The morning sun is rising on the horizon, a new dawn. Celyz and Fenyz are waiting atop the hill, surrounded by warriors in tight ranks, the latter is in her full armor.
I make my way through the lines, whistling a tune about dancing with a pretty woman at the harvest ball. I forgot the song’s lyrics but the intent is there. The pain from my broken shoulder and slash at my right side is a comforting reminder, the void in my heart is rumbling softly.
“Hey.” I speak up towards the Princesses. “They’ve agreed to your demands, Celyz.”
“Good.” Fenyz replies. “I’m sending some scouts to the castle to observe their movements, Celyz.”
“Go ahead.” She agrees.
Fenyz waves a spearheaded tendril and several scout squads depart. The humans are beginning their retreat to their camp and Celyz waves a dozen tendrils at once, sending two regiments of warriors down the hill. They form up in loose ranks, I assume so that they can charge at full speed if told to.
“Trust but verify and be ready to strike at a moment’s notice.” Fenyz nods. “Jessica.” She turns to me.
“What is it?” I incline my head sideways, surprising myself when I notice, a second after the fact. I’m taking to their mannerisms, huh.
“Good job on the castle breach. It would have been much more costly in lives if we had to fight for control of the walls, for both sides.” She nods briefly.
“Thanks, I guess.” I reply, surprised. “I’m going to infiltrate Meria alone.” I turn to Celyz. “We don’t have time to gather people and I don’t think I would trust who you find anyway. I’ll find a way to hit Nobility at its core, murder them one by one if I have to.”
“It won’t be enough. There are still at least two thousand archers holding their walls, we’ll need more than chaos to take the city.” She replies.
“Okay.” I try to think up an idea but realize that I need to assess the situation in Meria first. “I’ll see what I can put together once I’m inside. How long will I have until your reinforcements arrive?”
“As long as my Queen’s patience lasts. We will gather and train them as we make way to Meria. You’ll have a few days at the most once we arrive.”
“Do you have a spare chain-mail for me?” I ask, looking down at the many rips in the mail, noticing the equally pitiful state of my hard leather armor. “And armor.”
“We do. I gave the order to prepare a small hand pulled cart for you. Both are inside, hidden under clothes in a chest which is covered by a stack of hay and a few grain sacks.” Celyz points towards the gathering of supply wagons at the back of the Rykz army.
“Thanks. I’ll depart a day or two behind the human army.” I wave my hand, leaving the two Princesses.
I make my way to the Rykz’ supply wagons, finding the one Celyz told me about without too much trouble. It’s a small wooden cart with two large wheels and two long handles to pull it along. I ruffle through the hay and find the chest. Inside, I find spare clothes, I pick a shirt with sleeves long enough to conceal my bloody glove and grab a random pair of pants with fresh underwear.
I take my equipment off, putting the helmet away inside the chest and laying my hammer next to it under the hay. I stop a worker to hand over both my leather armor and chain-mail. I make my way south-east towards the beach but far from where the human mercenaries and sailors disembarked.
The sea is quiet and few waves reach the deserted beach to roll over the thin grains of yellow sand. I slip my clothes off, they are ripped and bloody in several places, detach my sleeve glove from around my chest and lay it with my belt over my spare clothes. I take my boots off and clean the blood on their tips with the cold water.
Once done, I walk into the sea. The temperature feels freezing against my skin, I gasp when the water reaches my thighs and again when it touches my most intimate place. I don’t feel my left limb absorb any sea water, but it isn’t protesting at the contact either.
I feel the sharp bite of the salt water when it touches the open wound in my right side, forced to grit my teeth to handle it. The pain combined with the cold makes me shiver in a lustful way, thinking of my Lady’s slender fingers torturing me as I suffer the sensations.
The maritime smell is refreshing after a whole night having to stand the pungent odor of human and Rykz blood mixing in the air. I wash myself, shaking because of the sharp piercing feeling of the salt on my wounds. I pass my left hand over the flat left part of my chest, noticing a small bulge under the skin instead of thick tendrils. They appear to have fused together as they grew to replace my breast.
Staring at the bare brown rubbery flesh of my limb and thinking of its presence under my flesh makes my arousal dissipate. The void growls because of my anxiety and insecurity, how would my Lady react to my monstrous body?
I finish bathing and exit the water, unable to appreciate the pain anymore. I stand in the fresh wind near my clothes, assembling a nourishing construct to help my body combat the cold while my skin dries. My eyes survey the surroundings to ensure that none catches sight of me with the sleeve glove off.
I get dressed up, starting by hiding my left limb and then fitting the belt around my waist. I pass my hand over the empty sheath to feel nothing and be reassured by it. I take hold of the mask with a silver tree engraved on it to fit it, injecting flow into the runes. I let go and it remains set on my face. The energy consumption is reasonable, it’ll take me more time to fully regenerate my reserves but not enough to be an issue.
As I make my way back to the Rykz army, I glance north at the human camp, noticing that they are gathering almost all of their supply carts in a single area. The soldiers are packing their tents, peasants are gathered around campfires and don’t seem to be moving much.
Exhaustion and loss are catching up to them. Probably anger at having been threatened with death if they ran from the slaughter during the battle. I don’t think that my Lady had any part in that, she isn’t the kind of person who would do that.
Having not much else to do, I train my lion’s step. I start by jogging, enjoying the absence of my equipment’s weight over my shoulder, restraining my movements. I assemble lion’s step constructs with small amounts of flow as I jog, managing to boost my leg speed slightly but I’m not quite quick enough yet to prepare and activate one with every step.
I make some progress in my assembling, anchoring, and activating speed through the morning, but not enough to be confident about my ability to use the lion’s step reliably without making a mistake or fumbling my steps.
The human army is still organizing itself for departure, I would have expected them to rest after a night of battle but I’m not too surprised to see that they would rather put some distance between themselves and the Rykz first.
I make my way to the supply carts and tap on a worker’s shoulder, it serves me enough food for three. I wave in thanks, taking my time to enjoy my mushroom and grub meat meal. The human army lifts camp, leaving most of their supplies behind, but only travels a few kilometers north-east before they set down again.
It takes the rest of the day for Castle Lance to start evacuating. I spend the afternoon resting to heal and training my lion’s strike construct assembling speed, noticing my improvement with satisfaction. I go to sleep early, setting up under my small cart.
— — —
The next day is marked by the full evacuation of the castle’s town, the human army organizes escorts to guard the column of refugees on the road east of the Rykz army.
Celyz and I spend that day together, she helps me train the lightning strike construct, giving me advice on how to extend its range. There is a section of the construct that I should have activated a few seconds before triggering the bolt itself, she explains that it charges the air and guides the lightning. I attempt it and manage to hit a pile of grass about eight meters in from of me, turning it to charcoal.
It takes the entire day for Castle Lance to empty itself of its inhabitants. Everything seems to progress relatively smoothly, humans and Rykz patrols aren’t clashing, even when they cross paths, and Fenyz isn’t sending any more troops through the breach so the transition must be occurring relatively peacefully.
— — —
The Izla’s army departs this morning with the refugees, a good portion of them conscripted into their ranks. I wonder whether that was voluntary or not…
I spend that day training my lion’s step, succeeding in maintaining it at almost full power for a minute, not daring to test my focus past that short duration. I go to sleep once my flow runs out.
— — —
I awaken that morning, feeling too impatient and giddy to wait another entire day before departing to rejoin my Lady. I make sure that my mask is well tied to my belt before making my way uphill.
I find Celyz standing on both feet. Her broken reversed knee apparently healed enough to support her weight. Her long tail is swaying from side to side. She seems to be in a good mood.
“What’s the good news, Celyz?” I ask, nodding slightly as a greeting.
“I’ve just received news that the newly hatched Rykz will arrive today.” She replies enthusiastically.
“Hum.” I reply noncommittally. That’s not something I wanted to hear, that makes it even more urgent for me to leave and find Yvonne, figure out if she did anything with what I told her. “I’m going to leave today, this morning.”
“Alright. Do not forget what she did to you when you’re with her Jessica, or your deal with me.” Celyz warns with a deep resounding voice.
“I won’t.” I reply, giddy at the thought of dancing with my Lady, of sharpening the edge of our relationship and using it on her feelings.
“I would ask you to prioritize saving my sister if you find an opportunity, Meria is secondary.” Celyz tells me emotionally, showing how concerned she is for her sister.
“You never told me her name.” I remark softly.
“Cetyz.” She replies in a tight whisper that sounds odd to my human ears. “She would be the equivalent of a human twin to me. We grew next to each other on Mother’s tendrils, we hatched at almost the same time. We were each other’s first contact with the world, our tiny tendrils touching clumsily.” Celyz’ voice vibrates tenderly as she evokes the memories.
I feel the pull to comfort her but don’t really know where to begin, she seems human to me sometimes but so physically different at the same time. I hesitantly pat one of her tendrils floating around her. She turns her ovaloid head towards me, inclining it sideways and exhaling air out of the twelve opening covering it.
“Thank you, Jessica. I appreciate the intent.” Celyz says with a soft chuckle.
“Well, I’ll do my best but don’t put too many expectations on me, it isn’t likely that I’ll succeed alone and this early in the war.” I tell her, trying to temper her expectations. It seems that her confidence in me has more to do with wishful thinking than my actual abilities.
“I simply ask that you keep your eyes and ears open. We will speak again once the Izla is under our control to evaluate our options.” She nods once and I take it as a goodbye.
I wave my gloved hand and leave her there to make my way downhill towards my small cart. I remove my belt and put it away inside the chest, arranging my exterior appearance so that it more accurately fits the image of a simple peasant.
I rearrange the hay and grain sacks to make sure that my possessions are hidden from sight, both the chest containing my equipment and my hammer. I check my left sleeve once again to make sure that it dissimulates my glove even when I bend my elbow.
Satisfied, I take hold on the cart’s handles and start pulling it towards the north-east, it takes about fifteen minutes of dragging it through the plains’ green grass to reach the paved road linking Meria and Castle Lance together.
I don’t meet a single person that morning, not very surprising as they had several days to evacuate the entire area around the castle. I use some dry wood and an iron pot that I find in the chest to make a good amount of gruel that should last me the entire day.
Around mid-afternoon, I reach a small fishing village. There is a large stone structure, a large banner depicting a gray wolf floating in the wind. The sign on the side of the road reads ‘Shipwold’.
Instead of heading inside, I decide to stop and await nighttime so that I can use the darkness to make my way around it. I would rather not have to answer questions about why I’m still here after everyone else has left, it isn’t especially suspicious but why take the risk?
I heat my meal up and eat, burning half my flow reserves while training my lion strike. Once night falls, get going and slip around the fishing village, using the lack of light to escape detection from the guards. I set camp an hour away, far away from the road and go to sleep.
— — —
The day goes by as I monotonously pull the cart behind me. I pass by an elderly couple with sacks over their shoulders. They inform me that the Nobility has indeed begun forcefully conscripting every man and woman able to carry a weapon into battle, going as far as to arm peasants who have none.
— — —
I wake up early that morning, expecting to reach Meria’s walls before nightfall. I encounter many peasants on the road, learning of a ball being organized in Meria for Nobles of Caeviel to attend. The purpose of it is unclear but I remember that my Lady launched an appeal for help towards the mainland Nobility, it may be linked to that, a reception of sorts.
The party is meant to occur either this very night or tomorrow evening, the peasants weren’t exactly clear. I decide to hurry along but restrain myself from using flow in case I need it to infiltrate that party tonight.
Despite dragging a small cart behind me, I make better time than most of the groups I encounter on the road, motivated more than ever to get to my Lady and demand my first dance during that very ball, unable to shake the feeling that she organized it just for me even while knowing how improbable that is.
Meria’s walls appear on the horizon by the middle of the afternoon and I reach the Izla’s capital itself by nightfall. The southern gate that I arrive in front of is guarded by two dozen guards in uniforms wielding spears as they inspect each group before allowing them in.
I make my way to the back of the small line, awaiting my turn nervously. Once I’m inside, it’ll be hard to find me, I can see how huge the city itself is from the width of its walls. The trick is to get in with my equipment.
As people are let in, I slowly progress to the front of the line. I soon notice that there is only one person truly calling the shots, a tall blond woman wearing a sergeant’s insignia on her chest with her back lazily pressed against the wall for support. A single wave of her hand decides whether a group’s luggage is to be thoroughly inspected or not.
I catch her looking at me a few times, but try not to get too worked up about it since her whole job is to suspect people. My turn comes as darkness falls on the area because the sun passes behind one of the wall’s guard towers. I pull my cart and advance to the front of the portcullis.
The captain herself moves up to me, signaling the other guards to stay behind. I squeeze my left limb’s fingers into a fist, my nervous reaction hidden by my shirt’s long sleeves. Why would she come up to me herself? She didn’t do that for anyone else! I can smell a flowery perfume on her but it only serves to agitate me more. I don’t like how she’s looking at me.
“Hello there, cuteness.” She speaks up. Is… is she flirting with me? Just like that?! At least she’s not suspicious of me.
“Good evening, Sergeant.” I respond, deciding to do my best to appear oblivious.
“You can call me Idali. I have some free time, I can show you around town if you want.” The woman proposes, winking.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant, but I’m not into women.” I lie, keeping my face straight. I belong to my Lady, and after Teva… I’ve done enough damage.
“That’s too bad.” She replies flatly. “Well then, let’s see what you’ve got here.”
The Sergeant uses her spear’s handle to poke around the stack of hay, hitting the cart’s wood underneath. I tense up when she starts pushing the sacks of grain I stacked on my hammer and chest away. I startle when her spear hits a spot right next to the chest and decide to act. I can’t let her find what I’m hiding.
“We can have a drink if you want, I don’t have any problem with that.” I hurriedly speak up.
“Ah, but I’m curious now.” The Sergeant shakes her head negatively.
Her black eyes remain fixed on my face. Her stare gives me the odd feeling that she is scrutinizing me like prey. A small tremble courses through my left limb, echoing my desire to immediately challenge the woman. She uses her spear to push a small sack of grain away.
“I…” I start, taking a step closer to her to whisper in her ear. “I’ll service you. Just let me pass, please.” I utter with a shaky voice that has more to do with my nascent anger than my fear of being caught here.
“Of course I’ll guide you in! That’s what Meria’s guard is here for!” She exclaims loudly, patting my shoulder as she retrieves her spear.
The Sergeant nods towards the other guards and pushes me towards the cart with her free hand. I take hold of it, pulling it along as she guides me inside the walls. I grit my teeth, glad to have made it through but incensed at the audacity of that woman.
How dare she lay a hand on me, this body is my Lady‘s.