-Not long after the battle’s finale-
Katalina emerged from a portal within the walls of the royal castle in Engelburg. Before arriving here, the demon that used to possess the Chancellor had claimed her body, embedding its core deep within her. The powerful miasma kept the young princess in check, allowing for the demon to take complete control.
It found the new body quite favorable. Instantly, it had harnessed the memories and abilities of its owner. Truly, the quirks of the princess could be taken advantage of in the right hands. An understanding of the trinkets in her possession whetted the appetite of a mind filled with brand new schemes. By using one such toy to create portals that quickly made distance from the battlefield, it found some time to ponder.
A middle-aged man in a fancy, but plain outfit jumped slightly, moments after she appeared out of nowhere.
“Good heavens! Why, if it isn’t your Highness, Princess Katalina! How surprising for you to have appeared so suddenly!”
The man was Earl Geinsberg, a staunch support of the Royal Family, who had been left behind in the capital. He had sent out his armies, along with his best knights, to the battlefield in the name of his King to support the crusade against the so-called Valkyrie. His job had been to act as a relay to the other lords when he received word of the King’s success in trampling the wench’s domain.
“Earl Geinsberg. Good to see you again. It’s been too long.” The demon smiled, a perfect imitation of the Princess’s jovial self.
“And to you as well, especially after all this time.” The Earl bowed in respect. “Have you escaped from the clutches of that evil criminal and returned to aid our King? Your wisdom would greatly benefit our cause.”
The Princess’s skills at innovation had already spread across most of the kingdom. However, it was truly unfortunate that the Valkyrie’s Electi had kidnapped her and stolen her life’s work for their own profit. Geinsberg ground his teeth when he thought of the moment when the Chancellor told them about his findings.
He looked at the pure maiden in front of him, the innocent girl who could harm no one and was undoubtedly a victim to everything that had happened. He had watched her grow up into a fine lady that held an air of regality. A sigh of relief escaped him as her support would regain the Royal Family’s loyal backers who had been snatched away using trickery.
“That is why I have come here. My good Earl, I believe that you are waiting for news of the battle ongoing at the Faulkner lands?”
“Why yes, how insightful of you. Do you mean that you were just there?” The Earl looked at her in surprise. A battlefield was no place for a gentle girl such as herself.
“Yes… about that….” Katalina looked down, suddenly appearing solemn to the Earl. “My brother, King Oswald, has unfortunately perished…”
“WHAT?! That cannot be!” The Earl lurched back, clutching his hand against his chest. “Those scoundrels! How could-“
“There is no mistake. A demon slayed him in combat.”
“D-Demon? You mean that wicked noblewoman? I see….” Since Katalina told no lie, Earl Geinsberg could detect no hint of deception in her voice. He had simply mistaken who she had been referring to. “Then, that leaves you as the next heir to the throne.”
Immediately, the Earl dropped to one knee and bowed. “Your Majesty, Queen Katalina, what is your first order?”
After a moment of pondering, Katalina spoke. “Send out a summons to the remaining lords on our side. I must speak to each of them and chart the course of our next action.”
“Right away, your Majesty!”
Earl Geinsberg proceeded to the nearby Magic Homing Pigeons to inform his fellow comrades of their new Queen. With his mana signature as the seal of approval, that would ensure that the message held proof of its validity. After the last pigeon sailed off into the distance, the Earl turned back to his Queen.
“There, I have completed my task. What are my next course of actions?”
“Hmm… there is still one remaining use for you.” Katalina smiled at him, a sudden change in her demeanor.
“Excuse me-? GAH!!!”
The Earl looked down at the floor, where a pool of blood was starting to form under him. An indescribable pain erupted from his side where he had been stabbed. In the time that he was contacting the others, Katsys shot a portal next to her and one hovering in his blind spot. She simply had to reach in and stab the man with a miasma-imbued hand.
The Earl’s body trembled, sputtering like all of his nerves were on fire. The miasma forcefully entered his core, playfully teasing the negative emotions within. Quite a bit had been built up, given the current state of affairs – the eroding support for the Royal Family and tradition, the growing resistance and possibility of a coup d’etat, and the languishing livelihood of those who resisted change.
The bitter feelings that the Earl had only needed a simple push to send him to the brink of despair. Quickly, Katalina created an alternate space around them to contain the burst of purple light erupting from the demonizing man. When the light faded, the Earl was no longer himself. What stood was a corrupted demon, overflowing with miasma caused by bitterness for his enemies.
Several hours later, the new Queen leaned against the castle balcony staring at the city below. Several demons stood behind her, the lords that had staunchly supported the Royal Family. One by one, they arrived to greet Queen Katalina, and each was subjected to the same test. Those who possessed enough bitterness to turn into a demon stood next to her, while those that didn’t simply died.
Katalina sighed as only 8 of the 12 lords called upon had been successfully converted. It was an adequate number to start a disturbance, one that would distract the others while the demon inside of her went straight for its main objective.
It savored the thought of forcing the cocky chef to make a cruel decision. Either way, he would lose people dear to him. A despair greater than anything that little elf girl could calm awaited him.
“Go! Paint the town red… literally!” Katalina exclaimed, and at once, the eight demons raced off towards the city, ready to unleash havoc.
We arrived hours after we obtained word of the chaos occurring in the capital.
I reached down and poked the smoldering embers of a building that I once knew with my knife, a random shop that I didn’t think much about until it was gone. It was not that I particularly fancied this one place, but a similar sight stretched across the area.
Destroyed buildings of what was recently a busy district were all that was left in my sights. People had long been evacuated, fleeing from the elemental magic that had been used here. Traces of shifted rock jutted from structures. Flames devoured wooden portions, leaving a hollowed out stone foundation that was marred with scorches. An eerie silence invaded our ears, interrupted only by the crackling of flames and muffled cries in the distance.
I lamented that we couldn’t get here soon enough. Realizing that it was smart to contact all of the kingdom’s lords to rally a strong opposition, the time that it took to prepare left a bitter taste in my mouth. Waiting for the magic pigeons to return grinded at my nerves with each passing minute.
I was impatient. I wanted to stop the demon in its tracks, but I also knew better. Hesitantly, I held back my feelings and let the others lead the way.
Some immediately responded to our call, mostly those who were either already allies or those that retained a position of neutrality. The ones that remained silent were those opposing the Valkyrie and her side of politics. We did not wait for them.
At this point, the summoned lords had rallied a significant number of men. They circled around the city perimeter, calling out to any residents who were slow to escape while searching for survivors. A quick aerial view by Cornelius using her summon, Hal, showed barely anything left of the once-proud city of Engelberg.
In my heart, I prayed that the ones I knew managed to escape. Cornelius suddenly announced that she had found patches of fighting across the area, giving us hope. It appeared that the guild knights were still holding on, if barely.
However, what were they fighting? What had the demon invoked? We were lacking information as to what had transpired, so it was crucial for us to meet up with those who witnessed this tragedy. And so, we stormed into the city via the southern gate.
“Halt, something approaches!” Pietro motioned for us to remain alert.
I gripped my knife hard, waiting for that ‘something’ to show itself. But rather than simply appearing, a blinding flash caused all of us to shield our eyes, followed by the sound of thunder that pounded against our eardrums. When I opened my eyes again, a hole in our troops had formed; lightning had struck them, electrocuting a few unlucky people. Cornelius had been standing in that spot, but she had shielded herself with ice which staved off the sudden attack.
She wasted no time responding to it by flinging an ice javelin where she detected the residual mana, the roof of a building still standing.
“There! After it!”
Pietro, the fastest one in our party currently, wasted no time and leapt up there in a single bound. Moments later, a body crashed to the ground before us. At least, it looked like a body, but thick wisps of miasma spewed from it, giving off the signature aura of a demon.
Cornelius commanded her troops to stand back as she launched ice magic to restrain it, but the demon had already recovered, leaping back before the icy prison could ensnare it.
However, someone else was in position and tracked its movements.
“Gotcha! Eat this!”
A spiral blow, thick with mana, drove into the back of the retreating demon, drilling into its flesh and creating a spray of blood into the air. Lau smiled as his attack cleanly connected into the stomach of the demon, blowing a gaping, fist-shaped hole clean through.
The demon bounced on the ground a few times before rolling back into the ice Cornelius cast. Bitter cold froze over its body, sealing any movement while Lau and Pietro walked over to examine the demon.
Pietro was the first one to show a reaction. “This is- Lord Boltimer! A baron of Sistina! I thought I recognized that magic from somewhere!”
Our ears perked up at Pietro’s statement. His stiff expression showed no sign of joking around.
“A demon created from our own people? Then…. no- could it be?! The ones who failed to respond have-” Cornelius bit her thumb at the possibility. Others immediately realized how that statement was supposed to end.
“Then, we have to spread the word to the others… Quickly!” I shook off my surprise and looked off to the distance.
Pietro, Lau, and Cornelius were the ones fighting here with me. Safely waiting behind many troops were Yi Long and Chrys.
Eryn, who could protect herself, had split off with her platoon of knights. The levi-board riders had the mobility to quickly scour the area and aid the marching allies. Eager to repay us for saving her, Saki went along with Eryn. We decided to trust her with that since her motivations became clear to us; there was no stronger shield than one who possessed a passion for another. Just in case, Roderick joined them also to keep an eye on her.
As for Ludmila, her speed was crucial as a messenger between the different battalions. As if she had been mentally called by me, her form came whizzing by, stopping right in front of us.
“Tell the others. There is a high possibility that the ‘Demon’ has created others, likely those who have strong ties to the Royal Family. As it stands, those lords who hold significant magic prowess are a danger.” Cornelius eyed Ludmila, who promptly nodded.
“Since there’s more demons now, isn’t it confusing to just refer to the ‘Demon’ as a single one?” I interjected.
“Hmm, true. But it would be best if we did not spread the word that our Princess has been possessed by one. That would sew unneeded chaos,” Cornelius said in a hushed voice, such that only those who already knew could hear.
“Final Boss Demon, then?” I joked.
“That doesn’t tell anyone how to distinguish between them.” Cornelius turned back to Ludmila. “From this point, we shall refer to them as the ‘Mage Demon’ and ‘Vassal Demons’. If their power is of similar strength as this one, …” Cornelius paused to point at the fallen demon. “… then engage them at your discretion. But advise them to disengage and retreat if they happen upon a demon that fires chantless magic.”
With a quick sign of recognition, Ludmila’s form blipped out of existence, leaving only a trail of dust in the direction she sprinted away. That explanation seemed to work for the time being as Katsys was the only person able to sling magic instantly from her guns.
“As for us, onward! Spread out and survey the area! Save who you can but do not senselessly charge forward!”
Immediately, our troops fanned out.
I stared at the castle in the distance, sitting atop the highest point in the city. It was too far away to see anything, but I could swear something had its eyes on us. A chill went down my spine despite the fires around me creating a stifling environment.
I could only move forward and see what awaited.