I continued smiling at the girl and caressing her cheek while I brought to my mind images of Mother, of Grandmother, of the dryad Möemnen, of the Fairy Queen, of every mature fairy whom I had ever seen operating in seduction mode. It was time to become one of them for a bit.
If my suspicions were correct, the built-in ‘Fairy charm’ skill that the angels had claimed to exist, as a non-elemental magic unidentified by this world’s scientists, should trigger automatically and help me win this girl’s trust. To do it, I had to put aside my aversion to the idea of mental control. A fairy would use it without hesitation when it was appropriate to use it
“Do you remember my voice?” I asked, while tipping my head and letting my lips curl a bit.
Her eyes remained wary but grew slightly. Her lips parted and she looked like she was about to answer, but then she clammed up with a frown.
I cradled her jaw with my fingers and tipped her face toward me. Still smiling, I told her, “You’re a beautiful girl. It’s a fortunate thing that I could chase those men away before they hurt this lovely face.”
Her brow bunched slightly, but she still didn’t speak. I tipped my head and asked her outright, “Do you remember those men? The men who attacked you?”
She bit her lower lip slightly, then nodded.
Keeping my fingertips touching her, I began stroking her cheek lightly with my thumb. “You told me you were afraid of falling into Berado hands. The Berado are your enemy, are they not?”
“They’re our enemy, too. Won’t you help us fight them?”
Still wary, she answered, “The person that helped me said she was a passing fairy.”
I chuckled gently. “Well, I’m a fairy who is passing rather slowly, and for now, I’ve brought you along.”
I could still see the tension in her, but her eyes were losing the wary edge.
“These adventurers are on their way to do the Berado some harm. My cousin and I are helping them.”
I had glanced over at the woman in obvious fairy knight armor as I said, my cousin and I.
“Even though there’s fairies helping the Berado?” the girl challenged.
That was some key information right there, but I kept my surprise off my face. A backwoods tribe could afford to hire fairies?
I flicked a glance up at Allia. She gave a slight nod with a crease in her forehead. She understood the importance of the revelation.
While I was looking up, I also noticed that the others in the room were looking at me with complicated expressions. Except Melione, who stared at me with a slightly spell-bound look, and Ceria, who was smiling broadly.
Maybe I had successfully turned on the alleged ‘Fairy charm’?
“Fairies help whomever they choose,” Dilorè stated bluntly to the girl. “Other fairies might be helping your enemy. It does not prevent my cousin and I from helping you.”
I nodded in affirmation as I kept stroking the girl’s cheek. “Shall I force you to explain yourself? We would rather work together with you, but we need to understand why you were behaving as you were, before we can trust you.”
“Work together?” she asked, again on guard.
“You can tell us about the Berado tribe. We’re heading into their territory, and we are not invited. We need information.”
Her eyes grew wider and she pulled back as she grew alert again. “That’s crazy! They have a whole army! You’ve got, what, ten people?”
I let out a chuckle and switched to caressing her arm. “I’m not asking you to come with us, silly girl. I’m only asking you to give us some information.”
Her wary eyes stayed locked on mine, but quickly she melted once again, and her eyebrows lowered. “I’m screwed no matter what, right? You’ve brought me into Lisrau Castle Town, and my wing is hurt. I can’t get out of here.”
I nodded. “You’re right. Except, I can help you get out of here, if you’re willing to help us. Tell me, what tribe do you belong to?”
“I am Sidis, daughter of Saerim, of the Amaga Tribe,” she replied smoothly.
Her practiced response, fully introducing herself rather than simply answering my question, had a slightly formal ring to it. It left me curious about her status, because it reminded me of greetings between aristocracy in Orestania. But, I knew very little about Tabadan customs. It might have been a perfectly normal response for commoners there.
“Amaga…” Allia looked like she was ruminating on something, but she didn’t say what.
I asked Sidis, “Why were you hiding and following us?”
She pressed her lips together, as if she would clam up again, but I moved back up to her check, resuming the light strokes. She sighed in resignation. That on-guard attitude had again vanished, and she was beginning to look a bit entranced.
“I’m a blockade runner,” she said.
I blinked. She had just used a very odd term, one that I associated with ships used by smugglers, not individual people flying through the air.
“A blockade runner?” I echoed. “What blockade and why were you running it?”
“The Berado are stopping everyone who tries to reach my tribe,” she explained. “They claim they’re only collecting tariffs but they declare everything ‘contraband’ and confiscate it.”
“Can’t you just trade in a different direction?” Allia wondered.
The girl didn’t answer her or even glance toward her. Her lips had parted and she was now staring at me, mesmerized. Stroking the smooth feathers covering her head, I smiled and prompted, “Can you answer her for me?”
She responded, “My tribe and the neighboring tribes are surrounded. The Berado and their allies to the south have us surrounded. We are unable to get in or out of our territory without going through theirs.”
Allia made a hmph noise. “That’s what I thought. The Amaga are one of the tribes in the area we want to go before we turn toward the Berado.”
Puzzled, I asked Sidis, “But you weren’t carrying any sort of parcel when I found you.”
Actually, she had a pouch similar in size to my belt-wallet, tied to her waist, but up until now, I had not thought of it as ‘cargo’. She blinked and broke away from my eyes, to look down and carefully unknot the pouch. She extracted several rough pebbles, all no more than a quarter inch diameter. She held them up in her palm for me to see.
“I’m transporting magic stones.”
Uncle Arken frowned, then came over, picked up one of the stones and held it between thumb and forefinger to examine it. His eyes glowed, evidence of the elven Light skill that he uses to evaluate mana.
After his eyes darkened (literally), he stated, “I trust that the merchant did not call these magic stones when he sold them to you. If he did so, he lied.”
“Ah!” she responded, as if waking a bit more and realizing something. “No, right now they’re only bits of ore. The raw materials. Our craftsman will process them into magic stones.”
Arken still had a pensive look, but he didn’t say what was on his mind.
Although Sidis had been answering him, her eyes had traveled back to me. Her head feathers were soft and warm under my caressing hand. I gave her a smile of approval, because she was cooperating so nicely now.
“Why are the Berado embargoing your tribe?” I asked. “Why did you become enemies?”
“Their chieftain declared himself the “King of Beradia” and says we’re all part of his kingdom now. Thanks to his allies, he’s been able to force three neighboring tribes to submit already. There’s only a few tribes still holding out.”
“Who are his allies?”
“There’s two tribes to the south that are cooperating with him. And his biggest ally is the Orestanians.”
Startled, I looked up at Allia, but she shook her head slowly, looking unsurprised.
“They aren’t the King’s troops,” she stated bluntly. “Some southern lords have been operating companies of their territorial guards in the Tabad for the last two years. Including Parna.”
I frowned at that news. Such a thing was definitely illegal, unless the crown had sanctioned it… in which case, a royal knight like me would have been briefed about it long ago.
But if our people knew about it, then the fact that they were getting away with it meant that we couldn’t prove it in court, so Intelligence probably kept the facts quiet while awaiting better evidence. Just like with illegal slaving, drug trafficking and a whole laundry list of other crimes we had been trying to link to corrupt aristocrats for years, our investigators were keeping many of their cards hidden while they continued to dig, to avoid spooking their quarry.
“If they told you about this, why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. “Are these guys fully equipped troops?”
Allia nodded, and said, “They are, and they’re mostly the kind of specialists that a backwater force like a Tabadan tribe wouldn’t have. Specialty mages, aerial infantry, monster trainers and such.”
“And you didn’t mention it to me because…”
“They aren’t where we’re trying to go, so the subject never came up. The intelligence officers warned us they were in the area, but they aren’t operating in the actual Berado tribal lands where we’re headed. But I guess the places they are operating in are territories that the Berado chieftain is claiming to be his kingdom now?”
She directed that last question back to the bird-kin girl.
Sidis had gone back to staring at me with rapt attention, and I realized she was now quite flushed and breathing a bit deeper. She seemed intoxicated.
I guess I had my confirmation about the reality of Fairy ‘charm’ magic. Applying tiny seductive touches while consistently concentrating my favor on her had triggered it, casting some invisible form of magic on her. I’m sure the others thought I was using a vampire skill on her, but this was definitely coming out of my fairy side, because I could not see or feel any Dark mana involved. I couldn’t see any mana at all. I could only see the results.
As she hadn’t answered Allia’s question again, I raised my eyebrows and prompted, “Can you tell me?”
“Yes,” she confirmed immediately, her eyes still locked on me. “The Orestanians are wearing Berado colors, but they’re actually the ones running things in the occupied lands. The Berado themselves are busy trying to invade us.”
“It’s consistent with what Intelligence told us,” Uncle Arken nodded. “The part about the foreign troops being allied with the Berado Tribe just didn’t make it into our briefing. Perhaps they didn’t see our need to know.”
“But it sure changes things,” Allia replied. “If they and the Berado are working together, then there’s a lot more territory we’ll have difficulty traveling through than we first thought.”
The girl moved her head against my hand slightly, pressing into it slightly like a pet. Perhaps it was time to release her from this spell.