Celyz doesn’t respond to Yvonne, her mind is taken by anger. She is furious at the humans but also at herself for letting this happen a second time. She can smell Fenyz spreading her pheromones, trying to communicate with her. She ignores that.
She raises her foot a second time, preparing to crush Leomi Lance underneath, the daughter of the woman who led those that took Cetyz, that took Jessica. Yet, she cannot bring it down. Celyz is unable to plunge her roots into that woman’s chest and drink her blood no matter how much she wants to, she bound against it.
Celyz could strike her once because the shield was interposed, because she wears hard leather armor and bears a sword. But now that she is on her back, relatively defenseless and without a path to retreat, the strike would gravely injure her.
Princess Celyz gave her word to Jessica that she would not go beyond roughing her up a little, and a promise Leomi Lance would be safe even before that. Her word is her pride yet here, at this moment, it feels like she is in chains.
She slowly brings her foot down on her rival’s shield and pins her down to the ground. The humans smell like they’re preparing to die for their liege, the odor of repressed fear. Celyz takes a deep breath and swings her construct hardened tendrils, easily slapping their swords aside.
“Why attack us without provocation?!” Rowland asks, echoed by the other three.
“Silence.” Celyz utters.
“What happ, ened to Jessica?” Countess Lance asks, encountering difficulty speaking with the Princess’ weight pressing down on her ribcage.
“Your treacherous Mother did.” Celyz replies, seething.
“Is, is she…?” Lance mutters.
“Captured!” Celyz roars.
Leomi exhales in relief, a mistake as the reaction angers the Princess. She presses down even further, preventing her from inhaling. Yvonne swipes at Celyz’ knee who evades by simply bending it backward and leaning forward to maintain the pressure.
Yet, Celyz is wavering, she is blaming herself. If only she had taken the time to thoroughly train Jessica in flow, she hadn’t expected that the woman would gain so much access and so hadn’t planned accordingly.
But it is this human’s fault that there was no time, her escape with her mother’s help almost destroyed years of preparation. A long whistling whine escapes Celyz’ twelve breathing openings, a wail of despair.
[Sister, calm down. Cetyz and the hybrid are in the same place, it may work to our advantage. These humans will be of use to us when we break through to Meiridin.] Fenyz sends from afar.
She is controlling their army, preventing it from falling to disorder as they can tell that their Princess is in distress yet are ordered not to slaughter the source of it.
“If not for you and your mother…” Celyz growls, releasing the pressure. “You’ll fix this.”
Leomi gasps and pants to recover her breath. She is relieved that the two are safe, as much as one can be. Part of her is already calculating the next move she needs to make to free Jessica, and it doesn’t even break her oath as Elizabeth is with her and she has cause to liberate her brutal lover.
The other part of her is incensed at this Rykz’ pretension, blaming her for her mother’s actions. The gall of that Princess when she’s the one who manipulated the two into doing her bidding, dragged them into their war.
“You’re the one that sent them on their own with a small escort!” Lance fires back. “You used them as pawns and blame me for their capture? It was only a matter of time, you arrogant critter.”
[This human lost consciousness, sister. Knock that one out or kill her but we might need to know what this one can tell us.] Fenyz projects.
“Consider yourself lucky Elizabeth made me promise not to harm you, human.” Celyz utters.
The Princess then flips around and strengthens her legs to leap off the raft, making it pitch violently. Henry and Amelia stumble, almost falling off. Yvonne almost crumbles as an all too familiar fright for her friend dissipates.
“Please stop doing this to me.” Yvonne says, helping Leomi up.
“Something’s wrong. The connection between Celyz and Elizabeth isn’t what I thought it was.” Lance replies with wavering light gray eyes.
“What do you mean?” Yvonne asks.
“I thought she was manipulating them both but that’s not the reaction of someone who doesn’t care.” Leomi explains.
The realization only makes Leomi even more agitated instead of reassured. She can’t pinpoint the reason behind the feeling and finds herself unable to shake it. Many things don’t add up in her mind.
Yvonne has part of the answer for her friend, but she doesn’t share it. She views Celyz’ concern as a good thing because, unlike Leomi who constantly worries about the young peasant’s opinion of her, Yvonne doesn’t doubt her friend Jessica’s feelings for her liege.
The Princess doesn’t mention Jessica unprompted, Leomi notices, she puts that on account of Jessica having refused the offer made to Elizabeth. It should be about the runic sleeve glove, but why would Jessica refuse that, she wonders.
“Perhaps it comes with dangers.” Leomi mutters.
“What does?” Rowland asks.
“Never mind.” Lance sighs.
Back on the platform, Celyz is struggling to stabilize Idali who is burning up. She applies an ointment on the putrid yellow-brown rot eating at her thigh and directs her flow to inspect the damage.
She finds a small piece of meat stuck near the bone, the origin of the infection. She removes it but the bit of flesh is almost entirely decomposed already and taking it out doesn’t do much to stop the spread.
Celyz thinks Idali should have died already but she can detect a healing construct that kept her alive. It must have contained a lot of energy to keep the woman going.
She makes the call to use her flow without restraint despite the fact that they entirely depend on it to defend themselves on water. Yet no amount of energy will make a healing construct treat something it isn’t designed to deal with.
[Start cutting away, Fenyz.] Celyz sends.
[How deep?] Fenyz asks.
[I’ll guide you with my flow, just follow the line.] Celyz replies.
Fenyz snaps her tendrils and a worker opens a large wooden case that belongs to Celyz. Inside is an ensemble of scalpels, saws, clippers, and scissors with handles fit for use with tendrils.
The two Princesses work together to cut Idali’s flesh as close to the rot as possible, they sometimes cut more than necessary, erring on the side of safety to make sure that none remains.
Celyz keeps a close watch on the woman’s vitals, her heartbeat and temperature. Half-way through the operation, Idali’s heart stops. Celyz reacts instantly, she grabs a scalpel and makes a large incision underneath the left side of the rib-cage.
She then directs her tendrils underneath the bones, using a tiny construct to slice through the small membranes of flesh stopping her from wrapping two of her appendages around Idali’s heart to make it beat.
She makes use of unstructured flow with the intent of restarting the organ, the consumption of energy is massive but it works a weak beat soon shakes the tendrils enveloping it.
Celyz reinforces her healing construct and focuses it primarily on Idali’s heart. She waits until the organ strengthens before making use of a construct to make her flesh absorb the ointment as the process takes a heavy toll on humans whose sense of pain is a lot more developed than the Rykz’.
The woman twitches and her pulse weakens once again but Celyz spends her flow without restraint to keep her going. She doesn’t ask for Fenyz’ energy as her sister is more skilled than she’ll ever be in matters of war and that means that she needs to remain at her peak.
Celyz proceeds to cleaning the bite marks across Idali’s chest and back to then sow them together. After a full twenty hours of work, making use of flow as soon as it regenerates, Idali finally stabilizes.
— — —
Three days later, their fleet reaches sight of the mainland. Idali is still unconscious, recovering from the procedure. Her upper-right thigh is missing a large chunk of flesh and the wound directly on the other side doesn’t look pretty either, but she’s alive.
[It’ll grow back.] Fenyz sends to her sister, catching her concern.
[Actually, I’m not sure.] Celyz replies.
[Hm. The human better survive.] Fenyz makes a groaning sound. [You took quite a gamble by using your entire reserves, even if it turned out that there was no danger since we didn’t come across any ships.]
[You would have lasted long enough for me to recover and then our regeneration would have sufficed to hold for our next wave to arrive.] Celyz argues.
[Still no sign of the galleys that took the hybrid, apart from the few bodies we came across which could have been from the previous battle.] Fenyz notes, edging around an argument she’s avoided.
[I know we can’t keep going north past Port-Odo, sister.] Celyz admits with difficulty, torn between her anguish and duty.
[She may be inside its walls. That human did whisper of a Count Odo in her sleep.] Fenyz sends.
[I doubt that, the Exemplar is no fool.] Celyz shakes her ovaloid head. [But we will take it either way, those were his galleys after all.] She adds with anger.
[We’ll land and send that human back to the Izla with the rafts once she tells us exactly what happened.] Fenyz declares.
[I would advise against putting her through that, but it’s your operation.] Celyz comments.
[She needs more care that we can afford to provide.] Fenyz justifies. [And if she doesn’t start naturally growing this back… perhaps she’ll agree to Mother’s help.]
Celyz remains silent. She does not like it but knows that now that Jessica has been captured, the Hive needs to show that they can produce more than one hybrid. It is necessary for that threat to be effective and there isn’t as dangerous anymore with what they’ve learned of the implantation procedure on Jess.
— — —
The long column of Rykz marches on Port-Odo from the south. The defenders on the wall and the five humans held at the rear-guard expect them to stop and set camp, yet the seven hundred harvesters spearheading the formation keep going.
The soldiers have little energy left to panic at this development as they’ve exhausted themselves preparing for the Rykz in the last couple of days since they were spotted. Their strategy is simple, hold the walls, hold the streets, hold the keep, delay until the King’s army arrives.
Yet, the disorganization among them is noticeable, there are many Barons but no Count to lead them. No rallying figure to unite troops that came from the entire region to replace those that the late Count Odo took with him to Meria.
That problem is compounded by the fact that the son that inherited his title took the rest of his houses’ soldiers aboard his galleys for a secret gambit with an Exemplar, one that Nobility believes has failed since they haven’t returned yet.
Port-Odo is defended by soldiers who don’t consider it their home and have to deal with a hostile peasantry that doesn’t fear the ten thousand Rykz threatening to occupy their homes.
Try as they have, Nobility has failed to quell the rumors of Izla Meria’s peaceful occupation, of Elizabeth Vil’s victory in a fair duel against their hated Lord. The peasant that killed a Count for justice.
Yet, the population remains divided as the choice between a foreign invading creature ruling them and a human one isn’t a difficult one. They may not be loyal to their Lord, but few wish to flout Caeviel and the Empire.
In Celyz’ mind, none of it matters. She will take this city, no matter what stands on her way, she will continue escalating until she gets Jessica and Cetyz back. Fenyz stands at her side, neither of them are hiding from the observers on the wall.
Flaming arrows fly at the harvester vanguard, to no effect as the creatures keep trotting in pace and orderly ranks towards the gate on which a runic defensive construct was engraved. Many Lords and Ladies feel relief when they see them charge without even a ram.
The wiser among them know that the Rykz are not so stupid as to give such an order without a reason, they are afraid that this does not bode well for them. Their fear is well-founded.
Fenyz and Celyz combine their flow, they shape it into a black river that trickles through the harvesters’ lines. The construct infiltrates each of them, enhancing strength, senses, and skeleton resistance, it then reinforces their outer shells to the point that steel swords may break striking them.
The immensely strong creatures are made even stronger, their senses which were already developed solely for battle are further optimized, most crucial of all it removes the harvesters’ weakness, their slow speed and reaction times.
The first four crash into Port-Odo’s gate. It doesn’t even shake under the impact yet the Nobles, responsible for maintaining and supplying the runic construct applied on it, cry out in alarm as they’ve noticed a sharp drop in energy.
The next row of Rykz leans forward at the last moment before they impact the front-line to crash into their lower trunks. The golden glow covering the gate shivers but is resupplied shortly.
It does not help as the harvesters keep charging, one line at a time, compounding on the continuous strength applies by those in front of them. Wood cracks a second before the defensive construct snaps and the gates fly wide open.
[You were correct, we are consuming much less energy than they are by making use of the harvesters’ physical strength instead of brute forcing our way in by directly using a construct.] Celyz admits gracefully.
[Only marginally so comparatively to the quantities spent, sister.] Fenyz gently tells her sister. [The true benefit is that our harvesters are unstoppable now that they’re inside. The tactic is only usable in this siege because their flow is stretched thin, Meria would have had enough to both boost their soldiers and block this kind of attempt on their gates so don’t sell yourself short for not thinking of it, sister.]
Her prediction turns out to be true, the soldiers’ shield wall breaks under their charge and the harvesters wedge themselves into their ranks. The drones make use of their four scythed arms to reap lives, neither chain-mail nor swords are sufficient to block their blows.
The defenders on the rampart haven’t yet finished climbing down to the base of the wall that they are ordered to take their previously assigned positions in the barricaded streets, scrapping an entire defensive plan that consisted of holding the base of the defensive towers’ stairs and gateway choke-points.
Half an hour later, the humans fall back to the keep as they’ve lost too many streets and soldiers to maintain the coherence of their forces in the city. Countess Lance has been coldly observing the battle from the rear and then from the top of a tower, learning with her followers at her side.
A sizable escort of warriors accompanies them like shadows, refusing to let any of them out of their encirclement. Celyz didn’t even bother to try to tell them that the drones are there for their protection because their primary purpose is to ensure that the humans do not escape.
“The expenditure in flow to enhance the harvesters to this point is massive, beyond what even Templars use during extended battles.” Leomi tells Yvonne.
“But they’re barely losing any, that makes it worth it.” Yvonne says. “Still, I don’t understand how so few fall with the number of wounds they suffer.”
“They seem made to counter the main benefit we have over the Rykz, the fact that any individual human soldiers will out-skill even the best of their drones. I suspect that swords cannot cut deep enough to reach vital organs and that humans are simply too short to reach their more vulnerable heads.” Lance ventures her opinion.
“Correct.” Celyz speaks up with pride from the street beneath. “Their increased size compared to our scouts grant them brute force and almost impenetrable chitin. Even your proud phalanxes suffer equivalent losses when they are enhanced as such.”
“That can’t be true.” Rowland denies vehemently.
“I assure you that it is.” Celyz chuckles. “Armor-piercing spears or not, our harvesters will not fall to a single blow, even if it is to the head.”
“Because the resulting damage is too localized to bring them down.” Lance quickly catches up. She continues in a voice too low for anyone else to catch. “Swords are truly unsuited to deal with the Rykz, perhaps axes would… no, they suffer the same flaw in that the handles are too short to reach they would do more damage but the wounds would be slightly shallower than what a swords-woman can achieve with a slash.”
“Templar heavy cavalry would make short work of them.” Rowland affirms.
“I don’t doubt that but it isn’t difficult to imagine what happens during sieges where cavalry is either unusable or encounters difficulties disengaging from the narrow corridors formed by the streets.” Lance says.
The Countess unwittingly echoes an argument made by King Cenwalh and his Exemplar adviser to his Court. A conversation that is happening at the same moment as this battle in the army’s command tent.
They are justifying their decision to set camp on the plains to wait for the Rykz while blocking the way to the rest of the Kingdom instead of splitting their army to engage them in drawn-out siege warfare.
Understandably, those Noble families with interests in that area disagree, yet they are not making themselves heard as, of the four remaining Duke, three agree with the King.
Back in the city, the two Princesses advance with their troops, sending thousands of warriors to spread out and hunt down any lingering squads thought the deserted streets while their harvesters advance towards the keep.
[How many have we lost so far?] Celyz asks.
[A couple dozen, six of them were crushed by the others in the process of ramming the gate.] Fenyz replies.
[Less than we feared.] Celyz notes approvingly. [How many had to rotate to the back?]
[Two hundred, injured to varying degrees, that puts a third of our harvesters unable to fight for the foreseeable future.] Fenyz replies.
[A couple of weeks at the most, about the time it will take for us to transfer the majority of our army.] Celyz informs Fenyz.
[The human is still unconscious, we may have to send one of the other humans with her as we cannot delay further if you want to stick to that timetable.] Fenyz sends.
— — —
The days that follow Port-Odo’s surrender, after the defenders suffered heavier losses proportionally to Meria’s siege, go by quietly as the Rykz take over. Lance sets up a governing Council with Henry and sends Amelia back with Idali to Izla Meria with a few messages.
First of them is an order to place swords on spear shafts and test the viability. Knowing the scarcity of her own resources, which are the only ones she can use on this idea as the Council gave no order, she mentions that damaged swords and broken blades should be repurposed.
If they turn out to be manageable as slashing as well as piercing weapons, the Countess demands that they produce more as well as task a blacksmith to create a weapon that combines the advantages of both swords and axes.
Lance also decides to spend the last of her gold, the money she saved to repair and rearrange Castle Lance as a base for her organization. She orders the purchase of newly excavated iron veins as she knows that there are several blacksmiths who joined their ranks and could be convinced to indefinitely work for her organization.
Lastly, Countess Lance also calls on her faction’s Nobles to cross over to the mainland and join her. She feels that the war is coming to a head, that there will be a major battle before her organization can stabilize and come into play.
Another reason is that she predicts that she may have to free Jessica herself whether the Rykz fail or not. She knows that her feelings influenced that assessment but she can only restrain herself so much.
Leomi isn’t truly worried about Elizabeth if she is to be honest with herself, she can imagine her bathing in the blood of the fools who thought they could forcefully control her, she hopes that Elizabeth heeded her warning about her mother.
Yet honest is one thing she cannot be on this matter as it would mean that she would lose the justification and break her vow in attempting to rescue J… Elizabeth, and incidentally Jessica.
Lance has been relentlessly training with Yvonne every moment of free time she had since her draw against Elizabeth. She considers that she lost the duel, the woman’s superior physical strength is no excuse as she estimates that her mother has trained her to be better than that, to fight species with overwhelming natural advantages over her.
Still, she is optimistic if the two of them end up scuffling against, she has a lot more flow than she did before. Meria’s citizens have placed their trust in her, and that is another reason why she feels obligated to actively participate in the war and protect Izla Meria’s interests.