Seconds turned to a minute as Eryn’s form started to weigh down my arm. A knight in armor wasn’t exactly the lightest thing to support one-handed! Especially, if I had to fight off the surrounding crowd of people with the other one.
“Hey! Mind letting go? You aren’t making this easy, you know?”
When she didn’t respond, the cold sweat of worry dripped down my forehead. Awkwardly, I tried to shift Eryn’s body so that she would be braced against me. The lack of response as I did told me that she had fallen unconscious.
“Boo… Ludmila defends while Master flirts. Guilty.” A voice of accusation floated around me. Ludmila had been thinning out the soldiers that were coming for us.
“Hey! Can’t you tell the difference? I need to check what’s wrong with Eryn. Can you back me up for a bit longer?”
“Okay.” As if she had done it on purpose, she dropped her teasing tone and dashed around to keep the army at bay.
I plopped Eryn down with a clunk before feeling around her exposed arms and legs.
“Whoa! Stiff as a rock!” My thoughts slipped out as her muscles felt like they had seized up into knots. I had seen this outcome once before, after Eryn had used ‘Flash of Strength’. My fingers hesitated as I recalled what I did to her last time.
Those kinds of suggestive motions certainly weren’t appropriate out in the open, but what choice did I have? ‘Wait…, I do have other options at this point.’ When I was paralyzed before, tapping a mana gate managed to mitigate the bad status effect.
Quickly, I tried to feel the mana flow coursing through Eryn’s appendages. Sure enough, there was an abnormality. Mana was barely trickling from her gates like they had been purposefully shut down. As a result, her muscles were suddenly starved, which likely caused her to faint.
I was starting to understand why her skill had such a side-effect. Like when I pressed the Divine Mana Gate, it gave the wielder a serious boost in abilities. However, it seemed like Eryn’s skill had a forced cutoff after a certain activation time, probably as a safety measure to prevent excessive mana drainage. If Lady Kaguya hadn’t been there with a recovery potion, the complete exhaustion of mana would have taken me out for quite some time.
If my guess was correct, then injecting her with my mana to unlock those gates would be the trick. I didn’t hesitate as I poked her in several locations across the body. Luckily, her armor was no longer an obstacle due to my improved mana control. Within moments, the rigid body had visibly started to loosen up.
Not long after, a pair of eyes fluttered before opening. Eryn’s gaze stared straight at me. She sat up with ease, surprising herself. A tint of red crawled up her face as she started to panic.
“Don’t tell me you- But my armor is intact still… How did you?”
Her worries apparent to me, I simply shrugged.
“My skills have leveled up while I was gone. Hardly felt a thing this time, right?”
Eryn started to respond, but she suddenly grasped the sword beside her. I turned around just in time to receive a strong blow from the armored man from before. I had pretty much ignored him all this time, after I had sent a critical blow to his mana gates.
My knife clashed with the metal sword in his hand. Feeling a tremendous force behind it, I instinctively stepped to the side to allow for its momentum to pass harmlessly by. A few layers of mana that I used to protect my body had been shaved off from the sudden attack.
When the man’s head turned back towards me, his face triggered a sense of familiarity.
“Eh? Prince Oswald? Wait, he’s King now, isn’t he? That aside, you were fighting the King?!” I blurted out in surprise.
“You’re just finding this out now?! Watch out for his-“
Eryn’s words of warning didn’t finish before I had already launched my attack. My knife instantly recovered the glow of mana I had before, and it was ready to give the King another greeting. Oswald had a look of sheer annoyance as he sliced at me with his powerful-looking sword.
The mana around him was rather weak, especially since I had grown accustomed to fighting warriors who deliberately trained their mana to protect their bodies without the need for bulky armor. Furthermore, there was no need for my blade to clash with his, which would undoubtedly end up in my total loss.
Instead, my extended blade of mana appeared to meet his, only to pass right through it. Continuing to ignore the armor housing his body, its effect only came at the moment of contact with the person within. Once again, a tremendous surge coursed through Oswald’s nerves as I overloaded his mana gates for the second time. The pain from it caused him to drop his sword and faceplant into the ground.
Those around us that witnessed this scene were shocked at the outcome, now knowing that it had not been a fluke. Their King, equipped with the best equipment known to the kingdom, had been soundly defeated in close combat by the Demon Cleaver, downed by a single blow no less.
Even Eryn, who had no time to warn me of his powerful equipment, stared with her mouth open at the result. And here I was, casually walking away from the exchange with my weapon extinguishing like a retracted lightsaber. I froze my movements as I noticed all eyes on me as the center of attention.
‘Did I do something wrong?’ A hint of nervous sweat ran down my back.
A few men with nicer armor around me sounded the horns. Men sheathed their weapons and proceeded to pull the injured away. The army around us scattered, heading away from the broken barrier that Eryn had protected. Not that I wanted to fight still, but they had given up so abruptly in my eyes. I couldn’t help but express my confusion by flicking my head back and forth with my hands up.
Eryn hobbled up to me, still suffering from mild muscle cramps.
“What do you expect, dummy? You just took out the enemy commander.” She placed a hand on my shoulder, using it to support herself upright. She could tell that the ferocity of the assault had only been held up by the insistence of the King’s followers, who could order their subjects forward. But now, they had chickened out in fear of being next.
It was not like I was unhappy for the easy win. ‘Slightly disappointed by the anti-climatic end… but only just a bit.’
In any case, seeing Eryn safe and sound was all that mattered right now. I wanted to give her a hug, even if it resulted in a love tap of embarrassment in return. However, there was one thing on my mind.
“Corny came to get me, but… couldn’t you have called me back sooner if you were in trouble?”
A moment of silence passed between us.
“Uh… I got a bit busy shoring up the defenses and, and training the new army. I didn’t want to drag you into senseless battles…”
“In other words, you thought I’d get in the way.”
Eryn clammed up on the spot. Certainly, with my abilities before, I would probably end up worrying her. There was no way that she could have predicted how I changed in the past several months. But… that didn’t mean I could forgive her right away for thinking that.
I gave a fake sigh. “To think that Corny would care more about me than my own master. Maybe I should’ve stayed in Sanshiro and spent some more quality time with the Princess- oof!”
That earned me the love tap I was expecting. I clutched my stomach from the pain.
“Jerk! I was worried about you! Of course, I was! Why wouldn’t I?! I-I…”
I wrapped her in my arms as her voice started to break. “Yeah, you were on my mind the whole time, too. Nothing is going to change that. When Corny told me that you were in danger, we hurried back. I’m glad you’re safe.”
Her hand rubbed and squeezed my back, as if questioning whether I had truly returned. I was a bit surprised as she rarely tolerated close contact such as this. I prayed that this fondness was mutual rather than a fleeting impulse.
I looked down at her, and for the first time, I noticed that she was wearing the bikini armor that I had gifted her. I hadn’t noticed it before since there was other armor placed on top of it. A grin crept upon my lips.
“I’m glad to see that my present was given a proper use.”
A slight tremble shook against my body as Eryn froze. She lightly broke away from me.
“Okay, now I know this isn’t a dream. Only you would say something like that in this situation.”
I chuckled at her jab at me. That was more like how we were normally. I didn’t know what we would do if things suddenly got awkward between us after all this time.
The battlefield had finally calmed down. The King’s army had been chased away from the Faulkner domain. Cornelius rode by with the wagon and stopped before us. They had no trouble causing havoc among the ranks while guarding themselves from attack. The abilities of several Electi, two magical prodigies, and an innovative princess were all that was needed to hold back an entire army. ‘Only in a fantasy world,’ I thought amusedly.
Past the broken barrier, Eryn’s forces had finally taken down the rest of the invaders, those that had failed to escape in time. With the supply of soldiers and magic knights cut off, they were able to overpower the remaining men who had been isolated from the rest. It was a total victory.
Now, all that remained was a beaten King who was rolling on the ground in agony.
“Oswald, my brother, you have done this to yourself. Why would you attack your own people?” Katsys bent down and chanted a healing spell. Even if he was the enemy, he was still family to her. Still, I gripped my knife at the ready, just in case.
“It was supposed to be my kingdom! Mine! How did it come to this? Where did I fail?” King Oswald lamented his powerlessness. Without his subjects, he was merely a man in fancy armor. Without faith from his people, he would no longer be able to stand as the kingdom’s figurehead.
“Oswald, we should be working with them, not fighting against them. What has led you to believe in such things? You should’ve known that you would have my full support as your older sister for your claim of the throne.”
From the entire time that I had known Katsys, that much was true. She had no desire to be ruler, so King Oswald would’ve had no competition from her. She would’ve been perfectly happy bringing prosperity to the kingdom through her inventions.
Had he become paranoid as the time approached? After being groomed as the next heir, had Oswald feared losing the prospect of his role, his position in this world? Certainly, having the promises of power dangling in front of oneself and seeing others approach could trigger an exaggerated sense to protect what was deemed rightfully his.
However, was that all there was to this? As I stared at a man whose will was shattered by countless failures, I couldn’t help but think that things were too coincidental. As if Oswald had been set up for an eventual downfall, the outcome had been puppeteered by someone in the shadows.
A person’s face flashed before my mind. “Oh, that’s right! What happened to the-“
Recalling that another big influencer was missing, I started to bring it up. However, a sharp pain in my chest cut me off. A taste of iron bubbled up to my throat. A look of horror appeared on the faces of those around me as I shakily turned my head.
Behind me, the Chancellor had silently approached, stabbing me in the back with his bare hand, a coating of sharp mana now protruding from my front as it had run me through.
“My my, everyone is here. The experiment that I have created has finally come to this point. Now, it’s time to see what kind of secrets you may be hiding.”
The chillingly calm tone of his voice, like he was simply looking at his schedule for the day, was a stark contrast to what he was doing. An immense pain was starting to spread from where his hand had stabbed me. I could see the others move forward in a futile attempt to fight back as the Chancellor grabbed me with his other arm and drew me backwards.
The shrinking forms of my allies told me that the Chancellor retreated faster than they could approach. Strangely, I could barely feel my surroundings as he did so. The pain emitting from my injury had dulled my senses. Yet, it also kept me conscious, long enough to notice that the surroundings started to distort.
The grassy plains of the Faulkner domain phased out of view as the Chancellor dragged me into the unknown.