Allia never rose from her seat. She stared down at me for a long time. I could feel an alarming amount of mana circulating within her, so I prepared myself.
Finally, I had to say something. I thought of reminding her that she needed to respond, one way or the other, but she already knew that. Instead, I told her daughter, “Ceria, perhaps you should leave.”
“Why should she leave?” Allia interrupted her daughter, with a chilled voice.
She had probably reached her limit in what she could hold inside. I could feel a draft from excess wind mana discharging.
“Because when you attack me, she will very likely attack you in order to defend me. She will be unable to help it. I do not wish to be the cause of your daughter turning against you.”
“Mom!” Ceria hissed, “Calm down!”
“Why should I? Why shouldn’t I crush the bug that has stung my daughter?” she asked. The mana circulating in her body was quite strong. I began circulating Earth mana within my own, for body fortification, and prepared my hand to draw my blade.
“Because you would lose, Mom,” Bruna answered, with a flat, strong tone. “She’s stronger than you. She already killed a dragon and a lich and drove off an asura twice. And she’s a royal knight, so you’d be rioting against the crown, on top of it.”
“As a noblewoman, she can assert her right to duel a fellow noble,” I corrected, still in my curtsey. “My Lady, I am Tiana Pendor, Daughter of the Lord Egon, late Duke Pendor and of the Lady Sasara, now Duchess Pendor. Shall I take it that the Lady Allia Destia is refusing to acknowledge my apology?”
“Mom!” Ceria yelled. “Stop it!”
“Hush, child. You’re under the vampire spell. You don’t know your own heart anymore.”
“Well, I’m not under any spell, Mom,” Bruna said. “And you need to stop it now. The Lady hasn’t done anything wrong!”
We were still frozen in this spot. It was getting hard to breathe.
The woman heaved a sigh at last, and began letting her mana disperse while asking, “My Lady, will you permit me to delay my response?”
I nodded as I rose. “I agree to accept your response at a later date, My Lady.”
She muttered, “I’m telling you, I’m not a ‘My Lady’ anymore. Father won’t accept my kids.”
I wondered while standing there if she had the additional kids to dissuade her father from forcing her to return. Technically, once she was widowed, he could even have had her abducted. Or demand that the Marquess send her home. Orestanian law is pretty harsh when it comes to cultivating and preserving noble bloodlines. That’s why Mother could decide my husband for me without my consent. Only commoners get to make their own choices. Maybe the kids were a deterrent for that.
But I dismissed that theory right away. The children were likely the cause for the poverty conditions Bruna had described. Or more accurately, the absence of the father to the younger children was the cause. I didn’t know the story, but I could well imagine him as another adventurer who got himself killed just like her husband. Huade gave birth to many orphans that way.
Allia gave another sigh, then told Ceria, “I won’t attack her, alright? Disperse your mana. And, My Lady, please resume your seat.”
I had been focused on Allia. I hadn’t noticed that Ceria had also summoned a mass of wind mana. Probably to shield me. I wondered if her mother had some sort of innate skill inherited from her mermaid grandmother. Humans have to use active Light or Dark magic in order to detect mana and I didn’t see her using any.
“Mother,” Ceria said as I sat, “We made an agreement first. And the Lady’s honoring it, okay? Besides, it’s… been very beneficial to me.”
Allia frowned. “How could it possibly be beneficial?”
I answered, “A blood slave always gets a degree of life extension and will develop some innate vampire skills if they have affinity for the right elements. But, in addition…”
I hesitated to say the next part, because Arken wanted me to keep it quiet. But Allia would learn it from her daughter anyway, when Ceria demonstrated her newly much higher power levels, so I went ahead and said it.
“I seem to be unusual as a mistress. She receives extra mana from me. Because of my fairy blood, perhaps.”
She looked surprised, “Fairy blood? You’re not just dressing up like a fairy knight?”
“I’m half fairy, half vampire,” I answered patiently, annoyed with yet another person thinking that. “I’m a legitimate fairy knight.”
“She’s just like a strega, Mom!” Bruna told her, some excitement creeping into her voice
“Bruna, that’s a little silly…” Allia replied.
“No!” Ceria countered, shaking her head and growing enthusiastic. “Listen! I can keep drawing mana without wearing out now! I cast a level four [Break Illusion] and didn’t even feel tired! And I had already cast a bunch of other magic! Then I fired a magic arrow and had the form ready for another shot right away! I’m just like a Servant now!”
Allia looked back to me, puzzled.
I nodded. “She’s drawing extra mana through me. It’s still her own pneuma but using my capacity, and I’m far more efficient. My other blood slave does the same thing with healing.”
“That’s why they did it, Mom,” Bruna supplied. “She turned Ceria into a Servant to help us beat higher demons.”
“Bruna, I’m not a real strega…”
Allia frowned at me. “But… it’s true that Servants received power from their mistresses. It says so in the scriptures. The Strega’s blessing gave the Servants power to assist in her work.”
“And she looks just like a strega when she grows her wings, Mom,” Ceria insisted. “And when she unpetrified someone all by herself…”
“By herself?” Allia retorted, with an incredulous tone.
“Really! Three unpetrications in a row, right in front of us, Mom! All by herself. And she was shining pure white! When she casts purification, she shines too.”
First time I had heard that I shine when I purify something. But that’s not what Allia reacted to.
She looked at me in confusion, then with intrigue, and asked, “A monster who can cast purification?”
After that, I received a first-hand view of what had made Allia Destria such an avid student at school. She had an intensely inquisitive mind. With her interest now piqued, she had to know everything about me. Suffice it to say, we spoke a long time after that. It was like her anger over Ceria went on hold.
When she finally got back on subject, she asked, “What are your intentions with my daughter, My Lady?”
I hesitated and looked at her. Ceria already knew we had to split up short term, and she already had instructions from me on what to do in an emergency, but other than that, we hadn’t spoken much about it.
“Ceria wants to follow me to Atius,” I said. “But I want her to live her own life. I do want her help in the future, but only if she wants to serve me. For now, she needs to separate from me and get her head straight.”
Bruna said, “The Lady asked me to make sure Ceria’s thinking of her own future, Mom. She’s been very clear about it.”
“The blood bond is going to make her want to serve you though, right?”
“That’s the purpose of the bracelet. But the elve who made it is a combat mage, not a professional artisan, so you should look it over and decide if it’s sufficient. If it isn’t, please bill me through Pendor House for the cost of the replacement. Paying for it is my responsibility.”
“You told us to go to Atius sometime and meet Her Grace, though,” Bruna reminded me.
“When it is convenient to you,” I reminded her back. “And only if you are willing.”
“You still don’t want us to stay with you?” Ceria asked, a little wistfully. She’d asked it before. I sighed and gave her the same answer.
“I said it already, didn’t I? First, you should separate from me and stabilize. If you don’t, you’ll permanently forget that your life belongs to you.”
“Even if I want to…”
I shook my head, then told her mother, “I don’t know if there’s medicine to reinforce the bracelet’s effect, but if it exists, I’ll pay for it as well. I’ll pay for whatever she needs. She can’t come with me immediately anyway. I have to fly home and I can’t carry her that far.”
It was too late in the day to fly home, so I stayed in Allia’s home overnight. Ceria insisted I slept in her bed. She crawled in with me, but I only let her engage in a little snuggling before persuading her to just hold hands.
# # #
I ‘woke’ once again to an unnatural reality. Ceria continued to softly snooze beside me, while Bruna lay sprawled unladylike on the next bed. I detached my hands from Ceria’s and looked around.
A certain HR manager perched on the little desk under the dormer window, holding yet another paperback, while a certain R&D field agent stood beside that desk, leaning to read over her shoulder. Once again, the light was better than it should have been.
The two wore different outfits than before, but each maintained their personal motifs, Western businesswoman and East Asian OL.
This time, the book appeared to have a fairly girly Asian cover. Maybe it was Japanese. The art had a Manga style to it.
“I really don’t get what she means by a flag,” the Agent commented.
“It’s a gaming term. The girl is supposed to have reincarnated into a girl’s dating sim,” the HR Manager answered.
The Agent grew puzzled and tipped her head. “Huh? How would that work?”
“It’s quite an interesting concept,” the Manager answered. “There seems to be entire genres built around people winding up inside video games. The variety of ideas is actually remarkable, although there are a considerable number of similar stories despite it.”
“Excuse me?” I ventured, sitting up.
They looked up at the same time.
“Ah,” the Manager commented, and again bookmarked her place and slid the paperback into her briefcase. “You’re awake.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, although I wasn’t sure ‘awake’ actually qualified, given what I knew about these visits. I slipped my feet over the side of the bed to sit facing them. “There’s something else now?”
The HR Manager pressed her glasses into place. “It isn’t a new task for you, no. But first… Agent?”
She looked over to the Agent, who nodded, then folded her hands and bowed.
“I wish to thank you for your help with the issue we were concerned over.”
“I… really, I have no idea exactly which issue that required purification was the one you cared about. Except for Bruna and during the unpetrifications, I only used it on demons.”
“One of them was not a demon. He was under demonic possession at the hands of a very powerful gidim tamer, or what this world calls a ‘necromancer’. This one was strong enough to use gidim to control living beings as well as corpses.”
“Jurmat?” I guessed, because I had already suspected it. “I could tell there was something really weird about him.”
“Indeed,” she answered with a nod. “And when and if you encounter him again, he may well be fully free of demonic influence. He’s beginning to recover his sanity.”
“Why was he someone you guys were interested in?”
As she opened her mouth to answer, the Manager sharply interjected, while throwing the Agent a warning glance, “That is not information for your ears, I’m afraid.”
The Agent had probably been about to tell me something she shouldn’t, again.
“So, as to the other matter…,” the Manager stated, “My Lady, I would like you to cast a purification on me.”
Puzzled, I asked, “Why would you need purification? Aren’t you some kind of angel?”
She nodded as she stood and approached me. “That is another term for a celestial being, yes.”
Holding out her hand, she explained, “I don’t have any need for it, as you surmise, but I want to analyse the characteristics of your magic.”
Grimacing in anticipation, I summoned the mana while whispering “[Purify]”, cringed at the fiery sensation as it circulated, then gripped her hand and let the mana flow into it.
She seemed to concentrate as it flowed, nodded, then let go of my hand. She studied my face while contemplating something.
The last remaining thing I remember from that ‘Dream’ was the HR manager’s eyes narrowing, as she pressed her glasses into place and mused, “Interesting.”
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