The two remaining harpies were both coming at me, enraged and out to avenge their sister, but I wasn’t planning to meet them head-on. I poured the wind mana I had been saving up into a quick ascent just before I arrived.
Take me with both hands! We’ll savage them both!
“Shut up, you rusty old bludgeon,” I told the cursed blade, while I continued to pour [Purification] into it. I could feel its attacks on my mind weakening, so my painful efforts were having an effect.
Rusty old bludgeon?!!! the sword spirit retorted in indignation. You’re a rusty bludgeon! Your sister’s a rusty bludgeon!
As I reached the heights I needed, I commented, “Really, Mr. Durandal, at best, you’re not much more than a crowbar. You’re not just dull; your edge is nearly non-existent.”
I flipped and dove straight down with the two of them staring up at me as they beat for altitude. I picked one and adjusted my nose-dive to intersect her, dodging the [Wind Scythe] she sent at me by a hair’s-breadth,
She tried to dodge Durandal, and I wound up sinking it into her wing root. She let out a scream as I ripped the blade loose with the two of us plummeting together. This time, I managed to stay in the air with another surge of Wind mana before we hit bottom, ascending directly up into the face of the third harpy, who had been trying to descend on me talons-first as I attacked her sister.
Another one!!! Durandal exulted as the new target distracted him from my onslaught on him. He surprised me in that moment with a burst of Wind mana of his own, sending out an attack similar to a [Wind Scythe], but faster, and glowing with excess mana.
If ‘Sword Qi’ exists, this is what I imagine it would look like.
The harpy fended it off with her innate Wind defense, but Durandal suddenly coated himself in Earth, the best Wind counter, as his point arrived at her chest. Her talons snagged my shoulders but not before I had run her through, just like the first harpy.
How’s that for a rusty pipe! he demanded, and broke into gleeful, mad laughter.
But his attack on my mind had now vanished, I discovered as I planted a foot on her chest and dragged Durandal free from her, leaving her to drop away.
The second harpy was on the ground, sending [Wind Scythes] at me. I hadn’t noticed because she was missing me horribly, her aim probably destroyed by the pain she was in and a head wound covering her face in blood.
I was about to go ahead and drop my clothing so I could send a [Fireball] at her or put up a [Wind Wall], but Kiki appeared behind her out of nothing– she had come up behind the creature while stealthed– and struck her with a [Magic Lightning] at close range.
The harpy staggered and fell.
I circled around to the first harpy, to check the body. She was definitely dead. I didn’t want to feed any other monsters in the area, so I landed, left my dress and shoes in a safe spot, and summoned Fire.
I could find lots of Fire mana here; the stone-paved road I stood upon and all the ruined stonework in my surroundings were hot from a full dayof baking in the sun. I drew a massive amount, then put my hand on the corpse and manifested more of it inside her for a living body to hold. The body burst into flame. Walking to the other two, I repeated the procedure.
All the time, I had continued to send [Purification] into Durandal. For the majority of the fight, he had somehow shielded himself from it. I didn’t know what magic could shield against [Purification], and the fact that it was possible was troubling. But I had broken through. The miasma was gradually wearing away in the onslaught like ice melting under a blow torch. With the miasma disappearing, the demonic mana anchored to it was dissipating.
You…will not… defeat me, the sword spirit was still trying to declare.
I could feel my fingers loosening on the grip. He no longer had control of my hand. I was holding him of my own free will now.
Softening my voice, I asked him, “Aren’t you tired of the killing spree, Durandal? You need maintenance and you need a rest. It’s time to give up. Let me wake you from this nightmare.”
The truth was, the pain of [Purification] was still howling through my body, but I had grown numb to it. It was still there, but it was just become information, a known part of my universe now. The iron will that the old Tiana had bequeathed to me was simply stronger than the torture.
I had come to realize that she was kind of amazing. Stupid stubborn at all the wrong times, but amazing.
As I watched, the last bits of miasma dissolved and disappeared. The sword began to shine as white and bright as my wings, glowing with [Purification] light.
I decided it was safe, and ended the flow. The pain faded, leaving a dull ache that was probably the shortage of miasma in my muscle, but maybe also the Darkness and Water shortage. I was still in need of recovery, and I had lost ground again in the fight.
It also became possible to think about what I was doing. Specifically, about how I was currently standing in the middle of a wide boulevard, surrounded by ruined buildings that might be hiding god know who, in broad daylight.
Confidence faded instantly. I used my free hand to cover the absolute most important spot and hurried to where my dress and shoes waited.
While my arms shook, I picked a stone wall to lean it up against. I suffered a momentary fear that, when I tried to let go, my fingers wouldn’t obey. I released a breath of relief as my hand came away.
More than anything, I wanted to collapse in relief, but I had know no idea who or what else was in the area. I might very well have attracted attention, flying around nude.
The sun was getting really low now. It was time to exit the area, post-haste, and find that water. I quickly shrugged my way back into my dress, while praying that nobody other than Kiki and the dead harpies had seen me.
“Amazing! Big Sis amazing!” Kiki declared as she flew up and hugged my arm.
“I need to get to the water, Kiki.”
The pixie frowned, then nodded. “Kiki not allowed there. Big Sis go alone now. Go up there.”
She was pointing at the largest hill, the one without any ruins on its slope.
“It’s on the other side?”
“Nope nope,” she shook her head. “Big sis go top top. See there.”
Maybe there was a spring pool on the slope or something. I nodded. Kiki brightened and said, “Bye bye, Big Sis!”
Without giving me a chance to reply, she zipped off at top speed.
“Bye,” I replied, giving the receding dot a little wave anyway and shaking my head one last time.
Will you leave me here? I heard Durandal ask, turning my attention to the old sword leaning against the wall.
It– he?– sounded tired.
I frowned at it, considering the question.
It was a spirit weapon. The whole reason people now avoid spirit blades is that the demons developed the whole cursed blade thing. They were too dangerous to carry into battle, now, when at any moment a demon with the right magic could turn the wielder into a weapon of mass destruction against their own side.
I don’t know this place. It’s a terrible, dead place. What a horrible place to rust away.
“I’ll carry you, but I won’t contract with you,” I said. “I’ll find a safe place for you to rest.”
You have my thanks.
# # #
Ponds don’t happen at the top of hills, right? But the hill had a wide, flat top, and here it was, nestled in a shallow among crags and trees, surrounded by grass, full of pure, clean water, with not a building to be seen. I descended warily and made four low circles around it to convince myself there really was nobody around before I finally landed.
It was still daylight, although the sun was nearly on the horizon, so I had a good view. I had now decided it was large enough to consider a small lake. A stand of trees with wide-spreading branches nearby would provide cover in an emergency.
My body desperately needed water, so I planted Durandal in the soil, shed the dress once more and hung it on a branch near the shore to dry, with my shoes on a rock, then looked around one last time to be sure of no prying eyes before walking into the open to take my long awaited bath.
I waded into the clear water, navigating between two stands of rushes and through the water lilies, until I reached open water and could swim. I felt my body greedily sucking in the manifested Water mana as I submerged.
I paddled around for a while, alternating between breaststroke and crawl, then just floated face up and watched the eastern sky darken while waiting for my body to finish restoring itself. Darkness mana was coming up out of the depths for me in addition to the Water mana, and my body was positively luxuriating in it.
Floating there gave me time to take real stock of things for the first time.
My situation wasn’t good. I had no weapons except level-one magic and a dull sword I couldn’t trust, no knife when most of my knowledge of survival learned as a knight assumed I had at least a knife, no money and no provisions. At least I had been able to eat most of the meal the girls had made for me, but that was my only food in the last twenty four hours. I was getting hungry again.
At least there were fish. On the peaceful surface of the water, rings spread in rapid succession in various places across the lake as they rose to snatch bugs from the surface. My survival skills included weaving rushes into crude dip nets. I began imagining a technique of flying low and slow in the morning light to spot them, then dipping down to catch them…
While I was considering designs for the net, fingers closed around my neck and a lovely female voice spoke into my ear.
“What have we here? A monster in my pool? How very interesting!”