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Arc II - Bonding
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Syranon let himself flop onto his bed, a massive sigh escaping his lungs. He had managed to get through the baths without angering either of the girls, somehow, and wanted nothing more than to now rest in peace and solitude. He thought he could feel an odd sense of satisfaction but was unable to identify why or how. "Must be Suko or Teodora," he muttered, concluding it was the Bond. "I suppose most guys would be happy in my shoes, especially with the bath situation."
"What 'bath situation' would that be, hmm?" came a voice from the shadows. The beastman sat bolt upright in alarm and stared into the dark where the voice had come from. He swallowed in surprise when Amethyst Lashiec emerged, malice in her shining eyes. "It wouldn't happen to be a situation related to my sister, would it?"
He started backing up as she approached, scooting away on the bed. "Your sister? W-why would you ask that?"
"Oh, I don't know," the succubus said in a wistful tone. She matched her prey's backwards motions with her own forward ones, crawling onto the bed after him in a slow, purposeful manner. The beastman bumped into his headboard, running out of room. Amethyst continued to close the gap until she was inches from his face and traced a circle on the center of his uniform top with a smile. "Maybe because..." She gripped his shirt collar in a fierce hold, making it difficult for him to breathe, and her smile turned into a slasher grin. "...She told me all about it WHILE it was happening. I told you before, I don't like you getting so close to my sister," the demoness hissed in his face through gritted teeth.
"I-it isn't like I was trying! She and Teodora both walked in on me, I couldn't say no!"
"Hmph!" Amethyst released him, watching his head smack into the board behind him with satisfaction. Leaning back, she crossed her arms and looked down on him imperiously from her kneeling height. "Sukina is too...innocent for her own good. And she trusts you far more than she ought. I may not be able to make her decisions for her about who she spends time with and how she feels about them, but I can make sure it doesn't come back to haunt her. You already hurt her once, even if it was a misunderstanding. I will personally make you pay if you take any liberties or hurt her again. Understand?"
Syranon nodded, unable to form any verbal response. Staring at him a moment longer she rolled off the bed and started out of the room. A glance over her shoulder showed the irritation in her eyes. "I don't get what the hell the others seem to like about you, cat," she shot at him before leaving his room. He stared at the doorway, invisible in the shadows, for some time after she left. It was a while longer before he was able to relax and sleep, the sense of sanctuary he had felt in 'his' room shattered now.
Morning came all too soon, bringing with it another bout of training with Ryodalin. Between his unusual appetite the previous day and the poor rest he had gotten through the night, Syranon was having a great deal of difficulty keeping himself alert. Both candidates had eaten before coming out to spar, but for the beastman it felt like he hadn't even touched food despite demolishing his plate in record time. A blow from Ryodalin sent him sliding backwards, barely keeping his feet, and his stomach felt like she had stabbed him with her normal knife from the hunger pangs.
His observant childhood friend lowered her guard and placed a hand on her hip, scowling in disappointment. "What's the matter this morning, Syranon? After the improvement from your first Bond, I was expecting even more from you today since you Bonded to Teodora yesterday. Instead it feels like the first day we restarted your training here."
"Yeah, beastman. I expect more out of my Bondmate than this." The blue haired demoness tugged him up from his kneeling position, impressive given her size if one forgot about her strength. Her arms crossed before her and an expression to match Ryodalin's appeared on her face. "Didn't I just talk to you last night about taking proper care of yourself from now on? And here you are, nearly as weak as Gimlett! Even though it's been less than a day I can tell you're not doing well through the Bond, it's so obvious."
Giving a quick look of hurt to the flat succubus, the pale woman nodded in agreement. "Yes, you certainly seem to be under performing today, Syranon. Are you feeling unwell?"
Dusting himself off first, he shook his head. "Not unwell. I don't...I don't know what's wrong," he told them, panting. "It feels like...feels like..." His vision started to swim.
"Feels like what?" Ryodalin asked. The three women saw him place a hand to his head in discomfort and wobble on his feet before collapsing into the dirt face first, a small cloud of dust flying up from the impact. "Syranon?!" She rushed over to him, the other two repeating his name in alarm. With Teodora's help, the redhead rolled him onto his back with ease, Gimlett sitting to let his head rest in her lap. "Where's Morgrehn?" she asked, looking for their instructor for help.
"Not out here yet. Dad's usually out first, I'll go get him!" Teodora hurried off to get her father, forgetting to act aloof, leaving the two humans with the unconscious beastman.
He was slowly coming to his senses, blinking in confusion as his vision settled and focused on the concerned faces above him. "W-what happened?" he groaned, trying to rise.
Ryodalin's hand pushed his chest hard enough to stop him and she answered, Gimlett resting a hand on his forehead to calm him. "You just passed out. Syranon, if you can't train, then say so! You won't benefit if you're so out of it you can't even stand! Why didn't you say anything, you oaf?"
The beastman opened his mouth, trying to say something back, when Teodora returned with Asmodeus in tow. Adjusting his jacket, the overfiend knelt and looked him over. "Well well, young Syranon! You've realized that illness is a potent tool to evoke a response? Your techniques for ladies are more advanced than I had thought, I've underestimated you!"
His daughter smacked him on the back of the head in admonishment. "Dad! No jokes, I can tell he's sincerely not feeling well. What's wrong with him?"
"A fine question," the overfiend said with a wincing grin, rubbing the back of his head where she had struck him. He held up his other hand to forestall another blow for his most recent statement. "No, I mean that in earnest, it's a fine question. You probably should have waited for Morgrehn, he'd be able to help more than I with his Holy magic. Now, Syranon. What happened? How are you feeling?"
Rising to a sitting position with some assistance, the young candidate thought about it before answering. "I'm not sure. My vision started swimming and I felt light headed a moment ago before I blacked out."
"Oh? That sounds familiar, maybe I can be of help after all. How else are you feeling?"
"Well...hungry, I guess," the beastman said as his stomach growled.
"Hungry? Didn't you eat before training?"
Syranon nodded. "Yes, I did, but it feels like I didn't. Yesterday, too, I was hungrier than normal."
The overfiend rubbed his chin for a minute in thought, then stood and nodded. "Ah. Well, I think I know the problem, then. You remember what happened to Sukina when she went too long without a Core?"
"Yes, I was there. She passed out and fell."
"Exactly as you did! I bet, if you asked her, she'd say it felt like she was being knifed in the middle when she was that hungry. Young beastman, you've been eating the same size meals as when you arrived, haven't you?" At the candidate's nod, Asmodeus continued. "That's exactly your problem. I'm surprised Morgrehn hasn't said anything about it yet, but one thing that every Bondmate has experienced so far is this. You probably already know that you're a bit more physically capable and heal quicker.
"Well, this is the cost of that boon. In the end, it's largely due to your metabolism increasing. Because the demon Bondmates, like my darling buttercup, draw the energy they would normally get from consuming a Core from you now, your body is working harder to replace that energy. Ergo, you're digesting your food more efficiently and quickly than before. To say it another way, you need to eat more for every Bondmate."
Syranon stared blankly for a minute while he thought about it. "So...how much do I need, then? I'm already eating large plates because beastmen need more food anyway."
The blue haired overfiend shrugged, hands in the air. "I have not a clue! You'll have to figure that out. I would recommend, instead of eating more at meals - that may just weigh you down - you start eating something decent between them."
"I can do that, I guess. I thought the kitchen was closed between meals, though?"
"Not closed, they simply aren't serving food between meals. It's open for use to anyone."
Wobbling to his feet, the beastman stood, leaning slightly on Ryodalin's offered shoulder. "So I need to make something for myself between meals. I can do that."
"N-no, let me do it!" The others all turned to Gimlett in surprise at the determination they heard in her voice. "I can't fight very well, I can't use magic...I'm practically useless in combat to you. Let me cook for you instead! I've been getting much better at it, you even said as much yourself, Syranon."
Asmodeus looked between the different candidates, judging their reactions. He clapped his hands together a moment later in approval. "Well, that sounds like a fine arrangement! Gimlett, good job looking for the things you can do instead of focusing on what you can't. If that matter is settled...maybe you ought to go in with her, young man, and take care of your stomach's needs. I believe Morgrehn would tell you the same thing, and he would at least appreciate his students conscious during his efforts."
Ryodalin helped shift Syranon onto Gimlett's shoulder for support so the two of them could head inside. "I'll let Morgrehn know where you are if you don't see him on your way in," she said, putting up the training gear they were using.
The overfiend instructor rubbed his chin for a moment in thought, speaking up again before they left. "Oh yes, since you're going inside anyway, I have a favor to ask of you. Emerald's attendance to the training has been a bit spotty for the past couple of days. I would be quite grateful if you could stop by her room on your way back outside and make sure she's not forgotten again. Given what my darling sugar dumpling has been telling me, I'm sure your buxom comrade will want to see you anyway. Not only do you have a second Bondmate, but you now know more about the side effects of the Bond itself, which I'm sure she will appreciate for her research. I do rather wish she would give as much attention to her training as her experiments," he lamented, waving them off.
Helping the exhausted beastman into the dining hall, Gimlett nearly toppled over when he tried to sit at a table. She caught herself right before she would have landed over his lap and turned away quickly to hide her blush, bringing a look of curiosity to Syranon's face. "I-I'll be back in just a minute. Is there anything specific you want?"
"Not really, I'll eat just about anything at this point," he answered, leaning on the table heavily. "Sandwiches would be fine. You've gotten good at those, they're quick, and they're filling."
Smiling at him, the human clapped her hands together and nodded. "Okay! Coming right up!" She disappeared into the kitchen and left him in the quiet of the inner castle. One minute passed, then two, Syranon sitting patiently and conserving his strength. Passing out once was enough for his tastes. He was studying the embroidery on a wall tapestry when Gimlett returned with a plate full of sandwiches. "Here you are," she said as she placed them down in front of him alongside a mug of drink.
Eyes the size of the plate before him the beastman barely managed a 'thanks' before tearing into the first piece. He wolfed it down in seconds, grabbing for the mug to wash down the almost visible lump in his throat that formed in his haste. Thumping his chest to finish clearing it, he took the time to speak more clearly before attacking another piece. "Thank you so much, Gimlett. This is delicious, you've definitely improved since the first time!"
"You really think so?" she asked. She kept her gaze on the floor with a bashful smile, twiddling her fingers together. His compliments and reinforcing actions left her with a warm glow inside that she was unaccustomed to. "You know...you can ask me to cook for you any time, even the middle of the night. Just come find me. You're welcome to come into my room if you want..."
The woman had trailed off at the last sentence and had difficulty voicing it at all. When she finished her hands flew to her face and covered her mouth when she realized what she had accidentally implied.
Fortunately for her sense of shame, Syranon was eating with so much haste and gusto that even his above-average hearing couldn't pick up her last words over the noise. "Mmmph? Wha fid you fay?" he asked around a mouthful, pausing mid-chew.
Gimlett's hair swished back and forth from her dismissive headshake. "N-nothing! Just let me know whenever you're hungry, okay? I can at least do this much for the group."
"Sure, this is great!" The beastman resumed his food-consuming rampage, gobbling down the entire plate within a span of minutes. Leaning to stretch out over the back of his chair, he sighed with pleasure. "Ahh, thank you. I feel much better now." Both of them cleared the dirty dishes from his second breakfast and walked through the halls towards Emerald's room. "I really do appreciate it," he was saying again when they arrived. "I had no idea the Bond would do that to me. Wasn't even sure I had the strength to cook for myself."
The door seemed to explode outwards and their green haired fellow candidate's face appeared, inches from Syranon's. "Oh, you have information about the Bond for me? Wonderful!" she exclaimed. Her arm shot out and grabbed him, pulling the surprised beastman inside her room. Gimlett followed after once she got over the shock of Emerald's reaction. Her gaze was caught up by the mess while the demoness interrogated the male. "So tell me, what have you found out?"
"Uhh...well, it seems that, for the gains I get out of the Bond, the price is needing to eat more food."
"Uh huh, go on." She was scribbling down notes at a frantic pace, attaching some of the measuring implements she had used on his previous visit and noting any differences. "So you eat more now?" she repeated without need.
"Yeah. Asmodai mentioned that I would need to eat even more for every Bondmate I get, since they draw their energy from me instead of Core consumption. It ties into the greater physical abilities I've been getting, it's forcing my metabolism to increase."
Emerald pouted briefly, looking at him. "Really? He wouldn't tell me anything when I asked, but he clearly knows a few things. How rude!"
"When did you ask him?" Gimlett asked, sitting on the edge of the demoness' bed.
"During training, of course. I hardly see him elsewhere."
The woman scratched the side of her head with a finger. "That might not be the best time to be conducting your research..." she muttered to herself.
Blinking, Emerald looked at her. "Did you say something?" At the human's negative headshake, she resumed her testing. "How interesting. Your pulse seems completely unchanged, and your blood pressure seems unaffected as well. You're not building excess muscle mass, either, though they seem more defined. Hmm, your exercising in the mornings may help with that. How did you find out about the metabolic increase, from Asmodai himself?"
Syranon shook his head and clarified. "Not really. He explained it, but I found out because I passed out sparring with Ryo. It felt as if I hadn't eaten as much as I had at breakfast."
"So that's another part. I thought you seemed a bit leaner, your body must have burned off some of its fat reserves when you weren't eating enough. You didn't have much on you in the first place, no wonder the effect was so pronounced, so soon after you started Bonding us. That still leaves the question of where your body is using all those calories, I would normally expect more muscle development to be the source." She clipped her pen to the board, done with it for the moment, and started to pack up her testing tools.
"Even you should know that. Remember, I'm a magic user primarily? My mana takes a lot of what I eat to replenish itself in the first place. There's a reason you don't see many rotund spellcasters, especially beastmen. Did you forget?" he asked her, brushing imaginary dust off his front in discomfort. She had taken blood again during her work, something he doubted he would ever grow accustomed to.
Her brief red flush told the others that she had. "Whoops. So the energy we use in the Bond may come directly from your magical energy reserves...interesting idea. Then why wouldn't your arm band indicate a change? Unless...that must be it!" She grabbed a separate notebook and scribbled down her thoughts so swiftly that it seemed to smoke. "You may actually be gaining an even larger pool of energy to draw from, but the Bondmates' draw might match the gain perfectly!"
"Good to know," he muttered with a sigh. "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. They're constantly draining my mana to feed their needs, so my body's constantly burning energy to replace it. I wonder if that's the same for everyone who Bonds? Anyway, we'll head back out for training, Emerald. You should come, too. I'm sure Sir Asmodai would appreciate you participating as well."
"I doubt it. I think they're done for now." She gestured an arm with rapid motion towards the window. "I saw them scattering for the morning already, so classes must be done."
The beastman rubbed the back of his head in annoyance. "Damn, Morgrehn won't be pleased that we missed it."
"It will be alright, science has benefitted greatly from the time you've given me! In fact, here!" Reaching into a stand full of vials, most of the glowing from the liquids within, she extracted a dark green one and shoved it into his hands. "We can even continue to educate ourselves. Now, drink this, please."
Holding the thin vial before him and looking at the contents with trepidation, Syranon swallowed and made a face. "This...looks thick." Indeed, no light was visible through even the small quantity within. "Is it safe?"
"Of course it is! I'm 95.89% sure of it."
"Thrilling," he said, still hesitant. "What, exactly, is it?" Nonetheless, he raised it up and put his lips to the top, feeling the mass slide out and into his mouth. He swallowed with a grimace and shivered, the contents having the consistency of yogurt. "Bleeeegh, that's nasty," he muttered.
Emerald was observing him closely once again and took the vial from his hand, placing it back on the stand. "A new serum I've been working on. I already expected some potential problems with keeping the non-demons of our group fed, given what we've been told about staffing issues when we arrive at the Pillar, so I've been working on something that might help with that. What you just drank SHOULD be enough to keep you full for nearly a day if my calculations are correct."
The beastman seemed to be turning green and leaned forward, covering his stomach with both hands and moaning. Gimlett stood from the bed and moved to his side. She put a hand on his back in concern and tried to get his attention. "Syranon? Are you alright? Emerald, are you sure that was safe?"
"I told you, I'm 95.89% sure! I don't know what could be wrong!" Green tresses framed a surprised face, the demoness flipping through her papers at a frantic pace to find out what could cause such a reaction. So preoccupied was she with her papers that she didn't notice the sudden cessation of the beastman's discomforted moans.
"Can you talk, Syranon?" Gimlett was asking. "Did your stomach stop hurting?"
"Gimlett..." he started. His voice was so quiet that she barely heard him. She leaned forward to listen better and let out a small 'eep' in surprise when he grabbed her shoulders. Her face turned a bright red when she found herself held inches from him. "I never thanked you PROPERLY for preparing such a sumptuous meal for me..."
"I...uhh...well...you d-don't need to..." she started, cheeks cherry. Any further attempts at articulation were cut off and her voiced died in her throat when his mouth covered hers. The human's eyes flew wide in alarm before Syranon leaned back, amorous grin on his face. Blinking with rapidity, her mind tried without success to process what just happened before giving up entirely. Her ability to function visibly ceased and she passed out with a happy sigh, a nervous smile on her face.
Emerald was still frantically rifling through her notes when a shadow fell across her pages. Looking up to see what was blocking her light, she saw Syranon grinning wide. "Oh! Are you feeling be-" she began, only to be cut off by him pressing a finger against her lips.
"Shh. No need to say anything," he told her. "I'm quite fine...though not as fine as you." His gaze traveled her body, eyes clearly tracing her ample curves. In spite of what she had assured him in the baths, the demoness felt her objectivity fade in a rush of emotional reaction to him. "You say you have no interest in men...but your face is telling me otherwise."
"Th-that's just a blush response to romantic stimulus, it doesn't mean anything!"
"Not exactly your most elaborate denial." He chuckled at her flustered sputters before continuing. "There is no need to shout...though it's said the loudest voice is the one that is most false. And your interest in me for those 'tests' in your bedroom...you don't have to hide your desire to interact with me behind such a facade."
Emerald tried to form a countering response, having a harder and harder time of it. "But I am a scientist, there is noth-nothing more behind meetings! Truly, I...I...!" Eyes flaring wide, her arguments ended much like Gimlett's attempts when his lips pressed against hers. She felt herself grow weak and slumped in his arms, waiting to support her.
The beastman lowered her to an awkward kneeling sit, her feet to either side. Faint mumbles escaped her throat when he released her and she struggled to maintain her grip on the present, face burning with embarrassment. "A 'gift' to repay your efforts at helping me medically and a preparation for the Bond we shall share in time," he said by way of explanation as he turned to the door.
"Uh...uh huh..." she managed, watching him go. Emerald's room started to spin around her and she placed a hand against her lips, thoughts completely ensnared by him.
Syranon prowled the halls with purpose in his stride. He could sense one of his Bondmates nearby when he left the science-focused demoness' room and used that feeling as a guide to his next target. Rapping his knuckles sharply on the door before him, he begged entry into the room. "Teodora, may I enter?"
Her reply came muffled through the door. "Syranon? I suppose. The door is unlocked." Opening it, the beastman entered and looked about. The decorations were changed from the previous day, somewhat less ostentatious now yet still maintaining the sapphire blue theme she seemed to prefer. Seated before a vanity was the demoness, long hair down and being brushed. "What brings you to my room? Had enough overdevelopment from the others?" She smiled at him with hint of bitterness before shaking her head in dismissal.
Offering a chuckle, the beastman entered her quarters and shut the door. Teodora looked at him through her mirror with some confusion when he pulled a stool up behind her and held out a hand expectantly. "Allow me."
She eyed his hand like he had grown talons. "...What?"
"Your hair. Allow me to brush it for you, please." With no small amount of surprise the small succubus placed her tool in his palm. He motioned for her to face forward again and grabbed a handful of her long strands, running the bristles along them at a steady pace. A few notes of a nameless tune drifted from his throat as he worked, humming faintly.
"S-so!" she huffed, caught off-guard by his thoughtful behavior. "You haven't answered me - what brings you to my room, Bondmate? Surely not just helping me with my hair."
A largely unseen shrug answered before his voice. "Not just the care of your lovely locks, Teodora, no. I was thinking earlier, after I ate again, that our date ended on a rather poor note. That being the case, and considering the concern I felt through the Bond this morning when we discovered what was ailing me, I believe some manner of reparations are due to you."
The abnormal formality of his speech and the thoughtfulness behind it threw the diminutive demoness off enough that her response lacked any of her usual snarkiness. "Oh...well, that's...thoughtful of you. Wait, what do you mean 'concern'? I wasn't that worried, beastman."
Even her denial of significant concern was half-hearted, a fact that Syranon noted in its tone. "You needn't try to hide it, Teodora. I don't mean to draw attention to it or poke fun at it, but the Bond is more honest than your words. Hmmm...what would you like me to do with your hair once it's brushed?"
"Well, it's only because of the Bond that I DO care," she assured him, closing her eyes so she wouldn't have to look at the faint blush touching her cheeks in the mirror. "And surprise me."
"Of course, of course." His smile and tone increased her embarrassment. Tugging at different tresses, Syranon began to weave it in a simple braid. Knowing that the basic hairstyle would probably be found unfitting on its own, he grabbed decoration for it off her vanity at odd intervals. "I do apologize for the events at our date from the bottom of my heart, out of my control as they may have been."
Teodora looked at the mirror as he worked, turning her head from side to side and using her hair as a focus for her gaze. "You've certainly chosen a good start for making up for it, at any rate," she said with pleasure. The finished braid suited her desires well, small gemstones on barrettes glinting from the sides in an alternating fashion and a handful of flowers lining the center weave. "Where did you learn t-wha?!" She started in her seat when Syranon moved close behind, arms clasped around her. "W-what are you doing?!"
He moved his face next to hers and lowered his voice to scant more than a breath. "Surprising you, of course."
"I didn't mean like THIS!"
"Oh, I know." He squeezed her with gentle pressure when she started squirming in discomfort and felt her struggles slowly subside as he continued speaking. "You needn't fret so - you know I'm here for your needs."
"Mmph," she muttered against his forearm, slumping against him. "Sort of, sure. Just don't presume too much, got it? I mean it, I can still beat the hell out of you as long as I leave you alive."
"Hmhmhmhmhm...as you wish."
The two remained close for several moments before either spoke again, the demoness broaching the silence. "This isn't like the normal you, though, Syranon. What brought this on? You honestly remind me of how my dad acts."
"And this is a bad thing?" She turned and shot him a look that prompted another chuckle from him. "You did mention something about improving my demeanor to better match the bearing of yourself. I thought I would show you the fruits of that request. Do you disapprove?"
She shook her head firmly. "No. I don't know if it really fits you yet...but I like it."
"Good." He turned her just enough to reach her mouth and kissed her, bringing a fresh blush to the flat succubus and leaving her wordless. "I beg your leave for now. I have business to attend to elsewhere."
"S-sure," she managed at his retreating back. "Maybe dad taught him a few things after all."
The beastman resumed his prowling of the halls, satisfied grin on his face. "That makes three down and quite enamored with me. Sukina I imagine I hardly need spend effort on, while her sister will take quite a bit. I suppose, then, I should really see Ryodalin for-"
Spinning in place, he saw the redhead standing behind him with her arms crossed. "Oh, there you are! Will you walk with me for a bit?" If her unexpected appearance and somewhat perturbed demeanor affected him at all, he wasn't showing it, instead picking up conversation as smooth as though the meeting were planned on his part.
"I guess I can. I WAS looking for you to see if you wanted to continue sparring now that you've had time to recover, but I suppose we don't have to for now." She moved beside him and matched his pace as they headed through the halls and out onto the battlements. Most of the view was trees, to be sure, but it was nice nonetheless. "Is there anything you were looking for me for? It sounded like there was."
Nodding in confirmation the beastman motioned her to follow him up a guard tower. The castle's defense points were rarely manned - it was relatively secure in the middle of Nifelheim, and anyone or anything interested in attacking would receive a significant surprise with the presence of the candidates alone, never mind their instructors. A security detachment was largely unneeded, meaning the two could be sure of some degree of privacy on the tower's top. "A couple of things, really. First and foremost, I owe you my thanks."
"Thanks? Thanks for what?" she asked, leaning against one of the crenelations and looking out over the grounds.
"For retraining me in melee combat. You were certainly correct, I was sorely lacking in that department when we arrived. I had spent so long studying books on magic and improving my abilities there that I forgot a strong constitution provides a solid baseline for my inner reserves of energy. On top of that, I'm sure I'll be forced into close combat more than once when we reach our Pillar. Your training me will help me keep my head on my shoulders. So...thank you, Ryodalin."
She shrugged her shoulders, thankful she was facing away when an unexpected heat spread across her cheeks. "You still need practice. But I would rather you stay alive as well - even if only to keep the demons alive without eating Cores." A cool breeze rushed by, the sensation relaxing her somewhat and ruffling through her hair.
The beastman inhaled deeply as it blew and grinned when he noted a pleasant scent he hadn't smelled in years on the wind. His keen eyes also noted a few other details that his nose wouldn't have. "Indeed. The other major subject I wanted to talk about has to do with that lovely perfume you're wearing."
Caught off-guard, the human woman turned to face him with wide eyes. "W-what? Perfume? I don't normally...I didn't want to smell like leather and sweat all day until I bathed tonight, so I sprayed some on that I happened to have. Why does that matter?"
"You also don't normally wear earrings or makeup."
"I-!" Embarrassment at being caught stole her voice for a moment, prompting a quiet laugh from the beastman.
"Ahh, Ryodalin, I apologize. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
Flushed still, she clenched a fist to focus her mind. "Then why would you bring that crap up? You know why I don't wear any of it normally. The makeup is Teodora's, anyway. She was going on and on about trying to match my hair, and I let her to get her to shut up."
"I know, I know! I remember everything about it. Looking back, it was about when we turned 16, wasn't it? You used to dress more like what people expect for a girl before that."
"Yeah," she said, nodding. The casual conversation helped her somewhat. "I didn't have reason not to before that."
He nodded as well as he fell into reminiscing, though his expression remained anchored in the present while hers turned introspective and preoccupied. "Your parents' friends and colleagues used to tell you all the time how cute you were in those little dresses as a kid, and I remember you would always smile and nod. You took your time getting ready to meet guests because of that. I could have sworn their compliments only made you look cuter.
"Then your parents came up with the bright idea of setting you up on dates," he said with a sigh. "That really didn't go very well."
"They had no taste in their choices! Almost all of them would look at me like something other than a person. Something...less. A prize, at best. A tool, usually for pleasure from their looks, at the worst." Her voice dropped to a growl and she shook her head in irritation. "That stopped once I stopped caring. Cut my hair short, stopped dressing up... I remember at the time, you were the only one I could talk to like a normal person."
"Even that changed, though."
Ryodalin's gaze narrowed further. "My parents again. After a while they caught on that I wasn't going to just get married off to some random shmuck, so they decided to be clever and try and set me up with you, since that was the only time I still wore anything pleasant. Assholes, it nearly ruined our friendship. At least they picked up quick that we weren't going anywhere then and stopped that one themselves."
"Though I told you I never cared much about what they tried to set up. Sure, you stopped trying to be feminine for me, too, but that didn't bother me because we grew up so close. I had already seen the worst and the best you presented. Neither of us really thought about the other that way back then..."
He moved forward, motions bringing the redhead back to reality. She looked up at him in surprise at his proximity and stood frozen when he embraced her in a hug. "...and for that, I owe you an apology," he continued right before her face. "I didn't notice you becoming a woman later, either. I was so caught up in familiarity from growing up together that it completely slipped by me, especially when you stopped spending time on your appearance. So, I'm sorry, Ryodalin."
"...Y-you don't need to...apologize for that. *I* don't think of myself that way, you know that, so I don't expect you to..." Her speech was far more hesitant than normal.
"No? You don't need to try and bury the woman inside you now, Ryo. I can see you putting effort in again. Today alone, you brushed your hair after our practice, which you haven't until now; you're wearing makeup that compliments you quite well, along with those earrings that have jewels the same green as my eyes; and the biggest sign of all - you're wearing the perfume I said smelled best when you asked me over a decade ago which you should use. No, you don't need to hide. I won't ignore you again."
She started to protest and, just as the other 'victims' before, fell silent when he planted his lips on hers. Her hands gripped his arms briefly, half in hug, before he let her go to slump against the battlement behind her. The shock was too much for the redhead and she couldn't summon her normal desire to smack someone getting too close. With a smile he turned and left her with a hand half raised to halt him. When he was gone she sat there for some time, arms wrapped about herself. "Damn..." she muttered. "What just happened...?"
Chuckling to himself, Syranon went back inside the main areas of the castle. He was reasonably sure Sukina would be found in the library, but he wanted to find and see if he couldn't do the same thing he had done to the others to Amethyst first, given her resistance to him so far in the trainings. "Save the easiest for last, after all."
The beastman thought about where the succubus he sought might be and figured she wouldn't be too far from her sister, given how close they were. It was with this in mind that he approached the library. His hand was on the handle for the door when he heard footsteps approaching and turned to see his quarry nearing. "Ahh, Amethyst, there you are! I was looking for you."
"Oh really? What do YOU want, cat?" she asked, arms crossed under her breasts and scowling.
"I want to apologize, of course."
His response caught her by surprise and her arms fell halfway to the sides of her dark ruby red uniform. "You want to apologize? For what?"
He bowed partway, eyes down. "For my behavior towards you."
"YOUR behavior towards ME? Unless I'm mistaken, I'm the one who's been rough on YOU. Unless you're apologizing for ignoring my warnings about Suko, in which case I suppose I can forgive you. That's only because SHE'S happy, though," she ended by leaning forward with her hands on her hips, implying a threat about keeping her sister happy.
"I'm not referring to that." He raised his eyes and grinned at her before stepping forward. His gaze was inches from hers and kept its relative position when she jerked her head back in reaction. An arm went around her waist and the other held one of her arms akin to a dance position as he pressed closer to her reddening face. "I'm apologizing for not treating a noble demoness of your standing in an appropriate, chivalrous fashion."
Amethyst's eyes widened and her mouth worked to respond, struggling only minutely to his firm grasp. "Ch-chivalrous fashion? It isn't...isn't like you've been rude..."
"But I could have been better, and vow to from henceforth. It was callous of me to ignore the signs you've given, but I've seen the sort of thing you desire in a man. What sort would I be to not attempt to better meet these expectations?" He pulled her against him and felt her struggles cease completely as her heart beat almost audibly. "Can you see it in your noble heart, Amethyst, to forgive my past failures and transgressions?"
"I suppose, yes," she managed, gaze locked onto his glowing eyes.
"Then allow me to begin proving my vow by gracing your fair countenance with a kiss." The succubus, seemingly caught in a trap much of her own kind's design, tried to protest without success when his lips locked with hers. Syranon could feel her limbs growing weak and supported her against a wall. When they broke, he smiled at her half-closed eyes.
Breathing hard, the eldest Lashiec daughter fought to regain herself when he let go, sure she would not fall to the ground. "You...you just...kissed... What was this even for? I can't believe...that was my first-!"
"What for? To better out relationship, of course. To improve the camaraderie between fellow candidates. Are you saying you disliked it? The others seemed to enjoy my efforts well enough."
"Others?" she asked with a note of alarm, feeling her limbs growing stronger again. "You kissed the others, too?! What about Suko?!" Her tone grew hot at his perceived misdeeds.
"I will meet with her as well, don't fret," he answered, closing his eyes and shrugging. "I would be remiss to leave out my first Bondmate, wouldn't you agree?" Opening his eyes at her lack of voiced response, he saw clearly the grooves of her fist rapidly consuming his view before blackness claimed him.