Chapter 69 – Plan

I just gaped at her. It’s true, Unpetrification is just healing, but she already said it herself. It normally takes a large team of healers, and hours of spell-casting, to unpetrify one person. The teams usually have to work in shifts.

It was like Bruna was reading my mind, because she responded to that exact issue. “I know what I said yesterday, but Lady, whenever you cast healing on me, it’s like a hundred healers are all trying to heal me at the same time. Instead of that warm feeling, it feels like I’ve been thrown into a furnace.”

She looked at her sister, who nodded confirmation, then continued. “Whether you’re a real strega or not, Lady, you are by far the most powerful mage I’ve ever met. You killed a chimera in three hits, Lady. Do you not know how ridiculous that is? Killing a chimera like it was nothing? And that asura is calling you ‘dragon slayer’. I had thought that maybe it was actually that hunk off yonder that killed the dragon, but after seeing you fight, now I know it really was you.”

“That’s my sword, not my magic,” I pointed out.

“Really, it was a combination of your sword and your magic, right? You are freakishly strong, whether you’re swinging a sword or casting magic,” Bruna countered.

I looked over at Graham, trying to sort out what I should say to this. Bruna was right about the risk we took if we left these three here. They might be gone the next time we came here. And there might be a whole army of demons waiting. It was clear to me now that Trisiagga had been hoping to lure me here, or perhaps just lure Arken and Melione back here, to get rid of or capture the rest of the hero’s party. Possibly to present us to the Demon Lord as trophies, to enhance her own standing? But now, she might settle for bringing higher demons with the opportunity to get us, if she couldn’t bring us back as trophies by herself.

I couldn’t guess an asura’s plans or motives, so that was a rabbit hole I needed to stop diving. What I needed to consider was, what should I do about it?

Hating myself as I thought it, my knight’s training, analyzing all the costs and benefits, was telling me I needed to treat one of Ryuu’s companions as expendable and try it as an experiment, because my king had a vested interest in returning Ryuu to service. If I had the power to unpetrify him, then it was my duty to do it.

My gut was twisting a little at the thought of failure, but I answered, “I’ll give it a try. But if I decide there’s any uncertainty, I’m stopping. It could kill him if I got him only eighty percent there and couldn’t finish.”

“You’re gonna start with him?” Ceria asked, clearly surprised. “I figured after the sour look you gave that fox girl, you would use her as the guinea pig.”

She had guessed my line of reasoning about Ryuu, if Brigitte was the only other option. I shook my head.

“It’s true that Brigitte and I don’t get along,” I admitted, “But Graham is stronger. There’s less of a chance of me killing him while I’m figuring out how to do unpetrification.”

“He’s a big one, I gotta admit,” Bruna said, looking at him. “You gotta wonder how someone gets that huge.”

I answered, “He told us that there was an old family legend that they have giant blood. No one knows if it’s true.”

“I can believe it,” she nodded. “I’ve met real giants before. He’s got a bit of the same face. So I guess he’s gonna be my next partner then. Wish it was the other guy. This guy’s gonna be heavy. Wonder if he’ll let me stay on top?”

Blushing, I looked to her sister for some kind of retort. She just grinned back at me. “You get used to her after a while, Lady.”

“Is that what you were thinking about when you suggested this?” I asked Bruna.

“Well, it does solve my problem too,” Bruna answered, with a tip of the head that sort of said, what?

“Although you thought I would try it on Brigitte first…”

“Yeah. So?”

I shook my head. I had no idea if Brigitte swung that way, but maybe amazons had some way to seduce their prey too. After feeding on her sister, I had no room to criticize anyway. But knowing what she would be doing with Graham once he was able, and knowing that I would probably be close enough to hear it, didn’t make me happy.

I put away my breakfast things. “I suppose I might as well get started then.”

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“No,” Ceria said, flatly.

The instant countermand startled me. I looked over at her with my eyebrows wrinkled. “Huh?”

“Lady, you’re starting your third day since you slept, right? Your pneuma is probably way down by now. [Persistence] keeps you awake, but it doesn’t restore pneuma. I’m strong enough to guard both of you while you sleep, Lady. You try this thing after you wake up.”

My bedroll now smelled like a certain cat-kin girl. It kept the Robert side of me thinking stray thoughts for quite a while. But eventually, I did fall asleep.

# # #

I woke to the same twilight that I fell asleep to, naturally, since the lighting never changes in an underground park. I had half-hoped it would be the weird not-awake state that came with visits by the HR manager, because I could have used a little guidance. But no, it was the same campsite, with Bruna sitting cross-legged, touching up the edge on her glaive, and Ceria…

Ceria was sitting on a rock, topless and experimenting with putting the silk on herself. She would hold it as if it were tied between her breasts, then to the side, then behind herself. I noticed after a bit that there was a small hand mirror propped up by another rock a little ways away. Probably, for a beast-kin’s eyesight, seeing oneself in a distant mirror like this was as good as a full-length mirror for a human, even in this dim light.

“Ceria, what are you doing?”

“I want to wear this. It’s incredible stuff. I can inscribe formations on it and the aether mana stays put just like it was a fully-prepped talisman paper. No wonder that demoness likes the stuff.”

“Doesn’t it have her blood on it?”

“Not anymore,” she said, holding it up to show me. “I did a [Cleanse] on it. Popped off the whole stain, didn’t touch the dyes at all. This is really first-class material.”

She wrapped it around herself, holding the silk together to the side with her right hand, turned this way and that and smirked at me. “What do you think looks best?”

“Your armor,” I said, averted my eyes from the display once I became aware of exactly where I was staring. Remember that the stuff was thin enough to easily see through.

“Aw, don’t be like that,” she pouted, to which I gave a sigh.

“Ceria, do you understand that this isn’t a romantic relationship?”

Not looking up from her careful work with the whetstone, Bruna answered, “She understands perfectly well, Lady. But you have now made yourself a close enough acquaintance to become a target for her teasing. Welcome to the club. I suggest you get used to it.”

Ceria stuck her tongue out at Bruna, who didn’t look up to see  it. Bruna added, “I’m curious, though. She seems normal otherwise, but she seems to have become very fond of you. Is that the blood bond working on her?”

“It is,” I nodded, and turned back to Ceria, who had settled on knotting it behind her back. Keep my eyes above neck level, I told her, “Ceria, you need to realize that there’s something like hypnosis working on you right now. If you would fight it a little more, the bracelet would help you break it and stop it from changing you.”

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She looked at me and tilted her head slightly. “What if I don’t want to?”

Looking away again, and massaging a temple, I answered, “Don’t you think that your old self would want to? Do you really want to be friendly to me just because I used magic to mess with your mind? Ceria, please listen to this. I don’t want that. Why would you?”

She ducked her head, and looked like she was contemplating the question, which I saw as a good sign. I thought about it and realized the only time she had truly not acted smitten with me had been when she was worrying about her sister.

To my consternation, she then untied the sash again.

“Bruna doesn’t want it either,” I said, looking over to the amazon, who nodded confirmation. I suggested, “Would it help if she tells you when you’re acting weird? Would you listen to her?”

The two were obviously very close, a lot closer than Robert had been with his siblings. It was probably the combination of being sisters and being sisters-in-arms. They had not only grown up together, but survived life and death situations together.

Ceria looked over at her sister, then nodded. “Okay, Lady. I’ll listen to Bruna. And I’ll try.”

She had agreed far too easily– an obvious effect of blood bondage– but she had agreed. I hoped it would work out for the best.

“Okay, then. I’m rested, so I guess I should get started.”

“One thing first, Lady,” Bruna said. “Ceria killed something while you were sleeping.”

Ceria nodded, tied the sash again– between her breasts, this time– and went over to pick something up.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know what to call it,” Ceria said, unwrapping a cloth to show me a small dead creature within, “But it seemed to be observing us.”

I knew what it was immediately. We were on constant look-out for the things in the Royal Knights. “That’s a spy-eye. It’s a demonic beast.”

What she was holding was essentially a bird with an eyeball for a head. Hideous thing. It feeds using a mouth between its neck and its keel bone, which is grotesque to watch. Demons tame them for reconnaissance purposes. They can see through its eye and control where it goes.

Basically, a surveillance drone.

“I’ve heard of those,” Ceria mused. “So, someone has been watching us?”

“I think it’s safer to assume so. The question is, is it that asura again, or yet another enemy?”

“At the very least it means there’s someone, right?”

“No,” I shook my head at the logical error. “It could also have been flying around loose after the master left it behind. But it’s safer to assume there’s someone.”

Ceria frowned at the thing, then sighed. “Right now, I truly regret that I’ve never learned a divination spell.”

“That… I’ve never heard of anyone except the Royal Augurs doing divination!” I retorted.

“Well… Mom can. But it’s really high level magic. Level six spells take a long time to master.”

Are you implying you could learn one if you made the effort? Or that you’ve already mastered some other level six magic?

Wait, did you just say your mother already can do it?

“I’m starting to get curious about this mom of yours!”

- my thoughts:

Just a reminder. I'm doing a Q&A at the end of volume 2. Deadline for getting questions to me by DM on Discord or left in comments is July 25.

I don't think Tiana expected to regret forming the blood bond with Ceria for quite the reasons she's encountering...

Check out my other novel: Tales of the ESDF

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