In Peace.Ch24 Interlude

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Yvonne is uneasy about her friend’s current expression, even frightened as she is seeing similarities between Leomi’s state now and that of Jessica when they both left her behind, when she took her mask off atop the hill.

What’s going on Leomi?” She asks. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Nothing.” Leomi giggles.

The sword-sworn looks in her ward’s light gray eyes and witnesses a dreadful insanity. Her right hand flies up to her gaping mouth in shock as she realizes that Jessica and Leomi have almost come full circle in their mad relationship, they’re growing closer to intersecting paths in a devastating way.

That’s it.” Yvonne whispers. “I’m, I… can’t let this go on.”

Jay needs to fly away, free.” Leomi mutters in a hazy tone of voice.

Yvonne closes her eyes, unable to keep watching. She searches her memories, trying to figure out who would be able to reach Leomi. Unfortunately, in her opinion, Vikiana and Jessica are the only ones who could, the first is injured while the second is the one who caused this.

Yvonne’s gut feeling is that there is almost no chance of this ending well if she doesn’t intervene, it has been for a long time although she isn’t certain of the exact moment she realized that they are on a path of self-destruction.

Jessica seemed to think that the choice she offered would be the end of it but her ward’s current state clearly indicates that it is a falsehood. Yvonne knows that her friend is hiding something from her.

The truth is that Leomi is hiding an entire facet of her relationship with Elizabeth and Jessica, the fact that she is so afraid of what she could do that she would rather die than risk returning to Jessica and causing her further harm.

I need to work.” Leomi murmurs, pushing Yvonne away to get off the bed.
“Why?” Yvonne asks her feverish friend, easily fending off her attempt.

No time.” Leomi whines hazily.

You have all winter, Leomi, don’t you?” Yvonne asks, feeling her stomach sink.

No, my Jay, would want me to go follow through with my ideals before it’s too late.” Leomi violently shakes her head side to side like, fighting something in herself.

Too late?” The sword-sworn presses, worried.

Elizabeth, veiling her threats to my Jay.” Leomi responds in anguish. “Liz is trying to take her from me, like she took my first time from her.”

Leomi half faints, half falls to sleep while grasping at the bed covers. Yvonne watches her tormented friend as she wrestles with an invisible shadow, weakly swiping at the air and trying to pull her covers apart.

Yvonne lies down by her ward’s side, listening to her friend’s nightmarish ramblings. She intuits that what Elizabeth Vil did by touching Leomi’s heart has shattered, that her friend can no longer cling to that ledge and fell back into a pit of guilt and despair.

The sword-sworn reaches the conclusion that revealing the truth about Elizabeth and Jessica now would have disastrous results to their mental health, that it’s become urgent for the two to reunite with Jessica.

Yvonne soon falls asleep as well, exhausted by having ridden all the way south from the Rykz camp in one go.

— — —

Leomi awakens in the middle of the day, feeling sick to her stomach from guilt and furious about Elizabeth’s scheme which almost brought her to kill herself. She retches at that thought, bile rising up to the back of her throat.

She despises such cowardice from herself, after all she firmly believes that the privileged life she’s lived makes her ineligible for giving up in such a way, at least before achieving what she set out to do with the Hospitaliers.

She does not see her decision to push Elizabeth to end her in the same way as that act is an expression of her love, not surrender. Whatever Elizabeth may say, Leomi loves the woman’s strength even if her romantic heart belongs to another, it was seized by Jessica almost against her will as Leomi struggled between keeping her distance and treating her right.

Leomi makes her way out of the apartment, leaving Yvonne behind. She heads downstairs through a stone staircase with flow torches hung on the walls every few meters. She enters the main hall, finding two tall women eating at the long and large rectangular table that lies in front of the throne.

I am telling you I want to recover the gold and jewels from that gaudy thing, not give it away for free, Ruth.” The first speaks up, referring to the throne.

But think of the symbol of you redistributing the gold you say your father stole from his subjects, Grace!” Ruth exclaims.

I find that it would serve my subjects best if I used these riches to repair their city, I don’t see how handing it over to you is any kind of redistribution.” Grace replies, sighing.

Well, I was born here after all, my taxes bought it so it belongs to me.” Ruth argues. “But I’m fair so I’ll give you a chance to win that gold back with dice.”

Why did it suddenly change hands?” Grace exclaims, rising from her chair before noticing the wide grin on Ruth’s face and falling back down, realizing that she got played. “I swear that if even the smallest precious stone is missing when the carpenter arrives, I’ll throw you in the gallows myself.”

What! Such treachery after all we’ve been through together!” Ruth protests.

I would do it especially because of that.” Grace frowns. “You would be proving that I’ve been wrong about pardoning you by stealing from our people.”

Ruth groans and takes a gulp from her tankard of beer. Grace hides a small smile behind her hand, aware that the pirate wouldn’t even dare to touch the gold now that she’s framed it in this way.

Leomi watches baffled that an Odo could be so different from the rest of the family, Elizabeth told her as much so she was aware but finding out in person is still a surprise.

If you want to eat, there’s some stew left inside the kitchen.” Grace speaks up. “I have not called all the servants back yet as I’ve found the coffers emptied.”

We sent the coin south and east to replace the winter grain the Rykz took.” Leomi mutters.

Who’re you?” Ruth asks impolitely.

Leomi Lance.” She replies in a small voice as she heads for the kitchen.

Grace is taken aback by the response, surprised that this disheveled woman would be the quite legendary Countess that supposedly tamed Elizabeth Vil away from the Rykz and saved the Izla as a result.

Leomi herself is aware of her state but does not find the strength to fix her attire and messy hair. As she makes her way to the side door leading into the kitchen, she starts feeling like eating is an unfortunately necessary waste of time.

What happened?” Grace asks as Leomi returns.

Peace.” Leomi replies, taking a seat at the table. “Do you have ink and parchment?”

Ruth, if you don’t mind.” Grace says, pointing at her plate to show that she’s eating while the pirate is merely enjoying her beer.

I very much do.” Ruth replies, lazily hanging back in her chair and pointedly taking a sip.

I will go get it myself if you tell me where it is.” Leomi speaks up.

See, she has legs.” Ruth chuckles.

No need.” Grace shakes her head.

She stands up and grabs a flow torch from the wall to head to a tiny door hidden behind a curtain, heading to the administrative wing of the keep where she takes the necessary writing supplies from the scribe’s desk.

You were present when Elizabeth was captured.” Leomi says to Ruth.

Sure was, the fight was pretty chaotic but it was a lot of fun to see her rip that Odo prick’s tongue out.” Ruth replies. “There are tons of amusing stories about her if you want to hear them, like the fact that she doesn’t bleed.” Leomi scoffs, bringing a mean grin on Ruth’s face. “Or that you committed a great crime in the name of love by seducing her to your side.”

It’s the other way around.” Leomi whispers. “Why is it a crime?”

Because she was on the verge of cleansing Caeviel of its Nobility and would already have if not for you.” Ruth replies with a bloodthirsty smile.

Where did you hear that?!” Leomi explodes, slamming her palms on the table as she stands.

It’s a fun story actually.” The pirate replies, chuckling. “I was in a gambling den and lost a bet I couldn’t pay so I told them a story about Elizabeth. Turns out, people are placing very different hopes on you and her but they’re all very adamant about their assumptions. It broke into a fight, that the soldiers probably won but who cares, I escaped and didn’t have to pay up.”

I don’t care about that! Tell me who was calling for civil war!” Leomi demands.

Calm down, Lady.” Ruth rolls her eyes. “They’re all blustering, what they want is change. Soldiers, peasants, bourgeois, doesn’t matter. Half of them don’t even make sense, they say that they want to be a Republic but at the same time they’re afraid that they’ll be exploited by the rest of the Duchy with a weak Nobility so they want their own strong, prestigious, leader like you.” Ruth bursts out in mocking laughter, towards both Leomi and the people. “People in general have no clue what they want. A poor farmer got into a fight with a low-born officer because they both want Elizabeth to put the Kingdom to the torch but the former was shocked by the latter’s lack of idealism.”

What do they think about the Hospitaliers?” Leomi asks, relaxing somewhat as she finds that her fear of Elizabeth planning to start a slaughter are mere rumor.

Who’s that?” Ruth asks.

My organization.” Leomi replies, sitting back down.

Eh, the cheap healing, training, and jobs they provide are pretty well received but people don’t know what you’re about so they’re suspicious, doesn’t help it’s from the Izla.” Ruth shrugs.

I’m about to resolve that right now.” Leomi replies softly.

Your organization has done a lot to help our injured soldiers.” Grace speaks up, returning with parchment, ink, and quill. “I have to thank you for that.”

There are still a little less than two thousand of your soldiers on the Izla, mostly helping us open new iron mines.” Leomi replies, taking writing apparatus to set it to the right of her plate. “They’ll be able to return when our ships do.”

Leomi quickly finishes her stew and starts writing down some points on the first piece of parchment, using points that she extrapolated from her talks with Jessica and Elizabeth along with her own ideals as a base.

What are you doing?” Grace asks.
“Writing a charter for the Hospitaliers.” Leomi mumbles. “It’s the first draft, I plan to simplify the language to lower the possibilities that someone will be able to manipulate the intent while keeping it as precise as possible.”

Grace finishes her now cold food with a grimace before making her way around the table to peer over Leomi’s shoulder. Ruth doesn’t move, but she doesn’t leave either.

Grace is rather certain that the woman only showed up this morning because she somehow heard of Leomi Lance’s return with Lady Yvonne, even if she is now affecting indifference.

Leomi settles on three points, thinking that she should tighten those up and leave the rest for the Hospitaliers to build upon as they exercise the duties she is lining up for them.

I thought this republic of yours was meant to put qualified people in power with the advice of a chamber of elected representatives.” Grace says. “This doesn’t say anything about it.”

That’s…” Leomi grunts and looks up, annoyed. “So many errors with that you’ve just said that I do not know where to begin. Could you let me work.”

Try to explain, it concerns me as much as you since I’ve so far aligned myself with the Izla.” Grace replies, frowning.

That is fair.” Leomi agrees, she starts explaining but doesn’t stop working. “It isn’t mine or Elizabeth’s republic, the provisional government was set up by Councilwoman Cecil and is now working to organize elections to put a chamber of representatives that will then elect a ruling Council which will itself name a leader for the army. Separate from that are the Hospitaliers which are my project, independent from the Izla.”

I see.” Grace nods. “Your charter does not mention elections but laws, is that on purpose so you can spread the organization through the Empire?”

It is.” Leomi replies, slightly impressed but feeling too pressed for time to push the conversation further. She regrets having set to work here instead of seeking out an isolated room.

You’ve crossed the word ‘people’ several times in your first point, and also the word ‘citizen’ you then replaced it with.” Grace comments.

Leomi bites the inside of her left cheek, knowing exactly the word she needs to place there but having delayed doing so out of fear despite knowing that this is necessary to prevent the Hospitaliers from becoming another military arm for the Empire.

I mean any intelligent being.” Leomi replies. “The Lake bestowed flow on three species, so I… I need, I have to recognize that. This war… wouldn’t have occurred if there was a way for the Rykz to reach Caeviel’s population.”
“Sentients then?” Grace asks.
“Even Rykz drones can feel pain or they wouldn’t ball up and whine when severely injured.” Leomi replies coldly, writing down the words ‘sapient beings’ she’s kept from the parchment.

Hospitaliers are to guarantee the freedom of every sapient being as long as they do not act to cause mental or bodily harm to another in an act of aggression.” Grace reads out loud. “This includes the right to live as they wish according to the laws of the land they’ve chosen and the right to pledge their flow to whichever organization or individual they desire.

That last one is a direct attack on Nobility.” Ruth comments.
“It is not, it’s a clever trick.” Grace shakes her head. “It says that people, no, sapients have to live according to the law of the land, which is a way of saying that if pledging to the titled Noble is the law, then Hospitaliers do not have to intervene.”

But it also says they must be free to choose who they pledge to.” Ruth contests.

Stop playing dumb.” Grace groans. “There are intricate meanings there, people who live somewhere are considered to be choosing to do so which means that they are also choosing to pledge their flow to the titled Noble. It also means that if these people want to leave, then Hospitaliers would be required to do all they can to help.”

That last one is definitely not going to go over well.” Ruth says, smiling.

After a while, maybe? But at first Nobility will see Hospitaliers as an Order that confirms their right to rule even more than Templars since they think that the land is theirs and the charter enforces the fact that the people living there are their willing subjects.” Grace explains. “I doubt they’ll see past the benefits and realize that this single point is placing these subjects in a position of power over the Hospitaliers since all they have to do is demand their help to leave the land to acquire it.”

And the next point makes it so that people… sapient beings have the right to petition a change in law, which the Hospitaliers have a duty to examine and then push for change if it reaches decisive support from a majority of those affected.” Leomi speaks up, unable to help herself from being interested in this Grace Odo’s intellect.
“Let’s see.” Grace murmurs as she leans down, absentmindedly setting her left hand on Leomi’s shoulder.

Every sapient being has the right to petition a grievance about a law that directly affects them. Hospitaliers are required to examine the issue and determine that the majority of those affected are against it. If it is the case, the Hospitalier organization is to then find a course of action that solves the problem and act upon it.” Grace reads. “That looks a lot like the Templar creed, but more affirmative.”

It is on purpose, Nobility likely won’t think twice about it. The major difference between Hospitaliers and the Templars is that their primary goal is to safeguard the Empire while ours will be that of freedom.” Leomi says.

Each individual Hospitalier’s rights among the organization must correspond to their duties. From that axiom stems the degree of responsibility to which they must be held responsible in case of success or failure of their tasks.” Grace reads the third point. “That last one seems vague but oddly very precise at the same time. I would describe it as an intelligent way to set the carrot and the stick.”

I think that this general statement would be sufficient to build a code of law upon, which can then be amended. This charter itself is meant to be set in the Lake’s flames once finished, unalterable.” Leomi replies. “Rules of conduct evolve in society so it would weaken the document if I set out clear directives instead of guidelines.”

You do realize that all crime-slaves, all criminals, will all say that the laws used to punish them are unfair.” Ruth says.

I do. The order and wording of my points are thought out, those who have aggressively caused harm to others will not have their freedom defended by Hospitaliers but their petition will still be heard and the punishment given to them examined in light of the crimes they committed and the opinions of those who have suffered.” Leomi explains.

Hmh.” Ruth noncommittally exhales.

I am not making a direct stand against crime slavery on purpose, it remains up to the people to end the practice. I am attempting to create an organization that empowers movements for change, not one that causes it. Hospitaliers are to counterbalance abuses of power.” Leomi Lance explains, acutely aware of the necessity because of her own faults.

That is likely the best thing you could do.” Grace says, not even trying to hide how interested she is. “Placing the impetus on sapient beings means that Hospitaliers will need to remain a sharp tool to successfully follow their charter and solve problems presented to them instead of becoming embroiled in politics.” Port-Odo’s Countess pauses. “None of this means anything without the Emperor’s support.”

He will, eventually.” Leomi affirms. “He has first and foremost been a pragmatist when it came to defending humanity. Once I’ve risen a strong enough force and demonstrated out capability for good in the Empire, the rest will follow.”

Perhaps.” Grace ponders, moving back to her own seat to face Leomi. “If you truly want the population’s support, to do true good, you will need to demonstrate that you can do more than enforce the Law.”

Go on.” Leomi urgently presses, feeling like her time is running out.

Your Hospitaliers will need to pursue Justice. It’ll be slow, harrowing, and difficult, but that is the only way to become more than just another military force in the Empire.” Grace advises.

Leomi thinks that this woman echoes Jessica, she reminds her of how injustice infuriated her Jay. Lance decides it may save her time to spend the afternoon talking to this woman to determine if she can be of help to the Hospitaliers organization after she’s gone.

— — —

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In Peace.Ch23 Interlude

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Yvonne startles when the Princess attacks Jessica with her flow, throwing her backward so hard that she flips on herself and lands on her belly. Yvonne thought the Rykz and Jessica had an agreement.

Yvonne hurriedly picks Leomi up, placing her body between her liege and the Rykz Princesses. She assembles an air-spear but delays launching it even to save Jessica, aware that doing so would put her ward in more danger which her friend would more than frown on.

She decides to throw Leomi to the side if either of the Princesses retaliates, yet remains hesitant as the Rykz isn’t threatening Jessica’s life. Her indecision doesn’t last long as the one named Fenyz passes her spearheaded tendrils under Jessica’s intricate mail shirt.

Yvonne immediately launches the construct but the Princess’ unstructured flow expands out and disintegrates it before it even gets close. She does her best to quickly complete a second one but it fails just the same.

Fuck me.” Yvonne swears under her breath, just before the second Princess impacts Fenyz.

She assembles three air-shields for safety, using the access she obtained from joining the Hospitaliers that the entire population of the Izla swore flow pledges to. Jessica is bleeding a bit but the Rykz seems to be protecting her.

Yvonne starts retreating, taking the confrontation and the lack of counter-attack as proof that she doesn’t know nearly enough about the circumstances but that what she’s hearing confirms that her friend’s life isn’t in danger. She decides that evacuating the premises is the about all she can do right now.

Yvonne thinks that she likely shouldn’t have tried to intervene so soon in order to protect Jessica. After all, if the Rykz wanted to kill them they would be dead. Edusa and Roisia are a little shaken but even their horse is unharmed and escaping.

She uses a strengthening construct to help Leomi walk downhill. Her charge is entirely out of it, her eyes are fuzzy and staring at the grass. Leomi’s reaction to seeing Jessica’s face worries Yvonne a lot.

She believes that the small wounds on Leomi’s forehead show that she took a hit that dazed her but the blood is dry, the fact that she remains out of it means that the impact was more significant than the injuries imply, or so Yvonne hopes.

What is going on?” Leomi asks, sounding lost as they make their way downhill.

I don’t know but you’re safe right now. Did she hit you?” Yvonne asks, hating the fact that she needs to and disbelieving that the possibility is even there no matter how angry Jessica is.

She definitely hit on me.” Leomi mutters.

Leomi, did she hit you?” Yvonne insists.
“I’m not sure…” Leomi replies. “My head, hurts.”

Try.” Yvonne insists, struggling to keep her charge upright. “Remember what I told you years ago, assess what you did and then figure out how to fix it. This is the same, tell me what happened.”

I, I think I saw Jay.” Leomi whispers.
“Jessica?” Yvonne asks.
“Was flying in circles, flapping her wing, singing. It was beautiful.” Leomi says with a dreamy smile but her expression soon turns to despair. “It hurt, my brain ached, so I… yes, I hit my head and she flew away, free.”

Yvonne places her hand on Leomi’s forehead, feeling that she’s burning up with a fever. She worried from finding that Leomi did this to herself, again, but is rather relieved since she can handle that.

If it had been Jessica, she would have had to try to keep the two apart, which would have been close to impossible and heartbreaking for her. She picks Leomi up with a strengthening construct and throws her over her horse’s saddle before running back uphill, meeting Edusa and Roisia.

What was…” Edusa starts.

One moment.” Yvonne interrupts them.

She scouts the horizon, finding that Jessica is slowly headed north with a few dozen Rykz scouts following her. Yvonne feels completely lost as to how to keep things together, she feels that her friends are drifting further and further away.

Leomi’s state means that waiting is the only choice. Her impulsive reaction in removing the mask was not only dangerous to both her friends. She clings to Jessica’s words that contain the hope that the two will soon reconnect.

If that happens, Leomi will finally be able to find peace in Jessica’s arms. She will then make her move to end the lies, provide them with the right circumstances to end the lies and heal.

Sorry, my friend, I need to take care of her so I can’t follow you right now, I’m sure it’s what you would do as well.” Yvonne whispers to Jessica’s back as she disappears behind a hilltop.

Yvonne, why did Elizabeth bleed orange?” Roisia asks, looking frightened.

She didn’t.” Yvonne quickly replies, entering damage control. “Look, you both know that Countess Grace has suggested that she is a Rykz creation but she herself says it is hearsay from an unreliable source.”

I believed it absurd but, with this…” Edusa trails off.

She has one of their creations in her chest, but she is not one.” Yvonne swiftly explains. “We’ve all seen drawings of the small Rykz they’ve catapulted inside cities to spoil supplies. They used something similar on her but as you’ve seen with this altercation, they do not control her so I plead you not to add oil to this fire by spreading rumors.”

We will not, but this brings more urgent questions to the table. It is further indication that questions need to be asked.” Edusa says, frowning.
“We should help her!” Roisia protests.

I agree, yet we need knowledge if we are to do so. Elizabeth Vil has kept her secrets, I respect that but now is the time to demand she reveals them to us or step aside.” Edusa firmly responds.

Time is something I don’t have for this, I have no intention of discussing it in her absence.” Yvonne tells them.

That is fair.” Edusa acknowledges. “Where is my Liege?”

On my horse, tired.” Yvonne replies shortly and departs, leaving Edusa and Roisia.

— — —

Edusa presses her lips together as she watches Yvonne leave, riding away with her liege sitting on the saddle in front of her. The Duchess had expected to cry when the time came that her hopes were crushed but she finds herself standing immobile with her broken heart and without tears to shed.

Yvonne’s knowledge of the matter put an end to Edusa’s hopes that the revelation will end the relationship because it means that Leomi is already aware of Elizabeth’s circumstances, she feels shame for having wanted such an outcome.

This event clarifies discussions Edusa has recently had with her liege and clues she picked up on, Leomi knew and struggled with this but ended up accepting Elizabeth despite the trauma her liege experienced in her adolescence.

The Duchess cannot help but admire her liege further, even as that decision underlines the strength of the two’s relationship and utterly destroys her chances. She wishes, both for Elizabeth and Leomi, that whatever the Rykz did can be undone.

Edusa knew that it would eventually happen as, even if they were to break up, there is still Jessica who she would never be able to compete against once she turned up.

The Duchess had deemed that peasant a much better alternative to Elizabeth Vil and likely someone she could admit defeat to without regret if only she could have obtained a few weeks to court Leomi Lance.

She is entirely unaware of even the possibility that her liege’s two lovers could be the same person and of the fact that Leomi is currently single. Yet, perhaps she would have reached the same conclusion even if she did for she is aware that she has clung for too long to someone who is simply not interested.

“It’s time I move on.” Edusa speaks up with a tightness in her throat.

I’m sorry.” Roisia replies compassionately.

I have a lot of work to do.” Edusa shakes her head. “Elizabeth’s demonstration polarized Nobility but I failed to see the positives in that at the time. I received a dozen messages last night after Court, most of the titled Nobles are openly siding with the King in fear of the changes they see on the horizon but this shows that they desire to open backchannels to ours. After all, Cenwalh… King Cenwalh has shown himself unreliable and untrustworthy with the institute. Elizabeth has underlined the fact peasantry is not defenseless, this is a perspective that Nobility can no longer dismiss which opens options we did not have before.”

Your point that the situation is more volatile for it stands.” Roisia notes.
“It does, but is that such a bad thing?” Edusa asks, looking to the sky. “In the end, those Nobles who would have firmly sided against us would have done so as I reform Hetlan. At least now, I can find allies that would not have revealed themselves otherwise.”

Edusa starts planning her stay in Port-Odo. The Kingdom’s armies will follow the Rykz as they retreat but she has decided to remain in the city a while longer with her army.

She formulates a plan to dodge the new tax by exchanging their spare weapons, armors, and shields for tools. Her Duchy has the raw materials to replace the gear while the Izla will need them until they can build up their production. Edusa suddenly breaks down in tears.

Why, why can’t I even compete with this m, m, monster?” She wails as Roisia embraces her in a gentle hug.

You don’t really believe that.” Roisia says, rubbing her back.

I wish I did…” Edusa replies, pressing her face in Roisia’s shoulder.

— — —

Yvonne reaches Port-Odo in the very early morning after having spent the entire day and most of the night galloping, supplying her mount with flow and taking breaks when needed for the animal to keep going.

Leomi fell asleep within moments inside that Yvonne’s arms make by holding the reins, she hasn’t woken since but muttered much during her sleep about a fragile Jay.

Yvonne gathered that Leomi is protecting a single-winged bird in her dreams even as the chirping maddens her, clearly standing in for Jessica. It worries the sword-sworn who blames her absence for her failure to realize the deterioration of Leomi’s mental state.

Yvonne pushes through the gates without stopping as the Rykz drones guarding them aren’t at all suited to control who gets to enter or leave the city. She takes advantage of the fact that there’s barely anyone outside as people are just starting to get up to make it to the keep unhindered.

— — —

Leomi awakens in bed with a splitting headache and a burning fever, finding Yvonne sitting by her side and wiping her sweaty brow with a piece of wet cloth. The Hospitalier Commander immediately catches sight of a colorful Jay being chased by its own dark shadow inside the rich apartment.

It’s exactly like what she saw in her dreams, but this time the bird isn’t safely imprisoned in her hands while chirping for its freedom but being hunted by Evil. The flash of a toothy predatory smile shatters her hallucination.

No!” Leomi screams, sitting up so abruptly that Yvonne almost falls over.

It’s all okay, Leomi, you’re safe.” The sword-sworn hurriedly says.

Yvonne seizes her friend’s wrists and forces her to cross her arms over her chest, having sufficient experience to preemptively stop Leomi from violently lashing out as she sometimes has after or during a feverish nightmare.

But Jessica isn’t!” Leomi exclaims. “I, I need to protect her!” She adds, weakly struggling.

Calm down, what did Elizabeth tell you?” Yvonne asks, locking eyes with her friend to give her something to focus on.

That, Jessica has been missing for a month.” Leomi mutters, still trying to gather herself. “She, she could have drowned, she could be…”

Both are true but she had been missing just as long before and do you really think Jessica would so stupid as to embark on a boat without realizing that her handicap would make it harder for her to swim?” Yvonne asks, forcing her friend to rely on her intelligence instead of her feelings.
“N, no.” Leomi virulently denies, unable to accept that her astute peasant would be so foolish. “B, but what if she was attacked? Or, there was an accident?”

If Jessica made it out of the battle then she would have found solutions, correct?” Yvonne questions.

Y, yes.” Leomi slowly nods.

Idali was in worse shape and survived so if Jessica did not escape then we would have found her.” Yvonne affirms.

T, true.” Leomi says, her expression falling while her cheeks turn white. “Then, then, it’s… worse.”

Worse?” Yvonne asks.
For her.” Leomi says deliriously, limply falling back down on the bed. “And, it’s still my fault because I failed to act and show her how great I think she is, no matter that my lovely bird only has a single wing left.”

Leomi retreats into a fetal position, shaking from head to toe as she imagines the woman behind her every heartbeat suffering as one of the Rykz’ creations eats her alive, the painful agony and awareness of her flesh being consumed little by little.

Leomi, please talk to me.” Yvonne pleads, shaking her friend’s shoulder.

Her effort is fruitless as Leomi cuts herself off, falling into a deep depressive state. Yvonne grits her teeth and pulls her sleeves up to her elbows, deciding to do something that could easily backfire on her but has succeeded in tearing Leomi out of her deepest despair on two occasions.

The first time when she first came into Leomi’s service as her liege struggled with vivid nightmares of Jenna being torn apart and eaten alive by Lisilese. She had to intervene every morning for a week straight to explain something Leomi already knew but needed to hear from someone else.

The second time after Leomi delivered her report about the Rykz to Duke Meria when she refused to go to sleep and tried to go rescue Jessica by herself, that fight cost her much of Leomi’s trust.

Yvonne hates having to literally fight tooth and nail with her ward to save her from herself but thinks it’ll be more peaceful this time and much quicker because Jessica’s lies are built on a house of cards that a gust of wind would destroy if not for the people that care for them both.

The sword-sworn slowly takes hold of Leomi’s right shoulder and chin, forcing her to look up to her. The Countess firmly closes her eyes, refusing to look, refusing to engage. Smack. Yvonne slaps Leomi’s right cheek with her full strength. The Countess’ eyes flip wide open, filled with anger.

Tell me what Elizabeth said or I swear I’m gone.” Yvonne lies in a threatening tone.

You hit me!” Leomi utters, outraged.

I don’t want to wrestle you down and make you talk to me like old times, Leomi, but I will if I have to. She’s also my friend.” Yvonne says, feeling guilty about lying as she pulls on her ward’s heart-strings.

I, you’ll leave me, if I tell you anyway.” Leomi says, turning away.
“Are you twelve?” Yvonne asks harshly, knowing that her friend’s fever is likely responsible but determined to break through to her anyway. “I’ll decide, now speak.”

Liz, Liz said, that Jessica is going to accept the Rykz’ offer.” Leomi stutters, begging the Lake to keep Yvonne by her side as she wouldn’t be able to bear losing her on top of everything.

You’re not thinking straight.” Yvonne immediately jumps on the opportunity to talk. “You want to protect her so much or that it’s making you forget that she’s plenty capable of doing so by herself and evaluating her decisions to avoid making stupid mistakes. The war is over, why would she change her mind now?”

B, but…” Leomi protests.
“No, enough. You’re not going to do anything until you tell me the whole story.” Yvonne interrupts. “Jessica isn’t as weak to her emotions as you are, and that’s saying a lot.”

That’s, true.” Leomi admits against her pride.

Leomi recounts everything that happened from the battle to her encounter with Elizabeth and Celyz, unburdening herself while reinforcing her guilt at the same time and growing even more convinced that she shouldn’t be going anywhere near Jessica.

You realize that Elizabeth admitted that she induced you in error when she asked you to make a choice, right?” Yvonne asks rhetorically. “This entire thing implies that she knows Jessica survived.”

But, I told you all she said, she’s missing!” Leomi protests.
“And you agreed she wouldn’t be that stupid.” The sword-sworn counters.

B, but, what if…” Leomi weakly shakes her head.

She has a lot more information about Jessica than you do and she doesn’t believe that Jessica died.” Yvonne utters firmly. “Elizabeth Vil would be the first to make that claim if she could without lying to free your heart for herself, you know this.”

Elizabeth!” Leomi explodes, sitting up in fury.

She almost immediately falls back down on the bed, holding her temples to whimper in pain. Yvonne sighs in relief, having succeeded in somewhat defusing this crisis by reaching a point where her ward won’t fall back into depression.

Why did it have to come to this madness, Leomi? Couldn’t you just let her fuck your brains out as I told you?” Yvonne asks.

Elizabeth needed to be handled, you should have seen her.” Leomi protests in a whisper.

No matter, you have a choice to make.” Yvonne sighs again, having known from the start that it was unlikely for Leomi to resist the attraction of bending Elizabeth Vil over. “At least, I’m sure she enjoyed it more than even you realize.”

You barely know Liz.” Leomi dismisses.

What about your choice?” Yvonne presses.

Leomi’s face turns to stone, she closes her eyes and pulls the covers over herself, her mind filled with the Jay’s shadow and how it so easily tore her lovable bird apart. She could cry, but she doesn’t allow herself the relief, she’ll learn about Jessica lives or not eventually as she protects nothing.

What did you see when I took the mask off, Leomi? You said something odd.” Yvonne asks, trying to find another angle to keep the conversation going.

How different they are.” Leomi replies, unable to help herself. “Jessica took confidence from our support even as she knew of her own weakness. Liz, is self-assured, sometimes overbearingly so. Jessica only resorted to violence when cornered. Liz has few limits to what she’ll do, if any. Jessica was alone and desperate for mere acceptance without condemnation when we met, she clung to us when she received it. Elizabeth fiercely rejects bindings other than to me, even then it is both solid and shallow. The choice is obvious.”

What do you mean?” Yvonne asks, confused.
“I will have to go with Liz to protect Jessica from Elizabeth’s revenge for a perceived betrayal even though she is the one who betrayed me by making me face this choice.” Leomi utters in a dead tone of voice.

You intend to sacrifice your happiness?” Yvonne asks, baffled.

I can be happy with her.” Leomi lies, knowing that it would be impossible if she gives up on Jessica, which she knows she does not have the strength to. “Jessica can find her way without me, she will even be better off. Elizabeth is as obsessed with me as I am with my Jessica.”

It makes no sense, the best way for you to protect Jessica is to be with her, Leomi.” Yvonne argues, sensing something extremely wrong about Leomi’s current state of mind. “Elizabeth offered you this choice, she’ll live by it if you choose the one you love.”

But what will the consequences of that be?” Leomi asks rhetorically, her feverish mind already convinced that she saw the ultimate ending when the dark shadow consumed her Jay.

Leomi Lance fully intends to go to the meeting point to force Elizabeth to kill her and then pierce her heart with their dagger in return, avoiding any chance of meeting Jessica and entirely avoiding the choice. Once dead, Leomi plans to roam the Lake until her Jay bird spreads her wing and either finds her or leaves her alone there to burn with nothing for eternity.

Leomi, you’re not planning anything foolish, are you?” Yvonne asks, concerned. “This is your chance to get back with Jessica, Elizabeth will have told her of this choice she gave you. What if Jessica is there waiting for you? Will you be able to choose against your heart?”

For Jessica? Anything.” Leomi utters with zealot-like resolve.

The Countess believes that dying in her love’s arms after having removed the Evil threat to her life would be more than Leomi thinks she deserves, the greatest imaginable gift behind nothing. The two of them departing together for the Lake would also satisfy Liz, she has shown her as much.

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In Peace.Ch22 Interlude

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Celyz takes another half-hour to inspect the time construct to make sure it’s safe before asking Jessica to activate it in her body to, once again, ascertain that her body isn’t suffering damage from it.

It seems safe, at least for the short duration it activated.” Celyz concludes.
“Good, but it consumes too much energy, any way to make it usable?” Jessica asks.

You need to translate its function into segments to make a construct with a stable and fixed effect on your perception of time, at which point you should be able to share it with a little more work.” Celyz replies.

Well, I suppose I’ll do that, eventually.” Jessica grunts. “It probably means inventing a whole new core segment.”

It does, but I am confident you will succeed if I spend a few weeks to teach you the basics.” Celyz carefully proposes, grasping to secure what little time they have left together.

The Princess is willing to experience the heartache of their separation if it means that they’ll split closer to one another, increasing her odds to cross paths with Jessica again.

Of course, but I don’t have much to give you in return.” The human replies, looking away in shame.

Your presence itself is plenty enough.” Celyz rasps awkwardly.

Jessica cannot help but smile happily, her right hand slowly rising up to her heart in an unconscious movement. The Princess very closely observes, taking the human’s reaction as a clear sign that her embarrassing words were worth saying.

 

When will you be ready to remove the symbiont?” Jessica suddenly asks.

I, I thought to bring you to Mother to ensure that it goes well.” Celyz hesitantly replies, wrapping her tendrils around her torso to conceal that her mood dropped like a rock at the question.

Jessica is impatient to give Celyz all that she can but only when she is human again, to prove the sincerity of her love to herself and to the Princess. Which she can only do as Leomi allows, which she does even if she isn’t aware of the loophole.

Jessica E. Vil has heard the Countess express that Elizabeth is a being one who seeks her personal pleasure before that of her partners, which means that Leomi likely wouldn’t think Elizabeth would pleasure someone without a return.

“I hope you’re not in a hurry then.” Jessica whispers more to herself than to the Princess, disappointed but unshaken in her resolve.

I shall wait for you.” Celyz affirms with difficulty, resigning herself to the failure of her plan to give herself.

How long?” Elizabeth suddenly asks.

Forever.” Celyz replies in a sigh before steadying herself to give a true response. “However long it takes, I, I may find another but I will not entwine… if that is alright with you.” She adds, knowing that her sorrows may attract some of her sisters from other mothers and that she may need these embraces to withstand the wait.

It‘s… it is not okay.” Elizabeth replies, her selfish heart torn. Celyz’ tendrils squeeze her own trunk, experiencing illogical happiness from the refusal. “No, yes? I… argh. I’m horrible.” Jessica and Elizabeth groan, holding their temples. “Yes, it’s alright, naturally. Just, um, don’t tell me?” They say, debating their last statement inside their one head. “No, do tell me.” Jessica suddenly says. “Because I want to know what makes you happy!” Elizabeth exclaims, making Jessica furiously blush.

Celyz stands immobile in front of her lovable Jessica, falling in love all over again with this human and her struggles to be good even as she wrongly believes herself evil. The Princess considers the pain that she experiences to be a small price to pay as long as the chance that they will be together remains.

Alright.” Celyz agrees in a gentle tone.

Do you, um, do you…” Jessica’s timid voice fades. “You can be more aggressive if you really want me to… have you.” She says, deciding to set her plan to wait aside if the Princess wants her to.

It would make me happier if you did so while following your own desires, I need you to be making moves if I am to retain my hopes for us.” Celyz explains, her tendrils swishing forth to grab this sweet human by the waist. “But, perhaps a kiss would alleviate my impatience.”

The Princess cheats a little with her tendrils as usual, brushing the tips against the human’s clothed body for mere fractions of a second to give her weeks of intense longing to be held some brief relief.

Celyz cares not for Leomi Lance’s demand that Jessica is not to be had but she has to respect her friend’s will to follow through with it. She gives herself this allowance because Jessica’s body is demanding her touch, but ensures that it is not known so that the word she gave not to let herself be taken remains unbroken.

The Princess is aware that the reasoning is somewhat skewed but she cannot help herself, her instincts are relentless in telling her that they both want to hold each other and going against these is not the way of Rykz romance.

I, I can, but you cannot. Is, is that okay?” Jessica stutters, edging closer to Celyz’ trunk.
“It is.” Celyz whispers, pulling the human closer with her tendrils.

You, need to know that… I’ll do all I can to make it work with my Lady.” Jessica tells her, biting her lower lip. “If it does go well, then our future will depend on Leomi and you. I want so bad to give myself to you both but I… I don’t think I should push to make it happen.”

It is fine, I will wait. I have time to spare compared to you, even more by my fault.” Celyz says, releasing Jessica. She escapes her disappointment in failing to obtain a kiss by clinging to her hopes for them, aware that they may only materialize in decades. “I do not wish to hear of that woman any longer.” She adds.

The Princess finds no need to hammer in the fact that the only scenario she can think of in which her tendrils touch Leomi Lance’s body is in an attempt to kill her, a sentiment that the woman likely shares. But she cannot express that to Jessica as she has made her position about threat clear.

Okay.” Jessica says with a difficult expression, resolving to grant Celyz all she can with as much meaning and little doubt as possible.

She hates herself for having felt the need to draw clear lines in the middle of a nice moment but she had to, love’s unfairness has been engraved in her one fatefully night and she refuses to let ‘nothing’ happen again by making the same mistake as Leomi had in refusing to define their relationship.

We should go, the Hiv…” Celyz’ voice dies out as Elizabeth suddenly takes over and pushes Jessica close the distance to deposit a small tender kiss on the center of her belly, which is pretty much as high as she could reach.

The Princess finds herself utterly stricken by the kiss, so much so that she seeks to isolate the two of them further to protect their privacy despite the fact that they’re already alone, resisting a strong impulse to grasp at the human.

Elizabeth watches as her beautiful Rykz slowly, carefully, extends her tendrils upward and out before angling them down around them like a dome of intimate branches.

As the Rykz struggles to process her roiling emotions, the reason why this impulsive kiss hit her so hard, the human’s eyes turn up to her in affection. Celyz suddenly understands, it touched her so much because it came out of the cold, as their mutual attraction faded.

You took me by surprise.” Celyz says, folding her appendages back around her torso. “That was very unfair.”

I know, she’s… I’m probably going to do that again.” Jessica warns in an odd tone.

She?” Celyz asks.

Slip of the tongue. Did you like it?” She questions, looking worried.
“Kisses are very good.” The Princess frantically nods, unable to help herself from looking forward to receiving so much more from her love’s marvelous lips.

Celyz pushes back against her instincts, suddenly heading to the table. She pulls one of the drawers open to pull Jessica’s mask out. She put it through a construct to repair the wood, weakened because of a couple of cracks, and maintained the runic construct. She gently sets it over Jessica’s face.

Am I that ugly?” She pouts, thinking that both her loves seem to want her to keep it on.

Your lips are simply too tempting.” Celyz quickly denies. “There is also the fact that the Hive is leaving soon so we need to go out for the workers to pack all of this.”

Jessica doesn’t reply, feeling giddy about the power of kisses even towards a being that lacks a mouth while Elizabeth is already plotting to use this and Celyz’ open-ended offer to spice up their time together as she awaits the removal of the symbiont.

The two leave the hill together, walking tendril around arm as they cross the Rykz’ camp, which is now a fourth of its previous size. Jessica makes use of the flow that the Princess granted her to make a signaling construct and recreate the work she did as she woke up before it slips her mind.

If you may wait.” Celyz speaks up, unable to help herself. “It will not take long to teach you a more secure and stable signaling construct.”

Is it any better than the one I’m using?” Jessica asks.

It is more secure and stable.” Celyz repeats herself. “I feel like it is a necessary improvement, I had only used this one because the information I gave you was a simple list of commands for the symbiont, which required no manipulation.”

So it’s not.” Jessica smiles, taking the interruption in stride. “You’re so serious and tidy about your work instruments, it’s cute.”

Jessica brings her right arm, around which the tendrils are wrapped, up to her mask to simulate a small kiss. Celyz, whose mind is very much echoing with the word ‘cute’, wishes she hadn’t handed the mask back so soon.

Celyz guides her friend to the scout that was injured in attempting to defend her, showing that it is healing well and resting in a bed. Jessica spends a half-hour with her left hand on its triangular carapaced head, communicating her thanks to the drone under the Princess’ admiring watch.

They then walk south together, spending the afternoon discussing Jessica’s project along with other constructs when they come up. Neither paying much attention to anything other than their conversation.

The other Princesses send hundreds of drones to escort them, from harvesters for close protection to workers for their meals. Celyz and Jessica simply keep walking together while holding appendages. They are not ignoring the Rykz and the occasional humans they come across, they simply don’t notice.

They do awaken to how scatter-headed they’ve been in the middle of the afternoon, when Jessica’s stomach forces them to stop for a meal, that the workers quickly and efficiently prepare.

I’m so glad you agreed to forever.” Jessica speaks up, feeling vulnerable and sentimental from having finally been able to spend an entire afternoon with a friend. “My childhood ended in a wreck as my friends rejected me. I, it’s probably why I refuse to turn you down or let go. It’s cowardly of me but I want to hold onto what few true friends I have, as hard as I can.”

Your childhood may have been your greatest gift. You had every basics down about flow when we met and a strong will born on your independence in having to rely on yourself.” Celyz replies, expressing her admiration. “I thought of you as an operative to count on, then a partner to work with, then a being that took what I gave her to make more out of it than I ever thought of. You can be proud of yourself.”

Thank you.” Jessica murmurs. “Where are we?” She asks.

I do not know.” Celyz chuckles. “Somewhere south, I have not yet asked the scouts.”

Two workers arrive, carrying a small cauldron and bowl. Jessica sits down while Celyz buries her toes into the ground, they start talking while eating, comfortably falling back into their rhythm. They spend the next week lazily traveling south towards Port-Odo, sleeping near each other but always apart.

Jessica and Elizabeth each deliver two kisses on her trunk during their travel. The former does so as a gentle gesture of affection during their conversations which last hours. The latter during the two baths they take together to tease Celyz and build up her expectations without any intention of going further yet, simply savoring the destabilizing effect she has on the Rykz.

Celyz looks forward to each one of those kisses, even as she despairs at how their time alone together is running out without any further development. She soon resigns herself to the fact that she is simply not as attractive as Leomi Lance, that her body is not sexy enough to tempt her strong-willed friend.

They enter Port-Odo with the thousands of drones escorting them. They don’t encounter any difficulty progressing into the streets as the humans clear the way in front of them, there are no cheers for Elizabeth Vil here, but neither are there any heckles.

The population is hesitant about what to think. They are glad that the war is over, and that the Lord they hate was killed, but their city was conquered by the Rykz and then governed by islanders which they resent.

Their new Countess, Grace, has returned to her family’s Keep and seemingly taken power, but the people worry about her ability to protect their independence from the Izla, especially from the very person who killed their previous ruler.

Not to mention the Hospitaliers who the majority believe are a ploy by Izla Meria to seize power, no matter their good deeds in providing healing for merely copper and keeping the peace in the streets.

Under this atmosphere of doubt and fear, it isn’t surprising that the cries directed at Elizabeth Vil aren’t personal but calls for the Izla to leave their city or provocative questions about their intentions.

Jessica’s trust in Leomi doesn’t waver despite the clear signs of disunity among low-born, and the fact that the Council that was supposed to have been established here is simply not being mentioned by the peasants, Grace Odo is the only name she’s hearing them mention.

She decides to fall back on Leomi’s argument that change take time instead of letting herself think that people are simply comfortable being told what to do as long as it benefits them. Neither of the two sides in her wants to take on the task of showing people they don’t need Nobility, they both yearn to rest.

I don’t think I like humans very much.” Jessica grunts as they head to the docks.
“I have found some to be quite alright.” Celyz replies teasingly. “But I am still making my mind up about one Red Dw…”

Don’t you dare say it, I’ll pluck you like a bramble.” Jessica interrupts.

Celyz considers the utter failure of her plan to tempt Jessica and thinks with sadness that she may settle for that at this point. Oblivious to the Princess’ thoughts, Jessica pats her back to lessen the impact of her half-joking threat.

Councilwoman Vil! Dame Vil!” Rowland calls out with his deep voice.

Jessica follows the voice with her eyes, recognizing the man trying to push past Rykz warriors who are using their shields to block him. She throws a quick look at Celyz, which is enough for the Princess to order the drones to step aside.

You probably shouldn’t be calling me that anymore.” Jessica notes. “I’m sure you’ve heard of my exile.”

I have, and I don’t care, you came through on your promise to end the war which is the only result you promised.” Rowland replies firmly, rubbing the scar running from his forehead to his chin, crossing his closed left eye. “I’ve seen battle, anyone blaming you is simply unable to comprehend the choices Izla Meria was faced with.”
“Thanks, that actually means a lot.” Jessica carefully replies, only half-believing the man.

Lady Yvonne has sent me on behalf of Duchess Edusa to tell you that they expect you to attend one of the Councils in either Port-Odo or Meria.” Rowland tells me.

When?” Jessica asks.

Today in Port-Odo, most will likely leave for Izla Meria soon since your sudden absence is the reason they’ve remained.” He replies.

Well, I didn’t plan to just vanish but…” Jessica throws a quick look at Celyz. “I’m busy with a friend right now so I’ll go when I have the time.”

Rowland nods and makes a small bow before hurriedly leaving, uncomfortable about turning his back on the Rykz but unwilling to show it. Celyz resolves to let go of Jessica for now, that trying to whisk her away on a ship and then straight to their Hive in Izla Meria is doomed to fail now that her friend has been reminded that there are still problems to solve.

You should go and find out what it is that they still require of you.” Celyz speaks up with a little bitterness, choosing accusatory words that suit her feelings.

Are you sure?” Jessica asks.

I have disappeared for a week as well.” Celyz sighs. “My sisters are likely a little angry at me.”

Oh. Sorry.” Jessica makes a grimace behind her mask.

It was well worth it.” Celyz waves one of her tendrils to dismiss the apology. “My, kh.” The Princess makes a small embarrassed sound. “Do not forget that my offer has no time limit.”

Trust me, Celyz, I haven’t.” Jessica smiles, pushing down her impulse to run to Leomi to kiss her.

She feels guilty, like she’s betraying both. Yet she refuses to let go of either of them because of her love and loneliness, two emotions that she buried in her childhood but have now taken deep root in her heart.

No matter how much she wishes she could fully trust them, she cannot help but see the degrees of separation between her and her two loves. One is a human Noble, the other a Rykz Princess.

Both hate each other, even if they’ve attained some degree of understanding about Elizabeth. There are so many things that could go wrong that something inevitably will.

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