When Lynus got to inn, it was surprisingly chaotic. The entire guild was gathered outside the room that Jhon and Tobyn shared, looking puzzled and completely lost. They were talking hurriedly to each other, their words filled with confusion and disbelief.
Axel was the first to spot him as he walked closer, Macerio right behind him. An expression of relief appeared on his face and he reached out to grasp Lynus by the shoulder the very second he was close enough. Lynus couldn't help but notice that there was a bit of blood on his shirt.
"I have no idea what's going on," he admitted as he led Lynus into the bed room and over to the bed that Jhon was lying on. Hamza was already there. Despite having his right arm in a sling, he was pressing a blood soaked cloth against the right side of Jhon's chest. His brow was furrowed with concentration, trying to add pressure to stop a bleed, but being cautious as not to injure his lungs or ribs.
Jhon was lying still upon the bed; the only signs of life were his harsh breathing. His skin was pale and sweaty, dark rings already forming under his eyes. His face was creased into an expression of pain and discomfort. He was unconscious, barely reacting to Hamza's or anyone else's presence.
Immediately making his way to stand on the other side of the bed, Lynus made no attempt to remove Hamza from his position. Obviously, there was a wound on the right side of his upper chest. The blood, however, was the least of his worries. Was his lung affected? Did he have a collapsed lung?
Silently using his newfound skill of pinpointing an exact diagnosis, Lynus quickly searched through Jhon's chakra sites and was swift to realise the severity of the situation. Fractured rib, punctured lung and some kind of poison was affecting his breathing.
Macerio had briefly mentioned poison and arrow, so obviously he was talking about the survivalist skill poisoner. There was one person in their guild who could tell him the components of such a poison.
However, that someone was surprisingly missing.
"He just took off," Axel was the one to answer. "Said something about an antidote."
Lynus furrowed his brow. The whole thing was becoming more and more confusing. "Antidote? There won't be enough time, no matter how fast he may be."
There was something else going on here. Lynus couldn't help but feel that Tobyn wasn't after the antidote. It felt like to him that Tobyn knew who Jhon's attacker was and had given chase in order to keep the perpetrator busy.
It was just like what had happened the first time they stepped into the third stratum. When they were ambushed by that relentless monster that was protecting its nest. Tobyn had tried to lure it away from them, away from Jhon.
Lynus abruptly shook his head. Whether on purpose or instinct, it didn't matter. He trusted what Tobyn was trying to do. Now, it was his turn to act.
"Look, I don't know what's really going on here, but I need ingredients to make a potion to aide my healing," Lynus glanced quickly over to Jhon. "And I need them now."
"What do you need?" Axel immediately asked.
Lynus pressed his hands together and tapped his chin in thought. "…Mugwort and malachite," he murmured and turned to the blond-haired alchemist who had been standing silently in the background, clutching Zanna against his chest. "Magnus, I need some ice water, please."
Magnus automatically stiffened and nodded his head. "Y-yes."
"Mugwort the second stratum," Hamza helpfully supplied. "Malachite is found in the fourth."
"Shen and I will head to the 16th floor straight away," Axel stated as he shared a quick look with Shen, receiving a nod of acceptance from the usually stoic ronin. "Macerio, Rahas, you two head to the second stratum."
"Right," Macerio immediately said as he turned to the dark-skinned dark hunter. "Let's go, Rahas."
Rahas nodded his head. "Ready when you are. Let's stop by the shop to get some warp wires, though."
As the two raced from the inn, Axel turned to their troubadour. "Lirit, you say here to help Lynus and Hamza."
"Of course!" Lirit replied readily.
"Chi-hung, find Tobyn," Axel instructed their beast companion. "Watch him."
A growl of understanding rumbled from deep within Chi-hung throat. With a quick flick of his tail, he pushed himself onto all fours and then bolted from the inn, immediately honing in on Tobyn's scent.
Lynus drew in a deep breath as Axel and Shen also made a quick exit from the inn and he turned back to Jhon. He had to be honest, their protector was fading fast. However, he wasn't going to die. There was no chance in hell Lynus was going to allow this poison, this incident to take him.
No one was going to die on his watch.
… … … … …
It took Tobyn a matter of minutes to make his way onto the thirteenth floor. Why Kaesha had chosen this floor as their personal battlefield, he didn't know. The thick snow and frigid air, not to mention the lakes of solid ice, made it difficult to traverse silently. It was going to slow him down significantly.
However, if he was clever, he could use the ice to his advantage. He knew this floor, better than Kaesha could possibly. The ice would make it easier to put distance between them and he may even be able to lure her down a few pathways that lead to dead ends.
…He had to keep her distracted. And keep her away from the take points, just in case they were needed for the potion.
Clutching his bow tightly in his hand, Tobyn lowered his hat to ensure that none of the falling snow got into his eyes. Keeping close to the natural walls and barriers of the pathways. The snow will leave deep footprints, but if he kept close to the trees and stone pillars, he may be able to prevent leaving any tracks.
"About time you showed up!" a feminine voice shouted.
Tobyn gritted his teeth, but did not physically react. He had anticipated that she would have a slight advantage over him, but that did not mean she had control over the entire challenge. He was trained by the best survivalist Lagaard had ever had, so he wasn't going to lose!
Having intense knowledge of this floor (mostly thanks to how difficult and utterly annoying it was with all the ice), Tobyn knew which way lead deeper and which pathways led to dead ends. The ice, utterly annoying at first, could be used to his advantage.
He could sense her presence. She was close by. She was stalking him, much like a FOE would. So…he would just have to treat her as one. Move along the lakes of ice, take short cuts. The deeper they moved, the further she was from take points and the stairs.
Move slowly and cautiously. Drag it out for as long as possible.
Slipping silently through a short cut, Tobyn stepped out into a long, narrow hallway with several pathways leading off. This part of the floor had always bothered him, yet there had never been anything for him to find and see.
Crouching low, he studied the snow. This snow beneath his feet felt different. Softer, as if it had recently been disturbed. Had Kaesha tried to cover her tracks in a haphazard way? Or was she trying to trick him?
Or…was there something living under the snow?
A soft rustling of frozen leaves caused Tobyn to tense. He immediately sprung to his feet and darted behind a frozen tree. As soon as his back touched the cold bark, there was a sound of a thin projectile striking the tree. He glanced around the side to see an arrow.
She was really close now…
He needed to keep her busy.
"What are you trying to gain?" Tobyn called out.
"I'm going to make sure that you die the same way he did," Kaesha's angry voice seemed to echo around the floor, making it difficult for him to pinpoint her location. "It's the way it should have been."
Tobyn greeted his teeth, rising to the mockery. "Do you really think I don't care for him?" he hissed in return, staying close to the trees and stone pillars that lined the pathways. A lump suddenly appeared in his throat. "…Keshet was like a father to me. He was the only family I had…"
"And yet you got him killed!"
"I never asked him to cure my fever!"
Kaesha made a sound like a disgruntled scoff. "Some survivalist you are. I still have the antidote. Once again you're going to be the reason someone's dead."
She was talking about Jhon…
"Shut up!" Tobyn yelled as he readied an arrow in his bow. "He's not dead!"
"He will be," Kaesha insisted. He could almost hear a sense of vile satisfaction in her voice. "There's no way you can get the antidote in time."
Tobyn ducked out from behind the tree, rolled across the snow just as an arrow was embedded in the bark where he was just standing. Pushing himself onto his knees, he quickly pulled back on his bow and released an arrow of his own, shooting it through the foliage, in the direction Kaesha's voice was the loudest.
A moment later, he heard a soft curse and the sound of the rustling of leaves. Whether he had struck her with an arrow, merely grazed her or had missed, he didn't know, but he had sent her on the move again.
"I'm not stupid," Tobyn said as he positioned himself behind a stone pillar, automatically resting an arrow in his bow. "I know what you're up to. I know you don't have the antidote. Even if you did, you wouldn't give it to me."
Tonyn's grip on his weapon abruptly tightened when he thought about Jhon and his guildmates back in town. They had no idea what was going on. They couldn't possibly know where he was or what he was doing. But…
Please, let them figure out what was going on. Let Lynus find a way to cure Jhon on his own. Let them all be safe.
"I'm here to stop you from targeting others of my guild," Tobyn said. "I'm here…as a distraction so that they'll have the time to create the real antidote."
"There is no way they could cure the poison I created!" Kaesha suddenly shrilled, seemingly becoming unravelled.
"Of course they will!" Tobyn shouted back, more reassuring himself than to mock her. "They can do anything!"
"No, I'm not going to lose this!" Kaesha suddenly appeared at the end of the long pathway, her bow lined with two bolts aimed directly at him. "I'm not going to lose to you again! You took him away from me!"
Tobyn kept his position behind the pillar as he watched her from the corner of his eye. "What are you talking about? He was never yours to begin with."
"I loved Keshet more than you ever could!"
"Stop it," Tobyn growled as he squeezed his eyes shut. "Stop saying his name! What gives you the right to talk so irrationally about him?!"
Tobyn felt his eyes widen when he noticed a silent but sudden disturbance behind her. The snow was frothing up, so the speak. Something was crawling out from under the snow. He didn't know what, but it was a threat.
"Behind you!" he called out as he scrambled from his hiding spot.
"I'm not falling for that," Kaesha spat as she pulled back on her bow harder, intent on attacking him and only him.
However, a mere second later, her eyes widen and she spun around when she heard a sharp clicking noise. She then suddenly found herself face to face with a giant crab-like FOE, red and white, with one huge pincer on its left. That clicking noise was being made from its pincers. And it looked irritated.
Kaesha couldn't move as that large pincer aimed directly for her neck…
He could only watch with wide eyes as blood sprayed dramatically through the air, Kaesha's limp body falling to the ground in an unnatural heap. Blood stained the snow as her head…
Tobyn felt sick to his stomach as he looked away. A survivalist should never take his gaze off of a FOE, but he couldn't watch. He couldn't look at the…carnage. She hated him, he hated her, she attacked the one he cared for most…still, no one deserved that kind of death.
She was so obsessed with getting revenge against him that she forgot her most basic of survivalist training – never lose sense of your surroundings.
W-where did that thing come from? He had never seen it before!
Wait…under the snow. He knew it! When he walked this path earlier he had sensed that there was something abnormal. The snow was softer, most likely due to the crab like monster borrowing itself under the snow to sleep. Their battling and shouting must have awakened it, allowing it to hone in on their location.
Flailing its claws in a kind of victory dance, the FOE suddenly turned its attention onto him. Immediately, Tobyn felt a cold chill race down his spine and he knew that he had to run. But as he turned to slip down another path way, he watched in disbelief as the snow in front of him began to bubble up.
Before he could register that there was yet another FOE, something snared his ankle. In a burst of snow and ice, Tobyn suddenly found himself hanging upside down by his ankle, a red and white pincer holding him high off the ground.
As his hat immediately fell to the ground, his long blond hair dangling beside his arms, a horrifying realisation took his breath away. If that thing tightened its pincers any more he was going to lose his foot!
Tears immediately began pool within his eyes and he mildly wondered if this was what Keshet felt before he, too, lost his life? What of Jhon? Was he all right? Did Lynus and the others get to him in time?
Before the tears could fall from disbelief and grief, there was a sound of an almighty roar and, suddenly, he was falling.