Lance brushes a strand of her straight black hair behind her ear, making my heart beat faster. She is gazing over my shoulder, watching the sunset. I inspect the illusions construct anchored to my mask, finding that it can still be activated. I inject some of my energy into it.
“Is Izla Meria going to be alright?” I ask.
“I think so.” She nods. “My subjects… well they’re not anymore, Castle Lance’s citizens are going back tomorrow.”
“We made it, right.” I say.
“It isn’t over but yes, we did.” She smiles. “The Council is already more invested in the Izla’s well-being than the Court ever was.”
I catch sight of Yvonne watching from a distance away, still chaperoning us. The squad of Rykz are also nearby. I grunt. Can’t I get some time alone? Probably not if we stay here.
I plant my hammer’s spike in the ground and take both my helmet and chain-mail off to hang them on the weapon. Lance watches me with curiosity. I stretch my shoulders and take a single step, moving close enough to hug Leomi. She looks down at me. This isn’t the right mood.
“Want to go see the city?” I ask.
“I do but, the Rykz…” She sighs.
“It’ll be fine, they won’t stop you if you’re with me. We just have to avoid their Princesses. Just give me your word you won’t vanish on me, I wouldn’t be able to spin it if you actually escape.” I say.
“You have it.” She smiles brightly.
I grab her by the hand and guide her towards the labyrinth made of hedges, engaging deep into it towards the north-east. Yvonne pursues, quickening her pace to keep us in her line of sight as I do my best to lose her.
After a series of small turns, I suddenly change direction and go west, breaking into a jog to avoid making too much noise. Having lost the sword-sworn for now, I head directly for the castle’s three-meter wall at the edge of the garden.
“Get ready to jump.” I tell her.
“Not exactly wearing the ideal outfit for this.” Lance comments smilingly.
“I’ll go first and catch you then.” I reply.
There are warriors standing on top of the wall, so many of them that they don’t even need to patrol them to cover the area. I assemble a few lion’s steps and glance back at Leomi, she nods to signify she’s ready.
I break into a full sprint, releasing her hand. As I near the small rampart, I activate two lion’s steps at once and kick the ground. I pounce up and forward, kicking the stone to redirect my momentum and catch the edge of the wall with my left hand, pulling myself on top of it without trouble.
Leomi starts running, reaching the same speeds I have in a fraction of the time despite her red slit dress being a hindrance. She jumps with her hand extended out. I catch it and her feet land lightly on the vertical wall.
I pull her up by my side, she helps herself by laying a hand on my shoulder. I wave my hand to order the warriors to move. The western part of Meria is laid in front of us, many lights coming out of the houses’ windows, people strolling in the streets.
“Let’s go before Yvonne spots us.” I say, seizing her slender fingers once more.
We walk over to the crenelation and hop over it, landing roughly on the pavement while still holding hands. Leomi makes a grin and takes the lead, pulling me behind her as she guides us through the city.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“Don’t know!” She exclaims, laughing. “I just haven’t had the chance to run in months.”
And run we do, with no discernible destination. People turn heads as we rush past them, they greet our backs but Leomi doesn’t slow down. She does notice as her expression brightens a little more every time we cross paths with a group.
The population is taking advantage of the first night without a curfew. They seem to be celebrating, not necessarily the end of the war, but perhaps simply being able to go out with their friends and families again.
As we cross an avenue, the clear view allows me to notice that there is bright light south-east coming from the marketplace.
“Let’s check that out.” I tell Leomi.
I decelerate abruptly, leveraging my hold on her hand to bring her against my torso. She groans a bit at the sudden motion that no doubt pulled on her shoulder injury. I sneak my arm behind her knees and lift her up into my arms.
She pouts a little in dissatisfaction but doesn’t complain and locks her wrists behind my neck. I assemble lion’s steps and depart at full speed towards the marketplace, going all out.
I struggle to maintain my balance and almost fall several times but don’t consider slowing down as the sight of her hair being blown by the wind is beautifully mesmerizing. As we approach the plaza, the upper portion of a large fire comes into sight.
“Sounds like they’re having fun.” She says.
“Heard anything about it?” I ask.
“No, neither has Yvonne. They probably improvised it.” She smiles.
We emerge out of the avenue and find a small crowd assembled around the flames. There are pieces of meat held by metal skewers over the flames, cooking to the burning wood.
I stop and stand there, carrying Leomi. Both of us watching the festivities with amazement. People are socializing without a care in the world despite the hundred harvesters guarding the Temple just a few dozen meters away from their gathering.
There are carriages with open barrels parked in the street surrounding the marketplace. People wearing leather aprons are standing on top of them, serving tankards to those standing in line. I recognize one of them, Alana the tavern owner.
“That’s Lady Lance and Elizabeth Vil!” Someone shouts.
The call goes through the crowd and heads turn in our direction. The rumbling of discussions dies down and people stare at us, stunned quiet. I adjust my hold over Leomi and squeeze her against my chest.
“Don’t stop on our account!” I yell.
Cheers erupt and those holding tankards raise their drinks to us. Not everyone reacts in that way, however, a non-negligible portion of those present remain circumspect but none kills the mood by booing.
“Peace in Izla Meria!” Leomi cries out with a wide grin.
This time, everyone doubles down on the ovation and the celebration resumes. The sun sets as I stand there, my Lady in my arms, feeling like I achieved something for the first time in a month.
“We did the right thing.” I whisper.
“I think so.” She replies softly. “I haven’t seen looks like these in a long time.”
I activate the illusion construct, reassured to find that it’s stable enough to last the night. I slide my mask to free my chin, having to cover one of my eyes to do that while keeping my face hidden.
I lean in and depose a small kiss on Leomi’s cheek. She uses her hold around my neck to keep my lips there a little while longer, both of us blushing, aware that people are watching.
Through my other sense, I can’t help but notice that a good third of those in my range look away in disapproval. I don’t care about their opinions anymore. She wiggles a little and I release my hold on her, laying her back down on her feet.
“I’ll get us something to drink.” She tells me.
Her eyebrows are slightly hunched, her expression difficult despite her rosy cheeks and slight corner smile. I observe her go through the crowd with an assured gait, admiring her controlled movements and enjoying the sight of her lanky hips swinging in her tight dress.
People make way she heads towards a cart, it seems to bother Leomi though as she stops to exchange a few words with a family. She keeps engaging with citizens, as she calls them, and many lose their apprehension and talk to her in return.
The more popular she is, the safer she’ll be once I’m gone. I walk up to one of the men taking care of the meat cooking at the fire. I take a gold coin out of my purse and hand it over, his eyes widen as he takes hold of it.
He hurriedly grabs a plate and sets a dozen skewers on it, stumbling on his words of thanks. I pat his shoulder and tell him not to mind it before asking if there’s a bench or somewhere to sit nearby.
He shakes his head, pointing me to a group of friends that are using small barrels, logs, and tree stumps. He says that there isn’t anything worthy for the two of us. I scoff and search the pile of dry wood they’re using to fuel the fire for something suitable.
I find a long rectangular crate with a hole in one of its sides and lay my plate on it. I then pick it up and bring it back to the corner of the street we arrived from. I sit there, waiting for Leomi to come back.
She shouldn’t have any reason to run and she’s plenty strong enough to handle trouble. Yet, I can’t help but be a little worried until I spot her coming back with two tankards in hand and a light step.
I sit down on the crate and unstrap the front of hard leather armor, very much enjoying the fact that her light gray eyes are attracted to what I’m doing. She follows the release of my chest with concealed interest.
I grin and open the jacket more than I need to, freeing my breasts. Leomi blinks and tears her gaze away with some effort. She waves away a few brave people trying to strike up a conversation and closes the distance to sit down next to me, the plate between us.
“Behave.” She whispers, handing me a tankard.
“You’re too gorgeous, can’t help it.” I reply easily, glad that her discomfort seems to originate from being in public.
“This isn’t really a celebration, they got together to fend off their worries and exchange on the latest events.” Lance tells me, changing the subject. “There were quite a few robberies last night and today, the Rykz patrols break up fights but don’t pursue thieves.”
“I think the entire concept is foreign to them, I can’t imagine a Princess stealing from another much less a drone.” I say wryly.
“Still, people realize that things ought to be chaotic for a little while. I didn’t expect them to be so resilient.” She adds with amazement.
“I suppose they hold more hope than they did yesterday.” I note. “That being said, be careful. They’re bearing the present and looking to the future but if the Council start maneuvering for their own interests, they won’t be oblivious to that and it’ll backfire.”
“I know.” She sighs. “I plan to attend every meeting. Cecil did her part to keep them contained today but I don’t trust that she’ll continue once you’re gone, she’s ambitious.”
“And sneaky. She’s more likely to move in the shadows than during your sessions… Actually, now that I think about it, Edusa knows her.” I frown.
“She does?” Leomi asks, surprised.
“Edusa went to ask Cecil about me the morning after our first dance.” I tell her.
“Well, she’s more of a courtesan than I ever will be.” She says with a groan. “I had no idea who this woman truly was until I started looking.”
“Anyway, I asked Cecil to keep an eye on Edusa today. That could have been a mistake, you should talk to her with Yvonne tomorrow and make sure she’s on your side.” I admit, concerned that the Madame would influence the young Lady to her side.
“I will.” Leomi nods. “But I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ll ask Margaret to keep tabs on Cecil though.”
“Look at us.” I gripe. “We can’t help talking about all this even when we’re alone.”
“I haven’t had enough beer to get into our relationship.” She quips, bringing her tankard up to her lips.
I grunt as the comments stings and try mine. It tastes grainy and is almost flat but still a little sparkly. Leomi makes a small grimace as she swallows. I chuckle and take a long gulp.
“It’s… good.” She comments.
“My poor little Lady. Is your Noble stomach having trouble handling our base drinks?” I gibe.
“We’ll see which one of us has trouble walking back.” She replies confidently.
“I won’t take that bet.” I laugh.
“I actually had to insist to be given the normal draft.” She tells me.
“Ah, our Countess deserves only the best!” I exclaim jokingly.
“Shh.” She says urgently, watching the crowd. “I really don’t want to be given special treatment, it goes against all we’re trying to build.”
“Mhm.” I hum in agreement.
“I really think we have a rare opportunity here and we might not have much time to put the system in place if your negotiations go well. We need to be united and strong before the King names another Duchess or Duke. I wish we had a few more months to work with.” She says with a sigh.
“Will you be alright?” I ask. “Edusa told me that Nobility will squash you if they can.”
“The sooner we rejoin Caeviel, the harder it will be. I have a few vague ideas to prepare us for that.” She tells me. “But only one that I can implement now.”
“Oh?” I say, drinking.
“I’m going to teach the lion strike to anyone that’s interested by letting them join us until they’ve good enough with the construct to continue training on their own. There’s a loophole in the Empire’s laws that allows me to teach those in my service without specifying the duration of it.” She explains.
“You’re preparing for a civil war?” I ask with a scowl.
Leomi can’t see my expression but my tone clearly expresses my concern. She takes a sip of her beer before answering, her lips twisting in distaste. I take a meat skewer and bite down on it.
“I’m ensuring that, whatever happens, we have options.” She replies. “If mainland Nobles are appointed to replace those who fell, they will want to bring the population back into the fold. They’ll have to be careful about what they do if peasantry can actually fight. On the other hand, if the war continues… we’ll be in a position to influence its outcome.”
“Training them to defend themselves fine, but I didn’t do all this to drag the Izla into the Rykz’ war, Lance. Quite the opposite.” I utter, controlling my anger.
“Elizabeth.” She murmurs quietly, laying her hand on my right shoulder to squeeze it. “Izla Meria is committed to creating a political system that will make it clash with Nobility. At best, my organization will be seen as a laughing stock. At worst, they’ll want to destroy those of us Nobles taking part in it.”
“Are you telling me that it would be in our interest for the war to drag on?” I ask, shaking her off and glaring at her.
“It would be, strategically.” She admits. “I do not like it but we desperately need time.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this, from you of all people.” I utter with difficulty.
I start rising but she swiftly pushes the plate away and slides over to my side. She wraps her arm around my waist to hold me down, against her.
“Don’t get mad. I am most definitely not asking you to sabotage the negotiations, I want you to do be who you are and do all that you can to bring this to an end. I am simply being entirely honest with you on this.” She murmurs.
“Do you have any idea how many peasants will die to the Rykz if the war spreads to the mainland?” I ask, voice shaking. “They’ve told me that they’ll escalate if the negotiations fail.”
“Peasantry will only suffer if they take part in it.” She says softly. “If we can’t achieve peace, then I’ll work to convince the Rykz to give us the winter to spread the word of what we’re doing throughout Caeviel. Convince them to let Nobility fight its own war by itself.”
“You want to overthrow the Kingdom from the inside out.” I realize with amazement.
“It’s the end goal.” She nods, smiling. “It can be done without the Rykz, but it would be a lot harder. Not that I’m giving up even if they sign a peace.”
I jump up and turn to grab her by the waist. She barely manages to deposit her tankard on the crate before I lift her up. I start spinning her in the air and she laughs delightfully as I do.
“Keep in mind that this is just a vague idea for now.” She tells me, flying.
“I know.” I reply. “
Leomi’s bright smile is dazzling. I slow down to deposit her back on the firm ground but don’t let go of her. I get up to my toes and plant a deep kiss on her soft lips. Her light gray eyes widen in surprise but she soon closes them to return my feelings.
We don’t mix tongues, conscientious of the fact that many are watching and unwilling to share show such intimacy. However, I fail to resist temptation and slide my hand from her side to feel her firm buttocks. She stiffens a tiny bit and throws me a small glare.
“You’re going to pay double for that.” She makes a mean smirk.
She takes hold of both my hands and forces me to let go before grabbing our tankards. She then departs towards a street. I hurriedly bite down on my skewer and grab two more before running after her.
I worry that I messed up but she waits for me to catch up with her. She hands my drink over and passes her arm behind my back, her hand then slides down to slip inside my hard leather armor’s pants and venture into my briefs.
“W, wait, you can but I can’t?” I ask, shivering in excitement at the cool touch of her fingers on my skin.
“That’s correct.” She grins.
I groan in mock frustration as both my hands are full. I bring a meat skewer up to her mouth and she takes a hungry bite out of it. I then finish it in a single go.
“It’s already this dark.” I sigh, noticing the sky when I look up to her. Not that she’s that much taller than me.
“Bottom’s up?” She suggests, raising her tankard.
“You’re on.” I reply.
“First one who finishes wins.” She says, smirking at my beer.
I glance down at it, noticing that it’s only down by a third. That’s not mine, she switched them! I glare at her, but Leomi throws her head back and gulps her drink.
“You’re cheating!” I protest before hurriedly imitating her.
I focus on my other sense and detect that I have no chance of winning. I let go of the skewer and tickle her waist. I hear her gargle and almost burst out in laughter myself. She pulls her hand out of my briefs and seizes my wrist to stop me. Ah, that wasn’t worth it.
“Finished!” She exclaims.
“Fblishd!” I do at the same moment.
“You broke the rules so I win.” Leomi argues.
“There were none.” I counter with a grin.