The Story Continues

Embracing the Snow

The crisp white snow of the third stratum was as cold and beautiful as it was when they first stepped within. Snowflakes drifted slowly to the ground, piling fresh snow evenly. The trees, the stone pillars of blue were unlike anything they had ever seen.

As beautiful as the floor was, it held some very bitter memories.

Glancing over at his sole companion, Jhon was fairly certain he knew why Tobyn was so lost in thought. He was standing a few feet in front of him, his scarf and coat tugged tightly around him to ward off the cold as he stared up at the blue-coloured trees. His lips were drawn into a thin line, looking rather grim. His eyes, however, were very vivid. He was remembering, reliving something.

Jhon sighed and slowly approached him, to stand next to him in that very spot where they, well mostly HE, had the very close encounter with the mysterious beast known as Madsteps. A strange name for a monster, but it was ruthless and powerful nonetheless.

In all honesty, Jhon remembered little of that event. He remembered the determination to protect Tobyn and that was about it. Everything else was a blur until he was helped back to the inn. He was grateful that he wasn't taken to the hospital. The hospital, although filled with very professional and talented healers, was too stark and, well, uncomfortable. To be whisked away to hospital meant that his condition was serious. And that would only concern and place fear within his guild-mates.

He had already scared the living daylights out of Tobyn. He really couldn't do the same with the others. So, he was thankful when Lynus had decided that the inn would be more comfortable for him. It was as if he knew. Being a protector meant more than protecting others with his shield.

In all honesty, though, he was glad that Lynus and Axel, and Macerio as well, were there. Although he remembered little, it reassured him later to realise that whatever injury he had sustained, Lynus was talented enough to heal him. And that Axel was powerful enough to engage the monster to give them the chance to recover. And Macerio was swift enough to find them a place of refuge.

The monster was gone now, though. Although still alive, most likely, it was no longer aggressive as its eggs had hatched and its hatchlings were big enough to roam about. No one had seen it for a while.

So it no longer mattered. The whole event didn't matter anymore. Not to him. It could have ended badly, but it didn't. There was no point in dwelling on the 'what ifs' anymore.

They weren't on there to fight or battle. It was just a quick visit of the 11th floor. They just needed to investigate the chop spots. Death Stems were surprisingly popular, for some unknown reason. Lynus was less than thrilled about it, though. Understandably so as death stems were notoriously poisonous. He wanted to get his hands on one to find out why they were so popular.

And probably make a cure for it.

"Come on," Jhon said as he nudged Tobyn with his shoulder to pull him out of his thoughts. "If I remember correctly, there is a chop point in the room behind the stairs to the next floor."

"Right," Tobyn murmured as he finally turned his gaze away from the foliage. He, however, still looked uneasy. He had always been good at hiding his emotions, keeping his face half hidden and free of emotions. However, there was nothing he could do to hide the emotion in his eyes.

Despite having just prompted him to move, Jhon gently took him by the elbow and kept him in place. Despite his outward toughness, inside Tobyn was as fragile as the snow that fell around them.

As Tobyn looked at him, a questioning expression on his face, Jhon unexpectedly was a loss for words. All that could register in his mind was how striking Tobyn looked right now. He really did look beautiful. The way the snow was sitting amongst the long blond strands of his hair that was swept over his shoulders like strands of gold silk.

Tobyn had said something, but Jhon didn't hear the words, he just saw his lips move.

The snow continued to fall around them as Jhon stepped toward Tobyn, holding him by the upper arms. He then ducked under the rim of Tobyn's hat and pressed their lips together. He felt Tobyn stiffen, a soft gasp slipping past his lips. Yet, he did not move, did nothing to try to put any distance between them.

Slowly, Tobyn began to relax under Jhon's hands and timidly pushed forward into the kiss. Then, as if he had been holding himself back for some reason, he suddenly wrapped his arms around Jhon the best he could, his hands resting on his back. Jhon wasn't surprised, though. He smiled softly before wrapping his own arms around Tobyn's waist, holding him against his chest.

The kiss was soft, but not all that indulgent. It couldn't be, after all they were still within the dangers of the labyrinth.

Tobyn's blush was as red as the scarf around his neck as Jhon finally pulled away. But he made no attempt to more away from him.

"What was that…?" Tobyn began to ask before trailing off, clearly embarrassed.

"I'm still here," Jhon said simply.

Tobyn was silent as he stared at him with his vivid blue eyes. He then swallowed thickly. "Then you better stay," he murmured.

Jhon smiled and pulled him into another kiss.

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