I rubbed my eyes before checking with Saki, but her expression had the same sense of wonder that was on my face. Plowing through the lines of soldiers, two people in full body ‘sentai’ suits, complete with the helmet, whizzed through the crowd like unstoppable forces of nature.
It didn’t matter whether they guarded the attacks or not, shields and weapons tore out of their grips upon impact. As if one’s own level mattered none, the soldiers were knocked off their feet and sent crashing to the ground.
A puff of mana lingered upon the pair’s bodies like mist slowly carried off by the wind. Just when they paused, another burst erupted from their limbs, and off they went again, barreling into the next set of opponents.
In just a matter of moments, they had made themselves known that they were no ordinary pair. Easily taking our men down aside, their movements were extremely jerky and inhuman, like they were not fully in control. But then, a thought came to my mind.
“Wait, don’t tell me that those are… thrusters?!”
Saki blinked at me like I was nuts, but then she trained her eyes upon them and focused. “That’s… how can that be possible here?” Saki replied, quite unsure of the reality we were facing.
Rather than the cartoony stuntmen of Kamen Rangers or whatever that they were dressed as, their bodies moved like they were being propelled with miniature rockets attached to them. My mind couldn’t wrap around why this was the case. But it didn’t matter. They were wiping the floor with Sistina’s army.
I sprang into action, drawing Radiant Light and preparing ‘The River Styx’ on them. Surely, their speed wouldn’t save them from this deadly attack. As I let loose a raging purple wind ahead of me, the two of them dove in different directions. It was hard to tell which one was which, as they had matching gray suits.
‘At least, pick different colors like they normally do!’ I thought as I readied another swing.
This time, I let loose a horizontal swing in the shape of a half-moon that gave one little room to dodge from. There was no escape from this!
But my confidence took a nosedive as the one I fought dove straight into the wind without a single care. The body remained completely whole as the suited fighter continued running toward me unaffected.
A burst of energy from my opponent’s elbow launched a fist so fast that I didn’t have time to block. Actually, I was too occupied at the shrinking form that approached me, who was over a foot shorter than where my eyes lingered. Standing at nearly the same height as Ludmila, the shock of a child being my opponent caused me to hesitate.
The fist came crashing into my stomach. Just when I thought that my defense stat would carry me through, I felt myself bowled over and launched into the air. Crashing into the ground moments later, I quickly sat up in surprise.
‘How in the bloody hell did that even happen?!’
The blow felt completely different than anything that I experienced before in a fight. Looking over at my level, around the same as a legend like Pietro, I expected to shrug off the attack; wearing Sistina’s strongest armor should’ve done the job. But instead, I, too, was tossed casually aside like a freaking bag of rice!
I looked over to Saki, who changed tactics immediately after seeing me bounce away pathetically. Now, she was slamming her mallets into the ground to create obstacles for the other suited fighter to run into.
I glanced back, seeing that my opponent was charging forward once again. This time, I brought Radiant Light up to block. The flat of the blade echoed as it was struck, and then… the weapon tore out of my grasp!
Stunned yet again, my head followed the trajectory of the sword before I realized how foolish that was. Guarding with the gauntlet on my left arm, I tried to block the follow-up straight punch.
My body was flung backwards yet again. The power of that swing was indescribable, a miracle that it could launch me so far even while blocking. As I landed another time, an accompanying thump hit the ground next to me. Saki grimaced as she clutched her stomach from a similar blow that had sent her reeling.
‘This doesn’t make any sense! How are they doing that?!’
My mind screamed for some answer. Given how high leveled the two of us were, the fact that we could be knocked aside in a single blow seemed utterly bizarre! Granted, there were many strange things in this world, but their blows had been so powerful that it had taken us by…
My musings ended with a shout as something finally clicked. I looked at Saki and my armor. Neither one had been damaged. The soldiers that were knocked away, they were slowly getting up, like they had merely taken a bad stumble. Sure, the attacks hurt, but they didn’t do any true damage to our health bars. Something was really off about all this, and it finally occurred to me why.
The few times that I felt a blow hit me this strongly, I could count them on my hands. Running into an object on my levi-board suddenly. Or getting casually smacked by someone when I least suspected. Basically, whenever I was careless.
Even though my defense stat was based on level and good equipment, colliding into everyday things didn’t just bounce me off. Tripping and falling didn’t cause less pain. In fact, one’s stats didn’t seem to have any bearing on self-inflicted harm or accidents. And that was exactly the same feeling that came from my opponent’s blows.
But then, how was that possible? It wasn’t like they drove a truck into me, despite that being how it felt. I got up and went on the defense again. My eyes honed onto the attacker’s movements, scrutinizing what could be different about them. There had to be something. I just needed to pay close attention.
As I watched him sail towards me, I dodged to the side, just in time for a fist to sail harmlessly by. A streak of mana whizzed by my vision from the missed attempt, like a rocket suddenly shooting across.
‘Wait, a rocket?…’ I had totally looked over it at first, but the fact that the kid had thrusters attached to him was really messed up. Apparently, the suit already blew my mind, making me overlook everything else odd.
But as I continued to dodge away from the strikes, it was growing apparent to me. The bursts of propulsion only happened at the moment of striking. The jerky movements made it difficult for the attackers to stop their blows. Even when they missed, there was no canceling of the thrust itself. He couldn’t stop mid-action.
It felt calculated, robotic even. Like a remotely controlled toy being given inputs. Even though the blows were powerful, it didn’t feel like I was attacked by it. More like, I was simply in the way. A single thought lingered in my head as to whether I could exploit that. But I had to act fast, because Saki looked like she was having a hard time as well.
‘Here goes nothing!’ I held my breath as the next attack came. But I wouldn’t wait for it this time.
My body lunged forward, making a beeline straight into the attacker’s fist. I gritted my teeth in preparation for the resulting blow, staring at the helmeted face which I couldn’t see. Did that person have a look of surprise? Of panic? I wished that I could see what was under there to know if I made the right move.
But then, I smiled lightly as the fist slammed into my chest and unceremoniously bounced off like a twig thrown against a tree. Moments later, the thruster activated, pulling the kid in a completely different direction. The programmed attack had a lag that it couldn’t cancel out in time.
Immediately, I reached out and looped my arm around him, restraining the attacker from behind. Even though the thrusters went off, all it succeeded in doing was bucking me back and forth. I felt like I was holding onto a mechanical bull at a rodeo.
Still, I managed to pull a knife up to his neck. “I’ve got you now!” I cried as I went to plunge it in. My hand was suddenly knocked away, a slight pain ringing across my palm. The knife clattered to the ground.
“You! Unhand my brother!” The childish voice of a young girl barked at me. A certain hollowness in her tone gave off a sense of sadness and desperation. She had sprinted over from Saki and joined in to free her sibling apparently.
For the first time, I heard one of them talk, and it was made clear that they were children underneath the disguises. As the brother continued to toss and turn my body all around with the thrusters, the sister moved around to punch me from behind.
By this time, I had gotten used to their movements. I wouldn’t be so easy to catch. I moved away from her strike, and then, I brought up my hand, which now glowed with miasma. Slowly, it formed into the shape of a blade, threatening her with it. If they didn’t surrender, then I would have no choice but to kill the person I was holding.
“Stop it! Don’t make me do this!”
Even for a war, this was going too far. I really didn’t want to fall any further, to justify even greater evils for the sake of protecting others. But still, the sister didn’t give in, like she thought that I would’ve killed them anyways. ‘Is this what even children think of me now?’
My hand moved down, drawing a swift slice across his neck. I purposefully made the cut shallow, enough that it could be healed but deep enough to prove my seriousness. Though the girl hesitated for a moment, she quickly went back on the offense right after.
“What, do you think I won’t do it?” I barked at her in a last resort, but another voice, hollow and male, mocked my words.
“Do what? Kill me? Like our parents? Like everyone?”
Cold as ice, the words from the brother echoed in my head. Immediately, all of his thrusters activated, causing us to spin rapidly around. The sudden inertia, combined with my hesitation, flung me off and into the ground.
When I looked up, an unexpected sight greeted me. The brother was perfectly fine. Even though I had sliced him with my blade of miasma, there were no signs of blood. A single tear in his suit wasn’t even apparent. My ability to cut through everything had been neutralized completely.
“How can this…” The words were stuck in my throat. There was a person here, likely two, that I simply couldn’t cut. Even though rock shattered, iron split, and flesh cleaved, my attacks did nothing to these two. I couldn’t even fathom how it was possible. The only guess I could even make was that Lamps Magellan, Purnesia’s genius inventor, had found some trick to counter my abilities.
‘There has to be a way! I just have to trap him again… and… and…’
I slowly got up, talking myself into trying again. I couldn’t give up yet. Neither side had truly lost. But then, a completely different voice interrupted.
“Helloooo, Orwitz, Gwendolyn! That’s enough horseplay, mkaaaay! We should continue with the retrieval. The data indicates that it wouldn’t be wise to continue lingering here, so chop chop!”
“Yes, Master Lamps,” the two said in sequence.
The sibling sentai pair bolted away from Saki and I, heading straight for the Golabki guy. Though we tried to give chase, they managed to tear the giant man away from his bindings in a flash. Before either of us could swing our weapons, the thrusters on their bodies all fired, kicking up dust as they shot away at a speed that few could keep up with. Holding Golabki by either arm, they left us standing in awe while rocketing back towards Purnesia’s capital.
I had failed to stop them. They had wreaked havoc on our encampment, and then stolen back my prisoner. I still wasn’t done with him. I wanted… I wanted him to lead me to Eryn’s murderer. I wanted to hold him accountable until the moment that I found my revenge.
“I’m going after them! I-I…”
I had to get back that one lifeline. The very reason I fought. I felt like I couldn’t move on until I did.
“Wait, Claude. Don’t… chase after…” Saki, beaten up from her fight with the girl, slumped down and coughed out blood. She had taken quite a few hits, unable to dodge them as well as I could. The accumulated damage built up, and finally, she collapsed behind me.
I didn’t even notice her condition. My eyes were already focused on the horizon, at the capital that laid in the distance. My attention couldn’t be ripped away from that spot… not until a small figure blipped right in the way of it.
A girl, short like the ones I had fought not long ago, stood there. She wore a large mask over her face, but her black and white fluttering garments were unmistakable. She was the stoic maid, the little sister character that I had asked to stay with Katalina. I wondered why Ludmila was here, so far from home where the battlefield lay.
But then, she brought up a kitchen knife, much like one that I wielded. And then, she declared.
“I am Guardian Mask. A love turned evil. A heart twisted by grief. Mast-, no, Claude. You have fallen into the depths of darkness. For that, I can no longer follow you. It is Ludmila’s duty to kill the one who betrayed her!”
With that, her little body zoomed forward, the blade of her knife aimed straight for my heart.