Eryn’s eyes flew open in surprise at being unexpectedly stabbed. Her lips separated from Claude’s as she forced herself off him, staring painfully into his eyes as she clutched her wound.
Cold and emotionless, save for a flicker of intent.
He had attacked her purposefully. And she had fooled herself into thinking that everything would be okay after his body reflexively responded to hers. She had looked everywhere but the eyes that were aflame with purple miasma spewing from them. If she had done so, then she might have understood that her actions were for naught. That they had not truly gotten through to him.
But in this moment of betrayal, a bitterness ignited in Eryn. She angrily lashed out at him with the back of her right hand and smacked him hard across the face. That was a blow that would normally send a man flying several meters into whatever happened to be there. But for the demonizing Claude, the shroud of miasma protected him. His head barely tilted to the side.
Still, that vacant look never left his face. Like all emotion was absent, he stiffly sputtered out some words.
In a flash, the bloodied knife in his hand drew a vertical, upward arc, aiming straight for Eryn. She barely had the time to push off with her feet, avoiding a strike that would cleave her in two by a slim margin. However, she had not gotten away without harm.
Eryn screamed as a sudden pain registered on her right side. Her eyes darted there, seeing that her arm had been cleanly cleaved off, just below the elbow. Fighting the urge to cry from the pain, she brought up a magic barrier just in time for the down stroke of Claude’s next swing.
The knife tore through the layers and layers of thick mana imbued into it, like slicing through wrapping paper holding the goods inside. Eryn stared in horror at how fearsome Claude had become. The wound in her back was making her bleed out, adding desperation to the fear.
The next thing she knew, another person barreled straight into Claude, knocking him back and away from her. She felt the bodies of other people and the clinking of armor as she was caught in their arms. Her eyes were too muddled with tears to see clearly, but her ears picked up the chanting of a healing spell that was being cast on her.
But even in her weary state, Eryn’s eyes fought to follow what had happened afterward.
After tackling Claude, the form of an enraged girl with black hair shouted angrily at him.
“I TRUSTED YOU! I TRUSTED THAT YOU WOULD BE SAVED BY ERYN! AND YET YOU DO THIS?!”
Similar to Claude, a purple haze of miasma circled around Saki. It collected around her arms and legs, forming frightening extensions to her appendages. Her anger at his backstabbing had caused her to pull off her charm and call upon the demonic power that once controlled her.
Somehow, she had learned to manipulate it to a certain degree. It gave her far stronger abilities than she could otherwise wield. But she hesitated to use it unless there was an emergency.
Despite having less control in mana as Eryn or the others did, this was the only option. She could at least shroud her arms and legs to protect herself from Claude’s deadly attacks. With that activated, she charged forward and batted him away from the injured woman she held deep affection for.
And with her unrivaled attack power, she slashed at him with her claws and dug into his body with taloned kicks. She was determined to take him down before he could hurt anyone else that he loved.
Yet, Claude’s demeanor suddenly shifted, like the fierce assault re-energizing his spirit. His blade swept through the air, forcing Saki to take cover behind the miasma coating her limbs. The fierce energy of two miasma signatures collided as she had to duck to shield her entire body. After that had safely passed by her, she slashed forward, feeling it connect with Claude’s side.
The sensation of bone crunching reverberated through her hand, making Saki bite her lip. But still, Claude did not give in. His body spun around with a grimace on his face before he sent another swing at her.
The wind from his attack slipped past her defenses this time, cutting into her torso. Even the expensive armor she wore stood no chance. She could feel blood seeping down from her belly. Fortunately for her, the cut had been shallow, as the armor had absorbed the bulk of the hit, but there would be no second chances. Another hit in the same place would likely cleave her in two.
Gritting her teeth, she dashed forward and punched Claude square in the stomach. The force was enough to send him into the nearby outer wall. The loud impact as he slammed into it riddled the already damaged section with more cracks.
Though he tried to get up, Saki wouldn’t let him, pressing the attack as she sent more blows to pin him against the wall. At the same time, Claude kept swinging his knife, catching Saki in the arms and legs, blowing away the miasma protecting them for only a moment.
The wind coming from Claude’s blade penetrated shallowly where the miasma couldn’t regenerate, riddling her body with cuts. Occasionally, one stabbed deeply into her, making her wonder if sharp knives had not been lodged there. A pain similar to falling straight into a bed of broken glass was nonetheless dulled by the adrenaline running through her body.
Despite this, Claude was in a far worse shape. Each blow that squarely hit him was breaking bones, despite being protected by miasma. By now, his accumulated injuries were akin to that of being struck by several trucks from every direction. One wouldn’t even be able to move after all that, much less strike back.
However, something seemed to will his broken body onward. He only needed to lightly swing his blade with killing intent to generate the deadly strikes. That was something that a puppet on strings could do.
As his body continued to crash against the wall in between strikes, Saki made a plea to him.
“Please! Please! Don’t make me choose! I don’t want to choose! Not like this!”
Saki was referring to that one question Claude asked of her not long ago.
‘If it came down to killing me or Eryn, who would you choose?’
That had been asked of her almost in jest at the time. And in response, she decided to tease him by immediately saying that she would do the honors of erasing a rival if it came down to it.
Yet, as Saki held her fist up in the air, she couldn’t bring herself to slam it forward with her full strength. She held back, only enough to cripple his movements, at a level that could be healed fully with the best magic available. Her hand wavered as she stood right before the point of no return, unable to cross the line of dealing a blow of certain death.
Did she love Claude? That was one thing she was most uncertain of.
Given her disgust of most men in general, she found it hard for Claude to have crept into her heart. But at the very least, she knew that she would be saddened if he weren’t there. That was a feeling beyond that of mere gratitude for saving her from turning into a demon.
It extended to the day-to-day interactions that the two of them shared. A sense of comfort in knowing that he treated her with some sense of normality. That he saw her for herself and not some superficial title that was given to her for some reason. And that none of her actions ever truly scared him away from acting the same to her as with any other person.
Whatever that feeling meant, she didn’t want to lose it. Not in a world like this where she had only just found some measure of acceptance again.
“I refuse! Just come back and go back to being the annoying goofball you were!”
With another strike that held back all intent to kill, Saki brought it down and listened to Claude’s body crack against the wall. That damage would heal. She only needed to immobilize him. She only needed to stop him from turning his blade at those who he didn’t mean to hurt.
‘Someone, someone would be able to heal him, right?’
For those watching this fight between two pseudo demons, virtually no one could step forward with an answer. The sight of a bloody, gruesome battle between two powerful Electi who could crush everyone else caused them to stare with imaginary chains holding them down. Not until one side gave up fully could they bear to move forward.
Though the sounds of battle were slowing down, strikes still echoed across the city like the rumbling of buildings collapsing. Debris was flung into the air and crashed with heavy thuds. Breezes of purple wind still swept the area, cutting through everything that stood in its way. These were the only noises as people watched on in silence, wondering how it could possibly end.
That was why everyone immediately turned their heads as a different sound came from behind them – the whirl of a magic gun starting up. A giant blast of ice shot in between the crowd of people and slammed into the two Electi that were still fighting. Slowly, their limbs grew slower as the frigid ice cooled their movements with its heavy grip.
The magic had drawn the attention of the onlookers toward the now incapacitated fighters, but slowly, their gazes went back to the source. The one holding the weapon had beautiful blue hair, a pair of spectacles, and a lavish robe decorating her body.
Immediately, the crowd fell to their knees in the presence of Queen Katalina, who had rushed to the scene after hearing of Claude’s transformation. Behind her, a young girl in a frilly, black outfit stared with a gloomy expression. The two of them had taken full advantage of portals and the speed of an Electi to arrive in hardly any time.
However, they started to approach her in a panic as Katalina walked forward, straight toward the dreaded battlefield.
“My Queen! You mustn’t! Even if they seem frozen in place!”
But still, Katalina did not hesitate. She glided past them and left them hovering in their spots. Walking all the way up to them, she noted that both Saki and Claude would need high-level healing magic to recover. And even still, they would likely be out of commission for several days.
Saki’s face curved into a faint smile as she could finally relax. Someone had come to fill in the role that was too large for her.
Katalina turned to Claude, who still weakly held onto his knife. The arm attached to it hovered in the air, frozen in place. In an instant, the genius inventor had understood the situation.
“Claude, I’m here. Let’s go home,” she lightly said.
Claude continued to stare at her, eyes hollow but tracking her movements.
Katalina stepped closer, until she was inches away from his knife. To everyone’s surprise, she took another step, now the blade hovering right against her neck. A wave of panic swept over everyone, unsure of why their Queen would risk such a thing.
Though they knew how much trust she placed on her Chancellor, she had not been there to witness him stabbing his own Master. She did not understand how mad he had become. A single flick of the wrist was enough to take her head off.
Katalina, ignorant of the others’ fears, simply grasped his hand with her own and kissed it. Staring at Claude’s eyes, which were still flaring with miasma, she saw his lips quiver.
“B-Blue… Ka… Kat… lina…”
The chef knife, the weapon of destruction that had obliterated Lodz and those who stood in his way, fell from his hand and went ‘plink’ as it stuck to the ground.
Katalina reached into her pocket and brought out a charm, hanging it around his neck. Slowly, the miasma bursting from Claude was sucked into it, but the queen did not wait at all. She reached in and kissed the cheek of the battered and bloody face.
This time, the eyes that were hollow slowly closed. Soon after, the flames extinguished from them as he gave into the sensation on his lips. With the ice starting to melt, weary arms looped around the girl in front of him. The battle had truly ended at this point as all signs of hostility vanished.
As if the abundance of miasma had been keeping him going the entire time, his strength finally gave out and he fell forward, into the arms of Queen Katalina.
Though the people around them cheered that their Queen had saved the man from demonizing, there was one person who watched with a quiet fury.
Trails of tears ran down Eryn Faulkner’s cheeks as she stared bitterly at the result. Her heart had just been crushed that Claude had chosen Katalina over her, despite all that he had told her. All he had promised her. Visibly shaken by this rejection, she almost wished that the healers had left her to die.
Slowly, she got up, going easy on the right arm that had been reattached and healed. With nothing left to say, she walked away from the cheers flung toward the Queen cradling her love as healers approached to aid them.