Leomi Lance awakens when someone knocks at her door. She immediately allows entrance with a small groan. Two maids enter with fresh sheets and a platter containing her breakfast, a few eggs and a slice of grilled ham. They are wearing light blue frilly dresses.
She remains in bed, squeezing the dagger and thinking of Elizabeth, hoping that Edusa found her this time despite the fact that she’s yet to come back.
“Good morning, Lady Lance.” They speak up in unison. “You received three letters this morning.”
One of the maids deposits the platter on the table while the other helps Leomi out of bed. She sighs and stands, naked in her full glory. She heads towards a side-room where she left both her armors, the steel laminated hard leather and the full plate.
She picks up her sheathed sword and heads back into her bedroom where the maids help her fit a close-fitting dark blue outfit. She fits her weapon’s belt around her waist and slips the dagger behind her back.
Leomi sits down at the table as the women exit the room, opening the letters. She smiles as she reads the first two, news from Yvonne and her mother. The first says that she’ll be back soon while the other is gathering Templars. There aren’t many details but her friend did mention good news.
Edusa suddenly walks in with a vexed expression, just as Lance finishes reading the short message that seems to be from Elizabeth. It says to meet her at the northern end of the park that separates the Nobility’s part of Meria with the eastern docks.
“I couldn’t find either of them, Idali was off shift and I never caught up to Elizabeth. She disappeared into the crowd, I think she took her mask off and ditched her cloak.” Edusa says, sitting down in front of Leomi.
“Read this.” She hands the letter out and starts eating her breakfast.
“The park?” Edusa frowns. “Who dropped this off?”
“Don’t know.” Lance shrugs. “You’re coming along, I need someone I can trust as my backup in case there’s another ambush.”
“Are you sure you should be going? It could be a trap and you don’t have access to as much flow as you used to.” Edusa warns.
“If Elizabeth planned to attack me, she had plenty of opportunities.” Leomi replies softly. “I need this.”
“I’ll have your back but don’t forget how insanely strong she is.” She relents.
The two head out of the castle on foot, taking a detour to avoid walking by Duke Meria’s room. Making their way through the castle’s garden to reach the northern gate which is closed as usual. Lance orders the guards to lift the heavy portcullis and steps out.
The park is bordered by tall bushy trees, their red-orange leaves aren’t falling off yet as autumn has merely begun. As Leomi approaches the meeting place, her anticipation grows and she quickens her pace.
As they approach a large pond, they spot Elizabeth sitting on a wooden bench by herself, throwing tiny stones into the water. The short woman is wearing her mask, as usual, the silver tree engraved in it has some blood-red branches.
She is wearing a simple gray tunic with a pair of tight black leather pants which attracts Lance’s gaze. Edusa discreetly steps out of sight, slipping behind a tree. Neither the Countess nor the Red Dwarf notice her, their attention fully taken by their significant other.
Elizabeth stands, letting go of her handful of small stones. Leomi tries to read her body language, failing to notice anything more than that she’s somewhat tense. It annoys her, this mask that stands between them.
“You’re mine, right? That woman… she was just a fling to you.” Lady Lance asks, breaching the subject before she brushes it aside as she has so far.
“Teva? Who knows.” Elizabeth answers with a small giggle, enjoying her Lady’s jealousy.
“Answer me seriously.” Leomi says angrily.
She quickly closes the distance and shoves Elizabeth back. The back her knees hit the edge and she is forced to sit back down on the bench, surprised but smiling behind her mask.
“I’d rather see what you’ll do to make me talk.” She replies smoothly in a steamy tone, extending her open palm out.
The words make Lance pause but she does take hold of the offered hand with a strong grip. Elizabeth uses that to pull her Lady into her arms, making her sit down on her knees. Leomi’s agitated emotions don’t calm down, she feels like the move is a way to divert her attention, another lie.
“Do I need to question you? Treat you like the criminal that you are? Punish you for all the chaos you’ve provoked with your unnecessary interventions that threaten the peace?” The Countess utters coldly.
“That would also be fun.” She replies, laughing.
“Please take this seriously. I can’t protect you from the Law forever.” Leomi speaks up, trying to calm down.
“Teva and I were having fun, you showed up so I decided to give you a treat. Test the steely self-control that she spoke of.” Elizabeth ignores the warning to tease her in a mean voice. “It was quite a bit easier to get a kiss out of you than she claimed it would be.”
The mention of Jessica hits where it hurts, destabilizing Lady Lance further, the subject is more than sensitive to her. Guilt and tears fight their way up to her eyes. Leomi looks away, memory banging at her heart.
She feels a pressure, deep within herself, her emotions pushing out from where she buried them. She feels the desire to justify her choices, confess that it wasn’t reason but fear that held her back. Explain herself and clear the air, do away with Elizabeth’s hidden accusations to finally be with her.
“I’m… I couldn’t get myself to start something with… you, her. When disaster could strike at any time, while that manipulative Princess held us within her web. I was afraid to be with someone reckless who almost died several times in the short amount of time we spent together.” The words pour out of her, like water breaking through a barrage. “I was too scared to commit but I liked… her too much to let go. I promised myself that I would make it up to her, but I never actually told her because she seemed to be drowning in the present. You… she was clinging to me so desperately, too focused on us to see clearly. I realized later that it was just an excuse for me, a way to avoid investing myself too much and lose control.”
Lance’s mind catches up with what she’s saying. She naps her mouth shut before she can spill any more of the darkness within her and reveal the extent of her betrayal to this woman who might not be Jessica, who might not know.
“If you wanted her, why not give her what she asked for when you separated? When you had the opportunity out of the Rykz’ reach?” Elizabeth asks, her voice sounds calm on the surface but the Countess can almost hear the rumbling storm hiding underneath.
“Because Jessica would have died for me if I did.” Leomi Lance admits her shame, the arrogance behind her reasoning. “She would have defied the Rykz instead of accepting their offer, her loyalty would have ended her life.”
How dead certain Leomi was that Jessica’s feelings for her were so intense that the girl, who held her own heart between her hands, would have chosen death over betraying her Lady. She presumed that Jessica loved her and used that as an excuse to break the vow that bound them together, shattering her world in such a way that she seemed to lose sanity.
Elizabeth is stunned by the confession, she stops moving entirely, not even breathing. The explanation of what happened from Leomi’s side shakes her down to the core of her being, the truth of it. She would have gladly died for her Lady back then.
She thought for so long that it was cowardice or cold self-preservation, this new… perspective changes so much for Elizabeth, for Jessica, she thinks that her plans of revenge must… evolve.
As she has that thought, she realizes that while this makes a difference she must still take her Lady out to break the Izla and make it surrender, if only to ensure her survival.
During the prolonged silence, Lance is tortured by the lack of reply. She turns back to Elizabeth and scrutinizes the mask, hating that she can’t see the expression hidden beneath. She wants to see the woman’s reaction, so badly, to know that she hasn’t damaged their relationship beyond repair.
Elizabeth’s passion awakens and she starts putting more strength into her hug, squeezing Leomi closer to herself. Almost forgetting to control her left limb’s immense power. Leomi squeaks a little, surprised by the sudden forceful gesture but smiling brightly, reassured.
“I almost broke down after that.” Lance whispers.
“I know.” Elizabeth replies softly. “I may have finished you on the plains if you hadn’t looked so obviously damaged, in pain.”
Leomi laughs a little at the discrepancy between their recollection of the incident. She had thought that her weakness almost got her killed that day, but it turns out that it actually saved her life.
Her eyes travel down to the arms holding her, specifically the one dissimulated by the sleeve glove, the other mystery behind this woman.
“How is it possible that an injured, burnt, arm can be stronger than a healthy one?” Lance asks, probing from a different angle than the last about the sleeve being engraved with an advanced construct. She had suspected that it might be a prosthesis, however unlikely that is.
“My nerve endings are all dead so I can push my muscles without fearing pain and use more flow in my constructs than any would dare. I heal the torn muscle tissue and broken bones between battles.” Elizabeth explains, lying.
Leomi frowns, looking for a hole in the explanation, a way to figure out whether it is true or not. A clue about her identity. The image of Jessica is growing hazier every time she learns more about this woman.
Her battle strength is beyond what she imagines Jessica could achieve after only a few weeks of training. She feels Elizabeth’s right limb take hold of the dagger behind her back and hold it out by the blade in front of Leomi.
“You can test it out if you want.” The short woman replies, secretly bluffing.
Lance seizes it, playfully running the weapon’s tip over Elizabeth’s chest. Passing it between the woman’s tempting breasts, noticing once more that only the left one is tightly bound. The exploration provides the answer, it is because of the glove’s straps that run around her torso.
She considers verifying whether the claim that she doesn’t feel anything with that arm is true or not, but chases the idea away. The image of what she did to Jessica remains burnt in her memory.
“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll do something?” Leomi asks instead, bringing the point over her dance partner’s heart. “End the threat you represent with one, little, push.”
“If you want me dead.” Elizabeth starts, lightly wrapping her right hand around the slender fingers holding the dagger. She then guides the sharp blade up to her own threat, right over the jugular. “You would have a better chance cutting me there than piercing what already belongs to you.” She winks.
“You really aren’t scared of me?” Lance asks, taken aback.
“Kitten, I won’t even be mad if you kill me.” Elizabeth replies in a deep passionate voice. “I only wish you had such courage, maybe then you’d have…” She adds in a tiny whisper, smothering the last words ‘taken me‘ before she can say them.
Lance takes offense, hearing the words. She uses the dagger to apply a bit of pressure on the jugular, not seriously but in annoyance as this isn’t the first time that the woman implies that she is a coward.
She wants to provoke a reaction… except Elizabeth simply giggles, unimpressed. Leomi tries to pull away, she doesn’t want to injure her and this is a bit dangerous. But the woman stops her, tightening her grip and keeping the sharp blade on her own throat.
“You should consider it seriously.” Elizabeth says, enthralled at the idea of arguing for her own death, to see what her Lady will do.
“Are you insane?” Lance asks, panicking.
“I’m a threat, aren’t I? Isn’t it your duty? You side with Nobility still, despite your hesitation and ideals. Why won’t you commit all the way if you disagree with my choices so fully? I am a danger to you and to Meria.” She explains.
“Please, let go. I beg you, don’t play with your life like this.”
The two start fighting for control of the weapon, Leomi unwilling to split her concentration to assemble a construct despite being obviously weaker but unable to fight the other’s strength, failing to pull the edge away.
The struggle lasts a few seconds until the back and forth movement of the dagger cuts through skin. Blood bursts out of the small nick in the jugular, crossing Lance’s vision who immediately lets go of the handle, horrified by the sight of the sliced artery.
She assembles a healing construct in her trembling hands with so much flow that it would blind them both if it truly produced light. Elizabeth laughs, sounding mad to the Countess’ ears.
“Eh. Let me bleed out, my own fault really.” She says, but doesn’t prevent Lance from applying pressure to the wound.
“How could you?!” Leomi yells, activating the construct. “I just told you what it did to me to possibly abandon Jessica to her death!”
“Was wondering how serious you were about us.” Elizabeth replies calmly.
Lance notices the shifting tone and pronunciation, but is too focused on manually directing the construct to comment. Blood is still pouring out, covering both her hands and Elizabeth’s neck and torso.
“You look wonderful, kitten.” The small woman comments dreamily. “That expression of… angry fear, those tears. I think I truly love you.”
“This isn’t what love is supposed to be!” Leomi snaps back. “Stop talking, please. Save your strength, I’m almost done.”
“I’m a bit… tired?” Elizabeth utters slowly, feeling lightheaded. She rests her head against Lance’s shoulder, deposing a tender kiss on it. “Just don’t… look under the mask. Or the sleeve glove… anything else is… up to how… curious you get.” She says in a flirty tone while out of breath.
The last of her wit recognizes that this is a good occasion to use the mask’s illusion construct, activating it. She wonders what she’ll wake up to, a cell perhaps… or maybe not at all. Her eyes close on their own. Jessica’s final thought before she falls unconscious is the best end she could hope for is to die in her Lady’s arms.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.” Leomi Lance repeats, feeling like she’s losing her mind. She catches Elizabeth’s head before it hits the bench’s backrest.
She thinks back to the moment when Elizabeth literally touched her heart in the middle of a battlefield, her thumb over the beating source of her life. This woman, whoever she is, tore her out the torpor she found herself in after… Jessica. She doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to stand if she loses her.
The Countess injects the last of her flow into the healing construct, taking the risk of condensing the timer segment by a third to accelerate the process and quench the bleeding as quickly as possible.
She knows that it isn’t recommended unless the injury is life-threatening. She can’t quite clear the fear clouding her mind enough to judge whether this is the case or not here, deciding that the frightening amount of blood is proof enough that it is necessary.
Leomi watches closely as the fluid clots over the nick in the jugular, having prioritized the closing of the wound. She waits for a moment before changing the healing construct’s focus and telling it to heal the flesh completely. It takes a few minutes for her to get a result that satisfies her.
“Edusa!” She calls out. “Your flow.”
The Lady approaches, but Lance holds her hand out before she can get anywhere near Elizabeth. Edusa frowns, having never seen Leomi be so protective that she would distrust her close ones. She still obeys, creating a stream of flow and directing it towards Lance.
“Thank you, please keep an eye out.” She dismisses Edusa.
Leomi uses the energy to weave a nourishing construct, targeting Elizabeth’s entire torso as she does not recall what exactly produces blood in the body. She pauses, scrutinizing the masked face with worry, lost as to what more she could do.
Lance chooses to remain on Elizabeth’s lap, laying a hand just above the small woman’s left breast to directly feel the heartbeat against her palm. Reassured by the fact that it is still going strong.
She listens closely to the sound of Elizabeth’s breath pushing against the mask, doubly relieved but finding herself unable to tear her eyes away from the hateful item that stands between them.
“I know it’s her.” Leomi mutters. “It has to be.” She adds, trying to convince herself despite all her doubts and the apparent implausibility of the matter. “I need to know if it’s her, if she’s alive.”
Lance thinks of her honor but dismisses the concern, believing that she has none left to preserve when it comes to Jessica.
“It has to be her.” She repeats, without noticing the oddity in her speech. “Isn’t it just because I don’t want to deal with the fact that I like them both so much?” She asks herself, sighing. “Elizabeth is so strong and independent. I never saw that in Jessica.” Leomi ponders. “Enough. I need to know for sure.”
Lady Lance takes hold of the mask, taking it off in one swift motion, revealing the face hidden behind it. The vision hits her like a punch in the gut. At first she believes that it is Jessica, but once the initial surprise passes, she understands that she took her desires for reality.
That and the fact that they look so similar, yet distinctively different. Elizabeth’s jaw is firmer, her cheekbones are more prevalent. She is… beautiful while Jessica is simply adorable. She definitely looks older.
“They could be sisters.” Leomi mutters when her voice returns. “How can this be?” She hurriedly puts the mask back on Elizabeth’s face. “What have I done?”
Lance buries her face in her bloody hands, asking herself what she should do now that she know that her two lovers are different people. She considers cutting it off, but cannot see how she would be able to do so.
“I… I can’t do to her what I did to Jessica, even if it was a misunderstanding, I’ve committed myself now. I owe too much to this woman who both saved and spared my life, brought me back from despair.” Leomi grits her teeth and rests her head against Elizabeth’s shoulder. “How could yet another become so enamored with me that she would do this to make a point, to prove that our differing opinions and sides in this war won’t stop her from trusting me with her life?”
Lance feels her own heartbeat accelerate, matching Elizabeth’s in pace. She wraps her arms around her lover, holding her tightly as she works to separate her image from Jessica’s in her mind.
“Elizabeth Vil, how laughable that your goals are nobler than Nobility itself with such a name. They slaughtered their own subjects to ensure that they would fight the Rykz to the death. I’ve lost all honor, by action and association with them, yet, I cannot bring myself to change course now. She’s right, I am a coward.” She pauses, thinking about what both of her lovers said about their past. “Perhaps there was some truth in what Elizabeth told me of her origins, they could truly be sisters…” Lady Lance takes a deep breath, resolving herself. “That is a problem for later. Right now, I need to tell her the whole truth about what I did to Jessica.”
She feels Elizabeth’s blood dry on her face, noticing only now that it transferred from her hands.
“How long have I been talking to myself? I’m turning into my mother.” Leomi groans.