I watch Edusa and Roisia approach on horseback, a little jittery because I don’t have a weapon or much flow since I blew a good forty portions to slow my perception of time down to gain a few seconds.
The good news is that the time field effect on its own, without Suxen’s layered on top, still worked and didn’t screw with my senses. I reaffirm my grip over the Little one’s wrist since it’s not likely I would be able to communicate the emotion that Edusa is an ally no matter how much my opinion of her has improved.
But, before I can meet up with the two of them, Fenyz suddenly leaps forward parallel to the ground. She crosses a huge expanse of land in one go, literally flying past Edusa and Roisia. The Little one’s string-like muscles tense inside my hand. Its hunger recedes, replaced by a feeling of danger.
I slow down and lower my stance, focusing on its sense as my eyes would never be able to keep track of the dozen spearheaded tendrils. That fight remains hopeless, doesn’t matter how I use what I have right now it won’t change my odds.
I seize on my flow regeneration and funnel it into directly into a healing construct for my heart. I notice that the stream of energy is thinner than it should be, I have a little over a third less access.
The conclusion is obvious, Fenyz pulled out of her pledge to give me a hundredth of her flow. So, she definitely found out about me and Leomi. Shit, that catches up with me just as we break up. Cetyz accelerates as well but she doesn’t leap, either from a lack of skill or knowledge of the construct.
There are a good thousand, or maybe more, scouts trotting on the surrounding hills and slowly converging on my position. Okay, this is beyond bad. The Little one communicates reassurance but there’s something shallow about it which leads me to believe it’s more about keeping me in the right mindset than anything else.
“Go to Leomi, that’s an order!” I shout at Edusa and Roisia as they angle their course towards me. They hesitate but end up obeying, shifting to pass around my right.
I run to my left to open up a path uphill for them while Fenyz closes the distance at an unbelievable speed. Her torso is almost horizontal with her tail extended out as it swings left and right in small increments. She deploys flow out of her body. Is this how I end? Maybe I should run back, get Leomi to deal the killing blow? Can’t put her in danger over my evil.
“A month she waited for you! Pushing our rations to the breaking point because that’s how much she trusted you, human! And this is what you do to my sister when you return!” Fenyz shouts, her resounding voice filled with rage.
“I have no excuse, Fen…” I start but a shockwave hits me head on and I tumble back.
My shoulders hit the ground while my legs fly over my head. I spin backward landing hard on my chest, paining my breast. Fenyz makes a small leap, impacting the ground just next to me.
I catch a glimpse of Edusa and Roisia changing course again to rush to my help but Fenyz throws a hastily organized construct of a dozen portions at them which blasts them off horseback, toppling even the animal.
“Go to Leomi!” I repeat myself, putting them off my mind.
I try to rise but Fenyz slams a foot on my back between my shoulders. Her twelve spearheaded tendrils swirl towards my neck and the base of my left shoulder. I swing my left arm back to intercept them.
An ambitious move that utterly fails as Fenyz simply curves or pulls back her appendages. It was a long shot to begin with and the Little one’s hunger is slowing it down. The Princess wraps a few of her tendrils around the Little one’s arm and forearm when it reaches the end of its arc, imprisoning it in a tight grip.
“How could you not hear her self-reproach, her need for your company in Cetyz’ absence?!” Fenyz asks, seething. She applies pressure to my back just under my neck with her toes, clearly demonstrating she can snap my bones if she wishes to.
“I have no excuse.” I repeat, feeling sick about Celyz’ torment and my role in it.
“I made an exception for you, human, despite the lies. I was wrong. There is no place for your deceit in our Hive.” Fenyz scathingly utters.
Her words impact me as I feel that the rejection is deserved, but the Little one rises in fury against its restraints, slipping out of my control as it pits its strength against Fenyz’ tendrils, using my ribs and collarbone as painful leverage.
Fenyz curves her appendages to slip under my Vuskyt mail shirt, directing the spearheads at their ends to stab at the base of my shoulder, where the symbiont links to my body, all the while still maintaining their hold over the Little one. She starts cutting the ribbon of skin that grew along the symbiont’s flesh, covering the connection.
“Grh.” I grunt.
“You want to be human. So be it, you never were Rykz.” Fenyz coldly declares.
She starts pulling on my symbiont who reacts by gripping at my bones even harder. I feel a tingling over my entire upper left side, slowly intensifying as the pressure increases and my pain increases by several thresholds.
I shut my mouth, unable to appreciate the agony, finding this to be a just return of things. My mind grows hazy, unable to handle my body being torn apart like this, inside and out. Fenyz pushes me to the side to keep cutting into my left shoulder’s flesh, remaining eerily silent.
The Little one stops fighting, having failed to make any progress and too hungry to keep exerting itself, not to mention that it would have torn my bones out if it kept going.
Yet, it doesn’t give up, the tingling around the upper-left portion of my torso turns into a slow-burning disassociating sensation that spreads up to my neck along the tendril running up my spine.
I almost pass out there and then as I realize that I’m being devoured alive but Cetyz enters my symbiont’s detection range at full speed, giving me a small burst of hope.
She jumps at Fenyz with her feet forward and her reversed knees fully retracted. She slams her tail into the ground for support and unwinds her legs as she impacts her sister, propelling Fenyz away from me.
The Little one and I cry out in excruciating pain as the dozen spearheaded tendrils are forcefully pulled out from under my Vuskyt mail shirt, slicing and shredding our flesh on the way out.
“Little ones are Hive!” Cetyz explodes, crouching over me in a protective stance.
“Cetyz… we discussed this.” Fenyz awkwardly replies in an uncharacteristically timid voice.
She is laid down in the grass and trying, struggling, to get back up to her feet by plunging her toes into the ground for support, also using her tendrils and her tail. My symbiont passes onto me a flurry of soothing and accusatory pheromones coming from Fenyz. It isn’t hard to guess which are directed at me.
“You talk, not listen! You smell my emotion, twist to suit!” Cetyz fires back, exuding vivid pheromones, the Little one translates soft and warm feelings mixed in with an anger that doesn’t make us feel under attack but instead vindicated. “Of Hive, learn like newly hatched! They young-lings!” She presses. “Blame they instinct when you trouble control! Right now failing! You impulsive! It worse for Little ones, they mad, need Hive be peace and warmth. We agree all!”
“But, Celyz, my sister’s cry I cannot ignore. Her decepti…” Fenyz weakly protests.
“You too certain! Know not story! This not battle, you not right discard civilization!” Cetyz cuts her off in a final tone. “Go, I not meet you tonight.”
“B, but, Cetyz…” Fenyz’ unsteady resounding voice fades away as she switches to a more natural form of communication.
Fenyz uses her flow to finally to get up and approach her sister. I shift the healing construct over my heart to my left shoulder, trying to quell the scary amount of red and brown blood pouring out.
Yet, neither the Little one nor I feel in danger anymore with Cetyz here. It worries me that I fail to regain control of my left arm but it isn’t acting out and seems to be focused on the Princesses’ silent discussion.
It shares with me the tender emotions and pleas coming from either side as the two step into close proximity. I detach myself from the exchange, blocking the Little one as I feel like I’m prying into a very private conversation from the feelings they’re sharing and the way they are directing their tendrils to fly in arabesques around the other in a mesmerizing dance.
I wish I could observe them with my eyes instead of the Little one’s sense but that would probably be embarrassing. I set my right hand down into the grass and push, smothering the scorching feeling spreading into my torso from the Little one’s tendrils. It barely shakes me that my internal temperature is madly fluctuating there.
“Once more.” I utter, forging through the pain.
I push myself up and bring my knees under me, my left arm hanging motionless as I do. I get back up, swaying a little but able to stand. My eyes fall on a group of scouts about fifty meters in front of me.
They’re slowly circling an injured scout laying on its flank. Its exoskeleton is cracked in several locations, originating from pinpoint sharp impacts. A large fissure runs along its lower trunk’s flank, passing right through where one of its pointy legs attaches which means it’ll likely fall off.
The interlocked carapace protecting its belly was pierced by one of the other drones as its right arm’s spike is covered in viscous brown blood. It seems to be bleeding out. Did, did it try to defend me?
“N, no.” I stutter in horror, stumbling towards it. “I’m, I‘m so sorry.”
“It is alright.” Cetyz reassures me, turning away from Fenyz.
“It‘s dying, it won‘t be able to gallop again! Because of me!” I deny, panicking.
“It will heal. The exoskeleton is for protection, not support. The articulation can be set back into place, the inner skeleton will be sufficient to support it once the muscles have healed, the carapace will then mend.” Fenyz quickly explains.
“Witness worry. Sister, you very wrong.” Cetyz comments harshly. “Little ones Rykz.”
“Is, is what she said true?” I ask, my eyes fixed on the poor scout which I can hear whining from here.
“Fenyz correct.” Cetyz confirms.
I head over to the scout as quickly as I can. I want to do something, anything, for it. My symbiont grows more active as I approach, opening and closing its fingers as it angles slightly forward. I realize that it’s pushing me to go and feast, to follow the scent of a wounded prey.
I would rather let my symbiont keep slowly devouring me than sacrifice this drone that fought to defend it, and perhaps me. I stop in my tracks, utterly shocked and disgusted at hos it’s abandoning empathy simply because it wants to eat. The Little one bristles, projecting its hunger at me.
“No.” I refuse, turning to the north.
“Sister.” Fenyz whispers in a shocked tone.
“Once more.” I say to myself, clinging to my mantra to advance.
I set one foot in front of the other, enduring the sharp agony coming from the cuts in my left shoulder and the scathing burns from my flesh slowly melting away. Fenyz chases after me.
“Let me help you, sister.” Fenyz pleads. “I am sorry, I did not realize.”
“I’m fine, Fenyz. I want to be alone, go help the scout.” I reply in a rough tone. “You’re right, I’m being selfish to Celyz.”
“I am not so certain anymore.” Fenyz replies quietly.
She departs in a flash, abruptly ending the conversation as the Rykz habitually do. Cetyz swiftly catches up to me, handing over several hundred portions of flow before trying to leave just as quickly.
“Cetyz!” I stop her. “Go, tell your, sister, you love her.” I struggle to say. “She, needs your support and help, not scorn.”
“Know. You meet sister now, I later.” She replies, departing.
I sigh and shape most of her energy into a nourishing construct for my symbiont, using the rest to heal my wounds. It does help the Little one as it quickly stops protesting my refusal to feed it but keeps consuming my flesh with its tendrils.
“You sure eat a lot for such a small being.” I grunt.
It squeezes my ribs, barely applying any pressure but still causing me quite a bit of pain. It seems a little apologetic but I’m not about to forget this lesson, if it had been in reach of an ally in this state, it wouldn’t have hesitated to strike.
I suddenly recall Edusa and Roisia, deciding to spend some of my stamina to throw a look at their last location. I find the two watching me from a distance, letting horse trot away in the distance. Their hands covering their mouths, their shocked eyes fixed on my symbiont.
I glance down, finding that there is dark-orange blood slowly flowing down my left arm over the sleeve glove, the Vuskyt mail’s short sleeves unable to conceal the fact that I’m a monster.
I keep running my eyes over the horizon, finding that Yvonne is helping Leomi walk downhill towards her own horse. She is likely going to bring her away to Port-Odo, it’s what I would do if I found a friend coming out of a date with her lover in this state… after stabbing the lover in question just a little.
I forge onward towards the grand hill in the middle of the Rykz camp one step at a time, muttering my mantra to push myself to keep going when I falter because of a sudden burst of fear or exhaustion.
It’s pretty scary to feel myself getting devoured but I can tell the Little one isn’t aggressively doing so but merely sustaining us, well mostly itself. I want to sleep. I can when I’m there.
— — —
I blink my eyes wide open and hurriedly set my foot forward, stopping my fall. I look around, finding that I’m at one of the camp’s entrance. The workers are preparing breakfast by pouring the gray-white liquid food contained inside the amphorae into bowls to distribute to the rest of the drones.
One worker is already headed in my direction, holding a full platter. The Little one abruptly swipes at one of the bowls before the worker can serve us, spilling some of it as it plunges its roots into the food.
“Thanks.” I mutter at the drone.
I shift my mask to the side before taking hold of a bowl and gulping it down in one go. I once again confirm that the best food seasoning is hunger as the mushroom and Grub milk soup, which I assume this is, tastes deliciously bland.
I have another serving while my symbiont finishes its first. I wait for it to devour three others, looking through the camp as the burning sensation dissipates and my thoughts clear up.
Qanyz is throwing human swords into the only blazing forge, two workers are by her side using a pair of bellows to supply the fire with air. There are no other Princesses around despite the fact that the camp is almost lifted. I’m a bit too spent to go make small talk even if I’d like to know why she’s melting perfectly good steel.
Impressive speed for a host of over a hundred thousand Rykz. I let the Little one finish its meal. Having regained control of the limb, I tap the worker’s shoulder in hands and head to the closest tunnel entrance in the hill, leaving it to the Little one to call for guidance from a scout.
A scout arrives as I step inside, pushing my unsteady legs. I barely pay any attention as it guides me towards Celyz’ study through the meandering tunnels. I stop, taking a break to steady my shaky right hand and my breathing, made difficult as my torso’s muscles are starting to seize.
— — —
“Jessica?” Celyz calls, her head peeking out from tunnel’s curve. “What are you doing…” She pauses. “You are injured!”
“Shouldn’t have skipped my meal.” I grunt, eyelids falling again.
“Fight it, stay awake!” She exclaims, rushing to me.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine.” I reply, pushing myself off the wall. “I ate.”
I purposefully send myself tipping over without taking any precautions, certain that she’ll catch me. She sprints at me and catches me by sending her tendrils around my waist. She panically runs her appendages under my shirt, straight at the cuts in my left shoulder to examine them.
“It’s just a few cuts, no real danger. Quite a bit of blood but it’s already stopped bleeding.” I tell her with a grin on my face, enjoying it. “I wanted you to hold me.”
“Mmph.” Celyz exhales in exasperation. “You frightened me.”
She pulls her appendages back, shoving me just slightly in the direction of her study. Apparently not quite peeved enough to forgo my company. I feel my heart soar at her attentiveness as I make my way past the curve and to the circular door.
“Mind if I spend the night in your bed?” I ask.
“It’s yours.” Celyz replies in a quiet voice, her tendrils twirling in apparent anticipation.
“As a friend.” I say, feeling bound and obligated to my Lady whose love I so desperately need to seize back.
“Of course.” Celyz agrees, perfectly concealing the disappointment in her voice but not her body language as her appendages retract around her torso. “What happened with Leomi Lance?”
“We reached a ceasefire as she called it. The two of us won’t be together for a time but you can’t have me, I’m sorry.” I tell her, scrutinizing her with the Little one’s sense as I await her reaction with angst.
She simply nods sadly, her ovaloid head remains hanging down like the result is as she had always expected but hoped otherwise. My heart crashes as read into the pain contained in her simple acknowledgment of defeat.
“I’m sorry.” I repeat in a tired voice.
Celyz pushes me inside and towards the bed without a word, simply patting my back with a curled tendril to reassure me, causing more pangs in my chest at her selflessness. I slowly, carefully, lie down on the sheet mattress and close my eyes.
— — —