Chapter 97
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Damien straightened despite his exhaustion.

That’s good! I think. It’s good, right?

“It’s good,” Henry said, chuckling. “Your body is already a little weakened from this morning, so this is the perfect time. The weaker you are, the better your body will accept outside influence.”

That’s only mildly concerning.

“Don’t be a coward,” Henry said dismissively. “Magical plants aren’t going to make or break you, but every small bit of strength counts in the end.”

I’ll just take your word for it, I suppose. I’ve been doing a lot of that recently, and I’m starting to get the feeling it won’t be good for my health. Either way – how do I use the plants?

“There are dozens of ways you could choose to use them. The most common way is to simply eat the plant, but some people train as alchemists to refine the Ether out of the plant and ingest that directly. You can also smoke it, directly insert it into your core, and more. However, many of those techniques are quite high level and take more skill than you have.”

So… I’m eating it?

“You’re eating it,” Henry agreed. “It’s the crudest way to absorb the plant, but it doesn’t matter right now. The fancy methods are all there to increase the amount of Ether you draw out of the plant. However, when you’ve never absorbed anything external before, you don’t have to worry about it. You’ll get almost all the Ether within the plant just by using the basic method.”

Why is that?

“Think of your body like a sea sponge,” Henry said, adopting the dry tone of a lecturer. “A very dry sea sponge, and the Ether is water. Right now, you’ve barely got any Ether within your body – it’s almost entirely within your core. There’s a bit left over from spells and cultivation, but you’re so young that it’s basically worthless. A drop of water isn’t going to make a sponge soggy.”

Then the Magical Plants are the water I absorb? And the more Ether I get from them, the less my body wants to accept?

“That’s correct,” Henry said, letting out a pleased purr. “So it doesn’t matter how you absorb your first few plants. You’ll get everything anyways. It’s once you start pushing the boundaries of your shrimpy little mortal body that you have to worry about the other methods.”

So if I’m a sponge, what happens when I start overflowing with Ether? Does it leak out?

“That’s not something you’re going to have to worry about for a while,” Henry said. “The amount of Ether your body can absorb is correlated to the amount that your Core can store. Look, you remember how gravity works, yes?”

Things pull on each other. Big things pull more.

“More or less,” Henry agreed. “Massive things, not big ones – but that’s beside the point. Imagine your Core has a form of gravity that only affects the Ether within your body. The bigger it is, the more it holds the Ether in.”

I see. So if I eat too many Magical Plants, I’ll outpace my Core and the Ether in my body will leak away.

“Exactly,” Henry said. “Very astute. And, before you ask, it’s not dangerous. It’s just a waste. Now, stop wasting time and eat the plant. Start with the one you won from the tournament – it’s stronger than the one we bought.”

Damien shrugged. He finally stepped out of the bathroom and made his way over to the winnings bag by his bed. He ruffled around in it for a few moments before pulling out the glass vial that contained the Ironleaf Thistle.

He popped the cork out with one thumb and eyed the dry green leaf within the glass warily. It didn’t look particularly appetizing. It smelled faintly mossy, like something he would have found behind an old shoe in a shed.

Sylph opened her eyes and watched Damien examine his prize. His nose crinkled and he gingerly dumped the vial’s contents out into his hand.

“Do you know how to properly use that?” Sylph asked.

“More or less,” Damien said. He popped it into his mouth. Unfortunately, the leaf didn’t taste much better than it looked.

Am I supposed to chew this thing? It tastes like paper and shrubbery.

“Just let it dissolve in your mouth,” Henry said. “And why do you know what shrubbery tastes like?”

Damien grunted in response. The leaf was rough and brittle against his tongue. It melted slowly, filling his entire mouth with its mildly annoying flavor. Once it was almost completely liquid, Damien swallowed and grimaced.

“Gross,” Damien muttered. “Still better than the free meals, though.”

“You’re sure that’s how you use the Magical Plant?” Sylph asked, eyeing Damien as if he were about to sprout horns.

“Yep. I’ve got it on good word.”

Sylph shrugged. She reached into her own bag and took out one of her three vials. The girl emptied it into her mouth expressionlessly, then capped the vial and put it back into her bed.

“Am I supposed to feel any different?” Sylph asked after a few moments.

I’m wondering the same thing.

“What, did you expect some huge burst of power?” Henry asked, chuckling. “It’s a leaf. A low level one at that. You’ll get stronger as your body absorbs the Ether within it, but don’t expect any instantly noticeable changes. Come morning, you’ll be marginally stronger. You might notice it or you might not. But, if you continue to absorb Magical Plants, you’ll start noticing them.”

Damien repeated Henry’s words to Sylph, who nodded.

“That makes sense,” Sylph said. A frown crossed her face. “But that probably means I’m not going to be able to improve my physical body through Magical Plants either. If everything is based on how much Ether my Core stores…”

“We’ll figure something out,” Damien promised her.

Sylph’s head cocked incrementally to the side. Then she gave Damien a small smile and nodded.

With nothing left to do but wait for the following morning, the two of them headed to bed. Damien’s bloodstained sheets were still in the corner of the room, but he couldn’t be bothered to clean them or get new ones. He flopped onto his rough mattress and fell asleep within minutes.