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I wake up in the middle of the afternoon, shivering from the cold air. I find Cetyz pacing impatiently nearby. We head out to hunt and gather some berries. I keep an eye on the sea, hoping to catch sight of the galley but there isn’t a single ship in sight.

My backup plans seem to be failing one after the other for lack of preparation or overestimating the likely-hood that I’ll be able to set them in motion. There is a good chance we missed the galley’s passage because going around the settlements slowed us down, and I just haven’t found an opportunity to steal a horse unseen.

Or, the galley could simply have passed us during the night. It would be good to find a horse if only to be able to outrun mounted patrols. Yet, as far as I know, horses are faster sprinters but can’t keep going as long as humans, or apparently Rykz, can.

It’s a difficult choice to make, perhaps the best to do would be to grab a mount for the last stretch of the journey to push past the army’s defensive lines. It will be incredibly risky but less than trying to punch through on foot.

Elzbth!” Cetyz calls out from on top of a rock.

I turn to the horizon. There is a cloud of dust traveling south on the highway. It’s too far to see but there must be at least a half-dozen horses. The Princess is getting agitated, understandable considering we’re practically surrounded with a dungeon south and dozens of patrols scouring the north.

There isn’t much we can do about that other than lay low.” I tell her. “It’s actually lucky that we saw them before leaving since they could have been sent after us if the watcher on the dungeon spotted us.”

Longer wait, more humans.” She replies.

It’s been a month and almost a week, I’m worried about what we’ll find south, but…” I trail off.

But go now too risky?” Cetyz asks.

We would be giving away our exact location when there are dozens of soldiers around to chase us.” I tell her. “Those up in the dungeon can see for about as far as you can smell when the wind is blowing in the right direction.”

If wait night to move, take much longer.” Cetyz argues.

I don’t think we have that much of a choice in the matter.” I reply. “We’ll have to travel as fast as we can instead of pacing ourselves to make up for lost time.”

She reluctantly nods and walks past me, returning to her spot between two tall rocks to root herself into the ground. As she passes by, my symbiont’s sense detects the edge of a construct underneath her skin.

I wouldn’t have noticed it if it didn’t have an alarming amount of energy contained inside of it because she buried it deep beneath her rubbery brown skin so that the black glow doesn’t filter through.

That’s what she’s been doing while I’ve been asleep. I worry about what the construct could be and her intentions with it. I would be able to directly ask Celyz without fearing an eventual confrontation but I don’t feel nearly as connected to Cetyz as I do her sister despite confiding in her last night.

I don’t think it’s because I… have feelings for Celyz. It might be the communication barrier but I don’t know. She seems to draw a line between allies and enemies, treating the latter without mercy. I fear what would happen if I crossed it, especially since there isn’t all that much trust between us.

I shake my head, this is too important to be playing coy. I sit down in front of her and wait for the Princess to raise her ovaloid head so as not to break her focus. It takes a few minutes but she eventually does.

Ys?” She asks.

What kind of construct are you making?” I question.

Quake.” She replies, likely referring to the spiked construct I saw her use in Meiridin.

That’s…” I pause and decide to carefully choose my words not to sound negative or in opposition. “How much damage will it do?”

Depend if large or small area target.” She tells me.

What’s the objective of making it?” I ask.

Need go through army, you say. This, break footing, make path. Humans can’t disrupt once activated.” She explains.

Okay.” I acknowledge. “How big of an area are we talking about?”

Thousand paces, big shake, two, smaller. Can open rift but harder.” She replies.

Don’t do that.” I tell her. “Best way to protect your Hive is to break Caeviel’s ranks so they pull back and we can slip through.”

Will see when arrive.” She says, waving one of her tendrils.

I reluctantly nod and focus on the flow I’ve gathered in my double-bladed staff these past few days which amounts to a little over a hundred portions considering how much I’ve used my energy to sustain our insane pace.

I assemble two of my personal constructs, the lightning-sphere to block air-blades without needing to specifically use a lightning bolt which requires me to pay attention and an air-shield bubble to stop most of everything else.

I’ve combined both but those constructs don’t work well with each other so it’s likely that my defense would be overall weaker. Although it would consume less energy, I wouldn’t be able to just pour flow into it in fear of breaking the air-shield by increasing the lightning’s intensity.

I haven’t taken the habit to prepare constructs beforehand as I find it faster to dismantle constructs and create new ones than to reshape existing ones but I could simply have all my constructs ready and activate them when needed, the issue is that they’re a constant drain on my energy even when idle.

Still, I decide that it’s an acceptable loss with the amount I regenerate. The trick to getting through Caeviel’s lines will be defense and speed, not offense. I set the lightning sphere’s radius to be just slightly larger than the air-shield’s bubble so that the latter can block arrows without being challenged head-on by air-blades or air-needles.

I spent the afternoon training my constructs, even the skin hardening one as it might come to that. We depart at nightfall, sprinting along the coast until morning where we make camp in a creek.

I wait for a long while before going to sleep, hoping to see a ship and light a fire to try to get them to pick us up but there is no sign of one. I need to stop grasping at straws and make my resolve to break through Cenwalh’s army lines.

— — —

I wake up at noon, finding that there’s a small wood not very far from us and without any patrols in sight. Cetyz and I move there as it offers better cover. We hunt for the majority of the day at my request, the Princess is more than happy to help me feed the ‘Little one’.

The thought process is that we have a lot of free time and that I need to start camouflaging my left breast in case I encounter Leomi as Elizabeth, and to do that my symbiont needs to stock up on blood.

It didn’t truly matter in Meiridin but those who know me as Elizabeth Vil will definitely notice the absence. I flinch. Leomi might still see me as monstrous even if I give up on the symbiont. She was willing to accept a one-armed peasant girl. Who wasn’t scarred all over her body. I need to get myself an Alemplar’s glove.

Enough, my duty is to bring Cetyz back before thinking of my future with Leomi. I don’t know what it’ll look like but she’s all that I have left tying me to my humanity. Nobility is worthless, the Emperor isn’t the being I thought he was, the Templars are… honorable but they’re stuck inside rigid laws and seem to be the only ones trying to obey them.

I… lost faith in the Empire but I’m not as courageous as my Lady, I don’t have it in me to keep fighting like I have to change it. I want to live my life, to spend at least a year without death or destruction following me every step of the way.

Finding that I’m unable to push my Lady out of my mind, I decide to go hunt for bigger prey to feed my symbiont. It’s been steadily growing but we’re only a night or two away from the front-lines if I go by the number of patrols Cetyz warns me about so I don’t have much time left to gather a surplus of nutriments.

I spot a boar’s tracks and almost turn away, knowing that the hunt of those animals is forbidden, reserved for Nobility. I scoff and follow the marks it left in the dirt, finding it digging through the ground with its snout.

I kill it with a swift air-blade and start prepare it for my symbiont on the spot. I don’t really need to as my limb eats almost anything but it does so a lot faster when I cook it, cut it down in small pieces, and chew it down before handing the meat over.

I got that idea remembering that the workers used to do that for the Rykz as a whole and that birds do so for their fledglings. It takes me a bit longer to cook it but that way I get my share of meat.

Cetyz shows up with a couple of hedgehogs just as I spit a gory mouthful into my gooey left hand. Her head is inclined to the side, seemingly rather baffled. I’m quite thankful that she doesn’t comment.

My symbiont gathers quite a bit of weight throughout the day so I give it the order to start camouflaging the damage it did. It starts slowly pumping blood into the tendrils wrapped around my ribs while pulling back several that took place in my back and side.

Unfortunately, the appendages that fused to my flesh remain. I truly hope Celyz will be able to untangle the mess but I trust that she knows how to handle it considering she forbid my symbiont from fusing with me, it means that she was aware of the possibility. Worst comes to worst, she can cut the flesh off.

We once again leave at nightfall, pushing ourselves to go as fast as possible, which isn’t easy without resting and while trying to avoid patrols as we have to make detours. Cetyz doesn’t have nearly as hard a time as I do, which is a good thing since she’s likely going to be targeted much more than I will be.

After a good seven or eight hours of sprint-leaping through the plains, I catch sight of camp-fires on the dark horizon. They’re set in front of large tents arranged in rows on the side of tall hills. Caeviel’s army.

The camp seems to spread all the way to the coast, through a small forest. I can’t see the entirety of it because of the terrain but the fact that there no sign of the Rykz means they’re being held back so it’s a safe assumption to make.

I catch tiny points of light on fortifications built on top of the tallest hill, likely torches from guards but the fact that it’s the only hill with such a structure might mean that it’s the command center.

I smell Rykz, slightly but many, many humans.” Cetyz speaks up in a worried tone of voice. “Death.”

I can see the human army’s camp. They’re not fighting right now, I think we would hear it if they were.” I reply. “The issue is that the terrain is really uneven.”

We, cross not hard.” Cetyz tells me.

The problem is that I won’t see patrols until it’s too late so we’ll be entirely depending on your sense of smell.” I tell her. “Not only are they aware that you escaped by now, they also won’t lack scouts.”

So, what plan?” She asks impatiently.

The sun will rise before we get to the hills so I suggest we sneak into the forest and wait until tomorrow night.” I propose.

Wait, wait, wait, wait.” Cetyz complains. “Sister there!” She points south.

I want to see her too, Cetyz, but we need to be careful.” I insist.

I smell madness north, south, east, all over! Need go Hive, now.” She counters taking a step forward.

South?” I ask, throwing a look over my shoulder. “I don’t see anything.”

Always lurking behind, catch up day, make night run harder.” She says. “Need go before find, you say more patrols, we caught if delay.”

I thought we’d lost them since they had a lot of ground to cover.” I groan.

Humans slow organize but…” Cetyz trails off, calming down.

How about this, we go into the forest and wait for morning. If the Rykz attack, we make our move. Patrols will need to get very close to spot us in the woods so we’ll be able to take them down before they can escape if we’re found. The worst case would be to fail to take them all out but the solution is to just go straight for the lines.” I argue. “I need to sleep and you need to rest to be in your best shape.”

I enough flow, strike now unaware.” She proposes.

I have no idea how large that army is or how much flow they have, Cetyz. What I do know is that the Emperor sent his Due which means that they’ve likely been using that until it ran out while using their regeneration to build up energy reserves. It would be the smart thing to do. It’s not a good idea to underestimate our enemies.” I argue.

You, protect humans.” She accuses. “You want sneak past, but not possible.”

I am protecting us and yes, I don’t want to slaughter my kind. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I know it won’t be possible to get past without being seen, I’m willing to kill to get you back to your Hive.” I utter angrily. “But attacking in daylight after spending the night running is simply stupid.”

Sorry.” She whispers, taking a step back.

No.” I sigh, disappointed in myself. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

You right, I letting fear misguide.” Cetyz admits. “Should patience, can evade for a while long… ihh!”

I flip around, looking to the north since that’s the direction the wind is blowing from right now, it’s the only way anything could have gotten close enough without the Princess noticing. I hear the sound of hooves striking hard ground before anything else.

There is a squad of twelve mounted soldiers galloping in our direction in a very wide formation, a dip in the terrain concealed them from us, and likely us from them. They wield spears and reinforced shields while wearing in chain-mail. There is a golden crown crest on their tabards, meaning that they’re part of King Cenwalh’s personal army.

We must have been standing exactly between them and their destination for them to have spotted us in with only the tiny bit of light that the sun gives out when it’s about to show itself. Still… why are they charging us, especially uphill?

I get the answer to that question as they split into two groups, obviously gambling on the fact that one of their groups will survive, and likely hoping that we’ll see that as well and give up on pursuing them.

Fat chance of that to happen. Cetyz is already frantically assembling a massive lightning construct despite the fact that they’re at least a hundred meters away, meaning it’ll cost a lot more energy to reach them but it’s not like burning a dozen extra portions matters to us right now.

Try not to kill all the horses.” I tell her in a cold tone. “And don’t make too much…”

Crack. Iiiiiiiiiiiiii. My ears are ringing. I see white and only white. I try to sit down, only to find that I’m already laying down on the ground. By the fucking Lake, Cetyz! They must have heard and seen that all the way to Meiridin.

I can’t see a damn thing.” I groan at the Princess. Iiiiiiiiiiiii. “No, don’t bother answering, I can’t hear you either.”

I assemble a healing construct for my ears while holding my left hand out towards Cetyz. She wraps three of her tendrils around my forearm and pulls me up to my feet. Iiiiiiiiiiiii. I struggle to keep my balance, using her as support to avoid falling down, which explains how I ended up on the ground.

Guide me towards their corpses.” I tell her, or yell, I’m not sure.

She twists and twirls her tendrils around us, releasing a sweet odor. I reach out to my symbiont and it transmits a feeling of urgency and… not regret but something similar, an apology perhaps. Iiiiiiiiiiiii.

It’s fine. Just don’t activate one of these next to my ears again, Cetyz.” I reply.

She points in a direction which should be south since it’s behind me, or west if I fell and turned, or north for all I fucking know with this white light in my eyes. Iiiiiiiiiiiii. Still, I can tell she’s probably thinking of attacking the human lines right now since she just woke everyone up and they’ll be coming after us for breakfast.

We’re not going now, there’s no way we’ll make it before they get a damn regiment equipped to siege us.” I utter flatly. “We’re both grabbing one of their chain-mails and then we run to the forest.”

Iiiiiiiiiiiii.” She replies, or that might just be the damn earsplitting screech I keep hearing.

I have a plan, you’re going to listen and you’re going to execute it!” I snap at her. She pulls a few tendrils back and wraps them around her ovaloid head. “Ah, didn’t mean to yell.” I tell her in a softer tone. “You’re going to make another lightning construct and put enough energy into it that it’ll reach above the hills, that’ll warn the Hive that we’re here. Once they attack, we’ll leave the forest and do our best to pierce through their lines. Nod if you agree, shake your head if you don’t disagree.”

Cetyz starts shaking her head before pausing. She then makes a half-nod before realizing my trick. She turns her ovaloid head straight at me, apparently trying to glare at me or something. Iiiiiiiiiiiii.

Yeah, well, don’t fuck with my ears next time!” I snap. “Now we’re going, we’ll talk when I can hear again!” She nods hesitantly but doesn’t move. “Lead the way! I can’t tell where they fell!”

Cetyz hurriedly nods a few times and pulls on my symbiont, leading me to the north, which was where I thought it was earlier. That’s how freaking awesome I am. I scoff at myself, attracting Cetyz’ attention. I lion step ahead, pulling her along.

It doesn’t take us long to reach the dead soldiers, I even detect the place where the lightning struck from forty meters away because Cetyz thought it would be a good idea to set the grass around them on fire.

She does have the good sense to put the flames out before taking one of the chain-mails to awkwardly set it on, slipping her tendrils inside the short sleeves. After getting one of my shoulders, I consider taking a shield but choose not to so that I’ll conserve my freedom of movement. Not to mention that covering one side isn’t going to help much against an army that can use shredding arrows to break it.

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