Gadwin’s eyes popped open, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. In the next moment, a wave of pain seared across his body, making him recall what had happened before he fell unconscious.
He remembered tossing the Chancellor through a portal, ensuring his safety. Before the bombs exploded around him, he piled on the thickest mana that he could muster, tucking his body into his armor to make himself more compact. The sound of deafening explosions shook him before everything went dark.
The fact that he could feel pain told him that he had somehow survived. He had to thank his many years of bolstering his own defensive capability. As he felt around his body, however, he found that his equipped armor had been stripped off. He felt strangely bare without that and his weapon. It bothered him enough to sit up, despite how much his body protested.
His eyes blinked at the sight of charred skin covering his body in the places that had been least protected from the blast. In particular, there was a checkered pattern running along his forearms and stomach, likely from the chainmail links covering those areas. The heat from the blast must have branded him.
As his eyes glazed over at his injuries, a shock enveloped the room he was in. It felt like something had just slammed into the building. Traces of residual magic could be felt diffused throughout the air.
‘An enemy attack?!’
Gadwin quickly got to his feet and scanned the room. In one corner, the remnants of his armor and weapon were tucked there. His chestplate and chainmail were melted quite badly, having taken the brunt of the explosion and heat. Several places had shattered, leaving gaping holes. There was nothing to hold itself up, and even if he could don it once again, it had completely lost its defensive properties.
Next, he eyed the crumpled, twisted form of his spear. That had been a gift from his Majesty, the father of Queen Katalina. But now, it looked like a flimsy hook that would shatter until hitting something. Once a weapon had been warped too far out of shape, it lost any designation as a weapon, making it literally worth nothing more than scraps. Holding onto it as a memento wasn’t even worthwhile.
Another two impacts shook the room before the door opened, a well-dressed butler appearing surprised to see Gadwin awake.
“S-Sir Gadwin, are you well enough to be standing?”
“Not really, but who can sleep in this racket? Care to tell me what is going on?’
“C-Certainly. You were brought here by the Queen’s attendant, bearing the insignia of the Chancellor. Here as in, the mansion of Lord Hohenheim. It has been several hours since, but it appears that the ones who had attacked Fort Valga, where you were injured, have now made their way here.”
“And what of the Chancellor?”
“According to Miss Ludmila, who brought you, the Chancellor has met up with Duke Reichenstein. Some messages filtered through, telling that the two of them successfully repelled the advance invaders, and they have met up with several more detached forces from the various regions. However, communications have been difficult in the past hour or so.”
“Well, what am I standing here for? I owe them quite a lot for everything they’ve done so far.”
“But Sir, you can’t possibly-“
“If you have time to worry about my health, then go fetch me some replacement armor and a spear. As much as I’d like to scare them with my horrid appearance, I’d rather feel their bones crack under my blows,” Gadwin said as he eyed his still charred state in a nearby mirror.
“Right away, Sir.”
The butler beckoned for Gadwin to follow him, passing through the hallways of the mansion before stopping before an armory that had its doors open. Gadwin noticed several things missing from within, likely being used to repel the invaders.
Pulling some armor from the shelves that looked to be the right size, he quickly slipped into it. Finally, he grabbed a spear from the rack. The cheap craftsmanship of a standard issue spear felt flimsy in his hands, but he had to make do.
“Well, what’s the status of our forces?” He eyed the butler for some information. It was better to know what was in store for him out there.
“Milord Hohenheim has taken all able fighters to assist in defending the city. The enemy’s numbers aren’t very large, only numbering in the hundreds, but they are crafty.”
“Crafty?” Gadwin arched a brow as he stormed through the mansion to head outside, the butler speedily walking to catch up.
“Yes, surprise attacks from up in the air, unpredictable assaults – the like that disrupts the normal rhythm of battle.”
Gadwin opened the door leading outside, taking his first glimpse of various magic dotting the skies in the distance. Occasionally, explosions shook the area accompanying the fighting in the distance.
“Tch. Already well within the town boundaries. Won’t be a problem for my senses, but for anyone else… What of the civilians?”
“Evacuated for the time being. The Earl’s Wind magic set up a perimeter to keep them out.”
As Gadwin squinted to look more closely, he saw the small shapes of portals hovering through the air. Occasionally, one appeared to dissipate among a flash of green, likely colliding into the wind barrier that the butler mentioned.
“Good, one last question… Where is that attendant of the Queen that brought me here? The battlefield is an uncertain place. Would like to extend my thanks before possibly getting myself killed.”
The butler looked to the side, obviously avoiding his gaze. Gadwin narrowed his eyes at him.
“Is she, Miss Ludmila… not here?”
“Oh, no no. She is most certainly here…,” the butler retorted with haste, “but I guess that you’ll have to see what I mean for yourself.”
The butler led him forward through the empty streets. The clamor of explosions, small and compact, grew clearing and more distinct. Gadwin recognized the sounds, recalling how they were similar to the ignition of bombs, but there was no loud ‘boom’ afterward, only a simple ‘bang’.
Fairly soon, Gadwin approached a boundary in which the pristine city abruptly gave way to a ruined landscape. He reached out with his spear and tapped against the nearly-invisible barrier defining that line. A green swirl of light emitted from the place where he tapped as his spearhead was forcibly pushed back.
He could feel the center of that wind barrier off to the right. That was likely where the Earl was currently. After only a few blocks, he saw a man past his prime, dressed in a high-quality green vest that was fancy yet peculiar.
Noticing Gadwin approach, Earl Hohenheim shot a look his way before waving his hand to cut out a slit directly behind him for a person to pass. Gadwin dashed through and saluted him.
“Lord Hohenheim, please allow me to offer my spear. But before I do, your servant tells me that you know where the young attendant of the Chancellor is presently.”
“I do. But now is not the time for that. She will be fine. Though she is unable to join us in battle due to her condition, she is residing in one of the houses behind me.
“Her condition?” Gadwin looked skeptically at the older man, but his expression was of utter focus on the battle before him.
Waving his hand several times through the air like a conductor at a symphony, the Earl sent blades of wind forward and high into the air. The blades curved and flew straight for the various portals in the sky, colliding straight into them.
For those unlucky enough to have their arms sticking out to attack with a magic gun, the wind blades severed their arms clean off before crashing into the portal and canceling it.
Gadwin stared ahead, seeing various soldiers fighting back to back in sets of four to cover every angle of approach by the portal users.
And further back, a thick line of soldiers could be seen pointing long shafts in his direction. After a loud cry, a series of small explosions peppered the background with noise. Moments later, both Gadwin and the Earl felt a shower of metal pellets collide into their bodies. But due to their high defense, they simply bounced off like toy beads.
“So, that is the source of that racket,” Gadwin thought aloud.
He scanned the rest of the area as another barrage was fired towards them. As the pellets converged on the Earl’s soldiers, they brought their shields up in defense. A few men winced as they were struck in various places left unguarded, but thankfully, the injuries were not serious.
“Arming commoners with projectile weapons – that appears to be Purnesia’s strategy. Individually weak, but a force unable to be ignored as a group,” Earl Hohenheim commented.
“I see. Makes it difficult for most to advance forward,” Gadwin noted that both sides appeared to be somewhat at a stalemate, “but that will change now.”
Readying his spear and dropping into a stance, Gadwin charged forward. The shower of bullets peppering his face were like grains of rice bouncing off. Occasionally, a stronger force, more like a light punch, crashed against his cheek, but he doubted anyone had undergone enough training to break through his high stats. He kept a keen sense of his surroundings to make sure no surprise attacks came towards him, the only way they could likely inflict damage.
Seeing the line of marksmen grow flustered in panic, it did not take long for Gadwin to charge straight into the first targets. A swing of the spear sliced through five of them. Their companions watched as their upper torsos were tossed into the air, separated from their lower halves.
In a panic, they continued to shoot at him, all the while backing up. Gadwin hardly cared for their cries of fear. In fact, those sounds guided the spear that descended upon them. The cries of panic turned into gurgles of snuffed life as heavy thuds impacted the ground.
The line that was so neatly organized turned into a chaotic swarm that scattered, trying to make some distance from the spear user. Gadwin flicked his head toward the nearest body, those that were either slow to retreat or held some measure of bravery still. He graced them with an instant death.
Suddenly, a sharp pain crashed into his side. Gadwin whipped around and touched the spot, feeling the warmth of fresh blood trickle down.
A single person stood among the swarm of people running away, his pistol aimed squarely for Gadwin. This man wore a more distinguished uniform with various decorations pinned upon his breast. Likely, those pins signified some level of notoriety, meaning that he was dealing with a higher-level combatant, a leader of some measure.
Gadwin smirked as the man fired again. This time, Gadwin moved the shaft of his spear into the line of fire. He felt a strong blow against his weapon which instantly disappeared; he had managed to block the second shot.
The shooter narrowed his eyes before uttering a single word. “Golabki,” he said with a tip of the hat.
That was all the two men needed to know. The telling of names signaled a duel that was understood beyond their respective cultures.
As Gadwin dashed forward, Golabki sidestepped his spear thrust before firing a shot straight for the head. In response, Gadwin tilted his head, keeping careful watch on the hand that squeezed the trigger. The bullet glided harmlessly a few centimeters in front of his eyes.
As Gadwin kept swinging, his opponent fired three more shots while dodging out of reach. Neither one was able to hit the other, their attacks sailing only through the air. One look at each pair of eyes spoke volumes of their battle experience, making the victor impossible to determine.
In their minds, they knew that only one of them would likely walk away. They were warriors who refused to back down from a fight.
However, by sheer luck, something else had made the decision for them to live another day.
In the distance, new cries of defeat sounded on the side of the Purnesian Army. The two men glanced over at the same time, seeing a new combatant entering the fray. This one cut through the army with wide sweeping blows. But instead of seeing mangled bodies flying through the air, those that came into contact with him simply fell over unconscious.
Major Golabki quickly weighed his options before relaxing his stance and dashing backward.
“Retreat! Retreat!” he called out to his men.
What remained of his troops pulled back. He had lost around 20% of his five hundred soldiers, but in the process, they had picked off a good portion of the city’s defenses. If it hadn’t been for these two new combatants, they would’ve worn down the strongest magic user and taken the city soon enough.
As the sounds of fighting died down, Gadwin eyed the Chancellor speeding towards him on a levi-board, a tool that he personally felt too awkward to use with his thick frame. He lightly shook his head at the merciful strikes that the other man dished out but quickly forgave him for it was his nature.
Though he was a bit naïve, he couldn’t discredit how strong the Chancellor was.