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It might be hypocrisy to make use of this construct after having killed the bandits for using it as a distraction, not unlike what I’m about to do, but I’m putting no lives at risk… or at least none that I care to preserve.

No, my real problem with it is emotional and it stems from what happened to my left arm. But that was because of a different, much more dangerous and vicious, construct. That’s a fallacy… fire is fire and I’m going to use it.

I cannot dismiss everything I will gain by setting a fire, the same way I cannot dismiss the benefits of the kinetic energy that the air-blades will deliver. The Exemplar has lectured me enough about not losing sight of the fact that physical forces can be used to deal with an opponent’s flow.

The defensive construct is one of the most inefficient I could use to counter air-blades for one very simple reason: it will block the air-blade from cutting me but then the air contained inside will explode outwards and then I’ll have to either accept being blown off my feet or have to spend even more energy countering that.

According to Aisha, who said so in passing when Vikiana explained this for the thirtieth time, the defensive construct had to be optimized to make it an effective counter to the lightning construct for the same reason as it produces heat and a small amount of kinetic energy on top of the electrical charge it delivers.

I’m, laughably, still wasting time. I cannot honestly argue, even to myself, against using fire to further drain the institute’s reserves and erode their defenses.

It is undeniable that the efficiency of the construct will be compounded if I simply use it to set something on fire which will then produce heat on its own, forcing the institute to burn through far more flow than I’ve invested to start it.

My problem is that this reasoning is the same as the one behind the Rykz’ fire construct, the one that somehow changed my flesh into fuel as it burnt it. It makes me feel a little sick but…

I took an oath.” I say the four words out loud to end my internal debate.

It takes me half an hour to assemble a fire construct with the flow I have left, a bit over a hundred portions. I direct it underground towards a nearby building which is in much better shape, its wooden beams, floorboards, and walls haven’t begun rotting.

I target it towards the base of the wall facing the institute. The fire construct will set that facade and the ceiling aflame, the latter because heat rises. The structure should crumble towards the institute once the blaze eats through enough support beams.

It won’t be falling directly on the institute’s stone walls, and I doubt the fire will actually spread to it, but I know first-hand how frightening it is to see flames closing in so I doubt those in charge will have the clarity of mind to set it as a secondary priority.

Even if I’m wrong and they do, the heat won’t be negligible considering the amount of flow I’m dedicating to fueling that fire. Besides, the heat will radiate and further erode their defenses.

I get up and throw a quick glance at the institute. The building’s roof has several points, the tiles covering it are made out of thin gray slate. Perhaps the structure supporting them is flammable which would make this fire construct a much bigger threat.

I settle back down and use my sense to inspect the building I’m planning to set on fire. There are about two main pillars supporting it, one of which will burn first because it’s much closer to the institute. I nod, this should work.

I assemble a timer, setting it to count down from thirty-five minutes, and a conditional construct to activate the fire construct. I pause, a bit worried that it won’t be enough time for it to go through the wood so I reduce the timer to thirty minutes.

If it burns quick, it’ll crumble five minutes before the lightning construct triggers, if slow then the structure should fall while it is discharging. One benefit to this is that the chaos caused by the fire should make it easier for me and Cetyz to escape the institute relatively unnoticed.

I repeat to myself that the area around the institute is deserted, because of their actions. I’m not putting civilians at risk, those who live in the slums will notice the blaze long before it becomes a danger to their houses if I messed up somehow.

It’s hard to determine how intense it’ll burn since it doesn’t take much energy to fuel a flow torch but it should be pretty impressive. I link the conditional construct to the fire one and double-check what I’ve done so far.

I immediately depart once that’s done, unwilling to give myself room to second-guess my decisions. The night is clear as the moon is very close to being full with only a sliver of it missing.

I take the rag map out. The lines drawn with charcoal have almost all faded by now even with me occasionally redrawing them. Enough of it remains to guide me to the line I made to mark the aqueduct’s path from the Palace to the institute.

The darkness allows me to make it to a discreet alley passing just above it without being spotted by the city guards patrolling the area around the Palace. The one thing I need to avoid is for them to stop and search me since there is a chance they’ll ask me to remove the sleeve glove.

I sit down on the pavement just above and focus on my symbiont’s sense, scrutinizing the ground beneath until I detect a telling emptiness. I shift a few meters to the side to be directly above it and place my left hand flat on the ground between my crossed legs.

I send a trickle of flow from my reserve down, spreading it like a fog to find the exact location of the flowing water. I recall the whole as soon as I detect my flow getting dragged away.

I spend the next few hours taking the air-blades out of my body to organize them in a bundle before anchoring them into the ground, just above the empty cavity. I then create two simple constructs, each with a timer and a conditional segment.

The first I set at twenty-five minutes to release the air-blades so that they sink down into the flowing water and start absorbing air to form their blades. The second I set to activate them all another twenty-five minutes later.

This is the most uncertain part of my plan as it is difficult to estimate the speed of the water so I have to leave a large margin of error which will make the constructs overall less powerful as they’ll spend close to half an hour activated before being triggered.

The last thing I do is target each of the thirty air-blades towards a different direction, outwards from the others in the bundle. There are enough that at least three will hit the same vicinity.

I could have made a single one, but this should be more stable, or I could have set them all on the same trajectory but I deem it safer to do it this way to increase the chances of destroying something important.

If there isn’t any weak point, it’ll be because there are constructs protecting the institute’s flow reservoir but I’m banking on the fact that these air-blades will be enough to overwhelm the constructs.

It did take over two-hundred portions to create them, I doubt they would be so wasteful as to constantly maintain constructs with an equivalent or superior amount of flow to protect something hidden.

Not to mention that they can’t predict which means of attack someone would use so the protection would need to come from one general construct, which would require more energy to ensure it worked, or several specialized constructs which requires even more energy.

No, I’m confident that this will blindside them. Vikiana is correct, attacking truly is a lot easier than defending. I feel a weight come off my shoulders with everything set up, liberated from worrying. All that’s left is to execute the assault.

I estimate that it’s well past midnight so I get up and start making my way back. I do take detours, realizing that it would still be very dangerous to let my guard down, besides I’m rather low on flow right now.

The plan is to leave for the institute as soon as my reserves are full, so in about twenty hours. Suxen should have had plenty of time to prepare her array and I don’t want to give Aisha more time than that with the schematics.

I don’t notice anything odd as I approach the run-down shack, but I do accelerate my pace. Aisha is pretty much the most obvious point of failure until I get inside the institute.

I need the Shade to get inside without alarming them by showing up alone, and to rein the Director in until my constructs trigger because I’ve found out that a lot can happen in half an hour with that madwoman.

Not that Aisha is that reliable in this matter, she’ll probably do the bare minimum. I really hope I’m not going to have to run around naked in there. I shake my head and focus on my sense.

I detect Tsek and Aisha, she’s still in shackles and still at the table with the schematics and notes in front of her. The only thing different from when I left, over fourteen hours ago, is the quill in her hand.

Tsek is sitting there, looking utterly bored. I’ve never been so glad to run into such an uninteresting picture. I walk in and go straight for the stove, opening the pot to look inside, finding cold leftovers that I pour into a bowl and start devouring.

Welcome back.” Tsek tells me. “How did it go?”

Fine, I mapped out a few escape routes.” I lie.

Actually, now that I think of it… it might not have been a bad idea to do that. I know the area around that block pretty well but not really what streets lead outside the city, only those that go to the docks and I don’t think I can risk going there with the Shade and Hetlan thing.

I can’t believe that slipped my mind for an entire month… I was too focused on training to get inside and win. It isn’t too late to fix, I can spend tomorrow afternoon taking stock of Meiridin’s main avenues relative to the gates so I can use them as landmarks without needing to take them.

Day went well?” I ask Tsek.

She didn’t move a single centimeter.” He groans.

Odd, she’s usually so chipper you’d have to use a gag to shut her up.” I chuckle.

I can hear you, you know.” Aisha mumbles.

Progress?” I question her.

Some, will see tomorrow if I can make it.” She tells me, throwing me an annoyed look for interrupting her.

We going whether you’re ready or not.” I affirm.

Then let me work in peace.” She groans.

I nod and get up to serve myself another bowl. Tsek yawns and settles into his bunk while I chow down on the food, watching Aisha scribble down small symbols. I look closer but don’t recognize any of it as equations, nor do I see any numbers.

I smother my curiosity to let her keep at it. Perhaps she’ll help, perhaps not. Either way, there shouldn’t be enough flow to make a major impact. Especially since Suxen needs to work her array.

Tsek falls asleep before I even finish my fourth bowl of cold gruel, I didn’t really have the stomach for it but I figured I should stock up for the assault so I forced myself a little.

Aisha goes to sleep a few hours later, when dawn peeks out over the city’s landscape. I give Tsek a half-hour more of sleep since he stayed up late before waking him up as I do need to rest.

With all the papers that the Shade left spread out on the table, I end up having to use his bunk. The chair isn’t that comfortable but it keeps me alert and it’s mine. I take my blanket and settle down.

— — —

I wake up full of energy, apprehensive but eager at the same time. Today is the day I save Caeviel and repay Celyz or die trying. The danger involved is far from dissuasive, it makes me want to face this head on. I will but I cannot forget that the objective is to free Cetyz.

‘morning.” I say.

Sleep well?” Tsek asks, turning to me.

Well enough.” I nod.

He seems enthusiast, his mood mirroring mine. Aisha is already up and seriously studying the schematics, ignoring us. I grab a bucket and a spare change of clothes, going out to wash up. Once I’ve done that, Tsek serves us a warm lunch, he’d cooked it an hour ago but decided to let me sleep.

So, what’s the plan today?” He asks expectantly.

Aisha and I will be leaving a few hours after nightfall.” I reply.

That’s it?” He blinks, looking disappointed.

You did your part, your role comes to an end.” I tell him. “From here, it gets a lot more dangerous.”

I can handle it.” He affirms.

You going to attack the institute on your own to make a diversion?” I ask sarcastically.

Well, no but I can do stuff.” Tsek replies.

You should spend the night taking the gold out of Aisha’s stashes, you deserve it.” I say.

Hey!” Aisha exclaims, perking up. “I need that.”

For what?” I ask, suspicious.

Getting to Kruzser after this.” She replies, frowning.

Tsek won’t take everything, I’m sure you kept some for yourself.” I shrug.

I did, but that’s to repay Madame Cecil.” Aisha frowns.

I’m sure she’ll forgive you.” I roll my eyes. “Can’t you get more anyway?”

Still, I do need to justify expenses.” She pouts but goes back to work.

That’s it?” Tsek asks, repeating himself. “I won’t even get a chance to use what I’ve learned with a sword?”

Don’t be so eager to risk your life, battle is incomparable to what you’ve experienced so far during training.” I tell him.

Did you forget that I fought to take the galley, Elizabeth?” He asks angrily.

I did not, I chose you in part because you kept your cool during that fight. But you would be alone this time and, at the risk of sounding arrogant, you aren’t me.” I reply calmly but firmly.

I know that.” He says, getting a little aroused by my tone. “You’re great and that’s why I want to help you.” You mean you want me to lie you down.

All I’m saying is that making a direct move by yourself is going to get you killed.” I say instead.

Tsek, there isn’t anyone stopping you from keeping an eye on the area.” Aisha speaks up shortly without looking up.

Correct.” I agree with a nod. This will go down better if I don’t completely shut him out. “As long as you make sure no one spots you, you can be there to set up a diversion for us if we need one.” I add.

Right… yeah, that makes sense.” Tsek whispers, expression brightening. “I’ll be there, hanging back as reinforcements.”

I notice Aisha repressing an amused smile, she is in his line of sight after all but he’s focused on me. Not that he’s really looking right now, he seems lost in a dream-like state. No doubt thinking about how he’ll gloriously show up on a golden steed.

I end up having to suppress an amused laugh of my own since he could lose his life just trying. I compose my expression and snap my fingers in front of his face, startling him.

Don’t do anything foolish.” I order abruptly. “This is serious.”

I won’t, Dame Elizabeth.” He grins, seeming excited.

Alright.” I say, sighing inside. “I’m going, I’ll be back before sundown.”

I pick my cloak off a chair and wrap it around my shoulders, stepping outside. I go through Meiridin at a leisurely pace so as not to tire myself before tonight.

I first follow the east to west main avenue, one that I’ve taken before, settling the location of the city gates to either end of it in my mind. It is rather relaxing to simply stroll around but it is rather lonely. I do enjoy the peace before the literal storm I’m going to unleash tonight.

It takes me another couple of hours to make it north to south. On my way back to the shack, I walk by the walls of eastern Meiridin as I know that the city spills over in that direction so it would a good place to make our way over the walls if the gates are closed.

I notice a few spots where tall buildings are close enough to the rampart walk that I could jump from one to the other with a lion’s step, and likely would even be able to while carrying Cetyz although I’m not sure about how heavy a Princess would be, I unconsciously imagine Celyz to be as light as a feather but that’s rather unrealistic.

It matters little, some things are possible while others aren’t. There was always going to be a hefty amount of improvisation involved in doing this. I make a turn and pass by the docks to take stock of the ships in case my other escape paths don’t pan out.

There is still a large number of barges anchored at the docks, many of them are flying Hetlan’s banner but not all. It’s hard to tell who they belong to considering that guilds have their own crests and some Noble houses have different crests than the land they rule.

What I’m looking for is a ship that looks like it’ll be fast on a river but still able to sail the open sea. I don’t make much progress with my sparse knowledge on the subject of sailing or boats in general.

The fact remains that none of the ships here look half as good as Grace’s galley. I might have promised Ruth a better prize than I thought at the time. Good for her and the crew. I leave the area and slowly make my way back to the shack.

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