More than two weeks had passed since Eryn disappeared. Though we never found a body, the broken bond hung on my status window like a tragic memento. I had to face the bitter reality that she had died in this war.
Many times, I told myself that I could have done better. That there was some measure that I could have made to keep her death from happening. No matter what the others said, however they tried to reason with me, it didn’t dull the truth of the matter.
I had failed her.
Eryn summoned me as her protector. An Electi was supposed to protect his Master. That was what I believed. The whole summoning business that was so prevalent in my mind from various games and anime or whatnot, that belief shattered within me.
‘Electi are special. They are gifted with much greater powers than their Masters. Don’t blame yourself for her death…’
“The very reason for that is to have the power to protect them, is it not?” I shot back in response.
‘Look around. How many of us have also lost their Masters? Ludmila and Saki and Lau…’
“That couldn’t be helped. They were being manipulated. I had time. I knew something was wrong with Eryn. I-I could have stopped her….” My voice broke as I blamed myself for not seeking help sooner.
‘You were turning into a demon. She was trying to save you. That’s all. Please, please don’t blame yourself for another’s good intentions!’
“But I will… Especially since we were facing such a thing as demons… I don’t know what I was thinking… to wait and see, over something so serious and unstable…”
Even with all these excuses and regrets, that was in the past. The decisions were already made, so there was nothing that I could do about them anymore. I pushed on, to find some meaning to being left behind with this newfound power.
Due to the loss of Eryn, the miasma in my body grew stronger. But at the same time, severing that bond gave me more control of it. It didn’t rage wildly like that time I passed out in Lodz. Rather, the powers that I now possessed were in my direct control.
In a rage after finding Radiant Light, I rushed head-on into the battlefield, using these abilities to the fullest extent. As long as the purification charm hung around my neck, my mind remained clear. This time, I knew full well what I was doing.
‘The River Styx’, an ominous name for the deadly skill, harnessed the miasma that spewed from my core and swept around the area like a veil emitted from my motions. The wave of miasma was like an extension of my body cutting all that it touched. And combined with my maxed out Critical stat, that attack sliced through the weak points of objects and people.
The attack literally destroyed the connections along the mana grains, causing any object to become brittle and crumble upon impact. The same happened to a body in which the mana pathways were completely severed. Like flesh dolls that were held together with invisible stitching, the purple waves snipped them with its breath, causing people to separate into a bloody mess.
I thought that I would be horrified by this result. But somehow, I stopped caring. My hesitations already caused me to lose two people close to me. I could no longer let my enemies fool me. Neither could I forgive myself if I played into their trickery.
And so, I marched forward, leading the charge down the middle. It was a position that Cornelius and Eryn had previously. But without them, I had to fill in the gap. Those deadly bullets that Purnesian soldiers fired, fueled by the strength of Lamps Magellan, barely affected me.
After I realized this, I made a decision. I would finish what they started. I would end this war that had done so much damage already. The number of people lost so far was already more than anyone could bear. But before I left again for the battlefield to lead the way, Katalina stopped me.
“At the very least, please wear this. It no longer has an owner, so someone needs to use it.”
I eyed the bulky metal armor that Katalina brought out, the Sistina Royal Suit. It had previously been worn by her brother, Oswald, and before that by her father, Reginald. Not only did it provide the best protection of anything known in the kingdom, it was also a symbol of Sistina. For the person donning this armor, its bright glow told enemies that he was coming for them. Those allied with the will of Sistina refused to back down, charging forward with the armorbearer’s glow leading the way.
I sighed in irony that I was now receiving it, the one person that nearly destroyed that symbol, causing Oswald’s army to lose their nerve at that time. Still, Katalina believed that no other person could carry that weight. With many skeptical eyes nervously wondering if my powers would eventually get out of hand, the trust of Queen Katalina was the one thing that people could believe in.
And I trusted in her as well. The lengths that she would go to save me, that was unquestionable. She had a good head too. She wouldn’t hesitate to do what was needed if I went too far. Her parting statement was all that was needed to send a reassuring shiver down my spine.
“If you become a demon, I’ll lock you in portal space. And then, I WILL find a way to bring you back.”
Her promise in mind, I charged forward alone, swirling my miasma like a magical dome of protection, the bullets from Purnesia’s secret weapon became nothing more than glass beads shattering upon metal. Before this battlefield, I finally understood what my other self had felt.
I wanted to end this war as soon as possible. Just like he did, I had to swallow my naïve kindness to keep others safe. But this time was different. I fought on a side with people that I could trust. They had not pulled the wool over my eyes with shallow promises and empty praises. I was determined to protect the livelihood that I had built up with them, whatever remaining that I could salvage.
I no longer flinched as bodies collapsed into indistinguishable splatters around me. No hesitation came as I swung Radiant Light. Truly, I had become what the enemy was now calling me, the Grim Reaper. As I plowed my way forward, halfway into the City of Rivne, the sight of people running away in fear slightly relieved me.
“Good. Run away. It’s better if you just gave up and surrendered. Then, I won’t have to do this….”
My whispers weren’t meant for anyone but myself. At least, talking to myself in this way reaffirmed that I hadn’t gone mad. Exploiting this shady power to overwhelm the enemy was the only way. But that didn’t mean that I was willing to give into it.
I watched as the entire enemy formation broke apart as they retreated from the city that quickly turned into a ghost town. However, one person stayed behind, with what looked like pistols drawn. His bald head glistened with sweat from the fighting, drawing my gaze as the sunlight fell upon it.
My heart thudded immediately, and I gripped the sword in my hand tighter. According to various reports, Eryn had fought a man of that same description before she disappeared. I gritted my teeth as I knew that I had to take him down, but carefully.
I had to know. ‘Did he kill her? Is this the person that I should blame?’
I would make him tell me. I wanted to know what had happened in Eryn’s final moments. My mind was searching for some sense of finality. With that in mind, I rushed forward to intercept him, the dual pistol wielder that looked ready for a fight.
I swung Radiant Light forward. Miasma from my body extended along with the blade, turning into a blast of purple wind that aimed for his legs. If that could stop him in his tracks, then I wouldn’t have to invoke more desperate measures.
However, the man was much more agile than the normal soldiers. He leapt out of the attack path and immediately went on the counterattack. Moving to and fro, he carefully dodged as I flung more strikes that whipped at the surroundings.
“Geez, a nimble one he is!” I muttered under my breath. I focused on him, activating a small window that gave a brief glimpse of his stats. Fortunately, he had no ward against a Status Check. “Level 82?” I mouthed softly. He was surprisingly strong, given the lack of capable ones in Purnesia.
Likely, he had been trained especially for combat. I noticed that his pistols lacked any bluish glow that was indicative of a Resonance Stone. That meant his attacks were really his own, not borrowed from Lamps Magellan. That was one less thing to worry about.
The way he maneuvered comfortably between my attacks further caught my attention, as it felt like each one of my moves were being predicted. Despite not being that much older than me, a strange pressure, like that of Pietro or Lau, came from him. For some reason, I attributed intensity with old age, but he was far from that.
Frustration dotted my brow at my inability to hit him. The shots that he fired came from angles that were difficult to intercept. Yet, the man’s movements weren’t too fast to track. After growing accustomed to Ludmila’s eye-straining speed, following this man wasn’t so bad.
As I spun around to keep my eyes on him and cut down any bullets that came my way, the man suddenly fired low, causing me to bend over to intercept the attacks aimed at my feet. While I could have dodged, my arm had already been primed to swing at any incoming attacks, so I did it by reflex.
By the time my eyes followed the bullets’ low trajectory, I cursed at myself for being drawn into an obvious feint. I just couldn’t help looking in the direction of an attack, and that had been taken advantage of.
‘Geez, this guy has some skills!’ I thought as I swung behind me to cover an opening that was drilled into me by Lau. But I only heard the sound of whooshing air as no sign of him could be found. A light clink on the ground alerted me instead.
“No, you don’t!” I kicked the grenade that suddenly appeared, which blew up another wave of purple wind. I watched as it never went off. Rather, it crumbled into little pieces that scattered about. Absorption devices worked against miasma just as it did for mana, as I discovered not long ago. It left a hole in my defenses temporarily before the miasma could regenerate around me. That was another benefit of being cloaked in the stuff; it naturally acted as protection against attacks. Even without the dangerous veil of death, the miasma seemed to provide a boost in my parameters.
While I leveled up a bit from all the people I slew so far, I had just hit level 75, but likely, most of my stats were currently stronger than the higher-level gunslinger. This was already a duel between warriors of heroic ability, but eventually, one side had to give.
I chased after a sign of movement, several bullets pounded into my chest and head. Even with the miasma protecting me, they hurt like hell! I brought Radiant Light up to block them, but then, I felt a strong blow against the blade that sent a shockwave down the length of my arm.
I looked toward the man in anger as he had decided to whack me with the butt of the gun instead. That strangely ticked off a nerve, as it almost felt like an insult to be pistol whipped instead of being shot. But that had been strangely effective as the blows made it hard for me to grip the sword. Before long, Radiant Light flew out of my hands, leaving me unarmed.
With the barrel of the gun trained on my vitals, the gunman beckoned me to surrender. I didn’t know why he had done so, but I would question him afterward. I held my breath as I focused on my core for one final attack that only those familiar with mana could detect.
The gunman didn’t even have time to register as a bright blue flash erupted from my stomach, smashing into him and short-circuiting every mana gate in his body.
Soul Rending Strike, the Zero Point version, launched a wave of mana all around me like an explosion of pure energy. Even with my body coated in miasma, the glow of mana harmlessly passed through it and smacked the intended target at close range. It had been the same move that I used on Saki in the tournament, but I had accidentally uttered a sillier name due to the circumstance.
Though it was my trump card, I was forced to use it. But thankfully, the mana used in this attack only knocked out the opponent, being a technique borne from kindness. I watched as the gunman fell backwards, unable to respond.
With him out of the way, the rest of the Purnesian forces soon fled the city. The whizzing of levi-boards from the Valkyrie Squad came into earshot. They had been not far behind, picking off any enemy stragglers.
One board rider with long, rose-colored hair slowed down as she approached me. Though she was a bit wary of me, which was understandable, it was her duty to report in.
“Miss Lingonberle, it seems that I have captured the man that last fought the late Marchioness Faulkner. I plan to put him in custody for questioning.”
Violet, the captain of the Valkyrie Squad now that Eryn was gone, nodded and gave a sigh of relief. To her, my voice sounded normal despite the miasma that lingered around my body. While she was nowhere as trusting as Katalina or Saki, she understood how much Eryn had meant to me, so she was one of the few that voluntarily stood beside me.
Honestly, it would have been difficult to lead without having her act as a proxy for the rest of the squad. Eryn had raised a competent leader in her stead. The only question was, who would govern the domain now that she was gone. The same went for Cornelius’s region as well, but already, there were family members bickering over the rights. How typical.
But for now, we had finally cracked through another defensive line leading toward the capital. While we waited for the other armies to join up from the other entry points, there was plenty of time to settle things with the one that took away my dearest person.
As I dragged the man away, Violet shivered as she saw the look in my eyes. She collected his weapons before following several paces behind, unsure as to what I was planning.