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The galley-slaves take a while to free themselves so I spend that time preparing a dozen more lightning constructs and altering the hardening construct to affect my limb’s tendrils. The network covers most of my torso, back to belly.

I search for Aisha and Dalv, secondary objectives, but there is a lot happening and my detection range barely covers a third of both ships in total. The problem is that there are still a lot of soldiers on this galley’s upper deck.

We need to get going.” I speak up, purposefully making my voice resound inside my mask.

We’re low on flow and have few weapons, Dame Vil.” A tall woman replies.

Do you know the lion strike?” I ask.

Most of us don’t, no.” She says.

Those who do take one of the five swords, I’ll top your reserves.” I tell them.

Six slaves step out. I gather portions of flow for them, using the energy I stole because of its golden color to avoid an argument about the color of mine. They absorb it without complaint.

How did your jailers call the alarm in case of revolt?” I ask.

The sound construct.” The tall woman replies.

Give me a minute and do that.” I tell her. “I’ll be going straight for the Count, I expect you all to hold the soldiers while I do. I will help as soon as he’s taken care of.”

I head upstairs, stopping short of showing myself to the few among the four dozen soldiers on the deck that aren’t staring at the other ship. Odo is on the bridge, gesticulating at his helmsman and shouting.

Order!” He yells.

Not having as much fun as before, are we? I’m only getting started. I assemble four fire constructs, which takes very little energy, making half travel underneath the wooden deck towards this ship’s mast while directing the rest at the other ship.

Odo suddenly flips around towards the staircase, eyes wide. I rise and wave at him while targeting the fire constructs at both ships’ sails, activating them as soon as they emerge from under the deck. Four thin blazing strips fly up to the rectangular canvases, setting them on fire.

There!” He exclaims panically.

His warning is lost in the clamor of battle, drowned out by the screams arising because the sails suddenly burst into flames. I assemble lion’s steps and run along the port-side. They were disorganized, to begin with, and most are on starboard to be ready to jump over to the other ship.

The galley-slaves charge out of the rowers’ deck, letting their long-repressed anger out in defiant roars. I make it past most of the crowd, making use of darkness and chaos to slip by the soldiers.

I don’t head towards the stairs leading up to the bridge, I keep hugging the port-side guardrail. As I approach my destination, I assemble my last two lion’s steps with a third more flow. I kick the ground and soar up to the bridge, landing with my sword already ready to strike.

A bodyguard startles, haphazardly raising his weapon to block. I slip under his guard, stabbing his thigh and slicing it wide open with a twist of my wrist. I then charge the area surrounding me and prepare to unleash thunder.

Kill it!Odo cries out.

He draws his sword, the blade is glowing golden with flow, an armor-piercing construct. His bodyguards fan out in front of him. I let them as it matters little what formation they take. I overcharge a lightning construct and target them.

Craaack. His guards fall all at once, patches of flesh charcoaled, fumes escaping their mouths and nostrils. Many things happen all at once. Vikiana rushes here, the Templars disengage, the slaves on this ship redouble on their offense while those on the other ship use the constructs I left them to clear the stairs to break through the choke-point. I ignore all of it to charge Odo.

W, wait.” He stutters.

He throws a wide lion strike. My limb rises to block. I stop in my tracks. The point of his sword slices at the air without coming close to hitting me. I re-assume control of my limb and leap up to him, seizing his right wrist.

His left palm fills with flow. I bring my weapon down and cut the entire hand off. I then squeeze my left hand’s fingers. His bones snap and his sword drops point first, piercing the deck down to its guard.

Ahh!” He squeals.

Shh.” I whisper.

I bring my mask down on his nose, breaking it. His cries of pain redouble. Vikiana stops and starts shaping an air-blade construct, likely realizing that she won’t make it in time otherwise. I doubt that she wants to save Odo but in this situation, it’s the only tactical choice available to her.

I take a lightning construct out and target her construct with it, activating it just as she activates hers. The bolt meets the golden blade at the half-way point between me and the Exemplar.

Her construct bursts while mine fizzles out. I’m certain that I used less energy than she did. I grin and command the rest of my lightning spheres to orbit me so that I can use them at a moment’s notice.

We had a deal!” She yells.

Her Templars reach her at last. The thirteen of them face me as one. I don’t stand a chance in battle, but my confidence remains unaffected by the grim assessment. The battle between soldier and slaves still rages, that’s the priority.

Odo tries to speak. I activate a lion strike. My left hand flickers. I force my fingers, covered in steel by the gauntlet, into his mouth. The teeth that stand in the way break and I seize his tongue.

Gha na, pz nt.” Odo chokes. He tries to hit me with his right hand despite the broken wrist.

Well, that’s rude.” I scold him.

I pass my sword under my left arm and use a lion strike to cut that hand off too. I want to tear that tongue off but I have no leverage. Hm, this is awkward. I plant the weapon in his stomach to free my right hand and seize his neck with it.

There we go.” I smile behind my mask. “Don’t move!” I shout at the Templars who are trying to take advantage of my distraction to get closer.

We had a deal!” Vikiana yells, icy anger filling her eyes.

Her uncontrolled voice reaches everyone. The battle lulls as Odo‘s soldiers look to the voice and notice me, holding their Lord’s life in my hands, while the galley-slaves cheer and make use of the unexpected truce to grab weapons out of the dead’s hands.

The clear-minded start using their flow to smother the flames eating the sails. Good, empty your reserves. They’re consuming more energy than I did making those constructs. That’s to my advantage.

I came here to end the war and I intend to do just that, Exemplar.” I reply calmly.

You can’t win this, all you’re doing is causing more deaths!” She roars.

How ironic. That is the same point I made about the Rykz.” I drawl.

The counter-argument stops her dead in her tracks. Fury seeps out of her traits, replaced by a difficult expression. It doesn’t last long, her eyes find the bodies lying on the galleys’ upper decks and rekindle her animosity.

Grwl.” Odo says.

Don’t worry, I’ll get to you in a moment.” I tell him and turn back to the Templars. “All the Rykz want out of Caeviel is Princess Cetyz and I’m prepared to give what you want in exchange. Yet, you made no promise. You schemed for more out of me. No more, this will happen on my terms only. Why would you prevent me from ending this war?”

This Rykz army will be defeated, by Caeviel or by the Phalanxes, if we do not fight here, we fight elsewhere. How blind and arrogant must you be. Neither of us knows what our Emperor plans. You are no ruler, you have no right to make these calls and kill to enforce your position!” Vikiana shouts.

You’re a sheep, Exemplar, your entire Order is!” I snap. “Guardians of balance?! You do nothing without being ordered to.” I roar with a sour taste in my mouth. “Meek little creatures who don’t stand to safeguard us from Nobility’s abuses! How far you’ve fallen from legend!

The outburst surprises me, I need to be calm and calculated to achieve my objectives. Yet, something is… calling for blood. I shake my head, failing to clear the desire to… to prey on these sheep.

We do what needs to be done to safeguard the Empire on behalf of our Emperor!” Vikiana blows up.

Rasaec is responsi…” I stop myself short of blasphemy. No, the Emperor is blessed by the Lake, Mother always said so. If he isn’t then… this is all meaningless.

I thought you had Faith… Vikiana says, shaken. You used that to escape, how low can you go?

I could have escaped at any moment, Exemplar. Don’t inflate your importance, you are a pawn by your own admission.” I utter coldly.

The galley starts tipping to port-side, the ropes tying both ships together are pulled taut. I keep my footing, having expected it at some point, but Odo almost falls. I tighten my grip on him. Enough time wasted.

Like you said, Exemplar. Flow is the great equalizer.” I speak up.

I take the energy I used to hide my left limb and anchor it on the surface of the armor plates covering it. The sight doesn’t surprise the Templars, but the soldiers hadn’t known and a wave of fear courses through their ranks. The galley-slaves call for battle.

Tension rises, every single gaze is turned to me. I bring Odo to the front and assemble a fire construct so that all present can clear see the Noble. I secure my hold over his slippery tongue, bumping more teeth loose in the process.

I pull it out, slowly, distending his flesh. He yelps and cries, gesticulating with his two stumps. The base of the tongue rips and gives out in one go. Odo‘s mouth fills with blood, so much that it seeps out from between his lips and he starts choking on it.

You couldn’t protect your Lord from me, what chance do you think you have of protecting your own life?” I ask his subjects. “I tell you once again. Bare weapons against me and find no mercy.

I let go of Odo. He drops to his knees, wrists flat on the deck, spitting swathes of bright red blood. Silence accompanies the demonstration, my audience has no words. Grace is watching her brother, horror twisting her traits, her expression reflected by the thirteen Templars.

I prepare to call for surrender since this is as far as I should go. Letting him live like this is a fitting punishment, for now. I can finish him off later, priorities come first. I’m a monster. Silence.

Crush. The sickening wet sound is accompanied by a tremor in my left hand, distracting me from my internal monologue. I look down, finding that my symbiont grabbed the back of Odo‘s neck and crushed it of its own volition. I stand there, too stunned to react.

Grace turns away from the gruesome spectacle. The movement brings the wavering soldiers in her line of sight. Their morale must at it lowest, close to breaking. Panic replaces fright and she raises her sword.

My brother wouldn’t stand for this!” Grace calls out. “Fight, kill this… thing.”

The Count is dead! Long live Countess Odo!” Vikiana shouts.

No, no! The Exemplar is glaring at me. Her icy blue eyes filled with reproach. This is a disaster. They should have feared repercussion, seen that I have more flow than they do, watched their Lord helpless under my thumb. A battle to the death benefits no one, and me even less.

Enough, I need solutions. The galley-slaves are surrounding the block of soldiers and Templars, but that also means that they’re cut off from each other and can be taken out one at a time.

I split the flow I’m keeping in reserve on my arm in half and that portion into two equal parts. I send the energy behind my back and then to the lower deck, ordering it to float towards the two groups of criminals out of sight before cutting my link to it.

Kill! For Port-Odo!” Grace orders.

The soldiers charge, the galley-slaves meet them head-on. Bodies pile on the galleys’ decks. The Templars charge me, Exemplar at the forefront. It takes me a few seconds to target her companions with my prepared lightning constructs but I manage to activate them before they reach.

Bolts flash, white light fills the night, stopping them in their tracks. The temple guards’ hard leather armors flash golden light. Lightning dissipates. Men and women fall to their knees, only Conrad and Vikiana remain standing.

The two resume their rush, I jump off the bridge just as they leap on. I assemble lion’s steps and slip in the criminals’ ranks. I use lightning constructs to intercept the air-blades they propel at me.

The flow I sent earlier reaches the slaves. It doesn’t turn the tide, but salvages them from disarray. I use my energy without holding back, occupying Vikiana and Conrad with one while I overcharge another to keep the rest of the Templars down.

Their armors glow every time to block the bolts, but they are growing weaker. Still, they’re getting up despite the bombardment. Vikiana and Conrad are also about to charge again.

I change tactics, realizing that even if they run out of flow there are still too many soldiers to deal with. I assemble a lightning construct and target the center of the soldiers’ ranks. Crack. Dozens drop.

Their lines buckle and the advantage changes sides. I don’t have much time to appreciate it, the Templars impact the galley-slaves to my left and start cutting them down. I move to help but I suddenly detect a golden cube plunging down on me from above.

My limb comes up and blocks it. The construct activates on contact and discharges its kinetic energy. The steel plates covering my arm vibrate, I feel it down to my bones. I buckle but that’s it. I assemble a lightning construct exclusively for defense, charging the air around me.

That’s when Vikiana and Conrad cut through two criminals to get to me. Clink. My symbiont intercepts the Exemplar’s follow-up blow, fingers closing over the blade. I fear for a moment that her sword will take on the armor-piercing construct and cut through the steel, but it doesn’t.

She must be too low on energy to risk it. Conrad slashes at my right wrist, threatening to cut it just beneath the iron links keeping my bones together. I only have enough time to angle my sword vertically to block by using its guard.

Can’t you see how barbaric you’ve become?” Vikiana asks, twisting her weapon to free it from my grip. “This thing is turning you…”

Clink. My limb blocks another one of the Exemplar’s slashes. I activate a lion strike and stab upwards at Conrad, a blind attack with no aim. He manages to parry but the surprise makes him stumble back.

Not as easy when I’m not holding back, is it?” I utter coldly.

You’ve become a sad creature because of this.” She says, looking alternative at my left arm and at my mask with pity.

Anger flares and I seize back control of my left arm. Conrad launches an overhead blow, I put my weight on my right leg to step aside from its arc. Vikiana takes advantage of the fact the fact that I can’t move again to swing horizontally at my stomach.

I activate the hardening construct just long enough to let it land. Thunk. Her blade is stopped by the tendrils underneath my skin but not after cutting only a small layer of flesh. No matter. I grin and seize her biceps, squeezing. It breaks with a dry sound. Snap.

I win, Exemplar.” I say with a disbelieving laugh.

Vikiana’s only reaction to having her arm broken is that her jaw clenches tight. Her left hand flashes and seizes the handle of the spare sword hanging at my waist. I bring my sword down to stop her, caring little about mutilating her at this moment.

Conrad steps in and blocks my attack. No! Vikiana draws the sword and, as soon as the point of it leaves the sheath, she reverses momentum to stab at me, targeting the same spot as before. I barely manage to escape it even thought I began dodging as soon as Conrad moved in.

Fight isn’t over until it is.” She tells me.

I release my hold on my symbiont. I have little choice in the matter as I cannot focus on both her and Conrad, using her non-dominant hand is barely slowing the woman down. I slash at him while retreating. The Exemplar starts working on my limb, giving me no space to assemble anything other than lion strikes to keep up with the two Templars.

The ship tilts again, pulling on the other one. Both decks are angled to a degree, messing up everyone’s footing. I’m taken off-guard but so is Conrad. Vikiana isn’t. She strikes high, blocked by my limb while I stumble.

The Exemplar’s arm flashes and her slash makes it past my limb. I activate the hardening construct. Thunk. I assemble two lion’s steps and jump back, swinging my sword at Conrad. He blocks. I activate the lighting construct I kept for defense, targeting his sword with it.

He drops, convulsing. I crash on the deck, having attempted to do too many things at once. Brown viscous brown blood is spreading over my stomach, staining my shirt and mixing with my own. Shit, I thought I blocked that entirely.

Clink. Vikiana isn’t stopping. I kick at her feet with a lion strike, forcing her back and giving me enough space to get back on my feet. We exchange a flurry of blows, swords linking, plate armored arm flickering. And I find myself on the defensive.

Her right arm is hanging to her side, useless and I have the advantage of being able to focus on the attack while my symbiont defends. It should be enough, yet it isn’t. The Exemplar is slower, she has less flow to throw around and a single arm.

But she is not only keeping up with me, but isn’t even using lion strikes as often as I am. Her sword seems to always be where it needs to be, whether parrying, blocking, or counter-attacking. She is reading me like a damn book.

I can’t even make use of my superior flow reserves because I don’t have the time. I need to outlast her… she’ll run out long before I do. That’s weak. I go on the attack, pushed by a burning bloodthirsty hunger for battle and victory.

I slash when she is blocked by my limb, preventing her from forcing it into a position where it won’t be able to defend from. I land a few hits on her but fail to penetrate her leather armor with enough force to deliver more than a slight flesh wound.

Vikiana always swerves away at the last moment or counter-attacks, targeting my right arm or shoulder to force me to abort. She leaves a dozen surface cuts in my flesh. Fatigue takes its toll on us both and we slow down. I feel burnt out. Every heartbeat is accompanied by a dull pang of pain.

She should have run out of flow by now. I notice only now that there is less energy anchored to my left limb than it used to, not by a lot but about a few portion’s worth. What? Shit! I block one of her swings at the last second.

I feel my link to the flow tremble for a moment and some of the energy seep out towards her, an almost invisible golden stream with slivers of black. A discreet sensation that I’m not surprised to have missed as it took all my concentration not to lose the intense duel.

Duel? Something’s off. I change the lion strike I’m shaping into a lion’s step. I retreat fast, counting on my limb and a brutal, blind, sword swing to hold her off. I get the second construct done for my other leg and jump away. Vikiana pursues.

She suddenly loses her footing and falls over. I land, trip on the unstable deck, and splatter. The ship is tipping back over to starboard, fast. Water gushes over the guardrail. I hear screams, warnings.

Behind you!” Aisha’s shout pierces above all others.

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