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Mersey falls silent but the frown on his face tells me that he likely never thought of being secretive. It isn’t in his nature and, from what he told me, I can tell he thought I got into trouble by myself with a Noble house. With these ideas in mind, it isn’t too ludicrous for him to rely on a Liege he grew to trust.

I spoke to the Baron, he can fix this Jess.” Mersey speaks up.

Yea, I’m sure.” I lazily reply.

I pick up my armor and discreetly control air to help strap it back on as the guards approach. I’ve merely put my cuirass on by the time they arrive but don’t stop, caring none about their tense stances at my actions. One even reaches to grab the hilt of his weapon, an old iron sword, but the brawny guard from the gates signals him not to draw.

Miss Jessica, Baron Saunas wishes to meet you.” The man says with his deep voice.

“I figured as much.” I reply with a corner smile.

You can’t take these weapons, Jess.” Mersey tells me with a worried voice.

Oh, trust me, I can.” I utter with a chuckle.

My brother frowns and throws a pleading look to the guards who uncomfortably check on their leader which seems to be the large guard. The man hesitates but ends up signaling two of his people to run back, likely to report and ask for instructions.

I’m rather surprised by the decision because I expected to trigger a fight. It seems they were told to be courteous, or at least not openly aggressive if there is an issue. I calmly finish putting my gear on and follow the escort.

Jess, be polite when you meet Lord Saunas.” Mersey pleads, which only feeds my anger.

I hold my tongue, reserving my words for later when they matter since I haven’t had time to explain exactly who I am now to my brother. Jess. He doesn’t have the knowledge to understand, I can’t truly blame him.

The village’s streets are now deserted and I can hear a small commotion towards the manor. Clever little Noble, he gathered his subjects to face the unknown trouble-maker.

The crowd is split into two groups of about thirty and are giving a wide berth to the manor’s entrance. Many are still rushing over in their work clothes with their tools hung over their shoulders. Seems like he sounded the alert when I refused to lay down my weapons.

The Noble is standing in the middle of the open gates, not a step outside the lands surrounding his manor, next to his wife who is holding his forearm with two soldiers with serious expressions and chain-mails.

He is wearing a long red robe made of decent enough cloth, and his wife a blue one of similar fabric. He has a pudgy face, and so does she, the two are a bit ugly but their expressions seem soft. To be frank, their appearance is quite disarming but that only makes them more dangerous in my opinion.

The guards spread out while their leader takes me to the Baron, stopping a half-dozen meters away out of hearing from the crowd but not so close I can threaten the Baron with my weapons.

Miss Jessica of Izla Meria.” The Baron speaks out with a welcoming smile, giving me quite the courtesy by speaking first. “I am Baron Saunas.”

“Jessica Freepath.” I calmly correct while scrutinizing his expression which doesn’t change in the slightest despite revealing the name and the fact I didn’t bow.

“You didn’t tell me your family had a last name, Mersey.” The Baron says, quite puzzled.

Jess, what…” My brother starts.

Our family does not, and he has not the right to use the name.” I speak up. “You clearly haven’t received news in quite a while.”

Indeed.” The Noble replies with a confused expression. “This is a humble hamlet, news are slow to come to us. What occurred?” He asks politely, clearly not expecting much. I decide to remain silent.

Have you pledged your service to a Liege?” His wife asks with a quiet voice.

“I have not. The name is mine.” I tell them, still waiting to find out what they want.

Well, Miss Freepath.” The Baron awkwardly speaks up. “Far from me to diminish the ordeal you went through on Izla Meria but, the message you sent is problematic and your service does not free you of the obligation to follow the law.”

That it does not.” I agree with a crooked smile.

The fact you seem to be a runaway peasant is also an issue that will need to be resolved.” The wife adds.

But Lord Buton died to the wicked Elizabeth Vil, she couldn’t have run from our lands.” Mersey hurriedly intervenes. “And Izla Meria is currently held by rebels, we can’t blame her from leaving.”

That is true.” The Baron acknowledges. “But…” He trails off as his eyes fall on my ring finger. “Usually, none would truly pursue but it seems that matters are more complicated.”

Are you implying my ring is stolen?” I ask with a humorous smile. “And my gear, I suppose.”

If they are not, you should have an identification parchment to prove your ownership.” The wife says with a slight scowl, likely because she thinks I’m trying to obfuscate the situation.

My dear.” Lord Saunas cuts in while patting her hand to soothe her. “Miss Jessica, I am able to help you resolve your problems and grant you land to cultivate but to do so I need to see all the documents you carry.” He pauses. “If you have any to show, otherwise I’m sure a solution can still be found.”

Actually, I do have them but I’m going to choose not to show you.” I tell them, more and more amused.

Jess, just show my Lord Saunas.” Mersey urges. The words both hurt and light up a blaze in my chest.

I will not waste the runic construct proving my identity to such an utterly inconsequential and irrelevant Lordling who thinks he has any say on my behavior or actions.” I respond with a cold tone.

A deafening silence falls onto the small group. The crowd observes with no knowledge of what is happening while their Lord’s cheeks turn pale and his wife’s turn red.

How insulting! My Liege and his Lady have been very courteous to you, Jessica Freepath!” The brawny guard explodes.

Their courtesy means less than naught to me, if it were not for my brother I would have laid them flat in the dirt the moment they presumed to make arrangements for me.” I tell him with a smirk.

Arrogant! You are on my lands and I will demand a level of courtesy as long as you remain!” The Baron blows up, causing a commotion to shake the spectators.

Jess!” Mersey exclaims as he reaches for me. I stop him by lowering my umbrella in his face.

Izla Meria may have fallen but this is Hetlan!” The Ladyling exclaims. “You will show proper respect to your betters!”

Or what?” I ask dismissively. “I am Jessica Freepath. I have no betters, only equals. I am doom to those foolish enough to stand in my way.”

Or I’ll have you whipped, Rebel!” Saunas yells.

Maybe I’ll have you whipped.” I pause. “Yes, that seems like a good idea.”

Jess, stop this now!” Mersey yells as the guards advance with somber expressions.

I hang my umbrella on my shoulder and raise my hand, unleashing a dozen portions of flow, one for each guard. I launch a kinetic strike at each. The golden energy flickers into vaguely shaped flat waves that move almost instantaneously to strike the fighters.

Some of the guards were prepared enough to try to block but it is completely ineffective on my attack. They are stuck in the chest and are sent flying a handful of meters back, three of them impact the crowd and none of them stand back up.

My people!” Baron Saunas calls out while raising his hands.

Golden streams of energy arise from each person present and rush at the Noble, providing him with maybe forty or fifty portions. I smirk and launch out the entirety of my reserve which constitutes of a little under sixty portions.

The Baron’s eyes widen and he pushes his wife behind his back. The two soldiers move to cover him while he begins assembling what looks to be hybrid of a fire and explosive construct.

A whip, a whip.” I whisper, pondering.

I could compress flow into an air-rope but it would be relatively rigid and not very coherent if I loosen the ties too much. I push the idea aside and slash the edge of my hand at the man.

A dull air-blade made of a dozen portions flashes at the pudgy Lordling. The soldiers seize their swords with two hands to block but the unstructured energy knocks them aside without slowing down.

The Baron tried to hurriedly block with his own unstructured energy but it doesn’t mount the slightest resistance against mine. The blunt air-blade hammers into his chest and carries him several meters back through the gate before smashing him into the ground to hold him there.

A Rebel Lady!” People cry out in panic, some of them raise their arms and tools as if preparing to fight.

Lady? I’m a peasant no different from any of you.” I bellow as I swipe my hand around me to send a violent gust of wind at the crowd.

People stumble back and lose their desire to fight. Meanwhile, the Baron’s wife rushed to her husband and knelt by his side to try to pry the air-blade off him with no regard for her dress.

Let him go, you beast!” The woman cries out.

Jessica, what… what…” Mersey stutters.

“I’ve changed, brother, if that was not obvious enough.” I utter with a dark voice. “My access is but a small part of it.”

How could… it’s not possible.” He mumbles.

Release him!” The Ladyling rages.

I flick my hand at her figure in the corner of my eyes, producing a wave of kinetic force that my energy guides to strike at her chest, sending her rolling in the dirt and causing more screams from the crowd.

Monster!” A man cries out.

So I’ve been called.” I acknowledge in a loud voice. “Most often by beasts of burden beholden to those holding their leash.”

I walk up to the Noble who is trying to shape an air construct to free himself, likely because he doesn’t know the disruption construct that would have worked even less.

I flick my hand to order my energy to surround the Noble and lift him up while turning him around. The Baron screams, kicks, and flaps his arms to free himself but it evidently doesn’t work.

See this man who claims to be your Liege yet is incapable of defeating a peasant he intended to whip.” I mock. “He rules you by strength and ignorance… your strength and your ignorance that is.”

The commotion dies down somewhat but people keep fidgeting nervously. I draw my broadsword and flick it around in my hand to present the spine at his back, fully intent on whipping the man with hard steel.

Jessica, stop! What are you doing?!” Mersey exclaims with his palm on his forehead in dismay at what he witnessed.

Showing these people that their Lord has not the power to challenge me, a low born, with or without their help.” I utter while turning around. “And I’ll whip him because that is what he threatened me with, I find the equivalency amusing.”

You crazy wench.” The Ladyling cries out.

Be silent.” I order without bothering to turn around.

My pale brother looks to me as he would a stranger while rubbing the arm Liz twisted. I take a single step and his eyes instantly flicker to the sharp tip of the weapon in my grasp. A twinge of fear goes across his traits.

I’m aware I’ve destroyed your life.” I tell him to stir his mind to the future rather than an incomprehensible present. “But it was lost long ago, you were simply unaware of the significance and danger my name now holds.”

You, what did you do? How did Father die?” Mersey questions, stunning me.

I did what I had to, it is a long story.” I tell him.

How?!” Mersey screams.

“He was killed by Count Odo of Port-Odo.” I reply with a rock in my throat. “I killed the man for that.”

Why.” He whispers.

Because he was a contemptible arrogant bloodthirsty fool.” I say.

Were you responsible?” My brother presses.

No.” I utter flatly but am unable to help my grimace of guilt.

I thought Father died because you stayed, because you… Buton but… no, it’s, it’s so much worse…” Mersey whispers with an unsteady voice. “You’re a rebel.”

There was no justification for Father’s murder.” I snap, barely managing to hold my temper.

Wasn’t there? You’ve always done whatever the fuck you wanted and now you’re rebelling?!” He screams.

Enough.” I seethe between grit teeth. “Your life here is over but none will ever threaten you at my side, Brother. I can teach you. You’ll be far more powerful than this weak authoritative idiot you strove for, one that fattened himself up on your work. If whoever you fancy refuses to come, then she is not worth remaining for.” I explain, unwilling to remain here arguing with my brother for another minute.

Even if that were true…” He mutters with a red face. “I’ll never participate in this! You provoked, threatened, and then harmed a good Lord that tried to welcome you!”

A good owner and you a good slave.” I correct darkly. It’s slipping away, a nightmare. “You do not even want to know my story?” I ask, feeling like the emotional pressure inside my throat is going to make it burst.

You were about to whip my Baron! With a sword!” Mersey yells. “Release him! Whatever you have to say, it doesn’t justify this!

You lack imagination, Brother.” I utter with a slightly mocking tone that conceals my pain. “But you’ll hear most of my story… eventually.”

I turn my back on my brother, only tangentially aware that Liz half-awoke to use our flow to keep an ‘eye’ on our surroundings, including him. I flick the back of my hand at the Baron and his wife.

The dull air-blade releases the former who drops to the ground to course back around me in a golden wave that then launches like a tide at the two, picking them up to launch at their manor.

I control the impact in such a way that they’ll be injured at the most without risk of death, for them or those inside. The air-blade crushes through a section of the wooden wall and throws them rolling in the room it tore open.

Tiles fall from the roof into the gap and break. Noisy screams erupt and the crowd starts dispersing in a panic at the cloud of dust that arose from the building. I sheathe my sword and turn back to Mersey who faces me, shaking but defiant.

Mersey, you need to leave this village. You’ll have to change name to conceal your origin and relation to me.” I tell him.

Related? We’re not related, Jessica!” He bellows. “Not after this!”

Really, that’s what you’re going with?” I ask with dismissively because we used to throw similar threats at each other when mad as kids.

Yet, unlike back then, Mersey falls silent and glares at me for a while before turning to leave without another word, giving a certain finality to his declaration that I take about as well as a knife twisting in my gut.

I gaze at his back hesitating and standing in the small cloud of dust I caused, feeling angry, stupid, and sad. I knew from the moment I heard he lived here that things weren’t good but… this?

He needs time, Jess. Time? I scoff internally but don’t argue. Do you think I can’t feel your contempt, Liz? My sister falls silent. I seize the umbrella’s handle and squeeze the handle, wishing I was so vindictive and brainless to be able to blame Saunas for this.

Yet I am not so I can only powerlessly watch my brother leave. He’ll find his way, things would have ended like this if he followed us anyway. I know. I seize the Baron’s flow which he left floating and leave for the hills.

I walk past the guards wiggling and groaning in the dirt. The brawny one has a broken arm, he is so unnerved by my passing by that he surmounts the pain to drag himself away. I stop.

Caeviel is changing, so is the Empire.” I tell him. “If you want to make it through alive, reconsider your allegiances.”

Rebel.” He spits out with a frightened expression.

I shrug. I more than repaid him for his relative consideration. I lower my flat umbrella over my head to calmly walk away, leaving a torn manor, broken bones, and a severed relationship behind with scant hope that the latter can be repaired as the previous two will be.

I search and find a hill with a tall tree not too far from the village and with a good line of sight to settle in the branches. I wait there for hours, observing the aftermath from afar with enhanced eyesight.

My brother went straight back home and only came out hours later with his luggage. He returns to the streets and knocks at a few doors, none seem to try to stop him among the few that even agree to open their houses to him.

He is likely looking for advice on where to find work or saying his goodbyes, both eminently stupid ideas but there isn’t any more I feel I can do. He leaves the village by nightfall, alone with little luggage on his back. A drop trails down my left cheek and falls on my lips. Salty.

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