About an hour ago…
Katalina impatiently walked through the castle, her mind solely focused on one person. She had just been notified about the murder of the Auxerre family and Claude’s supposed involvement with it.
There was no way it could be true! She knew that there was no possibility that Claude would willingly kill someone, especially in such a gruesome manner. He was simply not the type of person to do so.
However, the order to arrest and detain him came directly from the Chancellor. He, too, was not a man that would haphazardly order the entire kingdom’s forces to capture one criminal. Something felt strange amongst all of this.
As she approached the aforementioned person’s office, she was determined to find out what had happened. Perhaps, her deduction abilities could help prove his innocence. Combined with the man who wielded the greatest magic ability in the kingdom, the two of them could uncover the true offender.
Forgetting proper manners, she tore open the door and faced the Chancellor who was currently at his desk. Despite it being well into the evening, this incident had forced everyone on high alert.
“What is the meaning of this, Chancellor Willingham? How are you so convinced that Knight Evers is the culprit?”
“My dear princess. I can sympathize with you. You fiercely want to defend the man that has been your staunchest supporter. It’s understandable why you would be feeling this way. I, too, would hesitate if by chance Miss Saki were to betray me.”
“I am a man of reason. I have to consider every possibility as the one charged with maintaining law and order in this kingdom. I cannot allow my own perceptions of someone to cloud my judgement.”
“Are there other inconsistencies that would explain his innocence? Illusion magic, a copycat, someone behind the scenes – anything suspicious that would point to framing?” Katalina begged.
“Of course, we looked into the possibility of that. However, the killer attacked purely with physical strikes, and the incisions that were made into the body showed an unmatched sharpness. It appears that both armor and flesh were merely soft slabs on a cutting board against his attacks. Given Knight Evers’ abilities, you would find it difficult to find another person capable of this.”
The Chancellor stood up from his seat and walked over to the princess.
“Furthermore, he has no alibi. We could find no one that could confirm that he was elsewhere during the incident. I’m afraid that all of the evidence points against him at the moment.”
Placing a hand on her shoulder, the Chancellor softly pleaded for her to discard her emotions and see his reason.
Analyzing the points in her head, Katalina couldn’t deny them. She couldn’t let her feelings for him get in the way of a man searching for truth and justice. That left her only one option.
“Where is he? Please let me see him.”
“Princess! That is a very risky move! What if he is different from the man you thought you knew? You are an important figure! We can’t put you in harm’s way!”
“I will be the judge of that! If he wanted to target me, I don’t know how many opportunities he would’ve had already. Furthermore, I have Gerard with me.”
As if on cue, the normally hidden man appeared out of thin air.
As Gerard materialized, a sudden thought flashed through her mind.
“Wait Chancellor, you said that the attacks cut through armor… and flesh? That’s a bit strange…”
The Chancellor’s eyes narrowed. Quickly, he walked up to Gerard to cut off the rest of her statement.
“So, this is your protector. I have only observed him in the shadows, but this would be a good chance to thank him for all his work in protecting the kingdom’s princess.”
The Chancellor extended his palm for a handshake. Relaxing from his normal pose of having his arms crossed over his chest, Gerard stuck one hand out to accept it.
“Guh!” Immediately, Gerard felt electricity running through his body, paralyzing him.
“You won’t be needed anymore,” the Chancellor nonchalantly said.
Turning to Katalina, he grabbed her hand before she could move away.
“What are you doing, Chancellor?”
“You’re quite perceptive, aren’t you? A normal person wouldn’t question the unique triggers of that man’s abilities. I can’t have you poking around to help him, now can I? This is all for the good of the kingdom. That is all I can say.” A rare glimpse of his true character broke through his normal mask, frightening Katalina.
This was not a man she could trust anymore. She tried to tug her arm away from his grip, but it had been too strong. With his other hand, he slowly reached up to the side of her head and stroked it. Mouthing a few soundless words, Katalina’s gaze went hollow, and her body slackened, as if the strings of a puppet had been suddenly cut.
“Now Princess, I order you to go see your knight. He is in the dungeons below. I’ll have you play a more interesting part in all of this.” The Chancellor continued to spell out his plan to her, her mind having been completely taken over by his command.
With a blank look, Katalina walked out of the room with her next destination set.
Unknown by anyone, Chancellor Willingham had the ability to temporarily control a person’s will. Injecting his own mana directly into the person, he could hijack their body and act in their place, while still retaining full control of his own. As long as they were conscious, he would be able to move them freely, but only within the limits of his target’s capability. Furthermore, he was able to give them simple autonomous commands without direct control and manipulate their memories during that time.
As far as she would know, Katalina would only recall going straight to the dungeons, never making it to the Chancellor.
He had done the same for his tool, Saki. Unknown by her, he had manipulated her many times to carry out his executions, actions that she would never agree to. Though he could not completely wipe out those memories that would make her question her loyalty, he was able to lock them away in a far, dark corner of her mind, a place that she would never venture.
It was actually better that those memories were not wiped out. It wouldn’t be long before she was ready for the next step. He would use everything in order to pursue his goals. It didn’t matter how long he had to spend cultivating it.
“You! What did you do to the Princess!” The paralysis had started wearing off, allowing Gerard to speak.
“Oh right, I forgot to take care of you. Since I can’t control two people at a time, I guess you’ll just have to disappear.”
Before Gerard could break free, the Chancellor paralyzed him again and picked up his body. Opening a window nearby, he leapt out of his office. Casting a wind spell at each landing spot, a gust propelled him into the air each time, allowing him to bound across the castle structures. After several hops, he landed gently in some woods close to the castle.
“Well then, I bid you farewell.”
The Chancellor threw Gerard to the ground and cast an earth spell this time. The ground warped around Gerard and wrapped over his body, sucking him into the earth. Within moments, the only sign that a person had been buried here had been a slight disruption of the flora.
Sensing that Katalina had arrived at Knight Ever’s cell, part of his focus shifted there.
“Now, I wonder how he will find a way out of this? I can’t wait to see it. Maybe, I’ll even get to see his flame grow, like Saki’s has.”
The Chancellor let out a rare grin as he looked forward to the events unfolding. Though he had promised the Prince to get rid of the thorn plaguing his future rule, he had his own game plan to follow.
This scene in front of me was the last thing that I expected. Katsys had just taken down two guards and was now wielding daggers at me.
In my mind, all of these recent events felt like a dream, but the lingering pain on my body told me otherwise.
Was the person in front of me an illusion? Given the uproar that already happened, it was certainly a possibility. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if a doppelganger of me had been set loose.
I activated my skill to see the mana around her. In the case of Eryn’s Mirage spell, an aura of mana wrapped itself around the user, so it would be clear to me if an assassin had taken her place. However, my eyes soon proved to me that wasn’t the case; the only thing strange was a swirling mass of mana around her head.
Barely having the time to see this, Katsys swung her daggers at me. With her relatively low fighting stats, they were a simple matter to dodge. Her awkward movements had the feel of a princess without any formal combat training, further convincing me that it was the girl I knew.
That mass of mana bothered me. Was she being controlled by someone at the moment? If so, why?
In any case, I couldn’t think while she was swinging wildly at me. I moved around her and tapped her on the neck. Immediately, the grip on her daggers released, and they clattered onto the ground. Her light body collapsed into my chest.
If I had any hope of getting out of this situation, then I’d have to find something that could help her condition. However, there were very few places I could go to, given my ‘wanted’ status. With Cornelius out, Eryn was really the only person I could turn to.
Lifting Katsys into a fireman carry, I started heading to the door.
The doors swung apart, having been smashed open. Several guards had arrived at absolutely the worst time.
One glance around the room immediately misled the guards of the current situation. Honestly, anyone arriving at a room where the guards had been stabbed to death and the ‘culprit’ carrying a knocked-out princess would think so, too. They immediately drew their weapons.
This was bad. I had forgotten to pick up the weapons on the ground, and I was also encumbered by the weight of Katsys. Should I make a dramatic leap out the window? Somehow, that didn’t seem wise, no matter how cool that idea sounded. I had no clue how high we were or if there were any footholds.
Before I could decide, the expressions on the guards suddenly grew stiff.
“Guh!” “Argh!” “Gwah!”
With a cry, the guards suddenly collapsed forward. A small girl with blond hair in a traveling outfit stood behind them. Though I had rarely seen her wear it, I was the one who purchased it for her.
“Ludmila?! What are you doing here? Did you knock them out?”
She nodded in response. “Mana Strike.” She extended her palm forward, mimicking the move.
Though she had quickly leveled up, I had never seen her in action. Her current state made her appear like a person of the Scout or Thief class. I could imagine her sneaking into the castle using her speed, but for her to take down multiple guards with a surprise unarmed strike, that had been unexpected.
However, that didn’t matter for the moment. We had to get out of here.
“Ludmila, are you able to guide us back home safely?”
“Yes, master. Ludmila is strong now,” she said boldly.
I had no choice but to depend on her. At this point, I inwardly praised whoever it was that had trained Ludmila these past 5 months. I had thought it was Pietro, but she had said it was Carina that trained her instead. Was the little old lady some kind of secret martial arts master in disguise? She couldn’t be…could she?