Ludmila dashed forward, her arm thrusting sharply. The knife pointed at her opponent this time was not Urkan, but the Master that she chose to follow in this world, Claude Evers. In her mind, the corruption that started to plague him made her recall how deep the evil had been rooted within Urkan.
Once she rediscovered those memories, they betrayed everything that she once believed in. Ludmila reawakened, back in the Kinkou home. With her task complete and Lau taking over guard duty, Ludmila instantly headed toward Sistina. Only Chrys’s bittersweet smile showed why she disappeared in such a rush.
Halfway through the lands of Sistina, Ludmila turned north. Veering away from the capital, zooming past the gates of Fort Valga, and zipping along the barren wasteland of Purnesia, Ludmila refused to slow down. A great disorder was left in her heart, one that she couldn’t move on without knowing.
Eventually, the battlefield between Sistina and Purnesia came into view, and that was when she cloaked herself in mana and erased her presence. With only the shuffling of dirt from her footsteps, she silently approached her target.
The man in question now wore sturdy armor, rather than his normal kitchen attire. In place of a knife meant to nourish people was now a sword, carving away at the very lives he balked at taking. He slashed, he slayed, he pushed his way forward, burying any guilt for his actions.
Her Master… her former Master, he no longer felt the same anymore.
Just like when she discovered that Urkan had been betraying her all along, she doubted whether Claude fell into the same deadly spiral. For the sake of his goals, had he too lost all heart after losing someone important to him?
And when, when would it be the time… when he turned his blade toward everyone else?
Ludmila shook her head as she watched him fight in annoyance and fury, seeking to take revenge on those who had killed Big Sis Eryn. A tear shed from her eyes as she watched with trembling hope that he had not also gone mad.
Ludmila couldn’t bear it if he did. She refused to see the same history played out once again.
And after watching Claude fight against the supposed murderer and against two combatants around her age, Ludmila finally decided. She would not let Claude turn into a second Urkan. She would wipe that hatred from his face before he lost himself.
She donned a mask that she grabbed from the Kinkou home, and as Guardian Mask, she used the thin veil as an obligation to stop him at all costs. Calling him out, Ludmila was willing to bet her life to stop an evil that polluted the fondest memories of the man before her. As her knife met with his sword, the memories of the past melded together with the present.
A flash of sparks erupted as Ludmila’s knife was blocked by Urkan’s. The two bared their fangs at each other before Urkan tossed her aside.
Ludmila’s kitchen knife slammed right into Radiant Light, as Claude blocked just in time. Even with her speed, he was used to her movements, her angle of approach. Her steps were swift but straightforward. She would lose her balance and fall otherwise. And that was known especially by Claude.
The two of them had trained before, in the mountains of Sanshiro. They had developed their fighting abilities together, just like how Urkan had trained her in the previous life. The sensation of attacks colliding in rhythm felt familiar to her, but that only made her sorrow deeper as her heart carried a heavy burden.
Even with her high speed, Claude refused to lose sight of her. Against her, his bloodlust had calmed down. Perhaps, he believed that he could continue to trick her. Maybe, the levels that he gained and the equipment he wore gave him a slight upper hand. Regardless, she hated that casual glance that he gave her, like he was still looking upon a child, one that would believe any false intentions.
Even after she was thrown upon the ground, Urkan stared at her emotionlessly. There was no anger in his stance at her freeing the captives. There was no aura of desire to kill her. He merely looked on, the same as always, beckoning her to come forward. To attack him with all her might. His expression was the very same as when he beckoned her during training sessions. When he had utter confidence that she could do nothing to him.
Just how long had he been acting? Had he given her this cold expression the whole time? One that was only laced with a false kindness? Ludmila was no longer sure of what to believe. She had finally realized that the shallow kindness that he displayed was only a front, and she had whole-heartedly been tricked into believing it.
Gripping her knife in anger, she hobbled back toward him, hoping to cut some part of him, any part.
Ludmila lashed out, aiming to drive that knife in between Claude’s armor. Though she was light on her feet, her attacks still came at a normal speed. The instant in which she swung was no faster than what Claude could swing out to block.
Their blows continued to clash, all while Sistina’s army waited. They didn’t dare to get in between another fight between Electi. His fight with Saki was still fresh in their memories. All they could do was to send out another report again, and hope someone more brave and powerful could stop them.
Ludmila mixed up her swings with palm thrusts now. Unlike Claude, who was wearing cumbersome armor and wielded a long sword, Ludmila could move more freely once she got into range. Claude focused on the more dangerous knife attacks, letting the other strikes pummel against the metal plating.
Even though they provided a lot of protection, Claude found it difficult to turn properly. Not to mention, every successful strike felt like his body was rung like a bell. It didn’t take long for him to be fed up and unleash his ultimate attack.
“Soul Rending Strike – Zero Point!”
But Ludmila knew better. She had been watching him for a very long time. The subtle tells that he was planning to execute that attack were obvious. Immediately, she backpedaled a safe distance away. Skidding to a stop ten meters away, she stared at Claude once again.
Seeing that his attack had failed, Claude decided that his current attire was dragging him down. He cast aside Radiant Light and unbuckled the heavy armor given to him, letting it fall to the ground. Underneath it all, he still wore his chef uniform.
Reaching into his Item Box, he pulled out two kitchen knives before getting into his normal stance. Finally, it seemed like he was back to his most familiar form. Finally, she could fight him for real.
Ludmila dashed forward once again, employing a similar strategy, but this time, Claude was able to keep up, swinging both weapons simultaneously. No miasma leaked out from his blows, careful as to not injure Ludmila. This was an act that she could only snort dismissively at. He was still not showing his real self.
Claude was trying to immobilize Ludmila, only using attacks to inject mana into her gates. Of course, that was the obvious thing to do. He couldn’t very well kill a young girl that had been his ally in front of the entire army. That would only cement his villainy.
Claude was no idiot. As long as he didn’t feel seriously threatened, those swings of his would hide his true intent, his true self that hid behind logic and cunning. That had been the case for Urkan, nice and supportive only for his own benefit.
But Ludmila was determined to find a way to break through that shell. She was determined to draw out the real Claude.
Even with no legs, Ludmila refused to give up. She bounced, she flailed, she pushed off the ground, all in hopes of connecting a single blow onto Urkan’s body. But she was at a great disadvantage. The man was an intimidating warrior even when she was at the top of her game before.
How would she be able to defeat him?
Urkan eyed her, mocking her futile efforts. His condescending gaze wondered how much longer she would struggle. The others wouldn’t help her. He had broken them. They wouldn’t act as long as he stood tall. Only this broken child of his offered any resistance. And that amused him to no end.
He bent down. His shadow was looming over her exhausted body like a pack of wolves descending upon a cornered prey. He moved to pick her up and dangle her before him in victory.
Yet, Ludmila still did not give up. As soon as that hand approached, she reached out and latched onto it, pulling herself up and climbing up the length of his arm. Her light body allowed her to snake up and slither around to his back. Before Urkan could fight back, she now straddled him from behind.
And with one hand still clenching the knife with dear life, she stabbed down. A gush of blood sprayed into the air. Red liquid gushed out of his shoulder. She had missed his neck as he swung wildly to get her off.
The momentum of his spin nearly knocked her away, but she pulled onto his hair to keep from being bucked off. Another swing downwards. This time, right in the shoulder blades. Urkan howled as he jumped around to get her off, but he couldn’t reach her.
More and more stabs happened, over and over. Blood sprayed all over Ludmila from Urkan’s back. Until finally, he fell, back-first into the ground. A nearly 100-kilogram body crushed her under its weight. Ludmila’s breath was squeezed from her lungs, and her vision went starry. Nothing but pain erupted from her body being pinned to the ground.
Finally, the heavy body rolled to the side. She could feel something else, the warm dampness of blood slathered across her.
And not long after, a face that twisted in horrid pain scowled before her eyes, spraying specks of blood into her vision.
“You shitty brat! I was going to let you live too!”
Ludmila could barely sort out those words from his haggard scream. But her eyes honed onto the knife in his hand, hastily drawn and just as hastily swung. A dull thud thumped against her chest, the knife lodging itself straight into her heart.
‘So, everything ended at this point…,’ Ludmila thought as she raised her own weapon up futilely. She didn’t have enough strength to strike anymore.
But then, a loud clang sounded before her. Urkan fell over, right on top of her extended knife. The weight of his body plunged it deep into his chest, even as Ludmila’s hand was crushed underneath it. Just like Ludmila, a fatal blow to the heart had ended them both.
And the last thing Ludmila saw as she closed her eyes was the sight of the remaining villagers brandishing make-shift weapons, their will to fight rekindled.
Just like that time, Ludmila refused to give up. It didn’t matter that she was fighting against someone that everyone now deemed as the ‘Grim Reaper.’ Ludmila would take that step, the one that no one else dared to do. She would ensure that Claude would fall no further.
This time, she had her legs. She had the gift of speed. And above all, she now had the determination bestowed by her former self.
“I am… Ludmila Dikiy! The Savage! The Wild! The daughter of Tygda and Kudecha!” She threw down her mask, which clacked on the ground and rolled away. “One who bows down to no one! One who strives to be fiercer than the Master who raised me! And I prove to you and my family that my spirit will not crumble!”
Her full memory unlocked, she felt the pride of her people course within her body. Even in her previous world, she had a ferocity that nearly matched that of Urkan, the greatest warrior they had ever known. But with the blessing of speed from the Gods, that made her a truly fearsome opponent.
Her surroundings slowed, just as they normally did when she went fast. But this time, something different happened. The people stood stock still, not a movement to be seen. Even the air felt heavy and dense as a world of absolute silence blanketed the entire area. A single sound echoed across this vast emptiness. And with it, a small window popped into her vision.
[Skill Acquired – Clock-endspiel]
Immediately, the chime of a bell rang, and then, a few seconds later another. It only took a brief glance at the skill to see what that meant. Immediately, Ludmila dashed towards Claude, racing to reach him before the bells struck a twelfth time. She had only this long to put her everything into this single attack, one that allowed her to escape the flow of time for a mere twelve rings of the bell.
It took five more strokes for her to reach him.
At the eighth stroke, she stood on her tiptoes and ruffled his hair, seeing the resemblance of Urkan in him, not in body, but in spirit.
On the ninth, she parted his shirt, leaving the chest bare.
Ten strokes. She placed one hand on his cheek and the other, wielding a knife, right up to his heart.
The eleventh stroke rang, but that was ignored as a kiss was placed on his cheek. The other hand pressed the blade into his body.
And finally, she prayed. The twelfth and final stroke echoed. And time ran once again.