As I scooted away in a panic, I toppled off the side of the bed and onto the floor with a crash. The resulting racket rang heavily in the silent room.
Looking up from my sprawled-out position, legs propped against the bed, the sound of shuffling was heard. Blue hair peeked over the edge, a look of surprise and reddened cheeks emerging from there.
I hurriedly went to cover my lower region before shouting out, “Wh-Why am I, why are you…”
Katalina retreated from my sight for a moment before returning with her glasses on, and a strange device covering one side of her eye. It looked like the tool one used to examine gems in a jewelry store.
“Good. Your miasma levels have decreased by over 50%,” she finally said, ignoring my previous question.
After hearing her say that, I recalled a hint of what had happened to me. I rolled my legs off the bed and held my head, remembering the feeling of darkness overcoming me before I blacked out.
“What happened to me after? I can barely recall much after I turned. Did I… did I do anything bad?”
Worry apparent in my voice, Katalina wrapped some sheets around her before walking over and embracing me from behind. She began telling me of the rampage that I caused afterward, which had decimated the City of Lodz. During this time, I sat in silence, the shock of it numbing any intent to reply.
I could hardly believe the demonized person in her story had been me. The sheer destructive capability – leveling an entire city and turning its inhabitants into piles of flesh – my greatest fear had been realized.
It had taken Saki drawing upon her own darkness to match such power and keep me contained. My throat went dry as Katalina told me of her injuries in the process. Her body suffered from countless cuts, and she had lost a lot of blood, but fortunately, she was in stable condition. She simply needed to rest after recovery magic was used on her.
I tried to get up, wanting to pay her a visit and apologize. However, my body ached all over as I tried to stand.
“Take it easy, Claude! You’ve been unconscious for the past few days. Your injuries are far from healed!”
Katalina pulled me back toward her, my back resting once again on her ample chest.
I couldn’t help but stiffen up as I said, “Wait! Why are we like this in the first place?! I get that I was recovering, but that doesn’t explain what is going on here! Not that I mind…”
“Do you recall the ritual of mana purging in Sanshiro?”
“…uh… the one… that the Thunder Phoenix Clan was going to- Wait! Seriously?!” I spun around in surprise, accidentally knocking away the sheet that was covering Katalina.
But rather than acting surprised, she drew me into a hug to keep my eyes off her. Soon, the feeling of her mana tickled against my body, like the sun radiating waves of warmth where it touched. The ridiculous ritual that was meant to purge the miasma from a person’s body was actually being used now.
Despite the other problems this technique might have invoked, the process itself did work, as Lady Kaguya had advised the Queen. She felt that it would be no problem given the closeness of our relationship, but still, the sudden skinship nearly gave me a heart attack.
As Katalina continued to explain, the best option was to use her own body for the healing medium, as she was not only close to me but possessed a significant amount of mana. Direct skin to skin contact was the most efficient way to transfer mana, letting the abundance of it drive away the miasma from my body, like the purging of toxins.
Alternatively, other people with a high mana capacity could join in, but that was no doubt a line that Katalina would put her foot down upon. She was fine with offering herself to me, but the danger wasn’t high enough to ‘bother’ other people. Instead, she periodically recharged herself with the mana restoration machine she invented.
As she went over to her dresser for some clothing, she commented jokingly. “If you aren’t satisfied with the queen of a kingdom personally sleeping unclothed next to you, I can arrange for Sir Roderick or someone else to take the next shift.”
My jaw dropped at the thought of that. I knew she wasn’t serious, but I would rather frolic in public to an anime dance routine than suffer through such a thing.
“Dammit, you and your abuse of your royal powers,” I said with a feigned sigh of weariness. What a way to ruin the nice scene from before.
Katalina faced me, fully clothed now with a smile on her face. She, of course, knew that I was jesting.
However, I had a sudden thought. Though it was probably not a wise thing to ask, I couldn’t help but wonder why Eryn couldn’t help. She had far more mana than Katalina did, being an active magic knight. As I fiddled around with how to ask her without hurting her feelings, it seemed like she already read my mind.
“In case you are wondering, the procedure is impossible for Miss Eryn, or for any of the other Electi for that matter. Those that are dyed with the power of the purple flame are not pure enough for the purging, as Lady Kaguya has told. And with Miss Chrysanthemum still in Sanshiro, this was the only option.”
That made sense, now that I thought about it. The Oracle had mentioned about the uniqueness of Electi and how the Masters were also dyed in the same aura.
“But if that’s the case, what about Eryn? What happened to her?” Once again, a sense of panic kicked in. If I had demonized, her close connection to me meant that she would have felt the effects as well.
Katalina paused before speaking. I could feel that something was off. “She insists that she is holding up fine. Currently, she is leading the assault on Lodz, which was reoccupied after our temporary retreat to regroup. As the Oracle mentioned, keeping the two of you apart seems to mitigate the cross contamination of mana.”
I looked around, only now realizing that we were in Katalina’s royal bedroom, all the way back in Faulkner.
“What about Cor-“ As soon as those words left my mouth, I wanted to smack myself. Despite having seen her die in front of me, my mind blanked for a moment that the debonair Duchess was no longer there to support us.
However, that meant that I also remembered the important information that we learned during that battle. I had to pass it on to Katalina, the fact that Lamps Magellan was likely the Electi of Mana and fueling the guns of all the Purnesian soldiers.
After quickly spewing out the details to her, she made for the door. It was her duty as Queen to act upon this intel. Before heading out, she glanced back.
“I’ll let the others know, and… I’ll get you a change of clothes…,” Katalina said, her footsteps clacking down the hallway.
I was left alone to dwell upon my thoughts. After losing her dearest friend and with how I ended up, there was no way that Eryn was ‘holding up fine’. Like she tended to do, I could see her bottling up the sorrow and pushing forward, putting up a façade of bravado.
It was clear to me now. We had always been the same. Neither one of us wanted the other to be hurt. We were the same wreck of a person that tried to pass off our worries by finding something to dive headlong into. Only for Eryn, it was something constructive and fed into her ambitions.
I had to stand by her, no matter what. Because only by doing so would we be able to survive the hard times together. It had been a mistake to break off and pursue our own separate strategies without considering our options carefully. Our haste likely drove a wedge between the trust we had for each other, as there was no time to clear up any misunderstandings.
I forced myself up, despite Katalina’s advice to remain in bed to recover. Calling upon my enhanced vision, I looked down at myself, noting that I was still seeing lines across my skin. The effect of the miasma hadn’t fully disappeared from me yet, so the ‘Eyes of Ruination’ was currently the power I invoked. It was unsettling.
I dismissed the skill, thinking that it was best to rely on my own senses. I jabbed myself in some pressure points to force mana to circulate, helping my body revitalize somewhat.
After a few minutes, I could move around without wanting to die with every movement. Hopefully, some light exercise would get the gears running more smoothly.
“But first, I need some pants!”
After Katalina returned with a set of my normal chef uniform, she was surprised to see that I was up and moving about. Apparently, I had demolished the last outfit during my bout of demonic delirium.
I couldn’t waste any time if I wanted to get to where Eryn was. However, before I could trod off into the horizon, Katalina directed me to a room where a portal had been set up.
“This will get you to Fort Valga, at least. It cuts quite a bit on the travel time,” Katalina commented, back to her normal self.
I checked myself once over before facing the portal. As always, I was grateful to all the things Katalina did for me. I couldn’t deny that her honest desire to help touched my heart strings at times. Especially, at this moment.
“Once again, you force yourself. I can’t stop you from going, but please, know that I will always be here for you.”
I stared at Katalina, who wouldn’t hesitate to put her faith in me. Even though I loved Eryn the most, she made it so hard not for me to love her as well. I leaned over and gave her a gentle hug, which she happily returned.
But, I had decided to commit myself to Eryn. Life wasn’t so convenient. And Katalina knew that especially, being the queen of a kingdom. But we would push on, supporting each other’s backs because we still meant that much to each other.
If only life would actually give us a break…
Suddenly, I felt very lightheaded. My knees buckled as the sensation of something escaping my body left me disoriented. Alarming her, I felt Katalina’s arms try to support me, but I crashed to the ground.
“Claude! Claude! What happened?! Are you having a relapse!?” she said in a panic, trying everything she could to examine my condition.
Worried that I might have fallen back into the darkness, she quickly pulled out her eyepiece and scanned my core.
In the meantime, I clutched my head, the vertigo getting to me. A feeling of cold shot through my body, like the warmth had been sucked right out of it. It felt like something had been torn away, something that had always been with me. And after that, I felt empty. Alone. Lost.
“Claude, your core! The miasma level has dropped significantly!” she said with a look of surprise on her face. “This doesn’t make any sense…”
While those words should have been a good thing, a voice in my mind begged to differ. It screamed at me like the sound of something shattering. Instinctively, I knew something had gone wrong. But what, I couldn’t figure out.
My first instinct was to reach out and open my status window, hoping that it would tell me about my current condition. But as soon as it opened, what appeared to be an error window popped up over it.
[Warning! The Master-Electi Bond has been severed!]
Katalina and I stared dumbly at the words hovering in the air. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to. The status window – a representation of the parameters in this world – had just claimed that my bond with Eryn was now gone.
Pushing everything else aside, there was only one thing for me to do. I fought through the discomfort and weariness.
Bounding to my feet, I dashed through the portal and sped forward, praying that somehow it had been all a mistake.