With the Exemplar dealt with, I scan the surroundings, finding that they’re no longer in my range but I can still hear the battle. I recover my staff and make my way back to Cetyz, averting my eyes from Conrad’s body and that of another Templar whose neck as broken, or rather whose helmet the Princess twisted with unstructured flow.
The amount of energy required to do this boggles the mind but she can’t have that much left or the battle would be over. That or she has enough presence of mind not to burn it all and is trying to escape the disruption construct’s range.
Shriiiiiek. The sound of steel being twisted and torn is deafening, seemingly confirming my thought. I rush past the street’s curve and find Cetyz standing over three fallen Templars, two of them obviously dead as their breast-plates blew and shredded their torsos. The last is retreating on his back, his armor is damaged but not as much as the others.
The Princess has three spiked constructs between her tendrils but isn’t advancing, she isn’t very steady on her feet. Her dislocated rib-cage likely causing her quite a bit of pain.
As I get closer, I realize that she’s standing just at the boundary of the disruption construct, unwilling to enter and perhaps waiting for me to finish him off.
There are two dozen humans watching with fear and captivation from windows or roofs, the children seem to have fled and the injured who can’t move are being taken care of. The fact that they aren’t helping the Templar tells me that they’ve either heard the rumor I spread, are too scared, or blame them for the explosion I caused.
I unconsciously start slowing down as I make my way past the Templar, feeling my symbiont brimming with aggression. I placate it, rather annoyed at its attempts to influence me on Cetyz’ behalf. It bristles a little but seems to accept the rebuke.
In a silence only broken by the Templar’s efforts to drag himself to a safe distance. I reach the Princess and pass my left arm around her waist to help stabilize her. She is shaking in anger but not only, I can read fear in the way her tendrils reach out and grip at my symbiont.
It transmits to me how grateful Cetyz is. It makes me somewhat relieved but the feeling is mitigated by how her tendrils are avoiding the human parts of me like the plague.
“Vil…” The Templar says with difficulty.
“Silence, Templar.” I utter, my own voice shattering from the sadness of the situation and having to rebuke him. “This is a consequence of what you’ve done.”
“Vicky?” He asks anyway.
“The Exemplar fell.” I answer coldly. The Templar lets himself drop back, apparently entirely giving up. I sense tears running down the broken man’s cheeks inside his helmet.
“S, she defeated an Exemplar.” A woman whispers in frightened shock.
“Elizabeth Vil will take them all down!” A man exclaims from a roof on the slum’s side, the tone of his voice suggests he approves.
“Are, you insane?” The woman blurts. “Who’ll protect us if not the Order?”
“Yea, well, they blew my house so fuck them!” A woman counters on his side of the street replies angrily. “I say, burn it all down!”
“She’s a traitor!” A man yells from his house’s window.
“Those insects shouldn’t be here! They’re all to blame!” A man with a broken hand shouts.
The divided crowd’s loud voices are further frightening Cetyz, so much that she actually pulls my waist closer to her with one of her tendrils. I feel my symbiont’s pulse with reassurance, likely spreading pheromones because the Princess quiets down somewhat. I bury my feelings and throw a look at the Templar.
“Take Vikiana’s body back to the Temple.” I order him.
“What’s the point?” He asks, swallowing a sob.
“Get a grip, Templar.” I reply flatly.
One of the Princess’ tendrils reaches out to a barrel of water on the side of the street.
“Don’t!” I snap at Cetyz, furious at her, at everything, at everything, for getting in the way, letting their feelings control them. Ironic. “We‘re leaving.” I declare. “The Princess needs to go back to her Hive to end the war and you need to take the Exemplar’s body to the Temple, now.”
“Rhyy!” Cetyz protests weakly between two panting inhalations.
She struggles and, being so close to her, I can somewhat sense the flow she’s moving inside her body. I put more strength in my grip around her waist. She makes an odd gasp and starts panting.
“Your rage is understandable but not excusable, Princess.” I berate her. “You’ve put yourself at risk, is that truly what you should be doing as a member of the Silver Hive? Can the Hive afford to lose you? No, can your species afford you to take unnecessary risks?”
“I, ih, nhtru, der.” She stutters weakly.
“There is no threat to you with me present.” I affirm with far more confidence than I feel. “Celyz, your sister, is waiting for you to return, she is beyond worried about you.” I insist. Cetyz’ ovaloid head turns away, obviously ashamed. “Pull yourself back together.”
Cetyz wraps her tendrils around her torso and snaps her rib-cage back in place by abruptly twisting them, producing a dry hollow sound that startles the crowd enough that they all fall quiet.
“Hya.” She cries out. I didn’t mean that literally.
“We need to go.” I say, trying to pull her away.
“I, Princess, you…” She starts, obviously trying to place herself above me.
“I’m the one tasked with retrieving you by Queen Grikyz, Princess Celyz, and Princess Fenyz. Do you contest my authority on the matter of your safety?” I ask, using what I’ve gathered about how the Rykz’ society works. Cetyz remains silent, obviously hesitant. “Do you?”
“N, no.” She admits.
The crowd, composed of slum inhabitants and city dwellers, is staring at me. Their expressions range from hatred to awe. We need to bolt before the city guard shows up, already been lucky they haven’t so far.
I let Cetyz go and walk up to the Templar. I kneel down, using my sense and my weapon to find and cut his breast-plate’s straps. He throws me a resigned look but helps me help him. Once it’s off, I grab him by the collar and send him stumbling towards Vikiana.
Cetyz is trembling, growing increasingly agitated. Likely because I’m letting the Templar go, stopping her from taking complete revenge. I doubt she would agree that she was taking revenge as she clung to the Hive as a justification for her actions, she doesn’t seem willing to accept that impulse of hers.
I can almost hear her repeat a garbled word that sounds like ‘mad‘ inside her ovaloid head’s cavity. She would likely have attacked and finished the Templar off if there wasn’t a disruption construct over the area, if only out of fear. Thankfully, I’ve managed to regain control of the situation.
“Please use your flow to help the Exemplar.” I address the crowd. “The institute is no more, this is the least you can do.” I add to make them more likely to do as I say, but also refraining from directly mentioning Vikiana’s role in that matter in case it gets her in trouble.
“What about my house?” The man from earlier asks.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any coin on me right now.” I say. “I’m sure the Order will pay you back.”
“Mph, they better.” He nods. “Gabe, get the cart!” He calls out to an adolescent, apparently taking my request seriously enough to help carry the Exemplar back to the Temples.
“Cetyz, come over, we’re leaving.” I call the Princess.
“Suhkxen.” She utters stubbornly despite her obvious desire to vacate the area.
“We’ll see if we can catch the Director.” I reply, folding. “But we need to go now, and no more moving out on your own.”
She joins me, keeping a wide breadth between her and the humans who are all watching her with no small amount of fear in their eyes. Ironic considering the Princess’ terrified body language, which I recognize because she keeps turning her ovaloid head left and right, constantly assessing her surroundings.
I hold my left arm out for Cetyz to grab with her tendrils as we make a turn to a different street, leaving the carnage behind. She holds onto it, gripping tightly. I almost reach out with my right hand to reassure her by patting her tendrils but manage to stop myself before doing so.
I feel terrible about the Templars’ deaths, about how I had to deal with Vikiana who was only trying to save her brethren and prevent damage to the city. But I’ve taken an oath.
My symbiont brushes one of my ribs with a tendril, showing solidarity, yet I can tell it has no regrets, I don’t think it regrets anything it does. I try to swallow the oppressing ball in my throat without success.
“They, take me from Hive.” She tells me, apparently justifying her actions.
“I know.” I admit in a tight voice. “But they’re also the reason you’re free now.”
“Invaders.” She insists.
“And your Hive invaded back. I, there needs to be an end to the conflict.” I say, realizing how weak my argument sounds considering we started this.
“You, too human. Mad logic.” She concludes, shaking her head. “But, Rykz enough.” She adds with a shaky smile in her tone.
“Thanks.” I reply honestly, but feeling guilty about my reply.
Vikiana, you can’t die on me like this. What would I tell Leomi? I assemble a strengthening construct to accelerate my pace enough to match Cetyz’. She is having trouble going as fast as she could with her internal injuries but neither of us is willing to linger around.
As we leave the area, Cetyz uses her flow to gather more water and creates a few more spiked constructs. I notice that she’s being conservative with her energy. I hesitate a bit but determine I should say something.
“This is a city, Cetyz, destroying things so loudly is going to attract attention we can’t afford.” I tell her. “Our advantage is that it’s nighttime but half of Meiridin must be awake by now.” I punctuate my statement by pointing to a woman watching us from the interstice of her window’s flaps.
“I careful.” She replies. “Didn’t break house.”
I think back, realizing that she’s right, I did more damage by accident. The Templars saw her as having lost control, and so did I, but with the amount of flow she has, she could have easily razed the entire block from the beginning.
“Okay.” I acknowledge. “Still, there is someone with Suxen that has a bow and who can shoot us from further than we can detect or that I can see so we need to be as discreet as possible.” Cetyz nods. “Can you fight like Fenyz does in melee?” I ask.
“No. Fenyz odd, few like her.” Cetyz replies. “She given strict command not to seek fight.”
I suppose that makes sense since there’s so few of them, and even more when considering their ancestors weren’t hunters in the same sense that the Lisilese were, they baited their preys to ambush them. Not to mention that every blow to their torsos carries the risk of damaging one of their nodes.
“Well, please don’t kill if you don’t have to.” I tell her.
I shape a lightning construct and a skin hardening construct, handing them over to her like I intended to before she ran off. It should help her stay at a distance. Cetyz expands the first construct and starts studying it, the structure is simple and streamlined enough that I could replicate it with minimal guidance from Celyz.
“What exactly did you do when you woke up?” I ask, looking for the reason why my access suddenly increased.
“Took sunlight back, they with Hive, need less.” She tells me.
“You hadn’t done that before?” I question.
“No, could not escape so they need more.” Cetyz explains.
“You mean you took the regeneration you allocated to drones back?” I ask, seeking precision.
“Ys.” She nods absentmindedly.
“So, somewhere near Grikyz or Celyz, some drones suddenly ran out of flow.” I mutter. “Wouldn’t they think you died?” I ask, worried.
“I…” Cetyz pauses. “Maybe.” She acknowledges. “But, sister easy check by giving light.”
“They measure their own regeneration to determine whether it is reduced since it wouldn’t be if the target of the oath died.” I realize.
“Ys.” She confirms.
“Smart.” I note. They would need a precise way to measure their regeneration since a hundredth less is rather small.
The color of the flow I received is golden but I can’t take that as to mean humans pledged to me since the color means little and that intent matters. I doubt ten thousand humans would have taken oaths towards Elizabeth Vil.
I could have bought it if it was less but it’s more likely that both Celyz and Fenyz pledged to me, intending to give it to me as a human, not a hybrid. To Jessica. Me and my symbiont remain separate entities after all. It would be reasonable to assume Celyz would do that as a precaution in case I lose my symbiont in battle, or because of the institute.
Flow rules are so precise but so confusing at the same time. I think it’s wiser to ignore the color of what I’ve received because mine hasn’t been set in stone since I got my limb. Ignore a clue? No, that would be stupid, not wise. What else could the change in color signify?
My flow became black when we merged but we’ve been communicating quite a lot more lately, and more clearly, perhaps my symbiont became closer to humans which would logically affect the color of my energy but would it affect it this much? It could be a mix of these two things.
It’s also possible that me and my symbiont have separate reserves, or a single one but with two sources of energy regeneration, meaning that a pledge to me would result in golden flow.
As we make a turn, Cetyz pulls me closer to the center of the street to avoid passing too close to a tavern. My sense tells me that there are a few sailors inside but none armed, one of them spots us through a window and calls on the others.
“We should be more careful now that we’re getting closer to the docks.” I speak up. “We can’t hide so we need to strike fast and run whether we succeed or not.”
“I can.” Cetyz nods.
As we get further south, the number of people we run into increases. Mostly sailors but also dock workers and messengers. The last take detours as soon as they see us, which I take as a bad sign but not as worrying as the fact that many others turn around and go back when they spot us.
There’s no way we can get to the docks unnoticed and our injuries mean that getting into a fight now might entirely kill out chances to escape the city. We need to find another way.
“They’ll know we’re around before we get there, Cetyz.” I say. “We’re not going to make it.”
“Sukhxen, tried break with pain.” Cetyz declares angrily. “When not work, she cut my…” She trembles, likely from remembering the trauma.
“Tendrils?” I supply.
“No, yes. Is, sss… stamen.” She almost questions. “Tendril, stamen.” She repeats. “Then, she take, pistil. Must, die, kill.” Cetyz declares, brushing her belly with one of her tendrils.
“Okay.” I whisper, getting the horrified feeling that Cetyz is talking about her reproductive organs. I think furiously, trying to find a way. “How close do you need to be to sink a ship?”
“Ship?” She asks, confused.
“A wooden structure that floats on water. Just tell me how close you need to get to destroy something.” I say.
“Hundred, two-hundred paces if target hot.” She replies.
“Pace is a step?” I ask.
“Pace, this.” She takes a moderate step which seems to be about a meter.
“That’s still too close.” I make a turn on a street to the West, heading to the closest rampart without telling her. “Could you do so from further if I guide you?” I ask.
“No… ys.” Cetyz hesitates. There is a noticeable rise in her core temperature. “If you say, then I guide towards, yes.” She says. So she can affect water from pretty far but there’s no use to that if she can’t sense what she’s doing. “But, witness Sukxen end.”
“I’m sorry, but it was never really going to be an option.” I tell her. “The docks pretty much never sleep so that means that there are always city guards around, that’s a guarantee. Besides, sailors aren’t likely to just stand by and watch. Not to mention Hetlan’s people.”
“Then, what do?” Cetyz asks.
“We’re going to get over the wall as fast as we can and keep an eye on the river, I have a good idea of the ship they’ll be using to leave the city.” I explain.
“What if they don’t?” She asks.
“They’re not going to sail west since the only ports down there are occupied by your Hive. If they’re late, we can cross the river and attack them from there as they leave the docks.” I tell her, omitting the fact that they could have already set sail.
The priority is getting Cetyz out, Suxen should die for what she did but I’m not going to risk my only chance to end the war in Caeviel over the Director’s survival.
I make a turn left and then right to avoid using a large crossing only to run into a patrol of city guards dragging two women out of a tavern down the street, apparently breaking up a fight.
“That’s the Red Dwarf!” The sergeant utters in surprise. He’s a young man with dark hair. “And the Rykz!”
“Well shit.” I swear.
“I handle.” Cetyz mutters, pulling my lightning construct out.
“No.” I shake my head. “Sergeant! You don’t want to pick this fight!” I call out.
“Fight?” He asks. “I’m not crazy!”
“Um…” I blink. What do I say to that?
As I ponder, the sergeant runs up to us, leaving the men and women under his command to deal with the drunkards. Cetyz pulls some energy out of my construct to reduce its lethality, it’s reassuring that she listened.
“Elizabeth Vil, you’re under arrest.” He declares.
“Seriously?” I ask.
“Of course, you’re obligated to submit to my request and accompany me to the Palace.” He explains, keeping a prudent distance. “But since there is a fire, the guard’s station at the gates will have to do.” He adds with a sober wink.
“Hm.” I ponder. “I’ll have to refuse, you seem busy and this could get you in trouble.”
“I’ll be frank. Everyone has been called back on duty.” He tells me, whispering. “The walls are patrolled, I know someone who can get you through the wicket, with the Rykz.”
“Wicket?” I ask.
“Small door in the gate.” He explains.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because there have been rumors about the cause of the war for over a month, seeing you here confirms it. And, you took the institute down. We were actually forbidden to go anywhere near it.” He tells me with a grimace. “But you need to decide now because there’s a good chance the Templars will show up if we delay.”
That would be a lot easier than to climb and jump off the rampart. Besides, there’s no way anyone could have set a trap here for me, it doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to trick me and capture us but there isn’t anyone else involved.
I throw a look at the city guards and how they handle the two brawlers. Neither of the women seems to have been mistreated, one of them is bleeding from her nose but she’s glaring at the other one so the guards didn’t do it.
“Okay, but you’re going to have to run.” I reply.
“Elzbeth.” Cetyz mutters.
“It’s better to be escorted than chased to the wall, my knee isn’t in top shape.” I tell her.
The sergeant nods and departs in a small jog, waiting for us to catch up before using lion’s steps. He doesn’t say a thing to his people as he gets past them and the guards pointedly look away. The two brawlers watch us pass with blank, dazed, expressions.
The sergeant expertly guides us through Meiridin’s streets, picking only those where there are no taverns and apparently avoiding every patrol since we don’t run into a single one. Of the three of us, I’m the one struggling to keep up but the Princess chose to close the march.
“Why are you helping?” I ask, having spotted one of the buildings we can use to get up to the walls. “Really.”
“Part of it is screwing the institute over.” He says with a shrug. “But also because my… superior would want me to.” I don’t miss the hesitation in his words.
“Madness, defying a Queen.” Cetyz grumbles at my back. Really? After all he indirectly submitted her to, she still thinks the King should be obeyed?
“Is your superior a Noble?” I question the sergeant.
“Well, yes.” He admits. “But he’s only a Baron, he isn’t a threat to either of you. He’ll help, I swear.”
“Sorry, it’s too risky to trust you.” I say before striking the back of his head.
His eyes roll back and he drops but I catch the back of his leather armor before he hits the ground. I then skid to a halt and set him against a wall. Cetyz doesn’t comment but I can tell she approves.
I lead us through a side alley and then a small street until I find an inn. I don’t bother knocking and directly burst in, finding an empty main room. I hear some steps upstairs, my symbiont’s sense can barely detect some silhouettes huddled together on the second floor.
They won’t be bothering us, they’re likely afraid of what they heard and they’re the ones who decided to stay back. I rush up the staircase to the third floor and start searching for a ladder.
“Go up?” Cetyz asks.
“Trying to find a way, yeah.” I reply. “This building leads to another that’s close enough to the wall-walk that we can jump over.”
“Not difficult.” She tells me.
She takes one of her spiked constructs out and sets it inside the wooden beam sustaining the ceiling. I almost protest but realize that we don’t really have time to search the entire floor and that there might not even be a way up.
The Princess pulls me away. Once she estimates we’re at a safe distance, she activates the construct. Crack. The wood crumples all at once in a one-meter radius and then crumbles in a shower of shards and tiles, leaving a two-meter hole. The people beneath us on the second floor are escaping downstairs, frightened by the noise.
“Kinetic impact.” She comments.
“Could you teach me?” I ask.
“Secret… I think.” She answers.
I nod, unable to complain considering I’m planning on keeping the effect that the lightning construct has on the armor-piercing one to myself. It might help the Rykz, but I’m not willing to bear the consequences, I’ve caused enough damage by acting on feeling or impulse.
I jump to grab the edge of the roof and pull myself up. Cetyz waits for me to clear out before stepping in the center and propelling herself up at a small angle. She flies a few meters above the passage and then lands on the roof, breaking a few tiles.
She staggers a little from the pain of the impact but plunges her toes into the roof to stabilize herself. I turn towards the rampart, finding that the sergeant didn’t lie, there are several groups of people patrolling the wall-walk with torches but there are only a few guards per section and on the towers, not nearly enough to stop us.
I throw a look south, finding that Hetlan’s two ships are still docked but the sailors seem busy on the barnacled trade ship’s deck. There isn’t anyone I can see on the barge. That’s a good sign but the fact that they’re still preparing to lift anchor after an hour and a half is suspicious.
I don’t express my doubts to the Princess. If Aisha isn’t planning to use the ship to leave, then we have no way to find her anyway. She might be holed up somewhere to hide Suxen whose face is likely known. No, I knew there wouldn’t be much of a chance of finding the woman when I chose not to fight the Shades.
“Can you jump down a dozen meters in one go?” I ask.
“Not like this.” She replies. “Can use ice.” She suggests.
“Might be too slow, we can’t pause for a single moment.” I ponder. “Would you be able to drop about eight meters?”
“Yes.” She nods.
“Okay, I have an idea. Distract those on the tower when we land on the wall-walk.” I tell her.
While we wait for the patrol to pass the mid-point of their rampart’s section, I assemble a lightning-armor-piercing construct over my double-bladed staff with a third of my energy and an air-blade shell with the rest in case my first idea doesn’t work.
Thinking of which… With my flow‘s now mostly golden color, it’s easy to tell that my armor-piercing construct isn’t overwhelming defenses because I’m using more energy which means that my opponents might realize that my construct isn’t a standard armor-piercing one.
The lightning itself is almost impossible to notice on contact so I expand that construct, bringing the energy it’s made of closer to the surface to make it seem like my armor-piercing construct has more energy than it does. Anyone that manages to inspect this up close will quickly realize the trick but who has the time for that in battle?
Once the guards are too far to turn around and catch us, we jump over to the next roof and then straight onto the wall-walk. The pair of guards on the tower spot us and sound the alarm but Cetyz throws lightning at them to force them to take cover.
I leap over the crenelation and swing my weapon down at the wall, planning to cut through the stone until the construct runs out of energy which would leave the weapon stuck in the rampart and provide Cetyz with a mid-step to the ground.
Clink. The golden-black blow of my staff’s blade fades away, producing a miserable little scrape in the rock. Fuck. I activate the air-blade, shaping it wide and place it beneath my feet.
In free-fall, it feels like it takes an eternity for it to solidify but when it finally does, I firmly press my feet on it and control it to slow me down. Cetyz lands right next to me, draining a good portion of the remaining energy.
“Fire!” I hear someone yell.