I don’t respond immediately, choosing to observe Leomi marinate without knowing how I’ll react. Her proposal undermined my anger with distress as she picked the opposite direction I want her to. She remains as she is as I think, tucked in my arms, trembling slightly, throat exposed.
“We’ll see. I need to know the reality of my social position before making any decisions, especially about us.” I calmly tell her. “I need to witness how things will unfold. Figure out if you’re suddenly looking to the future because you can use me as a surrogate for her.”
“I, I…” Leomi stutters. “I, understand.” She exhales, trying to evacuate her pain at my refusal, her relief that I didn’t accept. “Sorry about diverting your story, making it about me. I, oh!” She pauses. “No, it’s your fault.” She perks up.
“What do you…?” I frown.
Leomi pulls out of my grasp and stands up, a look of determination on her face. She turns around and holds her hand out. I don’t move but she leans in to grab the front of my Vuskyt mail shirt and pull me up to my feet.
“I can’t focus on you if I’m the one being protected, Elizabeth.” She explains with a smile.
She sits down in my place without releasing my shirt, pulling me to take her spot. I let her, wanting to empty the darkness in me. There’s also my desire to feel like I’m hers, no matter that it’s only illusory as long as I remain Elizabeth Vil.
“Although, you don’t need my protection.” Leomi whispers in my ear as she passes her arms around my waist. “Now, tell me everything.”
“It’s pretty simple, I stocked up on flow for a month and used the small leyline running from the palace to the institute to sneak air-blades inside while I infiltrated the building. That destroyed most of their reserves underground.” I explain. “I also used a lightning construct to weaken their exterior defenses and drain what flow permeated their defensive constructs. I used an air-blade and an armor-piercing construct to get a weapon for myself through the walls.”
“Smart.” Leomi appreciates. She uses her right hand to caress my belly, covered in the Vuskyt mail-shirt, in a possessive manner. “But that doesn’t tell me how you got in, or much about the time you spent with Mother. You said you talked about things together, how did the two of you get along?” She asks, a shadow of worry on her traits.
“Pretty well actually.” I say.
“Mhm.” Leomi makes a slight groan.
“Vicky does think that we’re a bad influence on each other, however.” I chuckle.
“Did, you actually, call Mother that?” Leomi asks, eyes widening.
“I did at times, why?” I question.
“That’s, brave.” Leomi mutters, looking amazed. “I’ve seen her run trainees ragged to the point they threw up for using that sobriquet.”
“She’s like you, hard outside, soft to her core.” I smile.
“Do you want to find out how hard I can be, Liz?” Leomi asks in a sultry voice, running her left hand’s nails between my thighs, taking advantage of my increased sensitivity because of my lack of underwear.
“Goes both, ways.” I whisper.
“True.” Leomi nods and pulls back. “A struggle for another time.”
“I guess I should start from the start.” I mutter, letting myself fall into her grasp. “Or at least, go through the people I met.”
“Whatever order you want.” Leomi encourages.
“Met a bunch of galley-slaves. Ruth seemed fun, wish I could have spent more time with her but she’s probably straight.” I say, enjoying the way Leomi squeezes me in retaliation for trying to make her jealous. “Another one looked like someone I could be friends with at first but… I don’t know, that went wrong.” I ponder. “I was sure he wanted something from me in exchange for his help, which turned out to be true, but now I wonder if I didn’t foster the request he made by insisting he had to have one.”
“What did he do, want?” Leomi asks.
“He was a thief in Port-Odo, or at least he stole from the place he occasionally worked at. He helped me guard your mother and Aisha, also cook, scout, and steal some institute schematics from a Shade.” I tell her, pointedly avoiding to mention Tsek’s name. “I really should have set some real limits, but I needed his help so…” I say, delaying. Leomi patiently awaits, using her left hand to arrange my hair, which she messed up last night. “He asked for a blowjob.” I say, sighing.
“Wh…” Leomi gulps. “What?!”
“Complicated story, not very interesting, he had boundary issues. Or lived a life that led him to that worldview of his. I don’t really care, it won’t happen no matter how much he jerks off thinking about me.” I hurriedly tell her.
The words seem to escape me before I can stop them in my eagerness to answer her inquiries. I find it quite wondrous that just switching places entirely flipped our relative positions of power, and so much easier to retell what I went through with her arms around me, it takes the weight away.
“You didn’t maim him for that?” Leomi asks, blinking.
“I was more curious than angry.” I uncomfortably explain.
“Curious.” Leomi notes, paling.
“Not like that!” I protest.
“How?” She asks, her eyes narrowing.
“Just, normally? About the unknown.” I reply, wiggling in discomfort. “I never actually considered doing it.”
“You would never, huh.” Leomi murmurs, an ominous look appearing on her face.
“What, are you thinking?” I ask, a cold shiver running along my spine.
“Keep talking.” Leomi orders in response. I shake my head and keep going.
“He seemed to take decisions based on gold and cock, so I got him enough of the first.” I shrug. “It’s probably unfair of me. I reacted worse to Idali, but the two situations weren’t the same, she had authority while he was just… creepy in a way, and I did need help.” I comment.
“I was wrong about her. She could easily have abandoned you on the ship.” Leomi admits.
“Hm. You weren’t entirely, Idali herself admits she did some wrong.” I say. “I hope she’s okay.”
“You’re not allowed!” Leomi exclaims so fast that she forgets to add all the words. I chuckle.
“Neither are you, I’d hate to have to…” I pause, growing agitated.
“Down, girl.” Leomi commands, half-serious, half-teasing.
“Anyway, I left him frozen to a roof in Meiridin because he didn’t think that helping a dozen pregnant women who were imprisoned was a priority.” I tell her, still angry and disappointed about that. He doesn’t really matter, doesn’t have the skills or will to do much damage, at most he’ll steal something of import to get on my good side.
“Don’t have anything else to say about this?” Leomi asks with a suspicious look.
“I have no desire towards men, Leomi.” I assure her.
“Good. Good.” She murmurs. Her tone, despite the fact that I can’t quite pin it down, induces goosebumps. “Keep talking.” She tells me, tying my hair back up with a single hand. I can’t help but wonder at her skill in doing so.
“Well, I think all that’s left is Suxen.” I say, considering that it would be a terrible idea to mention Aisha’s flirting with me… and me with her.
“You think or you know?” Leomi asks, raising an eyebrow.
“I was lonely and Aisha kept… offering herself.” I mutter, looking away. “I may have flirted with her, but that’s it, and I regret it a lot.”
“Wait.” Leomi shifts. “You flirted with the woman who was partially to blame for Idali, and got you into that terrible plan to let yourself be tortured?”
“I… Much as she played me and got what she wanted in the end, I don’t think she lied about being unable to save Idali without a very large risk that Odo would have accused her of lying about being a Shade, or doing everything he could to find out what a Shade could be doing here.” I mutter. “He might just have decided to return to Port-Odo without going to Meiridin as a result.”
“All I’m hearing is that her pretty face got under your skin.” Leomi utters coldly. “That warrants punishment of a special kind.” She adds in a rough voice, already shivering in anticipation.
“N, now?” I timidly ask, feeling the pull to experience her firm hand.
“No, we’d spend the week frolicking.” Leomi sighs, blushing slightly which is a good indication that her twisted mind is coming up with things I know I won’t like but likely very much enjoy. “Keep talking, get it all off your chest.”
“Suxen.” I push the name out of my throat. “I needed a way to enter the institute.”
“Go on.” Leomi encourages, pulling me tighter against her.
“I, had to use the… plant in me as bait.” I admit.
I quickly go through what I found out of her goals and the Emperor’s, avoiding to mention myself as a possible vessel for her ambitions. Leomi’s releases her grip over me for a short moment but grabs back at me as soon as she realizes her own reaction.
“This is… curious.” Leomi mutters. “It’s similar to my plan with my organization, it’s a way to bypass Nobility as a social structure.”
“By creating an ultimate Noble that can’t lose his flow?” I scoff, surprised by the bitterness in my tone.
“Yes, it isn’t surprising that He who built the Empire would choose this over getting people to pledge to an organization that He might lose control of.” Leomi acknowledges. “But, what if instead of a person, it was given to a…” She interrupts herself. “No, sorry. This is about you, keep going.”
“Wait, tell me what…” I start.
“No, Liz.” She interrupts me. “Keep going or I’ll spank you.”
“That’s…” I pause. “I’m not sure whether I want to or not, now.” I laugh.
“Urgh.” Leomi exhales. I take a deep breath.
“Suxen, chained me to a chair, stripped me, treated me like an object, carved into me.” I say, trembling because that’s how I felt more than how I feel right now, in her arms. “It, helped me to imagine that you were doing, these things to me.” I confess.
“You’re sweet.” Leomi whispers in my ear, her nipples hardening. The simple words enough to make my irrational fear of her rebuking me for this melt.
“I got Suxen to take interest and used that to gain access to the institute, your mother did try to stop me, and even spoke up for me when it was detrimental to her own goals. She cared enough for me to do that at the time, I think.” I tell her, still feeling the need to make sure the two won’t lose each other over us.
“I’m fine, Liz. I’ll talk to Mother, you don’t need to intercede… she’s, she was okay, right?” Leomi asks.
“She took heavy injuries, Cetyz didn’t hold back. But I would never think those wounds would be enough to take Vikiana out.” I honestly tell Leomi. She remains silent despite her expression twisting in an ugly way. She squeezes, encouraging me to keep going. “Cetyz… when I found her, she was strung up like an animal carcass, her torso split in half, several of her tendrils were ripped off. They seemed to have cut into her for fun as much as for research and, considering the speed at which she healed, I suspect they butchered her far more than what I saw during the first years. She lost memories and, if I compare her maturity to Celyz… I think she repressed memories and reverted to a younger stage of her personality.” I pause, surprised to find Leomi suddenly biting her lower lip to stop it from trembling in what seems to be pure anguish. “It’s pure speculation, I don’t know enough about the Rykz but Fenyz and Celyz weren’t too worried so Cetyz will likely recover.” I hurriedly say.
“It’s, I’m sorry.” Leomi chokes, swallowing tears. “I, should have reacted like this for you. But, I can’t help but think that… she was taken from her hive by Mother, that Cetyz reverted to her youth… it makes what she did, worse.”
“I’m strong, and we both enjoy my pain.” I soothe Leomi, kicking myself for being so weak, so erratic, when it comes to her. “If it makes you feel better, I think that Cetyz’ juvenile personality couldn’t accept the evil she was confronted to. She deemed humans mad and cut herself off from the pain they caused her, both mentally and physically.”
“It, does.” Leomi admits, swallowing. “But, how could humans do anything so horrible as to cut and hang an intelligent being like livestock.” She grips at me with all the strength she can gather. “I hate the Rykz, some Rykz, for what they did, not are. But how can I blame her after learning what happened to her sister?”
“Why, would you, need to?” I ask her, having trouble breathing.
“Because we’re at war! Because Celyz set us up!” Leomi utters in anger, delivering the same spiel. “She manipulated the situation and used that plant, which you’re refusing to tell me about, to tempt you and Jessica. Used your injuries, one of which she is as responsible as I am for, to pressure you both into working for her Hive. The fact she took a liking to you doesn’t mean her intentions were, or are, honorable.”
“You’re jealous.” I sigh.
“Yes, but I am not that shallow, Elizabeth Vil.” She utters, striking my belly with a closed fist.
“Guh.” I groan.
“Can’t you see the similarities between Celyz and Suxen?” She asks, failing to restrain her anger.
“They are as similar to each other as you are to Odo.” I utter coldly, furious on Celyz’ behalf.
Leomi gasps, paling. She picks me up by the waist and throws me to the side, obviously using flow. I set a hand on the ground over my weapon, grabbing it as I roll on my side and jump back up on my feet, armed and ready to fight but finding her grasping her hair inside her fists, her face whiter than I’ve ever seen it. I can see a flicker of madness in her eyes as she fights herself inside her head.
“I’ll hear no more about Celyz from you, Leomi Lance.” I growl, throwing my liangi aside as I move on her.
“…” Leomi fails to respond.
I assemble a full body strengthening construct and grab her by the throat with my right hand. I pick her up, forcing her to her feet before lifting her off of them by extending my arm out as high as I can.
She takes hold of my wrist and pulls herself up to free her airways. Her expression twists, from sadness, to anger, to fright, to anguish, to guilt, so many emotions I have trouble keeping up, yet they all seem to float over a growing insanity.
“You want to know what Celyz did to me? She gave me the power to end the war. It is killing me, but I find that to have been a worthwhile trade. Your opinion on the matter is unwelcome.” I spit out. “You cannot even see me for who I am, do not proclaim to know her intentions when you are unable to settle your own about us.”
“Liz.” Leomi chokes out, somehow managing to sound commanding.
I let her go, aware to some level that Leomi’s resentment isn’t quite as personal as I’d like to believe but mostly based on Elizabeth and Jessica’s behalf. She lands on her feet, which isn’t too hard considering I could barely lift her a few centimeters off the ground. She gasps and rasps for a while, her eyes glazing over likely because she’s using a healing construct.
“You, are correct.” Leomi finally admits. “But, she tried to steal you from me, you can’t ask me to not be jealous.”
“I, won’t.” I reply, angling my head to the side, feeling like more is coming. Jealousy is good, it might make the two of you compete… in bed.
Indeed, she breathes out in relief and reaches out to my Vuskyt shirt with a trembling hand, apparently afraid of rebuke. When I don’t move, she seizes my waist and pulls me into a tight hug, reaching to seize the back of my head and push my masked face between her small round breasts.
“It’s killing you.” She whispers. “I’m so sorry you felt you needed to go this far for us. But also, proud that someone such as you, would feel me deserving her.”
“Us?” I ask, shaken by her words.
“Caeviel, peasants, humans.” Leomi murmurs, enclosing me in her arms. “People.”
Her embrace, which is likely meant to soothe me, makes me feel a delightful torment. I feel torn between my desire to break through Leomi’s defenses and my wish to seek a peace with her that only Celyz has been able to give me so far.
Yet, the warlike love Leomi and I share exhilarates me, makes me feel truly alive. I want to live for her and die for her. I wouldn’t give Leomi up, no more than I would Celyz, yet a choice seems inevitable.
“Cetyz picked up on Vikiana’s scent out in Meiridin, she went after her. Templars died, I prevented your mother from harming Cetyz, saving her friends, or getting herself killed by taking her down. It wasn’t difficult.” I relate, aware that I’m trying to shift the subject, to get a rise out of her and get this story over with.
“Okay.” Leomi whispers, squeezing me tightly. “But, are you okay?”
“I, am better.” I reply. “You, really are proud? I, I killed a lot of people Leomi, so many, that… I can‘t even remember them all.”
“You didn’t set out to kill anyone, Liz.” Leomi murmurs, caressing the back of my head. “Perhaps the Lake will burn us when the times comes to return, but until then you need to trust me when I say you are the furthest thing from evil.”
“That’s, just not true.” I deny.
“Okay, you are Elizabeth Vil after all.” Leomi chuckles. I hear a distortion in her laugh, I cannot tell if it’s coming from her madness or because I held her by the throat. “But, at the same time, you are not since you are mine.”
I remain silent, enjoy how her burning warmth is slowly transferring over from her body to mine through our clothes. I don’t even consider wrapping my arms around her shaking shoulders in return, after all, she shouldn’t have brought Celyz up.
I find that, despite my complaints and skepticism, she still somehow managed to make me face the darkness looming in me, look past it. Perhaps, her suffering is what helped me, but perhaps it is the lack of judgment coming from her.
Leomi’s trembling doesn’t cease, even after a long while, her internal battle far from over. Yet, she remains as is, entirely focused on hugging me despite how little comfort it seems to bring her. This, more than anything else, rekindles some of my trust in her.
“Leomi.” I speak up.
“Yes, Liz?” She asks in a gentle tone.
“I want your advice about the Rykz, untainted by your plans, emotions, resentments, hang-ups. I need your head right now, not your heart or your ambitions. Can you do that?” I question.
“That’s…” Leomi trails off, releasing her hold on me. “A lot, to ask me.”
“What do you want in return?” I ask, scared and excited to find out what she’ll ask for, wondering whether it’ll be as delightfully difficult and heart-wrenching as being taken from behind.
“Not a thing.” Leomi smiles with unsteady lips. “This is for our benefit, isn’t it?”
“I’m not sure.” I grunt, disappointed that she refused to take advantage of my need for her advice.
“I find the fact that you’re pouting, because I refused, fiercely adorable.” Leomi utters, visibly restraining herself.
“Did I tell you about the Lisilese I crossed paths with inside the institute?” I ask, turning serious.
“Indirectly, you got that liangi from him right?” Leomi says, looking to my weapon which rolled to one of the tent’s walls.
“Fenyz took interest in my weapon, the Emperor paid off a cold blood Horde, the Bloody Claws if I recall correctly.” I tell her. “The Silver Hive suspects that he also demanded that the Horde ambush them on their way back, you were there with me for that but Celyz told me, right after you left me…” Leomi tenses but remains quiet. “That they’re examining one of Fenyz’ ideas to find a way around that mess.” I finish.
“Hm.” Leomi rubs the side of her chin. “Sit down there.” She says, pointing at the pelt as she makes her way to one of her wooden coffers.