“Though you may have been my familiar, that doesn’t mean that I’ll treat you any differently!” Eryn yelled loud enough for all to hear.
Two knights were behind her, drawing their weapons as well. On top of my other supposed crimes, I had been caught in the act of escaping with Princess Katalina.
“Even if I tell you that there’s a good explanation for all of this? You’re not going to listen, are you?” The look in her eyes told me that she was serious.
“The two of you, hold back on magic so that you don’t damage the town.” She called out to the other two knights. “They can’t hurt us if we focus on our magic barriers.”
“Ludmila, can you take on those two? Looks like I have no choice but to deal with Eryn.” I hopped off the wagon and squared off against her. More than any other enemy, my heart pounded at the thought of fighting her. I fully knew what she was capable of.
Ludmila nodded and sped around to engage the two knights, while I turned to Eryn. Despite her quickness, the magic knights had been prepared to receive her. She couldn’t take advantage of her mana strikes because their magic barrier blocked her surprise attacks. Since magicians had good control of mana, her techniques were at a disadvantage. However, she was able to draw their attention away from Eryn and me.
“Are you sure there’s nothing I can say to let us pass? The Chancellor is after both of us for some reason.” I stared at Eryn, looking for any sign of hesitation. Of course, I knew that she had to be the good knight since there were witnesses behind her, but I didn’t think that she would challenge me of her own accord.
“Words are meaningless now. You’ll have to get through me in order to pass. Think you have the ability to do that?” Eryn looked at me with a determined smile.
Her current expression tickled my memories. I had seen that look before. Though it sounded like she was standing her ground, the subtle change in her expression told me to read between the lines. I looked back at Katsys, who was partially hiding in the wagon bed. Her statement was a declaration of a challenge.
After I left this town, I would be responsible for keeping the princess safe with only the help of Ludmila. No longer would I have the support of Eryn defending my back so that I could finish with a decisive blow. It would be all up to me now. If I couldn’t get past her, there was no way we would be able to keep running from those chasing after us.
I activated my skill and drew my gun from the Item Box. Dashing forward, I fired some shots, but her wind barrier prevented them from touching any part of her.
Tch, fighting against a skilled magician was not going to be easy. If I couldn’t touch her, then my Crit ability couldn’t be used. Eryn likely knew that would be a problem for me going forward.
I drew my knife. The only time when her wind barrier lessened was when I got in close-quarter combat. Her barrier had to be down for her sword to strike, so moving in to aim for weak points was a better option. If I didn’t close the distance quickly, I would have to contend against long-range magic. However, I was not a great fighter, unlike Eryn. She was able to continuously re-position herself such that it became difficult for me to aim correctly. Even if I could see the weak point, being able to touch them was a different matter.
As I continued my assault on Eryn, she calmly deflected my attempts. After several tries, I thought one of my swipes had broken through. As I watched the pointy edge approach one of the glowing weak spots on her armor, the tip was suddenly impeded by a strong force.
She had tricked me. Eryn had deliberately given me a false pretense that I had a chance if she couldn’t bring up her wind barrier. However, a thin veil of mana had coated her body, a make-shift barrier that was just enough to halt my strike. In response, she swung the flat of her blade into my stomach. It was a light tap for her, but her high Atk stat blew me all the way back to the ground in front of the wagon.
“Master!” Ludmila wanted to run to my side, but she was busy holding back the other two knights. Though her mana strikes weren’t effective in knocking them out, she could still use them to weaken the magic barriers around them. Her flurry of blows had been keeping those two back, as they had to continuously guard against strikes that were too fast to see.
“Now, do you understand? Even if my magic shield is down, if I create a layer of magic to buffer your attack, there’s no way for your Crit to activate. Don’t underestimate the strength of experienced fighters!” Eryn approached me, looking down at my sorry state.
In this world, mana was a flowing source of energy. It would be difficult for a physical object to cut off that flow as one’s mana could be hardened and re-shaped at will. While strong attacks could disrupt this flow like tossing a large object into a pool of water and making a huge splash, my low-Atk knife strikes barely disturbed the surface of it, rendering it ineffective. In a battle against people with high mana control, it came down to how well one could disrupt their flow. There was no way to Crit an object that had no definite form.
She turned towards Katsys and spoke in a low voice. “And you, the poor princess who just sits there being guarded. Is that all you see yourself as?”
I got up, annoyed by her taunt. What was she saying at this point? Katsys wasn’t a fighter. This was between the two of us. I had to step up if I was going to pass her trial. I had to think of a different way to disrupt her magic.
I reached into my Item Box behind my back. This was playing dirty, but I didn’t really have a choice. If I couldn’t stand up to her overwhelming strength, then I’d have to rely on my resourcefulness. Feeling the small jar in my hand, I hid it in my palm. I got up and drew my knife, looking at her with a serious expression.
“That’s it. If you don’t have the will to take me down right here and now, then you won’t be able to survive,” Eryn said, almost in a whisper.
I swung my knife at her, which she caught with her sword. The sword that was currently in her hand was not her mother’s sword but a plain one that could be found anywhere. At some point, she had switched to this plain one, which hinted at her intentions. As I continued to strike furiously but carefully at her, Eryn calmly blocked each one. Her eyes beckoned me to come at her with better blows, almost mocking me at how easy they were to guard.
Though I was giving it my all, was it still not enough? Did I really have no hope in taking her down? At this rate, she wouldn’t even give me the chance to unleash my secret weapon.
Even so, I wasn’t going to give up. Eryn was trying to tell me something, and it was up to me to figure it out. As she kept knocking me back, not even my strong motivation could keep my body going. My speed started to wane.
When it seemed like I had no other option but to give up, something unexpected happened.
A small, gem-like stone passed by my vision and sailed over to Eryn. Upon impacting the ground, the stone briefly glowed dark blue before a spell unleashed from it.
Instantly, a dark dome-like aura engulfed the area around the stone, dragging Eryn forcefully downwards. Her body was suddenly weighed down by a magical force that brought her to her knees.
I looked behind me. Katsys had her arm positioned like she had just tossed something.
“Now’s your chance! I just threw a Gravity-infused magic stone at her!”
I turned back and gripped the jar in my hand. Though her wind barrier was still active, Eryn was struggling to keep it going. It was now or never!
I tossed the glass jar over to her. As it approached Eryn, the downward force of the Gravity spell slammed it into the ground in front of her. It shattered upon impact.
Though the glass jar itself wasn’t important, the contents inside were what I was aiming for the entire time. A red powder swirled around her. With the wind barrier partially active, the whirling air tossed it into the air while the Gravity spell kept the powder contained.
The red cloud coated every part of her body. Soon, Eryn could feel a burning, stinging sensation around her eyes, forcing her to close them. The red powder seeped into her mouth and nostrils, radiating with heat where it landed. This caused Eryn to cough fiercely in response.
As the Gravity spell faded, Eryn fell to the ground choking with tears running down her face. The contents of the jar had been chili powder, pulverized from some of the spiciest peppers. With Eryn’s weakness to spicy food, this was all I could think of to take her down. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be too mad at me for such an underhanded move.
Temporarily, I had disabled her defenses. Unable to focus on her magic barrier and too disoriented to defend properly, I had my one chance to defeat her. I couldn’t let others think that she had held back to allow me to escape. Neither could I go easy on her. This was all to convince others that we had a true falling out. Arming myself with my gun, I pelt her with several rounds. Eryn flailed with her sword, unable to see where I was targeting. Her movement had become simple and easy to read, allowing my shots to find their mark. Soon, cracks had developed along her weapon and armor.
Eryn had always been carrying her mother’s sword ever since she got it back. For her to be holding a plain weapon meant only one thing. She wanted me to break it. She wanted me to overwhelm her and show the kingdom that I had gone rogue. Just like how I would shatter her gear, I would break the suspicions that anyone would hold against her, so that she would be free to act.
With a swing of my knife, it smashed through the blade of the sword and ripped apart the front of her knight armor. The shattered pieces of metal clattered to the ground around her, a convincing display of a warrior that had suddenly lost her advantage. With her protective gear out of the way, my fingers went straight for her exposed weak points, ones that would paralyze her body for the next hour.
With a thud, Eryn collapsed forward. The sound of her fall was heard throughout the vicinity. At this point, there were people peeking at the fight from their windows in the surrounding buildings, more numbers to serve as witnesses.
On the ground with her face to the side, she spoke to me in a tone low enough for no one else to hear.
“Good luck. I’ll find the truth.”
As I turned to walk away, she added, “Survive, so that I can roast your buns when you return.”
I subconsciously shivered. Perhaps, I had gone too far. However, whatever payback she had in store for me was our promise to meet again. I could find solace in that.
Surprised that I had defeated her, the other two knights drew back in fear. Quickly, I dashed over to help Ludmila. With the two of us attacking the magic knights, our overwhelming wave of blows caused them to needlessly expend mana trying to keep up. Soon, their barriers crumbled as their mana supplies became empty. A simple poke and mana strike later sent both of them to dreamland.
I looked back over at the fallen Eryn. Her last words were all I needed to know of her intentions.
For now, we needed to get away from the influence of the Chancellor by hiding elsewhere. The North was our enemy, so that was an obvious ‘no.’ I had heard that the West was a barren wasteland.
“What about Macali?”
The country of Macali in the South had just allied itself with Sistina, so I thought that may have been a good option. However, Katsys had a different opinion.
“That would likely give our enemies an opportunity to claim that we had become spies for a foreign nation, labeling us as ‘traitors’ seeking refuge with the permission of their king.”
That future left a bitter taste in my mouth. I didn’t want to drag our new friends into such slander and politics. Sanshiro was the only direction that we could go. Hopefully, we could rely on the crest that Carina gave me for support.
In the meantime, I trusted that Eryn would get to the bottom of this. If we could bide enough time, she would eventually find a way to prove our innocence, and hopefully, convince others to go against the powerful man known as the Chancellor.
Ludmila and I got back into the wagon and continued out of the town. The dim lights that Katsys and I helped set up there started to grow dimmer and dimmer as the wagon moved away from civilization. There was only the glow of the moon to guide us down the path heading east.
I looked at my two companions, Ludmila and Katsys. This would no doubt be a rough journey, but Eryn had given us the final push to move forward. With Ludmila’s speed and Katsys’s smarts, I was sure that we could manage.
As the sound of our wagon continued to dart through the darkness, I wondered what the future had in store for us.
A journey without Eryn at my side – the empty seat beside me never felt so strange until now. Though, the warmth of the other two’s hands resting on my back would have to do. I just had to keep looking forward, so that one day, I could return to Eryn with pride.