A few tens of minutes into my explanation of the plow, which doesn’t amaze Yvonne half as much as I thought it would. The floating platform suddenly starts shifting at an angle. I throw a look out the open door, finding that we’re accelerating.
“Did you do that?” I yell out to above.
“Rhyyyyyy.” Cetyz shouts back, sounding delighted.
“Are you a sapling or a grown tree?!” I exclaim, smiling.
“Rhyyyyyyyy.” Cetyz and Celyz both yell in excitement.
I can’t help but laugh and wish I could join them, but Celyz and I have been treading closer to a real argument as of late and it doesn’t seem like I should intrude on the sisters’ time together.
What just happened is another indication that the limits Leomi placed on me aren’t something we can get over or forget just because we want to and agree we should. Yvonne throws me a look.
“You want to go out.” I say.
“Of course I do!” Yvonne replies.
She rushes out of the tower and slips past the Rykz to make her way to the corner that rose up a whole meter above sea level. I climb the logs to follow Yvonne. I throw a look over my shoulder, finding that Port-Odo is quickly receding on the horizon.
The platform is going so fast that it’s creating waves behind itself. Yvonne arrives at the edge, she stands there with her arms apart, enjoying the quick breeze as her pants and sleeves clap from the wind.
I feel a little cold for the first time in quite a while despite the fact that we’re well into winter season. The Rykz around us are digging their pointy legs on the platform’s logs to hold steady.
What little cargo they put on the platform is tied down so I allow myself to relax a little and join Yvonne at the front. Celyz and Cetyz are still making excited noises up in the tower. I can’t see them but their tendrils occasionally flicker above the guardrail as they dance in the wind.
I pout, feeling envious of these appendages considering the fun they’re having. Still, a tail would be the best. I shake my head and spread my arms out like Yvonne has, opening my fingers wide to enjoy the wind slipping through them. I soon take my mask off to enjoy the breeze on my face, storing it inside my shirt.
“You buffed up you know.” Yvonne tells me after a while.
“Really?” I ask in surprise. That sounded a bit silly. “Am I fat now?” I question, apparently adamant on keeping up with my silliness.
Yvonne snorts, repressing a chortle. I still look down at my legs and belly in concern but don’t really find any difference. I shrug and look to the horizon, feeling rather good about moving forward, about leaving the past behind.
“You were all muscles but a bit scrawny.” Yvonne says. “Now you have some flesh to fill up, and an ass. Leomi likes that, and so does that Princess I’m sure.”
“Hm.” I grunt, blushing at the memory of the night we took each other in the area my friend just referred to. It was so… wrong. “It doesn’t bother you, me and Celyz?”
“I don’t really understand it.” Yvonne mutters.
“But does it bother you?” I insist.
“It does a little, but I think that’s what makes it so romantic.” Yvonne replies.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because there are so many obstacles in place between the two of you that I can’t help but root for your success, the same way I do for you and Leomi.” Yvonne explains in a chirpy tone. “I like the idea that love can cross barriers of class and species.”
“Don’t remind me.” I say, sighing heavily. “Leomi and I…” I pause, suddenly remembering that Vikiana disapproves of us. “Will we even be able to marry if, if we want to at some point?” I question in anguish, speaking more to myself than to her.
“Oh, no. No!” Yvonne exclaims, reaching out to rub my back. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out. We’ll do it in secret if need be, I promise you.”
“In, in secret?” I ask in a strident voice. “I, I just thought it would be difficult to get Vikiana’s approval.”
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but Leomi and you are figures in the Kingdom now.” Yvonne says, sighing. “And likely one in the Empire as well because the war here was closely followed. It isn’t wholly about you being two women anymore, it’ll be about your births and the statement your public marriage would entail.”
“I don’t get it, we’re…” I start.
“You do get it.” Yvonne interrupts me firmly. “Whoever Leomi ends up with is going to be a target by association for those who fear her.”
“It feels like you’re trying to convince me to give up on her.” I say, growing angry.
“It might be best for you if you left, Jessica.” She tells me, sighing.
“I need to finally reunite with my Lady and I have things to do back home.” I deny vehemently but keep my eyes fixed on the horizon. “Why would you think that? Trying to get rid of me?” I ask, unable to help my paranoia.
“No, not only do I think that you belong with us but I think we need you.” Yvonne shakes her head. “Those three things aren’t incompatible.”
“You’re not much help.” I grunt, sighing in relief.
“I don’t know the future.” Yvonne smiles. “All any of us can do is try to make the right decisions with the information we have.”
I hum noncommittally, going back to enjoying the chilly wind as we cruise through the sea arm towards the Izla. Yvonne keeps rubbing my back while she scans the area.
“What are you looking for? It’s slightly annoying to have you shifting like that.” I tell her.
I decide not to mention the fact that I don’t entirely like being cuddled either if I’m not asking for it, except if it’s coming from two beings which are very special to me of course.
“A coat, a blanket, anything warm for you.” She replies.
“Ugh.” I gripe, pushing her hand away from my back with my shoulder. “I’ll call for one.”
I tell the Little one to ask the workers to bring me what I’m pointing at while directing my left arm at a piece of tarp covering crates at the bottom of the tower where the sea spray doesn’t reach.
The drone quickly unfastens the ropes holding the canvas and brings it over to me. I take it off its hands and tap its shoulder before throwing it around my shoulders, rather enjoying the fact I’m not getting spit on by the sea any longer.
“What are your plans once this is done?” Yvonne asks.
“I don’t know exactly.” I reply. “Heal my scars in Meria and then go home. We never got around to sowing so there should be plenty to eat in our granary so I might be fine.”
“You’re worried about eating?” Yvonne says, sounding baffled as she throws me a look full of pity. I shrug, not knowing what to say about it since I find it pretty normal. “Jessica, you saved us all from a slaughter of a war, both humans and Rykz.”
“What does that have to do with it?” I ask, slightly angry. “You have resources I don’t, just because I’m confident doesn’t mean I don’t need to worry about making enough of a living to eat.”
“Jessica, we would never let you starve.” Yvonne tells me, seeming hurt as if I implied they would.
“I might start hunting. Or I suppose it would be poaching.” I ponder quietly. “Spears aren’t too hard to…” I pause. “I shouldn’t be telling you that.” I add, giggling.
“Jessica.” Yvonne says in a pained tone.
“I’m not taking charity, Yvonne.” I utter darkly. “Just because I’m going to rescind the oath Leomi gave me doesn’t mean I’ll accept payment from any of you, or the Rykz for that matter.”
“You can’t be serious.” She whispers. “We only want to help.”
Yvonne turns to me, expecting an answer. I flick the tarp off my shoulders and throw it onto hers as a way to show I’m not mad. I then make my way back to the tower to return to my work.
I sit down, thinking about simplifying the shredding construct since it’s the most energy consuming one. I take out the messaging construct and draw the various segments down before writing their function next to it. I then create the actual construct to start modifying it.
I duplicate the core segment that tears apart the affected target before reducing their size so that the energy consumption remains identical. I then spread them throughout the construct structure for a more dispersed effect.
I test the activation out only to have the construct crumble and blow air in my face. I frown and make adjustments to the segments’ positions considering how the construct structure crumbled.
My next attempt to activate it fails as well but the point of failure originates from a different segment, the one with the function to widen the gaps in the affected target after it’s been torn by the construct’s core segments.
I entirely remove the problematic segment since the function is redundant to that of the plows, which already fill the role better by splitting the earth along furrows.
It is entirely logical that it failed there since I copied and spread the core segment it depended on throughout the construct, I test activate the shredding construct, managing to make it run with a lot less energy.
The construct does fail after a few seconds, which isn’t too much of a surprise as I forgot to reposition the flow links connecting the rest of the construct to the core segment, meaning those segments consumed their own energy when they activated instead of that of the construct as a whole.
It takes me a few tens of minutes to optimize the shredding construct and make it run, but then it takes me a few hours of testing and adjusting to make sure it would last for at least a day’s work.
Celyz and Cetyz continue to laugh on the top of the tower throughout, enjoying the fresh air along with the others’ company. It allowed me not to feel too lonely, which I refuse to linger on since it was my own choice.
I get up to take a break and eat dinner with Yvonne, finding her sitting on the discovered creates. She’s wrapped inside the large piece of tarp so I pick up the canvas’ corner and slip in to sit by her side.
“I’m sorry.” I mutter.
“It’s okay.” Yvonne smiles. “I think I get it.”
“You do?” I ask.
“You don’t want to be rewarded.” She answers.
“I don’t deserve to be.” I correct.
“That’s a matter of opinion, sweetie.” Yvonne replies, passing her arm around my neck to pull me closer and deposit a comforting kiss on the top of my head.
“Would you not?” I say, trying not to get annoyed again. “It feels like you’re being condescending.”
“Big word.” Yvonne blinks. “It wasn’t my intention.”
“I know.” I sigh. “Mother overcompensated on our education. At least mine since my brother, Mersey, didn’t care much for the lessons. She wanted to give us a future, she likely felt guilty about not raising us in Meria like she was now that I think about it.”
“Well, it does make you interesting company even if it does cause some trouble for the Kingdom.” Yvonne chuckles. “Patrick’s face when you broke his arm, still makes me laugh.”
The memory of the Lordling’s bloody face flashes to my eyes. I shake my head. Yvonne turns contrite, likely realizing she brought back bad memories. I make a shrug to dismiss the event.
“You know, I really like calling her my Lady.” I say to change the subject.
“Hm.” Yvonne mutter encouragingly.
“I’m the one who chose it even if I kept using it because she liked it.” I continue. “It disarms this whole Nobility thing for me, if that makes sense?”
“It does if it works for you.” Yvonne replies, smiling.
“I really hate imposed authority.” I say. “Doesn’t matter if it’s legitimate. It’s probably why I had so much faith in Rasaec. He doesn’t impose taxes on us and only asks for a Due to keep us all safe, there isn’t even an imposed penalty for failing to deliver one’s Due.”
“Well…” Yvonne trails off.
“I know, I’ve realized that the Templars don’t need to impose the Due if you become a pariah by failing to present yours.” I grunt. “Not to mention its a direct tax in itself, and that we still pay taxes to the Emperor through the Kingdom.”
“The system does seem calculated for the Emperor to remain above the fray in people’s eyes but that doesn’t make it bad since it preserves order.” Yvonne tells me.
“That’s the Templar’s goal isn’t it.” I say. “It doesn’t have anything to do with fairness but everything to do with keeping the peace and the Empire’s internal balance.”
“What are you getting at, Jessica?” Yvonne asks.
“I don’t know.” I shake my head. “I had faith in Rasaec as a Chosen of the Lake but there’s no such thing so what does it make him?”
“Humanity’s Emperor.” Yvonne replies unhesitantly.
“Except he’s not.” I point out. “There are three million more of us, somewhere.”
“You planning on seeking them out?” Yvonne asks.
“Maybe when I’m rich.” I dismiss, giggling. “Heard they go by every color. What if there are some as white as snow? Or blacker than the Rykz? Green as the forest.” I enumerate dreamily. “Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?”
“I don’t know.” She replies. “It doesn’t seem all that different from here.”
“But it would be.” I grunt.
“You’re not looking forward to going back at all, are you?” Yvonne asks.
“How long do you think it’ll take to arrive at this speed?” I question, nodding at the platform’s foremost corner.
“I have no idea.” She shakes her head.
“Cetyz! If you can’t get us there by tomorrow afternoon, let Celyz prove she can!” I yell out towards the top of the tower.
Cetyz and Celyz immediately rise above the guardrail, looking at me. I wave at them with a provocative grin on my face. Celyz’ tendrils suddenly burst to life, swirling all around her sister who retaliates by doing the same.
“The two of you look like bickering saplings!” I call them out.
“Little one do this purpose sister!” Cetyz protests loudly. “Not let come between!”
“I only want to show you how it is done!” Celyz counters just as loudly.
“You only want show off! Sunlight confided me!” Cetyz cries out as a wave bursts up on the left of the platform, likely a result of her sister’s interference.
“It belongs to all Rykz, do not be selfish!” Celyz counters childishly.
“Sister, let try!” Cetyz whines in a pitiful tone.
“Celyz, don’t bully your sister! I’m very disappointed in you.” I intervene.
Celyz freezes and turns her ovaloid head to me as her tendrils drop in shame, offering a sight of misery. Yvonne doubles over, bursting out in laughter. I do my best to avoid giggling too loudly. I’m not very successful.
“Ha! Told sister, was trick!” Cetyz exclaims triumphantly.
“Well, you’re going to have to prove you can get us there now.” Celyz says, feigning offense as she swipes her tendrils to the side.
“You teach, sister.” Cetyz counters.
“Hmph. I was going to but your protests convinced me that you have full confidence in the abilities you have.” Celyz denies with a theatrical harrumph.
“Sister best show Little one her abilit…” Cetyz starts.
I don’t hear the rest as the two disappear behind the guardrail again. They start chortling in their odd Rykz way merely a few tens of seconds later. A tendril peeks out to twirl in thin air, another slaps it down. I blush, realizing the turn their conversation took.
“Hey, what are you telling her?!” I protest, not even knowing which one of the sisters did what.
“I’m pretty sure they did that in revenge.” Yvonne cracks out, mocking me.
I pout and get up instead of waiting for our food. I head for the workers and light up a small fire in a flat iron platter made for cooking without setting fire to the floating platform.
Yvonne joins me and uses the tarp to block the wind by stepping on it while holding the corners out with her hands. Once the flames get going, I pick up a pot and start rifling through the supplies to make something.
I find amphorae filled with the Rykz’ mixture near some freshly picked mushrooms but also some wheat grains which I’m happy to boil first before adding the rest. Yvonne makes a grimace at the thick liquid that results.
“It’s like a stew but made of those weird Grub’s milk-like substance and with wheat instead of meat.” I say, grinning.
“Ugh, don’t remind me.” She grunts.
“No worries, I made enough for ten, you’ll be able to eat plenty.” I add.
I start picking bowls out with the workers to set them on platters. The fact that the floating platform doesn’t accelerate during the whole time tells me that the Princesses played along with me as they clearly have no intention of speeding up.
“We should eat together.” I suggest.
“You’re the boss.” Yvonne replies with a wink.
We bring the food atop the tower to have our meal clear from the rough sea wind thanks to the tall guardrail. I take a seat next to Celyz, passing my right arm around her ankle to hold her as I eat. She rests one of her tendrils over both my shoulders, leaving it loose.
The four of us eat in relative silence, merely enjoying each other’s presence and the sound of the sea. Yvonne and Cetyz do exchange a few words but I don’t feel the need to make small talk, neither does Celyz.
Celyz accompanies me when I return downstairs to sleep, taking position in a corner of the room inside the tower. I fall to slumber feeling safe with her overlooking me.
— — —