Vikiana throws the pouch containing food that she’s carrying in the middle of the group. She then walks away from the group with her daughter. Lady Lance is limping because of the stab wound in her calf.
I feel a pinch of guilt in my heart at the sight of the still bleeding wound. She carried me all the way here despite how much worse it made her injury. She likes me. Didn’t stop her from distancing herself from me as soon as she realized I wasn’t going to make it out.
My feelings for Lady Lance are in turmoil as usual. She is a painful mystery that I can’t seem to solve. My anger, fear, guilt, self-pity, and sadness mix inside me.
The emotions are too much, they preventing me from focusing on the future and plan my next move I’ll make once I’ve made my goodbyes with my Lady. I decide to sit down near the food that the Exemplar left behind.
Before I start digging in, though, I assemble an enhancing construct for my ears. Vikiana and her daughter are talking at a distance away, too far for their quiet voices to be intelligible despite my improved hearing.
Lady Lance sits down on a rock and extends her bloody leg out towards her mother’s hands. I turn my eyes away from them to avoid seeing the state of her wound.
I barely pay attention as Emffrey and Yvonne sit down nearby to also start bandaging their wounds. The Templar is mostly unharmed but his expression is full of loss and sadness. Two temple guards died to free us.
I don’t even know if it will be a good thing for their group to reach Meria and warn the Duke. How many people will die fighting the Silver Hive before the Kingdom of Caeviel is forced to negotiate or the Rykz are beaten?
We dispatched of the warriors more easily than I would have thought but how many times during the war will the Rykz charge into a choke point held by the Izla’s elite?
I shake my head. I need to focus on my future, not anyone else’s. I grab a piece of meat from the pouch and start chewing on it mindlessly. The meal brings me no pleasure, the food feels tasteless in my mouth and I have a hard time swallowing because of the nervous ball in my throat.
Yvonne, Emffrey, and Patrick take seats on nearby rocks, the Templar takes his own pouch out and the group starts picking out of it to eat. Silence. I suppose I wouldn’t know what to say either.
“… ot asking that of her!” Lady Lance’s exclamation reaches my ears.
“We’ll need the flow more th…” Vikiana replies at the same level of sound.
They must have noticed that their voices grew louder because I don’t hear anything more of their exchange. Right, my energy reserves. Well, that’s not happening. The Lordling must have seen the hardening of my expression because he turns towards me.
“It would only be decent of you to do this of your own accord.” Patrick speaks up. I am surprised by the lack of insults in his words. “Lady Lance has her duty and you are a traitor, leading the Rykz away from us would redeem your betrayal.”
“Hahahahahaha.” I start laughing from the bottom of my lungs. It sounds insane, even to my own ears. I cut it short abruptly. “How much of a hypocrite are you?” I ask him with my head inclined sideways to show that I am actually interested to hear his answer. I see the muscles of Patrick’s jaw clench when he represses his anger.
“It is a unique opportunity to earn the Kingdom’s forgiveness, it won’t happen a second time.” He replies in a tense tone.
I ignore him and his barely veiled threats. If even Ass-face is bending over to get me to do this, it means I am missing something. I haven’t considered the situation from their point of view.
They’re still worried about their ability to make it out of the mountain because of the tracking pheromone. Vikiana mentioned that they have a vial that was specifically made to wipe them clean of pheromones so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. What am I missing?
Once the vial is used, they will have to successfully slip out of the twins without killing any more Rykz. There has to be a large number of scouts patrolling the area, it would be hard to escape without being marked by them.
It would obviously be easier for them to make it out if there is a bait exuding the tracking pheromone traveling in a different direction than theirs while attracting every Rykz for kilometers around.
A heavy sigh escapes my lips. How am I going to survive this? The scouts will tear me apart. I don’t want to end up impaled on one of their spikes. I lower my forehead until it rests in the palm of my hand.
“It would be the honorable thing to do.” The Templar, Emffrey, speaks up. I raise my head to throw him a glare but I find no malice in the expression of his face, only honesty. “We all have a personal responsibility to improve ourselves, it wouldn’t be fair of you to let us suffer for your own inadequacy.”
A short chuckle escapes me. How humorous. The man has no malice but his speech has more bite to it than anything the Lordling has ever said to me in the past.
“Who the fuck do you think I am?” I ask him, using my anger to push the guilt I feel at holding my Lady back away. “Some rich kid who had enough fucking free time during her childhood to learn constructs that have no practical use outside of warfare?” Emffrey starts stammering clumsily. I cut him off before he can form a complete word. “Lady Lance and I are both grown women, we don’t need your input. If I do this, it will be for her, not for any of you. Leomi can come and talk to me herself.”
Not that I am holding onto any illusion that you won’t just strand me here if I refuse to play the bait. I get up and walk away from the group, fuming with ire at their attempts to pressure me into this.
I find a small rock a distance away and sit back down. My emotions are in so chaotic that they’re affecting my body. All three of my limbs are shaking. I can’t tell if the tremble in my muscles is caused by fear or fury. Maybe both.
“…owing us down!” I only catch the end of Vikiana’s exasperated yell.
I don’t hear Lady Lance’s response, not even a whisper. Won’t take too much longer. My Lady should join me and we can make our goodbyes, finally. Waiting for her to come and end us is an excruciating experience. Each second that passes seems to accumulate in a weight, a heavy pressure that grinds my patience down.
I hear someone get up and approach me. I recognize the sound of Yvonne’s steps. It’s a relief to have something other than myself to focus on.
“Hey.” She greets me.
“How are your injuries?” I ask.
“I’ll survive.” Yvonne shrugs. She immediately winces as the movement pulls on the flesh of the wound on her flank.
“Are you going to try to persuade me too?” I ask to fill the lull in the conversation. I am afraid of letting a quiet air settle in between us.
“I don’t think I need to. Do you?” She pauses to give me the opportunity to answer. I close my mouth shut and don’t utter a sound. The answer to that question frightens me more than silence does. “We both know you’ll agree in a heartbeat as soon as she asks you to help her.”
“So would you.” I reply quietly.
“Leomi won’t ask me.” Yvonne’s face fills with sadness.
“It wouldn’t solve the issue anyway. I can’t keep up with your speed or be carried on the run. There is no reason to leave two of us behind to do this and give the Rykz the opportunity to use us against each other.” I say while doing my best to control my emotions and not let them spill over.
“I haven’t forgotten my debt to you. You saved my life when you cut my laces before the ambush. And again when you bought time for Leomi to help me at the cost of your arm.” Her expression grows regretful.
“Life goes on.” I snicker in self-derision. A pitiful attempt at humor. At least it successfully defused my roiling feelings.
Yvonne places a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. We remain like that for a long moment. Her show of empathy is enough for me to gather my strength. When she departs, I’ve calmed down enough to resume waiting for my Lady without torturing myself.
“…meone to lead their pursuit off of our tail! I can’t believe I need to spell this out for you!” The Exemplar’s voice clamors over the area. Vikiana sheds all of her concerns about discretion and yells at her daughter. “I am not losing another sister in arms because you refuse to accept that we’ll never be able to drag her along with us!”
“You’ve just alarmed every Rykz patrol in the area, Mother!” Lady Lance cries out, her voice distorted by worry.
“I don’t care! This conversation is over. We are resolving the issue right this instant. You will talk to her or I will do it for you.” Vikiana takes hold of her daughter’s arm and starts dragging her towards me. “You wanted to honor your father by taking his title? Well, this is it! He commanded his soldiers and ruled his subjects while honoring the charge of his title!” The Exemplar’s voice rises in volume as she berates her daughter. “That girl is not only accused of treason but she is also slowing us down. She has the ability to create an opening for us to escape by leading the Rykz away.” Vikiana lists the points with a hard voice. “There is no debate to be had about this. The path ahead is clear and cruel. So what? Cruelty is the battlefield’s mistress.” Vikiana stops hammering her daughter with her harsh voice to deliver her final ultimatum. “This is the course of action must be taken whether you like it or not. It is my duty to the Empire and your duty to the Kingdom.”
The Exemplar only releases her grip over my Lady’s arm when they arrive in front of me. I stand up.
“Jessica is it? We need your flow reserves.” Vikiana directly breaches the subject.
“No.” I refuse the request right away.
Her light blue eyes link with mine and we exchange glares. We challenge each other’s wills like that for a long moment but neither of us cedes any ground.
“I can respect your choice to put your own survival at the top of your priorities.” The Exemplar breaks the silence with a cold tone. “But that does not mean that I will allow you to stand by it.” Vikiana puts her hand over the golden lion pommel of her sword.
Lady Lance steps between us in a flash, before I can even react to the sudden threat of violence. Her back blocks my view. I cannot see what kind of look the mother and daughter exchange. The confrontation between them doesn’t last long. Vikiana makes a volte-face and departs.
I am finally alone with my Lady. I eagerly wait for her to turn around and face me. A moment passes and I grow confused. Annoyance and impatience replace the confusion when another moment goes by without a single indication that she’s going to turn around.
I raise my hand and reach for her shoulder, determined to make her look at me if she’s too cowardly to do it herself. Lady Lance spins around and avoids my hand like the plague. I feel tears come up to my eyes. Her reaction to the eventuality of my touch hurts me in the deepest parts of my being.
“I’ll do it. I’ll lead them away for you.” I tell her in a desperate attempt to reach her heart, to buy it by using my own life as a bribe.
“What do you want in exchange?” She asks with a stone-like inexpressive face.
“What? I… nothing. Why are you talking to me like this?” I do my best to lock my gaze with hers to look for some answers but I encounter empty light gray eyes. There is nothing to cling at inside her, nothing to reach for.
“I offer you repayment for your service and sacrifices, on Caeviel’s behalf.” She continues on with a dead tone of voice.
“No. No! I’m not doing this for you if that’s how you’re going to get rid of me!” I yell the words in her face with all the anger and outrage I can muster.
She doesn’t even flinch. I can’t keep looking at that face. I turn and start stumbling away from her. I do my best to maintain my balance as I run away from her but I my eyes finally break out in tears and I fall on my knees to the ground. “Hic.” The hiccup forces its way out of my mouth.
“Jessica…” I hear her approach me from behind.
“Hic.” I throw a look over my shoulder and see her hand approaching me, I throw my arm wildly and slap it away. “Now you, hic, use my name?!” My temper flares and I growl towards her. “You could have given me something. Anything would have been fine. But this? This is what I get?” My voice catches in my throat as I grow even more incensed. I shakily get back on my feet and lift my head up to the sky. “Rhaaa!” I project the roar out from the bottom of my lungs.
“You should accept Celyz’ offer.” Lady Lance speaks up once the sound of my scream to dies out.
“If it still holds. If she finds me before I’m impaled by a dozen scouts. If, if, if.” I reply without emotion. I resolve myself to grasp at the last straw hanging between us. “I want you to take my virginity.” I’m the furthest thing from being in the mood but I’m sure that will change as soon as she enters my personal space with intentions.
“No, I, I have to prot… I can’t bring us into this. I have a duty to ask this of you, I can’t mix us into it. I can’t… I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything.” At last, I hear some regret in my Lady’s voice, sadness. But what good is that when the words tinted by these emotions are used to reject me.
“Hahaha, hic, hahahaha, hic, haha.” I cannot help but laugh at the situation, at my own insanity. Why did I have to fall for this woman? Every time she brings me up, she puts me down even harder than before.
My howls must have been so loud and crazed that the others were alarmed, I see them staring at us from afar. Seeing them renews the fury in my heart. She chose them over us.
I growl in rage and charge her over the short distance separating us. She steps aside to avoid me but I manage to stop and throw my fist towards her face. My punch misses her nose by a hair. She didn’t even bother dodging. I don’t try again. I can’t even bring myself to actually hit her, what is wrong with me?
“Of course, I, hic, you ask for my price but refuse to pay it when I tell you what it is. Fine. Just a kiss then, that’s it. That’s all I ask. I’ve… I think I’ve earned that much.” I feel tears trickle down over my face. I wait for her answer, my eyes suspended at her lovable lips. Lady Lance remains silent. “Ah.” I exclaim softly. “I’m not even going to get that, huh.” I note, only talking to myself at this point.
We shared a vow just this morning. Did it mean nothing to her or is her resolve in throwing me away just that much stronger? I feel sick to my stomach with betrayal. The emptiness that fills my heart is beyond my ability to assess. Leomi stays silent.
“You’ve given me nothing, then nothing I will ask.” I utter the words out, syllable by syllable.
“Your family, maybe I can…” She starts.
“No. You’ve spoken enough.” I interrupt her. “Nothing. No more, no less. You are not to seek out my father, you are not to find my brother. You won’t repay me in any way, direct or indirect. Father is a grown man, he doesn’t need you and neither does my brother.” I pause for breath. “You will do nothing for me, the others will do nothing. You will make sure that nothing is done in my name.” An overwhelming feeling of spite fills my chest and I spit it out. “I demand that you make an oath on your title since you have no honor.”
Lady Lance flinches at my last words. That’s what hurts her the most? I snort. She slips a hand behind her shirt in her back and brings the silver lion pommel of her broken sword out.
“I, Leomi Lance, swear on my title of Countess that I will respect your will.” She makes the oath with hard dry eyes.
“Who knows if that’s worth anything.” I break the solemnity of the moment with a derisive jab. I let her decide for herself the target of my words is her oath of my will. I don’t care either way.
I start turning away but she takes a step forward and I stop. She extends her hands out to hold the broken sword between us. I absently stare at it without reacting.
“Keep it, please. We can use it to find each other again. If you, if you make it.” She stutters.
“Why would I ever want to see you again?”
My response shuts her down so hard that the broken sword escapes her hands and falls to the ground. I don’t feel anything at how rattled she is by my sharp refusal. The pit in my stomach is too deep for her to reach. My heart is void, there is nothing for her to grip there.
I make an insane grin at the realization. Lady Lance stumbles backward when she sees my face. She turns around and runs away.
“Remember: Nothing.” I yell at her back before letting another insane laugh escape my lips.
I keep laughing while their group gathers. I watch the Exemplar take a vial out of a wooden case and break it at the center of their formation.
They don’t linger in the area. I spot silhouettes on the eastern horizon. Rykz patrols. My grin doesn’t waver, but neither do the tears that flow out of my eyes.
I break my gaze away from them and start walking south-east. I wander absent-mindedly in the mountainous hills for hours until the oppressing feelings stuck in my throat grow too large to suppress.
I fall to my knees and press my hand against the ground. I open my mouth to scream but no sounds come out. I attempt to push my despair out. I gag. I apply even more pressure on my stomach with my abdominal muscles until I vomit the meat I ate with them out of me.
I wipe my mouth with my hand and get back to my feet. The darkness in my heart remains. No, darkness would be preferable, this is just… void. I keep walking. I often stumble on random rocks as my eyes refuse to detach themselves from the horizon. The sun goes down and shadows start playing games with my mind.
“Coward!” I scream at one of them that vaguely resembles a human shape. I run towards it but the image dissipates. There is no tall figure, no straight black hair, no light gray eyes. I shiver as a cold breeze brushes past me. My lips quiver.
“No. Noth. Nothing.”
– Arc 01 End –