“Left!” Kiki declared.
I resumed flying, heading to our left.
She said, “More left!” then, “Too much. Go right!”
We kept that up for a bit until she was happy with my direction, then she asked. “Bad fairy strong strong, yup?
“She was,” I agreed. “But I guess she didn’t chase after us.”
“Nope nope! Kiki strong strong too! Big Sis too!”
Probably, she was saying that Möemnen had given up after seeing herself outnumbered. Well, without her mysterious mana-blocking power, I would have been able to fight her properly.
Remembering that mysterious ability, I decided to start reloading my secret mana stash. I wasn’t in a good place to get Fire, or Darkness or Earth. I had plenty of Water since I still had it circulating. I never used my stash of Light or Healing. I decided to draw lots of Wind and Aether, since I and Durandal both had offensive spells for those.
It was going to be better to stay armed for a fight, after all.
I began to understand the logic behind the oddly winding path that Serera had taken to reach Royses while I listened to Kiki ruminate her way through the journey to Tëan Tír.
“Huh. No good this way. Path closed this time? Nope nope! Higher! Big Sis, fly higher!”
I beat for altitude, rising above the river chasm we were over at the moment, until I was almost level with the surrounding peaks.
“Uh-oh. Down again.”
I descended. She then navigated me through a long s-curve.
After that, she declared, “Okay, there! Go between tops!”
“Between the peaks ahead?”
“Yup yup! Gate open today!”
As far as this ‘gate’ was concerned, I couldn’t see a dang thing. We approached the high pass– more of a saddle back, actually– and she said, “Go lower. Close close.”
Kiki’s amazing eyes that could even penetrate my Darkness Cloak turned out to be part of the explanation. As we neared the saddleback, I saw a pair of totem poles sticking up about four paces above the snow.
“Lower than those poles?”
“Yup yup! Maybe land and walk?”
That would mean trudging through snow, so I elected to do a low pass. There was only about ten paces between the poles, which is barely more than triple my wingspan. I passed between them just barely above the surface of the snow.
We broke over the other side, and she immediately warned, “Stay low!”
I hugged the ground as we flew downslope. Concerned about how sharp her warning had been, I asked, “Is there an enemy?”
“Nope nope. On top top, stay low or trick trick.”
After pondering the Kiki-speak a bit, I hazarded, “If I’m too high around a mountain, I’ll get one of those traps, like getting turned around the other direction?”
“Yup yup! Big sis tired yet? Need water now?”
I thought about it. “How much farther do we have?”
“More mountains, more valleys… maybe five, then fly up the river?”
That didn’t tell me anything. Maybe Kiki didn’t know miles or time units. “I can keep flying for now. I’ll tell you if I need a break.”
Our flight continued over two more mountain passes and across two wide valleys, one of which held a considerable mortal population, and the other thick with woodlands. That valley narrowed as we began following another small river.
Another mortal settlement flashed past, but I paid it little attention until a bright flash crossed my path. I knew that magic very well. It was a [Magic Arrow] shot, just like the ones Arken and Ceria fired.
It wasn’t close enough to make me think they were shooting at me, but it drew my attention to the source, where fairy sight showed me significant mana releases. Clearly, there was a battle of some sort happening.
Realistically, I didn’t need to involve myself. I had my own problems. I had barely recovered from a fight. I had no law enforcement responsibilities in this country. And, with the exception of a sword and a utility knife, I wasn’t equipped for battle.
But I started flying in that direction before I knew it. Blame it on knight training, I guess.
What I found was a mage in the middle of a rough cart path with two young children behind him, facing an excessively large snake. In the distance, I could see other mortals running away. The mage was already on a knee, panting and supporting himself with his combat staff.
Despite the [Magic Arrow] that I saw earlier, the mage was now firing only [Magic Lightning], level-one magic.
The snake had curled around to face them after having come across the field. It had probably been chasing the mortals as they fled the field they were working. I could see the flattened crops where the snake had slithered.
“You ready, old man?” I asked Durandal.
I am your blade, My Lady, the holy sword answered.
I identified the monster in a heartbeat, since it bears the excessively unimaginative name ‘Giant Snake’. They’re in the category of monsters that makes me wonder how a monster can ever rationally eat enough to get so large. Basically, it’s a cobra ten paces long. That’s like, fifty feet.
For some reason, this one looked far larger, in comparison to the mortals. Then I realized it was because they were halflings. I’m on the short side for an Orestanian woman, but the mage probably stood no taller than my waist.
As I drew the sword, the snake reared back and then spat venom down at the trio. It visibly struck a [Wind Wall] he was maintaining, and the force pressed him down and back. He didn’t fall though, and he fired [Wind Bullets] through the shield at the monster.
That probably explained his decision to drop the [Magic Arrow] spell. I guessed he was only a level-two mage, and had traded his level-two spell for the capacity to use two level-one spells simultaneously. He needed to, in order to both attack and defend.
“Dammit, I said ‘Run!’,” he was shouting to the children as I was about to pass overhead. They were wailing. The boy was pulling on the girl, but she was rooted in place. I imagine she was too terrified to hear anything.
I passed over his shield, yelling out, “[Holy Rend!]” and swinged Durandal as I reached the creature.
It was a tough beast. A holy attack from Durandal only bit into its neck, not even slicing deep enough for a fatal wound. Still, as I made a tight turn, I saw blood flowing, causing steam clouds to rise where it dripped on the ground.
There are intelligent snake monsters, the almost-never-civilized lamias. There are also the rare but normally much better-behaved nagas, which are magical creatures rather than monsters. Both have little to do with the creature I faced now. This was just an implacable monstrous beast.
Its head swiveled to track me, following the ‘focus on the latest enemy’ approach typical of lower intelligence monsters. Seeing that, I remained there at a hover to keep its attention away from the mortals.
“Make sure to block that spit attack, old man,” I said. Durandal gave an ‘mm‘ of agreement as I dodged back and forth. Behind the monster, the mage had summoned his strength and grabbed the two children, pulling them away from danger.
I didn’t actually say “Keikaku doori,” but the mage really was acting according to my plan. He was clearly fighting wounded, and I had feared he might be too exhausted, but the appearance of an ally had put some new fire in him. He had seized the opportunity I wanted him to seize.
To protect them, I needed to keep this creature focused on me. The problem was, I couldn’t fire any ranged attacks now, with three halflings directly behind my target. So, I just kept dodging, causing the monstrous snake to wave back and forth like it was following a snake charmer’s music. Finally, it blasted out another attack.
The venom struck an invisible wall, that Earth shield that Durandal had been maintaining, the one that confuses me so much. [Earth Wall] is materialized mana, because manifested Earth is pretty weak on its own. It needs to reinforce a solid to be useful. But materialized Earth has weight; it can’t hang in midair.
Durandal’s mystery shield is made from manifested mana only, but somehow works in thin air anyway, despite the lack of solid mass to reinforce. The snake spit splashed against it, then fell away, sending up nasty steam from the ground where it landed.
It was the opportunity I had been waiting for. Venom attacks need some cool-down time while the monster reloads. I dashed in while once again yelling, “[Holy Rend]!” and swinging at point blank range.
My target was the spot that I had struck before. Monsters of the vertebrate variety have jugulars just like mortal beasts. They’re just harder to reach. It required a second cut to get deep enough to sever it.
I was not moving fast enough to clear the animal before the blood sprayed out. I cried out in pain as it struck my arm. Instantly, I knew why the blood had been sending up steam when it hit the ground; it was a nasty acid, probably magically enhanced. Quickly, I circulated [Healing] to prevent the burns from getting worse, while scolding myself for neglecting to fortify before I attacked.
I don’t know [Cleanse] and I am really bad at materializing water on purpose (in contrast to my unique genius at creating large quantities when I muck up my mana coating). Once I was far enough away from the monster thrashing around in its death throes, I landed, grabbed dirt from the path and hurriedly scrubbed away the blood.
My dress and slippers remained spotless, of course. Grandmother had enchanted them to repel all forms of grime. I had just verified that the definition of ‘grime’ included corrosive monster snake blood.
On the path ahead of me, the mage stumbled and fell. The two children cried out and started clinging to him. I forgot about my cleaning issues and ran to help him.
“Mr. Ambis!” the two children were shouting as they shook the collapsed mage. Then they noticed me running toward them, and their eyes grew terrified. It was a natural reaction, of course. A woman with black wings and a sword was charging them.
I dropped Durandal as I drew close, and summoned more Healing as I shouted, “Out of the way!”
But the boy child threw himself on top of the mage and yelled, “No! Don’t hurt him!”
As if the body of a tiny thing like you would make any difference if I meant to harm him…
I didn’t have time to argue. The halfling mage’s skin was white, bordering on gray. I feared he was having a heart attack. I lifted the kid by the back of his shirt, moving him aside, then intoned “[Heal]” as I stretched my other hand out over the mage’s chest.
To my surprise, he did not instantly react in pain, and I worried that I was too late.
I wasn’t able to finish. I felt mana surge off to the side just in time to duck, dodging the water bullet that came flying at me from out of the woods. I let go of the child and sprang back to my feet, getting myself between the halflings and the threat, preparing mana once again as I used my fairy sight to find the new attacker.
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