King Oswald watched as the other side started to make their escape. He was in a precarious position. He had lost nearly a quarter of his army, while the other side had merely suffered some injuries.
If he retreated now, his efforts would have been for naught. If he pressed on, he would likely lose many more soldiers, but he hoped for a tipping point where everything would suddenly turn in his favor.
He pulled the reins of his horse and charged forward, darting past the rest of his army and heading towards the lone girl that was blocking the path forward. She would be his.
He was wearing the royal armor reserved for the King of Sistina, boasting the highest defense in the country. He also possessed Durandal, a sword passed down to the family head for many generations. They had served as his father’s greatest assets when uniting the kingdom. With those equipped, he would be a match for the smug magic knight who dared to go up against him.
Charging forward with a fierce cry of fury, the girl finally noticed him. Her guard was slow as she braced herself for his strike. A loud, metallic clang echoed in the air as her body skidded backwards from the impact.
He could smell fresh blood in the air. Looking down, he eyed a fresh nick on her leg, uncovered after his sword smashed apart the armor that was previously there. Indeed, Durandal gave him enough power to break through her defense.
She fired some magic in response, but it bounced harmlessly off his armor. Even with the boosted magic from her Electi bond, a simple spell would do nothing against him. Seeing that fail, she glanced back at the army that was quickly streaming through the opening past her.
However, Oswald wouldn’t let her escape. He leapt off his horse and chased after her, swinging his sword down to block off the opening.
“I’ve finally got you, you troublesome wench.” Oswald smirked at the tired girl who barely managed to block his blow. “Feel free to waste your magic on me. You won’t be catching up to the rest anymore.”
Eryn refused to give up. She was helpless to stop the rest of his army from charging past them, but at the very least, she could take down the leader.
“Flash of Strength!”
Immediately, her vitality recovered, and she pushed back against Oswald with renewed strength. The two exchanged several blows, their swords ringing in the air. By the slightest bit, Oswald’s Durandal was being pushed back.
Yet, Oswald continued to calmly study his enemy, letting her take the little bit of ground that he was willing to give up. He had heard about her ability, one that gave her elevated stats for a short period of time. That was not enough to discourage him, for he knew that all he had to do was wait for the time limit to expire.
Eryn knew she was being toyed with, but she had no other options on hand. The best she could do was to push him back, and then, make a hasty escape before her limit approached. However, King Oswald was making it more difficult than she expected. She hadn’t expected such strength from one who simply inherited the role of King, rather than carving a place for himself like his father had.
‘If only he didn’t have those equips… Claude, where are you… I should have never let you leave…’
Though it had been for his safety, she felt lonely all these months. It surprised her just how much he had become a part of her life. And now, more than ever, she wished that he would be fighting by her side, using that weird skill of his to give her the opportunity she needed to overcome it all.
However, the chances of that were very unlikely. They hadn’t spoken to each other since she had sent him off with a duel, her way of instilling confidence into him. Many months had passed since then. It was entirely possible that he started a new life with the Princess now. She had always suspected that the girl harbored feelings toward him.
If that was how it was, then she couldn’t blame him for it. She would be fine. She had been all this time after all.
A tear rolled down her cheek as she made a fierce swing that knocked the King back slightly.
However, if by some chance he wanted to come back, back to their home, then she had to save a place for him. That was why she could stretch herself so thin. She wouldn’t allow even the Kingdom of Sistina to get in her way.
As she noticed that other men started converging on her in hopes for a lucky strike, Eryn stabbed her sword into the ground.
“The Land’s Howl – Spread!”
Immediately, the ground shattered around her, ejecting hardened earth in every direction. Similar to Pietro’s signature attack, Eryn densely collected mana into her sword before letting it explode into the ground. The result created a purely physical attack of earthen shrapnel. Unlike her instructor who focused it in a beam, Eryn’s attack sprayed in a circle around her, making a large ripple outwards with her at the center. Everyone close to her was pushed back and bombarded with a cascade of shards.
It was not an attack designed for a tough foe, but to give oneself some space. Space was what she needed if she was going to make her escape and regroup with the others. Though she could have fired off a beam at the King, even if she had succeeded in taking his life, she would have nowhere to run. Her remaining stamina would be spent, and then, she would be helpless against the rest of the army. No, she had to live on.
But as she prepared to make a run for it, something in the sky caught the corner of her eye. Some objects appeared to be falling down, right on top of the rear portion of the King’s army.
Explosions shook through the ranks as the mystery objects exploded on impact. However, it was not just a single explosion, but a sequence of it happening over and over. Deafening booms echoed across the entire battlefield as those who had not yet entered the barrier were being bombarded with what appeared to be God’s fury raining destruction upon them.
Everyone turned towards this sudden interruption questioning what in the world had happened. Even King Oswald had turned back, staring in horror as hundreds of his men were being tossed around like ragdolls.
When the bombing subsided, those who had escaped from the blasts noticed a cold touch on the ground creeping up their bodies. Before their eyes, the surface had been coated with a sheet of ice, freezing the feet that stood upon it. Many of them could not pull themselves free from the icy restraints.
“Who the- What the- Cornelius?” Eryn stammered as she finally made some sense of what had happened. The ice flowers that had bloomed from the ground had tipped her off. There was no one else that would bother with a finishing touch such as that.
Her spirit was lifted at the thought of her dear friend coming to save her… but she had a sudden thought. He didn’t use explosion magic. Who else had arrived to provide her aid?
Eryn carefully studied the horizon as she watched the King’s army fall into chaos. Finally, she spotted something approaching between the shuffling of men trying to escape from the surprise attack. A large wagon was making its way through the battlefield, but what caught her eye was that people were unable to approach it. Despite being surrounded, bodies seemed to steer away from the speeding vehicle. Looking closer, it wasn’t as if the King’s army was avoiding it, but the faint glow of magical attacks appeared to be keeping them at bay.
Furthermore, Eryn saw glimpses of people zipping through the crowds, one seemingly on foot and the other on a board. They were knocking people over as they passed, their bodies falling to the ground like their strings had been cut.
When physical attacks failed to do anything, the soldiers turned to the magicians who started firing off spells, but that, too, was somehow thwarted. It appeared as if the spells either missed the wagon entirely or were reflected back to the caster.
Taking all of this in, Eryn guessed that Cornelius had been absent to acquire the help of some powerful fighters. But who were they? Some of the others aside, the ones defending the front of the wagon moved strangely like…
Her eyes opened in shock. A warm feeling sprung from her chest. Was that why he had been gone for so long? Was it finally time for his return? If that was the case, then she would change strategies.
A quick look around the battlefield told her that the new entrants had immobilized a quarter of the King’s army. More than half of his forces had been stripped away. With the remaining soldiers split between those who had already broken through the barrier and those outside, King Oswald had essentially been placed in a pincer attack.
Eryn shot a fire spell behind her, high into the air. The flame crackled through the sky before exploding, creating a flare to her allies in the rear. That was a signal that requested for them to fight rather than retreat. They would crush the King’s army where it stood.
Immediately afterward, a sword approached her. She brought her own up to meet it. King Oswald had broken out of his surprise and had started attacking her once again.
“You! Who did you call?! That magic is no doubt the Watchdog, but who are the others?!” His eyes bulged with fury as he tried to make sense of how she had suddenly brought significant war potential from nowhere.
“Don’t know! Don’t care! You’d better hold your tongue, or I’ll cut it off!” Eryn swung her sword gracefully, looking for openings in the King’s guard.
Due to her temporary higher stats, her swings were slightly faster, smacking into his armor and slightly denting it. Her attacks were strong enough to cut through the layer of mana that Oswald shielded himself with.
However, she wasn’t doing enough damage to settle the match. She was running out of mana, only having enough to hold her own barrier. Her swordplay would have to hold out for just a little longer. At least, that was what she thought, but a blurred form suddenly showed up behind Oswald in the middle of their deadlock.
“Tag.” A low, almost monotone voice could be heard.
As that single word hung in the air, Oswald’s body bounced upwards. He held his rear end with his off hand like someone had just kicked it. What appeared in his previous spot was a small maid with her leg dangling forward, the momentum from her speed having transferred to the body spinning in the air. He barely caught a glimpse of his attacker before the King landed with a clunk.
“Ludmila!” Eryn immediately recognized the stoic girl known for her speediness.
However, there was no time for greetings as King Oswald quickly got back to his feet, seemingly unharmed but quite angry. He scowled as he charged again with his sword at the one who interrupted him. However, Ludmila stared at him expressionlessly, simply raising a finger to point behind him. Eryn glanced in that direction just in time to see someone on a board land close to all of them. A blade of mana swept through the air and went right through the King’s body like there was nothing to stop it.
Wondering what had just happened, Eryn cocked her head in confusion as no visual impact had resulted from the sudden attack. But then, her eyes widened as she noticed that the King had frozen in place, his mouth wide open and drool running down the side of his lips. There was a stiff expression of pain on his face, and his eyes were bulging and blood-shot. The sword that he held up was trembling as he tried but failed to swing it down, like a fit of paralysis had taken over him.
“Whew, took a few times and some shattered armor, but I think I got the feel of it.” The boardrider’s back was to her as he extinguished the mana blade. The fearsome weapon he held had reduced down to the size of a kitchen knife.
Though she didn’t recognize the clothes, there was only one person who would prefer to fight with such a dinky weapon. And there was no way she would forget that dopey smile as he turned towards her.
“Hey there, ya missed me, my dear Master?”
“Claude…,” Eryn whispered, her voice caught in her throat. Tears welled up in her eyes as she started to walk forward, but her enhancement had finally given out, causing her to stumble forward.
Seeing this, Claude bent forward to catch her, her body having gone limp from the aftereffects of ‘Flash of Strength’. Her face dug into his arm, a damp spot starting to spread on his sleeve. It didn’t matter anymore. He was home. She had managed to protect the place for his return.
No one could blame her for losing herself in his arms for just one moment.