The wind outside intensifies as the Alemplar awaits my answer, whooshing into the building through the door. The man gets up from his knees and walk to the door to close it, which only makes me warier. Why did I use my real name? Didn’t think anyone would know of me. Stupid.
“I’m not.” I tell him as he returns.
“You took quite a while to answer a simple question.” He comments.
“I’m not a girl.” I reply with a stiff shrug.
“Somehow, I doubt that is the reason but it is quite alright.” The Alemplar smiles. “The session will cost you a couple silvers, or a third of your regeneration every day for the next three months.”
“Why so cheap?”I ask, utterly suspicious.
“Because you do not have enough money for the normal price but clearly have a need and the Order never charges gold.” He tells me.
“I don’t buy it.” I grunt, on the verge of picking up my stuff and going.
“If you are worried about having worked for the Rykz, you are far from the only one. While it isn’t exactly Templar procedure, the Order has traditionally estimated in most cases that there is no sense in pursuing those low-born who were put in the position to fold to their demands after the war. That position is even more justified in the case of the Izla and your circumstances make it evident that you’ve paid the price. Since I do not have a confirmation of your identity, I can dismiss my suspicions without making a report.” He slowly explains.
I close my first and lock my arm to ensure I don’t do anything reckless as my mind falls into turmoil. Even as myself, I still can’t put it all behind me and return to my life. I can’t even leave, this is too important.
I feel torn about my decision to remain. Perhaps I would have found an easier life among the Rykz but it wouldn’t be my life and as much as I enjoy the Princesses’ presence, I do not want to be suborned to Grikyz… or anyone anymore.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Alemplar.” I grunt.
“That’s fine then.” He nods.
The man walks back to his desk and picks up a couple of gloves as I remain sitting on the bed, half-naked and frozen in indecision. The only course of action is to remain until he heals my scars since he clearly has no doubt about who I am, but what do I do next?
I can’t just murder the man, so the question is whether or not I can trust him. It isn’t even a question, I have no choice unless I give up on my Lady, on everything, and run from the Izla.
Since when do I even think of murder, even to dismiss it? It’s a few months late to realize. I catch a constant stream of silver crossing the room, the fact that it doesn’t fade and is stable means it is flow. I throw a look, finding that the Alemplar is pulling energy out of a barrel.
It’s too late to salvage this if there is a need to. I still shift my hand closer to my weapons while keeping in mind that it would spell the end of me to attack. I’ll have to be on my guard the entire way back home and then some.
“I’ll begin with tending to the muscle damage.” He tells me. “The construct will initiate a process of recovery that your body will continue.”
I keep my eyes on the Alemplar as he approaches while fitting the first leather glove on his left hand. He applies it to my shoulder first, causing an unpleasant tickling sensation beneath my skin.
When he lays his hand on my lower back where the other tendril merged, I experience a raw suffering, like my flesh itself is rejecting the touch. It makes me feel unsafe and vulnerable despite the fact that all I physically perceive is a stretching sensation.
It takes a lot not to lash out, and I likely would have if the Alemplar wasn’t clearly healing me. I grit my teeth as I pant for breath. The man pulls his hand away and waits for me to calm down a bit before continuing, showing an empathy I have trouble trusting.
My fingers are trembling on the bed as I feel completely stuck, without much control over my life. My lies piled on and on, I’ve even lied about Jessica now because even without being suspected of being Elizabeth Vil, I’m still known as having been held by the Rykz and likely working for them.
That information likely came from Emffrey or Vikiana when they made their reports. I doubt it was the Exemplar, she would have had the awareness to keep certain things for herself to protect her daughter.
Either way, it’s a consequence I brought to myself in demanding nothing. I harden my stomach as the Alemplar shifts to start working on it. My shoulder and lower back feel itchy, like the process is ongoing even after he stopped applying the construct.
“The damage isn’t as bad as I feared.” He tells me.
I remain silent, his attempts at being reassuring doing little to help me as the mere touch of leather on my flesh is oppressive enough that all I want is to unsheathe the sword and force him to move back.
I sigh in huge relief when he pulls away, the contact of the gloved hand is a lot more difficult to endure than the discomfort of having my muscles seemingly reconstruct.
“It might not end up being perfect but the scars won’t feel as sensitive after a few hours and will look better in three to four days.” He says while switching gloves.
“My old wounds feel tender at worst, it isn’t really an issue.” I tell him.
“Even that discomfort should go away.” He responds. “Try to take a deep breath and relax, it won’t take very long.”
He sets the glove on my left shoulder and makes a quick pass over the fresh red scar marks before moving on to my left side where the scrape that took a while to heal ended like a triangular patch of crumpled skin.
The construct he’s applying causes no more than a shiver as it passes and triggers no change, which worries me in spite of the Alemplar having already explained it would take time. I don’t trust him, even though I have no reason not to with how considerate he is being.
My state further convinces me of how much I need Leomi back, of how little I can stand to be alone. My mental state has been deteriorating, that much is clear, I won’t be able to stand being alone again.
The realization allows me to regain a firm grasp on myself as the Alemplar starts working on my cheek. He moves on from scar to scar, leaving the crisscrossing marks and cuts on my belly for last.
Once he pulls back, I don’t ask him to work on my thighs, unwilling to pick the fight with Elizabeth and certain that my Lady never got a clear look as we only ever undressed in close to complete darkness.
As the Alemplar removes the glove, I notice that the leather has distinctively suffered as it now looks worn and frayed. He doesn’t seem to mind as immediately starts assembling a construct that resembles the healing one to probe his work.
“You’ll recover close to what you were.” He tells me with a satisfied expression.
“How close?” I ask.
“Hard to tell, it’s different for everyone and often requires follow up visits. You can come back for a check-up next year.” He replies.
“Next year?” I blink in surprise.
“We are in a difficult financial situation at the moment, this kind of runic glove isn’t a priority.” The Alemplar admits, a bit embarrassed.
The fact that he isn’t making me pay all that much in that situation shows the man’s commitment to his craft. Or that it’s some kind of plot. I sigh at my own paranoia and dress back up, starting with fighting with my sleeve to fit my arm through.
“How much do I owe the Order?” I ask.
“Two silvers, as I’ve said. Or a third of your daily regeneration to be delivered to any Temple for the next three months.” He replies.
“A month’s worth, so thirty portions which are worth more than two silvers.” I note. “Why favor that?” I press.
“There is damage to the leylines to repair, tunnels to collapse, and ramparts to rebuild. Master Amand has committed the Order to helping the recovery effort to atone for our failures during these pasts few months.” He explains.
“I’m sorry but it’ll be the silver.” I say, taking four coins out. “And don’t argue, I’m aware it should have cost me at least two dozen.”
“We’re not in that much trouble, young woman.” The Alemplar frowns humorously. “And we do not make soldiers pay for treatment after battles, your care was simply delayed.”
I shrug and throw the coins on his table. I’m quite aware that my left chest still bears the mark of when Celyz took my breast out but I really don’t want to show that and it’ll remind me of thinking twice if circumstances seem to push me towards re-implanting the parasite.
I take hold of Yvonne’s short-sword and my long hunting knife, both are about as long, to slip the sheathes inside my pants in order to fasten the belts around my waist. The Alemplar watches silently as I struggle to make the buckles align with the leather strip’s holes.
“Do you need help?” He asks.
“No.” I reply, despite evidence to the contrary. “I have a friend who knows but until then, I need to be able to do it myself.”
“How did you manage until now?” He questions with curiosity.
“Had a companion, stuck to me like glue. We had a disagreement.” I answer, feeling a rush of adrenaline at having given another clue to my identity even if I covered for it.
I manage to fasten the belt after a few minutes, ending up with a painful arm and red cheeks. I throw my bag back on my shoulder and make my way out, pondering about the fact that I only have a mere few coins left.
I don’t worry too much as I barely ever paid for anything back home. Some especially good years we only took out our pouch to add coin and bartered for everything we lacked. I salute the Alemplar and take my leave, giving the Templar guarding the barracks a quick wave of hand that he returns.
I start making my way back to Yvonne’s apartment, very much avoiding to think about the fact that the snow is going to make my next task difficult but the image engraved in my memory will help.
As I arrive in the house’s block, I slow down to circle around to ensure that I’m not being tailed and that there’s no one inside the apartment. It would be surprising for Yvonne to have arranged for Leomi and me to run into each other here but not entirely impossible.
Once I’m relatively certain that there are no Templars following me, I enhance my senses and carefully approach the portal. The small courtyard, which is really more of a garden, is empty and there is no sign of disturbance.
I enter and quickly make my way upstairs, deciding that there is no sense is being careful now that I’m in. If there’s someone, they’ll spot me so I might as well try to get the drop on them.
It’s a bit harder to focus with the occasional tingles from my muscles and the occasional shivers coursing through my tender feeling scars but I’ve fought through much worse so I don’t rate it as much of an issue.
Either way, I find no one inside so I walk inside Yvonne’s room and change into the clothes I bought, ending up out of breath once again. I’ll be fine, I just need to push through for a few weeks and I’ll be strong as ever.
The thought helps but my lack of endurance is starting to weight pretty heavily on me. I leave Yvonne’s clothes and short-sword on the bed before tying my cloak tightly around my neck, so that it doesn’t slip off.
I check that the hunting knife is accessible and easy to draw before making my way downstairs and to the shed. I don’t hesitate to take the handcart since the Rykz provided it, besides I doubt Yvonne will have any need for it or any difficulty finding a replacement.
I leave her luggage and put my bag in its place before picking the handcart up to test whether I’ll be able to pull it along. I find that I can but that it’s a struggle to keep it steady so I lay it back down and grab some rope to make a small harness for myself.
I use a slipknot to make it easier to adjust the level and be able to free myself at a moment’s notice. Once I’m convinced that my system will work for at least a few hours, I cook myself a pot of food.
I chose to have my meal now because I plan to leave Meria at noon when the guards will be having lunch so they should be in a good mood and won’t be inclined to stop someone.
It remains to be seen whether the fact I lost an arm will get them to leave me alone or cause them to mock and harass me. Likely a bit of both. I eat and make my way out of the courtyard, pulling the handcart behind myself.
I don’t come across any carriages on the short way to the western gates and the only people walking seem to be going home from work or headed back to work. I pass by two Hospitaliers standing at a street corner, eating meat skewers.
“Good luck!” One of them calls out.
“Thanks.” I mutter in response, a bit disappointed that neither offers help even though I would have refused.
The weather doesn’t get any worse than in the morning but the snow keeps falling and the wind will get harsher once I get out of the city. Still, I would have died long ago if that was all it took to stop me.
The guards at the west gate’s barbican entrance are huddled around a fire with bowls in hand, facing the pot hanging over the flames. They turn to watch me pass but thankfully don’t make any signs to tell me to stop.
I catch a few encouraging smiles but a single look of disdain, mixed in with some disgust, from a good-looking brunette makes me turn my eyes forward as I feel my anger rise. Challenging the woman would call on attention I can’t afford.
As I make my way through the barbican, I tense up as it’s possible I could encounter the officer I came across with Yvonne at the southern gate. I cross the fifty-meter courtyard separating the inner gate from the outer one without a single soldier coming out of the guardhouse.
I breathe out in relief as I exit Meria, knowing that from this point I have a much better chance of escaping pursuers. I don’t make any use of flow as I leave the road to engage into the plain towards the north-west.
I seek out an area with dented terrain by using the position of the wall’s towers relative to me, using my clear if depressing recollection of events from when Leomi helped me sneak past the rampart.
My rage against Nobility has no trouble being rekindled even under the cold wind as I advance in the snow covered grass. Images surface in my mind, of me jumping from the wall with the rope in hand, already intuiting that I’ll be too late.
Volleys of arrows flew towards a group of innocents for the sole reason that a morally bankrupt Count arrived at a hasty conclusion. Another among dozens of Nobles who have been allowed their every whim so often that they can no longer discern the difference between what they feel is true and truth itself.
Odo might not even have thought his victims guilty of treason but merely wished to exercise his power to send a warning or make a statement. Such a feeble reason cost my Father his life, yet it is so ordinary that no one blinked twice.
Were we at peace at the time, the Order would have merely forced Odo to pay gold for blood. This is why I could not agree to the plunder of my duel. It is insufficient, it isn’t enough, coin will never settle the loss of life.
That… that, and the fact that I’m responsible for making Izla Meria fear traitors. We all are. I had the reins. Does it matter? We are I. Tears start rolling down my cheeks. I ignore them, even as the gusts of wind makes it feel like the salty water is biting into my flesh.
I drag the handcart around a large boulder, likely another catapult projectile. I realize I’ve gone too far and turn to search within arrow range of the rampart. My fury only grows the harsher I feel the cold, and it isn’t only fueled by Nobility or my self-blame.
No, my anger is to humans and Rykz in general as I am rather certain that Father’s bones were left in the field with no one to care one way or the other about it.
The latter species would only have recovered bodies to burn them or feed upon them while the only person in the former who might have acted, Leomi, was in no position to do so after the battle.
Civilians casualties matter not to the army or the guard unless they clog the streets. There is a field not far from my village where peasants who revolted were left to rot after they were slain, I found bones there the one time I went as a kid.
Considering Odo died for killing Father, no one would have exposed themselves to retaliation by recovering his remains. I narrow the general area where he could be and set the handcart down to start searching in earnest.
I spend hours kicking and digging through snow, going from one ridge in the terrain to the next. My feet hurt, my hand feels glacial, my nails have dirt under them from striking the ground in anger.
Yet I don’t stop. I keep scouring the plains until I finally hit on a blackened skull under a thick layer of snow which lies on a patch of dirt and ashes. I don’t allow myself to break down, I check my position against my the images in my memory first, ending up confirming that I’ve just found Father.