I try to assemble the lion strike all at once since it is so close to a construct I am very familiar with, I unsurprisingly fail because the two segments that diverge from the standard construct aren’t just different, they’re highly irregular.
The timer segment is tiny but according to Lady Lance’s explanation, it is at the center of the lion strike’s function, it commands all of the energy in the construct to be used at once in a split-second. The complexity of this tiny segment is beyond that of a larger timer segment of the strengthening construct.
As for the targeting segment, it is … too odd for me to understand what it does. It isn’t as complex as the timer segment but since it is much larger, it actually becomes more difficult to assemble.
I give up on putting the lion strike construct together in one go and just apply the normal strengthening construct over my whole body without anchoring it. I succeed in copying the timer and targeting segments over this base.
I spend the next five minutes making sure that the two constructs are identical, reviewing over and over as Lady Lance watches over me. I finally target my whole body and anchor it.
“I think I’ve got it.” I say.
“You think?” She asks with a frown.
“I’m sure, spent a few minutes verifying.” I add reassuringly.
“Alright.” She nods.
She then walks around me to my back, I try to turn along to keep facing her but she places a hand on my shoulder to stop me. I freeze at the unexpected contact, my impulses roar in the back of my mind but I successfully suppress them.
“Don’t move.” Lady Lance whispers the order in my ear.
“Yes, my Lady.” I reply automatically.
She places her other hand around my waist and pulls my back against her torso, sliding the hand she left on my shoulder along my arm to take hold of my hand.
Lady Lance starts guiding my movements with her hands, making me take the position of the first strike that she showed me, the diagonal slash. She then makes me execute the strike several times by using her whole body to lead mine through the movements. It feels so relaxing, so good, so right to have her hands governing me.
“You got it?” She asks.
“I do, my Lady.” I whisper.
“Try.” She orders, making her hands let go of me. I hear her take a step back.
I take the stance and hold it. I focus on the construct that is waiting idly to be activated, the key to the lion-strike is to launch the blow during the split-second of the construct’s activation.
I trigger the lion strike’s timer segment and launch the diagonal slash. My arm launches forward with a speed above anything I’ve ever achieved, but the strike loses speed in the middle of its arc.
“That was good for a first attempt, don’t worry about the slow speed. It’s expected when applying the lion strike to the full body.” She comments.
“Didn’t feel slow to me.” I reply, shaking my arm to get rid of the odd tingling in my arm’s muscles.
I swiftly assemble the construct again, spending only a couple of minutes to verify the integrity of it, I have a better understanding of it now that I directly experienced it activating.
I take the stance. “Once more.” I whisper, just to myself. A grin fills my face and I throw the strike. I end up doing worse as my arm loses speed barely a third of the way through the movement.
“Once more.” I whisper again, assembling the lion strike but this time I input the very bare minimum of energy because I don’t have enough reserves to play around and I need to get the timing right before anything else. The diagonal slash maintains speed all the way through the strike this time.
“Once more.” This one fails entirely because I was in too much of hurry. I shrug it off. “Once more.” The strike succeeds. “Once more.” Complete fail. “Once more.” Half-way fail. “Once more.”
“You’re starting to add unnecessary steps, Jessica.” Lady Lance warns me from behind.
“What?” I stumble a little as her voice surprises me in the middle of my preparations to launch another strike.
I hear her approach my back, she takes hold of my waist and hand once more to correct my stance. She uses one leg to make my knees bend a bit more before making slight changes to the angles of my elbow and shoulder.
She pulls on my waist with her hand to make my torso lean slightly forward. That action also has the fortunate, or unfortunate, effect of making my butt press against her upper thighs because of how close she has to press herself against me to guide my stance. I start furiously blushing and my heartbeat accelerates.
“There.” She whispers in my ear, right before letting me go all at once.
“Ah!” The small cry of protest escapes me at the loss of her touch, the stance that she so carefully steered me into shatters. “Sorry.” I mutter, contrite.
“It’s okay Jessica, I can show you again.” She replies with a patient and gentle voice that worsens the fluttering of my feelings.
“It’s okay, I got it!” I hurriedly yelp when I hear her approaching my back again.
I, … I can’t let her do that again or this is going to go downhill, fast. I do my best to take the correct stance again.
“Straighten your back a bit, you need to lean forward but not that much.” She thankfully decides to give me her advice verbally.
“Once more.” I follow her advice and try again. I succeed in executing the strike at full speed, her adjustments having eliminated the parasite movements I inadvertently added to the stance. “Once more.”
“What’s going on here?!” I hear Patrick’s voice yell out.
I snap myself around, finding him standing a dozen meters away, his forearm is wrapped in a piece of torn fabric, the same kind that our clothes are made of.
“Lady Lance! I thought you had more sense than … this!” He yells with indignation. “It is forbidden to teach the lion strike to civilians, you know this! To an unbound traitor, no less! The very fabric of Caeviel depends on the strict separation between classes! What do you think you’re doing?”
“She killed two Rykz scouts herself, one of them bare handed, we can hardly call her a civilian.” Lady Lance counters weakly.
“The kingdom stands because those ruled and those ruling have strictly defined roles, this peasant knows not her place and you seem to have forgotten yours. You have held your title for two years now, governing your lands, and yet you still do not grasp your duty?!”
“I … I am training her to be my guard, there is no issue if she is not a peasant.” She says in a weak voice.
I was opening my mouth to argue against the Lordling but her answers hit me like blows to my stomach. How could I have so completely forgotten about the clear-cut differences in our standings? Lady Lance is a Noble. I am a peasant.
“She has clearly established that she has no respect for order, you know that she is not suitable to be your guard. We are Nobility and you should do well to remember that sooner rather than later, Lady Lance. Before you cross a line you cannot return from. I thought you kept your pride in check because of the situation and I could respect that choice despite disagreeing with it. I understand how wrong I was now. I truly wanted to believe that you had more sense than … this.” Patrick turns his back on us and we both watch him walk away in silence.
After a while I resume my training, throwing the same strike over and over again, emptying my reserves. Lady Lance keeps to herself, standing a distance away and giving me tips in short sentences. She doesn’t approach me again for the rest of the afternoon. I ignore the sinking feeling in my gut.
“Sun’s going down.” She tells me after I manage to launch a successful lion strike.
“Okay.” I reply.
“You have the timing down, as far as it can be for this little training. We’ll spar tomorrow so that you can get a better feel for it. It will also allow you to start figuring out what the construct should be targeting.”
“So soon?” I ask. When she gave me advice before she hammered in the importance of repetitive exercise.
“I don’t think we have time for that.” She replies somewhat mysteriously.
“What?” I ask with a frown, we might be stuck here for months as long as we don’t aggravate the Princess.
Lady Lance answers by tapping her ear with a finger. Ah, she doesn’t want to tip the Rykz off. Maybe her warning to keep sensitive information to ourselves was a hint, her way to covertly tell us that she is keeping something for herself.
As I stare at my first real crush, I think back on our relationship, how it began and evolved. The blood drains out of my head the more and more I think about our past. Some things make more sense, she doesn’t rebuff me as strongly as she could but she always made sure to draw the line between us.
Fuck that line. A flash of red anger flashes through my mind. I’ll make you take me if I need to. I take a step forward, directly entering her personal space. Lady Lance’s expression tightens a bit but she doesn’t recoil from me.
“My Lady.” I whisper, letting all the emotion that I usually suppress enter my voice.
“Ye .. Yes? Jessica?” She stammers somewhat, a blush rising on her cheeks.
“You like me.” I throw the affirmation out with more certainty than I feel.
“I …” She starts but I don’t let her continue.
“How long did you wait this morning before removing my hand?” My Lady’s mouth opens and closes but no sounds come out.
Her blush intensifies furiously. My Lady takes an appearance akin to that of a maiden caught ogling the object of her attraction. My breath catches as I observe her behave in a similar manner to mine when she caught me looking at her before. The reversal in our usual roles bolsters me to push on.
“How long did you lay there, with my hand on your chest?” I ask, taking another step forward and wrapping my hand around her waist.
“I didn’t, Jessica, we’re … we’re just friends.” She protests hurriedly, but I turn a deaf ear and pull her closer to me, until my chin rests between those so perfectly round breasts, my face angled upward to keep our eyes locked together.
“I’m not okay with being just friends.” I rebuke her. “I like you. A lot.” She remains silent despite the fact that I pause to let her answer, her lips pressed tightly together in a white line. “I need more.” I tell her, pushing my breasts forward so that they press against her chest. Her lips part and she exhales a hot breath that brushes against my face.
“I, I can’t.”
“I’m not asking for a future, just … just be with me, now.” Her face hardens somewhat. No! I‘m losing her! “You like me, admit it!” I hurriedly persist, you’ve put up with so much of my shit, you don’t avoid spending time with me. You enjoy my company.”
I make my hand travel up along her back, caressing the hollow of her back along the spine. Her lips part a bit, eyes widening somewhat as she takes a breath of air in with a gasp, traits slackening.
“You … react to me.” I add in a sultry seductive voice.
“Jessica, I, … I think you’re sweet, but …” My Lady remains unshaken from the position she’s entrenched herself in for so long, despite being so obviously affected by my presence, by my body as I press myself against hers. She places a hand on my shoulder and another on my waist.
“But I’m not good enough for you.” I finish the sentence in her place with harsh words. I feel a deep disappointment and sadness take over in my heart.
“No! You, you are!” She protests with a hurt expression.
“Then why won’t you give this to me? What more do you want to … to be with me? What more can I do? I’ve tried everything I can think of, all I want is to be yours. I won’t be a burden, I don’t expect much. You can just take me and throw me away when you’re done, please, just for a short while.” I let the tears that formed in the corners of my eyes while I resorted to begging her roll down my cheeks.
She leans in closer, her face approaching mine but only close enough for her to lightly kiss my cheek. Lady Lance’s lips coincidentally intercept the path of one of my tears.
“My sweet Jessica, I … I can’t give you what you’re asking for right now.” She whispers in my ear in such a low voice that I barely hear it myself. “The Rykz might use me against you. I … I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if that happened because I couldn’t … What would perhaps be worse is that … that … they … they might use you against me, and I cannot let you suffer that … that kind of trial. It is a burden you never asked for, never even wanted. I wish you would understand that I am holding to the line between us because … because I dragged you into this. Because if they try to use you against me, I will have to abandon you. I have duties that I cannot betray … even for you.”
I take in a breath with convulsing lungs. She … she thinks of me. Finally, an answer. This isn’t a game she is playing at my expense.
“I don’t care, we can … I don’t know, I don’t care. Kiss me, my Lady, I beg you, I need you.” I whisper back into her ear. My heart is beating so fast that in other circumstances, I might have been afraid of it breaking.
“I.” Lady Lance begins but cuts herself off sharply. “I cannot give you just a kiss, please stop asking me to.” She murmurs back with a tremble in her voice.
“I … I am not able to grant your request, my friend, I’m sorry.” Lady Lance speaks up in a normal tone of voice. She takes a step away from me to break out of my embrace, easily escaping my arm’s grip around her waist.
I have never felt as much despair, as much spite about the fact that I only have a single arm left than I do now. I … I might have been able to successfully push the issue if … if I just had the ability to trap her closely in my arms.
I absent-mindedly raise a let to take a step towards her, to chase her, an unconscious movement. She pulls herself further away from me. I grit my teeth together to control myself. I’ve gained some, not enough, but this is more than I had before. I know she wants me now, or at the very least she isn’t indifferent to me.
“By your will, my Lady.” I bow shortly towards her to signify that I acknowledge her stance on the matter.
I swallow the sadness in my throat and push it back down to my chest. I regain control and try to school my expression into a more normal one. I wipe the small amount of water left in the corner of my eyes with my shirt’s shoulder sleeve.
“Come, my friend.” Lady Lance says, reaching for me to gently place a hand on my shoulder. “Keep to our priorities, I promise you that we will speak frankly once we have the opportunity.”
Just because I chose to forge onward doesn’t mean I think we’ll have that chance. I take a deep breath and give my Lady a nod of agreement. Inflicting my self-pity on her isn’t going to help me reach her.
We make our way back to our sleeping quarters. I let her guide me until a certain crossing where I make a turn to take a path that will make us pass behind the building. I hear Lady Lance stop almost immediately when I separate from her, catching up with hurried steps soon after without asking a thing.
As we pass by the two raw iron bars that I left laying there, I quickly glance at them but keep walking casually. She imitates me. We keep making our way in silence around the building, entering it.
I stop short once past the door because I find the Lordling standing immobile in front of me.
“I apologize for my actions.” Patrick says in a forced voice. “It was beneath my position and status to behave as I have towards you.”
“Uh.” I utter idiotically, completely caught by surprise.
“While I maintain my opinion about your lack of propriety, it seems like I have lost sight of my pride as a part of Caeviel’s Nobility and overreacted.” He turns to Lady Lance. “I was mistaken, Lady Lance, you were correct to try to impress on me the consequences of my behavior.” He smoothly inclines his torso forward towards both of us in a refined bow.
When he straightens back up, he throws me a cold look before turning and walking away. He sits next to Yvonne who is already laying against the wall with two wicker baskets in front of her. He still hates me, I think. What the hell did Yvonne tell him?
Actually, this probably has nothing to do with me. Did he finally realize that his argument with me was more damaging to him than to me? I glance at Lady Lance. She makes a nod towards the other two to invite me to join them. I shrug and accompany her.
I’m going to have to keep my eyes open but I don’t think the Lordling will resume the argument after backing down like that. But he isn’t going to forget either.
If we ever get out of this valley, I need to get back to Father as soon as possible and leave the Izla. I won’t be able to spend any time with her. I’ve burned too many bridges with him and I don’t think she can mend them for me. He’ll find a way to divulge my transgressions, my crimes, to the Templar Order.
It’s too risky to even try. The realization hits me hard, making me sick to my stomach as I regret the actions I took when filled with despair after the loss of my arm.