Kiki looked up at me, wondering, “Big Sis?”
“Hush,” I answered quietly, “I’m trying to hear something.”
She frowned and scrunched her eyebrows, evidently attempting to improve her hearing by squinting. I didn’t see any point in commenting on it. Besides, the sound had just grown dramatically stronger, before suddenly coming to a stop.
As if whatever it was had just landed at the top of the stars.
A cold feeling ran through me that wasn’t the chills my body was still suffering. Very quietly, I said, “That might be the bad people, Kiki.”
“Kiki go look!” she declared, and took off, her dragonfly wings driving her quickly into the darkness. She must have stealthed her mana, because I could only follow her in Vampire Sight until I saw her appear once again, backlit by the stairs, peering upward. She immediately flitted away, coming back to me in a hurry.
“Bad bad, Big Sis!” she stage whispered as she arrived.
“How did they find me down here?” I demanded, not because Kiki might know the answer. It was just a question I really wanted the universe to cough up an answer to.
“Down here! I know it! I saw it! Hurry, sisters!” I heard a rather ugly, raucous female voice declare.
“Not bad men, Big Sis! Bad monsters!”
I scooped up my dress and shoes, hanging my dress over my arm so I could carry it and my shoes in one hand and maybe throw fireballs with the other. I had plenty of Darkness to draw on for cloaking, but I didn’t want to do it until the last moment, because once I did, my body would no longer be restoring its lost reserves. I was going to need as big a reserve as I could get when I left here, for my wings.
Just as Kiki warned, the feet that appeared, emerging from above on the stairs, weren’t the boots of Provincial air cavalry. They didn’t belong to any human.
“What is it?” I whispered to Kiki.
“Harpies!” she whispered back. “Harpies bad bad! Eat fairy, eat monster, eat everything!”
Monsters are no good for me to harvest stable mana, because they don’t have enough. Fairies are no good because their bodies resist letting go of it. That’s why, as a monster, I can only feed on mortals. But monsters who kill and eat to harvest stable mana like these guys can get plenty from other monsters, or from fairies. Both of us were prey in these monster’s eyes.
I formed my cloak. I didn’t know what kind of senses these guys had, but the Vampire Cloak was the only stealth I knew. Kiki shook her head.
“Cloak no good, Big Sis. Harpy eyes strong strong. Eagle eyes, better than Kiki. They see Big Sis, no problem.”
“Can you hide me?”
“No good,” she shook her head. “They see Kiki easy. Kiki hide, trick ’em.”
She took off again, flying toward the statue of Eurybia. Fairy sight told me, she wasn’t using the stealth magic she hid me with, before. Come to think of it, if these things saw us going in, then she was right. Her stealth had done no good against them.
I considered my position and decided being backed into a corner would be the worse choice, so I began trotting as quietly as possible in the direction of the only weapon I knew of in the room.
Sure enough, when the three harpies reached the bottom, they looked around, then fixed right on my position. Two of them immediately sprang into the air, fluttering across the room toward me like barnyard chickens.
Harpies are in the same class as dragons. In other words, they’re demonic beasts. The difference between demons and demonic beasts is that demonic beasts are effectively monsters with demonic blood. I don’t know if it’s true, but in the Royal Knights I was taught that harpy eggs are laid by Giant Eagles, a regular monster type, after being inseminated by demons. I’ve heard elsewhere that they force themselves on mortal men in order to reproduce, before they eat them. It’s hard to say which is true.
Not that it mattered much at the moment. What was important was that two of them were coming after me. Vampire site isn’t good for details, but the glimpse of them that I had while they were still lit showed me creatures that were nude women from mid-thighs upward, but with eagle’s wings instead of arms, and an enormous eagle’s tail fanning out from just above their butt. Their legs turned from human to eagle, ending in enormous and quite vicious-looking talons.
I dropped my useless cloak and broke into a run, concentrated on pulling and circulating Fire, Darkness and Wind mana out of the room around me and not my own body, building it up as quickly as I could. But they were about to be on me, so I stopped worrying about not pulling the mana from my own body and grew my wings, taking off just in time to evade their talons. I continued pulling Fire and Wind.
The third harpy was advancing slowly, and I realized that I had just allowed them to surround me. I had two behind me and one between me and the stairs. But my destination was dead ahead, between me and Eurybia’s statue. I dashed through the gap between two columns.
“[Flash!]” I heard Kiki yell, as an intense white light blazed behind me for a fraction of a second. I heard squawks of protest as I passed over my goal.
I landed on the far side of it and spun on my feet while chanting, “[Fireball!]”
I had seen it in the brief moment of illumination, but now the light from the ball of flame I sent at the nearest harpy showed it clearly. The crumpled remains of adventurer’s armor, bits of remnant skeleton and gear, and a nasty, unnatural black shadow enveloping a great sword heaped on the ground not far from Eurybia’s feet.
The fireball impacted on a Wind defense something like [Wind Wall]. It had probably been an innate skill. But I had overpowered the defense and some of it got through. She shrieked in anger at the singed feathers in her right wing. Her partner braked to a halt as well.
I now stood with the heap of remains at my feet and Eurybia at my back. I was ‘cornered’ again, but not really. The third harpy could no longer come at me from behind, and if she came at me from one side, I could now dash to the other.
My gamble would pay off if these monsters hesitated to come near the cursed sword. There was only enough room between the sad ex-adventurer debris and the statue for myself. At a guess, he had managed to overcome the curse enough to drag himself here and kill himself at the feet of his goddess to end his murder spree. Orestanians believe in a reincarnation cycle, so he probably hoped to be treated kindly by the gods for this last act of devotion, despite the murders.
At this range, almost any monster other than a vampire or a satori and almost anyone else other than a true fairy would succumb to the cursed spirit in the sword pulling at their mind, seducing them into coming closer and picking it up. I could feel it calling to me, but for now I could resist it.
If they didn’t hesitate, or if one of them tried to grab the sword in a talon, then I had been ready to depend on my hand-to-hand combat training. These things would have monstrous strength, but so did I.
I didn’t like the other option that I was considering as all. Frankly, it was a crazy risk. But I had already one-shotted a lich, after all. I just might be able to do it.
If I had to do it, I would need a gawd-awful amount of mana, so I began summoning and circulating.