Celyz doesn’t immediately reply, she instead takes hold of the tools and runs her tendrils over them to examine them through touch. She selects a small hammer and an angled chisel.
“You’ve inscribed your lightning-armor-piercing construct on the back and border of the blades so I would engrave them on the flat with the branches’ tips forming runes.” Celyz tells me. “It would be difficult to fit the silver tree on the staff with all the runes around it.”
“What construct do you want me to put there?” I ask.
“A shielding construct, like the one I put on your sleeve glove. I will have to lock it to you like the rest but also hide the specifics from you.” Celyz tells me. “I would teach it to you, had I the permission.” She adds apologetically.
“It’s alright.” I smile, trying not to look hurt.
“It is unfair, considering all you’ve shared with me, that my Hive’s secrets remain things I protect and cannot give you.” Celyz says, her head angled down in shame.
“Well, these were mine to share while your Hive depends on you not to squander their secrets.” I reassure her.
We spend a good part of the evening and night working on the liangi, me on my runic constructs while Celyz inscribes the shielding construct on the blades while shaping it in the form of a leafless tree.
We have a meal when we finish and I set myself up a bunk in a corner with blankets and go to sleep to the sound of her still working on my weapon, I even hear her starting the forge fire again as I fall to my slumber.
— — —
Celyz wakes me in the middle of the day with a bowl of warm and delicious smelling mushroom stew with beef. I devour it like I have during harsh times in my childhood despite not being hungry enough to justify it. It makes me feel shameful.
“Do you wish to stop in Meria?” Celyz asks.
“No.” I shake my head, unwilling to think of the task awaiting me near Meria. “I, I want to remove the symbiont as quickly as possible.” I mutter. “And then I’ll have to seek an Alemplar for my scars.”
“So soon.” Celyz whispers sadly.
“It has to be done.” I reply firmly to cut through a possible argument.
“I am aware.” Celyz sighs. “I hoped you would meet that woman with it for the choice you gave her because she said something to me yesterday. Our conversation veered from her to us so I did not bring it up but…” The Princess pauses.
“What is it?” I ask, resigning myself to another painful conversation.
“An unstructured golden one-winged Jay made of flow harassed her before, during, and after she said something. I do not know whether that was an act or a symptom of her mental state for being reminded of what she did to you.”
“It wasn’t an act.” I mutter, feeling a spike of guilt.
“Leomi Lance intends to shatter Elizabeth Vil like she tried to do to her, that is if Elizabeth doesn’t stop her. If, if she were to attack…” Celyz’ resounding voice dies off. “Allow me to accompany you.”
“No.” I virulently shake my head. “This is my fork in the road with her, we’ll break or not. Either way, something new will be born.”
“While you wish we part ways so soon.” Celyz whispers.
“Removing the symbiont doesn’t mean we’re parting ways.” I tell her.
“But you will leave soon after.” Celyz sighs, the air creating an oddly comforting sound as it escapes the twelve openings on her head.
“Then let’s make the most of the time we have.” I tell her taking my mask off to smile.
Celyz perks up, rising in height which I’ve recognized as a sign of her mood being lifted. She quickly grabs the long rectangular box and opens it, showing me the liangi.
She added a thin layer of silver to the engraved tree, and even found a way to add a patch of red encircling the roots. To finalize the other runes all across the liangi, she filed their edges to then cast gray steel into them to set them apart from the rest and reinforce them. I sigh in amazement.
“It’s beautiful.” I say.
“I hope you do not have to use it.” Celyz tells me in a soft voice.
“Me too.” I respond.
Suxen’s notebook is in a corner of the case under the liangi’s blade with several pieces of parchment inside it. I take those out, finding all the drawings and notes I took this past week.
I put the parchment back and close the case without reaching for the weapon. I set my mask back on my face and hold my right hand out. Celyz takes hold of my wrist and we set out together towards the docks.
Yvonne is sitting on a pier’s cleat and looking towards the city rather than the dock’s warehouse district where we’re coming from. She is distracting herself by creating shapes out of her flow.
She’s in full gear with a small travel bag at her feet. She has a long sword and a short sword on the left side of her waist, a short-sleeve chain-mail over her torso, and a kite shield set behind her back. Celyz tightens her grip on my wrist.
“It’s alright, she’s been a better friend to me lately than I’ve been to her… if I ignore her attempt to unmask me. But that was on impulse.” I reassure Celyz.
“May I be along?” Celyz asks.
“Of course.” I reply, smiling.
I head over to Yvonne who realizes our presence because those she’s watching notice us. I’m relieved that people keep their distance even though it makes me feel isolated, but that feeling is an old companion.
“Elizabeth.” Yvonne greets, standing up.
“Yvonne, how are you?” I ask.
“Could you give us a moment alone, Princess Celyz?” Yvonne replies instead of answering my question.
Celyz’ tail almost imperceptibly drops, making me frown. It seems to me like she’s disappointed, almost fatalistic. Perhaps she hoped to get along with me and my friends, as I do with her sisters.
“She can stay.” I intervene with a frown.
“You two wish to talk, I can certainly wait to the side.” Celyz politely responds, letting go of my wrist and taking several backward steps.
“Why did you do that?” I bark at Yvonne.
“Because I wanted to talk to you.” Yvonne replies, blinking in surprise.
“She’s important to me, she saved my life.” I utter firmly. “She has proven herself a friend.”
“O, okay.” Yvonne stutters, taken aback. “I’ll call her back in a moment, I’ve spoken to her and I assure you I don’t think her a threat or untrustworthy… but she always seems so foreign, unreadable.”
“Then make the effort.” I grunt. “I can read her fine.”
“That’s because you’re a hawk.” Yvonne tells me.
“How is that?” I blink.
“I’ve almost always seen you on alert since I met you, Elizabeth.” Yvonne tells me, closing her left hand. “See, your eyes went straight down.”
“I mean, your biceps clenched, I could see your sleeve moving.” I protest.
“I know, sweetie.” Yvonne tells me with a sad smile. “You’re on the lookout for threats.”
“Can’t have been since we met.” I say, confused and a little irrationally afraid. “I became like this.”
“You got worse.” Yvonne sadly shakes her head. “Now you’re scanning for physical threats, before they were emotional. I didn’t realize at first, I only put it together recently. Is it because of your childh…”
“Wh, what did you want?” I hurriedly interrupt her, unwilling to even consider that the idiots back at my village made so wary. They never had that kind of hold on me.
“Because I’m worried.” She tells me with pinched lips.
“Don’t be, I swear I’ll take care of her as best I can when she comes to me.” I affirm.
“I don’t doubt that. But Leomi is…” Yvonne sighs and shakes her head. “No, she’s fine for now, she’s focused.” The sword-sworn turns to Celyz. “Princess Celyz!” She calls.
“Yes?” Celyz responds, moving closer.
“I apologize for my behavior, it was unwarranted and rude.” Yvonne says in an uneasy tone.
“No harm was done.” Celyz replies kindly.
“Do you need any assistance?” Yvonne asks. “I am able to divert some carriages here or in Meria to ease your retreat.”
“There is no need, we are quite thoroughly prepared, thank you.” Celyz replies, looking somewhat chipper.
“You gave Leomi a sword, what…” Yvonne starts.
“No.” Celyz cuts her off before she can finish.
“All she said was that you reached some kind of understanding on Elizabeth Vil, past any differences you may have.” Yvonne carefully comments, throwing me a look.
“And that’s all anyone outside of the two of us needs to know.” Celyz utters firmly, turning to me.
“I don’t like not knowing but I’m not going to argue if the two of you made some kind of peace.” I carefully say. “I just hope I didn’t get sold off.” I jokingly add. My chuckle doesn’t make it past my throat however, as the prospect isn’t as outlandish considering Leomi’s instability.
“That was actually one of my concerns.” Yvonne comments darkly.
“I would have knocked her unconscious if she proposed it. She would have proven herself undeserving.” Celyz says quite uncomfortably.
“But you would have agreed?” I ask teasingly, enjoying the idea of my two loves fighting for possession of me even if I would probably balk and fight against the reality of having my will ignored.
“N, no.” Celyz shakes her head.
“You don’t sound certain.” I comment, grinning.
“If she had proposed a transfer of your allegiance, I may have. Both Rykz and humans have such a custom.” Celyz explains. “But, I would have asked you.” She hurriedly adds, reaching out to run one of her tendrils across the side of my head.
“Alright, stop, stop.” Yvonne intervenes, shuffling uncomfortably. “I’ve seen and done many things, but I’m not so worldly as this.”
“You have a problem with it?” I ask.
“I don’t, but I’m not really… Ugh.” Yvonne cuts herself off with a grunt of disgust. “Can’t believe I’m sounding like one of those old hags.”
“You don’t have a problem with us?” I ask, her comments reminding me that she shouldn’t be so accepting despite the fact Yvonne thinks she isn’t being.
“I’m a sword-sworn, cutie.” Yvonne tells me with a big wink. “We don’t deal in any morals in the course of our duties, we merely do what we must to protect our ward.”
“Wait, what?” I blink.
“Oh, right.” Yvonne grins. “I’ve decided to accompany you since Leomi agreed to give me a temporary release.”
“You can’t, I’m going back to the Hive.” I say, frowning behind my mask. “And you’re bound by the same oath Leomi took.” I add.
“Correction, Leomi bound me to the oath she took concerning a friend of ours named Jessica, not Elizabeth Vil.” Yvonne replies seriously. “Leomi doesn’t need, or want, my help half as much as you will soon, and so here I am.”
“I won’t need to be coddled!” I gripe.
“I disagree.” Yvonne replies in a gentle tone.
“Celyz.” I say, turning to the Princess for help.
“I see no harm in additional protection for you.” Celyz tells me, several of her tendrils shaking behind her back.
“You’re openly laughing at me!” I accuse her.
“Discreetly.” Celyz corrects, not even denying that she is mocking me. “I can clearly tell that you are happy to have her, you were as soon as you caught sight of her. Why would I deny this?”
“I…” I choke, feeling touched and vexed at the same time.
“Aww.” Yvonne says in an expression of her affection.
She reaches out to wrap me in her arms. I grasp at her almost against my will and tightly hug her. I care not for the people watching or Elizabeth’s reputation, I simply revel in having my friend back.
“I’ve been so lonely.” I mutter.
“We missed you a lot.” Yvonne replies smilingly.
“Hmh.” I acquiesce.
Celyz watches over us with her knees almost fully bent to make her as discreet as possible. The two of us remain embraced for a little while before Yvonne breaks it, looking uncomfortable about the gazes on us.
“You’re cheap.” I complain.
“Do you have any idea the commotion it caused when people learned the two of you broke up?” Yvonne grunts quietly. “I really don’t want to be talked about as if I’m in the middle of it in any way.”
“Stingy.” I insist.
“Okay, that’s enough.” Yvonne says with a fake frown.
“Miserly.” I can’t help but add.
Yvonne bursts in laughter and passes her arm around my shoulders, pushing me towards the pier. Celyz follows behind with a light step. If I had to guess, I would say she’s happy for me.
“Which platform are we taking?” Yvonne asks over her shoulder.
“Either one you wish.” Celyz replies.
“How were things when you left?” I question Yvonne.
“Well, we’re starting to see a resurgence of old values in Caeviel, that one’s word has to hold for more than pandering.” Yvonne tells me. “We’re watching to see where that goes and how to prove the Hospitaliers respect that engagement. It remains to be seen if Nobility will be judged as having failed its old duties.”
“Alright.” I nod.
“I’m concerned that Leomi told us to organize an election to choose the Hospitalier Commander only after the contest to enter the chapter and fill officer positions. I suspect it’s to allow people who pass to place their candidacy, meaning it includes you.” Yvonne explains. “I don’t know at all what she expects to happen at the rendezvous you gave her, but she does not seem to think it positive in the least.”
“It’ll depend on the depth of her feelings of either one of us.” We reply quietly, low enough it might escape Celyz. “If she still wants the woman I was even if I changed, then I give you my word that I won’t cause an issue.”
“I believe you, sweetie.” Yvonne tells me.
“But, enough of that.” I hurriedly say. “You spoke of two parts in this contest, what’s that about?” I ask.
“Well, most people working for the Hospitaliers right now aren’t part of the organization.” Yvonne explains. “The contest will be a test to pass and join one of the Hospitaliers’ wings, but we won’t be splitting the flow that people pledge with the entire organization since most have no need of it.”
“How many are there, and which wing are the pledges made to?” I question.
“Four wings. The military wing is the one people pledge their regeneration to with a contingency that their reserves can be accessed by the officers in case of emergency. The hospital wing deals with healing, obviously, but also caring for the sick, they have the authority to request the energy necessary to accomplish their task if it does not endanger their chapter’s safety. The administrative wing manages supplies, governing lands that belong to the Hospitaliers, and archives the paperwork for every wing which is to remain free for oversight. The Justiciers are pledged to by all members of the organizations and have control of their reserves no matter what, but also required to justify their every official action through reports given to their chapter’s Head Justicier, Commander, and administrative wing.” Yvonne explains.
“That sounds like a lot of paper.” I comment, baffled.
“Well, they won’t be using quality stuff, and I assure you every margin will be filled, but Grace and Edusa insisted. We’ll see if it’s sustainable, we could always set a time limit to wipe old cases.” Yvonne shrugs. “Every member of the Hospitaliers will be pledging their regeneration to the Justiciers as well as take an oath to allow them access to their reserves whenever the Justiciers wish. In the case of the Commanders, they are to pledge theirs to the Grand Commander when we have more than a single chapter, or even two. The Grand Commander is to pledge their flow reserves to the Head Justicier.”
“Wait, that sounds like Grace outranks Leomi if she’s the Head Justicier for the entire organization.” I blink.
“She does in a way.” Yvonne says, stopping at the edge of the pier. “But not really as Justiciers don’t have any authority if it doesn’t have to do with investigating petitions or with maintaining the charter and rules of conduct.”
“How many of those did Leomi Lance already breach?” Celyz asks pointedly.
“With our Elizabeth here? Probably half.” Yvonne admits, barking out in laughter. “But as long as it’s in private… only Elizabeth here can really make a serious complaint.”
“Hm.” I chuckle.
“I will go out and tell our workers to prepare for departure.” Celyz says, jumping atop the floating platform to our right.
“Celyz, wait. You okay?” I ask.
“It makes me happy to see you relax with a friend, do not worry.” She replies kindly. “And I can smell my sister hiding in there.” She adds, heading to the tower.
Yvonne makes a small curtsy towards Celyz even though she just abruptly left without a word for her. I wait for the princess to enter the wooden tower at the center before turning to the sword-sworn.
“I suggest you forget it if you’re going to try to use the Justiciers to your advantage for one of your ill-advised games.” Yvonne tells me with a raised eyebrow, pretty much reading my mind. “Grace would probably fleece you for that, and she has a surprisingly sharp tongue.”
“Oh well.” I say with a shrug. “Wasn’t seriously thinking about it.”
“Did you not want to return to what you had?” Yvonne asks.
“I do, but… I’m not who I was anymore and I might need to hammer that into Leomi.” I reply carefully.
“Ah, so you won’t be satisfied with being at her mercy anymore.” Yvonne teases.
“Pff, she was at mine.” I stubbornly dismiss.
“Truly.” Yvonne says more seriously.
“How is it going with Rowland?” I ask.
“Good, had to commit more than I wanted but I don’t regret it.” Yvonne smiles.
The two of us walk onto the platform and seek out a couple of crates to sit down, to talk about everything mundane but certainly not anything relating to nothing. It takes merely a few hours for a regiment of Rykz to embark on the platform with supplies.
I store Elizabeth and Leomi’s dagger inside along with my Vuskyt mail-shirt, glad that I’ll get to put my mask inside soon as well. Your mask? My mask. Oh please, I can tell you’re looking forward to being at peace as well.