I had not gone in with an expectation I would be carrying Dilorè out. I admit, that wasn’t wise, since she had not only gone incommunicado when she went in, but also, Lucy had not been able to reach her before the green-haired dryad’s defenses shooed her away. I should have had a contingency plan for if Dilorè wasn’t responsive.
So my only plan was my normal last resort: just brute force it. With her still muddle-headed in my arms, I couldn’t put her down and expect her to run, so I held her and dashed out to the curving outer corridor, then turned for the stairs.
This place seriously had absolutely no windows. The stairs up to the floors that were open to the air were the only viable exits other than attempting to blast a hole in the wall.
I considered blasting a hole in the wall, but large ancient structures often have built-in defenses and magic strengthening. Such an act could have pretty serious backlash if I weren’t careful. I sprinted up the stairs, taking them three at a time.
The dryad would remain locked in those tendrils that had bound a demon lord while I was within range to maintain them. I wasn’t entirely certain how far that was, but the distance would be measured in paces, not miles. Then they would decompose into their mana and pneuma components and disperse, and she would be free.
“Tiana?” Dilorè wondered in a foggy tone as she stirred in my arms.
“I’ve got you,” I assured her. “I’m running right now, so don’t struggle.”
I’ve been princess-carrying a lot of girls lately, I’ve noticed.
But I’m the princess?
It still works, grammatically, I decided. At least, it works in English. I then put that nonsense out of my head.
“I can run,” my cousin insisted as we approached the next flight of stairs.
“I’m not stopping until we’re a long way from this building,” I declared as I again bounded upwards. I still had control of those blood tendrils wrapping the dryad, but I was losing confidence in maintaining it. I suspected I was nearing the limit.
Sure enough, once I was up the stairs and running down the next curving hall, I finally felt my [Blood Manipulation] slip, letting the dryad loose.
A thin layer of Light filled the air around us. Suspecting it was detection magic, I streamed more Darkness from my core into my Cloak to counteract it.
Instead, the Light filled the hall with the dryad’s voice.
“Intruder! Stop and allow me to speak to you!”
“Forget that!” I retorted and continued running. The daylight from outdoors came into view ahead of us as I at last approached the place where the tower was broken. I could feel the dryad moving below me, presumably in pursuit.
As I emerged into the open air, I grew my wings and leaped into the air over the broken outer wall, pouring on the mana to get as far away as I could, as fast as I could. Möemnen’s maze was still very fresh in my memory, with her ability to twist space the same way as Oberon’s great spell over Relador. I didn’t want to give this woman a chance to ensnare me the same way.
“Please listen to me!” she called again. The Light that carried this magic was incredibly diffuse, so it could have great range, just like my Vampire Sense. Clearly, rather than merely amplifying her voice, it was originating the sound at each point that the Light mana reached. I didn’t have a clue how that would work out, physics-wise. Wouldn’t the sound from around you arrive later and muddle the sound created on the spot, thanks to the speed of sound delay?
I’m an English Lit major. Don’t ask me to do physics.
Her voice arrived again as she rose into the air. Sounding a bit desperate now, she called out, “Daughter of Deharè! I beg you to hear what I need to tell you!”
I made a ninety degree turn so I could look across and see her. She was hovering above her tower, staring roughly southward, presumably because she was expecting that I had flown that direction, back to Oseri.
I had taken off flying east, though, so I was seeing her profile. Feeling at least moderately confident she didn’t actually know where I was, I slowed to a stop and hovered, then used my spiritual voice to answer.
Why must I listen to you?
“Thank Heaven,” she responded, sounding relieved. Was it because I was listening, or because I had stopped so she could catch me? But she made no move to come after me, and she continued addressing the air facing Oseri.
She bowed deeply, then rose and declared, “My deepest thanks, Daughter of Deharè. I am Áne of the Green Tower. It is indeed you, is it not?”
Although I’ve only met Amana, I’m given to understand that Mother actually has several daughters. Most of them are half-fairies, but there are apparently other full fairies as well. So I couldn’t be certain if I was indeed the daughter she meant.
However, I answered sternly, I am. What is it you wish to tell me?
The Light mana carrying her voice faltered for a moment, then recovered. The spell must have been taxing for her.
“I wish to ask you and your companion to stay away and not interfere in this place. The events in your territory are not as dire as they could become, should you misstep. It is very important that you not become involved here.”
And how can you expect me to do that? I asked. My mother has asked me to defend her citizens and learn the source of the disturbances. Thousands of those citizens have disappeared without a trace, after a broad wave of monster attacks from this region.
I wasn’t quite close enough to read her facial expression, but from the tone of her voice, I could imagine a troubled brow.
Using the spiritual voice so much was bringing elements of the Fan Li personality back to life. The wily half-spirit sage began finding the issues with the dryad’s request for me. And I recalled her memories of applying mental force with her spiritual voice. Using the iron will she had fostered within herself over centuries of life to add that force now, I continued.
Furthermore, you clearly attempted to take my cousin captive. You were using some form of Dark fascination magic on her. I find no fault in you for making advances upon a pretty girl, but I say that you were doing so by robbing her of her will. So I repeat, why must I listen to you?
“Your Highness!” she called out, the desperation returning to her voice, along with a strong edge of fear. “The deep dangers that lurk in this place are far beyond the monsters that troubled your citizens! In seeking to fight the evil below, you may hinder the lesser evil, allowing the greater to be unleashed!”
I ramped the mental pressure up. Then you need only explain.
“Heeee!” she suddenly grabbed her head. “Are you really sixteen?! What is this strength?!”
I was still four months from sixteen, but whatever.
Explain, I insisted.
She shouted out, “Your Highness, I cannot! I am bound by magic against all revelations!”
Find a way to unbind yourself before I return, I ordered, then dropped the mental pressure. I turned back eastward and flew for five miles before descending to a rocky mountain top.
After a moment to steady my nerves, I set half-naked Dilorè on her feet with her arms full of her gear, holding her spear for her until she could dress. I stayed quiet and stared back toward the tower, which I could still just barely make out in the distance, poking out of the fog laden hills.
“You’re not saying anything,” she noted.
“Well, yeah,” I answered, still looking away.
“My spear,” she said. I held it out to her without looking, and she took it from me.
“You seem to be angry,” she noted.
I finally shot her a dour glance. “Shouldn’t I be?”
“Um… right. I haven’t thanked you yet. Thank you.”
Heaving a sigh, I said, “You’re welcome, but I don’t need any thanks. You would rescue me in the same situation.”
“Then what are you upset about?” she demanded, becoming frustrated.
I turned on her, propping my fist on my hip, and demanded, “Who is the one that lectured me, not even three weeks ago, about the dangers posed by senior fairies?! As I recall, somebody even threatened to spank me?!”
“… case in point?” she asked meekly.
“Case in point, my foot! What were you doing, going into that tower by yourself?! An Ancient Fairy ruin, of all things?”
She looked away, and began looking very troubled. “I’m… not sure, actually. When I came upon it, I started finding it incredibly interesting.”
“Interesting,” I echoed, staring at her.
“I don’t know why. I just had to tell you about it, and I had to go in and check it out. It seemed really important at the time.”
I sighed again. “So you went in and met this Áne woman.”
She nodded. “And she told me I ought to stay there with her a while. She was talking about how dangerous it was around here, and it would be better if we stayed with her until all the troubles blew over.”
Another nod. “She knew there were two of us. She was calling you a child, so I think she knew who you were. She was saying we were over our head, and young ones like us needed to lay low. She wanted to protect us.”
“So you were going to just go along with it?”
“No!’ she objected. “Besides, she was talking about decades! Of course we couldn’t do that!”
“But you had time to play around with her.”
She looked down. “I didn’t even notice we were doing that.”
“She had you practically naked!”
“I don’t even remember that part!” my cousin insisted. Then, she mused, “You said fascination magic though…”
“That woman had some Dark magic working on you,” I said. “I was able to counteract it somewhat with Light magic, but I didn’t really understand exactly what she was doing.”
“She must have been casting it on me before I even entered. I wouldn’t have just gone in there on my own, without observing it longer. There was too much territory to cover to take time on building searches, anyway.”
I chewed my lip, then nodded. “Something like that, we would have searched eventually, but it needed to be as a team.”
“I don’t think I did it voluntarily, Your Highness. But it was such stealthy magic, I can’t really say exactly when it started working on me.”
“Were you using your stealth when you found the tower?”
“Of course!” she frowned. “That was the plan!”
“Then she saw right through it. Although it looked like she couldn’t see through mine.”
“Your stealth is pretty amazing, Tiana.”
“Diur and Mother can see right through it.”
“I wonder if they still can?” she mused. “You’ve powered up a lot, recently.”
We could talk about it all day and not reach any conclusions, but it was clear that Dilorè shouldn’t fly anywhere near the tower. And perhaps not me, either, unless I was using Vampire Cloak. Áne was clearly no small-timer. We flew back to Oseri to regroup and discuss our next move.
After all, I felt like we had found at least the first element in the puzzle. Áne had more or less told us she was related in some way to the disappearances. At the very least, she had been troubled when I mentioned them.