We spent a half hour going through several first level spells, with Bruna watching her sister like a hawk for any of the negative symptoms from the feeding that I described to her. I couldn’t do it, because every time Ceria fired off a spell, I had to pay attention to the sensations within me, and then imitate them. I was relieved after the first one– a simple light spell that I had tried for years to learn– when the ball of light appeared and I could make it float up and stay where I put it. Ceria even showed me a trick I had never seen Arken or Mother do, causing the light to focus in a beam like a flashlight. It was a matter of concentration, but when she did it, I was able to feel and repeat the process.
She shook her head with wry sadness. “It took Mom months to teach me how to do that.”
“I’m sorry,” I answered. I genuinely felt bad for minimizing her accomplishments like that.
She just shook her head and beamed at me. “No. It’s wonderful that my effort is of value to you, Lady.”
The way she put that made me a little uncomfortable. She should have been upset at me for being able to mooch off her efforts like that. But it was probably the bond still messing with her mind. It looked like it was taking a while for the initial effects on her to wear off.
We continued through as many first level spells as she could think of. We wouldn’t do anything higher level, because of the chants. The mana flow is tuned to the exact words. It’s dangerous if you don’t spend weeks burning the chant into your memory before the first time you attempt the spell. For formations, you need to burn the exact geometry into your brain.
Ceria told me, “If I had the materials, I could make some talismans for you, so you could use those for the formations. But, I always use [Inscribe Formation], so I don’t carry the stuff.”
I knew about that already. Arken uses talismans for [Detect Presence], because they’re stealthier. Most mages avoid using them, because talismans require extremely expensive materials: magical paper, special inks, special pens, particular incenses to pretreat the paper before and to cure the finished talisman afterward. The normal users are non-mages with enough magic control to trigger the talisman and load it with mana or release the mana already stored in them.
“You know how to make talismans?” I asked with a little surprise. It’s a specialty of magic crafters like alchemists. Most users buy them.
She dimpled and said, “When we go home for visits, Mom puts us to work. After our little sister and our little brothers came, she stopped adventuring and opened a magic shop and apothecary. I help her make talismans and Bruna fixes stuff and gives the brats fighting lessons.”
She had me run through each of the first level spells I had learned until she approved the results. Then, I ordered her back to the bedroll.
Possibly to prove to herself that the bracelet worked, Bruna overruled me and had Ceria invoke [Alarm Barrier] first.
I was irritated that she continued to use magic when she was now so visibly drooping with fatigue, especially for something that was redundant to my fairy sense, but when she grabbed her staff and went to do it, I was also kind of glad to see proof that she could go against my orders. Once she finished, though, I insisted she lie down, this time properly under the blanket.
I forgot it was my bedroll, and had to endure another blatant demonstration of her olfactory fetish. Bruna explained to me, when she saw me grimacing, that it was a beast-kin thing. Although I wondered if it really was, having witnessed the exact same scene with regular human girls in anime.
She needed to stop goofing around though. She and her sister were both seriously in need of rest. Against their protests, I hit them both with [Sleep]. Then I had to sit on the bare ground because, like I said, Ceria still had my bedroll. Like heck I was going to mark my scent on hers.
# # #
In the hours that followed, I told myself dozens of times that I had made the right decision. I don’t think even once that I accepted that claim. I couldn’t. But I could never once convince myself that I had a better choice either. The depression that hovered over my soul was a perfect match for the scenery that was never day or night that spread before me as I held vigil and the sisters slept.
Somewhere deep in my instinctive magic, from either fairy or vampire parentages, dwells an innate skill similar to the spell [Persistance]. Buoyed by an abundant provision of stabilized mana, courtesy of the deep feeding I had done to ensure Ceria’s bond, I continued to hold off sleep without difficulty throughout that watch.
As time wore on, I also began to wonder what I was going to say to Mother. I would have to tell her about Melione and Ceria, of course. Then I realized that the person I truly dreaded telling was Aunt Elianora. Arken would be saddened, and Mother would be disappointed, but Aunt Elianora was going to be angry. Of course, once I thought about this, it put me right back into ruminating about whether or not I had made the right choice.
To get my mind of it, I played with some of the magic I had learned. Fire balls were frustratingly easy– I had struggled so much in the past without success, trying to create so much as a candle flame– and magic lights I could make almost without a thought. I kept playing with them, until something within me stirred. It was a little like vampiric hunger but different. I felt a driving urge to wake Ceria and force her to do more magic, show me more things, maybe even try to learn some second-level stuff…
In panic, I pushed my mind out of that weird mode it had slipped into. What the heck was it? I was literally ravenous for more knowledge for a moment there.
I recognized the feeling though. It was something inborn and instinctive, one of those preprogrammed features that came built-in with this body, just like fairy sense or vampire charm. The blood bond with Ceria had triggered another one, that I had not been aware of before now.
It wasn’t a drive to take more from Ceria, just a drive to learn. It was a burning need to take this magic thing and make it completely mine. And I could tell it wasn’t born of all those frustrating years of failed magic lessons. It was coming from somewhere much deeper. And I had a feeling it was a thing I should be very careful with.
It was probably morning by the time Bruna stirred. It was a mild sound at first, but then she came awake with a moan that sounded deeply in pain. Ceria sprang to life at the sound, but I was already going to check on her.
“I’m taking this off,” I told the amazon, removing the bracelet. I hit it with a wave of purification, until fairy sight said there was no more miasma.
Biting my lip, I thought quickly about the options, then told her, “Bruna, my mother once purified me, to decrease the miasma when I couldn’t get mortal blood soon enough. It was horrible, but it may have saved my life.”
Ceria’s hand curled around her staff and she frowned at me, but Bruna nodded. “Do it.”
“Bruna!” Ceria protested.
“It hurts, Ceria! I need to do something! It hurts like a knife cutting me open! It’s worse than when I got chomped by that amphisbaena!”
“I wish I had Melione’s fan,” I fretted, because the strain in her voice had just amped up the stress in my heart. “I think she used it to cast healing magic in a wider spread. That would help me control the purification better.”
Ceria looked at me, as if she was puzzled.
I asked, “What?”
“Hang on,” she answered, then got up and ran across the rocky clearing to near where Trisiagga had been.
I saw her stoop, then stand carrying a spear and a fan. I had not even noticed that the asura had dropped them. Ceria looked like she was about to come back when her head turned and she walked a little way and stooped again.
A silk scarf was in her hand as well as she came running back. The asura had lost quite a lot in her panic, it appeared.
When she arrived, she handed me the fan, and sat down while inspecting the silk with a frown. The silk had blood on it, but it wasn’t otherwise damaged. It had simply come undone.
“This is some really amazing stuff,” she said as she held it closer to her face. “Can you see it?”
I don’t know what style of mana sense she used, but I concentrated on fairy sight and discovered that the silk was completely aglow with thick mana of every affinity. The blood on it was also dense with the stuff.
The fan that she had given me was huge. The guard sticks– that’s the outermost ribs, the ones that protect the rest of the fan when it is closed– were about eleven inches. The typical fan held by an Orestanian girl was only eight or nine inches. Men used fans that were usually a span. Few people used one this big.
I opened it– it was a full two spans, twenty inches, tip-to-tip– and discovered it had alternating mithril and lacquered silverwood ribs. Instead of paper, the leaf was purple silk of a quality similar to the cloth in Ceria’s hand. The material sparkled in my fairy sight with extra accumulated mana. A beautiful purple tassle hung through the hollow mithril rivet that held the ribs together, fashioned from silk cord. The cord was long enough to tie the fan to the wrist of the user, which meant it had been intended for use in combat. The mithril ribs further confirmed this; they extended past the silk, and had sharpened, double-edged tips in order to make slashing attacks.
The mithril parts were thin, so it wasn’t heavy, but mithril is worth a thousand times its weight in gold, so this fan was one expensive object. I suspected the thing might contain more than three hundred crowns of the stuff.
“Just to be sure,” I said to Ceria, “You’re okay with me doing this?”
She looked up from the silk with a dark scowl, but nodded. “Please be careful, Lady.”
Bruna had once again pulled off her leather gauntlet and stuffed it into her mouth. I waited for her nod, then spread the fan and held it over her in the way I had seen Melione use hers. Except, I was trying to aim it specifically at only one half of Bruna’s body. After gathering as small a dose of mana as I could manage, I whispered, “[Purify],” felt a surge of pain throughout my body as the circulating mana became purification, and let it loose into the fan.