The morning sky was just starting to stain orange when Lamb happened upon Naruto sitting on a boulder, deep in thought, fingers lazily tracing patterns into solid stone.

"Good morning," greeted Lamb, only to start backwards as Naruto yelped in surprise and jumped a good meter or so into the air.

"Ah fuck! Lamb!"

Landing on his feet, Naruto pressed a hand to his chest and scratched the back of his head sheepishly as he calmed down.

"Sorry, didn't see you there, ha ha," he said with a self-deprecating laugh, "Good morning."

Lamb saw his eyes almost unconsciously flick downwards from hers for the briefest of moments and feeling a little self-conscious despite herself, she not-so-subtly crossed her arms across her chest. From the way his cheeks coloured and the very deliberate way Naruto began to hold eye contact with her, her gesture hadn't gone unnoticed, which brought a heady glow of a feeling Lamb couldn't quite identify.

"So…" started Naruto, who Lamb suspected was trying to start a conversation to distract her from the matter of his wandering eyes, "Did you… uh… sleep well?"

Lamb tilted her head.

"I don't need sleep, remember?"

"Right, right! I forgot, silly me! Ha ha," said Naruto quickly and not a little uncomfortably.

"Did you sleep well?" asked Lamb, turning the question back on its asker.

She had rarely seen the human be so flustered. Generally, it was the other way around, with him teasing the daylights out of her and getting her riled up six ways to Sunday, but for some reason, today the shoe was on the other foot. It was a rare situation, but now that she had the advantage, damned if she wasn't going to press it!

"Me?" squeaked out Naruto, who for a moment seemed to have forgotten what the question was, "Uh… um… oh, me. Me… I… did I sleep well? Did I sleep well? Um! Yes! No, uh… it was okay!"

This almost incomprehensible babble was accompanied by a subconscious step back, which Lamb keenly noticed with a thrill of triumph.

She could see why the human liked teasing her so much… this was fun!

"What?" she asked, "Just 'okay'? Why didn't you get a good night's sleep, Naruto?"

She punctuated her questioning with a step forward and a deliberate emphasis of the human's rarely-used name, and was immediately rewarded by Naruto correspondingly taking a matching step backwards.

"Ummm…" stammered Naruto, eyes darting around as he started to resemble a trapped animal desperately looking for an escape route, "Because uh… last night… uh…"

Taking another step forward, Lamb uncrossed her arms, and saw the way Naruto's gaze was drawn to the motion, only for him to break into an unmistakable blush and snap his eyes up to meet hers with a distinctly guilty cast.

"Last night?" prompted Lamb.

Naruto's hands were now up in a defensive, placating gesture as he backed away from Lamb's steady advance.

"Oh, c'mon Lamb," he almost pleaded, "Don't do this."

"Don't… do… what?" asked Lamb, each word timed with a step forward.

Meanwhile, Naruto's matching steps in retreat finally brought his back up against the boulder he had been sitting on when Lamb had found him. An instinctive look behind him revealed no means of escape, especially with Lamb right in front him, her normally innocent and naïve demeanour tinged with something distinctly predatory.

"Look," he said, his raised hands coming to press against her shoulders, as if to keep her away, "I'm sorry!"

"Sorry…?" echoed Lamb.

"I- I'm sorry for it … uh… touching your chest… and sorry for getting um… it on you. And sorry for looking! And thinking! And oh man, I've gone and made things weird now… Lamb… I'm such an idiot."

Lamb's mask tilted as she watched Naruto cast his gaze downwards, his hands slipping off her shoulders in a gesture of surrender.

Staying silent for a few seconds longer, she finally couldn't hold her in her mirth any longer and let out a peal of laughter, which made Naruto's head jerk up incredulously.

"Hahaha!" laughed Lamb, "Oh, your face, human! You should see your face!"

Looking shocked, Naruto asked questioningly, "You're… you're not mad?"

"What's there to be mad at, human? I was there last night of my own accord, because I myself was curious about what you human are always so obsessed with. And I was the one who got close… what h-happened after was an accident… right?"

"R-right," said Naruto, looking relieved at seeing Lamb in good spirits.

"Definitely worth having to wash it off to see you acting like this, though!" giggled Lamb.

"Why, you…" mock-growled Naruto, finally recovering.

He reached over to spin Lamb around, who squealed at the sudden move, and holding her against his chest with his left arm, proceeded to muss up her hair vigorously with his right.

"Look at you, teasing me like that," he said, "When did you get so devious?"

Struggling to get free and escape the unrelenting assault on the top of her head, Lamb finally slipped out of Naruto's grip and skipped away, lifting the bottom of her mask up to stick out her tongue.

"Guess who I learned it from," she said cheekily, her free hand returning to try and restore her hair to some semblance of order.

"Well, I'm glad you're not angry at me," said Naruto, "But this is definitely a surprise… I would have thought you would have been all like 'Kyaah,' and 'Who would want to see your disgusting hairless thing, HUMAN,' and avoided me for the next week."

"I do not sound like that," retorted Lamb to the unflattering imitation that Naruto had affected of her, "And… and know your place! What makes you think I would be in the slightest affected by the sight of you humans and your reproductive rituals? It's just animals rutting!"

"Oh really?" asked Naruto with a raised eyebrow.

Lamb opened her mouth, only to pause as she watched a black cloud burst into existence around Naruto, only to disperse just as quickly, with the human now nowhere to be found.

Starting to turn around, she was stopped as she felt two big arms wrap around her.

"So, what I'm hearing is, you wouldn't mind helping me with my… 'reproductive rituals' then, little Lamb?" came his voice in a husky whisper right next to her ear, "I never really noticed it before, but you're a cute girl too, aren't you?"

This was punctuated with a tightening of the embrace, which was when Lamb suddenly became very aware of how solid and warm Naruto's chest was.

"W-w-wuh… w-what are you doing?!" she squeaked out, her voice an octave higher than usual, "M-me, h-helping y-you… w-with…"

Her voice trailed off as her traitorous mind started to fill in the gaps, and automatically cast itself back to the prior night, only this time in her imagination she was the one holding…

Shaking her head forcefully, Lamb broke free of the embrace, her face steaming red under her mask.

"I-I-I… y-you! You… you… aghhhh! HUMAN!" she growled incoherently.

Stomping her hoof against the ground, she pointed at him with a trembling finger.

"Youuuuuu…" she ground out, before huffing and running off.

Raising an eyebrow, Naruto chuckled.

"There's the Lamb I know," he said in a satisfied manner, despite the blush on his own face.

He had done that on a whim, and although he had been surprised at his own boldness, the result had proven to have been even more than he had hoped for.

"That was fun," he said, a giant shit-eating grin on his face.

Whistling tunelessly to himself, Naruto was refilling the canteens at the river, when he noticed the presence of someone behind him.

"You look like you're in good spirits today," commented Evelynn as she squatted down next to him to fill up a pot with water, "Good morning."

Naruto, having successfully suppressed the instinctive flinch that had flared at her arrival, only shrugged easily.

"Good morning," he replied, "How did you … sleep?"

"Really good, actually," said Evelynn, "I had a good night – slept like a baby."

Feeling himself flush slightly, Naruto stood up, turning away with canteens in hand.

"W-well, that's good," he said, "I'll see you back in-"

He didn't get to finish his sentence, as his eyes suddenly caught a flash of movement in his peripheral vision. Spinning around, he could only make out a hulking mass of brown fur before it hunkered down and charged towards the unsuspecting Evelynn still bent down by the riverbank.

"Evelynn!" hearing her name being called, Evelynn reflexively looked up to the source, only to see him staring at her with wide eyes.

No, staring at something behind her.

Turning, she only managed to see an enormous flash of brown before her instincts bade her to fall backwards in retreat, scooting away as she heard a bestial roar. The beast bounding towards her lunged forwards, its maw full of sharp teeth snapping intimidatingly, and Evelynn could only scream and hold her arms out in front of her defensively, her eyes reflexively squeezing shut as she anticipated the pain that was to come.

A moment later, realising that the agony she was expecting hadn't come and that she was still alive, Evelynn warily opened her eyes.

"Hey," said he with a strained smile, because of course he had been fast enough to save her.

Taking stock of the situation, Evelynn realised that she had been moved from her original position - he had gathered her in his arms and moved her tens of metres away in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, her attacker, a towering badgerbear, was currently being restrained by a writhing mass of vines and roots, their source evident judging by his outstretched palm and the look of concentration on his face.

"It's so… strong," he grunted, the sound of snapping vegetation and enraged snarls a testament to his words.

With a twist of his wrist, a wooden lattice burst from the ground, forming a rough cage around the badgerbear, but mere moments after it formed, the beast had torn free of the remaining restraints and had hurled itself bodily against the wood, which barely held before being blown through handily.

Feeling the arm around her tighten, Evelynn had only the wherewithal to take a breath before he dashed backwards, landing soundly a safe distance away with her in his arms. Stomping a foot, a surging wall of earth erupted from the ground to block the enraged charge of the badgerbear, which, judging by the dull thud, the beast had anticipated a moment too late.

Evelynn felt him give out a shaky exhale, before his grip around her waist slackened.

The slightest frown tilted her lips downwards.

She hadn't realised it amid all the excitement, but the rough way he had grabbed her around the waist and manhandled her... it had been perfect, harkening back to that night of the Grand Ball back in Piltover. The way he had his way with her body, the way he dominated her… these were what had brought on the taboo fascination which had sparked the all-consuming obsession that had driven her almost to ruin.

"What was that all about?" he wondered out loud.

He went to scratch at his chin, but a foreign sound – a rhythmic, shuffling, scrtch, scrtch sound – made him pause, looking around for the cause of the sound.

The penny dropped for Evelynn a moment later.

"Badgerbears can dig-" she blurted out, just as an explosion of soil filled the air with a spray of loose earth.

The badgerbear roared again as it burst from its hastily constructed tunnel, lunging towards them with bared teeth.

With a curse, he grabbed her by the waist and slung her backwards, causing her to hit the ground roughly and bounce to a rolling stop like a ragdoll.

With a groan, she blearily opened her eyes and raised her face out of the dirt where it had lain. With the skin of her arms stinging from the scrapes she had just gained, her hair wild and streaked with dirt, and waist bruised and aching from the force at which he had tossed her, Evelynn shuddered in untold ecstasy.

Naruto ducked under the powerful swipe of the beast, and let loose a punch strengthened with chakra straight into its chest, sending it careening backwards. As soon as its backwards momentum stopped, it scrambled back to its feet, snarling viciously.

"Stay down," he ordered, "I don't want to hurt you."

He flared his chakra, a pulse of power reverberating around the forest.

The beast - a 'badgerbear' as Evelynn identified - took an involuntary step back before shaking its head as if to rid itself of its cowardice and roaring back defiantly.

Naruto sighed in disappointment, then darted forward in a burst of moment, entering close quarters with the badgerbear in the blink of an eye. Striking in a chakra-powered uppercut, he snapped its jaw shut with a bone-shaking clank, before he kicked out at the joint of one of its front legs, sending the badgerbear crashing to the ground. Finally, he raised his fist and brought it down emphatically onto his palm, the motion mirrored by a blast of wind that hammered down on the beast's skull, grinding it even deeper into the dirt.

"Surely that will be enough," he said in an annoyed fashion as he made his way back to Evelynn.

It had been a long time since he had been attacked by nature - it almost felt like he had failed as a sage.

A growl from behind him caused him to stop in disbelief.

"What on earth…" he muttered to himself as he turned around.

The badgerbear was once again on its feet, furious yellow eyes glaring at him as it bared its teeth, moving its jaw back and forth as it worked out the pain from his blow. It snapped at him, but this time did not charge, instead opting to circle him, more cautious now after he had bested it so definitively.

"I'm warning you," Naruto said, more for himself than for the beast, "I will slay you if I have to."

He may be a sage, but that wouldn't stop him from taking the life of this animal if it continued to attack him. It would enter the great cycle of life, death and rebirth by his hand; its body consumed by the scavengers and plants to fuel the next generation of nature.

The badgerbear roared once again, and Naruto shook his head in a resigned manner. His tanto appeared in his hand, and as the beast lunged at him, he slashed out in a single flowing motion, sending a spray of blood flying in a crescent as he sliced his attacker from hip to shoulder.

The badgerbear collapsed onto the ground, and, finally beaten, gave one final defiant growl before Naruto put it out of its misery with a decisive stab through the head.

Shaking the blood off his blade, Naruto frowned as he made his way back to Evelynn.

He hadn't encountered any of these 'badgerbears' before, but this one seemed unsettlingly vicious and single-minded in its furious attack, persisting even when almost every other creature he knew of would have slunk away in retreat. What had caused it to continually persevere in its foolhardy suicide mission?

He was no expert yet on this world's fauna, but Naruto's instincts as a sage were sounding alarm bells. This wasn't normal.

Hidden in the nearby woods, a pair of yellow eyes blinked slowly in interest.

"Huh," the owner said to themself in a low twanging drawl, "So that's how that works."

The mysterious onlooker chuckled to themselves as they turned to leave, only to pause as their gaze fell upon the sight of Evelynn still lying prone on the ground.

"Uhuhuhuhu," they laughed, the reason for their mirth unknown to anyone but themselves.

Evelynn looked up as he drew close.

"You okay?" he asked, the kind words expected, but the manner of their delivery decidedly not.

There was a deeper turmoil that she detected, a roiling of emotions and a confusion of thought. It was reflected in his face too - brows furrowed, lips pursed in a tight line. His eyes - usually so expressive - were hard and flinty, the usual oceanic blue crystallised into unrelenting ice.

"A-ah, y-yes, I think I'm fine," she stammered, remembering the question.

"Good," he said shortly.

Casually, he turned and conjured one of his 'clones' and offhandedly passed it his bloodsoaked short sword, presumably for it to wash in the river.

Then he reached up with a red-stained hand and brushed some hair out of his eyes, and Evelynn almost swooned.

There was just something so hot about seeing him covered in blood, in addition to the aloof, almost uncaring way that he was currently acting - it was creating a near-tangible impression of power that was causing a sudden burning in her loins that she was getting oh-so familiar with as of the last couple of nights.

The brusque, detached demeanour he was currently affecting also wasn't helping - the sharp contrast it cast with his usual caring self was definitely doing something for her. Unbidden, one of the many fantasies she had entertained recently came to mind - one where he was sitting at a table, while she, wearing nothing but a collar and a leash, knelt between his legs. Her lewd imagination had him acting much as he was now - casually disinterested in her presence while he attended to other matters, meanwhile she, burning with submissive need, desperately sought to gain his attention favour, starting with leaning forward and using her mouth to -

Evelynn wrenched her thoughts away from the path they were inevitably heading towards, biting her lip in an effort to control herself.

"You sure you're okay?" he asked, more of his usual warmth seeping into his voice as he peered at her.

"Y-yeah," Evelynn replied, pushing herself up using her arms and wincing as her newly acquired scrapes stung fiercely.

He knelt down and offered his hand as a support, which she gladly took, hauling herself up only to give a pained cry as her ankle screamed in protest.

"Ah! Ouch, my ankle… I think I twisted it when I hit the ground," she said through gritted teeth.

Through the haze of pain, she idly thought how it was funny that this pain wasn't triggering her newfound masochistic tendencies. At least that could have been a fun upside to these confusing new thoughts and emotions.

If only I could be so lucky… she thought.

Naruto was currently going through hell.

Or heaven, he wasn't quite sure.

After he had bandaged up Evelynn's ankle, he had asked if she would be able to manage the walk back to camp, but after a few experimental steps that clearly caused a great deal of pain, it was evident that an alternative had to be found.

He considered using space-time manipulation to teleport them both, but just before he suggested it, he realised that he had never tried it with another living being in tow. A cold sweat broke out as he considered the possibility that without developed chakra coils like him, space-time manipulation could very likely result in further injury or even death.

So instead, he offered to carry the injured Evelynn. His first suggestion had been in his arms, bridal style, which she had scoffed at ("I may be human now but I'm not one of your damsels you can just carry off into the sunset,"), so this led to the current situation - one in which he was carrying her back to camp in a piggyback.

Which had started off … fine. He had done his best to walk slowly so as to not jostle his passenger and agitate her injured ankle, but judging by her intermittent gasps, the movement was still causing some level of contact.

So to try and ease her pain, Naruto had hiked her up further on his back to hold her more securely against him to keep the jostling to a minimum. However, this just happened to cause a whole new host of problems.

Namely, Evelynn was a very shapely woman, and her thighs were distractingly soft… and also he could now say with a high level of certainty that she was not currently wearing a bra. Furthermore, her gasps of pain had somewhere along the line turned into hitched breathing, almost verging on panting.

It was extremely distracting to say the least.

He knew he could be a little naive about the finer details of carnal pleasure, but even he could tell that her laboured breathing wasn't because of pain anymore.

And needless to say, having an attractive woman breathing heavily next to his ear while her bountiful chest rubbed on his back with every step was causing him to pitch a tent downstairs.

Evelynn's arms were tight around his neck, and her entire lower body had come to press tightly against his back. Whereas before there would have been some slight swinging or rocking coming from the walking motion, now each step caused her body to rub intensely against his.

Neither of them said anything. Evelynn's breathing continued its strenuous routine, every now and then coloured with the slightest tinge of an almost-inaudible moan of desire, the tantalising sound seeming to pierce his brain each time he thought he heard it. And in his own case, Naruto was just focussed on taking one step after another - he barely noticed that his breathing had unconsciously mirrored hers.

Inevitably, Evelynn's breaths, already stilted, started to speed up, causing Naruto's to follow in its wake - the instinctual anticipation of something awakening a blaze of lust in his chest. Her arms around his neck, already tight, squeezed, and his next few steps were accompanied by an unmistakable grinding motion of her lower body against his back, following the cadence perfectly but seemingly asking, no, begging for more.

Instincts he barely recognised answered the call, and Naruto, almost without conscious direction, slid his hands up Evelynn's thighs and squeezed, her pillowy buttocks conforming sublimely to his grip.

There was a sharp gasp, its loudness amplified due to its proximity to his ear, and then Evelynn's stranglehold on his neck redoubled as involuntary spasms shook her body. Her ankles crossed around his hips and she bucked, her crotch pushing hard enough against his back that he half worried that she'd break his spine.

And then, as if to contain her cries of ecstasy, she bit his shoulder, hard.

He himself gasped at the sudden burning in his shoulder and squeezed again reflexively - this time much harder. With his hands still grabbing Evelynn's ass, this added stimulation caused her to moan into his shoulder, despite never letting go with her teeth.

And this was what in turn pushed him over the edge, his diamond-hard erection finally releasing its precious load right into his pants.

He stopped walking as he shuddered, a low groan echoing from his chest, eyes fluttering shut.

This is going to be awkward afterwards, was the thought that flitted through his mind, but he cast it away as he rode the waves of pleasure, oh well, I'll let future me handle it.

As it turns out, future Naruto was definitely none too pleased about handling the awkward atmosphere, not to mention the distinctly uncomfortable feeling of cooling… liquids in his underwear.

As the two of them had slowly calmed down, and gradually started coming to terms with what had happened, there was a lot of blushing and avoiding eye contact all around.

Eventually, Naruto shifted Evelynn to hold her in his arms bridal style (which she pointedly did not comment on this time) to avoid further shenanigans, and took her the rest of the way back to camp, the journey conducted in embarrassed silence.

Nell watched curiously as Naruto seemingly dropped out of the sky into their campsite, practically dumped Eve on the ground, and then dashed off.

"What just happened?" she directed at Pell, who she knew was behind her.

"What's… what… now?" her brother replied, each word punctuated with a grunt of exertion.

Glancing back, Nell saw that Pell was currently busy doing pull-ups on a tree branch and had missed the entire interaction.

"Never mind," she said with a roll of her eyes, before trotting over to Eve.

"Hi Eve, how are - oh! You're hurt! What happened?!"

Nell's greeting cut itself short when she realised the state that the woman was in. Her eyes darted around before they found the satchel of first-aid supplies that Naruto always kept well-stocked, and she rushed to bring it over to Eve.

"Hello, dear," smiled Eve, somehow looking quite cheery despite looking like she had been in a tussle with a Freljordian wildclaw, "I was out getting water when I was attacked by a rabid badgerbear. He… ah, that is … N-Naruto … he saved me."

"Oh no!" exclaimed Nell, starting to fuss over Eve with salves and bandages, "That sounds so scary! I'm glad you're not hurt more… I can't imagine what would have happened if Naruto wasn't there."

"Yes," replied Eve, a strange expression on her face, "I'd forgotten how fragile … we … are."

Nell's eyes flicked down for an instant, before she resumed her mother-henning.

That was a strange thing to say, she thought, but decided just to store it in her mental folder of all the tidbits of knowledge she had gleaned about the mysterious beauty who had joined them on their journey.

Moments like these were rare, but they still happened often enough that Nell had gathered enough evidence to cause her to strongly suspect that there was something more to Eve.

Oh, she had her 'tragic past' that had caused her to be the shell of a person that they had met all those weeks ago, that Nell did not doubt in the slightest (despite still not knowing any details), but she was sure there was something else. Peculiar comments, strange gaps in knowledge, mannerisms that were just slightly off - Nell knew Eve wasn't a normal human. Or, from what she had put together from the scraps of information she had gathered - hadn't been.

Still, Nell thought, it doesn't really matter.

Naruto trusted Eve, and Nell trusted Naruto. She trusted him with every fibre in her being. He could tell her that there was safety in a snakepit, and she would jump right in with a smile on her face and zero doubts in her mind.

Nell thought the world of Naruto - he was a guardian, a father, a brother, a teacher, a friend. A stalwart protector, an understanding confidante, a paragon of a role model. He was reliable, patient and kind, but also mischievous, playful, and sometimes downright silly. He was a slavedriver in training but the goals he set were always reasonable and fair. He was good at cooking (even if the types of foods he favoured were all kind of heavy), and had all sorts of neat magic cheats to help with everyday life, things she didn't even know were possible.

Nell didn't think there was anything Naruto couldn't do - no enemy he couldn't beat, no feat of magic he couldn't conjure up. He had reached his hand out to two Zaunite orphans drowning in despair, and gave them hope.

So if Naruto trusted Eve, then Nell would too. No matter who she was, or might have been.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" asked Nell sweetly, having attended to Eve's various wounds to the best of her abilities.

"You're such a good kid," smiled Eve, reaching out to pat Nell on the head, "And I hate to impose, but if you would be so kind, could you go get my cooking supplies please? I'm afraid I've turned my ankle - twice - and I don't think I can walk right now. But I can get started on a late breakfast, if you get me a pan and a few ingredients."

"Sure thing!" nodded Nell obediently before dashing off as Eve smiled after her fondly.

Naruto inspected the corpse of the badgerbear closely, a frown on his face.

Sexual capers of the morning aside, he couldn't rid himself of the nagging suspicion that something wasn't right here. Call him paranoid, but if he knew anything, it was that his instincts were more often than not a more accurate detector of danger than his brain.

He laid a hand on the brown fur, giving a silent prayer for the departed soul, before he closed his eyes, concentrating.

This far in the forest, surrounded by nature with no distractions, Naruto only needed a few seconds to enter Sage Mode.

He opened his eyes, now ringed with the telltale black markings of a fully realised Sage, and immediately recoiled in shock.

"Ugh!" he exclaimed, leaping backwards.

His enhanced muscles effortlessly took him halfway across the clearing, but in this case, Naruto was glad.

He brought his hand up to cover his mouth and nose, and took deep breaths, holding in the sudden urge to retch.

The corpse of the badgerbear reeked.

Well, it didn't physically smell bad (yet), but the effect was identical.

It was a revolting - an unholy affront to his senses.

The body seemed to be leaking a black miasma, poisonous and choking, foul and rotten. It permeated every pore of the dead beast, and to a Sage's keen senses, it stood out like a void against the brightness of the universe.

It was Not. Distorted. Something twisted and unnatural.

Naruto rapidly purged his body of natural chakra before the 'smell' would make him vomit, stumbling and almost falling due to the disorienting transition between states.

He took deep lungfuls of air, as if trying to rid himself of the memory by intaking as much fresh and untainted nature as he could. It seemed to help, and with the help of half a canteen of water, Naruto finally felt himself calming down.

He stared at the corpse, now to his unaltered senses seemingly just a corpse again.

His fingers came together, almost about to call a blazing inferno to incinerate the blight against nature, but he decided against it. The foul cloying stink blazed starkly in his mind, and he shuddered to think of that rot spreading through the air in a cloud of putrid smoke if he lit it on fire.

So instead, he buried it. Entombed it a granite coffin, and sent as deep under the earth as his chakra could reach.

But despite how far he sent the polluted body, its insidious stench still clawed at his mind.

And worst of all, despite his inner Sage vehemently rejecting it with every fibre of his being, another part of him - a deep, dark, unfamiliar side, welcomed it warmly; with familiarity.