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I wake out of my shallow slumber feeling utterly embarrassed. My defeat after losing my temper is still fresh in my mind. I carefully open my eyes, finding Leomi sound asleep atop of me.

My head still hurts but only a little. I look around. The chair I broke has been repaired and the debris was thrown into a still burning fire. There is no light coming from the window flap’s cracks so it means I slept throughout the afternoon.

I first reconstitute the nourishing, healing, and strengthening constructs over my heart with the portion I regenerated. I then stare down blankly at Leomi’s innocent sleeping face, admiring her parted red lips as a tiny amount of drool seeps out.

I seize the seventy portions of flow in her reserve and extend my hand to the other bed, arranging a stream of energy that encloses air and pinches a blanket to make it fly over. I set it over Leomi while making a huge effort of will not to caress her hair because it could disturb her sleep.

Tchi!” I suddenly sneeze.

A needle of pain pokes at my brain, making me flinch, but it fades quickly. I sigh at myself, I challenged winter like an idiot and obviously lost. I split the flow and use five whole portions to make a healing construct targeted at my entire body.

It’s just a cold but I don’t know exactly how to deal with it so I have little choice but to take that approach. I put my emotions aside, rather disgruntled about losing my control. Still, I feel like our argument took a huge weight off my chest.

I can’t get it off my mind that I lost so easily, like we aren’t even a challenge right now. No matter how crazed I become, I should never be that easy to handle. It might have been a good thing from a certain perspective because I could really have hurt Leomi, but she is the last person I can allow to think I’m weak.

Leomi Lance is not the kind of being I can afford to be defenseless against. Not with her desire to control me, or perhaps tame is a better word. It doesn’t matter that it wouldn’t make her happy or that we love each other, our relationship will simply collapse if I can’t hold my own.

Not that she would use violence… although, she might. The current issue is that Leomi clearly said she would protect my life even if it meant losing me as a lover. The worst part is that I can’t confidently say I wouldn’t make the same decision if confronted with it.

I decide to take a page from Suxen’s book and use twenty portions of flow to make a perception field before burning twenty-five more to create a scanning construct. I could make the latter with under a quarter of the energy but I want to be certain to detect any changes within my body.

A mere scrap of flow is sufficient to make a messaging construct for me to record the results. I don’t intend to use conditional segments or any other because I have no idea how to arrange them to record what the scanning construct will find and don’t have the time or desire to figure it out.

No, I’ll use unstructured flow in the simplest manner. I take a deep breath and deploy the scanning construct around my body, enclosing myself inside a thin golden cloud. Then, I take deep breaths to clear my head.

I focus and activate the unstructured perception field while engraving the intent of slowing my perception of time in my head. At the same time, I direct the last twenty portions of flow to link between the scanning and messaging construct in order to record the changes happening.

I concentrate, looping in my mind everything that should be happening to ensure that I won’t have distracting thoughts from affecting the unstructured energy. My senses grow dull but not in the meaning they get worse but lethargic. It isn’t to the extent it would be an issue.

The night sounds that don’t usually even provoke my notice like cringing wood beams or crackling snow seem to draw out, lengthen. The tiny ripples in the air above the fire slow down. I merely absently note all this without allowing myself to get distracted.

After the third repetition of my intent towards the two sets of unstructured energy, I grow confident enough to raise my hand while stretching my fingers, paying no attention to how slow I’m moving or how bizarre it feels.

Satisfied, I stop moving and maintain my focus until the perception construct runs out of energy. I just burned through seventy portions in a mere… twenty seconds? I’m not sure of the actual amount of time that passed.

I swiftly get rid of the remnants of unstructured flow as a precaution, finally deciding to act with a healthy fear of the Lake’s blessing after Celyz and Leomi’s warnings. I check the messaging construct which now has about six portions within it.

When I probe the content, I find more than a detailed image, there are also strands of flow that seem like they’re part of the messaging construct but aren’t, they’re coiled in pairs or triplets joined by little branches.

Those things interest me more than the image of myself because I’ve never seen segments like those. That being said, it might be more accurate to call these constructs than segments considering how complicated they are.

They intrigue me so much because flow chose this to record my experiment. I couldn’t be happier of the fact I didn’t specify or even imagine the end-result of the record, but I do suspect that in some corner of my mind I imagined it to show the impact of the construct on my body which is why there’s an image of me.

I barely need to turn my thoughts to the image for it to come alive. My organs, arteries, veins, nerves, bones, muscles, and even tendons all appear in a huge interconnected web.

I stare, stunned by the complexity of all this. But I don’t have any time to stare and admire this because the body has already come alive with a multitude of changes occurring every moment. I vastly overestimated my capacity to understand the results.

As I try to figure more out, the image returns to the original and stops. I will it to start again to this time focus on my brain. I find innumerable and tiny points of light that shine before going dark, some connected in groups.

That’s it, apart from blood flowing through. I inspect the other organs and figure out that it’s the same for them all. There are lights and movements everywhere but it all seems utterly bare of useful information.

I can’t use any of this.” I mutter, disappointed.

I can’t even differentiate between normal activity and the changes induced by the construct. Yet, I persevere and try to figure out the role of the flow strands, only to fail miserably because they don’t change in the least even when the image of my body reproduces the effects of the perception construct.

No, wait, I might not need to figure it out. What if I directly use a record to make the core of a construct? In this way, I won’t need to manually create the field or focus so hard to avoid mishaps.

If making a construct that’s aimed at producing the end-result by referring to this record rather than copy the field that produces the result by memory and intent, then it’ll be a lot safer and stable to use.

My grin at having found a possible route to success suddenly vanishes as I realize that none of this is an achievement on my part but the result of flow. I have this feeling, that flow is akin to a tool limited only by the user’s knowledge.

Where exactly does the difference in energy consumption come from between structured and unstructured energy? It isn’t intent because both use it to achieve results, so it’s knowledge, information.

The more you know, the less energy is consumed. Inversely, the less you know, the more energy is needed for the same task. It isn’t so much about the person but the construct, the more information in the core the less flow required to make it work.

Then, it should follow that the difference comes from the fact that flow has to fill the gaps in knowledge by figuring out the method to achieve the intent of the construct.

So, the Lake’s blessing is intelligent in a certain way… or the Lake itself intervenes? Superstition or fact, either is irrelevant because it doesn’t lead to solutions. Well, ma…

Jayhymnw?” Leomi asks hazily with a huge yawn.

G’morning kitten.” I tell her with a grin.

Mhph.” She makes a grimace.

She starts shuffling on my chest, somehow managing to land her ear over my heart and to set her chin on my breast to lay a tiny kiss that makes me smile so widely my cheek’s muscles instantly start itching.

She’s still kneeling and on her side despite the fact she had to get up yesterday afternoon. I love the fact she returned to the exact same spot and position even if I don’t know why I do.

Cramps?” I ask.

A little.” She mumbles.

I sit up and reach out to grab her waist. I try to pick her up to put her on my lap but she’s slightly heavy. Leomi makes a weird squealing protest as I barely succeed in dragging her over my thighs… with her help.

Tired, not comfy.” Leomi pouts with a face to die for. She struggles to open her eyes while attempting to get up.

Oh, no you don’t!” I exclaim. “Come ‘ere.” I say, chucking her against my chest.
Grmph.” She groans, but looks up to me with a smile. “A bit of romanticism couldn’t hurt.”

Hm.” I ponder, having trouble to keep up with her extraordinary conciliatory mood. “I’m not going to sing you an ode right now, I have something to say before I outrageously cuddle you.”

Cuddles sound good.” She nods, closing her eyes and resting her weight against me.

I, you know, I.” I pause to affirm to myself the need to settle what I’ve said last night. “I understand why you did what you did.” She frowns without opening her eyes.

But you don’t forgi…” She starts.

Don’t, please.” I cut her off. “I understand why you did what you did. I get everything you chose to do. When you don’t have many choices, it gets a lot easier to pick a path that you wouldn’t otherwise consider.” I tell her, speaking from experience. Leomi rubs her cheek against my shoulder, apparently nodding. “I just hope we’ll be able to get over our grievances eventually… and that you won’t be too mad when I win later today.” I add.

Some aspirations are misplaced.” She murmurs defiantly with a small but confident smile.

That kitten! She’s trying to get you mad. Obviously, but I’m better when I’m mad. I doubt that’ll work this time. I push my internal insanity aside to focus on the woman I love but yet still hesitate to kiss, feeling how silly it is now that I’ve obtained her.

But then again, there is a big part of me that wants her to seek me out after how much effort I put into merely getting her attention. I briefly tighten my grip over her waist to express the depth of my feelings before starting to cover her head and shoulders in tiny kisses.

Leomi squirms and settles fully inside my embrace, relaxing entirely as she tries to fall back asleep, occasionally making small sounds that suspiciously resemble moans but that I interpret as expressing of her utter pleasurable comfort.

I remain sitting upright and adapt to her needs, taking a great amount of satisfaction from taking care of this little kitten. It isn’t often she’s in the mood to be spoiled so I have to make the best of it.

It’s the reason why I don’t move a single millimeter during her longer than two-hour nap before sunrise, no matter how much my back hurts or my arm itches. I hold her tight and enjoy the feeling of my body heat warming her up as I let my mind wander.

— — —

Good morning.” Leomi says suddenly.

I startle out of my daze. I’m still sitting and she’s in my arms. I lower my chin to look down at her gorgeous face. She starts making a smile but soon freezes. It might be related to the corners of my lips which are rising by themselves. She shudders a little. I take it as a signal to plunge down and take her lips with my own.

Mmf!” She complains.

I cut it short by seizing her mouth with my tongue, unable to suppress myself any longer now that she’s awake. Either way, she doesn’t even try to make a sound again, too busy handling her tongue to join mine for a grand passionate dance.

The inside of her cheeks feel like velour, her tongue is like silk brushing against mine. My hand wanders over the side of her curves from thigh to shoulder, passing by her round breast that I don’t forget to tease with a light caress. She almost imperceptibly stiffens but lets me and merely hugs my waist in return.

I could believe she’s being suspiciously docile if I didn’t feel that she needs those marks of affection at times, just like I do. Yet, the sensation of her soon threatens to overwhelm my self-control so I suddenly pull away, triumphantly smacking my lips.

So short.” Leomi sighs, her head falling backward like she’s out of energy.

I can keep going, but it’ll be hard to stop.” I confess. She nods between two deep breaths and doesn’t press despite the hunger in her eyes. I don’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt. “How’s your neck?”

Healing, there isn’t a need to worry unless you have rabies.” She tells me teasingly.

I do but it’s not contagious.” I respond in a serious tone.

Kh.” Leomi suppresses her laughter.

I decide to let her wake up and get up at her own pace but she starts stretching so I immediately abandon that thought. As she raises her arms in the air, I reach out and poke her belly while she’s in the middle on inhaling with her guard completely down.

Leomi crumbles over in the most interesting reaction ever with a laughing groan. I try to take advantage of her again but a golden one-winged jay forms upon her left shoulder and takes off in a flash to peck my hand once before returning to its perch.

I experience a small but startling prick of pain, yet I didn’t feel anything touch the back of my hand. Leomi suddenly throws herself at me and pushes me on my back, unfairly taking advantage of a moment of inattention. Which is utterly contemptible, absolutely incomparable to what I just did.

W, wait!” I protest.

You asked for it!” She exclaims.

She starts tickling my sides, which throws me into a fit of furious unwilling giggles. Thankfully, she stops when I start gasping for air and drops a kiss in the center of my chest with a huge, happy, smile.

Let’s, fight.” I grunt, grinning in return.

Alright.” She nods.

She holds her hand out but I refuse it with a glare. Leomi crosses her arms with a frown as I get up on my own and walk past her. I pick up a short plank that I break in half at the length, grabbing one of the pieces.

I find my hunting knife to start carving a rudimentary round handle. Leomi imitates me with the other chunk of wood and a sword. After a long half-hour, we end up with two flat looking ugly training swords.

I step outside and start warming up in the snow, feeling pretty good about my chances. Leomi joins me a minute later wearing a thick coat and holding a fur one in hand that she gives me with a look in her eyes that allows no argument. I slip it on without a word and fasten the strap around my waist.

You’re too strong, you know.” She suddenly tells me.

Is that possible?” I blink.

You can be too hard.” She says. I’m unsure whether she’s correcting herself or continuing. “It ends up breaking you like last night.” I almost respond but end up deciding to let her finish. “But don’t worry, I’ll always, always…” Leomi wraps her arms around my neck and kisses my nose. “… always be there to pick up the pieces, even if some are mine.” She presses her forehead against mine to underline her declaration. I push back in acknowledgment.

What do you mean, concretely?” I ask.
“Leaders and warriors are raised, they aren’t born no matter what campfire legends claim. The most important responsibility you had to deal with until six months or so ago was to grow wheat and pay your Due. You’re better suited and more resilient than most but you didn’t start with the knowledge or experience to deal with the sheer psychological pressure of combat, and ruling.” She explains calmly.

Hm.” I respond noncommittally, choosing to swing the dull wooden blade.

You suffered more losses than I could handle but you aren’t invincible inside, Jessica. I know you’re aware of that, but I also know you have no pity for yourself and I’d like that to change even if I don’t have any hope it will.” Leomi says.

No pity? I’m more selfish than you are!” I forcefully contest, unwilling to hear her self-deprecating nonsense.

Depending on the circumstances, you would sacrifice yourself for a stranger.” Leomi denies. “I wouldn’t do that, not on impulse.”

I wouldn’t either.” I tell her with a glare.

I don’t believe you for a single second.” Leomi shakes her head but doesn’t press.

We finish warming up in silence and then take positions in front of each other. I calculate the fight ahead, trying to discern what angles of approach I can use and which give me the leisure to retreat after a strike.

An attack on her left side would require her to cross arms or turn to defend. If she does that, I can hop back and to the left to attack her right. She will recover in an instant even if she’s surprised, I can’t give her any space to breathe or she’ll crush me in moments.

Kicks? Unwise, we’ll eat dirt if we depend on a single leg. Suggestions? We can try the Lover’s gambit. You just thought of that. Do you know what it is? No, but I can tell. You don’t know for sure if I just came up with it or not.

I chuckle at Liz and let her do her thing, pretty sure that it’s going to be one or two of three things: ridiculous, genius, useless. Unfortunately for my plans of attack, Leomi charges over first. She definitely wants to end it painlessly, the sweetheart. Not going to happen. Of course not, we need at least one win.

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