“Seriously, who the hell came up with a name like ‘Star Shooter’? Like, what does that even mean?” I grumbled after being surprised by a number of people referring to me by that name. I couldn’t wrap my head around the imagery that had resulted in such a strange title.
‘First ‘Demon Cleaver’, then ‘Star Shooter’, what is with these weird sounding names like some ‘chuunibyou’ self-proclaimed title? If they are going to attach something, couldn’t they have been cooler?’
Apparently, Ludmila had gained one as well, being called ‘Heaven Piercer’ by many of the guards. I was a bit jealous.
Interested in how she had received that title, I asked around about what she did during the battle. The details of it caused my jaw to hang slack for several minutes. I had no idea her speed could be used in such a manner. Certainly, she had grown far more as a fighter than I had ever expected.
Having gained a wicked ultimate attack worthy of ‘piercing the heavens,’ I briefly wondered if she could add a drill-like motion to it, just for kicks. ‘Well, giant robots don’t exist to complete the image… yet.’
“Well, excuuuuse me. At least, Ludmila and you have names that sound halfway decent,” the bespectacled princess next to me interrupted. “Much better than ‘Bomb Princess.’ That makes me seem like some deranged girl who likes to explode things.”
“You aren’t?” I teased Katsys.
She shot me a dirty look with puffed cheeks that looked cute rather than threatening.
“Fine. I’ll be sure to make your next request explode on a whim then!”
“Woah! I didn’t mean it! I humbly beg for forgiveness, oh princess, Goddess of Inventions.”
“Hmph, flattery will get you everywhere. You best remember that!”
It was nice to see Katsys open up and speak her mind more often, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I did things that ticked her off sometimes. She was one person that I would never want to piss off, especially since her off-handed ideas could easily come into fruition.
It had been about two weeks after we rescued Lady Kaguya, and things were seemingly getting back to normal. Katsys and I had just exited a meeting discussing the future of Sanshiro. After the Thunder Phoenix was defeated, the guards scoured the area to round up the surviving members of the clan. Interestingly, the underground dungeon seemed to be fully intact despite being located right under where the summoned being appeared. Lady Kaguya was likely being held there to protect her from Zhao’s final resort.
As the guards cleared away the rubble leading to the entrance, they could hear pained groans and grunting from within. I quickly walked away with a forced expression screaming, ‘I know nothing!’
Still, the summoning of the Thunder Phoenix had come to a surprise to all of us. We had no clue that something like that had been held as their final trump card. For that reason, the clan members who hadn’t been involved with the ritual had been sent past the gates where they could escape from its reach. Zhao had the intention of leaving only those for the summoning, which was no wonder that the clan grounds felt so unguarded. Not even the other family heads had known ahead of time, but rather, they simply followed the orders of their leader.
The families that were part of the Thunder Phoenix Clan were, of course, punished and stripped of their power. Lady Kaguya quickly reorganized the remaining families under her and designated new lords for the regions that had suddenly become unmanaged. It was apparent to me that the country would be perfectly fine with her at the helm.
“Yes, there is no need for me to marry just yet. Especially now, when the people can see what the Holy Oracle can do, without needing the ‘crutch’ of a strong family to prop me up,” Kaguya announced after she had made her declarations to all the important parties present.
With a smile, she walked right up to me. I nearly fell backward when I saw an unexpected hand reach right up to my face.
“Although… if certain interested parties don’t bother to act, then I might get wooed by someone else entirely.” Kaguya’s hand stroked my cheek briefly, as she glanced off to the side. My head turned towards that same direction, where the Sunny boys started making surprised and conflicted expressions.
Suddenly, I felt a strong pinch on my side, making me flinch and take a step back. For some reason, Katsys had a sour look on her face. ‘Oh right, maybe she is telling me not to get any ideas since Eryn was waiting for me back home.’ I suspected that Lady Kaguya was putting on airs to give her Electi a slight push anyway.
Lady Kaguya turned away and moved on to another topic – what to do about Yi Long and Chrys. Yi Long was the son of the criminal Zhao Lei Dao. Although he was not involved in any of the schemes, he was still a member of the family that nearly tore the country. Clearly, there would be some animosity towards him. However, he was still a child, and a person who was a master to an Electi. It was a unique situation.
Lady Kaguya turned towards Lau. “Lau Ki Young, I would like to place him under your family’s name. With your years of experience and understanding of Electi, I can find no other person I would trust more to ensure that young Yi Long develops into a proper adult.”
“It would be my pleasure, your Holiness.” Lau bowed in response.
“With that, his new name shall be henceforth, Lau Yi Long,” Kaguya declared. By bestowing a more ‘honorable’ surname to the young boy, it would ideally steer away any lingering ill will directed to his previous family.
Katsys and I were glad at the result. The two young children would no doubt grow tremendously under the guidance of the old man. He and the Kinkou family had certainly unlocked our potential in the time that we had lived with them.
As the others filed out of the room, Lady Kaguya tugged on my sleeve.
“Please. Stay a moment. The princess may stay as well.”
Nodding, we waited for the room to clear, leaving only Lady Kaguya, her two guards, Lau, and the two of us from Sistina.
“I had wondered if the prophecy was about to come true when I laid eyes on the Thunder Phoenix as it was summoned. However, it seems not to be the case. The dreams that I had afterward still show the image of you, Knight Claude, walking through the flames of disaster.”
“I see. Then, that future is still to come. We should prepare-“
Lady Kaguya raised her hand to stop me. “No, the surroundings have recently become clearer. The place that you tread, the place that you fight – it is not this country. It is a place of earthen structures and those who wield the magic of the elements.”
“Sistina?!” Katsys gasped as she realized that her home was possibly in danger.
“Yes, I am truly grateful for all the help that you have given. On behalf of the country of Sanshiro, we humbly offer our thanks. But it seems that we have kept you here for too long. Please make haste, back to your home.”
With a deep bow, Lady Kaguya and the other citizens of Sanshiro gave their gratitude.
Katsys and I contemplated about what to do. We had received no word about the state of Sistina, other than the fact that Prince Oswald had seized the throne after his father’s passing, and that there was conflict brewing between the different sides. If a great calamity was to happen in the future, then would it be due to an escalation between them?
“Wait, doesn’t that mean that Chrys needs to come along? Wasn’t she part of the prophecy?” I suddenly remembered.
“Indeed. She appears to be key to your success. As such, it would be wise to have young Yi Long and Master Lau Ki Young accompany you. That is the least we can offer for your help. Any more would create a diplomatic situation between the countries.”
Either way, it seemed like we had a strong team for heading back to Sistina. I was sure that Eryn would be surprised with how much tougher we had become.
“Okay, let’s return to Sistina. There’s nothing we can do about it waiting here.” I nodded along with Katsys.
For now, we decided to travel to Haneman so that we could prepare for the journey back. For the moment, Katsys and I took a wagon back to the Kinkou family home, while Lau stayed behind to take care of a few things. We would likely head off the next day.
On the wagon ride back, Katsys clutched my hand, in which I gave her a gentle squeeze back. It had been more than half a year since we left. Likely, we would be returning to a country that had changed in our absence. Katsys tried not to dwell upon it, but I knew it weighed heavily on her mind. Even when she had received the news of her father’s passing and her brother’s ascension to the throne, she had merely tried to hide it behind her normal self. Anyone that was familiar with her work could see that her normal tinkering had become unfocused and messy for a short period afterward.
As her friend, I vowed to help her, in whatever way she wanted to approach this situation. However, she simply gave me a smile and pulled my arm closer to her.
“Thank you, Claude. I’m not sure myself what I want from this. There are times where I wish I could just throw it all away.”
“Well, that is an option, isn’t it? I’m sure Eryn wouldn’t mind if we suddenly gained a ‘tinkering’ servant.” I joked, thinking of how Pietro and Carina had ended up in her family’s service. Of course, I had expected Katsys to reject the very idea, but she gave no response other than rubbing her head against my arm.
Just before we reached Haneman, I suddenly noticed a blue bird float above me. The sight of the majestic bird that gave off a slight frost around it tickled my memories. “Isn’t that… Hal, Cornelius’s familiar?”
It dropped a slip of paper, right into my hands, which read ‘Sir Claude. We need to talk. Please follow. Come alone.’
I showed Katsys the message and stopped the wagon. Seeing Hal glide off to show the way, I hopped off the wagon and turned back to her.
“Go on ahead. I’ll meet up with Cornelius and then meet you back at the Kinkou home. He must have something important to discuss.”
Trotting away, I kept my eyes on Hal as it led me into the forest. I was surprised that Cornelius had shown up, and with such timing also. Though we had parted on not so good terms, I was sure that Eryn filled him into the events of me being framed.
I passed by thick foliage and ran through a warm mist that hung in the air, likely due to some hot springs nearby. Finally, I saw a crop of dark blue hair in a knight uniform in the distance. Cornelius was standing with his back against a tree.
“There you are. Kept me waiting.” He smirked.
“Kept you waiting? Who’s been out of the country for over 6 months?”
“Well, I am here to retrieve you. It’s time to head back.” Cornelius walked over and joined me.
As if it was the most natural thing to have him here, I turned around and started to lead the way out.
“Man, it’s been so long, I was starting to miss even your face.” I chuckled.
“Is that so? You’ve been on my mind as well.” Cornelius responded flatly.
I didn’t expect him to give such an honest response. However, I nearly jumped when he placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey wait, you’re not seriously- Kuh!” I flinched as a sudden stinging cold enveloped my shoulder.
Instantly, ice started spreading across my body. The familiar sensation of being trapped in a frozen prison assaulted me.
‘Why is he doing this to me again? Why is he capturing me? Had nothing been cleared up?’
As the ice finished encasing my body, I could see Cornelius move around to my front, heaving a sigh of relief.
“Sorry, Sir Claude. Under the Chancellor’s orders, I am to bring you back to him.”