Alicia was doing her evening exercises at the new inn, while Thomas devoured half a roast turkey by himself. Once he was done eating, he’d probably crawl into the bed and doze for the rest of the night, until he got up in the early morning to go out and play with his street ruffian friends.
Once Alicia had heard from Susie that her hiding spot had been discovered, she’d whisked Thomas away in the middle of the night, relocating them to a place halfway across town.
The inn was a lot nicer than her previous one, and she was fairly confident that they wouldn’t be able to track her, the only problem was, this particular Inn was much more expensive, burning through cash at a staggering rate.
It was fine, though. By selling off a few of her belongings from the mansion, she’d be able to live here for at least four months. Either she would be first chair, or she would be dead in that amount of time, so she wasn’t particularly concerned with the future.
Alicia finished the last lunge then came to a stand, setting Guile against the wall and panting as she took off the Yoke from around her shoulders.
the Yoke was an interesting item the nobility had been bestowed by Royalty a long time ago to aid in imprisoning nobles captured on the battlefield, but it had recently come into vogue to use it to exercise.
It was a heavy, loose iron collar that settled around her shoulders and suppressed her physical attributes, temporarily making her as weak as a commoner, allowing her to exercise without having to resort to lifting enormous weights or breaking the surrounding environment.
The Yoke nudged against her necklace, the Maiden’s Charm around her neck as she lifted it over her shoulders. She’d bought it on a whim the day before. As the charm against pregnancy brushed against her skin, she briefly remembered the thoughts that had prompted the impulse buy.
I’m not planning on having sex with him. Other girls my age are wearing them, and it’s best to be prepared and fit in. Better safe than sorry. Yes. It’s just the thing to do.
She briefly recalled the boy’s wry grin, easy confidence, like nothing in the world mattered to him, and the staggering power he could bring to bear. Enough to compete with a noble family by himself. Enough to win a battle against a creature of legend without batting an eye.
Spending time with Edward had Alicia discovering new things about herself. One thing she’d uncovered out recently: She found power attractive.
Agh, not thinking about this!
She slammed the heavy iron collar on the table beside her and sat down beside Thomas.
“I’m done, Al,” he said, patting his stomach and leaping into the goose-down comforter, snoring in moments.
Alicia waved him off, sweat trickling down her temple as she cut off a slice of the dry meat and chewed it while staring at the table.
Now it was time for the second exercise of the night: the one Edward had taught her.
She tried to focus on individual strands of mana, concentrating on isolating them and plucking them free from their surroundings.
It felt like she was trying to tug threads of silk out of a fine cloth with steelworker’s gloves on. She couldn’t feel much, but occasionally she saw a twitch of mana, and was able to suss it out.
Alicia’s entire being was focused on the mana flowing through and around the table when the door burst open, sending splinters of wood clattering across the smooth floor.
Six masked men streamed through the doorway, swords drawn, their attention on her.
Alicia looked up, almost unable to shake off the stupor of kneading mana out of the environment.
They found me!
Suddenly Alicia knew how they’d found her, as she spotted one of Thomas’s friends in the grip of the last man to come into the room.
Alicia glanced at her sword, which was by the door. There was no way they would let her get close to it, and she couldn’t stay seated either.
She put her foot on the table braced against the wall and shoved away, landing in the bed beside Thomas.
She grabbed her brother by his shirt and kicked open the window.
“Al, what’s-” Thomas’s question was cut off by a yelp as she threw him out onto the balcony. He should be able to jump down to the street and escape with ease.
“Run, Tom.” She bit the words out before jumping off the bed just ahead of the whistling strike of one of the assassins.
She landed feet first on the wall and jumped, taking advantage of the high ceilings to sail over their heads, aiming for her sword.
One of the bigger men was faster than she expected, jumping five feet in the air to intercept her, bringing his longsword across with a vicious strike.
A surge of adrenaline lending her speed, Alicia wildly kicked the ceiling, propelling herself down to the to the ground to the sound of crunching wood.
A sharp pain spread from her right thigh as she rolled away from her landing point, barely ahead of the downward swing of the men crowding around her.
“Looks like we found her,” she heard someone say, followed by the crack of breaking bone and the sound of a child’s body hitting the floor. Alicia was too busy to look, but she knew they’d just broken the young boy’s neck.
“You could bounce a credit off that ass.” Said another as he snatched up Guile just ahead of Alicia’s reaching fingers. Alicia burned with anger, but she couldn’t stay in one place to hit the man with her elbow, swinging at her as he was.
“I don’t care what you do with the corpse, but don’t play with her while she’s still alive. You can have all the whores you want once this is done.”
Alicia rolled to the left, out of the way of another sword strike, feeling like a nobleman’s Gant-ball, bouncing around the room at disorienting speeds.
She felt a flare of pain as her back caught the table with a crack, breaking the table and sending the tableware tumbling to the floor.
Alicia’s mind barely stopped to catch up as she snatched up the fork and knife, flicking them both at the nearest masked man, who batted them out of the air.
“Stupid girl, Never-“
He was cut off by screeching wood as Alicia tore the table leg free and slammed it into the side of his head, sending the table flying and filling the room with shards of broken glass.
Fuck, Alicia thought as she dove into the shuddering corpse. Now there’s glass on the floor, and I’m the only one not wearing shoes.
She used the twitching corpse as a springboard and came away with his sword in her right hand, a table leg in her left.
“Come if you want to die, amateurs.” Alicia growled.
Rather than stand and fight, Alicia threw her table leg at one, blocked a second with the dead man’s sword, and somersaulted backward out of the third man’s attack, landing behind the king sized bed.
“HAH!” Alicia shouted, kicking the underside of the bed with everything she had and flipping the heavy oak frame on its side, sending the mattress careening into two of the charging assassins.
Alicia ignored the pain in her shin and the glass in her feet, lunging forward and stabbing through the mattress, feeling her pilfered blade strike flesh twice on the other side of the goose down.
Alicia dodged backward before a hapless third man tried to return the blind strike through the mattress.
The heavy oak frame teetered for a moment before slamming back to the ground, clearing Alicia’s view of the room.
One assassin was twitching on the ground, while another had been pierced through the neck. A third lay beside the bed, clutching his bleeding stomach.
One was pulling his sword from the mattress while the other two were trying to flank around her.
“And then there were three.” She said, projecting an iron voice through the room, mustering all of her nerve and giving them her fiercest glare. If she could get them to run away after losing half their number, that would be ideal, since if she started moving again she was sure they would see her limp.
“Damn,” came a voice from the corner of the room, where Edward was sitting on one of her room’s chairs, nursing a mug of cider. “That was cool. Hey, once you’re done with these guys, I need your help getting all my ducks in a row.”
The three assassin’s heads whipped around to face the unknown man.
“No witnesses!” the leader said, raising Guile over his head.
Alicia saw a flash of intricate green and purple mana an instant before six darts manifested in front of Edward and shot forward, burying themselves in his attacker’s eyes. The three of them slumped forward simultaneously, their blades clattering to the floor.
That’s power. Alicia thought, butterflies tickling her stomach.
“I guess we’re done here,” Edward said with a shrug. He lifted his mug again then paused for a moment, squinting toward the balcony where Thomas stood, a stain of urine on the little boy’s pants.
“We can take your brother. I know a place where he’ll be safe.” Then he drank.
“What about Jacob, um…sir?” Thomas asked.
“What about him?” Edward asked, motioning to an empty spot on the floor. “I got to him before he died. A broken neck is fast, but not instantaneous. He left about eight seconds ago.”
“Are you a god?”
“No, but I work for one.” Edward clicked his tongue. “Two.”
“I’d rather not stay somewhere of your choosing,” Alicia said, straightening her spine and taking a step forward. She would find another place to stay that wasn’t under Edward’s control.
Her cracked shin sent her down on one leg with a hiss of pain.
“Oh, you’re hurt.” Edward said, standing and dragging the chair closer to her.
Is it the angle or did he get taller? Alicia, half desperate to save face, and half curious to measure Edward’s height, stood again, putting all her weight on her good leg.
He is taller! In the days since the wiretap expedition, Edward had grown an inch and a half! Alicia’s eyes traveled from the boy’s scalp to his piercing, bright blue eyes, which she could swear were a shade lighter, and his jaw that had strengthened.
He looks even better than- nope, not going there. She cut the thought off. What the hell?
“Here,” Edward said, sitting on the chair in front of her and patting his knee. “Show me the wound and I’ll fix it.”
Without thinking, Alicia sat on his knee and raised her leg to show him the swelling shin. White threads of mana detached themselves from the air around her, sinking into her injured bone. Watching the power she coveted being commanded so effortlessly brought a strange sensation bubbling up from inside. Then the healing started.
The sudden contrast between the sharp pain and the icy relief of the spell erasing her wound drew a faint moan from her lips. She came back to herself with a startled twitch, conscious of the warmth of Edward’s body on her back, and the sudden warmth between her legs… and her younger brother peering at her with a raised brow.
“I think he meant for you to put your foot on his knee.” Thomas said dryly.
“True, but I’m not complaining,” Edward said, leaning past her torso to inspect her foot, Forcing a girlish yelp out of her as he grabbed it and making it difficult to stand up again.
Alicia’s face was blessedly out of Edward’s line of sight, because she felt like it was going to catch fire.
What is wrong with me, a boy pats his knee and I sit and stay like a dog!? Of course he just wanted to see the leg! Alicia’s palm felt like ice on her burning face. It wasn’t so much the physical contact, or sitting on the leg that bothered her, it was the way she had done it without thinking, perching on him like a tamed animal.
The embarrassment distracted her from the throbbing pain as Edward began picking glass shards out of her foot.
“Could you do me a favor and find your sister’s shoes in this mess? Without getting glass in your feet.”
“Sir.” Thomas said, saluting.
“Don’t just do as he says!” Alicia snapped.
Thomas paused. “You don’t want your shoes?”
Alicia blinked and took a deep, calming breath. “It’s fine, just…don’t jump at any order he gives you just to please him.”
Thomas blinked, and a fraction of a second later, the irony of her phrasing caught up with her. Munasei, curse you for stealing my ability to think clearly!
A minute later, the last of the glass was out of her foot and she was easing her shoes on. She stood up slowly, wiggling from side to side gingerly to settle her feet into her tall black leather boots. Wiggling because her boots were being difficult, definitely not because she enjoyed how Edward couldn’t take his eyes off her butt resting on his knee.
“Like what you see?” She whispered as she shifted, straightening her legs and bending down to start her other boot.
“Now I know you’re doing that on purpose.” Edward murmured, his voice quiet enough to escape Thomas’s hearing.
“Does it bother you?” She asked, inwardly grinning as she shifted to her other boot, keeping one eye on his reactions as she slipped back and forth on his leg. It felt good to be doing things on purpose rather than getting swept up in her base urges. Really good.
“Less than you might think.”
“Good.” Alicia said. Because that’s all you get. She stood and walked over to Guile, retrieving the rapier and strapping it to her belt.
Thomas was waiting outside when Alicia turned back to Edward, who was standing, finally released from her weight. The boy was relaxed, tucking his hand in his pocket, watching her expectantly.
I wonder.... She thought mischievously. Is he hiding something?
“You ready to go?”
“Alright, let’s head out.” He said, heading for the entrance.
When they were side by side, he pulled his hand out of his pocket to open the door, and Alicia’s gaze flitted down without thinking, landing on the lump in Edward’s pants.
Gah, I looked at it!
Alicia fixed her eyes forward, struggling to keep down a victorious smile. Got him! Take that! she thought, the warmth between her legs redoubling as she fought the urge to look again.
The butterflies were back.