Chapter 68 – Strega

Bruna pulled in her legs and then arched her back, rising up on her feet and shoulders as she let out a long, ragged breath, as if she couldn’t even scream. Collapsing once more, she lay there huffing and sweating as I frantically studied her with fairy sight.

“Bruna?” Ceria cried, grabbing her hand.

As I had feared, in that one burst, I had wiped out more than half the miasma that had been crawling over her body. If I had aimed at her whole body, I could have killed her. Being entirely without miasma is potentially lethal to monsters. Her mana flows were running wild throughout her body, and for a moment I thought I would have to cast healing to keep her alive until they settled down. But as I watched, her flows became smooth and her breathing steadied.

“I won’t do that again for a while,” I said. “I don’t think another hit would be safe for you, until the miasma builds up again.”

Purification had halted the bracelet’s action. I touched it and activated it again, then put it on her wrist as gently as I could.

“That fan helped?” Bruna wondered. She sounded a little less in pain now, even though her nerve endings were probably still ringing from the purification. The miasma ache must have been really bad. The relief in her voice relieved some of my worries too.

“It did help,” I nodded, looking down at it again. It was beautifully made, and the materials were all in perfect shape. “I wish I could keep it.”

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“You could claim it as part of your share.”

I looked up at her, baffled. “Can’t you tell? This thing is probably worth more than the rest of our loot and all our equipment combined! You two are going to be rich from your shares!”

“If we make it out,” Bruna added, with a wry grin. “And I’m guessing when you say ‘all our equipment’ you’re not including that sword of yours.”

I pursed my lips. “You noticed, huh?”

“Amazons don’t have fairy eyes, but we can see through magic cloaks and disguises, if you give us long enough. That’s pure mithril, isn’t it?”

To the side, Ceria was still studying the silk, as if she were hypnotized by it. But I noticed her nodding at Bruna’s words. She had also known. Some anti-stealth magic skill in her case, no doubt.

I admitted, “Yeah. Do I have to be careful not to turn my back now?”

Bruna laughed. “I don’t think it would be a good idea to make an enemy out of you, Lady. We just watched an asura run from you in terror. And I clearly heard that you fought her and injured her before? You destroyed her heart?”

I nodded. “She attacked me on the way home from my school, nine… no it’s probably ten days ago, now.”

Bruna shook her head. “Yeah. You’re safe from us. I’m beginning to take what that demoness said seriously. The fairy vampire thing is a lie. Except, you’re not a dhampir, you’re an actual, living strega, aren’t you?”

Shocked, I ask, “Do you know what that means? They keep calling me that, but I have no idea!”

Ceria finally joined the conversation, finally taking her eyes off the silk. “Are you serious? Back in Bray, we have all kinds of old stories about stregas. We learned about them in temple school.”

“But the priestesses claim they’re long gone,” Bruna noted. “Like, the ancients wiped them all out, and that’s why Heaven is pissed off at Humanity forever. They were Heaven’s representatives, but the ancient nobles didn’t like how stregas could punish them for things they did, so they rebelled and killed them all.”

That description had a couple points that sounded similar to the legend that Arken had made me read.

Ceria mused, “You Atians have completely different beliefs than we do in, here in the north. You call your gods by different names too. I guess maybe you don’t have stories about stregas there?”

“I’ve never heard of them.”

They looked like they didn’t believe me, but I was telling the truth. The only ‘stregas’ I knew were from a light novel, back on Earth. One that had nothing to do with Huade.

“The slaughter of the stregas is the reason we have monsters and demons everywhere, and the reason for fairies too,” Ceria explained. “Heaven sent the monsters and demons to punish the mortals for killing their servants, and it sent the fairies to take care of nature, because the stregas had been in charge of it.”

“Yeah, that’s right, Sis. I’m your punishment,” Bruna said with a grin, finally sitting up.

Ceria stuck her tongue out at her, then told me, “But the fairies decided the punishment was too harsh and we mortals needed help, so they taught the smarter monsters to be nice to us. That’s why amazons and vampires and such started living with us.”

This was all a completely different set of beliefs than Tiana had learned from the royal tutors, but I had already known Bray was a very different culture from Atius or Doria. The party had spent several weeks working from there. And I already realized that I was hearing the Braysian origin-of-evil story. It was their explanation for why bad things happened, just like Pandora’s Box, or Eve and the Apple.

Of course, there was one tiny detail that clearly meant the demons and these two were wrong about me, right?

“I have to feed on mortal blood though, so I’m certainly not Heaven’s servant.”

“Wrong,” Ceria shook her head. “The stories say that stregas took mortal servants that fed them and worked for them. They say that Heaven made stregas dependent on mortals so they would be patient with us instead of just giving up and wiping us all out. They don’t say how stregas fed on their servants, just that it didn’t hurt them, and they say that vampires and succubi and such feed on mortals to remind us of what we did to Heaven’s representatives. So maybe they did drink blood.”

I had been growing more and more uncomfortable with this as it continued. Ceria seemed to be getting enthusiastic, like she believed I was actually one of these creatures from her myths. Her fervor was clearly affected by the blood bond, so I decided I ought to shut it down.

“Ceria, my father was a vampire and my mother is a fairy. I’m not one of these legendary beings. Okay?”

Bruna grinned. “Well, those demons think you are.. The asura might have thought at first that her boy was full of it about you, but after you hit her with purification, she believed. She ran like a rabbit.”

She cocked her head and added, “The pictures always show beautiful women with black wings. Sometimes they include male ones they call ‘stregones’, but most of the stories and pictures are beautiful stregas. They look like you, and you made the third most powerful class of demon run. Hard not to think of you as something as strong as Heaven, you know?”

Wanting a subject change, I insisted we get breakfast together. It was frustrating that the grounds were now littered with dead monsters, and not one was a type that was good for eating. We were getting low on supplies too. But I squeezed water out for everyone, and filled their canteens as well, and I made them finish the last of my dried fruit. They were starting their third day on a diet of jerky and hardtack. That was just no good.

“So, as for what we do next,” I began as we were eating. “We don’t have a lot of choices now. We’re strong enough to get you back to town, so we should leave.”

“Once we’re gone, those demons might come back and take your friends somewhere else,” Ceria pointed out.

“I’m not sure about that. They’re bait,” I answered. “The demons left them here to lure the rest of the party back. That Trisiagga knows I was part of the party; that’s why she showed up once her underling confirmed it.”

“Because it’s the hero’s party. They want to take the entire party prisoner,” Bruna interpreted.

I nodded. “But this can’t be an organized thing. I think this is one asura freelancing with her underlings. Otherwise, they would have more forces here. It’s been too piecemeal.”

“Lady, what’s this hero’s party supposed to be doing?” Bruna wondered. “I mean, the demon lord is in the Regaritan Empire. He’s not here in Hamagaar.”

Only allowed on

“We were trying to find clues as to how they were sneaking so many demons into Orestania. They’ve been able to locate and steal several important artifacts already, and destroy some important defensive formations. They’ve also caused a number of monster stampedes that have been causing the locals trouble. It’s all little things, but they are running the Royal Knights and the Royal Army ragged, chasing them everywhere. We were working to find out how they were doing it and put a stop to it.”

“Why not go straight at the problem in the Regaritan Empire?”

I shook my head. “Ryuu’s not strong enough yet. He was continuously getting stronger, but how soon he could head into the Empire and take on the big demons depended upon how long it would take for him to become as strong as them. When he does, we’ll still need to use the whole Royal Army to support him. The Royal Augurs all claim he has the potential for it, but… well, he didn’t beat whatever petrified him here, right?”

“What do you think?”

I was beginning to wonder where Bruna was going with all this. “I don’t have the same faith that he can do it, but I serve the king who is supporting him, so I have to support him.”

She frowned, but nodded.

“Why are you asking this?” I asked.

“You’re really, really powerful, right?”

It seemed like a non-sequitur question. “Huh? Well in terms of raw power, yes, but I’m very short on skill when it comes to magic.”

She pointed to where Graham still stood, about ten paces away from where we were eating. “Now that you’ve shown the enemy what they’re up against, they won’t mess around anymore. If you leave these guys here, there’s either gonna be a huge welcoming committee waiting here for you, or they will just take your friends and run away before you return. That hero guy might disappear and be lost forever.”

I  nodded, but I was still unsure what the point was. “And?”

“This hero party sounds like really important stuff. Too important to take that kind of risk. Instead of just leaving them behind, why aren’t you trying to unpetrify one of them yourself?”

- my thoughts:

Yes, the strega myth that Ceria and Bruna learned while growing up is just another story, but just like the 'demon legend' from Hamagaar, it's also another hint into an ancient past. How accurate it is, remains to be seen. But at least Tiana now knows what Trisiagga and Jurmat were talking about.

Check out my other novel: Tales of the ESDF

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