I focus on the armor-piercing construct’s core and delve into it. I find a list of numbers set in a spherical arrangement, each associated with two letters, and a few spiraling segments that are similar to what the scanning construct I used on myself recorded when I slowed my perception of time.
At the very center of the core is a point of energy that I recognize as recorded intent. I instantly give up on changing anything as this is far beyond me. Leomi shifts to rest her cheek on her arm. She gave up figuring out what I’m doing to stare at my face. It takes me a few minutes to concentrate again because of her scrutiny.
The segments connected to the core aren’t unknown to me, they were repeatedly explained to me by Vikiana and Celyz, but that doesn’t mean I can easily alter them. The simpler shredding construct took a lot of work just to adapt it to my needs and I had my oak’s help.
This is why you shouldn’t brag. I snub Liz because she’s worse than I am. Am not. Are too! I hear Leomi suppress a chuckle. Elizabeth and I immediately suppress our facial expressions. But, with the distraction, it’s now a lot harder to ignore the soft feeling of her silk underwear on my thigh and left side.
Wait, look! I follow her thought and check the interconnected line-shaped segments that link to a thick round tube at a forty-five degree angle. It looks similar to a comb, both ends of the spine connect to the core.
This concentration of segments is what one must curb and extend over the blade of the weapon one uses. To simplify, the angled teeth directly sever matter while the tube-like spine segment is used by the core to control them while also channeling energy.
What if we add a charged field from the lightning construct? Exactly, if we channel the lightning along that looping comb instead of letting it run wild inside the weapon, it might be more efficient.
But more noticeable… no, not with the new version at low intensity, especially if it’s contained inside a circuit. Hm, maybe, just thought it would slice better. Can’t do it now though.
“You stopped moving.” Leomi notes.
“You stopped looking.” I reply evenly.
“I don’t get it.” She admits shamelessly. “You’re too smart for me, but I like to watch your serious thinking face.”
“You’re like Liz.” I mutter.
“How so?” Leomi asks.
“She uses constructs bluntly without caring about intricacies, she has no grace.” I explain.
“Hey!” My kitten protests.
“Hey!” Liz adds, with a delay that shows she isn’t really offended. I really, really am!
“I resent that accusation.” Leomi says.
She lifts her hand from my flat left chest and seizes ten portions from the golden cloud of flow. She swiftly shapes a golden lance with a few flicks of her wrist, creating a very complex construct with utter precision in mere seconds.
The hybrid construct causes the air in the room to swirl as it sucks some in. She was much too quick for me to follow her method but I do recognize quite a few segments. Some belong to the explosive construct I still haven’t learned, others the air-needle one, and a few to the shredding construct.
Leomi rests her hand back down on my torso and turns her eyes back to my face. Her expression, visible in the corner of my eyes, is smug and satisfied. Undoubtedly proud that she stunned me with her display.
I inspect the lance construct for at least a quarter of an hour, fascinated by the intricate way the segments work together under Leomi’s pleased gaze. The shredding segments made use of here are the same ones I removed from the plowing construct.
Their role was to spread out the effect of the v-shaped segments to maximize damage but here they are being used to scatter the network of conical air-needles that form the lance.
As far as I can tell, the shredding segments only provide a vector to the needles, which allows the user to adjust the trajectory of each individual projectile if they wish to do so.
The impetus to launch is provided by the needles themselves, which is logical considering that the shredding construct doesn’t have a direct effect but a supporting role to a kinetic force.
“Why isn’t the shredding construct used more?” I ask, curious.
“It was in the past but it became obsolete other than in projectiles for specific purposes like destroying wooden shields or fortifications.” Leomi replies softly. Hm, makes sense.
The air-needles, which have a long conical shape, each contain a small round shell within which provides the explosive effect. I know from seeing her create the construct and because she is allowing me to inspect the hybrid construct in detail.
To be honest, it feels like I’m looking at a masterpiece. The explosive segments were added to amplify the original bursting effect of the air-needles by igniting the air to make it expand even faster. I couldn’t replicate this construct without extensive training, much less use it. It is simply too complex.
“Impressive.” I tell Leomi.
“I can use it as a hand-held weapon as well.” She tells me with a grin.
“Mind if I dismantle it?” I ask.
“Go ahead.” She replies.
I spend the next hour merely inspecting every subtlety in the network of links and segments while muttering out loud at times as I try to analyze how segments from three different constructs were merged so seamlessly. The mere number of air-needles is staggering.
I estimate that if I were to try to assemble this construct, I would have to use a lot more than ten portions of energy. I glance at Leomi, finding her asleep and drooling on the blanket. I grin, finding her adorable.
She probably got bored. I move her hand off my left chest and slip out of bed. I rearrange the blankets and lightly kiss her forehead before heading for the cache where I stored the liangi.
I dust off the plank covering the hole and pull it off. I then unseal the long rectangular case with a stream of flow and pick Suxen’s notebook out. There are only two of her notes left to test, the most complicated ones.
The first is a string of equations only linked together by matching symbols present nowhere else in the pages like alpha and sigma. I take it that only Suxen knows what they represent.
It doesn’t quite matter that I do not have all the information because flow should make the connection by itself through consuming energy with my intent as a reference.
The second is a single equation but it takes up a whole page and there are no symbols or letters involved. I feel quite proud of my theory, even though it is unconfirmed so far, as it led me to attempt these tests.
As I’ve done many times in the past week when Leomi was out or training, I shape fifty portions of flow into a core with the intent of slowing down the perception of time, and only that without other effects.
The mere creation of a core based on this intent without it destabilizing took me hours upon hours of training my mind, and it does not even do anything by itself but merely decreases the energy consumption of slowing myself down by a small amount.
The process I used involved directly experiencing the perception-altering effects of the unstructured field as well as relying on my memories of fighting under the influence of the Little one’s cool substance which had similar effects.
What further complicated my making this core intent is that I have to keep in mind the fluctuations of the unstructured field and how it must be stable for my whole body, otherwise the core won’t be useful for anything other than testing.
Thankfully, I could do quite a bit of work during mindless physical tasks like chopping wood with Leomi or I wouldn’t have gotten this far. This intent-based core is incomparable to the one I made that created a field that merely looked like the unstructured construct but wasn’t of any use.
I wrap the string of equations around the core intent. I don’t target myself but activate it in thin air with the intent to organize itself according to its purpose because I don’t have the knowledge to do so myself. I fully expect it to either crumble or drain itself of energy as it did for every other test.
As predicted, the golden core flickers almost to the point of destabilizing. The fact it doesn’t is good but the glow is quickly weakening, which shows that this remains a failure. The intense consumption of energy means that the core doesn’t have the elements it needs.
I sigh and wait for it to dissipate uselessly. Yet it starts shrinking instead and becomes more and more compact. The core soon burns through the last of the fifty portions and blinks out of existence. I uselessly stand there, stunned by this new event.
It did something different. I roll my eyes at her lazy comment but it did serve to drag me out of my daze. I take control of the whole cloud of flow floating above the sleeping Leomi and create a new core identical to the previous with the close to three hundred portions of energy.
The activation with the intent of restructuring goes on without a hitch this time, the core doesn’t flicker and immediately starts shrinking into a small nut-sized ball. At the center is my recorded intent for the perception construct with equations composing the outer shell.
I quickly notice that the symbols like alpha and sigma have been replaced by spiraling strings. Many of the equations have actually been deleted while those that remain seem to have been simplified at a first glance.
But that is only in appearance because I’m certain that the strings, linked together by almost invisible lines, contain more complex information than what they’ve replaced. The core soon stabilizes into an opaque golden sphere with merely two portions of energy remaining.
I scrutinize its every component and go so far as to etch the simplest details in my mind even though it isn’t necessary to use a construct. After spending an extensive amount of time on this, I anchor the core inside my chest.
I then put Suxen’s notebook back and seal the liangi’s case. I conceal the cache under the plank and a layer of dirt before returning to bed, hoping that I’ll be able to work out the arrangement of segments to make a construct out of it.
Even if I can’t, the core alone will do a lot to stabilize and reduce the energy consumption of the unstructured field itself. I slip inside Leomi’s arms and bury my face in her soft bra before closing my eyes.
— — —
I awaken in the morning only to find Leomi gone. I panic for a while until I notice a note on the table telling me she left for the village to take care of her warhorse. I berate myself for thinking she would leave without a word.
I go through the motions to clean up, do the laundry, and sew cloth to make a mattress. My mind wanders to the perception construct quite often as I sift through the segments I know of that’ll be of use and how to adapt them. I also want to add the sight and hearing enhancing constructs to it.
It’ll make it more complicated but, as Leomi showed me last night, just because a construct is extremely complex doesn’t mean you can’t train to assemble it in moments. I do have my suspicions that flow is what makes such speed possible, though.
While I am now able to assemble a lion strike or step with a single thought, it isn’t likely that training alone made this possible. After all, my memory isn’t perfect no matter how familiar I am with these two constructs.
Can I try it now? Not yet. I smile and put the sowing needles back into their pouch before storing them in a table drawer Leomi made a couple of days ago. I walk outside to grab the wooden staff and start training while waiting for Leomi.
She returns around noon with two annoying people named Hale and Frank. I glare at them as they make their way up the road with her. Leomi waves at me from afar. Frank says something to which she replies with a reassuring expression.
“I’m not training them!” Liz yells out.
Leomi raises her head to the sky, likely because I wouldn’t be able to notice her rolling her eyes. Hale ignores me completely and Frank pauses for a moment but my kitten snags his shirt without even looking to drag him.
I pout, feeling a spike of jealousy and annoyance. They’re taking from our time with her. Don’t get mad or we’ll lose more. Right, can’t beat them it’ll be the same as sparring, devious kitten! The group of three soon arrives.
“Good day, Dame Jessica.” Frank bows. I ignore him, irked by his good manners.
“Hey.” Hale says with a quiet voice. I give him a nod.
“Teaching is a great tool to train oneself.” Leomi tells me straightforwardly.
Ah. We lost. It’s your fault. How so? She’s clearly saying she’ll do it if we won’t. Then blame her! Don’t wanna. I groan and rest my weight on the staff. We can’t let them spar Leomi, they’ll get a crush on her if they haven’t already.
“Their reflexes suck worse than mine did.” I protest, trying to get her to give up.
“I was the same before.” She replies flatly. “You’re the abnormal one.” Change tactics, flirt.
“Oh, well.” I sigh theatrically. “I wanted to bring you to a small river not far from here but, if you insist…” I trail off, throwing her a pointed look. Leomi hesitates for a while until she throws a glance at the pitiful Hospitaliers’ faces.
“We can go late in the afternoon, and eat dinner there before coming back home.” She tells me before turning to the two. I fail to react because she said this is ‘home’, it’s taking all I have not to grin like an idiot. “Don’t mind her temper. Jessica is cute grumpy, not dangerous… usually.” Leomi sticks her tongue out and enters the house.
What was that?! We would have gotten out of it if you weren’t so shy! I’m not putting us on display over this, it’s called being proper. But it’s fine if she does? No, it’s just… different. We’ll see whether you’re timid in public or proper. What does that mean? Take a peek, find out. No, Liz, answer me!
“Dame Jessica?” Frank calls out.
“Don’t stand there like fools.” I grunt at them. “And don’t be polite.”
“But…” Frank starts but Hale hits him with his elbow.
“Lose the shields.” I tell them.
They detach the round bucklers from their backs and draw their training swords stuck in their belts. I make them spar together a dozen times to get a good idea of what they’re capable of and then let them rest.
“Are you blind?” I ask them seriously.
“We’re not that bad.” Frank frowns.
“No, I’m really asking if you have eyesight issues.” I correct myself.
Hale throws me a flat look while the other one sighs. I shrug and signal them to sit down on logs. I ponder for a good while on how to explain the problems but it’s not easy to find nice words to describe the number of mistakes they made and openings they missed.
“Let’s start with feints. You’re using them like you don’t expect them to hit but watch your own strikes like you want them to anyway. The worst part is probably that they sometimes do.” I tell them.
“Isn’t it good they hit?” Frank blinks.
“I mean, if you’re counting on luck to win, then sure.” I shrug. “Otherwise, you should be using feints as diversions or a preliminary to land a clever blow. You’re paying way too much attention to these throwaway attacks.”
“To trick the opponent to think it’s real.” Hale tells me.
“You’re being too obvious then, no way that would work if your opponent has a shred of cunning.” I reply harshly. “If it looks like your feints are more serious than your real attacks, that’s way suspicious. Just throw them like any other blow while keeping your attention elsewhere.”
“I don’t get it.” Hale replies bluntly.
“I’ll show you in a little while.” I wave his concern aside. “Next, Frank runs around too much and it’s good you let him because he tired himself out after a few rounds but you never took advantage of that. You should have harassed him until he puked his lungs.”
“Hey!” Frank cries out.
“Hale, you had better footwork but it seems to only be because you’re too lazy to move around so you don’t make as many mistakes.” I tell him bluntly. He holds my gaze and remains silent. “You both have a half-decent level of swordsmanship but you’re crippling yourselves with empty feints and by putting more weight behind your attacks than you need to.”
“Okay.” Frank replies while Hale makes a stiff nod. “What else?”
“About a dozen more things but these are the most flagrant. You need to fight like your opponent has his sword one move away from your throat. Either always be prepared to stop that one deadly blow you won’t see coming or be so fierce you land the killing strike first.” I tell them.
I exchange my training staff for Hale’s sword and swing it a couple of times to get used to the weight before facing Frank. I signal him to attack me and stay on the defensive as he tries to break through my guard.
I flick his attacks away with less strength than he uses, ensuring that he can’t defeat my stance because my weapon always returns in position first. It’s a little like cheating since it’s not hard to do if you’re not even thinking of attacking.
“You can charge to force a heavy exchange, just make sure you’re faster, stronger, or that you can predict your opponent.” I tell him. “But, even then, you might run into someone who can deflect you like I have been doing and retaliate.”
Frank nods seriously but I can see he’s agitated from his attacks and expression. He starts advancing on me to apply more pressure, which is quite encouraging because that’s what I was going to suggest next. His eyes glance my left side so I angle my sword slightly to match him.
He suddenly stomps forward to strikes out at my forward left knee with a downward diagonal slash. I can’t help but grin as I use a lion strike to raise my leg and slam my foot down on the flat of his polished wooden sword, pinning it against the ground.
Frank almost loses his grip on the sword without me even having to apply more pressure. I lightly slap his right shoulder by lowering my weapon, which remained in front of my torso to prevent him from punching me.
“Good trick.” I compliment him. “I’m wary of being attacked there.”
“My apologies, I lost my temper.” Frank mutters.
I pull my sword back and smack his shoulder again, a lot harder. He grunts and lets go of his weapon, glaring at me. I pick his training sword and throw it at him with a flat look.
“First, just throw insults if it helps keep your head cool, just don’t bring my parents into it.” I tell him. Calm is overrated, better to let loose. “Second, battle is slaughter, there is no honor in giving yourself a handicap once weapons have been drawn. Third, you should have abandonned the weapon once it was pinned.”
“Dame Jessica, I simply…” He bites his tongue as he notices that I’m raising Hale’s wooden sword. “What did I say?” He asks prudently.
“Don’t be polite.” I tell him, lowering my arm.
“Right, um…” He hesitates. “At what moment should I have let go of my weapon?”
“When I raised my leg?” I reply, sounding like I’m not sure because I’m confused by his question. “Just don’t lean so far into your attacks and you won’t need to let go of your sword to survive.” I tell him with a shrug. “I was clearly ready.”
“How so?” Hale asks.
“My weight was on the other leg.” I reply, growing a bit annoyed because it should have been flagrant.
“That’s…” Frank’s baffled voice trails off.
“I didn’t notice myself about the leg.” Hale speaks up in his rescue.
“Well, I didn’t make it specifically obvious but still. Pay attention.” I berate.
“How?!” They explode at the same time with a disbelieving expression.
“With your eyes?” I blink, quite lost as to their inability to comprehend.
“Come on, teach them!” Leomi calls out while pushing the window’s flaps open.
“They’re your puppies!” I reply, throwing her a glare for spying on us.
“Bark.” Hale speaks up humorously.
“Urg.” I groan. “It’s not hard, tons of clues to figure out where your opponent’s center of gravity is. Like, the angle of the legs, the torso’s inclination, contracted muscles under the clothes…” I pause because the list goes on and it’s really hard to explain. “It’s in the eyes, the eyes!” I exclaim in frustration.
“Jay.” Leomi sends with a soothing voice.
“Nope! They’re too… too… too nice!” I spit out with disgust.
“Really? That’s why?” She asks with suspicion.
“Yes! Can’t be trusted, look at’m, they’re not even getting angry!” I throw at her while glaring at the two who are just standing there, looking at me with puppy eyes.
“Please?” Frank asks.
The damn Hospitalier is definitely amused by the exchange, even though he’s trying to hide it, and Hale switched to a prudent poker face that is no less infuriating. I growl and snap my teeth at them before sighing.
I wave Leomi away without looking and resign myself to spending the rest of the morning and a good part of the afternoon showing them what I can’t explain because it probably requires years on the edge to learn outside of a battlefield.