The sun shone high in the sky when the morning instruction ended. Stretching the lingering kinks in his muscles out from the morning's exercises with Ryodalin and the beating from Amethyst, Syranon sighed and dreaded what the next morning might bring. His first Bondmate, Sukina, interrupted his train of thought. "Syranon, are you feeling better?"
Nodding in affirmation, he answered her concerned query. "Yes. My healing spell took care of the worst of the damage. The soreness is just lingering, and it's honestly somewhat pleasant when it's from the normal exercises, bruises aside."
"Good," she sighed, relieved. "I was worried you were mad about my sister's actions. I'm sorry she got so carried away, I just don't know what got into her."
"It was painful, but I guess I'm not angry about it. It's over with now, and she looked upset enough over how angry YOU seemed that I didn't really need to dwell on it. Even if it was over the top of her, we need to work together later on. Holding a grudge would just get in the way." The beastman rubbed the back of his head, trying to sound light-hearted.
With a relieved smile Sukina bumped a shoulder into him while they walked. "Thank you. That means a lot to me, Syranon. What are you up to before afternoon instructions?"
"He's going to be busy, so you may as well spend it with that sister of yours." Forcing her way between the two was Teodora, sliding an arm through the male's.
Expression a mixture of annoyed and hurt, Sukina turned to the smaller demon. "Teo, you didn't have to push like that. Are you planning something?"
Teodora rolled her eyes. "Of course I am. I wouldn't bother either of you if I didn't have a reason."
"There's no need to be that rude is all I'm getting at."
"Very well, I apologize," she said in a tone that was completely insincere. "Seriously, though. You should see to Amethyst. She's down enough about this morning that it isn't any fun to tease her."
"Well...you have a point. Fine. Syranon, I'll see you later," the pink haired succubus said, smiling at him before turning to find her sister.
"See you, Suko." Smiling back as she left, he turned to Teodora with a slight frown.
"Well, what can I do for you then, Teodora? And why are you holding my arm?"
Clearing her throat into her free hand, the noble demoness shifted the beastman's arm into a more comfortable position. "You, cat, need to practice your etiquette. In preparation for our coming Bonding, I spoke with my father about training you to interact with we noble demons more fittingly. He said he won't take too much of a direct role in the matter - something about an agreement with Morgrehn - but there's no reason *I* can't train you. For the rest of the day, at the minimum, you will act as my attendant."
"What?! But...but what about the training this afternoon? Am I just supposed to skip it?" he demanded, alarmed at her unilateral decision.
"Of course. If your class schedule is anything like mine, it's just reviewing the information on Outer Demons."
"That's important material!"
She looked up at him with a frown. "Don't pretend you and Suko haven't already studied everything we have on them. I bet you could repeat what's in the book verbatim."
"Well...I guess I do know most of it, yes..." he said, rubbing his chin.
"Then it's settled! You can even teach me as part of the afternoon. Isn't THAT an honor?"
Teodora half-dragged him through the castle halls, her position requiring him to follow or risk dislocating his arm. "First thing's first, though. While I don't really agree with being part of it or fetching, Emerald made a reasonable request to bring you to her since I'm in your class."
Blinking, the beastman asked what she meant. "Bring me to her? For what?"
"She said something about tests. Ask her when we get there."
Several silent, somewhat awkward minutes later and the two entered the green haired demoness' room. Both of them were shocked to see the sheer disorder and clutter Emerald had made of it. Not an inch of one wall could be found behind a wide variety of screens and readouts displayed by Midgar-made machinery, all the displays completely incomprehensible even with Syranon's time with the Knight family. Another wall was occupied by devices magical in nature, glowing orbs cackling with eldritch lightning and book pages in illuminated runes.
From beneath a pile in the room reached a hand. After groping around for a minute it found purchase, allowing the room's owner to uncover herself. Emerald Jaeger shook her head to clear it and fiddled with her glasses, knocked askew from her recent covering. A blinking moment passed before she spoke to them. "Oh, good! You brought him! Thank you very much, Teodora."
"You're welcome. Just don't take too long, or expect me to fetch him in the future. I'm above such tasks normally."
"Of course, of course. It was only a matter of convenience today, and the sooner the better. Go ahead and have a seat if you can find one, I'll try to keep this brief." The green haired demoness gestured to what appeared to be a desk and Teodora uncovered the chair for it, sitting with a faint huff. She crossed her arms and kept a bored look on her face. Her expression vanished briefly when she spied a small bowl of candied mints peeking out from under a printout and she grabbed one, popping it into her mouth after determining it was not old or dirty.
Syranon was standing in the middle of the room as far as he could tell. "So what did you need from me, Emerald? And why is sooner, better?"
The well-endowed demon sushed him, pulled out a variety of medical implements, and circled him slowly, jotting down notes on things such as blood pressure and, when asked, his Amulet readings. "Well," she explained during her activities, "I was able to get a baseline reading in the bath. Mostly, anyway."
"A reading of what?" asked Teodora in his place.
"I imagine neither of you have really had a chance to study the effects of the Bond, correct? I mean, the information is simply unavailable, and even Lady Lilium hasn't explained everything about it. What I'm trying to do is conduct my own research on the matter."
The smaller demoness nodded. "Oh, I see. So the baseline readings you got were some of his vital data prior to his Bond with Suko, and now you're getting the same data with him having a single Bondmate?"
"Precisely!" beamed the scientist, prompting a smug look from Teodora. "I accept that there will be a great number of flaws with my findings that I simply cannot do anything about. The entire concept of repetition will be impossible, given the almost completely subjective nature of the Bond between partners. But I believe it will still be beneficial to record what I can of the changes made in even one beastman, especially after each successive Bond added to him."
"And sooner was better because you wanted to get his information before anyone else Bonded, as I said. I get it." Watching Syranon's discomfort at some of the tests - especially his practically jumping when she used a needle to draw blood - brought a faint malicious grin to Teodora. "I take it you'll want to get some of my information as well? See how the Bond affects me?"
"Oh, would you let me? It'd be most appreciated, and science itself would thank you! And I can do the same for myself prior to my Bond, and Amethyst...!" The green haired demoness was practically bubbling, holding her face with her hands in delight. "Ooh, so much data to be had!"
Teodora hopped up from the chair she had been sitting in and braced her hands on her hips. "Yes, yes. If you're done with him you can start on me, just be quick about it. I have plans for the afternoon." With a nod the scientist demon went about her business, doing her best to expedite gathering Teodora's vitals. Since most of her interest was really in Syranon's side of the Bond for now, this wasn't difficult to manage. Both of the 'voluntary' test subjects left the room a few minutes later, the male shuddering at Emerald's request to come back soon for more tests on him, particularly regarding some experimental serums.
"So, beastman," Teodora said, linking arms and dragging him along once again, "First off, to my room. You're going to need to carry some stuff for the day."
"What? But why? You still haven't told me exactly what you wanted. ...Besides an attendant."
"Oh, right. Well, to keep it simple, you're taking me on a picnic date."
The cat beastman blushed at the word, surprised. "D-date? I thought you just wanted me to follow you around and act a servant, from the way you were talking earlier."
"You will, don't worry. But I'll be Bonding to you soon and cannot abide the thought of you remaining at the station you are. I want you to improve yourself and your manner to something more...satisfactory as a Bondmate. As I said previously, I would prefer a noble, but a knight would suffice. Even without literal shining armor." She pulled open her room's door and entered, planting her temporary 'minion' in the entry. Into his arms went a thoroughly stuffed pack, which he scrambled to slide onto his shoulders before she practically threw a woven basket at him.
He could hear glass containers and paper wrapping inside jostling as he adjusted his grip. "What is all this for, Teodora?" he asked with an internal sigh. It was like the first day all over again.
"Outfits and our food," she answered, pushing him back out the door. Once more her arm snaked around his. "YOU get to choose where we're going for the afternoon. You'd better choose someplace nice, or else."
"I thought you would have had a place in mind already."
"Nope. I'm using this as a chance to judge you, beastman. That's why I'm bringing several outfits - I want to be ready for anything. So where are we going?"
Syranon rubbed his chin in thought. As much as he didn't really want to go along with this plan, he figured it would be in his best interests to 'learn to please the ladies', as Asmodeus told him. He wasn't as familiar with this area of Nifelheim as he would want for this, but he remembered a spot he and Ryodalin had passed on their way in that stood out nearby. "All right, I think I have a good idea. It should be too far away, maybe a half-hour walk. Close enough for you?"
Teodora nodded, her blue locks bouncing. "Yes. Good job so far, that's an acceptable distance to travel by foot."
"If it's really supposed to be a...date, then maybe we should ride a horse there?"
"A horse? I've never been on one," the demoness admitted, thinking about it. "Though riding does seem like it might be fun..."
"Really? Then all the more reason for us to. I can teach you how to ride, if you like. Or I can just handle the reigns this time." Syranon's discomfort about being forced into the activity faded as he thought about it, getting approval from his fellow candidate.
The two made their way to the stables in the courtyard and made their pick of the horses.
The Hyal'narin had originally pointed out a sturdy draft horse for the trip, being short distance and through slightly rough terrain, but the demoness found herself enamored with a Palomino saddle horse. Giving in to her desires he saddled the mare, tying the pack of clothes and basket at the rear of the horse. With an easy leap he was in the saddle, experienced with riding and comfortable with the seat.
"Ahem!" Teodora cleared her throat and crossed her arms expectantly.
"Oh, right. Here, take my hand," he said when he remembered she hadn't ridden before. With a 'hup!' he helped her climb onto the saddle as well, where she sat in front of him.
"You know, most extra riders sit behind the one with the reigns."
Sitting sideways in front of him, she glowered in response. "You're complaining about a lovely young lady sitting in your lap? Maybe I shouldn't have been praising your decisions so far, cat."
He sighed in exasperation and kicked the horse into motion. "I'm not complaining, I was trying to explain what's customary since you haven't ridden before." Teodora let out a small noise of surprise when they started and held onto the saddlehorn tight while she grew accustomed to the motions. "We should be there before long," he added as he flicked the reigns, urging the equine to a canter from its walk.
A handful of fairly quiet minutes went by. The noble demon began to relax, enjoying the unexpected stability of the experienced horse and the regular sounds of its feet striking ground. The verdant green of the forest aided in this as well. "I think I rather like this," she commented at length, using Syranon as a backrest.
"That's good," he said, taking a deep breath. The forest always made him feel more alive, revitalized. "I think we're about halfway there. Teodora, can I ask you a question?"
She looked up at him through her blue bangs, surprised. "Hmm? What is it?"
"It's about earlier, when classes ended. I was wondering, what is it you have against Suko? I know you and Amethyst don't really get along," he said, seeing her look of confusion about the subject. "She dislikes me, too. I just can't imagine what Suko could have done to irritate you so. And since you're both going to end up Bonded to me at some point, I want to know. If you'll tell me."
Nodding in understanding now, the diminutive demoness sighed, looking into the distance ahead. "It isn't really because of anything she's done or said. Suko is a nice girl, I suppose. She's polite, well-mannered...you'd think we'd get along overall, right?"
"Well, yes. The hostility instead surprised me."
"The problem is really her family, not her."
It was Syranon's turn to be confused. "Her family?"
"Yes. I'm sure you remember her father, Royce?"
"How could I forget? Loud, seemingly simple-minded, terrifyingly charismatic. He's impossible to forget, even if he rubs me the wrong way somehow."
"Just like he does to Ame, my father, and myself. Odd that she dislikes you nearly as much as she does me, beastman. I'd think she'd love to use you being a candidate as a chance to drive him up a wall in some way. Anyway, as I was saying, it's not Suko I have a problem with, it's her family. Ame and I don't get along very well. Overgrown cow," she muttered, sullen for a moment. "And she's very protective of Suko, which you've also seen. Really, I'm rude to Suko just to get at her sister in another way."
"Wait, that's the reason? Just to get under Amethyst's skin? Isn't that...?"
Teodora chuckled quietly. "A little juvenile? Unnecessary? Probably. But, beastman, part of being a demon is acting on instinct and impulse, and that's a lot of what that is. Amethyst and I are very much following in the relationship footsteps of our fathers, as much as she would want to deny any similarities to hers. It's almost unavoidable for us, a fate of sorts."
She sighed and linked her hands behind her head, leaning a bit more into him without thinking. "I'm a little disappointed, beastman, that you would talk about another girl when on a date with me...but you make up for it by being concerned about your Bondmate and making me part of the question. Shows me something I have to look forward to."
"Glad you approve," he said with a wry smile at the compliment. Eyeing the path they traveled, he saw where he needed to turn off to get to his destination. "Just about there."
"Oh? Good! I want to know what kind of decisions you can make regarding a lady and scenery." Teodora leaned forward, trying to see what he had in mind. The trees only seemed to grow heavier for a bit, blocking view of more than a few meters. Without warning, however, the treeline ended. The noble demoness let out a quiet gasp in surprise at the abrupt change.
Where moments ago had been tall, mossy trees was now a massive clearing, easily one hundred meters across. A gentle downward slope in the grass led to a shining, blue pool of water at the base of a small fall on one side, trailing off on the opposite in a small river. The pool itself covered easily half of the clearing. Scattered about in patches were a handful of pristine white flowers. The entire clearing looked like a higher being had designed it as a perfect hideaway.
Reigning in the horse, Syranon dismounted and held his hand out for Teodora to help her down. She grinned at him, both pleased with his choice in location and inwardly impressed with him so far. "I like it," she told him, looking around some more while he unrolled a blanket to eat on. The two sat down with the basket between them and ate their meal in relative silence, the food having been prepared by one of Asmodeus' minions when his daughter had asked him to arrange it. Some minor explanation about the Outer Demons was given by Syranon, though Teodora didn't pay a great deal of attention.
"So this type of Outer Demon, the Azal, is more or less a mage demon. Smart and skilled in magic, they're less common..." Syranon was saying, trying to help his comrade learn like they were supposed to for classes.
Teodora stifled a yawn and nodded before standing up in a rush, cutting her 'attendant' off. "You know what would really benefit you, since you clearly know plenty about the Outer Demons?" she asked, moving to reach into her bag. "Some exercise. You're still a bit behind in that department, and that pool of water looks perfect for swimming!"
Blinking, the beastman stood as well. "What? Swimming? Did you...bring a bathing suit?" he asked, incredulous.
"Yep! I told you I was trying to be prepared for anything!" With a flourish she pulled out a one-piece suit the color of her hair, with a bit of white frill around the holes. "I'm gonna change on the other side of the horse. You better not peek," she scowled, moving the picnic blanket over the horse and making a curtain to disappear behind.
"Believe me, I won't," he muttered in response, turning his back to her and shaking his head. She really wasn't kidding about being prepared, he thought to himself.
It was only a minute before she walked back around in her new attire. "There! What do you think?" she asked, showing off her suit.
He shrugged, unsure of what was expected of him. "It suits you. Matches your hair."
"Good!" she nodded, satisfied. "That was another test. You have to be able to compliment a lady's clothing. Now you get changed, too."
"Wait, what? I didn't bring any other clothes!"
"When I said prepared, I meant it. I made sure there was something for you in cases like this, where your uniform wouldn't do. Here you go, get changed!" She pulled out a pair of swim trunks as green as his eyes and tossed them over to him. Not waiting for any response, the energetic demoness ran and leapt into the water, gliding through its depths easily. She surfaced a moment later and shouted for him to hurry up before diving back down.
Syranon did as she asked with obvious reluctance and made to get in the water quickly, wondering where she found information about his clothing sizes. He entered with a more significant splash and shivered as he adjusted to the cold water. "G-gah, this is freezing!"
"Then start swimming, beastman. You'll warm up that way." Teodora grinned at his discomfort and motioned for him to swim alongside her, matching his slower pace. The two completed several laps around the water and she noted that he was getting more relaxed. "See? It's fine once you're used to it."
"You're right, you're right," he agreed, shaking his head in resignation and to remove the water from his eyes. "When did you learn to swim, Teodora? You're quite good at it."
The demoness dove down and reappeared in front of him, hair washed back by the dive.
"Daddy taught me a long time ago, about when the truce started. There aren't really any pools of water like this in Asgar, but he had been in some of Nifelheim's lakes before the War started. When it ended, he wanted to teach me."
"That was about two decades ago, right? Shortly after I was born. You got to swim a lot since then?"
She shook her head and shrugged as best she could while keeping afloat. "Not really. I just picked it up quickly, like a lot of physical activiti-eeeeEEK!" Her answer turned into a shriek and she shot forward, clinging onto Syranon. A loud, buzzing insect was hovering above them in the water and seemed to almost stare at the demoness before flitting off in a zigzag pattern. "Wh-what was that?!"
"Teo-khak!-Teodora, calm down!" Her beastman 'attendant' was having difficulty staying afloat with her added weight, water nearly getting into his lungs and causing him to cough. "It was just a dragonfly, Teodora," he explained after he had a decent look at it, still clung to.
The smaller body against him shivered in disgust. "I hate bugs," she said, squeezing her eyes shut. "They're nasty and crawly and they look like they'll get underneath your skin!"
"Dragonflies are harmless. They can actually be quite pretty, though that one wasn't." He had managed to make it to shore and sat down in the shallows, the demoness still clinging to him.
"I still don't like them," she said in a petulant voice. The two stayed like this for several minutes while she continued to calm down, though Syranon was once again embarrassed by having a girl pressing up against him. Finally she looked at him, frustrated scowl on her face. "You...you better not tell anyone about this - ANYONE. Especially not Amethyst. I'll never, EVER forgive you," she said, moisture evident in her eyes.
Syranon blinked at the unusual statement and nodded for her. "I promise, Teodora, I won't tell anyone. All right?"
"Good!" Satisfied for the moment, the demoness rose to her feet and went to the other side of the horse. "I'm ready to go. That...THING ruined the rest of this. Let's get dressed."
The ride back was even quieter than their first trip. Once more surprising Syranon, his demoness partner for the afternoon sat behind him on the way back, holding onto him for support and not saying a word. An occasional glimpse back showed her to be deep in thought and seemingly frustrated. He helped her down once they reached the stable and carried her belongings back to her room without even being asked.
She was about to close her door and leave him alone when she looked back out into the hall at the beastman. "Th-thank you for the choice in location. You've got a good sense of taste...Syranon." Her door shut in the male's face, and he was halfway to his own room when he realized that she had used his name for what seemed to be the first time.
Changed out of his damp clothes and sitting by his window, the beastman was reading through the spellbook he had borrowed from the library again. Or rather, he was trying to. Instead he found himself glancing outside and watching the gathering dusk, trying to be patient for dinner. The late lunch should have held him satisfied for a bit yet, but the physical exercise of swimming must have taken more out of him than he thought. He stifled a yawn, debating going to get food early anyway, when he heard a knock at the door. "Come in," he said and stood to meet his guest.
Into his room walked Sukina and Gimlett, the latter carrying a plate with food. "We brought you something to eat, Syranon," the human managed, setting it down on his desk.
"How did you know I was hungry? Dinner shouldn't have been served yet." He grabbed up a sandwich wedge and tore a chunk out of it with his teeth, thanking the two of them with his eyes.
"I thought I was imagining things at first," stated Sukina. "You know demons don't need to eat real food, but I was feeling...hungry, like I had gone too long without a Heartcore again. Since you and I have already Bonded..." she went on with a blush, "I knew that couldn't be it. But the Bond is so unknown still...I thought there was a reasonable chance it was related to you. Gimlett was already in the kitchen helping prepare dinner, so I asked if she could make something for you to eat now."
The pale woman fidgeted at her mention, looking at her feet with a faint smile. "It's nothing special," she managed faintly.
Syranon was working the food ravenously at this point. "I wouldn't say that. This is good, you've gotten a lot better in just a few days, Gimlett." So busy was he with the food that he didn't see her blush intensify from the compliment. "So you can tell when I'm hungry through the Bond, Suko?"
"Seems so. I can kind of tell how you're feeling, physically and emotionally. Remember this morning? It really did almost feel like Amethyst had hit me, too." She was opening her mouth to say more when there was another knock on the door. The pink haired demoness walked over and opened it, ending up brushed aside by none other than Teodora. "Teodora? What are you here for?" she asked in surprise.
Blue curls bouncing, the smaller woman looked between the three occupants of the room, eyes narrowed in suspicion until she saw the plate of food and fresh bandages on Gimlett's fingers. "What else? I'm here to get the beastman, though I didn't expect either of you to be present. Why didn't you wait until dinner for him to eat?"
"I felt that he was hungry. It was almost like he didn't eat when you two were out earlier."
"Wait, you 'felt'? Through the Bond, right?" At Sukina's affirmative nod, Teodora made a face. "So that's something I'm going to have to deal with, too, is knowing when he's hungry? Great, he really is like a pet."
The younger Lashiec sister frowned. "It's more than just that. I can feel how he's doing overall, in multiple ways. I was just talking about what I've been able to feel through the Bond with him so far."
"You'll have to talk more later. I need, as much as I don't like using that word for it, him again." She grabbed his arm and pulled him up from his seat, dragging him along by his wrist. "I talked to dad already, he's waiting for us downstairs."
"Wait, downstairs?" Sukina and Gimlett both followed after them through the halls. "You mean..."
"That's right. I've thought about it and discussed the matter already, and I've decided I'm ready to Bond with him, too."
Sukina clapped her hands and smiled. "Really? That's wonderful! The ritual hurts a little bit, but it's been completely worth it! I've felt so much better ever since I did it with him."
"I've noticed," the diminutive demoness said, looking at her with one eye. "It's obvious to the rest of us that you've been healthier and stronger since. And since he more or less proved that he isn't a complete social failure today for me, I have no reason to delay the inevitable any longer."
The male swallowed, trying to regain his footing from being half-dragged by Teodora. "Right now? I mean, is now the best time, not after dinner or something?"
"Do you have a problem with this, beastman?" Teodora stopped and turned to face him, hands on her hips and glowering. "You are, for better or worse, the only reasonable Bond candidate of the group, your magic is already a good complement to my physical strength, I will need to consume at least one Heartcore soon if we don't, and you've already eaten at least something to hold you over. We're Bonding whether you like it or not, and this IS the best time."
Sweating lightly, Syranon held palms open in front of him. "No need to be angry, I didn't mean anything by it! It just caught be out of the blue, that's all."
Teodora eyed him for a minute until she was sure. "Fine. I guess I could have given you a heads-up of some kind. Now let's get moving." She grabbed his arm again and pulled him along, though this time he kept his feet. Sukina and Gimlett stopped at the top of the stair since their presences were both unnecessary to the ritual and potentially dangerous in the form of interference to the spell, though it was a reluctant departure.
Entering through the silver-clad doors for the second time in a week, Syranon again felt a sense of awe at the grandeur of the room. Unlike his first Bondmate, however, Teodora seemed completely nonplussed. She pushed him towards his side of the room and stood with her arms crossed. "We're ready, dad," she told the demon in the center.
A nod preceded his voiced response. "Then remove your clothes, sweetie pumpkin. You too, Syranon." He began his chant, reading from the grimoire in his hands, as the two did as instructed.
Syranon was as bashful as ever around any of the girls, eyes closed for a minute when he turned around to face the center in his boxers. When he opened them he was surprised to see Teodora red-faced as well, looking to the side and covering her chest. Seeing him notice her own discomfort, the blue haired girl glared. "W-what are you staring at? Not used to seeing someone who's not an overgrown milk cow? I can't help being flat, damn it!"
"N-no, it's not that! I'm just...with how confident you are normally, Teodora, I'm just surprised to see you embarrassed over anything."
"Yeah, well, I am, so drop it for now. Okay?" Her voice took an edge that softened somewhat when the beastman murmured an apology. Nodding her acceptance, she considered the matter closed for the time being and looked at her father motioning for the two of them to step forward.
The beastman knew what to expect when the Overfiend exposed his Heartcore for the ritual, grimacing at the sensation. It seemed to hurt less than it did previously. He chalked it up to the Bond with Sukina making him more durable and watched the small demoness bite her lower lip at the pain when her father exposed her Heartcore, a sparkling blue trio of gems surrounded by golden light. Her eyes were filled with determination that caused him to hold his concern for her well-being, painting for him a picture of how different she was from Sukina.
"Demon of Asgar," Asmodeus started, continuing the ritual. His expression detailed how he felt about harming his daughter even for such an important event, even if his voice remained calm. "By nature you require Cores to survive and are a solitary creature. By creating this Bond between races you agree to surrender your livelihood to your partner and give yourself into a lasting union that overcomes your needs. Is this your will?"
Eyes now practically aflame, Teodora nodded. "Yes, this is my will."
"Beastman of Nifelheim," the elder demon said, turning to Syranon. "By nature, you abhor the needs of a demon and are at odds with them. By creating this Bond between races you agree to devote yourself to your partner's survival and give yourself into a lasting union that overcomes their needs. Is this your will?"
"Yes, this is my will," he answered. He saw Teodora's fierce gaze break in relief when he said his part, bringing a small smile to his face.
"Then embrace each other, uniting your bodies and spirits, and seal the Bond." Asmodeus shut the book in his hands and replaced it on its stand, no longer requiring it at this point in the spell.
Syranon and Teodora both approached each other. Before he could open his arms to embrace her she had already taken action to address their quite different heights. She leapt up, wrapping her arms around his neck and flinging herself into his arms when he moved them to catch her. The demoness smiled in both satisfaction and enjoyment at the treatment. "A noble like me should be held like one, don't you agree?"
"I guess so," he managed, smiling back with a bit of uncertainty. It seemed that the pose brought their exposed Cores close enough for the spell and the two leaned together, lips parting and meeting in the requisite kiss. Just as before the spell's energies swirled about the two, increasing in force until coming to a dead stop and ending in a silent explosion reverberating through the castle grounds.
With a sigh the Overfiend raised the back of a hand to his forehead, feigning distress.
"Oh, to have given my only beloved daughter away to another in such a fashion! I do hope you will take appropriate care of her."
"Dad!" Teodora scolded, giggling a bit when her father smiled. "No need to get carried away." She watched him leave the room, remaining in Syranon's arms a moment longer. "You, particularly, should be thankful, Syranon. It isn't often that a beastman of your standing is allowed such contact with a demon of mine!" Grinning at his startled expression she hopped down and started replacing her uniform. "Now you have to be extra sure to take care of yourself. Your life is sustaining two Bondmates now, and I won't have you falling ill or anything, understand?"
He rolled his eyes behind her back. "Yes, Teodora. It's not like I let myself go and don't do so, you know."
"Good!" Fastening the last button, she started for the exit, leaving him to finish alone.
Sighing in resignation at the unruly manner of his new Bondmate, particularly since there was no alternative to her Bonding with him, the beastman finished dressing and returned upstairs from the basement. Just as he had expected to find, the ritual had taken long enough that dinner had been served and over for a short while already. He settled for grabbing a hefty plate of the leftovers from the meal and returned to his room with it, enjoying the peace of his 'sanctuary' here.
Night was in full swing when he finished and yawned. As tired as he was, he knew he'd sleep better after a trip to the baths and gathered his belongings for going in. His clothes went into the basket he had started using regularly in the men's changing room and he entered the bath, sighing contentedly at the heat when he submerged. Several peaceful minutes passed before he noted that there was no noise even from the women's side. He had just gotten as far as assuming it was empty when he heard a voice behind him that made him nearly jump.
"There you are!" Turning slowly, face frozen in alarm, the beastman saw Teodora standing over him in naught but a towel and scowl on her face. "I was starting to wonder if you were ever coming down here tonight. Fortunately, this Bond is already letting me know roughly where you are."
Blinking, Syranon tried to speak as the demoness slid into the water next to him, letting out her own sigh of satisfaction. "Bu...w-what are you doing in the men's side, Teodora? I might be your Bondmate, but shouldn't you stay on the women's side?"
"Why? It's not like you haven't seen enough of me to make it a moot point separating. Besides, this way I can have you wash my back." She turned away from him and pulled her hair over a shoulder, casting a glance back at him. "Well? Get to it, beastman."
Syranon swallowed and fought his bashfulness to try and keep from doing anything that might anger the small demon. He was hesitantly holding a bar of soap and a washcloth up, almost touching her, when another voice caused him to freeze in place. "What do you think you're doing, Teodora?!" Standing on the side of the bath now was Sukina, also wrapped in only a towel. Her long hair was bound on top of her head, unlike Teodora's.
"What does it look like? We're Bonded now, so I'm having him wash my back."
The younger succubus narrowed her eyes. "Is that all? I felt how uncomfortable he was and thought maybe Emerald had snuck in here again, so I came to investigate and found you instead. Even you should still be on the women's side!"
"Why?" Teodora shrugged, unconcerned. "I hardly have anything to hide that he hasn't already seen during the Bonding, and I may as well take advantage of that. I think I'll stay over here."
"But...but..." Sukina's mind raced, trying to think of something to say. After a moment she huffed and joined the other two in the water, on the opposite side of Syranon from the other demoness. "F-fine, you have a point. But he should wash my back, too, then!"
The blue haired succubus smirked, both amused and irritated. "Sure. He can get more practice taking care of a noble lady this way. Now hurry up, beastman."
"Yes, please w-wash our backs, Syranon."
Both demonesses looked over their shoulders at the poor male, who simply looked at both for a moment before gazing at the ceiling, eyes beseeching the heavens for mercy.