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Suxen’s white bloused goons rush from one side of the room to the other, her threat made them very motivated to check each other’s work. After a while watching them, I notice that they sometimes place a hand flat on one of the walls, often after using flow.

I scrutinize one of them, finding that there are tiny veins running on the surface of the walls at waist-height, arranged in an angular lattice. They look to be made out a dark metal and it’s almost indistinguishable from the stone.

After a moment of observation, I notice a very slight golden glow around a woman’s palm as she touches the thin metal vein. So, that’s how they access their supply of flow.

I keep the information in mind for later and focus within, forcing myself to take deep long breaths to remain calm and ready to act. They start weaving a construct above the array linking it to various runes while Suxen supervises the whole thing.

Activate the initial diagnostic.” The Director orders. “Number Seven, guard the Shade.”

The tall, muscular, man’s eyes flip from me to Aisha and he moves behind her. She seems tense but not overly worried about the Number looming over her. What concerns me is that Suxen thinks it necess… A vivid screeching pain courses through my head.

Arrgh!” I yell, dropping to my knees.

My vision blanks out, literally, I can only see a wall of white as an agonizing wave of flow sheers through me from top to bottom. I turn to my other sense but the construct has made its way down to my left arm and all I can detect is some kind of gray bright, cold-hot static.

My symbiont’s yowls of fury resound in my mind and I join it. It grabs my shackle’s chains to start twisting them like I did back on the ship. I tell it to stop as I would be unable to fight as long as this construct is activated.

Suddenly, the agony lessens as the construct moves on to my torso and to my legs, it doesn’t disappear but becomes tolerable. I realize that the pain was so surprising and intense that, even if I thought of it, I probably couldn’t have tampered with the construct inside my body beyond, maybe, destroying it.

No sign of damage to the core construct structure.” A man’s voice reports to Suxen.

What about the periphery?” The Director asks.

Intact.” A woman replies.

Good. Isolate the relevant information and store the rest in the vault.” She orders.

I scrutinize my surroundings, finding that Number seven has a hand on Aisha’s shoulder, his fingers tightly gripping her flesh. He apparently had to prevent her from doing something. Her true face is a bit difficult to observe because of the remnants of the construct but I can tell she’s pretty peeved.

Ha.” I chuckle. “That all you got?” I ask Suxen.

No.” She replies with a polite smile.

One of her goons walks over to her and gives her a small golden construct. She takes her runic glasses out of her front pocket and places them on her nose to take a look at it.

I am quite interested in that lightning construct you have buried next to your heart, Specimen.” She comments.

Come over, I’ll give you a closer look.” I say with a short laugh.

The Rykz gave my asset a template that she copies, keyed to her and her only.” Aisha speaks up.

Unfortunate.” Suxen notes without seeming too disappointed. “It would have made for a good point of comparison for Nicolas’ project.”

This isn’t good, I might not be able to act while she extracts the data if they use pain to prevent me from interfering again. So I have to make a move before or after. Should I alter the timing by causing friction between Suxen and Aisha?

Let’s go.” Suxen speaks up. “Four, Six, seize the specimen and follow me.”

The two women step away from the wall and take hold of my biceps. They start dragging me towards the corridor. The goons are still busy sifting through the information they’re getting out of array.

If I slow this down, my constructs might trigger before the array is activated and I can take control of the room. The problem is that, Aisha will be in control of what happens while I’m out of commission during the extraction and a short while after.

If I let this proceed, then Suxen and Aisha will be focused on each other. The added benefit is that my constructs might activate during the extraction, the chaos from that works in my favor.

Besides, if I let them get the data first, then Aisha will be focused on securing that from Suxen rather than possibly using me as a diversion so she can make her escape in the case of there being just the two of us.

I have an easy way to cause friction between the two of them by mentioning that Aisha plans to pressure Cenwalh to release Cetyz but there is no telling exactly how Suxen would react, the risk is above the benefit on controlling the timeline.

No, I’ll let things proceed without adding more variables. Human voices arise from behind the doors that we’re passing by, pulling me out of my thoughts. Moans of despair, pleas to be freed. One woman is even begging to be put to death.

I turn to my symbiont’s sense to witness what happened to these people but I find that the doors are made of thick metal and, unlike Vuskyt, I can’t see through it. There are flaps for the institute’s people to look through but they’re closed.

I check the timers of the constructs I made to kill myself, finding that ten minutes have already passed. Time is flowing quicker than I thought it would. I notice that Aisha’s left hand fingers are moving slowly, a tell-tale sign that she’s making a construct.

She shouldn’t have that much flow left, or perhaps she could take some from the wall, it is unbound energy after all. I think back to just before and just after I blanked out. The Shade wasn’t close to a wall before they activated it but she was after, when I found Seven holding her by the shoulder.

That sneaky little thing, she took advantage of these Numbers’ lack of initiative to replenish her reserves while everyone was focused on me. The fact that Seven didn’t say a thing makes me think of the Rykz drones.

I start suspecting that Suxen is using a something she found out about the Rykz to subsume these Numbers’ will. Combining this with the rest of what I know, I can safely speculate that the drugs she’s using on them are at least partly based on Rykz pheromones.

It would be tragic if the drones’ lack of creativity originates from their own pheromone glands, and perhaps good news for the Rykz since it might be easy to fix… No, if it was simple or if that was the only issue, I think they would have found out by now.

My symbiont’s own pheromones could perhaps affect them… No, the Rykz have fought each other which means that drones primarily obey their own. If it could be done, Cetyz would likely have tried and Suxen would have stopped using these drugs or fixed the issue.

Or Cetyz is sat on it so she can use that to attempt an escape. That wouldn’t help me considering I need to fight my way to her cell so, if it’s possible to affect the Numbers with pheromones, then I need to find out how to do it myself.

I reach out to my symbiont and tell it to call for help. It shivers, confused, but shifts a tendril in what feels like an agreement. I pay attention to the Numbers holding me and those following us in the few moments that follow.

Four and Six react first… by tightening their grips on my arms. A short while later, those following us tighten their formation in the hallway. I sigh. This confirms that they are affected but definitely not in the right way.

Here’s to hoping that their lack of initiative translates into a flaw during combat. No way I’m that lucky. I chuckle, attracting a curious glance from Aisha. Suxen doesn’t even turn, she is looking ahead to a staircase.

The two Numbers pick me up, lifting my feet off the ground to walk downstairs. I’d like to say that it took them some effort to do that but, in fact, they’re so freakishly tall that they seem more comfortable holding me up since they no longer have to reach down. Definitely taller than two meters, what do these women eat?

We emerge inside a room that has a small rectangular cart with chains and bracers. There are shelves against the wall with an assortment of glass jars. I retch as I realize that they contain eyeballs, hands, and organs floating in liquid.

Set the specimen on the stretcher, remove the cloak, secure the wrists, ankles, and waist.” Suxen pauses. “Gently.” She adds.

Four and Six pick me up to set me down on the small cart, forcing me to lie down. I let them do as they will while I observe the jars with my other sense.

A cold shiver runs through my back as I recognize a tendril inside one of them. Next to is a thick hand with claws in the place of fingernails, it’s a third larger than a human’s. The back of it has triangular blue scales instead of skin while the palm’s scales are white and have an inverted curve and don’t fit exactly together, forming a rugged pattern.

The Numbers secure a leather strap around my waist before removing my shackles to set the stretcher’s around my limbs. I don’t worry too much as I have a way to unlock them but Aisha’s real face shows her concern.

I feel angry and sickened by what goes on in here, the cold, mechanical, treatment of sacred life. Not only that, but they have the gall to infringe on the Lake’s domain. It shouldn’t be allowed, even with the Emperor’s permission, even if he is chosen.

Let us move.” Suxen says impatiently. “The others will have sent the information to the array through the circuit by now.”

Six pushes the stretcher, making it roll on its small wheels towards a double door that Four opens. Suxen follows from behind with Aisha. We go through a small corridor and enter a wide room similar to the one before in that it has a large number of runes engraved on the stone floor.

There is only one other door out and it is located next to a wide and thick panel of glass which looks like an insanely expensive thing to have. Especially considering that all I can sense on the other side are a couple of large chairs.

The metal veins in the walls here originate from the ground and there are a lot more than anywhere else. Each of the runes has at least two of those running through them.

Francis is standing to my left with another man, they’re facing the wall and apparently comparing two flat golden constructs composed only of numbers and letters. None of it makes any sense to me, there aren’t even words, the arrangement seems random.

Six and Four grab the stretcher and set it in the center of the array while the rest of the Numbers take positions all around the room apart from Seven who keeps his position behind Aisha.

Francis, report.” Suxen orders.

This confirms that the Rykz’ access frequency is in the range you theorized it would be.” He replies. “It’ll be difficult to isolate from the human one, this is truly an abomination.”

Show me as you check a third time.” Suxen demands, walking up to them.

Aisha moves as soon as Suxen turns her back, walking towards me. Seven reacts instantly and reaches out to her shoulder again but he’s somehow way off, missing her by a wide margin. I focus my attention on the man as he heads in a different direction from Aisha who is almost at the stretcher.

There is a slight golden glow over his eyes, it is almost unnoticeable. She set an illusion construct directly in front of his eyes. I gape, beyond impressed at what Aisha did. Suxen hears Seven swishing at empty space and throws a look over her shoulder.

Seven, hold and purge.” She orders.

The man freezes on the stop and spreads his flow out like a golden fog around his body. The energy soon focuses on his eyes and the Shade’s construct vanishes. Aisha smirks a little as she stops next to the stretcher.

You will do as you’re told and all will be well.” She declares loudly enough for Suxen to hear.

Truly?” I ask, supporting her act.

Truly.” She nods, leaning close to my ear. “I should actually have tried to tame you.” She adds in a mischievous whisper, too low for Four and Six to hear unless they enhanced their hearing.

I roll my eyes before blinking slowly, signaling that I’m not powerless even held by this setup, which I suppose is what she came over to find out. Aisha flips around and heads straight for the observation room.

Seven, Three, accompany the Shade, purge and contain if she tries to leave.” Suxen orders.

The Director waits for the three to enter the small room before going back to work. This madwoman is truly oblivious in some respects. How can she not realize that, if I had no way out of this like she thinks, I would be seriously considering killing myself after what I saw in the previous room?

Suxen takes a construct out of her body, a complicated string of symbols chained together in a triple helix that looks a little like a vertical windmill’s fan. I’ve seen one like that near Shipwold.

She reaches out and places her left palm on the wall. The veins all around it soon start glowing golden as flow gathers and pours into her hand, which also takes a gold hue. She remains there for a long while, absorbing energy.

She only stops when her entire left arm bristles with flow. She turns her attention to the construct and starts expanding it one section at a time until she’s expended all the energy. The construct, which now fills the entire room, starts rotating around me.

Link my conduits to the circuit.” Suxen orders.

The two assistants nod and move to opposite sides of the construct. They shape strands of flow and attach them to the construct’s six ends and to points on the wall where at least three veins cross paths.

While they do that, Suxen starts activating the runes on the floor by pulling a gargantuan amount of energy out of the veins. I compare it to what I used to make my huge lightning construct and estimate that there are now over a thousand portions of flow coursing through the runic construct.

Get in position, I’m activating the initial diagnostic.” Suxen says.

The two assistants move to stand at equal distance from each other and Suxen, forming a triangle. They extend their hands out and a dozen runes flare. I feel a tingling inside my left arm and my head. It is uncomfortable but not unbearable, like an itch demanding to be scratched but a lot less localized.

Probing flow access frequency.” Francis declares.

Received, narrow it down.” Suxen replies calmly.

You were right, Director.” The other assistant flatters. “Beginning comparison to the human flow distribution map you created.”

I brace for something to happen but all that happens is that one of the helix construct’s sections flickers. The assistant makes a frown, soon after, his eyes widen in surprise and he starts sweating.

Director, this is…” He starts but fails to find the words.

What is it?” Suxen questions.

The specimen’s human access is comparable to that of a Baroness, does it have a title?” He asks nervously.

It doesn’t matter if it does but this indicates that the specimen deceived the Shade about its access.” Suxen utters flatly. “Continue your work.”

I’ve narrowed it down Director.” Francis speaks up.

Double the burst.” She replies.

Acknowledged, probe sent.” He says.

No response, next range.” Suxen declares.

Acknowledged, probe sent.”

No response, next range.”

I tune out the continuing exchange to observe the triple helix which experiences slight changes every time they change the parameters. I soon get bored as, without understanding it, it makes for a poor distraction from the itch.

So I turn to the Numbers, assessing whether they’re still alert after standing still for so long, finding that not a single one of them is wavering or showing any sign of fatigue. I check my timer. I have about twenty minutes left.

Aisha thinks I’m going to attack before the data extraction and, as things are going, there is a good chance that’ll happen. Which would be bad, I’d rather my constructs trigger after they’ve started consuming this huge amount of flow.

If only because otherwise Suxen might decide to delay the extraction and make use of it to defend the institute. In that case, she would likely lock me up, and Aisha as well if she protests. The fact that it keeps Aisha off-balance about my plan is an added benefit.

Probe sent.” Francis says in a defeated tone.

No response. Double and try again from the start.” Suxen orders, unfazed.

I focus on my flow and start slowly pulling it out of my reserve in a constant stream. They might have an easier time detecting that frequency if it’s active. Their first attempts bear no result so I discard my theory but continue pulling my flow out since I’ll be needing it soon whether they succeed or not.

Sent.” Francis utters tiredly.

Detected.” Suxen replies calmly.

Acknowledged, sending ano… Wait, received?” Francis asks, perking up.

The Director doesn’t answer, she is already using her flow to lay out a series of numbers separated by colons and enclosed in brackets. Once she has three, she nods satisfyingly and sets it aside.

Quadruple and send two probes in succession.” She orders.

Acknowledged.” Francis agrees excitedly. “Sent, and… sent.”

This time, I can feel two waves course through me, like a sheet in impalpable and rough cloth phasing across my body. Suxen’s expression grows intense as she lays out another series of numbers, I notice that those are the same as before.

Frequency confirmed.” She declares once done.

This is it!” The other assistant exclaims. “The Emperor won’t be able to shut us down with this! He won’t want to, Director!”

Focus.” Suxen snaps. “This is a mere frequency, we need the data to begin mapping the Rykz’ access.”

Yes, Director.” He preens.

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