Swift as her snakes, Stheno pounced.
Kirito trembled in her arms. Resistance to poison wasn’t immunity. He knew what her cobras could do.
Stheno kept their movements easy and smooth, as she tucked his head into the crook of her neck. For a nestling it would be soothing; the scent of skin, scales, and hair, the liquid flow of serpents past ears and throat, tongues flicking skin in a feather-light caress.
Human noses were duller, poor things. But they could still feel.
“You are alive,” Stheno said softly. “You are my Moonsword, and I know you did not leave them while breath or hope remained.” She stroked his cheek with the back of her claws. “Enough of could-haves. We must live with what is.”
He stiffened. “I….”
“You cannot die,” Stheno said; as if, like a truenamer, she could warp the fabric of reality to make it so. “You must find Kayaba. You must live to face him, and break the trap he has laid for us all.” Her voice sank, as she stroked trembling skin. “You are the last of the Black Cats. No one else can bring a reckoning for the dead.”
There was no sound. Only quiet, ragged breaths. But hot tears soaked her shoulder, and he huddled in her arms like a child.
He is young, Stheno thought, rocking him slowly. But he is no child. Not anymore.
Soon, too soon, the tears ceased. Kirito swallowed, and lifted his head. “…You said, the trap he laid for us.”
Ah. So she had. Not the most skillful slip of the tongue, no-
“Lady Stheno.” Tear-stained eyes were wide. “Are you an admin?”