Eryn raced across the ruined city streets, scanning the area for the mana signature of her allies. Moments earlier, she had encountered the whizzing form of Ludmila, who zipped between the different parties to notify them of the current situation.
Seemingly, the others had encountered demonized people as well. But those at the south gate were more than powerful enough to ward them off and continue advancing. Over at the west gate, they too had defeated a demon, led by the efforts of Marquis Deggendorf.
Things had moved relatively smoothly until the dragons showed up. At that point, the west gate team started to crumble. Seeming to predict this outcome, Cornelius led some combatants to aid them, while leaving behind the experienced fighters, Pietro and Lau, to take on those that appeared by the south gate.
“What of Claude?” Eryn asked Ludmila.
In response, Ludmila merely pointed towards the castle. “With Chrys. Piggy ride.”
After hearing that, Eryn dashed in that direction, even faster than before. A certain wind kicked up with her every step, a magic enhancement that helped her glide faster than she normally could.
“That idiot! …What is he trying to do by himself? …He’s gotten just a bit more dependable, I admit, …but this is a powerful demon,” Eryn mumbled in between breaths.
Eryn knew all about the Princess’s feelings for Claude, and likely, she had made it known to him during their time away. Though Claude avoided talking about it, his gestures seemed to be a telltale sign that something had happened between them. After all, he had never been good at hiding his thoughts.
Furthermore, she could feel something strange in the pit of her stomach. Over the months that Claude had been away, she would occasionally pause what she was doing due to a sudden wave of emotion. Turning to the east, her thoughts would be of Claude. But thinking that it was purely her imagination, she shrugged it off.
Currently, this same feeling was building up inside of her. Only now, it was tinged with a feeling of regret, of bitterness, and of desperation. It chilled her own morale, but like always, she looked down upon the glimmering sword in her hand. Her mother’s beloved weapon guided her through the doubts.
‘This can’t be a coincidence.’ She thought, hoping that nothing dire had happened.
However, it didn’t take much longer before she escaped the burning wreckage and encountered a ground full of ice stalagmites. In the distance, past the icy needles jutting from the ground, she could see the Princess, or rather, the Demon possessed as the Princess holding up a small girl. On the ground next to them, Claude laid in a heap, bloodied and unconscious. Swirls of miasma swished around him as the demon pointed one hand toward him.
Immediately, flames started to wisp around her body, her emotions sparking her mana into magic. The heat around her grew intense enough that water instantly thawed from the ice and dripped down the frozen structures.
The Demon posing as Katsys stared into the fearful face of Chrys. Though her cheeks were being caressed gently, Chrys knew that this was not a gesture of goodwill. The eyes of Katsys looked cold and uncaring, as if she were stroking a pet moments before strangling the life out of it.
“Now, little girl. You won’t be disrupting my plans any- ugh!”
A flame-imbued fist smashed into Katsys’s stomach at that moment, sending her crashing into the adjacent ice. Normally, such a blow would likely kill the gentle princess, but Eryn had confirmed that a strong magic barrier covered her body. As expected, the empowered Princess merely bounced to her feet and brushed herself off.
Eryn quickly pulled out a healing potion from her pocket and tangled it in front of Chrys, who had fallen to the ground after her captor had been launched away.
“You know what to do. I’ll buy you some time.”
Nodding, Chrys bounded away, potion in hand, to heal Claude. Even unconscious, her song could still soothe the darkness within him.
“Well well. The chef’s two loves facing off against each other. I’m sure he would have loved to be conscious to witness it.” Katsys smirked, holding her two guns in either hand.
Eryn brought her sword forward, ready to anticipate any magic that the Demon had in store for her. However, ice bolts and portals were released simultaneously into the air.
Imbuing her sword with fire, Eryn cut through the ice bolts coming in front of her. Luckily, its magic was nowhere near as powerful as her own, but suddenly, she felt a prick of mana behind her.
Instinctively dodging to the side, an ice arrow had come at her from behind. In mid-roll, she had noticed that a portal had been situated a distance behind her. She clicked her tongue, realizing how troublesome this fight would be.
With the aid of portals, Katsys could shoot from literally any direction, swamping the opponent in attacks aimed wherever she desired. Eryn relied on her fighting sense to dodge and bat away those ice arrows, but some ended up colliding into her. Though she was protected by a magic barrier of wind, it wouldn’t hold up against several hits in sequence.
Katsys smirked as she watched her struggle. There was no need for her to even move as the magic knight danced wherever she orchestrated her shots.
“Then, how about this?”
She moved the exit portal right over Eryn’s head, while aiming the magic gun into the other one next to her. Quickly flipping the switch to ‘Max’, Katsys held the trigger down, creating a fierce beam that rained onto Eryn.
Eryn lifted her sword up to block it, but slowly, ice collected around her shoulders, her face, and limbs. The ice weighed her down and froze her to the ground. It looked like her barrier was being stripped away, leaving her vulnerable to becoming an icy statue..
But still, the fire in Eryn’s eyes didn’t die. They looked up at that beam, determined to hold on against it.
“Erupt, oh tower of flame and bring warmth to even the most frigid of cold,” her lips mumbled, shielding the part of her face that needed to operate spells properly.
Immediately, a column of fire erupted below Eryn and sailed upwards, melting the ice that had collected around her. This column continued up and through the portal, heading straight for the source of ice magic.
The raging flame enveloped the magic gun and melted the circuitry just enough to interrupt the mana flow, making the tool worthless. Katsys dropped the gun, her hand having been scorched by the intense flame, which had lightly penetrated her magic barrier.
As the flame died out, a slightly smoldering Eryn pounced forward to attack, while Katsys responded by closing one portal and using the one next to her as a shield. Eryn’s sword strikes, though quick and powerful, were surprisingly blocked by the swirling mass of mana that could be repositioned at will. The mana being supplied to it was incredible due to the powers of the Demon, enough to stop even Eryn’s high stats.
The unopened portal continued to drift around, stopping the sword coming from various angles. Katsys studied Eryn in between strikes, looking at the fierce girl who had light burns on her features. All of a sudden, Katsys extinguished her defense, allowing Eryn’s sword to strike her uninhibited.
Yet, the sword stopped merely an inch before her neck.
“What mockery is this? Don’t think that I didn’t notice your goading.” Eryn glared at her.
“Just imagine. What would your dear Electi think when he wakes up to find that you’ve beheaded someone close to him?” The Demon looked smugly at her reaction. “The one he loves killing another loved one. Oh, how conflicted he will become.”
Eryn had a feeling that it was something like that. Claude had a tendency to blame himself for things, but at the same time, allowing others to suffer for it didn’t sit well with him either. Most likely, he had thought to take care of this situation himself, away from the eyes of others. Then, he would be free to blame himself when no other option was possible.
“Will he forgive you for such a misdeed, or will the hatred fester in his heart?”
The Demon continued to taunt Eryn, hoping to drive those same feelings of doubt and helplessness into her as well.
Yet, Eryn would not waver. She simply smiled.
“If it comes to that, then he can do whatever he wants with me. I owe him that much.”
She wanted to believe that after all this time, Claude would never doubt her. After they had traveled together, after they had overcome many struggles, and after he returned to Sistina, just like he promised – She wanted to believe in the bond that they shared.
If there ever came a time in which he couldn’t move forward, then she would make the decision for him. For his sake, she had grown much stronger. She would commit any necessary evil if it meant that he could return to those normal days. The thought of him leisurely baking her a cake was the only thing she wished for.
However, this was not the time for that necessary evil.
Eryn pulled back her sword and slapped the portal gun away from Katsys.
“I thought it was strange. Where’s the magic that you used as the Chancellor? Why are you only playing with such toys? You could have done much more with the strongest magic in the kingdom, but yet, you rely on such trickery…Or is it, that you can’t use his magic?”
The blank look of surprise was all that Eryn needed to know. She had thought it was strange that such a powerful demon would need to create other makeshift demons or bring demonized dragons onto the battlefield. Instead of that, couldn’t the impressive, wide-range magic of the Chancellor have done the job more effectively?
The likely answer to this had been that the magic belonged to the other core that they found, the true self of Chancellor Willingham. In essence, it couldn’t use those powers anymore, once separated from the body.
Eryn reared back her hand and slapped Katsys across the face. Though she held back quite a bit, a loud smack echoed in the air, resulting in Katsys crashing to the ground.
“And where are you, Princess? Didn’t I urge you to stand up for yourself? Have you spent your time doing nothing for the man you fell for?!”
Eryn pulled her body up and slapped her again. Her cheek swelled from the two strikes, and a thin trail of blood dribbled down the corner of her lips.
“Don’t you give up! Come out and fight me properly! Don’t think you can just call it quits after what you did to Claude! He needs you! He needs the both of us! So get your royal ass-“
“I don’t need you to tell me that!”
Along with a sudden outburst, Eryn felt a pulse of mana flicker from the girl she held. It was dim, but it was as if her core trembled from the accusations, fighting to break free from the Demon’s control. It was a single moment in which the Demon’s control had been overcome.
“Thanks, Eryn. That makes things easier for me.”
Eryn spun around to see Claude surprisingly back on his feet. He carried the same smirk that he always had. Clutching his knife, it looked like he was ready to deliver a decisive attack.
“Can you do me a favor and back up? And toss Katsys over here while you’re at it.”
Eryn instinctively stepped to the side, feeling a different aura building from him. An air of confidence unlike his usual demeanor made him just a tad cool. She shook off that thought quickly and shoved the Princess’s body towards him.
In the next moments, mana collected around Claude’s knife, forming a sword of pure energy. Stepping forward, Claude took a swipe at the princess who stumbled forward, eyes wide in surprise.
“Soul Rending Strike – Chef-no-Tachi!”
With one last-minute change to the move he learned from his past self, Claude swung the blade of mana through the body of the Princess. However, Eryn could see no visible impact on the Princess herself. Neither clothing nor flesh was cut at all, and her body felt virtually nothing. Unlike the strikes that he did before, this one did not attack the mana gates that dotted across the body either.
What it did target was the core that had invaded her, an existence that was different to the mana that Katsys possessed. This attack struck only the energies coming from that foreign entity while ignoring all others. The Demon’s core was forced out and clattered to the ground. Immediately, miasma escaped from it and formed appendages, trying to run away to salvage what little was left intact..
“Not this time!”
Eryn dumped the rest of her magic into a massive fire column, surrounding the escaping demon in a prison of inferno. The flames raged on and on around it, burning away the miasma that continuously poured out. When the miasma dried up, a small purplish flame began to mix with the fiery red around it.
But even that was beginning to be snuffed out. After nearly a minute later, the last dregs of mana appeared to dry up, and the core began to crumble. Within the crimson red flames, one final burst of purple signaled the end of the struggling.
With that, the core of the Demon had been destroyed.
Eryn Faulkner and Claude Evers had defeated the being that had long hidden itself in the Kingdom of Sistina. And on top of that, Princess Katalina now was before them, her eyes wide as she sat on the ground. Her gaze was soft and a grateful smile dotted her face, true self having returned.
Claude reached out with an extended hand, helping her up to her feet. Another hand joined in, this one from Eryn, who gave them both a reassuring nod. For now, a truce had been made between the three, an unspoken promise that they would have each other’s backs.
The three of them looked back toward the battlefield, charging once again into the chaos. Yet this time, the sounds of battle would soon come to a conclusion.