We keep going until nightfall, and even then we only stop to track a deer down. Cetyz chases after it, forcing it to zigzag while I run downwind to ambush it.
The Princess doesn’t have much trouble keeping up in speed, in fact she’s faster than the animal is by a wide margin but once at her top speed, the Rykz is unable to make sharp turns to match the animal even by using her tail.
Watching Cetyz almost makes me trip on a rock so I shake my eyes off her tail, an appendage I’ve grown fascinated with. She isn’t nearly as graceful as Celyz but the two sisters resemble each other enough to distract me.
The deer is rushing downhill at an almost uncontrollable pace, panicked and panting. I stop behind a lone pine tree to hide from the animal’s sight just as Cetyz accelerates and closes in on the deer’s right to make it turn left towards me.
I raise my double-bladed staff like a spear and wait for it to enter my range. The animal appears, landing after having pounced over a ridge in the terrain. I step out from behind the tree and throw my weapon.
It plunges half-way into the deer’s chest. My prey tumbles downhill, dead on impact. I lion’s step up to it and snag my weapon, stopping it. Cetyz catches up, her breath short and resounding.
“It, quick turns.” She says.
“Hm, you’re not really made for hunting things down.” I note.
“I out of shape.” Cetyz replies, sounding offended. “It turns, and turns, hard keep up because slope.”
“That’s what I meant.” I comment with a small laugh.
“Well say, not imply I bad.” Cetyz declares, raising her chin in an uppity manner. She holds that for a few seconds before chuckling. “Fenyz, much better.”
“She can run deer down?” I ask.
“Yes, Fenyz…” Cetyz stops short, inclining her ovaloid head back and to the side in what seems to be anxiety. “Challenge scouts, lost at first, win after try many times.” She tells me after a while.
It seems like going through her memories is doing her some good, she isn’t as afraid of the gaps anymore. I grab my double-bladed staff and start dragging the deer to flatter ground.
I find a space between this hill and the next with a flat rock. It’ll be easy to make a large enough fire to cook the deer there without risking to burn the hill down.
I set the deer on the rock and pull my staff out of its chest and use the blade to gut it from throat to lower-stomach. I plunge my left hand into the belly, grab a full hand of bowels, and tear them out along with the liver.
I hadn’t prepared a deer before but I’ve done so for enough rabbits and seen plenty of pigs and cows being butchered so I know to beware of the bladder. As I struggle to skin the animal, Cetyz pounces on the bowels and organs I’ve thrown aside.
She digs a small hole with her left foot and pushes them into it, apart from the bladder. She then stomps them into mush to start eating. I set the shredded pelt aside and cut chunks of venison that I skewer on the other side of my staff.
I assemble a large fire construct and flip my staff around to hang the meat over the blaze. We probably broke a law or something by hunting this deer. I chuckle. It would be funny if a Noble found the animal’s remains and decided to chase us. Maybe Leomi would show up and capture me…
“Fire, visible far.” Cetyz comments.
“I know but I need to eat, the hills north and south hide us so we should be fine.” I reply.
We both devour our meal in record time and I take a moment to assess her state. Her tail gained in thickness and her tendrils are back to normal. Her rib-cage even seems to have fused back enough that she doesn’t need to keep all her appendages around her torso.
“You should have regenerated plenty of flow, right?” I question.
“Yes, what need?” She asks.
“A bath, but water will do.” I tell her honestly.
She nods. I sense flow leave her body from the plant of her feet and plunge underground. A few minutes later, a one-meter sphere of pure water emerges from the ground in front of me.
“Thanks.” I say.
“Take it.” She replies.
I reach out to her construct and prepare to link to it. She cuts her connection and the ball drops. I hurriedly try to prevent it from dropping to the ground it but, without an idea of what to do, I fail miserably at making it float.
“Maintain boundary and rest follow.” She tells me.
“I don’t think I’m going to manage.” I admit honestly.
“I teach water control, no secret, old human construct. Rykz make better, resist earth call, but that I cannot teach.” She replies. Oh, she removed the part that makes it hover.
“How does that work?” I ask.
“Do not know.” She makes a shrug with her tendrils.
She points me to the network of segments that control the flow of water and I find that they’re quite similar to the way the lightning construct charges the air. I get a good hang of the construct after a while but not so much that I would be able to recreate it.
I decide to leave that for later and move a bit closer to the fire to start undressing with my back turned on Cetyz. I breathe in relief as I remove the strip of shredded cloth restraining my breast.
I remove the bandage around my symbiont last, finding that its still in the process of fixing its burns despite the hand being almost entirely healed. The limb seems otherwise healthy.
It’s rather awkward and embarrassing to be naked in the presence of Celyz’ sister despite knowing it doesn’t make a difference for them. She seems to be able to tell that I’m not comfortable as she soon turns her head away.
I use the water construct to make a blob of water at my feet and start washing myself, realizing that I made it out of the institute with quite a few injuries but no major ones. My cheek was clawed, my left shoulder bit, my left knee scratched and twisted, my stomach stabbed, and more but it’s not so bad overall.
The mess of clear white scars on my belly that healed rather messily is much more problematic, almost as much as the flat expanse where I should have a left breast. I should’ve taken the habit to sew my wounds. I don’t allow myself to wallow in pity as, in the end, I’ve paid a much cheaper price than Cetyz or many others have.
I notice a few tiny points of slightly brighter but not quite white skin on my thighs, what remains of my Lady’s needle-explosive construct. The memory of our fight and of the ones to come excite me so I quickly throw cold water on my privacy.
Once I’m done, I use the rest of the water to clean my clothes. They turn dark-gray but it’s an improvement from the mess of dried blood from more than three different species.
“Clean feel better?” Cetyz asks.
“A lot.” I answer. “Don’t you do that?” I ask.
“Not easy.” She replies, waving her tendrils. “Use construct but it feel… not nice and take focus. Workers do when rooted in lake.”
“Hm.” I nod. “Princesses have it good.”
I pick up a branch and hold my clothes near the fire to let them dry. Cetyz calls a mass of water out from the ground, she plunges her tendrils inside. They twist and turn under the pressure she applies with the construct, which looks rather uncomfortable.
“Do you want me to?” I hesitantly offer.
“If not mind.” She quickly replies with relief in her voice.
Can’t really back out even though this is quite awkward. I plant the branch with my clothes in the ground while she directs a blob of water around her back. She doesn’t hold her tendrils out, it’s obvious to me that neither of us has any intention of letting my fingers touch her tendrils.
I reach out to her back with both hands. I see her string-like muscles tense beneath her rubbery brown skin at my human hand’s approach but she doesn’t say anything or move away.
I decide not to pull my right hand away since it would take a lot longer if I did and it can’t hurt for her to get used to my humanity. She sits down on her ankles, not to lower herself to my level but because she’d be more comfortable. I slowly press my palms against her back, feeling the surface of her rough yet smooth flesh.
She spreads water across her flesh where I rub, removing quite a layer of dead skin. Her muscles remain rather stiff as I do but she loses all tension when I slide my fingers on either side of her spine while pinching. Cetyz sighs loudly sighing as her tendrils slouch around her.
“Hands, useful.” She mutters.
“Ha.” I chuckle. “Your tendrils can’t do the same?” I ask.
“Takes leverage to do right.” She replies.
I can’t help but note this down in a corner of my mind if it ever comes up with Celyz, like if she wants a massage, a very platonic one of course. I shake my head and help this ‘sister’ of mine get rid of her grime.
Once I’m done, she takes care of her tendrils on her own while I wash my hands. Her rubbery brown skin now looks a lot healthier, it almost shines from the moon’s rays.
“Night fresh, running do good.” She speaks up.
“Agreed.” I nod. “I need to gather what’s left of the deer first through.”
I take my clothes off the branch, finding that they’re slightly wet. I ask Cetyz to give me another water construct and train myself in it by taking the water out of the cloth, which requires a some precision.
I dress up and cut the rest of the deer up in slabs of venison that I skewer on my double-bladed staff to have an easier time carrying them. Cetyz suddenly straightens up and turns directly to the south.
“I hear horses.” Cetyz speaks up. I enhance my hearing and pick up on the sound of hooves beating the ground.
“They’re going quite fast.” I nod. “We should go.” Cetyz moves to extinguish the fire. “No, let it burn. They’ll go straight for it and won’t be able to spot us in the darkness.” I stop her.
I hang my weapon over my left shoulder and go west, planning to go south-west as soon as we put some distance between us and the riders. We manage to get out of the small valley with some time to spare but they stop on top of the hill instead of going down.
A look over my shoulder tells me that the three riders are using the vantage point to look over the area which means there’s a chance they’ll spot us. The empty campsite likely got them suspicious since Nobles wouldn’t run.
It could also have been peasants but low-born don’t run away for fear that they’ll be pursued and accused of being bandits. As expected, one of them notices us under the moonlight and the riders gallop downhill after us.
“I’ll handle it, hold this for me.” I hand my weapon over to Cetyz while running.
“I ice.” She proposes.
“Stay back and support me if things get dangerous but I don’t want you to take any risks.” I tell her. Or risk you killing them.
“Careful.” She replies.
I make a large turn to head for the riders at an angle without losing too much speed. They’re wearing simple tabards but no leather armors. I assume they’re part of the local garrison, either from Meiridin or a Noble’s fief.
“Elizabeth Vil! By order of the Chancellor, surrender!” The woman in the center calls out while slowing down.
“Oh, come on! Don’t run!” I taunt.
The three riders pull on their reins to direct their horses away from me. I try to catch them before they reach a galloping speed but I don’t even come close so I suspect they’re boosting their mounts with flow. I groan and stop, watching them head back south.
I return to Cetyz at double pace, feeling rather annoyed. It’s not like I was threatening to kill them, they could have danced with me a bit. Cetyz gives me my weapon back as we veer south-west.
“They’re aware of our general location and that we’re headed west. It’s too late to head north, best shot is to move quicker than they can organize the pursuit.” I tell Cetyz who nods in agreement.
We cruise through the plains during the rest of the night. Thankfully, the riders don’t try to follow us from a distance, or perhaps not because I could have waited until they had no more flow and caught up to them since their mounts would likely be exhausted.
I manage to keep going until morning, avoiding villages and roads, before needing to take a break at noon to eat, finishing the venison. I’ve never run for so long before, especially not while using flow, but it wasn’t so hard once I found my rhythm.
At first, I find it surprising that we don’t encounter any other patrols but then I realize that there can’t be that many horses or fighters to ride them left in Meiridin since most departed with the army, there might be a few hundred in the region that could be sent out after us but it’s not like they don’t have other duties.
The reason we ran into three so far is that it isn’t hard for them to guess that we’ll go south to rejoin with the Rykz. Because of this, I decide to run all afternoon and a good portion of the night, forgoing sleep to get ahead.
I make use of the entirety of my reserve and the energy I regenerate to push through the exhaustion. By the middle of the night, however, my eyelids start closing by themselves so I start using my symbiont’s sense to keep going.
Unfortunately, doing so doesn’t do anything to combat mental and physical fatigue and I almost trip a few times on obvious obstacles. Cetyz saves me from a bad fall by catching my symbiont with the four tendrils on her right side.
“We stop wood, rest.” She declares, pointing at the edge of a forest to the east.
“Uh, yea.” I agree.
I slow down my pace and follow her lead. She leads us deep into the woods. I spot a lumberjack’s cabin not too deeply inside, and it seems to be empty since there isn’t any light, but Cetyz keeps her distances, having likely smelled that humans sometimes live there.
She guides us to an impressively large oak tree that lost all its leaves and left a thick patch of foliage under its branches. Cetyz plants her roots close to the trunk and lays her tail to the side, allowing her to rest her back against it. I drop down next to her and close my eyes.
— — —
I wake up feeling refreshed and rather glad that I had a dreamless rest. Cetyz isn’t here but she left me a fire construct. There are to holes at the base of the tree but the soil doesn’t look like it was abruptly disturbed so she wasn’t agitated when she uprooted herself.
I sit up and start training the water construct, it’s very convenient even if it doesn’t have much use in battle since I can’t make it float, or at least I can’t do so without paying constant attention to it and burning through more energy every minute than it takes to create an air-blade because I would need to constantly propel the water upwards.
The Princess returns with a dark-yellowish mixture floating between her tendrils, likely berries mixed in with water. She splits it in half so I remove the bandage over my left hand to put them both together and receive it.
I taste it with the tip of my lips, finding a pleasantly sour lemony taste despite the substance being thicker than it looks. My symbiont starts greedily absorbing the substance.
I start drinking it as well, communicating to my limb that it better hurry, trying to insert a joking undertone. It takes it as a challenge and starts consuming it so quickly that my left hand starts swelling.
“Take time, Little one.” Cetyz berates.
That’s right, you’re small, I’m tall! My symbiont bristles with something akin to indignation. I take a long gulp, laughing inside. I feel a berry’s stem on my tongue so I catch it between my teeth and spit it out.
A small black leg with an articulation flies out of my mouth. I retch for a good ten seconds but the food remains firmly in my stomach, I can feel the lingering sensation that I have when my symbiont injects its cool substance but not quite the same. I use its sense to scan the liquid, finding that I’ve been eating crushed ants.
“Is wrong?” Cetyz asks, sounding concerned.
“N, no, it’s good.” I hurriedly reply.
It actually was, is. I bring my hands up to my lips despite my symbiont’s token protests and finish my meal without complaining. The Princess nods in satisfaction and pours her portion into the two small holes in the ground to eat.
“Ants, grasshoppers, mushrooms, all we need.” She declares.
“I, yea. We just don’t usually eat those.” I admit.
“Why? Good travel food, some everywhere.” She says.
“Just, not in our habits I suppose.” I tell her. “Actually, I’m not sure it won’t make me sick.”
“I care, no poison.” Cetyz replies, sounding a little offended.
“You know enough about humans to tell?” I question.
“Celyz, talk much, I listen… sometimes.” She explains.
I nod and grab my weapon and make my way to the edge of the forest to scout and let have her meal in peace. I climb up a pine tree, it’s not the tallest tree around but it has needles which will conceal me.
I hear sounds of wood being chopped in the distance, near the cabin we avoided last night. Cetyz made the right call in avoiding it. There is a small group of people making their way north-east on foot with swords at their waists.
Not far from that group is a rider headed west who likely split from them not long ago. I hop down the pine and return to Cetyz, finding her still eating. I wonder how long it took her to gather enough for us.