Chapter 76 – At the end of the battle


… Princess?

I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just said, “My mother is Deharè of the High Forest. That is the truth.”

Her lips pursed and her brow bunched up. She stared pointedly at my torso. “But I’m sure I can see miasma in you, like in a monster.”

“The part about me being half-vampire is also true,” I told her. “I’m a half-fairy rather than a dhampir because my mother is a fairy rather than a mortal. The nobles made the king exile Mother and I from Fairie when I was a baby.”

She looked a little shocked, but I wasn’t interested in discussing the details. I had a more important thing to tell her anyway.

I told her again, “Call your elders, if you care about this place. I ran into an asura in the mines.”

Aenëe’s eyes grew wide.

“I damaged her and made her run, but she’s still alive. I’m going to return to my country, so perhaps she’ll follow me away from here, but if she stays here, you will need help. I’m certain the fake baron was one of her underlings.”

I flew back. Three larvae lay dead on the ground, as well as a couple of the soldiers. The Hero’s Party and my companions were all gathered at the cart, except for Melione, who was healing a wounded soldier when I landed.

Her eyes still held some of the darkness they had held the last time I saw her, but she gave me a mild smile and bobbed her head. “My Lady.”

“We’ll have to go soon,” I told her. “Finish up quickly.”

She stopped the healing on the soldier and told him, “That should do. Try to not do any work with that arm for the next few weeks. The cut was quite deep.”

The soldier nodded. He looked a little mystified at her. Well, getting healed by the side you were just fighting probably is a little strange, but the whole conflict collapsed when the soldiers realized that the one ordering them to fight wasn’t really their lord.

Melione followed me to the cart. I asked, “There’s nobody else to heal?”

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“He was the last, My Lady,” she said. Then she primly added, “I held my tongue before, but I can’t keep my peace anymore. My Lady, your armor has become entirely too unladylike. You must buy a cloak to cover it.”

I chuckled. It was good to know the bracelet was working on her. This was the old Melione.

“What do you mean, we have to get going?” she asked as we rejoined the rest.

Ryuu answered for me. “Apparently there’s an even nastier demon around, and it’s after us.”

I had told the other three about the asura on our way back up through the mines, especially about the fact that she seemed to be targeting us.

I added, since the entire Hero’s Party was gathered at last, “She spoke like she had the backing of even more powerful demons. That has to mean archfiends or archdemons. It’s too soon for you guys to face those. I barely drove away that asura. Without me, and without Arken at full strength, you guys will lose to her if you lost to Jurmat… to that winged demon. Ryuu needs to get stronger first. You need to pull back to Bray so Arken can finish healing. I have to head back to the capital.”

He scowled. “So you’re running off again?”

It was a good sign. He was arguing about that, instead of arguing about the strategic withdrawal. Maybe he was growing up a little, after all. The old Ryuu would have been ready to charge off on a hunt for Trisiagga, like it was the next task in a video game.

“I didn’t ‘run off’ before, Ryuu,” I reminded him. “You fired me. This time, the King sent me on a specific mission. I have completed that mission. For Arken’s sake, I’m staying with you as far as Bray, but then I must fly home.”

With a grimace as I remembered the reasons why, I added, “I have some appointments I must keep in Atius.”

Only allowed on

The truth is, I hated running. Because I was certain that the fight between me and Trisiagga hadn’t ended. This fake Baron had been one of her underlings, not the final boss. And Trisiagga was certain to be prepared for me, next time. She wouldn’t be underestimating me anymore.

# # #

When I set out for Atius the first time, a few weeks before this, I thought I had to walk thru Tavital and the Habrian Plains before I could find a town where the coach routes reached. We had reached Tavital in the first place on a slow zigzag from demon nest to demon nest all the way across the more densely inhabited northern coast. I didn’t know that the big population centers, Thuriben, Dava and Bray, were connected by coach lines. I thought they were only served by sea routes. The closer Dava and Thuriben were no good. The spring storm season and spring sea ice combined to make travel on the north coast impossible this time of year. Bray Seaport would be open, but it was too far of a walk.

My investigations in the map room back at the Royal Barracks had corrected that error. The coach lines were clearly indicated on the maps. I could have quickly headed north to Thuriben and caught a coach eastward to Bray, where I could have sailed home.

So I would part with the Hero’s Party at Bray. They would stay there to allow Arken to finish healing and convalescing and I would fly home. I had a total journey of a week. I would just barely make it home in time for school.

I paid the sisters and we made agreements on splitting up our treasures and bounties. They insisted that I keep the fan, even though it was worth far more than the rest of the stuff combined, so I made them split up the rest between them. Then I offered them ten crowns for the three weapons. The bargaining commenced, and we wound up at ten crowns for just the nightsteel sword and the silverwood spear.

Their employment was over, but Bray was their home town and they had just scored a big profit, so they accompanied us. Melione figured out very early in the journey what was up with Ceria, and didn’t talk to me for nearly the entire way, although she loosened up again after Ceria took her aside and lectured her.

I honestly don’t know what she told her. But when they rejoined us, Melione smiled at me, looking a little troubled, then gave me a quiet apology for her behavior.

Nobility obligates me to accept the apology of a commoner, but having her apologize to me really bothered me. The apology was for holding a grudge and not making up for that long, but I still felt that any anger Melione had for me was fully justified, and I was prepared to bear it without complaint, forever if she wanted. I certainly didn’t want her to apologize.

But the bottom line was, Melione and I had been friends from the start, and maybe that’s what Ceria realized and lectured her about. As I said, I honestly don’t know.

The last battle had changed one thing though. I no longer could think that making a blood bond with Ceria had been in vain. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that we had carried the battle because of our link. And not just because the magic I had learned from her had made my fight with Aenëe easy.

As I understand it, each level of magic requires greater concentration. Second-level magic is equivalent to simultaneously casting two first level spells, third level is like doing three at the same time, or maybe even worse than that…. and Ceria had cast a fourth-level [Illusion Break] spell rather than the third-level one I expected. It’s a rare combat mage who has the skill to do fourth-level magic. So Ceria had already possessed amazing skills.

But the Ceria who went into the mines with me could not have managed the sheer quantity of magic she had cast during that battle. She supported four fighters so well that they suffered only a few minor injuries that Melione could heal while they fought, then cast that [Illusion Break], and even then she wasn’t done. She proceeded to cast a powerful [Magic Arrow] spell, third level magic.

I don’t know how that battle would have gone without the [Illusion Break] spell, but the old Ceria would not have had enough strength to cast it by that point in the battle. And without showing the other side the nature of her erstwhile lord, I would have had to badly wound Aenëe, at the very least, and probably I would have had to kill some mortals, too.

But as I found myself thinking this, I became annoyed. Was I looking for reasons to justify the fact that she was now attached to me for life?

Probably. When I decided that, I forced myself to reject the idea. There must have been a way out of the situation in the mines without doing that. I just didn’t know what it was.

- my thoughts:

We haven't seen the last of Aenëe, but we will be saying goodbye for now. She'll be back in volume 3, though.

In a note a while back, I said that volume 2 ended with chapter 76. At that time, it was true, but while finishing my edits of volume 2, I decided to add two more chapters, to introduce a character who I realized Tiana would meet when she reached Bray. Originally she was first going to appear later.

Speaking of mistakes, I discovered earlier today while writing that I had screwed up the name of Tiana's birthplace! I realized that there is no 'Th' in my created Fae language. From now on, the hometown is now Tëan Tír. I'll go back and fix it in the earlier chapters in the next few days.

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