As she helps me fit my dress on, Yvonne and I talk a bit about recent events. I learn that Huan Thrin pledged a lifelong service to Izla Meria along with many Nobles who rebelled.
They have basically agreed to become advisers, hostages, for the Councils that will rule the lands their houses lost. I disapprove the deals made but I understand that it makes sense for the Council to have chosen this solution.
Hospitaliers are now united in blood and choice, as is the population who will now almost unconditionally stand behind them because of their victory against the rebel Nobles, leaving those houses who hesitated to pick a side completely isolated.
Unfortunately, none of this tells me anything about Leomi’s state of mind about her actions in crushing the rather pitiful rebellion. Yvonne has little to offer on the subject because she’s been taking care of me and Lance’s mood has always been somber but hopeful during her visits.
Once I’ve armed myself with the broadsword on my back and strapped my hunting knife on my calf, I set my umbrella on my half-shoulder and use a few portions from the twenty stored in my reserve to toughen my heart before leaving with Yvonne.
My room’s door gives directly into the hospital. Every bed is occupied by wounded who are separated in two sections by a symbolic string, one space for the Hospitaliers and one space for the high born.
The Alemplar doesn’t turn away from his work in reapplying a poultice even as whispers arise at my arrival. Far from taking offense, I appreciate the elder man’s professionalism so I make my way out while ignoring the Nobles’ fearful glares.
As I make my way through the Temple, I run into the bright-eyed Semplar girl. She is accompanied by two boys who have also shown admiration towards me during their shifts at the workshop but whose opinions are far from being as intense as hers.
While I’m prideful, I still find her perspective of me rather unjustified considering most of my accomplishments depended on the help I received from Celyz, Leomi, Amand, Cecil and many others.
“Dame Freepath! Can you demonstrate the switch you used to defeat Baroness Otun?!” The girl calls out.
“Switch?” I ask while slowing down, puzzled because I haven’t shown Liz’ grip change in public.
“The slash into a stab into a slash!” She exclaims excitedly, as if she can’t quite believe her luck that I replied.
I bite the inside of my cheek and stop in my tracks because her reaction puts me in a quandary. I wanted to blow her off because I’m hurrying and only asked out of curiosity but she’s treating me as if I’m a being above others which means that the last thing I should do is to behave high and mighty like one.
“Yvonne, do you mind?” I turn to my friend.
“Of course not.” She replies with a smile and draws the sword at her waist.
“Don’t lose it.” I tell the girl as I hold my umbrella out to her.
The Semplar almost rips it out of my hands with a grin so wide that there is a real risk her jaw might fall off. The expressions of the boys grow slightly bitter but they brighten as I draw the broadsword on my back.
“This move might allow you to bypass your opponent’s defenses but it lacks power and the element of surprise because it is, by nature, a reactive measure one takes once their opening move failed.” I warn the kids who nod fervently.
To demonstrate, I launch swing at Yvonne who easily raises her sword to place it in my blade’s way. I pull my right shoulder back while twisting my elbow and wrist to set my weapon on a vertical plane to launch a swift stab.
The sword-sworn dodges back and to the side. I follow through with my attack by taking the last stomping step that brings power to the blow even though this configuration will not suffice to hit in order to preserve the momentum that will bring me victory once I complete the second switch.
I read from Yvonne’s body language that her weight is resting on her two feet, which marks the half-way point of her retreat, the moment when she fully commits to the path she chose, I act.
I bend my knees, lean forward, and apply a sideways motion to my weapon by extending my shoulder along with my elbow while snapping my wrist to the side as well as twisting it to bring the single-edged blade at the proper angle.
All these rather brusque movements work in concert with the forward motion my blade already holds to turn my previously failed assault into an elegant diagonal downward slash that cuts through the air in pursuit of my opponent.
Yvonne’s eyebrows jump up and her expression turns slightly frightened at the realization that she’s been caught off-guard despite knowing what I would do ahead of time.
I stop my blade long before it hits Yvonne’s thigh and sheathe it in a singular movement. The sword-sworn takes one more step back while blinking in surprise at the fact that my attack would have hit her.
Of course, my success depended partly on the fact she acted as my foil for the casual demonstration and the fact that she never saw me make this move before, for good reason considering it’s something Leomi taught me indirectly during our spars a couple of months ago.
“Way awesome.” The bright-eyed Semplar girl whispers.
“How did you do that?!” The boys exclaim at the same time.
“Yes… how?” Yvonne questions dazedly.
“Hm.” I ponder what the most helpful answer would be because there are too many things to say with no time to spare. “The switch in itself isn’t difficult, Yvonne could teach you, but what makes it work is the mind’s capability to interpret what the senses tell it and make a decision based on that.” Feeling rather proud of my explanation, I proceed. “I acted only once she began the process of switching her weight to her back-leg, locking her into place for the half-second it took me to switch.”
I watch their reactions full of anticipation yet find four blank pairs of eyes staring back at me. My frown causes the three Semplars to hurriedly nod as if they understand, which causes me to scowl even more.
“If you want to have an understanding about what it is you must achieve, I suggest you play pranks on each other for a few months to sharpen your attention to details.” I tell them.
“Jess…” Yvonne murmurs with disapproval.
“What? It’s training.” I protest. “It isn’t as if it’ll be serious and they should get better, good enough to kick the ass of those who laughed at them.”
“They’ll get kicked out of the Order if they go too far.” She loudly tells me, obviously addressing her words to the already scheming Semplars.
“Then we’ll join the Hospitaliers, we might even get to leave the Izla and contribute to the Empire as Uhla will!” The bright-eyed girl exclaims excitedly.
“You’ll get yourselves killed, finish your training before thinking of going to war.” I tell them with a hard voice.
“But you never had any! It’s been said that you’ve even been oppressed by a Baron your whole life without ever being given the opportunity to learn swordswomanship yet reach the level of an expert as well as become a great tactician and strategist, that’s why we respect you so much!” The girl tells me with a feverish expression. “Elizabeth Vil doesn’t hold a candle to you!”
“Because E.Vil has slaughtered?” Liz questions, slightly offended.
She briefly cracked my mind to speak but retreated immediately after because we sisters can only be a singular entity to ask for Lance’s hand else we will tear ourselves apart from within out of irreconcilable jealousy.
“No, well yes, but no.” One of the boys answers.
“The deaths are regrettable but such is war, no Templar would deny such a self-evident fact even in a quest for revenge.” The other notes.
“Elizabeth Vil is frightening because she does not bleed and her actions remain intangible until the last moment. Her feats are praiseworthy but rarely respectable, unlike yours!” The bright-eyed Semplar declares fervently.
Their responses give me much to think, especially given that these kids who trained hard for years to join the Order have more ‘primitive’ ideals than those Lance has infused the Hospitaliers with by establishing the Charter.
The Empire’s warped morality is glaringly obvious in their discourse as it is apparent that feats and victory justifies the means used on the battlefield from their perspective.
While I’ve myself relied on this point of view, it shocks me to hear these idealistic youths bring it up because I know myself a monster and that my reasonings are tainted by insanity.
I know for a fact that most of the Izla’s inhabitants don’t share such a point of view because I’m one of them and I’ve experienced the nature of people’s gratitude towards Elizabeth Vil.
They are thankful for the fact she saved the Izla and the fact she stood up to Nobility in their name but only a small minority truly agree with the actions she took to achieve results.
In fact, the Order is revered because of their altruistic actions and because of the legends about Templars sacrificing themselves with the certainty they will die to defend people.
Such actions are at odds with the concept that the ends justify the means, after all those Templars’ survival would have given the Empire a better chance at winning a battle.
Yet, it still makes sense because wars can only be won if the Empire remains united and the Templar Order is the link that unites us all so the image people have of them is of paramount importance.
Perhaps Semplars’ beliefs are shaped by the Order so that they can accept the actions that must be taken to fight the Empire’s constant war for survival as well as taught that Templars be above such things to hold the bright torch of hope.
While I am certain that neither Rykz nor Lisilese are truly attempting to exterminate humans, it doesn’t change the fact that they will extinguish humanity if it grows too weak.
Yet, the more I deduce about the clearly calculated structure of the Empire and the seemingly obsolete Noble houses which have gradually lost power as years passed, the more dread I feel towards the Emperor and wonder how he will react once I’ve enacted my plans. Perhaps it is paranoia, or backlash for the years I’ve spent with blind trust towards the Emperor.
“Naive.” I tell the Semplars, returning to the conversation. “There is no respectable way to fight a war because it involves murder and a battlefield is precisely the place where killings occur in the grandest proportions.”
I seize my umbrella back, turn, and leave on these words because I’m too concerned and eager to meet Leomi to spend any more time debating these kids. Yvonne locks into step with me.
We enter the Temple’s huge lobby only to run into Nahl, Uhla, and Rowland who my best friend clearly alerted as to my awakening when she went for water.
“Thanks.” I directly tell Uhla who returns a thin smile. “Stuck-up.” I add, causing her face to freeze.
I giggle as I pass by her without pausing or even slowing down. I give the rest a nod of acknowledgment, partly because I’m embarrassed to have fainted after a single injury. I exit the Temple and turn west to head to the Hospitaliers’ headquarters.
As I make the turn, I notice that Yvonne and Rowland are holding hands while grinning from the corner of my eyes. I wonder how the brunette could keep following us when he makes her this happy, after all she’s all but spelled out that our encounter with the Rykz changed her perspective on life.
“Hey, bestie? Can I have a word with you alone?” I casually call out to her. Yvonne trots over with a curious expression.
“What is it?” She asks.
“I don’t doubt that you agree with Lance’s ideals but… you’re soft, you emphasize and you are kind but you would not defy society. Why fight with us? It isn’t as if Leomi doesn’t have enough bodyguards or can’t protect herself, as proven by the fact you spent a week at my bedside.” I tell her. “And, yes, I know a sword-sworn provides more than physical safety but still, shouldn’t you want to start building yourself a life?” I ask.
“Well, I don’t plan to settle down just yet, not before leaving some kind of legacy.” Yvonne replies calmly but with the hint of a teasing smile. “I want to record your stories so that, someday, I can blatantly lie to the world and my grandchildren about how it was all thanks to me that the two of you made it.”
“Wouldn’t be much of a lie.” I tell her honestly.
I think of how her kindness and willingness to be my friend when Leomi would not accept me, or of the risks she took to soothe our edges so that our relationship may be rekindled.
“It wouldn’t be a lie at all.” I correct.
“Aw, shucks.” Yvonne mumbles. Her cheeks slowly take a rosy hue.
“The ‘shucks’ was too much, even for you.” I note with an amused smile. “Is the blush genuine?”
“Half-half.” She replies with an embarrassed smile and a shrug.
“So it was.” I conclude.
“Where are we going?” Uhla speaks up.
“I have no clue where the lot of you are headed but I’m going to the Hospitalier headquarters and ditching you there.” I summarily reply.
“Maybe it isn’t the best idea…” She replies awkwardly.
I stop short and flick around to throw her a hard glare, causing the new Hospitalier to stiffen and lower her eyes. Yvonne snaps her mouth shut, no doubt aware she failed to react in time and preserving her strength to later intervene so as to spare Uhla from all kinds of dangerous inconveniences if she mouths the intention to prevent me from meeting my Leomi.
“If any of you have anything to say about my relationship with Lance, you best keep it to yourselves and get lost.” I coldly warn them.
Nahl pinches his lips to make a disapproving expression but doesn’t say a word, expressing all he wishes about me and her without butting in where he isn’t welcome. I furrow my brow.
“I’m merely worried your barbarian customs are corrupting the kindhearted Lady Lance.” Uhla protests as her cheeks become tomato red.
The fact her surreal misunderstanding is wrapped inside a serious response makes me explode in laughter. Yvonne can’t help but giggle herself, causing further embarrassment to the ex-Semplar.
“Where are you from, Uhla?” I ask her, feeling curious about her constant use of the words ‘savage’ and ‘barbarian’.
“My family’s house belongs to Mirus but is located near Kruzser.” She replies stiffly. “I came here to apprentice under my uncle.”
“Ah.” I nod.
It’s slightly surprising she’s a Noble because of her dedication to her chosen profession as a healer but not so much considering Grace grew with a similar ambition to join the Order.
Perhaps she could decide to leave the Order so easily because her uncle will teach her whether she’s part of the Order or not so joining Leomi’s organization offers her the best of both worlds, knowledge as well as opportunity to bring her skills where they are most needed.
“Alright, I’m in no mood to suffer a gaggle of mother hens so don’t follow me any further.” I tell them. “If you’re headed in the same direction, pick a different route.”
“Hens make flocks.” Nahl instantly corrects.
“If you insist on further being associated with chickens, I’m not going to protest.” I reply with a mean grin.
I turn and head off without further ceremony, too anxious about my kitten to be social. People call out to me a few times on the way to the Hospitalier compound to thank me and inquire about my recovery from Elizabeth Vil’s ambuscade, it warms my heart but not nearly enough to slow me down.
I assume that Leomi, Roisia, and Cecil are behind this trickery to reinforce my cover but it remains mortifying to find out that it is a widely acknowledged truth that I’ve injured myself out of jealousy. It’s not as if it couldn’t happen but I would rather not bear the shame before it actually does!
I enter the lobby at the same time the secretary walks our from behind his desk with a very awkward look on his face. I attempt to ignore the man but he intercepts me, forcing me to grit my teeth so as not to cause a scene that’ll delay me more than a brief conversation.
“Dame Jessi… Freepath.” The man calls out. He raises his hand to almost salute but interrupts himself in the middle.
“What is it?” I ask, seething inside.
“Um, Grand Commander Lance just left the headquarters, you’ve just barely missed her.” He reports.
“…” I scowl.
“I hear she was headed for the north-east, good luck!” The secretary adds in a hurry.
I snap around and stomp out the double-doors. I take a series of streets towards the north-east while scouring ahead to try to catch a glimpse of her back, of a carriage, or of a disturbance she could have left in the crowd. Unfortunately, I find no sign so I decide to ask an old man selling fruits from a small cart.
“Did you see Leomi Lance pass by?” I question directly.
“A’dhd seeh, ‘aht Layda lehv’.” The elder tells me, his voice is garbled because of his black wooden teeth and thick patois accent that I believe originates from immigrants of Haitia. “Kh’oudl.” He coughs. “Chuld ca’ftch heur ef y’ll tahk noth straat.”
“Alright, thanks.” I say and head off.
“G’luhk!” The old man cries out. “D’n leyt evhil git ya dohn!”
With this encounter, I decide to accelerate my pace despite the fact doing so will make it far more difficult to remain in control of my immediate surroundings because the change of direction she’s traveling towards makes me suspect she’s avoiding me.
The feeling is confirmed when a young woman in a warrior’s outfit whose innocence and inexperience are written on her soft traits stops me by directly blocking my path.
“Elizabeth Vil was first, Dame Jessica.” The woman utters sharply.
“Ha.” I chuckle without feeling amused in the slightest but not provoked enough to lose my temper, which I would have if that stranger threw our break-up in my face.
“Even though she shouldn’t have harmed you, perhaps it is best she did so that you learn to keep your distance to allow for a peaceful solution to the conflict.” She insists.
“Girl.” I utter with a cold voice, causing the aspirant warrior to clench her jaws. “Liz would kick your ass ’till it bled intestines for butting in if I let her so get out of my way before I do it myself… or tell me where Leomi went.”
At first, the woman doesn’t react but, then, her lips move to spell a very short word that I recognize as ‘Liz’. You have a fan. She seems a bit crazy. I pull the cracks in my head back together and forcefully shove her aside.
“Our honorary Duchess Lance left Meria through the northern gates.” The warrior finally replies to my back.
I raise my umbrella as thanks and take a turn into a diagonal avenue to make my way out of the city, now certain that she is headed for the cottage. Yet, the information doesn’t change the fact she’s avoiding me and that renders my need to make sure Lance is okay more urgent.