Gah! This guy is almost as clingy as Lilly!
I liked him much better when he was surly and suspicious and silent and vaguely afraid of me.
It’s not like his questions are complicated, but it’s annoying to talk so much. And it’s tiring, too. Telepathy doesn’t actually consume any blood-qi, but it does require concentration and focus. It’s mentally tiring.
…Why did he suddenly become so talkative?
Judging by the flow of his questions, he wants to learn how to become a god and how to improve his magic, but why is he asking me? In all my life, I’ve only ever used the rune 冰. I’m no expert in anything else. I suppose Miroslav’s books have indeed taught me a few things about other runes, but I really have no direct experience with them.
And as for becoming a god, well…
What do I know about ranks and breakthroughs and breathing techniques and whatnot?
…Well, a lot, actually.
But the point is that I couldn’t care less. All that stuff has absolutely nothing to do with me.
If he wants to follow my example, I guess he could try dying and see where that gets him. He could rip his own arm off beforehand, to make his situation more similar to mine and increase his chances. And infect himself with some unknown, lethal disease, too.
Actually, if this brat wants to learn from me so much, maybe I should just dump all of my memories into his mind through telepathy and let him wade through them on his own. The transmission would be an awful, indecipherable mess, but on the other hand, his head should explode under the strain, which would shut him up rather effectively.
No. The strain of sending so much information would be just as great on my side. With my soul in its current state, it’s best if I don’t act recklessly.
“I’m not sure. Isn’t it better to focus my efforts on breaking through as fast as possible? Increasing my raw power seems easier and faster than trying my hand at free-form magic. And I’ll have all the time in the world to experiment once I become immortal.”
Well, do what you want, then.
It’s your problem, not mine.
“Free-form magic is dangerous, too. You can never be sure how much qi your spells are going to require. You majin are born with the runes in your dantian, so you’re naturally more familiar with them and you’re more easily aware of your own limits, but if we humans try custom spells like this, we always run the risk of drawing ourselves dry.”
[…It’s not flexible.]
Finram shrugs. “In my experience, the standard spells I learned years ago are flexible enough to fit pretty much any situation. That’s why they’re standard spells in the first place; they’ve been tried and tested. It seems both reckless and arrogant to think I could come up with anything better. Sometimes, I do channel a bit more qi into a spell – or a bit less – to play with its potency, but I’ve never needed to actually create new spells of my own.”
This brat must have led a pretty different life from mine, then, if a handful of spells were enough to get him through it alive. It would be difficult for me to count the number of times when I only survived by coming up with a new spell on the spot, in the Planar Tower.
Like that day when I had to learn how to fly…
It was not a very pleasant day…
To Finram’s credit, I suppose it is also a form of resourcefulness to be able to use the few spells you have to good effect, but I just don’t see the point of limiting my options.
Miroslav’s books also list many spells for each magic they teach, classified in ranks according to the amount of qi required to cast them. I always thought they were only here to serve as examples and references, but apparently, people do actually learn them one by one, instead of simply drawing upon them to fuel their own imagination.
[…Your standard spells are wasteful.]
“Wasteful? I’ve never run out of qi.” He pauses for a moment, then mumbles, “Which seems like an obvious thing to say, considering I’m still alive, but…”
Just because you don’t run out of qi doesn’t mean you should waste it. The more qi you employ, the more difficult it is to control, and the more mental exhaustion you have to bear. I know that normal people can recycle all the qi channeled into their spells, but even then, I imagine they’ll quickly become too tired to fight if they don’t optimize their use of magic.
It’s common sense that you should conserve your energy, isn’t it?
Now, how should I shorten all of that explanation to ten words or less?
Haaaa, what a bother.
[…Enough. Shut up. Leave.]
[…You shut up too.]
I don’t have any time to spare to answer his silly questions. I need to finish reading all the books in this room before the train goes on its way, tomorrow morning.
I turn away from Finram and his attempts to continue the conversation, and pick up the next book.
‘The lusty rakshasa maid’, by Cesius Murio.
…What does ‘lusty’ mean?
Sif? What does Sif have to do with this, now?
‘Maid’ is what Finram called Ran – it’s most likely the name of her profession. It could have been the name of her tribe, as well, but the book’s title implies that rakshasa too can be maids, which somewhat invalidates that theory – I doubt humans like Ran could be part of the same tribe as rakshasa.
I start reading.
I already stumbled on a book about humans’ life cycles and anatomy, earlier, so I can tell by the illustrations in this one that it describes the mechanics of human reproduction. One of the characters is indeed a rakshasa, though. Is reproduction the same for both species? They might be the same for all humanoid species, for all I know.
More research would be necessary before any conclusion might be made, if I cared enough to investigate the subject.
I left Lilly’s house as soon as all the books were read – Finram quickly gave up and left after I decided to ignore him – and snuck back aboard the train.
I am once again alone in the rearmost room.
And I am pleased to discover that the bottles of alcohol were all refilled while I was away. Most of them simply have no effect on me, but a few – Haldir’s Vigil among them – are in fact potent enough to slightly affect my body before they are neutralized and destroyed.
I wait for the train to start moving by emptying all of those.
The same group has gathered in the room again – the robber, Lilly and her family, and me.
Finram doesn’t show the same wariness now that he did during the trip yesterday, but fortunately, neither does he drown me in questions like last night. I’m glad he found the proper middle ground.
Now, however, Lilly is here.
The main difference between her and her uncle is that Lilly, in addition to talking, also insists on stroking my ears or my tail at all times. It’s like these two are taking turns to pester me.
Maybe I really should just kill everybody…
Lilly’s constant blabbering is mercifully interrupted by the sound of a not-so-distant explosion. The train rocks and shakes, hard enough to push her off her feet. Surprisingly, she doesn’t grab onto my tail to keep her balance. To reward her for her unexpected consideration – or her lack of reflexes, maybe – I catch her before she can actually fall to the ground and hold her firmly in place so she doesn’t injure herself.
“W–What was that?” she asks, clinging onto me and looking around for the answer to her question. “What happened?”
…I wonder, too.
This is quite concerning.
It wouldn’t do for the train to be damaged. I want to quickly and safely reach Fushia city, if at all possible.
The others in the room also seem surprised, even the robber. Whatever is going on, it’s definitely not a normal phenomenon.
This point is reinforced a second later by another series of explosions.
Lilly takes my hand in a tight grip, her fingers intertwining with mine.
I turn to Finram.
[…How far is Fushia city?]
“About 600 kilometers away. Why?”
That’s not too much, but it would still take more energy to walk there on foot than to see what the fuss is about on this train and fix the problem. Probably.
“Finram? Should you go and see what’s going on?” Solaire asks.
Finram hesitates a moment, but after glancing over at me, he shakes his head. “No. My responsibility is only your safety. The other passengers are the charge of the train’s security team.”
“Will they be enough? We have no idea what happened.”
“Of course, they’ll be enough. They’re well-armed and numerous enough to protect the train even against a demon attack. They’re not two-bit mercenaries. I’m sure they can handle whatever…”
Another explosion, larger than the ones from before, rocks the train once more and interrupts Finram’s words.
…A demon attack, huh?
That would be nice.
I sure hope the train isn’t going to be destroyed, though.
That would not be nice.
I should go see what’s going on, in any case.
The way I saw it earlier, the rest of the train was pulled by its frontmost box, which means this is where I should head first, to make sure it’s well protected. Otherwise, if it’s destroyed, it would be pointless to stay here, and I might as well immediately leave and make for Fushia city by myself.
When I take a step toward the door, Lilly’s fingers tighten around my wrist.
“Akasha?! Where are you going?”
[…The train’s frontmost box.]
“Box? Oh, you mean, the locomotive? B–But… Uncle said we should stay here. He’ll definitely protect us.”
Hmm. But it’s important to make sure the train can keep moving. Actually, I think I should stay here, as well, and Finram should go and do all the work, but he’s already decided otherwise, so what else can I do?
“It’s fine, Lilly,” Finram says. “Akasha is very strong. No matter what’s going on, I very much doubt it’s something that can threaten her.” He turns to me. “Could you tell Ophelia and the other servants to join us here when you pass through, please? They can probably defend themselves, but it’ll still be safer with everybody together.”
“Thank you very much.”
“W–Well, if Uncle says so…” Lilly looks back and forth between Finram and me, her worries clearly unabated by his reassurance. She gently squeezes my hand. “But you have to promise me that you’ll run away if it gets too dangerous!”
Of course, I will. That goes without saying, really. What kind of moron would just stand and wait for death when escape and survival are possible alternatives?
I am very good at escaping.
I am very good at surviving.
“Be careful!” Lilly shouts after me as I step out of the room and into the corridor beyond, closing the door behind me.
Blessed, blessed silence.
Well, I complain, but Lilly’s pestering and Finram’s questions are still much better than the loneliness of my first years in the Planar Tower. If I had met Lilly at that time, my heart would probably have burst on the spot, from the sheer happiness of her exuberance being directed at me.
…Yes, I suppose it’s not that bad.
Now. Let’s get to work.
I can hear four people inside the room Ran guided me to, yesterday, where I received my new clothes. None of them are talking, but judging by the patterns of their breathing, it should indeed be Ran herself, along with Ophelia, Rin and Meliand.
Following Finram’s request, I walk up to the door and push it open.
As it happens, however, the door is locked. Unfortunately, by the time I notice this, it’s too late to retract my strength. Part of the door frame shatters in a cloud of wood splinters, and the metal of the handle in my hand warps and buckles out of shape.
I’ll need to be more careful in the future. Perhaps, I should first check with telekinesis if doors can be opened before trying to actually open them. That sounds bothersome, though.
Well, nothing I can do about this particuliar one, anyway.
But the people inside the room don’t seem to appreciate my carelessness. By the time the door swings open, three blades made out of light are already soaring toward my face from different directions. Ophelia appears to be the one who’s cast this spell. Her hand is raised toward the door – toward me – and I can feel the qi fluctuation around her. I assume she expected to see a robber instead of me, however, because her eyes widen and she starts lowering her hand when she notices I’m the one she’s attacking.
She probably won’t have time to cancel her spell before her blades reach me.
So I snatch one of the blades out of the air with my right hand, then my left arm splits into two along the middle, each strand catching another.
A second later, the blades all dissipate, brilliant flecks floating up from the gaps between my fingers.
“M–Miss Akasha!” Ophelia takes a step toward me, clearly flustered. “My deepest apologies! I thought it was…”
Aaaah, I know. And I did break your door, too.
So I won’t kill you.
With small cracks of straining ice, the two halves of my left arm come back together again in the proper shape.
On the side of the room, Ran and Rin stand ready to fight, holding identical short swords, the blades shrouded in a faint, wispy black mist. Only Meliand is unarmed, behind the protection of the twin sisters in front of her.
I transmit my words to all four of them. […Finram wants you to join him.]
“Lord Finram? Ah, I see. We were preparing to outflank anyone who tried to go through that corridor to attack the communal room, but if Lord Finram has planned otherwise, then we shall obey.”
Without any more dithering or discussion, everyone immediately files out of the room after Ophelia. The four girls start heading back the way I came, toward the room where Lilly’s family is waiting.
When Ophelia notices I’m heading in the opposite direction from theirs, however, she turns back and calls out after me. “Miss Akasha? Do you intend to check what’s going on in the rest of the train? Would you like one of us to assist you?”
Ophelia nods decisively. “Understood. Please, be careful.”
No need to keep on repeating that all the time.
I’m always careful.
I turn away from them and continue down the corridor toward the door at the other end, my wolf ears twitching this way and that to catch the sounds of the passengers residing in the other rooms.
Outflanking, was it?
Looks like others had the same idea…
As I near the end of the hallway, my steps light and silent, my left hand lengthens and thins and turns into a sharp blade. I stab it through one of the wooden doors as I pass in front of it. I walk on without looking back, but a muffled cry and the thud of a falling body, along with the red blood staining the tips of my reformed fingers, tell me that I struck true.
…Those robbers should be more discreet, if they intend to ambush me. And above all, they really, really shouldn’t let out their bloodthirst like this. As it is, I wouldn’t even have needed my ears to find the enemy, here.
There doesn’t seem to be any more robbers anywhere in this box – that, or those left actually know how to hide – and I reach the end of the corridor without further problems. I walk through the door to the outside of the train, in the narrow gap stuck between the tall walls of the two adjoining boxes. The landscape rolls speedily by beneath a grated walkway leading to the door of the next box.
I can already hear the voices coming from inside it.
They were so muted from a distance – and with several sets of doors between us – that they barely even reached me, beforehand, but now that I’m right next to it, it all sounds very noisy indeed…
Sighing inwardly, I direct Sanae to open the handle-less door with telekinesis, then slip inside.
This box looks completely different from the other. At once, it feels more open, yet more oppressive and cramped. It also looks a lot less comfortable. There are no individual compartments, here. Only row after row after row of seats – not as thickly padded as those I’ve gotten used to, either – lined up one behind the other, in a single, long room that seems to span the entire box. The windows cut into the train’s walls are much smaller, and the ceiling is much lower than in the previous box, with no crystal lamp hanging down from it. There is a set of narrow stairs winding up in a corner, so I assume there is a second floor above.
And there is a whole lot of people crammed into this place. Much more than should be able to fit, it almost seems. None of those people are actually screaming, but as expected, with so many speaking over each other, even if they were whispering, it would still be loud.
Almost worse than the sound, however, is the smell…
It positively reeks of humans in here.
I sacrifice a bit of blood-qi to wedge the door open behind me with a chunk of ice in order to air out the room.
While this does indeed dampen the smell, an unintended consequence also becomes immediately apparent. When the wind, rushing inside the train after me, buffets the first few rows of seats, all the humans sitting there turn to look in my direction to see what’s going on. Even after they should’ve ascertained the matter, however, they don’t return to their previous conversations. They keep gawking at me. And then, the people behind them, wondering why the others suddenly shut up, also start looking at me and fall silent in turn.
Until every eye in the room is locked onto me, and a heavy silence settles over the scene.
…Have these people never seen a demon before? Why are they so surprised?
Bah, no matter. This silence is at least much better than the ruckus from earlier.
Glancing around, I spot a few people in uniforms standing before the door to the next box, over on the other side of the room. They’re frowning at me, their hands suspiciously near the swords at their hips.
…Are those robbers?
But the people around them don’t seem vigilant of them.
They should be that train’s security team Finram was talking about.
It’s true that their cultivation is higher than that of the group of robbers I slaughtered before. They should be about the same level as Jasper or Ophelia – a bit weaker than that werewolf I killed on the first day I escaped the Planar Tower.
As we stare at each other, I suddenly feel a small burst of qi coming from one of them. Mere seconds later, a series of footsteps clang down the metal stairs from the second floor, and four more humans wearing the same uniform arrive in the room and head toward me, swords already drawn. Five men then part from the group at the back of the room and join up midway with their comrades, while the rest stay back to guard the door to the next box.
The group of nine stop in front of me, in a loose half-circle that keeps me penned in away from the other passengers.
“Who are you?” the man in the center asks.
I feel another small qi fluctuation coming from the same person as before, while the man who just spoke to me tilts his head to the side, as though he’s listening to somebody.
Is it telepathy?
It’s not the same as mine. It seems to be actual magic, instead of a soul power.
I wonder what they’re saying…
“Are you one of the servants of the Springfield family?” the same man as before says after a few moments. “You were seen in their company several times. Are the Springfields all in the first-class communal room?”
I don’t know what the ‘first-class’ means, but Finram did call it the ‘communal room’, so it shouldn’t be wrong.
Even if it is wrong, I don’t really care.
The man twitches when I speak to him – which is a bit strange, considering his friend was already talking to him in the same way; he should have already been used to telepathy. His gaze sharpens, and I hear the leather of his glove creak as his fingers tighten around the hilt of his sword.
“I see. So, they are. That’s good. Would you mind following us? I have a few more questions for you.”
At his words, the other eight people arrayed around me take a step forward in unison.
“I insist,” the man says in a low growl, stepping right in front of me and looming over me.
A qi pressure I’m sure he considers impressive leaks out of his body and blankets the room. The normal passengers around us all pale and stumble over each other in their haste to retreat to a safe – safer, at least – distance.
I think I’m supposed to be intimidated, here.
It’s not really working, though.
Well, anyway, those people’s behavior is clearly threatening.
And no matter whether they are robbers or not, I never tolerate threats from anyone.
They dare to turn their bloodthirst toward me, so they must pay the proper price.
“Girl, you will come with…”
When he’s in the middle of his sentence, when his concentration is diverted by his own words, I step forward and stab the stiffened fingers of my right hand into his belly, burying my arm inside his body up to the elbow. Warm blood splashes over my face and stains the apron I’m wearing over my dress. A crackle of electricity tries to run up my arm when I breach through the armor the man is wearing over his abdomen – probably a defensive system of some kind – but it is quickly stopped by my adamantine skin.
The man’s body shakes under the blow, and a trickle of blood slips through his lips. His hands make to grab me, but I sweep my arm to the side, sending him flying into the guy standing on his left and throwing them both to the floor.
The others react with commendable speed – although, I don’t know why they waste some of their precious time spitting threats at this point – but by the time they bring their weapons or magic to bear against me, I’ve already jumped in the midst of the four men who stood on my left.
I drop down low and spin around, a leg scythe reaping their feet out from under them fast enough to break a few knees and tibiae on the way. Three of the men fall – the fourth was too far for my leg to reach him – right down onto the sharp ice stalagmites that spring up from the floor under their heads. Two die immediately, before they can do anything to resist me, while the other manages to survive a bit longer by turning his skin into steel, in a spell somewhat reminiscent of the one Shen Lei used when he fought against me. The stalagmite’s point isn’t sharp enough to pierce through the man’s head, but it still leaves a nasty scar over his cheek. Unfortunately for him, however, I’m already on him before he can even start trying to get up – which would be difficult with his broken legs, anyway. An adamantine foot stomps down onto his metal-covered head, which bursts like an overripe fruit, the floor of the train underneath also crumpling like paper under the impact.
The spectating passengers scream and squeal when some of the blood sprays onto them.
When the third man dies, the fourth – the one who was too far for me to trip – slashes down at my face, the pressure of his qi rising from within his body. The sword he’s using to do this, however, is much too short to reach me at this distance. Looking closely, in fact, its blade is broken just a few centimeters up from the hilt. I doubt the man failed to notice that, yet he still felt confident enough to strike, so I twist my body away from the trajectory of his attack and stoop low to the ground.
A current of wind different from those coming in from the train’s open door whistles above my face, cutting a few strands of my hair, and continues past me, toward the passengers behind me. A dozen of them are instantly cut in half at the waist, except for a small child who takes the wind blade in the neck instead.
Before I can counterattack, I feel a current of electricity run through the floor and into the soles of my bare feet. Although it’s much more severe than the one I suffered when I punched through the first man’s armor, earlier, this one is also effortlessly blocked by my adamantine skin.
By now, there are only five survivors among the group that tried to intimidate me, but the four humans who’d been left guarding the door on the other side of the room quickly arrive to make up for these losses.
Nine people, once more…
They’re all radiating qi, magic in evidence everywhere about them. The sword of one of them is crackling with arcs of electricity – he’s probably the one who just tried to electrocute me through the floor. Another’s eyes are glowing green; I’m not sure what his power is. Under the feet of yet another one, the floor is rippling like water.
“A maid of the Springfield family, indeed! Your reputation is well-deserved,” the electric man says abruptly, looking at the corpses of his friends next to me and at the hole my stomp punched in the train’s floor. “Isn’t the metal of the train’s cars laced with orichalcum? Let me guess. Your magic must be super-strength, right? And ice, too, I suppose. Very impressive, I must admit.” His eyes stare into mine. “But, this time, you’re outmatched, little girl.”
Really, now. I have to say, I don’t see where his confidence comes from. It sure doesn’t come from me tearing through about a third of his comrades in the space of six or seven seconds.
And why are we suddenly talking, anyway?
Weren’t we in the middle of a fight?
Even the man who just slashed at me a second ago is just standing there looking at me, apparently waiting for the conversation to conclude.
This is just absurd…
“Nine of us. One of you. You must know how to count, yes? Let alone, even if you get past us, we’re even ready to deal with Finram Springfield himself, this time, so a little maid like you… I don’t even need to say it, do I?”
Finram is the robbers’ target? They sure don’t aim low, do they? They could pick pretty much anyone else aboard this train and find an easier match, but they chose him…
Those guys aren’t robbers.
Why is the train’s security team targeting Finram?
Maybe they are robbers in disguise.
It’s really none of my business, anyway.
They are threats, so I kill them.
I need no more reason than this.
“From what I know, the duke doesn’t even employ any majin, but now, he’s somehow gotten himself an apostle working as a maid, has he?” The electric man chuckles and slowly shakes his head. “But it’s just like him, isn’t it? Everyone knew it would end up like this, eventually. Forsaking his pride and dignity as a noble in favor of inferior species.” He shakes his head again, more strongly, this time, and his expression becomes fierce. “Little girl, I’ll make this clear. The only way out of this for you is to…”
The floor cracks and sinks under my feet as I pounce on the man with the broken sword. His eyes widen when he realizes that I’m the kind of rude person who quickly gets impatient when people prattle on and on and on. Then, his eyes widen even more – they directly pop out of their sockets, as a matter of fact – when my fist smashes into his face and turns it into pulp.
I killed the first robber mid-sentence, too. I wouldn’t have thought his friends would also fall for the same trick so soon afterward. Some people just don’t learn from their mistakes.
The electric man looks at me, first dumbly, then angrily.
“Brat, you just signed your death warrant, today.”
His speech is punctuated when the floor rocks once again under the blast of another explosion. My balance shifts as the train decelerates, a long screech of tearing and scraping metal ringing continuously from somewhere up ahead, toward the locomotive.
Did someone break the train?
I can’t take my time dealing with these morons. I’ll just find another opportunity to experience fighting humans, later on.
Let’s stop holding back…
As the qi pressure coming from the robbers intensifies, mine suddenly appears as well, and all of their faces instantly become pale. The hands holding their weapons start trembling, and sweat runs in rivulets down their brows.
I raise my hand, and a thick white mist engulfs all of the robbers. Those among them with suitable magic clad themselves in it to try and resist the cold assailing them, but even then, considering the sheer difference between our powers, I doubt they will succeed.
I don’t intend to give them the opportunity, anyway.
I leap into the mist.
Then, I cut off the flow of qi feeding the frozen mist, and it quickly dissipates in the wind still rushing in from the train’s open door, revealing the corpses of the robbers, all covered in frost.
Blinded by the mist and slowed by its piercing cold, a single blow for each of them turned out to be quite sufficient. Some were already dying, their blood slowly freezing inside their veins, but I didn’t take any risk with them, either, and directly killed everyone.
Glancing around, there are no more robbers alive in the room. All the normal passengers are looking at me with fear in their eyes, huddling together and shrinking away from me as far as possible. I doubt they’re going to fight me next.
I ignore the terrified stares and walk down the aisle between the seats toward the door the robbers were guarding earlier. I exit the room without hesitation and close the door after myself. A layer of ice seals it shut, to prevent any of those humans from suddenly gathering their courage and attacking me from behind.
The door to the next box stands closed in front of me beyond the same grated walkway as earlier.
I don’t open it.
Instead, I jump straight up between the two boxes, to the roof of the train, nearly eight meters above. There, I sink my claws into the metal to counter the wind’s push, like I did when I first snuck aboard in Aldenfell.
Why are there robbers, here, too?
There are perhaps a dozen, gathered in small groups. Some are a bit further up the train, but others are quite close to me, clinging onto the roof as hard as they can just a few meters away, the hems of their uniforms flapping and snapping in the wind. They’re all looking at me with wide eyes, their faces full of astonishment.
I throw a glance over my shoulder.
More robbers, on the roof of the box I just left.
They’re about to cross over to the box where Lilly and everyone else are staying.
Get off this train, already.
I stretch my left arm to the side and channel my blood-qi into it.
It grows and grows, its shape gradually changing. Holes start to appear all over its surface to dampen the wind’s resistance, until there are more holes than ice, turning my arm into something like a net – a rigid, solid net, whose entire mesh is as sharp as the edge of any sword. In a second or two, it reaches a length of 60 meters – just enough to sweep away all those pesky robbers sneaking around up here.
I stand up, my feet firmly planted on the roof.
And then, with the nearest robbers rushing toward me while screaming increasingly frantic threats and curses, I spin around, dragging my transformed arm in a complete circle.