Cornelius heaved a sigh as he watched the form of Claude slowly freeze in place. He was regretful that it came to this, but things couldn’t go on any longer. If he didn’t bring back the ‘sample’ that the Chancellor desired, then his beloved friend would soon be in danger.
Given that Sanshiro’s turmoil hadn’t been great enough to push him back to Sistina, there was no choice but to come and retrieve the chef Electi himself. In the time that they had been separated, Cornelius could feel something different about the man, a changed way that he moved and held himself.
For that reason, Cornelius decided to take no chances. By acting as he normally did, Claude didn’t expect the surprise attack. Time was of the essence, and it was better not to drag Princess Katalina or Ludmila along.
‘This is for the best.’ He continued to tell himself, knowing how dreadful the Chancellor was. He would find some way to keep Eri out of his reaches, no matter what he had to do.
Deep in his thoughts, Cornelius was late to notice the faint noise of something crinkling. By the time his mind had registered that unexpected noise, chips of ice had started falling to the ground.
Cornelius turned his head abruptly, realizing what that meant.
“Impossible! I hit him with Absolute Zero! How could he break free within minutes?!”
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His best ice spell that completely immobilized its target for up to an hour had already started to crumble. He could see the chef’s arms start to wiggle as he tried to break free from the icy prison. No person aside from the Chancellor had the power to escape from that prison so quickly.
Before Cornelius could act, the shell of ice exploded, and Claude emerged from it slightly out of breath.
“Alright! That worked somehow!”
Cornelius subconsciously backed up two steps before steeling himself. It was okay. He probably critically hit the ice somehow. If he launched a full assault, then there would be no way that he could dodge it all.
However, there were lingering doubts in his mind. Just like he had done now, Claude was a man that continued to surprise him. In this foreign land, did he pick up some skills to deal with magic? Cornelius couldn’t help but question that as the ice gathered around him and started to freeze the surrounding forest.
He launched several ice lances toward Claude, waiting to see how he would dodge. However, instead of moving out of the way, the chef brought his knife forward and sliced each one in sequence, causing the lances to shatter into a shower of shards.
“Y-You can cut magic?!” Cornelius panicked.
“Huh? I guess all that practice with Katsys really paid off.” Claude rushed forward, knife in hand.
Hurriedly, Cornelius placed a thick magic shield around him as he tried to conjure a large area of effect spell that couldn’t be dodged. Yet again, Claude sliced forward with his knife and penetrated deeply into his shield like it was barely there.
The mana that he was accumulating around him for his attack was seemingly cut away as well, causing the spell to stop abruptly. Claude looked at him straight in the eyes.
“You better have a damn good reason for attacking me. Eryn’s friend or not, I trusted you. Why are you doing this now? Please tell me someone put you up to this.”
“I-I… uh….” Cornelius stumbled with his words. It was as Claude had said. Someone had put him up to this, someone incredibly fearsome. But he didn’t want to use that as an excuse for stabbing him in the back. Immediately, he felt guilty that Claude had given him a chance to explain.
Cornelius decided to run. He couldn’t face himself at the moment. He had thought it would’ve been easy enough to bring Claude to the Chancellor to keep Eryn safe. He believed that it was a suitable compromise to ensure that no one stood between them – to sacrifice a single otherworlder, even if he was something akin to a friend.
However, Claude’s eyes had shown him that the chef had never once given up. Even though Cornelius had done nothing to help him, there was a measure of faith contained within. Despite being essentially exiled from the country, he used it as a chance to get stronger. When trouble started to brew in this neighboring country, Claude had stuck with the people here and helped to resolve it. The facts of this matter were understood by him, but he had been so focused on what Claude was, rather than what he had become – a worthwhile companion for his longtime friend. Eryn would never forgive him for this.
Once he realized that, a strong doubt about what he was doing flared up. For now, he needed to run. He needed time to think carefully about what to do. What decision should he make to avoid a future where he lost everything?
“Hey! Get your bony ass back here!” A loud cry was heard behind him. Unfortunately, Claude wouldn’t give him that time to think.
Cornelius started to chant, forming large walls of ice behind him in an attempt to slow down the pursuer. Yet, Claude simply sliced through them and broke through without hesitation.
Cornelius tried to hurl strong attacks at him, which were shattered by a swing of his blade. He even tried to freeze the ground under him to create some distance. However, his steps appeared to shatter the layer of ice on the ground with an unseen force.
In the time that they had been apart, Claude had changed into a completely different person. A strong aura of mana emitted from him, one that felt like highly trained soldiers with specialized fighting techniques. Given that Sanshiro was a country that thrived in physical training, this should have come as no surprise. However, Cornelius felt like he was being pursued by an unstoppable force, one in which no magic appeared to even faze him.
At this rate, there was no outrunning the chef. Cornelius was nearing the limit of his stamina. His body just wasn’t meant for such physical exertion. As a last resort, Cornelius started his ultimate spell once again, but this time, he placed his hands across his own body.
Thick ice started to spread, quickly encasing himself. The top of his body was soon engulfed by the icy prison as his legs continued to move himself forward. Not long after, the ice started spreading down to his legs, finally holding him in place. The Absolute Zero spell had been used on himself to buy some time before facing Claude. By doing this, he believed that Claude would wait and give him some time to think. He couldn’t very well attack someone defenseless, could he?
It seemed like the chef had different ideas though.
“You get out here, right now!” He screamed at Cornelius through the ice. Cornelius watched as something formed at the tip of the chef’s knife. The sensation of mana concentrated there grew longer and thicker.
‘It couldn’t be!’ Cornelius was unable to scream due to his lips being frozen, but he realized that Claude had formed a sword out of mana, which required a high-level of control. With that much improvement, it was no wonder that he could cut through his magic-based attacks. A mana sword could be stronger than metal if properly used.
Cornelius started to panic as he watched Claude swing full-force at his frozen body, like he was planning to end his life.
‘Wait! I didn’t mean for this!’ The fierce determination in Claude’s eyes told him that he was completely serious with his swing.
With a loud clink, the ice around him broke and shattered everywhere. A huge rush of mana collided into his torso and knocked him out of the prison and into the air. Time seemed to slow down as he felt his armor crumble and fly away. His entire body cried in pain as the effect of that single swing seemed to invade the weak points of his body, causing them to seemingly shut down.
‘That’s not good… can’t keep the spell up!’ Cornelius thought as he felt his body crash into a pool of warm water.
I was completely pissed. I never thought Cornelius would just flat out ambush me out of the blue. Luckily, I had learned how to control my mana enough to send it through the weak spots of the ice magic, causing it to crumble. As long as I was touching it, I could push my mana into an object and disrupt it along the mana grain. Not to mention, any mana covering him as protection would just be blown away.
‘And then, he has the nerve to keep attacking and run away when I repelled the attacks!’
‘I have no idea what’s going through his mind, but I want answers now!’
Because of that, I might’ve used a bit too much ‘oomph’ when I was trying to break him out of that ice prison that he tried to lock himself within. I was trying to tap one of his pressure points with mana to immobilize him, but I had to blow away all of that magic first..
If it weren’t for that Absolute Zero spell that Cornelius himself had developed, I would’ve suspected that he was some kind of imposter. When I checked his mana signature though, it seemed to be the same one as the corny guy that I always knew.
However, there was one thing that I didn’t notice before – it seemed like Cornelius had a thick layer of magic under his armor for some reason, like it was wrapping itself around his entire body.
“Probably a spell to protect himself.” I mumbled, thinking that was the most logical thing.
Unfortunately, that meant that I had overcompensated the amount of mana to use against him. As a result, the mana sword shattered the ice prison, disintegrated his knight armor, and tore through the magic spell around his body. It might have been overkill as it seemed like the remaining mana overloaded his mana gates as well.
“Oh well, the blow isn’t fatal. Guess there’s no reason to hold back, other than the fact that I’ll have to carry him back now.”
Cornelius had ended up taking a dip in the hot springs that littered the area, which should help recover the mana disruption from my attack. I walked over there to check on him, who was sprawled in a shallow pool of warm water with half of his body hanging out.
“Geh, better get him a change of clothes or something,” I noted, as his back, which was sticking out of the water, was completely bare. His armor and clothing had essentially turned into a scattered mess of metal and threads.
I stared for a moment at the smooth, white skin and messy crop of blue hair that was Cornelius, face down unconscious. Sighing as I bent down to turn him over, it seemed like it would be a pain to carry the naked man all the way back to town without dressing him.
“Hey, wake up already. I’ll even lend you one of my chef outfits for the time- !!!”
My voice cut off as I noticed two bulges on his chest, two feminine bulges. My eyes shifted up at the blue person’s face, which now had more feminine features than before. Panicking, I accidentally dropped the body back into the water.
A moment after the head plunged in, the person sprang up, choking and sputtering the water that had gotten into her lungs. As if she had barely any strength left, her body flopped onto the ground with a thud, sending droplets of water splattering around her.
Everything was in full view. There was no denying it. The person before me was 100% female.
“Oi! Please tell me this isn’t some cursed gender-swapping spring!” I yelled to the Gods, wondering if they had thrown another anime trope at me.
However, I would soon toss all I thought I knew about Corny out the door.
Cornelius von Reichenstein, Marquis of the Kingdom of Sistina, had been hiding all along that she was female. And I had been the first in many years outside of her family to dispel the magic that she had disguised herself in.
Volume 4 End
Kaz here. The end of Volume 4 has come. Quite a few new characters were created here, along with an entire arc which I wasn’t sure how it would turn up when I started.
The only guidepost that I had was that I wanted Claude to grow in his Electi abilities and become someone confident without living in the shadow of Eryn’s protection. Now, it’s become really hard who to place by his side as he overcomes the threat looming back home. Will it be the expected Master/Servant duo? Will it be the caring and resourceful princess? Or maybe… someone else?
The next volume will be focusing on Claude’s return to Sistina, along with many revelations about the various things in play. Expect things to get a little wild. Love your comments as always!