written and illustrated by Iron Eater
When Lyón next woke it was in neither the depths of the Baron’s dungeons nor a coffin, and it took him a moment to get his bearings once he realized he hadn’t been left for dead. He performed a brief nose-to-toes check of all his various parts, which revealed that nothing seemed to be missing but most of him was some degree of numb; while the respite from his aching knee and aching head were welcome, he couldn’t be sure just what else that numbness brought with it. There were plenty of brigands out there who’d love the chance to poison a helpless hero.
He surveyed his surroundings as best he could; after a false start or two Lyón found he could turn his head, but in the blue darkness of the chamber all he could make out were vague shapes. Wherever he had ended up was cool and dark and smelled a little like winter air. Soft bedding cradled his back. He flexed his hand and the oblong shape to his right emitted a gentle glow in return. Whoever had put him here hadn’t taken his sword or chakram, then, but whom did he know with a friendly hideaway in this part of the barony that he hadn’t recently made an ass of himself in front of?
It wasn’t unreasonable to show up at a fancy party a little bit buzzed to make sure you were in the right mood. It might’ve been a little bit unreasonable to keep accepting every champagne flute he was offered, but when you were an honest-to-goodness hero of the realm everyone wanted to show their appreciation, and turning them down could’ve sent the wrong message. He’d just finished an exhausting, and well-publicized, mission, so of course it felt like everybody needed to be his best friend. The Baron had requested his presence by name! Galas like that one also meant a lot of standing and not enough seats to go around, so they should’ve understood he’d have to self-medicate to make it all the way to the end with his knee as bad as it was.
Self-medication didn’t work out so well when you needed to eloquently make your case to a noble who was growing increasingly tired of your nonsense. Had the guards really been necessary? Given how Lyón had shown up to the party with his trademark weaponry as well as the Orb of Wonders itself, the answer was probably yes.
He couldn’t remember everything that happened, only bits and pieces, but he knew for a fact that the Baron didn’t want to see him again. There had been something about him only knowing how to solve problems with a sword—which was extremely reductive, given that proper usage of a sword was a trained skill, and it completely ignored what a good arm he had for throwing a chakram, and besides that he was a whiz when it came to puzzles that required making different-colored tiles match up—and something about how he didn’t have a head for policy, and something else about how Lord Baron Murlonne needed someone who cared about the logistics of Vanderviir, and all in all it was just a mess. So Lyón spent most of his time out questing instead of helping wash windows or something. So what? Everyone knew he’d helped fix the bridge back when he’d first started out. That should’ve been enough.
Then again, now that Lyón looked back on things with a clearer head, maybe everyone didn’t know about the bridge. That had been decades ago. Vanderviir had continued developing as a barony, which meant it had lots more mouths to feed and roads to maintain than it used to. It had too many problems that, no matter how much he wanted to tell himself otherwise, couldn’t all be fixed by slaying the right dragon. Lyón could solve any riddle you threw at him but he was useless when it came to solving issues of taxation. The Baron had been right: Lyón had no skills, or even interests, that didn’t feed back into being a professional adventure-seeker, and without them he might as well have been a walnut with all the meat scooped out.
He probably should have put himself out to pasture years ago. Nobody really knew what to do with heroes who got old but didn’t retire gracefully to run kingdoms or armies or smithies or something; it didn’t matter that he was more seasoned than an entire brace of younger vigilantes, because as soon as a potential employer caught sight of the silver creeping into his hair or the weathering around his eyes people suddenly forgot about the dragons they’d been asking about getting slain. If he was a wizard in a pointy hat nobody would have said boo to him and his grizzled brows, but no, Lyón had the indecency to be a dedicated swordsman, and as far as the world was concerned those had an expiration date.
It was important that he end his career on his own terms, lest the world think it had been successful in scraping him off its metaphorical shoe. That was why that one last task for the Baron had meant so much. They had history together, which didn’t mean anything but didn’t not mean anything, so going out of the game triumphantly in the company of someone he’d both cried and bled with would’ve been the perfect capstone to a long and interesting career of saving the world one box-pushing obstacle at a time. Naturally, Lyón’d gone and fouled everything up in the way only he could, and given that he was still a free man safely tucked away in somebody’s spare room he’d apparently manage to foul up fouling up, too.
The thread of light marking the border of a cracked door became a luminous square as someone pushed it open from the other side. Lyón tensed in anticipation.
“Oh, you’re awake!” said a musical, just-this-side-of-familiar voice, which answered some questions but raised several others. “It’s early in the afternoon, the day after the gala. You were out for a while.”
Lyón squinted and was able to make out the blurry figure of one of the performers he’d spoken to the previous night, still partly in costume with a tray in his hands. Lyón remembered passing him and his troupe as they played, though between then and now he couldn’t remember if they’d been any good or not. The bard—Lyón couldn’t remember the name he’d been told for the life of him—took a taper from said tray and made his way around the room, lighting lamps as he went, before taking a seat in a chair to Lyón’s left. The tray he placed on a side table. He poured Lyón a cup of something and offered it.
“Mint tea with honey,” said the bard. “Your throat’s probably still a bit raw from all the storytelling you did for me yesterday.”
Lyón took the cup and sniffed it warily. It smelled exactly the way mint tea with honey was supposed to, and a cursory taste didn’t reveal any tell-tale toxic taint, so he drank a bit. It was nice. If the costumed young man had treachery in mind he probably wouldn’t have left Lyón unfettered and unattended with his weapons at hand, nor would he have waited until Lyón—who, despite being well past his prime, was still every inch a seasoned warrior—was conscious again before trying anything. It never hurt to assume the best of people every so often.
Lyón sat up properly and finished his cup. His host refilled it twice more before either of them spoke again.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” said Lyón. “I made some pretty bad decisions last night.”
The bard waved him off. “You don’t need to worry yourself about appearances, Sir Lyón,” he said. “You looked like you could use some help, and I was in a position to do so. So I did.”
“Thank you for that.” The tea was good in that it helped Lyón feel a bit more human than he had in a while, but bad in that it was starting to undo the pleasant numbness that he’d been enjoying since waking up. He gritted his teeth as his dormant knee flared to agonizing life again. “You deserve better than to see a local legend making a jackass of himself,” he said. He could feel sweat beading on his brow. He’d suffered worse than this. He would make it through. He was going to be okay, at least as okay as a man who’d just jettisoned his entire retirement plans could be.
In his head it had been foolproof: the Lord Baron Murlonne and he had a lot of history together, Lyón had performed plenty of services for the barony over the years, and with his recovery of the Orb of Wonders he’d felt confident that he could settle down comfortably as a member of the court. He’d had visions of mentoring younger heroes in his remaining time. He’d also had visions of being on-call to the Baron’s private quarters whenever said Baron felt the need, which would have been a nice way for things to come full circle. Getting romantically entangled with people you rescued happened all the time. Was it really that unreasonable to think he had a chance at rekindling that spark, given that the Baron knew what it meant to ask him to complete one last job? Apparently the answer was yes. Lyón didn’t want to think about that so he was grateful when his host changed the subject.
“I don’t know how clear your head is given, well, everything, so just in case you forgot, you can call me Guerry,” said the bard.
That name was intensely familiar. Guerry had said he’d long been enchanted by tales of Lyón’s deeds back at the party, hadn’t he? Maybe he’d settled on that name out of respect. Maybe that was genuinely his given name and it was just one of life’s little coincidences. If neither of those were the case, well, there had to be a reason for someone named after one of his oldest and dearest friends to be in just the right place to pull his hams from the fire. Lyón chose to play along.
“Was that you with the, uh, mist thing?” During what he was coming to think of as The Altercation, a sparkling blue fog that glowed impossibly in the lantern light had curled around his legs—and, more importantly, around the guards’. He remembered how cold it had been, and the heaviness of his arms, and the way his head felt stuffed with wool, and finally the way that nothingness had washed over him like a wave on the sea. If that wasn’t magic he’d find a hat and eat it.
Guerry nodded. “That was a sleep spell. It seemed like the best way to keep anyone from getting hurt…more hurt. You could say I’m a bit of a magician! I have a knack or two of my own hidden up these shimmering silk sleeves, after all,” he added, flourishing his hands. He giggled to himself with satisfaction.
Something was ever so slightly off about that giggle, like the punchline to a forgotten joke. More pieces of the puzzle were fitting together. Lyón hid his thoughtful expression behind another sip of tea and chose his next words carefully.
“Were you performing earlier today? You’re still in the outfit you had on at the party, and you certainly don’t sound like you were up all night keeping watch over my fool self.” Guerry was dressed in one of the abstract costumes that were all the rage among the upper class these days, the kind that didn’t really look like much of anything in favor of being a fantastical array of colors and materials. A porcelain half-mask was involved. It wasn’t the sort of thing Lyón would ever associate with being comfortable, much less being worn overnight.
“Oh, I have lots of clothes like this,” said Guerry without so much as a whisper of hesitation. “It’s fun to dress up during festival season, even when I don’t have somewhere scheduled to play. People remember me better this way, too!” He leaned forward to adjust the blankets and the faint pressure this put on the mattress made Lyón wince. Guerry put his hand to his mouth. “Oh, your poor knee, it can’t be very happy with all it’s gone through, can it? Let me take care of that. I’ve got something for aches around here somewhere….”
Lyón watched him rummage around the room—which, now lit, looked like it was almost certainly Guerry’s own bedroom, inside of which a curiosity shop had clearly exploded—all while weighed down with who knew how many pounds of sequined frosting. It was remarkable how he didn’t get any of his plumage caught in anything.
“Isn’t caring for someone else a bit difficult in that getup?” asked Lyón once Guerry had successfully unearthed a pot of something and a roll of gauze.
Guerry scoffed chipperly. “I scarcely feel myself without a thick layer of decoration. Don’t you worry yourself about it,” he said. “Now, let’s see that misbehaving leg of yours.”
Lyón hadn’t planned on worrying himself, and even with his knee feeling like it was stuck in an ever-tightening vice he felt pleased with himself for still being able to put together the pieces he’d been given. He let Guerry roll up his pant leg for him and apply some medicinal-smelling goop to the fresh bruising crowning his old injury. Guerry chattered happily about nothing in particular as he measured out some material and began to wind gauze around the balm.
Once the ointment kicked in and the pain wasn’t quite a knife prying at his patella, Lyón ran through the details he’d been collecting in his head until he felt he’d properly solved the little mystery Guerry had unknowingly set before him. It was time to make his next move. “You don’t have to hold it in anymore if you don’t want to,” he said.
Guerry paused mid-winding. “Hold what in?”
“Oh, you know.” Lyón wiggled his hands in a ta-da! gesture. “Galu! Lulu! You used to pepper your speech with those sounds all the time, so much I almost didn’t recognize you without ’em. Should’ve known you’d be the one to fix me up again after all this time, Guérisseau.” He smiled as genuinely as he was able. “I’m glad you got your wish after all.”
Guerry finished dressing Lyón’s knee, wiped off his hands, and sat back in his chair next to the tea tray. He didn’t say anything.
Lyón’s smile dimmed. “Guerry?”
“I was hoping maybe you’d forgotten me,” he said. “It might’ve made things easier.”
“What? Why?” Lyón cringed as another few memories from the night before drifted past his conscious thoughts like fish against a ship. “I didn’t make that bad an impression on you, did I? I’m so sorry, little guy, I know it’s been ten, maybe twelve years but—”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” snapped Guerry. “Just let me work on your leg and bring you more tea, and I can heat some soup if you’re hungry, and I don’t want to hear anything about the old days tonight, okay?”
Lyón had traveled with Guerry for years back when he was a younger man, and at no point during those years had Guerry ever been upset with him quite like this. Angry, Lyón had seen, since anger was your bread-and-butter in the heroism business, and they’d squabbled over treasure a time or two, but this was new. Lyón didn’t like how many people he was meeting these days who reacted to him with what he could only interpret as profound disappointment. He felt himself getting very thirsty again, and not for the tea Guerry brought him.
“Okay,” he said. “Tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it.”
Guerry mask didn’t conceal the nervous little quirk of his mouth. Reading too much into that didn’t seem like a good idea at the time. “Rest. Heal. Tomorrow I want to see if you can walk on that knee, and if not, I’m going to need to try and help it recover.” He poured Lyón another cup of tea. “Don’t let yourself get too thirsty. I used antidote magic on you while you were out, so your system’s going to be a little messed up from that.”
That explained where Lyón’s expected hangover had gone. He nodded and leaned back in bed. “Doctor’s orders.”
“Good. I’ll go put something on the stove.”
It was an awkward, quiet dinner of surprisingly flavorful broth; all it took was a single spoonful to remind Lyón’s stomach of how little he’d had to eat that day. The gala spread in all its finery had nothing on plain soup with some crackers crumbled into it. He paced himself as best he could but kept draining bowls until Guerry stopped bringing him new ones. Guerry himself ate sparingly, as though he wasn’t used to eating with other people. Lyón imagined that could very well be the case.
Somewhere in the depths of Guerry’s home was a ticking clock. Between its rhythmic sound and the chill in the air Lyón could tell he wouldn’t have much trouble sleeping that night, but when overlaid upon two people trying to figure out what to do with each other it underscored how much of a gulf had formed between them. Back in the day they would’ve had plenty of jokes to share even if Lyón had ended up far more injured than he was now. A hero’s life without a friend who knew all the right spells hadn’t been the most pleasant thing to adjust to, since missing the easy access to healing magic and missing their friendship had both left different kinds of wounds, but Guerry had been adamant about going it alone when the time came for them to part. Was the sight of what a decade or so of solo adventuring had done to Lyón giving him second thoughts? That wouldn’t do.
“Do you use a different name these days? I’d be happy to use that, if you’d prefer. I know how important this was for you.”
Guerry startled, then sighed heavily. He shrugged. “You can still call me Guerry if you want to. Or Guérisseau. Or whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
Lyón furrowed his brow. “Now why wouldn’t it?” he asked. “Here you are, looking brand new and handsome, so why wouldn’t you be just as persnickety about names now as you were before? You worked so hard to become a human being. This isn’t like you, little guy.”
A pained grimace tugged at Guerry’s mouth the longer Lyón spoke. “Like I said, it doesn’t matter,” he said, no sign remaining of his earlier good cheer. He reached up and pulled his mask away. “It’s not like I’m a real human, anyway.”
What Lyón had taken for a costume was technically a costume, certainly, but plenty of bits he’d assumed were just cunningly-wrought decorations were now clearly actually parts of the bard called Guerry’s body. From a distance he looked like a slender young man with skin so fair it could pass for alabaster, his hair a bold cerulean, and while most people’s ears didn’t come to such tapered points it wasn’t the weirdest style going around these days. From a distance it was harder to notice his eyes were colored all the way through like little gems, or that the azure flares that curved up from his skull weren’t just jewelry, or the entire situation with the tail. From a distance it was possible to mistake him for something other than a pureslime in a people-suit. Up close was another story.
Lyón had seen, and slept with, much worse. “Who says you aren’t?”
“Other people,” said Guerry. “I was so happy when I first changed. I was tall! I was opaque! I practiced not making monster sounds and everything! I knew I didn’t look the same as humans like you do, but I thought since I felt human enough I was good enough. Then I tried to interact with the real thing, and I learned I wasn’t.”
Something twisted in Lyón’s veins that he hadn’t felt for a long time, and a moment of self-reflection revealed it to be the same sense of protective wrath he’d felt any time some nameless nasty had set their sights on Guerry back when they’d still traveled together. He bit it down; who knew how Guerry would take that sort of thing now? If this new life didn’t have room for swordsmen in it then it wasn’t Lyón’s place to try and take point again. It was time to rely on that most dangerous of skills: using his words.
“You wished to be human, didn’t you?” Lyón asked. “I’m no expert, here, but I’d say if something as powerful as a wish says you’re one, you count.” He sipped at his tea and added, “Besides, you’re here, and you’re being a courteous host, and you’ve even gone and fixed me up without a second thought. I’d say those make you at least as real as I am.”
Guerry wrung his hands. “It’s not that easy,” he said. “People look at you and they see a hero. Maybe an older one than he used to be, but still a hero. They look at me and the best I get is a silly little man in a silly little costume. At worst?” He looked away. “Well, I make sure I keep my masks on nice and tight, and I try my best never to be too threatening when I go out to perform with the troupe, so I try not to think about what might happen otherwise.”
“Guérisseau—” began Lyón, shifting his weight to try and turn Guerry’s face to look back at him again, but this only put pressure on his bad knee at the exact wrong angle. The pain returned with such ferocity that it knocked the wind from his lungs despite the numbing balm. He hissed and felt his eyes tear up a bit.
For a brief moment he wondered whether it would’ve been so bad to end up in the Baron’s dungeons instead. He missed the old days when Guerry could just glow for a little and make everything hurt less. Losing a dear friend had been the worst part of Guerry leaving; losing the ability to shrug off pain and keep on going was the second-worst. Who could have blamed him for looking for other ways to deal with just how much you got hurt in the line of heroism? You couldn’t pop down to market day and expect to find an elixir that’d fix you up from stem to stern, so he’d gone for what seemed like the next best thing at the time. Now that that was gone he wasn’t sure if there was enough anesthetic balm in the world to take its place.
He slumped back against the mattress as Guerry gasped in dismay. A tendril of blue mist—smaller than the veritable cloudbank he’d seen during The Altercation, but definitely the same stuff—twirled around Guerry’s fingers as he gave Lyón an apologetic look.
“I think it’d be better for both of us if I leave you alone for now,” he said, glancing meaningfully at the spell he was preparing.
Lyón gave him a half-nod before clenching his eyes tightly shut. “Yeah. Do what you gotta.”
Cold spread through Lyón’s body, deadening his senses as it went, and it couldn’t have come fast enough. Anything was better than having to be conscious through what may as well have been a crocodile trying to chew off his afflicted leg. The far-away voice of someone who might’ve been Guerry said, “Get some rest, okay?”
“Doctor’s orders,” said Lyón, already drifting towards oblivion.
Lyón had been tracking down the fate of a renegade mage-captain by decree of the Baron, which had pointed far outside the borders of the barony from day one, which meant he wasn’t terribly surprised when he found himself in the middle of some ruins in the middle of nowhere while following her trail. It wasn’t that he expected her to be on the other side of the important-looking mosaic blocking his path; what Lyón expected was to at least find a clue, since sometimes all you could really do on a mission was bumble around for clues until things started making sense. The day had seen a lot of bumbling.
He wiped his forehead and tucked a few stray locks of turquoise hair back behind his ears. The look of the thing implied he’d need to find missing bits of it, rather than hitting switches or turning cranks or whatever the long-dead architects in question had decided to use instead of a normal door, so that meant digging through fallen masonry until he found what he needed. Given how everything was so same-colored he found himself longing for a piece of chalk so he could mark things better. Hopefully the place had been a lot livelier than the beige-on-beige facade that had survived to the modern day.
A blob of transparent blue slime burbled up between the stones. It was the most colorful thing in the ruins and Lyón found himself captivated, even as his instincts guided his hand to the pommel of his sword. When the blob had swollen to the size of a small melon it pulled itself free from the stone to float in midair. Its surface shimmered before it reshaped itself into a sort of feathery slug-snake made entirely from cerulean goop. A pair of eyes—at least Lyón assumed they were eyes—coalesced on its closest approximation of a face and fixed themselves on him.
“Oh wow!” it said, its voice high and warbly like a gargling chicken. “A real live human, galu!”
Lyón eased out of his battle stance but kept one glove on his weapon. “Yeah, that’s me, all right. A genuine real live human,” he said. He studied the little creature. It didn’t look big enough to be a fearsome threat, but in Lyón’s experience assuming only big things could pack a wallop was a good way to end up six feet under. Minding his manners seemed like the best course of action. “Are you the guardian of this place?”
The gooey snake giggled. “Me? Oh no, lulu, nobody’s been in charge of these ruins for ages. It wouldn’t do them much good even if someone was. They’re a wreck, lu!” It burbled happily to itself.
“Yeah, I noticed,” said Lyón. “I’m going to have to jigger together some of the old mechanisms to get any further in.”
“Ohh, so you’re a hero, too, galu?”
Lyón struck a pose. “In the flesh,” he said. “I hope that’s not going to make things weird between us. You seem like a friendly little critter.”
The snake thing shook its head. “Not at all, lu! I like humans!”
“That’s interesting, given how surprised you sounded when you first saw me.”
It puffed out its cheeks in annoyance. “It’s so rare to see your kind out here I thought maybe I was having a silly dream, galu. Most of the people who come out this way are just passing through, or sometimes they’re getting chased by bigger and scarier monsters. Nobody’s stayed around long enough to ask me for help, lu.”
Lyón cocked an eyebrow. “And what kind of help might a little monster like yourself have to offer?”
Judging by the happy figure-eight swoop the creature flew in this had been the right thing to ask. “I have magic powers!” it said, swelling with pride. “I’m a pureslime, galulu, and we specialize in fixing folks up. If you’re feeling hurt or sick, just call on me, and I’ll get you feeling better in a jiffy, lu!”
“Oh yeah?” asked Lyón. He tapped at a bandage wrapped around his left bicep. “How about you show me what can you do about this, then?”
The pureslime floated closer and peered at the blood-tinged fabric. A glow suffused its subtly-shifting slime and suddenly Lyón’s arm stopped itching and throbbing the way it had been since his fight with the giant scorpion a few hours back; another light then rippled through the creature and Lyón felt better still. When he pulled away the bandage his skin was unbroken, though the blood that had crusted under the dressing earlier was still there. Lyón rotated his arm appraisingly. It was as though he’d never been stung.
“That’s downright incredible,” he said.
“It’s monster magic, lu!” trilled the pureslime. “I healed your wound and cured the poison that was zipping around in your blood. I’m really good at both of those things. I bet a hero like you would really benefit from a buddy like me around to help, galu,” it added, tapping the side of its nose with the tip of its tail.
Lyón chuckled. “Manners first,” he said, then affected a sweeping bow towards the pureslime. “I’m Sir Lyón of Vanderviir, in service to the barony’s heir Lord Murlonne, righter of wrongs and seeker of the unknown. And you are…?”
“I’m Guérisseau, galu. I’m a he-slime. I don’t know if you knew that, lu.”
Lyón had not, in fact, known that, and was quietly thankful it had come up before he’d had to ask any rude questions. “Can I call you Guerry for short?”
Guérisseau turned up his little snout primly. He tapped the center of Lyón’s chest with his tail. “Only if we decide to be good friends. Until then it’s every single syllable to you, lulu.”
Lyón chuckled again. “So you really do want to come questing with me, huh?”
He had never encountered a monster that could make puppy dog eyes before, but Guérisseau certainly tried. “Oh please, please won’t you take me with you, lulu? I never get to talk to humans, not ever, and these ruins are so lonely, and it’s too scary for a lone little pureslime to be all on his own out here, lu….” Guérisseau rotated in place. “I’ve got a big goal of my own, too, galu, but I’m never going to be able to achieve it if I’m stuck way out here.”
Monsters that were willing to talk to humans weren’t uncommon, but Lyón had never met one this chatty before, not even when he’d had to deal with a whole temple full of riddling sphinxes. The idea of a companion who was more or less a sentient healing potion wasn’t the worst one he could think of. Guérisseau looked pretty small so he probably wouldn’t make stealthy maneuvers too much harder, either. “And what kind of goal might that be?” Lyón asked.
“It’s a secret,” said Guérisseau. He twirled. “Maybe once we’re better pals I can tell you.”
“And that’d be about the same time I’d get to call you Guerry?”
Guérisseau nodded so hard his eyes risked goggling around in their not-sockets. “Yup!”
“I guess I’ll have to take you along if we’re ever going to be friends, then, huh?” said Lyón with a smile. “C’mon and help me look for the scattered pieces of that blasted puzzle door out in the sanctuary. They always did say that cooperation is a good way to get to know somebody.”
Guérisseau laughed and orbited him happily, glowing like fireworks through ice, and he and Lyón descended into the ruins to hunt for missing mechanisms.
The terrible pain in Lyón’s knee had downgraded itself to a dull ache when he next awoke. He wiggled his toes and found they still more or less worked. That was promising. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked around the room. An unmasked Guerry, who had been arranging a vase of flowers by the room’s sole window, spotted the movement and smiled.
“How did you sleep?” he asked.
“Like a log,” said Lyón. He smacked his lips. The inside of his mouth tasted like a crime, and not the fun kind. He couldn’t smell himself but he suspected it was similarly terrible. “Did I lose a whole day again?”
Guerry shook his head. “Not this time. It’s a lovely morning,” he said. He pointed at another tray on the side table, this one with an empty bowl, a spoon, and a lidded pot of something on it. “I made you some oatmeal with strawberry and carrot. I had to guess on the recipe so I hope it’s not too far off from the way you used to like it. Sorry if it’s not hot enough. I have a little trouble keeping stuff warm for very long.”
“Yeah? You’re the best, little guy,” said Lyón, already getting into the pot. While the oatmeal’s temperature could be described as lukewarm at best, the flavor was incredible. Had Guerry ever actually eaten any of Lyón’s breakfasts of choice? Had Guerry ever actually eaten anything at all during their travels, now that Lyón thought about it? Either way it was a fantastic breakfast. He polished off his bowl eagerly. “Tastes pretty good, I gotta say. Did you want any of this?”
“All for you,” said Guerry. “You’re going to need plenty of strength if we’re going to see how much weight that bad knee of yours can handle today.”
Lyón groaned, though this didn’t stop him from having seconds. “Sorry if I went too far yesterday,” he said between mouthfuls. “It’s not like I know everything you’ve been through between then and now. Pretty rude of me to go and say how you should be feeling.”
“Thank you. It’s okay.” Guerry twitched the tip of his tail. “You know, I think yesterday was probably the first time anybody’s seen me without all of a costume on in…months? Maybe years? Not even my troupe sees me without a mask. We’re all performers, so they just assume it’s because I’m the normal kind of eccentric.” He touched at his face as though he kept expecting to find something there. “I wasn’t expecting to do that.”
“Oh yeah? How was it?”
“I’m still figuring it out!” said Guerry with a rueful little laugh. “I was thinking about it all night, and I kept going back to how I felt when you told me I’m real. I know you’re the only person to ever say that to me.” He rubbed his face again. “You knew me back before I got my wish and everything. It meant a lot, hearing that from you.”
Lyón smiled. “Glad I was able to brighten your day a little, Guerry.”
Guerry put his hands on his hips and attempted to puff out his cheeks the way he used to when he was smaller. His little tail stuck straight out for emphasis. “Don’t thank me just yet, Mister Hero Human. We’ve still got a long day of physical therapy ahead of us and you are not gonna like it.”
“That sounds unpleasant,” said Lyón. “Any way you can just use a healing spell on me and call it a day?”
“My magic is…different, now,” said Guerry, screwing up his mouth like he’d been caught telling a fib. “I can still use some of it, but I haven’t been able to get a healing spell quite right ever since I got my legs. I think it got turned inside out a little bit to keep me from falling apart.” He gestured at himself. Lyón hadn’t noticed it before but now he could truly appreciate just how many variations on the same bedazzled outfit one man could own. “Like, I don’t feel like it’s gone,” Guerry continued, “just that I’m using it to hold myself together in a different way than I did when I was slimier on the outside. I’ve been learning proper medicines ever since I changed so I’d never have to worry about being unable to help somebody. That’s why I’ve got the gauze.”
To be perfectly honest Lyón had assumed Guerry had doctor’s trappings lying around because he could’ve believed Guerry pulling anything out of the clutter surrounding them, but it sounded like a good enough reason either way. “You always were thinking about other people. It’s nice seeing how some things never change.”
“Butter me up all you want, but once you finish that oatmeal you’re getting wheeled out into the courtyard and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The use of wheeled made a lot more sense when Lyón caught sight of the wheelchair Guerry had parked against the wall by the door. He groaned. Well, so much for the easy way out. “Is there a place I can wash up first?” he asked. He gestured at the stubble covering his scar-crossed chin. “I need a shave and I feel like I smell like nine armpits. I also don’t remember the last time I did the necessary, which is probably bad.”
Guerry sighed and implied he was rolling his solid-color eyes. “Oh, fine, I suppose I can allow that. I have some spare clothes you can wear while your old ones are in the wash. Hope you can make do with the supplies I have in there, I don’t have overnight guests very often….”
A quick sit-down scrub and some time with Guerry’s alarmingly sharp razor left Lyón feeling like a new man, at least until he leaned on his bad knee again. The loaner clothes fit much better than he was expecting. That Guerry owned anything in brown was a small miracle. After a moment of sizing up the bathroom window—ultimately deciding the angle just wasn’t suited for a timely escape in his condition, much as he was considering it—he plopped himself back in the chair and wheeled himself outside to where Guerry waited in the house’s interior yard. It was looking to be a hot, clear day with just enough of a breeze to keep things from getting sticky. Lyón had high hopes for their little session.
Whoever decided to name it “physical therapy” was a very cruel person. The physical part was correct, in the sense that being on the receiving end of a piledriver was physical, but as Lyón dragged himself between a set of parallel bars he couldn’t see what was so therapeutic about it. He’d heard of it before, in that healers were convinced you needed to care for a wound even if you fixed it up with magic or you risked your body getting all out of whack; never in his long and storied life had Lyón imagined he’d find himself in need of it. He longed for the old days where he’d just ask Guerry to fix things up for him. That this was technically what was going on didn’t matter.
The sun blazed overhead. Lyón was pleased to find that he still had no problem supporting his entire weight on his arms, which was a blessing, since while his less-bad leg didn’t have any problems aside from some lingering bruises from The Altercation, the more-bad leg refused to have anything to do with walking, limping, or even standing without completely favoring one side. It was frustrating knowing that he could do a one-armed handstand on the little bars Guerry had set up for him, which meant the instant he had to do anything below the waist he was all too aware of how much it wasn’t working. Lyón feared the day it wasn’t just his limbs he’d have to worry about when it came to the parts south of his navel malfunctioning.
Even with Guerry watching over his every move and making sure he took regular breaks for rest and water, the strains of the day finally caught up with Lyón: he felt his head start to swim, took a step that turned out not to be a step at all, and collapsed to the ground in a painful, sweaty heap. The final indignity was that right up until that point Lyón had thought he was actually on the mend.
Guerry was at his side in an instant. His skin was smooth as polished marble and felt as though someone had rubbed a chunk of ice all across his body, leaving him just a bit chillier than he should be. It was impossible to ignore in weather as hot as it was. Lyón shivered at his touch.
“I’m sorry,” said Guerry, sheepishly. “They tell me I have cold hands.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Lyón said as he leaned into Guerry. “This is nice. I like this.” While lacking the gelatinous elasticity and slightly moist texture from before, Guerry still felt very much the same as he had when he’d looked a bit more monstrous. Lyón’s time in the sun had left his skin sweaty and the top of his head quite hot, which made that simple physical contact all the more pleasant. He wet his lips thoughtfully. “Is it just your hands, or is more of you like that?”
“I’m this way from toe to tip, I think. Why do you ask?”
Lyón grinned and said nothing.
A purple-blue blush stained Guerry’s cheeks. He helped Lyón back up and into the wheelchair. “Let’s get you inside. I think the heat’s gotten to you a bit.”
“Doctor’s orders are doctor’s orders,” said Lyón with a wink, once more enjoying himself despite the day’s setbacks.
Guerry fussed over Lyón all the way back indoors. Lyón glowed in the attention even as he dueled with heat stroke, and he didn’t complain too much when Guerry demanded he strip down for the second time that day to sit in a tub of cold water and ice with a cold compress on his forehead. This time he didn’t bother with looking for escape routes, since a successful escape would mean he couldn’t try to wind Guerry up again any time in the near future, and that wouldn’t do at all. Lyón stayed put in the tub with every intention of becoming a very chilly prune.
The hardest part about sitting still after being in the sun for so long was staying awake. He’d been left in the bathroom by himself, and aside from the odd check-in to make sure he hadn’t succumbed to the dread beast sunshine Guerry had found other things to do with himself during that time. Once Lyón heard a series of distant scales being played on some sort of stringed instrument, followed by some simple practice tunes, and he strained his ears to hear more; save for another few sets of scales and a bit of tuning, none never came. Heroes usually didn’t have the luxury of being bored. Lyón soon learned that he hated it.
When Guerry finally called from the hallway to ask if Lyón was ready to lie down and get some proper rest it couldn’t have come too soon. He dried himself off, shuffled into his chair, re-dressed as best he could, and waited to be escorted.
“How was your soak?” asked Guerry after he reappeared. He checked Lyón’s eyes and touched the back of his hand to Lyón’s forehead. As Guerry didn’t have much to say about whatever it was he found, it probably wasn’t important.
Lyón shrugged. No sense in not telling the truth. “It was pretty boring. I’m not sweating to death anymore, though, so that’s good.”
“And your knee?”
“Still aches, I think. I can tell the numbing stuff is working, but I can also tell I really don’t want it to wear off any time soon.”
Guerry fretted. “Are you feeling any better at all?”
“Now that you’re back? Absolutely,” said Lyón, cheerfully. “You could say I’m a fan of the view.” This earned him another blue-tinged blush from Guerry. What a shame Lyón hadn’t realized sooner how much fun it was to fluster him! Further attempts would have to wait, though, since Lyón had spent the last few minutes of his bath trying not to fall asleep, and nodding off in the chair didn’t sound all that nice. “Would you mind getting me back to bed now? Grandpa Lyón had a rough day today and needs some beauty rest.”
“Yes, of course. I can stay nearby just in case you wake up feeling unwell. I’ll have a book to read, so don’t worry about me keeping entertained.”
Guerry helped pour Lyón out of the chair and onto the mattress, which Lyón noted had been made and turned down since the last time he saw it. A colorful stuffed animal of indeterminate species rested among the pillows; it was clean and its plush fur was brushed, but it also showed signs of being a very well-loved toy. Given how so much of Guerry’s adventuring life had been spent curled inconspicuously around Lyón’s bicep, it only made sense he was still a hugger.
Lyón stretched out and laced his fingers over his chest. He left the plush whatsit where it lay and tried to let his mind wander. It was weird thinking how this was the first time he’d slept—or tried to sleep—in that bed without being magically doped first, and if he had trouble nodding off he could always ask Guerry to help. Should he, though? He’d spent his entire stay at Guerry’s place not fiending for a drink, so the idea of finding a new thing to depend on didn’t sit well with him. If Guerry’s antidote spells were even a hair as potent as they used to be then Lyón was probably the most sober he’d been in years. He had a chance to not mess things up this time. Everything happened to heroes for a reason, didn’t it?
Sleep came reluctantly to Lyón. He’d had maybe half an hour of fitful rest when he finally stopped fighting his own consciousness and allowed himself to appreciate lying supine on one of the nicest mattresses he’d had the pleasure to flop on. Once he trusted himself to not bung up his knee overnight he really did need to move to a divan or something so Guerry could sleep in his proper spot again. Goodness knew where the little guy had put himself these past few nights.
A cool, now-familiar touch alighted on his shoulder. “Lyón?”
Lyón cracked an eyelid. “Yeah?”
Guerry was still seated in his chair with his book in his lap. Lyón was still learning how to read his expressions, and still wasn’t sure how to tell which way Guerry was looking, but he knew enough to notice when Guerry was distracted by his own thoughts. “You’ve been flirting with me, right?” Guerry asked after a clear attempt to psych himself up.
Lyón had honestly been expecting a harder question. “Yeah.”
“Because you’re here, you’re cute, I like to flirt, and I like you.”
Guerry fidgeted in his seat. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, ultimately opting to clench them tightly around his book’s cover. “…Do you mean it?”
“You bet.” Lyón stretched and rolled over to face Guerry better. “Do you want me to stop? I won’t mind.”
“It’s fine! Really!” said Guerry, his entire body tensing as though it longed to bristle in every direction or smooth itself into a sphere the way he used to when he was flustered during his slimier days. He bit his lip. “I don’t know what I thought it would be like if we ever met up again, but it wasn’t anything at all like this. You’re being awfully nice to me.”
Lyón laughed and rubbed at his eyes in an attempt to better wake up. “You’re helping me heal off a years-old injury out of the goodness of your heart and you’re surprised I want to be nice to you? C’mon, Guerry, we’ve known each other for ages. You’ve always been my little buddy.” He paused. “I haven’t changed that much, have I?”
“The problem is you haven’t changed enough,” Guerry said. He winced, his hand flying to his mouth in dismay, and had he not already been the color of pale marble Lyón assumed he would have blanched, too. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, that came out really badly….”
“Oh yeah? What parts were you hoping would be different?”
Guerry looked miserable. “Well, when I heard you were coming to a gala right here in the castle town, I was super excited. I thought maybe it’d be a good chance for us to reconnect after all this time. I wanted to say something when we first talked, but it was so hard. You remembered me enough to tell stories about me, just like you promised, and that was so nice, and I could tell you were maybe a little tipsy, but that was fine, it was a party, right? Gosh, do you know the kind of presence you have when you’re in the right mood? You were everything I remembered and then some. Then I needed to get back to the rest of the troupe to play a dance and we just didn’t cross paths again.” He ran his hands down his face and sighed. “I’d gone and planned everything out in my head after that, and was going to say something for real after you finished meeting with the Baron, but that, um…it didn’t go so well.”
Lyón made a face. “Ugh. That’s an understatement. I take it you heard more or less everything, huh?”
“More or less. I’m sorry he said no.”
Lord Baron Murlonne’s words still stung two days later. You’re a shell of a man, Sir Lyón. You’re barely more than an obsession with boots on. Perhaps someday you’ll find yourself fit to be someone’s champion, but it will not be my own. Lyón had been so stunned by that reaction that he’d scarcely resisted when the guards had escorted his besotted self back to the antechamber, and by the time he’d started The Altercation—because if he was being honest with himself, he had definitely been the one who started it—he was running on pure instinct that happened to be blurrier around the edges than it should have been. He didn’t resent the guard who’d tackled him and forced him to land right on his already ailing knee; she was just doing her job, the same kind of job he’d done himself a time or two. Another injury on the pile was small fry compared to the horrible uncertainty of what he was going to do with himself now that his chances of retiring in the care of the barony were shot. At least the Orb of Wonders was in good hands again.
“Can’t say I’m too happy about it, either,” said Lyón, doing what he could to boil down a lot of complex and ugly emotions into a single phrase.
Guerry had yet to stop visibly fretting. “I know you two have a lot of history together,” he said. “I mean, maybe there’s still time to fix things…?”
“I doubt it.”
“Maybe if you worded a very polite letter….”
“Definitely not,” said Lyón. He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed you trying to change the subject away from whether or not you wanted me flirting with you. You can’t just say it’s fine and then make this big a scene about it without making me wonder what’s on your mind, little guy.”
With the kind of vocalization only monstrous vocal cords usually made, Guerry flung up his hands in defeat. “It’s going to sound terrible,” he said in a voice tinged with liquid warbling.
“I pitched myself quite the fit when I got turned down for the job of royal consort, itself a proposition I made while blotto drunk. You’re going to have to get pretty out there to top that.”
Guerry scrunched his head and shoulders together, displacing parts of the day’s costume in the process. “I-thought-maybe-since-the-Baron-turned-you-away-I-might-actually-have-a-chance,” he said, speaking so rapidly it was almost like he exhaled in the shape of one long, polysyllabic word. “Oh, no, it sounds even worse out loud….”
Lyón blinked. “What, is that all?”
“What do you mean, is that all?”
“You wanted to see if we could get a thing going, you felt like he was an obstacle in the way of said thing, it soon became clear that he and I weren’t going to work out, and with him out of the picture it means you have a clear path towards your shot at the thing again. It’s not the hardest course to chart on the sea.”
“But it’s awful! I’m halfway glad for something bad happening!” wailed Guerry.
All Lyón could do was shrug. He shifted his weight around to keep from tangling himself up in the bed linens in the process. “Yeah, well, people are messy critters, Guerry. Consider it further proof that you’re just as human as you wished to be.”
This earned him a rueful little laugh. “You really are being nice to me,” Guerry said.
“That’s me. Sir Lyón, professional nice guy.” He placed the plush creature on the ground next to the bed and scooted over to make room next to himself. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to being a professional nap-haver for a bit. If you want to join me like we used to in the old days you’re welcome to it. I’ve missed how close we were, too.” Lyón paused. “Just, uh, don’t try to curl up into a sphere on my stomach to do it. You’re a bit too big for that now.”
He had expected the usual blushing and stammering and wringing of hands, but Lyón was surprised to find Guerry cuddled up against him, cold hands and all. Had Guerry always been this much of a snugglebug, or had losing the ability to just loop himself around people he liked whenever the whim struck him gone and flicked a switch in his head? Either way it meant Lyón didn’t have to worry about the sheets getting too hot to nap on even with double the bed’s previous capacity, which suited him just fine.
“Thank you so much, Lyón,” murmured Guerry in his ear. “It really means the world to me.”
“Me too, little guy. Me too.”
“Look out!” trilled Guérisseau as he looped in a figure eight between Lyón and one of the attacking mercenaries who’d tried to slip into his blind spot. A bolt of blue lightning crackled through Guérisseau’s slime before it erupted from the tip of his tail and slammed Lyón’s assailant in the center mass, causing the merc’s whole body to lock up and topple over like a dressmaker’s figure. Paralysis was a vastly underrated tool in an adventurer’s toolbox; pureslimes were not meant for fighting, being made up of spells that fixed things instead of broke things, but sometimes the best offense was making sure a foe could never throw the first punch at all.
Lyón spun and parried, safely un-ambushed. “I owe you one, little guy!” he said, his chakram already in hand and twirling around one finger. The distraught Lord Murlonne—future Lord Baron of Vanderviir and a key player in Vanderviir’s contract with the Summer Moon Trading Company, no less—cowered behind him. For a moment Lyón had thought they might have been able to get all the way out of the kidnappers’ hideout without raising suspicion, but something went wrong at the last minute, just like it always did, and so they had found themselves hip-deep in brigands. Lyón flourished his blade. At least years of being a swordsman-for-hire had prepared him for situations like this one.
Guérisseau flitted between foes like a dragonfly. He was always one slithery step ahead of their blades and nimbly kept them distracted as Lyón prepared his next move, the chakram humming with power as it came up to speed. Lyón sized up the next wave of hired goons, did a little bit of math in his head, and let the chakram fly; it sailed through the air and struck each of them in turn, injuring each of them enough to drop them without leaving any serious wounds, then returned obediently to his hand. Lyón gave it a little smooch on a patch of engraved metal. When it came to crowd control it was hard to beat a well-maintained flying torus.
A big man in an eyepatch, the presumed leader of the mercenaries, took a dramatic step forward with a tread that shook the floorboards. Lyón sized him up. Toe-to-toe they were too evenly-matched for comfort, and with Lord Murlonne to look after Lyón couldn’t afford anything too risky. He didn’t see any obvious weak spots in the one-eyed man’s defenses, nor had the hideout had any hidden gadgets or convenient theming to hint at tricks he could use to his advantage. If there was an easy out to be had Lyón sure didn’t see it.
“You got any more of that zappy-stun magic in you?” he whispered Guérisseau as he and the leader postured at each other.
Guérisseau shook his head. “It’ll take me a long time to build up another charge, galu,” he hissed back, “but if you can keep him busy for just a little bit, lulu, I have a different idea.”
“I’m counting on you, little buddy,” said Lyón, and he had just enough time to flash Guérisseau a thumbs up before he and the head merc crossed swords in earnest.
Lord Murlonne squawked in fear and scuttled backwards on his bottom until he bumped into a sea chest, which he promptly crawled inside. The lock clunked shut behind him. Lyón grimaced. It’d keep the Baron-to-be safe for the time being, at least, but if they had to make a hasty retreat he wasn’t sure how he was going to tuck an iron-banded footlocker under one arm in time. Could it even fit through a window in the first place? He’d have to make sure things wouldn’t come to that.
Lyón and the headman clashed swords a few times, both of them gaining and losing ground in equal measure. The mercenary with the eyepatch was pretty good: he’d refused to fall for any of Lyón’s feints, he kept his stance closed enough to be secure but loose enough to adapt to Lyón’s fancier footwork, and his own strikes had a layer of precision you usually didn’t see in your garden-variety ruffian. It was dangerously close to a fun match. Had they met one another in better circumstances Lyón would have loved to ask the man about where he’d trained and what his style incorporated; as Lyón was currently busy trying to extricate a member of the nobility from his opponent’s stronghold, he settled for testing himself against the finest challenge he’d had in ages.
Whatever Guérisseau was doing sure was taking its time. Lyón bobbed and weaved, thrust and parried, all the while struggling to keep the chest either safely behind him or where he could easily see it. Sweat beaded on his brow. The other brigands looked down for the count, but what if they weren’t? What if this wall of a man had a pureslime of his own ready to heal everyone up and send them back into the fray? That had never been the case before, but Lyón had never been ordered to rescue Lord Murlonne before, and who knew what kinds of weird enemies a man like that could rack up?
A flicker of movement from overhead caught Lyón’s eye, and he fell back into a defensive position as swiftly as he could. A haze of blue-tinged smoke shot through with black and purple faded into view around the leader’s head; he gasped in surprise, breathing in the strange fumes, and was immediately overcome. He landed on the ground with another thud that shook the hideout’s timbers and groaned. The big man’s sword lay where it fell. Lyón gave the stricken mercenary a nudge with his boot before turning to Guérisseau with one eyebrow cocked curiously. “You poisoned him?”
“Not badly, lu,” said Guérisseau, puffing out his cheeks. He flew down from his hiding place in the rafters to orbit Lyón. “He’s just going to have a wicked tummy-ache and won’t be able to stand up without getting dizzy for a little while. It’ll wear off, I promise. Same for the meanie I stunned, galu.”
“Well, you’ve never been wrong about this kind of thing before, so I’ll take your word for it.” He turned his attention to the closed trunk. Its contents were still and quiet; had he not seen Lord Murlonne scramble inside himself he never would’ve known someone was in there. “Is His Nibs still hiding with the mothballs?”
Guérisseau nodded. “I tried opening it up, but it’s locked up pretty tight, galu. I tried jimmying the keyhole with my tail but my bits are just too soft to get the shape right.”
“A for effort, little guy,” said Lyón. He held out his arm for Guérisseau to curl around and gave him a friendly little rub on the head. “Don’t worry, I have something just for situations like this one.”
He plucked a spare every-key from his pouch of many tricks and tapped it to the stubborn lock, holding it in place until the gem on its handle turned green and the brass teeth that jutted from its body stopped shuffling around as they studied the chest’s hidden tumblers. He slipped it into the keyhole and popped the chest open with a satisfying click. The every-key disappeared in a puff of sparkling dust as soon as his hand left it. At least it beat dealing with lockpicks.
He cracked the lid and peered inside. “That seems to be the last of ’em, milord. Guérisseau and I sent the lot packing.”
The fetal ball inside uncurled into Lord Murlonne, who even with mussed hair and stained clothing was downright radiant. He pushed up the lid and looked around warily. “Are you sure?” he whispered.
“Sure as sunshine. You think you’ve got enough hustle in your bustle to make it to the nearest balcony? I have a fiend-feather fan that can whisk us back to your castle in no time, but we’re going to need open access to the sky.”
“Why can’t we just use it in here? I can see the stars pretty clearly. Isn’t that all it takes?”
Lyón rubbed his head at the painful memory. “Trust me, milord, it doesn’t end well.”
The three of them made haste to a pair of double doors that led to an open platform that overlooked the courtyard. The distant lanterns of patrolling guards bobbled like fireflies below them. There was nowhere to hide on the platform; if they dallied too long they risked being seen. Lyón pulled the fan from his pouch and clenched it in his teeth.
“Permission to get you outta here, milord?” he asked, his speech slurred by a mouthful of magic item.
“Permission granted, my hero,” said Lord Murlonne.
Lyón picked up Lord Murlonne in a bridal carry, dropped the fan from his mouth into his hand, snapped the fan open, and checked to make sure everyone had the proper tight grip on everyone else. “Hold onto your garter belts, folks, ’cause here…we…go…!”
Travel by fiend-feather fan involved a lot of moving terribly fast while also feeling like you weren’t moving anywhere at all, and while Lyón and Lord Murlonne’s hair whipped around like they were in the middle of a tremendous gale they barely had time to realize they were accelerating before they were being gently lowered to the ground in a swirl of luminous white feathers. Lyón landed daintily on one of the castle’s many balconies. The fan was gone—a lot of magical things were limited-use, in his experience, and you learned to use them tactically—but Lord Murlonne was not. The lanterns of the castle guards below mirrored the ones back at the kidnappers’ hideout.
“Special delivery to Vanderviir, milord,” said Lyón as he set Lord Murlonne back on his feet. Guérisseau detached from his arm to float nearby. “I told the Baroness I’d try to have you home before the next saints’ feast. Looks like we made it back a little early.”
Lord Murlonne leaned against the railing to peer at the distant clock tower. The hour was not yet ten; plenty of people in the castle town below were still awake and reveling, plenty of before a new day of labor. It was a far cry from the darkness that had wrapped up the brigands’ wilderness hideout like a picnic lunch. “So we did. I could sleep in all weekend and still make good time.” He turned back to Lyón and sized him up with a critical eye, his gaze lingering here and there in places Lyón had learned people liked to linger. A knowing smile bloomed across Lord Murlonne’s lips. “However can I show my gratitude, Sir Lyón?”
In situations like these Lyón had learned to let the hunter do the hunting. “Oh, I’m sure I can think of something appropriate,” he said, happily playing the fool as he’d done countless times before. “I’ve got this chink in my armor I keep meaning to take to a smith, for instance, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if I just sent my clothes to be properly washed, and if neither of those sound fitting I’ve got a whole list of other things….”
Lord Murlonne leaned in and ran his finger up Lyón’s chest. “How about I help narrow down that list for you,” he said, his voice a purposeful purr.
Lyón grinned. “Narrow’s good.”
They linked arms and began to stroll off in the direction of Lord Murlonne’s quarters. Lyón peered back over his shoulder and finger-waved at Guérisseau, who had hidden his approximation of a face behind his approximation of wings and was giggling like he’d walked in on the saucy part of a play.
“You gonna be okay on your own, little guy?”
“I’ll be fi-i-ine,” said Guérisseau between titters. “You’re gonna kiss each other, aren’t you, galu? I’m gonna have to heal up lots and lots of kissy-bruises before you go see the Baroness, aren’t you, lulu?”
“We’ll have to see how much he likes me,” Lyón said, nudging Lord Murlonne suggestively. Guérisseau never failed to be delighted every time Lyón found a new bed to share, and sometimes would even pipe up to better make Lyón’s case to whomever he was trying to woo at the time. It was like traveling with his own personal cheering squad. Lyón thought it was charming. “I’ll see you in the morning outside the throne room, okay?”
“You betcha. I’ll be right on time, lu.” Guérisseau giggled to himself again. “Just don’t sleep too late tomorrow or I won’t have the time to fix you up right, galulu!”
“Doctor’s orders,” said Lyón, and then he let Lord Murlonne drag him the rest of the way into the castle.
Now that Guerry no longer had to dance around his feelings for Lyón he seemed a dozen times more at ease. Lyón still flirted, as was his wont, and sometimes Guerry flirted back, and aside from Guerry curling up next to him most evenings it remained all in all a lot chaster of a situation than Lyón had expected, which was a welcome change of pace. Sometimes Lyón had someone to make hot soup or cold tea at all hours of the day and sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes Guerry had to be out for performances and sometimes he didn’t. If nothing else it kept the endless parade of quiet days from getting too stale. In the meantime they continued the miserable process of rehabilitating Lyón’s bum leg.
Long hours in the courtyard meant they had plenty of time to catch up on their talking. The therapy itself appeared to be working, much to Lyón’s chagrin, so he couldn’t in good faith put up too much resistance every time the day rolled around to hobbling through Guerry’s outdoor torture chamber again. When his hand started missing the weight of a bottle again Guerry was always on hand with a teacup or pitcher of water. He’d even started having good days more often than bad. The first week had been mostly lighter conversation after the initial few revelations into the mind of a chimerical slime-human; the second week saw Lyón digging for more intriguing fare.
The exact details surrounding Guerry’s wish proved to be most intriguing, indeed.
“So, this wish-granter you got an audience with…” said Lyón one morning as he practiced some brace-assisted leg bends.
Guerry looked up from the little folio he’d been using to take notes. “What about them?”
Lyón continued with his exercises. Moving around had always made it easier for him to think ideas through; it was probably just another part of growing up a swordsman. “I was thinking about what you said earlier, how you ended up human enough for you but not for certain other people. I know you’re bound by the terms of the wish not to say what your trip through the Well was like, but hear me out: Does this wishing entity have a reputation of, you know, poetic solutions to things?” He adjusted his footing and continued. “Not like a devil in a bottle twisting everything for the worse, but more, hrm. Giving people what they really want, even if they don’t know they want it? Or, like, less what you want and more what you need. That kinda thing.”
“I don’t know,” said Guerry, tapping his little grease pencil against his chin. It left a mark. It was not the first pencil mark he’d left on himself that day. “All I know is that I wanted to be human, I wanted to be just like you, I wanted to, to be somebody you could want, and instead of something nice and brown and shaped right I got…this.” He gestured at himself with his pencil-bearing hand. Through some small miracle he didn’t draw a long line up the side of his silken motley in the process.
“Well, there’s your problem. You forgot that I’ve been a hero for years upon years.”
Guerry’s mouth creased into one of the cute little puzzled frowns Lyón was learning to appreciate. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Lyón laughed and sat back on the bench behind him to stretch his out his legs with a grunt. His thighs felt like he’d been punching them all morning. “It means I’m nasty, and that you were wishing to be human while also being the kind of person I’d like, and the kind of person I like happens to include certain pureslimes.” He shrugged. “I probably would’ve said yes if you’d ever asked me back when you were, you know, smaller. It’s not like I didn’t think about it occasionally,” he added. At no point did it cross his mind that this might have been a whopper of a payload to drop on the unsuspecting Guerry’s head.
Guerry looked blank. “How would that…work?”
“Well, dunno what gets you off, exactly, but you rode around on my arm long enough for me to know you have some pretty good grip strength, so I figure it’d be just putting two and two together.” Lyón made a gesture at groin height to better explain himself. “You had the best texture, you know. Can’t blame a man for wondering.”
“That’s, um. That’s…kinda weird?” Guerry smiled shyly. “But a neat kind of weird.”
“Like I said, heroes are nasty,” said Lyón, cheerfully. He rubbed at his knee, which was feeling better than it had in ages given the three-ring circus he put it through most days. It was remarkable what a little nonmagical help could do. “Though speaking of nasty things, given how badly my last visit with the Baron went I’m surprised he hasn’t charged in and demanded my head on a platter.” He glanced up at some of the other buildings visible from the courtyard. “You aren’t having to hide me from anyone, are you?”
“Gracious, no,” said Guerry with a wave of his hand. “I spoke with Lord Baron Murlonne the day after the gala. I used magic on several of his guards so I figured I owed him an apology. We came to an agreement: I take care of you and keep you out of trouble, and more importantly keep you out of the castle, and he’ll leave things at that. You’re welcome in any other part of Vanderviir, castle town included, but you really oughtn’t go to any more parties unless he invites you first. He really is grateful you got the Orb of Wonders back safely, you know.”
Lyón flexed his legs and relaxed them again. He breathed out a long sigh. “I can’t really be mad at him for kicking me out. I mean, if someone from my past showed up drunk as a skunk and expected me to take them in, no questions asked, I’d probably not be in the best of moods, either. I hear I’m kind of a bad houseguest at times.”
Guerry bobbled his head from side to side the way he did when he was implying he was rolling his eyes. “Hush, you, I’ve been happy to have you here.” He then returned to taking notes.
“Probably because I love you, silly.” He was blushing again and paying conspicuously too much attention to his folio, but Lyón could see the determined little smile Guerry wore from where he sat, and given his surprising lack of stammering Guerry didn’t seem ashamed to say it at all.
“Oh yeah?” asked Lyón, slightly taken aback. This was, somehow, a bit harder for him to process than the bit where Guerry had been curious about rude uses for friendly pureslimes. It wasn’t like he’d never heard someone say that to him before, but that kind of talk tended to come from much different sources. Different circumstances, too. “Here I was thinking you just liked having someone to put those cold feet of yours on at night.”
Guerry giggled to himself. “That’s good, too.”
“I knew it.”
“I always have, you know. Loved you,” said Guerry.
Lyón raised an eyebrow. Oh wow! A real live human! said a little voice tucked away in his memories. “Always?”
“First-sight crushes count!” squeaked Guerry, defiantly. “If humans are allowed to have weird feelings about monsters, then it’s probably fine if it goes the other way sometimes, right? You were so handsome, and brave, and you didn’t try to stomp on me when I came out of hiding. You’ve always been so nice to me.”
“I’m flattered, little guy, really I am. Sorry we didn’t reconcile until after I was past my expiration date.” He’d had silver in his hair since before Guerry had left, though he definitely had plenty of new scars since then; every time he looked in the mirror it felt like his eyes were a little more sunken and his face a little more drawn. He still took care of himself (barring the drinking thing, which he was probably getting over thanks to Guerry’s antidote cantrips), and he still took the time to groom himself nicely and put on fancy jewelry, but there were days he wondered if he should’ve given up heroic peacocking around the same time he started having differences of opinion with stairs. It really was a shame Guerry hadn’t managed the human thing earlier. Lyón could have seen the two of them as quite the power couple.
Guerry harrumphed. “How’re you feeling, painwise? Can you walk around or should I fetch the chair?”
It was an awkwardly abrupt change of subject, but Lyón wasn’t going to let it get to him. A few testing stretches told him he was sore but serviceable. “So long as I can sit down or lean on something now and again I should be okay,” he said. “If you gave me a cane I could probably make it all the way to market and back. Thinking of having me run a few errands so I earn my keep around here?” He winked.
“Can you walk over to that shady part of the wall without falling?” asked Guerry. He pointed with his grease pencil at a spot just underneath an ornamental tree.
Lyón shrugged. “Sure, I can try that.” He grunted to his feet, allowed for the aches of the day to sort themselves out, and ambled over to the designated spot. It felt good to be upright again. “I don’t think the leg’s going to fall off at this rate,” he said.
He turned around to brace himself against the wall just in time to see Guerry stride up right into his personal space.
“Now you listen here, Mister Hero,” said Guerry, his pointing finger leveled at Lyón’s nose and his pencil and folio nowhere to be seen. The length of his tail had completely uncurled like an inflated paper squeaker. He might have been a little shorter than Lyón was but he more than made up the difference with sheer moxie. “You may not have any trouble being nice to me, but while you’re here you’re going to have to be nicer to you. Understand?”
Lyón blinked in surprise and held up his hands defensively. “Whoa, now, where’d this come from?”
“I’ve had you here for days and days and you just can’t stop apologizing for yourself,” said Guerry. “Too old this, too dim that, not good enough the other. Well, boo to that! I’m tired of hearing it! Especially because every time you say that you’re telling me I have bad taste because I still love you anyway! And that’s rude!” This last statement was punctuated by a blast of chilly breath. It was like being yelled at by an autumn afternoon.
“Sorry, sorry,” said Lyón. He looked down at Guerry thoughtfully. It had been hours since he’d properly flirted, since in his opinion sharing weird sex fantasies didn’t count unless you had a goal in mind. Determination had always been a trait he’d admired in a potential partner and this was hardly the first time he’d been yelled at in a suitably portentous way. “You got any suggestions for where I should put all that grouchy energy instead?” he asked.
“I don’t know! I know how to fix up bodies, not bad moods, Lyón. You could maybe say something nice? Or sing a song? Or give somebody a nice kiss any time you feel like knocking yourself down again?”
“How’s that last one even remotely convenient, again?”
Guerry’s ears drooped. “I might not have thought this through all the way.”
Lyón smirked. “Don’t worry about it. Now you’ve got me good and curious. We should try it out, see if it works any.” He brushed Guerry’s cheek with his fingertips. “Mind if I see what you’re working with, here?” Guerry took a deep breath, nodded, and allowed Lyón to tilt his face ever so slightly up.
The inside of Guerry’s mouth was the same crystalline blue as his eyes and his tongue was also the same color. His lips and teeth were both snow-white. Lyón ran a thumb along Guerry’s lower lip and noted with quiet approval that it, too, held the same chill as the rest of him. “You got much experience with this new human kisser of yours?” he asked.
“A little,” said Guerry. “Not as much as I’d like, though.”
Lyón snorted. “Let me guess: People complain about the mouth thing?”
Guerry nodded, his mouth quirked to the side in exasperation, but his eyes held a sparkle of mischief in them. “Let me guess: You’re into it anyway?”
“You always were the smartest person I knew, little guy,” said Lyón. Then he leaned in.
A man of Lyón’s profession could chalk up many a unique experience during the course of his career, and Lyón’s own list could fill who-knew-how-many books’ worth, but up until that point he’d never given much thought to kissing a slime in any configuration. It took mere moments before he decided that he’d been missing out. Guerry’s lips were soft and Lyón found the chill refreshing in the afternoon heat; with very little coaxing Lyón slipped his tongue into Guerry’s waiting mouth to touch his own. Save for the temperature and a few lingering minty tells that Guerry took very good care of his teeth it tasted much like a typical human’s. Lyón, an avid fan of kissing typical humans, couldn’t find it in himself to mind that the flavor wasn’t more exotic.
Lyón flexed his jaw and tilted his head to get a better angle on Guerry, and smiled into the kiss when he felt Guerry’s fingers clutch passionately at his upper arms as Guerry leaned into him. He didn’t expect to feel Guerry’s tongue push further into his mouth than human tongues usually could go, nor how dexterously this happened, but Lyón rolled with it; he eased up and waited to see how far Guerry wanted to go, which ended up being quite a ways towards the back of Lyón’s throat. It was a bit like giving head without anyone actually getting undressed. Lyón was a man of many talents and could certainly work with that.
When they parted Guerry raised his hand to his now thoroughly-kissed mouth as though he was making sure it was still there, and the dainty way the tip of his tongue darted out to help with the surveying now had a whole new layer of meaning to it. He gave Lyón a shyly pleased look. Lyón, who’d been sitting on a good one-liner for a few minutes by then, wet his lips—not that they needed it—and peaked his eyebrows in interest.
“If that’s what you do with a little experience, I’d pay a pretty hefty sum to see how you’d manage with a lot,” he said, which set Guerry to giggling. Lyón coaxed his voice to dip huskier as he continued. “If you’re in the mood to practice, I’m game.”
Guerry bit his knuckle. “We finish your session first, then we have dinner. You’re never going to get better without proper nutrition.”
“And after dinner?”
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” said Guerry. “Until then, let’s get back on those knee bends, you.”
“Doctor’s orders,” said Lyón, cursing getting interested in someone determined to leave him in better shape than he’d arrived. He grudgingly let Guerry drag him back to the parallel bars.
Dinner was soup again, which was fine by Lyón. He added enough crumbled crackers to turn it into a savory porridge and strained to eat slowly. Guerry, as always, didn’t seem to have much of an appetite; Lyón had yet to figure out if that was by choice or necessity, though he knew for a fact that Guerry could drink things without any trouble. Did an extra-long tongue make it easier or harder to eat solid foods? Could he do tricks with it? If the inside of his mouth was blue, did that mean he had pureslime-colored guts? That last one was the kind of question that couldn’t reliably be answered without upsetting people. Lyón instead concentrated on making sure he’d eaten enough dinner to satisfy Guerry’s treatment regimen.
He was used to Guerry poking and prodding him after meals to see how the day’s therapy was going, but this time instead of being shooed into a side room afterwards so Guerry could compare notes against previous days Lyón found himself being dragged back towards the bedroom by the front of his shirt. Guerry guided him onto the bed and sat next to him, sizing him up with nervous eagerness. Lyón grinned. This sort of thing he could do by heart.
“I take it I passed my physical?”
“You’re good enough, I think,” said Guerry. He leaned forward. “So, um. Do you still want to practice?”
“It does make perfect,” said Lyón, and he let himself be pushed down onto the mattress.
Having Guerry looming over him was extremely good for a variety of reasons, Lyón found. Lying down meant he could stretch out his leg properly without having that much weight on it, it gave Guerry plenty of room to find a comfortable way to arrange himself, and he was definitely on board with Guerry doing his best to use his featherweight frame to keep Lyón in place despite the latter party being easily twice as dense as the former. It also meant Guerry had a much better angle to experiment with that tongue of his. Was that one reason his voice sounded different these days? Lyón snapped his attention back to the matter at hand. He was the seasoned expert, here, so it behooved him to find ways to encourage Guerry’s fierce but unpolished technique.
Something nudged Lyón in the stomach. It definitely wasn’t Guerry’s tail (said limb being curled around Lyón’s thigh at the time; Guerry’s grip strength was still surprisingly good), so that answered the question of whether or not he was the kind of human who could get a hard-on, which was extremely useful news for how exactly Lyón might want to proceed. He kneaded his fingers against Guerry’s back before slowly making his way south. Lyón stalled around the hips to gauge whether or not Guerry was enjoying himself, then tentatively eased around to where Guerry’s outfit of the day separated into his actual pants and a little flap along the back of said pants where his tail emerged. Guerry squeaked in surprise before scooting his butt back to seat more firmly against Lyón’s hands. He felt soft, yet supple, like a well-ripened fruit that someone had just pulled from a dish of ice chips. Physiological whimsy notwithstanding, the transformation from monster to human had been extraordinarily kind to Guerry.
Now that most of Guerry’s weight was balanced on Lyón’s hands and crotch instead of his stomach it was easier to appreciate how nice it was to grind against someone whose core temperature was pleasantly lower than the norm. Guerry figured out a rhythm soon enough. He didn’t seem concerned with going too fast or too hard; there was enough speed and pressure alike to make it fun, but not so much Lyón risked coming before they got up to anything involved. It was an impressive move for a self-described neophyte. Lyón wondered if he was doing so on purpose or if it was beginner’s luck. He’d need to ask about that later.
It felt like they’d barely gotten started, but when Guerry finally sat back up for air the clock tower was chiming its evening bells. He rolled off of Lyón to lie flat on his back next to him, wet-mouthed and panting. Lyón couldn’t blame him; it’d been the most fully-clothed fun Lyón himself had had all year.
Guerry propped himself up on his elbows, then ran a hand through his hair and against his frills like he was making sure everything was still attached. Lyón put his arms behind his head and offered a cheery smile. “You want more?” he asked, gesturing at himself in general.
“Um,” said Guerry, still flushed with purple. He looked like he was avoiding making eye contact. “Can I sleep on it? I’m having fun, honest, but the thought of doing anything else makes me really nervous. You’re the first person I’ve been with like this who doesn’t make me feel weird about having…different human stuff. It’s, um. It’s a lot.”
Lyón chuckled. He had a lot of experience with this sort of thing, too. “Sure, you can sleep on it. You can let me know how you feel in the morning.”
Guerry touched the tips of his index fingers together and twisted them against each other. “Is it okay if we still sleep together even if we don’t, you know, sleep together?” He ducked his head. “You’re so warm. I like being next to you.”
“You bet, little guy.”
They didn’t get in bed immediately, as evening bells or not it was still hours before either of them tended to bed down. Lyón spent much of the in-between time maintaining his gear while Guerry practiced for yet another upcoming event that Lyón never could remember the name of nor keep straight from all the others like it that seemed to be happening constantly. It was a wonder that he had the time to play and play the part of private healer and maintain the rather large collection of books tucked away in yet another oddity-filled corner of the house. Maybe those years of exploring had paid off, since without the need to balance his entire life around going places, solving puzzles, dealing with very angry people, and cashing in rewards from grateful mission-givers, Guerry was probably an absolute whiz at multitasking. Of course people had time to read books for fun when they weren’t spending seven days a week trying to figure out which of a dragon’s scales covered its weak spot and which one was just a modesty flap over its cloaca.
It was a good little life Guerry had made for himself, at least from Lyón’s point of view: regular demand for a trained creative skill, peers who accepted him at the closest thing to face value Guerry was comfortable showing to others, a cozy little house, plenty of knick-knacks, both the time and resources to pursue hobbies, and even enough space to home a long-term houseguest without everyone being up in each other’s elbows day in and day out. There were heroes out there who would strangle a unicorn with their bare hands for a shot at something not even half as good. Lyón had planned on retiring in the lap of royalty—quite literally, at times—but when that ship sailed he found himself left with not so much as a back-up plan. Guerry had taken him in out of the goodness of his little blue heart. Was there a proper way you could repay generosity like that when all you knew how to do was something that was starting to slowly destroy you?
Later that night, with Guerry snuggled up at his side and sleep closing fast, Lyón started planning what he might actually be able to do with himself in this surprising new future he’d been given.
Lyón stood before the portal to the Well of Miracles and squinted against the dazzling colors that swirled within it. He didn’t see the Well itself from where he stood; supposedly it was far further in, past a gauntlet of personal challenges that could only be overcome by one who truly wanted whatever wish it was that’d brought them there. He could feel the rumble of danger in his bones, and even without years of experience he would’ve been able to spot a harrowing trial such as this one from a mile away. It was hard not to think about the stories of people who passed through the portal but never came back. Lyón wondered what it was like for somebody to want something that badly.
“Well, here we are,” he said. He stroked Guérisseau’s head between two of his white-tipped frills. “You ready to make your dreams come true, little guy?”
Guérisseau curled tightly around his arm. “No,” he said, miserably.
“Aw, that’s a shame. Well, we already came all the way out here, so I think we’re gonna have to hustle if we want to make it back to the inn before all the good eateries close up.” Lyón looked back over his shoulder at the floating stairs they’d climbed to make it to the portal. Time was funny around the Well of Miracles; he couldn’t tell if the ascent had taken a few minutes or stretched across multiple hours. It wasn’t going to be a fun trip down. He hadn’t expected to be making it with company, but who was he to shove a friend through a spooky hole to nowhere? Even as those thoughts crossed his mind, Lyón knew they weren’t really going to be turning back, not after they’d made it this far.
“Wait,” said Guérisseau, so Lyón waited. Guérisseau pressed his head into Lyón’s shoulder. “I’m scared, Sir Lyón. It’s the Well of Miracles, galu. What if I’m making the wrong decision and don’t realize it? What if I get to the end and the person who grants wishes thinks I’m just being silly, lu?”
Lyón gave him another comforting touch. “As long as I’ve known you, you’ve had this big, wonderful goal of yours,” he said. “I have absolutely no idea what it is, mind you, but you’ve never given up on it, even when things were at their roughest and toughest, and there’s nothing silly about that.” He nudged Guérisseau’s head upwards so they could see eye-to-reasonable-approximation-of-eye. “We got this far together. Now it’s time for you to go the rest of the way on your own. I know you can do it.”
“I don’t know if we’ll go on any more adventures after this, galu. I don’t know if I’ll ever even see you again.”
That same thought had been gnawing at the back of Lyón’s mind, but he’d been trying not to focus on it too much. “I know, little buddy. I’m going to miss you. And not just because you patch me up,” he added, booping Guérisseau on the nose. “You’ve worked so hard to get here, Guérisseau. Not a lot of folks can say they’ve done everything you have. We met a lot of great people and had a lot of great opportunities. I remember how excited you were when we finally figured out the last step of our journey all those months ago. It’d be a shame to throw that away at the last minute, y’know?”
“But what if nobody’s around to take care of you anymore, lu? What if you sprain your ankle, or your tummy hurts, or you catch a cold…?”
“I’ll manage somehow,” said Lyón, kindly. “Don’t you worry about me.”
Guérisseau made sniffling noises. Pureslimes couldn’t cry, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have feelings. “All this time and you never asked me what my big goal was for coming with you,” he said.
Lyón chuckled. “Well, yeah. It’s a secret, isn’t it? I figured you’d share it with me if the time was right.”
“Do you promise not to laugh at me if I tell you now?” asked Guérisseau. Some of his frills drooped.
“Cross my heart,” said Lyón, tracing two swipes over his chest as he said so.
Guérisseau puffed up like he was taking a deep breath. His surface caught the light that eddied from the portal, making him sheen and shimmer. “I’m here because I’m going to ask the Well of Miracles to make me a human, galu. A real one.”
“That’s a pretty big decision,” said Lyón. “What do you think you’ll do after that?”
“I don’t know yet, lulu. I’m scared, galulu, but I think if I never do it ever I’d be unhappier than if I try and mess it all up. Maybe I’ll learn to cook, or maybe I’ll become a world-famous singer. Maybe I’ll go on adventures just like you, lu! But I’ve thought about it, long and hard, and I know I want to be a human, too.” He glanced askance. “Maybe if I’m really lucky I’ll be as good at it as you are, Sir Lyón.”
Lyón laughed. “I’m sure you’ll be much better at than me, little guy!” he said, grinning from ear to ear. He let his expression soften. “I’m honored to be your inspiration all the same. I’m honored just to have known you for a little while, and to have had such a good friend for so long. I’m sure you’ll make a great human, Guérisseau.” He stretched out his arm towards the portal and Guérisseau reluctantly uncoiled to hover hesitantly before the Well. Soon they were going to be apart, really apart, for the first time in a very long while.
How long had it been? Lyón had lost track; after enough time on the road it’d felt like Guérisseau had always been there, healing up his wounds and singing little songs, and while it was true that every now and again Lyón needed some privacy—generally the sort of privacy he had company for—he couldn’t remember what it had been like to be on his own. He’d manage, somehow. Heroes always did. What was important was that they’d made it this far, and Guérisseau’s long, strange quest was finally nearing its conclusion. Lyón took no small measure of satisfaction in completing tasks he’d promised to do.
They watched the portal together before Guérisseau’s bubbly voice broke the silence. “Sir Lyón?”
“What is it, Guérisseau?”
“I know it’s kinda late to say this, but you. You, um. You can call me Guerry if you want to, too, lu. Since I shared my secret and all.”
“Yeah? Neat. Thanks, Guerry.” The name felt right to say. That was a pretty good reward for what had to have been a decade of dedicated cooperation, at least in his opinion. “You want me to call you that when I’m bragging about my exploits?”
Guérisseau briefly solidified into a floating blob before reforming again. “That’d be really nice, Sir Lyón.”
“Well then! Next time somebody asks to hear some hero stories of mine, you better believe they’re getting an earful about all the fuss I raised back in the day with my little buddy, Guerry, the best person I ever knew.”
They could only delay the inevitable for so long now that they had passed through the twin barriers of cold feet and unfinished business. Guérisseau looked wistfully into the portal’s depths, his trepidation starting to replace itself with wonder. Somewhere in there was a mysterious gauntlet with his name on it, possibly literally, and on the other side of that was a new life full of legs and fingers and not being able to slip through the crack of a door if it was sticking. Lyón hoped it was going to be a kind one. He only had one last chance to say something, so he had to make it count. “Hey, Guerry?”
Guérisseau turned around and cocked his head like a bird puzzling out seeds on a feeder. Lyón smiled at him.
“Goodbye. And good luck.”
“Goodbye, Sir Lyón. You were the best friend ever, lu.” He flicked his tail and fluttered his frills, and just like that he had looped through the portal and into the rest of his life, a little trail of azure sparkles trailing in his wake as he determinedly fluttered towards the mysterious challenges of the Well.
Lyón waited until he could no longer see the slightest hint of blue before he forced himself to turn and start making his way back down to earth.
Morning broke over Vanderviir. The birds were chirping, the breeze from outside carried the sweet scent of summer blossoms, and when Lyón opened his eyes he found Guerry hunched over him with one hand against the sheets on either side of Lyón’s chest and their heads so close their noses nearly touched.
“I slept on it,” said Guerry, slightly flushed but nowhere near the berry-purple he’d affected earlier during Lyón’s stay. He looked even smaller than usual when wearing just a nightshirt. “I want to give things a try today. I had some really convincing dreams.”
Lyón blinked away sleep. “Holy moly, little guy, let a fella finish waking up before you ask him to knock boots.”
“Oh, fine,” said Guerry. He flopped back onto his side and regarded Lyón with badly-contained excitement. The tip of his tail kept thumping against the folded-down comforter. Lyón had been with a very peppy werewolf, once, and even with all their bounding, youthful energy they still couldn’t hold a candle to Guerry.
“You were always like this on Wintertide morning, too,” said Lyón as he rubbed at his face. He’d nearly forgotten Guerry’s uncanny ability to be awake at the crack of dawn if there were presents to be had or circuses to see. Being able to sleep in on holidays again had been one of the sole perks of traveling solo.
Guerry wiggled his shoulders, still practically vibrating onto the floor with anticipation. “That’s because you always got me the nicest stuff!”
“Guess I can’t fault you there,” said Lyón. “Tell you what: give me fifteen minutes in the bathroom to try and feel like I’m not made out of pudding, and once that’s done I’ll be right back in here and ready to try whatever you throw at me.” He nodded in the direction of one of the many odd timepieces in Guerry’s collection. “You can time me if you like.”
“Just come back soon or I might start without you.”
“Do I get to watch?” asked Lyón, and he cackled to himself all the way to the sink.
It was amazing what a little swishing with minty water and quality time with a hairbrush could do for a body’s overall well-being. Lyón gave himself an extremely brisk sponge-bath before tending to the rest of the needs of the morning; the only thing that gave him any pause was deciding whether or not to leave his earrings in. He never really took them out unless he was switching for a new set, and Guerry had known him to wear a pair as long as they’d been acquainted, so in the end he decided to risk his jewelry to an uncertain fate. A man of his years owed it to himself to expend the effort to look good.
He sauntered back the way he came in nothing but one of the fluffy blue and white towels Guerry kept in the linen cabinet. Guerry sat cross-legged on the bed, which had been made since Lyón had left, and studied the large wooden hourglass he held in both hands. The last of the grains in the glass’s top bulb ran out just as Lyón pushed the door closed with his foot.
Guerry looked up and held his thumb and forefinger together. “You were this close to being late.”
“Ah, you know me,” said Lyón. “Always getting things done at the last minute.”
Guerry carefully returned the hourglass back to one of the towering piles of widgets he kept in the bedroom. He extricated a little silver box from a different set of mounded knick-knacks and placed it on the comforter; upon opening it, he revealed the contents to be a little bottle of something whose design Lyón could’ve recognized anywhere. Guerry was doing better than Lyón thought if he actually had reason to keep a paramour’s kit in his house.
“Don’t get the wrong idea,” said Guerry as he shook the bottle absentmindedly. “It’s not like I use any of this very much.”
Lyón scoffed. “You know enough to keep a goodie box, so that’s enough for me.” He sat down next to Guerry and cocked a thumb at the bottle. “So, what side of that equation do you like to be on? Wait, no, bad question. What side of that equation do you want to be on?”
Guerry uncorked the bottle and tipped a little lube onto his fingers to test its slickness. He glanced down at Lyón’s towel then back up to eye level. “You always talked a lot about how much you liked it when people would, you know, be in you,” said Guerry. He put on a brave little smile. “I always wondered if you’d like it if I tried that with you, too?”
“Wait, are you saying you want to put your cock in me or the other way ’round?”
“Th-the first one,” said Guerry.
“Nice, I like that. Pass me the stuff and I’ll get myself ready. You want to do the unveiling or should I?” Lyón pointed at his towel, which already showed a very faint phallus-shaped outline in his lap region. Guerry passed Lyón the lube, wiped his hand off on his nightshirt, and with all the eagerness of opening a birthday present he undid the loose knot at Lyón’s waist.
There were plenty of people out there more well-endowed than Lyón, be they hero, monster, or civilian, and since Lyón had still had the luxury of sleeping with several such people he’d never thought to be self-conscious about himself. He was grateful for this lack of performance anxiety because he very swiftly learned that while Guerry’s hand on his cheek could feel refreshingly cool, Guerry’s hand on his cock was cold, and losing his erection just then would have sent the wrong message entirely. He gritted his teeth and tried to think of warm sunny days as Guerry investigated.
He could only take so much. “Guerry, you’re going to leave me with nothing but an icicle down there if you aren’t careful.”
“Whoops! Sorry, sorry.” Guerry sat back on his haunches and let Lyón tend to himself. He sighed dreamily. “You still look really good, though. I’ve always thought you were so handsome. I like the way all your scars tell a story. Is that weird to say? It’s probably weird.”
Lyón wiped his hands off on a small cloth that had been folded inside the box. “Only thing that’s weird is you keeping covered up,” he said. He made himself comfortable with his head against the pillow and his tail of hair draping over one shoulder like the silvered turquoise tassel of a general’s helmet. “I guarantee you, no matter what you’ve got under there, you’re getting laid this morning.”
At first it didn’t seem like Guerry was convinced, given the noncommittal noise he made and the way he sawed at his lip with his teeth, but his passions eventually won out over whatever doubts he might have had and he shimmied out of his all-concealing nightgown. He didn’t meet Lyón’s gaze but he turned himself slightly to better display himself. It was interesting watching his demure side and his frisky side slowly come to terms with one another in real time.
He was a bit on the reedy side when he didn’t have the fripperies of a costume to bulk him out some, his body the same flawless alabaster white as his face and hands and conspicuously free of body hair or reasonable facsimiles thereof. He didn’t look wasted away, not in the slightest, instead tending towards the same grace (and, based on previous evidence, the same well-hidden fury) as a swan. Save for a few markings tracing where some of his other frills used to be he was a smooth, starkly monochrome figure all the way up to his cock.
There was no getting around the fact that Guerry was not a typical human when it came to discussing his member. He was longer and girthier than Lyón would have expected on someone of Guerry’s frame, which was exciting in and of itself, but his shape could be politely described as “abstracted”: there was a hint of glans and the implication of muscles and ridges sculpted there, but his cock looked more like a piece of glass décor than the cocks Lyón had known in his time. Also impossible to ignore was the color, as from tip to base Guerry was the same transparent blue as his eyes, and the way it glistened didn’t look to be entirely the work of the lubricant. Lyón’s mouth watered. If Guerry couldn’t think of anything to do with himself Lyón was already a font of ideas.
Lyón propped up his good leg to subtly bid for Guerry’s attention. He’d taken some of his bathroom hideaway time to check if he was warmed up enough for a before-breakfast visitor, and while being fingered was a fine pastime on its own terms he had the suspicion Guerry was in the mood for something a little more immediate. “Yeah, this was worth the wait.”
Guerry giggled nervously again. He knee-crawled up until he had Lyón’s lower back propped up against his thighs and his cock looming over Lyón’s own like a sapphire tower. “So aside from being inside you, is there anything you want me to, y’know, do?”
“How about you do whatever your heart desires, and if I have a problem with it I’ll tell you.”
“A-are you sure about that?”
Lyón grinned. “You’ve fixed me up long enough. I think it’s about time you got to wreck me, too.”
This got another satisfying blush out of Guerry, and Lyón had almost three whole seconds to enjoy it before Guerry corrected for the angles involved and pushed himself surprisingly deep into Lyón.
For all the various phalli Lyón had gotten to know over his career, he was hard-pressed to say if he’d ever had the opportunity to be buggered by something that was similar in temperature to Guerry’s tongue, and he knew for a fact that none of them shared the same consistency that felt firm going in but still seemed to compress down a little bit when actually inside him. It was like Guerry was built to look as impressive as possible to the naked eye while still being able to fit into a suitably-prepared orifice; thanks to the way Guerry had folded him up, Lyón was treated to the sight of what this looked like without having to strain his neck. By every right it should’ve felt like he was being plowed by a fallen tree. Save for a slight twinge in Lyón’s bad knee, however, he simply felt comfortably stretched to the brink of capacity, his body teetering just on the edge of being overwhelmed without actually crossing that line. Whoever had granted Guerry’s wish had done a bang-up job of it.
The novelty value of watching a dainty little man with a very large cock slide in and out of him could have kept Lyón entertained for quite some time. Guerry seemed to have other ideas. He slid in up to the hilt, eliciting a happy gasp from Lyón, then withdrew the last few inches of his length before plunging back in again. This soon became a steady cadence. Somewhere along the way Lyón came, as he didn’t have time for all his usual pre-sex preparations that morning, and this only spurred Guerry ever onward. Lyón was not about to complain.
Guerry locked his legs around Lyón’s in a way that his knee did not like at all but which he couldn’t bring himself to complain about yet, especially given how this was timed with Guerry leaning over him to steal frantic kisses between increasingly swift and forceful motions. One hand pinned Lyón’s shoulder in place while the other gripped the headboard like Guerry’s life depended on it. It was hard to tell from that vantage, but it looked like he was bracing himself against the mattress with his tail and using it to give his thrusts a little extra traction. Lyón decided then and there that it didn’t matter if he undid all the progress they’d made since The Altercation, if Guerry wanted to fold him in half then that was what was going to happen.
Had Lyón been maybe five years younger he probably could have come again by then; he gracefully settled for simply being extremely, just not orgasmically, satisfied. He looped an arm around Guerry’s head to bring him in for another kiss. Guerry was having some coordination challenges that involved his tongue sometimes mimicking the movements of his tail and sometimes the movements of his member. When things got really interesting was when Lyón could feel Guerry flexing inside of him to mirror his ever-so-nimble tongue instead. Was it possible for one cock to jerk off another? He hoped he’d get to find out someday.
“I’m very close,” whispered Guerry.
Lyón crossed his legs behind Guerry’s back and ignored the wailing from his injured knee. “Good. Stay in.”
When Guerry came he sadly did not make any of the little warbly noises he used to when he was more polymorphous; what he did do was squeak, and then Lyón was left with the feeling of being a little fuller than before. He felt extremely well-worn in the nicest possible way.
Guerry stayed hunched over Lyón as he caught his breath. He straightened up to pull out, then paused once he was most of the way done, his expression stunned and his ears drooping. “Oh dear. Oh, my goodness me.” He cleared his throat. “Well! It seems I’m going to be doing the laundry today!”
Lyón raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? You got a mirror?”
“Lyón! That’s foul!”
He shrugged. “Told you I was nasty, Guerry.”
After making a grand show of how disgusted he was (or at least felt he needed to appear to be), Guerry wiped himself off with the cloth from his kit before handing the polished silver lid to Lyón. It turned out he hadn’t been kidding: most of Lyón’s person in the vicinity of his backside was absolutely covered in a pleasantly cool, brilliantly blue-tinged substance he couldn’t entirely think of as jism but which didn’t seem quite the same composition as the various slimes of which he knew. It was the sort of thing he’d previously only seen in very specific illustrations sold to very specific parties. It didn’t feel half bad, actually, even as he felt a pressing need to move lest he be stuck to the sheets.
“Ahaha, oh wow,” said Lyón. He angled the makeshift mirror this way and that. “I don’t think anybody’s ever come in me that much. And that’s saying something. Good job, little guy.”
His head suddenly swam. Something about him felt off, like he was stumbling through a full-body cold paired with the pins and needles of a limb waking back up. Had he been in a difficult position for too long and strained something? No, that wasn’t it, he didn’t feel sore….
That was it. For the first time in who knew how long, not a single part of him hurt.
“By the way, think I figured out where your healing mojo went,” he said. The only kind of ache he had left was the stretched-out kind he actually liked after a suitably strenuous affair. That was some downright genius recuperative magic for you.
“Oh? Oh!” Guerry pressed his hands against his cheeks. “Oh, dear, that’s all kinds of awkward.” Save for being surprised by his own work he seemed happy and comfortable, which was nice to see, especially in the face of who knew how many tries that hadn’t gone so well for him.
Lyón reached over to muss up Guerry’s hair, which had somehow stayed tidy up until then. “I promise to still do the horrible physical therapy, just in case it doesn’t last forever,” he said. He flexed both legs and neither one gave him a lick of trouble. Save for the scars and the fact that he wore his hair differently these days he could scarcely tell he was in his fifties. “I’ll keep with the daily routine even if this is pure healing whatnot I’ve got up in me. It’s a good axis for practice, right?”
“You mean praxis?” asked Guerry, trying to comb his coiffure back into place with his fingers.
“Not everything has to be a cutesy smoosh-term,” said Lyón with a snort.
Guerry frowned in befuddlement. “It isn’t a portmanteau, Lyón.”
“Now you’re just making words up!”
Guerry groaned and made to shove Lyón off the bed. “How did I forget you do this?” he asked no one. “Here, if you really want to practice your axes you can help me get this place presentable again.” Lyón wisely chose to focus on assisting with collecting discarded clothing instead of mentioning anything else about Guerry’s ever-cluttered bedroom.
It ended up being a lovely day for laundry, and with Lyón able to stand and walk without discomfort (save for the temporary necessity of a bow-legged waddle during the initial cleanup) he felt more inclined to help with chores than ever, so Guerry had him scrub the linens while Guerry himself saw to hand-washing his many costumes. Putting the sheets up on clotheslines was far easier with two sets of hands. Lyón was getting used to the feeling of wearing borrowed clothing on chore day, too, so the awkward fit of the bathrobe Guerry had loaned him was more a fun diversion than an insult. Every breeze became a challenge to see if he could remain decent. Making sure he was aimed at Guerry when the wind got a little too high was all part of the fun.
“Hey, Lyón?” asked Guerry around the halfway mark.
Guerry made a point of keeping his eyes on the tub of damp clothing he was sorting. “Do you still want to stay here? Now that you’re better, I mean.”
Lyón laughed. “Of course I want to stick around! You’re my little buddy and I love you. Also we don’t know if this is a lasting situation, so I ought to stay near where an expert can keep an eye on me. Also you have a really good cock, good grief.” He examined two pairs of diamond-patterned tights, failed to see any difference between the two, and hung them together. “I just have to figure out what to do with myself. I’ve been thinking about it some, but it’s hard moving away from old plans with new paint.”
“There’s always time for a fresh start,” said Guerry, his voice oozing relief. He tottered around the courtyard, pinning up bits of sequin-coated wardrobe as he went. It was remarkable seeing just how many costumes he owned when they were laid out side by side that way. “I mean, look at me, I’m a sprightly hundred and twenty-seven and I only just began a new career as an entertainer, and that’s working out swimmingly.”
“You’re a hundred and what?” Lyón asked. He ran some numbers in his head; assuming his calculations were correct, at the time of their first meeting Guerry had still been old enough to be his great-great-grandfather, give or take a little greatness. He wasn’t sure if that was better or worse than when he’d assumed Guerry had been a goofy kid back at the start.
Guerry harrumphed. “I was alone in those ruins for a very long time, you know.”
Lyón rubbed his forehead. “Yeah, I’ll bet,” he said. “Is a long, healthy life contagious? Because if so you’ve got some infecting to do.”
He hadn’t expected Guerry to look so thoughtful at what he’d meant as a joke. “I’m going to have to do some research on that. I’d like to have you around a while.”
“You do that, Guerry. Do you, uh, need me to do anything around here until you figure that out? I don’t know if I’m comfortable keeping with this freeloading lifestyle of mine. I feel like a paperweight that needs to eat.”
Guerry flicked some soapy water at him from the washtub. “You’re not freeloading, you’re staying as my delightful houseguest for an unspecified period of time,” he said. “You took care of me for ages in a human world I didn’t understand, then worked your buns off to help me grant a wish you never even knew the nature of until the last minute. I’m just returning the favor. If you want to find work, go find work. If you want to get into a hobby or two, go find a hobby. If all you really want to do is mentor future heroes on the weekends and spend the rest of your time keeping the bed warm, well, maybe I’ll ask if you’d mind come seeing me play now and then, but aside from that….” He smiled. “This is your home, too, no matter what.”
“You’re too sentimental,” said Lyón as he wiped at an eye with the back of his hand. He could already imagine how he’d get some training use out of Guerry’s horrible physical therapy/torture equipment the first time some greenhorn showed up at his doorstep with a sword at her hip and fire in her eyes. To think of all the stories he had to tell! It wasn’t life at the castle, but maybe it would be better. “They used to say I was one of the bravest and truest in all of Vanderviir, you know.”
“I do,” said Guerry. “You never stopped being that, either.”
“Maybe it’s time I give back to the barony and help prepare the next hero of the realm. You know, let someone start out with all the benefits of my decades of experience at their back, but none of the bad decisions. You can teach the ones who look more like wizards, if you want.”
“Whatever it is you end up doing, remember you don’t have to go it alone,” said Guerry. He appeared between a pair of drying doublets to leave a kiss on Lyón’s lips that ended with a faint hint of tongue. Lyón could get used to that sort of spontaneity. “Just don’t go ruining yourself with bad habits again. I don’t like it when people break my stuff, after all.”
“Doctor’s orders,” said Lyón, and the sound of the clock chiming noon drowned out Guerry’s exasperated groan. After all was said and done, for the first time after years of sleepwalking, he finally felt awake.