I had seen the direction of the impact on Carson, so I had a rough guess as to where the attacker would be. While I ran, staring that direction, a huge gash parted the grass nearly under my feet. The assailant’s wild shot had just drawn a nice arrow pointing exactly to them. I turned and ran toward them.
I was not dressed for this fight. I had my gauntlets and my sword, but I was in a tea gown and heels, holding up my hem with one hand so I could run. The ground was not good, either. Orestanians may have called the current month the “Month of Greening”, but I was mostly on dead sod on soil still soft from the recently melted snows. The footing was horrible.
And although my body was a lot tougher than a human’s, but without my armor I was still vulnerable. To defend myself, I had to face directly where the shots were coming from so I could use my sword, which I was having to wield one-handed.
In films and anime, they sometimes have scenes where an amazing swordsman slashes bullets in two or deflects them with their sword. It might be ridiculous to think that a swordsman could really do that, given the speed of a bullet, but magic bolts fly much slower. It’s more like hitting a major-league fastball. Still difficult, but possible.
Although I needed to kick off the heels, I couldn’t afford to slow down to do it. I stayed on my toes instead. Running at the attacker, I slapped aside two, three, four, then finally the assailant stood up from her hiding place, a bramble amidst the grass. In my surprise at her appearance, I nearly didn’t see shot number five incoming and had to deflect it with a gauntlet instead of the sword. That really hurt.
The enemy who had risen up had four arms. Two of them held a spear, the other two held a sword and a magic staff. She wore a head dress with four golden horns over her blond hair, multiple silk sashes in various colors wrapped around her outsized bust and hips and a wild pattern of stripes and swirls painting both her face and body.
Gorgeous gold bands decorated her wrists and ankles, with thin gold circlets around her upper arms and thighs, and gold chains wrapping her neck, draped over her shoulders and encircling her waist. On her right leg, a bejeweled chain spiraled down her leg from a silken garter high on her thigh to one near her ankle.
Overall it was an outfit both highly bizarre and highly striking.
I had braked to a halt, trying to determine what manner of creature I was facing. Finally I dredged up out of Tiana’s memories a verbal description that might fit.
Huade’s legendary creatures mostly matched up with European traditions, but a few Eastern creatures had snuck in, and this one was high on the list of demonic races. The list of ten species ran from archdemon in first place down to Ghoul, and this creature was third on that list. An asura.
“The little dragon slayer seems frightened,” she observed. “How unexpected.”
I felt a chill. This creature had been looking for me, specifically? She had been set up here waiting for me…
From behind the bramble now rose four other figures. They appeared to be ghouls gripping spears. I adjusted my grip on my sword and kept track of them as they fanned out to either side of me.
If I looked away from the asura, she would likely fire another magic bolt. My body is tough, but a magic bolt would do real damage. I couldn’t afford to take a hit. But that meant I couldn’t face the ghouls when they charged.
The asura licked her lips. “I expect you will be quite delicious, little dragon slayer. Your flesh shall taste quite sweet, after what you did to my little pet.”
Was she calling that dragon her pet? I had to guess she meant that, but to my mind, a dragon was the top demonic beast, and the equal to an archfiend at least. Maybe an archdemon could make a pet out of one, but an asura?
Perhaps she meant one of the other demonic beasts we’d encountered along the way. I had been out there with the Hero’s Party for two and a half volumes, after all. But she called me ‘dragon slayer’…
“How did you get so close to the capital without being detected?” I demanded, not really expecting an answer.
The asura laughed and waggled the index finger on one of the hands holding the spear. “Asking a girl to give away her most precious secret. How rude!”
The ghouls had completed their encirclement. I was having to track the two behind me through my innate fairy senses only; they were out of my peripheral vision now. Fairy sense is useful, but it isn’t vision. I could tell their locations, but not what they were doing, where they were looking, important battle data like that.
The asura’s grin grew wider. The ghouls charged as she raised her staff…
I broke into a run straight forward, materializing and flaring my wings at the right moment to strike the charging demons. Their formation was perfect; I grunted at the impact as both wingtips struck their targets at nearly the same moment, shoving them backward. I then gave a mighty flight stroke, kicking off with my final stride and propelling myself into the boss.
Whenever Tiana Full Battle Mode comes to life, a part of my mind just stares in awe. I may be the one acting, but somehow the original Tiana, the heroic fairy vampire knight, seems to return to life for a short time. She really was an awesome fighter.Another magic bolt flew, striking my left wing, inflicting a massive flare of pain, but it was a glancing blow.
I had angled to one side, and in her surprise at my charge, she hadn’t compensated for it. Dodging the spear with that same move, I swung my sword through as I met hers, and the impact pushed her off her balance. I circled around, immediately batting another magic bolt aside, and readied to come through again.
Really, it was a near suicidal attack. I was facing a creature who could wield three different types of weapon at the same time. I had her rushing to deal with me, but that would end once she recovered her balance, and if I couldn’t trick two of her weapons into missing again, I would probably take more than a glancing hit this time. But the footmen and Carson might only be wounded. I couldn’t just fly off and abandon them.
I tucked my feet and angled for the ground, planning to kick the sod to cause an unexpected change of direction. She readied for me… then shadows climbed up her body, seizing two arms. Her sword and her spear were suddenly not available to her.
I dodged a magic bolt with my kick off the ground, and struck the asura in the neck. If she were a human, it would have decapitated her, but she seemed to have flesh tougher than mine. Still, a nasty black gash appeared. My mithril blade had at least some effect on her. I began pushing Earth mana into the blade, which would strengthen the blade and might improve the effect.
In the background, I could see a wobbly Carson on his knees, his hand extended toward the demon, fingers splayed wide. The senses I inherited from Mother were showing me a flow of mana under the guidance of darkness attribute magic, leading outward from him. He was the source of the strange shadows.
Carson was a magic user? I had no idea.
Two footmen were back on their feet, defending the butler from the ghouls.
That much I was able to take in as I passed the demon. I gave several strong wing beats, clawing for altitude so I could come over in a loop and attack her again. I would have flipped around and attacked her from the rear, but I didn’t want her turning around and seeing Carson.
At the bottom of my loop, I plunged straight into her, skewering her on my sword and bowling her over. I yanked my sword out by kicking her off of it. Her eyes were burning with anger and fear, but Carson’s shadows were finally defeating whatever protection had been keeping the staff free, so she couldn’t do anything with it. She screamed, letting go of it, and, resisting the shadow with muscle-bulging effort, pulled her wrist toward her mouth. She bit down on the golden bracelet there, and vanished.