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I slowly wake up to the sound of water being disturbed, not too alarmed as my limb would have warned me if it was a human. I open my eyes and firmly close them immediately after, having found Celyz slowly entering the pool with a towel held in her tendrils.

Seeing her in these circumstances exacerbates the fact that both of us are naked. I can’t risk it right now, not when I’m pissed at Leomi, not when my eyes locked onto her tail and hips within mere moments.

Watching her with my sense makes it easier because I don’t quite connect to what I detect but not by much since my symbiont definitely does and it’s making its desire to hold her known, quite vividly. I stop myself from lingering too long in the warmth of the feelings that Celyz evokes in us both.

Jessica.” She says carefully.

I’m, uh.” I hesitate, focusing on my sense.

Here.” She tells me, extending the towel at me.

I take it and plunge it into the water, wrapping it around my body. She slowly goes down the ramp and takes position not far from me, sitting down on her ankles which brings the water up to her chin.

I thank the lake that the water seems to be smothering the effect of pheromones because, if what the Little one is transmitting to me is accurate, she isn’t indifferent at all to the fact that we’re alone.

Do you feel more comfortable?” She asks.

Yea, thanks.” I reply. “You’re not with your sister?” I ask.

I wanted to ho… to meet you.” She replies. “And Cetyz wished for some space to meet and speak to our other sisters.”

Hm.” I nod. “How long was I asleep?”

A few hours.” Celyz tells me. “Do not worry, Hikyz set an escort of warriors around so that no one would disturb you.”

I carefully open my eyes and look around, finding that there is a very long line of Rykz surrounding the pool. I carefully turn to Celyz, setting sight on her ovaloid head and finding the arrangement of her breathing openings along with the shape to be graceful, attractive. She seems calmer.

You look well.” I say.

I am.” She reaches out and displaces my mask with one of her tendrils. “Your cheek.”

Lisilese.” I tell her. “Didn’t quite see it coming.”

It suits you.” She tells me in a gentle voice.

Don’t worry, I’m past caring about each individual scar.” I smile. “How have you been?”

I am quite happy now.” Celyz replies.

You’re avoiding the question.” I frown.

It was difficult after I found out that you were attacked.” She admits. “Leomi Lance and I have had a few arguments, your message arrived in time for us to… reconcile, somewhat.”

I shiver, remembering what happened on the ship. I stand on the tip of my toes, experiencing a return of my fear of drowning. I battle the feelings but still decide to move closer to the ramp, just in case.

What is wrong?” Celyz asks, worried.

Just bad memories.” I reply, trying to sound casual.

She edges closer and extends a few tendrils out underwater, stopping short of touching me. Her movements seem quite uncertain, our sense don’t detect things underwater as clearly as in the air.

Can I hug you, just for a bit, my friend?” She asks carefully.

That would be nice.” I agree, moving closer.

She takes a single long step towards me and eagerly wraps her tendrils around my waist, pulling me in close to hold me tight. I pass my arms behind her back and squeeze her against my chest, exhaling in relief as my worries and fear fly away.

You, smell nice. Like autumn.” I mutter in a slightly shaky voice.

Uh.” Celyz nods. “I missed you so much. It was not easy to follow your directions not to escalate but I did my best.”

Thank you.” I tell her from the bottom of my heart.

My left hand edges towards her tail, I should be stopping it but the truth is that my symbiont isn’t acting entirely on its own desires. I caress the side of it, brushing against her thigh with the back of my hand in the process. She slowly swipes along, welcoming the touch. Our breaths grow rough.

We…” I start.

Should…” She continues.

Probably…” I add.

“Separate.” She finishes.

We split very slowly, both of us letting our appendages linger on the other’s body for just a moment longer than needed. I resent the loss of her soothing presence but I started to cross a line. She does wrap a single tendril around my symbiont’s forearm.

You were burnt… again.” She notes with more than a little concern.

Yea, I’m… fine though. We both are.” I add.

I was so afraid that woman captured you.” Celyz says.

She, did.” I tell Celyz who tenses at the words. “But she was trying to help, not entirely altruistically, but not entirely selfishly either. I freed myself in the end and she helped liberate your sister, I wouldn’t have made it without her.”

There is a lot we need to discuss.” Celyz tells me.

Agreed but…” I hesitate.

Not alone.” She agrees. “We are not very good at being friends.” She says sadly.

It’s your fault, you’re too much of a beauty.” I grin.

Ih.” Celyz squeaks, apparently caught entirely off-guard by the compliment.

I cover my mouth with my palm, finding the sound too cute, too attractive. I try my best to recover my distraught breath. She sits back down on her ankles, tendrils wrapping around her torso, looking so vulnerable it takes my entire force of will not to approach and hold her.

S, sorry.” I mumble.

N, no, it…” Cetyz stutters. “Makes me very happy.”

Don’t say that, with you like this, it’s way too hard to resist. I take an involuntary step towards her. She hurriedly stops me with her tendrils, taking obvious care not to touch even the towel with the tips.

“Do not, breathe too deeply, we need a moment.” She says, exhaling.

R, right.” I agree. “A long moment.”

I almost assemble an air-blade to scatter the pheromones the three of us are undoubtedly releasing but somehow feel that it would be insulting to do so. I instead take a long slow breath, filling my lungs up to a third. Celyz and I take a good few minutes to settle.

Idali.” I speak up, knowing that we need another subject than us and unwilling to delay. “The woman sent by the council, is she…”

She is alive.” Celyz tells me. “But had not recovered as of a week ago, it is about the time it takes for Mother to get news to us.”

Oh, thank the lake.” I sigh, letting my back rest against the side of the pool.

Idali has accepted to become our agent in the Empire.” Celyz informs me. “She had many grave injuries. Mother had to alter the symbiont because she refused amputation.”

That’s… good.” I say. “That she can remain in the Empire.”

Mother would not have allowed her to follow us. Unlike you, she is not comfortable with Rykz.” Celyz explains.

I…” I pause, not willing to breach the topic of my future yet. “How bad is it?”

Her right leg rotted, we had to cut deep but her symbiont will be able to adapt.” Celyz assures me. “Many of her torso’s muscles won’t heal because the symbiont consumed them but they were already damaged so it isn’t a loss for her since it will take over these functions.”

She, won’t be able to live without it, will she?” I ask carefully.

No, she survived her injuries because Mother expended quite a bit of unstructured flow to sustain her.” Celyz explains. “The implantation did not hit her quite as hard as you, however, we have learned from your success.”

Did you, um… talk to Cetyz about…” Us. I hesitate and change the subject. “She wasn’t quite approving of making use of a symbiont.”

She has expressed as much.” Celyz nods. “My behavior with regards to you when we first met was dishonest. We have not yet discussed the subject in depth, but we will Jessica.”

You’re not going to apologize to me?” I ask, trying to tease but ending up sounding awkward.

You broke my knee, Elizabeth Vil.” Celyz replies with a smile in her resounding voice. “And, while it can be said that I manipulated you, I never lied to you and my attempts to bring you to our side over that…” Celyz pauses, obviously stopping short of insulting Leomi. “My attempts to make you abandon Caeviel weren’t solely motivated by our interests. I wanted, and I still do, to offer you a better life. I did hide many things from you, but there are secrets I could not reveal before you agreed, and others I still cannot.”

I’m sorry about the knee.” I say, feeling guilty.

It is fine, my friend.” Celyz replies soothingly. “I was at fault for pushing you so hard so quickly.”

You should push harder, Leomi might not stand a chance. No! I smother the thought, shivering in actual fear. I pull away and rush back up the ramp, holding the towel tightly around my breasts as I grab my old clothes.

Jessica?” Celyz speaks up in concern.

I’m just still reeling.” I reply, trying to sound normal.

Okay.” She whispers. “Your symbiont is a lot better at expressing itself.”

Oh?” I ask, freezing. “What is it… saying?”

I am not sure, it is dissatisfied about something.” She tells me.

Ah.” I relax a little. “I knelt, it disagreed.”

She doesn’t treat you right.” Celyz says with anger.

I’m not excusing her when I say this, but… I lied to her, a lot, and I will keep doing so. It’s partly my fault that she needs more than my word to trust me.” I explain.

You shouldn’t lie.” Celyz acknowledges. “But she’s incapable of patience.”

While you’re very patient.” I note.

I… yes, but I was not trying to…” She hesitates. “No, it was a way to show you how different I am.”

And I appreciate that.” I smile. “But Leomi and I have a different relationship than we do.”

You forgive her because you are together.” Celyz says sourly.

No, it’s not about forgiveness, I’ll make her pay.” I shake my head. “If that wasn’t an option, I probably wouldn’t have knelt.”

She demeaned you for her own gain.” Celyz declares disapprovingly as she climbs out of the pool.

That’s not entirely true.” I deny.

It is part of the truth.” Celyz insists, approaching me.

It isn’t entirely for her own benefit, she is trying to change the way peasantry is treated, she needs power for that.” I say, pulling my clothes to my chest. “And if Elizabeth Vil kneeling to her grants her that, then we are on the same wavelength.”

Leomi Lance is a being obsessed with imposing her will. I believe she is lying about her ambitions of equality among humans.” Celyz declares.

…” I fall silent, finding no response to the accusation and quite terrified about how much sense it would make if Celyz is right. “No, I don‘t believe that.” I had faith in the Emperor. “But, I’ll keep it in mind, my friend.” I add.

That is all I can ask.” Celyz nods sadly.

You’re not holding her prisoner anymore.” I note.

You’re back.” Celyz says in a joyful tone that doesn’t last as she continues. “Much as I want to keep you away from her, she can have the rope she needs to hang herself… and you would resent me for interfering.”

Thank you, I know it can’t be easy.” I say, very aware of how hard it must be after having felt her affection for me when she linked to my symbiont.

You freed my sister.” She shakes her ovaloid head. “By the way, I have clothes for you.” She suddenly says, angling her head down to those I’m holding between my breasts and her.

I, um, don’t think I should be…” I gulp. “Changing anywhere near you.”

No, you should not.” Celyz agrees in a rough tone. See, you should be insisting, challenge me to face my commitment to my Lady. Unfair, she is respecting my choice. “Although, the Little one, like Cetyz named your symbiont, seems to disagree.” She adds with an awkward chuckle.

I… thanks, again, for the clothes.” I reply pathetically, blushing because I’m the one disagreeing with myself.
“A worker will bring them, I’ll be with my sisters.” Celyz points at the hill.

She flips around and abruptly departs without further words, which is how she usually does. I watch her gracefully walk away with her magnificent tail swaying from side to side to help her maintain her balance.

I’ve observed Princesses walk without relying as much on their tails. I wonder if she does so just for me. I doubt it, she’s been doing this since I met her. She’s physically attracted to me because of my symbiont, it might make it harder to convince her to remove it but it’ll be easier for us to be friends once that’s done, which I sorely wish for since we won’t be together.

I keep my eyes on Celyz as she makes her way, hoping that I won’t lose my ability to admire her body once my symbiont and I separate. The Little one pangs in worry so I reassure it, telling it that we won’t split ways even if we’re not one and the same any longer.

A worker arrives to take my old clothes and give me quite a few items in return. I throw a glance at Celyz who is entering the hill and to the human encampment to ensure there are no eyes on me, the warriors are doing a good job of blocking sight to the pool.

I wait for the worker to depart before letting go of the towel and hurriedly use a water construct to dry up. I then slip a pair of white panties on, and then a white bra, amazed at how well crafted they are, suspecting that Celyz got them from Port-Odo.

I grab the third leather sleeve-glove she’s supplied to me and set it on my left arm, securing the straps around my torso. I blush a little as I fit the tight black leather pants on as I realize how closely they fit my form. Leomi will fall head over heels if… when she sees me in this.

There are two shirts in the pile, a completely white one with short sleeves and a black one with long sleeves that is rather loose. I set the first on my shoulders before taking hold of the other, finding that it’s made of tiny Vuskyt links weaved together.

I marvel at the intricacy of it, and even more when I find that there is a layer of thick gray tissue on the inside to protect my flesh from scuffing. The best part is that it’ll be warm in the winter and I’ll be able to use a defensive construct on it in case of danger.

I grab Suxen’s hardcover book and set it inside the first shirt which I tuck it inside the tight pants so that the book doesn’t fall off. I then take hold of my weapon and clean it in the pool, figuring that I’ve already tainted it with blood anyway and telling my symbiont to apologize to the workers for increasing their workload.

Rhyy.” A worker surprisingly responds.

Sadly, I can’t really interpret what it means. I walk up to it and gratefully tap its back like I have when people still gave my Father and I help in the field. It straightens and taps the ground with its forward left pointy legs. Definitely means Hive.

I nod, I would have helped but there is much I need to do. Eating would be nice. I run my thumb along the side of my double-bladed staff’s blade, my liangi. I’m satisfied to find it’s still as sharp as ever. It’ll cut into Lance really nicely.

I hesitate about where to go next, very much wanting to collect my prize from Leomi but feeling like I should let my wounded pride heal up a bit first. There is much still to discuss with Celyz, and I already miss her.

I inject all the flow I regenerated into my healing construct and start heading towards the hill at the center of the camp. The warriors surprisingly don’t follow, they scatter as soon as I leave their protective ring.

Were they ordered to keep me safe? Or to keep humans away? I shake my head, I myself didn’t want any humans getting near me, the Princess might have picked up on that or thought to hide my symbiont.

The Rykz want to use it as a threat but I doubt they want the specifics of it known or for the general public to know as it might exacerbate the fear they have towards them as a species.

Nobility likely wouldn’t want it known either, beyond their inclination to secrecy, there’s the fact that many humans would be attracted by the power a symbiont can grant. I set my mask back over my face, adding quite a bit more power to the runic construct to make sure it doesn’t slide off by mistake. It would be quite disastrous if such a greedy human saw my face.

As I make my way, I worry a little that there isn’t any sign that the Rykz are preparing to leave but dismiss the concern as foolish. Celyz has always been true to her word, she is more honorable than I am by far, her attitude with me in the pool proves it.

I approach a tunnel leading inside the hill and adjust my loose Vuskyt mail shirt. I must look dashing in these black clothes. I’ll look just as good, if not better in the slightly tight white shirt underneath…. and white underwear. Celyz picked them so I could feel beautiful and strong, I have no doubt.

I take a deep breath, entering the small Hive as I hold onto those feelings. I am strong, and beautiful. And I need answers about what the Little one is doing to me, no matter how grateful I am to Celyz.

Elzbth! You, home.” Cetyz’ voice startles me as it’s coming from only a dozen meters away. She walks out from a side tunnel, entering my sense’s range.

Cetyz.” I greet her with a smile.

That woman, mad. Come Hive, Celyz wait you.” She tells me.

Cetyz, calm down.” Fenyz says as she emerges from the same tunnel, sounding distraught by her exuberant sister. “Elizabeth.” She soberly greets me. “I am more thankful than you can know. I hope you and Celyz can come to understand each other, she means you well.”

I, yeah, I know.” I reply awkwardly, surprised by Fenyz’ diplomacy and feeling bad about lying to her by omission. “Listen, I need to…”

Go to sister.” Cetyz interrupts, grabbing my left wrist and starting to drag me deeper inside the hill.

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