Vaguely, I drifted in a universe of darkness, aware but unaware that something was off. I had been in a state like this once before, but I didn’t recognize it at the time, because I didn’t recognize anything at all.
It began to hurt. Once I knew pain, I knew something was very wrong. But as I realized something was wrong, I felt relief, because feeling pain meant I wasn’t dead. I’ve been dead before, so I can confirm. You don’t feel pain when you’re dead.
Awareness of my surroundings, the first hints of my spiritual sense awakening, told me I was in a very strange place to sleep. Several people were in a circle around me, while I lay in the middle of what seemed to be some sort of cereal crop field. All the crops around me were trampled down though. These people sure weren’t doing the farmer any favors.
Then I lost track of that image, as my consciousness went gray.
Sensibility returned, without the tiny flicker of spiritual sense from before. But I recognized the source of the pain at last. I couldn’t breathe without feeling knives jabbing into my side. Furthermore, my head felt like someone was performing brain surgery with a mallet.
But there was also, mysteriously, a warmth like I had never experienced before. It was exactly like [Healing], but somehow, more soothing. It felt like the tenderness of a mother’s arms, crossed with a really warm fleece blanket.
It gave me comfort, but my lungs were screaming at me to breathe again, never mind the pain. Although it really felt like the reward didn’t seem worth the pain.
“Stay with us, My Lady!” a girl’s gentle voice urged. “You have to breathe!”
This pain though… shouldn’t I have a tolerance for it? I fry myself every time I use [Purification], right? How can this pain feel so much worse? It makes no sense…
“Please, My Lady, you have to fight! Please stay with us!”
Ah, fine. I’ll breathe.
I dragged air into my lungs, and heard gurgling and rasping from my chest.
“That’s good!” she praised me. “Breathe out, then do it again!”
As I cooperated, I felt a familiar sensation in my mouth and realized my fangs had grown.
Ah, that’s what’s going on. I’ve lost too much pneuma because of physical blood loss. What little remains is fatigued badly. With too little lifeforce remaining, I can’t put up a resistance to things like pain and exhaustion.
At least, that realization meant my brain was working again. Growing fangs as an instinctive reaction to severe injury is a process different from the normal vampiric reaction to sensual stimulus. My vampire side wanted to feed to recover desperately needed pneuma rather than to obtain mortal mana. But this instinct… didn’t know how to absorb pneuma from my blood core. I tried unwinding some mana and pneuma from my trove of condensed blood, but this instinct couldn’t make any use of the pneuma, and it was lost.
In order to replenish it, it would have to come in as liquid, through my mouth, the old-fashioned way.
Probably, I couldn’t even heal myself, or use other magic, in the state I was currently in. I must have lost quite a lot of physical blood to be in this bad a shape.
Gentle hands on my chest continued to pour out [Healing] so very different from mine. Turns out, it actually was [Healing] after all, but somehow the means by which it flowed into me was more tender and caring. Based upon the report of my barely functioning spiritual sense, which had now lost the ability to sense the others but was still able to barely grasp her presence, the hands belonged to a nubile young female… and that was the cause of the fang growth. I now found myself in a fight against the instinct to grab her and feed. I would never do that again. I still hadn’t apologized enough to Melione.
I dragged in more painful breaths in order to say, “I’m feeling… urge to feed… Get away… before I attack you.”
I finally managed to get my eyes open, to see Mireia’s pink coif and worried face, framed by the blue sky. She was ignoring my warning and continuing to send her healing into me. Her healing was not as powerful as Melione, even the old Melione before bondage. The two were about the same age, but Mireia likely had far less practice. Melione had years of experience under her belt repeatedly healing adventurers. Even before she became my Servant, she was unusually skilled.
“Mireia… look at me,” I said, and opened my mouth as wide as I could. She didn’t. Still laboring to breathe, I somehow managed, in short phrases, to say, “I’m just barely… holding myself back. You’re… the perfect meal… for a vampire… You’re in danger.”
She finally looked at me, as I opened my mouth again to make sure she saw. Her eyebrows bunched up, but she did not interrupt her [Healing].
With a sigh, she asked, “Would that help you heal? I’m having a lot of trouble. You’re too close to death.”
I groaned, because I knew where her brain was heading. She was thinking, If it will help her heal, then as a healer, I should let her do it.
“It would,” I admitted. “No need… to feed on you… Lady Chiara…”
Her brow bunched. “If you actually need to feed… I would be willing.”
“No,” I answered, more firmly, forcing myself to speak clearly, damn the pain. “Chiara is my Servant. I would upset her if if I fed on someone else when she was available.”
“Servant?” Mireia’s brow bunched again.
I sighed. “You probably call it ‘Blood Slave’. Please have her come here.”
She grew a disapproving look. “If this isn’t voluntary for her…”
“Mireia,” Rod interrupted from outside my narrow field of vision. “Lady Chiara’s situation is not the same as yours. Ti, hang on and I’ll get her.”
Mireia frowned as she watched him leave. But then the effort I had made to speak caught up with me, and my sight and thoughts faded again.
The return of Reality featured a pleasantly appetizing neck pressed into my face as its owner held me up in her arms. I sensed delicious blood flowing within and opened my mouth, and with deep gratitude let my fangs sink in so I could partake. I slipped my arm around the girl treating me to dinner, putting my hand behind her head to hold her steady. My body felt stronger with every drop of her blood flowing into me.
After I had bathed in relief, enjoying the sweet nectar for some time, sensibility made another return and I realized who was feeding me. I also realized I had already fed deeply. I withdrew my fangs from her hastily.
Mireia was panting deeply and trembling, but to my relief, I had not gone too far. She was not in bondage… probably. I wasn’t sure I could entirely trust my judgement.
“Wow,” I heard her whisper as she lowered me to the ground.
“Are you okay?” I asked, worried.
She gave me a slightly wry, tight-lipped look and nodded. She probably wasn’t entirely okay, but I hadn’t given her an orgasm in front of everyone… probably. She wasn’t looking at me with lust, which was a good sign, but her eyes were unusually warm.
Speaking of, she had been feeding me in the middle of a crowd, including Dilorè, Genette, my house knight, and the royal knights.
Rod arrived at last with Ryuu and Lady Chiara. They were short of breath.
“Was she not able to wait for me?” Chiara wondered as she crouched down to look at me.
“She was waiting,” Mireia replied. She sounded exhausted, evidence of the post-feeding fatigue setting in. “But she passed out and… I got worried and tried to make her feed. Once I had her in position, I think she bit me instinctively.”
“Did you get enough, My Lady?” Chiara wondered, brushing my hair out of my face the same Rod had done.
My ability to tolerate pain had returned. I took that to mean I had regained my pneuma to a certain extent, and tried circulating Holy mana. But before I could cast [Healing] on myself, I began to fade and hurriedly stopped.
“Don’t do that, My Lady,” Mireia chided. “You’re too fatigued.”
Had she been able to see my mana circulating? Most mortal magicians can only feel it within their own mana pathways.
Sighing, I nodded. “I guess so.”
My words turned into a painful cough, and some blood flew out with it. I’m not sure it was mine or Mireia’s.
“I’ll heal you…” Mireia said, but I grabbed her hands before she began.
“No,” I said firmly. “I took too much blood from you. You need to rest. Chiara, I might… need a bit more from you.”
The lady knight looked around at the small crowd with a slightly sardonic smile, so I quickly added, “Later, in private.”
As many question marks as I was seeing among the people around me, I felt fairly sure that Mireia had managed to hide her reactions to the sensual effects of being fed upon. They didn’t know what Chiara was concerned about.
The unpleasantness of I had just done to Mireia in front of everyone then started coming home to me a little more and I began to feel seriously guilty. I would really have to apologize to her, later. I’m sure she must have been horribly embarrassed, experiencing something like that in front of everyone, especially when she had no warning what would happen when she fed me.
Rod asked, “Can she walk?”
Mireia shook her head. “Her legs and several ribs are still broken, Your Highness. She needs a stretcher.”
“Bearers and an ambulance are already on their way from the camp, Your Highness,” a royal knight reported.
“What happened?” I asked.
Dilorè answered, “That thing that attacked you blew up. It knocked me right out of the sky, but… well, you were a lot closer to it. We thought you might have done it.”
“Not directly, no,” I answered. After a moment, I added, “Its owner must have detonated it.”
“It was a bomb of some kind?” Rod wondered, frowning.
“Not exactly…” I sighed. “Too much to explain…”
I really didn’t want to talk about it. The thing had some similarity to Diur’s proxies. Those could be detonated, releasing spiritual energy as a weapon. The demonic cloud had a different nature, but seemed to have the same function. And it had clearly blown itself up. Or the fairies that brought it had lost control of it.
Within an hour, they moved me to a private tent, where Mireia wouldn’t let me be. She was exhausted from feeding me but kept insisting she could heal me more, and I kept insisting she not try. She kept refusing to leave my side. Finally, Rod had a second cot put in and ordered her to lay in it, while they brought in other healers to heal my ribs and legs.
They could only do so much, until I improved internally. Mireia’s healing set my bones and began the healing process, but the doctor who examined me insisted that under no condition should I attempt to get out of bed. My plan to go looking for Mother once this camp was secure was now delayed even further.
After the healers left, I turned my head to look at her, and saw she was still steadily watching me. I gave a sigh, then told Rod, “Your Highness, can you give us girls some privacy? I promise, I’ll be okay.”
Rod stroked my hair gently, then nodded. “Sure. I have to meet with the generals now, anyhow. The entire command center was wiped out the other day. There’s four divisional commanders from three different military services that came in to take over, all convinced they should be in charge. Lady Dilorè made a good start for me during the latest attack, but I still need to finish sorting it out.”
Then he raised his eyebrow and stated, “And Ti, it’s ‘Rod’, okay?”
He left without waiting for a response.
Lady Chiara was also sticking to me like glue. She shooed away the army nurses, telling them we had to have a confidential conversation. Which she had guessed correctly.
Actually, it turns out she had hit upon the truth by accident. I knew that she had actually made that up as an excuse, as soon as she said, “My Lady, I’ll feed you now, if you’re up to it.”
I gave a slight laugh (which still hurt) and told her, “After I have a talk with Miss Mireia. I actually do need to have a confidential conversation with her, first.”
“Do I need to leave too?”
“Mmm. No, it might be better for you to stay.” I turned my head to look at Mireia again. “Miss Mireia, are you aware that you’re acting unusually?”
Her eyebrows arched, then she smiled, and nodded. “I’m aware, My Lady.”
“So you understand something changed inside you while feeding me?”
Her mouth twisted, a slightly wry smirk, as if she was accepting an inevitability with good humor.
Then I could go ahead and say it. “Just to make it clear, I believe that I have put you in a state of Vampire Charm, Miss Mireia. I deeply apologize for that.”