Her words resound in my mind, an echo of her voice. My previous train of thought is abandoned when my entire being starts focusing on this new track, on how to obtain this arm.
I could agree and then… No. No wishful thinking. Now is not the time. Princess Celyz clearly told me that the others are not to be part of any deal, there will be no way around that.
I could lie and… Nothing. She is not so naive as to make a deal with me without ensuring that I’ll follow through. I might have tried that if we just met but I’ve spoken to her enough to respect her intelligence and not try something that foolish.
“I thought you wanted someone you could trust? You should know what my bottom line is, I won’t betray them.” I tell the Princess. I try to keep my tone from wavering and fill my voice with assurance but it doesn’t work very well.
“You said it yourself: they have some responsibility towards the loss of your arm. They have a debt towards you.” She speaks as softly as her odd projecting voice can be.
“I… Don’t play games, Celyz.” I counter weakly.
“Games? They’ve toyed left and right with you from the start, have they not? She doesn’t value you half as highly as we do, she toys with you. She plays games with your feelings.”
“Enough!” I yell out with fear in my voice, my hand raising to press against my forehead. “I… I won’t betray Leomi! Or Yvonne. I… I can’t!” I mutter.
Celyz is wrong about her! I… Leomi said we would talk, later. It’s always later with her, how does she act in the meantime? She toys with me. I need to escape this room. No. I can’t give up on this chance! My feet freeze and refuse to move as my feelings for Leomi conflict with my very survival instinct.
Enough! I will not betray her! I am not an animal! I bend my impulses and feelings. If Leomi dies here because of me I will never be able to keep living with myself, no matter how bitter I am about the continued rejections.
“You’ll have a new arm, a new chance at life. You’ll simply complete tasks for us until the price of it is paid. A transaction, nothing more, nothing less.” Celyz presses on after giving me a short amount of time to think.
“You play with words. It will be seen as a betrayal by the rest of the Empire so that makes it one.”
“Are you not already a traitor?” She asks.
“You know my bottom line, we can talk when you release them.”
“Disappointing.” Princess Celyz says with one of her odd sighs. “I had hoped you would clearly see that they are beneath you by now, Jessica. If she truly had feelings for you, would she not take the leap?”
She would. I would. Leomi isn’t me! She leads, she has a duty beyond her own feelings. I need to get out of here. I cannot bring myself to betray Leomi but that doesn’t mean Celyz can’t do it for me.
Leomi promised me a frank talk once we’re out, whether or not we have it, her intentions are what matter. I want to believe that my Lady is sincere. I want her to take me so much, so badly, that I can’t just throw it all away like this. She might come looking for me after the war.
It takes a momentous amount of willpower for me to take a step towards the door but a vision of my Leomi standing on a road pushes me forward. I almost see her in front of me, flicking a strand of her black hair back while holding out her other hand towards me.
Delusions kept me together this far, I can cling to a few more. There is one reality to this path and it is that it will inevitably lead to me being at least partly responsible for the slaughter of innocents, I cannot let my selfish desires drag me into this.
Now that I made a move towards the exit, towards her, it becomes easier to speak up. My resolve is made.
“I’ll think about it some more, Princess.” Once I’m out of this valley, because who knows? If Patrick dies in the escape… many things could change.
“Perhaps if you think about it for a few more days.”
I walk out the door, taking a page out of the Princess’ playbook by leaving once the conversation ended. Once out, I hurriedly put as much distance between me and the library as possible.
I would never have believed it if I was told that I could be tempted to turn on the Empire just a week ago. How naive. You are not courageous if you haven’t felt fear, you are not loyal if you’ve never been tempted to betray.
I run into Lady Lance walking out of the lavatories in clean new clothes, her black strands of hair are wet and thicker than usual because of the water, they create a tighter frame around her face than usual.
I feel my nipples harden somewhat in excitement at this fresh vision of her, but my desire for her isn’t enough to break the chill I put on our relationship to protect myself anymore. Experience, huh.
We might have a chance together in the future, I need to focus on that. I should accept that we both made that call and be content with it until we have time together… however long it takes for that to happen.
“Hey, you.” Lady Lance throws towards me as her expression brightens somewhat.
“Morning.” I return with a forced smile.
I wasn’t wrong in my decision to trust her. She is glad to see me. This isn’t a game for her, it can’t be. I can’t let Celyz get into my head. Too late. Could I even move that arm with all the strings that come with it?
“You look down.” She tells me, approaching closer but stopping at an arm’s length away from me.
“It’s nothing.” I shrug, trying to hide my exhaustion after the emotional turmoil I just went through. “Still a bit sleepy, I woke up early.”
“I noticed.” She nods. “We can start now if you aren’t going to work their fields this morning.”
“I’m not.” I shake my head. “I don’t know if I have the energy to
“I wasn’t asking for your permission, just your availability.” My Lady replies with a teasing expression that almost makes me blush.
Lady Lance then extends a hand to take hold of mine and turns around to guide me towards the well sitting on top of the stone base where she showed me the lion strike yesterday.
I hate how much I love it when she takes the lead without asking my opinion. My heartbeat accelerates as I follow along behind her, staring up at her shoulders and the back of her head.
“Are your ribs finished healing?” She asks while using her hand to support and help me step up onto the platform.
I do my best not to let how attentive she is towards me affect my resolve but I can feel the edges of it faltering already in my mind. It’ll be easier once we start sparring.
“I’m not sure, the bruise still hurts so it’s hard to tell if the bones fused back together.”
“I’ll be careful then.” She nods, still holding onto my hand to guide me in the middle of one corner of the stone platform. “You take care not to fall off, it’s an added difficulty that I wouldn’t usually introduce for a first spar but I think it’s important that you learn to mind your footwork as early as possible.”
“I’ll try.” I nod, pulling my hand away from hers, breaking her slender finger’s grip on my palm.
“First, you should already know this but flow cannot do anything without energy to consume and a construct to guide it. The relationship is akin to that of a fire burning wood to produce heat.” I nod along. “Second, never break a construct into its separate segments while it is activated because the energy will escape violently as a result and that will likely kill you. That stands for both your constructs and those of whoever you’re fighting.”
“I wouldn’t know how to do that anyway.” I shrug.
“Good, don’t find out.” Lady Lance’s tone is hard and serious.
“I won’t.” I reiterate in a firm tone.
“Let’s start then.” She takes a step back, away from me and raises a hand
“How do we do this?” I ask.
“Keep trying to hit me with a lion strike while I try to dodge and counter. Be careful not to fall.” She repeats her warning.
I raise my hand but don’t take the strike’s stance, deciding to start with a quick feint just to see if I can hit her. I predictably fail but chain on with a kick towards her feet without getting discouraged.
She sidesteps and that gives me enough time to take the stance and launch a lion strike. I expected her to avoid the path of my attack but what she does instead takes advantage of the fact that my strike slows down half-way to easily intercept and swat it away with the back of her hand.
I change tactic and throw a flurry of blows to overwhelm her. She doesn’t even change tempo to defend herself, avoiding and pushing attacks away. She even avoids two different blows in one movement once because of the uncoordinated improvised nature of my attempts.
“Good thinking, you don’t throw a lion strike if you don’t at least think it has a chance to hit. But try to think your blows through a bit more, you’re overextending.”
Time goes by and I keep failing. My frustration grows because even when I find a good window of opportunity, I always miss the exact timing of the strike by a beat or three and she never fails to take advantage of it.
“Focus, don’t let your failed attempts affect you. As long as you’re still alive, you haven’t truly failed.” She encourages me.
Using her words as motivation, I launch a series of short jabbing strikes while taking care not to overextend myself. Waiting for the chance to trip her up. She seems to start dancing with her upper body to dodge my attacks, waving her shoulders and head just enough to avoid being hit.
I assemble a simple leg strengthening construct and give it just enough energy to run for ten seconds which takes almost nothing. I throw a reckless front kick towards her shins just as she moves to re-position herself.
Lady Lance stumbles on the unexpected obstacle but my attack put us close enough together that she is also given the option of using me as support to avoid falling. She doesn’t hesitate to take hold of my shirt’s collar with one hand.
She pulls on it so much to stabilize her footing that I fumble and lose track of the lion strike construct that I was about to finish assembling. It doesn’t help in the slightest that the first thing that surfaced in my mind when she took hold of my shirt is a feeling of mixed fear and desire.
Afraid that she would look at my scars and bruises with disgust while excited at the prospect of showing her my bare body. The back of her hand seemed to linger against my flesh before she released the fabric but I am positive that was a result of my wishful thinking.
“That was really good.” She tells me with a smile, putting distance between us again. “You lost focus but that can happen to anyone when an exchange goes in an unexpected direction.”
I bury my lust under a layer of aggressiveness. A small voice in the back of my mind tries to caution me, to tell me that I am destroying the line I managed to draw to protect myself but I silence it without even taking time to think it through.
I try to tackle her, the decision to attack at this angle is no doubt influenced by my desires but I don’t care, I just want to land one blow.
“Calm down, Jessica.” She cautions me.
I don’t have any energy left for self-control today, it cost me almost all I had to choose a vague possibility of future with my Leomi over Celyz’ offer. Now? Now I just want to take hold of her.
But desires have no hold on reality. Every grappling attempt, every charging attack is avoided with easy. She dances around me, unreachable, unobtainable. Nothing’s really changed since the first day I met her, huh.
I’m still chasing the ethereal Lady of my dreams, she is full of promises but somehow… every time I reach out with my hand there is only air to grasp between my fingers.
“Stop.” Lady Lance orders.
I obey her, because it’s easy, because I’m out of breath, because maybe this time she’ll give me something back in exchange for my devotion to her. How am I still so naively hopeful?
“Take a deep breath. Focus on yourself, look inside.” She pauses, observing me closely me as I recover from my shortened breath. “Now, tell me, are you angry? Frustrated? Do you feel the blood-lust?”
“Yes, all of that.” A lot of lust for you, that’s for sure, blood and all.
“Are you in control now?” Lady Lance asks.
“Yes.” I give a short reply to keep my exasperation to myself.
“You weren’t a minute ago while you felt the exact same things. What changed?” Her voice and tone hit the exact notes they need to press me to find the answer, to make me understand that it matters.
“I… I don’t know.” I admit after a while, it isn’t the first time she makes me lose control but I never know why.
“You paid attention to them. Emotions are part of you but they aren’t you.” She pauses and waits for me to nod before continuing. I both loathe and adore her ability to read me. “You cannot let a single part of who you are overwhelm the rest of you, not in combat.” She explains in a kind tone.
“You’re definitely the wrong opponent to train my self-control.” I reply with spite. I’m surprised to see her blush slightly in response to my complaint.
“Don’t be a sloppy emotional teenager.” She counters with a dig. Her words in sharp contrast with the fact that she has to bite her lips to restrain an amused smile immediately after.
I raise glare at her but she simply smiles back and I lose my anger just like that.
“You have that much control over yourself?” I ask with a curiosity tinted by hope.
If she does, then maybe… maybe it means that the scarce few reactions that I manage to get out of her aren’t so meaningless anymore. She doesn’t answer my question, choosing to glance back at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Never-mind.” I mutter, a wide grin on my face. I have my answer! She likes me! She likes me! She likes me! She likes me!
The refrain persists like an echo, the soaring emotions have the odd effect of strengthening my self-control while my body and mind are filled with renewed energy. It was the right choice to reject the Rykz’ offer, she is worth putting my life on the line for.
This feeling of fulfillment is worth anything and everything. It acts like bright sunlight that clears the shadows of doubt looming over our future together. I can do that, I can wait for her to come and find me as long as I know that she will.
“Let’s keep going, my friend.” She tells me, returning a grin of her own. I can see the edge her lips twitch as she tries to control her own emotion but fails to suppress it.
I can finally see her irresistible face express her emotion for me without a doubt. My heart soars and I assemble a lion strike construct in seconds, throwing the strike with my entire being behind it. I nail the timing, the strike fails because she blocks it but who cares: she likes me.
I try to land another blow but she spins around me, her hand brushes just slightly against my waist, probably a coincidence but in my heightened state of emotion, the touch makes my nipples harden even more.
My excitement must be clearly visible to her but she doesn’t mention it, and I am secure enough in where we stand that I don’t want to risk crossing her line, even if Princess Celyz doesn’t seem to give a damn and wouldn’t be blind enough to miss this if she did care.
We keep exchanging blows, I keep failing about half my lion strikes, but it is progress compared to how I started. I don’t notice time pass as I follow my Leomi’s guidance. As the sun reaches its highest point, I am physically drained enough that I have to forcefully push through my body’s protests to keep going. Because I want to make this moment together last as long as possible.
“Let’s take a break.” Lady Lance suggests after slapping one of my sloppy punches aside.
“I can still keep going.” I protest.
“Your footwork is crumbling, and your mind isn’t focused enough anymore. We made a lot of progress and we can keep going after we eat.” She voices hatefully reasonable arguments that make sense.
“Yes, my Lady.” I obediently reply.
She holds her hand out for me to take. I immediately step to her side and seize it with greed. She responds by squeezing my fingers with affection. My heart melts at this tiny gesture of affection and my mood rises back to its previous levels.
“My Lady.” I whisper with fondness, just loud enough for her.
I catch how much brighter her smile becomes right before she turns her head away from me to hide it. I am used to having to keep an eye on her expression at all times to detect her reactions in those rare moments where she has a visible one.
Lady Lance starts walking onward, pulling me behind her as she hops off the stone platform. I stare at the back of her head as I fully enjoy the fact that she is guiding me. I now know that our relationship has progressed significantly, how much it means for her to behave this way with me.
“Are you shy, my Lady?” I ask, teasingly. Wanting but not hoping for an honest answer.
“…A bit. With you.” She says in a tiny voice, her tone is somewhat reluctant.
I almost produce a small shriek because of how happy I am that she finally reached back to me with words. She was obviously unwilling to admit it, and yet she wanted to tell me enough that she overcame her own doubts.
I accelerate my steps to try to catch up and walk side by side with her but she speeds up in kind, maintaining the distance between us. Curiosity devours me enough to shake my reluctance to embarrass myself by saying something silly.
“I want to see your face.” I whisper, not bothering to hide the undertone of desire in my voice.
“No.” Lady Lance categorically refuses.
“That’s not fair.” I tell her with a frown.
“I don’t care.” Her voice takes a facetiously childish tone.
Her answer makes me imagine her childishly sticking her tongue out at me. I giggle in delight. Just this silly exchange with her means so much to me, it is worth so much more to me than some stupid arm. I don’t need two to survive.
I tighten my grip over her hand and she responds in kind. A happy sigh escapes my lips.