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The nymph hadn’t left, of that Leon was certain. He could still feel her killing intent letting him know that she was still there, probably just waiting for a chance to eat him.
Leon flooded his body with as much magic as he could pull from his soul realm and readied himself for a brutal fight. He was in her territory, surrounded by water that she could use as her weapon. He’d have drawn his sword as well, but he wouldn’t be able to swing it with enough force in the river, so he left it sheathed.
But before Leon could make any moves, he felt a hand wrap around his left ankle like an iron vise, sending a jolt of pain up through his broken leg. He was then yanked downward with far more strength than he could possibly resist in his current state, slamming him into the sandy bottom of the river. Leon let loose with his lightning, but everything happened so quickly that most of his power was absorbed by the sand, quickly melting it into glass.
The hand had also let go as soon as her attack had finished, and so Leon’s lightning missed its intended target. Leon flailed around, trying to rise out of the sand and swim away, but he felt the water around him lock him down again, preventing all movement. He was then hurled into the side of the rocky cliff with enough force to send thousands of cracks spiderwebbing throughout the basalt pillars.
Leon’s armor remained intact, but the impact was more than enough to crack a few ribs and elicit an instinctive shout, forcing all of the remaining air out of his lungs. The nymph didn’t let this opportunity go to waste, and in the instant that Leon’s mouth was open, water rushed past his lips and filled his lungs.
Leon tried to cough it all up, but whenever his mouth opened, any water that came up his throat was immediately pushed back down by more. The edges of Leon’s vision began to blur and darken, and in desperation, Leon called upon all of his magic. Lightning burst out of him with such intensity that the sand beneath him vitrified, the water around him vaporized, and the nymph retreated once again with a terrible high-pitched scream that hit Leon like a needle to the eardrum.
His legs and left arm were broken, his left shoulder was dislocated, and many of his ribs were fractured, but Leon tried with all of his might to reach the surface of the river. He had no time to regret his decisions; the only thing on his mind was to cough up the water in his lungs and take in a breath of air.
Unfortunately, the river was deep, dark, and flowed incredibly quickly. By the time Leon struggled halfway to the surface, he could barely see anymore, and he felt his consciousness slipping away. But still, he kept going. He knew that if he didn’t make it, he’d drown and his body would be eaten by the nymph.
Despite his determination, Leon didn’t make it to the surface.
Deep beneath the forest was a vast, vaguely circular underground lake more than five miles in diameter. The lake’s surface was covered in thin white mist, while the cavern it was in was dark, lit only by a few glowing red mushrooms and blue crystals in the ceiling about a hundred feet above the water’s surface. The ceiling was vaguely dome-shaped, but it was so rough and crude that it would be clear to any mage that saw it that a powerful earth enchantment powered by the huge glowing blue gemstones was the only thing keeping the dome from collapsing and burying the lake, though none of the requisite runes were visible.
In the center of the lake was an island covered in grass and trees thick with blooming pink flowers that emitted more light than the mushrooms on the walls and ceiling of the cavern. The grass and trees seemed healthy and were growing quite well despite the lack of sunlight. The island wasn’t big, perhaps five hundred feet across at most, and its shores were warm and sandy.
The nymph that attacked Leon dragged his unconscious form up onto the beach, then returned to the water to watch and wait, with only her eyes and the top of her head above water, the rest vanishing into the lake. Not even a minute later, a figure came walking out of the grove of trees with almost ethereal grace and bent down next to Leon. The figure closely examined Leon, taking in every visible detail, from his black, slightly dented armor to his strong fifth-tier aura.
‘Yes…’ the figure thought to herself as she studied his aura even closer, her interest piqued at what she could sense, ‘yes, he should do…’
When Leon awoke, he found himself laying on his side next to a pond of crystal-clear water illuminated by a radiant blue gemstone at the bottom. He laid on grass and soft dirt and was so comfortable that he didn’t want to move. It took a few seconds for his mind to clear and for him to remember his fight with the nymph and how he’d lost consciousness when water filled his lungs.
He lunged upward, drawing the sword that was still at his side. It wasn’t until he was on his feet and the blade was in his hand that he began to wonder why he was still alive, where he was, why he was still armed and armored, and why his body was no longer wracked with pain.
The pond was surrounded by the trees with glowing pink flowers, and what he had at first thought was the night sky was just the roof of the cavern studded with more glowing crystals.
[Ah, you’re awake,] a smooth and sultry voice whispered into Leon’s mind.
It sounded to him like the voice came from the pond, so Leon whipped around ready for a fight, but the pond still appeared empty. At least, it did until he noticed a pair of gleaming dark blue eyes staring back at him from the water as if they were floating on their own. These eyes appeared completely human, save for the soft blue light that seemed to shine out of their depths.
These eyes were quickly joined by a beautiful, broad face with high cheekbones, a narrow jaw, and lips turned up in a provocative smile. This woman’s face was quickly followed by her full head of long light brown hair and a tall, well-endowed, hourglass body, sans clothes. Her skin was also fairly dark, far more than Leon expected a cave-dwelling person’s ought to be—in fact, her bronze features were fairly reminiscent of Asiya Samarid and the few other desert-dwellers that Leon had encountered.
However, despite her complete lack of clothes, what Leon found most striking about this woman was her aura; he couldn’t make heads or tails of it and combined with the high pressure her aura exerted on him, it was clear that she was much stronger than he was. At a minimum, she was sixth-tier, but Leon guessed simply from how unconcerned she was at his brandished sword that she was stronger even than that.
He immediately assumed a defensive pose and magic poured out of his soul realm, but even this didn’t perturb the nymph, which only made him more on edge and guarded.
But then, before Leon could do any more than simply raise his blade, the nymph vanished. She didn’t fade away like Leon did when he used his invisibility ring, she was simply there one moment and gone the next. Leon contemplated blasting the area around the pond with lightning to try and draw the nymph out, but his instincts told him that this would be a terrible idea.
And then her arms wrapped around his shoulders from behind; Leon hadn’t even heard or otherwise sensed her approach. He immediately tried to pull himself away, but he barely moved more than a few inches before his body locked in place.
[I’d appreciate it if you didn’t treat me like an enemy,] the nymph whispered into his ear with a wide smile and a seductive tone, though her lips didn’t move. [If I wanted you dead, you would never have awoken, my girls would’ve simply eaten you…]
Leon felt his fingers that grasped his sword start to relax. He tried to fight it, but no matter how hard he tried, he ultimately failed; his sword slipped from his grip and fell to the ground.
[There, that’s a little better, isn’t it?] the nymph murmured. [Things are always better when we don’t resort to trying to kill each other, aren’t they?]
“What… did you do… to me?” Leon managed to choke out.
[Oh?] the nymph exclaimed in mild surprise. [You can still speak, even with my magic… Well, aren’t you just a delightful young man…]
Her grip seemed to slacken slightly, and Leon almost immediately used his lightning without thought. However, he suddenly remembered an old lesson Artorias was fond of: the two would occasionally find cause to cross a bridge back in the Forest of Black and White. This old bridge was home to a forest troll.
This beast didn’t possess much in the way of power or strength, and while it had some measure of intelligence, it wasn’t particularly bright. Still, it was self-aware, spoke a crude language of its own, and valued shiny metal—silver, especially.
Artorias used to pay this troll so that he and Leon could cross the bridge peacefully. He could’ve easily killed the troll to save himself the hassle, but the troll was a living being, capable of thought and reason. Leon was taught to always be ruthless and decisive with his enemies, but he was also taught to be civil and patient with those who were not, no matter who or what they were.
He had to admit that he never did internalize that lesson as deeply as Artorias would’ve liked and that the past few years had been stressful enough that he was only now remembering it. Leon thought about this troll and how Artorias handled it, and rather than blasting the nymph behind him with lightning, he quietly croaked, “What do you want with me?”
[What do I want?] the gorgeous nymph asked as if she considered the question rather quaint. [What I want, boy, is your strength!]
She then gently undid the straps of Leon’s helmet and pulled it off, revealing his face. The nymph gasped, then circled around to his front to get a better view. Even after removing her arms from around him, Leon still found himself unable to move enough to do more than stand and talk, much to his fear and frustration.
The nymph was only an inch or two shorter than he was—though, to be fair, he was wearing boots while she was completely naked. She ran her finger along Leon’s jawline and stared into his golden eyes.
[I knew it…] she whispered as if she were thinking out loud. [There’s something within you, some kind of Inherited Bloodline…]
Recalling the Thunderbird’s statement that no power could touch his mind when he used his lightning and suspecting that it was some kind of mental power that the nymph was using, Leon summoned his power one more time, giving everything he had without the restraint he had grown used to during the past year to break free of this nymph’s control. His body began to spark and flash with arcs of silver lightning, and when one arc connected with the nymph’s finger that was still on his face, she quickly pulled back with a sharp yelp of pain.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t hurt that badly, she simply wasn’t used to pain and was surprised.
[Something to do with lightning, then…] she said as Leon began to twitch and jerk; his efforts were paying off, her hold over him was failing.
But then, she slammed her palm into Leon’s stomach, producing a ringing sound from his cuirass that echoed throughout the entire cavern and hurling Leon back into a nearby tree.
[I went to the trouble of healing you, boy, don’t make me break you again,] she said with a dangerous look in her eye.
“What do you want with me?!” Leon angrily repeated as he lay motionless among the roots of the tree he was hurled into.
[I told you already, I want your strength,] the nymph said as her smile widened. [This is my fertile period, and you are the first man my girls have brought to me that is worthy of fathering my children!]
Leon was struck speechless at this admission. He expected that this nymph wanted to do something unsavory, but he wasn’t expecting anything close to reproduction! Something more like eating him in some kind of magic ritual was closer to Leon’s expectations.
The nymph slowly walked over to him with a rapacious look as Leon processed her statement. By the time he shouted, “No!” she was already standing over him, her body on full display.
And yet, Leon wasn’t that enticed, despite her exceptional looks. Sex was one of the last things on his mind after recent events, and she was doing absolutely nothing to get him over that. Besides, Leon already had Elise, and he wasn’t about to start doing anything romantic or sexual with anyone else behind her back, even if he had the inclination.
But as the thought of Elise drifted through his mind, the words ‘You are nothing to me…’ accompanied it.
‘That wasn’t her,’ Leon thought to himself as he pushed the image of Elise from Bran’s illusion out of his head.
The nymph leaned down, placed her hand upon Leon’s cuirass, and whispered with a chilling look in her lake-blue eyes, [This has to happen, I can’t give you a choice… I will not!]
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