Cornelius stared at the man known as the Chancellor, a man whose magic was likely the best in the kingdom. Not only did he possess aptitude in a multitude of elements, the man was easily twenty years his senior.
With that much experience and skill on his side, how would Cornelius hope to match him?
However, Cornelius did not become the King’s Watchdog just for show. He had earned that position due to his amazing control of magic and his will to do what it takes for his dear Eri. It did not matter that he was seemingly outmatched.
First, he had to buy some time. With a wave of his hand, walls of ice formed between the two in a seemingly random pattern. Each sheet of ice had a mirror finish, casting reflections off them. The Chancellor simply stood there and surveyed the surroundings, giving the young magic knight a head start out of courtesy and self-confidence of his own superiority.
By the time the ice stopped, the two men were placed inside of a small maze of sorts. The Chancellor looked around and saw his reflection across many surfaces, but Cornelius was nowhere to be found. The sheets of ice had been ordered such that one could hide behind and confuse the enemy of his true location.
“Trying to play tricks with my eyes, I see… not a bad plan.”
Though the Chancellor saw an image of Cornelius moving in front of him, he suddenly turned a different direction and swung his staff at the ice spear thrown at him.
“But not enough.” He smiled.
From behind one of the mirrors, Cornelius had been trying to distract him by letting his reflected self catch the man’s attention, but it seems like such a strategy wouldn’t work. Conjuring spears of ice to bombard the Chancellor from various directions, he scanned his reaction, hoping for any openings. However, the man had simply smashed the spears with his staff, not even needing to use his magic. Cornelius had no need to reveal himself from hiding as he relied on his familiar, Hal, who was currently flying high above them. One advantage of his familiar was that it gave him the ability to see what Hal saw, making it the perfect scout to complement his abilities.
However, that barely mattered in the face of this opponent.
“Hmm…I bore of this. Looks like you are there!” The Chancellor pointed at the mirror Cornelius was hiding behind.
A beam of fire shot through the mirror and left a large hole in the middle. Unable to hold itself up, the rest of the mirror collapsed onto itself. Cornelius was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, his danger sense had told him to move out of the way as soon as he saw the man point towards him.
Not failing to notice the reflected image of his foe running away, the Chancellor followed up with a hammer of wind that smashed each mirror that Cornelius tried to hide behind.
Having to stay moving, Cornelius kept forming more mirrors to replace the ones that had been destroyed. Since he had made the ground slick with ice also, he was able to quickly glide from place to place. However, this was quickly depleting his physical stamina, as he did not have a particularly strong constitution like some of his fellow knights. Magic control was what he excelled at, in which he poured all of his focus into developing.
“I am well familiar with your abilities, Earl Reichenstein. I can safely say that I can easily defeat you if I tried, but that would be boring. Why don’t you give it up and let’s have a chat about the Duke’s supposed offenses?” The Chancellor paused his attacks for a moment to wait for a response.
“I have evidence of his misdeeds, and a statement from his closest advisor as to the Duke’s plans for usurping the throne!”
“And what of it? The Duke is a powerful man. He has the backing of a large group of nobles. As the right-hand man of the king, I have the duty to see to it that the kingdom prospers. It does not matter to me if the next king is from the royal family or that of a powerful noble that has grasped the will of the people.”
“Have you no loyalty to King Reginald Corrin del Sistina?! The great man who united this country?!” Cornelius yelled back in earnest.
“While it is true that the current king is an accomplished man, what of the future? Greatness does not transfer to the blood of progeny. It is earned through merit and cheers of the people. I ask this of you instead – why do you support the royal family, Watchdog? Would you not rid yourself of this farce and embrace the one who virtually controls the entire country already?”
The Chancellor stepped to the right to dodge a pillar of ice that had suddenly formed in an attempt to encase him.
“How could I support one who would target my dearest friend? A man that would kill her relatives just to get to her? I would disgust myself if I followed a man such as that.”
“Hmph. One small injustice does not overrule a greater scheme at play. Unless the man loses favor over the public, I have no obligation to disrupt the kingdom over such a matter. It seems that words are wasted on you,” the Chancellor concluded, as he started charging up a spell.
He was done talking. It was time to get serious. At that moment, the two magicians felt a large spike in mana nearby, followed by the sound of a large crash. The Chancellor scanned the mana flow around him.
“Hmph. Looks like that captain is outmatched. That girl of mine has been knocked out too. I better wrap this up.” His eyes gave a vacant look.
Suddenly, he felt another magic spell approaching him. Swinging his staff again to knock it down, he blinked as he felt it hit an object that was more solid than predicted. The sight of Cornelius appeared before his eyes, his cheek bloodied from being smacked in the face.
“Got you.” Cornelius’s hand had gripped the Chancellor by the wrist that held the staff.
Before he could react, a rush of cold started enveloping the both of them. In less than a second, the temperature had dropped below freezing. Not stopping there, it kept dropping below even the harshest cold that could be experienced at the top of the mountains during Winter. Unable to lift even a finger, his body became encased in solid ice in mere moments.
Cornelius had unfortunately suffered the same effect. After experiencing Eryn’s risky move, Cornelius had come up with a final attack of his own. It was an attack that concentrated all of his ice magic in his immediate surrounding, driving the temperature down to its extreme. The drawback of his ‘Absolute Zero’ spell was that the effect only extended to what he could touch and impacted the user, too.
Therefore, he needed to devise a method to approach the Chancellor. Leading him into a battle of long-distance magic, Cornelius took advantage of the brief distraction to cast his body in an illusion that reflected all light, rendering him near invisible. Launching himself forward, he added a layer of ice magic to make it seem like he had fired another ice spear.
The numbing cold pricked painfully at his body. Once executed, he wouldn’t be able to stop the spell. Even being an ice magician, not even he could tolerate this frigidness. Still, a strained smile was fixed on his face as he verified that it had been a success.
“All up to you, Mr. Chef.”
Cornelius had bought him some precious time. Hopefully, it would be enough before the spell’s effect ran out.
With Eryn, Cornelius and Pietro squared against the most problematic foes, I was left scrambling among the various nobles and soldiers, fighting alongside Cornelius’s knights. Though I could help them out by smashing their armor or weapons, I didn’t have the confidence to aim properly without accidentally committing friendly fire.
More so, I had been given a different role. I peered into my Item Box, checking that the bottle was still there. I had been delegated the task simply because Eryn’s wedding dress had no hiding places. She smacked me when I suggested that she hide it in her cleavage.
As I made my way towards the Duke, some soldiers and magicians who hadn’t been engaged elsewhere tried to stop me. A few shots of the handgun, followed by a hammer and pressure points, was all that was needed to down them. For them, an opponent with such a weird fighting style such as mine was difficult to defend against in the heat of the moment. I was pretty sure that firearms didn’t exist in this country, so they couldn’t react well to such an instantaneous, long-range attack that fired a barely-visible pellet.
I could see the Duke’s teeth grind from where I stood. It gave me a bit of satisfaction after all he had put me through and what he put Eryn through. However, a small part of me wondered whether I would have seen Eryn’s true face had none of this happened.
I shook my head. No, I should have more trust in her. She would have told me when the time was right.
There was no justifying his actions. The question was, ‘What else was he hiding?’ How deep did his sins lie?
The potion in my storage was there to make him spit it all out.
With that thought in mind, I kept advancing. A click of the gun, a swing of the hammer – my attacks lining up with the illuminated spots in my vision. The area around my eyes glowed purple, casting a menacing glare towards the Duke in the midst of the battlefield.
The look of panic on the Duke’s face was carved in my vision. Thinking about it, I wondered if I was the only one who thought that this power was strange – if it was scary to anyone else, if there was meaning behind why I possessed it. But that mattered little now in the face of my enemy. I would use whatever hand I was dealt.
The looks of camaraderie that the knights gave me as I passed by reassured me that I was not alone. Regardless of how I appeared to them now, they would stand by my side. Through the battles shared with them, I could depend on them to hold off the enemy. And they could depend on me to make their efforts count.
A small voice seemed to echo in my head. A brief vision of my old self flashed in my mind.
“I see. So it seems like you’ve found your place in the world.”
The old me got up and walked out the door, leaving behind a musky room that wasn’t needed anymore.
I smiled as I took down the last few supporters guarding the Duke. He had started charging a wind spell to launch at me. Though both of us felt a spike in mana nearby, our attention was cast solely on each other.
However, the mana collecting in his hands tipped me off as to what his next attack would be. Somehow, it gave off a similar feel as when Eryn cast her ‘Wind Blade’. Knowing that it was coming, I casually ducked under it.
Seeing it fly over my head, I could feel that his spell was not nearly as strong as Eryn’s. It looks like what Cornelius told me was true. The Duke himself was not a powerful magician, but a crafty man who did things behind the scene. Once you remove his protections, his magic was only on par with a novice knight. Neither was he wearing anything that gave him significant defense, as he had been dressed in fancy, formal attire.
In a panic, the Duke tried to form a magic shield in front of him, but his trembling hands could not gather the mana needed to push me back.
With a swift motion, I grabbed his right wrist and yanked up the sleeve. Fortifying my grip with the other hand, my left thumb pressed into the underside of his wrist, in the space between his bones.
The Duke jerked as a jolt of pain shot up the length of his arm. His face winced as this pressure point brought him to his knees.
With the other hand, I reached into my Item Box and drew out the potion.
Seeing the familiar bottle appear, the Duke’s eyes widened.
“So this was your plan! But the locks in my study?”
“I have a ‘dingleberry’ to thank for that.”
My statement confused him, but it was the distraction I needed to shove the bottle into his mouth. As he tried to spit out the contents, my left hand released its hold and tapped a spot on his throat, forcing a reflex that caused him to swallow.
Though he gagged in an effort to expel the potion from his stomach, it was too late. Eryn had told me the effect was near instantaneous. As the Duke rolled around in desperation, the sounds of fighting around me had died down.
The people in the garden looked in my direction and dispelled their attacks, knowing that an outcome had been decided. With bated breath, everyone was waiting – waiting for the moment that the Duke woke up – waiting for the inquisition to begin.