Cetyz and I make our way south-west in the days that follow, making detours to avoid castles and villages. We encounter quite a few foot-soldier patrols but they always run away or watch from a distance instead of chasing us.
I constantly worry that there’s a trap closing in on us and so I start stocking my energy into my weapon but the Princess assures me that we never come close to being surrounded. In spite of her words, she conserves her extra energy inside her body but outside her reserve.
I could do the same as her but I estimate that the ability to shape constructs inside my weapon within moment’s notice is preferable, whether to recover it if we’re somehow ambushed and I lose it or to make a defensive construct.
We refrain from talking while we run to preserve our endurance but we share stories of our youth when we stop to hunt and eat. The Princess keeps referring to my symbiont as a ‘little Princess’ or ‘Little one’, taking to the affectionate nickname.
It makes me smile every-time in amusement since I can feel my symbiont cringe when she uses that as she communicates with it through pheromones. One thing that throws a cloud over my thoughts is how certain she seems to be that we’re part of her Hive, meaning it might be a point of conflict when I don’t.
I get the feeling that, after years of isolation from her Hive, she is clinging to my symbiont as her sole friend and that she merely incidentally accepts me. That idea is reinforced by the fact that she is never truly comfortable with my human hand’s touch and avoids it.
It feels personal, yet I know that to be paranoia because she accepts me as I am so it’s not something I can really hold against her considering what she’s been through. Still, I can’t help but be disappointed. And, with what she did to Hetlan’s sailors, to the Templars, and to Hetlan’s ship… there’s only so many times I can use her circumstances to excuse her actions.
That being said, Cetyz doesn’t lack empathy in the slightest, there’s only something about her when she thinks she’s acting for her Hive, when she convinces herself it’s not rage or revenge but retaliation, she shows no remorse or hesitation in killing.
That being said, I’m the last one who has the right to criticize her over that, it simply makes me uncomfortable how few limits she has when it comes to protecting her species. Perhaps the Rykz are like that, but Celyz certainly isn’t.
I study Suxen’s book every chance I get, learning that the dog-sized reptiles are named Duihs and that the Director was trying to tame them by rewarding obedience with food but, while she didn’t really write much down, it doesn’t seem like she’s had any success.
Besides, considering she killed the larger one, I don’t think she managed to get anywhere with any Lisilese warbeast. More importantly are the equations she wrote down surrounding a drawing of the array she used to extract the distribution data.
The problem is… I don’t understand what many symbols stand for even with Suxen’s as she appeared to think the terms she used were self-explanatory. I stop myself from experimenting considering the construct affects the brain but I do extensively study them.
During the fifth night since we escaped Meiridin, we come across a highway with a camp-fires staggered along its entire length. We stop, having expected to run into people that the Princess couldn’t smell from a distance since we’ve been traveling downwind but not that many.
“What do… we do?” She asks.
“Don’t know, I think it’s a supply column so it depends entirely on how many soldiers there are.” I reply.
“War with Rykz, there be many.” Cetyz tells me with certainty.
“You think Celyz is going to send scouts to raid inland?” I ask, worried since Celyz did imply it would happen.
“No.” Cetyz shakes her head. “Fenyz would, egg-sister too soft, she hesitate.”
“I think she got over that.” I reply with a grimace.
“Lost way, not self.” Cetyz denies. “Else, you stronger.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Little one, limited.” The Princess explains. “Could do more but instructed not to unless your life in danger.” A shiver courses through me and I thank Celyz in my mind.
“Wouldn’t that kill me?” I ask.
“Know not, but…” Cetyz’ resounding voice trails off. “Maybe, human fragile.”
“When you say it could do more, what do you mean?” I ask.
“Little one could encase your core.” She points to my heart with her tendrils. “And extend down to roots, it take time but you stronger, heal faster, core beat sturdier.”
“How do you know all that?” I question.
“Little one, she tell me could protect you better so I ask.” Cetyz answers.
“Oh.” I pause and send my affection to the symbiont, it responds by squeezing my ribs with its tendrils. “She?” I ask.
“Little one very insistent, Rykz Princess or Queen are not male or female, but Little Princess use human female word for herself.” Cetyz tells me.
“Can it really communicate that well?” I say, surprised.
“It took a long time.” Cetyz replies. “Little one not understand all, future difficult, past little better but still hard.”
“Okay.” I nod. “We should try to sneak past the camps during the night because they’ll spot us if we wait for the sun to rise up.”
“Maybe horse steal, I healed, can run faster.” She suggests, sounding a bit forced, likely because the Rykz and horses don’t seem to get along.
“Hm.” I ponder. “I’ve never actually ridden one, it was ambitious to begin with, but I can try.”
We carefully approach the highway under cover of night, finding that there are carriages full of supplies around each of the camp-fires. There are horses but they’re all draft horses. The soldiers don’t have mounts and likely travel in the back or on foot.
“These won’t do.” I tell Cetyz. “Let’s just slip by to the coast and then sprint straight south.”
“We burn supplies, no danger.” She says. I tense up at the suggestion.
“One cart isn’t going to matter, it would take hours to remove a significant number.” I explain. “Not to mention that I don’t want to starve people out, it’s a cruel way to kill someone.” I add, deciding that honesty would work best.
“They enemy.” She replies.
“I’m still against it.” I tell her. “They’re defending their lands, the vast majority of them didn’t have anything to do with what happened to you.”
“They allow, same.” Cetyz counters.
“It’s not like low-born can speak up against their rulers, not without consequence.” I say, frowning.
“Why, you said humans chaos. They stronger than ruler.” She argues.
“Well…” I make a grimace, cornered by my own words. “It’s complicated.”
“Burning cart is simple.” She tells me. “No food, no war.”
“But people who aren’t fighting you will die while those who gave the order to capture you won’t be hurt.” I sigh. “Let’s go, there’s no reason to take the risk.”
“Help Hive, reason.” Cetyz replies.
“Fine, there’s a reason but the benefit isn’t worth the risk. If we attack, the soldiers will sound the alarm, we’ll be locked into a skirmish and there’s a good chance we won’t be able to escape before actual reinforcements show up, perhaps from the army itself since it’s a few days away on horse.” I press. “Getting you back to your sister will mean that your Hive won’t be forced to attack anymore whereas burning the supplies won’t force the human army to retreat and it’ll take a week at the minimum before the lack of food starts seriously affecting them.”
“See, know more.” Cetyz says, folding. “Let’s go.” I groan at her sudden acknowledgment, having expected an argument.
We slip between two camp-fires, rather easily evading those on guard duty and beeline towards the coast. We climb up a rocky hill, reaching a sharp cliff going straight down into the ocean. We decide to make camp.
The sun slowly rises, revealing a tall dungeon on the horizon, meaning it’s unlikely we’ll be able to slip by unnoticed during the day considering a competent sentinel would have a clear sight for kilometers around.
We both go out to hunt, I find a rather scrawny hare while Cetyz brings back a couple of well-fed lizards about the size of my forearm which, oddly enough, have red blood. We wait for the sun to reach a decent height so that our fire construct isn’t too easy to spot and grill them.
I make sure to charcoal my portion of lizard meat just to be sure I won’t catch some weird disease, I already consider myself lucky that my left shoulder didn’t get infected. I take a careful first bite.
It tastes a bit fishy and the meat is a little tough, it’s actually rather bland which is probably a best-case scenario for me. I chew my lizard down and move on to my part of the hare. I still feel hungry after the meal but decide not to tire myself looking for more prey when the terrain is so unfavorable.
I settle down on a patch of bare soil between two rocks while Cetyz does the same but behind larger rocks because she’s a little taller. She settles her roots into the ground and unwraps her tendrils, letting them fall around herself.
“How sister doing?” She asks.
“I’m not sure.” I reply. “She was very worried about you when I left.”
“And before?” Cetyz says.
“Well, I think she and Fenyz have stuck together after leaving Grikyz, the two seem to work well together. Otherwise, when I was her prisoner, she seemed to be mostly spending her time reading books and maps about humans and Caeviel, making plans to rescue you.” I say.
“Prisoner?” Cetyz asks, unconsciously straightening her tendrils. Shit, I lowered my guard.
“It’s… complicated.” I answer awkwardly, sitting up.
“You said, volunteer.” Cetyz declares, rising to her full height. “How lose arm?”
“It got burnt, had to cut it off, it’s really not an interesting story. My… friends and I ran into Celyz when we were out, she captured us.” I edge, trying to change the subject.
“You lie… no, omit.” Cetyz uproots her feet and takes a single step to cross the distance between us. “What sister do?”
“Look, I really don’t want to talk about it.” I insist, losing my grip as the memories of that time rush back to the forefront of my mind. “Your sister didn’t do anything wrong and I did volunteer.”
“I know powerless, Elzbeth.” Cetyz insists in a gentle tone of voice, bending her knees to lower herself to my height. “Did you have choice?”
“I did.” I reply honestly.
“How arm burn?” She asks again but less forcefully.
“Can I just… have a minute? I‘ll tell you, I just need… a minute.” I say, passing my arms around my knees.
“Ys.” Cetyz nods, planting her roots in the ground in front of me and sitting on her ankles.
I take a lot more than a minute to gather myself, to tackle my memories and try to be objective about it all. I decide to leave my Lady out of it, both for myself and for Celyz as recounting the evolution of our relationship would undoubtedly destabilize me while also showing that Celyz was very much aware of how attracted I am to Leomi, yet still decided to have… to have… A furious blush takes over my cheeks. To have sex with me.
“You, not time thinking that.” Cetyz berates, exhaling loudly.
“S, sorry.” I stutter. “I, um.” I hesitate, biting my lower lip. “I, was with six… friends, exploring a tunnel we found on our lands when a patrol of scouts ambushed us. I tackles one and… and it used a fire construct on my arm.”
“Rykz fire construct dangerous but six human can smother.” Cetyz comments.
“It… half of them had died by then.” I reply, trying not to sound like I’m justifying the choice Leomi and Yvonne made, listening to the Lordling. Yet, I feel like not doing so would just fuel a resentment I’ve failed to completely get rid of. “Th, they could have but, they wouldn’t have had enough flow left to fight the rest of the Rykz who were likely to come after us.” Cetyz nods, letting me speak. “And they did, we only managed to escape because one of us had enough flow left to make an explosive construct and collapse a tunnel behind us.” I continue in a tight voice. “But that wasn’t enough, the drones kept coming to harass us, we barely managed to make it out of the tunnels but then… at the end there was Celyz, waiting for us with ten times more warriors than we could handle.” A mad laugh escapes my lips. “I, I lost my arm, for… kh, kh, kh.” I cackle. “I lost my arm for nothing!” I exclaim before resuming my insane bout of laughter.
Cetyz remains silent, she simply reaches out with her tendrils and wraps them around my shoulders, showing none of her usual hesitation to touch my human flesh. My clothes don’t mean anything to her, it’s the same as directly touching my skin.
“I‘m fine.” I tell her.
“Shh.” She whispers.
I snap my mouth shut and just let her comfort me with this odd hug where our torsos don’t come in contact. For the first time in weeks, I get some relief from my loneliness as I let this half-sister of mine soothe the aches in my heart. She releases me once my silent sobs fade away.
After a short while, I decide to push Lance back into the special place she occupies in my heart, that she never leaves. I focus on going through with this while trying to paint Celyz in as best a light as I can which is more helpful in controlling my roiling emotions than making this about me.
“Your sister and I talked quite a bit, like I told you. She understood how much the loss of my arm would hinder me in human society so she offered me to replace it. I didn’t have to agree, I had the possibility to stay within the Hive and work without fear for my life.” I assure Cetyz. “She never threatened our lives, only gave us limits not to cross, and promised to release us once the war was over.”
“Do you know why I say sister lost way?” Cetyz asks.
“Because she and Grikyz did something close to what Suxen was trying to do.” I reply. “But they only did this to rescue you and to use as a threat to sign a treaty prohibiting experiments on each others’ species.”
“Not only.” She shakes her head. “Making new Rykz, not game, not to use as threat, dangerous.”
“How so?” I ask, getting the feeling that she isn’t only talking about the damage that my symbiont is causing to my body.
“We work hard make drones intelligent, thousands, thousands, years. Duty.” She says, insisting heavily on the last word. “If effort made for other species, betrayal of worst kind to drones. And danger, lose… cohesion if make being that is not Rykz.”
“The symbiont is intelligent.” I tell her.
“Yes, I notice.” She nods. “It Little Princess.”
“No, I mean that Celyz said she didn’t expect it to be this smart, that Grikyz and her didn’t design it to be this independent.” I explain.
“Truly?” Cetyz asks, perking up.
“It’s based heavily on one of your ancestors and crossed with some Princess physiology.” I tell her. “I’m not explaining it well but… Celyz thought that studying your ancestors could help you make smarter drones.”
“That…” She trails off, one of her tendrils reaching out to my symbiont. “Truth?” She demands confirmation, intently leaning in towards me.
“You’d be able tell if I’m lying.” I tell her, a little annoyed by that fact. “But yes, it’s true.”
“Little one.” Cetyz curves one of her tendrils and brushes my left arm. “You, light-given hope.” She declares with a vibrating voice full of happiness. She pauses. “We foolish, think older ones not help find solution to old problem despite new path rare.”
“To go back to our, to your sister.” I say, correcting myself as it feels weird to speak of Celyz as a sister even though I feel that she is in my heart, yet she is far from only that. Cetyz inclines her head, turning her attention back to me. “Don’t be too harsh with her, she must’ve spend the years you were missing trying to find ways to free you.”
“Sister and Mother, must have First Queen permission, not place to say otherwise.” Cetyz replies. “But sister plan, she explain self good or I angry. You know not enough about Little one, she not honest.”
“I, we didn’t really have time to get into it.” I tell her. “And there was much she didn’t know herself until it was implanted.”
“Exactly.” Cetyz nods. “Experiment, not Rykz way, dangerous. We slowly expand roots of knowledge.”
“Sorry, Celyz, I think I’m making this worse.” I mutter.
“Sister grown woman.” Cetyz declares, chuckling at the word. I get the feeling that she’s teasing me. “She able defend herself.”
“Aren’t the two of you rather young?” I note.
“If relative lifespan, yes, young. But, we… what is word?” She asks.
“Adults?” I propose.
“Ys, adult, can grow egg like you so interested in.” She tells me, nodding. I can’t help but smile, feeling like she’s doing her best to cheer me up.
“And you were worried Celyz would compete with you to be a Queen because of me.” I fire back.
“I not say that!” Cetyz protests.
“Not exactly, but you’re not denying it either.” I grin. “Which you would if it wasn’t true because Rykz don’t lie, not directly.”
“I… Celyz, scholar, loss for Rykz if she spend most time laying eggs for Hive.” Cetyz frantically justifies herself.
I laugh from the bottom of my heart at how obvious it is that she simply doesn’t want the competition. She joins me, chuckling lightly. We go to sleep, or at least I do, soon after.
— — —