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I run the graver along the surface of my liangi, adding the last line to a segment of my new armor-sundering construct. I then blow on the weapon with a satisfied expression and caress the edge of the sharp Lassus steel blade.

With my work done, I release my concentration and the sounds of the smiths beating plow-heads into shape with their hammers in the adjacent room to my workshop reach my ears once more.

I unlock the vise holding the liangi in place and carefully return it to its case, sealing it once more with a flick of my hand that releases a burst of energy. I then grab the stack of notes describing the runic construct in detail and throw the rolls into the fire.

I watch the blaze consume the relatively expensive parchment without regretting it, firstly because Madame Cecil and Ms Conner have conspired to make me richer than I ever thought I would be and secondly because I’ve learned from Suxen not to trust ink to keep my secrets.

The worst or best part is that the coin currently stacking up in the Keep’s treasury is merely my personal cut. I’ve made the decision, because I really can’t carry or spend it all, to let the two more experienced women invest my fortune however they need under each other’s watchful eyes.

I walk up to the door to my workshop and throw a look at the busy forge, feeling rather proud of my plowing construct. The smiths, who were mostly indifferent towards me even after my reputation blew up, turn to nod at me in acknowledgment.

Their attitudes changed from the moment I presented my final draft of the runic plowing construct. They had to adapt it to fit their plans of the two different plows but, from what I gathered, it was a lot easier than they expected.

I haven’t mingled with them out of their professional capacity, which Liz keeps reminding me is why they’re so respectful. If they knew you better… I get it, sister! The two of us laugh inside and return inside the workshop to bury ourselves in work for the rest of the day.

I walk up to a barrel and pull two dozen portions of energy from the water. I create a shaping construct and walk back to the worktable. I open a drawer to pick up three items of steel and silver alloy. A bracelet, a ring, and three tiny chains that I place in front of me one after the other.

These items were made from the pommel of Leomi’s sword, given to her by her mother, broken to save our lives, abandoned in the dirt when we parted ways, and recovered to join our lives together for good.

I would have added something from my old life but that girl died in truth so it would not be suitable. Instead, I tasked Rowland to find Yvonne and help her buy me a sapphire without ever telling me the price.

That is called spending without counting, which is what’s to be done for someone you’re in love with. We’re not very good with people, or society, humans, sapient beings really, but we know as much.

Rowland came back from Castle Lance with it in the morning and I fully plan to make the rock my very own. I take the steel box from the inside of my jacket and unlock it with the key, finding a shining round deep-blue sapphire.

I smile and place it next to the light gray ring, made in part with the small chunk of blade that was left on the pommel, finding the size perfect. I use the shaping construct to slowly make a socket to welcome the gem and three sharp prongs to hold it in place once I set it in.

Then, I reach out behind my back to the silver mass of energy inside the barrel and seize another two dozen portions of flow. I grab the first weapon I bought, the dagger I used to touch Leomi’s beating heart, and secure it with the worktable’s vise.

I grab an empty bowl and place it under the blade. I then run my palm over the edge, opening a small wound from which my blood drips out. I immediately use flow to temporarily isolate it with a blood-blade so that it doesn’t coagulate.

I swiftly stop the bleeding, wasting quite a bit of the energy I bought from a guild that gathers flow for its clients. I take hold of the sapphire, admiring it for a little while before using a shaping construct with a technique that took me a day to learn to dig smooth grooves.

I create a pattern akin to broken glass over the round surface, each tiny jagged trench starting at the edge to meet at the very center. I take care not to be symmetrical so as to create a unique and natural appearance.

I then put the sapphire back in its box and reach to the bowl to direct the blood to fill each of the grooves while expelling the air by making use of precise flow intent.

I verify that the red liquid is evenly spread out before using the shaping construct to completely seal my red blood inside the deep-blue sapphire. It takes me hours and almost all the energy I stored to restore its original flawless appearance.

Once I’m done, I take deep breaths and marvel at the complex feelings the jewel evokes in me. I am proud of the magnificent contrast I created through conflicting colors and pattern, the tension created by the red crack on the smooth glistening blue surface.

I set the sapphire in the ring’s socket and bend the three sharp prongs over it, securing it. I shape a specialized merging construct with the last of my flow to seal the ring and the sapphire together. I let out a deep sigh as my chest pangs in painful longing.

I give myself a moment before removing our dagger from the vise and delicately put the ring in its place. I seize the graver and a parchment with a drawing of viola northern lights to guide me, I chose that plant because it can appear both symmetrical and unhinged depending on how you look at it.

I engrave two flowers facing each other on the ring with the gem in-between and then the long stems that meet on the other side to intertwine. I then draw a few leaves in the shape of lances and an inscription in the inside of the ring.

To my Love, Leomi Lance.

It is simple but I have found that simplicity is best in times of true doubt because flourishing words may work to undermine the feelings and intent. If Leomi was there the day I tried to kill myself, I would have taken any grand declaration from her as deception because it would have appeared to my madness that she was trying too hard.

I walk out of the room to grab fifty portions of energy from the cistern the Order keeps supplies with the Emperor’s Due, a fact that never ceases to amaze me.

The Templars don’t check what we do with the energy so long as progress is made on the plowing construct and the production of plows, that being said the temple guards guarding the building aren’t fools so I can’t go overboard either.

I use flow to polish my work on the ring as well as remove small mistakes like scratches. With this, her engagement ‘ring’ is half-ready so I start working on engraving Elizabeth Vil’s crest on the inside of the bracelet and Jessica Freepath’s on the outside.

I’ve drawn it before as a model for the Noble shop to embroider on the oil-cloth of the flat umbrella Elizabeth craved for. They made quality work, worth the coin I paid, and delivered the top part of the item to the best blacksmith in Meria to modify the handle by turning it into a sheath for a guard-less rapier with a leather strap to conceal the hinge.

I pick the umbrella up and set it on the worktable. Liz was right to insist we get this, it’s better than a hat and we can now go around with a weapon in hand without anyone being the wiser.

The wooden handle-sheath and the ribs are of a silver color while the inside of the oil-cloth is blood-red to symbolize Elizabeth Vil’s tree rooted in blood-soaked soil. The outside of the oil-cloth is light-blue to represent the sky with a silver paved road disappearing among white clouds.

I engrave that very picture on the outside of the bracelet, making the road follow the spiraling design of the metal. I don’t add any ink or paint to color the crests because those would eventually fade away.

Instead, I use a method one of the blacksmiths taught me to heat metal in just the right way to produce red and blue hues, matching the crests’ soil and sky. The bracelet is already silver in color so there is no need to alter the tree and road, I merely distinguish them by using various protective substances to darken the rest of the bracelet.

Satisfied by my work, I take the three tiny chains with precise lengths that took trial and error to determine. It wasn’t too hard because I have a crystal-clear memory of how much longer Leomi’s hand is compared to mine.

The chains are to bind the ring to the bracelet so that my love may never lose either by mistake and also to add another symbol of our relationship. I attach the links, spreading them out evenly as tiers of a circle.

One will trail over the back of her hand, another will slide around the edge of her hand, the last will cross between thumb and index. I’ve left enough slack that the chains won’t hinder her but not so much the ring is at risk of slipping past her first phalanx.

I coat the silver-steel alloy in a thin varnish that will ensure it stands the test of time, using a construct to make the substance infiltrates. It makes me smile that the first task of those I hired was to teach me to create this.

I hold her engagement ring dearly to my chest before carefully storing it inside my liangi’s case, feeling awkward at the fact I don’t have a left hand to put a ring on anymore.

It’s okay, sister, Leomi will find a way as we have. We did provide the pommel. Hm. Should we marry her as blood-sisters, true siblings? She would love it. She is screwed up, it fits her, but… no.

My cheeks turn red-hot as I realize that I have forgotten we have been and will be intimate together. We can’t help it, after all, we live in the same body, share the same mind, and fell in love with the same beings.

I store the energy I have left in the cistern after filling my reserve to two-thirds with two portions, noticing that my employees have long since returned home to their families.

I dress up with my black hard leather armor and hang Liz’ favored umbrella on my half-shoulder. I check that my single-edged broadsword slides in and out of its sheath without issue before locking every door and leaving the building.

The temple guards on night duty, mostly Templars with a few Semplars, wish me good night and offer an escort that I refuse as usual. I wave at them as I walk south-east to the city’s slums, to Madame Cecil’s brothel where I rent a room because it’s become a kind of secret stronghold for her in Meria.

On the trip, I recall a blushing Rowland informing me that Leomi forbids me from enjoying the services offered there. I’m pretty sure he learned more than he should have about us from Yvonne during his mission but I don’t mind because he’s a good guy even if he’s misguided.

You’re jealous he likes my methods better. I’m not going to mess with Grace for the heck of it. You say that but you will soon. It won’t be for the heck of it, though, and I’ll toe the line to avoid her wrath not to cause it.

I pass by a fountain of water on a white pillar with a small stone leyline that connects to one of the larger underground leylines, one of the Order’s shrines in Meria that allow people to pay their Due and donate energy as they wish. Meiridin has small Temples that fulfill the same function.

I arrive at the brothel to find Roisia drinking at the bar while waving away Rob, the manager, with an amused smile. She’s wearing an almost purple scarf on a white shirt and black pants with magnificent green feathers.

I pause for a moment because I’ve rarely seen her in the few weeks I’ve been back, in fact I have only had a half-conversation and it was her giving me a warning. She’s as fashionable as always but clearly off-duty.

Roisia, what brings you to this pit of depravity?” I ask her as I sit on a stool by her side.

“Hey, I heard that!” Rob shouts without turning around.

You.” Roisia responds.

I’m flattered.” I reply instantly.

Don’t be.” She counters with a grin.

“It’s a friendly visit then.” I comment with a smile.

“You’re as suspicious as always.” She says with a sigh. “Let’s take this upstairs.”

She stands up, giving me little choice but to follow because I’m way too curious. We discreetly check that the longsword is also easy to access and follow her directly to my room where we settle at the table with a bottle of cheap beer each.

Why didn’t you take a room at the Keep?” She asks.

“I have a few reasons but let’s just say I feel safer out of easy reach from the Council, they don’t like me very much.” I reply.

Your threat to scuttle their attempt to determine seats in the lower and upper chambers of the Council by wealth in land by requesting the Hospitaliers to survey people after informing them of the stakes will indeed cause some resentment.” Roisia comments while raising an eyebrow. “They abandoned the plan this morning if you weren’t aware.”

“Rowland told me.” I reply. “Do you know why they gave up? I’m pretty sure they could have gathered support from Nobility and then use that to bring the public to their side with a decent chance of gaining enough support.”

They gave up about the same day you toyed with Thrin and his goons.” Roisia tells me. “It just took a while for the guilds to back down because they didn’t want to look like they were afraid. You should have let Cecil take the forefront.”

You’d sell your own mother?!” I exclaim.

Not so loud, the walls are thin here.” Roisia tells me with a glare.

I’m renting the two rooms next to this one and the three on the other side of the corridor.” I reassure her. “There are alarm constructs all over and a few physical traps as well.”

That’s half the floor.” She blinks in surprise. “Anyway.” She waves her hand. “You know very well this was an attempt to undermine Mother and the Hospitaliers so why help her if you were going to turn around and pull the rug from under her feet? It made her insufferably moody.”

Oh, they introduced the motion?” I ask, grinning.

They did.” Roisia nods with a smile.

You agree with my plan?” I ask, baffled.

“Of course.” She replies with a deep voice. “But first, Mother’s message is that she would have appreciated a warning before you went ahead with your suggestion.”

Didn’t seem necessary.” I tell Roisia with a shrug. “And I don’t like to play politics, that fat guy from the trading guild had the information and people necessary to put the proposal together so I used him.”

I’ll tell her you’re sorry and that it was a prank.” She says with a smile. “I have to admit it’s a clever proposal.”

To be honest, I wanted to send a message to the entire Council by making a more drastic proposal and forcing it through but, apparently…” I pause to clear my throat and imitate the greasy voice of the fat guild merchant. “It would trigger a civil war!

What was your idea?” Roisia asks with an amused expression.

“Instead of putting it into law that peasants can buy their lands at cost after working and paying their taxes for ten years, I wanted to make it theirs if their families had lived on them for three generations already.” I explain.

Seventy percent of peasantry would turn into free men and women overnight.” Roisia says, looking baffled. “That would probably… definitely cause some turmoil.”

Will my proposal pass?” I ask.

Yes, it should. So will the one about council-members being compensated, and the one about cutting the Izla into regions by population rather than demesne to pick representatives.” Roisia replies.

Those two were Cecil’s as much as mine.” I tell her. “I’m guessing the proposal to have the lower chamber elect the upper chamber isn’t going to go anywhere.”

Not yet, no, but it isn’t going to go away and Leomi did gain a right of veto for the lower chamber that merely requires a majority vote so the republic is on the right track.” Roisia reports, her eyes falling on the stack of books near my bed. “I can tell that your theft didn’t go to waste but you do have to return them to the Keep’s library eventually.”

You can take them back, scoured most of them already.” I tell her unashamedly.

I have more important things to do than to be your errand girl.” Roisia refuses with a scowl. “… although I may still be if I look at things a certain way.” She adds with a deepening frown.

What does that mean?” I ask, feeling lost.

“I’ve heard rumors that a mask with a crack on the left side and a silver tree covered in blood has been spotted in Meria lately.” Roisia says while throwing me a suspicious glance.

I’m not surprised Elizabeth would be here, are you?” I question rhetorically with a raised eyebrow, all the while wondering if someone’s trying to scare or bait me by spreading these false rumors.

Thrin is planning to use the fact Elizabeth is breaching her asylum to tip an Arbitration in his favor, the Order may not enforce the Kingdom’s laws and rarely uphold the edicts but it would still hurt Leomi that either are being broken under her watch.” Roisia explains.

“Why ask me?” I press her straightforwardly.

“Obviously because I know.” The vice-commander of the Izla’s Hospitaliers responds flatly. My grip on the beer bottle tightens.

Ah.” I utter and take a sip of the flat and bitter drink. “Is that why you’ve been avoiding me?”

In part.” Roisia replies calmly. “I’m also very busy and you don’t need supervision.”

What do you want to know?” I ask with a sigh at my tattered secret.

I’m aware you and Mother have been playing with rumors that build up how different Jessica Freepath is from Elizabeth Vil, their distinct achievements and personality.” She deflects with a glimmer of interest in her eyes.

That… wasn’t entirely us, not even close.” I tell her honestly. “Turns out that a lot of people were aware of my capture even with the silence of those who were there. Bits and pieces overheard taken from our conversations, from Buton’s soldiers who witnessed me being sent in that tunnel, and from quite a few rumors spread by Rykz Princesses who felt mischievous enough to make obscure but truthful remarks. Once I actually started making noise in Meria… The story behind Leomi’s insomnia came out fast from servants who caught arguments between her and Yvonne.”

The rumor mill turned and turned. Now it’s become a heartbreaking story of a girl finding a lover and warrior to take revenge on her ex-lover only to have that warrior turn on her by falling in love with her target.” Roisia informs me with a deep sigh.

Really?” I ask, eyes wide and eyebrows raised.

That’s the most popular one, you hadn’t heard?” She questions.

“It’s embarrassing to hear the stories and more so to seek them out.” I explain with a straight face but with uncontrollably warm cheeks.

Is it an act?” Roisia presses.

“No, Liz and Jess are… one but separate. It’s hard to explain and it takes more than a pinch of insanity to understand.” I tell her seriously. “How did you figure it out?”

I am the best placed to peer into Mother’s secrets and who communicates with her, who comes and goes. That was the case back then and still is now. Don’t forget I was there when you spoke on the plaza, your words always struck me as odd coming from a woman calling herself Elizabeth Vil.” Roisia explains. “I was quite sure of myself but what convinced me was remembering how you didn’t hesitate to invite Templar Emffrey in the carriage, as if you had a sense of his character already. Besides, you never left as big an impression on me compared to the others who are a bit closer like Edusa and Grace because I met you in peaceful circumstances and knew you from the beginning. It was easier for me to start piecing the puzzle together once I narrowed down the facts of the various stories going around and realized how easily the two of you speak for each other.”

…” I gape, speechless.

I don’t merely take my looks from Mother.” Roisia tells me with an elegant but prideful wink. “I had the confidence to ask because both your existences would otherwise be too coincidental.”

Previous chapter.

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Yield.Ch15 Interlude

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There is a beautiful shop in Meria that sells hats, umbrellas, shoes, dresses, anything Nobility needs, the workers make happen for they are proud high born as well. The outer and inner walls are of white stone with discreet black veins.

This sole building likely holds two-thirds of the marble on the Izla, speaking of the indescribable wealth of the Noble houses who have a stake in the shop. Yet, as of this morning, it has lost all of its glass windows to a small woman who insisted in dancing with an umbrella to determine if it suits her.

If one didn’t witness the interactions that led to that event, one could have believed her to be clumsy but none of the Nobles present would believe so. She barged in with a man and kicked up a fuss about the carpet catching its feet, calling it an ambush.

After much yelling, the woman declared without leaving any doubt that she is a low born yet refused to leave when it was politely explained that the items sold here are made for Nobility and produced with their access to flow.

While the tall man who accompanied her inside laughed, she began talking about taxes while threateningly playing with the hilt of her short broadsword. The high born listening were all refined so they tried to explain calmly but were overwhelmed by her lack of manners.

Things soon fell apart as the employees’ pride overwhelmed their caution and picked a fight that swiftly ended with five black eyes when her companion stopped laughing. A Lady remembers all this and shudders at the memory while the two disasters walk out of the shop on broken glass.

While these Nobles knew they were being provoked, and lacked the authority to kick them out for the Izla’s laws are no longer friendly to them, they did not believe anyone could be so daring as to attack them like this.

Yet, they know there isn’t anything they can do but follow the orders they received for two dresses and an oil-cloth umbrella. They were told in no uncertain terms that they will pay the taxes they owe and serve any client that shows up or lose their livelihoods through incongruous accidents.

While these two brutes didn’t introduce themselves, one wore a Hospitaliers’ uniform while the other seemed like a madwoman that would come back with a hammer to make good on her promise to ruin them if they cling to privileges they no longer have.

— — —

Crack. Rowland steps on a shard of glass and shatters it further, causing the small crowd of spectators to panically scatter away from him, and Jessica whose radiant expression appears more threatening than the destruction they left behind.

He wonders if he went too far by telling Jessica that most high-end shops owned by Nobility have been exempted from taxes but then shakes his head, convincing himself no one knows this is his fault so he can just enjoy this spiteful revenge.

Was there a need to break their windows?” He asks while suppressing a smile.

Of course, the air felt stale.” Jessica affirms shamelessly.

And the porcelain teacups?” He questions.

That was a genuine accident.” She replies.

You threw the platter at the wall.” Rowland notes calmly.

It was heavy, I almost cramped so I instinctively threw it.” She explains.

He bursts out in laughter but then his eyes fall on an elegant face with dark hair and brown eyes. The woman has a rapier by her side and a red scarf around her neck, her uniform is unmistakably that of the Hospitaliers.

Rowland freezes on the spot, reflexively catching the back of Jessica’s cloak to stop her in case she decides to run over the woman blocking their way. He swallows his saliva as he realizes he should probably run.

Sister.” He murmurs softly.
Oh, Roisia!” Jessica exclaims.
“Vice-Commander for you, brother.” Roisia utters flatly. “And you, Dame Freepath, should know better than to do this.” She adds, throwing a glance at the shop’s ruined windows.

S’all part of the plan.” Jessica replies lazily. “No one died.” She belatedly adds as if the possibility was likely.

You broke the…” Roisia starts with a dark expression that her half-brother recognizes as a warning that something bad is going to happen.

Hold on!” Rowland interrupts. “The windows were an accident, same for the teacups!”

…really?” The Hospitalier asks, her tone leaving no mystery as to her disbelief.
“Ask them.” Jessica replies with a shrug. “I’m very clumsy.”

She is affecting a casual appearance but she is afraid of being imprisoned to the point where it feels like her hairs are standing on her scalp. It has something to do with her past but also the fact that Leomi would quickly learn of it and gallop over.

Jessica swears under her breath at Elizabeth’s propensity for running wild when given the chance, to which the sister inside her head scoffs and laughs because they both had fun when purposefully messed with her sister’s equilibrium.

Roisia drags Rowland inside with her hand on her rapier’s handle to ask about the events that led to this. In the end, the shop owners accept Rowland’s apology but not reparations in spite of Roisia’s insistence that they can ask for and receive.

These high born have a good reason for their refusal, their business simply won’t survive if they don’t adapt and none of their houses can afford that loss now that their titles hang on the Council’s goodwill.

It is more beneficial for them to absorb the cost themselves to smooth things over and negotiate an arrangement to pay their taxes owed a long period of time with Councilwoman Cecil who is no doubt the mastermind behind this.

After all, they think, thugs show up out of nowhere and then a person of authority arrived immediately after to resolve the matter before it had a chance to blow up, what else could it be other than a blatant show of force?

While they are being paranoid about this being a well-planned scheme, they are correct in thinking that Roisia’s arrival is no coincidence because she was indeed sent by Cecil as soon as she got the news of Jessica’s tantrum.

As the brother and sister talk to the shop’s employees, who also represent their houses as owners, Jessica takes off at a languid pace. She knows they’ll catch up so she doesn’t feel like waiting.

— — —

Jessica enters a large room with the latest equipment, from a foundry to a mold maker and a whole section dedicated to regular smithery. There are more types of hammers and pliers lying on worktables than she cares to count or believes the blacksmiths use.

There are kilns and large metal frames holding huge vices that they call presses. She has some clue of what most of these things are used for but hasn’t had the time to truly learn because she needs to finish the plowing construct and turn it into runes for the workers to take over.

The initial investment originates in good part from her spoils of war, the rest came from Cecil herself in the form of manpower, supplies, and flow. But the rest of the coin was gathered by Ms Conner who convinced people sent by Cecil to pay for their plows in advance in order to receive them before winter’s end.

It puts some pressure on Jessica but she doesn’t worry too much as she waves aside the apprentices rushing to greet her with a smile. She heads for a side-door to her personal workshop, finding Ms Conner waiting in front of it.

Ms Conner.” She greets.

Lila.” The woman corrects once more. “I still can’t believe the scale involved, Miss Freepath. No less than five blacksmiths and triple the apprentices.”

Ugh, please don’t. You’re twice my age.” Jessica says with a painful groan.

It wouldn’t be proper since you’re the owner.” Lila denies while shaking her head. “Did you truly not know it was my name?”
“Everyone calls you Ms Conner.” Jessica replies with a shrug. “Do you really believe it sounds more respectable?” She questions teasingly.
“Yes, ironically.” Lila replies with an easy smile, accentuating the wrinkles at the corners of her lips. “The Order has sent an envoy this morning to warn you in advance that the temple guards assigned to us will arrive in the afternoon.”

Good… or bad. It depends.” Jessica mutters, pondering whether they’ll try to get in the way of her altered plans for Meria.

You asked for them.” Lila notes before marking a moment of hesitation. “The Order will soon begin delivering flow, a hundred portions daily but I have been told that it can increase to match our needs for production if your endeavor proves successful.” She reports.

What was that pause about?” Jessica asks, concealing her surprise at the extent of the Order’s generosity.

I caught some rumors about what you did after you left the village from people who worked in the Keep.” Lila explains awkwardly. “I’m just surprised Kruzser would give their permission within a day considering what I have heard.”

Don’t worry about it.” Jessica dismisses casually. “The Order is more practical than their legends would lead you to believe. Which, I have learned from experience, is a requirement for establishing said legends without ending up in a ditch.”

Anyway.” Lila says, moving on. “The plans for the double-plow are as far along as they can be, the smiths only await your work to finalize them.”

Good, anything else?” Jessica asks.
“I have some numbers to run by you.” The middle-aged woman says hopefully while looking like she expects to be disappointed.

I don’t do math if I don’t have to, you know that.” Freepath instantly denies and rushes into her workshop, unlocking and locking the door behind herself without a moment’s pause.

The room is wide but utterly dark, there isn’t even a single window to shine light on the multiple desks and papers spread over them. Jessica reaches out and activates a runic fire construct engraved inside the stones of a newly-built chimney.

She feeds a few logs into the flames before settling at a desk and kindling a candle to provide just enough light for her shining eyes to see the ink on the sheets of parchment spread out all over.

She checks her work on the armor-sundering construct she intends to apply to her liangi. She already prepared a worktable with engraving tools in preparation for the modification despite the fact she knows she is far from ready to do so.

The construct is a modified lightning-armor-piercing construct, which was already an altered version of the armor-piercing construct. This time, she made an even wider breadth of changes to increase performance while reducing energy consumption.

She added segments of the kinetic and shredding constructs in order to amplify the physical force delivered on impact while concentrating it on the edge of the weapon.

Because she is taking bits and pieces of various constructs and patching them together, Jessica still thinks of her work as tinkering even though it could cause untold mayhem over its possession if publicly released.

Which would happen even if she removed the lightning construct segments she’s finally succeeded in combining to the armor-piercing construct. That is perhaps her proudest achievement thus far, and she has little clue how she succeeded. It merely happened as far as she can tell.

She was working to arrange the segments used to charge the air in the lightning construct in a circuit that ran along the edge of the weapon she used for testing when she had an epiphany as she watched silver bolts course through the metal.

She closed the circuit to make the lightning circle around in an infinite loop that guides it to enhance the severing segments without letting the electricity escape, which further improved the performance while cutting down on flow consumption.

It then took Jessica a whole afternoon and two dozen portions of energy to merge the severing segments of the armor-piercing construct to the charging segments of the lightning construct, allowing the lightning to run indefinitely inside the blade without creating sparks on the surface of the metal while also reducing energy consumption.

The Empire’s flow-smiths and researchers would react with somewhat violent disbelief if they were told. After all, even the kindest being would feel some negativity or doubt at such a leap being made through the intuition of a creator who then didn’t even look any further to understand.

Jessica is now working on integrating the kinetic and shredding segments to the armor-sundering construct but without looking to merge them because these fulfill two separate and important tasks.

She’s close to perfecting the amplification and concentration of the physical impact but hasn’t yet because it will require her to do much experimentation to optimize the intensity and vectors of the effects.

The integration requires her to make use of an imbroglio of determinants and conjunctions through links that connect to conditional segments. Her goal is to efficiently allocate energy between the pure use of flow to sever and increasing the blade’s physical cutting capability.

She prioritizes flow towards either function by monitoring the degree of resistance encountered by the sundering segments, which consumes as much energy as it needs which means that the less it burns, the less it needs compared to the kinetic and shredding segments which are perfectly capable of taking over once armor is breached.

Jessica relied on her experience in battle to reach the conclusion that she cannot design the armor-sundering construct as if it is meant to cut a solid block of steel when she wants to use it to get past various layers of armor. It complicates her work by a lot but that is because of how tedious it is to solve every little issue that crops up rather than the difficulty.

To Jessica, creating constructs has become akin to writing a sentence with intent in place of words, or crafting a plan step by step, or dismantling an opponent’s defense one strike at a time. Her grasp of the logic of flow increased as her confidence grew and she trained her minds to form clear intents.

As she awaits Rowland and Roisia, she merely reads the runes to check for mistakes and keep the image of the construct fresh in her mind. After a quarter of an hour, she hears a knock on the door and steps outside.

If this was one of the Councilwoman’s schemes to make every other business held by Nobles to fall into line, congratulations because they will.” Roisia utters without a trace of joy in her voice. “But I give you a warning not to do anything like this again because I will press for an inquiry regardless of whether those you’ve harmed want me to do so or not.”

I wouldn’t even if it was the plan and it didn’t work.” Jessica replies expressionlessly. “I really did break stuff because I’m clumsy.”

Rhm.” Roisia grumbles and fiddles with her red scarf while she looks for signs of deception. “You’re either a really good liar, or a terrible warrior, and I know what’s what.”

There is a third option that involves drinking beer.” Jessica says with a grin that Roisia doesn’t return. “But, anyway, it won’t happen again. I caused enough trouble today to stir Thrin’s pot.”

I’ve ordered Rowland to write a report that I’ll send to the Grand Commander along with mine, Miss Jessica.” Roisia says threateningly.

She inflects her irritation into the name but the recipient stiffens for different reasons than the tone. Jessica suddenly wonders whether she blew her sister’s cover and if Leomi will use this as an excuse to put her in chains, which she’s sure she would enjoy breaking under duress.

I’ll be looking forward to what comes next even more then.” Jessica utters with a cocky smile.

Roisia stomps off, leaving Rowland standing there with a barely repressed grin. Jessica chuckles along but he tries to wink with his single eyelid, ruining the mood with the awkward sight.

Don’t do that.” Jessica says, cringing inside.

You manage all this? You?” Rowland asks skeptically while looking around to get back at her.
“Ms Conner does, she’s more trustworthy than you.” Jessica replies flatly. “You know the first thing she said to me?”

What?” Rowland question, curious.
“That she couldn’t handle everything so she’ll be hiring someone to deal with the finances and pay while she manages the people.” Jessica explains, leaving so much out that it would be impossible for him to connect the dots.
“I don’t understand.” Rowland replies with a frown. “Isn’t that what anyone would do?”

You don’t get it because you don’t get people.” Jessica says with an exaggerated sigh.

I came back here because you said you could train me, Jessica Freepath. Not to play charades.” Rowland tentatively pushes back, refusing to let her push his buttons.

Elizabeth laughs in Jess’ mind at her failure to trigger his anger to which Jessica replies that she’s testing his character and smarts because he’s technically a Noble which means he has to make up for that to be good enough for Yvonne.

I told her she could determine her own pay and she threw that away without a second thought, she likely never even realized she could overpay herself or that I was testing her.” Jessica explains.

Oh.” Rowland whispers, impressed by Ms Conner’s honesty.

If you need to contact me and I’m not around, you can trust her to relay information.” Jessica says, revealing why she brought the woman up in the first place. “I’ll make time to teach you every morning but I’ll be very busy for most of the month so don’t get yourself into trouble.”

— — —

Huan Thrin slams his desk in anger after hearing Lady Tuala Hakarth report three incidents. She found herself the target of a one-armed warrior when she went against his advice to scout the location of the morning’s ambush, a warrior who went ahead to cause two more incidents.

Those didn’t directly involve house Hakarth but the fact that the slighted shop contacted her through their houses instead of him is a clear sign that his grip on the faction has slipped in the span of a single day, further delaying his goal of being chosen as the leader despite the fact there are no other candidates.

Who is this Jessica Freepath?” Thrin asks Lady Tuala between grit teeth, finding that the first name sounds familiar but can’t recall the occasion during which he heard it.

We don’t know. She appeared out of nowhere.” The woman replies, her jaw no less clenched. “Her identity matters not if we eliminate her.”

No one does what she has without a death-wish or a scheme.” Huan replies condescendingly. “Either makes her dangerous for us to confront head-on.”

Why did she mention bandits from Buton’s Dungeon?” Tuala asks directly, unwilling to get into a losing debate by arguing she’s more dangerous because her pride is already in tatters.
“If I had to guess, I would say she slaughtered some of the people that the cowards who fled the Rykz sent to recover their funds.” Thrin replies dismissively. “It’s a threat and a provocation regardless of what the story behind that is.”

The Hospitaliers…” Lady Tuala starts.

Have apologized!” He explodes before this woman he now believes stupid suggests they expose the extent of their influence to weigh on such a meaningless scuffle. “And it was Rowland Urnan who was off-duty from being injured in our ambush! How do you think it will go for us if Grace Odo is called to investigate with her powers as a Justicier?!”

She lacks any legitimacy to condemn us.” Lady Tuala Hakarth replies arrogantly.

Legitimacy.” Huan bitterly spits out. “Legitimacy is born of power and tradition, Lady Tuala, and we have none to squander now that Count Urnan has been provoked.”

Because of your mistake.” Lady Tuala replies without pity.

It was worth the risk to conceal our method of communication.” Huan explains contritely. “The letter was sent to our King without issue so our gains superseded our losses in that matter… until this Jessica Freepath showed up.” He grunts. “We shall ask all our friends to investigate who she is and whether she can be bought from that whore’s service.”

About the ball…” Lady Tuala mentions, trailing off.

We shall attend and plan for no more until we have more information.” Huan Thrin utters flatly. “Hopefully, Elizabeth Vil will show up and cause cracks we can exploit with King Cenwalh’s influence behind us.”

Some have caught sight of the mask in Meria, she will attend one way or the other.” Lady Tuala mentions suggestively.
“And how do you propose we find her identity? Or defeat her if we do?” Huan asks with a frustrated voice. “She fought Duke Meria’s best soldiers for a half-hour without showing any signs of fatigue, are we meant to find an army in the basement to throw at her?”

So we merely keep visiting the Order until the ball?” Lady Tuala questions.

And gather information to make our play through Templar arbitration or wait for spring, yes. Unless you want to call a gathering to change course.” Thrin proposes with full confidence she won’t.

After all, he thinks that no matter how stupid this Hakarth is, she has to be as aware as he is that their allies are more likely to retreat out of fearful caution than to take a risk after the morning’s events.

Lady Tuala shakes her head in denial and stomps out, bottling up her anger to slowly boil until she releases it to take her revenge for the humiliation the warrior inflicted by defeating her with a tankard of beer.

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Yield.Ch14 Interlude

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Rowland’s green eye peers at Jessica for a while, convinced that this ridiculous woman is definitely Yvonne’s friend and likely who she says she is. He then explodes in laughter at his own inability to wink which does indeed put him at a slight disadvantage when going out with his girlfriend.

There is far more mirth than joy in him, his guffawing has a lot to do with evacuating the frustration of his injuries which he can finally let out because the woman facing him suffered a worse trial but clearly came out on top.

You’ll have to help me out then.” Rowland finally says.

Sure thing.” Jessica nods with an understanding smile.

About that sister of yours…” He inquires, trailing off to let her decide how much to tell him.
“She has somewhat of an E.Vil streak.” Jessica replies, shifting uncomfortably. “Don’t tell her where I am if you run into her, she can get jealous about me and Leomi so I prefer watching from afar.”

No promises.” Rowland replies with a teasing smile. “First time we met she put a sword on my throat so I might need to point her at the true object of her wrath.”

Hey! I got you out of that room!” Jessica protests.

You knocked out a friend of mine who took sentry duty on the roof in the process.” Rowland says while raising his left eyebrow, which looks quite odd because it stirs the scar running over his closed eyelid. “But, seriously, is she in Meria?” He asks while concealing his hope.

She is.” Jessica confirms gravely without showing the shadow of a doubt. “But she can’t show herself in the open.”

I understand.” Rowland says with a sad nod.

Jessica’s expression flickers and turns rather dark. She stands up and starts stretching in the middle of the main room, causing the patrons to jeer or throw ridiculing glances. She holds her palm out as Rowland stands up.

Stay back and watch, this is just me getting started.” Jessica tells him while picking up her tankard.

I have a bone to pick with them as well.” Rowland replies with a frown.

I don’t care.” The woman counters with a scary frown that gives him pause. “You’re Yvonne’s so I’m not letting you risk even a splinter. If you weren’t, I would be kicking your ass for showing off in front of my Leomi, understood?”

Rowland nods, feeling uncomfortable at the possessiveness contained in her words and the ludicrous accusation. Jessica’s bright grin returns like sunlight piercing dark storm-clouds. She heads towards the side-door giving into the alley while sipping her beer. He shudders as he follows behind.

I understand that Dame Vil isn’t the only one capable of unreasonable jealousy.” He murmurs as a thin smile appears on his lips.

As they enter the alley, located between the tavern and a large tannery, three well-dressed high born turn to them. They’re all armed with swords and have house crests on their tunics but don’t appear to be wearing armor.

Jessica irreverently salutes them with her mug of beer, spilling some on the dirt. They narrow their eyes and walk up to them with gaits that make it seem like they own the place.

Were you the one to flout law and honor with a despicable ambush?” The leader, a tall woman with brown hair asks sharply.

Me!?” Jessica exclaims in surprise. “Nuuoooh!” She refutes while fervently shaking her head.

Rowland places his palm over his face at the utterly unbelievable denial. But, somehow, he doesn’t experience much tension even as the three reach for their sword’s hilts while making ugly expressions in reaction to Jessica’s mocking attitude.

Did you think your message was funny?” The Lady asks while drawing her weapon. The two men accompanying her spread out to her sides but don’t advance into the narrow alley. “That you’ll get a laugh out of us and all will be forgiven?”

Absolutely not!” Jessica replies easily. “I was told it was written with utmost seriousness and without any intent to cause laughter for you and your… weaklings.” She makes a toothy smile. “It wasn’t my, Jessica Freepath’s, doing. I swear so on my good name.”

I am Lady Tuala, daughter of…” She starts as the tip of her weapon slides out of her sheath.

I don’t care who you are.” Jessica interrupts forcefully with a deeply disdainful tone.

Then the two of you thieves can die unaware of who exactly it is you’ve disrespected.” Tuala utters flatly with a cold expression.

As the woman approaches while preparing to launch a stab, Jessica chuckles without a hint of nervousness and holds her wooden mug out like a tiny shield. Further angered by Jessica’s attitude, Lady Tuala assembles an armor-piercing construct on her sword to end it in one unstoppable blow.

Rowland grows unsettled as he thought Jessica would draw the weapon hid between her shoulder-blades, which he can see protruding under her shirt, by now. He decides she wouldn’t just throw her life away so he uses his energy to put together a few fireball constructs while keeping his eye on the two Lords.

Jessica twists sideways an instant before Tuala leaps at her, catching a sign that no one else had. The tankard trails oddly behind the exuberant woman, remaining right in front of the sword’s sharp point as she angles it with a flick of her wrist.

Tuala’s blade stabs straight through the bottom of the wooden recipient and steps into the curtain of beer splashing out. She reflexively stiffens, causing her to fail to react to Jessica’s next move.

She used the edge of the tankard to pressure the flat of the blade that pierced it, locking the sword in place for a moment to neutralize it. An armor-piercing construct is only dangerous if the edge or point are left free to slash or stab.

Jessica brings her knee up and strikes Tuala’s hands while further twisting the wooden mug, tearing the fingers from the hilt of the weapon. Tuala blinks at the droplets of beer hanging from her eyelashes, barely able to keep up with the fact she lost her sword.

As the Lady reflexively reaches to the dagger at her waist, Jessica straightens her tankard with the weapon planted in the middle. The blade slides down and widens the hole like it’s cutting into butter because of the armor-piercing construct until the guard hits the mug’s edge. Pok.

Tuala hears the humiliating sound and wakes up before making the mistake of attacking this expert again. The Lords a step behind her have already drawn their swords but haven’t made a move either.

They dismissed the fact that the alley is so small it restrains their ability to move and strike before but they can’t afford to do so anymore now that they’ve seen what this foe can do.

Rowland and his fireballs don’t really enter their calculations because they can counter them but it would cost them energy they can’t afford to spend after Tuala spent almost her entire reserve on a sword she lost.

We’re from house Hakarth.” Tuala utters with a stiff tone, very self-conscious of the beer soaking her tunic.

As I said, I do not care.” Jessica responds lazily. “Go back and tell your pitiful faction who I am or I’ll leave another message on your unconscious bodies.”

Who are you?” Tuala asks with a tense voice at the threat.

If your group can’t figure that out, then your faction is far more pitiful than even I give you discredit for.” Jessica replies playfully. “I’ll accept the sword as an apology for falsely accusing me of theft.” She adds with a corner smile.

The three Nobles exchange glances and silently decide to scamper off, thanking the Lake for their luck. While they are prideful to the point of arrogance, they are also aware that the Izla is enemy territory for them and that their opponent isn’t a simple thief.

Jessica doesn’t even wait for the three’s footsteps to fade in the distance before dragging Rowland back into the tavern. She returns the ruined tankard and a few bronze coins to a scowling barman before leading Rowland back towards the brothel.

I told you not to do anything.” Jessica whines at Rowland as they make their way. “I wanted to take all their swords, and maybe a couple lives.”

I could hardly let you have all the fun.” He replies cheerfully, quite happy about the result of that skirmish and the humiliation Jessica wrought on them. “And I couldn’t exactly allow a fight to the death over a misunderstanding you purposefully caused, I am a Hospitalier after all.”

Oh well.” Jessica says with a sigh. “T’was your revenge after all.”

You took it quite personally for it to have been my revenge.” Rowland notes. “I could have handled it if you let me.”

You could barely kill two twerps while holding onto your life.” Jessica counters while taking a hard glance at his face, giving a feeling that she’s looking down on him when she’s looking up in reality.

Hmph.” Rowland snorts, feeling a bit vexed by the evaluation but unable to deny it after seeing this woman fight with lightning fast speed. “How did you know when to step out?”

Alarm construct, they weren’t smart enough to be careful.” Jessica explains.

I didn’t hear a sound.” Rowland says, surprised.

Of course not, I altered the construct.” The short woman replies pridefully. “I replaced the sound segments with a conditional trigger that activated a water construct that shook my beer.”

You can do that?” He asks.

And so much more.” Jessica replies with a smile. “I’ll show you my brand-new workshop later.”

Rowland nods absently, impressed that the woman isn’t only a skilled warrior but also a flow-smith. The two of them keep talking as they enter the brothel and go back to his room under the baffled gazes of the guards that never realized he left.

He realizes during the conversation that he’s heard a lot about her from both Yvonne and Leomi Lance except they didn’t name Jessica, or he doesn’t recall if they did. They hear someone rushing down from upstairs just as they reach the room.

The one Jessica knocked out on the roof shows up with his sword in hand and glowers in anger as he spots them. She steps inside without even pausing to dress up in her armor.

It takes Rowland a few minutes to explain and apologize while restraining the man from barging in. While he thinks the short woman could stand to learn some manners, he already has a good enough hang of her personality to know she wouldn’t listen and it would not end well for either of them.

After managing to chase the guard off with a promise to buy him a drink later, Rowland steps back in his room to find Jessica struggling to fasten her hard leather armor’s straps.

He hesitates but decides not to help unless she asks, it annoyed him when people rushed to pick up the objects he knocked off before he got used to being one-eyed. She finishes within a few minutes and throws the long rectangular case on her shoulders, sticking the bare blade she just stole inside her belt.

Let’s go shopping now.” Jessica tells him.

Do you mind if I get rid of my bandages first?” Rowland asks.

“Hurry up, I have work to do.” The woman replies curtly and leaves the room.

As he changes into his white and blue uniform, he hears her get into an argument with a guard on the other side of the door that ends when the brothel’s manager, Rob, shows up to clear things up by informing the guard Councilwoman Cecil has given permission.

Rowland can’t help but guffaw as he realizes Jessica could have cleared things up at any moment with them but didn’t because she likely found it more fun to cause mayhem. His suspicion is confirmed when he steps out.

Buddy, If I could sneak in that easily, then it means your squad failed at its one job. Be happy I’m not going to rat on you.” Jessica drops the words and stomps away with a straight back.

Why are you mad?” Rowland asks as he catches up.

Because I’m an idiot too.” The woman replies with a self-deprecating smile. “I’m starting to care about things I shouldn’t because they’re not relevant to my plans, which annoys me.”

Things?” He presses.

The Izla for one.” She grunts. “It would have been simple enough to leave it all to Cecil and Leomi but I’m taking from my precious time to crush these eyesores when they barely qualify as a threat and will be washed away by the tide anyway.”

Ah, Thrin and his faction.” Rowland says, wondering what would constitute a threat for this woman.

Anyway, I’m doing it so I might as well have fun.” Jessica suddenly perks up with a grin.

— — —

Jessica and Rowland walk into the shop of the best smith in Meria, located in an opulent stone building near the Keep. The store’s parquet is polished and there are only a dozen display stands each containing a single weapon under a locked glass window.

A lanky servant in a black tunic welcomes them with a bow and offers to let them browse with a cup of tea but Jessica interrupts by raising her hand to show an identification parchment that holds three seals, the Council’s, the Templar’s, and the Hospitaliers’.

It doesn’t say much other than that Jessica Freepath is who she says she is with a short description, which oddly doesn’t specify the subject’s height, and a runic construct that only she can activate to prove her identity. The servant doesn’t dare ask her to do so because it can only be used a few times before that section of the parchment disintegrates.

I know you don’t buy but I have four swords I wish to exchange for weapons that suit me better.” She explains, relying on the status Cecil provided her to have her way.

An exception can be made depending on what you wish to purchase, Dame Freepath.” The servant complies.

First, this sword has a crest. It belonged to a Lady Tuala but she lost it in a… let’s call it a duel.” Jessica says, pulling the bare weapon from her belt. “She’ll be thrilled to buy it back from you instead of having to deal with me, especially if you tell her what my credentials are.”

Rowland suppresses a smirk at the ‘sucker-punch’ Jessica is going to deal to that Lady by providing some of the information she provoked Tuala to look for before even giving her a chance to find it.

The seals by themselves don’t mean much, certainly not that she has the support of these organizations, but the fact that all three powers put their seals on the same identification parchment is significant in itself.

I’m not sure it is proper for our shop to get involved, Dame Freepath.” The servant says hesitantly. “My apologies for being of so little use, I will seek the owner out for you to meet.”

The man escapes the room without even touching the weapon. Jessica sighs and decides to wait. A muscular man with large shoulders in a tight black tunic shows up minutes later with a serious expression.

I got the sword legitimately, and I’m not here to dawdle around.” Jessica utters flatly before the owner can say anything. “Either you’re interested or you’re not.”

May I ask where you got the other three weapons you wish to trade before deciding?” The man questions carefully.

In Buton’s Dungeon, taken from three bandits.” Jessica replies with a smirk. “Grand Commander Lance can verify that fact, and you’re welcome to bring all these as a bundle to the Lady Tuala with their history. I’m sure she’ll be interested and pay you well for the delivery.”

The owner thinks it through for a while before deciding to take the deal, assessing that his shop is being used as an intermediary for a conflict between at least two powerful factions, none of which he can’t afford to provoke.

Rowland wonders, without too much hope, whether the woman is bragging about wanting to crush Thrin’s group or is being serious. He now knows that this Jessica took part in Elizabeth Vil’s dismantling of the Izla’s old powers but it is difficult for him to tell how much she can accomplish now that she’s at odds with the Red Dwarf.

Jessica ends up walking out of the shop with two sturdy flourish-less weapons, a longsword and a short single-edged broadsword. Their utilitarian designs make it clear that those are tools of battle, a glance to their blades is enough to tell they were made from the best steel and sharpened enough to cut through mail.

What now?” Rowland asks, almost wishing he’ll get to see Jessica put these mean-looking things to work.

Hm. I need a dress, a chunk of diamond, and a hat of some kind…” She trails off and lets out an enthusiastic exclamation. “Luxury!

How long have you been looking for that word?” He asks, wincing from her loud outburst that startled half the bourgeois in the street.

I’m not sure.” Jessica replies. “You’re also buying a gift for Yvonne by the way.”

I don’t think I can afford it if you’re calling it luxury.” Rowland mutters.

That’s fine, I’ll work you to death to pay me back before and after the training sessions.” She dismisses.

When did I agree to that?” He asks, paling as he suddenly realizes that he might not actually be able to escape this madwoman considering her ludicrous connections.

“You didn’t, but you will if you want to survive Leomi when you tell her you wish to marry her sword-sworn.” Jessica replies calmly.

I…” Rowland almost gets angry from the fact both this woman and his girlfriend’s liege apparently intend to interfere with their relationship but grits his teeth because he is indeed too weak and Jessica is offering her help, even if she’s being rude about it. “I’ll find someone else to train me if you don’t cut it.” He utters harshly.

That’s fine.” She replies. “Don’t forget that the time you have until you return to the Lake is limited, you shouldn’t waste it with unnecessary delays and cherish what happiness you can find in the present.” Jessica adds gently with an undertone of sorrow.

Rowland falls silent at her words. He’s a bastard. From his youth as a trainee soldier to now, the fact that he’s the bastard son of a Count made him cling to the traditional way of things.

His encounter with Elizabeth Vil shook his professional and social views but not so much he would risk making the same mistakes as his father. But, now that he almost died over a stupid game of spies, he doesn’t see his stubborn attitude in the same way anymore.

Jessica’s words shake him especially because she’s so far shown mastery at uncovering the enemies that almost killed him from the shadows and then dealing with them without much effort.

I’ll keep it in mind.” Rowland replies seriously before focusing on his task as a guide. “There is a shop meant exclusively for Nobles a few streets ahead, I recall they sold personalized umbrellas and hats.”

Oooh!” Jessica giddily cries out. “Quick, let’s go bully them!”

Rowland grins, feeling satisfied that he read her correctly and looking forward to the mess she’ll cause because, obviously, she won’t be showing them her identification parchment this time.

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