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I make my way around Alana’s tavern, through the alley that I used to slip out of the room’s window. Unlike usual, I find people there, a group of three young peasant girls sitting on steps and discussing boy troubles, giggling every few exchanges.

I throw a quick glance up, finding the flaps open despite the fact that I closed them behind myself when I left. I turn around and head to the tavern’s front door, entering.

Inside, I am relieved to find Alana working behind the counter. I head up to her. There are two dozen customers, they look worried. The mood is darker here than it was in the streets.

Good morning.” I speak up.

Ah, you’re here!” She exclaims. “I was worried you ran into trouble because you didn’t come down.”

I left last night and found a place to stay at.” I reply.

That’s good.” Alana says despite the tinge of disappointment in her expression at losing a customer. “Hungry?” She asks.

Famished.” I tell her with a smile, sitting down on a tall stool in front of the counter.

I’ll be right back.” She heads out.

I take a silver out of my pouch and place it on the counter, checking how many I have left. A little less than twenty at a glance. It’ll last me the week if I only spend it on food. I turn my attention to the conversations in the main room in the meantime.

I’m telling you Baron Tozul was a good Lord, he allowed my father to pay his taxes late when I was young after we had a bad harvest.” A sailor tells a woman in thick protective leather clothes, maybe a smith.

He was arrested for spying and selling secret information, what you’re telling me doesn’t change that.” She refutes with a skeptic expression on her face.

The Duke imprisoned him because he tried to warn people that there are many more Rykz on the Izla than the rest of Nobility would have us believe.”

The conversations in the main room seem to all turn to this specific rumor as people debate what they think the truth is. I lose some of my interest as I know that the story is more convoluted than any of their guesses, not that I have a complete picture of what happened either.

I heard that Lady Elizabeth Vil had to fend off assassins in the streets yesterday, they pursued her across the north-south avenue.” A peasant speaks up with anger,

They wouldn’t risk the truce.” The woman tells him.

I was told by a friend whose cousin is a guard! They even captured one of the assassins! What if the truce is broken?” The peasant counters. “The Nobles are playing politics with our lives at stake!”

You’re starting to sound like Sykus, Ferrand.” Alana speaks up as she re-enters the main room with a large plate filled with gruel. “There you go.” She says, putting it down in front of me and picking up my silver coin.

Sykus?” I ask, taking hold of the spoon she hands over.

A rebel leader in the Kingdom of Mirus. Last news we received, he was hiding out with an army of a thousand.” Alana answers.

Refill?” The sailor asks, holding out his tankard.

Alana takes it from his hands, moving up to a barrel and placing it under the faucet. She opens it, beer flows out and fills the large mug that she then hands back to the sailor.

Sykus is a hero!” Ferrand the peasant exclaims. “He was wrongfully convicted and sold as a galley-slave!”

Oh.” I say, stopping my spoon mid-way to my mouth. “How did he escape that?” I ask.

That punishment is known to be a death sentence, few survive. Those who do often come out of it crippled in some way, mentally if not physically.

His ship was sunk during a battle with pirates, he survived and rose the rightful banner of revolt!” The peasant says with enthusiasm.

I’ll have none of that here, Ferrand.” Alana glares at him.

First time I hear of a revolt asking for something other than lower taxes.” I note.

Sykus’ speeches are spreading through the Empire like wildfire.” Alana tells me. “He isn’t the first one to criticize Nobility but, unlike the rest, he’s being listened to.”

They’ll eventually catch him like all the others, he’ll be brought to Kruzser and quartered on the main plaza.” The sailor sighs.

Emperor Rasaec wouldn’t allow that.” I frown, putting my spoon down. “The Capital is not a place where Nobles can do as they wish.”

Sykus has been declared a traitor to the Empire itself.” The sailor shakes his head. “He is provoking unrest across several Kingdoms, the Emperor might have no choice but to allow it to make an example out of him.”

Kings bow to Emperor Rasaec.” I counter with finality.

The sailor grumbles something but not loud enough for me to hear. He’s probably one of the foolish who thinks that the name is passed down from father to son, that Emperor Rasaec isn’t the same one that founded the Empire. What a foolish theory, there would have been an Empress by now if that was the case, it’s been nine hundred years after all.

Still, a traitor to the Empire itself… Sykus won’t last long with the Templar Order itself hunting him. I shake my head, sighing. Peasants need to make themselves heard by the Emperor, not provoke his wrath with an armed revolt that weakens the Empire.

I take hold of my spoon again and start eating my gruel, it has a good mix of corn and wheat grain. I am pleasantly surprised by both the well-cooked meal and the tiny pork morsels that I find mixed in.

Lady Elizabeth Vil is so amazing, she saved a family from thieves during the siege of Castle Lance.” The woman wearing thick leather protection tells the sailor. “Before you doubt my words, I heard it directly from the jeweler that was robbed.”

There is a rumor that the Rykz are here because Caeviel attacked them, that Lady Elizabeth is here to settle the dispute peacefully.” The sailor says in a loud whisper. “Lady Lance is helping her. They’re the only honorable Nobles on the Izla, working together to maintain the truce.”

It’s not that simple!” Ferrand exclaims. “They clashed on the battlefield despite falling for each other at first sight, their differences are not so easy to overcome.”

But they danced together at the party! Surely they’ve come to an understanding.” The woman finishes with a tight voice.

My cheeks start burning as I can’t help but listen to these strangers discuss our relationship.

Lady Lance owes her loyalty to Duke Meria while no one even knows where Lady Vil hails from, it would be difficult for them to be together with such a barrier between them.” Ferrand sighs.

I’m sure they’ll get past that.” The woman affirms with hope.

It’s just a rumor.” The sailor grumbles. “They’re both warriors who understand each other, that’s it. Lady Elizabeth might like men.”

Half the room glances at him, including me. He gazes down at his tankard of beer, blushing. I hurriedly look away and focus on finishing my meal. I fail to suppress my embarrassment at having my romantic life be discussed so openly. Are people talking about us across Meria?!

Anyway.” Ferrand speaks up after a short silence. “I found work, Meria needs more wells with all the refugees. I’m pretty good with the digging and water detection constructs since I’ve had to dig a few back in my village.”

Congratulations!” Alana speaks up from the other side of the counter as she proceeds to clean a tankard and wipe it.

Thanks.” Ferrand smiles, raising his mug to take a sip. “I start tomorrow under architect Mathews.”

That’s great, you’ll be working directly under him?” Alana asks.

No, but he’s in charge of the whole project.” Ferrand replies.

It’s still something to brag about.” The sailor nods.

I finish my plate, handing it over to Alana when she extends her hand.

I might pass by again, but don’t worry if I don’t. Thanks again, Alana.” I wave my hand, heading towards the door.

Good luck with your troubles…” She replies back, pausing for a moment at the end. “You never told me your name, now that I think of it.” I pause with my hand on the door, feeling guilty at having to lie.

Jezebel.” I reply over my shoulder, stepping outside.

I make my way towards Meria’s main plaza, using the large avenue to merge into the crowd of people carrying merchandise to and from the market, mostly food but also various tools and building materials.

There is a squad of soldiers escorting a carriage filled to the brim with wooden beams, it is so loaded that its wheels squeal under the weight with every rotation.

The market itself is a labyrinth of tents and stalls, I have a hard time circulating as the paths between each merchant’s stand are barely wide enough for two.

A muscular man bumps into me with a crate, apologizing profusely. I shrug, deciding to head to the nearest food vendor. I buy a sack of corn and wheat from the merchant, they cost me ten silvers in total but this will easily get me through the week.

I buy a cooking pot and a wooden spoon for six silver, regretting having left those I had in the cart behind. That sergeant Idali threw me off so I didn’t think it through, too focused on escaping the area as quickly as possible.

I make my way back to the southern part of the city, my left leg’s protests intensify because of the long walk and weight that I’m carrying. I grit my teeth and allow myself to limp.

There is a well at the end of an alley, I make a turn as there are very few people around it, waiting for my turn.

Is your leg alright, girl?” A nice old woman with white hair and a wrinkled face asks me.

Had a bad fall, not much to worry about. It’ll heal with some rest.” I reply with a smile.

Take care of it, running can save your life these days.” She tells me wisely, sadly shaking her head.

I will.” I nod.

My turn comes and I wrap my sleeves around my hands to hide my hands, I pull the pulley’s rope and lift a bucket of water up, laying it on the edge of the well. I fill my cooking pot up to half and settle the two sacks of grain under my left arm.

I pick up the pot with one hand and slowly make my way back to my abandoned building, taking care not to spill any water. I slip into the alley, hiding in a dark corner for another half hour just to be sure that no one is watching before entering through the window.

I get into my room, setting the pot down while I gather some wood into a pile under my closed window, then assemble fire constructs that I anchor to them for cooking later, just in case I burn my reserves while I train.

I set the pot over the wood and sit down, extending my left leg in front of me. I gather my flow and refuel all my healing constructs. I start training my lion’s strike and lion’s step constructs that now have different timer segment sizes.

Despite not activating the constructs and reusing their energy, the manipulation of flow consumes a small amount of it. I spend the afternoon and half the evening exercising my speed, chanting ‘Once more’.

I open my window’s flaps to cook, ensuring that the heat has a way to escape the room because it may start a fire if I let it accumulate on the ceiling. I throw a gruel together, eating it directly from the pot when done. It tastes bland, reminding me of home.

Before I go to sleep, I take my shirt off and palpate my broken shoulder. The area isn’t painful anymore but I have trouble finding the crack, my limb’s tendrils are curled all around the bone and make it hard to tell.

The deep cut in my right side healed enough that only a red line remains with a shade of pink bordering it. The only thing that remains of the rip in my left side is a small white scar, received when Teva stopped me from stabbing myself.

My left breast is now at about a third of the other one’s size, the tendrils are now fully merged and slowly growing to replace the missing chunk of flesh. I’m a wreck. I slip my shirt back on and lay down on the floorboards, closing my eyes.

How can I use this illusion construct without it appearing suspicious to my Lady? I can’t exactly take the mask off now that I’ve worn it for so long.

— — —

I awaken at the sound of a tumult coming from outside, on the nearby street. I fall back to a hazy half-sleep soon after when I realize that there is no urgency to the alarmed voices.

I move over and lay my back against the wall, determined to spend the day sitting. My knee should heal up quicker and better that way. I assemble lightning constructs during the morning, burning through half my reserves because of the large amount of flow each of them takes to shape.

I could fake unconsciousness, give her the choice of whether or not to unmask me. But Cecil told me it wouldn’t last long, so I would need to be careful. I move and open the chest, taking the mask out.

The construct is still almost fully fueled, I put it back. There aren’t any of the flat light altering segments for my lips or eyelids so I assume it can’t keep up with my face’s muscles, only the traits that don’t change with my expression.

Cecil seemed to think that it would be enough. I’ll go see her tomorrow night, see if she found the mercenaries and ask her about Patrick’s progress. I heat up the meal I made last night, eating quickly.

During the afternoon, I fight my rising boredom by challenging myself to assemble two lion’s step constructs at the same time as my speed isn’t improving enough to sustain the pace of a full run without doing that.

My first few tries end up failing, entire segments missing from the constructs’ structure. I keep trying during the next six hours, stubbornly assembling two at a time despite the repetitive failures.

As the sun goes down, I reach a balance in my mind. The lion’s steps I assemble have more coherence to their structure. I seem to have more success when I focus on one and absent-mindedly copying the actions for the second.

I heat up and eat my gruel with a smile, glad to have found this trick. It takes a lot of focus but as long as I get a little bit faster in assembling them, then I should be able to make two of them between each step which gives me the time to land and leap again.

My injuries aren’t hurting anymore, but I still divide the rest of my reserves into the three healing constructs since it might be because I haven’t moved much for a day and a half.

Laying down on the floorboards, I think through my plans. The moment I’ll uncover Patrick’s plot is approaching, I’m not sure what the next move will be. It’ll depend on what impact it has on the population.

I still don’t have a way to disrupt Meria that doesn’t involve fire or poison, neither do I have a clue about how to rescue the Princess but I can wait for Yvonne to return with news to think on that further. Hopefully, she’ll return before the Rykz siege the city.

Maybe I should directly tell my Lady about Patrick, I should try to find her tomorrow night after seeing Cecil.

— — —

I awaken to loud disturbed voices in the streets. I frown. Should I head out this morning if the populace is getting this agitated? Something must’ve happened.

Possibly several disturbing events since it’s happening two mornings in a row, I don’t think people would still be discussing things so loudly if the news were a day old.

I’ll just head out now, I need information and the brothel will be empty at this time of day. The assassins probably won’t want to attack me in broad daylight again with the entire city aware of one of their attempts.

I open the chest and change clothes, dressing up in my full equipment. Hard leather armor, chain-mail, and blood-red helmet. If there is some danger, I want to be able to defend myself. I tie my mask to my belt and fasten the latter around my waist.

I take hold of my hammer and make my way to the room with a window giving into the alley, my knee seems fine even with the added weight. I reassemble a healing construct over it and hop outside. The people in the street spot me almost immediately after I exit the alley.

Lady Vil!” An old man on the street speaks up, his hair are gray but he has a large frame. “My home was seized by soldiers last night! Count Odo’s men kicked us out!”

I stop on the spot, startled by both the words and his use of my fake last name, a way to show respect to untitled Nobles.

I’m sorry to hear that, Sir.” I reply. “I regret that I don’t have the power to order them.”

I know, Lady Vil, but perhaps you can talk to the Countess? These soldiers arrived last night and are acting like Meria belongs to them!” He says, hope in his eyes.

I’ll do what I can, Sir, I promise.” I tell him. “But perhaps you could petition the Templar Order.”

Do you really think we should disturb the Emperor’s temple guards for our petty problems during a time of war?” The old man asks, worried.

It is their sworn duty to uphold the Emperor’s law, Sir. Their role is critical in these times of turmoil, even more so.” I explain. “You should gather all those who were wronged and demand arbitration.”

There are several thousand of us, Lady Vil. I will follow your suggestion and pick representatives. Thank you, Lady Vil.” He bows low.

It’s unfortunately all I can do, I will still try to speak to Lady Lance for you.” I tell him, surprising myself at how steady my voice remained despite uttering her name.

The old man departs, heading towards a small group of people observing us from the side of the street. Were they waiting for me to appear in this area? I’ve been spotted here but…

I suppose it makes sense, I’ve come and gone from the southern part of Meria several times these past few days.

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