Iiiiiiiiiiiii. I still can’t hear much even though the strident sound is dying down, the white veil covering my eyes is dissipating but not very quickly. I would probably have been blinded if I was looking directly at the construct when she activated it.
Cetyz takes a large amount of flow out of her reserve, perhaps a thousand, and starts weaving another lightning construct with it, a huge one. Spotting mistakes I’ve made myself when trying to create a single uninterrupted bolt, I raise my hand up and stop her.
She severs her link to the construct, understanding my intent. I make the corrections, extending the timer segment and arranging for the path of charged air to be larger so that it doesn’t branch out.
I give it back, letting her finish the construct while I watch for mistakes. Once Cetyz is done, she sends the construct up into the air. I turn towards where I remember seeing the forest, in the south-west behind a fortification on the hills, and lead Cetyz there.
My knees are painful, my calves’ muscles are seizing, not to mention my empty stomach, or my burning lungs. The most annoying thing is the weighty chain-mail scuffing against my flesh, shoulders and breasts but I’m quite happy about having both again.
Cetyz seems to be having a similar problem as she’s constantly moving her tendrils to adjust her chain-mail. I would have stolen their leather armors but most were damaged in some way, some even had blade marks.
I push through, we don’t have much time before they send cavalry after us. A loud crack that turns into a continuous buzzing roar makes it through the strident ring in my ears, coming from Cetyz’ lightning construct which is discharging its energy in a bolt that is likely illuminating the morning sky.
It doesn’t last, the path of charged air is wide and the distance it has to travel long, probably seven or eight hundred meters to reach the fortified hills. There’s no way the Rykz missed it.
After a few minutes of running, some vague sounds reach my ears so I enhance my hearing despite it worsening the ringing. Iiiiiiiiiiiii. There are people screaming. Are the Rykz already attacking? No, too soon and too close.
The Princess likely struck the army directly to signal her Hive. I feel torn about the unnecessary loss of life. At what point do my means stop justifying my ends? Is it a mere calculation? Can I justify killing hundreds to prevent a thousand potential deaths? I don’t think anyone should have that right, yet that’s the choice I’ve made.
I shake my head, having gone too far to backtrack. At least there’s no way Celyz will think I did that so she’ll know it came from her sister. After a while of cruising through the hills, I sense Cetyz assembling and activating another lightning construct likely to take pursuers out.
It’s not as powerful as the first one she used, she isn’t as panicked or surprised. As my sight recovers, I sift through the blurs, interpreting from them that we’re closing in on the forest but that there are already squads of foot-soldiers heading there from the army’s camp.
It would be easier to evade mounted troops in the woods but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Instead of continuing south-west once we get past the first trees, I head straight west towards the coast as it’ll cover one of our flanks.
But the first priority is to find a place to rest as I’m too exhausted to keep going for much longer. As we get deeper, I notice that many of the smallest trees in the south have been cut down so I edge north to find a thicker part of the forest.
“… south.” Cetyz says.
“Didn’t catch, the start, are there, soldiers?” I ask, out of breath.
“Ys.” She nods.
“Horses?” I question.
“Ys, many.” She replies.
“Alright, we’re stopping to rest and then taking them out.” I decide, slowing down. “They sent foot-soldiers ahead and now the cavalry is following.”
“Maybe thousands.” She warns.
“Can you defend yourself if we charge in?” I ask, letting the ridiculous number pass me by.
“Doubt.” She tells me, shivering. “Strike afar.”
“I think we stand a better chance at dispersing them if we get inside their ranks than get into a long distance exchange of constructs, especially since there’s likely to be several Nobles who’ll use different constructs at once, making it difficult to block them all.” I tell her. “Not to mention that they have to have defenses against lightning constructs.” I argue.
“Other one hit.” She tells me. “Hear result.”
“You likely overwhelmed what they had.” I nod. “I don’t know, it seems risky because they can use disruption constructs to defend against my air-blades.”
“You, not know?” She asks.
“You likely have more knowledge about the constructs humans use than I do.” I tell her. “Far as I know, we mostly use flow to improve our weapons, boost our ability to fight, and defend against constructs but rarely offensively.”
“Is right but not mean humans never do.” She replies. “I hear Rykz on march, harvesters first.”
“Is that unusual?” I ask.
“Yes, they best at break defenses but warriors usually take lead.” Cetyz explains.
“How long do I have to recover?” I ask.
“Humans moving together so they be while to reach.” She answers.
“Okay, we’re walking towards the north-west so we can recover. We’ll then travel south along the coast and try to flank them by using trees as cover. With any luck, we’ll be able to surprise them.” I tell her.
We make our way north but, after a few minutes, Cetyz warns me that there are foot-soldiers entering the woods from the south-east and going north-west like we are, forcing us to head west sooner than I’d like. The good news is that my eyes have finally recovered.
“You should start preparing your Quake construct to affect a cone from here to the south.” I tell her. “Try to focus on a large area rather than doing damage so their reinforcements are also slowed down.”
“You take horse?” She asks.
“I’ll try, if it doesn’t work, I think you’ll have to go on ahead while I follow at my pace.” I inform her.
“I not leave Little one, or you, behind.” Cetyz denies a bit too forcefully. It seems to me that her objection is moral but that her instincts are telling her to run towards freedom.
“You’ll have a much better chance of reaching the Rykz if I run interference while you go ahead without needing to match my pace.” I insist. “This is my call to make and there will there will be no time to discuss this once we’re engaged, I need you to focus on getting back to the Hive.”
“I, but…” She hesitates.
“You have enough regeneration to match a Queen, once you rejoin with your sister, that’ll be plenty to tip the scales in the Rykz’ favor.” I affirm. “If I don’t make it, you’ll be able to negotiate for my release, okay?”
“I… you sure?” She asks.
“I am.” I nod, avoiding to mention the fact that I would rather die than surrender to Nobility. “Once you’re back, make sure you remind Celyz of the deal we made.” I add, ensuring that Celyz will order the retreat, ending the war here and now, whether I survive or not.
“What deal?” Cetyz asks.
“She promised me that my home would be freed.” I tell her. “And no, she didn’t threaten me with that, I’m the one who insisted on those terms.”
“You… help me because that?” She asks, sounding hurt.
“I…” I pause. “It’s complicated.” I lamely say, trying to avoid saying that Celyz gave me the symbiont on the condition that I free her since it doesn’t really reflect well on me or on Celyz.
“Ask reward, greed. I wrong you mad human.” She utter with resounding anger, storming ahead. “You not Hive.”
“Cetyz, wait!” I call, chasing after her. “I needed to help my people, I used what I found out about the symbiont’s intelligence to get that deal!”
“I understand.” She declares, turning around while snapping her tendrils. “But you, lie, lie, lie. Never full truth!”
“I honestly would have helped you, Cetyz.” I tell her.
“I, believe, but still not telling all!” She spouts.
“Your sister weren’t friends at the start, we had our differences because she…” Manipulated me and didn’t tell me everything, which is the reproach you’re making towards me… shit. “We don’t have time for the whole story, just… please trust me?” I plead.
“You save, I trust.” She says, exhaling loudly. “But you survive and then tell all, promise.”
“I… No.” I refuse firmly. “You need to ask Celyz, I can’t talk on her behalf because I don’t know her reasons and I really don’t want to be stuck between the two of you.”
“Can tell sister she need tell all because you say so?” She asks.
“If that’ll satisfy you, yes.” I nod.
“She no excuse silent if you agree.” Cetyz tells me.
“Alright, can you promise me you’ll speak about the deal to our sister if I’m late, it’s really important.” I insist.
“Ys, but no need, you, I, Little one, stronger.” She boasts.
I nod, knowing that she’s saying so to pump herself up. We resume making our way to the coast, finding a steep cliff down which the forest continues. I take a seat to rest while making our preparations.
Cetyz takes an extremely dense collection of segments out of her body and starts shaping them into a construct. It makes me wonder why I also do so at times, using my eyes instead of creating the construct inside my body where I have a sharper control over my flow. Probably because it’s easier to see mistakes when I use my memory of what it should look like.
I prepare my air-shield bubble by removing the lower portion so that it doesn’t eat into the ground when I anchor the construct around me. I then copy it and give that one to Cetyz.
“I can’t sense through.” She tells me.
“You can change the shape to cover only your back and sides.” I tell her, making the change to my own. “I would anchor it to your head so it moves where you look but don’t forget that you’ll be vulnerable to attacks from the front.”
I then work on the lightning sphere which will counter air-blades, charging a layer of air around the bubble and enclosing it in another air-bubble construct which served to keep the charged air in place. It’s a bit of a chore but isn’t too complex to do.
“It easier to use Vuskyt armor.” She tells me.
“Well, this is all we have.” I reply a bit sharply. “Be careful not to use too much energy with the lightning construct or it’ll break the air shells that are keeping the charged air in place around you.”
“One thicker than other.” She notes.
“That’s because I made the exterior one in such a way that air-blades can pass through so that the lightning can break them at a lower cost of energy. It’s only purpose is to keep the diffuse charged air inside.” I explain.
“Smart, I think no human use.” She says.
“It’s pretty wasteful to be honest.” I tell her. “I’ve went through fifty portions to make those six constructs for the two of us but they’ll last a while.”
“Fifty not much.” She says.
“Fifty human portions, it’s more than you give drones.” I correct, taking one portion out to show her.
“You need more.” She declares, taking a large blob of about a couple hundred portions out.
“No, you’re going to be attacked a lot more.” I tell her.
“Humans all fear Rykz, at least a bit, but some, hate you.” She says, cutting her link to the flow.
I lose my voice, stunned by her words and the truth in them. I still try to give it back but she shakes her head. I give up in the interest of saving time, and perhaps my life. I store most of it inside my weapon which evens out the balance between black and gold flow.
I think I’ve been losing almost an entire portion of energy every few hours because I’ve concentrated it so much inside the weapon. It matters little considering we’re on a short time-frame.
I finish my preparations by making defensive constructs for both our chain-mails. Cetyz works on assembling the segments into her quake construct, putting the last touches just as we start hearing our pursuers closing in on us from the east. She compresses it into a tiny spiked ball that looks darker than a moonless night.
We depart south at a jogging pace, following the coastal cliff. A few squads spot us from far away because of the constructs surrounding us but the woods are too thick to use arrows or constructs to attack us, not that anything other than a disruption construct would have worked considering how dispersed they are.
They still force us to gradually accelerate our running pace and I soon start regulating my breaths again as I didn’t have much time to rest and I’ve been up for close to twenty hours straight.
We encounter the first mounted soldiers who are scouring the forest in a dispersed formation. They turn around as soon as they catch sight of us, they have matching tabards with red spear crests but everything else about them is mismatched, from weapons, to armor, to their horses which are from different races.
Mercenaries, I think I encountered members of their group in Meria. Fuck am I glad that they’re not Templars. Cetyz raises one of her tendrils, reaching out of her protective constructs to attack but I raise my hand and she stops, turning her head to me.
“Keep your energy for defense, piercing through, or using unstructured flow if they use a wide-ranging disruption construct.” I tell her.
“Ys.” She nods.
“Is your quake construct ready?” I ask.
“Need time to send deep, but ys.” She tells me. “It less powerful when redirect impact in cone.” She adds.
“I’m not too worried about those behind us.” I tell her. “They can’t push their mounts at full speed in the forest.”
“Neither we.” She notes.
“We’re still faster than mounted and foot soldiers.” I reply, jumping over a tree stump.
I throw a look around, the spherical constructs moving along with my head. The mounted patrols are all retreating as far as I can see, they’re headed in a common direction while keeping their distances with us.
With the forest clearing out, I catch sight of hundreds of mounted soldiers in a clearing, they’re organizing themselves in ranks, facing in our direction. A few on the front-lines spot us and raise their spears or swords, and shields for those who have them. They cry out in alarm.
“Send it down now, there’s a cavalry regiment ahead.” I tell the Princess.
Cetyz brings out the tiny ball of spikes at the end of one of her tendrils, raises the appendage, and lowers it at frightening speed towards the ground. She releases the construct half-way into the arc, launching it in a downwards diagonal trajectory.
It should arrive beneath the mercenaries’ feet before long so I prepare a few lion’s steps to leap past the incoming quake. As we approach the regiment of cavalry, it becomes clear that they’re waiting for us to enter the clearing where they set camp before charging us.
There is a group of officers, their uniforms have a golden crown under a golden lion, signifying them as King Cenwalh’s emissaries. I assemble a lightning construct, planning to take them out which should make it easier to rout the mercenaries.
The horses ahead start neighing and the ground starts shaking a second later. Rrrrrmmmmmbbblllll. The mercenaries’ ranks break as the riders try to control their mounts which are trying to escape.
Boom. The soil suddenly bursts up and the earth cracks all around us. Cetyz takes a few more steps before leaping over a fissure that barely formed. I imitate her, jumping as far ahead as I can. Human screams mix in with the noise that the horses are making.
A thick cloud of dust rises, obstructing my sight, so I rely on my sense to land. Cetyz is still up in the air, and she will be for a few more seconds. I hit the ground running, stumbling on the unstable surface.
I detect horses fleeing to my left and right, likely taking the shortest path to escape the earthquake. Two of them are dragging mercenaries whose feet got stuck in their stirrups. I leap again before losing my footing, going past a dozen mercenaries trying to control their mounts.
Cetyz lands just as the tremor recedes, almost fully bending her knees to absorb the impact. I, on the other hand, am headed straight for a fissure so I quickly rotate my defensive constructs to take a step on the bubble and launch myself a little bit further.
The cold wind clears the dust out rather quickly, revealing more details about the spectacle of devastation. Tents crumble down, trees fell, panicked horses stomped on their riders, there are even a few mercenaries who injured themselves or others in the chaos.
More importantly, they can see us now but they’re barely gathering themselves so Cetyz and I take advantage to plunge deeper into their ranks, shifting past the first few ranks without trouble.
We slow down as we run into a heavy concentration of fallen horses and mercenaries as those who were on the outside ran or spread out but these couldn’t. A woman takes a shot at me from the group but her point goes through the outer layer of my shielding constructs without reaching the solid core.
It seems to encourage others who apparently think that the flow is a bluff who move to block us. Cetyz charges through, ignoring or plainly not detecting those to her side. Several underestimate her speed and they run into the mostly black sphere of energy.
The impact throws them back, knocking several unconscious. One mercenary’s blade is flung back into his own face. The shock destabilizes her but she recovers very quickly, likely having used her tail to correct her course.
I use a series of lion’s steps to avoid those who haven’t noticed what happened to the rest. They do manage to land a few blows on the bubble but their weapons bounce off without doing any damage.
A bulky man throws a golden glowing spear at me, which is almost impossible to avoid considering how large of a target I am right now. I strike it down with the lightning construct I prepared in fear that it could be an armor-piercing construct.
I’m pretty sure it would go through the shield but the problem is whether or not it’ll break the entire shell. I use my sense to scan the area for threats, finding out that, while it seems like a lot of mercenaries are attacking us, most are still recovering.
The tears in the ground are getting larger as we go through the clearing and I find more and more people stuck in the ground, some with broken legs. Cetyz is rushing ahead of me by stepping on whatever human or horse get in her way, leaving a bloody trail behind her.