Leomi is staring at me with impatience in her gray eyes, her burning interest shows she ran out of patience waiting for me to tell her more. She held out for a week before asking, which is madness. I couldn’t last seven hours if she hinted at some project without giving me more to chew on.
I give her a teasing smile and very slowly bring a spoonful of stew up to my lips. Her eyes narrow and her gaze turns into a glare but she holds her tongue. We eat dinner with a tense silence floating. I use the time to figure out how much I’m going to tell her, and also how to snatch the flow she stores in her flask.
Best way to do that is in the open. Agreed. Let’s visit the Little one first, it’ll infuriate our kitten that we delay further. Doubly agreed. I swiftly finish my bowl and leave the table without waiting for her. Leomi keeps eating calmly, affecting an aloof behavior.
I chuckle and step outside. I make my way to the Little one who I haven’t met in about six days. It hadn’t even finished the boar’s offal when I brought the deer’s then so I didn’t see fit to take the risk to slip away until now. It’s a good time because Leomi won’t seek me out after such obvious baiting on my part.
I carefully step in the bushes while assembling a signaling construct. It’s night already but I only lose sight of colors when I step into the darkness cast by the thick foliage. The Little one is buried in the ground with only the upper arm sticking out.
The tendrils are spread out, they snake in and out of the soil as a plant’s roots would. They’re even twisted in just the right way to reinforce the camouflage. There is no sign of the food I gave it because it lies atop of it to slowly absorb it. I would pity the carrion-eater that would attempt to steal from this parasite.
I crouch next to it and run my fingers alongside its shoulder’s brown rubbery flesh, enjoying the alternating roughness and softness. The grain of its skin is similar to sandpaper, very similar to a Princess but not exactly as it is thicker.
The Little one awakens slowly, it reaches out to my wrist with a lethargic tendril. I activate the signaling construct and link to it, receiving emotions soon after. It is telling me it’s annoyed to have been roused out of its slumber but glad I’m there. Before I can respond, it squeezes my forearm and uses the construct to throw its deep loneliness at me.
I sigh with complicated feelings, I relate but the Little one is difficult to empathize with sometimes because of its rather cruel instincts. I am relieved that our link isn’t anywhere as strong as it was because, otherwise, it would have been difficult to bear its emotions. I send regret and apologies to the Little one.
It replies with a burning desire, a dark one for me but hopeful for it. It takes me a while to decipher this packet it transmitted even though I’ve felt something quite similar just before the Little one was knocked out by Queen Grikyz.
This time, the messages are more expansive and elaborate if still detached from me because we are no longer a one messed-up being. I chuckle. Little one must have worked hard on its communication skills to send this burning desire in such a clear way.
The most obvious in this bundle of feelings is the hunger that isn’t hunger aimed at me, not my body or mind but both, a feverish void of craving emotion. It wishes to devour me, to unite with me to a degree almost comparable to my love for Leomi and Celyz.
That realization sends Liz in a daze but I don’t waver. It does make me rethink Grikyz’ words about the Little one, they were truthful but deceiving as usual with the Rykz. I should have realized sooner with the Queen’s declaration that she won’t help create another species.
Why would the Rykz fear such an event if the Little one were to merely devour me like food? They would not, what they are afraid of is us becoming one singular intelligent being with the access to the Lake implied with that status.
The Little one is physically similar to a Princess’ leg but the comparison ends there, it is capable of merging, adapting its shape, and exuding mind-altering pheromones, which are all things the Rykz have lost. The being that would arise would be a magnificent monster with the instincts of an apex predator.
We could battle such a monster, it would be glorious. Yes we could, sister, but who else? I giggle at our overblown pride but send a comforting signal to the Little one while asking it if it is hungry. It replies with a pouting ‘no’ but Liz and I still decide to spend some time with it.
We do stay on guard against it even though it has long recognized our superior status in the relationship. The mystery of why it accepted that position after our separation has been solved with the discussion we just had.
It clearly still considers us part of the same Hive… no, it is more akin to a pack. If it had the social constraints of a Rykz Hive, then it wouldn’t have defied its Queen, much less its Mother, as it did when we were one.
It would have obeyed orders without requiring Grikyz to knock it unconscious and would not have displayed the kind of fierce independence it expressed when the Princesses tried to speak to me with pheromones.
Curious, I focus on the signaling construct to ask the Little one about its opinion of Leomi and Celyz. I receive an immediate answer composed of strong feelings, belonging, reliance, responsibility, and many more like regret.
The most prominent emotion is the hunger mixed in with affection and sexual attraction that I am most definitely misinterpreting because there is an echo of the future in there. Perhaps a desire to reproduce, but not only. It definitely considers them both part of its pack, or family.
Smart. I grin and caress the base of the tendril holding my wrist. This parasite definitely grew more intelligent than it was. I send one last inquiry about its opinion of Grikyz to which it answers with ambivalent and complicated emotions.
There is resentment and vexation but, while it no doubt experienced those, the two are overblown in the message, exaggerated like one would during a temper tantrum. The affection and longing, on the other hand, are subdued to the barest minimum.
I burst out in laughter at this response that I can’t take seriously because this is too akin to what a teenager would be like after being scolded by its parents. The Little one applies pressure around my forearm, causing quite a bit of pain where it was broken before.
I send it a signal to tell it to cut it out. The Little one stops after one last twist and pulls its tendril back into the loose soil. I extend my index and poke the portion of the upper arm that sticks out of the ground a few times. I’m being ignored…
Elizabeth lets out a giggle as she takes over to keep poking at the brown flesh, going faster and faster until my hand becomes a blur. The Little one suddenly thrashes out of the ground and slaps my finger away. I send it a signal of reprimand along with sadness.
It freezes in its small hole and awkwardly waves several tendrils in a show of regret. I gently pat its biceps, feeling slightly guilty because was Liz was clearly being a bully but I didn’t stop her. Hey! Shush, bully. But…
I get up and slap the dirt the parasite threw on me with as it burst out of the ground. I walk back inside and find Leomi still at the table with her right hand flat on it, her fingers impatiently tapping the wood.
“Coin and flow are for two different things.” I tell her as I make my way in the pantry.
I grab her flask of water filled to the brim with three hundred portions of flow, there should be double that amount at the very least but the energy is too compressed so it kept dissipating. I step back out and sit in front of Leomi.
She immediately gets up and steps outside to do the dishes. I open my mouth but decide against calling her back because I did go a bit far by ditching her so abruptly. She takes a handful of minutes to return. She drags her chair to sit next to me and lean against my left side.
“The money is to make and sell this.” I tell her, raising my hand.
I shape the hollowed out shredding construct I developed before drawing a basic plow with a few golden lines in the air above it. Leomi inspects the construct, paying most attention to the timer segment that is made to diffuse energy evenly for thirty minutes before throwing me a look.
“There isn’t anything missing, I took out the stuff that wasn’t useful.” I say.
“Does it work?” She asks.
“It should but it likely requires a lot of tinkering.” I explain. “I also planned out a set of constructs that would work together to sow behind the turned earth, but that would complicate the mechanical aspect as well.”
“How viable is it?” She questions.
“The simplest one would halve the time it takes to plow a field with affordable energy consumption, but that’s only my estimate. The more extensive runic plow that can sow at regular intervals, now that’s the real time saver but it will also consume a lot more energy, especially if there is a nourishing construct.” I tell her.
“Specifically?” She presses.
“People would definitely burn less flow.” I tell her confidently. “Strengthening yourself, a draft horse, or a bull to plow faster is rather wasteful compared to the consumption involved here because the earth would be loosened directly to allow physical force to finish the work.”
“Wouldn’t it be more tiring?” She asks.
“No, hard chunks of ground are the biggest problems and this solves it since farmers would be able to use their flow for a small burst of strength.” I explain. “It’s like using an armor-piercing construct with a lion strike to overcome a tough defense.”
“Oh.” She nods.
“What does this do?” She asks, pointing at a sharp cone-shaped arrangement of segments.
“Don’t you recognize it?” I blink. “It focuses the shredding along the plow-head’s edge. Look, if you do this…”
I reach out and manually split the cone into its separate segments, which all look like the letter ‘v’ except with curved arms. Leomi stares blankly, no doubt speechless from being amazed in amazement by my amazingness.
“What are you muttering?” She asks, pulling me out of my thoughts.
“Don’t worry about it.” I grin. “I have a couple hundred things to show you, how about we go to bed?”
“Yess.” She drawls with a huge smile.
She gets up and pulls our mats together while I draw all the energy from her flask. I throw my blanket over hers and we shed our clothes down to our underwear before settling side by side.
While she slips her right arm behind my head and places her left hand on the flat side of my chest, I pillage her reserve of energy. I suspend the four hundred and fifty portions in the air above us and split some.
“There, this is the shredding construct right?” I ask.
“Looks like it.” She nods.
“If you do this.” I remove the links connecting the ‘v’ segments to the star-shaped core. “Then you can reprogram the links’ intent, which determines how the core controls the shredding.”
“Okay.” Leomi agrees somewhat hesitantly.
“The core has all the information relative to the process but it can be applied in many ways.” I explain. “The v-shaped segments merely symbolize the direction of the shredding, from one point it spreads outwards.”
“I’m following.” She nods.
“The energy used is kinetic, I’ve only seen it used that way but I’m sure some modifications to the core could make it compatible with heat and other things…” I pause. “Maybe even light.” I add, thinking of the illusion construct.
“Pretty sure you’re going off-track already, my jay.” Leomi tells me with a touch of humor.
“Oh, right.” I blink and laugh awkwardly. “So, without links, what you do is you gather those v-shaped segments into a cone that matches the plow head. Tip to tip and side to side, you have to lengthen them a bit for it to be a match but don’t add more energy because the point is to spread out the effect, not to make it stronger.” I explain.
“But a plow head is somewhat triangular, the shape doesn’t match.” Leomi notes.
“Yes, that’s because plows have many shapes so I made the cone to work for all of them. It only requires small adjustments to make it match to a specific head so that’s not an issue.” I tell her. “The important part is to add a single link to connect all the v-shaped segments so they act in concert, not to mention that simplifies the construct by a lot so you need less energy both to activate and run it.”
“That’s pretty amazing.” Leomi recognizes, giving me a tight hug.
I reach out and obliterate a few other segments as well as elongate the timer segment to reorganize the whole thing. Leomi praises me and doesn’t even ask me to cut down on the explanations even though she’s clearly a bit lost.
“It works?” She asks again.
“Yes.” I reply confidently, even though I never actually tested it.
I assemble an air construct shaped like a ribbon which I wrap around the handle of one of the swords resting against the wall. I pull the weapon out of its scabbard and apply the shredding construct to the blade, adjusting the cone to fit the very tip.
I then send the sword to cut the ground under the table, splitting the soil without an effort. Leomi makes a big smile with raised eyebrows, apparently quite impressed.
“I burned three portions with the air construct but only used a quarter of one to make the shredding construct which could keep working for a half-hour.” I explain.
“That’s still a lot for someone with a single portion.” Leomi notes.
“Two hours of work at this speed can achieve a lot.” I reply, sending the sword back into its scabbard. “And there is a waste of energy because I’m relying on a timer construct instead of manually controlling the flow input according to the resistance.”
“Okay, color me very impressed.” Leomi says, leaning over to kiss my cheek. “You made a siege plow.”
“What?” I startle, fearing that someone already made something like this.
“Soon, you’ll be laying siege to fortifications with an army of plow-wielding peasants!” Leomi exclaims teasingly.
“Oh.” I mutter. My cheeks start burning as I realize I’m being made fun of.
“Are you sure you’re not trying to conquer the Izla?” She asks in the same joking tone. “You want to sell these, and hire people with your temper…”
“My temper?!” I exclaim, outraged at the insinuation that I’m worse than she is.
“Yes, your temper. I’m much more amenable.” Leomi fearlessly presses onward.
“You, you…” I choke on my words. “Rhaa!”
I reach out and grab her right shoulder to make her roll on the side to bite her lower lip. I feel her make a cocky grin anyway, provoking me. I return one of the same caliber, which makes her lose some of her bravado. I don’t give her time to think of my options for retaliation. I raise my open hand and bring it down on her ass. Smack.
“Oww!” She yelps.
Her underwear, apparently made of black silk, didn’t do a thing to protect her tight cheeks. I grow a bit tense, especially when she presses her body against mine. Yet, instead of taking revenge, she pulls her lower lip away from my teeth to give me a brief but passionate kiss.
“I can’t wait to see the results of this.” Leomi tells me with a serious tone.
“That’s the project I threw all my money at, it’ll work.” I tell her confidently. “I’ve been using your flow to perfect a kind of sensory enhancement construct that I can’t really show you because it’s a mess so far.” I don’t tell her more because it would involve admitting it’s unstructured and affects my mind, she would definitely try to stop me from experimenting.
“Okay.” Leomi nods. “Be careful though.” She adds.
“No problem, I’m working on a few others that are further along.” I inform her since I do want to teach her some.
“Anything interesting?” She asks, looking like she has expectations.
“I want to figure out the armor-piercing construct.” I brag, unable to help myself.
“What’s wrong with it?” Leomi questions.
“It’s in the name ‘piercing’, it wasn’t made for blades and it shows in its use.” I explain. “It consumes a lot more energy when you slash than when you stab, I realized that when I had to send my weapon through the institute’s wall.”
“Isn’t that an unavoidable drawback because of a blade’s larger area of effect compared to a spear or the point of a sword?” She points out.
“It is.” I acknowledge. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t adapt the construct in a similar way to the shredding one.”
“You want to make it less effective to save energy.” She guesses.
“A spear attack using an armor-piercing construct no doubt focuses on speed because they can strike several blows with a single portion, I would think three at the most.” I tell her.
“That’s about right, if one has a good sense of the construct.” Leomi agrees.
“I want to make an armor-sundering construct optimized for slashing, make it more reliant on power instead of pure speed, which few can control anyway.” I explain.
“How would you do that?” Leomi asks.
“With a lot of effort and a genius level of intuition.” I reply arrogantly.
“I’m very surprised.” She drawls with a smile and rolling eyes.
“Actually, it might be easier to do than I think.” I tell her, extending my hand out to the cloud of flow hovering over us.
I assemble the armor-piercing construct in a second, drawing a very satisfying surprised whistle from Leomi. I then cut the energy links connecting the segments together and to the core, leaving a mess of floating parts in front of us.
“Vikiana probably inspired me.” I admit. “She told me that physical force is often better suited at defeating constructs if used correctly, gave me the clue I needed to rely less on the effect of a flow construct and more on optimizing the process, making them more efficient, the complication is to modify them to also make them more effective.”
“Hm.” Leomi blows air into my ear, tickling me.