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The Rykz’ breathing cries resounding through the valleys feel welcoming, like I’m returning home, motivating me to make my way across the hill faster. A difficult proposal considering that the concentration of mercenaries in my immediate surroundings has been steadily growing despite how many groups I’ve scattered.

The closer I get to the Princess, the more I realize that she’s locked into her engagement and, while she doesn’t seem to be losing, she isn’t winning either. The Nobles she’s facing are using flow so liberally that it can only mean they’re not afraid to run out, although they’re not burning through as much as Cetyz is.

The situation is actually slightly worse than I thought, the defenders’ tactics are better than hers. They took the initiative from her and are using it to throw a variety of constructs at her, keeping her off-balance and making full use of the blow-back to our bodies when the air-shield blocks an attack.

Luckily, the ballistas on top of the fortifications were damaged by the earthquake so they can’t use them against her and those on top of the other hills are firing towards the Rykz army, they might simply not be able to turn all the way to the side, or consider there would be too many friendly casualties if they did, or the Princess simply isn’t the biggest threat around.

I finally reach the bottom of the hill, already exhausted despite my symbiont’s help but not so much that I have to stop. I charge a squad of mercenaries wielding spiked maces since they shoot fewer arrows in my direction when I’m close to troops of theirs.

I could recreate an air-shield but it makes me an easier target and the Nobles uphill have more energy than I can handle, or at least they’re not restraining their use of flow.

My symbiont detects a small volley of projectiles aimed at my back just as I’m about to hit the mercenary line. I raise my right foot and lion’s step one of their shields, arresting my forward momentum and throwing myself back.

This is exactly what I was trying to avoid but I guess my tactic is quite obvious. The arrows impact the middle of the squad, splintering the thick shields. Damn, they must have gambled on that volley to hit because that must have taken quite a bit of flow for a normal human.

One man fails to block and receives one of the projectiles in his right arm. It explodes in a red mist, the forearm falls to the ground, fingers still gripped around his spiked mace’s handle. I recover my footing and charge forward again, easily breaking through their line while they’re in shock.

I immediately push my lion’s steps to the back of my mind and start shaping air-shields around my left arm as there’s no way my symbiont can tank these kinds of arrows without help.

I leave the upper shoulder and wrist down to the hand free so that the construct doesn’t hinder the limb’s range of movements or ability to sense the surroundings. I would add a couple sharp claws to it but that would make it harder to handle my double-bladed staff.

A dozen mercenaries gather further uphill also trying to prevent me from going further. Their regiment is entirely in chaos, they don’t even have officers in a position to coordinate their orders, meaning that only a fraction of their fighters are moving to hinder me, yet these low numbers are plenty to slow me down.

I charge before they can form up, considering that the archers behind me are unlikely to try the same tactic again immediately after their recent failure. I lean forward, bringing my weapon back in my left hand just in case they still fire a volley and also to counterbalance this stance, basically using it like a Princess’ tail.

As I accelerate, the mercenaries fan out, abandoning their previous plan of blocking me with a tight formation. I keep going head first, focusing fully on my sense to assess my opponents.

Two with swords on the outside, one with a mace and one with an axe. These four have enough reach to hit me. I kick to my left, avoiding a vertical slash. The other three attack as soon as I do, one in front two to my left.

I swing my left arm from my back to my front, parrying the mace. I use the rotating movement to spin out of the way of the other sword while the one with the axe misses me entirely.

The maneuvers destroyed my running stance so I place my right palm on the ground to avoid hitting it, using that point of support as a fulcrum to, along with my speed, lion strike myself off the ground.

I fly past the four mercenaries with a one-handed cartwheel while laughing my heart out. I land in the middle of their squad and pass my double-bladed staff behind my back, making it spin around my torso to build momentum while transferring the lightning-armor-piercing construct to my weapon.

They turn to me, bringing their shields first. I apply a lion strike with an extended duration to my arms and start altering the arc of my staff so the blade blocks the advancing mercenaries’ path.

They exchange glances and take a coordinated step, placing their shields in my weapon’s way. To my delight, and their horrified surprise, my blades slice through the thick steel reinforced wood like there isn’t anything there, not even defensive constructs.

A couple cry out and fall back, dropping what’s left of their shields to hold their mutilated left hands. I immediately deactivate the construct to hide how little energy it consumed to reach this effect.

I pass my weapon from my right hand to my left, continuing to rotate the staff around my torso but this time extending my arm out to widen my reach. Two more mercenaries are caught by surprise when the weapon’s blades find their throats.

Slicing through the hard leather armor protecting their necks slows my weapon down, allowing their comrades to raise their swords and block. They gain enough time to exchange glances by stopping my attack and start retreating as a unit.

I charge past them as soon as they clear the way to the top of the hill, blocking one of their probing attacks to my back with the air-shield over my left arm. I lion’s step uphill as fast as I can, angling my course left and right to dodge arrows and mercenaries as I head towards Cetyz.

My symbiont slaps a few projectiles that come too close, which brings my flow reserves even lower. I’m going to run short if I don’t hurry. Just as I think that, a fireball flies out from the top of the hill towards me.

I angle my course to the side to avoid it but the construct turns to follow me. I swear but am not too worried as it apparently isn’t capable of making sharp turns so I should be able to dodge it.

I let the fireball get closer before sharply slowing down and kicking the ground with my left foot, propelling myself aside. The construct hits the group. Froosh. A large blaze flashes out of the point of impact, covering a wide area and catching me in mid-air.

The shock sends me flying. I cling to my weapon as I lose sense of up and down. I hit the ground hard and start tumbling downhill. Luckily, or not, I don’t hit any rocks unearthed by the quake and roll down to the bottom, coming out of it with mere bruises.

Another loud explosion ensues, coming from atop the hill. Cetyz just destroyed the top of the hill and is sliding down on chunks of earth and broken fortifications, the soldiers don’t have her balance or ability to root themselves and end up buried by the avalanche. She lost the shielding constructs but I would guess she made the choice of her own will since she doesn’t appear injured.

Mercenaries fall in ranks around me and I can hear cavalry galloping over from the… east. I slowly get up as I catch my breath, getting ready for a hard fight, possibly one where I’ll have to sacrifice my newly recovered left breast which would make it a lot harder to lie to Leomi. For now, I only tell my limb to keep me going.

The dozen with spears bring them back over their shoulders, preparing to throw them at me. I grin and entirely give up on controlling my left limb, trusting it to defend those I fail to dodge.

They make a slight pause, likely activating constructs and launch them in concert. I kick the ground, charging forward and to the right to those aimed at my center mass. My limb manages to parry a couple in one swing while the defensive construct on my chain-mail blocks one.

I angle my torso and head to the side, avoiding two and bring my right arm up, deviating the last that was thrown. My hand stings as it’s not like I could precisely choose how to hit it but it doesn’t seem like I broke anything.

The mercenaries charge immediately, having half-expected me to manage. Those who threw their weapons fall back and pick up someone else’s. I activate my lightning-armor-piercing construct and leap to the nearest mercenaries.

Space out! Don’t let her screw your formation!” Someone yells.

Too late and you just made them hesitate. I hit one of the mercenaries with my left shoulder, throwing her back. I then swing my weapon sideways, striking high to my right, cutting a sword in two, and low to my left, severing an extended wrist.

I let a handful of mercenaries approach and stab at my back and sides, unable to find the space to swing their weapons. I bring my staff back, trusting my chain-mail to hold, and launch a horizontal hundred-eighty degree slash, which makes a full rotation with this weapon.

Four mercenaries die, five bodies drop, one got too close and was sliced in half at the waist. I groan from the pain of taking in their blows but it bought me enough space and time.

I assemble and activate a large lightning construct, showering the immediate area in bolts. A good third of my opponents drop, I notice that those who threw spears are among them.

Charge! I’ll activate a disruption field!” A man yells.

The mercenaries hesitate and, despite the call to the contrary from the back, start pulling away from me. I throw a glance towards the voice, finding the group Cenwalh’s officers that were with the regiment of cavalry.

I bend my knees and spread my feet, lowing my stance to prepare to go after him if he does get that close to me or run if they try to use a wider-reaching one than the runic one I saw on the sword.

You don‘t want to fight me.” I threaten. “I’m in a hurry, so I won’t be showing pity.” I add, seizing back control of my voice.

My words shake them but they keep their eyes on my trunk and legs, having learned not to underestimate me. I need to act before they get their shit together, before the cavalry arrives.

I take fifty portions out of my reserve and start shaping four air-blades in the open and at the same time. The mercenaries pull back further, their eyes glaze over, telling me that they’re preparing to defend by using their flow which isn’t the reaction I was looking for.

They’re afraid enough to disregard orders but not so much that they’ll break ranks. They don’t have rookie gaze, these are people who have fought for their lives before so they’re not likely to rout when they can hear reinforcements on their way.

Twang. Fuck, arrows. I pull my air-blades around myself, blocking a volley that flies just over the mercenaries’ heads, coming from every direction. My constructs manage to protect me but that’s barely good news.

I hear movement so I turn my constructs back horizontally, preparing to launch them. I find that the mercenaries have dispersed, opening a path for a hundred mounted soldiers charging at me in a diamond formation.

Edusa is riding at the head, she is wearing a plate armor but not her helmet. I freeze, stunned, completely taken by surprise. Her traits harden as she catches sight of the carnage surrounding me and pretty much the entire camp.

Shoot her, shoot Elizabeth Vil!” Cenwalh’s officer snaps.

The voice tears me out of my daze and I angle two air-blades to cover my back while aiming the others at Edusa. She locks eyes with me and brings the guard of her sword against the left side of her chest.

I pause, finding it odd. She then brings her sword up to her lips before pointing it at me… no not at me, over my shoulder, towards the man who just yelled, the Noble who wants the mercenaries to take me out before she arrives, likely to take full credit.

I decide to take a gamble and trust her since I’m already is a shitty situation and there isn’t that much difference between fighting her and the mercenaries, I might actually prefer to get a shot at taking her out if she turns on me.

I turn my back on Edusa’s charge and launch one of my air-blades into the mercenaries’ ranks to clear the way to the group of officers. The construct shred through few of them as they’ve been fanning out and retreating but it’s enough.

I push myself as hard as I can, angling the air-blades to cover my flanks and back while preparing to those to my left and right straight at the officers. Edusa and her people are audibly gaining ground on me.

I really hope I’m not serving myself over on a silver platter, that she isn’t also planning to claim full credit in taking me down, or isn’t acting on jealousy, or taking revenge, or settling the score between us. The list goes on.

The mercenaries are moving out of my way as quickly as they can, and not just because I’m a threat but also because there are a hundred horses galloping after me that aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

A short woman decides to try her luck at stealing the bounty and tries to destabilize me by bashing me with her shield as I lion’s step past her, holding her sword behind it and ready to strike.

I slash at her with my staff, cutting the upper part of her shield with the lower blade. She tries to stab me before the upper blade of my weapon lands but I add a burst of energy into the lion strike, boosting the speed just enough that I land my second hit first, severing her right forearm.

My staff’s lower blade hits my back, destroying the defensive construct on my chain-mail and leaving a small gash in my back. Ah, shit. I don’t let this distract me and launch two of my air-blades at the officers while directing the last one to crash into the ground behind me.

It cuts through a few tens of centimeters at which point I shatter it myself to create a cloud of dust to my back. One of the officers confidently raises his sword, activating the runic construct.

The other two air-blades burst but the officers are all pushed back by the released air. I immediately recover the flow and dismantle my lightning-armor-piercing construct, accelerating even more.

My targets start panicking a little as they vainly try to recover their stances before I arrive. I snort and shift my grip, taking hold of the lower end of my staff. They raise their weapons in time so I lion strike low, cutting deeply into their shins.

Before they can even fall down, I crash into them, throwing them back and to the side. I rush the one holding the sword up. His eyes widen and he drops the weapon to run away. I bring my weapon over my shoulder and throw it at his back, impaling him.

I then shift aside and plant my feet on the ground, scraping to a stop next to the sword. I lean down and pull the handle with my left hand while placing my right foot on the middle of the blade where I can see small runes. Clink. It snaps in half.

Two of the officers, two Lords if I go by the jewelry on their uniforms, rush at me, swords high. I assemble a lightning construct and strike both down. Noticing that I can’t hear the charge any longer, I assemble a few more to deal with the rest of the officers.

With them all dead, or unconscious, I recover my double-bladed staff and start jogging to the south, deciding to use the dust cloud to my advantage before it dissipates.

I am Duchess Hetlan! Move aside!” Edusa orders authoritatively.

You charged us!” A man replies angrily.

You got in the way, mongrel!” She snaps. “Get out of my way!”

Where’s the bounty?” He asks, apparently not addressing Edusa but definitely ignoring her command.

You’ll be paid for her capture, but not if you keep blocking my way!” Edusa growls.

Retreat!” The man orders immediately with relief in his voice.

I shake my head, baffled. I’m pretty sure Edusa is helping, likely taking advantage of the fact that Cenwalh’s officers can no longer countermand her orders to get rid of the mercenaries.

I assemble another air-shield around my left arm as I jog uphill. Cetyz is doing better, she lost ground earlier but that was her own doing. She took a few of the titled Nobles out of the fight as far as I can tell.

She’s using a large spherical lightning construct to destroy most constructs coming her way while blocking those unaffected with a large shield of ice. She’s learning, I’m so proud. I didn’t actually teach her, which I now realize is a stupid oversight.

I throw a glance over my shoulder, finding that Edusa and her soldiers are barely untangling themselves from a messy situation with dozens of mercenaries lost in their ranks. Heh, smart, doesn’t even look like anyone died, she must have changed direction and slowed when I made that cloud of dust.

I absentmindedly block an arrow with my left arm, focused on pushing my tired body onward. As I climb, the chain-mail shifts, the links manage to pinch my right nipple through my shirt. I yelp in surprise and angrily pull the thing off since I broke the construct anyway. With that weight off my shoulders, I manage to go a little faster.

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