Cetyz falls silent again after her response so I decide to table the conversation while she heals and eats. Her legs are almost back into shape and her tendril seem a size larger. While she does, I reassemble my strengthening, healing, and nourishing construct to shield my body from the strain my symbiont puts it under.
Turpin’s body is already showing signs that its crumbling, his stomach’s skin is dangling around her foot like there isn’t any flesh left beneath it and I’ve seen her move to plunge her root-like toes under his rib-cage.
I start swinging the double-bladed staff to get familiar with it. The weapon seems to require quite a few grip changes to use it as it is meant to be, my training with Vikiana one of the reasons I’m choosing to use it instead of switching to a sword.
The other reason is that its center of gravity is at the very center and that makes it extremely easy to spin it around my back while slashing all around me, something I haven’t done since my hammer.
The reason is that even the scimitar’s weight was concentrated towards the blade and it simply took less effort to move with the blade, which meant I couldn’t keep charging while I attacked those surrounding me.
With this weapon, I’ll be able to charge in and out of groups while ripping through everything around me. The thought makes me grin for a moment before I realize that I’m being too eager to end lives.
“How long?” Cetyz speaks up, stepping out of Turpin’s husk of a body.
“Four years.” I reply.
“Ih.” She nods, apparently not too shaken by the duration.
“How did you get caught?” I ask.
“Silver vale.” She replies. “Walking to Mother, Gr… Grrr…” She pauses. “Grrrri?” She starts shaking, her tendrils panically swipe the air around her.
“Grikyz.” I supply. One of her appendages swipes out and grabs my symbiont, pulling me in.
“Grykiz?” She asks urgently.
“Grikyz.” I correct, feeling terrible at the confirmation that her ‘brain’ was damaged.
“Grikyz?” She repeats, head angled at my symbiont. It responds in agreement at my probing. She quiets down a little but remains rather shaky. “Grikyz.”
“Then what happened?” I question, wanting to assess the damage and find clues about how she was taken down to shield her from it happening again.
“I don’t know!” She exclaims. “I, think I fell.”
“Alright, alright.” I appease her.
She doesn’t react to my words, seemingly deep her thought. I try to pull my symbiont back to shake her out of it but she slaps a second tendril around it. I wish I could give her some time but we’re running out of it.
I reach out to my symbiont. I don’t even have to tell it that we need to get moving, it understands the urgency on its own and communicates that to the Princess with its pheromones.
“Hhh.” Cetyz exhales. “You… raw.” She complains to us.
Celyz said I smelled intoxicating, maybe it wasn’t a compliment? I shift uncomfortably, worried that perhaps she was just being nice. Cetyz releases my arm and controls the mass of water at her foot to trickle out of the room.
“Go, out.” She says.
“We need to go, yes.” I agree.
“No, you go.” She points at the door.
I get the strange feeling that she doesn’t like me, that she thinks her sister did something terrible. But most importantly, she does not trust me, perhaps she merely tolerates me. I limp my way to the door, actually preferring to lead the way.
“What did you do when you woke up?” I ask over my shoulder.
“Took my warmth back, no, not word, my heat?” She replies, hesitating.
“Your flow?” I question.
“Yes… my, my sunlight.” She says.
“Okay.” I nod.
The view every species have of flow seems rather tailored to their societies. The Lisilese see it as a blaze that burns the blood of worthy preys, I wonder if it’s because their successes bring them notoriety which wins them oaths that increase their power.
The Rykz seem to be using flow to support their life-cycle, taking over a role to sunlight for these plant-like beings. Although, I suspect that the Princesses are hybrids that integrated more than the Rykz Queens of old, they have a skeleton which can’t be of insectoid origin as far as I know.
Humans… humans believe in the Lake, the role of water in our society might be the reason why we do. All of it seems rooted in much superstition. My faith in the Emperor might be dependent on a falsehood, that He is chosen by a non-existent Lake.
My faith in Him is definitely damaged but whether He is chosen or not, I cannot deny all that the Emperor has done for the Empire. He gave the population knowledge with His University, protection with his Phalanxes, and Justice with his Templars.
None of it is perfect but His actions with the Rykz suggest that there isn’t much He wouldn’t do to strengthen the Empire. That gives me hope as only a fool would fail to see that we would be stronger without Nobility.
He has achieved too much to be an idiot. No, there is clear purpose to his actions and there are reasons for the state of the Empire. The only question is… would I agree with them?
Enough. Who am I to pass judgment? I am Jessica, mere peasant. I need to focus on seeing this through and then forging a future for myself. I have options, I’m confident I’ll be able to make a living with my skill in flow, even single-handed.
“Cetyz?” I speak up as we reach the crossing.
“Yes.” She replies. “Cetyz.” Is she confirming that’s her name? I’ve been using it for a while now.
“Right, I’m El…” I hesitate to give her my real name for a moment but consider she isn’t in a state to handle that information, it’s just easier not to. “I’m Elizabeth Vil.”
“Ehlsabht.” She says.
“Elizabeth.” I repeat with a smile. “Why do you call flow sunlight?”
“Same kind of warmth.” She replies.
Her response unlocks something in me and I search my memories of how sun-rays felt on my limb, immediately understanding the correlation she’s making, it’s not exactly the same but it felt very similar.
It’s not a matter of temperature but of… what was the word Suxen used? Wavelength? Yes, that. Do the Lisilese see the sun red the same way we see it golden? He had red irises but I that really doesn’t mean much.
“You, two.” She starts and pauses. “Mad?”
“I’m not mad.” I reply. I got over it… ish.
“Then, why sister?” She asks, apparently to herself.
“You think the symbiont was meant to fix my madness so I could help you,” I question.
“Symyiont.” She says, rolling the word inside her head. “Symbiont. Yes.”
“I lost my arm and she gave it to me in exchange for freeing you. It allowed me to survive and recover from battles that a normal human wouldn’t have.” I explain. “Humans aren’t all mad, only some. I heard of a Mad Queen before.”
“Even Halkyz, didn’t… try contrary of correct.” Cetyz affirms, struggling.
“Halkyz the Mad?” I ask.
“Yes.” She nods. “Suhkxn, maddest of mad humans.”
I take my time to sift through what she said as I guide her upstairs to avoid losing track of our surroundings. She seems aware of Suxen’s plans, at least partly. The Director can be seen as attempting to create drones of some kind for humans, the opposite of what the Rykz are trying to do.
I really shouldn’t give her the specifics or admit to my own struggles with sanity since I think Celyz is going to have a lot of trouble explaining herself already and the details would make it harder for her.
That does remind me of something but we’re almost upstairs so I’ll ask later. I go through the door, my symbiont immediately tenses up to I get on my guard, thinking it smelled something.
Cetyz doesn’t have the same reaction but she does raise up a sphere of water up, either because of my bringing my weapon back or communicating with my symbiont. I walk in the corridor littered with the tongue-less guards’ bodies, there is smoke covering the ceiling.
A few of them have been chewed on by something with small teeth but a jaw as large as my hand. Likely cold blood in origin if I go by my limb’s reaction, similar to the one it had for the Lisilese. I can hear a blazing fire on the other side of a door.
I pat the reinforced wood, finding that it’s extremely hot. I expend a couple portions of flow to heal my knee, not the cut but the damage to the articulation. Since I don’t really know exactly what’s wrong, or what to heal, or where I would need to focus, I simply target everything beneath the skin and shorten the timer to an hour or so.
I steal a clean shirt from one of the guards to wrap it around my left limb. Meanwhile, Cetyz is walking from body to body, plunging her roots into their stomachs as she goes. It takes her around a quarter of an hour but the shade of her skin grows distinctively healthier.
“Do drones produce something that makes them… obedient?” I ask.
“Ys.” She replies.
“Celyz would have given me a bit more.” I groan.
“My sister, talkative.” Cetyz says with affection in her resounding voice.
It speaks a lot to how much I’ve changed that I can have a casual conversation with a being while it’s eating a human, not only that but also smile at her comment.
“Drones pliable, I think. Not primary goal, it gives hive-sense, belonging, protective.” She expands on her response.
“Celyz assigned me a drone to train, it just stood there while I hit it without protecting itself.” I note. “That’s not being pliable, it’s almost like it would have just let me kill it if I chose to.”
“See, humans mad. Why even think to kill? The drone was fulfilling its purpose as best as it knew how to.” Cetyz shakes her head.
“I didn’t think to kill it on the moment.” I think. “But doesn’t it go beyond simple devotion?”
“Ys, they too pliable.” Cetyz nods like I just made her point.
“I…” I pause and decide to let it go. It’s likely that the drones became more pliable because those who didn’t accept the Rykz’ ancestors who were merged with their Queens were simply killed off. “Are you ready to go?”
“Ys.” She replies, pointing me forward.
I lead her out but, when we reach the room with the security array, find that the door isn’t opening. I push but it hits and disturbs a bit of rubble stacked up behind it. I head a few rocks stumble down, and stumble, and keep going… before hitting the ground in a splash of water. What? Cetyz pushes me aside and walks up to the door.
“Roof broke, ground fell.” She tells me.
“Shit, we need to find another way out.” I swear.
“No time, fire.” She shakes her head.
The large mass of water that’s been trailing behind her rushes past us, drenching my boots once again. The liquid slips through the cracks between the door and the frame to get to the other side.
“Do you have enough flow to be trailing all of that behind you?” I ask.
“Queen-like.” Cetyz replies, waving a tendril that she fills with flow.
That’s… did every living Rykz give her their regeneration? Wait, no, half of the Queens or all of them. Either way, she’ll no doubt be able to hold her own better than I will if we end up in a fight.
“Not vry much left.” She adds.
Crk. I hear ice form on the other side and rocks tumble, I hear a small avalanche and, after a minute or two, I hear the ice shatter. Cetyz opens the door into the devastated array room.
There is a hole in the ground giving into a pile of rubble and the roof is entirely gone but there are large wooden beams covering the hole, and they’re in flames. I’m almost certain I haven’t caused this since I haven’t targeted the entrance.
Did the array blow up? It should be possible for me to pass since the floor near the walls survived but I doubt Cetyz will be able to considering that the Princess swerves her tail when she walks to keep her balance. Another difference with Celyz, her gait is se… gracious. I cough, shaking the image of her swaying thighs and waist out of my head.
“You lonely.” She comments.
“I, um, yes.” I stutter, blushing furiously.
Cetyz solves the crossing problem for us by creating a thin bridge of ice. She engages on it in with a running start. The frozen water cracks with every step she takes, likely caused by the pressure her root-like toes impress on it. Still, the ice holds.
Cetyz doesn’t slow down as she reaches the end, she raises her left leg at the last second before she impacts the door and bashes it in with a brutal kick. She staggers a little, flinching in pain, but remains standing.
With her on the other side, I gather my courage and rush through the ice bridge, praying for it hold to the Lake. It doesn’t even crack under my steps, which isn’t too surprising since she’s slightly taller and I suspect that the Princess is at least twice my weight.
She waits for me to take the lead, her tendrils wrapped very tightly around her torso which is likely to keep her ribs pressed together so they can heal. It makes her look vulnerable, young, and I feel the distinct need to protect this half-sister of mine.
“Sweet.” She says, responding to my unexpressed feelings. “But I’m strong, lead the way.”
I instinctively move in front of her, finding that the institute’s front-door is already unlocked and that the guard that let us in is dead, he was stabbed in the back by several swords. Hope that means these women made it out.
I cross the small room and open it just slightly to throw a look left and right. There are dead sailors in the avenue ahead and I can hear clashing swords in the distance. Damn Hetlan, why would she make a move instead of cozying up in bed with a lover.
The streets running along the institute’s block are filled with debris, from broken slate tiles that fell off the roof to burning chunks of wood and stone. Cetyz pushes me forward, obviously impatient to get out.
I raise my left hand to push her back. Her tendrils shiver a bit in discontent but she does listen. I enhance my eyesight and hearing to scan the area. There are a few people on the roofs in the distance but they aren’t relevant.
A few moving shadows attract my gaze but a glance up tells me that they’re merely the reflection of the fire to the roof. I carefully step out, Cetyz close on my tail, she takes a single step for every two of mine, which is just insulting but at least she isn’t overtaking me and putting herself at risk.
I consider heading away from the fighting but it’s in the west and that’s where the closest city gate is so I engage on a side-street that should go parallel to the battle. We should be able to slip by undetected and can always change course if I hear that there are more people involved than I can handle.
Cetyz has gathered the water she has left into a sphere about as large as my torso and directed it to float above her head. She concentrated so much flow into it that it’s almost entirely black in color.
As I hurriedly cross the street to hug the wall on the other side, I stop in the middle, at the same time as Cetyz does. Her head is looking exactly to what I just detected, the end of a scaly tail pointing out from an abandoned building’s roof.
As I focus, I distinguish more and more details. The creature is cold blooded and the size of a large dog. It’s not alone, there are six of them up there, crouched and ready to pounce down. The shape of their heads is reminiscent of the Lisilese’s but they only have two muscular legs and a thin tail.
I push Cetyz back and bring my double-bladed staff around to take a stance, feeling a pang in my left knee as I rest my entire weight on it. I shift leg. Cetyz is busy weaving a lightning construct with two of her tendrils so I simply hold where I am, covering her.
After a few seconds, I start wondering what’s wrong as she still isn’t done. I turn to throw her a glance. She’s entirely focused on the construct but her thin appendages’ movements are growing restless. There are several obvious mistakes in the ordering of her segments.
“The sphere is the primary segment, it needs to be larger to encompass the rest but to also have a single point of connection with every other segment.” I explain, worried that she would make such a basic mistake. “And that one, links to the timer. You’re also missing half the sub-construct that charges the air.”
“I, I…” Cetyz stutters. She would be on the verge of tears if she had eyes.
“It’s okay, you’re tired and you went through a lot, give it to me I’ll… Fuck!” I exclaim, detecting that my voice provoked the pack into action.
I flip around and lion’s step up to meet the two pouncing at me from above. I extend the weapon out, placing it exactly between them. The creatures have green-brown scales that don’t look very thick so I simply spin on myself, extending my left hand and pulling my right hand to slash with both blades at once.
The furthest one is brought in, slashing through the back of the head of the creature to my right, coming out from the mouth with a blue-blood geyser. At the same time, the closest one is pushed out, slicing the creature in half by the waist.
With that done, I bend my knees and incline myself to hit the wall at the right angle. I manage to absorb the impact and bounce back towards the ground, the problem is that one of them is jumping at my back and three others have landed and started harassing Cetyz, who isn’t in shape to deal with that.
She is using her water to protect herself but I can tell she’s getting overwhelmed. I raise the staff above my head and bring it down on one of these reptilian dogs while passing the other blade under my shoulder, stabbing the one ambushing me in the neck.
I screw up my landing but manage to avoid damaging my knee further by rolling on my back, luckily as the one I just impales crashes in the same spot a moment after me.
“Khsssk. Khsssssk.” The two bark at me in a challenging manner.
I glare back at them, weapon dripping in dark blue blood. The reptiles exchange a quick look before running away. They accelerate so quickly that I don’t even consider chasing them.
I assemble a lightning construct but the tricky things make use of their tails to make a sharp turn into a street before I can charge the air and activate it. Cetyz is shaking on her legs, several on her tendrils pressing where she had one of her messy scars.
“You alright?” I ask, concerned.
“I, I don’t… I forgot.” She admits in a trembling voice.
“You’re recovering.” I reassure her.
“We don’t!” She snaps at me. “It, the void, it ate some of me.”