We make our way on the road through the forest. I intertwine my fingers with Teva’s, hoping to spark something inside me through my actions towards her on the outside. She responds by rubbing the back of my hand with her thumb.
We spend a few hours playing together like that, time goes by in a flash for me. I should keep training, we have time but things will get rough when we get to the castle.
I assemble a lion strike in my left leg and hop forward. Teva giggles as she watches me. Her reaction encourages me to keep trying. I quickly assemble another and jump a bit further, pulling her along.
She makes a small joyous laugh as I suddenly jump forward and pull her along. I make her spin around me and catch her in my arms. Teva deposits a small kiss on my gloved hand.
The void thunders, my heart clenches, and I let her go. The memory of her taking our vow shatters my moment with Teva. I feel a delightful spike of cold skewer my chest, through and through.
I grit my teeth as my most intimate place tingles with arousal. I still need to break the Countess to liberate myself. Yes, she‘ll beg and she‘ll dance. I‘ll free myself of her. Maybe kneeling in front of me, or pinned to a wall by my hammer.
“Elizabeth?” Teva asks, shaking me out of my reverie.
“Hey.” I reply.
“I will be.” I take hold of her hand again.
Teva smiles brightly, misunderstanding my meaning and assuming that I meant she would make it fine in time. I don’t correct her. She isn’t entirely wrong anyway.
We resume making our way, accelerating to catch up with the others. She occasionally affectionately squeezes my hand during the next few hours and I do my best to respond in kind despite my heart not being into it.
I hear odd metallic sounds in the distance. Everyone tenses up so I enhance my hearing. I quickly recognize the noises as those of a battle.
“Elizabeth, I’m going ahead.” Celyz throws in a loud resounding voice while her pace accelerates ridiculously. She flashes ahead into the woods and disappears within seconds.
“We’re going.” I make a fist to steady myself. “Now!” I add.
I start jogging towards the battle, hearing Ulf and Teva right behind me. I throw a glance over my shoulder. The bandits are following but at walking pace while the mercenaries are quicker but not in a hurry either.
“Now!” I repeat in a threatening tone, they speed up.
I arrive at the edges of the battle soon after, there are at least fifty horsemen fighting a tide of Rykz. Nobles or Templars? That makes a huge difference. I enhance my eyes and look at the pommels. No lion heads. I sigh in relief.
I hear shouts coming from a tight melee. Fenyz is standing in the middle of a pile of bodies while skewering three Nobles at the same time with her tendrils, the spearheads went through their chain-mail and exited behind their back.
Teva gasps behind me but I don’t have time for that right now. There is a detachment of twelve Nobles charging Celyz on horseback. I assemble a full body strengthening construct and rush to help her.
She’s the only Princess that needs to stay alive at all costs, if she dies… who knows what the Queen will do without her advice and moderation. The Izla will pay in blood if these idiots succeed.
I manage to reach the closest charging Noble and swing my hammer at his horse’s leg. I feel almost no impact as my blow rips the animal’s leg off entirely.
Some blood splashes over my hard leather armor but I ignore that to advance on the crashing horse and Noble.
“Fiend!” The Lord yells with his leg stuck under the thrashing animal.
“Leech.” I respond, walking past him since he isn’t a threat anymore.
I turn towards Celyz, worried. I find her using her tail and reversed knees to dodge the horses in improbable ways. She sways low and spins aside with little regard for gravity.
Her tendrils take a black glow, a hazy cloud of air accumulates around them and the Nobles and horses that come into contact suddenly burst into flames. The humans start shouting and jumping off their saddles.
I leap forward and slam my hammer towards a Lord that just hopped off. He hurriedly raises his sword to block. My heavy blow impacts the guard and it bends under the weight.
The man’s weapon escapes him and he takes hold of his wrist with his other hand, screaming in pain. I kick him powerfully in the chest and he crumbles to the ground. I look up, the Nobles are all on foot now but they’re not in flames anymore.
The horses, on the other hand, are still burning and making whiny screams as they run away. Two Ladies turn towards me and start carefully closing the distance between us. An arrow lodges itself in the chest of the one on my left, she falls over on her side.
I focus on the other one and raise my hammer overhead to prepare, but I am forced to bring it down to intercept her attack before I can assemble a lion strike.
The Noble lets her sword be taken by my hammer’s momentum, no doubt saving her bones. I hurriedly pull back, sensing a counter coming. I barely catch the fast slash she throws by placing my hammer’s handle in its path.
“Traitor!” She screams.
“You sow what reaps you.” I reply with an insane laugh.
She pressures me with a few quick attacks and I panic a little when I realize that I can’t find the time to assemble constructs. I make use of a lull to bring my hammer back and swing it with all my strength. The Lady jumps a wide distance backward, baffled.
“Be careful, this one knows the lion strike!” She yells the warning.
I giggle in amusement as I finish assembling my lion strike construct. I raise my hammer overhead. The Noble closes the distance while bringing her sword over her shoulder and preparing a lion strike.
I take advantage of my weapon’s longer reach to attack first, activating my lion strike construct. My swing is so sudden and rapid that she fails to even react.
It lands on her chest, crushing her rib-cage with disgusting wet snapping sounds. Her body is thrown backward with flailing limbs by the power behind my blow. The Lady is dead before her back even hits the ground.
I should probably be feeling something about this but after seeing the fortune in jewelry that those Nobles are carrying in battle, I just can’t bring myself to care.
How many peasants paid in sweat and blood for these idiots to live lavishly? I shouldn’t be insulting them. At least they’re defending the Izla with those lives. Her chain-mail didn’t do anything to protect her from my hammer. I’ll have to be careful not to overestimate mine.
I glance around to look for Celyz, she is keeping her distance with the five remaining Nobles by taking long backward steps with her reversed knees as soon as they get too close.
I hurriedly make my way towards them. While I approach, Celyz’ tendrils take a black glow once again and she starts slashing at her opponents with them. One Lord tries to block a tendril with his sword but it wraps around the weapon and rips it out of his hands.
I ambush the last remaining Lady from behind, breaking her leg with a quick swing of my hammer. She yelps in surprise as she crashes to the ground. I kick her weapon away and step over her.
The unarmed Lord snaps around and charges me. I fumble my weapon, too surprised to react in time. He crashes into me and we fall to the ground. My hammer’s handle slips my fingers.
The Noble climbs on top of me to take hold of my wrists. I win the contest of strength within a few seconds and seize his shoulders. I laugh madly at his futile attempts to resist.
I slam him into the ground to my left and press my knee against his chest. I bring my left hand back and punch his chest, I distinctly hear his ribs crack under the impact. The Lord yells in pain, swinging his arms in a panic to try to shove me off.
I take hold of his throat with my right hand and catch one of his forearms with my left. I squeeze my fingers over his flesh. He starts choking but what catches my attention is that his arm’s bones broke under my grip and that the limb’s fingers are piercing the flesh.
I frown at the odd sensation that my left arm is sending me. I can feel the Lord’s blood that filters through the glove’s leather be absorbed by my fingers. I try to let go, the limb refuses.
I assemble a quick signaling construct as my left hand’s fingers plunge deeper into the man’s arm on their own accord. I decide to cut the food signal in half and send it like that. The limb hesitates so I send it again. It lets go.
Fuck. Good thing that limb is intelligent enough to understand simple signals. I get off the incapacitated Lord and grab my hammer before standing up.
I find the mercenaries to be in the process of cleaning up the two Nobles that remain not too far away from me while the bandits are looting those who fell at a distance. I make a fist and groan at the sight.
I turn towards Fenyz, she is cleaning up a group of five Nobles on foot, four Ladies and a Lord surrounded by a tide of warriors.
I hear distant sounds of horses galloping away in the woods. The battle is over. I walk back to the horse whose leg I ripped off. I skewer the animal through the head with the spiked end of my hammer’s handle, putting an end to its suffering and loud neighing. I ignore the Lord, still stuck under the animal’s body, as he insults me.
“Surrender!” I yell at the Lords fighting the mercenaries.
“Never! I fight for Caeviel!” One of them responds with fervor.
“For Meria.” The other lacks the first one’s zeal but he doesn’t seem about to give up either.
Hurb, Lilib, Jacub, and Hastia are spread in a half circle around them but they aren’t taking any risks, they’re simply exchanging blows. The fight could last for another ten minutes if I let them so I approach while raising my hammer threateningly.
“I’ll just start breaking bones, then.” I utter coldly.
I slip behind their back to pin them between me and the mercenaries, the two Lords visibly panic and one of them tries to run. I swing my hammer and catch his leg, breaking it. The four mercenaries easily contain the last one and disarm him within a minute.
I watch Celyz wave her tendrils towards our escort of Rykz who just caught up with us because of the cart they’re dragging along. The workers start gathering the injured Nobles in one spot. Where is Teva?
I scrutinize the surroundings with a bit of fear but I find her kneeling on the ground next to Ulf, near a tree. She is hugging her chest with her arms and shaking.
There is a dead Lady’s body only a few meters away from them, two arrows in the chest. That Noble’s horse is a distance further, killed by three arrows in various spots.
I hurriedly make my way to them. She doesn’t react when I extend my hand towards her. I wave it in front of her eyes but she recoils when it passes in front of her eyes.
I notice the drops of blood covering my right hand but when I glance at my left one, I find that the glove is even redder. I scrutinize Teva’s pale face to try to find a way to snap her out of her daze.
“Thank you for earlier and for protecting her Ulf.” I tell him absent-mindedly, he grunts in response. “What do you think I should do?” I nod towards Teva.
“We went by a small stream on the way here. Splash some water on her face, she should come out of it.” He reluctantly mumbles through his beard. “And you can both clean up.” He adds.
“Okay, I’ll do that. Tell Celyz.” I lean over Teva and pick her up to throw her over my shoulder. She doesn’t move to help or hinder me. “What direction did the Nobles escape towards?” I ask.
“East, towards Meria, but they can easily double back and go south.”
“Let’s hope not.” I reply.
I engage in the woods with my arm holding her legs against my chest to make sure she doesn’t slip. I hear discreet sounds of water trickling along after a while and follow them.
As I leave the battlefield behind, my rushing blood settles down. I feel my stomach grow queasy and tie itself in a knot, remnants of the violence. I would have thought killing would be more of a trial but… it’s just something that happens during combat. How depressing.
I feel my right hand tremble and focus of Teva to steady myself. I find a tiny stream and kneel to lay her on the ground. She doesn’t seem to react much so I help her take a sitting position.
“Hey, sunshine.” I move to face her and whisper. “How’re you doing?”
“…” She opens her mouth slightly but makes no sound, I take her hand within my own to help her control the shaking.
“Shh. You’re okay, it’s over.” I smile but Teva’s face remains blank.
I make a worried frown and decide to clean myself up first. I take my helmet off and drop it at my side. I notice that there are bloody finger marks on the metal. I decide to leave them there, I can just say that I killed some low-lives at the castle gates if they ask.
I clean my gloves hand first, feeling the fingers absorb water. I don’t need this limb to start acting up, let’s see if it’ll obey again. I assemble the signaling construct and cut the signal for food in half again before sending it. It stops absorbing water. I send the full signal for food and it resumes drinking.
At least it’s still obeying. I throw some water over the red stains on my hard leather armor and manage to wipe or dilute the blood enough that no trace of it remains.
I hear Teva move behind me and throw a look over my shoulder. Her hazel eyes are slowly regaining focus. I school my expression into a gentle one and shake the water off my hands.
I stand up and extend a hand. It takes her a moment but she ends up lifting her own to take hold of it. I help her up. I don’t make a single comment when she turns to hide the stain of urine tainting the front of her pants.
“Hey, sunshine.” I repeat myself. “You should get some water over your face.”
“I’m, I’m gonna go over there to clean up.” Teva replies with a small timid voice.
“Should I help?” I propose but she energetically shakes her head sideways, covering her thighs with both hands.
“No! I’ll be quick!” She leaves hurriedly and hides behind a tree at the base of the stream.
I make an amused smile and lift my chain-mail up to unstrap the pack containing my spare clothes inside. I grab my helmet and walk around the tree that she’s hiding behind. I find Teva in her underwear with the pair of stained pants in her hands.
“Don’t look!” She yelps, frightened. She tries to hide the pair of pants behind her back.
“Teva, the same thing happened to me. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” I tell her gently. “First time you fear for your life?” I ask.
“I…” She hesitates and I take advantage to approach. “Yes.”
“There, take this.” I hand her my pack of clothes.
“I need to clean up first.” She mutters with a blush, putting the pack on the ground.
“I’ll help.” I wink and move to sit down right next to the running water.
I deposit the helmet and hammer to my left before removing my chain-mail to stack it on top of them. I tap my lap to tell Teva to come over and sit down. She blushes furiously but doesn’t waste a single second to sits sideways on my thighs.
I gently kiss her cheek and pass my arms around her waist to start cradling her. She leans her head on my chest and we stay like this, rocking back and forth together.
“How do you… do this?” She asks with fear and unease in her tone.
“I got used to it the hard way.” I shrug. “It’s behind me now.”
“I don’t want to live through something like this ever again.” She admits with shame.
“Your reaction is natural, you shouldn’t be ashamed of it.” I caress her hair. “You can still go back, you know. I’ll give you some money and handle Celyz.”
“I don’t want to leave you.” Teva replies shyly.
“That’s not a good enough reason.” I shake my head, kissing her warm cheek. “I’m tough, I don’t need you.”
“I don’t believe you.” She takes hold of my hand and tries to bring it up to her lips. I tear it away from the grip of her fingers, using too much strength. The void howls in anger. She sighs. “I need the money anyway.”
“So much for wanting to be with me.” I mutter.
“Well, you said that you don’t need me.” Teva smiles teasingly. “Thanks, but I’ll just take care of myself since I’m not needed.” She moves to stand up but I don’t let her, securing my grip around her waist.
“I lied, I’m sorry, please stay.” I push the words out as quickly as I can. My fear of being misunderstood takes over despite knowing that she isn’t really holding what I said too seriously.
“I don’t feel wanted anymore.” She continues to pressure me, grinning.
“I apologize. How I can make it up to you?” I bend my neck and fold.
“I’m sure I can think of something.” Teva leers at my chest but shakes her head out of it. “Some other time.” She says regretfully. “You’ll have to try and convince me with words.”
“You’re the sunshine of my days.” I immediately tell her.
“You said that twice already.” She wrinkles her nose in disapproval. That’s cute.
“You don’t like it when I call you sunshine?” I incline my head and make a sad expression with puppy eyes.
“I do like it!” She quickly protests but then pauses. “Hey! I see what you’re trying to do. Stop it!”
“Delightful little Teva.” I laugh in amusement. “You’re too kind.”
“Little? You’re shorter than I am.” Teva’s expression softens.
“We’re the same size now.” I proudly point at my new boots.
“Then why am I smaller?” She asks with a frown.
“Because you’re mine.” I lean in to whisper in her ear.
She makes a small squeal and blushes up to her ears. This woman is fun. The emptiness flares with discontent but it isn’t too hard to silence it since I’m just fooling around.
“Do you forgive me?” I murmur softly. I part my lips to start nibbling the lobe of her ear with my front teeth.
“I. Don’t, know yet. Keep, doing that for a bit, and, we’ll see.” Teva’s words come out with irregular speed, making her voice stutter as a consequence.