I rise from the grave of my parents, exhausted and dirty but feeling like the world is open to me. That I can handle the weight on my shoulder from what I’ve done and will choose to do.
The house is in a pitiful state but it’s a home I can live in and return to. Besides, it’s never been in a great state so I can fix it as time goes on. I set the shovel in the storage room and return outside to draw a bucket of water out of the well.
I clean up and look at my reflection in the water. I find a woman within the ripples where there was a girl once, not so long ago. A deep scar on my left cheek running almost parallel to my jaw line.
I should cut my long messy hair because they don’t quite fit my old self, and Leomi could recognize them, but I don’t because they cover the scar a little. Besides, I do not want, or can, return to who I was even in appearance or character.
The hungry pit in my stomach makes itself known with a grumble, making me smile. I plunge my head in the cold water to start washing my hair and face of the small spots of dirt.
I pull out and hang there with my head down to let my hair dry out while I pass my fingers through them to resolve the dozen knots I find. As I do, I hear a small animal’s squeals coming out of the bush where I planted the parasite followed by a quiet struggle.
I shake my head to get rid of excess water and draw my hunting knife. I approach carefully, pushing the branches aside until I find a hare pinned down on its side by the Little one’s tendrils which are wrapped around its small neck and chest.
It is suffocating and bleeding from the neck but it is barely resisting, likely because the parasite plunged a tendril into its neck and paralyzed it. The hare doesn’t last long as it was already in its last throes when I arrived.
The Little one pulls its roots out of the ground and, with a brutal jab, plunges them into the hare’s belly. The hand almost no longer looks like one, the wrist and palm no longer look human. There is a thin sweet odor in the air, mixed in with that of blood, likely what it used to attract its prey.
As I am about to turn to go, reassured by the fact the Little one can feed itself, the parasite pulls a bloody black, or very dark purple, organ out of the hare. It presents it to me over its palm.
I blink, surprised, and squat. The Little one extends its palm closer to me, trembling as the action is difficult for it. I assemble a signaling construct and close my eyes to focus on the connection, it consumes a bit more flow but remains negligible.
The connection and exchange aren’t anywhere as good as it was before but I can still sort out the exchange from experience. The Little one is peeved and lost, perhaps lonely.
I detect a pulse of silver along one of its tendrils which coils. I open my eyes and jump back, knowing by instinct that it wants to reconnect. The construct connection between us breaks with a final burst of vexation.
I sheathe the hunting knife and stand there, lost in my thoughts. Perhaps the reason it wanted to eat me isn’t that I’m its prey but out of a primal desire? It feels similar to what’s between me and Leomi in a way, but still very different.
I gather all my flow and connect us once more with a signaling construct, injecting my desire to know the truth of it. The Little one breaks the connection with a dismissive burst of anguish, a mixture of anger and fear that aren’t directed against me.
The feelings it sent me approach those I felt when my faith in the Emperor broke. It is far from the same but there is an undeniable similarity. There is a kind of superstition… no, that’s dismissive.
The Little one seems to hold a scattered belief towards our relationship. I think back to the moment just before Grikyz knocked the parasite out when it believed it was going to eat me. It is close to how I felt when I paid my Due in my childhood, before I became somewhat aware of my position in society.
Did I misunderstand? Did the Little one want to merge with me? The Rykz do not lie but they have no problem distorting the truth by replacing some words with others, making it impossible to distinguish the true meaning without context.
Their thirst for knowledge means they do not easily share it outside their Hive. The Little one approached the event like a ritual, it was to eat me so that we became a single entity. I shiver in fright as there is a very good chance I would have been extinguished or became a set of memories without will or purpose.
I have no doubt that during the dawn of the Rykz, before they lost their ancestors lost the ability to merge with other organisms, there were primitive ceremonies where drone Queens were captured and brought out to be implanted with parasites.
There is instinct in the Little one’s actions and feelings towards me. If I am pushed to the point where I have to merge with it again, that will be the last time. It won’t let go of me again… if it doesn’t outright kill me.
I swiftly get out of the bush and push the branches back in position, trembling from head to toe. I thought I could just reconnect with the limb if something went wrong with my health or something else, clearly I was wrong.
My body is a bit of a wreck but I still have more than a decade right? At least enough time for Celyz to find a solution if I’m careful not to overdo it. My fiancee. I blush and shiver at the fact that a being such as her would want me.
Sadly, it’ll be next to impossible to obtain Leomi’s approval even if I expose myself as Elizabeth Vil. I sigh but don’t feel be depressed, my relationship with Celyz is strong and it will last even if we don’t become all that we could.
I think of Leomi and her absence, the oddity of it. The only thing that could stop her is herself, she is such a being. Not inflexible but determined to do what must be done, even at a cost to herself. We are alike in this.
My instructions were screwed up by the kids and it’s likely she figured out something is wrong. All I need to do is find her, it’s impossible she would have given up with her sharp iron will.
It’s likely she went to the Rykz tunnel but not all the way to the Hive in the process of searching for Elizabeth, she will find her path back to me. I check the falling sun, determining that nightfall within a couple of hours.
I make my way inside and take inventory of what I need considering that there are a large number of things I need to learn how to do again, like sowing and logging.
I pick up the collars and the small sticks they attach to in order to scatter around and catch some hares of my own, deciding that I’ll make a trap to catch some alive once I have cages to put them into in the weeks to come.
There are plenty of chickens and a rooster in the farms around, it won’t be too hard or expensive to buy some. Especially since they owe me and my brother. He’ll find a home when he returns, even if I’m gone.
I set out and place the collars out in the vegetation around the house and between the fields, knowing that it is where small animals tend to pass by or hide out. I don’t go very far out because it’s late and I’m tired. I return home and wrap myself up in blankets to go to sleep in a corner of the living room.
— — —
I awaken at dawn and make my round to the collars. I’m disappointed to find that I didn’t catch anything during the night. I find some tiny paw-marks in the snow around some so I move the traps. I shake my head and leave for the village with the shovel. Once there, I find the main gate closed, which strikes me as rather suspicious.
“Open up!” I call out.
“Give me a minute.” An old man groans.
“You Paul right?” I ask.
“Hm.” He grunts.
“Why are you closing the gates, the Rykz are gone aren’t they” I question.
“Bandits, seen none but the times are such.” He replies. Makes sense, last time there was unrest we heard of a few roaming thieves passing along the coast.
“Would you have some lime and sand left around?” I ask, remembering that he often found work at building or repairing wells and other structures.
“Sure.” He replies while shifting the beam to unlock the gates. “I’ve got an old wheelbarrow and a trowel you can use then keep.”
“Great, thanks.” I say with a smile as I enter.
“Mfh.” He mutters in acknowledgment. “We owe it. Ask if you need anything else.”
“I’ll have to figure it out as I go along.” I reply, unsure of what shape my plans will take. “What day are we?”
“Saturday, most went at Temple yesterday.” He tells me.
It isn’t the first time I hear, or witness, people going to the Temple other days of the week than Sunday. I suspect that there are extra ceremonies for those truly devoted but we’ve never been invited. I suppose people want to repay the Due after the news that the Emperor sent flow to Meria.
Paul closes the village gate and then leads me to a shed next to his house. He helps me fill his old wheelbarrow with lime and then sand, guiding me for the proportions and how many buckets of water to add.
“Do you know what happened to our stove?” I ask. “It’s pretty heavy, I doubt anyone could carry it away without a carriage.”
“Haven’t heard of it.” He blinks, looking surprised that anyone would go so far as to steal a cast iron stove. “I don’t have any old ones, could ask around.”
“It’s okay, you’ve helped plenty.” I shake my head. “Do you have a rope?”
“What for?” He asks. I briefly wave my hand at my left side. “One moment.” Paul grunts.
He briefly walks out before coming back with a length of rope, handing it over with a curious look on his face. I tie the rope in a loop and pass it over my head to set it on my right shoulder before wrapping the other end around the wheelbarrow’s left handle.
Paul watches me lift the wheelbarrow up and move out with a look on appreciation for my ingenuity before throwing a trowel on top of the pile with my shovel. I make a small smile and head for the general store, responding to various salutations on the way there.
I come across Roger and Victor heading out with empty baskets, likely going to make the rounds to the farms for eggs and milk. I lazily nod, enjoying the fact that they try hard to ignore me and the scuff marks I left on them.
I set the wheelbarrow down next to a pile of snow that was cleared from the street and I walk in the store, finding Ms Conner at the counter with Emily sitting down on a chair behind it while slowly taking inventory of a crate with an utter lack of enthusiasm.
“Ms Conner.” I speak up.
“Jessica.” She replies, throwing me a bit of a look before sighing. “Do you need anything?”
“I’m out of most everything.” I reply, feeling annoyed by the woman’s cold shoulder. It’s likely because I kicked her daughter’s ass so it’s understandable but it’s not like I went picking on her. “I need a knife, some string, and some vegetables.” I pause. “Some carrots I think, and firewood if it’s not too expensive.”
“Your supply of firewood was thrown into the granary along with the wood for the night guard shift, you can pick however much you need there.” She tells me before turning to her daughter.
Emily doesn’t notice at first but the silence warns her so she looks up to me and then to her mother, showing no signs that she’s going to move and get the stuff I asked for. Ms Conner locks eyes with her and doesn’t say a thing, it takes a few seconds for Emily to cave in and get up.
“There’s grain at the granary marked for your family.” She tells me. “Three sacks per person, but the tax collector has yet to pass so limiting yourself to two would be safer.”
“We didn’t have any left.” I say frowning. “Did it come from Meria?”
“Yes, we’ve been told that another delivery should arrive.” She replies. “It’ll just barely compensate what the insects took.”
“It’s lucky we even got that.” I comment.
“Is it? I’ve heard that Council pillaged Meria to buy it and kept a good third of all the grain for the army yet demands taxes still even though no one had a good harvest. At least, Baron Button opened his storehouse during harsh winters and was the one to travel to Meria when needed, now every village has to send an able-bodied representative for undetermined amounts of time only to squabble for hours on end to resolve the simplest of issues.” She complains. It is not easy for even her family to do so, she is right.
“What do you think should be done?” I ask.
“We should put Countess Lance on Meria’s throne, she knew when to take a step back while preparing to fight back. I’ve heard that there are warehouses filled with weapons in Castle Lance, all gathered under the Rykz’ noses because they believed the castle empty. Her Hospitaliers also help out in the village, going to hunt for meat and guard the wall without complaint.” Ms Conner tells me.
“You don’t think that Republic idea is good?” I question. “Seems like they’re more trustworthy than the rest of Nobility.”
“Who can tell for sure when their speeches drag on for hours? Things don’t mean anything anymore when they’re buried in words. Baron Button was a greedy one but we all knew where the coin went, now we aren’t even sure what’s being done. That Council acted like thieves when they took power.” Ms Conner mutters. I blink, surprised that she even knows half of what she’s telling me.
“How do you know all this?” I ask.
“Hold on a moment.” She says, reaching under the counter.
She hands me a cheap piece of parchment containing most of what she just told me. The information was clearly written by a scribe with real ink, not a very talented one but still. There is no signature but I can now guess where some of the gold Cenwalh promised would go to the Izla went.
“Who brought this?” I ask.
“Some messenger.” She replies with a shrug.
“On horseback?” I ask. She nods. “This looks like a plot to foment unrest.” I grunt. Ms Conner rolls her eyes.
“Do you hear yourself?” Emily mocks from the side. “Think yourself Noble blood because you saw some land?”
“It seems to me that our Nobility is only making sure that their people know what’s going on.” Ms Conner speaks up with a hard look at her daughter. “Turn the paper around and witness exactly who it is that reigns in the Council’s shadow.”
I flip the parchment around, finding a list of crimes committed by Elizabeth Vil and Cecil the whore. From treason to espionage to assassination and fomenting a coup. I almost chuckle, realizing that it’s all true from a certain point of view if a bit outdated and with plenty of omissions.
“What about Duke Meria and Baron Button’s crimes?” I ask with a flat voice.
“Who do you think you are to speak out on these Lords?” Emily barks out. “They died defending the capital.”
“On the contrary, both were executed for crimes.” I deny in a lazy tone. “Buton for rebelling against Meria himself, Meria for the wanton slaughter of innocents. Each was condemned by the Templar Order. Both were planning to escape Izla Meria and the war but were captured first. I wonder who told you they died defending Meria?”
“Is this true?” Ms Conner asks.
“Saw some of it myself.” I tell her.
“The messenger told us they died during the battle for Meria.” Ms Conner mutters. “I heard that the carriage drivers spoke of a different story but…” She pauses. “Clearly, they were the ones telling the truth.” She adds with a somber look.
“Did you see any bandits?” I ask.
“No, just the usual fearful rumors.” She shakes her head.
“Alright.” I nod.
I understand the complaint about taxes but it’s not like Nobility was any different, although it surprises me they’re sending tax collectors after delivering the grain. It’s probably because we don’t have a titled Noble, otherwise, they would have cleared that already with him.
Emily hands over a pack of vegetables tied together with string, letting go of it before I secure a good hold. I struggle a little but manage to slip a finger under the string and catch the pack.
“You don’t need to pay, the communal fund we put together will cover your expenses up to a point.” Ms Conner tells me with a smile that is quick to disappear.
I give my goodbyes and make my way, pushing the wheelbarrow in front of me. I take a few logs from the guard shed and a large sack of grain from the granary before heading back home.
It takes me a good hour instead of the usual fifteen minutes to get back because of the weight. On the way I determine that if all Caeviel is going to do is spread misinformation, then it’ll be very, very far from enough to outplay Cecil. Either way, none of this concerns me anymore.
I set the sack of grain and wood in the pantry along with the vegetables before throwing a few buckets of water into the wheelbarrow and starting to work on my room’s wall.
After a morning’s work cementing the stones together, I make a fire outside to cook myself a quick gruel with some potatoes and leeks. I finally allow myself to rest in front of my meal, feeling each of my heart’s violent beats from exertion.
It’s just all so normal… so boring. A few bandits would be welcome even if I barely beat those kids. It wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t by myself. I sigh and get up, longing for Leomi as I pick up a raw carrot along with some string to set a better trap.