Dominic, Twelve Years Old, Eighth Month 947
I woke up with a pounding headache. Reaching up and touching my head, I felt a large welt. Inspecting my fingers as I pulled them away, I was shocked to see flakes of dried blood. I was sitting with my back against a tree in a large clearing.
With a start, I jumped to my feet and groped for my sword only to find that it was missing. Then, as the blood rushed to my head, I collapsed back onto my knees in agony. I heard a shout, and as I looked up through eyes squinted in pain, I saw my fiancé Stahlia, peering down at me.
“Dominic, it’s alright, we are safe now. We got away.” She seemed concerned, and given my present condition, I couldn’t blame her.
Glancing around, I saw that Stil was collapsed in a heap looking thoroughly exhausted. Jacqueline was sitting near a tree a few meters away from us, though her posture seemed a bit lopsided. With a start, I realized that she was missing an arm and that the wound had been cauterized. I shuddered as I imagined how much that must have hurt.
As I looked around the clearing, I noticed that we were missing one member, “Where is Asten?”
Stahlia furrowed her brow and shook her head, “Probably dead. After you got knocked out and Jacqueline lost her arm, Asten decided to distract the demon while Jacqueline and I ran away with you.”
She didn’t seem broken up about his death, but then they had hardly been close. To my knowledge, this was the first time the two of them had really interacted, despite both of them being Special Students. Still, for me to have been knocked out… I didn’t remember being hit by the succubus’s attacks. As I thought back over the events of the fight, the last thing I could remember was seeing an obviously suspicious girl appear behind Stahlia. She had looked back at the three of us and held up a finger in front of her lips before winking.
After that, everything was dark and then I was waking up in this clearing. That would mean either Asten or Jacqueline knocked me out. Jacqueline can’t be charmed by a female succubus owing to her being her. I can’t be charmed because of my skills, so there would be no reason for my allies to have to knock me out. That means Asten must have been charmed and attacked me.
I knew I shouldn't have brought him. I figured that I should bring him along to prevent Stahlia from growing suspicious of me when I showed up while she was sneaking out. I had thought she was planning something, knowing her personality, and had approached Jacqueline to try and head her off. I had originally wanted to have Jacqueline stop her from doing anything, however, she had not been willing to go that far, even when I used my [Incubus Eyes] at full power.
Instead, I settled for having Jacqueline inform me of what Stahlia was planning. Imagine my shock when Jacqueline informed me that the plans had already been made and that the two of them were taking the Stawri out tonight. That idiot! This demon was able to bring down two knights! What are you expecting to be able to do alone!? Still, stopping her was futile. I had a few ideas for how I might have been able to restrain her, but none of them would work here. Not without raising some serious questions that I didn't want to be raised.
I knew I would be able to do something about the succubus myself since I should be immune to its charms via my own abilities. The only thing I could do then was to go with her, and then strike down the demon after it thought it had made me its ally. I knew this would work because of my own Incubus Eye; there was no notification or way to tell when a target was fully under my control. I would only know by observing their actions, so I would just have to wait until I resisted the charm effect from the succubus and then act charmed.
The only issue was, of course, Asten. If Stahlia, Jacqueline, and I were all to disappear together, it would put him in a very difficult spot. Taking him with us was a risk, but if worse came to worse, I could just knock him out myself. Actually, having him with us might not be a bad idea... He could provide a decent distraction in his own right and help keep Stahlia and Jacqueline from noticing I haven't been charmed. I would still need an excuse to explain how I overcame the charm... but I should be able to flirt my way through it. I am, after all, the protagonist of this story. Hell, if things go well, this might set another one of Stahlia's route flags. The "He saved me from the succubus!" event scene...
But the plan backfired. Asten was charmed and proceeded to knock me out before I could do anything... but if that was the case, it didn’t explain why he would offer to buy time; The succubus was strong enough to take down a pair of knights and had then taken Jacqueline’s arm. That meant it would be Stahlia and Stil versus a demon and Asten. The succubus would be immune to almost anything Stil could do, and Asten shouldn’t have had any problems with a Stawri of all things. This meant it was basically Stahlia versus Asten and a Succubus. She might be good, but she’s not that good.
The only explanation was that after knocking me out, the Succubus had decided to let the rest of us go for some reason. This plotline is so contrived, the villain is too lazy to dispose of the main character and his love interest so lets them go. I guess this means I’m supposed to spend the next few years in a training arc and then have a climactic battle to avenge Asten’s death. I gazed at Stahlia and felt a warm smile break out over my face.
The look of revulsion this caused her to briefly show before carefully masking her inner turmoil was a bit disheartening, but then again, I did enjoy the tsundere motif. If her hair was a slightly brighter shade of red, she would be perfect… Lucky for you that the villain of this story is a female succubus, and not a male one-winged angel, or things might have gone pretty badly for you huh? Stahlia pulled me out of my revelry by shaking my shoulder.
“Dominic, were you listening at all? We need to get back to the village and report this! That succubus was an Original Sin!” I nodded vaguely. Her face is so close… I felt a strange warmth welling up, it was something I had never felt before, not in this life at least. She narrowed her eyes and pushed out her chin. Clearly, she was getting upset that I was tuning her out.
Suddenly, a brilliant idea popped into my head. In one motion, I angled my own head properly and closed the remaining distance between us. It was just a quick peck, nothing like what I planned on doing in the future, but it was enough to cause her to jerk back away in surprise. I was half expecting the classic slap across the face, but instead, my fiancé went for the lesser-known classic of “vigorously rubbing her lips on the back of her hand”.
My fiancé is a rare tsundere I see. I will be sure to treasure her carefully. Still, it was strange. I knew I had some fucked up tastes. Before I died I had been just getting into some really interesting porn. I was, after all a forty-year-old virgin. Waiting for my new body to go through puberty so that I could begin to indulge myself had been one of the most difficult experiences of my fifty some odd years of life.
But even as I had been becoming more and more of a degenerate, I had never been a lolicon. And yet, I find myself being so strongly attracted to Stahlia… Is it just my predilection for tomboys and tsunderes? The fact that I know we will be getting married eventually? Or is there something else? It was a mystery, but for better or worse, the more time I spent with her, the more I found myself wanting to keep her all to myself.
“Are you done grinning like an idiot?” I glanced up at the girl in question, then hauled myself up to my feet. Taking care this time so as not to upset my head injury, once I was up, I moved around experimentally. Seeing as everything was fine, I turned to face Stahlia, who was now standing with her arms crossed.
I gave my offhand over my heart while holding my dominant over where my sword would normally be, had I not lost it during our flight. Bowing my head, I answered her question, “Yes, thanks to the caress of your lips I feel invigorated once more. Shall we make for the village?” It was an overly dramatic statement, but it had the desired effect of short-circuiting her brain and leaving her blushing while opening and closing her mouth, unable to come up with a retort. I love when she goes dere.
Getting out of the forest and back to the village proved relatively easy. Jacqueline was in no condition to fight, and Stil was exhausted. Normally two children this deep in the forest might have struggled, but Stahlia and I were both nobles of Drakas and Special Students to boot. The handful of weak monsters we encountered proved no threat to us, and we managed to make it back to the village before noon.
My manservant Gregory was there waiting with the other two servants I had brought with me, along with Asten’s retinue and Stahlia’s two friends. I mean, who brings a group of girls on a mission like this? I get that they have some skill, but wouldn’t you normally bring servants and use the knights for battle?
Upon seeing her, one of Stahlia’s friends let out a shriek and came running out of the village towards us. If I recall correctly that one was Sana… the girl from her home village. Sana came running up to Stahlia, who tiredly raised a hand in greeting, “I’m back…”
This was apparently a dissatisfying answer, as it caused Sana to cross her arms and glare at Stahlia, “And just what were you thinking!”
Stahlia glanced away and mumbled something I couldn’t catch. Observing her other friend, the Claurence's dog Sarala, I was a bit surprised to see that she was giving Stahlia a blatantly surprised look. Almost like she was staring at a rare animal. As soon as she noticed my appraising gaze, she wiped the look off her face with a quick shake of her head.
As I was pondering the strange reaction, I caught sight of Asten’s manservant approaching me while clenching his hands. I gave a subtle shake of my head, which caused the man to stop, close his eyes and take a deep breath. He then gave a slight nod and backed away from the group, to where Asten’s other two attendants were.
It was a saddening sight, but there was nothing I could do. Asten would be honored posthumously for his sacrifice, and it would bring a large degree of prestige to his house. Lord Percius will be upset though; I’ll have to see if father can arrange things to prevent him from attempting anything.
After wrapping things up at the village entrance, we made our way to the village chief’s home in order to have a private discussion with the knight commander. It was paramount that we reported the gravity of the situation here in Ang Village, it would likely require the remaining citizens to evacuate while a full suppression team of seasoned veteran knights was deployed. Such was the threat of an Original Sin-ranked demon.
The discussion was largely redundant, Stahlia had the demon’s hand, and a quick check of its mana confirmed our account. The fact that she had managed to collect even something so small was grounds for great prestige in and of itself. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if she was granted some reward for this. I freely admitted to having been overcome and missing the majority of the fight; this would benefit me in the long run, as any rewards and accolades Stahlia received would pass to me in a scant few years anyways. It was better to push her as far as possible in order to increase the scale of her achievements, thus increasing the size of any rewards she was offered.
It was decided that we would depart the very next day along with one of the four remaining knights. The other three knights would stay in the village and do what they could, while we made all due haste to report the situation; it was not lost on the knight commander that the three who stayed behind were, in all likelihood, doomed to die. To his credit, he selected the freshest of the other three knights to be the one to return to the capital with us.
The next morning the entire remaining population of the village came to see us off. Unlike the previous trip, Asten’s attendants took the smaller carriage, while Stahlia and her party boarded the larger one with myself and my three attendants. We were arranging ourselves like this to save time at checkpoints; having the two nobles in one carriage would enable us to have our identities verified together thus saving valuable time. The small carriage would trail behind several days, but with Asten having passed, we had no use for his attendants.
As we boarded, the lot of the villagers bowed their heads and murmurs of gratitude made their way to our ears. Likely, rumors of what the three of us students had faced had made their way around. As well as the very obvious fact that one of us was no longer present. Rather than being upset that we were leaving them now, the villagers seemed to understand that we were going to get help because there was nothing we personally could do.
We rode our horses hard, to the point where a few died of exhaustion. Fortunately, this was a true emergency of the national scale, so we were able to leverage our status and mission to appropriate new horses from the villages and towns we passed through. By sleeping in shifts in the carriage and riding through the nights, we managed to cut our travel time down from the previous seven days to a mere three. Of course, doing this did nothing to help our fatigue, and by the time we were arriving back in the capital we were all of us exhausted.
This was particularly bad in the case of Stahlia, who had been running herself ragged even before our seventy-two-hour dash. More than once, I had found her drifting asleep on my shoulder, only to wake up a few minutes later with a jolt and scoot away from me with a red face. As we kept going, however, and Stahlia got more and more tired, she also became less and less resistant, and by the time we were pulling into Drakas, she had wound up spending the past several hours sleeping on my shoulder.
Of course, I was tired too, but I was much too interested in watching her resistances slowly crumble to sleep much myself. Besides, her sleeping face is absolutely adorable. I was truly enjoying the experience of someone falling for me naturally, I knew I would treasure my memories of building this relationship.
We arrived at my family’s estate, and I poked her cheek to wake her up. I had briefly considered waking her up with a kiss, but I decided to forgo that at present; there were too many people around and we were not married yet. Truthfully, her sleeping on my shoulder was already pushing the bounds of what would be considered socially acceptable. I shouldn’t have to worry about Sana, Doggy, Jacqueline, or Stil. Gregory was on my side of course, but the other two servants I had with me answered to my mother, and for whatever reason, she seemed immune to my powers.
My working theory was that she either possessed a magic item to protect against charm effects, which was likely considering her position as a high noble, or that my abilities didn’t work on her due to our blood relationship. Though unless Elienor wasn’t related to me by blood, the latter was unlikely, since I was perfectly capable of influencing my sister as I pleased. Though if it turned out that she really isn’t my sister, that would make my future bright indeed.
In any case, my poke woke Stahlia up. She tilted her neck and stretched her arms, producing several pops and cracks that sounded like they were incredibly satisfying, “Mmm… Have we arrived…?”
I took a moment to appreciate her sleepy face before I nodded, “Yes, we are back at the Francois Estate. I should think you will want to retire immediately and sleep in your bed; we are scheduled to have an audience with Duke Percius and General Bonet tomorrow. We will have to report Asten’s death in detail and describe the threat to them. And by we, I mean you, since I was unconscious.”
Indeed, the soldier would make a preliminary report, he had already departed to do so. Then it would take them at least until the morning to collect the necessary individuals to hear the eyewitness account, even if it was an emergency, bureaucracy still took some time. We would likely be summoned sometime in the early to mid-morning.
Stahlia nodded after a moment to digest my words, then extended her hand to me. I stared blankly for a moment before I accepted it and helped her down from the carriage. She’s never initiated contact before, always being the recipient. She must be way more tired than I thought. Still, being sought out naturally like that… it really did feel good. I had grown used to woman doing whatever I wanted thanks to my abilities in this world, though I knew I was repeating myself, having someone able to resist my charms come around naturally was truly exhilarating.
I took her hand and helped her down from the carriage. As her feet hit the ground, I felt a chill run down my spine. Turning around, I saw Pet staring at us from a distance, her tail was standing straight up and she had her ears pressed flat against her head. Interesting, I knew she wasn’t fond of me, but I haven’t seen her in a while… I’m not sure what I did to cause her to so blatantly detest me… It’s truly saddening.
I had originally purchased her for Stahlia after seeing how distressed her appearance had made Stahlia. Indeed, she did look an awful lot like Stahlia’s late sister Rosial. However much to my surprise, Stahlia had very quickly gotten over her distress, seeming merely bored with the creature during the sale. As it turned out, this had worked in my favor, as the slave trader lowered the price substantially after seeing her lose interest. Based on her next set of actions, that is, feeding and clothing it, I had determined that she had tactfully feigned boredom in order to acquire the slave more easily.
I had been a bit appalled by what came next though, as Stahlia was seemingly treating Pet as… a pet. Though I suppose that was better than the conditions she had been living in prior to being purchased. It was something that I was still trying to come up with a solution for; that is, Stahlia’s prejudicial views towards beast-kin. I simply couldn’t understand how she could treat someone so cute like her monster Stil.
Stahlia, Ten Years Old, Eighth Month of 947
After I recovered and managed to convince Jacqueline that I was fine, I apologized for her arm. Even if I didn’t actually feel bad about it anymore, it was important to keep up appearances. She then assured me that even with only one arm, she would be more than capable of serving me. I nodded; I hadn’t doubted that she would let herself fail over something like a missing arm. I quickly explained the information to tell Dominic. Considering that she was seemingly under his thrall to some extent, I made sure to also withhold quite a bit of information from Jacqueline.
Conveniently, as I was nearing the end of the information I considered safe to share, Dominic began to stir. I quickly brought my conversation with Jacqueline to an end and motioned for her to be silent. I made my way over to Dominic just in time to witness him jump to his feet and then promptly collapse again, clutching his head in pain. Fucking dumbass! You’ve just had a major head injury! I bit back the retort I wanted to say and instead called out to calm him down, “Dominic, it’s alright, we are safe now. We got away.”
He looked up at me, and then quickly looked around the clearing, taking in the condition of everything. After a moment, his gaze returned to me, “Where’s Asten?”
I nodded and gave him my reply, keeping things as brief as possible, “Probably dead. After you got knocked out and Jacqueline lost her arm, Asten decided to distract the demon while Jacqueline and I ran away with you.”
Dominic gave me a shocked look, before seeming to fall into deep thought. I was growing impatient, we needed to get a move on, or the knights might come into the forest looking for us. As I was about to say something, Dominic met my eyes, and a stupid dopey smile spread out across his face. What the hell!? Do you have any sense of time, place, occasion!? Despite my revulsion, being looked at like that still made my heartbeat quicken. In an effort to mask my embarrassment, I turned up my nose in an effort to appear disgusted.
After a moment, much to my horror, I realized that in my attempt to mask my embarrassment, I had inadvertently gone full tsundere again. God damnit! We don’t have time for this! I decided to bring this to an end quickly, “Dominic, enough. We need to get back to the village and tell everyone about the danger… That demon, it was an Original Sin.” I got no reply, Dominic once again appeared deep in thought. This guy!
I leaned forward and grabbed his shoulder, “Dominic, were you listening at all? We need to get back to the village and report this! That succubus was an Original Sin!” He stared at me impassively, causing me to narrow my eyes in frustration. In a bid to break his eye contact, I tilted my head back away from him slightly. All of a sudden, I was met by a soft, pleasant sensation on my lips.
Blinking in surprise, I jumped backward away from Dominic. What the FUCK!? He kissed my hand before, but what the hell! Time! Place! Occasion! Unlike the kiss I had been given a few hours ago, this one was much… when I realized I was currently comparing kisses of all things, I felt like vomiting. Reflexively, I scrubbed at my mouth. Thankfully I hadn’t accidentally opened it this time.
Dominic was smirking at me, a look I returned with a glare, “Are you done grinning like an idiot?”
Dominic stood up and moved his body experimentally. While waiting for him to answer, I crossed my arms and resisted the urge to start tapping my foot. After a moment, he turned and faced me, “Yes, thanks to the caress of your lips I feel invigorated once more. Shall we make for the village?”
Taken aback, all I could do was look at him in shock. I… I didn’t send you any mana though? All you did was kiss me, there shouldn’t have been anything… no that isn’t the issue! Where the hell do you get off just kissing me like that… I mean, we’re engaged but… I gave up thinking about it. As long as he doesn’t try and push things any further… I can deal with this for another two years. Then I’ll leave the capital for my bridal training and never see him again. If I’m going to get the knowledge I need to save Rosial, I need the Francois, and to get the Francois, I need Dominic. I can tolerate a kiss or two for that. My mind made up, I turned and started making my way to the village without a word.
We arrived at the village a little bit before noon. The trip was largely uneventful, Jacqueline was managing with only one arm, but I could tell she was in pain still, so I didn’t engage with her. Stil was exhausted and a bit injured himself, so he stuck with Jacqueline. This left only Dominic and me to protect the group. However, we only encountered a group of three goblins. I quickly collected my experience points and we moved onwards towards the village.
When we got to the village, the first thing to catch my eyes was the worried faces of my two friends. Sana in particular came running straight at me after crying out in relief. Right, she probably missed me, I should have left a note or something. I raised my hand and called out in greeting, “I’m back…”
At my words, her look of relief turned into one of anger. Wait, did I say something wrong? Why is she angry? Sana stopped a short distance from me, though well within arm’s reach, “And just what were you thinking!” Yea, definitely angry. Why though?
I cocked my head and answered, “That two knights were dead, and I should probably do something about it before more people died?”
Sana glared at me, “What about me and Sarala? Don’t you feel at least a little bit bad about leaving us without saying a word!? What if you never came back!” To her credit, she was still able to control herself to the point that she was barely keeping a low voice. If she suddenly started yelling at a noble in front of so many villagers, not to mention the knights, things wouldn’t go well for her.
But that makes sense why you're angry now Sana, sorry but I actually don’t feel bad… I literally can’t. This is going to be harder to act than I thought… I considered turning on my remorse and simply working through the blowback once I was in private again, but I got the feeling that it would be getting worse and worse the longer I pushed it off. I’m well and truly screwed, aren’t I?
“Ah… right… I do feel bad about that, but I was worried about the two of you… In the end… Asten didn’t make it. Think about how I would have felt if that was you or Sarala?” My statement took the wind out of Sana’s sails quite nicely and left her standing there looking at me apologetically.
“…sorry for snapping at you… are you at least unhurt?” I nodded and did a quick spin with my arms outstretched. Sana squeezed her eyes shut and nodded.
“Good. Chief Carl and Sir Albert want to speak to you and Lord Dominic, they are up at Chief Carl’s house.”
I thanked Sana for delivering the message. Indeed, I had noticed Carl and Albert making their way to Carl’s house after visually confirming Dominic and I entering the village. I grabbed Dominic, who had just finished informing Asten’s manservant of the former’s death, and we made our way up to Carl’s house. Once arrived, I made a report similar to what I had told Jacqueline. This doubled as me informing Dominic since we hadn’t talked much on the way back.
When I informed them that the Succubus had identified herself as Sitri, and claimed to be an Original Sin, I was met with disbelief. Thankfully I had Sitri’s hand, which I produced as evidence to my claims. Albert produced a Mana Scope from inside his pouch and touched it to the hand. Mana scopes were a magic tool that was able to read the mana capacity of a given vessel by applying the principles behind the first law of magic.
After a moment, Albert shook his head. “I cannot get a reading, the portable scope I was given should be able to read the mana quantity of anything up to the level of an average Demon Count, but it just maxes out and tells me it 'cannot get an accurate reading'.” The pronouncement led to silence in the room.
Just before the silence was about to become awkward, Albert spoke up, “Whether or not this Sitri is truly an Original Sin, the fact stands that we lack the necessary resources to deal with something as strong or stronger than a Demon Count.”
He looked around the room, briefly meeting eyes with myself, Dominic, and Carl, “Lady Stahlia, Lord Dominic. This has gone outside the scope of what the Special Student program is intended to handle. We have already lost Lord Asten. I will not comment on your actions in going alone out of respect for his sacrifice and thanks for the information you managed to recover. But I am sending you both back to the capital with your retinues. One of my men will accompany you and report what you have discovered, the kingdom will likely want your testimonies regarding the encounter. I and my remaining two men will do what we can in the village while awaiting reinforcements.”
I pressed my lips together and curtsied. It wasn’t lost on me that he was likely saying these words under the impression that he was signing the death warrants for himself and his men. Of course, he doesn’t know that Sitri has fucked off, and there isn’t any way for me to inform them of this without spilling the details surrounding the pact I made… which definitely won’t be received well.
The meeting finalized with us planning the way we would get back to the capital. Unfortunately, we would be riding nonstop, except to trade out horses when they became unable to continue. The replacement horses would be appropriated under the emergency provisions clause in Drakas’ military code. This is going to be exhausting. Further compounding my issues, it was decided that Dominic and I would share the larger carriage between the two of us in the name of saving time.
The next day, the entire village came out to see us off. I say us, I think it might have been me and Sana specifically. More than one woman was present with a toddler tugging on their hand and pointing at us excitedly. One of them in particular was standing a ways away from the rest of the crowd; they were in fact standing in their doorway, using the frame to support themselves. Standing just outside the door was a seven-year-old girl holding a newborn infant. The girl was manipulating the infant like a puppet, making it wave its hand at me.
Lisa and… I never actually learned the mom’s nor the baby’s name, did I? Oh well, it isn’t really important. I climbed into the carriage and took the seat Dominic escorted me to. Much to my annoyance, he promptly sat down next to me. The seat in question was near the head of the carriage, and large enough for two people. The other seats were made for up to three people and were a bit plainer than the one I was on. Although all of the seats were rather opulent. Presumably, the two-person seat was specifically designated for the noble passengers.
Jacqueline, Sana, and Sarala took one of the two remaining seats, on the side of the carriage closer to me. Dominic’s attendants took the further of the two seats, and we departed. The first few hours of the trip, and indeed most of the first day, were relatively comfortable. Sana had healed Jacqueline’s arm, though all this had amounted to was the wound closing. Lost limbs were exceedingly difficult to restore. Gods very rarely if ever granted miracles to this end, a fact Sana had felt exceedingly distressed over.
I would potentially be able to do something with alchemy, a high-level Elixir or Rejuvenation Potion could regrow body parts in a few days, but the ingredients I needed were traded on the level of percentages of a country's GDP. Theoretically, there could be a spell chant that would restore missing limbs, but if it existed, it would be a very closely guarded secret on the level of royalty. In short, it was a good thing I had opted to go with her non-dominant arm. Of course, Jacqueline is talented enough that even if I had taken her dominant arm, she probably would have learned to cope in only a few days. Still, her not having two arms will be an issue in the long run. I'll have to start working on a plan to get it back or find a suitable replacement.
Either way, Jacqueline was proving herself to be exceedingly capable with only the single-arm, still perfectly able to attend to me. Still, she wasn’t able to drive the carriage and both Sana and Sarala did not know how to do so in the first place. Of course, there had been questions about why Jacqueline had even gone with our group when it was explained how she lost her arm, but Dominic of all people shut them down by stating that she had been trained as a knight and served as a hidden second bodyguard due to my unique position in noble society. It was frankly, a little bit scary how close to the truth he really was. This left the driving to be rotated amongst Dominic’s three manservants as well as the actual driver.
My party had very little to do, but due to where I was sitting, I wasn’t able to easily engage in conversation with them. As the day turned to night, I found myself dozing off periodically. Each time, I would jerk myself awake to find my head had lolled to the side and onto Dominic’s shoulder. Each time I would immediately jerk away and scoot as far as I could to the opposite side of our shared seat.
As the night turned to day, I was sore, stiff, and exhausted. Dominic slept just fine, a fact which irritated me even more. For whatever reason, he had no issues staying up against the wall when he slept. Why the hell does my body gravitate to his shoulder!? Why can’t I stick to the damn wall! Of course, there was the possibility that I was being affected by his skill. I focused inside myself, drawing up mana and feeding it into my eyes, applying the Divine Element to it as I went.
Unfortunately, likely due to the fact that his eyes were closed, there were no waves of mana being emitted at the moment. And if I do it when he’s awake, I’ll have to be staring at him while I’m in his vision. Otherwise, I won’t be able to see if his mana is affecting me since it only goes where he’s looking… And if I do that, it means he’ll see me looking at him!
This all would be so much easier if I just appraised with my blood magic, but without the target’s expressed consent, their mana would resist my own. It was also extremely easy to notice someone else’s mana flowing into your body. It was exceedingly unpleasant if you were resisting it but would feel quite nice if you willingly accepted it. I had learned this back in Ris when checking the statuses of the village boys I was training. In short, if I were to try, even while he was asleep, he would most likely notice right away and ask me what I was doing.
I forcibly tore my gaze away and started to count the grains in the wood of the side paneling that was on my other side. One board had a little over eighty. I knew because I had already spent an amount of time counting them and remembered it. I groaned and stretched while sneaking a look at Dominic. He was still idly watching me. Peaking around the carriage’s cabin, it seemed that everyone else was actually asleep right now. I suppose that if I did it now, he would be the only one to see me…
I glanced out the corner of my eye while trying to work up the courage to engage my divine eyes. Dominic was still watching me while leaning on the sidewall of the carriage. Am I really that interesting…? In my opinion, the answer was no. But Dominic clearly found something fascinating. I took a deep breath and went to apply Divine Element to the mana in my eyes. To my surprise, the aspect failed to take, and I couldn’t turn them on.
What the hell? I looked over at Jacqueline and turned them on; her mana looked perfectly normal, due to Dominic watching me, she was not in his line of sight presently. I turned my eyes back to Dominic, and immediately lost control of my mana, deactivating my divine sight. Is he immune to divinity!? No. there’s no way he should be, that’s the sleep deprivation talking. I’ve seen his mana just a couple of days ago, but he wasn’t watching me then.
I spent a few minutes considering various possibilities. After narrowing them down, I went to do a test. Making sure I wasn’t looking at Dominic, I engaged my divine eyes again. I moved my line of sight until I was able to see the mana pulses, but not Dominic. Then, pretending to stretch, I moved my arms into my line of sight. The moment I was able to see my own arms, I lost control of my mana again, and the divine eyes were disabled.
So it was that one. My experiment had narrowed down the cause of my issue. I was afraid. I was afraid of knowing the truth, that I might actually just be starting to like him. Now that I knew he had some power, I had subconsciously locked onto the idea that it was influencing me, and the reasons I reacted the ways I had been as a result of his skill. I was afraid, that I would see that it wasn’t affecting me. Because that would mean I actually was starting to like him.
I should disable fear and get it over with. I need to know, that way I can come up with countermeasures. But despite knowing that I should just get it over with, I couldn’t bring myself to actually turn off my fear. I tried, vainly, a couple of times more to look without turning off fear, but it didn’t work. In the end, I spent so much time waffling about that the other passengers woke up. Fear or no fear, I was not going to be caught staring at Dominic.
The second day dragged on. My sporadic bouts of sleep were growing more frequent, but I still couldn’t stay asleep for more than a few minutes at a time. As everyone else began to doze off, I resolved my tired heart and mind. There’s nothing good that comes from not knowing. If it turns out I am being influenced, then I can begin work on countermeasures. If by some chance the fact that I’m also a reincarnation makes me immune, then I need to confront the fact that I might be starting to fall... and figure out how to come to terms with that or deal with it.
I spent the night coming up with arguments and psyching myself up, waiting for Dominic to wake up. That morning, he once again woke up before everyone else, and once again he began to pass the time by watching me. I took a deep breath, closed my tired eyes, and disabled fear. When I woke up, Dominic was looking down at my face, while my cheek was resting on his shoulder. I felt refreshed, despite what should have been in no way a restful sleep.
I sat up and stretched, as everyone else was collecting their things and getting ready to disembark. “Mmm… Have we arrived…?” I’ll act tired and take the chance to check now. I guess turning off my fear also made me less resistant to the idea of using him as a pillow. Nothing I can do about it now. As I came out of my stretch, I went through the process of activating my divine eyes and observed his mana waves.
Dominic nodded and answered my question before offering me his hand. “Yes, we are back at the Francois Estate. I should think you will want to retire immediately and sleep in your bed; we are scheduled to have an audience with Duke Percius and General Bonet tomorrow. We will have to report Asten’s death in detail and describe the threat to them. And by we, I mean you since I was unconscious.”
I reached out, being careful to minimize my movements so as not to disrupt my focus, and paid close attention to his mana pulse as it washed over my arm. Much like the knights, it passed straight through me without affecting my own mana at all. Well, I guess that answers that…