Not long after I escaped from the baths and made it back to the guest room, I heard a gentle knocking at the door.
“Yes?” I answered.
After talking to Cornelius, my mood had been lifted somewhat. Though the pain of what I saw earlier that day still lingered and would probably take time to get over, I had regained the will to continue forward untethered by it.
The door opened, and a blue-haired girl peeked through, her eyes questioning for permission to come in. I smiled at her warmly. There was hardly ever a time that I could refuse Katsys.
She walked into the room, wearing a silky gown meant for bedtime. I had become used to living with her such that a sight like this wasn’t strange at all.
“You’re… back to normal, already? Quite surprising, given what I’ve heard from Lady Kaguya about your memories.” Katsys sat down on the bed next to me, studying whether my expression was forced. Frankly, I was always told that I had a bad poker face.
I tilted myself back and laid on the soft, cushy surface. “Yep, I’m surprised too. But when I was reminded that I didn’t lose everything. That I had gained a lot to replace the other world I came from – it softened the blow. Sure, I was devastated to know that my world had been wiped out somehow, but my heart has already claimed this world as my new home. I’ll do here what I couldn’t do previously as a way to settle things.”
“I see… in a way, you are amazing. I could’ve never gone as far as you have if you hadn’t pulled me along.”
I chuckled at her words. “You’ve helped me just as much. You and your strange inventions.”
“Speaking of strange, what do you think of this?”
Katsys brought out a small contraption that was slightly larger than her hand. Pressing one of the buttons, a hologram emitted from it, showing images of people in motion.
Staring at the miniature scene play out, I realized that it was displaying the valley near the Thunder Phoenix Clan home during our previous battle. For the first time, I was seeing the charge forward led by Wen Zhi, their advance being halted at the final gate, and Ludmila smashing through their line of defense. I was already making my way through the clan grounds by that time.
“Th-That’s amazing! You recorded all of this?! You invented a recording device to capture everything?!”
“Mhmm. I call it the ‘Active Time Light Box’… well… maybe it needs a shorter name. But as I journeyed with everyone, I suddenly thought that my future self would want to look back on the adventures that we experienced. It took a while to make, but I finished it just in time for a great moment to capture.”
“Wow, this gadget is going to catch on like wildfire once we get back. Everyone is going to want one!”
Katsys nodded, but then, she shut the device off and popped a small stone out before replacing it with another. She started it up again. This time, the image of the fearsome Thunder Phoenix was displayed.
“More than anything, I wanted everyone to see the tale of the knight who guarded Princess Katalina. The man who could take down a legendary being. To show the country of Sistina why such a person as you deserve to be by my side.”
I sat up and faced Katsys, seeing the look of determination in her eyes. She was right. We had originally escaped because of the crimes that had been supposedly pinned on me. Now, she had a way to show everyone my actions, rather than having others rely on hearsay from those in power.
The scenes of my fight against the mythical being reflected in my eyes. Even with it in front of me, I could hardly believe the person in the scene was myself.
“The tales of the princess’s knight, huh? That would certainly boost people’s view of me-“
My words were interrupted suddenly by the soft touch of lips against mine. The unexpected gentle sensation, the locks of hair brushing against my face, the pressure of her spectacles against my cheekbone – my mind was trying to rationalize what each of these meant, but all I could do was stare wide-eyed at the closed eyelashes before me.
Slowly, Katsys pulled away, her eyelids fluttering open and revealing the emerald gems they were hiding. I couldn’t even blink as I watched her retreat towards the door with a bright flush upon her cheeks.
“Never mind. I shouldn’t have taken advantage of the situation,” she squeaked out before exiting the room. I was still too stunned to react in a timely fashion. The most I could manage was to lift myself into a stand before giving up and flopping back onto the bed.
My mind was in disarray. For this entire time, I had believed that we were nothing more than friends at most. I had never considered the possibility of her affections. I started scanning through my memories, revisiting my interactions with her in a new light. Had I really done that much to capture her attention?
It was funny how one’s perception deluded oneself. Perhaps, since I had been so focused on the attention of Eryn, I had failed to notice what was right in front of me. Looking at my interactions with Katsys differently now, I could see signs of flags being raised all throughout the time I spent with her. After all, it seemed like she was particularly enthusiastic when it came to fulfilling my requests. The extra detail that she included was likely due to her intentions of pleasing me. Now that I knew that, I couldn’t unsee those subtle gestures that I had overlooked before.
“Man, just one trouble after the other, isn’t it?” I could feel my face growing hot.
Though, it was a fortunate type of trouble. Any man would be thrilled to have won over the attention of a girl as cute and interesting as Katsys. I would invoke divine punishment to anyone who didn’t. However, that didn’t mean that I could just blindly accept them.
What could I do for her? As Katsys believed, would I really be able to stand beside her in the way that she hoped?
‘She’s a freaking princess, after all!’
Not to mention, I had to settle with the feelings I had for Eryn before anything else. We had been apart for many months, yet I still thought fondly of her. I wouldn’t know how to decide until I saw her once again.
First thing was first. We had to take our lives back in Sistina.
“Master. Ludmila saw that.” A voice softly spoke behind me, causing me to leap out of my skin. I stumbled off the bed and became a disorderly heap on the ground.
The face of Ludmila hovered over mine, her stoic expression and piercing eyes looking at me accusingly.
“I-uh, wh-what do you-, wait… where did you come from anyways?!” I recovered from my shock and questioned her. I hadn’t recalled anyone else in the room when Katsys was present. And furthermore, I thought we left her back in Haneman with the Kinkou family!
“Ludmila been here entire time.”
As she said that, her body faded out of existence, leaving me seemingly alone in the room. I activated my skill and saw the outline of her body still fixed in place above me. She hadn’t moved at all, but instead, she had camouflaged herself much like a certain ninja guard had done. So, she had secretly followed us incognito the entire time!
‘Damn it. Do I have to be paranoid from now on?’ I thought as this was the first time I had seen that trick pulled on me.
Wondering what else she was planning to do, I was surprised when she bent down and lightly kissed my forehead.
“Ludmila wishes to stay by Master’s side as well. That is all.”
With that, her form blurred from my sight. I picked myself up and scanned the entire room. There was no longer any sign of her. The sole trace that she had been here was a slight mana trail leading out the door.
‘Don’t even think about it, Claude. Reality is a far cry from sister moe anime.’
I had obviously been affected by Katsys’s confession, and perhaps, Ludmila had been as well, having witnessed it. She was the cute little sister that I never had, and flags be damned, that was how she would remain!
“I worry about her future sometimes. Maybe making her a maid wasn’t the best of decisions….” I shook my head. Regardless, I needed to be a bit more wary of my actions from now on. Otherwise, a ‘bad ending’ might be in store for me in the future.
“That’s something to think about tomorrow…,” I mumbled as I plopped myself back on top of the bed, too weary to deal with it for now.
The next morning, we were ready to set off again. Having been discovered by me, Ludmila apologized to everyone for following us before plopping herself in the carriage. Apparently, she had simply ‘ran’ all the way here, which was an easy task for her. With her speed, the only way we would beat her was if Katsys completed warp portal technology between the cities. I got a chill down my spine as that seemed very likely in the near future.
Speaking of Katsys, she was facing away from my direct line of sight the entire time. I didn’t blame her after last night, so I decided to give her some space.
During the carriage ride back, I remembered to ask Cornelius about the thing I had on my mind for a while.
“Hey, Corny. How would you like an apprentice?”
Cornelius merely looked at me in wonder as she couldn’t understand what I was implying.
“You remember that boy in the Kinkou family home. Get this, his specialty is magic unlike most of the people here. A bit rough around the edges, but I think a good teacher is really what he needs, especially since he’s a Master to an Electi.”
I explained Yi Long’s situation to Cornelius, who looked rather intrigued by it all. It was rare, even in Sistina, for a child so young to develop magical prowess that could take down armed fighters. However, it was likely that his high Magic stat was due to Chrys’s deficiency in the same parameter. By now, the two of them were in the level 30s, already far stronger than knight apprentices their age.
“I’ll consider it… as long as there’s no opposition from those in this country,” she said, shooting a glance at Lau, who was now Yi Long’s adopted guardian.
“You can do what you wish. Magic is outside of my forte, you know. I just juggle things.” Lau raised his arms in a shrug. He, too, was at a loss of how to educate the young boy before meeting Cornelius. There were few practitioners of the ‘Magic of the Elements’ as they called it in Sanshiro.
Not long after, we arrived back in Haneman and transferred to the wagon that we first used to arrive here. Over time, we had it fixed up and enlarged to account for the possibility of more passengers. Furthermore, we exchanged the original horse for a pair of stronger looking mares.
Right after everyone got in, I circled around the cart to make sure there weren’t any ‘hidden’ surprises, especially since I recalled Katsys overseeing some of the upgrades.
“Claude, stop looking! I didn’t hide any secret compartments this time! It’s just a standard cart!”
“Somehow, I find that hard coming from you.” I snickered, glad that she was back in the mood to talk to me again. I got a bomb thrown at me in response. Thankfully, it was one of those duds that she created while experimenting with explosives. This one ended up being nothing more than a noise-making firecracker on the ground.
As our entire party – consisting of Katsys, Ludmila, Cornelius, Lau, Yi Long, Chrys, and I – set off with Sistina in our sights, our current mood belied the seriousness of our destination. For just a bit longer, we would allow ourselves to act as normal. Perhaps, we could’ve been a bit more serious, but there was no way of knowing that the Chancellor was eagerly waiting for us, having prepared plenty of ‘amusement’ in store.