Cetyz’ trembling worsens as the realization that she isn’t entirely herself hits her in full. I try to approach but she takes huge steps back, using her reversed knees to keep me at a distance. Since it isn’t working, I stop and extend my left arm out which she immediately grabs onto with one of her tendrils.
“Calm down, Cetyz, you just have a few memory holes.” I say. “You’re still yourself.”
I should have told her inside the institute, we’re way too exposed outside like this. The sounds of battle are intensifying but I also hear fewer shocks between weapons, which means it’s coming to an end.
“Wh, what real if memories gone?” She asks, lost.
“Me, I’m real and I’m going to take you back to our sister.” I reply.
“She not you sister, human!” She shouts angrily, the last word containing a hint of hatred.
Her unmistakably Rykz resounding voice echoes through the streets. Shit. I take hold of her tendril with my left hand and pull on it to bring her closer, it had time to heal and buff out so I no longer fear breaking it.
“Your sister and I linked tendrils, Cetyz, we… I… held her and she held me.” My voice dies. “I love who she is.” I finish, feeling guilty for the admission which feels like betraying my Lady.
“N, no. Lie!” She exclaims, trying to pull away.
I don’t let her but I don’t press too hard either, I slowly wrap her tendril around my wrist to pull her closer. She extends a few more appendages and tries to push me away while touching me as little as she can, resisting me but not my symbiont.
“You can tell that I’m not lying.” I add.
“You smell shame!” She counters in a crazed tone.
“I am but not because of what I did. I betrayed someone else by being with Celyz, I regret that but not the time I spent being with her.” I explain.
I didn’t want to express any of this, even in thought, but at least this distracted her from her existential crisis. I keep reeling her in until I can pass my left arm behind her back and pull her against my left shoulder, feeling that she’ll be more likely to accept a hug if it comes from my symbiont.
The gamble pays out as she calms down and her tendrils meld around my limb, yet they don’t go near the hand which I gather would be rather improper. I try to keep my attention focused on our surroundings but it’s difficult with her so distraught.
“I, I, so much, forgotten.” Cetyz utters.
“You can learn again.” I reply, my symbiont’s rubbery skin undulates where she holds in.
“Believe you can’t.” She says. “You, word breaker.”
“I am.” I acknowledge with difficulty.
“Celyz…” She hesitates. “Know?”
“About?” I ask.
“You and other.” She says.
I take my time before answering, Celyz warned me not to tell Fenyz that I had someone else. That I cheated on Lance. I’ve already admitted so but she doesn’t know that her sister did, which makes a difference… but I cannot lie on Celyz’ behalf. From all that I know of her, I am certain that she wouldn’t want me to directly lie to her sister.
“Celyz did.” I tell her. “But I needed comfort at the time, I had just lost my… progenitor and she helped me get through that.” Father.
“She lost, path too.” Cetyz utters with despair. Yet, she soon looks down at me, me not my symbiont. “I sorry for, death. Tragedy.” She says with compassion.
“Thanks.” I reply, feeling a growing lump in my throat. “Could you fix yourself if you had what you lost?” I ask, forcefully pulling away from the subject.
“No.” She shakes her head but her certainty soon breaks. “I don’t, think. Maybe, forgot.”
“Why wouldn’t you be able to?” I question.
“Construct cannot. Ihk.” Her small cry is filled with sadness. “Endings age after, severed. Cannot delay putting back or gone.”
“If you remember that then you haven’t forgotten.” I affirm. “You might have lost some details, but there isn’t anything new in your memories so you can trust what you recall.”
“I, yes. Logic.” She agrees hesitantly.
“We need to go, Cetyz. Now.” I press.
“Lead, I hold.” She replies.
I nod and start heading west, staying on the street running around the institute’s block since it’s deserted and the buildings nearby are all abandoned. We find a burning hole in the road running up to the institute’s facade after a single turn.
“Shit.” I swear. “We have to make a right and then a left, hopefully they won’t notice us crossing by.”
“Can go back.” Cetyz tells me. “Battle risky.”
“North or West will bring us deeper into Meiridin, and I don’t want to go south because that’s Hetlan’s base of action. We’ll just make a turn as soon as we can.” I explain.
As we move on, Tsek enters my range, jumping on a crumbling roof above. He came from deeper into the slums. I frown. He should be helping the women who were in the institute, did they not make it out?
The issue with meeting up to ask is Cetyz, I can feel that she’s very unsettled so there’s a risk that she could lash out, but it’s higher if she’s caught off guard and I don’t have a way to tell him to stay back before he reaches us.
“There’s a friend close-by.” I warn her.
“Send away.” She replies instantly.
“I need to ask him about what happened to some women carrying children.” I tell her, counting on the importance Rykz place on family.
“No.” She replies, checking the area.
“Ah, well, he’s coming over anyway.” I awkwardly admit.
As he approaches, he makes a bit of noise by stepping on a broken tile. Cetyz’ ovaloid head zeroes in on him. The sphere of water shoots up above the roof and then splits up in liquid tendrils that rush out towards his limbs.
“Don’t kill him!” I exclaim.
“Hmph.” She exhales.
Tsek sees the swirling water coming from above and tries to avoid it but there are simply too many strands. One catches his ankle and instantly freeze it to the roof. The rest catch his wrists and other foot, turning to ice and completing his immobilization.
Cetyz then starts assembling another construct but she dismantles it within moments to start on another, and then another. She seems to be going through her repertoire of constructs.
“Elizabeth?” Tsek calls out in a fearful voice.
“Keep your voice down and don’t struggle.” I tell him. “The Princess is simply wary.”
“O, okay.” He replies, searching but unable to find me because he can’t see through the roof.
“Did you see any pregnant women? I told them to call out for you.” I ask.
“I did.” He says. “Told them how to quickly leave the slums.”
“That’s it?” I question, baffled.
“They were armed and I needed to keep an eye out for you, a lot of things got out of the institute.” He explains.
“And you didn’t escort them? By the Lake, they’re pregnant!” I shout angrily.
“Kill.” Cetyz concludes. At the end of one of her tendrils is a construct that looks like the head of a spiked mace.
“No.” I hurriedly shake my head. “And are you sure you didn’t make a mistake?” I ask despite not wanting to worry her.
“If bad, human die.” She declares aggressively.
“Don’t.” I repeat.
“He leave human eggs helpless, no?” She counters, inclining her ovaloid head.
“I, just, let me handle it, please. They were relatively safe once out of there” I reply.
“Mad, mad.” She says, shaking her head and apparently letting it go but keeping her construct ready.
“Um.” Tsek hesitates.
“Did you see Suxen leave?” I ask, disappointed in but deciding to move on because Cetyz seems much too ready to just execute him.
“Suxen escaped from the roof with a man and a woman, they left towards the docks.” He tells me. “The last two spotted me so I couldn’t follow.”
“That was Ais…” I start.
“Suk, hx, hen!” Cetyz utters from deep inside her head and then bursts off at full speed.
Fuck! I trip forward, dragged along by the tendrils wrapped around my arms. She lets go of it after a few meters, deciding that her priority is to sprint south towards the docks as quickly as she can.
It costs me a precious few seconds to get my footing back and lion’s step after her but she’s so fast that even if I had left at the same time, she would have lost me in seconds. She’s already at the end of the avenue.
“Elizabeth! Free me!” Tsek yells out.
“Use a fire construct.” I shout back, giving him the same amount of help he gave the women who needed his.
Cetyz tries to make a sharp turn but her root-like toes aren’t sliding on the pavement, unable to find a grip. She hits the wall with a small cry yet doesn’t let that slow her down.
I accelerate as much as I dare to try to catch up but even with that incident, she makes another turn fifty meters down the street just as I reach the end of the avenue.
There are a few slum people out at a window, a wrinkled grandmother with two young children in her arms and a father with knitting needles in his hands. Their eyes are wide open from disbelief, not fear. They turn to me as I rush past.
“Thank you!” The grandma exclaims at my back. “Good luck escaping!”
I almost trip as being thanked was the last thing I expected. Although, in retrospect they hate and fear the institute so it should have been obvious they would be thankful for its destruction.
They didn’t even seem surprised by the Princess’ presence, perhaps my rumor spread out better than I thought it would. I wave my thoughts off of that to keep running after Cetyz, hoping that she wouldn’t run into a fight but knowing it unlikely.
I turn south like she did, finding a peasant man’s dead body. His throat was ripped off, his face and shoulders clawed. He was likely caught by these creatures I killed earlier.
Cetyz is far down the avenue, rushing towards a small skirmish involving a dozen people, or rather heading south and apparently planning to go through the battle since it’s in her way. I assemble a lightning construct in case she needs help but she’s so far ahead I doubt I’ll make it in time.
One of the sides fighting are sailors, they’re low on numbers and, while they wield swords, they have no leather armors which puts them at a heavy disadvantage compared to their opponents who do.
I keep running, feeling wind blow on my cheeks but unable to accelerate any more than this without hurting my knee. She’s so quick that I doubt I would be able to catch her even if I wasn’t injured.
As I get closer I catch sight of Odo’s black sail on their uniforms. Grace. I’ve no doubt they can see or at least hear Cetyz approaching. Without missing a beat, I catch sight of the Countess launching an air-blade towards the Princess.
It isn’t exactly aimed at her but it’ll hit right in front of her. Cetyz bends her knee all the way and then kicks the ground beneath her, propelling herself over it. I hear Grace shout and her soldiers break off, dispersing even at risk of opening themselves up to counter-attacks.
Not all of them makes it, one of them takes a stab to the side and trips which opens him up to a slash to the chest. The back of a soldier’s thigh is cut and he drops but one of his comrades grabs his collar to drag him out of the way.
The Princess lands on top of a sailor’s back, crushing it while bringing the construct attached to her tendril down on the ground. The pavement explodes out around her but the section beneath her feet doesn’t even tremble.
Four of the sailors are bombarded by chunks of rock that crush their skulls and break their limbs. One of them makes it out with merely a gash to his forehead and she runs away.
Grace and her soldiers receive mostly gravel but a few are injured. She steps out in front of them, sword held high but apparently unwilling to provoke the Princess. Cetyz doesn’t even turn to them, she departs into a spring as soon as the dust settles.
She just killed them because they were in her way. I angle my course to the side to avoid passing by Grace, unwilling to stop and afraid of what Cetyz will do to find Suxen once she gets to the docks.
“Elizabeth Vil!” Grace shouts out, making it impossible to ignore her.
“I don’t have time, Odo!” I reply.
“Make it!” She growls, her sword starting to glow.
I apply a defensive construct to my double-bladed staff and prepare to activate either of the constructs to counter her attacks. She raises her weapon but seems to be hesitating, even searching for someone other than me and I might know who.
“That sailor is scaling a wall in the alley on your left, if you wanna catch him you better go now!” I cry out, flashing past her.
She doesn’t hesitate more than a second before running into the alley. I consider myself lucky that Cetyz didn’t kill any of her soldiers by accident because that likely would have went a very different way.
The Princess is already out of my sight, I think I caught her making a turn to the right but Grace distracted me. Cetyz is headed for the docks but it’s not like I can just head there and hope she’ll make it, I need to follow her.
I lion’s step to the end of the street but instead of making a turn, I jump up and plant my staff into one of the beams sticking out of the facade. Carried by my momentum, I hit the wall a bit hard with my left shoulder.
My symbiont takes the hit rather well but one of its bones presses into my stump and I cry out in pain. Luckily, it keeps our left hand closed around the staff so we don’t fall. I start climbing up, detecting groups of people on nearby rooftops.
“Hey, it’s her!” A blond woman exclaims, she’s close by with two others.
“She really is covered in blood.” A tall man gasps, squinting to see through the darkness.
“Is that blood? There’s some blue, and brown stuff.” A short man argues, probably an adolescent.
“Probably killed these cold bloods we saw, and some of the insects.” She declares “And a ton of the institute’s butchers if you go by all the red.”
“Nice, wish I caught one of those escaping, bought a stiletto just for that the other day.” The tall man says, showing off a dagger with a very thin blade.
I propel myself up to the roof with a lion strike and scrutinize the area, assessing where my points of reference are so I can tell where the docks and the largest streets I can’t jump over are.
“Bought? I saw it in Marty’s shop and I know you can’t afford it!” The kid laughs. “Still, the Red Dwarf isn’t all that impressive, she’s so short.”
“You crazy? She’ll hear you!” The blond woman slaps her hand on his mouth.
“We’re pretty far.” The tall man says, throwing me a wary glance. I turn just to glare at them for distracting me. “Oh, shit, think she’ll come after us?”
“I… don’t know. Just apologize?” The blonde says, releasing the kid.
“I’m sorry.” He says, almost whispering. “The Rykz went there.” He adds, pointing to the south-west.
I, regretfully, let it go and start running in that direction. It matches what I think I saw and that group didn’t seem hostile. I jump over a roof and start going south-west in a diagonal, which is a lot quicker than following the roads. I soon hear the faint sound of her feet hitting the pavement and start following.
“Go get’m!” The blond shouts in the distance.
I run by a few more groups similar to theirs who cheer me on, some even try to give me their flow but they offer so little that I don’t deem it worth the energy or time to stop.
I realize that these people, who would have sworn were thieves before because they hanged out on roofs and have weapons, were likely there to stand guard against the institute’s kidnappings.
My symbiont detects a few dead cold bloods in the streets and even a few on the edge of the roofs. The gouges in the walls and tiles around their bodies tell me that they were likely slain by air-blades. It’s good that someone’s taking care of it. A woman died and I’m responsible for freeing them. It’s Suxen’s fault they were there to begin with.
I hear mounted soldiers wearing steel to the south, on the edge of the slums. Not exactly where Cetyz is headed but close enough that they might see her cross the avenue if they pay attention in the night.
Or if she passes by a window since apparently everyone is awake and decided to throw more wood in their fires. I lion’s step over a two-meter wide street and slide on the roof, displacing a dozen clay tiles as I slow down to change direction.
I head off to the spot where that group is the most likely to run into Cetyz so I can ambush them. Another explosion of pavement occurs from where the Princess is, lifting a cloud of dust.
I don’t slow down as it would cost me precious seconds to get back up to speed, I listen carefully for the recognizable sound of her footsteps before making a decision. Thump.
There we go, she’s fine. I assemble a lightning-armor-piercing construct for my double-bladed staff, getting myself ready for a fight. I’ve burned through five portions to make these constructs and lion step this far.
I should have asked Cetyz to give me some of her flow but she’s not in the best shape so it’s hard to tell if she would be safer with or without it. Still, twenty portions shouldn’t even make a dent with her current access.
Or mine for that matter. I check my reserve, finding that I regenerated an entire portion in what I estimate to have been ten to fifteen minutes since I last checked.
I could literally fight without ever running out if I do so conservatively, but my body would likely break from exhaustion. At least my healing construct is working out, my knee isn’t doing too bad. My symbiont wiggles a tendril. Ah, right, it’s probably ‘helping’ with that.
I pounce over a small alley, catching sight of a dog-sized reptile rolled up on itself on the next roof. I scrutinize it with my sense, which a lot easier to do now that I know it’s there. It likely died from the cold since it has no apparent injuries. I could use a cloak myself.
Cetyz makes a turn east, heading straight for the group of soldiers. Shit, can’t she hear or smell them? They’re wearing chain-mails and plate, that much is obvious. That kind of expensive equipment means they have to be Hetlan’s troops, I don’t see who else would go out at night in plate or something.