I wearily looked at the fallen form of Saki, who had just recovered from her demonizing state.
Recalling that one’s mana could be used to drive the miasma from another like the Thunder Phoenix Clan’s cleansing ritual had suggested, I decided to punch her mana gates, hoping that it would produce some effect. It was a forceful method, but I couldn’t think of any other option.
Saki’s body reeled from the blow, my critical attack having connected squarely where it should. However, it didn’t turn out as I expected since Saki’s armor exploded where my fist landed; a large red mark was left behind in that spot. My mana control wasn’t sufficient in my haste.
Shaking away that thought, I reacted as Saki reflexively tried to counter, swinging wildly to keep me at bay. However, Pietro and Lau coordinated their attacks to restrain her again. I quickly moved in for another blow as I yelled her name once more, hoping that this would be enough to wake her from her daze.
This time, her miasma flared up more, burning my fist as it slammed into her body once again. I pulled back with a wince but ignored it as I swung with the other hand, having abandoned my knife already. I was fully committed to knocking some sense into her.
I could feel my hands getting raw as simply touching her miasma was causing damage to me. Flickers of stray purple whizzed past me, stinging my body like small thorns as they pricked across the surface. I could see that Pietro and Lau were also bleeding from her aura wildly whipping against them; apparently, not even our mana barriers were enough to completely dampen the effect.
Trying to keep my mind off the pain, I searched my memory for something, anything that would stir a response from the normal Saki I knew. Unfortunately, I could only recall the simple exchanges that we had – making her the Japanese ‘washoku’ dishes that she missed and my interest in Japanese culture and anime. These were the topics that I used to break the ice with her during the long ride back from Akigawa.
Strangely, they seemed to work, as each statement elicited a pause between her attacks. Gradually, these pauses got lengthier, making me believe that she was still in there somewhere.
“Come on! You’re the only otaku friend I have a chance to geek out with here!”
With a final swing, she toppled over and fell to the ground. Her armor had long been shattered already, revealing a bare stomach that was heavily bruised from my attacks. If she ever returned to normal, I would let her sock me as payback… given that someone provided me armor with high enough defense to prevent a fatal blow.
I glanced over to Pietro and Lau, who were breathing heavily from mana overuse; they had spent much of it on defense while holding Saki in place. Even still, there were signs of accumulated damage. Not that I was in much better shape. My fists felt like they had been through a grater.
I walked over and stared at the blank expression on her face, trying to gauge what to do next. She was still breathing fine, and the dark purple miasma seemed to be slowly receding from her body, which was a good sign.
Suddenly, Saki jolted and rolled back and forth, making me retreat a few steps back in caution. This time, she merely coughed, spewing out a bit of blood from her mouth. I immediately felt bad that I had hit her so hard, but thankfully, I had some recovery potions on hand.
After a few moments to settle down, her eyes looked up toward mine. It seemed like a bit of clarity had returned to her vision.
“Knocked the miasma outta you, I guess.”
She stared at me dumbly before tilting her head back and closing her eyes. “I remember… everything. The Chancellor, he erased my memories.”
I sighed and shook my head. “You too? I mean, he didn’t erase mine, I think. But he definitely dug out some nasty ones from my past that I didn’t know about. Glad you made it back from them also.”
“I had help…,” Saki said, barely above a whisper as she looked off to the side.
I cocked my head slightly as her last words weren’t audible to me. Before I could ask her about them, she suddenly turned towards me once again.
“The Chancellor! What happened to him?!” She nearly shouted.
‘Wait, what did happen to him?!’ The last thing I recalled was that he had triggered something in Saki, which had created a whole new ordeal that distracted us.
“Shit!” I turned around as I realized that the ones chasing him – namely me, Lau, and Pietro – had been diverted to shielding Katsys. I quickly turned my eyes toward Chrys who was still unconscious, but Cornelius and Eryn, as well as Ludmila with Yi Long, were presently watching over her.
‘If she was safe, then where did that demon go?!’
We scanned the surroundings, but there was no sign of the dark form that the demon had become. Where had it gone after leaving the Chancellor’s body? Hopefully, it hadn’t escaped.
“Oh, Clauuude!” Katsys’s voice rang out.
A chill ran down my spine. My blood turned cold. There was something majorly off about the tone of voice coming from the Princess. My head slowly turned as if afraid to find out if my thoughts had been correct.
Katsys was walking toward us with a slight smirk upon her face. That did not look like an expression that one would make shortly after the loss of a family member. Immediately, my legs started shaking in disbelief.
Pietro and Lau moved, catching on to what I had feared, but before they could take several steps, Katsys started shooting portals and Ice magic. In a flash, ice bolts appeared all around the two fighters, coming out of portals that were positioned to attack their openings.
With them being spent from the prior battle, it didn’t take long for an ice bolt to land on them, freezing their motions with a layer of cold restraints. The abilities of instantly casting magic with a touch of the button and omnidirectional positioning were quite difficult to defend against.
“My my, what an interesting specimen the little princess has become. Quick cast of powerful magic, portal technology, and all the knowledge on how to use it effectively – what an interesting body this has turned out to be.” Katsys sneered at us.
It was the whole reason I had hesitated. I couldn’t fathom the possibility of the demon possessing Katsys. Apparently, the Chancellor’s body had only been a host for the demon, whose real form was that of a humanoid shape of miasma. And that had been revealed when I beheaded him.
“What’s wrong? Don’t have the courage to attack the one who gave her heart to you, Mr. Knight?” Katsys Demon smiled at me. “I know all about her feelings for you. What a pity that you haven’t the resolve to accept them.”
I clenched my fist as I watched the demon flaunting around in Katsys’s body, using her voice and her tools. Pietro and Lau were frozen to the ground, unable to do anything but watch our exchange with a stiff expression.
“Get out of her! Or I’ll-“
“You’ll what? Cut my head off like you did before? That’s exactly why I chose this girl – to drive you into a corner. Now that my plans have encountered a little mistake, it’s time to recalculate.”
“Mistake? You mean how we were able to bring Saki back to us?” I looked over at the Japanese girl who had pushed back the demonic miasma that almost consumed her. Clearly, he had wanted her to fully demonize, but it had failed.
“Due to technicalities. I had no idea that the death of the Master would cause such an impact. Otherwise, I would’ve done a better job at guarding the worthless king.”
The demon’s statement caught me off guard. ‘Oswald’s death helped reverse Saki’s demonification? What craziness is that?’
“You. You’re trying to trick me, aren’t you? I’m not going to listen to anything you say. Just, get out of her. Please!”
“S-Sir Claude.” Lau’s raspy voice interrupted me. “I have a feeling that he is not lying. When Jiro was slain, I felt my senses return nearly instantly. Thinking about it now, it makes sense. The bond of a Master and Electi are shared. You feel the weight of two people on your shoulders.”
Katsys Demon laughed as I looked lost as to what to do. My mind couldn’t handle everything that was going on. And that was exactly what the demon wanted – to drive me into a hopeless situation and push me into a state where I would fall.
“Now, now, what should I do? Obviously, I can’t kill the one you love most, your dear Master. Should I kill the ones close to you? The ones close to her? Hmm, too troublesome now that the rest of you are here. I think I’ll make my escape. Goodbye for now~~.”
Katsys Demon opened a portal and backed into it, right as the others arrived on the scene. Ludmila was the first, and she wasted no time examining the ones who had been frozen in ice. Cornelius was carrying Chrys in her arms, while Eryn and Yi Long trotted beside her. They looked at us in confusion as they were too far away to hear what had transpired; all they had seen was Katsys firing magic at us.
“Katsys was possessed by the Demon… the one that was controlling the Chancellor.”
I ignored their looks of shock at my statement as I walked by them and scanned the ground for no reason. By taking control of the kind-hearted Katsys and forcing her to do evil deeds, the Demon was likely using this method to drain my morale. Knowing that she was trapped inside helpless against his control, I was forced into making a decision.
Would I let her destroy the people and home around me? Or would I have to strike her down to stop her? Either way, I would lose. There was no doubt in my mind that the Demon’s cruel plan would be effective in driving me mad.
As Eryn melted the ice around Pietro and Lau, the others took out some healing potions to recover from their injuries. I stumbled aimlessly across the trampled field, which turned into a mess from the effects of various magic, as well as being stomped upon by an army before. Patches of earth were uneven and turned up, puddles of water rested where the ground was low, and what little bit of grass remaining had been charred by flames.
Finally, I stopped in front of the fallen body of King Oswald, where Katsys stood before we tried to stop Saki. I bit my lip in frustration as I had been so focused on saving one girl that I had left the other all alone. No doubt the demon took advantage of her suffering to control her.
‘Some knight I was…,’ I scoffed at the bitter thought.
My eyes caught a glimpse of something shining nearby. Turning towards that direction, I bent down and scratched at the ground, finding a palm-sized device tucked away in the grass.
“This is… that recording device….” Sure enough, it was the gadget that Katsys had shown me the night before we set off for Sistina.
I clicked the button and watched the scenes play in the air, relieved that it was still working properly. I stood there watching with a stiff expression, finding my ‘heroics’ to be ironic compared to the situation that I had ended up in.
When the final part of the battle against the Thunder Phoenix concluded, I turned away, assuming that was the end of the recording. However, a glimpse of Katsys snapped my attention back towards it. She was wearing the nightgown from the last night in Sanshiro.
“Ahem… It seemed a bit awkward to face you after what I just did, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to tell you later. Just thinking about what we are heading back to has me nervous.
All this talk about demons and such, in addition to all the politics and internal strife, I have no idea what lies in the future. But I… I want to hope that things will be alright in the end. Especially, if I face it with you by my side, Claude.
I mean… we’ve faced a lot already in this country and, and… I, too, have grown a lot… and… Oh, what am I saying…?”
Katsys paused and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to quell the jitters on her tongue. After a moment, it seemed like she had calmed down and regained her focus.
“I love you, Claude. I know that Lady Faulkner has always been on your mind, but I can’t help but feel this way.
You have given me courage. You have given me a sense of purpose. Regardless of how you feel, I am indebted to you for the time you spent with me.
And no matter what comes at us, no matter what decisions you make along the way, I will be there to support you. I trust you. I believe you. I put my life in your hands.
Whatever you decide to choose, choose with no regrets. No one will fault you for that. I certainly won’t.
After all, I decided to cast all of those doubts away when I decided to follow my heart and choose you.
My Knight. My ‘Hero’, Claude.”
With a bright smile, the image of Katsys faded away, leaving only the whisper of the wind blowing across the area.
Tears rolled down my cheeks from wide eyes at her candid confession, recorded in secret on her device.
“Katsys… Why’d you have to do that?… Your expectations of me are too much… You know I can’t handle pressure… I… I…” I clutched my face with my palm and slowly sank to the ground, my excuses feeling worthless.
I slammed my fist into the solid earth, despite how injured it already was. The sharp pain was a wake-up call telling myself to get my butt back in gear. I swore to myself that I would do everything possible to bring her back, like I had brought back Saki. Any less would be a betrayal to the confidence that she had in me.
“Damn you, Demon. I’m gonna tear you outta her or die trying!”
I had never felt so bitter in my life. I knew right then that my normal, half-hearted self wouldn’t be enough to save anyone. I needed to do better. I had to risk it all.
‘Die, huh?’ Certainly, he wouldn’t get what he planned if I kicked the bucket. But then, he would just move on to the next target to demonize. I shook my head. Thoughts like that weren’t going to get me anywhere. I knew that I had to stop him, no matter what the cost. That was what Katsys would want me to do.
For now, I shoved the recording device into my Item Box before heading back to the rest of my allies to decide our next steps. It didn’t seem like we would have to wait long until Katsys Demon showed up again. We had to be ready for it.