Hours later, the first glimmers of sunlight crept over the horizon to the east. The wagon had pushed forward without rest, as we sought to make some distance between us and our pursuers. The only ones that knew of our destination had been Pietro and Carina, who I learned just recently that they weren’t who they seemed to be.
Without knowing where we were heading, the kingdom would have to cast a wide net to search for us. Getting far away early on would vastly decrease our chances of being discovered.
Not long after we sped away from the Faulkner domain, Katsys and Ludmila grew tired, the adrenaline from the events having long passed through our systems. I was getting rather tired myself, but at least, I had passed out for a bit in the prison cell prior to this. Looking back at the two propped up next to each other and sleeping peacefully gave me the determination I needed. I slapped my cheeks. The slight sting momentarily drove away the weariness in my vision.
I noticed the horse slowing down. We would have to find some place to rest soon. Obviously, stopping in towns was no good. Messages via Magic Pigeons could travel much faster than any transport method. By now, the heads of all the towns likely knew of our status as fugitives. We’d have no choice but to make camp somewhere in the woods.
Thankfully, the path we were on ran parallel to a river. All we needed was some forest to hide in. That opportunity came minutes later. I guided the horse off the path and through the outline of the trees.
Hopping off the driver’s seat, I took the reins with one hand and drew my knife with the other. At this point, there weren’t likely any monsters that could hurt me, but I had to look after the horse. Scanning through the flora, there weren’t any beasts that showed any hostility. We arrived next to the riverbed without any encounters.
Letting the horse refresh itself, I searched through my Item Box for some cooking supplies. It was fortunate that my Item Box had been expanded to the extent that it was. When Katsys gave me the new one, I initially looked at it blankly. It was much smaller than before, the size of a ring box that easily fit in my hand. However, when I opened a portal, I was greeted with a shed sized compartment.
Wondering how such a small box could house that much space, Katsys told me that anything inserted into Item Box MK2 was magically compressed. Somehow, she was able to manipulate the space inside the box such that we viewed it differently from the outside. I just nodded blankly because the concept had flown way over my head.
Apparently, another neat feature about this new Item Box was the ability to call certain objects to me. Given the large space, I had worried that I would have to crawl in and find it myself. It would be no joke if the portal closed behind me and sealed me in this compressed space. Instead, I just had to will the item that I was thinking of to appear. Provided that there was a match, it would pop out. Placing items into it was also a cinch. Somehow, it would automatically float into a free spot. I could use some mana to sort it around, if needed. How convenient.
No doubt, the journey would have been much rougher with a ton of luggage, but now, nearly everything I needed was within the small box that was in my breast pocket. Why had I not bothered to test out the extent of this magic tool before? One could no doubt call it a ‘cheat item’ in this world.
As such, this cheat item had allowed me to pull out all of my cooking gear, a magic fridge full of ingredients, and the proper décor for a nice picnic. I couldn’t let a princess unused to traveling rough it out too much, now could I?
As the scent of freshly made pancakes drifted through the air, the two girls on the wagon were roused from dreamland. I saw them poke their heads up, sniffing the air in anticipation.
“The first batch is done. You can come over,” I called to them. I picked up a jar of honey and swirled some on top of the stack of pancakes.
The two of them eagerly hopped down and took the plates, knowing that what I cooked typically suited their tastes.
“This is excellent! To think that even the wilderness couldn’t blunt your cooking sense. I’m impressed!” Katsys said, in between bites.
“Master is amazing after all. His cooking captured Ludmila’s heart.”
The shouts of praise gave me a bit of energy back, as I also dug into my plate. After we had finished and cleaned up, it was time to get to business.
“So, what should we do at this point? We got away from the Chancellor’s reach for the moment, but is there no choice but to leave the country?” I looked at Katsys.
“Kidnapping a princess is hardly a small offense that can be overlooked. You’ll be seen as an enemy anywhere within Sistina’s realm of influence. I’m sure the kingdom’s knights will hunt you day and night, and then, execute you by public beheading, if you somehow survive their assaults. Only by hiding under the protection of a neutral country would we be able to rest.”
A bead of cold sweat rolled down my forehead after I heard that.
“I see. Then, we’ll have to find the holder of this crest. We should move out once we get enough rest.”
It would be a while before we would reach the border, so I should probably take a quick snooze.
“Um, Claude…do we actually have time for that? Won’t there be knights catching up to us soon?”
“What do you mean?”
“After all, the kingdom has my mana signature, they can easily launch a homing beacon-“
At that moment, a pigeon made of mana drifted in front of our eyes and landed on Katsys. I had completely forgotten that this was made to search for people! As long as it knew the mana signature, it would home onto the person if the target was within range. There was no need to cast a wide net to search for us nor find cover!
Ludmila and I drew our weapons, scanning the immediate area for our enemies. Within less than a minute, ten knights on horses galloped between the trees to our location. It didn’t seem like we would be allowed to rest.
All ten of them had the guild uniform of a magic knight, but only one of them was dressed like a superior officer. Still, this many adept magicians would be nearly impossible for only Ludmila and I to take on. As they hopped off their horses, they immediately cast magic shields to protect themselves. It didn’t look like I could take them down by surprise.
“Ludmila, you should get out of here. They probably only want to take me down. At the very least, you should get away, since you’re not really involved. Just say that I took you with me if anyone asks.”
“Rejected. There’s no place for Ludmila except by Master’s side.”
I appreciated her loyalty, but this wasn’t the time for it. There was no way I could let a 12-year old girl lose her life here. However, before I could convince otherwise, Katsys stepped up beside us.
“No, this is partially my fault, too. I can’t drag the both of you down protecting me. I will fight. Miss Faulkner made me realize it as well. There are things that I can do. Ways that I can help. I can’t just stand behind you and let you do everything!”
Katsys reached into her Item Box and brought out a gun-like contraption and a small wand with a magic stone imbedded on one end. She held out the wand towards us.
“Here. You will find this rather useful. Just let your mana flow into it.”
Katsys activated the wand. Immediately, electricity crackled around the magic stone, making it look like some type of crude taser.
“It was one of my failed inventions while creating a light source for the magic lamps. It ended up being too powerful and dangerous, but it will be useful here.” She handed the wand to Ludmila.
Next, Katsys aimed the gun in front of her.
“And this… was the thing that you asked me for, Claude.”
Katsys pulled the trigger, creating a swirling mass that quickly moved outwards. Within a blink of an eye, a person-sized vertical slab of mana had appeared in front of us. Next, she pulled a different trigger and sent another one towards the knights, this time holding the button longer. It zoomed up to the knights before stopping. Wary of this mysterious magic, they dove out of the way.
Wondering what this could be, my mind finally clicked when the two swirls became clearly portals that connected to each other. Somehow, Katsys had made a ‘Portal Gun’ without the preconceived limitation that I was used to. Simply put, they could freely hang in the air and be placed pretty much anywhere.
“Oh dang… you actually did it… we might have a chance!” My excitement boiled over. I showed Ludmila what to do.
Jumping into the portal in front of me, I ended up right in front of a surprised knight. He had lost his focus and dropped his shield, so I quickly reached over and tapped a pressure point, causing him to fall limply to the ground. Before the other knights could charge at me or take aim with spells, I jumped back through the portal and ended up where I started.
Katsys deactivated the portal before the knights could follow. Understanding what had just happened, Ludmila smiled deviously as she activated the wand.
Immediately, Katsys started positioning the exit portal around the knights, allowing for me to dive in and perform hit-and-runs, before I dove back through. Katsys would proceed to reposition that portal wherever it was convenient for me to jump out next. I managed to take down one unlucky knight before he could get his shields up. Ludmila used her speed to whiz around the flustered fighters brandishing her taser wand. Coupled with the mana of a Level 50 person, this weapon easily tore through their shields and shocked them into submission.
Not only did the men have to guard against a speedy foe, but also someone that could pop up behind them from the portals that were rapidly reset by Katsys from afar. As a result, the knights had no idea how to guard against our assault. In contrast, I put my trust in Katsys, letting her dictate where I would end up. My role was to simply attack the space in front of me before retreating.
The knights were left in total chaos, as they couldn’t handle this strange coordinated opposition. As bodies dropped to the ground, either tasered or poked into unconsciousness, the men had lost all of their advantage in numbers.
Pretty soon, only the one senior officer was left. His parameters were rather high, on par with the both of us. Though Ludmila could tear down his magic shield, he had the swordsmanship to defend her follow-up attacks.
Ludmila and I looked at each other and gave a nod. Somehow, we could tell. We needed a special team combo strike against this last guy.
Ludmila charged at him with her incredible speed, while I jumped into a portal in which I reappeared behind him. Ludmila swung her wand at him, shattering the magic shield. Timing my strike with the moment it collapsed, I aimed for the nape of his neck.
Sensing me behind him, the knight dodged to the side. It didn’t look like he would fall for it. Swinging his sword at the space behind him, I caught it with my knife. He knew very well to avoid being hit by my pressure point attacks. At this point, any fighter in the kingdom would likely have been informed about the limitations of my technique. I saw fragments of magic shields covering his bare vital points.
However, there was one thing that they hadn’t learned yet.
I brought forward my left hand which had been hidden behind my back. The taser wand that Ludmila had used before was now in my hand. In the time that I had defended the sword strike, Katsys placed portals connecting Ludmila and me. My hand wrapped around the wand which Ludmila handed to me, and then, thrust it into the side of the knight.
The crackle of electricity running through his body sent tremors to his sword arm. Despite the strong jolt of magic, I could feel him enduring it as his grip on the sword remained firm despite the shaking. However, he had placed all of his focus on guarding against me, leaving his back open.
I felt a burst of mana exit the front of the knight’s body, a small portion of its impact colliding into me. Ludmila had done a mana strike through his back, further disrupting the focus he was trying to maintain. Already near his limits using his mana against me, the knight grew stiff and started foaming at the mouth from the sudden disturbance. Likely, that final strike had overloaded the mana flow in his body and short-circuited his senses. He would be fine with the proper recovery magic or items, but with no one to administer it to him, he would be out for the next hour or so. Hopefully, we could get a good enough lead in that time.
As the three of us climbed back into the wagon and headed off, I looked back to see Katsys happily stroking her two inventions. Because of her, we were able to easily avoid any harm. Perhaps, I had been wrong in focusing solely on protecting her. On many occasions, I knew that I could always depend on her wit.
After all, friends rely on each other to get through conflicts. And I was just as much of a friend to her as she was to me.