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I use my double-bladed staff to open the hare’s belly and empty its bowels. I then skin it, not without some trouble considering I haven’t done so in a while. I then cut a straight branch and sharpen one end to skewer it.

I make my way back to Cetyz, who is still resting and seems to need to at least as much as I do. I gather a few stones in two piles and light a fire between them, throwing some dry wood in until I get a good blaze at which point I place the skewer on the stones.

Do you need to rest to mend your rib-cage?” I ask.

Some.” She nods.

Then we’ll take a few hours, I need to eat and sleep.” I tell her.

Smell good.” She tells me before hanging her head back down.

The thicket is wild enough that it should be safe, there aren’t any signs that humans recently passed by like paths made by regular passage. When the hare is just about finished, I add more energy into the fire construct to roast it with a final hard blaze.

After a few minutes, I dismantle my construct and smother the fire. Cetyz pulls one of her feet out of the ground, leaving a small hole with humid dirt at the bottom. I start cutting the hare in tiny pieces to throw them in.

Thank.” Cetyz tells me, plunging her feet back into the hole.

I nod and start devouring the rest of the hare, kind of glad that she only took a third and a bit suspicious of my symbiont who grew agitated as I handed more and more over. It’s all for protecting the Princess but definitely isn’t forgetting its ‘stomach’.

How far?” Cetyz asks.

Mphm.” I reply, mouth full of crispy meat. “Dfay, ffull shpeed.”

South?” She presses.

No.” I shake my head, swallowing. “South would take a week and a half at least to reach the Rykz if I have a horse, I think. You could probably go a lot faster on your own since you don’t sleep.”

Rykz alone, not Rykz.” She replies.

Hm.” I nod. “The ship could take us south in a week as well since it has to go downriver before veering south.”

After the meal, I settle down under a tall oak’s branches and snuggle between the roots. Cetyz remains where she is, knees half-bent as she recuperates. The shaking in her tendrils faded a while back as she grew less afraid but she is now trembling from her core which hasn’t cooled down from running for hours.

She’s likely fixing the extensive damage done to her body. The Rykz have a very different relationship with pain and injuries than humans do, it seems to be no more than an inconvenience to them yet every attack carries the risk of harming one of the nodes at the core of who they are.

It’s odd, but I already trust Cetyz more than I could any human after such a short amount of time spent together. I close my eyes, both of them, tightly, and let myself fall to slumber. Finally able to sleep without keeping an ear out for betrayal or trouble.

— — —

I wake up with a vague recollection of dreaming about Tsek and Aisha plotting in bed. The Shade, in my dream, gave Tsek a way to impress me by telling him how to safely get out of Meiridin with the Princess while in exchange he would tell me that Suxen went south when in reality the two Shades took a different route or simply laid low somewhere, possibly in a safe room inside the institute.

It’s unfair to him to put stock in a paranoiac dream but I wouldn’t put it past him to do that if he thought it got him what he wants. I check my surroundings, finding Cetyz stretching her legs one after the other.

You awake.” She says, sounding quite a bit better than she did this morning.

I am, what time is it?” I ask.

After noon.” She replies. “We go, night.”

You want to wait, is there a problem?” I question, getting up.

I smell iron.” She tells me, pointing to the west and east with two of her tendrils.

It could just be peasants cutting wood for winter.” I tell her.

No chopping.” She replies.

True, we would hear it. But what if they scout the thicket, staying here is risky.” I argue.

Moving south, disturbing road dust.” She informs me. “They anosmia.”

Anosmia?” I ask.

Can’t smell.” She says, exhaling a small burst of air like a scoff.

So they’re scouting wide and fast at first.” I frown. “That’s not good, it probably means there’s going to be a second wave that’s more careful.”

Make sense.” She nods. “Cannot stay.”

We could sneak between the two waves.” I propose. “Move south, quicker than the ones who’ll scour the countryside behind us but not so fast that we catch up with those in front of us.”

Or north-west before organized to get behind search.” Cetyz notes.

The issue with my idea is that we’ll be effectively surrounded.” I say.

Problem other is depend human. Ruf refuse take Princess because Hive war.” She shakes her head. “Then we safe, but cannot move.”

Ruth isn’t exactly…” I pause, looking for the right word. “I would call her a free element, her decision would have more to do with the risks involved in helping us than the fact that we’re pursued by the Kingdom.” Cetyz rises, standing straighter. “It’s not madness, our society works differently than the Rykz’.”

You, not human.” She tells me. “Smell Rykz, but not, more raw.”

Well… I mean.” I hesitate, feeling queasy about the revelation. “I am human, still. I think.” I deludedly hope.

You well?” She suddenly asks. “Rykz leg, aggressive, worried in void, but alone, demanding be held. It go mad void. You influence, bad.”

I don’t think it’s going mad.” I shake my head, passing over her last comment as I can’t really argue that we’ve had a good influence on each other. “We’ve been learning to communicate with each other. At the start, when I slept, during the void, it seemed to move and attack but it looks like it got used to it.”

Void, emptiness, cannot used to.” She pauses and makes an annoyed gesture with two of her tendrils. “I cannot get used to void, ever. It like ice but colder, much colder.”

It’s like ice?” I blink. “Then why do you use it if you fear it.”

It’s…” She hesitates. “A bit shame, but, it scary so I use.”

Oh. The word is embarrassing. Anyway, I think you’re courageous to use it despite being afraid.” I tell her honestly.

Silly.” She shakes her head. “Humans and you, do not fear. Many Rykz, not either. I think advantage use it, but truth is it not.” She shivers in annoyance again. “I feel that others afraid, but know that they are not.”

Ah.” I nod. “It makes some sense to instinctively use something you fear because it feels more dangerous.”

I wrong, it not logic.” Cetyz replies with finality, like it solves the question.

Okay, well we should decide what we decide to do.” I say.

You, in charge. Make call.” She tells me. “Know more.”

Well, I think we should wait for the patrol to pass and then slip through the waves of scouts by staying between them but also head west and follow the coast south because that’s where Ruth will eventually go so we could get picked up on the way.” I explain.

Take both plan, make better.” Cetyz nods in agreement.

Can I ask you something about Suxen?” I ask.

I, said all.” She replies awkwardly.

She seemed to think little of the Rykz’ intelligence, but you can understand me fine and even if you have trouble talking, you’re smart.” I tell her.

I, growl, attack when meet because mad human smell dry, sick head, no emotion.” Cetyz says in a shaky voice. “I not talk, but she try brush stamen when buried, cannot move, so I sever.”

I’m so sorry.” I tell her.

You not her Hive. You, us.” Cetyz replies. “You not responsible.”

No, I’m still sorry.” I make a small smile. “I haven’t had time to tell you but it’s not just the Silver Hive that reacted to your abduction, every Hive on the Empire’s border have gathered their armies.”

I candidate Queen.” Cetyz tells me without any visible sign of pride. “My disappearance, worrying for Rykz.”

Candidate? How does that work?” I ask, surprised.
“I apply, learn. Princesses of all Hives with most contribution have right gather support… Princess entourage?” She asks. I nod. “When Queen grows big, she chooses successor with First Queen.”

Any Princess can succeed any Hive?” I ask, surprised. “And don’t you mean old, not big?”

It new, First Queen decide ten thousand rotations.” Cetyz tells me. “What old?”

Old is… wait.” I pause. “You don’t die when you pass a certain age?”

Ah old. Hive Queens die because grow larger, taller, so earth call grow stronger.” Cetyz explains.

That’s…” I pause, baffled.

But do die old, First Queen is old, very, very tall and thick, strong but too heavy, cannot uproot. Cannot move, flow maintain her.” Cetyz says. “Other Queens, die when too big, it sad but joyous.”

So the First Queen is Chosen.” I note. “That confirms what I thought.”

Chosen?” Cetyz asks.

By the Lake, by flow. She’s immortal like the Emperor.” I tell her.

You not listen.” Cetyz shakes her head. “First Queen, large memory, thick trunk, take much energy, cannot lay many eggs anymore. She old. All Rykz sustain First Queen because wise, knowledge, but soon cost more than benefit so she decide answer earth call, return her life for young Rykz to grow taller.”

You, mean… she isn’t, Chosen by the Lake?” I ask, shaken to my core.

Sunlight shines all, none first under sunlight, all equal.” Cetyz admonishes me.

I, but… the Emperor, He lives.” I stutter.

Young.” Cetyz says.

He’s almost a thousand years old!” I exclaim.

Human old.” Cetyz corrects herself. “Rykz think Emperor eat rays.”

I…” I close my eyes. “You mean He’s… Is He using flow to keep himself alive?”

Ys.” Cetyz nods. “Not know, Vault secret.”

So you don’t know for sure, but if the First Queen isn’t Chosen…” I open my eyes. “Then he lies. Part of the Due is used to keep himself alive.”

Emperor wise, done much to stop us.” Cetyz says. “Talk, fight, centuries Rykz think understand. Yet took me. Humans, Lisilese, both treaties broken, Rykz know happen. Lisilese, human, not much trust. But capture Princess? Mad.”

I, can’t believe I’m saying this but… are you sure it has been the same Emperor for centuries?” I ask.

Early Empire, didn’t meet, not know.” Cetyz shakes her head. “Last seven hundred rotations, yes same. Last time Princess met, three hundred rotations for Trident Hill treaty.”

Trident Hill, that sounds familiar.” I ponder, remembering that our village’s Templar gathered all the kids to tell them the story. “The Emperor’s Prime Phalanx won a battle there, reclaiming the plains that became Haitia.”

Yes, Rykz and Lisilese fighting over land for five hundred rotations, Emperor advance slowly, wisely.” Cetyz admits. “Last battle, many drones die, First Queen decide not worth risking Princesses so Rykz pull back. Lisilese Horde break on phalanx, winter arrive, brash Hersir refuse give up, lose.”

So the Emperor was there.” I whisper. “We weren’t told.”

Lies. He might not have spread the story that he’s Chosen by the Lake, but he didn’t contradict it and, after centuries, he is responsible. He brought humans together, expanded our lands. We flourished under him, Him. Nobility flourished. Peasants have a better life too. He is trying.

You okay?” Cetyz asks.

I’ll, be fine.” I reply, swallowing my anger. “I… saw this coming.” I admit to her as well as myself. “The lies, the…” I stop myself before losing control.

Humans, secret wrong things. Hide leader talking us but divulge constructs. Mad.” Cetyz shakes her head.

Well, it’s not like we can stop using constructs to keep them secret, that would defeat the point of having them.” I note, desperately grabbing at the change of subject.

No need talk secret other species.” She denies.

There are a lot more humans and Lisilese than there are Princesses or Queens so it’s harder to unite. But the Rykz weren’t always united either, I think you can understand that there can be people within a species that aren’t looking out for those who aren’t part of their Hive.” I tell her.

I… ys. You right.” She nods.

How does the Rykz society work?” I ask. “There doesn’t seem to be a hierarchy like we do.”

It not difficult to understand, Celyz not explain?” Cetyz questions.

She did, a bit.” I say. “We talked about a lot of different things.”

Sister, love teach, talk.” Cetyz says with a touch of nostalgia. “You, distracting Celyz, I sure.” A furious blush takes over my cheeks. “Head, hot. You, embarrassed!” She teases.

Celyz and I are only friends.” I tell her honestly, trying to regain control.

Human mad. Lie yourself. Little Princess, knows.” She inclines her head towards my symbiont. “But fine, cool down, I explain.”

Could you get me some water?” I ask.

She nods and a few moments later, a blob of water filled with black flow emerges from the ground. I extend my hands out in a cup and she fills them. I take my mask off and wash my face before drinking. After a while, my blush recedes so I place my mask back on.

Rykz Princess with skill for task lead with advice.” Cetyz says. “Princesses with success, contribution, lead more, best gain right to succeed rooted Queens, sometimes compete knowledge.”

So you learn how to create drones?” I question.

Ys, but also remember.” She nods. “And lead Hive, very different lead only Princesses, harder. Many wait before learning Queen, want improve skills to help Hive first or more time be with entwined.”

Entwined?” I ask.

Two Princess, together life.” She replies.

Oh.” I whisper. “Can you, hum.” I pause, unsure of how to ask and a bit confused about how much I want the answer to my question.

Ys?” Cetyz asks gently. I gather my courage.

Can Princesses, make other Princesses together?” I ask.

Yes.” Cetyz nods sadly. “I, lost but it heal in time. Dozen rotations.”

Oh, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have…” I start.

You want know, it okay.” She tells me with a smile in her voice. “But, it very difficult for Entwined when one not Queen.” She pauses. “Celyz, maybe try harder manage Hive now.” She adds, sounding half-concerned.

I, it wasn’t for me, us.” I hurriedly protest.

Can tell, you desire create.” She says.

I’ve grown things all my life, I’m a farmer, it was only curiosity.” I explain, frantically shaking my head. “Doesn’t it bother you that I’m not a Princess, not really.”

Drones Rykz too.” She replies with conviction. “You and Little one, Rykz.”

Hm.” I ponder. “Is Celyz a candidate too?” I ask.

Hii.” Cetyz exhales. Definitely laughing.

I’m just curious!” I exclaim.

You, Celyz, very curious.” She replies with a short chuckle. “Celyz not want Queen, but she learn to help me and because, curious.”

How was she, young?” I question, deciding to just soldier on since I’ve failed to repress the return of my blush.

Ran left, ran right. Never stopped. She visit First Hive, turned a sun stone to see under.” Cetyz says, shaking her head in dismay. “Mother, scold when Celyz told what she did.” I laugh at the image of a small Celyz excitedly running up to her huge mother to tell her about her trip. “First Queen said fine, but Mother still sent sister back to polish a thousand. Said learn respect history.”

She told me about the sun stones but not that she had to polish a thousand.” I note with a smile. “She did mention their numbers, though.” I add with a laugh. “She told me that she learned from humans, was that around then?”

Older.” Cetyz nods. “She bored in Hive, wanted see more, learn more. I just met first partner then, it hard but we part.” She says sadly.

What does the Silver Hive look like?” I ask.

I tell, but need go. Patrol, gone.” Cetyz tells me, inhaling.

You sure?” I ask.

Wind south to north, easy to tell.” She explains.

But you can’t tell if there’s any north of us.” I comment.

If you right, they slower.” She replies.

Let’s hope so.” I nod.

I depart south-west at a jogging pace, taking it slow to focus on finding my running form and a sustainable cruising speed. Cetyz matches me… taking twice as few steps.

Silver Hive, grand.” Cetyz says. “Mother lake in open sky cave, enter through tunnel with Rykz history carved. Silver archways cross over lake, drones pass so that Mother…” Cetyz pauses. “So that Mother…” She hesitates, apparently having trouble remembering. “Lives with hive? Yes. Mother rooted in lake, Hive life passing above. Side of lake are alcoves for eggs and larger rooms for young Princesses.”

It, sounds beautiful.” I say.

Is.” Cetyz agrees. “Dug tunnels down deep hot so Hive core always warm. Mountainside, fields of mushroom wells, mines for ore to mix Vuskyt.”

How many drones are there?” I ask.

Two-hundred-fifty thousands, maybe more now.” She replies. “Many old drones, they live short.” She says, shaking her head with sadness. “They work easier tasks.”

How long do they live?” I question.

Twenty, thirty.” She replies.

We live a little less than twice that.” I say. Other peasants will, who knows if I’ll be able to reach that age whether because I’m killed or my symbiont kills me.

I spot a house in the distance and veer south, thinking that if there’s a village, it’s more likely to be close to Meiridin. The afternoon goes by rather uneventfully, a few farmers spot us from a distance but that was unavoidable.

It won’t be an issue as long as we’re quick enough to go through the region, Caeviel’s army isn’t in the area and singular squads or Templars aren’t a threat, and there shouldn’t be many titled Nobles around, or at least none fit for battle.

With my reserves half-filled, about sixty portions, I have enough flow to make full use the strengthening, healing, and nourishing constructs. It makes it a lot less exhausting to keep running for hours at a time.

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