I had just left a fancy restaurant in which a business meeting had been arranged with Marquis Auxerre. Thankfully, he had been favorably receptive to the idea of expanding the public power grid to his area. At this point, gaining the backing of a powerful noble was the best step we could take, and it would further validate what Katsys had started in her attempts to improve the quality of life in the kingdom.
Imparting the little bit of circuitry knowledge from my previous world, Katsys was able to piece together a magical conduit that enabled mana flow, just like how devices in Macali operated. She was able to create a functional prototype within a few weeks. Since the infrastructure was the least developed in Eryn’s domain, that was the natural choice for a testing ground. The sight of readily available lighting throughout the streets and in people’s homes were met with glowing praise, drawing the interest for it in other regions.
I had been more than happy to help with this project. Anything that could bring the technology level up to the comfort of modern times would be welcome. Though magic-based devices replaced much of the scientific capability that I had been used to, I still missed the convenience of accessing much of the world through the simple touch of a miniature screen. In the first place, could magic even imitate something as complicated as the ‘internet’?
Though I probably should have gone home to report the good news, my motivation was quite high, so I decided to take the extra step of searching around the domain for a good source of mana flow. My ‘Eyes of Providence’ skill was proving to be more and more useful – allowing me to visually see the magnitude of mana leakage out of the ground. What I had been searching for looked like a spring of mana that oozed out of the ground before dispersing into the air. Often, those areas would be ripe with vegetation that grew faster than the area around it. If I could find ones that met Katsys’s specs, the next step would then be to commission others to find similar hotspots.
Around the outskirts of the central town in this domain, I ran into an appropriate spot that satisfied this condition. Being close to civilization, the monsters were rather weak, so we could easily build an enclosed area that warded off any of them. In fact, the only monsters I seemed to run into were a group of slimes.
“Oh, perfect.” I revved back my arm and focused some fire magic onto my fist. Coating it with a slight swirling flame, I imitated a series of special moves that could only be found in video games.
“FALCON PUNCH! BURNING KNUCKLE! Um…SHORYUKEN!”
My fist impacted the slimes and blew right through them, producing a popping sensation with each one. Of course, this only worked because they were weak to magic to begin with, but I wasn’t going to dwell on the details. With a feeling of satisfaction, I continued wiping out the other slimes in a similar manner. My eyes were misty with joy that it was working how I envisioned it.
“That felt so good,… but I guess I really should head back now.” I stared up at the quickly darkening sky. If I cut through the capital city, it would likely take me about an hour and a half to get home on my levi-board, sooner if I expended some effort to ride speedily.
Before long, I could see the gates of Engelburg ahead of me. With a wave, I greeted the guards as I whizzed by them. This was a typical occurrence, so I was lost in thought as I waved, leading me to miss the strange reactions that they had on their face.
The guards had been surprised by my sudden appearance. Unknown to me, they had already been put on full alert at this point to track me down.
“Th-That was the Demon Cleaver!!! Quick! Sound the alarm!”
Hearing the alarm chime behind me, I skidded my board to a stop and looked in that direction. Did something happen just now? I was about to run back and check when I heard the sound of several men in armor clunking towards me.
“There he is! Stay vigilant!” One of them shouted.
Seeing no one else around me, my heart skipped a beat when I realized that they had been pointing at me.
“What? Why?” I let out a cry as I kicked off and swerved around them. Though they were too far away, one of them took a swipe at me with his sword. Seeing them turn around and double back towards me, there was no doubt now that I was the one being targeted.
Why was I getting chased again? Who did I manage to piss off this time? I hadn’t the slightest clue as I had been mainly helping out with Katsys’s project lately. Did I unknowingly fall into the plot of some annoying nobleman again?
In any case, there wasn’t anything I could learn if they caught me now. I had to find someone with more info.
As I glided past several groups of soldiers, who had cleared out the streets, I noticed hesitation among many of them. They were afraid to approach me. Rather than actively trying to bring me down, they were barricading the entryways so that I would have no choice but to move along the central path. That was fine. The guild was in that direction anyway. I was sure that they could fill me in on what the heck was going on.
However, my expectations were betrayed when I heard a cry ahead of me.
The space in front of me was suddenly filled with the colors of a variety of different magic spells. I looked to the sides. Soldiers had placed large, thick shields in front of them in which they could hide behind. Along this central road, everything had been closed off, creating a single pathway for magic to rain down.
I immediately did a U-turn and tried to make some distance from the magic spells, but in a vain effort, the spells closed in on my back before long.
Fire sizzled past me. Wind and ice cut through the air. Chunks of rock smashed into the ground around me. Among the thick barrage of spells, there was nowhere I could run.
Despite my uniform having a considerable defense against magic, I could feel the spells overcome its protection. Hard objects were pummeling my back and hot flames scorched my skin. The sensation of blood dripping down my back could be felt.
Eventually, the accumulated damage had caused me to trip and fall off my board. It clattered across the ground and ended up quite a distance from me.
These were magic attacks by the knights, the very same people that I had hoped to turn to. Why had they turned against me too? I felt so lost as I struggled to get up, but the most I could do was roll to the side, separating the ground from my tender back that had faced the brunt of the attack.
Would I be taken down without finding out why I was being targeted? I didn’t want that to happen. I grit my teeth and brought myself to my feet. Grabbing my knife, I lifted my head up and was about to activate my skill. Then, I saw Cornelius heading towards me.
Feeling relieved, I relaxed my grip on the knife. He would explain everything. He would stand on my side. If he was there, I had a chance to escape.
However, one look at his stern face immediately put a hold on those thoughts.
“Silence!” He shot off a spell.
Immediately, I felt a stinging cold wrap over my body. My joints stiffened as the ice accumulated around my limbs, restraining them from any movement. As my head was the only thing that could still move, all I could do was scream at him.
“Why are you attacking me?!”
“Why wouldn’t I? To think that I trusted you…How could you commit murder?”
Though I wanted to respond, the ice had crept up to my lips, sealing my next words. Slowly, the ice had completely coated me, creating a statue in my liking. As the last bit froze over my eyes, all I could see was a look of disgust and disappointment plastered across his face.
What did he mean by murder? I didn’t recall killing anyone. Somehow, I felt that all of this was a lie, a lie that someone had set up to trap me once again.
Surrounded by that ice-cold prison, my thoughts faded away as I couldn’t think anymore. There was only the urge to sleep.
I woke up with a gasp.
A small unfamiliar room, dimly lit. The scratching of chains against a surface.
Realizing that my own movement was causing the racket, my hand reached up and felt the cool touch of the stone wall next to me. My back was still stinging, so I tried to prop myself up, only to feel my hands chained together, limiting my movement.
I was being held in a dungeon cell. I had been here before, but this time, they had taken greater efforts to secure me from doing anything. Two guards were stationed right in front of the bars, who cautiously peered over to make sure I wasn’t doing anything funny.
“Hey! Why am I here? Why did you arrest me?”
Great. They didn’t want to talk at all. I slumped back against the wall, sorting through my thoughts.
Just before I had passed out, Cornelius had accused me of murder. I couldn’t figure out what he meant by that. Someone had somehow framed me for it. Who did I murder and when? By the strong reaction that he and the other knights had exhibited, it must have happened recently and left quite the impression.
I started to panic as I thought of who could have been killed to cause such disgust on his face. Immediately, the faces of Eryn and Katsys floated in my mind.
I leapt over to the bars and started banging on them, trying to get the guards’ attention.
“Hey! Tell me! Who are you accusing me of killing?! Please! I have to know! Please!”
It couldn’t be them! Please, anyone but them! I couldn’t settle down until I knew. I could feel something deep inside me start to stir.
Did I have any chance to break out and find someone that would tell me? I fired up my ‘Eyes of Providence’. As I had expected, there were very faint cracks on the metal bars. This was a cell that was reinforced with magic after all. Though magic reinforcement would prevent them from being damaged by typical fighters and magicians, their construction hadn’t accounted for my unique ability.
If I banged my chains against these weak spots, I could very likely break through them. However, then came the hard part. What could I do against well-trained guards with my hands and feet restricted? It didn’t look like I had many options. I had to break the chains restraining me first.
My frantic will to get out of this place was clouding my judgment. I knew that anything I did would just endanger myself and put me in an even worse position, but the feeling in my stomach was starting to become unbearable.
I had to know! I had to know!
I looked for a suitable weak point along the metal cuff on my left wrist, before bringing my right wrist forcefully on it. After a few impacts, a rapidly growing crack had formed. With a few more smacks, the cuff had broken to the point that a swift tug had freed my left wrist.
Of course, this had alerted the guards to what I was doing.
“Hey, you! Stop that! Go get the key! And some more men!” One of the guards raced off.
I ignored them, focusing on gripping the dangling chain and smashing it against the cuff around my feet. In less than a minute, I had smashed both cuffs there, and I had taken the foot chain and smashed the remaining cuff on my right wrist.
Now I had a pair of chains to use as a weapon. I dared the guard to come at me.
All this time, the guard had slowly backed away, seeing a caged madman with purple eyes piercing through the darkness. Having heard the report of my supposed crimes, it only caused him to be more wary of me. He swallowed nervously as if he expected me to pounce on the bars and break through them at any moment.
That had been my exact intention, but in the next moment, I heard a sweet, familiar voice.
“Guards. Let me handle him.”
Katsys had shown up, wearing a casual outfit made for royalty. Her voice was an immediate relief as one of the two people that I feared was lost had been crossed off the list.
She brandished a key and started unlocking the cell.
“Princess! You mustn’t!”
“Oh, don’t give me that. I am fully confident that he would never harm me. I command you to stand down.”
At her direct orders, they had no choice but to allow her. However, they had a hand on their hilt, just in case.
Opening the door, Katsys motioned for me to come out. “Come along. I’ll explain everything. We can discuss it in my room.”
Dropping the chains in my hand, I complied. The guards followed behind me, at a slight distance but close enough to strike if needed. Pretty soon, we were walking through the castle towards her room. Along the way, I couldn’t help but feel that someone else was watching me. Several times, I looked around and saw nothing, so I chalked it up to the paranoia that had built up in this stressful situation.
Katsys explained why I had been detained. Apparently, there were several witnesses who had seen me at the home of Marquis Auxerre, where I had supposedly slain him and his entire family.
“How is that possible?! I was nowhere near there! I was on the outskirts checking for mana hotspots!”
“There’s no denying that these people saw a person matching your exact description. And the cuts had been so clean that it heavily points to your critical ability. Even I had to pause at such apparent evidence.”
We had reached her room. The four of us walked inside to continue the conversation.
“Then, why are we here? Aren’t you wary of me too?” I asked her.
“Because I believe in you. If you didn’t do it, then that means there is someone powerful wanting to get rid of you for some reason.” Katsys replied as she walked over to the guards. “So you see, this man here isn’t your enemy.”
The guards relaxed, believing the words of their princess. They knew that she was not one to ever lie. In the face of their gentle-hearted princess, her sweet words had erased their fears of me.
However, as Katsys circled behind them, both guards suddenly went stiff with their eyes wide open. With a thump, the two men fell forward face-first to the ground. A dagger had been stabbed into the back of their necks, silencing them.
Utterly blown away by what just happened, a fierce chill wracked my body.
Katsys stood there smiling, two bloody daggers gripped in her hands.
“It’s a pity that they’re so gullible. Would it be possible to ask you to die as well?”