Lynne’s gaze remained locked on Adan. For once, the youth’s playful remarks didn’t rile him up, as he sorted out the memories of what had just happened.
“My gender has been exposed,” he stated, not really looking for a confirmation.
He got one anyway. “Indeed,” the youth replied.
There was barely any light in the cave; only the faint glow from the water, but what little light there was seemed to be reflected in Adan’s eyes. Lynne had difficulty making out the rest of the boy’s body, but his eyes were clear.
“The King ord-. . .”
“Dead,” Adan interrupted, sounding a bit apologetic. “I was a bit too late.”
Lynne didn’t register the second half of the sentence; he was too shocked by the first revelation. He didn’t even notice how he had swiftly climbed out of his icy encasing and made to the ledge Adan sat on. He gripped on to the youth’s clothes in panic.
“My father and brother?”
“Alive. Captured, but alive and safe, for now.”
Lynne felt his clenched heart relax. As long as his family was alive, there was still hope. Thousands of questions swarmed around in his head, making him unsure of where to start.
A small smile hung on Adan’s lips. Suddenly, Lynne felt a soft fabric being draped over his shoulders. “You should get some clothes on first.”
Lynne’s eyes widened and instinctively looked down. Even though the light was dim, it was clear that he was entirely naked. Lynne quickly let go of Adan and scrambled into the shirt he had given him. It wasn’t very long, but at least it covered his most private parts.
He could hear Adan chuckle and then a piece of underwear was presented to him.
“Sorry, Princess; I didn’t have time to grab you any clothes. This will have to do for now.”
Lynne snatched the underwear and hurriedly put them on. He was happy that the cave was so dark, otherwise Adan would no doubt have seen him blush right now. Then a notion struck him. If Adan didn’t bring any extra clothes, the shirt he was now wearing must have been Adan’s. Swallowing, Lynne raised his gaze to look at the youth, but the dark cave coupled with Adan’s skin tone made it hard for him to see anything clearly.
Adan chuckled again, breaking Lynne’s line of thought. His gaze once again traveled to the youth’s eyes and at once turned more solemn.
“You saved me.”
“You helped me awaken?”
Lynne’s eyes narrowed. He was constantly amazed by the person in front of him, to the point that he seemed almost unreal. Lynne was silent for a moment before asking what he most wanted to know.
The smile on Adan’s lips widened, but somehow Lynne felt that it was less genuine.
“Would you believe luck?”
Lynne shook his head. “No.”
There was a slight pause and the Adan sighed. “I have had an inkling of Emberon’s ambitions for a while now – I suspect it was he himself who assassinated King Fenix, by the way – but I didn’t have any useful proof nor any way to guard against it. During my awakening, the Sun Tribe Elder gave me some more insights and I realized you were in acute danger.”
Adan stretched out a hand to seemingly absentmindedly brush a wet strand of hair out of Lynne’s face.
“At that point, I rushed back to the palace, but unfortunately, your father and brother were already arrested for the King’s murder and fierce fighting had started between the King’s men and your family guards. There were even some Sun Tribesmen joining the fight, which doesn’t bode well for their people.” Adan sighed.
“I was not in time to help them or your family, but as fate would have it, I could help you. It was also the Sun Tribe Elder who informed me of the rift underneath the Sacred Pool. He also walked me through what would be needed for your awakening. Turns out the awakening of an ice bender is very similar to that of an infernal bender. Well, at its core, at least.”
“Infernal bender?” Lynne caught the unfamiliar expression. A row of pearly white teeth appeared in the dim light; Adan was smiling.
“Yes, turns out I’m not a normal fire bender either. My flames burn much hotter than the those of the average man touched by the fire elements. Once I get a hang of it, I can supposedly even melt stone! The Sun Tribe calls me an infernal bender.” Adan laughed. “Quite an ominous-sounding title, if you ask me.”
Suddenly, Adan’s gaze shifted to somewhere in the distance. Lynne habitually followed his gaze but saw only darkness.
“I know you have more questions, but we can’t remain here much longer. Could you melt your ice, Princess? Our way out is beneath there and I’d rather not draw attention to us with fire.”
“Don’t call me that!” Lynne retorted, but nevertheless obediently did as he was told and started to control the ice. “Do we have company?”
“Not yet,” Adan replied, his voice lower now. “But soon. Leave no trace of the ice.”
Even though Lynne couldn’t hear anything, he nodded in understanding and focused his attention on the ice. As a newly awakened element bender, it was quite difficult for Lynne to control his powers and it took a couple of attempts before he managed to get the ice to recede, even refreezing the water a few times in the process. Nearly five minutes had passed before all of the ice was gone.
“Another deep breath,” Adan reminded Lynne as he silently slipped into the water next to him. Just as Lynne felt himself being pulled beneath the surface, he spotted what looked like torchlight glowing in the distance. Turns out the cave was not as small as he had first imagined and they really weren’t alone anymore.
Once under the water, Adan no longer pulled him along as they swam downwards next to each other. Whatever made the water glow was denser here, actually making it harder to see. It was as if a hazy, blue veil of light covered everything, but Lynne’s connection to the water helped guide him to where Adan was. He gave up trying to see and closed his eyes, swimming on by what his element was telling him.
As they swam, the space narrowed and soon they found themselves in a tunnel that just barely fitted them. They kept swimming for what felt like ages and before long Lynne started to feel his lungs straining. He was running out of air. He focused his mind to keep swimming, even using his new powers to push himself and Adan forward faster, but even with his efforts, Lynne was now in desperate need of air but he could tell that they were still quite a way from the exit.
Just as the pain in his lungs was about to get too severe, Lynne felt himself being pulled info a firm embrace. Something warm and soft was pushed against his lips, and in the next second he felt a tongue gently prying up his mouth.
Shocked, Lynne opened his eyes, but by now they had swam out of the glowing water and there was only pitch darkness in front of him. Despite this, there could be no doubt about what was going on.
In a daze, Lynne barely registered how hot air passed from Adan’s mouth into his burning lungs. The pain he had felt before quickly subsided, but only one thought was screaming in his head: Adan was kissing him!
Unfortunately, the kiss didn’t last long. Soon the soft lips moved away and had it not been for Adan firmly clamping down on Lynne’s mouth with his hand, Lynne might have released the precious air he had just been given.
Adan didn’t give Lynne much time to consider what had happened. As soon as it was clear that Lynne wouldn’t squander his newfound air, Adan continued swimming, once more pulling Lynne with him. This time it didn’t take much longer before they came out the other end of the tunnel and the pair swam upwards freely.
Breaking the surface, Lynne finally drew a deep breath and continued panting heavily. Despite the cold water, Lynne felt his face burning and he couldn’t help but avoid looking at the youth beside him. He was too afraid of what the boy would think of his reaction.
There was a soft chuckle next to him, hinting that Adan saw right through his act, but thankfully the youth didn’t expose him. Instead, silent splashes in the water indicated that the boy had started swimming away.
“Come on, we need to get across the lake.”
Only now did Lynne look up, and realized that they had somehow made it out into the lake that surrounds Fire Isle. Above them, the two moons shone high in the night sky, indicating that it was close to midnight. Lynne and Adan were just at the edge of the island, but Adan was swimming in the opposite direction at a steady pace, away from the city. In the distance, Lynne could hear the sound of fighting, and fires were burning throughout the island city.
“They will find you if we stay here.”
Adan’s call pulled Lynne’s attention away from the city, and he quickly moved to swim after the youth. Noticing their destination on the other shore, Lynne started to experiment with his newfound powers, trying to boost their speed in the water. Clearly, moving the water was harder for him than freezing it, and at times he could see chunks of ice floating past them as they swam. Adan didn’t seem to mind, though, and Lynne persisted his practicing. He had after all managed to push them forward quite well when he thought his life depended on it, so he should be able to do it again.
Before long, the pair reached the other shore, and while climbing the rocks, Lynne couldn’t help but stop and look back at the island he had left behind.
From here, the fires were even more noticeable, and Lynne’s concern for his family grew. Thanks to Adan, he had somehow managed to make it out, but his father and brother remained. The King had been betrayed by his most trusted man and fighting had broken out on the streets.
“Why? Why the betrayal? Is it because of me?” Lynne clenched his fists and looked down, his eyes filling with resolve. “Well, since my secret is already exposed, all that remains is doing what I can to save my family! Mother is safe back home for now, but father. . . I need to get back inside the city! With Adan’s help it shouldn’t . . .”
Thinking up to here, Lynne paused. The young man had already helped him so much, and Lynne now really had nothing to give in return. Lynne’s gaze landed on the shirt he was wearing. It was definitely Adan’s. He touched the corner of the fabric absentmindedly, but suddenly he frowned. His fingers had found a large rift in the hem of the shirt, and as he looked closer, Lynne found several tears. Large, blurred stains remained on their edges, clearly from blood that hadn’t been washed out by the water.
Shocked, Lynne turned around, blurting out the words, “you’re hurt,” before suddenly freezing up again.
Standing with his back toward Lynne, the bright moonlight highlighted the youth’s almost feline figure. The loose pants he wore were dripping with water, but a couple of tears were evident in them too, and the drops falling from them were clearly too dark to be only water. The inner top Adan wore left his arms exposed, but honestly it no longer hid much of the back either; long lacerations crisscrossed over the youth’s back and arms, water and blood mixing as it trickled to the ground.
“Hm?” Adan looked over his shoulder at Lynne. “Oh, this? Don’t worry, it’s only superficial. It will heal quickly.”
Lynne’s mind blanked out for a moment, before kicking into hyper drive.
“This way,” he commanded and rather unceremoniously grabbed Adan’s hand, dragging him into the forest with determined steps. Lynne didn’t look back at the youth he pulled behind him and therefore missed the warm smile on Adan’s lips.
It didn’t take long before the pair reached a particularly well-hidden crevice in the ground. They had been making their way towards the Hollow Forest, and while they had yet to reach its true border, there were already quite a few cracks in the ground to watch out for. Lynne jumped down without hesitation and headed to one of the more secluded corners. He rummaged around for a bit but soon found what he was looking for and tossed a wrapped-up package over his shoulder.
“Start a fire,” he ordered as he started to unwrap a second bundle.
Lynne could hear the amusement in Adan’s voice as he hummed in agreed. Naturally, it only took a second or two before a warm flame lit up the cave.
Lynne ignored both the humor and the fire and continued to fiddle around with his bundle. Quickly he had fished out quite a few bandages and salves, all meant for tending to cuts and bruises. Due to its proximity to the Fire Isle, this crevice had been prepared as a back-up location in case their escape plan during the hunt in the Hollow Forest didn’t go as planned. Lynne was now very grateful that they had prepared it in advance so that he could help deal with his friend’s wounds.
“Yes. Friend,” Lynne thought with a smile and turned around, only to be frozen in place for a second time. The supplies in his hands dropped to the ground, together with Lynne’s jaw.
“Y-you . . . you . . .” Lynne stammered, his eyes wide.
Next to the fire, Adan had taken off the wet pants and hung them over a protrusion in the wall, clearly to let them dry. A tight-fitting black garment still covered Adan’s torso and thighs, revealing nothing indecent, but the main point was that the garment was very tight-fitting. It did nothing to hide Adan’s figure.
The youth smiled and waved playfully at Lynne.