Eryn and Saki arrived back in Lodz after the winds of destruction had died down. Wary about the relative calm they heard in the distance, it wasn’t until they ran into a few squadrons belonging to Sistina at the borders of the city did they find out what had happened in their absence.
The first bit of news that was hard to swallow was the death of Duchess Reichenstein. They had found her body right outside the city walls in front of a giant hole. A stab wound in her back had been the cause of death.
Having somehow seen this happen in her visions, Eryn was already prepared for the worst. Still, the corpse of her best friend brought fresh tears down her face where some had already dried during the ride back. The memory of seeing her Uncle Roland dead in front of her also gnawed at her. If something else had not pushed her onward, then surely, she would break down in tears once again.
“Where is Chancellor Evers?” she lightly said, holding a firm grip on her voice that was threatening to jitter out of control.
The soldiers in front of her shook their heads, before pointing toward the other side of the city.
Given the visions that Eryn experienced, it was likely that she had ‘seen’ what Claude saw. Somehow, she could believe that their connection as Master and Electi would allow for something like that to happen. That meant, Claude had undoubtedly been there to witness Cornelius’s death before storming off to face against the murderer.
However, it was peculiar how Claude had not shown up after things were settled. His powers let him finish the job in a flash. The soldiers themselves still seemed to be on edge, whatever the reason might be.
The first few people Eryn asked seemed to brush her off, turning away from her question. Saki asked around also, with no luck.
After finally finding a familiar face, a noble gentleman by the name of Earl Lingonberle, the man before her sighed before revealing a hint of what had happened.
“Chancellor Evers is in an unknown state currently. We have been asked to keep you away for the time being as per orders by the Queen, but… I believe you have the right to know….”
“Know what?” Eryn said, surprised that Katalina herself would suggest such a thing. On the other hand, she was even more surprised to know that the Queen was on her way to this very site. Given that she was supposed to be stationed at Fort Valga, it must have been very important for her to come to a place that hadn’t been deemed safe yet.
“You will find him near the outer wall on the other side if you walk straight through the city. You… can’t really miss it,” Lingonberle stated before walking away, gesturing with a motion that he had never said anything in the first place.
Eryn and Saki raced through the city, taking note of the destruction and casualties that had taken place. Ohers had spoken of those stationed in the city being attacked and wiped out. But one look at the wrecked buildings hinted not simply an ambush, but something that had obliterated the surroundings. A heavy feeling grew in their guts as they dashed over mounds of debris and mangled corpses.
“How is it possible to cause such destruction? This looks like the scale of a high-level magic caster.” Eryn thought aloud as she took note of how something like this would be difficult even for herself. Certainly, her mana reserves would be drained in mere minutes with the lack of supply present in the environment.
“…Or an Electi, I might add,” Saki commented. “My hammer can achieve such levels of damage to the surrounding area. However, these buildings do not appear to have fallen due to tremors.”
That comment made Eryn eye the surrounding area once again.
There was no damage to the ground, a result of Saki’s earth-shattering hits. Interestingly, the debris itself looked cleaner than it should have been, like slabs that could be pieced back together rather than shattered into an indistinguishable mess.
The way that these objects were cut were all too familiar to the both of them. They held the mark of objects cut by the eclectic Electi of Critical. Yet, the scale was surprising. And now, they had started noticing some bodies which had been slashed into pieces, similar to those buildings.
A shiver ran down Eryn’s back. Given what she knew, an inference could be made. One that didn’t bode well for the state of Claude. It would be uncharacteristic of him to tear through people’s lives like this, but he had been worried about demonizing in the near future. And a tragedy such as this could have pushed him off the deep end.
Instinctively, Eryn’s feet picked up the pace, determined to find out if she was wrong.
A few blocks later, she could sense that her fears had won out. A murky sensation clung to the air, which made the hairs on her arms stand up. Saki placed a hand on her shoulder, understanding what this sensation was.
As their steps slowed down, discouraged by what stood before her, Eryn wanted to blame herself for rushing ahead and leaving things behind. She regretted that she didn’t take things cautiously like Claude had suggested. Rather, she had wanted to finish the war quickly, despite not knowing how long it would truly take them.
And because of this ambush and the revelation that Purnesia had weapons that were difficult to deal with, things had taken a bad turn for everyone.
Around her, she saw several magic knights taking cover in a semi-circle around a still, purple haze of miasma. Eryn didn’t need to see what was within to know who it was. She could feel it. Her servant, her love, the man that vowed to stay by her side – he had succumbed to the darkness and created the path of destruction on his way here. There was no other explanation for it.
Saki drew both of her hammers, holding them tightly. However, Eryn held her arm back, shaking her head.
“There must be some reason that he’s just standing there.”
Claude, in his demonizing state, remained unmoving. He simply stared off into the distance like he was waiting for something. Eryn guessed that he had taken out the person responsible for Cornelius’s death as she could feel no sense of hostility in his actions.
Checking with the other magic knights, they had confirmed that Claude had not moved from that spot in over half an hour. However, the one person who had dared to approach him in that state received a swift attack that destroyed his shield instantly. That soldier immediately fled the area, and no others had been brave enough to approach since.
“He must be waiting for me then…,” Eryn guessed.
Given how he brooded over his failures, Claude had always been one to wallow in them. After being with him for so long, she knew. That he was probably blaming himself for Cornelius’s death. He was cursing himself for being too weak to fight off the darkness. She wouldn’t let him cry alone.
Even if it wasn’t his fault, he would take it to heart. The failures gnawed at him silently until he could find a way to break through them. He was unwilling to divulge his thoughts because he wanted to be strong in front of the woman he loved. That was something he couldn’t hide, but that bashfulness was part of why she loved him. It was the same stubbornness that she once held when she felt the hand of fate clawing at her while pursuing a title of nobility.
And the only way to cure that was to knock some sense into him, and then, show him the affection that he deserved. If worry and tragedy brought about the darkness, then she would have to do her best to drive them away and comfort him so that they would face it together.
“I will go to him. That should stop his rampage and bring him back to us,” Eryn said, determination in her voice. She would do whatever was necessary to bring his heart back into the light where it belonged.
“I see. I will be right here in case I am needed.” Saki nodded.
Though she didn’t remember it herself, others told her how Claude had faced her directly with the intention to snap her out of the trance. In the recesses of her mind, she vaguely recalled that voice of his calling out to her, so she believed that Eryn could do the same. She felt relieved that this situation would be handled the same way. If someone like herself could be saved in that way, surely Eryn would get through to him.
Eryn approached Claude, noting the clearing that surrounded him. The bareness of the area suggested the reach of his attacks. She paused for a moment before dashing right in. The distance was only 10 meters, which would merely take two or three seconds.
However, Claude’s form turned to her the instant that she stepped into his reach. He lashed out with a knife strike that kicked up a sharp wind toward her.
What appeared to be a swift breeze tinted purple to most people looked very different to those that were high enough level to respond. What Eryn saw was a dense wave of mana blades, all traveling through the air toward her.
With his newfound ability, Claude was able to project miniature mana blades that held a sharpness like a Wind Blade spell. A cloud of dust where each grain of sand was a blade itself, any one of them likely held the same effect as his normal ability to carve through things with ease. And if the rumors held true, even a single breeze could deal a fatal strike.
Quickly, Eryn dodged to the side, allowing a section of her wind barrier to clip the edge of the attack. The feel of mana being torn away over her left elbow made her glance carefully for any damage, but the exposed tip remained unblemished before her mana rushed over to replenish the struck area.
It looked like her barrier was powerful enough to weather a few direct hits, but regardless, it would be best to play it safe.
Eryn sidestepped and pushed forward. She had plenty of mana to sacrifice to get within range for what she needed to do. Sticking low to the ground, she moved another two meters closer before the knife made for another swing.
This time, Eryn launched herself upward with her Wind magic, leaping over the low, horizontal cut. Doing a somersault in the air, she ended up another two meters closer. With her agility boosted by the wind, Eryn scurried out of the path of another swing before darting forward two meters.
Claude had a simple attack pattern that made him easy to read, even with the strange new attack that he was doing. Eryn was confident in her skills as long as he mindlessly attacked in this manner. Weaving back and forth, she managed to dodge all of them, until finally, she was right on top of him.
With a punch to the gut, Eryn slammed her fist into Claude’s belly. A chef’s weakness was always his own stomach, the one thing Claude could never train properly. He had too much of a tendency to sample his own meals, often becoming so self-involved with his shortcomings. His mentality made that part the softest despite all the training he put in elsewhere.
As expected, Claude hunched over, displaying that weakness even as a partial demon. Quickly, Eryn caught ahold of the hand that was holding the knife, stopping him from slashing anymore.
The feeling of miasma invaded Eryn’s body as she found herself wrapped fully in it. This was worse than it had been with Saki. Regardless, Eryn ignored the unnerving feeling around her, sweeping Claude off his feet.
With his body pinned to the ground, Eryn stared intently at his eyes, raging with a purple fire around them. Despite that, she knew he could see her. And even if he wasn’t in his right mind, surely his body would recall the next feeling.
Cupping his face with one hand, Eryn lips dove down to capture his own. Just like how he always did, Claude’s body stiffened slightly before giving into the kiss. Soon, his muscle memory took over as his mouth moved in response to the stimuli.
The purple miasma swirled around them, but not enough to disguise the obvious actions that were happening within. But Eryn didn’t care. She would proclaim her love for him to the world, if it would only snap him out of his current state.
Slowly, Eryn could feel Claude calming down and giving into her.
‘There. That’s it. Focus on me. Feel my love for you. Think of nothing else…’ Eryn’s thoughts rang out in her mind like she was trying to telepathically send them to Claude.
Eryn felt Claude’s left arm wrap around her body, pulling her deeper into their kissing. She welcomed it. Believing that he had finally regained some portion of his senses, she released her grip on his other hand.
As she allowed for him to sit up while their lips were still locked together, Eryn moved her hand around to his back. She no longer cared what others thought of her. As long as Claude loved her in return, she would give up anything to have them stay together.
After all, she had gained her position simply to hold onto the freedom to allow her to choose her fate. And if that got in the way of being with Claude, then even that was simply another thing to discard. As long as they were together, the weight of their sins wouldn’t crush them.
‘Yes, as long as we are together…,’ Eryn thought as she saw Claude’s other arm moved toward her back.
However, Eryn froze as a sharp blade sunk into her flesh. The coldness of it reached her core as it mercilessly stabbed not just her body, but her very foundation of trust.