Truly, King Oswald had grown desperate.
After being humiliated multiple times already by an upstart noblewoman, he felt like his grip on the kingdom would crumble at any moment. He had a firm belief that he was a great general, one that would be as awe-inspiring as his late father had been in his younger days.
However, everything had seemingly gone wrong. His supporters were slowly slipping out of his reach, and the trust of the people in him had greatly faltered. Had his efforts to become the kingdom’s ruler become all for naught? His despair at the reality that was before him had even dulled the wine that he drank to comfort his nerves. His mind wouldn’t be granted a measure of ease until the dreaded symbol of the Valkyrie laid bloodied at his feet. He felt as if he could not rest until the focus of this country once again rested upon him.
For that reason, he begged and begged the Chancellor to help him. He would grant him anything he wished if the kingdom’s most powerful magic caster would help him obtain victory.
“Do not fret, my dear King. I will lend you my aid. The time is right for us to strike,” Chancellor Willingham told him finally after several months.
But, could he believe those words? Part of him was skeptical whether this mess originated from listening to the speculations of that man. Yet, for some reason, he couldn’t help but follow along with his words of advice. They were like the sweet voices of temptation, giving him everything that he hoped to hear.
Another tremor shook the ground.
King Oswald looked ahead from atop his mounted steed, at the front of an army of roughly 4000. The majority were simple infantry, crudely trained footmen carrying swords in the name of their lord. Less than a tenth of that wielded any true talent, whether in physical combat or magic ability. However, the mere presence of them at least made him feel like a ruler.
He had rounded up every available supporter for this final engagement, but this had been all that stepped forward. If he waited another week, would that number fall by several hundred? Perhaps, a thousand? He couldn’t delay this any longer. He had to act now.
A significant distance ahead of him, a girl stood alone, a giant mallet raised in the air. Her long black hair swayed as the mallet was brought to the ground, causing a large shockwave to shoot out where it landed. Though the earth did not shatter underneath her, those attuned to detecting mana could feel a subtle, but gradual shift in the environment.
Saki the Destroyer had been the source of the tremors. By pounding at the ground, she warped the lands around the area. As Dengel had guessed, her objective had been to distort the mana veins naturally running deep underground, a feat achievable only by extreme brute force directed in a single direction. She had simply been ordered to do as such by the Chancellor, a man whose keen magic perception abilities allowed him to detect where mana ran the thickest.
And thus, she continued to swing her hammer, a blank expression on her face. Her eyes stared vacantly forward, like a soulless body moving on its own. Or perhaps, a puppet controlled by its master.
Gradually, the barrier that covered the Faulkner central area had begun to flicker. At this rate, there would not be enough mana to support its continual operation at full strength, allowing them to break through with a simple charge. Already, the Chancellor found that a fireball could penetrate the barrier before it slowly regenerated, the residual flames charring the grass on the other side upon impact.
In the distance, a small squadron of troops appeared to be advancing towards them from within. At a glance, one could easily say that those waiting outside of the barrier vastly outnumbered them. However, the Chancellor merely rubbed his chin in thought.
‘Who would be the victor in the end?’
Although the King had begged him for his help, all he was willing to do was tear down the barrier. There was no merit in aiding him other than a brief amusement of watching the two sides struggle for dominance. For a demon that had lived as long as him, there were few forms of entertainment other than this.
Yet, he couldn’t allow for it to be too one-sided, which was why he would only do this much. Tormenting the Faulkner girl would serve his purpose, but he would step in if things got too far. He needed her alive for the time being to examine the limit of distress on her Electi upon his eventual return. Toying with one’s hopes and letting them fall into despair invited the darkness from within.
And if she somehow prevailed, then there was his other test subject to consider…
At that moment, a cheer of celebration erupted from the direction of the King’s forces. Looking over to where Saki was, her pounding had apparently weakened the barrier enough to shatter a small segment of the barrier, which had finally become unable to repair itself.
Where the hole in the barrier stood, mana slowly tried to fill into the broken spot, but like water that had run out of volume, it fell short. The mana had thinned out enough such that it became too fragile to form any repairative connections. Chancellor Willingham walked over and smashed the edges with his staff, seeing shards of the barrier easily crumble away before dissolving back into raw energy.
“I believe our job is done, my dear Saki. Let us retreat and allow them to proceed.”
Saki obediently nodded and walked off to the side. Afterward, the Chancellor raised his staff, signaling that the task had been complete.
King Oswald drew his sword and pulled the reins of his horse. With his weapon held high, he announced the initial charge forward, allowing for the vanguards to rush forward before trotting casually after them. Speeding towards the broken barrier, the hole was only wide enough for several horses to fit through, forcing the troops to slow down and funnel into the opening.
Immediately upon approaching, Oswald swung his sword and smashed more of the barrier, widening it further. His troops followed his actions, doing the same. Soon, the opening had been enough for an entire line of riders to penetrate into enemy territory.
Their morale was high, and their numbers dwarfed those within the barrier. Many of them thought that such a gimmick had been a futile struggle by the weak in delaying the inevitable.
There was still a long stretch of grassland, miles in distance, before they would reach the defensive line. Once that was crushed, the city borders laid shortly behind it.
As the riders in front charged forward, they noticed that a small team of magic knights were advancing quickly from the other side, ahead of the defensive line which moved at a slower pace. Sending these knights forward to stall the enemy with their magic in a sequential attack was a typical textbook military tactic. However, that wasn’t what stood out in their minds.
“Wait, where are their horses?”
“Aren’t they moving a bit fast to be on foot?”
The ones at the head of the pack would be the first to taste the maneuvers of the newly created Faulkner Knight Order.
Ever since the first attempted assault on her domain, Eryn realized that she would have to quickly fortify her defenses. She couldn’t rely on a simple barrier to protect her lands from outside attackers. With the guidance of Roderick and Pietro, many people in town had volunteered for military training to protect their homes.
In addition, she had been approached by many newbie magic knights who wished to work under her. After receiving permission from Guild Director Castia, Eryn set about putting her junior knights under a peculiar new training course.
“Squadron! Ready your levi-boards!”
In sync, two rows of magic knights, numbering 10 each, threw down the boards that they were carrying and stepped onto them. With a whoosh of mana, they levitated and started moving forward.
“Front line! Wing formation! Let’s form a perimeter around them and force them back!” Eryn called out.
Afterward, she looked back at the second line, which were composed of magic knights under the other lords, not trained by her. However, they had been adequately familiar with the levi-board device that had become popular in the recent year.
“Back line! Follow your front-line partner and cover them! Fill in for any gaps in their attacks with ones of your own! You are to keep an eye on their wellbeing!”
The back-line members were each paired off with a knight that was better trained in maneuvering exercises. Eryn had recalled how useful it was on the battlefield when Claude glided around, striking with ease.
As the small group approached the first ones that broke through the barrier, the knights on either side of Eryn pulled away to flank the enemy. In the meantime, Eryn, who was leading the charge, conjured a wide area spell to aid their efforts.
“Scorch the land and hinder the enemies before me with a blanket of heat – Pit of Fire!”
Eryn’s spell cast a low sea of fire in front of her, causing the riders’ horses to immediately buck wildly from its searing touch. Several men were immediately thrown off and into the blazing ground. Though many of the soldiers had sufficient stats or equipment to resist the flames licking at their bodies, the horses didn’t have such protection. Their form of transport had a will of their own, with no desire to step through the flames.
Cut off from their horses, the men had no choice but to engage the attackers on foot. However, Eryn’s team continued to glide on their boards, unaffected by the fire underneath them. From the safety of their self-propelled transportation, they flung spells toward the halted soldiers. Shards of ice, fireballs, wind blades, and earthquakes showered the horseless riders, immediately felling them.
There was no mercy for those who eagerly declared war. Their lives would be sacrificed to steel the determination of those with strong wills and scare off all those who hesitated. Those that had sided with the Valkyrie knew and prepared themselves for this outcome when they had shaken her hand in alliance.
For some of the magic knights, this was their first true battlefield. They had not been exposed to the gruesomeness and tragedy of fighting to the death. However, they were not naïve enough to believe that they would be granted mercy by the other side. Already, many occasions of their opponents’ ruthlessness and delirium had been seen; the other side made it clear that penetrating the barrier would mean the slaughter of their loved ones. The barrier and Knight Faulkner had bravely shielded them from everything, and it was now time to return the favor.
For that reason, they didn’t hold back on their magic. They didn’t have the compassion to go easy on those who threatened the lives of their family and friends. To them, those fighting against the Valkyrie had become demons themselves, ordered by a mad king who wouldn’t compromise.
Steadily, their combined efforts encaged the vanguard gushing through the crack in the barrier. Together, they pushed the invaders back as they continued to riddle them with coordinated magic attacks.
King Oswald tugged at his hair, tearing a small chunk of it out. He had expected to trample what little magic knights were present with sheer numbers. What he hadn’t predicted was for them to be outmaneuvered and hunted down like fish in a barrel.
“QUICKLY! Send in our own magic knights!” he shouted at the lords loyal to him. Immediately, magic knights that wore the colors of Sistina rode forward to engage.
However, that wasn’t enough to turn the tide. Even if a magic knight was riding a horse, there were limits to their mobility due to exhaustion and emotional state of the creature. That became their pitfall as the Valkyrie Squad aimed their attacks at the horses, causing them to act wildly and abandon its rider.
And they too were left stranded to defend against a stream of magical attacks being sent from various directions. Once their mana shields collapsed, their bodies became riddled with cuts, burns, and piercing blows. A magic knight with the ability to easily dodge incoming attacks was vastly more powerful than those with their legs cut off.
And so, those that had broken past the barrier were being pushed back. The fierce attacks by the Valkyrie Squad led by Viscountess Faulkner had halted the advance completely.
Chancellor Willingham stared amusingly at King Oswald, who was fiercely barking out various strategies to overcome this deadlock. He smiled at the girl riding through the crowds of soldiers, effortlessly cleaving them in two and sending many others into a fiery hell with her magic.
However, the weariness of civil war was having a toll on her as well. With every slain enemy, a sense of guilt and disgust built up within her. Having to do such things weighed heavily, despite not impacting her on the surface.
Just like those he encountered in the past, both Master and Electi were poisoned by the darkness that seeped from each other’s core. Their trauma, their emotional instability, and their corrupted desires would all impact both parties. Together, they were connected, dragging each other into the depths.
The Chancellor merely had to watch the events unfold, while giving gentle nudges in the right direction. Soon, they would be ripe for the picking. And then, maybe they would end up standing with him against the world.