The hellspawn let out a heart-rending scream as my fangs sank into her, but I wasn’t holding back the [Vampire Charm] that accompanies feeding in the slightest. Normally it must be carefully dispensed in order to avoid harming the donor, but I made no such effort this time. On the contrary, I pushed it on her.
The skill did not seem to have any effect on Trisiagga when I did this to her, nor on the other asura whom I had killed using the same method, but because the hellspawn was half human, I thought I should get a different result.
I was right. She ceased to struggle after a few seconds and began reacting exactly as I would expect from a normal feeding. Suddenly, I felt exactly the same as if I were holding a mortal in my arms while drinking her blood. I even cupped the nude half-demon’s breast as I fed, although it was probably out of habit. It seemed somehow bizarre to me that it felt like a perfectly normal woman’s breast.
Of coure, the nue that we were riding wasn’t so cooperative. My body was still coated in [Purification], and was continuing to deliver pain to it, so it kept bucking. Only the fairy strength in my legs, gripping the beast’s body hidden within the black Demonic cloud, was preventing it from throwing us both off.
My intention was to drain the living blood from the hellspawn’s body, thereby killing her, along with any stolen mortal blood if she turned out to have a blood magic core, but a new problem was suddenly developing. I felt my spiritual strength beginning to weaken. Thanks to the extreme number of metaphoric balls I had been juggling, I was quickly reaching my limit.
It had been a long time since I felt my pneuma flagging. Not since I lay injured in the medical tent in Atianus. I might not have time to kill her and get out of there. I couldn’t drop the [Purification] safely either; it was the only thing protecting me from the horrific levels of miasma in the beast I was riding. But was she weak enough yet that I could safely let her go and escape from here?
As I tried to guess the best time to let go, to my surprise, the demonic woman began quaking like a leaf. She even clutched onto me as her mouth dropped open and she began taking long, shuddering breaths, culminating in an absolutely unmistakeable orgasm.
I had not expected that allowing [Vampire Charm] to operate at full blast would cause this to happen so rapidly, but it was a perfect opportunity. As she wilted in my arms, I withdrew my fangs and dashed away. But my thoughts were getting a little muddled as I departed.
It was obvious something was wrong, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I didn’t need it anymore, so I let the [Purification] dispel, which at least removed the searing pain, and my head cleared a bit, leading me to finally realize my wings had dissipated. The qi sword was also gone, but I realized that this was because I had simply let go of it in the collision with the demonic beast and it had fallen to the ground below. I dismissed that technique as well, freeing up more reserves. Remembering I also had several flavors of mana circulating, and the [Body Fortification] skill active, I let go of those as well. Far off in the Oserian Highlands, Sirth agreed and surrendered her manifestation as well, probably causing some confusion among her companions as she disappeared. Finally, I deflated my spiritual vessel back to base size. All my resources thus freed, I began to summon the strength to regrow my wings…
Suddenly, I was cradled in the arms of an irate Stregione, interrupting that plan.
“If you don’t want me treating you like a foolish child, would you please stop acting like a foolish child, Commander?!”
I opened my mouth to defend myself, but I was having trouble focusing well enough to do so. I closed my eyes and tried to muster a bit of concentration, but reality wobbled and grew a bit too difficult.
Then, all of a sudden, I seemed to be on my back on a hard surface. That seemed a bit peculiar, but trivial, so I didn’t concern myself too much over it. My awareness focused instead on the voices yammering around me, annoying me.
“My Lady! My Lady!”
“She’s unhurt. She’s going to be fine. She’s just suffering from pneuma exhaustion.”
“Should we move her below?”
“Never mind that! She was stuck to that beast for ages! She needs [Purification]!”
“I wouldn’t dare! Don’t you know what [Purification] does to monsters?!”
“You can relax. I see no demonic mana in her. She successfully warded it all. And Miss Mireia is correct; you should absolutely never use [Purification] on a monster.”
“You promise? You really guarantee she’s alright?”
“I believe the people of this age call it ‘Fairy Sight’, Your Highness. We can see demonic mana infecting a living being. There’s nothing like that, anywhere in her.”
I had managed to identify, in order of appearance, Mireia, Diurhimath and Amelia. Why Amelia was out of her safe room, I have no idea, but by that time, I didn’t care. I just wanted them to all shut up and let me sleep.
Within me, a flow of Holy mana entered my pathways then immediately disappeared as it diverted to a Servant. Normally, I don’t even notice this process anymore, but with all my own mana use on hold, it stood out. As I drifted off, I felt the buoying effect of [Restoration] flowing into me through Mireia’s hands.
At some vague interval afterward, I felt a toe nudging my arm and opened my eyes. The studiously neutral face of Fan Li stared down at me, framed by an odd background. It might have been a spring sky, except it wasn’t the proper color. The light seemed to be odd as well, although not in a way I could identify.
“When this sage agreed with your plan, it was with the expectation of a less foolhardy approach, Your Highness.”
Her voice carried the emotion of a frustrated parent, or a disappointed teacher. But hearing it clued me in to the lack of the emotions normally channeled along with our inner voice conversations, or with spiritual voice communications.
“You’re limiting me to verbal communication only,” I judged as I sat up and looked around. The scenery did not look real, not in the least bit. Surreal trees and mountains surrounded around us, that seemed painted rather than three dimensional. It looked a lot like a Chinese painting like you might see on a wall-hanging, to be frank.
Was this like Senhion and Kanon using their artworks as the basis for simulations, except rendered in the style of Fan Li’s world?
Fan Li took a seat on the ground, facing me. I began to realize that she looked slightly painting-like, herself. I set the matter aside, gave her annoyed stare, and said, “Don’t lie to me. You knew my entire plan from the beginning.”
“The point at which it became foolhardy was after you identified the opponent but continued your attack, despite the serious risks,” Fan Li answered. “With a more circumspect mind, you would have retreated once the opponent turned out to be stronger than either of us expected.”
“You would have backed off, Your Wisdom,” I countered. “I had to protect my sister.”
“This humble sage does not require such a grand address.”
“As you yourself just recognized, you were reckoned a sage in your world. My etiquette requires me to address a sage in a specific way.”
Fan Li’s brow rose, then she pressed her lips together and nodded. “The mistake indeed falls on this side. Just as we do not follow the same protocols, we will not make the same decisions. It is sometimes too easy to forget. While we are parts of the same person, we are separate, and each with our own thoughts. But I recall a warning that your mother on Earth spoke often in your younger days, that ‘teenagers are not immortal, they only think they are’. Please take it to heart, Your Highness. In the future, once you recognize that you have underestimated the enemy, make an effort to escape.”
I wanted to protest that I had been doing exactly that, but other issues were bothering me more. First of which was…
“This sage is preventing your view of our shared memories, to avoid a negative side-effect of this space.”
Exactly. Just as I wasn’t receiving her emotions along with her words, I wasn’t seeing the memory of her thoughts that normally accompanied the dialog from my alter-egos.
“Speaking of this space…”
“We are not in a true Illusory Reality of the Immortals, but it is an imagined space with a similar aim but a poorer quality. This sage has been able to achieve this much thanks to the efforts made prior to the formation of your spiritual vessel, but great strides have been made through the knowledge gathered by studying your experiences with Illusory Realities.”
I watched an ink-brush art butterfly flitter past while commenting, “I think it’s good enough to legitimately call it an Illusory Reality though? Even if it isn’t to the same standard.”
“No,” Fan Li shook her head. “At most, it is an ‘Inner World’, a form of dreamspace. It is not yet possible to bring guests into it. It is only possible to host you here because we share the same soul.”
“And so… why are you hosting me here?” I wondered. “I asked before about reconnecting your old spiritual vessel with my new one. You said I required more training before we could do that, but doesn’t having me here in this ‘imagined space’ mean you’ve already done it? We couldn’t be doing this on my side, with me in pneuma exhaustion.”
Her mouth twisted, and she regarded me with bitter humor. “Yes, this small one forged a link between the two vessels, as a hedge against your imminent death. Had the male junior not caught you, this scholar would have forcibly flowed the spiritual power from the old vessel to the new and manifested there to slow your fall and protect your children. Now the egg that is scrambled cannot be restored. From now on, this scholar must manage the process full-time as the two vessels merge, to prevent the Fan Li personality from overwhelming and replacing Tiana.”
“But… you can’t do that, I thought? I mean, stay active full-time?”
“This humble scholar is active full-time, always. The imagined space has not yet progressed to the point that sleep and dreaming are possible, so this scholar remains perpetually awake. But that is on this side, over here in this imagined space. The time limit applies to my awareness in greater reality, over in your world. The greater connection will allow this one to monitor your world in ‘real time’, as Robert’s world calls it, but the need to hold the flood of spiritual energy back in order to protect you will occupy all my efforts now. It will no longer be possible to manifest Fan Li in your world until this task is done. You must come here to train, so be sure you sleep every night. The sooner you can control matters yourself, the sooner the danger to your mind passes, and the sooner you relieve this scholar of this duty.”
Up until now, I had thought of all the incarnations as awarenesses separate from me, so this was perplexing me a little, but I did know how my thought patterns and priorities shifted as I brought in the memories from others.
“This is different. You have no connection to the old vessel, so it would drown you rather than connect to you. Your memories and personality, thus overwhelmed, would cease to be coherent and simply become absorbed into mine, in the same fashion that you absorbed the thoughts and memories of the original Tiana. More than likely, it would not be possible to reconstruct you as a separate awareness.”
“But you were going to do it anyway, just now?” I retorted, now alarmed. “That’s what you meant by ‘forcibly flowing the spiritual power’, right?”
“It was better than letting your children die along with you, Your Highness,” she stated. “As disagreeable as it would be, it would be less disagreeable than that.”
I felt a chill. Although I passed out after Diur caught me, I believe that as long as I still had to fly, I would have stayed conscious, at least long enough to recover and land on my own. But if Fan Li had lost faith in my ability to save myself and pulled such a dangerous trigger…
Pushing that frightening thought out of my mind, I noted, “So I must be physically asleep now. Are we going to begin that training right now?”
Fan Li shook her head. “It is not yet possible. Your body must recover from pneuma exhaustion, first. You appeared here automatically, as a consequence of the expanded linkage between the vessels, after you passed out over there. I will have you sleep now, and send you back to your side.”