I hear a rising clamor in the distance as Yvonne and I face off, that of a crowd excited by a coming spectacle. Lance, and Meria. I should perhaps be there, but the risk of being seen by Leomi is higher than the potential reward.
A cold calculation, one that painfully tugs at my heart but is an unavoidable consequence of all my scars and lies. I also can’t let her see us with Yvonne since Leomi likely found out she left with Elizabeth.
“You didn’t go to her?” I ask the sword-sworn.
“I remain bound to you.” She replies awkwardly.
“Go, Yvonne.” I sigh, shifting my left foot to prevent a coming loss of balance, which makes me pitch slightly.
“You’re drunk.” She comments in surprise.
“Not even close.” I reply, almost shaking my head before remembering it would be a terrible idea. “She might need you once it’s done.”
“Why not go to her yourself? You’re free to do so now.” Yvonne counters.
“Because I have things to do. I am no longer the girl who ran to her Lady when she hit a pebble on the road.” I utter in a dark tone and an intense voice.
“I’m glad to hear that but what about when she trips?” Yvonne asks. “Can you stay away then?”
“Yvonne.” I mutter.
“I’m only trying to figure out your intentions to help, Jess. If you want peace for a few months, then say so.” She urges me.
“I told her to make a choice while rigging the outcome.” I tell Yvonne, sighing. “The peace I seek is the one I might find in her arms.”
“Okay.” She acquiesces with a thin smile. “I’ll go, Jess, because you want me to, but can you tell me what you plan to do then? She won’t be able to handle it if she finds you only to be tormented and rejected.” Yvonne expresses with a shaky voice filled with worries. “And I doubt you could either.”
“All I want is to build my life alongside hers.” I whisper quietly, afraid that saying it too loud might shatter the fragile outcome.
The sword-sworn sighs in relief while looking up to the sky in the direction of the crowd’s shouts. If I focus, I can hear my Lady’s voice among them but there is a good chance I’m imagining it.
Yvonne extends her hand out to me, angling her wrist up. I step forward to take hold of her forearm as she does mine. We remain like this for a few seconds before breaking the hold.
“Please, please, please take care of yourself.” Yvonne tells me.
“I will.” I smile, touched by how much she cares. “I’ll leave the sword and clothes in the shed before I leave.” I tell her.
“Keep them.” Yvonne shakes her head. “You can stay here as long as you want.”
I make a half-shrug, unwilling to directly say ‘no‘ and spoil the mood even though I’m quite annoyed at people trying to give me more than my actions deserve, I was paid plenty for a couple months of ‘work’ after all.
We break our hold. Yvonne departs quickly, likely headed straight for the market plaza and Leomi. I open the portal and head to the shed on the other side of the house, opening it without worrying about breaking the security constructs since she authorized me.
I grab the liangi’s case and unseal it to pick Suxen’s notebook out in order to recover the plans for the double-headed plow. I go over them to make sure I haven’t forgotten to write anything down.
As always, I worry about the thing’s cost. Only the richest would be able to afford it, which means landowners, which means Nobles. That’s a bigger issue than any technical difficulty.
I absent-mindedly close my liangi’s case and make my way around the house to head upstairs inside the apartment. I sit down at Yvonne’s desk and light up a candle.
I grab the writing quill and prepare myself for the struggle to write with a single hand by using my palm to hold the blank piece of yellow parchment in place. I train without ink at first to find a way to do this without smudging the thing.
I copy my messy plan while adding notes about the issues I encountered, the reasoning behind altering some constructs, the function of the seeding barrel, and the idea behind the replaceable runic metal sheets.
Lastly, I scribble down that creating a single-headed plow that can be loaned to farmers for a portion of their harvest might be the best way to introduce this tool because it won’t be used every day so it’s important to maximize the use considering how expensive it is to make, and it’s a good way to make the plow more affordable.
“That might push farmers to actually create a guild.” I muse.
I hesitate but write that thought down as well, thinking that it can’t hurt to add it since Cecil will do with my ideas as she will. It bothers me that she wants to use me as a hidden owner but the fact that it’s a blatant attempt to tie me down will make it easy for me to avoid involving myself.
I sift through the drawers until I find a big pouch of sand and use that to absorb the excess ink, which there is quite a bit of even though I was careful. I then fold the parchment plan up and drop some wax to seal it.
Once I’m done, I put my original drawing into Suxen’s notebook. As I do so, I hear a loud cheer coming from the east, likely the plaza. I actually feel good about being here working on something productive instead of there to watch Duke Meria’s life come to an end.
I do hope Leomi will be alright but I don’t want our new relationship to start on an execution. But a lie is fine? Elizabeth. I sit to the side, but the day Celyz solves the parasite… or Leomi acts not in love… Bam.
I slam my hand on the notebook, cutting Elizabeth off before she drags us into a headache-inducing argument. Curious, and rather sleepy, I start casually inspecting Suxen’s equations, specifically those without descriptions attached to them.
As I turn the pages, I find that I recognize a few symbols that stand in for numbers from when created the construct that slowed my perception of time. I snap fully awake when I hit on a string of symbols that repeats itself twice.
I’m certain that it matches a segment present in one of the sections that she personally controlled. That means it was important to the construct’s function that needed to be kept under surveillance or required Suxen to make alterations according to the data she received.
The latter fits my observations of a changing perception of time. I grow excited because creating a construct out of the unstructured time field I memorized is beyond my ability.
I resist the temptation to test the equation, aware that I need to be careful. I use my energy to write the symbols in the air to try to reproduce the segment Suxen used from memory, it looked a bit like a loop.
Far as I’m aware, it was a sub-construct with an effect that wasn’t exactly intended and I could only retain my senses for as long as I did because of the Little one.
I work on making the equation into the core of a construct in an attempt to make it stable enough to activate without a target. I don’t let myself be discouraged by my multiple failures.
I stick to the loop shape because it speaks to me as the effect needs to be continuous and gradual because an abrupt activation might cause harm to my nervous system.
I integrate several of the logical segments Celyz taught me into the very equation, and as such the core of the construct in order to ensure it cuts off if my control of the construct slips or it loses stability.
Once I have something coherent, I double check and activate it, watching it eat my energy at a high rate but lesser than what the unstructured field would consume. It would be funny if what I’m making doesn’t end up slowing my perception of time.
I chuckle and look out the window, finding a rising dawn. I stare, baffled that I spent the entire night on this. I actually start worrying about my appetite so I make my way back to the handcart to have a meal and feed the parasite before returning to the office to sleep in the bed.
— — —
I wake up after a mere few hours of sleep to find snow falling through the window I forgot to close. I sigh and quickly close the flaps before dressing up. It takes me a while but I manage to clean the floor with a few rags I find in a closet.
I leave for the market plaza, coming across quite a few carriages transporting full sacks of grain from the east to the west. I find merchants setting up their stalls while groups of enthusiastically people discuss last night’s events.
They speak of Commander Lance’s speech and of the promises she made about the Hospitaliers, about the commitment she showed to the Izla’s people by executing Izla Meria’s former Duke.
I find it rather disturbing that they mock the man for accepting his fate without begging, claiming he remained silent out of fear or cowardice. I won’t mourn his death but their words of contempt don’t sit well with me.
Yet, I don’t say anything because he slaughtered too many to be defended. If people want to vent their resentment in this way, it’s their right. Only because the Izla is governed by a Republic, otherwise all these people would be imprisoned.
I swiftly get away from the conversations to seek a sword, clothes, and a thick coat. I actually encounter more difficulty in getting merchants to listen once they’ve seen my flapping left sleeve than to find the stuff I’m looking for despite the quality of the clothes I’m wearing.
I end up having to take a silver coin out to get a peddler to merely agree to haggle over the price of a leather bag and a set of rough working clothes. I buy a couple of sets for the journey home and buy a long steel hunting knife from another merchant to return Yvonne’s steel short sword.
I also find some dried meat and a small sack of grain, ending up filling the leather bag I hang on my shoulder. I then make my way to the keep to leave the wax sealed piece of parchment to the guards for them to bring to Cecil.
On the walk back, I come into sight of the Templar’s barracks near the Temple. It’s a rectangular looking building with red tiles covered in snow and a large double door in the front.
I’m not sure why I didn’t come here first but now that I have, I realize that I’m actually afraid. What if they can’t? Or won’t? What if they recognize me? I ignore my usual protests as inconsequential since I must keep forging onward. I head around the structure to look for an open door.
On the other side, I find a Templar sitting on a small crate while lazily playing with a few rocks. The fact he’s in uniform only underlines his lack of discipline. I suppose it isn’t too surprising considering the barracks are empty at the moment. Besides, his relaxed attitude makes it less difficult to come and talk to him.
“Is the Alemplar inside?” I ask on my approach.
“He is.” He replies, throwing me a quick up and down glance. “You fight in the war?” He asks abruptly.
“Yea.” I answer before realizing I probably shouldn’t have said that. “Briefly.”
“The Hospitaliers are recruiting.” He informs me.
“I’m not sure I trust them.” I reply.
“You and me both, sister.” The temple guard groans. “But that’s because trust is earned and they’ve been true to their word about taking in those who need help to adapt to their injuries so far.”
“Why don’t the Templars do the same?” I question.
“We do, for our members.” He tells me. “They find positions the wounded can hold in the Order’s various holdings but not in the Temples.”
“Why not?” I ask, suspecting the reason.
“Because we have an image to maintain, our reputation does a lot to keep the Empire in order.” He replies with a shrug.
“Hm.” I mutter. “Well, thanks. Can I go in?”
“Sure, and don’t worry too much about payment, we accept flow as a complement with the Temple still closed.” He informs me.
I nod and walk inside, shaking my shoulders to get rid of the snowflakes that stuck. I enter a large room with dozens of beds, only a few seem to be in use, there are empty armor racks and coffers next to each bed.
At the back is the Alemplar in his red uniform, sitting at a table with an open book and multiple runic gauntlets set around himself. He raises his head and extends his hand at the chair in front of himself.
“Sit.” He tells me while brushing his square brown beard.
“No thanks.” I shake my head, rather nervous. “I’m Jessica.”
“Do you want a cup of warm sage water?” He asks politely.
“I’m just here because of my scars.” I reply.
“Ah.” The man ponders for a few moments. “We do not have the same resources that we normally do with the war.” He tells me.
I reach down to my pouch of silver to untie it from my belt. In my hurry to prove I can pay, I fail to clasp my pinky and annular tightly enough over the leather cord which slips from my grasp as a consequence.
The pouch hits the ground with a metallic clatter. Several coins bounce out so I hurriedly kneel down to pick them up, fumbling many out of embarrassment for my clumsiness and creating more noise.
The Alemplar doesn’t say a word and takes a knee in front of me, helping me put the money back in the pouch. It feels like my ears are burning hot from shame while my cheeks grow cold as I get angry at my klutz-like behavior.
“It’s alright.” The man tells me in a soothing voice. “Take a seat and I’ll have a look.”
“If it’s money, I can…” I start hesitantly.
“It isn’t.” He gently interrupts me. “Some specialized runic gauntlets like those that mends scars lie outside of my expertise. I cannot create more when many people have a need for them so it becomes necessary to ration their use until I can acquire more from Meiridin.”
“I, at least the scar on my face…” I stutter, feeling on the border of tears.
“How about I determine the need you have of it and then we can decide together what takes precedence?” He asks.
“Okay.” I mutter, already feeling emotionally shaken.
I throw a look around and lift my shirt up, showing the state of my stomach. The Alemplar scratches his cheek in response without even taking a look. I frown but he appeases me with a wave of hand.
“Sit down on a bed and take your clothes off, it’s quite warm inside.” He tells me.
“Don’t see the need.” I grunt, glaring as my experience with Suxen remains rather sore.
“Unless you have eyes behind your back to tell me the extent of what you wish me to look at, I do need to see for myself.” He explains with patience.
Without a real argument to present against the reasoning, I decide not to make more of a fuss by behaving like a brat since I think I do have a few scars in my back, at least one self-inflicted.
I sit down on a bed with my back turned to the Alemplar to take Yvonne’s jacket and shirt off, removing the strip of cloth covering my breast and unfastening my belt to deposit it on the bed with my weapons.
I must look horrible. I grit my teeth and pull my pants down to my knees before pulling them back up, considering that the small white marks left by Leomi are innocuous enough that she won’t figure it out, and they’ll eventually heal, and I don’t really want to erase the proof of our fight.
“It doesn’t look too bad.” The Alemplar says reassuringly.
I throw a look over my shoulder, finding him looking at my left shoulder-blade and the stump. He likely thinks that the results of Fenyz’ attack occurred at the same time I lost my arm.
“I have a few more.” I grunt.
“You were cut quite a few times in the back.” He comments quietly.
“I’m not a coward.” I utter, offended.
“I only meant it as an observation.” He replies calmly.
The Alemplar walks around me and sets one knee to the ground to inspect the massacre that the Tianeel’s teeth caused. I lose hope little by little as the man takes stock of the disaster with an ever-deepening frown.
“How many skirmishes did you participate in?” He questions with a somewhat amazed voice. “I’ve never seen anyone accumulate that many injuries at different times.”
“I’m pretty clumsy so some of those I got trying to get myself dead.” I tell him with a touch of dark humor.
“The good news is that I can help erase most of the marks, the bad news is that I cannot do so for the worst ones. The best I can do is level the skin to make them appear smoother.” He tells me.
“Can’t you do more?” I ask, feeling a heavy weight in my stomach.
“I’m afraid the glove wouldn’t last as the strain would burn it out. But, while it won’t do anything for muscle damage, I can heal that.” He explains.
“My muscles?” I ask.
“You have a cluster here that seems to have been harmed by a deep slash.” He pokes at the spot where the tendril merged with my abdominal muscles, making me jump a little in surprise. “And there.” He adds, taking hold of my hand to lift my arm, which stretches the flesh underneath my shoulder where Vikiana cut me on the boat. “You must have gotten used to the inconvenience.”
“How much will it cost?” I ask with a tight throat.
“You said your name was Jessica, correct?” He questions instead, releasing my arm to stand up.
“Yes, why?” I respond, resisting the pull to reach for the short-sword.
I do my best not to tense up too much as I mentally raise my guard up, preparing for battle by assembling a lion strike. I focus on catching any silver fluctuations indicative of an abrupt change in my surroundings.
“Are you the girl who was taken prisoner by the Rykz?” He asks.