussions?”
“Potions and tonics can remove some,” Mahogany again answered quickly but gave a slight shake of his head, almost as if in exasperation. “But not all.”
Lynus chewed on his bottom lip as he stared down at the book in his lap. “I was afraid of that…” he murmured.
“If you wish to continue to remove these hexes,” Mahogany continued, prompting Lynus to lift his gaze toward him once more. “You must find a way to protect yourself.”
Yeah, he had already come to that conclusion as well.
“How can I go about protecting myself?”
Mahogany unexpectedly sighed and shook his head, his shoulders sagging just a little from fatigue. “That, I cannot answer. I am not a healer by any stretch. The only advice I can give is to strengthen your own aura.” He suddenly pressed his lips together tightly and he turned his gaze down to his lap once more. “Though…I…don’t know if you should…” he mumbled to him yet again.
Lynus leaned forward in his seat, his brow furrowed slightly as he tried to catch what Mahogany was mumbling. “What is it?”
“No, it’s nothing,” Mahogany unexpectedly returned quickly as he snapped his attention back to him. “Just a random trail of thought.”
Lynus didn’t truly believe him, but he knew that pressing the matter wasn’t going to get him anywhere. He needed Mahogany to be open and truthful to him, and one didn’t gain another’s trust by making demands or threatening them. Trust took time. Time he didn’t necessarily have…
“Is there anything you can tell us about these students that you have been searching for?” Lynus asked, desperately seeking more information.
Mahogany nodded his head slightly as his eyes locked with Lynus’. “All that I can offer you is a bit of a profile; they are extremely cocky, self-centred and more than willing to use their curses upon anyone they see fit. Their ability to narrow a curse’s true intention into a form of pure malice is their most wicked tribute. Stopping them won’t be easy. Only if they encounter someone or something that is able to block their ability to cast their curses, then perhaps they may flee.”
Lynus felt his heart drop in his chest. “Getting them to flee is all we can hope for?”
Again, Mahogany nodded his head idly. “Either out of boredom or fear.”
That was…really the best they could hope for. Lynus didn’t want there to be a physical confrontation to occur. He didn’t want to have to resort to having to physically stop these student hexers from causing trouble. But…they need to be stopped. Soon.
“How many students?” Lynus asked softly.
“About six in total.”
It was just…a little hard to fathom how six hexers could cause so much trouble. The hospital was reaching full capacity at an unprecedented rate. Could five hexers be personally responsible for all the cursed patients? Or was there another way?
“This might…” Lynus hesitated for a moment before deciding to simply push onward. “This might be an odd question, but is it possible for people to be cursed by, well, objects that have also been cursed?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Mahogany unexpectedly answered quickly. “Though not as potent as the ones that were deliberately placed by a hexer themselves.”
Honestly, that answer was disheartening. Not only did he have to worry about the hexers themselves, but there was a possibility that there was a magnitude of cursed objects hexing people as well. Though it did explain the influx of patients.
But…he needed to find those cursed objects too. Before that, though…
“Will it be possible for me to use my healing abilities to lift curses from objects, too?”
Mahogany tilted his head to the side slightly as a look of contemplation appeared on his face. “Theoretically, it does seem possible. But from what I am aware, it has never been done.”
Lynus released a sigh, his shoulders drooping forward. “I see…” he murmured as he tightened his grip on his pencil.
Where should he start first? Find a way to stop the curses’ backlash against him? Create potions and tonics to lessen the impact of the hexes? Look into the possibility of cursed objects scattered around town? Look for the hexers themselves?
He…had his work cut out for him. And he wasn’t sure he could do it alone.
Lynus released another sigh as he lifted his head up to look at Mahogany, to ask him if he had any more wisdom to offer but he stilled when he realised that Mahogany looked…vacant. His eyes were glassy and unfocused, his face pale.
And he suddenly tilted to the side, threatening to fall off the bed.
Lynus immediately leapt out of his chair, his book tumbled onto the floor from his lap as he instinctively reached out to steady Mahogany as he slumped forward and off to the side, and felt greatly alarmed when Mahogany fell against him limply. He managed to stop him from slipping onto the floor entirely and carefully placed him back onto his bed and on his side. He stilled for a moment as he carefully checked Mahogany’s aura. There were no dark spots to be found and his breathing and heartrate was normal. He was just…dreaming?
Did he fall asleep? Well, that was possible. Mahogany was still deeply imbued into the realm of sheer exhaustion and fatigue. Falling asleep mid conversation would not at all be surprising.
Slowly, Mahogany began to stir and uttered small noises of protest under his breath as he abruptly began to push himself up onto his elbows.
“Easy,” Lynus said as he placed a hand on his arm in an attempt to stop him from moving. “Don’t try to move. You suddenly passed out.”
But Mahogany shook his head and continued to push himself to sit up. “It’s fine. It’s happened before.”
Lynus frowned at him in concern. “What do you mean? It isn’t normal to pass out suddenly.”
Mahogany lifted his head enough to look him dead in the eyes. “Hexers aren’t normal.”
“W-well, I guess so,” Lynus spluttered as he hunched his shoulders slightly and slipped back to his chair, somewhat intimidated by Mahogany’s gaze. “Still…”
It took Mahogany a moment or two to settle himself back against his pillows and he stared forward in front of him, a slightly contemplative expression on his face. He appeared to be mulling over something. And the way he was chewing subtly on his bottom lip, it seemed important.
“There’s…something you should know,” he finally said.
“Yes?” Lynus gently urged.
“I have the ability to see the memories of others,” Mahogany unexpectedly said, his tone forthright and firm. “Random memories of significant events. Even when that person wasn’t thinking of that memory at that moment.”
…That was…He wasn’t expecting something like that to be completely honest.
“Is that why you passed out?” Lynus asked with a slight furrowing of his brow. “You were receiving a memory?”
Mahogany nodded his head as he looked him straight in the eyes. “Viewing it, actually. One of yours.”
Lynus felt his breath hitch in his throat as he heartrate increased drastically. “W-what? W-which one?”
Lynus winced and swallowed thickly, desperate not to allow himself to recall those painful memories himself. “O-oh? What-?”
“You should have died,” Mahogany said bluntly.
Lynus stilled and stared at the man in front of him. He didn’t know what to say, what to think. D-did he really see his memories of that time? Was that possible?
Mahogany continued to look him straight into his eyes, seemingly staring straight into his very soul. “Had you been a normal medic, she would have drained you of your healing abilities completely within an hour. Even if you had somehow survived that, you should not have been able to heal again.”
“…What are you saying?” Lynus whispered breathlessly, unable to tear his own gaze away from Mahogany.
“You’re not a normal medic.”
Lynus suddenly felt nauseated and lightheaded. He didn’t know why. He just felt…breathless. Those words. The way Mahogany stared straight through him. He was…telling the truth. He was being truthful. He…
“I…h-have to go,” Lynus whispered before he shakily bend forward to scoop up his notebook and hastily gathered his bag into his arms. He took to his feet as he placed his bag upon his shoulder with a shaky hand and clutched the notebook against his chest.
“You should get some rest,” he said as he hastily backed toward the door, noting that Mahogany was looking at him with a purely curious expression on his face. “E-excuse me.”
Lynus then turned on his feet and opened the door to stumble hastily through. He pulled the door closed behind him as he stepped out into the hallway and found himself leaning against is at he stared down at the floor, his notebook clutched painfully tight against his chest.
What…what did he mean? Not a normal medic. The way he said it, it was like…he was a complete anomaly. An irregularity. Something that…shouldn’t exist?
A pair of arms suddenly found themselves around Lynus, causing him to jump in surprise before he immediately settled down against a very familiar and comforting chest. Relaxing his hold on his notebook, he pressed his face against Axel’s shoulder and slipped an arm around him in return, grasping at the back of his shirt.
“What happened?” Axel gently demanded as he held him tightly. “Did he do something?”
Lynus shook his head but kept his face against Axel’s shoulder in need of his comfort. “N-no, he just…nothing,” he murmured before he pulled away slightly to look up at his redhead. “I’m over thinking things.”
“I don’t believe that,” Axel returned, ensuring that his arms stayed secure and warm around him.
“I know,” Lynus replied with a small, somewhat sheepish smile before he shook his head slightly one more. “Sorry. It’s just…he knew about Scylla.”
A subtle expression of distressed appeared on Axel’s face for a fraction of a moment and his embraced around Lynus tightened slightly. “How?” he asked, his jaw tense.
Lynus pressed forward to rest against Axel’s chest, his head nuzzled under his chin in an attempt to calm and soothe the apprehensive redhead. “Apparently he has the ability to see memories of others. He said I should have died.”
Axel made no attempt to verbally respond. He simply rested his chin atop of Lynus’ head and snuck a hand up his back to gently toy with the strands of his orange hair.
“But I didn’t,” Lynus continued in hope of preventing Axel from remembering that nearly tragic event. “So there’s no use dwelling on it, is there?”
The sound of Hamza’s voice, one that held confusion as well as concern, caused Lynus to gently push away from Axel, though he ensured to stay within his arms nonetheless. The turned his head to the side to see Hamza as he approached them, his brow furrowed ever so slightly.
“A-ah, yes?” Lynus asked.
“Was your talk with Mahogany unsettling for you?” Hamza asked him in return as he paused next to the two of them.
“Yes, no. It’s…nothing,” Lynus mumbled and shook his head to clear it.
He didn’t have the time to dwell on Mahogany’s cryptic and unsettling words. He needed to focus on the task at hand.
“He wasn’t able to offer much help, unfortunately,” Lynus explained to the two other men. “Only that the hexer that attacked us today was most likely one of his former students.”
Hamza’s frown deepened, he no doubt not all that pleased with the lack of information. And yet he didn’t seem all that surprised either. “I have gathered everyone together as I think it would be best to inform them with what we know.”
“Which isn’t much, but I agree,” Lynus replied as he took a half step away from Axel, though subconsciously ensured that he didn’t stray too far as he pulled his notebook away from his chest to place back into his bag. “There…might be something we can do. I still have that book that holds possible items and accessories to lessen the impact of curses. Some even claiming to be able to ward off specific curses as well. It’s the best thing we’ve got so far.”
“It will do,” Hamza said with a firm nod of his head as Lynus pulled the tanned, slightly tattered book from his bag. “Let us move to the tearoom. Everyone should be there now.”
As Hamza turned on his heel and headed in the direction of the tearoom, Lynus propped the book into the crook of his arm and turned to Axel. “I’m fine now,” he said as he pushed up onto his toes to gently press a kiss to Axel’s cheek. “Don’t worry. We have plenty of things to worry about as is.”
Axel didn’t look all that convinced, but he knew the severity of their situation so simply nodded his head as he curled his arm around Lynus’ shoulder and turned them both to follow Hamza to the tearoom.
It was honestly a relief to see everyone together again, safe and completely unharmed. Not a single curse amongst them thankfully. Though it should be of no surprise. Mahogany said that the hexers appeared to be targeting the vulnerable first.
Rahas was, as he usually was, by the windows leaning against it with his arms folded across his chest. Near to him was Macerio who was sat on a chair backwards, his arms folded atop of the back of the chair. Lirit was perched on the arm of a couch, close to Macerio as possible and fidgeted nervously with the strings of his lute. Curled up on the couch next to Lirit was Magnus with Zanna sitting happily on his shoulder. Directly behind Magnus stood Shen, his hand resting on the back of the couch. On the other end of the couch sat Jhon, free of his usual armour but his trusty shield at his feet. Tobyn leaned against the arm of the couch next to Jhon, his arms folded across his chest. And, finally, Chi-hung laid on the floor near Tobyn’s feet, he lifting his head when Lynus, Axel, and Hamza entered the room.
When the door to the tearoom fell shut behind them, the rest of their guildmaters turned their full attention toward them, each of them wearing subtle expressions of expectation.
Lynus and Axel stood off to the side as Hamza moved to stand in the centre of the room, in front of the fireplace. “You are all already somewhat aware of our current situation so I’ll cut to the chase; yes, there is plague of curses tormenting Lagaard. And yes, it appears that rogue student hexers from the Curse Academy are responsible. Axel, Lynus, and I had recently had an encounter with one allege student. Needless to say, that student was more than willing to curse any before him. Even seasoned explorers.”
Lynus felt Axel tense next to him so he pressed himself closer against his side. He was more than certain that Axel was internally lamenting his inability to do much during that short confrontation.
“Do we have any more information to work with?” Shen was the one to ask from the back of the group.
Hamza nodded his head before turning to look in Lynus and Axel’s direction. “Lynus,” he said. “I’ll let you take it from here. You understand more than I.”
Lynus looked at Hamza for a moment, somewhat startled before he nodded his head in understanding. “Oh, ok.”
Hamza granted him a small smile as Axel squeezed his side reassuringly before Hamza took a step back and Lynus took his place in front of the fireplace. He turned to face everyone, immediately realising that they were all looking at him with expression of expectations. They also appear to be looking to him for information, for answers, and for reassurance.
And he needed to be strong for them.
Lynus drew in a deep breath before he started to speak. “What I understand, though, isn’t much. I’ll start with the hexes. These hexes and curses affect a person through their aura and they seem to be growing more precise and accurate.”
And growing in numbers, too.
“Today, when that hexer attacked Axel, Hamza, and I, his binding curses were significantly stronger than those I have encountered from monsters,” Lynus continued with a slight frown on his lips. “He knew exactly where to place his curse to ensure the most impact and the physical and visible bindings were there to add further psychological terror as they were able to materialise them from practically nothing.”
Lynus rubbed at his forehead to think for a moment. Those bindings were probably etheric rather than physical manifestations, but there was no need to go into too much detail at this point in time.
“Fortunately, since they took on a physical appearance,” Lynus said as he dropped his arm to his side. “I was able to remove them relatively easy with little consequence. And thanks to that little, ah, skit today, I now have a better understanding of their hexes. As well as their auras. I think I should be able to sense them, at least one of them, in the future. I hope that can be used to our advantage in some way.”
The room fell into a contemplative silence for a moment and Lynus stayed quiet as well, to allow for his guildmates to mull over and process the information he was able to give them.
“Is there a way to prevent these curses from taking hold in the first place?” Jhon asked, finally breaking the silence.
“Perhaps,” Lynus answered honestly as he pulled the book from his arm and flipped through the pages. “In this book are recipes and blueprints for items and accessories claiming to do just that. But I’ve never heard of any of them before and it’ll be hard to place complete faith in something that had been hidden until now. Still, it’s all we got. I’m afraid we’re going to be needing a few materials from the labyrinth to do this. And some may belong to monsters. Tobyn, I’ll give the list of materials to you. You would know their whereabouts far better than I possibly could.”
“Right,” Tobyn said as he pushed away from the arm of the couch he had been leaning against and quickly made his way over to Lynus and took the book from him. He then promptly turned around to head toward a table and chair set in the corner of the room where he was going to jot down the notes himself. “I’ll work on it right away. The others should get ready for a jaunt into the labyrinth.”
There was a soft chorus of agreement and understanding, and Lynus could feel their relief upon being given something to do. Sitting around and waiting was something explorers and adventurers had trouble doing. Besides, they had wanted so desperately to help in some way. And gathering materials from the labyrinth was one of the many things they did best.
If nothing else, the discovery of the book allowed for the guild to feel as if they were doing something useful for the time being.
“If at all possible, could you collect more samples from mining spots?” Lynus requested from Tobyn. “Any gemstones or crystals would be helpful.”
Tobyn didn’t glance up from the book and simply nodded his head as he flipped through the pages and scribbled hastily onto a piece of paper. “It shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Lynus sighed and shuffled anxiously on his feet. “We may need to split into groups for this.”
“Lynus,” Hamza suddenly called his name, causing him to turn toward the war magus. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to stay in town for now.”
“But-” Lynus started to protest but fell silent when Hamza gave him a stern look.
“You’re needed here,” he said bluntly, leaving no room for argument. “And you are working as hard as is. If you keep this up, you’ll end up in a hospital bed. We can’t afford to have you out of action at this time.”
Lynus couldn’t help but wince slightly as his hand absentmindedly wandered up toward the centre of his chest. “…Alright, I understand.”
“Good,” Hamza said as his expression soothed out and he gave Lynus a small smile before turning to face the rest of their guild. “Everyone else, prepare yourselves. The sooner we can gather the materials needed the better.”
“Right!” was the chorus of response before everyone began to do as they were ordered.
“There appears to be some monster materials that can only be harvested after a certain condition,” Tobyn piped up from the corner of the room. “And some of these materials I haven’t encountered before.”
Hamza headed toward Tobyn and paused near him as he glanced over his shoulder. “I suggest we go in pairs then.”
Tobyn nodded his head swiftly. “Sure. I’ll go with Jhon, Rahas with Macerio, Magnus with Shen, and Axel with Hamza,” he said before he lifted his gaze from the book and looked directly over at Lynus. “Chi-hung and Lirit should stay with Lynus to ensure he doesn’t push himself.”
“A-ah, you don’t trust me?” Lynus stuttered when he felt his cheeks heat up a bit.
Tobyn continued to look at him firmly. “When it comes to your own health; no.”
…He didn’t have to be so blunt about it.
Instead of responding, Lynus just sighed. He then turned to face Axel, whom of which was conversing quietly with Jhon, the two of them looking rather…apprehensive. It wasn’t much of a surprise, of course. As strong as they both were, even they were acceptable to hexes and curses.
Lynus waited for the two of them to finish speaking with each other before he approached Axel when Jhon moved to ready himself with his armour. “I’m not exactly happy to be split into groups,” he admitted.
“I know,” Axel replied as he slipped an arm around Lynus’ shoulders and pulled him toward him. “I’m more useful inside the labyrinth than out.”
Lynus frowned at him. “That’s not true. You’re useful wherever you are,” he said sternly before sighing and letting his head drop against Axel’s chest, suddenly feeling tired. “I don’t like being separated from you again like this, but Hamza has a point. I need to stay here and learn more about these curses. And I need to find a way to protect myself from the aftereffects.”
Axel gently carded his fingers through Lynus’ hair, causing him to tilt his head back to look up at him. “Don’t push yourself.”
Lynus gave him a small smile. “I know you’re incredibly strong, but be careful.”
“I will,” Axel said before he leaned down to kiss him softly on the lips.
The touch was too fleeting though and reluctantly, they pulled away from each other, so that Axel could pull on his own armour and for Lynus to muse about what he should do. There was little he could do at the inn other than research his own books, specifically his crystal encyclopaedias. However, he felt that he may gather more information on the hexes and curses themselves if he returned to the library at the hospital.
If nothing else, he should at least get a grasp on the severity of their situations from the number of cursed patients that came in.
“Alright you two,” Lynus said as he turned to face Lirit and Chi-hung. “Let’s head to the hospital’s library.”
“Hm? Can I tag along?”
The trill of a familiar aura raced up Lynus’ spine and he turned around to see a certain silver-haired troubadour lingering near the doorway, a small smile on his lips and his arms folded behind his back as he leaned forward expectantly.
“Oh, Cedric?” Lynus said before a smile of relief appeared on his lips. “Good. Are you moving to the inn for a while?”
“That’s what Hamza has suggested I do,” Cedric replied as he walked over to them and threw a glance across the room where Hamza was conversing with Tobyn. “He’s such a worrywart.”
“You’ll have to forgive him for the moment,” Lynus said as he fiddled anxiously with the strap of his bags. “Things are a little…unsettling at the moment. In any case, let us all head to the hospital then. The more information we have, the better.”
They were racing against the clock now. And he had no idea how much time they had left.