— — —
I teeter on the brink of unconsciousness for a while, slowing pulling myself out. I feel better than I have in a long time but physically weak. The void is less… present within my heart. Our relationship feels complete, confirmed in a way. She chose me.
Opening my eyes, I find my Lady, still on my lap. Her gaze is locked on my face, no, on the mask. I quickly inspect the item, but the illusion construct is gone, it depleted all of its flow energy. So she looked. I’m not surprised but disappointed. The question is, was she tricked by it?
“Elizabeth, are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” I reply in a small voice.
Her worried expression fades, except it soon turns hard and angry. I hold my breath, afraid that saying something would push her away. I don’t think she would react like this if she wasn’t fooled by the illusion construct.
“How… fortunate.” Lance spits out. “No thanks to you.”
“It was an accident.” I mutter shamefully. “I lost control.”
“What kind of idiot almost kills herself by accident?!” My Lady shouts.
“I…” I start but she cuts me off with a glare.
“You kept the blade on your own throat, Elizabeth. You tried to convince me to kill you.” She utters in a painful voice. “How could you?”
“I did it for us. I needed to know what your choice would be.” I admit, looking away. “I didn’t plan to cut myself, but…”
Leomi stands and silently storms off, her long legs taking long steps. I repress the giggle building up within me, this isn’t the time to sound insane despite how happy I am that she didn’t betray me this time.
She removed the mask, but that’s hardly something I can blame her for after baiting that exact result by telling her not to look. Edusa steps out from behind a tree and follows my Lady.
“Come back, kitten!” I call out. It doesn’t seem to have an effect as she simply keeps going, her feet kicking the gravel on the path. “I demand my dance, Lance!” I yell as a last resort.
Leomi stops short, Edusa almost bumps into her. Wasn’t going to let her leave without a kiss, was I? I start grinning as my Lady rushes back. My smile falters a little when I notice the flat look on her face along with her closed fists.
Ah. I may have messed up. She storms up to me. I start standing up, raising my hands to tell her to calm down. Her fist slips between them and hits me square in the middle of my chest, throwing me back onto the bench.
“You want to dance, huh?” She utters angrily. “Well, let’s dance!”
She grips the front of my tunic and pulls me up to my feet, only to smack me back down with a quick jab to my shoulder. This time I can’t stop myself from giggling.
I take hold of the backrest and hop over it, making use of my left limb’s enormous strength. A kick misses me by a hair. She tries to hit me but I make use of the bench to keep my distance.
My Lady simply jumps over the obstacle. When she lands, I try to sweep her feet out from under her with a quick kick. But Lance simply spins on herself, avoiding my attack while tackling me in the same move. I fall backward, heavily impacting the ground. She stands above me, a satisfied smile on her lips.
“Did Jessica see your face?” She asks sternly.
“No.” I reply, unsure about where she’s going with this.
“So you didn’t tell her that you’re sisters?” Lance questions.
“We’re what!?” I exclaim, baffled.
“How blind can you be to miss the resemblance?” She asks, rolling her eyes. That’s… ironic coming from you, my Lady.
“I’m quite certain that we’re not… sisters.” I reply slowly.
“How would you know? You’re only a few years older at the most.” She sighs and extends her hand out to help me up to my feet.
I barely regain my balance that a palm impacts the left side of my ribs, projecting me aside. Leomi takes advantage to grab the front of my tunic and throw me towards the bench. I topple over it. I land upside down with my legs hanging over the backrest.
“You should look in a mirror.” She tells me, making her way around to sit at my side. “Without your damn mask on.”
I groan and take hold of her shoulder to help myself upright. I rest the side of my head against her shoulder, still feeling the sting of her blows on my body. Hope she got that out of her system, she’s scary when mad.
“I just told you what it did to me to… to do what I did to Jessica.” She says with turmoil in her light gray eyes. “How could you do this to me?”
“You didn’t tell me much.” I reply flatly.
“Just don’t do anything like this to me ever again. It was… too similar to…” Leomi utters, her voice breaking.
“I wasn’t in any real danger unless you did want to harm me.” I say, almost smiling. “Which you are welcome to, by the way.” I add.
“It’s… it’s not that.” She whispers. “I’m afraid that you’ll end up like her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I destroyed Jessica. I… I can’t have this happen to you. I won’t be able to handle it.” She explains, her slender fingers trembling. I remain silent, wrapping my arm around her shoulders for comfort. “I kept trying at the end… even after she asked me to fulfill our vow and I refused.”
“Trying to do what?”
“To alleviate my guilt. To give her something, anything, in exchange for being used as a distraction while we escape without her.” She replies in a tight voice.
“I thought you wanted her to feel abandoned. So that she wouldn’t sacrifice her life for you.” I frown.
“I was, but at the same time I didn’t want to completely let go either.” Leomi looks towards the pond. “I kept trying to have it all, to manipulate her because I supposedly knew more. I hid things instead of trusting her and tried to convince her to hold onto a beacon. I wasted my last moments with her to make sure that we could be together in the future, forgetting her present. How… fragile she already was with all that happened to her. She broke.”
Did I? I recall the moment myself. I don’t think I’m mad… only slightly insane on occasion. What’s the difference? My Lady, she’s the difference.
“I was selfish and stupid. I already knew she was unstable enough to die for me, but I was blinded by my desires. I don’t think I can explain how much it meant to me when you told me that she lived through the night.” My Lady says with a thin smile.
“Good thing she isn’t around, I might have gotten deadly jealous.” I comment, smirking. I imagine that’s how Elizabeth would react.
“Don’t.” Lance utters firmly. “Do not joke about that.”
“Tell me about her.” I demand. She needs to evacuate all of this, it’s weighing on her.
“Didn’t you spend time together?” She asks.
“Barely, and she didn’t want to talk much about you.”
“I thought that you got along with her. Neither of you have any respect for Nobility. In fact, I’m surprised you didn’t try to steal her instead of coming after me.” My Lady says with a small laugh.
“You’re the only one for me.” I reply, my voice crumbling. She doesn’t seem to notice, lost in reminiscence.
“It was a gift every time she called me ‘my Lady’ because I could tell that she did it voluntarily, with admiration.” She says dreamily. “She’s so small, even shorter than you. I would have had so much fun teaching her how to fight and dance, I would have found something to do about her arm…” She lets the sentence die, probably because she realizes how impossible the task would be. “I made so many plans for after we escaped. She looked at me like I was the first Exemplar to receive the title, it filled me with so much pride and joy. She made me feel… taller, greater.” Leomi takes a deep breath, contemplating silently. Her expression turns grieved.
“How far did you go with her?” I ask to pull her out of it. Choosing something that her alter-ego would be curious about and want the answer to from Lance.
“Nowhere, we didn’t even kiss once.” She laughs derisively and words start pouring out of her. “I took her for granted from the start. Her crush on me was like something I was due, owed. I felt like I could delay actually responding to her feelings until we were safe, regardless of her pleas, because I would obviously keep her once out of that Princess’ grasp, make it all up to her. And if we didn’t… why risk it? I convinced myself that I was doing the right thing for both of us by keeping my distance. I thought that I could avoid the grief I felt when losing Jenna and Father. But the way I acted… makes it even worse. From the very moment we met, I tore that innocent girl apart instead of treasuring her for making me feel so strong. I hurt her again and again, destroying her trust the first time we even spoke because of a worthless bet. I was too… conceited. I weathered her like a storm when she desperately reached out to me. I lied to her, I lied so much by staying quiet.” Lance abruptly stops talking, placing her palm over her eyes and wiping them.
It seems to me that she is mostly covering the anguish in their light gray abyss. I wait patiently for her to keep going, moved by the depth of her regret. Her hand doesn’t move away, she simply speaks while hiding behind it.
“I strung her along with small tokens of affection when I wished to see her look up to me with eyes so full of… want. I even pushed my presence on her without giving her a choice when she tried to give me space, or take some for herself, because I was afraid that the fear she suppressed would resurface and she would stop pursuing me.” Leomi confesses.
“Fear? You think she feared you?” I ask, caught by surprise.
“Jessica said so herself when delirious.” She confirms. I feel an ache in my heart. “Sometimes at night, I can see the last look she threw me. The emptiness in her eyes, the pain. I couldn’t… I couldn’t…” Leomi swallows a sob. “I ran away. Dropped my sword and ran as fast as I could. I… I… In the end, I gave her nothing of mine, I only took from her. I tore her apart piece by piece because I owned her. I could see that in her eyes, she said it with her whole body. It didn’t last, I took so much without giving back that nothing was left for us to share when I broke our vow.”
You’re wrong, I still belong to you. I take hold of her chin and angle my mask sideways, freeing my mouth. I quickly lean in before she can get a glimpse at my chin and give her a small kiss.
I begin shifting my mask back in position but she stops me to prolong the touch of our lips for a long tender moment after which she puts it back in place herself, a relieved look on her face. No doubt reassured that I’m still hers despite everything she told me.
I startle when my Lady’s hand suddenly slips under my tunic, her cool fingers run along my back to caress it gently. An enthralling sensation that scares me, that makes me feel defenseless, held within her grasp over the edge of a precipice. Leomi is right… I am afraid. But not of her, I’m frightened by the depth of my feelings for her, what they do to me at times.
She doesn’t push for more, perhaps noticing my tension. We remain like this for a long moment, confirming our feelings with the embrace. She begins exploring my lower back and the right side of my torso, brushing the edge of my breast and buttocks. I can tell that she is restraining the extent of her exploration. She seems to want to go further, satisfy more lustful urges but remains prudent and respectful.
“Is that why you suffer me? To punish yourself for what you did to her?” I ask suddenly.
“No.” She replies. “Yes.” She adds, frowning. “I… I thought that no one would ever look at me the way she did again because… because I just don’t deserve it. I am so far from being the person she saw.”
“I look at you like you’re the only thing that matters in the world.” I tell her sincerely.
“Of course you’d say that, you’re E.Vil.” Leomi scoffs. “But considering your eyes are the only part of your face that I can somewhat gaze at, you’re lucky that they’re very expressive.” She says with a bright smile.
“You‘re everything to me.” I repeat myself in a defiant tone, using different words. “You don’t need to believe me, but if you ever need me to prove it, I’ll die for you.”
“Why can’t you promise me something normal? Wicked woman.” Lance groans. “It’s fine if you don’t give me anything, you know.” She tells me gently.
“Does that matter when I want to gift it all to you?” I ask.
“I suppose it would not.” She admits with a grin.
“When I have more than my life to give, you can have your pick.” I shrug. “Whatever you want.”
“I want you to join me.” She says, running her fingers through my combed hair. “You could fight by my side.” Leomi says with a serious expression. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, what your plan is but it would be a big step in clearing your name if you helped me buy time, defend the wall from the Rykz’ attack. Yvonne is on her way back with good news and Mother is gathering reinforcements.”
“Sorry, I can’t.” I shake my head sadly. I owe the Rykz and I’m quite certain that they can enforce my debt on threat of death. “I have no intention of placing myself under your Duke’s rule and, more importantly, we disagree on…”
“I know, you don’t think peasant lives should be at risk because of something Nobles did.” She cuts me off. “Let’s not argue about that this morning.”
“Fine, my plan is to free the Princess held in Meiridin.” I tell her.
“I guessed as much. You don’t have to tell me what you’re doing in Meria but at least don’t insult my intelligence.” Leomi replies flatly. “Please think about the fact that we could use pheromones and information you provide to eliminate the Princesses. Once they’re gone, we’ll easily be able to hold onto the walls.”
“Can I truly trust that you can gather the necessary forces?” I ask before even considering the proposal.
I have no doubt that the Rykz would end me if I did this. I’m not even sure it would actually do anything to deter Grikyz considering what Celyz said about how impatient the Rykz Queen is growing. She might even walk down the mountain herself.
“…” Lance fails to articulate a response, but she takes hold of my hand and squeezes it.
“Thought so.” I shrug. “Nobles aren’t going to sign off on such a risky sortie and there aren’t enough Templars left, not to mention what happened last time they tried. Besides, without Celyz controlling their army, what do you think will happen to everyone under Rykz occupation? Grikyz will likely revert to their usual scorched-earth methods and burn Meria to the ground. Who knows what she’ll do next, after losing so many of her daughters.”
“What will you do then? There isn’t enough food on the Izla for all of us, sooner or later we have to defeat them.” She argues.
“I’ll wait for these good news you’re speaking of before making a final decision.” I reply. “But honestly, I hope that the King will agree to negotiate once the Izla falls and the Rykz start invading the mainland. Supplies won’t be an issue then.”
“So you want to help them take Meria.” She says, looking at me with an air of disapproval.
“With as few losses as possible.” I add, holding her gaze.
“We’ll never agree on this.” She comments turning away to fix her eyes on the pond’s surface.
“I know.” I reply in a whisper.
“Once they hold the Izla, we lose control.” Lance says. “We would all be at their mercy.”
“We’ll talk more once your friend returns.” I sigh, giving up.
Perhaps Yvonne found a way to free Cetyz or King Cenwalh expressed interest in negotiating. It would be easier to convince my Lady to side with me if there is a clear path forward.
“Don’t do anything that you can’t take back, Elizabeth. I… I promise that I won’t abandon you, but there are limits to what I can do, to what I can let you do.” Leomi tells me with a difficult expression.
“There something that will benefit us both.” I mention. “The Rykz will arrive tonight, correct?” I ask. She nods. “Get me over the wall and I’ll ensure that they don’t attack immediately, even if Odo breaks the truce.”
“Why would Celyz agree to that?” Leomi questions.
“Because she promised me more time than this, not to mention that their army is composed of young Rykz that still need training.” I reply smoothly.
And we need time to smuggle warriors inside Meria through the docks, that will be easier to do when the guards are focused on what’s happening on the wall during the Rykz’ first attack, before they get used to being under siege.
“I can do that. Come to the inn where we met the other day at nightfall, I’ll have a cloak, shield, and rope ready for you. You can make use of the fact that archer towers are slightly thicker than the wall to hide yourself as you descend.” She tells me, taking hold of my right hand to kiss it. “I’m glad that you’re leaving the city, I’ll miss you but it’s for the best right now.”
I stand up, pulling her along. I achieved a lot this morning. She looks much more like herself than she has in a week, after letting all that self-blame she carried out. Her painful regret about what she did to me both built her up and satisfied the void… for now.
My revenge needs to be reworked to account for this new information. I’ll reveal myself after capturing her. Once she’s defeated, I’ll pick her up instead of tearing her down. That way she won’t hit the same low I did after losing everything.
She’ll have to see that the way to save the Izla from the Rykz is to leverage Cetyz in exchange for it, there won’t be anything left to stand between us after that.
“The dance wasn’t exactly what I expected but I liked it anyway.” I tell my Lady, smiling behind my mask.
“Thank you for listening to my ramblings, Elizabeth.” She replies with a sad smile. “And for not leaving me, I don’t deser…”
“You deserve me.” I interrupt her, grinning madly. “I pity you.”