When I went to bed, the guards dimmed the lighting for sleep (but not a lot, because they needed to see us at all times, per orders), but I woke to full illumination.
Since the cell only held one bed, Genette was quietly snoozing right beside me, with her wolf ears twitching a bit. Dreaming, I presume. Fortunately, the bed had been selected with aristocrats in mind, so it was easily wide enough for two women.
But this was the not-awake-and-not-asleep non-reality that indicated a certain angel’s visits. If I could describe it as anything, it was a little like a lucid dream… except somehow different.
I sat up, and stared with confusion at the guards, who appeared to be awake and perfectly capable of seeing the inexplicable extra pair of women seated at my table. The guards were showing no indication of having noticed them. On previous visits, any unrelated people had been asleep like Genette.
“They see only a pair of women asleep in the bed,” the HR Manager stated as she closed the book she had been reading. Had her tastes changed? The glimpse I caught looked like a manga.
There was no point in knowing how such an illusion would work. A powerful mage could pull it off with advanced illusion magic, but I could feel no Light or Darkness mana flow. Some completely different mechanism was at work.
When I swung my legs over the side of the bed, the enormity of the evening’s memories came back and hit me like Truck-san all over again.
I had been more-or-less numb from the time Rod left until I went to bed. Even through the process of signing the documents that Rod’s attendant knight had brought with him, complete with signatures of the three witnesses, cosigned by said knight as an officer of the crown, my mind had maintained a state of neutral observership.
But now the confusion began. Why had I so easily sworn the engagement vows?
“Your fiancé rushed the engagement in order to protect you. Perhaps you subconsciously understood this?”
“My mind was blank!”
I mean, I had already accepted that I was going to do it, so it wasn’t unbelievable, but I thought I needed the entire two upcoming weeks to prepare my nerves for the ceremony. For an Atian, a betrothal is a lot more serious than in the US. I was as good as married, now.
Living together and doing that were still illicit acts until the temple consecrated our marriage via the wedding rites, and, even though fifteen was technically old enough, nobility observed a customary minimum age of seventeen for that wedding. Ostensibly, I was still betrothed, not married.
But to get out of it now required a divorce. Despite that, Rod had barely needed to coax me at all. Why?
I still didn’t even know how I was going to handle the bedroom when it came to that. On the whole, I felt more attraction to girls, although there had been several cases of evidence recently that my Tiana side was still attracted to certain guys. But there was a wide gap between such momentary feelings and me actually being able to do it.
“Lubricants are available, should you require them,” the HR manager noted. “You can purchase some from your courtesan acquaintance.”
I think even my toes blushed. Did Dana deal in stuff like that, too?
“She carries aids for intercourse and self-stimulation in the back.”
“Even if you’re going to read my mind, can you edit your responses, please?!” I nearly yelled. “And that isn’t the main issue!”
Now that I was glaring at her, I realized her companion was not the R&D girl this time. The woman seated in the chair on the far side of the table was clad in, of all things, a kimono. One of those super-long-sleeved ones. Hers was purple and printed with what looked like huge plumeria blossoms. She wasn’t done up Geisha style; her make-up and accessories were more what you would expect to see on an anime bishoujo who wears traditional clothing. She even had the delicate Japanese features and lustrous black hair to go with it.
The HR Manager nodded and gestured toward the woman. “For the matter at hand today, My Lady, I require the help of my associate from IT”
Just to be clear, she said the initials, “I T”, not the word, “it”.
In a polite voice devoid of the Japanese accent that her outfit was screaming to accompany, the associate in question added, “It would be more accurate to state that I required my colleague’s assistance. It is only through the use of her channel with you that I can appear before you without independent approval.”
Your outfit ought to be geeky or laid-back if you’re from the ‘Information Technology’ department. But of course, that’s not what it stands for, is it?
“Why must IT stand for ‘Information Technology’?” she wondered, demonstrating an equal mind-reading capability.
I just shook my head. “It’s nothing. Don’t mind it.”
The woman stood, circled the table and faced me, then withdrew a fan from her sleeve while bowing deeply. She stretched her arms out to her sides as her fingers twisted the fan open, as neatly and skillfully as an Atian noblewoman.
The fan displayed the characters, “真相“. As Ancient Fairy characters, it read Rarcil, “Truth”.
“Please pardon my discourtesy. This will not cause you any harm.”
With a flourish, she brought the fan to her chest, fanning air at me with the action. The breeze was laden with mana as it brushed my face. I tensed up, half expecting the alarms and countermeasures to fire off.
Of course they didn’t. These women controlled this unreal space, not the jailers.
The mana felt like healing mana, only different. It had also felt, to my consternation, a bit like demonic mana, only lacking the hint of miasma. That wouldn’t be strange; current theory held that demonic mana was actually a corrosive mutation of healing mana that only demons could produce. But again, this was different.
“A wide number of non-elemental magics not understood by this world use mana of similar character to Holy mana,” the IT lady told me as she put her fan away. “All mana not channeled through an elemental medium shares a common texture. It is strange that you do not understand this, given that both of your ancestral species use such mana in their innate skills.”
The HR manager stated, a bit dryly, “A sparrow uses aerodynamics to fly, but has no understanding of physics.”
“True,” she agreed, her eyes continuing to study my face. I had the distinct impression she was reading something there. She then tipped her head slightly.
“My Lady, do you have any strongly-held religious beliefs?”
“Huh?” was my highly intelligent first response. I think I was trying say, Wouldn’t you already know that?
“I can read surface thoughts without authorization, or to be more accurate, I cannot help but read them. Exploring deeper into your mind requires a level of access I have not been granted. You show little evidence that you follow any theology, but you may still hold such beliefs deep in your heart.”
Growing up, Robert received baptism, first communion and confirmation, but that was the extent of his Catholic life. He knew the basics, but didn’t think about it much.
Tiana learned about three gods, Oranos, Gaia and Eurybia. The earth goddess and sea goddess compete for the attention of their two-timing husband, the sky god. He showers both of them with gifts of Light and Water, hoping to keep them both happy, and sometimes tries to exert discipline with lightning (Aether) to keep them from fighting. The other four elements are split between the two goddesses. Tiana never really put a lot of thought into whether she actually believed it.
If anything, my only tangible knowledge rested in an HR manager, an R&D field agent and now, a lady from “IT”, whatever that was.
In response to that thought, said lady from IT nodded. “Then I am not at any risk of harming you by stating that no human religion or science possesses an accurate understanding of the greater reality.”
“If you’re saying that it doesn’t matter what I believe, I really hate that kind of thing. In the end, there’s must be a truth. If our religions are wrong, it would be a lot better if you guys told us the real answer.”
The HR manager pressed her eyeglasses into place as she took over. “I agree. In point of fact, relativism is a demonic ideal, and I would recommend avoiding it. But all either of us can tell you is that while human religion often gets things right, it also gets things wrong. And, there is a purpose and a truth, and you should continue seeking it. In the meantime, do what is just and have faith that there is a reason for all of this.”
Even though I felt we were way off topic now, I demanded, “Why not just tell us?”
“Because– and this is the reason my colleague had concerns about disturbing your faith– we don’t know what it is, either.”
“Huh?” That was totally not an expected answer.
“Like you, the celestial beings you have met are just very-low-ranking denizens of this grand array of countless quadrillions of worlds. I and my colleague are low-level specialists tasked with the management of the microscopic fraction of those worlds that host humanoid-class sapients. We are only a few steps higher than you on an exceedingly tall staircase. We do our jobs because we were given them to do, not because we know the greater scheme of things. Events happen that are just as mysterious to us as to you.”
I was wondering, Did these two just come here to depress me?
“The reason for her question was that admitting that we ourselves are not omniscient would be problematic for you if you believed we were.”
I just waited for more. I still had no clue as to why they were here.
“While we are not omniscient,” the IT lady responded, “there are things which we do have complete knowledge of. Or rather, that we should. We are here because we have discovered two things which should not have been outside our knowledge. One of those was the observation my colleague made regarding you. I have confirmed that observation.”
“What observation?” I asked, a little wary.
“You channel more and higher quality mana than is possible for a soul of mortal origin, My Lady. By a significant degree. Given your purported origin, that fact is of particular interest to us.”
I looked at the HR manager. “Is that what you meant when you called my purification ‘interesting’?”
She nodded. “It is, indeed. Thus, I have asked my colleague to open an investigation on you.”
The IT lady explained. “Merely inheriting a non-human body was not sufficient to give you, a mortal soul native to Earth, access to immortal potency. Managing mana at your predecessor’s state of development at the time of her death was possible, but you are surpassing her. Such should only be possible after significant effort and reinforcement. I took readings today in order to solve this riddle.”
She had clearly reached the end of her statement, but I felt like she had left out a lot of important information.
“Wait, that’s it? You can’t tell me anything more?”
“We have told you quite a bit, and any more requires me to complete my investigation. At this time, I do not know anything more.”
She was right. It’s disturbing when a celestial being admits they don’t know stuff. You want to think the people behind the scenes have all the answers.
“What’s the other issue?” I asked.