Cold horror swept through Cyre as he caught sight of the two Murkuri warriors over the ridge. Had he really strayed that far into the forest? He didn’t think he had, but he dropped his basket and bolted without a second thought nonetheless. No dyer's blooms were worth losing his life over. If he was lucky, they hadn’t seen him. He could still get away unharmed.
As he bounded over a fallen log, a shout rang out behind him and he felt his heart drop.
Cyre had no intention of stopping. He wondered briefly to himself if the Murkuri really thought he was that stupid, pushing his dark fringe off his face and skipping to duck around a thick tree trunk without slowing down — and then the mid-morning sun hit him square in the eye, his feet went from under him and he screamed as he slid. The sun and tree combined had obscured the sudden drop into a half-dry riverbed. There was nothing he could do to stop his skid.
But that wasn’t all he had to contend with.
A flash of bright yellow with unmistakable purple flecks made his breath catch in his throat and his bright hazel eyes widen in fear.
Cyre tried to stop himself flying into the thick foliage, but it was no use. Almost all of the space flat enough to stand on next to the lazy flow of water was covered in the cursed things. Cyre tried to take a deep breath before he hit, but he knew ultimately it would do him no good.
He was doomed.
A cloud of pollen rose as soon as his body hit the first petal. It was so thick and fine it completely obscured Cyre’s vision as he fell, the sticky dander clumping on his clothes and in his hair. Intense fear unlike anything he had ever felt urged him to scream, but he knew that would only make things worse. Every patch of his skin exposed to the stuff was already beginning to tingle. If he breathed it in, he was sure he would die on the spot.
Behind him, he heard a man curse in Murkuri, a spray of dirt and twigs raining down on him, but he didn’t dare move. Every nerve in his body was coming alive. He felt taut and stiff but he tried to tell himself there was still a chance. He just had to make it to the river, and then… well, maybe he would be able to crawl home in time to see his friends and family before his heart gave out. Terrified tears gathered along his lower lashes and he let them fall without shame. Faced with the horror of dying by Godsbreath, there was little point in trying to save his pride.
“Stay where you are.” The voice above him was distant and muffled. “We can get you out, but do not move.”
There’s no point, was all Cyre’s panicked, spiralling mind threw back at him, but the pollen around him was still airborne and he knew better than to speak and let it in. His lungs screamed for air, but terror gripped him too hard for him to take a breath. The edges of his vision were blurring. He prayed that death would be quick. Perhaps the Murkuri might take mercy on him with their blades…
Cyre felt like he only blinked, but when he opened his eyes he was breathing. He didn’t remember doing that. Panic urged him to hold his breath again, but his rational mind insisted it was too late to bother. His pulse was already thundering in his ears and a strange warmth washed over him, robbing him of the ability to move. Despair flooded his heart and he choked back a sob.
Death by Godsbreath was said to be one of the worst ways to go. The flower’s toxin caused its victim’s heart rate to increase until it shut down. Sometimes the brain bled as well. But the whole process could take up to and including one endless, agonising week of panic and pain. Cyre felt his chest heaving as his mind threw image after image of horrific anticipation at him.
A sharp creak on the other side of the river made him jump. He looked over and saw the two massive Murkuri doing something to a tree. Another creak sounded, and he realised they were peeling a sheet of thick bark wide enough to carry him off the trunk. It would do them no good, he thought bitterly. Trying to reach him was basically signing their own death warrants too. And, paralysed by the pollen, he couldn’t exactly go to them either.
“Hold tight,” called the one who was slightly shorter and broader. “Not long now.”
Cyre tried to hold back tears. What would his friends and neighbours think when he didn’t return home? Would his boss notice when he failed to deliver the flowers that night, or would he only notice in the morning? Would he worry enough to come looking, or would he simply grumble and assume Cyre was slacking off, or dismiss his absence with some other excuse? The prospect of dying alone in the forest far from home sent tremors of deep, primal fear through his core. He closed his eyes to try and block out the reality of his situation.
Whatever Cyre was expecting, it wasn’t a sheet of water crashing down over his face and chest. He gasped instinctively and his eyes went wide, darting over to where the Murkuri now stood waist-deep in the middle of the river. It seemed the bark wasn’t to carry him after all. They were using it as a scoop to fling water out over the flowers. Cyre almost laughed at their effort, until he realised they were actually succeeding. The reason he could see them and what they were doing was that the water had cut a sheath through the cloud of pollen where it fell.
More pollen swirled in to fill the gap, but the Murkuri were quicker. They moved as though digging out a deep hole, their movements as one, collecting water and swinging it in a wide arc before dipping back into the river. Cyre watched them work with his heart in his throat. It made a strange sort of sense, but he wasn’t ready to get his hopes up. His skin felt unnaturally tight and his blood rushed so hard in his body that he could feel each beat of his heart.
After minutes that felt like hours, most of the pollen had settled. It sat in a thick, sticky film over the ground, water collecting in small pools over the top of it, plastering the flowers against the dirt. The warriors stood a little way from the edge of the flower patch to examine their work. The broader one had one side of his head shaved to the skin, and Cyre tried to trace the tattoo behind his ear with his gaze to distract himself from his impending doom. The pair muttered to each other in Murkuri, the taller one frowning as the broader one indicated various sections with his finger.
“Elbiya? How are you feeling?” the broader one called.
Cyre took a shaky breath and found it free of pollen. He glanced over at them.
“I c-c-c-can’t mmmmove,” he croaked, the taste of the plant thick and unpleasant in his mouth. It felt like he was losing control of his mouth.
The pair muttered to each other again and Cyre saw the taller one turn away. His heart sank. Clearly he was too far gone, doomed, and one of them had no taste for watching him die. The other though… Cyre froze when he saw the man wrapping cloth around his hands and collecting up the sheath of bark. The man picked his way over, his dark eyes searching each step before he took it, and then he deposited the bark on the ground beside Cyre.
“It is alright,” the man soothed. “I am Ossun. I will shift you now, so try to relax, hmm?”
Cyre said nothing in reply. He watched Ossun bend and take him gingerly by the collar and a handful of cloth just below his waist. The warrior lifted him easily, and Cyre gave a terrified whimper as he was set down on the bark. It was thick and sturdy, but a part of him was convinced it would shatter and leave him at the mercy of the flowers. Some said Godsbreath stunned its prey by day, and then consumed it live at night, and imagining such a fate left his heart trembling and his breath coming in panicked pants.
But Ossun seemed calm. He collected up the bark, Cyre securely on it, and carried him to the river. His hands and arms were wrapped up to above his elbow and he held Cyre out a good distance from his body to avoid contamination.
“It’s n-n-n uthe,” Cyre sobbed as Ossun laid him down on the edge of the river. “Kill... plea...”
Ossun’s gaze flickered with sympathy and he raised his bandaged hand to stroke Cyre’s face. The touch felt beyond intense, every nerve in Cyre’s body alight and sensitive, and he gave a strangled cry. He screwed his eyes shut and sobbed as Ossun settled beside him on the ground.
“Endure it,” the warrior told him. “Just for a couple of minutes.”
Cyre had no idea what he meant, but, before he could ask, Ossun slipped his bandaged hand under Cyre’s clothes and started pulling them off him. Cyre shrieked. He couldn’t tell if it felt like being burned or cut, but it was painful everywhere the cloth rubbed on him, and the hypersensitivity only increased with each passing second. Ossun muttered something in Murkuri and left his tunic alone. Cyre trembled on the bark, trying his hardest not to exist. He let his eyes open a crack and blanched when he saw Ossun had unsheathed a dagger.
“M-make it quick,” he begged.
There was no part of him that truly wanted to die, but, with everything happening to him, he knew it was the better option. He clenched his jaw and closed his eyes. At least this way he could die with some sanity intact. Perhaps the gods would look upon that more favourably than dying screaming a week later.
Ossun slipped the knife beneath the collar of Cyre’s tunic. The blade was cold, but in Cyre’s state it felt like ice. He tried not to move. Yes, the heart was best, he decided, as long as Ossun was confident in his aim.
He howled as the cloth of his tunic loosened and fell away. It grazed his skin like sandpaper and he had to bite his lip to stop the tears. Ossun moved quickly and carefully, sawing through the tunic and chemise in swift strokes down his front and then along his arms. He was half-nude before he realised Ossun wasn’t killing him. Given his panic, he wasn’t sure what to make of that, only that the air felt fresh and brisk against his skin. Ossun made short work of his braies and stockings as well.
“Ah, there,” Ossun muttered. “It is not so bad. Only your hands and face, no? There is hope.”
He shot Cyre a reassuring smile and started peeling the cut cloth away, lifting Cyre’s body to get the contaminated clothes away from him. Cyre had the sense to notice he was still very careful not to touch the pollen with his skin.
“Up you come,” Ossun said. “Let us see how the water goes.”
Cyre couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of being submerged. The water was cold, he knew, as it was largely run-off from the snowy peaks of the Chirumin Mountains not far away. In his current state he wasn’t sure he could tolerate it.
Not that he had much choice.
Ossun pushed the bark out into the river and the frigid current washed over Cyre immediately. He keened, his cry warbling and desperate, the water like tiny knives through his shuddering flesh. Ossun frowned.
“Open your eyes wide,” he instructed. “And look up as far as you can.”
Cyre blinked at him, his mind seizing as it tried to contend with the shock of the water and processing the order, but after a moment he managed to understand and comply. Ossun peered at his eyeballs and muttered to himself, his tone terse. He moved away after a second and began dragging the bark towards some rocks on the other side of the river. They were large and sharp, jutting out above the surface and forming a rough crescent out into the deepest part. The bark floated well enough that the water only rushed around Cyre’s shoulders, never completely submerging him. A dull throb in his chest began to beat in time with his pulse as Ossun lodged the bark against the rocks. It bobbed in time with the current but stayed in place.
Cyre tried not to focus on the pain in his chest as Ossun waded around to his legs. He winced as Ossun took him behind the knees and draped his lower legs over his forearm, leaving him feeling strangely exposed considering he was already naked. The warrior pulled the cloth wrap off his other arm with his teeth just enough to leave his fingers exposed. Cyre would have frowned if he had that much use of his face. The tingle in his skin had faded, but in its wake was numbness, and the paralysis spreading.
“Hnngh,” was all he managed when he tried to ask Ossun what he was doing. The warrior glanced at him and gave a sympathetic smile.
“You are very susceptible to it,” he said. “I had hoped we had more time.”
Cyre’s thoughts spiralled quickly. Very susceptible? Did that mean he was dying right now? Or, rather, about to actually, immediately die right now? His eyes filled with tears as he watched Ossun. He couldn’t even thank the man for trying to save him. Given the Murkuri had gone to such lengths to pull him out of the flowers, he thought perhaps he might have been a little hasty in bolting from them. Certainly they didn’t seem threatening enough to die from Godsbreath over.
Ossun stuck his fingers into his own mouth. When he pulled them out, they were slick with spit, glistening in the dappled light. Cyre felt a frightened sigh push out from his lungs. It was all so confusing. At least he wouldn’t die alone.
Then Ossun shifted and reached down, and if Cyre had been capable of movement he would have jumped out of his skin. Ossun pushed two fingers into his hole, the spit easing the burn but doing nothing to dampen the stretch. Cyre cried out through lifeless lips. His panicked brown eyes fixed on Ossun as the man prodded around inside him. Oh gods, this was worse, Cyre thought, worse than just dying. The sensation was far too much and his muscles tried valiantly to clench around the intrusion. He gurgled out a protest as Ossun started slowly pumping his fingers in and out of him.
“Hush, Elbiya, this will help,” Ossun said as he fingered him. “We may not have long to get you to the shelter. This will buy us a few minutes, at least.”
As he spoke, Ossun curled his fingers, and Cyre’s eyes widened in shock as a bolt of pleasure shot through him. His cock began to harden and even through his shock he could feel the ache in his chest subsiding. Ossun watched him carefully as he gasped.
“Let me see your eyes again,” he ordered. “Same as before.”
Cyre noted with shame that he didn’t want Ossun to stop fingering him, but he still obliged. Either sensing his reluctance or operating on his own knowledge, Ossun kept going, though he stopped pumping in and out in favour of crooking his fingers back and forth inside Cyre as he examined the whites of Cyre’s eyes again. The tingle all over Cyre’s body began to dissipate from his extremities and concentrate in his crotch.
“It’s working,” Ossun said after a moment.
Cyre didn’t know what he would’ve said to that even if he could reply. Ossun shifted his legs to rest his ankles on his shoulder and used his now-free hand to take Cyre’s cock in hand. The contact felt like ecstatic agony. Cyre choked on a moan and blinked in surprise as his fingers twitched. With a flicker of hope, he realised Ossun might be right. It actually was working. Cyre blinked up at him with tentative gratitude and felt the heat and bliss coursing under his skin suddenly focused in and erupted from his balls. Tears ran down his cheeks as he moaned, his muscles twitching to life and making his arms flop in what would have been an orgasmic arch if he’d had full use of his body. Cyre only realised his eyes weren’t closed as his vision slowly returned, Ossun’s kind, craggy face coming into view from the centre before the rest of him materialised.
“That should get us through,” the warrior grunted.
Cyre blinked in dumb shock as Ossun collected his cum off his stomach with two fingers and then reached for his face.
“U-uh!” Cyre couldn’t even find the words to protest. His chest had stopped aching but his body still thrummed with unnatural life and sensation. And yet, it was progress. He fell silent as Ossun smeared the cum on Cyre’s neck and collarbone.
“It is good,” Ossun insisted. “It helps… uhh… make the flower… stop.”
Ossun’s Elbiyan was accented and stilted as he struggled with the complex concept. It took Cyre a moment to realise what he meant, but he appreciated the explanation. By the time Ossun was withdrawing his fingers, Cyre could feel the difference. His collarbone no longer felt like it was trying to burst out of his skin and the tingle had begun to fade. He licked his lips, wondering if it was wrong to want Ossun to cover him in cum. Purely for the medicinal effects, of course. Even if his own spread over his neck did give him an odd frisson of delight.
“We’ll wash quickly.” Ossun rinsed his fingers in the river. “And then we can go to the shelter and see about the rest.”
Cyre tried to reply, but his tongue felt thick and heavy, his lips barely able to form words. He settled for a grateful, tired look at Ossun, and the giant smiled back.
The washing itself felt like being skinned alive, but Ossun was careful and thorough, and Cyre was deemed clean enough in far less time than he’d anticipated. The cloth wrapped around the warrior’s arms doubled as washcloths. He rubbed and scraped all over, focusing on Cyre’s face, hair, neck and lower arms. The pollen rolled and became tacky but the stickiness only helped peel it off him in stripes, except in his hair. Somehow it popped off each strand like an empty cocoon and kept its shape, none left behind. His heart still rabbited painfully in his chest and he was reduced to tears from the raw discomfort when Ossun focused on his skin but he knew it needed to happen. The pollen might be inert from the water, or it might not, and even if it was there was no guarantee it wouldn’t reactivate when it dried.
Ossun pushed the rest of the bandages off his arms and lifted Cyre off the bark when he was satisfied. His body felt floppy but if he really tried he could wiggle his fingers. The ache was starting again in his chest, a dull throb in time with his pulse, but at least he was clean. He did his best to relax in Ossun’s arms as the bigger man carried him into the forest.