The Story Continues

Curious Minds

The bar was sparsely occupied when Lynus entered. He wasn’t all that surprised, though. It was mid-morning and it was an unusually warm day that day. Explorers and locals alike were more than likely either in the labyrinth, using the weather to their advantage, or were busy completing errands. The bar was unusually quiet for this time of day. There were a few weary and wary looking explorers and the old timers. Who of which Lynus has been told were the notorious Professional Bet Makers and warned not to make any bets with them for “reasons”.

Yes, “Reasons”. They wouldn’t tell him what those reasons were, just not to make any, and they mean ANY kind of bet with them. Other than that, they were harmless. And Cass was always laughing or verbally sparring with them.

Pausing just inside the door of the bar, Lynus pulled out the quest the hospital had issued and re-checked the bag of medica bottles offered as a reward. The quest was a simple fetch quest, but the item in mind wasn’t all that easy to find. It would be good experience for the younger guilds and the medicas were sure to be useful for them as well.

With everything accounted for, Lynus lifted his head and looked over toward the bar area where Cass usually did his dealings with the quests and guilds. And he noticed that someone was already standing there.

It took Lynus only a moment to recognise that that person was Ryker.

Ah, he must have taken on a quest on his own and was delivering the items to Cass to take care off. He was often seen doing that.

Ryker was a known survivalist around the town, yet very people knew much off him. He didn’t necessarily belong to a guild, though he did help out Hedrick’s small guild, helping to guide them through the labyrinth or simply watching over them. He was friendly, and can be chatty when he wants to be. But mostly he kept to himself.

Well, he tried to at least. Darrell had him in his sights, though.

Darrell and Ryker had a rather…interesting relationship, one could say. Darrell was incredibly blatant in his concern of Ryker. Aggressively so, in some instances. Flinging him over his shoulder, tying him to a bed to ensure he didn’t move; that sort of thing. Something he didn’t do with anyone else. It wasn’t uncommon to witness Ryker fearfully trying to hide from Darrell, only for the redheaded medic to somehow track him down and give him the medical attention that he required, but foolishly denied.

After said attention was given, Darrell would settle down quickly. His aggressive concern mellowed out into a gentle, doting manner. Ryker wouldn’t try to escape him when he was like that. Though he would be sheepish about trying to escape.

That often lead to the question of why Ryker would always try to avoid Darrell’s attention whenever he was hurt.

Lynus had heard some of his fellow medics at the hospital gossip about how Ryker obviously liked having Darrell chase him through the city to heal him. Others thought that maybe Ryker had been hurting himself and didn’t want attention.

Neither felt right with Lynus.

He obviously wasn’t as close to the dark green-haired survivalist as Darrell was, but he had dealt with a few of his more serious injuries from time to time. Those injuries he did heal certainly weren’t self-inflicted and were results of close encounters in the labyrinth. And when he did heal him, he was compliant, though kept apologising about taking up his time on such ‘trivial’ matters.

Whenever Lynus was with Ryker, either alone working on a small injury or when he was with Darrell, he couldn’t help but sense something from him. He wasn’t sure what it was. He felt…cautious, but not skittish or suspicious. There were times where he felt as though Ryker had wanted to say something but held himself back.

He felt…lonely. But he denied that to himself.

Lynus was glad that Darrell had taken it upon himself to watch over Ryker. He had noticed a subtle shift in Ryker’s aura when Darrell was relaxed and fussing over him in some way. He enjoyed the attention from Darrell. He truly did. And even when Darrell was in his aggressive healer mode, he wouldn’t struggle all that hard to get away from him.

It was obvious to Lynus that Ryker enjoyed Darrell’s company and his fussing. Yet for some reason he was holding himself back. Protecting himself…and Darrell, too?

Lynus was pulled from his thoughts when he heard Cass give a loud laugh, the one he usually gave after he said something he thought was hilarious. He looked over to see Ryker holding a bag of coins in one hand while he scratched the back of his neck with his other. He had a half-smile on his lips and appeared relaxed and friendly.

Yet…

Lynus couldn’t help but notice that something wasn’t quite right with him. There was a dark spot in his aura. Two, actually. One on his chest over his heart while the other was to his left knee. The one over his knee was only subtle. It was the one over his chest that piqued Lynus’ concern.

When Ryker turned away from Cass and toward the exit, Lynus found himself pushing forward to interact with him. “Ah, Ryker! Can I have a moment?”

Ryker immediately paused in his steps and looked in his direction. First his expression was passive but a small, friendly smile spread across his lips. “Well, isn’t it Lynus?” he said. “What can I do for you?”

Lynus paused in front of him and took a moment to place the quest items back into his back befre he turned his attention to him once more. “Ah, well, sorry if I’m keeping you, but I couldn’t help but notice that you’re not…at your best at the moment.”

“Eeh?” Ryker uttered as the smile dropped from his lips and he looked confused.

“You’ve hurt your knee, haven’t you?” Lynus replied. “It appears minor, and it’s not what I am concerned about, but I wanted to point that out so you can’t brush off the fact that your chest is hurting, too.”

Ryker immediately looked down at his knee before he looked up back at Lynus with an expression of genuine surprised. “You noticed that from across the bar?” he asked.

Lynus smiled sheepishly and twisted the strap of his bag. “I, well, I’m sorry. I’m very nosy, I know.”

“Oh, well, it’s nothing to worry about,” Ryker immediately responded as a half-smile appeared on his lips once more and he seemed to fight the urge to rub his chest. “They’re only minor annoyances. Really. Don’t waste your time or resources on me.”

That was something Ryker would say a lot. To him, to other medics. Even Darrell. But Darrell would blatantly ignore him, as would everyone else. Still it was curious as to why he always insisted that. Habit or did he actually believe it?

Lynus shook his head and tilted his head to the side. “Darrell will notice, too, you do realise?”

Ryker paled slightly. “You’ll tell him even if I manage to hide now, huh?”

“Oh yes,” Lynus answered brightly. “And he’d search this entire city for you.”

Ryker suddenly flushed. “Y-yeah, he would…”

Lynus righted himself and chuckled. “Would you like me to? Free consultation, perhaps?”

“Please?” Ryker returned, sounding rather sheepish.

Lynus chuckled again. “Of course. Let’s have you take a seat.”

He led the still very sheepish Ryker over to the quiet corner of the bar where he placed his bag upon the table and motioned for Ryker to pull out a chair and get himself comfortable. When Ryker dutifully sat down and removed his hat without a word, Lynus immediately placed his hand against his forehead. There he could to an overall and efficient body check to ensure he hadn’t missed anything.

The first place he checked was of course his chest area. He noticed that there were signs of previously fractured ribs, but thankfully there weren’t any at present. However, the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone appeared to be inflamed. Only mildly, thankfully. But it seemed to have been brought on from an old trauma.

“Have you received any impacts to the chest lately?” Lynus asked.

Ryker naturally hesitated before he gave him a sheepishly grin. “Well, no monster hits perse. I misjudged a step and fell against a tree.”

Hmm, that sounded plausible. And he could sense that he was being truthful. “Darrell healed that previous?”

“I have inflamed tendons or something, don’t I?” Ryker asked instead.

Ah, so he did. And he lectured him about the after effects also.

“You have a mild case of Costochondritis,” Lynus answered in response. “Refresh can help, but you need to take some anti-inflammatories for the next couple of days. I can give you some now if you-”

Ryker shook his head. “It’s ok. Darrell has already given me some. I’ll take them, I promise.”

Lynus had to smile. “That’s good. Now, let me see your knee. I can detect inflammation there as well.”

As Lynus grabbed another chair for Ryker to set his foot upon, Ryker bent forward and helpfully rolled up his pant leg. He then placed his foot upon the chair and leaned back into his own. He appeared casually, but he still looked…ashamed. Ashamed that he had gotten himself hurt in the first place and ashamed that he was taking Lynus’s time and attention.

“Did you hurt your knee when you hurt your chest?” Lynus asked as he carefully laid his hands upon the clearly swollen knee.

“It didn’t hurt at the time,” Ryker admitted honestly. “Only a day or so later. I can ignore it for the most part.”

Lynus wanted to respond that he didn’t have to ignore it when there were ways to stop the pain and heal the injury quickly. But he held his tongue. Ryker felt as bad as was already. And Lynus could tell that he felt guilty. But he was still a survivalist. A self-efficient one. Though he felt bad about getting himself hurt he was still going to attempt to take on everything on his own.

Thankfully Darrell was keeping an eye on him so he wouldn’t have to take on everything by himself.

“Darrell is still going to fuss, but not as badly,” Ryker commented idly.

Lynus smiled as he uttered a refresh spell. “He just worries for you.”

Unexpectedly Ryker’s eyes took on a faraway glint and he appeared solemn, as did his presence. “I don’t like worrying people,” he murmured, sounding as if he hadn’t actually meant to say that aloud.

The comment and the emotions he was sensing from him caught Lynus momentarily off guard. But he continued with his healing. He fell silent as he subconsciously inspected Ryker’s aura further.

He could sense that feeling again. Guarded and pained. Something was…haunting him.

Lynus wanted to ask him what was really wrong, but he held his tongue. He understood that feeling himself. Being on guard and hiding one’s pain. He had done that himself. For a few years. And there were times where he still felt it. It hurt physically and emotionally.

But he had Axel he could talk to. Axel listened to him as he held him, lessening his fears by gently whispering words of reassurance and encouragement.

But Ryker…

Shaking his head, Lynus smiled and pretended his didn’t hear what Ryker had said and carefully wrapped a supportive bandage around Ryker’s knee. He gentle patted it and uttered one more refresh spell.

“Well, as long as you take those anti-inflammatories that Darrell gave you, then your knee will heal up quickly as well,” he said as he pulled down Ryker’s pant leg over the thick bandaging.

“I will, I promise,” Ryker said in a appeasing way. “I’m really sorry for taking up your time again, Lynus.”

“You really don’t have to apologise every time, you know?” Lynus said in return as he continued to smile gently at the survivalist. “You can come to me whenever you need. If Darrell doesn’t get to you first, that is.”

Ryker gave him an awkward smile as he lifted his foot from the chair. “Yeah, well…”

A sudden excited yipping sound behind Lynus caused him to immediately turn around. He barely managed to catch a flash of silvery-blue before he felt something land on his chest and he stumbled backwards.

Thankfully he didn’t fall back. In fact his back collided with something. He wasn’t sure what, but when he heard yet another excitable whine and something clearly licking his face, he knew that Farley had all but tackled him. Something he did to a lot of people when he was full to the brim with energy.

“Farley, easy!” Lynus spluttered as he tried to push the large, excitable wolf off of him.

“Farley, down!” a familiar voice commanded. “We’ve been through this; no jumping on Lynus! He is small and fragile; you could break something!”

Farley gave a low whine before he hopped off of Lynus’ chest, leaving him slightly winded. As Lynus wiped his face with the sleeves of his coat and made the mental note to get tidied up before he returned to work, he realised that he was actually leaning back against someone. That someone being Ryker.

He must have stood up and caught him when Farley jumped on him.

“Oh, I’m sorry about that, Ryker,” Lynus immediately apologised and took a step forward. “And thank you. Farley doesn’t know his own strength sometimes.”

“Ah, don’t mention it,” Ryker said with a friendly half smile. “Nice to be able to help you for a change, however small. Didn’t know you have a wolf companion now.”

“Oh, Farley isn’t part of the Guardians,” Lynus answered. “He’s of the Cosmos guild.”

Ryker looked momentarily surprised but before he could say anything in response, Shiki laughed aloud and caused Lynus to turn his attention to him instead.

“Sorry about that, Lynus,” Shiki said with a smile while Farley sat next to him, tail wagging and tongue hanging from his open mouth. “You know how excited Farley gets. He just adores you!”

“It’s ok. No harm done,” Lynus said in return.

“So who’s your new friend?” Shiki suddenly asked as he glanced over Lynus’ shoulder.

“Oh, you two haven’t met?” Lynus asked and received a couple of head shakes in return. “Well, Ryker, this is Shiki. He’s Simmons’ father and Farley is his wolf companion. Shiki, this is Ryker. He helps out Hedrick and his daughter when possible.”

“Ah, nice to meet you,” Shiki said with a smile.

“Yeah, you to,” Ryker said politely response before his gaze trailed down to look at Farley. “No offense, but can I pet your wolf?”

Shiki’s smile widened. “Go ahead. He loves attention.”

Ryker crouched down, seemingly ignoring his injured knee and Shiki clicked his fingers. Immediately Farley sprung forward and made a beeline to Ryker. Lynus watched as a genuine smile appeared on Ryker’s face as the wolf happily nuzzled him and tried to lick his face. And Ryker readily returned his affection by scratching his head and back.

“He’s beautiful,” Ryker said as he continued to ruffle Farley’s fur, the wolf enjoying the attention immensely. “He’s not from around here, is his? His blue fur is very unique. A pure breed?”

“Ahh, a wolf lover, huh?” Shiki said as he folded his arms across his chest and smiled. “I found him as a small pup in Etria’s labyrinth. He was barely a week old.”

Ryker unexpectedly stilled at the mentioning of Etria. For a fraction of a moment his eyes widened and the smile fell from his lips. He even turned slightly pale. But all of that lasted only a moment and he soon placed the friendly smile back upon his lips and continued to pat a very excitable Farley.

“Etria, huh?” he said, trying to sound casual. “Heard of that place. You were…inside the labyrinth?”

Lynus felt Shiki shift on his feet. Though his expression remained open and smiling, Lynus felt regret and pain in his aura. And yet there was something else. He seemed…curious. About Ryker. He must have seen his reaction upon the city’s name also.

“Ah, had to wander around it for a while,” Shiki replied casually, though his body tense. “Very different to the one in Lagaard, is it not?”

Ryker continued to keep his attention on Farley. “Yeah…” he said simply.

Lynus was both concerned and curious. A part of him wanted to know more, to know why Ryker felt to be so…fearful and in pain right now. And yet the other half knew not to press the issue. Not here. Not now. And probably not him. He didn’t want to be intrusive, especially not when Ryker felt guarded.

“Farley certainly seems to like you,” Shiki was the one to speak first. “Perhaps you should find yourself a beast companion of your own, hmm?”

“That would be nice,” Lynus couldn’t help but add. “We don’t like you venturing into the labyrinth alone. A wolf companion would be perfect for you.”

Ryker looked up at him and for a moment there was a flicker of relief in his eyes. “Ah, maybe. Who knows. Maybe I’ll find a wolf pup of my own.”

“If you want, you can take Farley into the labyrinth with you,” Shiki unexpectedly offered, which seemed to surprise Ryker greatly. “He’s good company. Trust me.”

Though somewhat surprised by Shiki’s offer as well, Lynus was silently thrilled by it. And relieved. Ever the dad type, Shiki had also noticed that Ryker seemed lonely. Perhaps hurt and guarded as well. Whatever he noticed or realized, it gained his attention.

And empathy.

“I’ll, ah, keep that in mind,” Ryker managed to utter after a moment of stunned silence before he gave Farley’s ear one last affectionate rub and pushed himself to his feet. “Well, I better get going. Things to do and all that, you know? Sorry for taking up your time like this, Lynus.”

Before Lynus could reply with his usual reassuring response, someone else calling out Ryker’s name in a terse manner made both him and Ryker jump in surprise.

“Ryker!”

Ryker immediately whipped around with his hands in front of him in a pacifying manner. “I’m not hurt! Don’t tackle me!”

Lynus patted his chest to calm his heart that had skipped a beat from the surprise and smiled as Darrell made his way oh-so causally towards them. A half smile sat on his lips and his right eyebrow was arched suspiciously. “You were though, right?”

“It’s fine,” Ryker immediately replied. “I’m fine. Nothing to worry about. But why are you here? You said you were working at the hospital all day.”

“I still am,” Darrell replied. “But Lynus was taking too long to return that Dr Stiles grew worried.”

“Oh, sorry!” Lynus immediately said when he remembered the reason he was at the bad in the first place. Had he been gone that long? Long enough for Dr Stiles to send someone to look for him? He better apologise to him as soon as he gets back! “I got distracted, sorry! I’ll lodge the quest right away!”

As Lynus grabbed his bag, he heard Darrell chuckle lightly. “Hey, easy. It’s ok. Dr Stiles is just in a fussing mood today and you’re his adopted son or something. Don’t sweat it.”

“I’ll still apologise,” Lynus insisted. “Will you wait for me so we can walk back together?”

“You got it,” Darrell replied before he shoved his hands into his coat. “Ryker can keep me company while I wait.”

Ryker flushed lightly and despite what he had said to Lynus and Shiki about needing to go somewhere, he didn’t make an excuse or motion to leave. It brought a soft smile to Lynus’ lips, but he couldn’t help but wonder what it was that was preventing Ryker from actually…enjoying life.

He could only hope that whatever it was that Ryker was hiding from didn’t come back to hurt him in some way.

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