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I detect three burning arrows flying at us and a couple of others without flames. Cetyz intercepts those on fire with a forking bolt of lightning, regardless of whether they’re on point or not. Meanwhile, my symbiont diverts the only one of the other arrows that are at risk of hitting me. The last one is far off the mark and flies off.

I break my air-blade and recover the energy since they seem to be using the flow to guide their aim. We start falling one more but we soon hit the ground. I break my fall with a roll but Cetyz simply absorbs the shock by bending her reversed knees.

Krklank. I recognize the sound as gears clicking in place and hurriedly pull Cetyz aside, using the fact that Princesses aren’t very good at stopping sideways motions to move her.

An insanely fast ballista bolt impacts the ground just where she was. The ground explodes, covering the both of us in soil. The projectile is two-meters long, yet it buried itself up to two-thirds. Cetyz’ tail swipes to the side, barely managing to prevent herself from falling.

We need to go!” I yell, already lion’s stepping straight towards the hills.

The bolt came from the tower but there might be a ballista on every one of them so I lead Cetyz to swerve left and right as we make our escape. Would be a lot easier if we used the western gate considering there are buildings beyond the walls on that side.

I can…” Cetyz starts.

Don’t slow down!” I scream just as another bolt impacts the ground in front of us.

This time, the explosion is a lot more powerful and creates a small crater. Cetyz gracefully leaps over it while I barely manage to avoid the bolt’s tail end.

The projectiles that follow produce lesser blasts, likely because they don’t have the supply of flow necessary to launch the bolts at such speeds while also increasing the radius of the explosions.

I realize that I’m somewhat wrong after witnessing a dozen more impact the ground. The construct attached to the bolts make fissures in the soil which, combined with the bolt’s impact, create explosions.

A shredding construct, I really wouldn’t want to get hit by one of these again, the last one almost destroyed my symbiont’s hand and it was just a glancing blow.

The guards continue showering us with bolts for far longer than I would have thought they could considering our speed and the distance but the weapons aren’t made to take single targets down so, while they come close, they never actually manage to pin us down.

The two of us stop to catch our breaths once we’re over the first hill. Cetyz takes a while longer than me to recover. The Princess’ shaking is now less pronounced despite the fright of being bombarded by things so fast that they’re impossible to dodge even with our senses.

I’m impressed that she could hold on and remain so much in control of herself after what she’s been through. I would have lashed out if I was in her place, likely killed civilians. Well, she kind of did. I think it would have been impossible to rescue her without the symbiont.

We, need to south.” Cetyz reminds me stubbornly. “Sukhsen.”

We start making our way south-east to get closer to the river while putting some distance between us and Meiridin. My increased regeneration provides me with the flow I need to keep using lion steps. My knee somehow managed to get a bit better despite how I’ve been treating it but my heart took over and decided I was pushing it too hard.

Luckily, we reach the water before it gets too bad and I take a break while thinking of ways to go across. It’s at least a hundred meters wide and the current is a bit too rough to just swim through, if the Princess can even swim.

Not to mention that I’ve got Suxen’s leather book under my shirt and my double-bladed staff, neither of which I want to leave behind. Cetyz walks a few meters into the river and plunges her root-like toes deep into the soil, standing tall under the moonlight.

I want to ask her about the Silver Hive and what it’s like but I’m afraid of how she’ll react if she doesn’t remember. We rest for a good twenty minutes, during which I think through the next move.

It would take two weeks for us to reach Port-Odo on foot whereas it would take a little more than a single one on horseback if I use flow, not an option for the Princess but I’m sure she can keep up. We could go back to Ruth but I didn’t keep my word so I doubt she’d be willing to sail us back South.

I solve.” Cetyz speaks up.

Oh?” I question.

Ice, water, easy.” She says.

Are you okay?” I ask.

Hurt, tired.” She replies shortly. “Fault you.”

I’m sorry, I didn’t know it would blow up.” I explain.

Still, struck construct.” She accuses. “Save human, Hive invader.”

My symbiont twirls under my skin at the words which she accompanied with a burst of acrid pheromones, a likely unconscious reaction. I take the time to appease my limb before answering.

I know, they wronged the Hive.” I reply. “But these Templars acted on their Queen’s orders.” I halfheartedly justify, feeling obligated to.
“Princess responsible for actions, even ordered.” Cetyz tells me.

They aren’t Princesses but I get your meaning, you can’t hide behind your orders.” I acknowledge sadly. “They did help me get to you, one of them trained me… I wouldn’t have succeeded if not for her. They acted like that to protect the Empire rather than because they felt bad for you, but I’m sure they still regretted what they did.”

They, not treat me bad, but ignore pleas.” Cetyz tells me. “Leader, strong, dangerous to Hive. Should died there. She defeat me, no weapon.”

Well, I don’t want to sound mean but you’re not exactly…” I let my voice trail off.

Ys.” Cetyz makes a tight chuckle. “I weak, but Princesses stronger.”

There are ways to use your opponent’s strength against them, Cetyz.” I tell her, remembering how Vikiana handled my symbiont at times. “You seem to be doing better.” I note, changing the subject.

Food, water.” She replies, wiggling her toes and disturbing the soil she’s in. “Go soon.”

Alright.” I nod.

She starts freezing the water between her and the shore to make a platform. Meanwhile, I assemble a strengthening, healing, and nourishing construct to sustain my body since we’re likely to be running all night.

Cetyz stops once she has a two-meter circle of ice. I step on first, sitting down despite the cold to make sure I won’t fall off. Cetyz barely makes it roil when she climbs on, likely using her flow to stabilize it.

She navigates the small embarkation to the other side, fighting against the current the entire way, using an insane amount of flow in the process. The river flows Westward which would bring us closer to the docks but would also make us pass beneath the city’s defense towers.

I would say it’s reassuring that she realized as much by herself but the truth is she seems to act cautiously even in a fit of anger. She is Celyz’ sister after all. The platform hits the shore near a field of recently sown cabbages.

Cetyz doesn’t seem interested, likely because her roots can’t quickly break things down like my symbiont is able to. She lets me lead the way West, matching my pace without complaint.

I keep my distance from the river as I estimate that the ballistas on the defense towers can reach far across and they’re on alert but since it’s nighttime, they’re unlikely to spot us at such distance.

We’ll have to get closer for Cetyz to be able to attack the docks but it shouldn’t be too hard to escape considering there will only be two towers in range from either side of the piers.

All of the fields we go past have been planted with vegetables that grow in the winter, a sign that someone took steps to ensure that there would be no shortage of food because of the war in the south.

It’s a relief considering Izla Meria’s Council has been moving the island away from exclusively producing grain for the mainland. We make a right turn North, going straight towards the river.

Cetyz rushes past me as soon as it enters her range, running into the water. She gathers so much flow that the water turns even darker than the night, I actually worry that the guards will notice the pitch black patch in a dozen meter radius around the Princess.

She creates a network of wave-shaped segments around herself. Since it seems like it’ll take her a while, I reassemble an eyesight enhancing construct since the last one ran out of energy and scrutinize the ships on the other side.

The barnacled ship lifted its anchor but isn’t moving. I can barely see the faces of those on the bridge but one is easily recognizable as a Lady considering she’s wearing a black and white uniform with jewelry on her chest, sparkling from torchlight.

No sign of Aisha or Suxen, which isn’t surprising, but the fact that I can’t even spot the Shade with his bow worries me. Aisha could have replenished her flow at some point during the last couple of hours but its unlikely for her to be maintaining an illusion construct to hide him, the consumption of energy would be ridiculous.

Maybe he’s not on the ship but hiding somewhere out of sight with a view on the entire area but he’ll need to get on at some point and that would expose him. There’s no way they wouldn’t both escort the Director since their mission is to retrieve her.

And it makes no sense that they’re this slow is departing, it’s starting to feel like Aisha is wasting time. She’s crafty, she might have realized that it isn’t safe for her to leave as long as I’m around and that I’ll eventually have to leave.

But at the same time, she doesn’t have all the time in the world either with the trouble Hetlan’s people caused. I debate hiding my suspicions from the Rykz it really wouldn’t be fair to lie to her by omission considering how I intervened before.

Suxen might still be in the city.” I tell Cetyz. “They know we can’t wait for them to leave forever and I don’t see the two who escorted her so it’s unlikely they’re around, that being said they could be on the ship but using illusions to change their traits.”

So, sink?” She asks.

I don’t know. There aren’t any civilians on that ship as far as I know, but it’s not like they attacked us.” I reply.

They help Sukhxen.” Cetyz declares with finality.

I keep my silence, aware that the Princess needs a win, some form of revenge and that I stood in the way of that. Am I going to let them die just to avoid making waves?

No, I’m going to let them die because this is war, because I need her to listen to me to bring her back and end it. In the end, what I feared would occur has. I’ve become cold to people’s deaths.

I notice a group of about eight people followed by a squad of city guards approaching the pier where both the barge and Hetlan’s ship are anchored. I squint my eyes, spotting that one of them is tied up but it’s a man so it can’t be Suxen.

As they engage on the pier, one woman stands out as she looks a lot like Grace but it’s difficult to tell and it could be because of the leather armor. Two sailors start climbing up the mast, they grab ropes with weights at the end and jump straight down off the rigging.

The sails rise up as they fall, the city guards and Grace’s people start running to them but Hetlan flicks her hand at the sails and a burst of wind coming from the city blows into them, pushing the ship away from the peer.

That’s our chance, if the ship is bait, then it’s bait, but if Suxen is on it then she won’t be able to get off. A complicated mix of emotions swell in my belly as I realize that Aisha will suffer the same fate as the Director.

On one hand, I’m would be saddened by her death, but on the other hand, I’m relieved that I won’t have to witness it… and glad not to be faced with the choice of killing her myself to get to Suxen, there have been too many deaths already.

I walk up to the river and start washing the blood off my hands. I’m going to need a change of clothes as soon as possible, and a new bandage to hide my symbiont. I just might have to steal some along with supplies for the journey south.

Ship is target?” Cetyz asks.

It is.” I confirm, looking up.

Grace ran to the end of the pier and seems to be yelling and gesturing at the ship. The city guards aren’t doing anything, likely only there because they were ordered to be and don’t know what to do. Hetlan isn’t even bothering to look back or respond, she’s looking to the north.

The construct around Cetyz starts swirling and the water follows a beat later. It starts moving further into the river and forms a whirlpool once it’s deep enough. No one seems to notice the construct as it heads for the ship.

A little more to the right.” I tell Cetyz. Sorry Lady Hetlan and unknown lover, you picked a side. Another reason for Edusa to resent me.

Good?” She asks after correcting.

Yes. You sure this will sink the ship?” I ask.

Nno.” She shakes her head. “But it gather momentum, soon no stop.”

Will that be enough?” I press.

It wood, wood break.” Cetyz explains. “We go now, ship dead.”

You don’t want to watch? Or make sure?” I ask.

It is… necessary, not good.” She tells me.

Then you should remain.” I reply. “Witness the consequences.”

It bad, witness plenty bad. Watch when no need, mad.” She replies, storming off. “Call if Shukxn show.”

I let her, choosing to watch myself. Probably not a healthy impulse but one I think I should hold onto. The water vortex grows wider and wider as Cetyz said and by the time the sailors notice it, it’s simply too late to change course.

Hetlan starts shouting orders, speaking over the ship’s captain. Their panicked voices meld together. The Lady tries to throw a air-blades at it but it unsurprisingly has on effect on the swirling mass of water.

A man walks up to her on the bridge, her lover if I’m not mistaken. Although, it could be someone else considering it’s difficult to make the link between what I’ve detected with my symbiont and what I see with my eyes.

He speaking quickly and fervently. She slaps him and then rushes to the other side of the bridge to look down at the crow. She raises her hands and the sailor’s flow starts heading in her direction. So, she’s at least a Baroness.

Yet, it seems to me that it would have already been far too late even if she did this at the first warning. Some of the sailors jump overboard and try to swim back to the docks but most maintain discipline, or realize that the whirlpool is a construct and that it moves faster than they can swim.

The ship dips more and more downward as it engages into the swirling hole in the water. Lady Hetlan’s construct seems to be a disruption one, likely her only choice, yet it is wholly insufficient and takes much too long to assemble.

The barnacled ship is already tipping over, sliding deeper into the whirlpool even as the captain tries to slingshot around it. With half the ship inside, the construct shifts and grows wider, accelerating their downfall.

Waves of water crash down on the bridge from above, destabilizing Hetlan and her lover. Despite being swept away, he manages to save himself by taking hold of her wrist. She pulls her hand away to take hold of the guardrail so abruptly that she breaks his grip.

He screams in distress and anger as he goes overboard. I understand that you’re trying to save yourself, but still… that’s too far. The Noble dismantles the disruption construct, either too distracted by the ship’s roiling to finish it or realizing that it’s too late.

She soon creates a thin rectangular step with her flow and jumps on it, abandoning the ship and everyone on it. As I open my mouth to warn Cetyz, dozens, no hundreds, of icy spikes rise out of the water to bombard the ship and the Noble.

Hetlan receives one of her shoulder just before she manages to create a second rectangle of solid air to use as a shield. Unfortunately for her, another spike hits her back and she loses her direct control over the construct which drops down.

She hits the bridge and I hear her scream. The hull starts cracking, from the pressure and the constant impacts from the frozen projectiles. The ship flips over. Those of the crew who aren’t swallowed by the motion are dragged to the bottom of the river by the widening maelstrom.

The swimmers are at the periphery and being pulled in, unable to fight the current. I see an air-blade flash out of the bottom of the ship but no one emerges before the entire thing disappears underwater. The sight makes me sick, which reassures me as I’ve not grown entirely detached, but the relief makes me feel sicker.

The construct runs out of energy but the whirlpool keeps going towards the docks. The sailors on the piers are already tightening the ropes securing their ships and there is no sign of the city guards or Grace, it seems like the civilians have already evacuated.

Fortunately, by the time the whirlpool reaches the docks, it’s lost most of its width and it loses much of its power when it crashes into the stone piers. The ships and barges roil but are tied close enough that they’re at no risk of sinking.

Unfortunately, the sounds of wood breaking tells me that they’re faring about as well against the stone piers as the whirlpool did. I get up and head to Cetyz, deciding to leave before the first bodies start floating up.

Did you smell Suxen?” I ask her.

No, but far, and stink city.” Cetyz replies.

Alright, we’re going west because the first pursuers will be going South.” I tell her. “We might be able to ask someone to sail us down river and perhaps all the way to Port-Odo but if she refuses, I’ll try to steal a horse and some supplies, maybe from our pursuers.”

You, sloppy prepare.” Cetyz notes.

It would have been difficult and expensive to hide things in enough caches that it wouldn’t have restrained our routes to escape, it was hard enough to get inside the institute and… never mind, yes, I could have done better.” I take a deep breath and focus on the future. “We’ll be running south-west all night and turn north-west in the morning, hopefully that erratic path should allow us to evade patrols looking for us.”

If not?” She questions.

Then we disable them.” I reply firmly. “I’m not killing humans unless I need to in order to defend our lives and freedom.”

Cannot swear two Queens.” She tells me.

I made a deal with Grikyz, that’s it. I think but don’t utter aloud as I doubt the Princess would so easily accept that view considering the Rykz are unified and she partly considers me as one of them.

Quicker go south, if mad friend refuse, time lost.” Cetyz says.

Caeviel’s army stands between us and your sister. If Ruth refuses, we can follow the coast as we make our way south because there will be fewer soldiers in the coastal dungeons and castles since the Rykz have already landed.” I explain.

I not…” Cetyz pauses. “I cannnot, cannot. I cannot run day.”

You can’t run all day?” I ask.

I cannot run all day, not fast horse.” She nods.

You can’t run as fast as a horse for an entire day.” I say. “That’s fine, I need to rest at night and so does the horse.”

Horse smell.” She adds, like it’s very important that I understand that.

Humans can’t exactly follow scents, dogs can but we’ll deal with that if the situation presents itself.” I reply.

Drones, hate.” She insists. “Might problem, they smell it first, not us. Then, run.”

That’s just as well, we want to be discreet and it’ll be harder if we have a patrol of scouts with us.” I argue.

Hive together, always safer.” Cetyz shakes her head, muttering ‘mad‘ inside her ovaloid head but somehow constraining the sound.

Let’s go.” I declare.

I launch off at a slow trot before gradually accelerating to my top speed, wanting to get out of the defense tower’s range before they find us in the darkness. Cetyz follows close-by, tendrils tightly wound around her rib-cage.

After only a half-hour lion stepping, or rather leaping, through the countryside, I realize that I’m exhausting myself too quickly so I slow down to a cruising speed I can maintain.

The pace I keep allows me to keep going until morning but even then, I end up calling for a break, stopping under a dark thicket’s shade to rest. Cetyz doesn’t complain, she immediately plants her roots and focuses on herself, likely directly controlling her healing construct.

I’m, not used, to run for this, long.” I explain. “It’ll take a bit but I’ll get it together.”

Mhm.” Cetyz acknowledges.

It turns out that even flow isn’t enough to keep me going through hunger and exhaustion for hours at a time. Or at least, not until I perfect my lion stepping form. I leave Cetyz behind and head deeper into the grove, stepping carefully to avoid breaking any twigs as I use my sense to look for prey.

I spot a few young rabbits scurrying in fear back to their burrows but decide to leave them alone despite my symbiont’s disagreement. I run into a wild hare and shape an air-blade to quickly cut its head off from a distance.

So much easier when you have a surplus of flow.” I mutter.

And you know constructs which peasantry has been forbidden to learn. Things will change with the data. Will they with Suxen involved? She isn’t in charge. The Emperor is. He has ruled for almost a millennia, things are better than they were, this will solve the problem of Nobility. I’m only thinking that because I don’t want to get invol… Yes, I am.

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