Chapter 60 – Issue in Doubt

My mind was blank. I couldn’t make any sense out of the strange things he was saying. All I could tell was that he seemed to be saying those things about me.

Pushing himself off the ground slightly, he crawled backwards on his hands and feet, continuing to stare at me like he was seeing a ghost. Finally, he struggled to his feet.

“The Lady has seen this by now,” he continued. “The Lady knows that she’s weakened me too much for this. She knows that I can’t fight something like this. She knows that… I… can’t… “

He drew his head back, sucked in a massive draught of air, then… letting out an inarticulate howl, sprang back into the air. Flying straight at me, he let loose a blast of wind that was like a wind bullet, but with a gigantic size I had never seen in a wind bullet.

I swung my sword through it as it arrived, but I only partly deflected it, and the remaining energy swatted me backward like a baseball. Just before I hit the ground, a dozen paces from where the attack had struck me, I saw him disappear over the top of the stone outcropping, his wings beating in desperate flight, as if an avenging spirit were after him.

I lay on my back for several seconds, and the only coherent thought that I could manage was one question.

What in Hades is a ‘Strega’?

The word was something I had heard before. Or to be more accurate, the Ostish word he had used was registering in my mind as translating to a word from Earth that I had learned during my time as Robert. A light novel had used the strange word ‘Strega’ to mean a particular kind of magic user, and I had looked up the odd term up out of curiosity. Turned out, it just meant ‘Witch’ in Italian, but I also learned that it also has a meaning in Albanian legend. In Albania, it meant a particular kind of monster that could be described as a vampire witch.

Female vampires who are mages certainly exist, but they were just female vampires who are mages. Aunt Elianora is an example of that, although she works as a physician rather than a mage.

I knew of no vampire-like magic-using beings among the races of Huade particular enough to need a special name as if they were a different kind of creature than a vampire. And I had no idea why this fellow would see one of those when he looked at me.

I had no time to waste on the question though. Still hearing battle, I regained my feet and turned around, to see Ceria engaging the shadow panther. Bruna was down, and Ceria must have been out of preloaded spells, because she was defending her sister by firing basic fireballs at it.

Freshly toasted whole boar lay to her side, so she had disposed of one of the monsters already. The other boar lay next to Bruna, where the amazon had hacked it apart. But the panther looked like it was uninjured, and for some reason Bruna wasn’t getting up to defend her sister from it.

Summoning my strength once more, I ran at it. My wings were still out, so when the panther sensed my approach and used its wind magic to pounce on me, I simply took to the air with one wing stroke and met it mid-air. My move threw it off. It tried to twist in the air to adjust to my approach, but my blade struck it before it could get a slash in with its claws.

The mana had dissipated from my sword, so it didn’t do the same sort of damage it could have. The monster did take a deep cut on its shoulder, but I had landed a relatively weak blow.

The panther snarled at me and rose higher into the air, trying to get altitude on me with its wind control. I chased it upward while recharging my blade. Before I could touch it, it jumped to the side as we circled each other, but that was exactly according to my plan. We were right up against the rock face, after all. I let it think it had dodged me.

Aunt Elianora has an amazing trick she can do with vampire magic. It resembles Brigitte’s [Wall Scamper], except Elianora’s skill is the ability to stand on walls, perpendicular to them as if they were the floor. She can even run up and down on them, and once Tiana saw her use the ceiling in the same way. I have never managed to master this skill but I can make myself stick for just a moment.

I arrived at the wall feet first, letting my knees bend deep as my feet gripped the rock, then sprang back at the surprised cat. It had at that moment only just turned itself around. I came back at it, my sword cutting a wide downward arc, and slashed into its skull as it snarled.

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The results were grotesque. I will abstain from describing them in detail. Just think the words, ‘split skull’ and visualize.

A panther corpse dropped to the ground as I landed next to the panting, drained Ceria, who had collapsed to her hands and knees when I took over the battle. She appeared whole, so I ran to Bruna and turned her onto her back. The girl was a mess of blood, much of it her own, and a black boar horn had run through her armor and her abdomen, where it broke off. The horn was still lodged in her gut.

Her eyes struggled open and she gave me a weak grin. “And you only just healed me. Sorry.”

Working quickly, because she was quickly losing blood, I stripped her of her leather brigandine. Then, in spite of the dire situation, a short huff of laughter escaped me.

“You’re supposed to wear a tunic underneath your armor, idiot.”

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“It gets too hot!” the now-topless girl protested. I shook my head, then told her, “Get ready. I have to pull this thing out.”

Just like before, she pulled off a leather gauntlet, which now bore deep teeth marks from the two previous times she had employed it, shoved it into her mouth, then gave a sharp nod. I gripped the horn, and pulled.

She let out a muffled cry, but the thing came loose. Blood quickly began welling up from the hole in her gut as I tossed it aside.

“This healing will be worse than last time. Get ready,” I told her. Once she braced and nodded again, I held my hands over the wound.

“[Heal].”

She instantly jackknifed in pain, her fists clenching and her knees drawing up, but she didn’t make a sound. I felt the process in my mind, of the spell guiding my magic as it pushed the mana to her injured intestines, closing holes in them, then eliminated the bits of debris that had entered with the horn, along with the contagions they had carried and the bits of junk that had escaped her guts through the holes. With my eyes, I watched the wound close up while my fairy sight showed me the roiling miasma dissipate from the wound site as Bruna’s internal mana flow in that place returned to mostly normal.

I moved to two other spots where she was bleeding and repeated the spell. Finally, I sat back on my haunches and stared down at the panting amazon as I let the healing shut down. She was sweating hard enough to wash some of the blood away. I shook my head.

“Let’s lay out your bedroll and cover you up.”

She might still go into shock, which was my first concern, but frankly, between the blood that attracted Tiana’s appetite and Bruna’s quite attractive, moisture-covered breasts that were demanding Robert’s attention, it would be greatly beneficial to me to get her covered.

“I’ll take care of her, Lady,” Ceria said. “I need to rest and recover my pneuma anyway, so we should switch.”

I nodded and turned away, directing my attention and my fairy senses outward to watch for more foes.

It gave me a chance at last to re-evaluate our situation. My analysis didn’t require much time to complete. The prognosis was not good.

- my thoughts:

If you're curious, the light novel she's referring to is Gakusen Toshi Asutarisuku, known in English as The Asterisk War. In there, Strega and Dante are special genestella who can use prana for more than just wielding their weapon. I'm guessing the author was referring to the Italian word only.

My use of it here refers to an Albanian monster with roughly the same name, which is a vampiric witch. Anything else you see in this story about Streghe is strictly my invention, and not from either Albanian or Italian folklore.

Check out my other novel: Tales of the ESDF

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