Eryn stared out at the battlefield as the noise of gunfire and yelling continued to echo across the ruined plains. What used to be lush green had turned into a dreary brown and black over the course of a week. That was hardly surprising as the grass had weathered through a variety of elements – cut down by Wind, frozen by Ice, uprooted and turned over by Earth, and scorched by Fire and Lightning.
Even now, much of Sistina’s fighting power was holed up behind makeshift earthen bunkers. For anyone daring to step out into the open, a barrage of shots and magic instantly followed them. Without strong defensive stats or proper training to form a mana barrier, a person would be instantly shredded by the combined assault. Even those who could withstand those attacks found it difficult to move more than tens of meters before endangering themselves.
The range of Purnesia’s firearms and the reach of portals made it difficult for anyone to advance. Close combat fighters had literally nothing to contribute to the battle, and arrows remained far out of reach. Even the incredible might of Saki the Destroyer meant nothing if she couldn’t get close.
That meant magicians became the key to Sistina’s attack and defense. However, the number of magicians in Sistina’s army only numbered a few hundred. And spells became weaker as the distance grew.
In contrast, the magic guns in the hands of Purnesia made every single person a potential spellcaster. And the portal guns allowed them to fire at a shorter distance that preserved the shot’s impact. Furthermore, these tools were simply being passed back and forth between others, once one person’s mana reserves had run dry.
In this battle, Purnesia had the upper advantage when it came to consistent fighting power.
To combat that, Sistina’s Earth magicians tried to construct bunkers periodically across the open battlefield as they moved forward. This allowed for the rest of the army to inch closer and closer across enemy lines. However, they were met with a nasty surprise when a small object was hurled toward them, which elicited a strange glow.
The next moments, that object continued to glow brighter and brighter, making the magicians cower in their bunkers against the unknown attack. Yet, they could only stare wide-eyed as the structure of fortified earth they created suddenly started crumbling, leaving them exposed to gunfire and magic shots.
The object thrown before them was a tool created by the Purnesians to harness ambient mana in the surroundings. With what little magic stones were available in the Empire, there was a necessity to recharge them in an efficient manner. That need resulted in a device that scavenged any mana in its proximity, sucking it into the magic stone that was stored inside.
When used against a cast spell, it absorbed all of its mana, rendering the spell void. In the case of the shelters created from hardened earth, they simply crumbled back into dust as there was no mana to hold it together.
For those who stood within the tool’s range, they could feel their energy being rapidly peeled from their bodies, leaving them weak and exposed.
As such, the magicians and fighters, all who flaunted their strength in mana, were pushed back from advancing, crushed by these so called ‘magic voiding grenades’.
Eryn bit her thumb as she recalled that panicked retreat. The bunkers had been her idea to begin with. Cornelius reassured her that it wasn’t her fault, as those grenades rendered even the strongest magic users at a disadvantage. Cornelius personally tried it herself with ice bunkers, only to come fleeing back after only fifty meters in.
And so, they had been stuck defending this area for the past several days, unable to gain any ground. No plan seemed to bring them any closer to breaking the deadlock. But fortunately for them, the Purnesians couldn’t advance either, or risk getting hit by spells as they came out of cover and into range. The buildings were providing them with much needed cover.
And then on the fifth day, something strange happened.
Large shields started appearing on the Purnesian side, forming a long barricade of sorts. Everyone could feel it, a heavy atmosphere building up that would invoke a sudden change.
Not long after, a loud cry sounded as the entire line of shields stampeded forward. They had been each carried by a Purnesian, racing forward in a sudden dash to claim more ground.
Immediately, every magician turned their spells toward them, firing everything that they had. To their surprise, every magic spell fizzled as it approached the shields.
“Shit! They’re anti-magic too!” someone yelled out, realizing too late.
The thought of the Purnesians carrying an entire line of mana-draining weaponry hadn’t crossed their minds as it seemed too risky. Being close to one of those devices made them feel weak due to mana loss.
However, the Purnesians marching toward them were unbothered by this effect. Unknown to the Sistina side, their bodies were already used to containing very little mana, so there was essentially no excess to drain from them. Their livelihoods had forged bodies that operated with minimal need for it, and what little they had was buried deep within, refusing to flow to the body’s extremities.
Turning that inherent disadvantage completely around, the shield bearers had already moved 200 meters forward, cutting the distance in half. The sounds of gunfire grew closer as their allies attacked from right behind their mobile defense. And in the span of another few minutes, grenades started dropping in front of Sistina’s line of defense.
“Get back! Retreat!” The cries of various lords sounded across the area, beckoning everyone to form new cover.
As their protection crumbled away, a stampede of people retreated. Magicians quickly tried to build more magical shelters as they flung spells forward, but they all knew that this would be futile. As long as the Purnesian line could keep advancing, their shields and grenades would continue to suck up mana for their own use. All the spells did was resupply their Magic Guns with more shots. Those were simple, but fearsome weapons that they had created.
Finally, a small group of soldiers numbering less than fifty, holding no aptitude in magic, broke in the opposite direction, straight for the Purnesian line. They had only their armor and shields to protect them from the gunfire and magic shots. Still, they rushed forward, knowing that this was all they could do to disrupt Purnesia’s advantage.
Their bodies were battered and riddled with injuries, and eventually, they all fell from the increasing wounds. But they had nearly reached the shield bearers, falling merely ten meters short.
This act of bravery was not lost to the rest of Sistina’s forces. Loud shouts of vigor echoed through the ranks, igniting the spirits of the several thousand foot soldiers who had little role in this battle until this moment.
What a group of less than fifty managed to achieve gave them hope that several thousand would easily prevail. And in an instant, a thunderous clap of stomping rumbled across the battlefield. Ignoring the gunfire and magic shots, they charged forward. Even when a companion fell beside them, they turned a blind eye to it, focusing purely ahead.
That thundering wave of people crashed into the line of shields, and instantly, the flash of metal shone all across the horizon, and the clamor of objects smashing and people wailing their final cries added to the din of the battle.
After the line of shield bearers had all been demolished, it was now the Purnesian army’s turn to retreat. Still firing their guns, they backpedaled to the safety of the town. Some of Sistina’s soldiers moved to chase after them, but those that did were shot down.
There were no shield bearers in front of them to block their shots, so they could fire with abandon. Hurriedly, Sistina’s magicians re-established the magical structures, shielding their side once again.
While this brief moment of back and forth across the battlefield had effectively placed them back to where they were, it had a resounding effect in terms of casualties.
On the Purnesian side, few others aside from the shield bearers had been killed, which composed of around 100 of their weakest combatants. In contrast, Sistina lost far more. Of the several thousand who charged forward, several hundred were killed before they regained the advantage, and several hundred more fell while protecting the magicians who quickly recreated defensive measures.
Undoubtedly, this was a loss for the Kingdom of Sistina. While those killed were only soldiers that had little proficiency in magic, the emotional weight of losing that many citizens weighed heavily on everyone.
They couldn’t afford to continue in this way. If Purnesia were to craft and send another set of anti-magic shields for another attempt, they would incur even greater losses next time.
Eryn stomped around, racking her brain about what to do. While her squadron was undoubtedly the swiftest, the distance was just too far. An open stretch of 400 meters was too much to handle with all attacks focused on them. Her squadron of thirty Valkyrie knights could traverse the distance in under a minute. However, she doubted that any of them but her had the mana reserves to survive the entire trip, much less expend it on spells.
As every member was the young son or daughter of some nobility, she couldn’t bear to face the distraught lords if she were to sacrifice their children on such a suicide mission. That was obviously out of the question. Even in the unlikely chance that they succeeded, at what cost would it require?
Eryn quickly rid herself of those thoughts. The gloomy outlook was getting to her, causing a sense of desperation to well up. She bent down and hugged herself to regain her bearings.
More so than ever before, she needed someone to hold onto. Someone to speak some reason into her, to laugh off her worries and break through the fog that clouded her mind. She could feel something gnawing at her from inside, making her feel insecure.
Eryn reached up and touched her lips with her fingers.
The sensation of Claude’s kiss still lingered in her thoughts. That unexpected moment surprised her more than anything. But her body gave into it. She pressed forward, savoring that moment of acceptance and realizing that it had been what she wanted for a very long time.
She had played it off. Let Claude sort his feelings out for Katalina. And waited, thinking that her chances grew slimmer every day. She hesitated to reach out, unsure of what she wanted for herself. Against the queen of a nation, it felt to her that it would only end in heartbreak.
But when they kissed, all of her concerns suddenly didn’t matter anymore. Her desire for more exploded, cursing herself that she hadn’t pushed aside her doubts and rushed forward like Katalina did. Her strange sense of pride was just a foolish act that kept her from pursuing what she wanted.
And now, she thought of Claude every day on the battlefield.
‘Is this what it feels like for him to fight?’
Eryn had always been aware of Claude’s feelings for her, but she dismissed them as some obligatory attachment between a Master and Electi. After all, summons were expected to be compatible with their masters. Those chosen were deemed to have an inherent affinity that would make the pair work well together. And in the case of Electi, stories of budding romances were not all that uncommon.
Claude persistently stuck with her and showered her with affection from the very start, even when her first instinct was to keep him at arm’s length. His behavior seemed strangely artificial at first, but that made it easy to take advantage of his feelings for her. And as a result, she felt wholly undeserving for more.
‘As long as he fights by my side, I will be satisfied. As long as I can protect his role as my Electi, I cannot ask for more.’
Those thoughts seemed enough. She endured through several months of Claude being away. While fond memories of their times together played in her mind at night, the sense of loneliness was bearable. And of course, she had to make it through each night to greet the next day, where her domain, her people, and her position as their lord were why she had to give it her all.
‘So… why is it so hard now? A mere six days, and I feel like a nervous wreck.’
Perhaps, it was the added stress of the battlefield. The flicker of lives being ended by her blade or turned to ash by her magic made her think of that one moment not long ago – when Claude looked at her with eyes of disgust.
Blood on her hands was expected of a knight in this world. However, she had nearly forgotten that Claude came from another place, one where peace was the norm. She had forced a person who had never seen the life of another taken to watch her shed blood and just continue to accept her.
But despite all that, he accepted her. He loved her. He kissed her.
And having to leave him right away seemed to make her heart hurt again.
Eryn wanted Claude to stand before her and fight alongside her on the battlefield. That assurance that he would continue to accept her would blow away all the negative thoughts. It would give her immeasurable power so that together they could tear through their enemies and find peace once again.
She could almost feel him wrap his arm around her, the gentle warmth of an embrace after victory came about. As she reached up to grab that non-existent hand that crossed over her breastplate, it suddenly felt very solid to her.
“Huh? Wait, wha-” Eryn’s senses jolted as she felt a pressure from behind.
“You were just standing there, zoning out. I called out to you, but it looked like the lights weren’t on. Did you miss me that much that you had the time to daydream?” a very familiar voice spoke gently into her ear.
Feeling her face flush bright red, Eryn spun around and backpedaled out of Claude’s hold. “Y-You! What if I had drawn my sword on you?!”
But Claude simply beamed a smile. “Would be worth it. Totally. After all, how often do I get to see you flustered?”
Yet again, Claude had shown up and completely thrown Eryn in a loop. She was surprised to see him so early, as he had requested for another several days to train the chefs in mana-enhanced cooking.
“As promised, I got here as soon as I was done, so offer me some praise for the early arrival.” Claude reached into his Item Box and pulled out a strange, flat contraption. “Also… I came bearing a gift from Katalina to possibly help turn the tide.”
A brief frown traced Eryn’s lips before she forcefully wiped it away. Hearing the name of her rival on his lips brought an involuntary flash of jealousy, despite it spoken of pure intent. It was not the time to act petty.
“So… how is that thing supposed to do that?” Eryn eyed the small contraption, which didn’t appear to be any weapon that could reasonably break the deadlock in her eyes..
Strangely, Claude looked confident after hearing that question.
“Since I already checked in on Cornelius, who gave me the rundown of the situation, this baby here will allow us to get the jump on them. A little payback from daring to imitate her creations.”
Leaving it at that, he grabbed Eryn’s arm and dragged her over to the others. Eryn followed, a slight smile on her face as she was once again swept up in the whims of her dearest.