In an instant, I flew into the air, leaving the protesting mortals and elemental behind on the observation deck of the highest tower of Narses kingdom, unable to follow their prodigal lady. The sun was already below the mountain top, so they were probably about to have trouble even keeping an eye on her from a distance. Well, Ceria with her catkin night vision probably could, but none of the others.
I called back to Benedetta, whose guidance of the Darkness was wavering, Stop worrying about me and keep your mana under control!
At that point, about five seconds after take-off, I had risen about a hundred paces above the tower’s top. Sensitive to the small lives in my womb, I wasn’t pushing it. I could have made that altitude in one second if I had been pushing it. Perhaps less.
For now, through the spiritual link I had forged while holding her hand, I remained in contact with her. If I managed things correctly, I should be able to maintain the web of mana, between Benedetta’s Darkness and my [Blood Mist], which was providing me a complete picture of all things demonic in the area under my surveillance.
The being that is normally me, the ‘normal Tiana’, is a mass of conflicting obligations, who seems to feel the weight of other people’s expectations of her far more heavily than the weight of her own needs or desires. That is why she would not have done what I did at that moment. She would not have grown her wings and leapt into the air, ignoring the concerns of everyone around her.
The fact is, I was not the ‘normal Tiana’ at that moment. The strict pragmatism of Fan Li had a far firmer grasp upon me, but in an oddly Tiana-like way. They were merging with the harsh training that the original Tiana had undergone, what the new Tiana would call ‘Full Battle Mode’, that prioritized the near automatic military instinct for action drilled into the young ducal daughter, with which she honed herself into a sharp and deadly tool for the service of her beloved king and country.
The result was a machine that processed the inputs and calculated the appropriate output before I even really had considered those grudging promises the normal me had made.
Well, the fact was, she had made those promises with the proviso ‘unless absolutely necessary’, so I don’t think I was breaking them. Because this was absolutely necessary.
Of course, part of the calculation that drove me to immediately attack had been whether I had the weapons on hand to do so. At that moment, I had…
No Durandal, no Starfire Jade Writing Brush, no combat fan. I had a small dagger strapped to my thigh, because Tiana was utterly unable to go entirely weaponless, but it was just an ordinary dagger, except made from svartálfa steel.
Didn’t matter. I had what I needed for this matter.
Not that everyone agreed. Benedetta was sending back, My Lady, what am I to tell your husband? He is sick with worry!
We aren’t married yet, Lady Benedetta. He’s my fiancé. Alert the air defenses immediately to a demonic presence in the air.
Ten seconds. Nearly four hundred paces above the tower. In the empty air around me, a small flock of alien intruders circled my castle. These were gidim, the most elementary demons. These had once been souls damaged too severely, weighted down too substantially by anxiety and regret while they were still alive to return to Samsara when they died. Without the intervention of healers, priests, immortals and other beings capable of purification, they became corrupted, and the mana gathered to them became demonic.
Ordinarily, I would have certainly seen these as targets and dealt with them. But certainly Diurhimath and Melione would have, as well, upon sensing them. They had not sensed them because they were under the cover of a stealth magic impossible for such simple demons to wield. The only reason I could detect them was the combined techniques of fairy sense and spatial comprehension, skills from two worlds, blended together via the quasi-man’s Art of Affinity. Kwelabi would use that skill to merge his awareness with elements of nature, in the process of hunting, healing, or studying, but Fan Li had been borrowing it to fashion new magics blending her knowledge with Huadean techniques. Through Fan li, I knew how to do it too.
But I did not go after the gidims. Not just yet. I continued ascending past them, pretending to be oblivious to their presence.
Several such creatures had already found Miröen’s launch, and were congregating around it. They didn’t seem to be able to penetrate the first layer of defenses, so they hadn’t yet found her room, but they certainly knew Amelia was there.
I did not go after these, either.
He wants details, My Lady!
Tell him he will have to wait for details until I flush it out!
Fifteen seconds. Nine hundred paces. It was excruciatingly slow, providing evidence, valid at least to my own conscience, that I was not being careless with my daughters’ lives.
I had so many unknowns. Donald Rumsfeld once famously spoke about ‘known knowns’, ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’. I could list only the known unknowns, naturally, but among them were, what entity was behind the stealth magic, and what was that entity doing with the knowledge of her approximate location?
The news which Ged wouldn’t discuss even by letter and would only let our newcomers tell me in person had been brutal and simple. Rebel soldiers and Merrow allies had attacked from the sea and flooded the palace where Amelia was staying, killing the local count and most of his comital guard and briefly taking Amelia prisoner. Fortunately, Allia lead her daughters, the four Hero’s Party members on hand, and the remaining comital guard, house knights and royal soldiers in a successful counter-attack, rescuing her and wiping out the enemy. The rebel navy that had appeared in order to retrieve them escaped after losing several ships, but many survived, so Ged could not leave Amelia in that place while the Royal Navy remained unable to locate them. It had been a far more substantial attack than the previous kidnapping attempts. The enemy seemed to be willing to risk large-scale resources now, just to get Amelia under their control.
If they planned a similar attack here, with our defenses now tripled in the recently-attacked capital city, it would certainly fail, so they had to be planning a more surgical attack. Perhaps they had more resources like the ones that had attacked from the harbor when Inda was killed, only these would be waiting to conduct something more like a special ops abduction mission.
It was a known unknown though. I could speculate all I wanted, but I couldn’t peer inside the enemy’s head to see what they were planning. I could only interrupt their plans by cutting off their stream of information.
Not knowing their plans, and most importantly their timing, I had to cut off that stream, one of my two known knowns, immediately.
And thus, I was flying for altitude. Twenty seconds. Sixteen hundred paces. The castle far below me had become a postage stamp. I pushed extra helpings of Darkness into [Vampire Cloak], did as gentle a wingover as I could to keep the g-force on my body in moderation, and fell into a nearly vertical dive.
Where was I on my list of weapons? Oh, yes. Just a dagger. But I had other means at my disposal. As I descended, I pointed my arms as if I were diving into the water, but held my hands as if I were gripping the hilt of a jian, a straight-bladed sword from Fan Li’s world. It was not that different from the mithril sword that Tiana carried while with the Hero’s Party, although the jian is lighter, with a thinner blade. Nevertheless, it was quite familiar in my hand. If it were actually present, that is.
That wasn’t an issue, though. Within my spiritual vessel, I modeled the concept of Sword Qi in the Earth and Light mana that matched it best. As my target began expanding in my vision, about one-third of the down in my descent, the mana poured out, molded by Will, and formed the shining image of Fan Li’s sword, just as she had done after she grew past the need to carry a physical example, baffling the experts around her. I felt the weight, the potent substance of steel and the very soul of her blade weld itself to my hand through the grip.
Just before passing the stealthed entity, I folded my wings and flipped upright to deliver a vertical slash. Light and Earth, married together perfectly in just the right ratio, flew forth in a vicious scythe of sword light and shattered its defensive shield.
As I plunged feet-first past my target, I began hearing the castle’s alarm from below, strangely similar to a submarine’s klaxon, sounding forth the alert I had requested. I barely noticed it, as I was busy simultaneously trying to understand my target and slow my fall as gently as I could. With my wings again unfurled, I managed to convert it into a rising, banking turn, and at that point, finally defined my enemy.
I had expected a medium-high-class demon, just based upon the success of the stealth magic. Now, I had yet another known unknown.
Actually, I knew what she was. The pallid, yellow-green skin, like a horrific case of jaundice, combined with the curling horns, very definitely revealed her to be a hellspawn. The fact that she was choosing to wrap herself in darkness mana, almost but not quite concealing her otherwise naked body, revealed her to be a magic user.
But that left me knowing less about her capabilities than if she had been any race of true demons.
The problem with a hellspawn is, they start at class D and advance from there, but there is nothing visual to tell you exactly how far they have advanced. A demon changes their race as they advance. A ghoul evolves into a hag or wraith, then a drude, an imp, a fiend, an asura. An undead becomes a skeletal demon, then a skeletal knight, a lich, an elder lich. A hellspawn just becomes a more powerful hellspawn. One can only guess a class for them after engaging them and getting an estimate of their strength.
They are half-human, half-demonic walking unknowns. But they walk. They don’t fly. So what was this one doing at an altitude a thousand paces above the castle?
Well, that would be because of the dark cloud of demonic mana and scattered living matter that she was riding. This could possibly be some sort of demonic spell, but it was more likely to be a nue in its flying form. Once it landed, it would transform into a solid creature, a sort of demonic tiger with a snake’s tail and head and poisonous breath.
This was a serious problem.
Benedetta! I called. Tell His Highness that the demon is a hellspawn riding a Class-A demonic beast!
If she was controlling such a creature, she was very likely Class-A strength herself. The most powerful hellspawn I had ever heard of. I’m not gonna lie. I did not expect to encounter a pair of Class-A threats.
I may have been hasty. My smug belief that I was wiser than Tiana without the mind expansion crumbled in the face of evidence.
Powerful slashes, like [Wind Scythe] attacks, began flying at me. With Durandal not at my side, I had to use Will to force them to miss me while I juked and jived through the air. I sent slashes of sword light back at her, while beginning to circulate Holy mana…
A new voice broke into my mind. What are you doing! Stop!
I stopped, because I knew that voice. And my spiritual sense told me it was coming from a pink-haired girl in a qipao staring up at me from the courtyard far below. Of course, it wasn’t her voice. It was Rhea’s.