Lance approaches, picks up a chair of her own and sits down in front of me. I observe, eyes closed, my thoughts in turmoil. I let go, I butchered the Duke. It wasn’t even rage, if it was I would have killed the man.
I inspect her through my sense, looking for injuries and finding none. There is blood on her plate armor, from both humans and Rykz. I notice how much of it is sticking to my own armor and chain-mail.
She reaches out and places her hand on my knee. A comforting if disturbing gesture. Why would she? After all I’ve done. She has to be aware of the kind of bloodthirsty monster I’ve become.
“What happened?” Lance asks.
“I tortured him.” I reply flatly.
“You did.” She says, looking at the various pieces of the Duke’s body I scattered across the room. “Are you okay?”
“I‘m fine.” I giggle.
She nods and squeezes my knee, letting the conversation die down. After a while, my mind escapes the bleak present and wanders to the future, to what I’ll do next, to what she’ll do next.
“You have a decision ahead of you.” I speak up in a hard tone.
“I have many.” She responds softly.
“I won’t allow Nobility to retain its privileges.” I add.
“What do you intend to do about the Duke?” She asks, unbothered by my declaration.
“He will be put on trial. Those who survived… oh Emperor… I hope some survived.” I say, voice cracking. “They… need to be heard.”
“They will be, Elizabeth.” Leomi reassures me.
“Those who lost l… eyes…” I take a sharp breath in as a knot forms in my stomach. “They need to be helped.”
“We’ll do all we can.” She makes a gentle smile.
“I failed. So… hic, so many died.” I utter, tears falling from my eyes.
“The battle never reached a high point.” Lance tells me, standing up to lay a hand on my shoulder. “We did all we could, Elizabeth.”
“Did we?” I ask, hopeful.
“Yes.” She affirms. “I won’t lie, many lost their lives, but a lot less than there could have been if you didn’t distract Meria.”
“What’s going on outside?” I question. “What are the Rykz doing?”
“They’re gathered at the base of the wall, our army gathered in front of them. They’re all waiting for Celyz to accept our capitulation.” She explains.
“I should go.” I say, not moving.
“You can take the time you need, Elizabeth.” Leomi tells me gently.
“I should go.” I repeat, reaching out to her.
She takes hold of my hand and helps me up. I make use of her support more than I need to, enjoying the fleeting touch. I then grab my hammer, noticing the shield on the ground near Thrin’s body. I pick it up and give it to Leomi.
“Keep it, it should help next time we get into a fight.” I say offhandedly, half-joking.
“I will.” She nods seriously.
Lance hangs it to on her sword’s handle and we head out of the building. My warriors keep a secure formation around us. We find four separate groups outside. The Rykz are in such numbers that their ranks span almost the entire length of the rampart, and there are still more on the wall walk.
The peasants and soldiers aren’t in formation but they are grouped together to one side. The Nobles are right in front of the headquarters, split in two themselves as Lance’s faction surrounds the rest who were disarmed.
That fact doesn’t stop Duke Meria from speaking, or rather croaking words out through his broken teeth. As far as I can tell, he’s trying to rile both his side and Lance’s faction into threatening to resume the battle if their holdings aren’t guaranteed.
None are listening to the crazed man, they’re worried but aren’t fools. They can see that there is little left to bargain with except their lives, and that isn’t something they’re willing to risk.
The Templars are arranged in two lines, standing between the Rykz and the rest of the humans. Two hundred of them with Master Amand and Commander Morgan standing side by side.
As we cross the construction site, thousands of eyes turn to us. Whispers die and silence reigns. I catch sight of Cecil and Aisha, watching the scene from a building’s balcony with a half-dozen bourgeois. I frown. I didn’t do all this to give power to wealthy pricks.
Celyz and Fenyz walk out of a tower with swaying gaits, their tails swinging behind them. The latter armed in her usual gear, chest plate and spearheaded tendrils. A group of a dozen harvesters and a fifty warriors escort them.
Amand and Morgan head out to meet them at the midpoint between each side. We do so as well with my remaining warriors and harvesters trailing behind.
“Celyz, Fenyz.” I call out tiredly.
“Elizabeth.” Celyz responds, ovaloid head inclined.
“Princesses.” Morgan bows.
“Are you well?” She asks.
“Peachy.” I reply.
“We formally capitulate, Princess Celyz, Princess Fenyz.” Morgan speaks up nervously.
“The Silver Hive accepts Izla Meria’s capitulation, Commander Morgan. I expect your army to leave its weapons behind and disperse under my sister’s supervision. You are allowed to retain possession of tools only. We will reconvene tomorrow for a formal meeting on the city’s administration.” Celyz tells him.
“What about my Order?” Master Amand asks.
“Your Templars and every Noble will be held captive within our camp, pending a decision.” Fenyz replies. Amand throws me a look, not one of worry but suspicion.
“You could gather them all in the Temple.” I say. “I’m sure Master Amand can give you his word that they won’t attempt to escape or resist.”
“I do.” He nods.
“No, not the Temple.” Celyz shakes her head. “Somewhere else.”
“The castle can be secured.” Leomi speaks up.
“Elizabeth?” Celyz turns to me.
“They’ll have no weapons and you can put Rykz on the wall.” I say.
“What about the secret passages?” Fenyz asks.
“It doesn’t really matter as long as you keep the Duke separated, they won’t know where the passages are.” I explain. “This is only temporary and it’s better than leaving them in the open or taking them in your camp. Lance’s faction can keep an eye on them and there is nowhere for them to go in Meria anyway.”
“I will send Dikyz with the rest of the prisoners of value.” Fenyz agrees.
“I’m extending some goodwill in the interest of keeping this transition as peaceful and uneventful as possible, Master Amand. Do not mistake this for trust. Your Order is not allowed to move outside of the boundaries we give you and we will dig holes to throw you in if necessary.” Celyz declares, her resounding voice taking a low threatening tone.
“We will hold to our word as long as you keep yours and leave Caeviel once the war ends.” He replies.
“The Rykz have never once broken a treaty.” Celyz replies, rising to her full height.
Commander Morgan and Master Amand then give a short respectful bow before taking their leave. Fenyz does too, heading to the defense tower they both came out of, no doubt to talk to this Dikyz.
Celyz relaxes some, but not entirely. Lance faces her, taking hold of my hand. The gesture only serves to make the Princess tense up. Her tendrils unfurl slightly and undulate around her torso.
“Where is Jessica, Celyz?” Leomi asks, gripping at my hand to keep me in place, to tell me to stay quiet about this for now.
“What right do you have to ask that question?” Celyz counters in a rumbling voice.
Lance’s sharp traits twist aggressively. She tries to let go and seize her sword but I catch her slender fingers before she does something stupid. She looks down, making a difficult frowning expression.
“Please tell me how she’s doing.” She finally pleads.
“I have no reason to reveal anything to you.” She replies coldly. “Elizabeth, we’re leaving. Let go of this woman.” I hesitate. Celyz looms over me menacingly. “Now.”
She’s never spoken to me on that tone. I could blow her off but I don’t think it’s a good idea to provoke Celyz now, in front of the city and right after the talks. I release Leomi’s hand but she doesn’t, still shaken by the Princess’ refusal to answer her.
Our eyes cross, my Lady’s are confused. She doesn’t know what’s happening or why I’m going along. I do my best to keep a level stare but fail and look away. I abruptly break out of her grasp and turn my back on her to join Celyz.
“Elizabeth?” Leomi asks, voice shaking.
“I‘m s.” I interrupt myself before apologizing. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I reply as firmly as I can.
“I‘m sorry, I have to know.” She says, voice full of hurt and guilt. “Don’t go.”
Leomi takes a single step and I freeze, wavering in my resolve to avoid causing a scene. One of Celyz’ tendrils wraps around my shoulders and pushes me forward, I detect another extending to stop Leomi from getting any closer.
“Rh-aah!” Leomi groans in anger and frustration. “Not twice. I won’t let you take them from me. Not again.”
She grabs her sword and unsheathes it this time, glaring at Celyz. The warriors take their sabers out and the harvesters spread out their four bladed arms, they move in to intercept her.
I flip around and slip under one of Celyz’ tendrils, dodging two more before I reach my Lady to interpose myself between her and them. The Nobles belonging to her faction have already drawn their swords while turmoil spreads among the human army.
On the precipice of chaos, I seize Leomi’s wrist with my left hand and start squeezing to force her to let go of the weapon. My limb’s overwhelming strength doesn’t leave her with much choice in the matter, her face twists in pain as my tightening grip breaks hers. Clang. Her sword hits the ground.
“Calm down, Kitten.” I utter sharply. “This isn’t worth throwing it all away. I’ll be back by morning. Trust me.”
“You’ll come back? You’re not lying, right?” She asks.
Her light gray eyes are full of hope and want. Seeing her so vulnerable stirs my heart and I caress the side of her face, forgetting to reply. Leomi kicks my shinbone, demanding an answer.
“I’m not. We’ll dance.” I make a corner smile behind my helmet.
“What if she doesn’t let you?” She asks worriedly.
“Nothing can hold me from you.” I reply softly.
Leomi flinches and I have to suppress a giggle. She glares at me but her body loses tension. Celyz stirs, her tendrils all unfurl and wave angrily around her. Time’s up, huh. I let go of my Lady and depart, leaving her there.
We head towards the defense tower, I almost speak up but Fenyz and another Princess exit, likely Dikyz. Her appearance is similar to theirs but she has a slightly larger frame.
Even if Celyz and Fenyz look remarkably identical at a glance, I would still be able to differentiate them if the latter removed her armor and spearheads. There is a soft and intelligent quality to Celyz that I can’t quite qualify as physical details, but seem obvious to me.
“I’ll help Fenyz setup patrols across the city and occupy the docks before transferring the prisoners from the camp or allowing those here to leave the premises.” Dikyz says.
“I’m sending half our warriors back, just to be safe. The camp is under-defended and we’ve seen rebels set fire to their own cities after we’ve taken over, I would rather not we risk our army.” Fenyz tells Celyz.
“I don’t think that is likely to happen here considering that we haven’t done anything to warrant that kind of resistance but do as you see fit.” Celyz replies.
The two Princesses make their way towards the army, the conversation concluded. Fenyz uses the bare part of one of her spearheaded tendrils to tap Celyz’ shoulder as she passes by.
Instead of entering the defense tower, Celyz guides me north along the wall towards the city’s gate. There is another Princess and over a hundred harvesters standing guard here. I wait impatiently for us to get out and finally be alone to speak up.
“What was that about?” I question, seething once we are a distance away on the road.
“You expect me to stand there and watch the two of you lock ten… hands in my presence?!” Celyz snaps, stopping short. Her tendrils expand all at once and they hit my chest, forcing me to stop as well.
“We were just…” I let my voice die down.
My only defense is to say that holding hands doesn’t have that kind of meaning for humans. I can’t say that to her, not without harming our bond and hurting her even more than she is now.
Besides, she’s right, I shouldn’t have done that. Leomi initiated it and I didn’t have the presence of mind to think of what it would do to Celyz at the time. I take my helmet off and tie it to my belt, facing her temper head on.
“Touching in front of me. Flirting.” Celyz barks, waving her appendages all around, venting. Her tail slamming the ground. “Were you trying to throw how happy you are together in my face?!”
“I wasn’t, I’m sorry.” I apologize. “It’s my fault.”
She pauses, apparently caught by surprise. She inhales and exhales heavily through the twelve openings along her ovaloid head. She then suddenly wraps her tendrils around my waist and brings me in for a hug. I accept the gesture, returning the embrace myself.
“You’re lucky Fenyz didn’t see that. I haven’t told her that we’re…” Celyz’ resounding voice crumbles a little. “That we’re not.” She finishes.
“I regret putting you through this.” I tell her.
“I don’t.” She makes her odd chuckle and lets me go. “We had a good time and… well. I still hold the hope that you’ll come back to me in the end.”
“I…” I won’t. “I don’t know what will happen.” I say.
“Neither do I, but I’m the only one who knows who you truly are.” Celyz says.
“I’m, a monster.” I utter. “Not because of this.” I lie quickly, moving my left limb. “I’ve spilled too much blood, and what I’ve done to Meria is horrible. Yet I feel no guilt and that just makes me feel worse.”
“You’ve done no less than he deserved, I’m certain Jessica.” She says soothingly. “And I would bet that he has done much worse before this day while he ruled. Nobility isn’t renowned for its pity towards those that break its laws.”
“That doesn’t really help, but thanks.” I tell her, shrugging.
“I’m not sure how to console you, to be perfectly honest.” She says. “It’s hard to admit after a hundred and fifty years, but my sisters were right. I’ve spent too much time in the Hive instead of living my life.”
“A hundred and fifty?” I ask, blinking.
“I’m quite young.” She says mirthfully.
I allow a small laugh to escape me and we resume walking together towards their camp. I barely notice the Rykz escorting us, despite there being almost a thousand at a quick glance. I simply enjoy the night breeze and let myself relax. The Izla is finally at peace.
As tension leaves, I feel fatigue slowly creep in. Yet, when we arrive at the small hill where I met them last time, I decide to leave Celyz and make my way to the river running in the plains to take a bath. She lets me go without a word or even asking but sends a good number of warriors to accompany me.
I come across the river and take my chain-mail off, dropping it in the grass. I then untie my hard leather armor’s straps and take it off. I find that my clothes are just as bloody and damaged as the rest of my equipment. I put them on the pile and put my hammer on top so that they don’t fly away if the wind blows.
I dip in the water, inspecting my leg’s injuries who are already starting to scar. I did use a lot of flow but it does seem like that’s too quick. Or perhaps the wounds weren’t as grave as I thought they were. My Lady did hold back.
I assemble a healing construct and apply it to my thighs, I then weave another for the stab wound in my right shoulder along with one of my ribs which is either cracked or broken. The lack of sharp pain from any of those injuries reminds to tell the Rykz part of myself to stop fighting for survival.
Cleaning up in the river under the pale moonlight, I let myself sink and relax, only keeping my chin above the cold water. My sleeve glove soaks in and I scrape the blood out of it with my nails, breaking a few as I haven’t cut them in a while. I bite those that didn’t to cut them to size. Finally rid of the night’s grime, I start combing my hair to get rid of the knots.
My Lady naturally comes to mind, and with her so does Celyz. The entire mess is of my making. I need to break it off between Lance and E.Vil without making it seem her fault because if she blames herself again, she’ll never try to get back with me as Jessica.
I do my best to chase the thoughts and consider the fact that I’ll need to pull my weight tomorrow. Cecil’s council looks influential as she mentioned, but I expected people closer to the status of low-born than that of Nobles. Rich bourgeois like them are disturbingly close to Nobility as far as I know.
Shivering, I assemble a nourishing construct and get out of the water. I shake my head to get rid of the water sticking to my hair. I walk up to my clothes but quickly dismiss the idea of putting them back on, swearing under my breath.
I grab my boots, with thick soles that give me just the couple of centimeters necessary for people to realize that I’m really not that short. They were splashed by the dark orange mixture of human and Rykz blood. I clean them in the river and signal a warrior to come over.
I throw my equipment on its shoulders, tying the boots laces together. I then get rid of the blood sticking to my hammer and make my way back to Celyz, hoping that she has some clothes for me. Fuck, am I poor.
The Rykz camp is dark and lacks any fire or recognizable marks that could help me find the small hill. I end up stopping the warrior carrying my gear to slam my hammer on the ground. It takes the lead and guides me towards a tunnel entrance.
The large room is empty so I directly head up to Celyz’ chambers, finding her at the table with a worker helping her put maps away in a chest. She waves a tendril to tell me to come in.
I hesitate to enter, naked, but… I kind of always am to her, considering our ability to sense our surroundings. I walk over to the sheet bed and let myself fall forward into it. That does remind me to ask.
“I can sense about fifteen meters around myself, but I’m pretty sure your range of detection extends further.” I speak up.
“It does, but in a cone rather than a sphere.” She replies.
I hum in understanding and close my exhausted eyes. I listen as Celyz and the worker pack up, wondering how long it’ll take me to fall asle…
— — —