I admit, a small part of me wanted to retort, What ‘daughter’? Just a while ago, you called me your grandmother!
That part, of course, was the portion of me that was frustrated that a new roadblock was appearing just as I was about to clear the last hurdle and be on my way.
I bit my lower lip, thought about it, then asked, “What ‘particular difficulty’ am I being asked to resolve, Mother?”
She gave me a tight smile. “I don’t wish to bore His Majesty and his other guests with the details, Dear. We’ll talk after dinner. Suffice to say, a fairy knight would be quite appropriate for the situation.”
I had an urge to press for details, but I knew she was actually saying, I don’t want to discuss secret information in front of everyone, Dear.
Or as the famous war slogan goes, ‘loose lips sink ships’. It’s possible Mother trusted everyone seated at this table, but around us were half-fairy warrior guards, mortal serving girls, and a half-fairy musician quietly waiting with a Dorian instrument resembling a guzheng or koto. It would be like discussing classified information in a restaurant.
I nodded. “If a fairy knight can resolve it, then I can set up their training at my mountain and let them work while I go to Pendor.”
“No,” Oberon vetoed immediately. “Bring your companions along. I want to see what this hero can do.”
He made that statement as if he would be coming along to observe. I doubted that was the case. He was the Fairy King, though. He would have intelligence methods at his disposal that I couldn’t even guess at.
I looked at Mother, but she nodded. “You might need extra hands you can trust, so you should do that.”
Shaking my head, I said, “Getting them all to where the fighting going on will take too long.”
Oberon answered, “Manlon’s girl will take you to Anto before heading back. Swift transport is available from there.”
Anto is a town on the border with Pendor, where the Tain flows eastward out of Relador to become the main waterway of Mother’s duchy. Did ‘swift transport’ mean a riverboat? My brow creased, because I was beginning to envisage a long trip ahead of us. From Anto to the eastern border was more than three hundred miles, and I didn’t know how far I needed to travel from the river.
“Could she perhaps take me all the way to my destination?” I wondered.
“I won’t approve it,” he stated firmly. “The havoc and confusion that an unknown airship of unorthodox design would create in a war zone might harm Deharè’s people. You should travel by normal means once you are in Pendor.”
“Pasrue is complaining that she needs to get back to ferrying people to Gado, too,” Dilorè added. “This side trip is putting her behind schedule.”
At some point, it had become an established fact that I was going to Pendor. I don’t think it was ever actually a question, in truth. Mother was right. I had a noble obligation in this situation, that invisible chain that dragged my Tiana side around without any choice. I could think about refusing it, but refusing to carry noble obligations was a slippery slope that started with a teenager’s rebellion against the things expected of them and ended with Duke Parna’s treasonous behavior.
Tiana had been conditioned against that, but worse, so had Senhion and Fan Li. They too had hearts steeped to the core in duty. Robert didn’t stand a chance, here.
The palace staff served dinner, which was of course quite good. In my mind’s eye, I could imagine Ryuu enjoying flavors that reminded him of home, his eyes lighting up at the sight of sushi and white rice, and the presence of soy sauce. It made me remember a hundred Isekai novels where the main characters obsessed over such things.
Ryuu was luckier than most Isekai MCs. It was likely not his first time encountering them, but he had spent most of his time on Huade in the North, where they were rare, so this should still be a treat.
Seeing him taking depressed comfort in a bowl of miso soup with mushrooms rather than draining it with glee almost made me sad. He lit up a little more during the sashimi course, but that was about it.
Outside of the food itself, it was a dinner of ordinary conversation, kept unusually safe-for-work for a fairy gathering, which I assume was for the benefit of the mortal guests. Not that it was entirely un-fairy-like. Anare was flirting with her grandfather, which I hope Oberon wasn’t encouraging. And during a performance from the musician, Lady Molore leaned against Mother and whispered into her ear.
Mother smirked and gave her a sidelong look, then quietly answered, “I’m observing the customs of Atius and reserving myself for my husband’s bed. And your husband is seated right next to you.”
“Well, they could watch if they like…”
I did my best to tune their conversation out after that. There are times when this super-hearing of mine is a bit embarrassing.
After dinner, escorts led the others off to their rooms, and Oberon dismissed everyone except Mother and myself. As the room emptied, I turned a wondering look to Mother.
“It’s time to give you your seal.”
A bit of excitement welled up within me at those words. I had been deeply curious exactly what form this ‘seal’ thing took. The great enchantment of Relador was itself a truly amazing thing, so what sort of amazing object would the key that unlocked it be?
Mother confused me by then turning to Oberon and saying, “Lagan, my daughter is quite shy. Can we do this through her armor?”
Oberon shook his head. “The enchantment forged into the armor would reflect it.”
“What’s this about?” I asked.
“He’s saying you have to take your top off, dear. The seal must be inscribed upon your heart.”
I tipped my head. “Inscribed? It’s an enchantment?”
I hadn’t considered that. I had thought it would be some sort of physical token, locked to the identity of the person to whom it was issued. If it was actually inscribed within the body… that puzzled me. Living flesh grows and replaces itself. A tattoo distorts and changes over time because the flesh holding it is constantly changing. I had difficulty imagining how such a thing could maintain the form required for the spell.
“Well…” I frowned, gave out a deep, reluctant sigh, then began unfastening the clamps on the straps that held my cuirass together. “I don’t like it, but he’s seen them before. Amana and her buddies kept forcing me into baths with him around the last time I was here. Your brothers have seen me, too.”
She shook her head in commiseration while helping me with it, but I could tell she was fighting a smirk and probably a few giggles, too. But she had to correct my assumption.
“The problem is not that he’ll see it, dear. He has to place his hand on your breast.”
Instant cringe… I froze and stared at him.
She nodded. “As I thought, that’s a bit difficult for you.”
“Mm…” Oberon said, scowling and shaking his head. “I’ve already seen how embarrassed she can become. But you must have forgotten.You used to help me with mortal girls who needed seals, long ago. I can work through you.”
Mother’s eyebrows rose. “Ah… I do believe I might remember doing that. I was only a few centuries old then, right?”
“Why did you think I asked you to stay, if you forgot about that?”
“I assumed you needed me to talk her into it,” she said with a giggle.
He shook his head, then told her, “Put your right hand over her left breast and give me your left.”
Mother slipped her hand under the arm I was covering up with. I hadn’t expected how mortifying it could be to have your mother do something like that, but I was glad it wasn’t Oberon’s hand.
He instructed, “Simply guide my spirit to her heart so I can write.”
She closed her eyes and I felt a weird, probing feeling in my chest, that reminded me of the time that Grandmother helped me learn how to condense blood. Then her eyes popped open and she looked at me.
“You have a blood core… ” she said in a wondering voice. Then, in surprise, she added, “and a spiritual body?”
“We call a body at this stage ‘Fetal’ actually. You’ve developed it well past ’embryonic’. How long have you been working on it?”
“Since I visited Grandmother?”
She stared at me, her mouth hanging open. Then she pressed her lips together and shook her head, a slight smile turning her lips upward. “I have to start remembering that you aren’t entirely a fifteen year old girl. This is your ancient side making an appearance, isn’t it?”
I blushed slightly, with a weird feeling like I had just been caught cheating. “It mostly happened on its own, once Grandmother taught me how to make a blood core. I started it before I remembered my Elder life, but it does seem to relate to it.”
She tipped her head. “Mother is a true demigod though? Why did she know how to make a blood core?”
“She said something about having helped a vampire friend figure out how to do it.”
Mother shook her head again. “That’s a story she’s never told me. I’ll have to ask her about it sometime.”
“Can we get back to what we were doing?” Oberon wondered.
“Right,” Mother smiled at him, then said, “But if she has a spiritual vessel, shouldn’t you be writing it on that?”
His eyebrows quirked. “That’s… I hadn’t considered that.”
“Hadn’t considered it? You knew about her spiritual body?”
“My wife discovered it,” he said, with a slight smirk. “Using more-or-less the same method.”
Mother instantly frowned. “She put her hand on my daughter…”
“She retreated once Tiana rejected her, as I understand it.”
I wanted to wipe the wry smile of his face, but I was too busy blushing. Especially since Mother’s hand was helping me remember the Fairy Queen groping me.
“So, can you write the seal there? I think it would be better.”
He nodded, then I felt Mother’s spirit again probing.
It became a really weird sensation once she reached into my blood core and I felt an odd warmth. Then the world went very wobbly.
# # #
“I’ve stopped,” Mother was saying, sounding alarmed. Existence faded back in for me with her holding me around the shoulders, her free hand on the side of my head. “Are you alright, Dear?”
“Wow,” I said as I tried to blink my vision back into place. I hadn’t felt a sensation like that since getting clocked in the skull during football practice as Robert.
“I think we shouldn’t try that again,” Oberon said. “We should wait until her spiritual body matures past the infantile stage.”
Mother nodded, then asked me. “Can you stand on your own?”
I nodded and stood. We resumed, following the original plan, and I returned to my suite with Oberon’s seal literally tattooed on my heart.
I had been feeling a bit bulletproof lately. That experience was quite a shock.