I blinked twice at Katalina’s words. Once again, her feelings for me slipped out.
A cold sweat ran down my back. Still, I hadn’t come up with the courage to face her directly about them. On the other hand, she had already confessed to me, which was made clear to her after I returned the recording device.
Accepting her invention back with downcast eyes, she flatly asked me, “You saw, didn’t you? My feelings for you?”
I simply nodded in response.
“As I became possessed, that was the only thing on my mind. I didn’t, no- I wouldn’t let things be left unfinished. At the very least, I wanted you to know that I had all the faith in the world for you. And even if it came to the point where you couldn’t save me, I would never blame you for what options were left.”
Up until that moment, I had always considered Katalina as a good friend, but nothing more. My feelings for Eryn were shaken up at that point. Now, the image of Katalina had firmly wedged itself into my heart.
Even though I risked my life to save her, that had been a pure desire to protect a close friend. Not once did I think of the consequences of how my actions reflected in her eyes.
Because of that, I no longer knew how to respond anymore. The two girls, completely different and unique, tugged on either side of my heart. The sudden realization that I did, in fact, like Katalina just as much made me clam up. No longer could I use the excuse that I liked Eryn alone.
When confronted with my feelings, I started dodging the question, all the time searching for some reason to push me one way or the other. Sadly, nothing that I saw during my day to day events with Katalina and Eryn could pull me in one definitive direction.
The weeks slowly went by as I floundered with indecision. ‘Should I stick with the fiery, independent, and stubborn knight who occasionally melted me with a hint of softness? Or did the loyal, creative, and gentle queen of this kingdom steal my heart away?’
Not long before this, I had finally let Eryn know how I felt. The trigger for that had undoubtedly been my indecision creating a distance between us. Though she didn’t outright reject my feelings, it wouldn’t be right for me to pursue an answer until I sorted out my own.
But in respect to Eryn, Katalina had become more open and bolder with her attempts, seeing that her competition hesitated to act. Therefore, she no longer thought too much when it came to showing her affection. Especially since I had joined the ranks of importance in the kingdom, there would be little resistance to a Queen adoring her own Chancellor.
‘I really should be happy that two girls have feelings for me, but simply going with the flow would end up being bad in the long run.’
I had seen enough rom-com anime in my life to know that things would only end in disaster the longer I led them on. Still, it seemed so much easier to simply choose a side when I was looking on from the other side of the screen.
“You’re still thinking so hard about that? Don’t worry. We have plenty of time to work things out after the kingdom is rebuilt.” Katalina waved it off, picking up on my stiff expression shortly after her affection had been openly displayed. I didn’t exactly have a poker face, so she had quickly learned the tells I gave off depending on the topic I struggled with. She was nice enough to patiently wait for an answer, settling for a platonic atmosphere between us for now.
“Sorry, that would be best….” I couldn’t help but apologize, knowing that I may have been giving her false hope. On the other hand, some more consideration in the form of an extended deadline was sorely needed. Still, how many weeks would it give me? Maybe a few months?
As I was lost in my thoughts, Katalina shifted back to Queen Mode.
“Speaking of rebuilding, there are several improvements that I wanted to discuss with you. Hopefully, you have some thoughts about them. Maybe some parallels similar to that in your home world?”
I snapped back to attention with that. Work was good. Work served as an adequate distraction from this dangerously awkward talk of relationships.
“Oh? What kind of ideas?”
Casually, Katalina walked over to a workstation and unrolled a few pieces of parchment in which various sketches and scribbles had been inked out. What I could make out of it seemed to be portals with something connecting them in between.
“You remember how Macali had those gateways for transport between the islands? I thought, why not have them here? After all, that would greatly speed up progress if we cut down on travel time.”
I stared for a moment, thinking that portal magic would have naturally evolved into something like that. However, why hadn’t this been done much earlier? I turned to Katalina with that question.
“Long range teleportation requires something connecting the two spaces. The way that my portal gun works is through a thin thread of mana connecting between the two sides. The question would be how to maintain that thread over a much longer distance.”
“Can’t you channel mana through a medium or something? Just like how the lighting system works.”
“That’s all and good within an area protected by the town, but we are talking about across the wilderness to connect between towns, and maybe even countries. Monsters are attracted to high areas of mana flow and mana leakage naturally occurs through the material over longer distances. From my calculations, that loss coefficient grows exponentially with distance, and-“
“Ack, I get it. There’s no need to include math.” The mere thought of that seemed to make my head hurt. Truthfully, it made me recall just how much I disliked my college studies. However, there were still suggestions that I could make along more ‘general’ lines of thinking.
“That loss coefficient or whatever. Couldn’t you graft a material to reduce the mana loss? Some kind of insulation? In my world, there are cables stretching across the ocean, so there has to be something that can contain the mana, right?”
“Mana insulation, huh.” Katalina thought for a few moments. “Mana is the lifeblood of the world. For a material to be completely impervious to it, I’m not sure there is such a convenient thing… Furthermore, I’m uncertain how Macali was able to achieve such a thing. I didn’t detect wires extending across the seas.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like internet or instant travel would be a thing in this world any time soon. And here, I had my hopes up that I could simply drop in on my buddies in Macali and Sanshiro for a fun afternoon.
“Ah, I suppose the miasma of demons is known to naturally synergize with that of mana. Miasma tends to feed upon it as a fuel to propagate further. And it’s highly resilient to environmental changes, which would mean that it makes a good storage medium. That would also be a natural deterrent of monsters as well,” Katalina suddenly piped up.
“Ehhh? You’re… joking, right?” Those words gave me an ominous feeling.
“Of course, I am. Even if that worked, the raw essence of miasma isn’t reliable. Likely, not easily shapeable or transferable either. And then, there’s the matter of re-converting it back to mana. Not all that much is known about it, so there’s hardly any data to back up that hypothesis. “
Such deep thinking certainly didn’t make it seem like she was kidding.
“The creation of it also is a mystery. Likewise, the power of divinity is also a virtual unknown,” Katalina added.
“Divinity? Like power from the Gods?” I blinked at the unexpected shift in topic.
“Yes, certain people are bestowed with blessings from the Gods. Though rare in appearance, they can hold dramatic effects. Lady Kaguya and Chrysanthemum, for example, have the ability to repel miasma with the innate divinity that they possess. The powers of the Oracle are even said to connect directly to the Gods to borrow divinity from them.”
Certainly, that would have aided us a lot during our fight against the demon. I did recall Lady Kaguya telling me that she was protecting the country of Sanshiro from outside demons. Perhaps, this is what she meant.
Katalina somehow picked up on my thoughts. “The presence of divinity from the Oracle creates a natural barrier surrounding the country. I was told that Lady Kaguya possesses quite a strong affinity when compared to the long history of Oracles for Sanshiro. Similarly, the magic barrier surrounding Macali could have been designed to keep demons out using a cruder concept of mana conversion, less efficient but functional.”
“That seems to be the case. The Faulkner domain apparently kept the former Chancellor at bay for quite some time while we were away, thanks to your handiwork.” It had been rather fortunate that Katalina had left behind those blueprints here. With Dengel’s help, the domain had gathered the best craftsmen to construct the magic barrier to protect themselves. Without it, they would’ve been wiped out long ago.
Frankly, I owed Katalina quite a lot. From the various inventions that made life easier or made herself a rather reliable ally, her help was central to my current success. There were times I seriously wondered why I didn’t think of her as ‘best girl’. Certainly, there were some around me that would believe so.
On the flip side, Eryn had stuck with me for such a long time since the beginning, carefully easing me into the livelihood of a different world. Her will to succeed despite all of her misfortune had touched a soft spot within me. The beauty of her strength caught my eyes early on.
I slapped myself mentally for dwelling on things again. Relationships were such messy, illogical things, but it was hard not to think about them. A caricature of my previous incarnation popped up in the back of my mind whispering, ‘go for the harem route’, in which I promptly cleaved him in half.
Katalina sighed and started rolling up the parchment, a forlorn expression on her face. “Well, nothing can be done about it. Roadblocks and failures are all a part of creation. This can go sit in the dust pile for the time being.”
Maybe one day, she would stumble upon the answer to enable the invention, but for now, we didn’t have the means to produce it. There went my ticket for instant travel. At least, the places I wanted to revisit were merely a week’s travel away. Maybe, a plane would be a better time investment. Surely, that was easier than long-distance connecting portals.
With that out of the way, we engaged in a bit more idle chatter before there was a knock on the door. The three of us turned to see a messenger at the entryway, bearing news for the Queen. With the swagger of someone familiar with his duties, he stepped forward and bowed before speaking.
“Your Majesty, Esteemed Chancellor, we have received word of a strangely powerful warrior who has illegally entered our kingdom. Your guidance is needed to tend to the matter.”
“Powerful warrior? From the North?” the Queen asked. Typically, only travel from the northern empire of Purnesia was restricted. That was because of the poor relationship between the two nations.
However, the messenger shook his head. “No, your Majesty. He was found stowed away on one of the trading ships that embarked from the Southern Isles. When discovered upon arrival at the Port of Gibraltar, he became a bit ‘difficult’ to manage.”
“Eh? Why would anyone do that? It’s not like you can’t pay the merchants for a ride here, unless you’re a suspicious person or criminal. Do we have any background on him?” The fact that this person had to stow away was rather strange in itself.
The messenger gave us a stiff look, as if he wasn’t sure what to say.
“The man in question was dressed… rather gaudily. And…”
“Well, speak your mind. No need to be ashamed or overly cautious of your words,” I interrupted, reminding him that we were nothing like the previous king who had quite the temper. The poor guy had soiled several pairs of pants due to the threatening death glares given to him upon unfavorable reports.
“Yes. Much appreciated.” He composed himself before speaking again. “The man in question claims to be the King of Macali.”
If I had been holding something, surely it would have clattered to the floor at that moment.