The return to Sistina had been an uneventful ride. Most of us kept ourselves occupied to avoid dwelling on what we would be encountering upon arrival.
In one corner of the cart, Katsys had been ignoring me, likely unsure about how to act after the kiss planted on me. She focused on adjusting her tools and creating more bombs from raw materials. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do about it myself for the time being, so I was guilty of being silent as well.
At the other end of the wagon, Cornelius was excitedly talking away about magic control and spells to an earnestly listening Yi Long. Apparently, she had taken up my suggestion to train the young boy in magic. After spending a few days with him, Cornelius was fairly surprised by the level of control that he already possessed.
“Yi Long, what have you been doing with your magic for image training?”
“Uhh… collecting firewood, doing chores, and… helping out in the kitchen?” Yi Long recalled the various tasks that I had given him to serve as an outlet for testing his magic on. Though it seemed like an odd way to train magic usage, Yi Long creatively played along with it, using magic to make every menial task more interesting. By now, he could handle the dexterity required to handle objects with magical hands of Wind. I marvelled at how he could use it to grab an egg and crack it into a bowl perfectly, while having the strength to cleave through wood logs.
Cornelius looked my way briefly. “No wonder. The way you wield magic is like an extension of yourself.”
I had noticed the change in him since he started living together with Chrys. Since he couldn’t keep up physically with the others, he supplemented his movements with magic, using earth steps to give himself some height or wind to accelerate his body’s movements. His magic versatility made up for his physical limits.
“Not to mention that he wields all four basic elements proficiently, which is quite the rarity.”
Now that Cornelius mentioned it, that was a bit special, wasn’t it? Most magicians specialized in only one or two elements. Eryn had Fire and Wind, while Cornelius solely worked with Ice magic. The poor kid was born in the wrong country. If he had been in Sistina, there was a strong likelihood that he would be praised as a prodigy.
Seemingly bored of the magic lessons while sitting in the driver’s seat, Lau had pulled out a small wind instrument and was playing a soft tune. Chrys was next to him humming along and nodding her head. I knew essentially nothing about music aside from anisongs and music sung by voice synthesizers, so I just shrugged at the scene.
That left only one person remaining from our group, a young stoic maid who sat across from me with a blank stare on her face. Ludmila was rather calm and obedient for her age. Well, except when she insisted on accompanying us. I had little doubt that she would do quite a bit for my sake, and it was starting to feel like she was heading towards a future as a ninja maid that served as a hitman for her boss.
Frankly, it was a bit unsettling. From the scenes that I viewed from Katsys’s recording of her battles, Ludmila had shown little hesitation to cut down Chen Shi Yuan. That was not something a girl her age should become accustomed to. For that reason, I asked her to stick to non-lethal techniques and ones that didn’t bring such risk to herself.
“If that is what you wish, Ludmila will try. But…”
“Ludmila will do what must be done. For Master’s sake.”
I sighed at her statement. She was certainly giving off the vibe of a child soldier. And if real life happened anything like the anime that I had seen, then that was not a good mentality to hold onto. Hopefully, my limited experience would be enough to change her ways.
“Do me a favor and protect yourself a bit more. The last thing I need is to see you lose both your arms and become a ‘ghostwriting doll’.”
Ludmila tilted her head, looking at me even more blankly, which I didn’t think was possible. Of course, she didn’t know where I was going with that…
“Eyes forward!” Lau shouted at us to get our attention. We should’ve been close to the Faulkner domain, but his tone held a sense of urgency.
Several of us crawled forward to look out the wagon at the scenery ahead. In the distance, a faint rumble echoed. Furthermore, a slight tingle lingered in the air from traces of mana.
“Trouble’s a-brewing. Those are the sounds of battle.” Lau glanced forward with a sharp expression.
“Battle? That conniving demon! He promised me!” Cornelius shouted in shock.
“Promised you what?” I could hazard a guess as to what had her riled up.
“Chancellor Willingham promised that he would keep the King from invading if I did what he asked.” Apparently, that had been the agreement for my retrieval.
“Well, let’s not keep them waiting.” I patted her back. Having been in a large battle before, the ones around us would no doubt be able to do something.
Quickly, we formulated a game plan as Lau urged the horses to travel faster.
First of all, Katsys planned a surprise for the enemy with her bombs, dropped via portals. The low mana usage from that attack would be hard to detect with the enemy’s eyes elsewhere.
On our side were two proficient magic casters, Cornelius and Yi Long. Especially with the former, a wide area of effect could be produced to hinder the movement of the army. While Yi Long’s attacks still consisted of mainly basic spells, they had some power to them because of his high Mag stat. The power of Katsys’s magic guns could also be added, making this wagon a deadly threat at a distance.
In the meantime, we would have to be prepared against magic spells thrown at us. Coincidentally, we had the luckiest girl in the world and a master juggler. Given their abilities, our little wagon would not be a simple target to hit.
Finally, Ludmila and I, the remaining fighters with no long-range capability, would work on thinning the crowd around the wagon as it drove past the army. Katsys pulled out an upgraded levi-board for me to use. With that, it seemed like I could zoom around the battlefield almost as swiftly as Ludmila on foot. ‘Almost.’
With our roles determined against the unknown numbers that laid ahead, we soon saw the tail end of the army on the horizon. Cornelius took up the reins while he charged his widest range Ice spell. Katsys readied her portal gun beside her and gave Chrys access to the bombs in her Item Box.
Finally within range, Katsys shot a portal over the King’s army, while Chrys shoveled bombs into the other one. Frantic shouting and disorder echoed a moment later, as the back line struggled to follow where the source of the explosions came from. Few could see the tiny portal that hovered high above them, which could’ve been easily mistaken for a bird.
With their heads turned skyward, few of them noticed the ground slowly freezing. Not until a sudden chill permeated their greaves did they look down to see ice crawling up their legs and cutting off their mobility. Those who didn’t possess strong enough magic defense to ward off this spell ended up temporarily as statues reaching up towards the sky in a futile escape. As a finishing touch, nasturtiums bloomed at the top of each one, a symbolic gesture of conquest over one’s enemies.
As our wagon came into range of the first line of soldiers who turned to face us, Katsys readied her magic guns and Yi Long began chanting a spell on either side of the wagon. Lau and Chrys were next to them, acting as their shields. Ludmila and I hopped off and raced ahead.
The soldiers were caught off guard as a small figure plowed right into the soldiers before they could even see a flash of black frills. Using her palm strikes, Ludmila instantly immobilized them by striking their bodies with mana.
I had pulled out a pair of chef knives and let my mana flow at each end. Soon, the mana became thick enough to create long blades that were the size of broadswords, but with none of the weight. The first person unlucky enough to approach my speeding board received a quick cut across the torso. My mana blade passed through him like it was an illusion.
After a slight delay, his armor burst where he was cut, and he clutched his waist in surprise. His body trembled as if his nerves had caught on fire. Finally, he could handle no more and collapsed to the ground unconscious.
“Hmm… not exactly what I was aiming for, but that’ll work for now,” I said with a hint of dissatisfaction in my voice.
I had been working on a special mana technique that the Sunny twins had gifted me. It was the ability to project the mana from my attacks into the opponent with a more controlled release. Rather than having it all concentrated into a single strike, which usually meant that I cut the first thing it hit, it could actually pass through and into another object behind it.
By controlling my mana in such a way that it didn’t trigger my Crit stat while having it pass through the first object, I could unleash the effects to a subsequent target behind it. Essentially, the purpose would be to bypass weapons and armor, allowing me to directly strike an opponent without damaging their equipment first.
I immediately grasped the usefulness of this, thinking that I wouldn’t have to strip my opponents before knocking them out via pressure points. However, the reality of it was that it was really freaking hard to execute.
As a result, the best I could do at the moment was to send a portion of my mana through armor, destroying that and triggering their pressure points simultaneously. I had no desire to see the half-stripped men that fell behind me as I whizzed by on my levi-board, so I simply sighed and moved forward.
At this point, the wagon pushed through the army lines with barely any resistance. Ludmila and I pummeled the soldiers at ground level. Magic was being shot into the crowds, bowling them over. The platoons were in such a confused state that all signs of coordination had been lost.
What surprised me was that there was a large barrier in the distance, in which the King’s army seemed to be focused on penetrating through one area. I circled back to ask Katsys about it, who was surprised that someone had taken her magic barrier idea lifted from Macali and advanced it so far. Cornelius confirmed this detail that she had forgotten to inform us about it.
‘Well, that makes things more straightforward.’ Knowing Eryn, she would have devised a plan to limit the advancement to a small entryway. That would be where we needed to go.
We turned our wagon towards the direction where the barrier had been broken, cutting our way through the crowd of soldiers. Some turned to resist our approach, but just as many were dashing forward to escape us.
Even though we were doing a stellar job of attacking and defending ourselves, we would soon run out of mana and stamina at this rate. A pointed charge through the line was likely all we could manage against these numbers.
As we neared the barrier, I briefly caught the sight of platinum blond hair and a glimmering sword in the distance. The knight possessing them was currently in a deadlock with another heavily armored person.
“Ludmila! Can you give Eryn a hand?” I pointed in that direction as I called out to her. She could make the distance in a few blinks of an eye.
Immediately, her form blipped into the enemy lines ahead. It would take me several moments to catch up to her as I couldn’t simply run in between them. Still, I couldn’t complain as my attacks swept through my enemies like I was some kind of Chinese war god gracing the battlefield. I resisted the urge to come up with a special ‘Musou Attack’ on the spot to become even more intimidating. As if the sight of armor being blown off and men falling to the ground wasn’t a fearsome enough sight to begin with. It did seem like their armor exploded less dramatically as the fighting continued, so maybe my technique was getting better…
Suddenly, the body of that knight engaging Eryn from before bounced wildly up into the air; it must’ve been Ludmila’s doing. If I had known she was going to do that, then I would’ve been more prepared to follow up with a volleyball spike.
I pushed a pulse of mana into the board, causing it to pop up and launch me over the men around me. I glided in the air over them as I sailed towards the body that had long fallen to the ground already. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t have enough hang time for me to catch up.
However, he soon stood up and pointed his sword at Ludmila, a big no-no in my mind. Twisting myself in the air and adjusting the mana flow to my board, it propelled me straight at the bad man so that I could bring my mana blade down upon the villain. With a swish, the board bobbed a bit as I landed, completing my sudden entry. I gave myself a 9 out of 10 for that dismount.
I looked over to the person I had slashed, surprised that his armor had not exploded where he was hit. Apparently, I managed a successful transfer of mana this time. The path of partially-naked, fallen bodies that I left behind had been sacrificed for the minute adjustments I needed.
“Whew, took a few times and some shattered armor, but I think I got the feel of it.” A moment of excitement escaped my lips.
I let the mana surrounding my knives dissipate as I saw that my opponent had been paralyzed from my attack. Depending on what he had done to Eryn, I would let her decide his fate.
Speaking of said person, I turned around to face her. The look of worry and confusion that I had seen so many times in our travels tickled my nostalgia. The lovely white hair and piercing red eyes that I often stared at were just how I remembered them. Even with different armor on, I could recognize that stance anywhere. The sight of her was enough to bring a smile on my face.
“Hey there, ya missed me, my dear Master?”
I fully expected to get a sharp tap on the head for taking so long to return. What I didn’t expect was her diving straight into me. I felt a slight dampness permeate my sleeve where her face had ended up. I had more tact than to ask if she was crying. For the moment, I simply enjoyed our long-awaited reunion.