Axel tossed out the bag of stones first before he set about pulling himself out of the mining spot. This particular spot of the 16th floor wasn’t as deep as the many others in the lower stratums, and that made perfect sense since this floor wasn’t as well traversed as the others.
“How did you fare?” Hamza asked him as he offered his arm for Axel to take a hold of.
“I managed to pull out ten stones,” Axel replied as he took Hamza’s offer arm and hefted himself completely from the mining spot. “Odd finding pink and green stones mixed together.”
Hamza simply chuckled as he returned his gaze to their surroundings, eyeing them cautiously before he turned his attention back to Axel. “Ready to meet up with the others, then? We have all that we can gather for now.”
Axel nodded his head as he bent down and picked up the heavy sack of gemstones. He had honestly been ready to return to town the second he stepped foot inside the labyrinth. But he knew that would be pointless. He was needed inside the labyrinth while Lynus was needed outside. The very best thing he could do was to do his part to the best of his ability and return with the materials needed to make things easier for Lynus.
He also knew he couldn’t rush the others. He wasn’t that selfish to put his needs to check up on Lynus above the safety of his guildmates. He would never forgive himself if anything happened to them because of his lack of concentration and poor judgement.
But he had to admit that he was getting a little worried.
About an hour into their trek, his noticed a slight ache in his chest. It wasn’t exactly a pain and he was able to forget about it when he was battling against monsters or scavenging for materials, but it was just…there. An ache. That was the only word he could think of to describe it.
Axel idly rubbed at his chest again as he followed Hamza toward the geopole that would take them back to town. The slight ache in the very centre of his chest was more noticeable now. It was annoying. Yet he felt that it was also…a sign of something. It made him feel uneasy.
…He was probably just feeling paranoid and overly cautious. He was just thankful that the geopole was close by.
Stepping into the familiar swirling pink light, Axel was momentarily blinded by a flash of light. As he blinked his eyes a few times to rid himself of the after glare, he found himself standing on the outskirts of town, near the labyrinth’s entrance. And thankfully the others had already gathered together, seemingly having completed their own tasks.
“Everyone here unharmed?” Hamza immediately asked as the pulled together in one group.
“We’re fine,” Jhon was the one to answer and motioned to those with him with a wave of his hand. “We only just returned ourselves, but it appears that we have everything we were sent to gather.”
Axel knew that everyone would pull through, but he still breathed a sigh of relief. With these rouge hexers roaming about, he wasn’t at all comfortable or fond of breaking into smaller groups. It had to be done, though, and it seemed that everyone got through without a single encounter with said hexers.
All they needed to do now was to pick up Lynus, Lirit, Cedric, and Chi-hung from the hospital and return to the inn where they could sort through their materials. And start experimenting with possible charms and tonics to ward off and maybe even prevent those destructive curses from taking effect.
But as they drew closer to the hospital, Axel felt his heart sink in his chest at the large crowd of people gathered at the hospital’s steps and entrance. But…they weren’t going in to the hospital. They were…
The people were…leaving the hospital. In droves.
“Axel-” Hamza tried to get his attention, but Axel simply dropped his bag of materials and ran into the hospital.
Pushing past the patients to get into the reception area, Axel paused briefly to desperately call out his beloved’s name. “Lynus!”
Axel spun around and felt his heart drop into the pit of his stomach. He felt nauseated. Dr Stiles was carrying Lynus in his arms; one arm around his shoulders, the other under his knees. And Lynus had his head resting on his shoulder with his one of his arms lying over his stomach, the other hanging limply down at his side.
And he appeared to be unconscious.
Pushing back the bile of concern that had lodged in the back of his throat, Axel immediately ran over to him, his eyes set firmly on Lynus. He was pale, his lips slightly parted as he breathed softly. His eyes were closed, but not clamped shut, and his face seemed free of pain. And around his neck, tied hastily with thin black rope was the amazonite stone Axel had gifted to him a while ago now.
But what happened? He didn’t actually push himself to heal when he knew it would hurt him in return, did he? He promised he wouldn’t!
“Don’t be angry,” Dr Stiles said as he continued to carefully cradle Lynus in his arms, holding him so as if he was the most fragile thing in the world. “He found a way to stop the repercussions of the curses. He’s just exhausted. He couldn’t protect himself from that.”
Hearing that did elevate Axel’s concern somewhat, but he was still rightfully worried. After a silent moment of just looking at Lynus, Axel finally lifted his gaze to look at the head doctor. “He’s-?”
“Sleeping,” Dr Stiles said, his face rather severe, but soon softened when his gaze fell upon Lynus resting in his arms. There was a clear sense of regret in his eyes.
Axel allowed his own gaze to rest upon Lynus as well. A sense of guilt touched him and his gritted his teeth in annoyance as he tried to tell himself that there was nothing he could have done to prevent this. “He was really the only one who could?” he asked softly.
Dr Stiles released a deep sigh. “For the time being, yes.”
Wordlessly, Dr Stiles carefully allowed Axel to take Lynus into his arms and cradle him against his chest. Though the armour that Axel wore for his jaunt into the labyrinth was preventing him from holding his beloved medic as closely as he wanted, as he needed. And, despite the slight jostling of being moved from one set of protective arms to another, Lynus barely stirred.
He truly was exhausted. The last time Axel had seen him this exhausted it was…during that event on the 15th floor…
Axel clenched his jaw tightly in an attempt to banish those memories and he curled his arm a little tighter around Lynus’ shoulders.
“I am as happy about this as you are,” Dr Stiles said, his tone grave. But he quickly released another deep sigh, obviously quite exhausted himself as he lifted a hand to idly brush a few of the orange strands from Lynus’ forehead.
There was no need to ask how guilty and remorseful the head doctor felt.
“Unfortunately, it…needed to be done,” Dr Stiles continued. “The hospital was overwhelmed with patients. We couldn’t do anything more. The situation was out of control. Lynus, he…knew that. Despite my attempts to keep everything under control. I…don’t know what we would have done if he didn’t…”
“I’m not angry at you, or at Lynus,” Axel stated. “I’m…furious at those hexers.”
Dr Stiles nodded his head wearily and rubbed a hand over his face. “A vast majority of the patients have been dealt with and sent home,” he explained, though he didn’t sound all that relieved. “They will most likely return at a later date. If these hexers have anything to say about it. But for now, we need to take this opportunity to take stock and ready ourselves for the next incursion.”
He was absolutely right. The hexers were sure to return, their curses no doubt stronger than before. Lynus had given them time, the chance to regroup and plan for the inevitable confrontation. They couldn’t let this opportunity go to waste.
“Did you manage to gather materials needed for tonics and accessories?” Dr Stiles asked him as he dropped his arm to his side.
Axel gave a sharp nod of his head. “Yes, we did.”
“Good,” Dr Stiles said in honest relief as he reached out to pat Axel on the shoulder in a somewhat comforting manner. “I’ll leave them to the Guardians. I’ll do my job here. When Lynus wakes up, ask him to return to the hospital. Only so I can get him to explain to me in full how he managed to prevent the curses from hurting him. After that, I’m kicking him out.”
Axel gave the head doctor a half smile and nodded his head in understanding and acceptance. And in return, Dr Stiles gave Axel a half smile of his own before he removed his hand from his shoulder, turned on his heel and strode away, his back straight with determination. Axel watched him until he was no longer in sight before turning to look down at his beautiful medic lying peaceful in his arms. Though he was a shade paler, he didn’t appear to be in any pain.
Well, not in any physical pain, at least.
At the sound of Lirit’s voice, Axel lifted his head up to see the troubadour standing a few feet in front of him. And behind him were everyone else of their guild. Whether they had heard what Dr Stiles had told him, or Cedric and Lirit had informed them, everyone looked exceedingly worried. They look as though they wanted to crowd around them, to crowd around Lynus, but either Hamza or Cedric, perhaps both were holding them back.
Axel turned his attention back to Lirit. “Yeah?”
Lirit shuffled uneasily on his feet as an expression of unjustified guilt appeared in his eyes. “Lynus…wanted me to tell you that he’s sorry,” he told him as he trailed his fingertips over the strap of Lynus’ medical bag he carried upon his shoulder. “But he…couldn’t stand by and watch as others suffered.”
Honestly, hearing that didn’t surprise him at all. “I know,” Axel said simply. “It must have been hard for you, too.”
Lirit swallowed thickly as his eyes turned glassy for a moment. However, he managed a shaky smile and nodded his head. “He asked me not to stop him,” he admitted. “I wanted to, to be honest. He looked so tired. But…medics are stubborn, I suppose. Every single healer and medic at the hospital was exhausted. It needed to be done. Now…they have time to prepare themselves for the next curse onslaught.”
Yeah, now wasn’t the time to wander around like lost sheep. Lynus had done his job; it was time to do theirs.
“Yeah,” Axel said as he turned his attention to the rest of his guildmates, knowing that they, too, need to feel as if they can do something to help. Anything. “We can’t waste this time Lynus has given us. Let’s all work hard from here on out.”
Without any hesitation, everyone agreed.
From his place next to Hamza, Cedric revealed a couple of books he held in the crook of his arm. “We’ve managed to find some potentially useful information,” he explained.
“We’ll work on the accessories and tonics immediately,” Hamza said as he addressed everyone in the guild. “Looks like we’ll be pulling an all-nighter. Tobyn, head to the inn and sort through our gathered materials. Jhon, head to Sitoth Thompson and explain to him the situation. We’re going to need his blacksmithing skills. Everyone else, I’ll need you to visit other guilds and explain to them what is going on as well, but go in pairs. Most of them are probably at the bar now. After that, return to the inn immediately.”
Hamza didn’t give Axel any orders. He didn’t need to. Axel’s attention was on looking after Lynus. It didn’t need to be said.
Those who had been given orders gave their bags of materials to either Hamza or Tobyn, or Chi-hung who snared the drawstrings with his mouth, before they turned and hastily made their way out of the hospital. Lirit gave Lynus’ bag to Cedric before he moved to follow as well.
Hoping that none of his guildmates encounter any of those wayward Hexers, Axel pulled Lynus closer and headed in the direction of the inn, moving as quickly as he could but also cautiously. The last thing he needed was an encounter with a hexer as well. It wasn’t so much himself he was worried about. Lynus was in a very vulnerable position; those bastard hexers wouldn’t hesitate to target him.
Choosing to stick to the more public, open areas and streets of Lagaard, Axel was relieved to see the inn looming in the distance. And he felt a sense of security as he stepped into the foyer with some of his guildmates right behind him.
“Which would be better for Lynus; his room or the tearoom?” Axel asked. Though his own bed would be more comfortable, Axel wasn’t comfortable being a part from the others. They had already risked themselves enough as it was.
“The tearoom for now,” Hamza answered. “Place him on the couch closest to the fire place; we’ll take the far corner to conduct further research. It would beneficial for him to see everyone unharmed immediately upon awakening.”
As per usual, the tearoom was empty though with a healthy fire roaring. Axel quickly made his way over to the loveseat that sat closest to the fire place and carefully place Lynus down. He removed his coat and hair tie before lying him down with his head on a pillow before removing his boots. Once again, he didn’t move, didn’t utter a sound. Axel tried to tell himself that if there was anything drastically wrong with him, Dr Stiles would never have let him out of the hospital. He was just exhausted, while not exactly ideal, still better than other possibilities.
Shaking his head to rid himself of those nuisance ‘what if’ thoughts, Axel reached over to pick up the blanket that was draped over the back of the couch and carefully draped it over Lynus’ far too slender form. It honestly looked like he lost a few kilos in the past couple of hours.
Axel knelt down besides the couch and gently brushed aside the soft strands of Lynus’ hair from his temple. He worked so hard. He could cure any ailment. Heal any injury. He truly was amazing. But…Axel was worried.
With a sigh, he pushed himself to his feet before turning to throw a log into the fire. He turned to see Chi-hung had made his way to Lynus’ side and was resting his chin one of his paws that rested on the couch next to him. No doubt the dedicated white tiger was worried and frustrated with all that had been happening.
He wasn’t the only one.
As his teammates and family members returned to the inn in perfect health and perfectly safe, Axel slowly allowed himself to relax – somewhat at least. He was still on guard and would be that way until it he knew for certain that the hexers had been stopped, but he could let himself rest for the moment.
Keeping his axe within reaching distance out of habit, Axel removed the bulk of his armour to make himself more comfortable as well. Also because it wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing against those hexers, so he could do with the added mobility.
Turning his head, Axel regarded Cedric with a slight nod of his head. “Hm?”
“I want to talk to you about Lynus,” Cedric said as his gaze flickered down to Lynus on the couch and his expression grew solemn. “I watched him at the hospital today.”
Axel was unable to stop himself from wincing. “Was it really that bad?”
“I had never seen anything like it,” Cedric said before he gave a deeply troubled sigh, a serious and remorseful expression on his usual bright and chipper face as he explained the situation they had literally walked into when they entered the hospital.
He explained how the patients in their desperation all turned to Lynus, all begging and pleading for him to help. Told him how devastated Lynus had been when Dr Stiles told him not to participate in any healing until he was certain he could protect himself from the curses’ repercussions. About how, after a short breakdown, he had managed to use the very same amazonite stone Axel had given him many months ago to protect himself from the hexes.
And, with so much regret in his voice, Cedric explained to him how Lynus had healed all the patients in the waiting room on his own, pushing himself to the point of sheer exhaustion where he simply collapsed.
A part of Axel was angry at himself for not being there for Lynus. But another part was somewhat thankful that he didn’t have to stand back and watch as his beloved worked himself into such an exhausted state that he collapsed on the spot.
Axel drew in a deep breath through his nose before release it slowly through his lips. “I see,” he murmured.
Cedric looked at him sadly, but with empathy nonetheless. “He really is an extraordinary medic.”
Axel nodded his head idly as he ran his hand through his hair. “That’s what worries me,” he admitted after a moment of silence. “How much healing can one person do without consequence? Everyone has a limit. Even him.”
Cedric didn’t answer him, but the look he gave him told him that he had wondered the very same thing. And, more likely than not, a lot of other people had the same question.
It…couldn’t be healthy, could it?
“I’ll leave the two of you alone,” Cedric said as he gave a reassuring pat Axel on the shoulder. He didn’t say anything as he quietly walked to the other side of the room where everyone had gathered and talking quietly amongst themselves.
And, once more, Axel was left to his thoughts.
Roughly running his hand through his hair again, Axel sat himself down on the edge of the couch and stayed as close to Lynus as possible. He should probably offer his assistance to the others as they sought through the materials and reference books, but he would probably just get in the way.
So he stayed where he was, gently combing his fingers through Lynus’ soft hair and watching him as he slept, noting that his breathing was soft and easy. He kept reminding himself that he wasn’t in any pain, wasn’t suffering. Just tired. He just needed sleep. He’d be fine. When he awoke, which he would, Axel would comfort him before trying to convince him to get something to eat before lying down again.
Looking after Lynus was all he could do for now.
Hours seemed to drone on by as Axel kept a constant vigil on Lynus. The others moved in and out of the room, but never straying too far. They even decided that until these hexers have been found and stopped, that they should stay together in the one room, the tearoom to be exact. Cots and futons were brought in, along with their essentials.
Axel idly curled a strand of Lynus’ hair around his finger as his mind drifted to what he or Lynus would need from their room when a soft murmured immediately pulled him from his thoughts. He immediately focused his full attention back to beloved and watched as Lynus slowly stirred. His movements were sluggish and slow, and his gaze was unfocused as he fluttered his eyes open, but that was to be expected.
“Easy,” Axel said gently as Lynus rolled himself onto his side and managed to shakily push himself up onto his elbow.
“Axel…?” Lynus murmured softly, his violet eyes slowly regaining their focus.
Before Axel could reassure him, Lynus suddenly pushed himself up with his hands and flung his arms around his neck as he all but fell against his chest, and Axel was about to gently chide him for moving too quickly after fainting when he heard a soft whimper in his ear. “It was so bad. Everyone was cursed. Even children. They have to be stopped.”
Axel immediately wound his arms tightly around Lynus and held him close. “They will be stopped one way or another,” he promised.
So help him, those hexers were going to be stopped. He would – they would – make sure of it.