Chapter 99 – A Reunion Of Sorts

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We made full circles of of each house– between the three schools there are eight houses for female students– then checked around the school buildings closest to them. I found a dramatic mana signature at one place, behind one of the residential houses, but Nandi identified it as the spot that one of the attacks the previous night had occurred. It was darkness mana, not demonic mana, as I expected. It was almost certainly the residue from a powerful application of Vampire Charm.

It was at the moment when we returned to our starting point, about to begin a second lap of the same rounds, that I saw Nandi’s eyes grow wide. She appeared to sniff the air rapidly, like an animal, then her eyes swiveled to the right, toward the back of the first building.

Whatever she was doing had nothing to do with detecting miasma, or mana, I was willing to bet. But I wasn’t sure how the sense of smell could help her track a vampire.

“Come on!” she yelled, and took off running that direction.

Nandi carries a crude staff similar to a walking-stick– it’s nothing but a somewhat straight branch of silverwood with the bark removed, polished and finished with oil– and she carries no visible weapons. In First Squad, the partners are all paired up, sword and mage, and she was officially the mage in our team. I was the ‘brawn’, the designated frontliner, so I couldn’t let her get too far ahead of me. The way she had taken off, I was willing to bet she gave Gabe ulcers.

She was running as fast as Brigitte, using mana to do it, just like Brigitte does. I wasn’t sure I could keep up on the ground, so I let my wings grow out as I drew my sword and took off. I flew over Nandi’s head, then pumped my wings hard to make as sharp a turn as possible, rounding the corner just ahead of her.

Close to the other end of the building, a man was kneeling over a nude girl seated on the grass with his face buried in her neck.

Probably sensing our approach, he let the girl go and jumped into the air, disappearing in a Vampire Cloak as his black wings materialized.

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Straining my fairy sight to its maximum, I tried to follow him by mana or miasma. For a few moments, I had him, but he disappeared, flying at unimaginable speed away from me.

From the ground, Nandi yelled “There!”, pointing for some reason in a completely different direction. I looked that way, and for a moment I saw him again, but as I flew at him, he was gone again.

I scanned left and right, then yelled “Where?” over my shoulder.

No response. I looked back to her and and saw her still searching left and right. Then she shook her head.

“I lost him,” she called.

As I flew back to the victim, feeling frustration, I thought about my brief look at the assailant. The very specific individual whom I had just seen feeding on this girl.

The black armor and visorless helm were gone. Instead, he was wearing the short tunic and trousers typical to rural men throughout Orestania. I’d had only a brief glimpse of his black bird wings, so similar to my own, but I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that he was the man whom I had last seen in an underground park deep in the Carael Hills.

I landed next to the girl close to the same time that Nandi reached her. Vaguely, I could remember having seen her at the ball. The slender, long-haired red-head’s pale skin and rosy tips glowed in the afternoon sunlight as she sat on full display on her rump in the grass with her legs folded to each side, oblivious to her exposure or the thin trail of blood trickling down her neck. Although she remained upright, she couldn’t be properly called conscious.

Her assailant had taken the time to make her strip down, even allowing her to carefully fold and stack her upper school uniform and underthings. The pile sat a few feet away, next to her flats, bag and writing case. My guess was, she had done this in a trance after he used a far stronger Command than I ever would. Was he willing to risk taking her under blood bondage, or did he simply have so much control he could safely pull that off?

The continuing vacant stare was a bad sign. Sure enough, as I reached her, she began shaking, confirming a bad reaction to vampiric feeding. In order to stop a reaction, Elianora had taught me to Command the donor to lay down and not move, then continuously renew that Command, keeping them pinned helpless to the bed or ground, unable to injure themselves, until they fell into unconsciousness. It’s cruel, but vital for their safety.

But I had a new treatment now.

I wrapped my arm around her shoulder, squeezing hard to control the spasms. The sudden contact jolted her, but instead of coming out of it, she began to shake harder and didn’t seem able to focus on me. That was bad, so I didn’t bother waiting to see if she would recover. I gathered as light a dose of healing as I could, then intoned “[Sleep]” while pressing my palm to her forehead.

All tension vanished from her body, and she fell unconscious. I turned my attention to her neck. In his rush, the vampire had pulled out too quickly, so it was not fully closed. I pressed a finger to the wound while whispering, “[Heal]”.

She made a slight sound of protest but remained asleep. I checked her neck to make sure it stopped bleeding. I had to suppress the urge to lick the blood off her skin. It looked so sweet…

Looking up, I saw that Nandi had joined us. She was looking at me with a strange frown, but wasn’t saying anything.

“Do you have anything to clean her neck?” I asked.

She squatted down so she could put her hand out to touch the girl’s neck just like I had. The only difference was, instead of ‘[Heal]’ she whispered, “[Cleanse]”

Light mana bathed the girl’s skin and the blood disappeared. I forcibly kept the disappointment from showing on my face.

I noticed blood on my fingers. I very nearly licked it off, but I controlled myself.

Sounding a little dark, Nandi asked, “You want to clean that off, yourself?”

Extending my hand, I told her, “Could you do it? It’s bad manners to taste her blood without her permission.”

She looked slightly surprised, but she did a [Cleanse] on my fingers. I watched the mana flow, hungry to learn just exactly how she was doing it. I could not quite see the mechanism, the strings she was pulling. I concentrated harder, and deep inside, the temptation began whispering in the back of my mind, If I make her mine, all her magic will be mine. I can just Command her and she’ll submit right here. Nobody is watching…

Revolted, I broke away from that thought, horrified that such a thing would even occur to me. How did that come out just from trying to see how her Light magic worked?

Ceria knew that [Cleanse] spell. She mentioned once that she had used it on the dwarven gnome silk that Trisiagga dropped. I firmly told that dangerous side of me that I just needed to wait, that I could have Ceria show it to me while I was awake and present to watch.

I didn’t know what she was doing when I felt her draw mana from far-off Bray, unless it was a spell she had already shown me. Just feeling the mana flow itself wasn’t enough for the learning skill to kick in. I had to simultaneously feel the flow and watch the spell in action, before I could learn the casting.

This magic learning skill was showing a dangerous side. A greedy side that I had to keep under control. I had really been about to hit Nandi with a maximum Charm and enslave her, just to learn a magic spell.

I made a resolution to myself not to use it except with those who were already my Servants. But I wasn’t sure exactly how I was setting it off, so I wasn’t sure how I would keep that resolution.

After Nandi summoned the investigators, she told me, “Let’s get this girl dressed before they arrive.”

The girl stayed asleep through the whole process. We ended up, once the main garments were on, with me sitting on my heels giving the girl a lap pillow while Nandi fastened her clothes.

Nandi shook her head in puzzlement. “She stayed asleep through all of this.”

“My magic is a little overboard,” I explained with some embarrassment. “I have difficulty controlling my strength.”

“You hit her with a [Sleep] spell?”

“That’s right.”

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Nandi frowned again, but didn’t say what bothered her.

I spent the rest of the day describing Jurmat to the investigators, leaving out the part about him calling me a ‘strega’ and stressing his apparent association with Trisiagga. If that asura followed me here, the school might be in serious trouble.

It was a possibility that I had considered, when I came back here. Frankly, I sort of hoped it would happen, that she would focus on me and not the citizens of Cara Ita, or the Hero’s Party, now in Bray. This school had plenty of defenses and a faculty full of good mages. But the possibility that she was here was still troubling.

I probably would have been kept there all night, answering questions about my previous encounters with Jurmat and Trisiagga, but Ged stepped in at last and demanded they let me go home. I think he saw that my skin was beginning to show noticeable signs of drying out.

At home, I retreated almost immediately to the bathtub, with Genette hurriedly explaining the issue to the staff. The tub had insufficient capacity, so I had to stay in there for several hours, preempting my original plan to visit the royal residence and talk to Rod. Remembering Ged’s warning to keep people with me, I made no complaint when they insisted on attending to me in there. I had Genette stay in my room overnight as well.

- my thoughts:

Readers may have forgotten about Tiana's 'learning skill'. It's been since Volume 2, but only around a week for Tiana since she first began noticing it, though.

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