“You are human, right? To make mistakes and reflect on them is normal.”
A sudden voice called out to me from my memories.
A gentle singing voice seemed to cut through the fear that had instilled in my heart. A feeling of warmth and calm permeated throughout as another scene flashed in my mind.
There I was, standing in the courtyard of the enemy castle. I had broken through the last line of defense, and soon, the others would storm in. The chirping of a voice that sounded like a songbird, a strange sound amidst all the fighting, lured me in with its sweetness.
A young girl stood there singing without a care in the world, dressed in a light robe and a baggy cap that hid most of her head. It did not seem like the rages of war had deterred her from being absorbed in her song. The melody was of a language unknown to me, but there was no need for words for its meaning to be conveyed.
Lightly dancing while she lifted her head to the heavens, there was a tint of somberness as she praised the skies above.
My first thought was, ‘how could she be thankful at a time like this?’ When her country had fallen, it was unfathomable to hold onto such beliefs, especially for one who was as young as her. Yet, there was no fear in her eyes. No sense of dread.
“You, don’t you know that we are invading this country?” I couldn’t help but interrupt her.
In my presence, she paused her motions before answering.
“Of course, I know. That is why, the last thing I shall do is sing and dance. That is all I can do for this country as its hero.”
“Hero? You? You mean to tell me that you were summoned?”
“Yes. Powerless I was. The other side just had someone invincible.”
“And you do not regret being powerless?”
“Of course. But I will do whatever I can. I may regret, but that’s part of being human. To be alive and face the future no matter what may come.”
I couldn’t believe what this young girl was telling me. Power had been everything. I had virtually led my country to victory with it. Yet, this girl showed a strong sense of nobility even in the face of defeat.
“You. What if I told you that I was that invincible one?”
The girl walked over and examined me. Strangely, I stiffened at her innocently inquisitive gaze.
“You are human, right? To make mistakes and reflect on them is normal. Do you feel like invading this country has been a mistake?”
I had never once questioned my role in all of this. From the very beginning, my summoner had given me a sword and asked me to fight for her country. Thinking about it now, I had never been given the chance to talk to the other side.
I wanted to ask her more, but the sound of footsteps approached. Apparently, the rest of my allies had arrived.
“There she is! Take the Hero of Rinaldi hostage!”
Before I could react, the soldiers had thrown her to the ground, pinning her with their bodies.
“Hey! She’s just a young girl! Why would you do such a thing?!”
A spark of defiance rose from my chest. I gripped my sword and pointed it at them. Immediately, the soldiers backed off in fear. Walking over to her, I helped her up.
“I’ll take charge of her. Leave us.”
They looked at me with skeptical gazes before deciding to go.
“Are you alright?” I asked her when they had disappeared.
She faintly nodded. I was starting to wonder if I had truly done the right thing.
It wasn’t long before I found out the true reason for the war, a trivial difference in ideology between Botticelli and Rinaldi. However, that had not stopped the people of Botticelli from discriminating and demonizing the other side. I had been effectively brainwashed to blindly fight for them.
Some hero I was.
I had been too late to save the people of Rinaldi from the genocide that happened afterward. There was never any intention for peace. Purely, there was a drive to wipe out those who didn’t align with similar beliefs.
The last memory I had before going mad was the last words of the girl I met before as I clutched her dying body.
“Kindness… that is…. what keeps us… human.”
We had been ambushed one evening shortly after the invasion. Contrary to their promises, the people of Botticelli had murdered the remaining residents. Lastly, they had no need of the summoned heroes that were considered as ‘outsiders’.
Where was the humanity in that? I could see no kindness in what I had fought for. I had lost all hope for this world. Ignoring the girl’s last words, my anger had driven me to be the same as those I despised.
“Kindness, huh?” The words whispered across my lips as my mind went back to the current situation. Only now, did those words mean something to me.
At the very least, my time in this world was nothing like the one before. There were those that I trusted. I had carved the path forward with my own hands, rather than given a role to follow. That much I could believe in.
I wouldn’t let it happen again. I refused to become what the Chancellor wished. I would retain my humanity. I would protect this world that was kind to me.
I stood up and drew my knife. The Chancellor beckoned me to attack him. Though his desire to test me was peculiar, there was no other way for me to be released from his grasp unless he was defeated.
Though I could see the lines running across his skin, I chose to ignore them. Instead, I slashed how I normally did, letting my mana knock out his mana gates instead.
Yet, something felt quite off. As my blow met with his body, blood was drawn. My eyes widened in surprise as a deep gash formed diagonally across the Chancellor’s body. His clothing, his skin, his body had all been cut through by my attack.
‘Have I failed to control it after all?’
Examining myself, I could tell that my mana felt different, like it had been dyed with another color.
“Oh ho? Looks like it wasn’t strong enough of a stimulus. Your mana has only the slightest bit of miasma to it, not enough to demonize… not yet anyways.” The Chancellor remained calm despite a bleeding gash running down his front.
With a quick healing spell, his injury started sealing up. I slashed at him again, in which he dodged away this time.
“Not so easy to crumble it seems. Perhaps, the other one would be better for now,” the Chancellor mumbled, just loud enough for me to hear.
I continued to attack him, ignoring his confusing statements, but he started tossing magic spells to keep me at bay. Though I could easily cut through them, I wasn’t making any gains on our distance.
Suddenly, the Chancellor waved his arms, and the blurred surroundings around us went back to the plains of Faulkner from before. The sounds of fighting could be heard in the distance.
Looking in that direction, Saki was moving around fighting off the other members of my party. Craters had formed around them, and traces of magic dotted the area. Lau looked like he was struggling to parry blows that resulted in the ground caving in with each strike, opting to leap away instead. Cornelius was supporting him with her Ice magic, but even that was being shattered by her fierce swings.
Furthermore, King Oswald had joined the fight once again and was facing off against Eryn, who limped a bit from the aftereffects of her skill. Katsys supported her with magic shots while pleading for him to stop, but that only seemed to be a distraction due to the defensive properties of his armor.
Ludmila was likely far away from here, requesting help from Eryn’s forces. Chrys and Yi Long had retreated to a safe distance, asked to follow her.
“Claude! You’re okay!” Katsys was the first to notice my return.
“Chancellor Willingham! Finally, you show yourself! Isn’t it time to finish this business? Use your abilities that you are so proud of to rid us of these bothersome pests!”
King Oswald didn’t look like he was in top condition either. A look of relief was on his face as he smirked expectantly at the Chancellor’s arrival to tip the balance towards his side.
“Yes, I believe that is certainly the case,” he responded.
We tightened our guard as we prepared ourselves for what the Chancellor would do next. Who would he target first? Who would be the first to fall?
I didn’t wait for him to give an answer. I dashed towards him, hoping to cut him off. However, he was simply too fast.
As if in slow motion, I watched as he sprinted towards Eryn. Knowing that I couldn’t make it in time, I chucked my knife at him. Though it lodged into his back, it was a futile attempt at stopping him. In horror, we watched as the Chancellor raised his hand to stab it into his target.
King Oswald looked at the Chancellor in surprise, for he had been the one that was stabbed. A hand penetrated straight through his armor and into his chest.
“Why?! How could you betray me?!”
The Chancellor simply smirked. “Betray? I was never truly on your side from the start. You were just a convenient piece that danced around the game board. An idiot king who never doubted my suggestions. Your role was merely a pawn to be used.”
The Chancellor removed his hand and let the King fall. Oswald clutched the wound in his chest and fell to the ground. A pale expression blanketed his face. Though the wound had actually been shallow, the true damage lay in the broken trust between them. Now, even his closest ally had forsaken him.
The rest of us had been just as surprised by this outcome. Why would he suddenly help us now? None of his actions made any sense to me. I wasn’t sure whether to strike or not.
“Uh, everyone. Mind looking over here for a moment?” Cornelius’s voice broke us from our stupor.
In front of her, Saki was acting very strange; she clutched her head as if she was suffering. With heavy stomps as she staggered around, the atmosphere around her suddenly changed.
“Betrayal… Betrayal… Everyone around me does nothing but betray me!” As she mumbled these words, the mana around her seemed to distort and turn murky like miasma.
I looked over at King Oswald, who was on the ground chanting something similar.
“What is going on??” Eryn cried out, similarly confused as the rest of us.
It was like they were linked in some way. However, the only connection that was remotely similar that I knew of was…
That of a Master and Electi.
Lady Kaguya had once said that the feelings between a Master and Electi, if strong enough, would transfer between them. That was due to the mana in which the two shared.
Suddenly, things started to click in place. If the Chancellor himself were an Electi as he claimed, then he shouldn’t have been able to summon Saki to this world. Plus, he was considerably older than her. In a country where magicians called for their summon at an early age, it would be strange for the Chancellor to only perform the ceremony less than four years ago.
On the other hand, King Oswald was the correct age, being in his late teens, similar to Saki. However, none of the other members of the royal family had one, so it had been overlooked.
The Chancellor bent over and spoke to the fallen king.
“Thank you for lending me your Electi. It has been a most valuable guinea pig.”
With that, he seemingly drifted over to Saki and placed a hand on her head.
“Now, I return your memories unto you. Awaken from your dream, my tragic little sample.”
No sooner than he had said that, Saki’s mana grew heavy, deep purple like an abyss. Similar to the chilling poisonous aura that was felt from the demonized zombie dragon that we had faced, Saki was giving off that same signature.
“Now, my pet. Will your container shatter? Or will you be able to contain that which has emerged from you?”
The grin on the Chancellor’s face left us all with a sense of impending doom, much worse than any demon we had faced before.