I hear dull sounds of clay containers hitting each other in my slumber. I open my eyes and reluctantly roll out from under the cart. Wish I could have lazed around for a while. My left ear feels sore from sleeping with my helmet on.
The workers around me start pushing the cart towards a column of warriors. Celyz isn’t anywhere in sight. She probably left during the night. Teva is still sleeping next to Ulf, under the piece of tarp I gave her.
I find Fenyz a distance away. I make my way to her. She waves her spearheaded tendrils in my direction to tell me to keep my distance, I ignore them.
“Fenyz. Where can I find some water?” I ask.
“You’re lucky Celyz likes you. I would have torn you apart if she didn’t forbid me to.”
“I’m aware.” I reply. “Water?”
“Those barrels over there.” She turns her head towards a cart.
I walk up to an open barrel and fill three bowls with water. I then join Teva and Ulf to sit down at a distance from them, deposing the bowls at my feet.
She is frowning in her sleep, I can see her bountiful breasts pushing against the rough fabric, raising and lowering along with her breathing. It’s a good thing that she’s so different from her.
Ulf opens his eyes and sits up, almost at the same moment. He yawns, stands up and turns to me. I nod and he reciprocates. Teva gets a bit agitated at the disturbance, she shakes her head and turns to her side. I pick up a bowl and hold it out for Ulf who drinks it.
“Do you think we’ll be attacked today?” He asks in a small voice.
“Far as I know they can’t afford to do this too often. They’ll only try again if they manage to find a hole in the Rykz’ defenses and that’s not likely when they’re on their guard.” I reply in a whisper.
Teva turns again but this time she opens her eyes. She sits up, her frown turns into a happy smile when she looks at me but that doesn’t last long, she pinches her lips and her expression becomes difficult to read.
“Hey, sunshine.” I say in a warm voice.
“Good morning, Ulf.” She utters with a sad voice, ignoring me.
“Hello, Teva.” He mumbles in his beard.
I pick up the other two bowls of water and hand one out to her while I drink mine. Teva accepts it without a word. Ah, the silent treatment. I remember Father doing that to Mother after she taught us our first swear word.
I should be glad if that’s all. What I did to her is worse by far. I keep my eyes trained on her as she drinks, feeling the pull to toy with her again as I see her throat move when she swallows the water.
I close my left hand to repress myself. She doesn’t deserve to suffer because she hurt me and I lack self-control. I stand to make my way towards the bandits and mercenaries who are already prepared to leave.
“Where are the Nobles we took as prisoners?” I ask Hurb.
“I think that Rykz took them when she left.” He is looking at me warily.
“Alright.” I nod. “Brie!” I turn towards the bandit.
“What is it?” She looks at me suspiciously with narrowed eyes.
“Next time there is a fight, I want to see you actually fighting.” I utter coldly.
“I concur.” Hurb speaks up.
“We were just a bit too slow to get there, that’s it.” Brie protests dishonestly.
“You were looting before the battle even ended.” I see her open her mouth. I straighten my back and secure my grip on my hammer. Brie snaps her jaw shut. “You’re going to share what you took with everyone else.”
“What? Fuck no!” She exclaims while the other two bandits make outraged cries.
“Either you do it on your own or I will take care of the issue myself.” I lift my hammer to rest it on my shoulder. “Should I?” I ask with faked enthusiasm.
“No, we’ll share.” Brie takes a step back her eyes are wild and fixated on the hammer. “There’s no problem, Lady.”
“I’m no Lady.” I shake my head with a small derisive laugh.
I leave them to rejoin Teva and Ulf. We stand together quietly, awaiting the departure. Flowers. I look around, there are a few daisies lost in the middle of the grass. I kneel and pick one up.
Teva is watching me but she turns her head away when I approach. I gently push her red strands of hair away and softly place the bright yellow daisy just over her ear.
I can only see the side of her cheek since she is refusing to look at me but it’s enough to discover that she’s blushing. I let go of Teva’s hair and step away, trying to respect the limits she set on us.
The Rykz start moving all around us and organize themselves in a long column as they trot forward. We march south together in silence, Ulf and I aren’t talkative people while Teva justifiably doesn’t want to talk to me.
I slow down to leave them alone and take a look at the two new constructs Celyz gave me. The repertoire of signals to communicate directly with my left limb isn’t very extensive and I am certain that a few are missing, like the one for killing the host.
The most useful one is probably the one signal that tells the limb not to feed but it also warns that the command will be ignored if it is starving. There is a signal that tells the limb to camouflage its host’s injuries, those suffered when it fed.
Their ancestors were scary devious things, concealing their presence to get as much out of their preys as possible. I decide to send the signal. At this point, I would be happy if my chest recovered a somewhat normal exterior appearance.
I don’t feel anything happening but the limb definitely received the signal because it sent a response that corresponds to a confirmation according to the information construct. It might be because Celyz removed my torn flesh entirely, hopefully, it’ll still work but take longer.
The rest of the signals are relatively innocuous. One serves to tell the limb to focus on healing while another commands it to fight for survival while ignoring injuries.
The last one orders the limb to memorize a construct but there is an added comment that says it takes months of daily practice to teach something and even then it won’t use flow by itself without a direct order.
We arrive at the edge of the forest at noon and stop to eat, hiding under the tree’s shadows. I enhance my eyesight and spot a few isolated houses with some corn fields and recently plowed barren soil around them. I doubt they had time to sow. What a waste of effort.
I sit down next to Teva as a worker brings us our bowls of food. I turn my back to the other humans and take my helmet off to eat. I smile in amusement when I see Ulf struggling to drink the liquid without staining his beard.
There is no sign of a shore or castle on the horizon, we must still be pretty deep inland. I eat another two bowls and slip my helmet back on, I make my way through the Rykz column to go talk to Fenyz.
“How far are we and should we separate now?” I ask her.
“We’re still three days away from Castle Lance.” Fenyz replies. “We go west this afternoon to stay under the forest’s cover, we’ll leave the woods tomorrow to head straight south towards the castle. You’ll have to decide when you think it’s best to split, I have a hundred warriors ready to pursue you at any time.”
“We’ll depart ahead of you tomorrow morning then, it’ll be safer if no one sees us together. Just make sure that your warriors know not to catch up with us.”
“Don’t worry, my Rykz are more reliable than your bandits.” Fenyz laughs mockingly.
“I don’t disagree.” I frown in worry. “It might be best to leave them behind, I don’t trust them at all. They could decide to blow the mission once out of my sight.”
“That’s your problem, I don’t care what kind of mayhem they cause once inside the castle and you shouldn’t either. You can simply make use of them as bait or distraction to accomplish your task.” Fenyz waves her tendrils lazily.
I tap my foot in annoyance. Celyz would have much better advice to give me. Not that I regret my decision to take her out of the equation, she is my only line of communication with Queen Grikyz and it’ll be much easier to deal with Fenyz if it becomes necessary to lie to the Rykz.
“Can you teach me the construct you used to impale those Nobles through their armor yesterday?” I somewhat bluff, it might have just been the result of her natural strength or a simple strengthening construct.
“It wouldn’t be of any use to you since your limbs all have bones.” Fenyz shakes her tendrils with annoyance. “Leave me alone before I lose patience, wicked little human.”
“Be careful not to trip on your ego.” I reply casually, looking down at her feet. Fenyz inclines her head towards her root-like toes.
I make an impish smile and hurriedly vacate the premises before Fenyz can catch up with the meaning of my words. Their heat detection doesn’t cover their whole body, huh. I hear a resounding groan behind my back and quicken my steps.
I reach Teva and Ulf just as the column finishes organizing itself to depart. She starts walking behind a cart without waiting for us. I do my best not to stare at her swaying hips but fail miserably.
The sight of the sword moving along with her gait, makes me feel a little guilty. It was a mistake to give her a weapon. I don’t think she has the guts to use it, even if it is to defend her own life. I can’t take it back now without insulting her.
Ulf catches up with her in no time. I lag behind a little, not to enjoy the sight but because I like what I see. That’s the same thing. I silence my inner voice and tear my eyes away.
“We’ll leave the Rykz behind tomorrow morning.” I speak up in a loud voice to inform all the humans at once. I hear Hurb and Brie acknowledge from a distance behind.
I focus on Celyz’ lightning construct. I take my time to copy it exactly, down to the amount of flow she put inside. I leave mine anchored inside my body and take the other one out, making it hover over my hand.
I examine the targeting segment and take some distance from everyone else to aim it at a small tree a dozen meters in front of me. A small bolt of lightning flashes from the black flow construct towards the target but it dissipates after it travels a few meters only.
That could turn out to be useful. The amount of flow required to assemble it isn’t negligible but at least it’s easy to use compared to a lion strike. I make a few more with different levels of energy to test the lightning’s limits.
I manage to hit the ground up to three meters in front of me but it dissipates after that regardless of the amount of flow inside the construct. I throw half the rest of my reserves into one last test.
The lightning bolt that leaves the construct is massive but it shatters with an impressive cracking sound about a meter away from my hand. I spent the next few minutes blinking repeatedly to chase the blinding after image obstructing my sight.
I glance around once I regain full use of my eyes. Yan and Gael, the bandits, are pale while Brie is trying a little too hard to avoid looking in my direction. The mercenaries are walking too far ahead for me to see their faces but don’t seem to be preoccupied.
I occupy the rest of the afternoon by training my lion strike construct’s assembling speed, without being overly careful, just checking at the end like Ulf told me to.
The monotonous task leaves my mind free to wander and think about the name that she gave me. I’ll find out who this Jenna is soon enough and whether or not I can use this against her.
What if this Jenna is her girlfriend? No, that can’t be. The Countess cares too much about her honor to have done that to me. An ex, maybe. I’m afraid to find out but I need to, I don’t know nearly enough about her past.
The column of Rykz starts slowing down to stop for the night as dusk falls around us. They stop in the middle of a clearing, forming a large circle around Fenyz and their supply carts.
“Don’t go too far, we gather and depart at dawn.” I tell the others as I pass by them while making my way towards the edge of the forest.
I find a small rock and climb on top of it to have a better view. I don’t see much on the plain ahead, the dusk sun is making it very hard to distinguish between buildings and shadows.
I wait until the sun disappears completely behind the horizon to use the last of my flow reserves to enhance my eyes as much as possible. I manage to find several sources of light in the dark night.
It’s hard to tell whether the fires originate inside a building or if it’s simply someone camping but that doesn’t really matter. We only need to find some people to mix with and run away with them when the Rykz show up.
There are enough signs of human life all over that our three groups will be able to separate and find different groups of people to reach the castle from different directions.
I make my way back to the clearing, finding the mercenaries and bandits sitting around a flow torch fire. That’s not too worrying. I don’t think they can get along long enough to hatch something nefarious together.
Teva and Ulf are sitting in front of a couple of baskets of food. They’re waiting for me to start eating. I sit down with my back to the other humans and take my helmet off.
I thank them with a smile. We eat in silence but I don’t feel as uncomfortable about it since Teva is still wearing the flower I gave her. I try to wink at her but she turns her head away when she notices my gaze. I look down and focus on drinking my other three bowls.
I take off my chain-mail and hard leather armor, I then grab my helmet back to put it back on. I find a patch of grass not very far away and lay on my back to look up at the stars.
I hear Teva’s light steps approach. I’m curious but I don’t want to pressure her, I should just stay silent and let her do what she wants. She lays down in the grass not far from me in silence.
I close my eyes and think of what I’ll do about us once we’ve reached our destination, of where I’ll take her on a date. Feeling a wave of excitement at the idea of kissing another woman within her own castle’s walls.
Argh. I groan inside my mind. Again, I think of her when I should be trying to find a way to fix my relationship with Teva. Should I be? I’m not even as attracted to her as I was to the first girl I liked.
The void that my Lady left behind devours everything else. I need to leave her alone and focus on what lies ahead. I’m only grasping at her because the emptiness makes me feel lonely.
I can endure that on my own, this kind woman doesn’t deserve to suffer for my pain. I turn my back to her and rest on my side.
— — —
I awaken at dawn, on my back and feeling a small weight on me. Teva rolled over in her sleep and placed her hand on my stomach. I delicately take hold of it and lay it on the ground to get up. The memory of her doing the same with me emerges.
No, it’s not the same. My Lady liked me, she had to. Doubt creeps, a spike of pain pierce my brain. That makes me worse than her. I don’t care!
Leomi wanted me, she kissed my hand twice. I struggle to stand up, swaying unsteadily on my feet. We made a vow together! The void in my heart howls in pain as my uncertainty seems to damage it.
I half-kneel, half-fall to my knees in front of my equipment, hurriedly putting on the hard leather armor and chain-mail. I then grab my hammer and head out into the forest, struggling to keep my balance as I walk.
“Leomi likes me!” I yell my anguish at a tree covered in shadows, defying it to contradict me.
I assemble a lion strike and activate it without checking, throwing a wild blow towards the trunk. The head of my weapon scrapes by the wood, projecting splinters all around.
“My Lady swore to take me!” I cry out in misery. She broke that vow the very same day. “Please, shut up.” I plead in a whiny voice, letting go of my hammer to hold my head in my hands. “She is still looking for me.” She’s just alleviating her guilt.
I take hold of my hammer with both hands and assemble a lion strike with all of my flow, turning the handle’s spike towards my chest.
“Elizabeth, are you okay?” Teva asks in a tiny voice from somewhere close by to my left.
“I‘m fine.” I take the time to answer and even giggle a little to reassure her.
“What are you doing?” I hear some panic in her voice, she’s closer.
“Just silencing a pest that won’t shut up!” I roar, clenching my arm’s muscles and activating the construct.
Something tackles me down to the ground just before the spike hits. Teva, No! I ignore the wave of pain coming from the left side of my chest to push her off of me and inspect her body, fear clogging my thoughts.
I find no sign of injury on her clothes, there is some blood but it’s probably mine. Teva is already gathering herself. She manages to sit down, I sigh in relief and fall backward on my ass.
“Stupid woman, what were you thinking?” I spout at her, anger taking over.
“Me?! What the fuck were you doing? Are you trying to kill yourself?” Teva yells at me furiously.
“Of course not, I was just going to stab myself a little.” I frown, puzzled. Why would she think that?
“In the heart?!” She asks, screaming.
“I’m not sure.” I blink several times, uncertain. “Yes?”
Teva closes her mouth, her pale angry expression melts. She looks at me with pity and sadness in her eyes. She approaches me on her knees with her arms open.
“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry.” She speaks in a gentle, reassuring tone of voice. “Come here.”
“I’m okay, Teva.” I extend my left hand between us to prevent her from getting any closer. I don’t think I can handle another person’s touch right now, even with layers of armor to separate us. “You don’t need to do this.”
She pinches her lips together. I stand up to break away from the expression on her face as she looks at me.
“I’m sorry, Teva. I don’t know what… Thanks anyway.” I mumble and pick up my hammer.
I make my way back to the camp, it doesn’t take long since I didn’t go very far into the forest. I need to stay away from Teva, for both our sakes. Did I just try to kill myself?
I look down at my torso, finding a small hole in the chain-mail and hard leather armor. There is some blood flowing out but not so much that I should worry about it.
The pain is reassuring, I don’t feel doubt anymore.