A vast landscape stood before me; lines of white light traced the skies above. They pulsated with a life like the heavens were calling down. Pain and exhaustion racked my body. My hand reached up toward that light as if expecting its glow to shower me with a blessing.
At that point, I noticed. Fingers dripped with blood, raw and tattered. Shaking, like fear possessed them. I drew that hand back and clutched it against my chest, which was trembling too. My breathing was shallow and ragged, for if I sucked in too much, I would gag upon the sick feeling that sprung from my stomach.
“Change the world.”
Those words drifted down at me, but I couldn’t understand its message. There was too much fear in me, but from what, I couldn’t tell. Yet, a strong light from within refused to back down. It called out to me. The power I possessed beckoned me to do something with it. To answer that simple call from the Gods and do something about the current situation.
‘But… what am I changing?’
My head was spinning, trying to understand the details before me. And when no other words were cast down for guidance, it was then I turned around.
And instantly, I knew where the fear had come from.
A pair of emerald eyes, hollow and dead, stared back at me. Light blue hair that normally smelled of perfume covering up the oopsies of crafting filled my vision. But all that reached my nose was the scent of blood. The woman that I loved so dearly had been cut down, her last moments reaching out to me for help.
Tears stung my eyes, making me turn somewhere else for relief, but then, I saw more bodies behind her. Silver hair, dark blue, black, blond… The bodies of those dear to me were all sprawled upon the ground, their stomachs burst open and limbs lifeless.
“No, no, no! ERYN! CORNY! SAKI! LUDMILA!”
One by one, I crawled up to them, but I knew instantly that they were no longer among the living. Whatever had attacked them had torn them to pieces. And my eyes could no longer see the glow of mana coursing through them. They were lifeless, soulless, and without a core.
‘Without a core?!’
That realization made me spin around and look back at each of them in a panic. Their cores had indeed been ripped out. And instantly, my mind turned toward the others I knew with special ones. As if reading my mind, more bodies appeared in the distance.
My feet took off, running into more familiar faces, each one causing me to reel in despair further and further.
The Champion King and his wives… The Holy Oracle and her guardians… The Old Man and the munchkins…
The Electi and those involved with them, all slain, save for me…
“How can something like this even be possible?!”
My broken hand slammed the ground. The bright future we had was shattered in an instant. And I had no idea what had caused it. The silent world where only I was left was a nightmare. It had to be. It had to be.
IT HAD TO BE!
Pulling a knife out of nowhere, I brought the cold blade straight for my heart, determined to end it all.
I screamed as I tumbled out of bed. With a crash, the pain of hitting the floor was a welcome jolt that smacked my senses back to reality. I was trembling, the memories of that dream still fresh in my mind.
It felt so real, like an omen foretelling something bad was going to happen. I sometimes had bad dreams of death to some degree, but they were borne out of anxiety or fear of the coming situations. And usually, it would warp into some kind of unrealistic, cartoony scenario, distorting the scene enough for me to realize that it was a dream.
But this time, there were no obvious ‘Game Over’ screens, nor did the surroundings become 2D or game-like. The relief of laughing off an improbable scenario didn’t come this time.
“Are you okay, Claude? Whatever happened to you?”
Katalina’s head peeked down from the top of the bed. My outburst had woken her just a bit before her normal wake-up time. I let out a long sigh of relief at seeing her face. Finally, I started settling down somewhat.
‘That dream wasn’t real. It wasn’t real at all. Everyone is still safe.’
My mind buzzed to notify the rest of my nerves that it had been a false alarm. There was nothing in this world that we knew of that could take us down, like what happened in my dream. I could believe in the strength of my friends. We had slayed a god even.
But that was, perhaps, the reason for my nonsensical fear. The revelation that a god could come down and do so much to this world – it left lingering questions as to what else was possible. And with all the power that I had been given, it seemed like I had the duty to shoulder those burdens.
“Are you nervous about our trip or something? You’ve been very shifty in bed all morning. Don’t tell me that you’re anxious to get started?”
Katalina smiled at me, resting her cheeks upon her palms cutely.
My eyes widened as I recalled what she was referring to. For the first time in a while, we were taking a weekend off from royal duties. After all the work we put into rebuilding and improving the condition of the world, the vacation felt long overdue.
“Ah right, well, I’m awake now. And so are you. I guess there’s no problem getting a move on.”
I rose from my sprawled-out position on the floor. But before I could turn to go get dressed, I felt a gentle tug on my arm. Looking back, I saw Katalina curled up in the sheets, a coquettish grin upon her face.
“We may be up, but no one else is. Not even the sun. So get back in the warm sheets. Queen’s orders until sunrise!”
“Yes, Your Majesty!”
I flipped up the sheets, much to her surprise. Her body retreated deeper into the warm recesses to escape from the sudden draft of coolness, leaving me a good area to dive into. I couldn’t possibly reject such a tempting offer.
The sheets tussled about as our bodies moved underneath, Katalina escaping from the coolness of my touch after having been tossed overboard and onto the cold floor. I curled my limbs around her, using leverage to flip her on her back with me on top.
Even under the sheets, those emerald eyes of hers twinkled. Her lips giggled lightly as she playfully resisted my advances. ’I would have to work for it,’ it seemed. I reached down and finally captured her lips, the kiss a bit forceful at first, but then, I backed off just enough as I felt her giving in.
After my terrible experience, I was craving for her attention. Perhaps, she could see it in my expression, that something was amiss. That I just needed some comfort to drive away my constant habit of overthinking things. It certainly worked because my thoughts were now filled with nothing but her.
The wet passion between our lips. Her smooth skin and ample bosom pressing up against me. The growing warmth of our bodies hiding in our special place, away from the rest of the world. My love for Katalina flowed from my very core, wrapping her in a gentle blanket of mana.
I petted and teased her, stroked my hand along her skin so light that it gave her shivers, and followed up with more gentle kisses along the cheek and down by the chin. She moaned when I lightly bit her neck. And she did the same to me. Back and forth, we did whatever our hearts desired. Muffled moans escaped from the mound of sheets that we enclosed ourselves in. Our entire world was each other.
And it wasn’t until the sun was well above the horizon that our fun decided to taper off. We had places to be, invitations to take part in. But there was plenty of time to ease into them. The two of us bounced out of bed and quickly dressed in casual clothing.
I chose a button-up shirt and some slacks, an ensemble that was typical of my college days back home. The uniqueness of it in this world made it hard for the public to guess just how informal ‘business casual’ really was. I still had issues with deciphering the difference in gaudiness between casual and formal wear for nobility, so keeping each other guessing was my compromise.
Katalina did the same, wearing a blouse and long skirt that matched the casual outings for people in my world. She found it much more appropriate to travel in, as the layers of fabric for royal attire that she was used to was quite cumbersome for long distances without attendants. And we didn’t want servants to butt into our private time.
These designs had originated from the Spiffy Chicken, which had greatly expanded its outreach after it became known that the King and Queen occasionally shopped there. Like any novelty that grew in popularity, several imitation stores soon opened up, trying to copy the ‘otherworld fashion’ that became the topic of chic and trendy. I couldn’t help but think how easily this world was influenced.
Katalina and I exited the castle, waving goodbye to the servants that normally followed along at a distance. We had no need for personal guards either. After all, what knight could claim victory over a queen that could appear from behind in an instant and freeze him to the ground. The Champion King’s embarrassing loss against her was widely known by now. And there was no question that a king that could slice anything, leaving all attacks and defenses worthless, made for an insurmountable opponent.
The two of us casually entered the flow of people in the city streets, soon blending in with the humdrum of daily life. Without the special attire and actions that caught people’s attention, we were a simple couple, looking to enjoy a day off, something that hadn’t really happened since our time in Sanshiro.
‘Speaking of which… that’s where we decided to go for our little trip.’
Pretty soon, we were standing before one of the gates that was set up across the world, making all the nations feel like they were just a step away. No longer did we have to sit in a wagon or boat for weeks. That was the worst part of traveling for me – just how much time was spent gazing out at the same scenery.
The guards stationed there gave us a standard greeting before one of them lightly punched the other in the side, whispering a few words that made the other guy’s eyes light up. Immediately, they both bowed deeply, the latter a little lower to make up for his rudeness.
We simply laughed it off, with me giving him a gentle pat on the shoulder. Nothing this small would ruin our mood, not when we had fun to look forward to. We simply passed by and entered the portal arranged for us.
And in that instant, the lively city of Faulkner turned into the distinct Asian-like influence of Yakuman. The stone and wood structures of the former were a stark contrast to the mainly wood and bamboo ones here. These buildings were still built by hand, rather than using magic as a shortcut.
As we sifted through the crowd, we noticed many more foreigners sprinkled about. The last time we were here, the population was still fairly uniform, as there was little reason for a mingling populace aside from traders and merchants. But with the local flavors of food and craft easily accessible, people no longer hesitated to explore.
After several minutes of strolling, we came upon our first stop, a cute little shop that emitted fragrant smells of bread and sweets. A continuous stream of people entered and exited the doors, a good sign of a thriving business. Hung above the entrance, a sign read, ‘Lucky Wise Bakery.’
“Well, let’s take a look at how my apprentices are doing, shall we?”