Lance taps her warhorse’s flank to move on the remainder of the Nobles who flee as if she represents death itself, which she does for all intents and purposes when that is the end they will meet if they fail to escape.
Yet, few have the capability to run after two of her lance constructs landed in their midst to injure either rider or mount. Golden flow gathers on the edge of her hand as she raises it.
Leomi lowers her arm towards a group of three Nobles and an air-blade launches at them, cutting a large gash into their chests. By the time they hit the ground, which takes a handful of seconds, she’s already propelled a second projectile at pair of Ladies.
I notice that Vikiana is following behind her daughter with a worried expression. I catch sight of her saying a few words that Leomi ignores. It takes no thought for me to understand her concern because I’ve had the same about the slaughter she’s conducting.
That being thought, my worries differ slightly from Lance’s mother because I feel no disgust at the blood she is spilling, of which there are surprisingly varying shades that go from bright red to such somber red that it looks almost black.
I find the sight poetic but unsuited to Leomi and quite dangerous to her psyche. I should know considering I turned myself into a monster through a similar thought process than hers by justifying my action by claiming that I was saving others and protecting my life.
Lance isn’t the same as me. She will never be able to lightly take the life of a sapient being, even that of a Rykz no matter what she says, for as long as she holds onto her wish to be acclaimed by society as a whole. The ruthlessness necessary for such actions is simply incompatible with that ambition.
With the impostor and her companion absent, Hakarth dead, and all the Nobles fleeing, there is no sense in killing all those present. In fact, she would be putting an end to the battle if she didn’t see these people as threats to my life.
“Enough!” I erupt at Leomi as she raises a hand covered by an intensifying gold glow to aim it at a single Lordling limping towards the depths of the woods.
“Not yet!” She replies with a harsh but trembling voice. “They’re still threats!”
“You insult me, kitten.” Liz erupts, cracking my mind in half. “Who are you to become, Leomi Lance?” Jess asks.
Lance pauses at our words and turns to me, our gazes cross from over fifty meters away but it doesn’t prevent us from engaging in a staring contest. The jay picks this moment to crash-land on her raised arm.
She catches the bird before it hits the ground and gazes down at it for a moment before hesitantly lowering her right arm while dismantling the energy gathered on the edge of her hand.
Leomi then guides her mount back while looking at me with glistening eyes and pale cheeks. Her warhorse’s hooves stomp down on strips of flesh and chunks of bones, Tuala’s remains, with sickening noises.
I give her a reassuring smile to keep her attention on me in spite of my worry about the toll it took on her to kill these Nobles she has known for years. For once, I can’t much blame Vikiana for not acting as a mother because Lance is a leader so she has to make her own decisions.
I’m Lance’s companion so it is well within my prerogative to advise and hold her back when I estimate her ‘work’ is harmful to her or our relationship, both in this case. I’m surprised Yvonne didn’t say anything but, perhaps, she felt the decision up to me and chose not to overstep.
Leomi’s light gray irises suddenly widen and she begins assembling a long thin golden lance clearly meant to function as a javelin. Her panic tells me that there is danger and that the most likely outcome is that she’ll be too late to act.
I immediately push myself away from the tree and assemble a perception construct. Yet, as I do, I detect a cloud of silver air-needles flying at my position from behind with holes in my perception likely corresponding to the trees surrounding us.
“Jay!” Leomi screams in distress.
I barely manage to slow time down for myself and expel a half-dozen portions of flow to shape an angled air-shield before the projectiles arrive. I spin on myself and find Yvonne riding towards my left flank with her shield up.
I apply a defensive construct to my armor as I inspect my surroundings and keep moving sideways, taking my best friend’s reaction to mean there is more danger to watch out for.
A woman wearing a wooden mask, with an engraved tree and a crack, appears in my field of vision from behind a trunk. There are fireballs already flying from her hand at such speed I barely manage to throw myself out of the way.
I notice Yvonne blocking four air-needles with the shield I gifted Leomi which shatters into wooden shards shortly after impact. Most of the fireballs impact the spot I just left and burst to make a large blaze but one of them hits my left flank, consuming some of my defensive construct’s energy.
The impostor turns and runs away without delay but not quickly enough to avoid the golden lance that flashes past me towards her. Unfortunately, a golden barrier appears to block the projectile as well as the resulting explosion and shards.
As I turn to counter-attack, an intensely bright silver cube pierces the canopy a mere two meters behind and above me. Far too close to even think of dodging. I instantly compress the Moebisus loop to further slow down my perception of time.
The sudden change hits my brain like a pickaxe, causing sharp pain and shock but not enough to knock me out so I don’t waste time on my suffering. I seize the handful of portions I haven’t used yet to gather blood where the projectile is headed.
I jump forward at the last moment to avoid being hit just behind the heart and solidify the blood-shield underneath my skin. It turns out to be the correct choice as the cube delivers such focused piercing force that it instantly breaks through my defensive construct and armor.
A pang of scorching and stretching pain lights up the nerves behind my left kidney that I immediately liken to that which I felt when my left arm was being burnt. I take that information as such without letting my budding panic destroy my chances at survival.
“You goat screwing mud bathing piglet!” I yell.
I dismantle every single one of my constructs to feed all the energy I can to the blood-shield as I impact the ground. With my perception construct gone, the shape of my agony shifts into new heights of unbearable that I expel with a rage-filled scream.
As I forcefully climb back up to my feet, I notice tiny blue flames burning leaves on the ground and conclude that the cube used against me was the hybrid construct used by the fake, air, fire, and kinetic.
The projectile is likely meant to pierce through armor, leaving an opening into which it injects the oxygen fueling the blue flames so as to turn flesh into cinders that cannot be healed.
The conclusion brings me to instantly decide to dismantle the now useless segments of my blood-shield, preserving only the water controlling parts of it to control the liquid to smother the flames still eating through my body, granting me immediate relief.
As I do this, I do not stop chasing the impostor but I barely make it a few more steps before someone’s hands drop on my shoulders and grips them to slam me sideways into the ground.
“No, never, I can never lose you!” Leomi yells at me.
Her face appears in my field of vision, the traits of her face look twisted by madness as she pushes her flow into my back, obliterating the flames and likely what remained of the cubical hybrid construct that fed them from inside the hole it pierced into me.
“Th… ks, h… lp, up, kill.” I mumble at her because she’s pinned my right arm under me to have access to the wound in the middle of the left side of my back.
Thud. The base of Lance’s palm impacts the left side of my face like a mace, almost directly knocking me out. I blink hazily for a long while on the verge of losing consciousness but cling to my pain and survival instinct to keep my eyes open.
“Snap out of it!” She screams at me but seems to be telling this to herself. I nod to reassure her, and avoid a second blow I’m in no state to take. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?! You sit there while I hunt the dead woman down.” Lance tells me more calmly.
As she rises to do so, I notice the peculiar absence of Yvonne, Rowland, Nahl, and Vikiana. I open my mouth to tell her, suspecting that the impostor’s companion is near but she departs with lion steps before I can speak, flashing by a running Uhla who drops on her knees by my side.
Hating my inability to figure out what’s going on to my core, I try to get up but the girl firmly stops me with her left hand while pulling on my armor with her right. I try to resist but fail to gather any strength whatsoever, which doesn’t stop me from gritting my teeth and attempting to push through.
“Stay still and let me heal you, damn savage!” Uhla exclaims with a worried expression. “Here, hold onto this.” She adds with a kind voice as she places my umbrella in my fingers.
I squeeze it and manage to settle down some as I find safety in the knowledge I have a weapon to defend myself. The girl turns her eyes to my back and her cheeks lose all color.
“Is this blood? It’s black and, powdery.” She mumbles with panic in her tone. “What is this…?”
“Pro… bly my fau…lt. Used, construct.” I stutter.
“Oh, good.” She utters in relief but her expression soon tightens. “No, bad.” She corrects and hurriedly sends a construct inside my body.
I ignore the girl to glance up at the screams coming from the direction Leomi left towards. I find Lance standing merely a few dozen meters away with her hand extended out towards the impostor who is hanging in mid-air from the lance impaled in the center of her chest and flying towards Leomi.
She is unmasked and there is a golden jay pecking at her temple. The fake’s lips are moving and her legs beating. While I’m too far to hear, I can tell from context that she’s protesting the impossibility of her situation.
“You believe my jay could be stopped by a mere construct?” Leomi mocks with a cruel voice. “Die.”
The point of the lance in her torso blooms like a flower, ripping bone and flesh. The woman screams in agony but quickly loses consciousness. Lance snorts loudly in disdain and swipes her hand, causing her projectile to explode into a bloody shower.
Then, Leomi snaps around and departs running towards the other sounds of battle behind me. I realize that the ambush was likely aimed at someone else besides me but I’m in too much pain to bother speculating, especially since it is likely unknowable.
They could very well have planned to take Leomi out but changed targets once they found that her reserve was much larger than they knew when Tuala died, likely failing in her mission to distract us and create an opening.
Yet, I worry because she’s now almost drained of energy and her mental state is unstable so I urgently need to comfort her, to be there for her. Not to mention that, while our opponents couldn’t have hidden many fighters in the area, there is no one present whose death I can allow. I attempt to tense my agonizing back to get up.
— — —
I awaken to bright sunlight and without a startle, which immediately puts me on my guard because my instincts should be on edge. The room I’m in has stone walls made of carved rectangular rocks which disqualifies most of Meria’s buildings.
A quick look informs me that I’m inside the Temple because of the lion head carved on the room’s door. The mattress I’m on feels like it’s made of wool as the blankets are and filled with dry straw.
I sit up on the bed and feel my skin stretch at the middle of my back’s left side where I was injured. The lack of pain and my slightly dull mind tells me that it’s been days since the battle as well as informs me that I may have been given one of Uhla’s concoctions.
I turn to glance at my back but freeze as I realize that I’m only wearing a thick white wool tunic and naught else underneath. I shiver in apprehension at the thought of the days I spent so vulnerable and exposed.
That’s when I notice that there is a chair next to the bed and that my umbrella is lying next to it. There is a bundle of parchment pieces held between two covers and a string as well on a low table. Yvonne. I breathe out in relief because it means she took care of things with Leomi.
I’ll have to check but I can relax for now. I reach around my left flank to feel the injury, finding a bandage that is covering what feels like stiff and leathery flesh. I sigh at this additional scar, especially because my back was relatively intact before this.
I hear steps so I stand up, rising as a key is pushed in the door’s lock. It makes me feel apprehensive to learn I was basically imprisoned so I pick up my umbrella and wrap my fingers around the hilt of the rapier concealed within.
The brunette that emerges brings a smile to my face. Yvonne walks in with her head hunched down over the platter of food she’s balancing on her left hand. I glance past her to check for armed guards and find none so I relax a bit.
“You’re healed!” Yvonne exclaims with a relieved expression as she notices me.
“It’s been a while, apparently.” I comment, a bit surprised by her choice of words.
She hurriedly puts the platter down on the low table and rushes up to hug me. I allow her in and entertain her by returning the embrace. After a while, she pushes me back with her hands on my shoulders.
“You slept for almost a week, I took care of you the whole time so you don’t need to worry about your tattoos or anything else having been seen.” She tells me.
“Thanks.” I reply. “A lot.” I add because I realize it wasn’t easy for her. “Why so long?” I ask, rather worried by the unknown situation I’ve found myself in by collapsing like a weakling.
“The Alemplar added a small dose of drugs with every meal I fed you, said you would wake up on your own once you’ve recovered enough to get out of bed.” She explains.
“Leomi?” I question worriedly, recalling the state she was in.
“She called the hunt off for the fake’s accomplice a couple of days ago and has been burying herself in work since, she feels guilty even though she agrees you’re too stubborn to control.” Yvonne replies with a thin smile that reveals her concern for me. So the accomplice escaped.
“We will all die someday, Yvonne. Some sooner than others.” I tell her, having only brutal reality to rely on because I don’t want to lie. “I need to go, where’s my stuff?” I ask urgently.
Her face contorts sadly at my cold response and she wraps me in her arms. In spite of my pressing need to go to Lance, I can’t help but allow myself to waddle against her warm chest for a while.
“She’s busy organizing the transfer of the troops to Port-Odo, you can surprise her tonight at dinner.” She proposes, almost convincing me to make the romantic gesture. I shake my head, unable to forget the cruelty I heard in Lance’s voice. “She left your things in the drawer.” Yvonne informs me.
I nod and check the room more closely, finding a basin for washing and a small bedside table. I open the latter to find my dress, the underwear Leomi gifted me, my boots with soles that are definitely not thicker than is normal, my hunting knife, and my broadsword with the two belts to hang it on my back.
I decide to delay my plan to go straight after Leomi because I want to look perfect to spoil her as well as take her mind off the guilt I’m certain she’s experienced this past week.
“Can you bring me back some water?” I ask her.
“Okay, but make sure you eat before departing if this is a trick to get rid of me.” She replies with a smile.
“It isn’t, but yes I will.” I assure her.
I get started on the first bowl of liquid gruel she brought back. There is a bitter taste that numbs my tongue, which confirms that the food has been laced with some kind of drug. I switch this one out for the other bowl that she brought for herself and eat my fill.
As I finish, Yvonne returns with a full basin of water. I directly pull the tunic off my back because I have no time to lose. Instead of making me uncomfortable by staring, Yvonne occupies herself by spreading my belongings on the bed.
I fiddle with the knot holding the bandage around my chest but fail to untie it. Yvonne steps in and does it for me. I allow her because I don’t want to argue and waste precious seconds but, in spite of that, I still take a moment to check my new injury.
What I find makes my chest tighten up, there is now a pit in my back made of rigid flesh that feels much worse to directly touch than it did earlier. I swallow my saliva and start washing while focusing my mind on my lovers to prevent my thoughts from spiraling out of fear.
Celyz couldn’t care less about the state of my body as long as it remains healthy and, when it comes to her, neither do I so long as I retain the capability to please her.
Lance is more complicated but she’s been more than accommodating about my body, she’s helped me accept it by being open about how it excites her. My scars prove my resilience and accomplishments, they’re all part of me and this specific one will teach me not to underestimate my opponents again.
Whether King Cenwalh or Duchess Roskal have guessed or been told of my identity as E.Vil, this ambush confirms that they want me dead for certain. After all, the dead fake and her accomplice wouldn’t have invested so much of their energy or risked an ambush if it wasn’t the case.
“Who else was ambushed?” I ask Yvonne as I wipe my chest with a towel.
“Me and Vikiana.” She replies, gazing at my face instead of my body.
It makes me feel a bit insecure but I defy that emotion by beginning to shave my pubic hair with my hunting knife and a shameless attitude because my insecurity feels petty in this occasion, an act of self-defiance that makes me smile. My new injury causes me some pain but far from enough to make my hand shake.
“I thought you weren’t insensitive to our charms.” I comment calmly as her lack of interest towards me persists.
“Rowland is very satisfying.” She replies with an amused smile. “If you want to get a reaction out of me, the two of you can try to join us but I don’t believe there is any chance of convincing him. He can act like a block of wood in more than one ways once his mind is set.”
“Forget it and help me put these clothes on.” I tell her, pushing back the memory of them together that her comment brings up to focus on the urgent matter at hand, getting to Leomi to make sure she’s doing alright.