A crazed feeling of hunger wakes me up and I hurriedly slip out of bed. I throw a glance at my left limb. The root-like fingers are thinner than they were yesterday and articulations are starting to appear where they would be for human fingers.
Camouflage? I shudder. I don’t think Caeviel really understood who they picked a fight with. I make my way out of the building and find a worker waiting for me outside with a basket filled to the brim with food.
I take two bowls out and decide to make a small experiment. I take hold of my left limb’s wrist and move it just over the food before trying to order it to plunge its fingers in. The limb obeys me immediately without hesitation and I feel a small tickling shock shake my left side.
I start eating myself and go through three bowls and four slabs of amber-red grub meat before my left limb’s fingers absorb even a fourth of its own food. I pick up the bowl and start making my way towards the lake while keeping my left limb’s fingers inside the food.
I spend the entire day in the water, trying to make the arm move. As yesterday, my mind remains focused on understanding how to send signals to the limb and what each of them mean to it.
At the end of the day, I have several patterns memorized that I could use to order the arm to move by using the Queen’s construct and sending a signal directly to it.
Those won’t be of much use to me since I can’t be manually moving the limb, it needs to automatically respond when I attempt to move it. But it may be important to have the knowledge.
As I lay down in bed, I try to lift the arm and it obeys me for a full ten seconds before falling back down on the sheet. I close my eyes, mentally exhausted at having spent all day focused on memorizing and understanding such an unfamiliar method of communication.
— — —
As I emerge from slumber, I decide to use food to make the limb understand on an instinctual level that obeying me is the only way to get fed. It sometimes follows my orders so that means it recognizes and understands them, the issue is that it gives up after a few seconds.
I grab the basket of food from the worker and directly make my way to the lake. I explain my idea to Celyz and her Queen and we start using small amounts of food to reward the arm when it obeys.
I have a hard time handling my own hunger but the results we obtain with this method are enough to keep me going. I take extra care in memorizing the signal for food when the Queen uses it. By the end of the day, I am able to make the limb move according to my will for so long as I regularly provided it with food.
I eat what Celyz gives me and start walking back to my sleeping quarters. On the way, I keep moving my left hand’s fingers to see if it’ll stop obeying.
The limb keeps moving according to my will, it isn’t making a difference between absorbing its sustenance from my bloodstream and being directly given food.
Once in bed, I keep trying to move my left arm and it keeps obeying me for the entire two hours it takes me to fall asleep.
— — —
I wake up feeling a wolfish hunger. I try to extend both my arms to help me over the bed’s frame but the left one doesn’t move.
“Shit.” I slap the arm with my other hand.
I activate the idle messaging construct I left anchored to my shoulder and send the signal for food to my left limb. It shudders a little in reaction. I try moving it again and this time it obeys. I sigh in relief.
I swiftly exit the building, finding a worker waiting for me with a basket. I almost rip it out of the worker’s hands and start devouring the food with both hands. Celyz arrives just as I finish my meal.
“I see that your idea worked.” She observes.
“Well, you’re the one who said it would listen to me as long as I fed it.” I shrug. “We simply had to make it understand that obeying me results in food.”
“Your human constructs should work on the arm once it has finished copying your other limb. It should take a few more days.” Celyz pauses. “And don’t ever use healing constructs on it, those will never work.”
I look down at the arm. The string-like muscles are a bit thicker than they were yesterday and the finger’s articulations are taking shape.
“Do you feel strong enough to depart south today?” Celyz asks. “You can train and get used to the arm on the way.”
I check my flow reserves and am surprised to find out that they’re filled to the brim. What? It was all burnt during the arm’s implantation, that might have been a few days ago but with all the damage my body sustained, my flow shouldn’t have had the time to regenerate fully.
“Did you refill my reserves of fl.” I interrupt myself, you can’t give your energy to someone else if they don’t consciously agree.
“You are a part of a species of your own, now. A hybrid.” Celyz tells me.
“I don’t see what that has to do with flow.” I frown.
“Access to flow energy is divided among species, we think it is distributed equally but there no way to compare. You’re a hybrid of two now so you have more access.”
“Isn’t that exactly what the institute is trying to do?” I ask.
“No, the institute wants to usurp our entire access to flow, such a small increase like yours can easily be achieved with a few hundred subjects. Besides, your increased flow originates from both Rykz and human pools so using the same method would hurt them as much as us. Gather some above your hand and you’ll see.”
I gather all of my reserves together into a ball in my palm. The energy has a dark gold color and there is about twice as much flow in gathered in the ball than my previous maximum reserves.
“How did you know? You can see the color?” I throw a suspicious glance at Celyz’.
“No, flow appears to us through our ability to detect heat, but it isn’t hot to the touch. Flow doesn’t project light for you to see either.”
I absorb the ball of energy back into my reserves. I don’t think I should show my flow‘s color to anyone else.
“How long will it take to reach that village?” I ask.
“A couple of days but it’ll probably take the morning to get you ready.”
“Alright, let’s leave today then. What do you mean by ready?”
“Come along, I’ve prepared what you asked for and some additional equipment.”
Celyz turns around with a swish of her tail and starts making her way down a side street. I hesitate to ask about how the war is going for either side. Not knowing isn’t going to stop the events from unfolding on their own. I quickly catch up to her.
“How successful was your first wave of attacks, Celyz?”
“We’ve overwhelmed the less fortified north-west part of the Izla. Most Nobles lit their food stocks on fire before escaping by boat with their families. Our army is gathering south as we speak.”
“What about the local village granaries?”
“A couple of my sisters are going village by village, those who agree to keep working their fields for us will be left with enough food to make it through the winter.”
“No one is going to refuse that deal.” I sigh in relief. “What will we be doing down south?”
“I will be with the army applying pressure over the region, mostly on the many castles built over the coast to prevent the Nobility from gathering their forces together until the eggs reach maturity and join our army. We will avoid engaging in costly battles whenever possible.”
“Will these newborn Rykz be able to fight right away?”
“They’ll have some basic instincts, we will train them in the field. I do not think that will be an issue. You’ll have the task to infiltrate the largest castle with the other humans. Your objectives will be to secure the grain stores and breach the walls from the inside.” Celyz explains.
“It will be hard to achieve all of that with just ten of us.” I warn her.
“I do not mind it if you fail, treat it as a trial run before Meria and my sister’s rescue. Hopefully, the Duke will choose to hide inside his walls and we can overwhelm the southern part of the Izla once we have the numbers.”
“What can you tell me about the other humans?” I ask.
“Not much more than I have, they will work for gold. The mercenaries are more trustworthy than the bandits but not by much. Don’t expect them to put their lives on the line. The other two are specialists in their fields but I haven’t met them, you’ll have to speak to them yourself.”
We arrive at the forge and Celyz walks up to a table with a pile of equipment laying on it. She picks up a hard leather armor that I recognize as the same kind as the others wore only this one is new.
“How many merchants know you’re here?” I ask, thinking back to the library filled with human books.
“That armor was made by our workers. We buy what we can’t make at a trading enclave outside of Caeviel and bring the merchandise here through our tunnel network.”
She gives it to me along with an odd piece of thick black leather, a long sleeve glove to hide my left arm. It has a large strap to secure it around my torso. I slip it on and am glad to find that I can hide the scarring wound on my left chest under the strap.
Once I get the hard leather armor on, I stretch for a little while to make it fit my articulations just right. Celyz then gives me a very intricate mail shirt made with their odd dull metal.
I’ve seen first hand how tough shields made from the material are so I don’t complain about the weight and slip it on. The next thing she hands me gives me pause, a helmet exactly similar to the one Fenyz wore except for the thin horizontal opening to allow my eyes to see.
“To hide your face.” Celyz tells me.
“Do I need to?” I wait for her answer with a frown.
“You’re a human working for the Rykz. How infamous do you think you will become once your actions impact the course of the war?”
“I’ll be a target and my family will be too.” I whisper. The Lordling knows both my name and face, Celyz is right about the fact that I shouldn’t risk revealing who I am.“I’m sure it’s just a happy coincidence for you that hiding my identity means she won’t try to make me defect to her side.”
“It did cross my mind but did you intend to go renege on our deal?”
“No.” I make a fist with my left hand and squeeze, the sleeve glove’s leather starts making cracking sounds and I release my grip. “Where’s the hammer?” I ask, thinking dark thoughts about what I’ll use it for.
Celyz points towards a weapon rack with a tendril and I make my way there. The hammer is almost as tall as I am. It is made of a single piece of the Rykz’ dull metal.
The bottom of the handle ends with a sharp spike while the upper portion curves and thins into a curved blade that plunges into a hammerhead about as large as one of my thighs.
There is a support bar running from the middle of the handle, to the back of the scythe’s blade, and to the back of the hammerhead. The general shape vaguely resembles that of the number seven.
“That looks like the bastard daughter of a harvesting scythe and a sledgehammer. I love it.” I make an insane grin.
When will I be able to use this on her? Patience, I can’t let her or my revenge consume me. The Izla will burn if I lose sight of what matters. I take hold of the hammer at mid-handle and make it spin over my head like I had the habit of doing during harvesting season when I was a kid.
“Throw the helmet over and let’s go meet those humans of yours.” I tell Celyz.
I let the hammer rest on my left shoulder and catch the helmet with my right hand. I slip it on to start getting used to it. I am pleasantly surprised when I find out that it only obstructs me when I try to look up or down, I can see to either side of me without an issue. I fight with my head lowered to observe my opponent’s trunk and feet so I only have to take the habit of raising my head when I need to.
“They’re camping near a tunnel down south. We should get there by noon, think of a name to give them while we walk.” Celyz says, pointing a tendril towards a street.
“Do you have any ideas?” I ask. I barely recognize my voice when it reaches my ears after being distorted by the helmet.
“Just pick a name you like.”
As we make our way out of the city, we cross paths with dozens of workers scrambling from one building to another in the streets. A few of them are carrying eggs tightly inside their arms. The sight is similar to that of a human parent carefully holding their child.
It reminds me of the thought I had sitting on a hill and looking down at the Queen the first morning after we were captured. The number of eggs on her tendrils frightened me and made me think of a scary story I heard as a child about an evil tide that plagues the land.
“Evil, huh.” I mutter with a laugh. “Let’s use that.”
I spend the rest of the morning turning the word around in my mind while walking through the valley’s hills with Celyz. A camp appears at the turn of a path. I see three tents with a fire pit dug in the middle of them.
I quickly count the silhouettes and find seven of them inside the camp. There are about forty Rykz warriors a distance away from the humans, down a path that leads to a stone gate in a cliff.
“Tell them to call me Elizabeth Vil.” I tell Celyz as we approach.
“Understood.” She replies.
We both stop at the edge of the camp and wait for them to gather in front of us. I throw a curious look at the state of their tents and fire pit.
What I find doesn’t fill me with confidence, there are pans laying in the dirt and dirty clothes in piles near backpacks.
The first four who gather seem to be the mercenaries, going by their equipment. Two women and two men wearing leather armors with swords attached to their waists.
Going by their equipment, the four wearing leather armors of a similar quality to mine are mercenaries. Two women and two men, they carry swords at their waists and have the rough appearance of people who spent weeks camping.
“I’m Hurb, I speak for us four.” One of the mercenaries speaks up. He is a tall man with a hastily cut beard.
“I am Princess Celyz, this is Elizabeth Vil.”
“A Noble?” He asks with surprise on his face, turning his gaze towards me. I shrug in response.
The three bandits hurry over at the words. Two men and a woman. They aren’t wearing any armor and are armed with old used swords if I go by the state of their pommels.
“You got a traitor Lord to work for you?” One of the bandits, the only woman of the three, exclaims towards Celyz.
“Lady, not that I’m a Noble.” I respond with some irritation. I’m short and I have breasts. Well, one breast. Oh, right. Leather armor and helmet.
“Huh? Oh, yea I saw you were a girl, Lady. Does it matter? You a Noble?” The woman asks in a flurry of words.
“No.” I repeat myself. “Just call me Elizabeth. Who speaks for your group?”
“I do.” She slams her chest with her hand. “You going to keep that on? Why would you do that if you’re not a Noble on the run? Huh?”
“Because I’m ugly. What’s your name?” I do my best to glare at her through the helmet’s opening for my eyes.
“My name’s Brie.” She frowns at my dismissal but still answers.
“Well, Brie and Hurb.” I turn towards the mercenary as I speak. “We’re departing south after lunch so get ready.”
“Who’re you to give us orders?” One of the bandits grumbles.
“I would also like to know.” Hurb adds.
“I’m the one who’s going to tell her.” I point at Celyz over my shoulder. “Whether or not you’ve pulled your own weight enough to warrant being paid.”
Hurb pauses to throw a look at the Princess. When Celyz doesn’t contradict me, he turns back towards me and bows his head slightly. The mercenaries then turn around and walk back into the camp.
“That wasn’t the deal!” Brie almost shouts the words out.
“There shouldn’t be a problem if you intend to accomplish the tasks we give you to the best of your ability.” Celyz replies.
“I don’t trust this midget Lord!” She throws the insult my way.
I see the other two bandits fidget on their feet but their faces tell me that while they don’t want to pick a fight it doesn’t change the fact that they’re not happy about my sudden appearance and the power I now hold over their purse.
“Elizabeth has my trust, does our deal still hold?” Celyz asks in a vibrating voice that I’ve learned to recognize as threatening.
Brie takes a step back and mutters something that resembles an agreement. The bandits then turn around and start throwing their stuff inside their backpacks. I’m not surprised to find out that the messiest tent is theirs.
“Come along, Elizabeth Vil, I have a construct to teach you while they get ready.” Celyz tells me.
“Did you get the joke?” I ask while we walk away together, having noticed the emphasis she put on my chosen name.
“E.Vil.” She makes a dark chuckle with her odd resounding voice. The sound of it brings a chill to my back.
“Please don’t do that ever again.” I shudder.