I examine the room for tricks Aisha could’ve left behind but find none which doesn’t especially reassure me. I find it somewhat odd she would come find me after how our last conversation went but our relationship went sour last time as well and we could still cooperate.
This is a good chance to use her knowledge to take back my writings and I really don’t like the idea of Teva dying to cover up the Vault as well as my mistake in trusting her.
You’re madder than I am, sis, you’re taking responsibility for her betrayal. She made good points about Lance and she only turned on me because she misunderstood, she doesn’t deserve death. I agree that we should act, I’m just saying.
I shake my head and prepare to respond but Liz returns to her slumber before I can. I sigh and walk up to the chest containing the Little one to make sure this wasn’t all an elaborate play to steal it for Suxen. As I open it, I find the symbiont sprawled inside over the layer of black-brown soil, napping on a layer of half-melted bones.
“Lazy weed, you and sis are truly one of the same kind.” I berate while experiencing a rush of tenderness for Leomi who clearly began overfeeding it. “Is it getting fat?” I mutter aloud as I start poking the rubbery flesh.
The Little one tries to chase my finger away with a tendril but it quickly gives up and starts twirling as if tickled to the brink. I keep prodding it for fun and also to ascertain its size, noticing it grew bigger as all its appendages try to stop me.
The symbiont begins shaking violently after a while so I stop and its tendrils finally flap down on the chest’s lid. It’s definitely playing dead. I chuckle and leave it alone as I set up a series of alarm constructs around the room, not that they would do anything to prevent Aisha from showing up unannounced again.
With that done, I make my way to the kitchen to grab a whole pot of stew for at least five and return upstairs with it as well as a platter of dishes that I carry with my flow.
As climb the stairs, I hear Leomi and Yvonne’s voices as a door closes. A crafty idea stirs my lips as I hurry over. I use a strand of golden energy to open the door and step inside.
Leomi turns around, her pure white hair brushing against her shoulders as her silvery eyes lock onto mine. My heart shivers as our gazes touch but I control my love and return her smile. The jay on her shoulder inclines its head.
I approach her with a spry gait. She’s wearing her Hospitalier uniform and her mutilated left hand is bandaged still. She glances to my messy hair and makes a slight frown that disappears as she opens her arms to welcome me.
I reveal a teasing smirk and she pauses. I control my energy to place the platter of dishes on her left palm and hang the pot of food in her right hand. Leomi’s puzzled expression stiffens as I bypass her to walk up to Yvonne standing a step behind her.
“You’re healed.” I comment with a grin, having noticed that her cheeks are no longer pale.
“I am.” She nods with a smile and a curious pout. “Are you ignoring your fiancee?”
Her straightforward question almost trips me up but it takes me only a moment to understand she is being proactive in case we have a conflict so she can mediate.
“Uh!” I exclaim childishly with a nod before rushing to her.
Yvonne blinks in surprise as I launch myself into her arms. Leomi stands frozen where she is with the food and dishes in her hands. I get up on the tips of my toes and kiss my best friend straight on the lips. Her surprise allows me to savor her. She feels as soft and tender as a peach.
The tiny high-pitched noise coming from my fiancee reaches my ears but I ignore it as I push my forehead against Yvonne’s. My best friend finally responds with a brief affectionate push back.
I pull away and take a breath as I rest my head against her ample breasts. Yvonne’s arms wrap protectively around my waist, giving me a feeling of safety. I throw a very quick glance at Leomi. She is glaring at us with pale cheeks and wide eyes.
“What’s up, sweetie?” Yvonne asks me with a gentle smile.
“I wanted a hug.” I reply.
“Jess.” Leomi utters, her voice pinched between her teeth.
I turn around in Yvonne’s embrace and face Leomi with a smirk, causing her to grip her fists. My best friend squeezes me in a tight hug as if to provoke her ward. Lance starts shaking but barely manages to keep her cool.
“Why did you want a hug?” Yvonne asks.
“Comfort.” I reply as I make a pitiful expression. Leomi wavers, her lithe fingers loosening. “My fiancee doesn’t satisfy me anymore.” I mutter with a low voice.
Lance’s hands immediately close back into fists and she turns livid with anger. Her glare feels like it could pierce through me so I turn away and bury my face in Yvonne’s left shoulder.
“Eeh.” I yelp shyly, feigning fright.
“Jessica!” Leomi erupts in outrage.
“But it’s true! You don’t please me!” I protest, acting wronged.
“Aww, you poor thing.” Yvonne murmurs as she caresses my messy hair.
“Yvonne, I swear by the Lake that if you don’t hand her over, I’ll be spanking you instead.” Lance utters with a chill in her voice.
I feel my best friend shudder and notice that a touch of pink takes over her cheeks but, to Yvonne’s credit, she doesn’t let go of me and tightens her grip despite this being a prank. A furious blush takes over my cheeks as I realize this means Lance definitely told her about what she did to me.
“Don’t you touch my best-friend, you bully!” I exclaim while pointing straight at my fiancee.
Leomi opens and closes her mouth like a fish out of water, apparently stunned. Her fists end up loosening as her shoulder fall. Yvonne chuckles as she picks me up to carry me over to a chair where she sits down and places me on her knees. I wrap my arm around her neck.
“As your best-friend, should I help out?” Yvonne asks while her hands wander to my thighs.
“Enough, please.” Leomi mutters, looking defeated. “What do you want, Jess?”
“Hmph.” I grunt while turning away. Yvonne’s hands start getting busy.
“Iiiirrh.” Lance whines with a pleading expression.
“Alright, fine.” I say, putting an end to the farce because my best-friend’s touch is tickling rather than exciting. I would have stopped earlier if she could arouse me anyway.
“Aw.” Yvonne mutters without letting me go.
“If either Leomi or I lose it, we both do, honey.” I frankly tell her as I lock eyes. “If that happens, you ain’t getting out of this room unscathed.”
The sword-sworn holds my gaze, apparently unwilling to let Leomi go and wishing to tease me as well. Well, fine, Yvonne can always say ‘no’ to make us stop after all. As if reading my thoughts, she breaks eye-contact and lets go of me.
I smile, almost certain Yvonne did this because she knows herself well. She wouldn’t want to destroy the mood if we got going so it’s best to stop now, before her curiosity kicks in while she has apprehensions and isn’t attracted to us.
“You little minx, using me and throwing me aside as you like.” Yvonne complains like a scorned lover as I get off her lap.
“Are you two done flirting?” Leomi asks with a cold tone.
I throw her a single look and find her trembling with fury. Uh, oh. Liz? Hrm. Now is not the time to be lazy, sis! I receive no answer so I raise my hand up as a peace offering to buy time. Lance stomps over and snatches my wrist with threats of ecstasy in her silvery eyes. Liz!
“What’s with the ruckus?” Liz grumbles while blinking to chase away her sleepiness.
“Our fiancee is bullying me, sis!” I hurriedly exclaim before Leomi can speak.
“She’s lying.” Leomi flatly denies. “Jess is the one bullying me right now.”
“Don’t bully my sister, Lance.” Elizabeth replies in the same tone. “We have a date, tonight maybe, or tomor…” Yvonne and Lance stare at me in silence, expecting me to finish.
“Uh.” I awkwardly speak up. “She fell asleep again.”
“In the middle of talking?” Yvonne asks with a peculiar expression.
“Yea.” I confirm.
“Ghrm.” Lance grunts. “Lucky you.” She tells me, letting go of my wrist.
Oh… and don’t believe for a moment I don’t know you pushed her to the point where she was going to ravage you only to back off because you love her bullying. I feel my cheeks catch fire from being exposed.
“Lucky me? Lucky you!” I say while glaring at Leomi, feeling vexed by my sister’s comment.
My sudden aggressivity stuns my fiancee so I take advantage to push her in a chair and drop in an adjacent one. She reaches out to grab my hand but I avoid her grip and reverse the situation by grasping hers.
“No complaining.” I warn her. “Liz ruined my fun.”
“You deserve it.” Leomi mutters.
“So, where are all my alarm constructs?” Yvonne cuts in.
“Aisha passed by, let’s talk while we eat.” I tell her.
I pull the pot Leomi places on the table while they set the dishes and serve their bowls. I tell them of the short conversation I had with Spy and let them digest this new development.
“I’m going, and it’s not negotiable.” I tell them after a while. “I owe her and the long-standing agreement I have with Spy isn’t one I’m willing to breach… yet.”
Silence follows my words, the two of them likely surprised by my serious and sober declaration. I keep eating as they gather their thoughts. Leomi’s fingers quickly find a strand of white hair to twirl and my attention falls to that.
“What about that army you gathered? There’s a thousand camped in the east now.” Leomi asks without protesting at all, surprising me.
“They’re little more than bait for Cenwalh.” I coldly tell them. “They’ll fight for Telnur and obtain a chance to grow stronger as I promised but I otherwise have no plans to rely on them.”
“Bait?” Yvonne questions.
“Now that I have a force to my name, Cenwalh will see me as the leader of this army and treat me as such rather than one of your subordinates or a single warrior. It alleviates the threat of assassination and political plotting.” I explain. “He will, wrongly, believe that his best option to get rid of me is to act in treachery to the Empire by either attacking us directly or creating a situation where we die to the Lisilese.”
“… are you sure?” Yvonne asks with a frown. “It isn’t prudent to think it’ll allow you to provoke Cenwalh with small acts because you trick him into thinking he can only get rid of you with a big move.” She says, showing off her smarts.
“Of course I’m not sure.” I say with a smile. “It’s simply a safeguard that doesn’t cost me much to organize, I won’t be relying on it.”
“I can’t let you go alone.” Leomi straightforwardly tells me.
“I understand.” I nod to her, knowing she cannot let me go with my heart in such a fragile state. “But I will have to act by myself…” I pause. “I’m going to need a halberd too. A balanced one, not one of those you have right now.”
“Balanced?” Leomi asks with a soft voice. “Spike or hammer?”
“You already made some?” I probe. “Hammer, spikes would get caught on stuff more often.”
“Damn.” Lance swears. “I’ll have it done.”
“You thought of this but not that, eh?” I chuckle.
“My smiths, not me.” She denies.
I nod and keep eating as my eyes run over the room, only now noticing that this inn isn’t the kind of place my fiancee would pick. I realize, as I stare at my stew, that she most definitely picked this inn for me.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” I ask Leomi, thinking of our promise that after taking revenge we would take some time alone together.
“After diner, yes, that would be great.” Lance replies with a carefree smile.
That single smile makes me pause. While my fiancee can undoubtedly deal with my teasing, I wouldn’t have believed she could do so without some remnant anger yet the fact is she clearly has.
“You’ve changed.” I say with a frown, displeased that I missed this. “What happened?”
“Hm, not much.” Leomi replies. “I’ll tell you later.” I nod and continue eagerly devouring my meal until I’m so full I can’t handle any more.
“Aren’t you forgetting Lady Dun’s invitation?” Yvonne asks Leomi after a while.
“Delia and Fallone will keep her company.” Lance dismisses.
“Did you reach an agreement with them?” I ask. “And how big are your forces now?”
“I did, thanks to your deal with Arkur.” Leomi replies. “They lost their leverage after we dealt with Roskal so they could only agree to work under me because they don’t have the funding they need. Including their ten thousand, I’ve managed to recruit around fifteen thousand so I have twenty-five thousand soldiers under my command but their quality varies wildly.”
“Is that enough?” I question.
“It should be but who knows.” Lance mutters with a look of worry. “At the latest news from last week, the Lisilese were probing all three bridges and two shallows leading to Telnur while a large force of cold bloods has been seen headed for Trident Hill.”
“That’s not great, huh.” I mutter.
“I don’t know, the Rykz seem unprepared to deal with the Emperor’s attack so perhaps the Lisilese are as well.” Leomi shakes her head as she speaks, doubting her own words. “The Rykz almost obliterated a Phalanx and used scorched earth tactics but haven’t made much progress since then so I’m inclined to believe that those two moves as well as the Silver Hive attacking Izla Meria were meant to buy time.”
“We aren’t yet able to affect these things, don’t worry about it.” I tell her.
“You aren’t, I am.” Leomi replies as she sticks out her tongue.
“Let’s go.” I tell her as I roll my eyes.
I steal a hundred portions from her reserve and create a stairway to the sky out of golden flow outside the inn. Leomi smiles and holds her left hand out. I get up and gently take hold of it to lead her out through the window.
We step on the staircase under the gazes of a few hundred people looking out their houses in amazement. I create and destroy golden steps as we climb higher and higher into the sky. The jay on Leomi’s shoulder takes off to glide around us in small circles.
“You seem at peace.” I note.
“I am, towards you.” Lance speaks up with a soft voice. “But I’m boiling inside for myself and the future.” She adds with a fierce voice.
Her confident tone gives me an odd feeling of losing grasp of her, as if my weakness is causing her to slip away. I experience the need to take her to reaffirm myself but know I cannot as my sister has staked her claim.
All I can do is reach out and so I do, grasping around her lithe waist to set my hand on the chiseled muscles of her belly concealed under her shirt. Leomi lets out a soft laugh, showing she read my feelings.
We slowly stroll across the sky as I create and destroy the staircase. Lance lays her left arm around my shoulders, letting her mutilated hand rest on my stump. Her peaceful expression makes me feel a sense of trepidation.
“Mother wanted me to live fully by choosing my path and so I shall.” Leomi murmurs as she peers at the discreet stars in the night sky. “My failure in helping you and meeting the Emperor helped me understand that what truly matters are individuals more than their origins.” She adds.
“So what will you do?” I ask.
“I’ll first wish for you to be free as you are but remember that I will always be the threat that defines this freedom.” She teasingly replies.
“No life without death.” I murmur, smiling. “How self-assured. Have you grown more powerful?”
“I can now challenge you at your peak.” Lance reveals, stunning me.
I recall her fight with Roskal and understand that she may not be wrong. Her jay is a zone of absolute control that obeys her preferably to me which means that she can theoretically counter any construct I throw at her.
Added to the bird are all the constructs she knows as well as the blood construct and palm construct I taught her, meaning she can definitely hold her own without even mentioning her martial abilities.
“What I will do is expand the Hospitaliers in the image of my ideals while also strengthening myself personally so that one day I can defeat you completely and then set you free.” Leomi reveals her ambition to subdue me without shame. “By the way, how would one beat you?” She asks with a facetious wink. I chuckle, savoring the fear I hold for her in my heart.
“Attack my reputation, as long as you undermine that then I’ll eventually fall in your hands if you play your cards right.” I truthfully tell her.
“Really?” She asks with a frown, clearly stunned I answered her.
“Yea.” I confirm.
“But you don’t care about reputation.” She probes, believing me but holding some doubts.
“I don’t care about money but that doesn’t mean I don’t need coin.” I reply with a shrug. “My plans hinge on our reputations at the moment, you, me, and sister’s.” I tell her. “It won’t always be the case but it is right now so you could exploit that weakness to destroy my ambitions, I would suggest allying with whoever rules Telnur to ensure I would eventually be your prisoner.”
“Dammit Jess.” Leomi swears. “Knowing this is going to torment me.”
“Yea, it is, you shouldn’t have asked.” I acknowledge with a laugh, fully aware that she can’t use this information yet the temptation remains.