After a half-hour or so, something prompted me to look at the amazon again. Bruna’s eyes were beginning to look a little dull, I noticed.
“You’re developing miasma ache now,” I stated. For a reply, she simply nodded.
She was still lay on her bedroll, covered in her blanket. I moved over to sit next to her and held out my hand. “Show me the bracelet. I need to check it.”
She pulled her arm out from under the blanket and held it out so I could inspect it. A moment with fairy sight was all I needed. I shook my head.
Now that incest was fast becoming a necessity, Bruna couldn’t grin and joke about it any more. She told me, “Ceria acts like she’s fine with the idea, but it’s just an act. She’s dying of shame over there, just thinking about it. Can I ask you to not watch?”
Ceria was now sitting a little way off to the side, taking a rest. She gave no sign of it, but I suspected she had heard. Her gaze stayed fixed on the forest.
“You don’t need to ask something like that. But, before you two… do that, I would like to try something,” I told her.
“You’re gonna try to purify the miasma in the bracelet?” she guessed.
I nodded. “You’re still low on stable mana, so it isn’t going to last as long, but if I don’t kill the bracelet doing it, we have a way to manage the problem a little while longer. I guess if I kill it, you two will just have to get started right now.”
Her mouth twisted a bit, but she nodded again, then opened the bracelet’s catch and handed it over. I moved away from her, because I didn’t know if there was any area effect when I used my overpowered magic.
Wincing in anticipated pain even before I began, I summoned the mana and whispered, “[purify],” as I circulated it, to convert it to its purification phase.
As the pain flared through me, I hit the bracelet with it. It took longer than I liked, but to my relief, I watched the thick mass of miasma trapped in the metal slowly dissolve in the stream of mana.
I put it back on Bruna and reactivated it. To my relief, it again began working, but, to my frustration, the miasma it was drawing off was now barely equal to the amount of new miasma Bruna’s body was generating.
Bruna needed that infusion of stable mana, but…
If I kept throwing magic around, I would run out of stable mana too. After all, I had the same weakness as Bruna. And I had already given the workaround I had for that weakness to Bruna. And I clearly had no choice except to keep using magic. We were painted into a corner, after all.
The demon might recover and come back, or he might have allies that would come next. He had mentioned “The Lady.” Whoever she was, she was clearly someone he held either respect or fear of, and that he was acting under the orders of.
But with Bruna in this condition and Ceria rapidly becoming more tired, running would require me to use massive amounts of mana.
There was a really simple solution to my problem too, but it was one I hated. After all, Bruna wasn’t the only one who could borrow stable mana from Ceria. I would have to tell them the truth about my nature, but I would be able to continue fighting. And even then, we would have long odds of making it out with all three of us alive.
What made it worse was, there was another potential benefit if I fed on Ceria. The only problem– the very big only problem– was that it meant doing something really terrible to her. But doing that thing would allow us to get far more use out of Ceria’s magecraft, and vastly improve those odds. It was an ugly choice I was facing.
The moment Ceria hit pneuma exhaustion, I would be defending all of us on my own, as well as trying to get all of us out of here. I knew I could get myself home, but even if I fed on Ceria, I doubted I could keep both of them alive, if another enemy of similar scale should attack us.
But did the fact that she might die otherwise justify what I was contemplating doing to Ceria? Logic said yes, but logic wasn’t the only issue here.
“Lady, something more than just my problem is bothering you,” Bruna said. “Your big sisters have accepted that you’re stronger than us, but you should remember that you still aren’t older than us. We can still help you figure things out.”
Ceria looked our way in reaction to Bruna’s words. She got up and came over to sit with us. “I also would like to hear whatever it is that’s been bothering you, Lady.”
I scowled out at the forest, then shook my head. Keeping my mouth shut was potentially the same as killing both girls myself. I needed to talk to them.
“I guess there isn’t actually any choice. I have something I need to explain to you two.”
# # #
After we finished talking, I went to harvest bounty proofs from the fallen monsters as a way to clear my mind. Ceria also had some heavy thinking to do, and she chose to gather the weapons that had fallen. It was better for her to do it than me, since any iron objects were in peril in my hands. She didn’t say a word to me while we worked.
Who could blame her? I was proposing permanently altering her life. Yes, if it worked the way I believed it would, it would amp up her power as a combat mage considerably. And it would give me access to more magic abilities.
Possibly, it could also allow these two to avoid a round of lesbian incest. Despite Ceria’s raunchy bravado when she first mentioned the subject, her real feelings as the possibility now drew close were showing to be very different. It was clear that this was true for Bruna as well. Their bawdy sense of humor wasn’t enough to override their natural revulsion.
Incest might be a popular thing in fiction, but Robert had never once contemplated doing something like that with his sister. And my Tiana side was struggling just with the idea of marrying a man who was only her unofficial foster brother. I am pretty certain most real siblings can’t imagine actually doing such a thing.
But, wasn’t what I was proposing even worse than having to do that?
Despite all of the benefits and the bonus of not having to do something with her sister that could never be taken back, Ceria would become my blood slave. I felt like I was committing the blackest of evils, just laying that choice before her. And I was doing so when this situation was ultimately my fault in the first place. I was the party leader. I should have said no, way back when Bruna insisted she could continue. We should have turned around and gone home right then.
There was third choice, of course. Do nothing and try to go home like this. Maybe we could somehow make it to the surface alive. We would be gambling that the demon had no further attacks in store for us, that he had no allies that would act in his place, and that we could survive whatever other monsters attacked on our way.
After Ceria and I had piled up the weapons and trophies near where Bruna was sleeping (courtesy of my [Sleep] casting), we switched. She wrapped the proofs and put preservation spells on them while I investigated the gathered weapon drops.
To my surprise, my inspection yielded a couple very valuable items. The black sword that the ‘demon’ had dropped turned out to be nightsteel, an alloy of orichalcum and salamander bones. Something I could use if needed, but more importantly, a high-value salvage. My share of it would pay Bruna’s and Ceria’s salaries even if we were stuck for three or four more days in this place.
And amazingly, one orc had carried what turned out to be a high quality spear. Not in the same league as the nightsteel sword, but the shaft was silverwood and the head was elvish steel. It was a little hard to imagine the reasoning behind using such a valuable wood for a spear shaft, but that’s what it was.
When we were done, I wrapped the sword and tied it to my pack and Ceria distributed the proofs between Bruna’s bag and her own. She sat next to her sister, and checked on her while I busied myself by getting out my provisions and slicing some up.
“Want some?” I asked.
Ceria shook her head.
A bit later, she finally spoke. “We should roast some of the boar meat.”
“Have you ever eaten rock boar?” I queried with a sidelong glance at her.
“No. Is it bad?” Her question was probably in response to my expression.
“You can’t properly chew the stuff. It’s so tough that it’s more ‘rock’ than ‘boar’,” I answered, which she chuckled at. But then she fell silent once more.
After I put the unsliced portions back into my pack and began my meal, she spoke once again. “Lady, do you understand I have very little reason to trust you right now?”