I may have created a monster. Lucia had handed over all her bones to me and told me to hold onto them to prevent her from consuming any for no reason. I didn’t think my persuasion would work, and I have no idea if consuming bones affects her qi circulation, but my words worked. The first few minutes weren’t too bad. That’s right, just minutes. Maybe she got anxious from not having them on her, but she threatened to tear my lungs out if I didn’t return them to her, so I did.
After that happened, she consumed a bone and gave the whole thing back to me again, and told me to not give them to her no matter how much she asked. But as anyone who’s had a sharp object pointed at their face would know, if the wielder of said object asks you for something, you hand it over without objection. When Lucia realized handing the bones over to me wouldn’t work, she decisively dumped them out the window of the carriage. Five minutes later, the carriage driver was forced to turn back under the threat of never having kids in the future.
So Lucia did the most logical thing to do when she realized as long as the bones existed, she’d seek them out. She consumed all of them at once—a whole interspacial ring’s worth of them. I thought she’d explode or at least turn into an idiot from the backlash, but I guess someone who would consume that many bones at once had no fear of turning into an imbecile because they already were one. Did I just call Lucia stupid? Well, as long as the person in question doesn’t know, it’s fine.
After consuming all the bones, Lucia sat around in a daze for a while, letting out the occasional burp or hiccough. The peace and quiet lasted for nearly a day, but after that is when the nightmare started. Lucia trembled and muttered to herself like a homeless person in the streets, staring at her hands while licking her lips. Her sock spirit, the wolfman named Puppers, finally came back to life around the time Lucia started chewing on her tail, and she, uh, dismembered him to acquire a new set of bones to engrave. I don’t know what the poor spirit had done in his past life to deserve an owner like Lucia, but it couldn’t have been good. But disregarding his unfortunate fate, Lucia’s newest supply of bones has dwindled severely over the past few days, and I’m afraid I’m going to be next if she runs out before we make it to my home. Now I know why addicts are scary; they’ll do anything to get their next fix.
The carriage driver is also frightened, and in turn, the horses are frightened too. They’ve been running nonstop through the nights to reach our destination faster. Of course, I’ve been renewing their stamina and increasing their speed with magic, but there’s only so much I can do. I’ve thought about giving Lucia the corpses of the divine beasts I currently have stored away, but I’d like to save that as a last resort lest anyone discovers them. It’s unlikely anyone would have designs on me or my father to steal away some corpses, but it never hurts to be careful. …Unless a slightly crazy beastkin wants to rip the bones out of your body to draw pictures on them.
I have never been as relieved as I was when I saw the statue of my father on the horizon, signaling we were getting close. Lucia hasn’t spoken a word since she tore apart her spirit, mostly keeping her eyes closed with a pile of bloody bones in her lap. The past few days in the carriage with Lucia have been like sitting in a cage with a sleeping manticore. The stress has caused my mana levels to soar, and looking inwards, I could tell my fifth circle was starting to form. Meeting Lucia, I’m still not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse.
Just a few more hours and I’ll be back home. I hope my father’s doing well. He had chosen to pass me off to Teacher because he was busy with work, and anything that could keep a high-ranking magician occupied for extended periods of time was most likely troublesome to handle. I wonder what Father would think when he meets Lucia. Speaking of Lucia, she’s still muttering to herself with her eyes closed. Eh? They opened? But why are they so … strange? They’re not as white as they are when she turns cruel and savage, but her irises and pupils are definitely dimmer.
“Someone’s looking to die,” Lucia said, her eyes narrowing. She glanced at me, and I stiffened. It was almost like she could see past my eyes, right into my head. “Sixteen? No, seventeen.”
What? “Are you sober?”
“Shh.” Lucia put her finger to her lips. Her ears twitched a few times. “So that’s how the path knows where to find prey: sounds and smell.” She grinned at me, her smile brightening up her face. It was almost like the deranged companion I had for the last few days had never existed. “There’s seventeen people hiding behind that particularly large mound of dirt. Is that normal? They’re talking like bandits, saying things like, ‘hush, they’re coming’, ‘do you see their crest’, and ‘how many are there?’”
“Bandits? This close to my father’s lands?” That’s definitely not normal. My father would never allow bandits to exist along his roads. No one would be stupid enough to anger a duke either; what are they thinking? “What do they look like?”
Lucia rolled her eyes. “Do you think I can hear appearances?”
I guess that’s impossible even for someone like her. But I bet if she could, and I didn’t ask, she’d respond with something like, ‘But you didn’t ask me if I could do that.’ Anyways, as my father’s daughter, there’s no way I can let bandits roam free like this. Sadly, I can’t take care of seventeen people by myself if they’re all magicians. “Will you help me subdue them?”
Lucia’s tail twitched. “Will I get paid?”
A typical Lucia response. “Yes.”
“Then I’ll gladly help!” Lucia beamed and drew her sword. She muttered to herself, “I wonder if I can use bloody qi without activating the path.”