Chapter 9 – Probing
As the morning sun rose and bathed the castle with light, an eerie atmosphere shrouded the castle’s hallways. No servants roamed around its deserted corridors and no priests held any kind of ceremony in its empty great hall. In each guest’s room, a hero lay in bed suffering from high fever and body pains. The more mana a hero possessed, the harsher that hero’s fever got. Heroes like Nora and Dorian were tortured almost to the brink of insanity, but some got lucky like Ran, who only suffered a mild fever and slight discomfort.
She had slept well and was lazing around in bed when an exceptionally chatty Belle served her breakfast.
“Ran-sama, they cancelled the ceremony as all 12 heroes were down with fever due to mana backlash. Apparently, your bodies were still adapting to this new environment. Kan Yune-sama said that the ceremony will be held later on at Orchard City, one of our stops on our way to the Capital. Everyone will board the caravan in two day.”
Ran, who had been staring in blank space, finally spoke, “I see. That mana backlash, if I wasn’t as sick as the others, would that mean I didn’t have a lot of mana? How can I see how much mana I have?”
Beads of sweat covered Ran’s forehead as she pushed her breakfast aside–untouched. Belle had been hovering around her all morning, that she had to feign nausea to avoid eating.
“If Ran-sama wants to know, it’s simple. You just have to say Status and a translucent screen would flash before you.” Belle was all smiles.
Ran did as she was told and asked, “What’s the average?”
“A normal person who uses lifestyle magic has around 50-70 mana. Someone needs at least 120 to be considered a mercenary, 200 to be a mage or healer, and anyone who has above 800, a genius,” Belle explained.
Belle’s eyes flashed with mockery but missed the light in the girl’s eyes. Ran snorted inside. She knew that Belle was probing for her status and skills. As she kept quiet, her brows suddenly broke into a frown and her forehead wrinkled. Her eyes flickered in panic and her lips trembled in fear.
“Yes?” Ran jumped in surprise. “Sorry, I was just thinking… Since there’s nothing to do today, could I go out and visit the city?”
“I will need to inquire first,” Belle answered. Without letting go of the subject, she continued, “By the way, what’s your mana level, Ran-sama? How about your job and skills?
“I will have to trouble you then,” Ran evaded the maid’s question and turned to rummage through some clothes.
“Ran-sama can tell me, there is no shame in that,” Belle’s voice was sweet, but disdain was written all over her face.
After fiddling with the clothes, Ran asked, “What other abilities does a an adventurer or a mercenary need?”
“Adventurers start at level 10 and need at least 900 HP. Most of them have at least five skills, while their mana depends on their job and rank,” Belle explained eagerly while watching Ran’s reaction closely. “These are just for ordinary adventurers. Heroes are a different case, of course. I heard they can receive up to 6 divine blessings and 10 skills. They also have an enormous mana pool and their HP should be around 10,000.”
The more Ran heard, the more her hands shook. Belle felt good about herself while she looked down on Ran. She was now more convinced that Ran was useless and looked forward to getting rid of this shameful ‘master’.
“Ran-sama, is everything alright?” Belle ran forward. She didn’t want to miss the expression of despair on Ran’s face.
With her shoulders shaking and her head hanging low, Ran looked devastated. Belle used her long, manicured fingers to lift Ran’s face up, only to discover it covered with big salty tears. Then without warning, Ran lunged forward and hugged Belle tightly, nestling her teary eyes in the maid’s neck. Belle was stunned. Silence reigned for a few more seconds as both women stood motionless.
She pulled away from Belle, but the maid remained still. Ran took two steps back and admired the scene before her eyes. Belle was stuck in an awkward position having been caught off guard by Ran’s sudden embrace, her gloating face now wooden with lifeless eyes. Someone who didn’t know would have praised the maid’s figure as a lifelike sculpture. Revealing a sly smile, her cold fingers traced Belle’s face, neck, and her collarbone, leaving a honey-scented trail all the way to the heart. The closer from the heart it got, the deeper Ran’s smile became.
“So many things to do, so little time,” she sighed bemusedly.
She pressed a finger on top of Belle’s heart and drew three drops of blood that were immediately absorbed by her skin. After pulling out three silver strands of her hair, she slipped a strand into the puncture and into Belle’s heart. Then she sealed the wound by smearing it with a drop of crystal clear liquid, healing the skin with no trace of any cut. She did the same to the remaining strands, implanting them on Belle’s temples. The whole operation took less than 20 seconds while the maid stood paralyzed. Resisting to draw more blood, Ran went back to hugging Belle until the maid broke away from her trance. When she recovered her senses, Belle’s face twisted in disgust and took great effort not to throw her master. Awkwardly, she patted Ran’s back and tried to soothe her.
After some time, Ran moved away and calmly went to the bathroom. She turned the faucet on and let the water flow while she closed her eyes to focus.
Ilia Nova’s blood
Would you like to analyse?
“So her name is Ilia Nova? Yes, analyse.”
While the analysis was in progress, she washed her face with care.
**Analysis is complete**
“Absorb skill,” ordered Ran.
Which skill would you like to absorb?
“Stealth,” Ran pondered as she braided her hair,
Would you like to absorb Ilia Nova Stealth skill?
Absorption failed. More blood is needed. 3/14
“Perfect,” Feeling satisfied with herself, she looked at the reflection of a girl who had just resumed her sorry character.