Nobody spoke much, beyond assuring each other that nobody had been seriously wounded. As the chimeras burned, I healed some scratches on the two while they sat on their rumps trying to catch their breath. Both of them shuddered when I cast the magic, but they were too worn out to protest much.
When I was done, I made Bruna lay down and sleep again. While I was doing so, I also apologized for the magic I used on her to make her duck, but she waved it off.
Ceria faced me once her sister was snoring and said, “Lady, you said you’re carrying a charm to keep a blood slave sane or something?”
I nodded. “In case what happened with that healer happens again, I have a bracelet with me that is similar to the one your sister is wearing. In Orestania, blood slaves are required by law to wear an anti-slavery charm.”
She pursed her lips, then noted, “And I guess that bracelet that Bruna is wearing was meant for yourself.”
“I wondered why you happened to be carrying such a thing.”
“I had wondered what I was going to say if either of you asked. I guess I would have had to tell you the truth about myself. But you never asked.”
After another long silence, she tipped her head. “Does the fact that you were carrying the blood slave bracelet mean that you were expecting to do it to one of us?”
“No, it means that I was afraid that I might. I have already made a mistake once. I needed to have a anti-slavery bracelet with me, in case I did it again. New blood slaves experience a sort of delirium that would be very dangerous in a place like this.”
She raised her knees and wrapped them with her arms, growing a distant look. Then said, “You didn’t answer the question I asked about our chances. Not really.”
I thought about it, and nodded. “Our chances of getting to the surface if we do nothing are terrible. Frankly, I don’t expect that we all make it. Think about trying to protect Bruna while bringing her in her current condition. I figure at least one of you two would die. And if we face another attack like this last one…”
I didn’t finish the thought. Ceria dropped her head, but didn’t respond.
“If Bruna feeds on you…” I began, then wondered. “Does she talk about it that way?”
Ceria gave a giggle. “I suppose you could say that. She calls it ‘having a snack’.”
I stared at her, slightly slack-jawed, then shook my head.
She giggled again. “I guess she’s trying to make it sound less monster-like.”
With a nod, I said, “I can understand that.”
What had just come to mind was me telling a prostitute that I want to have a ‘sip of her wine.’
“Well,” I resumed, “With Bruna in good shape, if we only face ordinary low level monsters I think we probably make it. But if we face anything like the last attack, then forget it. I figure I can survive, but… maybe both of you die.”
“Even though we survived the last attack pretty well?”
“I caught her off-guard. If you were listening, you know I faced the same demon in the past. I survived before because a powerful ally caught her off-guard while she was fighting me. I survived this one because she didn’t expect my enchanted bolt. But the bolt I used on that chimera was my last one. I only have regular ones left. To beat her again, I need to pull out another surprise, and I don’t think I have another surprise for her.”
She was silent, so I added, “And all of this assumes I can make it out without needing mana. Or that I can feed on you as well. If I do, we’ll have to wait here longer, though. You’ll need to recover.”
“But if you make me… if you use that slave thing, you get mana plus more skills and our chances get way better.”
“It’s not just me,” I answered. “Yes, it will let me use your magic with much higher power than you are capable of right now. But you also get a big power up, because you tap into my magic capacity. You channel additional mana through me. You also get higher power.”
One’s magic capacity is a combination of the volume of pneuma one has and the efficiency with which one uses it to draw mana. My capacity takes after Mother, and hers is astronomical. It is impossible for me to run out of pneuma before magic depletes my stable mana. But, it seemed like when Melione drew mana through me, it didn’t deplete my stable mana. She kept drawing and drawing, until her own pneuma became exhausted, but by drawing extra through me, she received much more mana for the same amount of pneuma.
No, I hadn’t figured out entirely what was going on, but my best guess was, somehow she was using her own pneuma to draw mana, but using my efficiency, my ‘extremely high potential’, rather than her own. And I was betting that Ceria would get the same benefit.
If Ceria could fire magic strikes and power barriers at my strength, she would become more powerful than Arken. She could keep Bruna absolutely safe.
After another long pause, then she asked, “It really doesn’t matter than I’m not a virgin?”
I looked at her with some disbelief. She was referring to old folklore that a modern Orestanian really should know is nonsense. “Ceria, I already told you that I normally pay courtesans for blood, didn’t I?”
“Oh. That’s right.” She gave a light laugh.
Not many virgin courtesans out there, you know?
Then, her next question. “Is it really like having sex?”
Instant deep crimson blush. On me, I mean. Tiana’s sensibilities had serious trouble with this subject, and took over again. “I… um… have no experience with… that manner of embrace, so…”
Ceria smirked and her voice shook. “‘That manner of (snort) embrace (giggle)’…”
“Ceria, please don’t laugh at me…” I begged. “I’m only fifteen. Do you really think…”
She stared at me, then shook her head. “Well, that’s true. I didn’t do it until Bruna started. I guess I was seventeen. Or maybe I was still sixteen.”
I did the math and became astonished. “Bruna started that young?”
“Well, Mom had a lot of trouble affording those magic things she was buying for her. So we started sneaking away from home and selling it. Bruna didn’t want me to go with her, but I insisted if she had to do it, then Big Sister would do it too.”
With the exception of vampires, mana feeders can use tools loaded with mortal mana instead of feeding. But such items are expensive, and must be recharged often. A single mother probably would have trouble affording them.
It hit me that this meant Bruna had been able to find perverts who would pay for sex with a twelve or thirteen-year-old. I felt disgusted.
After enjoying watching my reaction, Ceria said, “Mom beat us black and blue when she finally learned what we were doing, but then she made us go adventuring with her to earn money for mana charges instead. That’s how we got started.”
Although I knew Huade was a brutal world for young people, this was really disturbing to me. But at fourteen years old when she joined our party, Melione had already been a veteran adventurer. Her first expedition had been at Lute’s age, a mere ten years old. It was hard to hear about the lives of people who hadn’t had Tiana’s privileged life. Now I was hearing that these two girls had both worked as prostitutes…
Wanting to change the subject, I decided to answer the original question as best as I could. “The courtesans tell me it’s quite not the same, but it feels just as good.”
The vampire magic did simulate sexual pleasure for the one being fed upon. Tiana had even caused her donors to climax before. It had alarmed her so much the first time a donor had one that she apologized profusely, which had elicited a long bout of laughter from the girl.
“What about for you?”
“I don’t know what sex is like,” I said, coloring again.
“Come on. You’ve done it to yourself, haven’t you?”
I blushed deeper, and dodged the question. “For me, it isn’t like sex. It’s like I’m enjoying the world’s most delicious food. It’s an incredibly satisfying meal.”
She smirked again. “So I look tasty to you?”
The blush wasn’t going away any time soon. I admitted, “You look very tasty.”
My answer put a blush on her cheek too. She looked away and planted her head on her knees, then admitted something that shocked me. “I already made up my decision during the fight, Lady. I’m just delaying the inevitable here. Is there something you can do to help me get started?”
“To help you?”
“Do you kiss me first, or something?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. Tiana had never initiated a kiss with those she fed on. A few of the prostitutes had kissed her, but she always stopped them before it continued very long.
Without an answer from me, she continued, “Should I offer myself to you, or tell you to take me or something?”
I winced. “Ceria, I’m not going to have sex with you. I’m going to feed on you.”
We had both accepted what we were going to be doing, by that point.
“Are you ready to do it now?” I asked.
She pursed her lips, then nodded. “But to tell you the truth, I’m terrified at the moment. Use your vampire power on me or something.”
“First I want to hear you clearly state it, so I know I’m not making any mistake. Are you only offering to feed me, or are you offering to become my blood slave?”
With a huff, she twisted her mouth, then said, “I’m taking your power up, Lady. Bruna and I almost lost to that chimera. I need more power. My conditions are that you give me that bracelet and that you help me protect my sister. In return, I’ll be your blood slave. Is that good enough?”
I nodded, then drew in a deep breath, hating myself for not seeing another way. I hadn’t told her, but as a four-attribute mage, Ceria had a high charm resistance. I would have to force the enslavement with a harder dose of magic and a longer than normal feeding.
After insuring that I had the blood slave’s bracelet within reach and ready to use, I looked into her eyes, gave her the heaviest charm I had ever projected and spoke my Command.
“Ceria, submit to me.”