After only five days, I could see a remarkable improvement in everyone’s mana enhancement of food. If it hadn’t been a wartime scenario, Eryn would have certainly chided me for letting such an amazing technique become publicly available for everyone to use.
‘I should have requested royalty fees for every buffed up food made…’
However, it wasn’t like this world had any kind of patent office that would catalog every invention in this world for its discoverers. Once knowledge was known, it spread like wildfire, and people everywhere sought to imitate it.
For that reason, trade secrets were kept closely guarded so that few would have the ability to take a chunk of their profits. And for the few that could reach that same level in a stroke of fortune, there was always hush money to keep it from spilling to others.
But apparently, Dengel was already on top of making the proper arrangements to ensure that any ‘enhanced’ products carried the seal of the Chancellor – goods that were officially accepted through methods overseen by the man himself.
For those that were taught the art of mana enhancement, they were required to sign an agreement that paid a fraction of their profits to the Faulkner Trading Company, as well as a tax to the Kingdom of Sistina. By doing so, their restaurants and bakeries, or whatnot, could carry the seal of quality.
Pretty soon, the market would flood with these ‘enhanced goods’, making it a fight to not be left out and deemed as an inferior place to dine. Of course, mana-enhanced food cost more due to its extra labor, but that didn’t stop shopkeepers from paying for the seal to be one of the prestigious shops that offered it.
I could imagine Dengel in the corner with his notebook going, ‘Fufufufu’ while adjusting his glasses evilly. Piles of money were going to stream into the trading company’s coffers, something that should have been a good thing but felt shady nonetheless.
He had been strangely enthusiastic about helping out with the training. And now, I understood perfectly why. Regardless, his guidance had sped up the operation and cut the time needed in half.
As a result, Chrys no longer needed to help after the third day, leaving her with the next two to play with Ludmila before Lau showed up to take her back to Sanshiro. As she and Yi Long boarded a carriage, dressed in their previous Eastern clothing instead of the apprentice chef and magician outfits during their stay here, I gave Yi Long a nudge in the side.
“Keep your girlfriend safe, you hear me?”
Immediately, Yi Long’s face turned a nice shade of pink. He opened his mouth to retort, but a firm hand on his shoulder choked back his words.
“Yes, especially since we’ll be making some detours to level the two of you up a bit.” Lau grinned as his words caused a tremble down Yi Long’s spine.
“L-Level up? Training? Why do we need-“
“An Oracle’s skills aren’t something any low-leveled person can learn, you know. You have to strengthen up that container of yours to house the mana needed to call upon the Gods. And to do that… I’d say that the Little Miss will need another 30 levels or so…”
“Th-Thirty levels?! How the heck are we going to grind that much power into ourselves?!” Yi Long, being only eleven, was panicking at the thought of fighting the monsters needed to become that strong.
Cornelius had been training him this whole time, carefully working on the mana control needed to make his spells effective in combat. Perhaps, it was time for him to gain some real combat experience.
“Why, by going to the Hidden Cove and flushing some beasts out! There be dragons there!” Lau boomed with a laugh at the end, looking rather excited. The old man looked like he was ready to knock off some rust, while Yi Long merely quivered at the thought.
Apparently, there were pockets of wilderness, untouched by people, where strong beasts resided. After years of growing strong from absorbing the mana from the earth, they became more than the average warrior could handle. However, those monsters rarely moved from their comfortable spot, so there was little reason to disturb them unless one was particularly brave.
“Is… he going to be alright going against them? Just how strong are those beasts?” I couldn’t help but wonder if Lau was making them take on more than they could chew. Looking at Yi Long’s current stats, he would be fine against any normal monsters, but maybe not something like the dragons I faced.
“I’ll keep you safe while we shoot them down with magic!” Chrys, being the fearless girl who was undaunted by an entire army in her previous life, simply wielded her own magic gun, a personal gift from Katalina.
With her maxed-out Luck invoking Auto-Aim and Auto-Dodge, the two of them would be quite the troublesome opponent. Yi Long only needed to carry her while using Wind spells for mobility, slinging his own magic when he had the chance. And of course, Lau would be there to watch over them.
Somehow, I could visualize the both of them gliding around, shooting rapid fire spells to whittle down a dragon’s health until it finally croaked. The image of a teenage Chrys still riding the broad back of a similarly aged-up Yi Long, creating a mobile magical turret, brought a chuckle to my lips. The two of them were going to be quite the combo.
I waved back at the two heads poking from the carriage window as it rolled away. Hopefully, the ordeal with Purnesia would be taken care of by the time Chrys’s training was complete. They were too young to get involved in that business, regardless of their strength.
And even if we could diagnose the origin of Ludmila’s darkness, I didn’t feel like roping her into battle again.
The day passed fairly quickly afterward. There was much that needed to be done in respect to coordinating the crafting and transport of the food to the frontlines where everyone was fighting. Working with Dengel, we soon had wagons upon wagons of freshly-made food queued northward. Their effects were tested by the local guards before the stamp of approval was placed on each shipment.
I chuckled as the guards playfully smacked each other with their weapons to test out their buffed states.
“You can’t hit me! Ahaha-haha~~!” one guard went as he danced around his fellow men.
Another stood unfazed as the others bashed him all over with wooden training swords. His defense was merely too high to feel anything. Lastly, a crowd of men were hovered around two guards, their hands locked in an arm-wrestling match as waves of raw power emitted from them.
‘At least we didn’t get another round of berserkers rampaging.’ I sighed with a smirk, recalling my snafu months ago.
Getting the preparations for such a large army certainly took quite a bit of time and effort. But they were necessary if our side was going to push the Purnesians back across the border without suffering heavy losses on our side.
From the current tidbits of intel, neither side was making much progress. The unfamiliarity of facing against long range firearms kept our soldiers and magicians from advancing carelessly. It only took one good shot from a high-level marksman hidden in the spray of bullets to take someone out, so they couldn’t risk it. On our side, we simply didn’t have enough high-level people that could fearlessly dive forward to push their army back.
As such, attacks littered the battlefield and created a dead zone where nothing could traverse. It was a delicate balance, but hopefully, the addition of stat buffs would turn the tide.
By the evening, I was so exhausted and ready to turn in since it was well into the night already. But then, I recalled that Chrys and Ludmila had been sleeping together for the past several nights. Chrys mentioned something about nightmares, possibly triggered by the trauma.
Since she had left for Sanshiro, it was best to check up on Ludmila.
I came to the door of her current bedroom, next to the Queen’s. Katalina hadn’t been sleeping with her out of extra caution. Her advisors claimed that it was too dangerous for the Kingdom’s leader to subject herself to an Electi leaking miasma in such an unguarded state. She was not happy about it but gave in to their requests. She had been working late nights in her lab anyways.
Peeking in, the sound of light shuffling could be heard. After a few moments, some light groans filtered through the crack, prompting me to walk in.
Ludmila had a flustered expression on her face, and some light flashes of miasma pulsed into the air, despite the charm around her neck. Thankfully, whatever dark aura that was being released was promptly sucked into the Resonance Stone and transmitted elsewhere, but that did not make me feel too relieved.
With no hesitation, I sat down on the bed next to her and clutched her hand. Like a child, she gripped it firmly and placed it against her chest. I looked away, trying not to think too hardly as to what my fingers were rubbing against.
“M-Master?” A light voice saved me from dwelling on it for long.
“Ludmila, are you okay? Are you having a tough time coping?”
She looked solemn but shook her head ‘no.’
“Ludmila feels at ease with Master. Simply… dreaming of another life…”
I was about to ask her about that, but she had already closed her eyes and turned away. It was probably something that she wasn’t ready to talk about, so I merely reached out and grabbed a cushy chair to sit on. Since it didn’t seem like she was going to let go of my hand anytime soon, I made myself comfortable.
After several minutes, my head slowly plopped on top of her bed and I too was embracing dreamland.
The next morning, I woke up with a stiff neck. That was obviously going to happen as I had remained in that awkward position the whole night. Ludmila had already left the bed and moved on with her day. I spied her later in the lab with Katalina, who looked relentlessly focused on her crafting.
While I had no idea what she was making, there were dark circles under her eyes. It was best not to bother her during these times. Jayce was there also, passed out with tools in his hands. They were probably feeling guilty that Sistina’s technology had been stolen and used against us.
But I knew, Katalina was not one to let it drag her down. She would make something even better to compensate.
Later that afternoon, a merchant wagon stopped by the castle, dropping off a small box addressed to me from Macali. I grabbed it and anxiously tore the lid open, where three large charms rested inside.
The larger Resonance Stone in each one would divert more miasma than our current ones. Koujiro had been gracious enough to give one for Ludmila, Saki, and I. That meant that we could use our Electi skills a bit more flagrantly without the feeling of darkness encroaching.
Given that the food preparations were essentially complete, I was ready to equip these and head to the battlefield to join up with Eryn. However, it was late in the day, so my departure with the goods had to wait until first thing tomorrow.
I hurriedly took the charms to Ludmila, who was still attending to Katalina. However, the genius queen paused and lifted her head up when I came in.
Placing the new charm around Ludmila’s neck, we saw the murkiness around her get sucked dry. Finally, that aura was under control. The immediate danger had been taken care of.
“All right. I can finally head out and join the others with peace of mind that you’ll be okay,” I said with a smile.
Ludmila looked up at me with a forlorn expression, but Katalina poked her in the back.
“Go on. Spend some time with him and tell him what’s on your mind before he goes.” Katalina gestured for both of us to be on our way. “But before you leave Claude, make sure you check back here for some sending off presents. I’m almost done with them.”
I nodded lightly before walking out of the lab with Ludmila walking beside me. We spent the rest of the day exploring the castle while gazing upon the city. Her hand clutched mine as we went from place to place. Even in her silence, I could tell that this was all she wanted. Gazing at the scenery of her home with someone dear by her side.
When night came, she led me back to her room, where she simply sat on the bed and gestured for me to sit next to her. I awkwardly did so, fidgeting in anticipation of how else Ludmila wanted to spend the remaining time.
“You’re not regretting staying here, right? I did ask if you wanted to go with Chrys and Yi Long, but you were adamant on not joining them,” I commented, trying to make things less stiff.
“No, Ludmila wishes to stay where news can travel, and within running distance,” she answered flatly.
With her speed, it would take her hardly any time to zip across the kingdom. However, Sanshiro was another story. Not to mention that she wouldn’t be able to hear the periodic briefings of what occurred on the battlefield if she left.
Frankly, I wondered why she was so dead set on being close to me. While I wouldn’t say that she was clingy, there was a strange obsession with being there for her ‘Master’.
Finally, a soft voice, monotone and calm, broke the silence.
“Master, Ludmila wishes to talk.”
“Talk? About what?”
“About everything. Ludmila’s dreams, Ludmila’s old world, Ludmila herself. About why Ludmila acts different than others.”
Her piercing glare showed a hint of hesitation, like the fear of a child not knowing who to run to. I drew close to her and kissed her forehead, letting her know that nothing she said could make me hate her.
I had been saved by her plenty, and skeletons had shown up in my closet as well. If she remembered anything bad about herself, that was in the past. The Ludmila I knew was the loyal, brave girl before me. Even if she had a few quirks, I would never abandon her.
“Let’s hear it then,” I whispered into her blond hair. “For tonight, you have my full attention.”
She drew her arms around me and buried her face into my chest. After a few deep breaths, she pulled back and started her story.
A tale of her past life and how it had all tragically ended.