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I shift on the bed to remove my shirt and get more comfortable. I use my gloved left hand to massage my breast, settling into a pleasurable momentum helps wash away what remains of Suxen treating me like little more than a slab of meat.

I split my sex’ slit to entrap my pearl between my index and middle finger, caressing slowly. I let a discreet moan escape my lips. Occasional glimpses of the women in my life, Leomi most of all, cross my mind but I think mostly of myself as I seek release because my relationships aren’t very relaxing.

My symbiont’s tendrils twirl beneath my flesh, around my bones. A part of my mind notices that it is sweating slightly and, soon after, a burst of raw sexual desire overtakes me, I start getting rougher with myself.

I firmly close my eyes to further lose myself in the act. I tell my left hand to pinch my nipple, twist it. I adjust my grip on my erect bud to pull and jerk it while my ring finger slides between my petals to stimulate the surroundings of my virginity.

My breathing grows coarse, my feet and legs extend out as far as they can reach. The promise of ecstasy growing inside my chest is like a weight demanding to be pushed out.

As I get closer, I accelerate and seek out a more intense bliss by using only my fingertips to brush against my most sensitive parts, I use my left hand to pull my pants and briefs down to my knees.

The sudden outbreak of rapture goes through me like a tide, making my muscles clench from top to bottom. My knees bend as they rise, my thighs open up, my heels are brought back. Thrill and shivers give me goosebumps.

I relish the felicity and keep kneading my sex even as it slowly fades away. As my mind gradually clears out, I hear the door opening. I don’t stop, I can’t, I won’t.

I’m too far along, I don’t care who sees me in this obscene position. I need this too much to abandon even the last slivers of this delightful sensation. A small aftershock impacts me and I hungrily bite my lips to smother my eloping cry of pleasure.

I drop down on the bed, exhausted and feeling so damn good I can’t help but doze off. A small taste of iron fills my mouth, blood from my lips. I rest up in the bed, not even bothering to rearrange my messy clothes.

After a while, I realize that the fact that I have no clue how long I’ve been like this, or how long I spent reveling and indulging myself, is a problem. I use my sense to scan the other rooms. What I find reassures me, Aisha and Vikiana are in the other bedroom, working on the runic shackles.

Tsek is preparing the table, setting down plates around a large bowl of steaming stew. He looks a little guilty. I ignore that and get dressed up despite wanting to lazy around some more because I’m famished.

I call the two prisoners over and we sit down to have our meal. Tsek is silent throughout but there is a constantly worried frown on his face. I’ll deal with that and his questions about what happened with Suxen for later, or never if he doesn’t bring it up.

Any progress with the shackles?” I ask Vikiana.

I couldn’t recognize or detect a beacon construct but these runes make heavy use of equations so, while I don’t think there is one, I can’t say for certain.” She replies.

Well, we can always disable that by removing the flow from the shackles.” I say.

The Director would notice if there is one and we do that.” Vikiana tells me.

Which isn’t an issue, I don’t think.” I reply. “If she makes a comment, you can just say that you noticed the beacon construct and stopped using the shackles. If she doesn’t, then we don’t need to volunteer information. I don’t think she would be surprised that a Shade would act secretly about where they are.”

Alright.” The Exemplar nods.

You said the runes are heavily based on equations, that’s definitely math if I’m not mistaken.” I say. Aisha and Vikiana both nod in agreement. “Then why do the runes look like symbols and not numbers?”

Some of the symbols represent variables, numbers that change according to the input, but other symbols fill the more classical functions of framing the construct into a shape. It’s complicated.” Aisha explains.

Okay, so basically you can’t make sense of it within a short time-frame.” I say. Aisha’s expression turns sour.

That’s about right.” Vikiana says with a small smile.

I reach out to the shackles with a small amount of flow. Unlike before, when I was held by them, my energy doesn’t fade or lose cohesion. My flow remains intact as it approaches the metal but disintegrates as soon as the black-gold stream touches it.

With my attention and senses fully turned to the runic shackles, it isn’t hard to notice that the runes lose a fraction of the energy powering them to scatter mine. I estimate a one for five exchange.

I dismantle some constructs I kept to guard my prisoners to gather the necessary quantity of unstructured flow to drain the runes and disable the shackles. That’s a very efficient construct. I ponder for a moment.

This is a combination of at least three constructs.” I speak up. “The disruption one that destabilizes constructs and two unknown ones. Those two have the effects of countering unstructured flow and preventing the prisoner from linking to external constructs.”

That sounds about right.” Aisha nods.

They use the same power source but the one that scatters unstructured flow is very efficient so it’s not a good way to drain them.” I think aloud. “I didn’t notice that the shackles consumed more energy than normal when they prevented me from linking to my constructs so that’s out too. Can you circumvent the disruption construct?” I ask.

Not to my knowledge, you could theoretically use unstructured flow but, while the disruption construct doesn’t scatter it, it is built with that possibility in mind. Besides, the Director would notice you trying and stop you.” Aisha replies.

Alright. Well, I’ll just go with the simplest solution.” I say.

Which is?” Aisha asks.

I’ll power the shackles myself so I can disable them if I need to.” I reply simply.

The Director might not insist on taking control of the construct when we meet, but she will once we enter the institute.” Vikiana argues.

That’s fine, I have ideas.” I smile.

I don’t explain and focus on finishing my meal, feeling a lot better for a lot of reasons. The stew is excellent, the meat is tender and slightly spicy. I suspect that Tsek bought it from a restaurant at a high cost. I smile at the gesture, and I don’t doubt that it is one on his part. I would be surprised if he hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t in my best shape.

While I’m not sure of how many constructs there are on the shackle, it is quite easy to see that the runes occupy all of the available space. There is practical limit to how small you can make runes and as such to how many constructs you can fit on them. Not only that, but the more constructs there are, the more energy it consumes.

Besides, I don’t know how strong warbeasts are but I doubt they are strong enough to rip steel and they aren’t definitely aren’t smart enough to twist the chains so there may also be a physical weakness to these shackles like to the ones I got out of on the ship.

A weakness that wouldn’t really be known since, as far as I know, I’m the only being with a strong enough limb to twist such thick steel chains until they rip. Well, Princesses likely are too but Cetyz is the only one that was captured so, unless she saw an opportunity and tried to escape, they aren’t aware.

After our meal, I leave Tsek to guard our prisoners and take a pair of shackles to the bedroom to test my theories. I immediately find out that twisting isn’t actually an option because this steel is too thick and resistant to quickly break free, even when the shackles aren’t powered by flow.

My other idea might work, though. I use my energy to activate the runic constructs and pick up my long scimitar. I assemble an armor-piercing construct and try to make a small nick in one of the chain links.

The result in a tiny scratch. About what I would expect an armor-piercing construct would do to Vuskyt which isn’t protected by a construct. That’s good, it means that I can cut through it since the steel braces that fit around my wrists aren’t as thick as the chains. I just need to figure out how.

One has absolute control over flow when it is inside their body but I’ve known for a while that one can use blood as a medium to extend that control to the outside of the body. That is what the Queen did to implement my symbiont.

Which is killing me. I push the fearful thought away for later and focus. If I make myself bleed, I can create and control constructs inside the disruption field, not to mention that the shackles wouldn’t be able to break my link.

Making myself bleed is relatively easy, I can do it by mishandling a healing construct or simply use a shaping construct to rip my skin. I can think of several practical ways to use this to free myself.

The first is using an armor-piercing construct to shear through the steel. The issue is that it would take quite a bit of flow to do so to all four shackles, and it requires tools… or does it?

I use my scimitar to cut the surface of my skin. I gather a small amount of blood and assemble a tiny blood-blade with it by using the same base as the air-blade. I manage without too much trouble but when I try to apply an armor-piercing construct to it, both constructs disintegrate.

Okay, so combining constructs isn’t that easy. I ponder for a moment. With blood all over the shackles, I could merge it to them and take control of the runic constructs as well as weaken the steel enough to quickly break free. No, the merging process itself takes too long, they might notice.

I go back to the armor-piercing construct and wonder whether it might be simpler to just hide tiny blades under my skin. They don’t need to survive the impact, only cut through. Although, they’ll detect those if they scan my body in the institute.

I can just intercept these scans, be reluctant to cooperate. But that will inevitably lead to complications when I need there to be none before I get inside that array with the Director. Delays in schedule will cost me, not them.

Regardless of what I told Aisha, it doesn’t matter to me whether that runic array activates before or after I take control of that room. What I need is for it to be activated within a time-frame that I can predict.

Hm. Would they be able to tell what does and doesn’t naturally belong to my symbiont? The Director would. I sigh. My original thought was to modify the shackles’ locks so I can open them whenever I want, perhaps going back to that would be simpler but it would be best to have an alternative.

I create a tiny fire construct inside the locks to have a look. There isn’t enough space to fit runes there… I pause because an idea pops into my mind. I set the shackle around my right wrist.

I inject flow into the runes to simulate realistic conditions. It’s really convenient to have such a high access, it allows me to keep experimenting with the energy I regenerate.

I communicate the need to dull my sense of pain to my symbiont and then assemble the frame of an air-blade construct. I then use that to gather a small amount of blood from my wrist’s flesh which is… quite fucking painful.

I shape the blood into a small blade and cut through my wrist’s skin with it. I bleed over the shackle and navigate the construct into the lock, making sure to leave a trail of blood that connects back to my body because, unlike the Queen, there is a construct that prevents me from linking to my blood if it isn’t.

I make my blood expand into the lock and apply a rotating counter-clockwise pressure. Click. The shackle opens. That cost me about half a portion of flow. It’s a huge amount considering the size of the construct I used but, as Leomi told me, the air-blade isn’t an efficient construct.

Technically, it would also be possible to shape my bones and make them sharp enough that they’ll cut through the steel with the help of an armor-piercing construct, but that would cost me a lot more energy and might damage my articulations.

Still, something to keep in mind. There is a third option, relying on Aisha or Vikiana. But that would mean bringing the Exemplar along. I would rather have her prepare my escape under Tsek’s supervision so that’s out.

I could present this to Aisha and let her believe that I need to rely on her to get free, see if she’ll betray me. Hm. No. That would further undermine their already thin trust in my capability to pull this. It’s best not to say anything, to avoid creating mind-games where none are necessary.

I spend the first half of the afternoon training my ability to open the lock, I use air instead of blood because I don’t want visible cuts all over my wrist and ankles. The use of air consumes more flow but it’s a necessary expense.

As the sun starts lowering, I notice that Tsek hasn’t moved since lunch. He’s been lost in thought, guarding the Exemplar and the Shade who went back to studying the shackles. I make my way to the living room.

He turns and gives me a pale smile to acknowledge my presence. I return it as I enter the room to talk to the two prisoners. He seems relieved, like he was dreading something. I blink. Right, he might have seen me getting myself off…

I shrug. So what if he’s seen it all, he’s way more bothered than I am. Vikiana and Aisha are leaning over a pair of runic shackles laid on a low table. I walk around it to face them. They look up to me.

Did you make any progress?” I ask them.

Maybe. I think I’ve found a solution.” Vikiana replies, surprising me as the Shade has shown more knowledge in flow. “You mentioned the disruption construct so I looked through the runes and, after some localized activation, I think we’ve managed to identify which create the effect.”

How does that help?” I ask.

Well, runic constructs can sustain some damage to their runes but not too much. We know this construct so we can identify which segment we need to damage to make the disruption construct unravel.” Aisha tells me.

All we need to do now is to identify which single rune we can weaken enough that it’ll become dysfunctional after a small shock, rendering the crucial segment useless. Essentially creating a cascading failure that will make the disruption construct deactivate.” Vikiana explains.

The best part of that is that it would be very difficult to detect and I guarantee that they won’t even check the runes if the runic construct functions without issue, it would be far too time-consuming to verify every rune.” Aisha affirms.

Tell me how you’ll weaken the rune and I’ll decide whether or not it’ll be difficult to detect.” I say.

There are many ways to do it.” Aisha says. “We can thin the metal beneath the rune to you can slam both shackles together and the steel will break. Or we can use a merging construct to make it weak without it being visible in any way.”

That same method would work on the lock.” I comment.

But the lock is one thing they might check, it is the singular point of failure after all.” Vikiana counters.

So is this rune if you find it.” I argue.

Yes, but it is far from an obvious one compared to the lock. Not to mention that people tend to trust flow, it’s a blind spot.” Aisha tells me.

Alright. Do it for one of the shackles, something that looks like natural wear and tear from someone trying to escape.” I decide. “A single one will be enough to free myself and you can easily explain it away if they notice.”

Did you find anything on your own?” Vikiana questions.

I did.” I reply. “Keep working on this, we’ll train tomorrow.”

I turn around and leave the bedroom, closing the door behind me. I glance at Tsek who doesn’t meet it. I grunt and ruffle his short black hair. He pulls his head away and turns his green eyes to me, the only part of him I can honestly find attractive, although not when he looks annoyed like that.

Let’s train, kid.” I speak up.

We about the same age.” He grunts.

Actually, I found out that I’m older than you are after all.” I chuckle darkly.

What?” He asks, confused.

Don’t worry about it and unsheathe your sword, the steel one.” I tease.

Tsek turns bright red, picking up on my innuendo, but his awkward expression keeps signs of guilt. Still, he seems less tense than he was guarding the door. I don’t want him to pick up the discomfort and shame I felt about my desires when I was young, it took me a long time to get over it with Father’s help.

He takes his sword out and launches a playful swing at me in retaliation, he misses by a wide margin. We exchange a few probing blows to get into the rhythm and then start sparring in earnest.

I take greater care to avoid body contact with Tsek this time, it’s a valid strategy to close the distance in battle but he’s been overly relying on it. I can understand the temptation to be closer to someone you’re attracted to, I’m not sure it’s even conscious on his part.

About five or six minutes after we’ve started, I detect a waiter approaching our door. I tell Tsek to hold while I answer the door. The man tells me that guests are worried about the sounds coming out of our room.

I reassure him that we were simply sparring and promise that we’ll stop. Unfortunately, we left the wooden swords back at the house. I end up making Tsek train his lion strikes which, sadly, doesn’t help me get stronger. He has a predilection for the stabbing stance.

Did you use a dagger before?” I ask.

Sometimes.” He replies. “Port-Odo’s streets weren’t exactly safe.”

Hm. Once more.” I say. “You started your swing too early.” I criticize. “Once more.”

Tsek is enthusiastic about pushing himself to meet my standard, which isn’t as high as Vikiana’s. Considering the effort he’s putting into it, I choose to supply him with a bit of my flow so he can keep practicing until dinner.

During that meal, we decide as a group to go back during the night. It’ll be easier to pick up on anyone following us and if there is a beacon construct in the shackles, it only gave the inn as a location before I cut the power.

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