I make my way to the gate, finding Yvonne standing with her back to the wall immediately to my right. She points me to gaze at the camp with her chin. There are trenches crisscrossing the entire expanse, each with spikes making it difficult to drop down into them or for horses to jump over.
Grikyz took root in the center of the camp with a few thousand warriors guarding her and workers with atlatls, spear throwers. On top of that, there are scouts patrolling as far as the eye can see outside.
“This is a fortified position, not a resting stop.” I comment.
“That’s my assessment as well.” She nods. “I shudder to think of what it would take to assault this.”
“With a Queen in the center? I doubt it’s even possible.” I say, shivering. “And this is considered a risky position.”
I take the lead and head out towards Queen Grikyz, eager to finally remove my symbiont but rather frightened about what it’ll do to my ability to defend with all the warnings I’ve been given.
The Little one communicates its hunger to me. It makes me smile bitterly as that seems to be its biggest worry over this, so much so that it starts opening and closing our hand as if it’s nervous, impatient to take refuge near Grikyz.
We follow the path to the center, using the wooden planks allowing passage over the trenches. Celyz, Cetyz, and Fenyz are at Queen Grikyz’ feet. They are apparently having a careful discussion if I go by the way they’re slowly waving their tendrils.
“We’ll give them a moment.” I tell Yvonne despite my symtiont’s protests.
“Seems like a good idea.” She nods.
I keep my eyes on Celyz, wondering about the motives and concerns that pushed her to act behind my back. Her reasons had to have been dishonest to a point or Grikyz wouldn’t have exposed her daughter, and I’m rather certain she did because she could have kept communicating through pheromones instead of speaking aloud.
“Join us.” Grikyz calls out. “… Jessica.” She adds, using my name for the first time.
“I’ll be here.” Yvonne tells me.
I walk up to Grikyz with the Little one’s encouragements, telling me to rest in her safe shadow. The Queen extends a curved tendril out. My symbiont gladly reaches out to it, seemingly recognizing its Mother. As it does, it tightens its grip on my ribs and hits me with a wave of euphoria.
My knees falter and I drop. I only notice that they hit the ground when I hear the sound as I don’t feel any pain or impact. A grin appears on my face as the tendrils that served to camouflage my lost breast unravel.
I feel like I’m being tickled between my ribs as vibrations go through them, like tiny filaments snapping. I intellectually know that this is different from when the tendrils dug through the flesh between my ribs as they merely pushed the muscles aside instead of consuming them.
Yet, I find myself unable to worry about it, I feel no fear even as tendrils press on one of my lungs to reach for my heart. Celyz starts assembling a complicated flow construct in mid-air, one that resembles an arabesque of drawings rather than a series of symbols.
The Queen’s tendril bursts forth towards my left arm, expelling a wave of concentrated black flow. The Little one is entirely knocked out on impact. It slackens from its nail-less fingers down to the appendages anchored to my bones.
“My apologies, it was necessary.” Grikyz utters as quietly as she seems able to. I’m not certain of whether she is speaking to me or the Little one.
“…” I don’t respond, feeling some kind of emptiness in my euphoria.
Celyz appears in my field of vision, startling me as I didn’t detect her coming even though I’ve learned to always keep part of me attentive to any movements in my surroundings.
I hear running steps behind me. I try to scan the area, but find that I’ve lost access to the symbiont’s sense. I start turning my head to throw a look but a black veil threatens to knock me out so I freeze.
“Why?” I mutter, exhausted.
“Because it reacted as I feared when time came to remove it from you.” Celyz responds worriedly. “It tried to consume you while it felt like we were protecting it.”
“Jessica!” Yvonne calls out.
I hit the ground, suddenly feeling a white pain all around my left shoulder like I’m melting. It wasn’t telling me to get food and rest under Grikyz’ shadow, it was guiding me towards my death.
— — —
No. I force myself awake. I seize the flaying sensation like my flesh is being peeled one layer at a time as if it is my last hope for survival. I force myself to open my eyes, finding that Celyz is holding me inside her tendrils.
I realize the scream is mine with a delay and because I’m running out of air. I try to inhale but find it difficult, and painful. My eyelids fall back down. A warm viscous liquid pours onto my chest, it’s filled with so much concentrated flow that I can feel the energy on my skin.
In my excruciating agony, from the blunt wedge pressuring my heart to the sensation of acid around my ribs, I barely register the pain from Rykz blood infiltrating my left side’s flesh.
I blink my eyes open for a moment, finding that I’m laying between Grikyz’ feet with Celyz and Fenyz to either side of me. They’re talking but all I can hear is a buzzing in my ears.
I choke some air in, finding it more and more difficult to inhale. Something slashes at my belly just beneath my ribs. I feel a thin, pinky sized, object plunge into the wound and slide upwards underneath my ribs between my lungs.
I seize the flow inside my body and use it to prevent myself from blacking out, challenging the dozen sources of pain ripping into me. What has to be a tendril pushes my sternum up, helping me take in a big gulp of air.
The Rykz push more energy inside my body through their blood. I leave it alone, sensing that they’re shaping a construct around my heart. My issue is that the Little one knows it’s under threat and waking up, I can tell as much from a corner of my mind.
Celyz herself admitted the Rykz haven’t researched their ancestors very much, perhaps what they used to knock it out just won’t last. I need to act. As soon as they remove the tendril connected to my spine.
I assemble a lion strike and prepare myself. I let the stretching pain seizing my upper left chest go through me without resistance, embracing it as proof that I yet survive. I am insane after all, that has to count in my carefully shaped instantaneously impulsive decisions.
A construct lands on my skin and conforms to it while it travels to my back. I recognize the one that Celyz was shaping which looked more arabesque than geometrical construct. It centers itself over the tendril anchored to my spine at the base of my skull.
It starts slowly spinning, making the Little one’s appendage unfold and detach. More tiny filaments snap and I blank out, literally as I see bright white light for a moment as a bolt of electricity goes through my brain. I breathe out in relief, the tendril lodged under my sternum helps me inhale immediately after.
Celyz would have told me if that tendril merged with my spine, and I likely would have realized, but still. The Little one bristles, likely the cause of the sharp spike of icy pain that impales my heart a moment later.
The Rykz respond by activating the construct they prepared for the essential beating organ. I cackle, finding it hilarious that my adoptive species is salvaging the very thing keeping me from them, the heart that my Lady took possession of as soon as my gaze found her silvery pupils.
I inject all the flow I have into the lion strike anchored to my right arm and steal some from the Rykz. The construct goes up to the muscles that stretch beneath my one remaining breast and along the shoulder-blade in my back.
I then remove the timer construct entirely, deciding to directly control the construct in spite of the agony I’m in. I bring my arm around and seize my left one at the elbow, closing my fingers around the articulation for the best grip.
Having lost the connection to my spine, I realize that it provided me with a sense of where the tendrils were inside my chest and that I now have very little information to tell whether they’re still slack or not. It is even more difficult as it feels like my entire left side is a panging mess.
I activate my lion strike, deciding that any delay increases the risks of the Little one awakening. I begin with a slow increase in strength, focusing through the pain to sense the tendrils unfolding from around my ribs.
A tendril panically taps my biceps but I ignore it. If there was a risk to my life by doing this, they would restrain me. I increase the pressure, the pain it causes me gives me a clear sensation that I’m forcefully unwinding the appendages.
I grit my teeth and keep pulling, slowly increasing the amount of energy I’m committing. Snap. I feel the break more than I hear it as the vibrations of the rib shake me down to my core, bringing a new layer of agony.
The Little one attempted to resist, I have no doubt. I can tell that I’m about to pass out so I go all out and rip the parasite out of my body. Crack. Another bone shatters. Hah, I withstood it.
“I win.” I utter.
— — —
It takes a huge effort for me to inhale and all I obtain is a thin strand of air. A tendril soon takes over and pulls my sternum up, almost making me faint from how it pulls on my left ribs. The appendage then releases me, letting me exhale.
“Listen to her, Mother, she may not know as much but she can recognize when one of her kind is not getting better.” Celyz’, anguished tone of voice resounds in my ears, making me smile.
“I have done all that I could with constructs.” Grikyz responds.
“Unstructured, Mother. Elzbth deserve use some of reserve.” Cetyz calls out.
“No one will hinder your retreat, use the flow.” Yvonne pleads.
“Is it night?” I whisper with difficulty, having opened my eyes but only finding darkness.
“Rest.” Grikyz orders. “You will be healed once you awaken.”
My left arm itches so I try to scratch it but I don’t find anything there. I feel so weak that my right arm probably never moved. I feel my body being rocked left and right, slowly pushing me back to sleep.
— — —
“Her eyes are reacting to the light, I don’t know why you’re so worried.” Yvonne says.
“She asked if it was night in broad daylight!” Celyz shouts.
“It was exhaustion.” Yvonne denies.
“It wasn’t.” I intervene. The sword-sworn closes her mouth so quickly I hear her teeth clack.
I rise to up with wide open eyes, finding no more than darkness. I do feel a couple of blankets slipping off of me. It seems to me like I’m on one of the Rykz’ sheet mattress beds. I feel Celyz’ tendrils gently wrapping around my waist. I lie back down, already fatigued and in pain. Hands pull the blankets back up to cover my bare chest.
“So, I’m blind.” I utter, feeling a heavy stone in my stomach.
“It is likely temporary.” Celyz quickly replies, her ovaloid head close to my ears. “It hasn’t been very long since Mother finished healing you.”
“Explains why I have a stitch in the side.” I grunt, trying to scratch my left rib-cage. “Aah.” I yelp, awakening a harsh pain from my entire left section, including my left arm.
“Don’t move too much.” Yvonne tells me sharply. “You tore the damn thing off.”
“It tried to eat me.” I grunt angrily. “And it was about to wake up.”
“You turned yourself blind, you idiot!” Yvonne explodes, her voice filled with concern.
“That was likely my fault.” Celyz denies regretfully. “I disconnected it from the spine as carefully as I could but it seems like the symbiont’s sense exchanged its sensory information with the part of her brain that dealt with sight and ending that caused damage.”
“It wasn’t you, Celyz. The parasite stopped feeding me information when you knocked it out, I think it either purposefully harmed me in revenge or reflexively because I can’t chase and kill it if I’m blind.” I explain.
“Do you need anything? Your body is healing.” Celyz asks.
“I’m cold.” I tell her, feeling hazy.
“I told you she needed more blankets.” Yvonne gripes.
“She does not.” Celyz says, sounding worried. “I assure you, her body temperature is already too high.”
“I’m going to fall asleep.” I mutter. “Is there anything you can do about my eyes?”
“Mother is working on it already.” Celyz replies gently. “We have some experience with sight as we tried to make eyes for our drones, they were more concentrated amalgamations of our ability to detect heat to catch things further away, but they went blind one aft…”
“Do it, no debate.” I command.
— — —
I awaken shaking, feeling like there’s ice in my bones. I try to speak but my tongue is shaking so all I get out are garbled sounds. I feel that something urgent is missing but have no idea what, only that it relates to the painful ghostly emptiness radiating in my left shoulder.
“Please eat, my love.” Celyz begs. “Open your mouth.”
I do so, moving my head towards her. I hit a full spoon with my cheek. The food spills on my chest. Celyz quickly wipes it off and takes hold of my chin to keep me steady.
She feeds me a bitter mash but I eat it without complaint, knowing I can trust her despite her recent tricks. Ugh, it tastes like someone threw plants in a bowl and smashed them. Once I’ve had about enough, I refuse to open my mouth even as Celyz pushes with the spoon.
“You, could have…” I shiver. “Warned me.”
“Mother took action without telling you when she confirmed what the symbiont’s intentions were. But I did advise her to act as such, sorry. I knew you were tough enough to handle it even without warning.” Celyz explains.
“And because, you wanted to integrate us, if I was at risk. You didn’t, want to give me, the chance to refuse.” I struggle to say.
“I am not about to let you die, no. Is that why you almost killed yourself?” Celyz asks, sounding guilty.
“No, I only did what I had to do.” I shake my head, causing a dizziness that forces me to pause for a long moment. Celyz waits patiently, reading the fact that I have more to say. “Why am I still blind?” I ask with a ball in my throat.
“You spent yesterday in complete delirium, Jessica. Yvonne called it withdrawal.” Celyz replies. “You were too weak so I feared it would worsen your state.”
“Where is she?” I ask.
“Sleeping.” She answers softly.
“Hm.” I whisper, shivering.
— — —
I awaken feeling as fatigued as before despite being in a lot less pain. I check my left shoulder, finding a round patch of flesh with a cross-shaped scar held by string. Even though I should be relieved, I only feel more anxious and depressed.
I pass my right hand under my blankets and run it along my body, checking my state through touch since I can’t see a thing. I find more string just under my lower ribs where they cut to insert the tendril that kept me breathing. My skin scared around it already.
My fingers wander between my thighs, checking my virginity out of habit since I’ve spent a day, or more, raving. I’m certain Celyz wouldn’t do anything but she’s taken sweet liberties with my body before and she might not have realized or had an accident.
I’m reassured to find the fleshly barrier but rather scared by the fact that it only excites me a little despite the terrible emotional and physical state I’m in. I swiftly pull my hand away in order not to break my Lady’s order.
“Seriously, what are you doing?” Yvonne asks rhetorically from close-by.
“What? I’m not asking you to watch.” I giggle, instantly feeling better. “I was just making sure I didn’t lose anything.”
“I’ve been stopping them from operating on your eyes.” Yvonne speaks up directly. “I know you said no debate so I won’t, but I wasn’t going to let them do anything without making sure you understand it.”
“That’s okay.” I shrug, feeling too uplifted by the fact I’m not alone to get mad.
“The good news about that is that the Rykz army has had time to sail over and are now encamped all around us so you couldn’t be safer.” Yvonne tells me. “It also means that the Queen has folded in front of Cetyz’ incessant harassment, she has agreed to dedicate their full reserves to restoring your eyesight.”
“Odd, I can’t hear them.” I blink.
“Celyz has given orders that no sound be made within earshot. I witnessed a patrol of warriors take a half-hour to patrol around the tent in order not to be heard.” Yvonne explains.
I pay more attention, finding that I can hear some noise in the distance if I isolate the sounds that Yvonne is making breathing. I hear her move and feel cold metal against my cheek soon after. I tense but soon realize that it isn’t a weapon but the curve of a spoon.
“Taking out the silverware?” I ask.
“Only the best for my reckless friend.” Yvonne replies, sounding forceful in her cheerfulness.
“How bad do I look?” I ask.
“You’re fine.” Yvonne replies. I can hear the lie from the tightness in her voice.
“Be honest.” I grunt.
“Fine.” She sighs and takes hold of my blanket, pulling it down to my waist. “Belly looks like someone tried to plow you with a sharp rake, but the cut the Rykz made is clean. Left shoulder seems… fine. Those injuries will smooth out, I think, they already scarred because of all the flow they threw at you.” She pulls the blanket back up.
“Did it get colder these past few days?” I ask, shivering.
“A little, not much.” She replies.
“Get me some clothes.” I tell her, finding my depression and anxiety to be affronts to who I am, not to mention the ridiculous fatigue when my muscles aren’t even tired.
“Eat first.” Yvonne denies.
I hear her plunge the utensil into some mashed food and prepare myself for another bowl of the bitter plant thing Celyz likely made for me. Once we’re done, Yvonne takes hold of my torso to help me up.
I wave her away with my left arm, to no effect. I only realize my stupid mistake after a few seconds, at which point I gently push her away with my right hand. I throw my stiff legs over the bed’s edge and start stretching them.
“I’m actually jealous of your ability to rebound.” Yvonne mutters.
“Keep in mind I can still get the parasite back if it doesn’t work.” I say, shrugging.
“You don’t… I’m sorry, I should have realized you don’t remember.” She tells me. “Celyz said the Rykz will refuse to do so when you beg… asked to put the symbiont back.”
“Why?” I ask, caught by surprise.
“Because she doesn’t think your body will last long if it goes through that again.” Yvonne replies in a grave manner.