Edusa walks around a street corner, heading north. She is apparently not headed back to the keep. I slip the dagger in my back and head for the docks, ashamed about my behavior and running away.
Yet, it was necessary. Leomi would have eventually broken through to me with how relatively conciliatory she behaved. She gave our dagger back. The message that went along with it is worrying.
It’s Jessica’s right to have her love, Elizabeth, you know so. I shake my head to force my insanity back into place, some of muscles twitch in no apparent order, my left thigh, the right side of my waist, my right biceps.
The skin to the left side of my chest over my heart seizes, tightens, like it would have followed suit with the rest of my body but wasn’t able to for lack of muscles since the Little one’s hunger made short work of what was left of them. What will I look like once the symbiont is gone? I shudder at the image.
A merchant is looking past me with a frown on his face. I immediately tense up, starting to feel both fidgety and giddy. I use my sense, I realize that people’s gazes are directed towards a singular point while the three Rykz of my escort aren’t.
An odd silence floats over the merchant avenue leading to the docks, broken only by my steps and the sounds of the Rykz’ pointy legs hitting the paved road. A patrol of scouts crosses the street behind me, not reacting either.
I take stock of my energy reserves, finding that I have a little under twenty or so portions at my disposal. Attack is preferable to defense if I’m outclassed, especially so since striking first would be my best chance, but starting a fight before being threatened would not end well.
I stop and turn around. Three people are slowly cruising through the street, two men and a woman, all of them apparently unarmed and wearing identical featureless black clothes. My eyes narrow as I take stock of their balanced martial gaits and trained bodies.
I would count them as Numbers had their expressions not been calm and focused with alert eyes. The three Rykz escorting me turn their triangular heads around to scan the area, likely noticing that I’m preparing for a fight, but none of them stop for more than a moment on the threats.
“You’re using Rykz pheromones.” I note calmly. “Are you Templars? Shades?”
My words immediately cause a disturbance in the street but receive no answer. I raise my hand above my head and assemble a lightning construct as a threat, figuring that doing as much isn’t considered aggression.
“No. The Order would act in plain sight while the Shades wouldn’t be as visible. You were sent by Nobility.” I conclude.
The three remain utterly silent. They keep walking, slipping by my Rykz escort without triggering the drones’ suspicion which confirms the fact that they’re using pheromones.
The Rykz haven’t fixed that problem yet, I worry about the battle in the east but cannot actually root for them to successfully invade the Empire. The warrior and two scouts do seem to be getting agitated and confused, likely because the Little one is telling them to defend it but they are unable to find the threat.
I start walking backward towards a corner made by a house and a workshop intersecting. The three don’t accelerate, allowing me to scour the area with my eyes while I keep watching them with my symbiont’s sense.
I notice that there are observers now that I’m looking for them, people dressed in plain but quality clothes which clearly points to the fact that they aren’t common folk.
Their presence here instead of at work during the afternoon and their obvious interest in the confrontation brings me to conclude that they aren’t merchants either. I wish I had a weapon but perhaps it’s for the best I don’t.
The man and woman to the sides of the one in the center hang back, allowing the last man to approach my position on his own since there isn’t enough space for three or even two to freely maneuver.
People are already clearing the area but not the avenue, in fact many seem to simply be changing location to have a better look at the upcoming fight. The man facing me is blond with large and thick shoulders.
As he hits the five-meter mark from me, my lightning construct shatters. Likely a runic disruption construct. I smile and pull my flow back. Good thing I didn’t try, they came prepared so it would have been a waste of energy.
I swiftly assemble lion strikes and raise my right hand while coiling my left arm. He suddenly rushes me with a snarl. I raise my left foot to block his front kick and swipe his left jab aside with my right forearm.
The Little one strikes out with a closed fist, on my instructions as impaling someone in plain daylight would likely play right into the plan of whoever sent these goons at me.
If the point was to kill me, they would have brought weapons or tried to snipe me with a crossbow. Still, Rykz react differently to people wielding weapons than those who don’t so I can’t rule out that they’re trying to kill me, or that they won’t seize an opportunity if they find one.
The man moves his right hand in front of his stomach to block my strike. My fist hits his palm like a human one would a brick wall, it stops dead. My symbiont keeps pushing, apparently taking the defeat as a challenge.
He is pushes back, his boots scraping against the pavement. Even his right arm starts trembling when it remain completely immobile when he blocked my strike. Kinetic construct activated for a brief moment, used the force of my blow to block it.
The man tries to throw another left jab from outside my field of vision, which I easily strike down with the edge of my right hand. Both those jabs were aimed at my head, are they trying to unmask me?
I tell my symbiont to start battering the man, to beat him in speed if strength isn’t an option. The Little one enthusiastically starts taking swipes while I focus on pushing the man back with a series of leg swipes and right hook feints.
The two scouts and the warrior rush to the man attacking me. His two companions throw glass vials on the ground in front of the Rykz. Crash. It disturbs my escort as it makes them second guess themselves but, to my assailants’ surprise, the drones don’t stop.
I notice that the man’s right palm is bruised pretty heavily, showing that he used a kinetic construct beneath his skin to avoid the disruption constructs’ effects. My symbiont suddenly jerks back, destabilizing me in such a way that I stumble backward from the momentum.
The sole of my blond opponent’s boot swishes just in front of my eyes, passing exactly where my head was a fraction of a second ago. A roundhouse kick, he used that to both dodge the Little one’s latest strike and attack while the vial’s destruction distracted me. Shit, he’s good, I need to break him before I make another mistake.
Splursh. A red mist arises from the man’s back, startling him. I almost think that his back was struck by an arrow or something but what struck him was actually a very ripe tomato.
“Port-Odo isn’t your playground anymore!” An old farmer with a small hoe at his belt and a white beard yells.
There are many in the crowd are holding various items in their hands, threatening to throw them but only a single one had the courage to do so. My opponent hesitates, and further so when he hears the clicking sound of my escort’s legs approaching.
I use lion steps to slip past my opponent who seems frozen by the people’s reaction. I urgently tell my symbiont to get the Rykz to stand down while I move to physically block the scouts and warrior. As little as I would care to see them die, a slaughter is the last thing this situation needs.
This breathing cry didn’t come from my escort. A deathly silence falls over the avenue as we all realize that the sound echoed our of the streets all around us, that it came from all over the city.
Crash. The three throw another set of glass vials to the ground, to no apparent effect on the Rykz escorting me who remain on their guard with their weapons trained on them as they take positions in front of me and on my flanks.
“You made a huge mistake.” I calmly comment. “You’re so used to acting in impunity that you trusted these pheromones to shield you from consequence beyond their capability to do so.”
“Abort, the insects countered it.” The blond man tells his companions who both nod in agreement. Pretty sure they didn’t, these Rykz were hatched before any measure they could have taken.
“You didn’t even think that this city’s people would stand up to safeguard their own streets!” I press as the three try to slip past a reluctant crowd.
“Capture them!” The old man yells.
“Hand them over to House Odo!” Another adds.
Despite the people’s best efforts, the three manage to brute force their way through the crowd by making use of strengthening constructs to overpower those who try to stop them.
People cry out in outrage but don’t chase them. Two dozen scouts emerge into the avenue, one squad rushing to surround me while the other chases after those who attacked me.
I hear more glass vials being smashed in the distance but the Rykz’ breathing cries don’t die down, in fact they seem to be converging towards their target. I grin as I adjust my mask by habit.
“This is why you need to support the Hospitaliers chapter in Port-Odo!” I call out to the crowd. “They’re people like you and of your city but with the power to stop these entitled Nobles!”
“But we would be unbound if we did.” The old man counters, pulling on his white beard in frustration.
“It would not!” I reply before pausing, knowing only what my Lady told me about it being a gray area in the law. That being said, it’s obvious now that I think about it. “Countess Odo has joined the Hospitaliers as the Head Justicier! Supporting them means you would still be bound to a titled Noble!”
“Blasphemy, oaths are to be made to a singular title!” One of the observers shouts. “Our right to rule is granted by the Lake through our Emperor!” The counter-arguments shakes the crowd, silencing even me as I have no argument against that.
“Our Emperor never proclaimed so Himself! More lies from Nobles that abandoned Port-Odo to the Rykz to defend empty hills!” The old farmer refutes.
The crowd parts from around the white-bearded loud man. Their gazes to the plain clothed observer are hostile but they don’t dare to openly defy one they suspect is a Noble.
“Yet you support Elizabeth Vil who turned coat to join the insects!” The observer shouts.
The crowd splits again to put some distance to the Rykz encircling me. I quickly get the Little one to get them under control. They obey but each shapes black constructs from their pike arms, resembling the one that bathed my arm with fire.
“Better her blood-stained silver mask under sunlight than the daggers you wield in the dark without even a crest! We all know of the darker deeds your kind committed! ” A young man wearing a white and blue Hospitalier uniform with a short sword at his side enters the avenue. “By the authority conferred to us by House Odo, I demand you come in for questioning about this disturbance of the King’s peace!” He calls.
“Elizabeth Vil attacked first!” The observer lies with a straight face. “She tries to kill them.”
The crowd explodes in fury, many throw the items they prepared at the man, showering him in spoiled tomatoes, cabbages, and even a broken chunk of wood. he runs away under the assault, causing the Hospitalier to chase after him.
I look for more observers but find that all those I spotted earlier are gone, even one I wasn’t certain was part of the group that watched from a window. I dismantle my constructs to shape a lightning one, resolving to remain on my guard for ambushes.
“Well, I suppose that means I’m free to go.” I chuckle as a small part of the crowd takes off after the Hospitalier.
I likely wouldn’t be able to keep the mask on if I wanted to now that the war is over, too many enemies… and curious allies. I wave my hand to the old farmer in thanks and head out to the docks, deciding it would be unwise to remain in this city.
That sounded like frustrated anger, they probably got away, that’s likely for the best. I’m eager to resume my work with Celyz even if my plow has turned out to be difficult to implement between resolving the timing and stability issues between constructs along with the high energy consumption.
We solved the material degradation by deciding to inscribe the runes on replaceable pieces of metal, which increases the cost but extends the tool’s lifespan by a very large margin.
Spending the week threading the logical segments Celyz taught me into a viable runic structure was perhaps some of the most fun I’ve ever had despite how mentally demanding and challenging it was.
The shipyard occupies most of the docks’ grounds, as a consequence the three piers have apparently been built longer and larger than Meria’s. There are several large floating platform filled with Rykz tied to the end of the northernmost pier.
To my are two galleys currently being built on inclined stone ramps giving into the sea, the human workers seem fatigued but enthusiast as they carry wooden planks and beams to their place for carpenters to hammer in.
There is a demarcation in the ships’ hulls, the wood at the bottom has a darker color showing that construction was interrupted for a while, likely during the month that the Rykz had full control over the city.
I don’t see any Princesses but I’ve long learned that it doesn’t mean much as the floating platforms have towers which could easily be concealing one. I notice a worker drone trotting towards me with a small piece of paper in its three-fingered hands.
The writing in paint says to follow the drone so I do. It heads south, guiding me to a block of the city where there are no humans. It leads me to a large building that looks like a hangar, there is a column of smoke rising from the roof.
Two warriors pull the large double doors open, releasing a bit of steam from inside. I walk in a hot room with shelves stacked at the back and a huge forge set in the middle with a metal sheet rectangular column above it working as a chimney.
The building was clearly repurposed by the Rykz. Qanyz is there with Cetyz, standing in front of a high table which is too tall for me to see what’s on it. Obviously too high to even work on, it must be for display only.
“Qanyz, Cetyz.” I speak up.
“Elzabeth.” Cetyz replies, almost managing to say my name.
“Elizabeth.” Qanyz says.
“Not that I dislike the name, I actually like it, but you don’t have to stick to it if we’re alone.” I say in an effort to reaffirm the future I envision.
“It is your name is it not?” Qanyz asks.
“It, it is.” I sigh. “Have you had a talk with Celyz, Cetyz?”
“Ys.” She nods. “Sister and I agree disagree.”
“They’ve agreed to disagree.” Qanyz tells me with a small chuckle.
“About?” I ask, surprised.
“About Celyz’ research on humans and symbionts going further to help you.” Qanyz explains.
“It not against you, only feel it not benefit Hive enough justify.” Cetyz says apologetically. “I okay help you and Little one, but not more. I preserve roots yours.”
“It’s alright.” I say with a smile and a panging heart from this blow to my hopes of bearing a lovechild. I have no standing for that wish as I’ll soon fully commit to Lance. “I understand that the resources would be too costly to invest in me, especially because the results are far from guaranteed…” I wink at Cetyz. “Not to mention humans are mad.”
“We are not certain as to whether or not our sister is joking or simply stubborn about that view of hers towards humans.” Qanyz tells me.
“No joke.” Cetyz vehemently shakes her tendrils.
“You used to say that when you were young and pushed your egg-sister into one of her ill-minded adventures.” Qanyz notes flatly.
“This serious.” Cetyz affirms.
Qanyz makes a small wave with her tendrils, a Rykz shrug. I turn my attention to the worktable as I detect her grabbing a brush to run its strands over a liangi, my liangi.
“I am applying a protective coating with some flow.” Qanyz explains.
“Sister gone deal commotion, clearly search you because took human runic sword she told Qanyz make.” Cetyz tells me. “You go her?”
“I would rather not miss her while trying to find her, they were likely Cenwalh’s pawns and trying to unmask me for some scheme, or steal the mask. Either way, they’re gone so Celyz will come back soon, I don’t want to get lost looking. And I’m rather interested in this.” I say.
“You say twice, very worried not meet sister this night.” Cetyz chuckles.
“Oh yea, where’s Fenyz?” I ask with a teasing smile, guessing that the two are close from their interactions.
“She go back Izla morning.” Cetyz says, her tendrils awkwardly shifting.
“Ha, you miss her.” I say, grinning.
“You miss sister more!” Cetyz fires back, taking a big step towards me.
“Saplings, I am working.” Qanyz tells us in quiet but firm tone of voice.
“Sorry.” I mutter, unable to stop smiling in simple happiness from just this simple interaction.
“You rude at me, sister.” Cetyz tells me in a softer tone.
“Me?” I blink.
“Decision Hive retreat, not my input, rude. But you not know, so it okay.” Cetyz explains. “Celyz agree, I was mad that.”
“Could you explain more precisely what I did wrong?” I ask.
“I most scorn by Kingdom-Hive, so I need present to agree retreat bargain, else rude.” Cetyz tells me.
“Oh, sorry.” I say apologetically. “It just wasn’t possible.”
“Know, you serve two Queens so do most best for many Hive rather one.” Cetyz says. “It mad. It not wise. It very you.”
“I…” I pause. “You mean to say that it’s not wise but it’s very me, right?” I say, emphasizing the ‘but’.
“No.” Cetyz waves a tendril, exuding two odors, one pleasingly sugary while the other is slightly sour. That plant’s teasing me!
“So you’re saying I’m unwise.” I grunt. I try to keep a straight face but it soon cracks and a chuckle escapes me. “I’m really glad you understand, Cetyz.” I say, relieved.
“I accept, not understand.” She denies in a sad tone, shaking her tendrils.
“Ah.” I make a thin smile. “Okay.”