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Viv yawned.

 

“Yoink,” she breathed half-assedly. The revenant fell back in a pile of ash and bone. Those horses the knights were riding were fucky to be sure, they should have been tired by now. It was fast, though, much faster than dragging a sled behind her like a smelly husky, not that she was jealous.

 

Technically, the knights had magical horses. That made them horse girls, which Viv only had a lukewarm opinion of. She, however, had a semi-tamed dragon and a golem. That made her a Pokemon trainer which was much cooler. There were already six balls right next to her, haha. Probably.

 

You are suffering from mild mana poisoning.

 

Alright, that meant water treatment when she got back. Her supply was almost exhausted and the effects were fading anyway.

 

The trip continued for only a few minutes. The plains being flat and boring, she could spot her destination from afar. The town emerged from the sea of dust and sand like so many white bones, the walls flayed by the sands over the centuries. She wondered why any undead creature would want to stay there.

 

They stopped about fifty meters away from the closest house, facing the main street. It was also, in fact, the only real street. Viv quickly yoinked the surrounding revenants and waited. She hoped that they had a way to attract the closest monster.

 

Her answer came quickly. Benetti rode ahead alone and removed a rapier-like sword from its sheath on his flank. He clanged his push-blade.

 

Viv wondered if he was serious.

 

Revenants slammed into the ground from inside a nearby hovel. A massive arm emerged from inside, quikly followed by the rest of the obese body. She recognized the gut spiller from its strangely horned face.

 

Benetti swore and rode back, creatures in tow. More of the gut spillers were now after him, as well as a pair of much faster crawlers. They all turned around and left at a trot.

 

It was now clear that the crawlers were very fast, much faster than the ponderous gut spiller. Their unnatural gait allowed them to move forward at surprising speeds. Viv calmed down and aimed at the first one as soon as it was in range.

 

“Yoink.”

 

Her mana flooded a complex channel and withdrew without too much difficulty. The mana was dense in her conduits. Eager. It pushed into her with an intimate pain that made her want to use it. Her next drain spell flew like a snake and robbed the crawler of its strength mid-jump.

 

Jor pushed the falling body away, some of it disintegrating on his blade.

 

The trio of cavalrymen turned and started to circle the mass of spillers at the edge of Viv’s range. The stupid things walked on each other in their eagerness to reach their juicy targets. The three focused on pushing back nearby revenants while Viv went to work on the special enemies. Each one of her spells found soft tissue and pulled unlife from it. She was regaining more mana that she could consume. Her conduits burned.

 

In desperation she simply let mana vent from the conduits on her back. Cernit looked back with panic in his eyes. She turned as well.

 

Two wings of darkness flew from her shoulders like demon regalia.

 

Intimidation has reached Beginner 5

 

Neat, but pointless. With less risk of exploding like a balloon, she kept firing at the spillers. An observation nagged at her confidence.

 

She was slowing down.

 

She had never had to use so many yoinks in such a short time. The repeated spells were easy, but they added up to form a burden on her mind. It was getting more difficult to guide the mana, make it understand what it was supposed to do.

 

Viv gritted her teeth and endured. A spiller fell. Another. She coughed, suddenly short of breath.

 

Jor turned to her and said something. Viv could not exactly follow. One last spiller missing a leg limped out of the village, smashing aside the crowd of revenants now slowly emerging from the derelict. Almost there.

 

Then, there was a screech like a hundred nails on a gritty hardboard. She winced and grabbed her rider, feeling dizzy.

 

Cernit yelled something and the trio raced away at great speed. Viv coughed again but it felt different this time. She tasted iron on her tongue. Something burned inside of her, even as a dark bird launched up and towards them.

 

The knights were pushing their mounts as much as possible. The armored horses now moved so fast that Viv felt wind on her face.

 

Once more, Viv called upon the black mana flowing inside of her, with her frayed mind and her tired will. She dragged on it. She pulled it out piece by piece, feeling like she was dragging herself up a rope with exhausted muscles. The black mana answered her call. It wanted to be used, but she had trouble guiding it. Molding it. A shadow wrapped over her.

 

A horrid stench made her gag.

 

Even through the mask on her face, the dreadful odor made her want to wretch. The spell wavered in her hands.

 

Jor turned around and his eyes met hers. She saw no hesitation in those brown depths, not a wrinkle on the corners of his strangely greenish skin. His gaze drifted from the tears marring her cheek to the horror approaching with only acceptance. He fluidly jumped on the saddle until he was standing on it, turned around and jumped out, polearm brandished in his muscular arm.

 

She knew that it would not be enough.

 

Viv smashed through her pain and confusion, she turned to face the creature at their back and slowed time. It was a gigantic undead bat with rotten skin held taut between skeletal fingers. The tendril caught the thing in the face. It reeled. The distraction gave Jor a moment, which he seized. His crescent blade dug into the beast’s chest, then his feet touched the ground.

 

The beast flayed and fought, held back and blinded by a colossal strength and a colossal will respectively. Meanwhile Viv was fighting.

 

The thing was immensely powerful. Her mana struggled to fill its deep conduits, it was like trying to push water through a small hose to fill a bathtub. No matter how she forced herself, progress was agonizingly slow.

 

Focus +1

 

She was close. So close. The big fucking thing would fall. She was going to kill it.

 

“Die!” she screamed “yoink!”

 

A threshold was reached. Her mana reached the point where it occupied more than half of the creature’s conduits. Its resistance collapsed.

 

With one last screech, the beast’s resistance stopped.

 

Power flooded her veins then, it was too much, and she raised her trembling arms to release it. A column of black escaped from her fingers.

 

She started to slip back.

 

Benetti and Cernit turned around, the lieutenant holding the reins to her ride. They were staring ahead and did not notice. She feebly grabbed the saddle and pulled herself forward.

 

Not gonna fall. Not gonna faint like some weakling. Not before those idiots.

 

Willpower +1

 

She was at twenty-nine on all mental stats. There were surely some juicy rewards for reaching the threshold. But only for people who could hold on.

 

She found her balance.

 

And immediately collapsed forward into darkness.







Viv woke up in her bed feeling strangely warm. There was a heavy weight on her chest. She looked down to investigate and found herself nose-to maw with two evil scarlet eyes. And a lot of blood.

 

Arthur’s jaws shone crimson...

 

Viv’s first thought was unkind.

 

‘That motherfucking twit finally went and ate my entrails.’

 

Then, she realized there was far too little red stuff and that she would have gone into shock by now. Being exsanguinated and eaten alive also came with a slew of symptoms that she was mercifully exempt of. It was warm and toasty under the cover.

 

//You are awake, Your Grace.

//Your condition is stable.

 

Arthur spread her wings and stood on her back legs, her front paws clawing the air.

 

“Squee.”

 

“Thank you for watching over me, Arthur. You did an amazing job.”

 

Viv scratched the dragonling’s chest, eliciting a strange sound between a soft roar and a purr. Her task completed, the almost pet slithered away and jumped on her bedrest, which Viv had placed on a table by her bed. She also found a wooden cup filled with water and a small grey pill on a stool within arm’s reach.

 

//The water and medicine will help with the nausea.

 

“What nausea? Ow!”

 

Should have known better than to invoke that dreaded name.

 

//You are suffering from overcasting.

//It was a mild case, and your recovery was quite fast.

//I would recommend avoiding any strenuous activity until tomorrow.

//We will suspend your training until then.

//I will still require a charge.

 

Mana manipulation reached Beginner 6

 

Viv swallowed the water and the [mild rejuvenative pill]. She had questions.

 

“Why does Arthur have blood on her mouth? Did someone feed her meat?”

 

//In a manner of speaking, Your Grace.

//Someone broke into our room with designs on my person.

//I have already notified the relevant authorities.

 

Viv stopped for a moment. Snitching on your first day would make the soldiers mistrust her. On the other hand…

 

“Did one of the intruders happen to be bald?”

 

//Yes, Your Grace.

//A despicable man by the name Hern.

//Arthur marked him.

 

“I see.”

 

It was better to be feared than to be dismissed, especially as the lone woman in a camp full of men. She would never be able to make them see her as an ally anyway, not without spending an inordinate amount of time doing so. They did not even share a language. It would take too much time and effort. Being feared was fine in her book. She had no intention of sticking around.

 

A little voice inside of Viv told her that it was a lie, that showing respect and decency would go a long way. It said that she was still the entitled, privileged princess who had left a rich home behind because she already had an out with the army. It said that, at heart, she was still the arrogant bitch who had enjoyed watching her father humiliate others, who had done so herself.

 

She crushed that voice.

 

Fighting for the others was a good start. She did not owe them to try and be friends.

 

And speaking of helping others.

 

“Do you know what happened to Jor? Is he still… alive?”

 

//Jor was alive when he was brought here.

//However, he was wounded by an undead creature.

//This usually creates a pocket of foreign black mana that slowly poisons the host.

//If untreated, the victim will eventually die and join the ranks of the undead.

 

“Hold on, people killed by the undead become undead?”

 

//If there is enough of the body left, any dead body tainted by black mana will be reanimated as an undead.

 

“You told me that black mana was not evil!”

 

//Any excess is dangerous.

//Bodies saturated with blue mana will liquefy.

//Black mana is simply… significantly more virulent… than the others.

 

“Is there any way to help him?”

 

Solfis remained silent for a spell. Arthur yawned and jumped on the partition separating their bed from the entrance, flapped her wings, and crashed somewhere on the other side. Viv heard claws scraping on stone and a frustrated ‘squee’.

 

“Hey, since I’m a sort of black mana specialist, any way for me to help with that?”

 

//Yes, in fact, you may.

//You merely need to pass your hand over the wound and call black mana to you.

//It would be a low intensity exercise that could favor mana perception.

//Mana perception is vital for a mage.

 

“If it is, how come we have never practiced it yet?”

 

//Because the world so far has been saturated with black mana and black mana only.

//It would be easier to teach depth perception in a dark cave.

 

“Oh.”

 

//Do not worry, Your Grace, we are on schedule with your training.

//Now, kindly recharge me before you leave.

 

Viv stood up and realized that she felt sort of okay now. Her head hurt as if she had spent eight hours on an essay and coffee had run out. She was still physically fit, but her thoughts moved through cotton paddings. It was not too bad.

 

She approached the table and realized that Solfis had managed to extract two bone cylinders from the head of the dragon’s humerus, and they were now circling the dragon’s stone. His long arm was mechanically cutting patterns on the surface with inhuman precision. He appeared almost done.

 

She grabbed the plug and charged the golem as he kept working.

 

“It’s taking shape.”

 

//We are indeed on schedule.

//This unit will require your assistance with charging the main core.

//It can wait, however.

 

She nodded and kept working in silence. Arthur crashed against the ground again.

 

“She’s learning how to fly.”

 

//An astute observation, Your Grace.

//If you wish, you may leave now

//I will be able to operate for a few more hours.

 

“Alright.”

 

//You may want to wash your face before you leave.

//You have blood around your eyes and lips.

//A normal consequence of minor overcast.

 

“Oh.”

 

Viv made use of the basin, drank the last of the pure water.

 

You are no longer suffering from mana poisoning.

 

“Until next time.”

 

Viv left Arthur and Solfis to their devices. She caught the attention of a nearby soldier and said ‘hi’ in Varran. He looked a bit scared.

 

“Jor?” she asked.

 

The man pointed to a small house attached to the barracks. She aimed there and winced when she realized that the door was reinforced and the windows had bars on them. She knocked and entered.

 

The typical tang of blood greeted her as she took in her surroundings. There were two beds and room for one more in the tiny space. Jor was lying in the closest one, expression placid. The muscular man laid on his back in a shirt that revealed an imposing body. Coarse black hair covered him almost entirely. He had gashes on his deltoid, abdominals and quadriceps. Not bleeding, and he did not appear to be in much pain. Benetti was by his side, holding a sort of medal and praying in a soft voice. Three soldiers held their hands over his wounds. They were tainted with black, she saw, and the invasive color was pushed back by the concerted efforts of his attendant, whose hands glowed softly white.

 

All eyes turned to her when she entered. She met every gaze and nodded politely. Her steps led her to the side of the man who had risked his life to protect her without a sliver of hesitation. She held a hand over one of the wounds and closed her eyes.

 

Another kind of mana.

 

The Cassian sources had felt like magic too, but it had been different. Transformed. It was more complex than the fundamental truth pulsing under her limb. There was a purity there, made more flagrant by the foreign source assaulting it.

 

It was barely holding on.

 

Black mana was extraordinarily deleterious. It was destruction and change while the other was preservation and control. Change fed itself on change, while life was struggling to maintain the status quo. She could not detect will or malice in the wound. It was no more evil than a tsunami. Destructive, yes, but directionless. Blind.

 

She would guide it out.

 

Viv settled her breath and plunged into meditation. She could see without eyes. It took some getting used to.

 

You have gained: mana sense at Beginner 1

 

Black Hedge Witch (6)

 

The black was familiar to her, while the life one was foreign. She understood it and felt a kinship with life as a breathing individual herself, but she could simply not latch on it in any way. There was none in her conduits either. Only the endless tides of the black.

 

She called on them now.

 

The black below her was directionless. It was not hers yet. She slowly, slowly delimited it and started to push her own into the swampy mix. There were some noises outside. They were unimportant.

 

Piece by piece, she made the black hers and pulled it. She soon hit a snag. She could still feel a bit of black, but it was too diffuse. The light had replaced it.

 

She opened her eyes.

 

Mana sense: Beginner 2

 

Intimidation: Beginner 6

 

Mana manipulation: Beginner 7

 

Why was there intimidation? Gah.

 

She inspected the wound. Small pockets of black mana still clung to the edge of a gash in the knight’s shoulder, but the worst of the contagion was over and the rest would fade, she knew.

 

Jor nodded to her and Benetti smiled. The soldiers were more cautious, and would not meet her gaze. She smiled too, and moved to his torso. As she progressed on, the soldiers alternated, fresh men coming every ten minutes or so. Benetti also cast that strange healing thing and Jor’s cleaner wounds closed in record time.

 

The abs laceration turned out to be slightly harder to handle and she left more spots. The one on his leg, she managed to clean almost entirely. She took her time working. Her head still felt tender, but this was not something where power would matter. She had to coax the energy out, not pull it.

 

Acuity +1

 

You have reached a milestone! Your ability to cast and maintain several spells at once is significantly increased. Your thought process speed is increased. You will find casting complex spells to be easier.

 

Wow, several spells at once? More complex spells? Yes, please. She would need to have Solfis guide her.

 

Viv lifted her gaze from the last gash to find Cernit smiling at her. He gave her another glass of water and a pill which she gulped down greedily. Jor was asleep and the soldiers were gone.

 

“Thank you,” the officer said in Old Imperial.

 

“You are welcome.”

 

The officer smiled, but soon his expression turned sour.

 

“Mine soldier. Errr. My great fault. House of you.”

 

He must be talking about the burglar.

 

“Soldier Hern tortured.”

 

Errrr tortured?

 

Benetti laughed when he saw her alarmed expression, and corrected his boss

 

“Punished.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“My great fault,” Cernit continued as he gave her a stiff bow. This was a perfect opportunity to create a favorable working relationship with the man. She turned to Benetti.

 

“Your soldiers. Your punishment. I am satisfied.”

 

Benetti found the message simple enough and relayed her words. They all nodded in a very manly way, all formal and honorable and respectful of due process and the chain of command. Viv decided to leave before hair started to grow on her tits. Outside, the day was getting darker.

 

Hard to believe that she had been dragging her sled this very morning. So much had happened. By all rights, she should be collapsed in her bed right now. Magic was making her body a little bit stronger. Perhaps the stronger warriors could fight for days before collapsing for a few hours and doing it again.

 

The longer days also messed with her. Even after weeks, she was not used to how stupidly long they were. At least two or three more hours of daylight compared to earth.

 

Her mind was in shambles. She had to find a relaxing way to spend the early evening. Then, she would read the bestiary or something.

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Mecanimus

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