After they blinked at her for several seconds, I was able to watch it dawn on them that she meant to use one of those skills their mages didn’t possess. Since she mentioned blood, they probably now thought she was a vampire. The way she fully covered up, with a wide hat for shade, was typical of average vampires, who have skin sensitivities. I seem to be immune from that particular problem, thanks to my fairy half.
The investigators agreed to it, immediately summoning the demonologist and organizing a second trip out.
We were about to embark upon that trip when a uselessly audacious carriage with seven footmen, flanked by two mounted knights, pulled up in front of the Barracks.
A certain second prince came flying out of the cabin, ploughing a line directly at me.
He was already gripping my shoulders by the time I responded, a bit baffled, “Your Highness?”
Aren’t you supposed to be in school right now?
“Are you alright? You weren’t hurt?”
I could see, to one side, a pair of royal knights gaping at us. Well, it was obvious they would be. You just don’t expect your royalty to act like that.
Calmly, I told him, “The attack was yesterday evening, Your Highness. I would have gone to the healer by now if I were hurt.”
“Why are you just out here in the open?! You should be somewhere safe!”
Upping the soothing tone in my voice, I noted, “Your Highness, this is the Royal Knights Barracks. How is this not somewhere safe?”
He blinked at me a couple times, then took a deep breath, nodded and agreed, more calmly, “Right. And it’s Rod, Ti.”
Good that he finally noticed he was causing a scene. But I leaned close and stated in a low voice, “Not in public, it isn’t… Your Highness.”
I was working with second-hand memories, and even I could remember etiquette class better than that.
Sir Pirstin cleared his throat, as we had been in the middle of loading up to leave.
I told the prince, “We need to go, Your Highness. We were headed out to the ambush scene.”
He had been hanging onto my shoulders all this time. He nodded again, then transitioned to slipping his arm under mine, implicitly making me accept an escort. He declared, “Then you shall ride with me.”
“Your Highness is going as well?” Sir Pirstin responded, caught off-guard.
“I have my own carriage, your highness,” I noted, although I went ahead and settled my hand on his upper arm, because just leaving my arm hanging with his around it like that would be awkward.
He flicked a glance at the Pendor second carriage and shook his head. “That thing’s not good enough anymore. Come on.”
He plowed a path directly to his carriage, not listening to my protests. Benedetta followed us, looking pleased with what she was witnessing. Traitor.
The city guard had already found the location, of course. It was a little over five miles from the city, which, at a canter, was about twenty minutes. If I was going to spend that time sharing a carriage with Rod, I couldn’t just glare at him the whole way, so I broke the silence as we rode.
“I’m a knight, Your Highness. You don’t have to protect me.”
He looked like the words, It’s Rod! were ready to burst out of him again, but he contained himself. Maybe he couldn’t decide whether Benedetta qualified as ‘public’ or ‘family’.
He answered, “I’ve read all the reports from Arken. I’ve also read the reports from when you took on those raiders. I only said goodbye to you yesterday afternoon, and suddenly you’re battling a higher demon? It seems like every time I take my eyes off you, you get yourself into danger! How am I supposed to just see you off and take it easy?”
I pressed my lips together. It was admirable that he was worrying about me, but I had to get his head screwed on straight.
I hooked my thumb at myself. “Me, knight.”
I pointed at him. “You, prince.”
With my arms crossed, I continued, “I go into danger, you stay out of danger. Do we have the division of labor clear now, Your Highness?!”
He pulled his head back and grew a baffled expression. I understood what was in his mind. He was thinking he was the guy, I was the girl. But I wanted him to understand what was important here. This was about more than who was the guy and who was the girl. He was the royal and I was the soldier. And I had an oath to uphold. It includes things like protecting the royal family, you know?
This wasn’t a Robert Stewart way of thinking at all. Robert Stewart saw things Rod’s way; the guy looks out for the girl. This was coming from Tiana, but the fact was, this was how I, the new Tiana, really saw things. I wasn’t just channeling Tiana this time; this was from my own heart.
We didn’t say much else the rest of the way.
When we arrived, Rod and I watched as the investigators moved across the field where the combat had occurred, with Benedetta looking around, observing quietly.
Finally she told them to step away. The others returned and stood near us. She moved forward on her own, while a shadow poured out from the hem of her dress, flowing in all directions like a dark liquid.
“Dark attribute magic…?” the demonologist said in tentative tones.
“Mother tells me she is a highly skilled mage,” I answered. Dark mages are very rare, so it was understandable that the girl wasn’t sure what she was seeing.
But I could see it. Fairy sight gave me a clear image of the flow of mana guided through the element of darkness. Like Earth magic, it flowed out of the ground, presumably because the sunlight couldn’t penetrate there. The airspace between soil particles is a place of shade.
The shadow moved with Benedetta, flowing along the ground like a mobile oil slick, darkening every blade of grass it touched. The blades returned to brightness as soon as the shadow passed them, exactly as if an enormous sunshade had been over them and moved away. Finally, Benedetta stopped, and the shadow shrunk down to one spot on the ground.
She gestured to the demonologist, who approached with her magic tools. Once the girl knew where to work, Benedetta returned to me, and then curtseyed and held that pose with her head bowed.
“My Lady, forgive me. I confess that, despite my husband’s words, I did not fully believe the claim that the attacker had been an asura. My lack of faith was unworthy of a servant of Pendor.”
She stayed like that.
“So it was an asura after all?” Sir Ozer asked.
Tipping her head up only enough to be heard, she said, “Lord, the most powerful demon I ever encountered was a lich. To state what I can say in absolute fact, this was certainly something much more powerful than a lich. There are very few demonic classes at that level.”
She didn’t say it, but the only such classes were archdemon, archfiend and asura.
The woman was going to stay in a head-down curtsey that way until I said something.
“Benedetta, I myself still have trouble believing that I survived an attack by an asura, so there is nothing to forgive. Please rise.”
She rose and nodded, then returned to my side, resuming her stately posture.
It finally dawned on me that Benedetta had said ‘My Lady’ instead of ‘Young Mistress’. I wondered why the change.
The demonologist came back across the grass and joined us. She shook her head. “I’m sorry. There is enough to prove it was much stronger than a ghoul, but not enough to identify the type.”
Sir Ozer scowled. “So we have Miss Benedetta’s observations, but no physical evidence.”
Benedetta turned to me. “My Lady, my husband told me that you ran the creature through with your sword. Can you show the blade to her?”
I was puzzled. “I cleaned the blade though.”
“It does not matter,” she assured me. “Please, My Lady.”
I drew the sword and extended it on my palms toward the demonologist. She looked puzzled, but I heard Ozer, Pirstin and Rod all suck sharp breaths in when they saw it.
To the demonologist, Benedetta said, “My Lady’s blade is mithril. It will retain mana traces of demon spirit.”
The girl’s eyes grew huge. It was understandable, because that much mithril was probably worth as much as Mother’s house. Mithril is worth a thousand times its weight in gold. But she nodded and held a hand-sized wand over the blade, running it up and down the length of the sword. She raised her other hand, held outward with her fingers pointed up, and gestured like she was swiping a screen on an invisible tablet. I had the impression she was reading that tablet, too.
With a nod, she told us, “There are traces of at least asura level on this blade. I can certify this.”
I heard a deep breath escaping Rod through closed lips. Perhaps he had also been hesitating to believe I had really faced an asura?
“We have to tell my father,” he said. “And your mother. Are we done here? The palace needs to hear it as soon as possible.”
Sir Ozer nodded. “We will continue our investigation. If possible, we need to determine how demons managed to come so close to the capital. We’ve only been able to spot evidence of a return spell. Your Highness and My Lady can return.”
“I should like to stay,” Benedetta told them. “I can assist the knights further. I shall depend upon them for a ride back.”
She didn’t ask their permission, but the knights simply nodded. I guess that was the prestige of the Pendor House at work.
As we walked back to the royal carriage, I told Rod, “Your Highness, I know for a fact that the academy is in session today. Amelia told me about a class she was looking forward to. You’re skipping school, aren’t you?”
He ducked the question as he gave me his hand to step up into the carriage, “Ti, it’s Rod, alright?”