Ludmila stirred in her bed, feeling around for a warm body, which was no longer there. Her eyes popped open as she moved to leave the covers, but a gentle voice stopped her.
“Ludmila, you don’t have to get up so early today. It’s your day off. Enjoy it for a bit longer.”
Indeed, the morning sun had yet to creep by the window to grace them with the next day, but the Queen of Sistina could hardly laze around waiting for it to show up. After all, people were already up and about, starting the tasks for the day. As the ruler of a kingdom, Katalina had to set an example.
Ludmila watched as she moved from the bed, just in time for her maids to come knocking at the door. In minutes, they had shuffled in and pulled her out of her sleepwear and into something more formal. All this time, Ludmila simply stared at the sequence of events that played out on a day-to-day basis.
Since she had been chosen as the Queen’s protector, Ludmila spent most of her time right by her side. That included sleeping next to her. This wasn’t so different from when she shared a room with her and Chrys, aside from the giant bed that sank under her weight compared to the stiff bedding in Sanshiro. But she had been brought up to sleep nearly anywhere. A nomadic hunter had no choice but to make the most of the environment given.
Normally, she would be right next to the Queen, getting dressed as well, but today was different. Today, she was given ‘time off’.
After the tournament had concluded the previous day, the Queen told her to take a break and enjoy the rest of the festivities, which included merchants and craftsmen setting up stalls to display their goods.
“I’ll be fine. The new ‘champion’ will be accompanying me for the entire day, so the people can recognize the rise of a promising magic knight.”
Essentially a big sister to Ludmila, Katalina pushed her to go and have fun, something that a normal 13-year old girl would typically do. While Ludmila was confident in the young magic knight her other big sister, Eryn, trusted in, she continued to stare blankly as the Queen waved to her before leaving the room with the maids.
With the door clicking shut, Ludmila flopped back onto bed and closed her eyes. But less than 10 minutes later, they popped back open, wide awake.
“Ludmila can’t sleep anymore,” she muttered to herself. Lazing around in bed would disrupt her normal routine anyway.
Quickly dressing herself and exiting the bedroom, Ludmila wandered outside and down several hallways before finding a balcony. There, she leapt onto the nearest rooftop and dashed along the flat surface high above the streets.
Though clumsiness occasionally fell upon her, she found that mistakes rarely happened when she remained focused on where she was going. Traveling via rooftop was much less troublesome than along the streets, where a number of people and obstacles were liable to appear suddenly. The less she had to focus on, the lower the chances of making a mistake due to a sub-par Dexterity. Above the town, visibility was at its best, with few surprises waiting to happen. Especially for surveying, the high ground was the best position.
Ludmila found herself zooming along a familiar path, her legs taking her to the second place she could call home – the mansion that her Master, Claude, lived in.
When given the chance, she would drop in at a moment’s notice to see how he was doing. With his new position as Chancellor, many eyes were constantly on him, so she would hear later of his events for the day. However, that had not stopped the desire to watch the man that she had chosen as her ‘Master’, the one most worthy of following.
She leapt off a rooftop, grabbed a bar to swing upon, and landed on the balcony next to his bedroom. The gentle sound of snoring could be heard from within. With the sun barely creeping over the mountains, the likelihood of Claude being asleep still was high.
Ludmila stared at his sleeping form for some time, watching as a ray of sunlight crept along the floor and up to the bed. Summer was already in full swing, so a few moments of sunlight bearing down on him caused the man to reflexively shed the covers, uncomfortable with the heat building up inside.
Not long after, a knock sounded at the door to his bedroom on the other side. After several moments of silence, the door opened. Ludmila quickly erased her presence by hiding her mana signature and using her camouflage ability, both taught by Auntie Karina.
A girl in bulky armor marched straight up to the bed and poked Claude in the side several times before he finally bolted up in a panic.
“Huh, what? Oh, Saki. It’s just you.”
“What do you mean, it’s just me? Shouldn’t you have been all ready to go? Yet, I find you still asleep. Poor Roberto was at a loss of what to do. He’s simply too kind to force you out of bed, so I had to come do it.”
“Aww, come on. I just got my butt kicked yesterday. That took a lot out of me…”
“At least, you didn’t get knocked out and bridal-carried off the stage. I would’ve much rather you let me drop to the ground instead.” Saki scrunched up her face at the thought. To think of the rumors that she’d have to face for the time being – her closeness to the current Chancellor was already giving off mixed signals.
“Well, excuse me for wanting to treat you with care. I didn’t want to just dump off a person that matters to me.”
Saki’s voice clammed up in her throat for a moment. “A-Anyway, don’t you have rounds to make? The booths will be up and running shortly. It is the Chancellor’s duty to ensure that they are operating without conflict.”
“Ah right!” Claude bolted from his bed and started undressing, much to Saki’s chagrin, who simply turned the other direction. “And guess what that means. Free samples!”
Ludmila cracked a thin smirk from her hiding spot. Her Master always did seem to love trying new things. In this case, he would be able to sample the new products that the merchants had prepared for the event. Given the popularity of Chef Evers’ cooking inventions, the approval of an idea from the man himself would bring a huge boost in popularity.
After getting dressed, it was then Claude’s turn to drag a reluctant Saki out of the room and toward the festivities.
Ludmila undid her hiding skill soon after they left the room. She had already confirmed what her master would do. And her new big sister, Saki, would keep an eye on him in the meantime. Though Ludmila was skeptical about how she would treat her master at first, it seemed like their presences were drawn to each other more than they realized.
With that, Ludmila leapt back onto the rooftop and headed towards the business district of Faulkner City.
Sometime later, Ludmila ended up perched on top of a wall overlooking the training grounds of the local militia. Here, the members of the ‘Knights of the Valkyrie’ were practicing their basics – swordplay, mana control, and board riding. The last one of these was unique to the squadron here, something that was developed while she had been with the others in Sanshiro.
Ludmila watched as the knights rode through an obstacle course, designed to test a rider’s maneuverability. However, she soon grew bored of it as she already knew how to ride one; her own speed on foot was faster than nearly every board rider anyway, making it somewhat of a bore to her.
In the distance, she could see a tuft of platinum hair that swayed as its owner moved swiftly against a person dressed in butler attire. Eryn’s training sessions with Pietro had become a regular thing, an insistence by the old gentleman to keep her from becoming complacent. Eryn, herself, wished to become stronger, especially after discovering how dependable Claude had become as a fighter. Though she would never admit it, she held a bit of prideful jealousy in regards to him catching up to her.
Eryn’s combination of swordplay and wide-range spell capability put her at an advantage against the mana-infused swordplay of Pietro, but it was difficult to tell who was better at the moment, as to minimize damage to their surroundings. Their special attacks would simply cause others to flee in fear.
Ludmila preferred the swift and silent approach, having trained under the Kinkou family. Masking her mana while delivering surprise blows was critical for a girl of her small stature and average stats, aside from Speed and Dexterity.
A strike from out of nowhere couldn’t be defended against, making Ludmila an appropriate choice for guarding the Queen. She hesitantly accepted the role after her Master’s insistence.
Growing bored once again, Ludmila continued on her way until a mass of booths could be seen from a distance. While the alluring smells of roasting meat, freshly-baked pastries, and savory stews filled the area, there was only one booth that was on her mind.
She dropped into the square where people gathered around and squeezed her way to the one booth she had a prior engagement with.
“Hello, come visit ‘A Certain Slice’, where we are certain that something on the menu will carve a place in your heart!”
A raven-haired girl in a maid uniform called out to the undecided people hovering around the area. As Ludmila walked up to her, the expression on her face brightened.
“Ah Ludmila, you came!” waved Alice, a girl that she had worked with closely when she was a waitress. “Are you here to try out the ‘new item’?”
Alice pointed behind her, where signs of residual mana from magic usage could be felt. Dressed in cooking uniforms of their own, Chrys and Yi Long had built up an audience with their cooking show.
Yi Long used his Wind magic to toss ingredients up into the air before mixing them into a stretchy dough. With swift mana control, under the strict tutelage of Duke Reichenstein, magical hands of wind kneaded and shaped the dough into disks before heaving them onto slabs of stone, which were being heated by a fire underneath.
As the dough finished, Chrys scampered about, plopping globs of sauce onto the flat disks before grabbing a tray of toppings. Literally tossing various cut veggies into the air like spreading confetti, her maxed out Luck parameter ensured that they landed onto their intended targets, quite the spectacle for the audience. The heated disks soon gave off a hearty aroma – a dish that Claude referred to as ‘pizza’ from his world. The onlookers were each given a palm-sized, freshly-baked pizza to enjoy, which they immediately dug into.
Chrys passed one to Ludmila with a smile as she walked up. Biting into it, the taste was like nothing she had ever experienced before. This would certainly become a favorite for the regulars in the future.
Ludmila grinned ever so slightly as she watched her ‘little sister’ grow into a proficient chef, determined to follow in the footsteps of ‘big brother Claude’. When asked before, Chrys had told her that she wanted to own a bakery in the future, once her training under Bigginton and Wedgeworth was complete.
Ludmila simply nodded in acknowledgement of her future goals. But it made her think – what goal of her own did she have?
For the longest time, survival had been the key thought in her mind. Whether it was gathering enough food for her village, escaping from enemies in a new world, or gaining the skills to compliment her speed – following a reliable Master was all that she planned.
Naturally, she had been taught to follow someone to ensure a measure of livelihood. But when it came to seeking her personal desires, there was little room for that. Ludmila simply wanted to help others, in any way she could. Watching over and placing her efforts where they were needed most was what she excelled at.
Being close to her family and being of use to them was everything to her.
“Hey Ludmila, I’m on break now. Do you want to go check out the Duke’s magical play?”
Interrupted from her thoughts, Ludmila nodded before being dragged through the crowd, letting her friend lead the way. Passing through the middle of the town square to the other side, an open stage was clearly set up, with a crowd waiting cheerfully for the show to begin.