Chapter 96 – Drafted

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I have an annoying skin condition. At least twice a day, I must either bathe for at least fifteen minutes or coat my skin with Water mana for about an hour. The baths are better, I suppose. Not only do they take less time, if I mess up the mana trick even a little bit, I end up sopping wet from head to toe. That happened to Tiana several times while journeying with the Hero’s Party. The reason was never explained in the books. It was just a weird, inexplicable thing that happened to Tiana, which she refused to explain. Fans thought of it as either a bit of quirky comic relief or a weird failed attempt at fan service.

But baths are only an option when I’m somewhere like my home.

What’s going on? It’s pretty simple. Mortal beings are made entirely of matter, but magical beings (fairies and elementals) are half-and-half matter and manifested mana. Monstrous and Demonic beings are partially mana as well.

For the Greater Fairies, the mana is an even distribution of all elements. But for the other fairy races, it’s mostly comprised of one or two elements. For example, plants need light but trees create shadows, so spriggans, huldras and dryads are both light and darkness mana. Sylphs are Wind and Aether mana. Flumens are Wind and Water. Nereids are Wind, Water and Darkness.

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But naiads are almost exclusively water mana, with only a small serving of Light on the side.

Mother inherited the characteristics of a greater fairy from her father, so she is considered one herself, but her mother is a naiad. A pure naiad has to remain in direct contact with her pond or her stream for at least sixteen hours a day. She can change bodies of water, but if the travel time is more than eight hours she must use complicated workarounds to preserve her body.

Thanks to her parentage, Mother’s mana is badly skewed toward water too. She needs an hour, twice a day, provided she can completely submerge herself in it. More than one newbie maid over the years has gone into a panic after  discovering Mother in the tub lying completely underwater, thinking that the mistress had drowned. If she sits with her upper body out of the water, she can manage with two or so hours at a time, so she usually reads reports from Pendor while lounging about in her bathtub.

I wonder what her vassals and retainers would think if they knew that Her Grace reads their letters in the nude?

It works best for her if it’s fresh water, but saltwater works, too. Without water, she begins rapidly drying out. She can stave off the condition by continuously circulating Healing mana, or she can use the same mana trick as myself. In fact, she’s the one who came up with the trick,  except, for her, it has to be continuous for two hours and she can only use it for a couple days before it stops working for her. Eventually, my mother must get back into the water so she can rest and recover.

I’m better off in that respect. Being part vampire, I have Darkness and Wind replacing part of the Water in the mana portion of my body. Darkness renews in my sleep, as long as the room is dark or I’m under a sufficiently opaque blanket. Wind is, frankly, just air, so I soak up manifested Wind with every breath. But Water mana only manifests naturally inside water. Steam or ice would work but for pretty obvious reasons aren’t practical (although Mother loves steam baths anyway.) I have to submerge in the stuff for best results.

That being said, the current situation was kind of annoying. Because the regular-sized bath in the house really didn’t contain enough water, I needed the mana-coating technique to supplement it, like I do when I’m away from home. I waited until after lunch for a good reason. The period after lunch was ‘Electives Hour’. After the nobility and their attendants cleared out, the royals and I would be using the Royal Lounge as our tutorial room. If I messed up there, I would be among those who understood my problem.

Once the other nobles were off to their own classes, I began summoning water mana and circulating it. It’s a simple process, and frankly, it’s the reason I learned how to coat objects with mana in the first place. Letting it manifest on my skin, then letting it soak into my body, is the identical process to manifesting Earth mana on the surface of a blade for strengthening, or on my skin for body fortification. I could even start a fire despite never mastering the [Candle Flame] spell, but carrying an ordinary firestarting tool was less risky. My firestarting technique is a bit like a [Fireball] that doesn’t move, if I slip up.

Neither Rod nor Ged had been present during lunch. I understand Rod usually hides in the student council room and Ged hides in his office in the student commandery. They are avoiding noble daughters pestering them while they are trying to eat their lunches.

Rod and his attendants finally appeared a few minutes after the bell tolled the hour.

A couple tutors who I recognized from my lessons at the Palace came in at the same time, but before they could even greet us, Ged appeared and beckoned for me from the door while telling them, “Lady Tiana won’t be attending today.”

“What?” Rod retorted before I could. “I was looking forward to this, Ged!”

We’re supposed to study, Rod. What exactly were you planning on doing? I wondered.

Ged told him, “Father gave me the authority to draft her and Lady Chiara into the student guard if needed. Something’s come up.”

“Then I’m going, too,” Rod declared.

“Not until your swordmaster clears you. This is dangerous, Rod.”

“Then don’t involve Ti!”

“She’s a royal knight. She could mop up the floor with me and you together, one-handed. Where’s Lady Chiara, Milly?”

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‘Milly’ is Ged-speak for Amelia.

“She and my maids are taking their own electives this hour, Elder Brother,” she noted.

The lounge has its own wait staff and a pair of knights guarding it. It was a good opportunity, so I made mine take their own electives as well.

Ged scowled at the news, but nodded.

“Come on,” he told me and disappeared from the door. I gave the others a quick curtsey and hurried to follow him.

Now I was worried. Doing my trick while sitting and studying was one thing. Doing it while walking and otherwise being more active was another. But I’ve developed good sensitivity to my skin’s condition. I could tell it would start drying out soon if I didn’t, so I kept it going.

His attendant, Sir Topas, had been standing just outside the door. He flanked me on the other side from Ged the moment I caught up.

My height is six spans, seven inches, Royal. According to my self-invented conversion from Orestanian to US units, that’s five foot four US. The men walking to each side of me were probably over six foot. I felt a bit dwarfed, stuck between them like this.

“What’s the emergency?” I wondered.

“I will explain when we get there,” Ged answered. “Where no ears can overhear.”

I nodded and followed him out the door of the Main Hall, the home of the administrative offices and most of the Upper School lecture halls. The parade grounds, behind the Main Hall, were filling with the Aerial Equitation class at that time. Cord would be somewhere in there among the beginner students. The more advanced students were introducing the noobs to the stymphalian birds that this school uses for flying beasts.

Personally, I find stymphalians a little gross. Handlers have to use special spells to keep them from defecating until they reach a space designated for the purpose. Their dung is a contact poison, although it is in high demand as fuel for smithy forges.  The same spells can make them defecate on demand over the battle field, so they’re used as bombers. They aren’t as agile as other flying beasts, but they are easier to ride and cheaper to keep than wyverns or hippogryphs, which probably explains their presence as training mounts.

We were headed past them when Ged finally explained, “I’m going to have you join the demon patrol.”

“Demon patrol?” I echoed, a little surprised. “Here?”

“I happen to know you already encountered an extremely dangerous one, not too many miles from here. And she was traced back at least as far as an abandoned farmstead a short distance out of town.”

Right. Trisiagga. But…

“I ran into her in Cara Ita, Big Brother. She’s not in the area anymore.”

“We have signs of other demons. And we’ve had victims touched with demonic corruption. The hideout the knights found here was not their nest.”

“‘Demonic Corruption’?” I echoed the unfamiliar term.

“It’s a demonologist term. It just means miasma that’s mingled with manifested demonic mana. It’s harder to purify and has more effects than common miasma.”

Demonic mana is very specific to demons. It’s only found in them or things they have affected, and it powers the particular magics that only demons can do.

I’ve seen the blend of mana and miasma Ged was describing before, but this was my first time hearing a specific word to describe the stuff.

“So we’re going to look for demons?”

“You will be doing that after school,” he answered. “I wasn’t going to bother you with it until you had settled in at school, but something’s come up.”

“What?”

“A girl was attacked by a vampire during morning classes.”

- my thoughts:

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If I rewrite Substitute Hero for print publication, I'm definitely putting the info about Tiana's grandmother in earlier. While I was writing a scene a number of chapters further on where it became important, I realized I had never mentioned this detail before.

Suddenly bringing it up right when it's important felt a little gimmicky, so I decided to come back and rewrite from here, since this was the furthest back point that I hadn't posted yet where it was practical to mention it. It's still a little late in the game, though.

By the way, Stymphalian birds are from Greek mythology, and specifically they are the sixth labor of Heracles (aka Hercules). And yes, in the myth, their poop is indeed poisonous.

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