As I get closer to the front door, I hear Director Suxen give orders out to number four and six, a litany of overly detailed instructions like the two women aren’t able to think for themselves. I didn’t miss anything, good.
I stop and adjust my cloak over my body to cover myself. It’s weird as I don’t really care to be seen by Tsek but after what I just went through, I want to feel secure. Actually, no, I want to fight and prove to myself that I still have control.
I end up naked in front of others way too often. I suddenly realize how sneaky Celyz was about it. She told me several times she could observe me through clothes so it didn’t really matter if I wore any, but I doubt that’s the whole truth.
There is a psychological element when someone isn’t wearing anything that makes the situation more intense. Even if that doesn’t exactly count for the Rykz who don’t wear clothes, getting me to expose myself to her, to be vulnerable in her presence, was likely among the things she wanted.
Tsek went back into the room and is now fiddling with my clothes. I shake my head to focus as one of the Director’s two dead-eyed bodyguards, number six, leaves towards the rest of her escort.
“The study of this specimen, beyond the data, could lead us down a new path of power, Shade. We haven’t progressed much in body enhancement constructs since we developed those that boost our senses. This parasite is a gold mine of information about human biology and how to improve its combat capability.” The Director explains. “The constructs we have to boost body development and physical abilities are insufficient, they do not put us on the same physical level as the insects or cold bloods. Not to mention that we cannot apply them to large groups of people because they require a heavy investment in time and resources which limits their use to elite forces. If all I can get out of the specimen is how to accelerate our metabolism, it would be enough. Also, I haven’t determined it with certainty, but the specimen’s muscle mass seems more developed than it should be.”
“Director, your priority is to gather the data, there will be no negotiation until you prove that we were correct to trust and invest in your project.” Aisha repeats her argument with a tired tone of voice. “Besides, the healing construct already accelerates healing.”
“But it consumes flow to do so, the parasite does something similar without any energy. It would save the Empire a lot of energy if we could find out how.” Suxen counters.
“I am beginning to think that the reason you haven’t obtained the data yet is that you keep getting sidetracked by other projects, Director. These Numbers of yours for example.” Aisha notes with a threatening undertone.
“I’m not getting distracted. Our species is superior in mind to the other two animalistic sentients. But we trail behind in natural abilities. All of my work is aimed at leveling the playing field.”
“By trying to make Drones?” Vikiana exclaims with disgust.
Tsek makes his way over, carrying my clothes. He looks uncomfortable, definitely aroused but not only. I throw him a quick glance, it seems like he wants to say something yet can’t find a way to do so. I hold my hand out and take my clothes off of him.
“History is littered with Pyrrhic victories for our side, battles that we won because we held past the point where our armies should have broken. We paid for land in blood. On the other side of the coin are the wars we’ve lost when we made the best possible tactical and strategic moves because we could not withstand the onslaught.” The Director declares, yet her voice lacks passion. “If we could create soldiers that do not retreat and can heal from their injuries in days, it would turn it all around. It would allow us to finally resume our southward expansion by holding the land beyond the Rubicon river instead of fortifying it during winter and abandoning those fortifications once spring is past and summer arrives. There is no more expansion to be had north or west for the Empire. We are slowly losing, we have been for a century. My research will bring us to new heights.”
The only spike of emotion in Suxen’s voice during that entire speech occurs in that last sentence. I doubt she cares about any of this, her only goal is to convince these two to give me up.
“Enough, Director. I’ve given you my answer.” Aisha tells her.
“Very well. I will be going then, I have work to do.” The Director says. “I will expect some concessions next time, be prepared for some tests to determine the degree to which the parasite integrates with the specimen.”
Suxen wastes no time and immediately departs. Tsek is still shifting his weight in discomfort and keeping his silence. I turn to him and remove my mask to throw him a questioning gaze. He gives me a thin smile.
“How did it go?” He asks, looking concerned.
“As planned.” I reply truthfully. Some things I certainly didn’t expect, but the overall objective was accomplished.
“Oh.” Tsek says, surprised like he didn’t expect that answer at all.
Vikiana walks in, looking relieved that this is over. Aisha follows, her illusion construct shows little emotion but her face underneath has anger written all over it. I throw her a mean glare that she returns.
I smother my fury and anguish to focus on the task. Ironically, the only reason this didn’t go wrong is that the Suxen competently secured me. If I had a viable way to get free, I likely wouldn’t have been able to control myself when she examined me.
“Get the shackles, we’re leaving now. I didn’t like that Suxen sent one of her people to her escort ahead of time.” I speak up.
“Correct, she might be trying to put a tail on us. Whatever the woman says, she lives for her research, anything outside of that is irrelevant to her.” Aisha tells us, all business. “The Empire could be up in flames and she still wouldn’t leave her laboratory.”
“Didn’t she come here for Elizabeth?” Tsek asks, confused.
“That’s… different.” I say, which doesn’t explain anything but makes him blush a little for some reason.
While they get the runic shackles, I get dressed up and recover the constructs I set underground. I then pick up my scimitar from under the floorboards and wrap it back in the piece of tarp I use to carry it around. We use the back door to leave in a different direction than the one we came in with the Director.
I lead the way through the slums, making sure to take the street passing by the structure where I hid the barrels of water. As I walk by, I send an entire day’s worth of flow regeneration into the pavement and use my symbiont’s sense to guide it into one of the barrels.
As we make our way back, I don’t notice anyone following us but that doesn’t stop me from taking every precaution. I double back on our steps several times and walk in circles around a block a few times.
Once I’m certain that there is no one physically after us, I lead us to the docks. There are lots of people out and about, many of them sailors which is surprising considering we’re late in the morning. There are many flat-bottomed barges anchored at the piers and few truly seaworthy ships.
“Most of these sail under the same flag, whose is it?” I ask.
“Duchess Hetlan’s.” Aisha replies. “Those barges usually deliver her ore to Meiridin and carry grain back north, I think they’re all here because she used them to bring her army south.”
“Alright. Wait in that alley.” I tell them, spotting an inn.
I leave Tsek with the two prisoners and walk into the main room. There aren’t too many people here, mostly drunk so I barter with the owner for a few minutes to rent one of their apartments for four on the second floor.
I then walk out and give my cloak to Vikiana so she can use the hood to hide her traits. I guide them inside the inn and quickly upstairs to avoid lingering in sight of the clients.
The apartment contains two bedrooms, each with a double bed, and the main living room in-between. There is no stove or anything to make food. The furniture is basic, a few shelves made out of cheap unvarnished wood.
“Check the shackles for the beacon construct, Vikiana.” I say. “Tsek, do you mind going out to get us some food for lunch and dinner?”
“I don’t.” He agrees without hesitating, eager to get busy.
Vikiana drops down on a chair before he’s even out of the door and unfastens the sword at her waist, sighing as she hands it back to me. I keep an eye on the Shade. We both seem to be boiling inside.
“That Director has no faith, claiming the flow is but a tool.” Vikiana speaks up, likely having noticed the tension and trying to veer us away from confrontation.
“No surprise there.” I note.
“That’s rich coming from you, hypocrite.” Aisha snaps at me. “You used that thing’s aphrodisiac to mess with me! And then you blamed me for what I did because of it!”
“What if I did?” I ask. “I didn’t know about it, and I wouldn’t have used it if I did. But regardless, what if I did?!” I spout out. “You left Idali to die, Shade!”
“You idiot!” Aisha growls. “What don’t…”
“Lower your voices, both of you.” Vikiana intervenes.
“What can’t you understand when I tell you I couldn’t!” Aisha continues more quietly. “If this fails, there is a very good chance I’ll end up in a dark cell under the Palace! Rather, in one of the institute’s because I’ll be there already!” I blink, caught by surprise. “See, you don’t give two shits about me. Never even considered how risky what I do is! What do you think Shades are, you dimwit?! We’re only the Emperor’s hands as long as we remain invisible, we can never be publicly acknowledged!” As Aisha takes a deep breath, her anger fades and I notice a sliver of sadness in her traits. “It’s not much of a justification because I could have saved her, but it wasn’t worth the damage it would do to my mission. I, I did like her, I didn’t want that to happen.”
I close in on Aisha, looking down at her despite having to raise my chin to look her in the eye. She lowers her chin to return my glare, making a strand of her curly black hair fall on her cheek. She swipes it away.
“I’m going to go into the bedroom to check the shackles.” Vikiana speaks up. “Please sort this out, but don’t break anything.”
The Exemplar grabs the runic shackles and swiftly makes her way into the left bedroom, looking like she’s escaping. I take a moment to consider the woman’s words, every piece of advice she’s given me has been sound so I decide to only use violence as a last resort.
“No, I’m sorry. I won’t bring Idali up again, this is a different matter.” I utter with difficulty as I am still furious at the woman. “You can hardly blame my symbiont for your frivolous behavior, Shade. Isn’t it your go-to tactic?” I utter harshly.
“I wouldn’t have done something that stupid if not for that thing’s influence!” She fires back.
“Really? You were about to go down on him before I was even in the room!” I growl.
“You had been using that pheromone to affect me for days!” She accuses.
I notice that her nipples are hard under her shirt and that mine is as well. It makes me realize that there is sexual tension between us, that it has been building up. That somehow makes me angry and feel like the situation is slipping away from me even more than before.
I struggle with my temper because it is pushing me to use violence to seize the reins back. Aisha falls quiet, on her guard. She perhaps sensed my internal struggle and the danger looming on her.
That makes me sick, I am not that kind of person, yet the pull is there and I suspect that my symbiont is the one pushing for that course of action, the same way it might be affecting both of our sex drives.
That knowledge doesn’t change the fact that I need to do something to stop feeling like I’m free-falling. The image of Suxen probing me like I’m a product is present in the back of my mind.
My impression of how Aisha sees me isn’t so far apart from how the Director does because of the constant manipulations I perceive coming from her and that is definitely why I am targeting her now when little has changed.
“How did you know my age?” I ask suddenly. Aisha’s real face twists in a grimace.
“It’s my job to find that out.” She replies.
That’s not a straight answer, she’s hiding something. I close the distance between us with a single long step and seize left nipple with my right hand. She yelps as I start twisting it. This isn’t violence, I consciously fool myself.
“Now, you want to bed me?” Aisha asks defiantly.
“I want a straight answer.” I reply, increasing the pressure in my grip.
“I listened in when you talked to Yvonne.” She admits.
The fact that she folds excites me and, on impulse, I pull down on her hard nipple to make her kneel in front of me. She does so with resignation, her eyes come to level with my intimacy. Finally, I’m in control.
I enjoy it but don’t let that overwhelm me. The feeling is making me wet, mostly because Leomi did something similar to me, to Elizabeth. I now understand what she felt a bit better, what she wanted when she led me in this way.
Experiencing what she was trying to do to me, Elizabeth Vil, excites me a lot more than doing it to the Shade. Leomi wants to dominate me. Aisha’s expression isn’t as bright as it usually is, that is as it should be with all she’s done.
“Always spying.” I throw the comment at Aisha.
She seems relieved that I’m not getting mad. I probably would have if she hadn’t knelt down or if she kept arguing back. I don’t like what that says about me. I release her nipple and step back.
“Do you want me to strip?” She asks, her real face resolved, her fake one shows a similar expression with a seductive undertone added to it.
“I‘m not like you, I’m in control.” I declare.
Aisha doesn’t reply but it is obvious to me that she disagrees. Either about my assessment of her, which I think is fair, or about me having a handle on myself, which is also fair. I take a deep breath and hold my right hand out. She takes it, looking confused. I pull her up to her feet.
“That’s it?” She asks, apparently unable to believe it.
“What did you think I would do?” I ask.
“Humiliate me again.” She replies coldly, referring to the fact that she ended up pissing herself because I refused to let her go to the bathroom.
“That wasn’t intentional.” I tell her.
“Sure seemed like it to me.” Aisha comments. “You made Tsek feel so bad about failing you that he was too spooked to even consider letting me go.”
“That’s on you.” I say and then think better of it. “Or the aphrodisiac.” I add, frowning.
“It… I guess it is.” Aisha sighs.
“I wouldn’t… You know I wouldn’t, um.” I pause to gather myself because it’s not easy to address the elephant in the room. “I wouldn’t make you…” Pleasure me, however much I want to get off. “I would not humiliate you.” I finish.
“I didn’t think you would, but I’ve been wr.” Aisha stops herself. “I just had a small doubt.”
“You’ve been wrong about that before?” I ask, piecing together what she was about to say from context.
Aisha’s traits twist from guilt. She seems even more regretful than she was about what happened to Idali. Everything I know about this young woman tells me that she isn’t faking these emotions. She can be manipulative and make difficult, cruel calls, but I don’t think she is cold-hearted.
At least, I’m starting to think so. My original opinion of her might not have been so far off. The Shade isn’t answering my question and I wonder if I should press her. I do want to make her fold once more, to have a closer look at what I think my Lady wants.
That would be a worse mistake than the one I made with Teva. Instead, I decide to give her time to decide if she wants to talk or not. I take a seat at the table and invite her to do the same. She makes a small smile and accepts.
“This illusion construct is a pain to maintain you know.” She says.
“You’re really good at it.” I reply. “Cecil…” Aisha flinches a little at the name. “…told me about limitations you don’t seem to have.”
“Well, it takes a lot of studying to be able to simulate this and make it look natural. I’m not really qualified to teach anatomy and I shouldn’t have taught her the construct, to begin with.” She admits.
“Why did you?” I ask, realizing that she didn’t go off topic by mentioning the illusion construct.
“Because I misread Duke Meria once, years ago, and Cecil kept paying for it.” Aisha confesses, expression torn by grief under her illusion construct. “I didn’t realize I was taking a risk and my mistake cost both her and my original mission for the Izla, yet, Madame Cecil never blamed me.”
I remain silent. I think back to my first conversation with Cecil. Her expression was dark and worried when she thought of the trouble Nobility could cause a young peasant. Perhaps it was out of personal experience.
“Things should turn out fine for her now.” I tell Aisha.
“Maybe.” She sighs. “Hopefully, strife will be chosen.” She adds cryptically. “It was a good idea not to go back to the house right away.” She says, changing the subject before I can ask more. “When do you want to meet the Director again?”
“Whenever I wish. None of this changes the fact that I don’t trust you, I’ll tell you what you need to know.” I reply flatly.
“I have to try, this is too important.” Aisha tells me honestly. “You should at least run your plan past the Exemplar.”
“Her training is all the expertise I need.” I deny.
I don’t feel like continuing that line of discussion so I get up and leave the Shade there, making my way to the bedroom to the right of the living room. I think this resolved some things between us, it’s progress. Not much but enough that I feel more comfortable with her. Which can be a problem.
I let myself fall down on the bed in the middle of the room. I roll over to my back and absently pass my hand over my pants to lay it on my sex. I press on it, using quite a bit of strength, rubbing roughly without looking to pleasure myself.
The action is enough to get a bit of release from my pressuring want to get off. Is there something wrong with me? I shouldn’t be so aroused after having felt so violated. No, the situation didn’t make me horny, bringing Leomi… and Celyz to mind to withstand the situation, that fired me up.
I now understand my Lady a little better. What she sought in us, Jessica and Elizabeth. I slip my hand inside my briefs. Tsek is gone, Aisha joined Vikiana in the other bedroom. I have a bit time to me, for me.