The rumble of life once again roared around Ludmila as the chime of the final bell tapered off. In the next blink of an eye, movement returned to its normal flow.
“GAHHH!!!” Claude yelled, realizing that he had been stabbed. To him, she had disappeared and reappeared before him, totally causing him to step back in shock. But Ludmila wouldn’t let him get away. She kept her hand on the knife sunken into his chest and was pulled along.
Now, this was the moment that she was waiting for. The rage, the fury, the raw response of a person whose life was backed into the furthest corner. Only by reaching this point would she truly know who Claude Evers was.
And then she saw it. A swing in desperation. The purest of reactions straight from a person’s core sense of self.
Ludmila sighed, baring her own chest to greet it. Once again, destiny planned for it. The same result. But she was resigned to it. This was just her past catching up to her. She had simply been too late to see that the same ending loomed before her.
The glint of the metal blade flashed before her eyes. But she merely smiled as a mutual death between warriors, their hearts pierced, seemed somewhat romantic to her. Even if they were at odds now, Claude still held a special place in her heart, just like Urkan did. Even if their motivations were impure, the fact that she was raised by them didn’t change.
All the tender moments that were shared. All the ‘love’ she accepted from them. She couldn’t deny that they were her favorite moments in life. And rather than suffering the aftermath of knowing that she had been wronged all this time, it was better for her to die with them.
But this time, the dull sound of metal colliding and the screech of shattered pieces twisting away from each other caught her attention. Like a blade that slammed into something much harder than itself, the metal fractured and burst into sparks.
Even the deadly miasma that coated that knife morphed into a bright bluish glow, a momentary change that was like fireworks between them. And just like that, the knife in Claude’s hand became nothing more than bits showering the ground.
He had used a burst of mana to destroy the knife that he swung in haste. The impact of it hitting Ludmila’s chest with no intent to harm her resulted in it crumbling. Seeing that she was unharmed, Claude simply smiled and reached up to stroke her cheek, before falling to his knees.
His face did not look like an angry man, nor was that of a guilty one. He merely hung his head in apology, like he had failed her. Even in his own despair, that was the one thing that drove him. Ludmila could see it clearly now.
Failure to keep his loved ones safe. Just like what hung over Ludmila’s head. He fought only for the sake of others, not for his own happiness. And only in desperation to fight against that failure did he rise to the occasion.
Claude was a fellow kindred spirit. Realizing that, Ludmila bent down and said the only thing that she could think of.
“I forgive you. So please… find it in you to forgive yourself. If I can… so can you.”
Unsure if he had actually heard her, Claude tipped back and fell backwards with a thud. Now sure that the fight was over, teams of healing specialists raced to the scene, checking on the condition of the Chancellor.
A Japanese girl, all beaten up but slowly recovering, dragged herself up to Ludmila.
“You didn’t really kill him, did you?” Saki asked, the mallet in her arm trembling. She had woken up from her previous fight, only to see Ludmila stabbing Claude. She was the one that got the healers moving to check on him.
“No, the knife didn’t go deep enough. Not to his heart. I was waiting… waiting for the very last moment to do it. I was praying for the slightest hope that he truly loved me back,” Ludmila said. Tears started running down her cheeks. “And he did. Fate didn’t repeat itself. It didn’t. Which is why I’m so grateful now.”
Saki reached over and embraced the young girl who had been through a lot. Given what she knew about her, Saki was amazed that Ludmila hadn’t lost herself to the same darkness that took over the others. But she could sense something had changed though.
“Ludmila, your speech seems to have gotten much better all of a sudden.”
“It has. I finally remember everything. Of whom I was. I’ve come to accept it all.”
Not only had her stunted language disappeared, but Ludmila gave off a different aura altogether. Her words carried more emotion, and her movements were no longer as cold and robotic. As Ludmila hugged Saki back, she could feel the young girl going limp in her arms.
‘This must have been hard on her. To stop Claude from losing himself. Even I couldn’t find it within me to do such a thing.’
Saki simply stroked Ludmila’s hair, thinking that she was just exhausted from the engagement. But then, she felt an incredible energy stirring within her.
“Huh? Ludmila? Ludmila? What’s going on?”
There was no answer as the girl was already passed out, but it seemed like such changes within her were only just beginning.
Ludmila found herself in a forest, blanketed in white. The snow fell gently, coating the area in a serene cold. Her breath puffed out wispy clouds, but somehow, she didn’t feel chilly. The frilly outfit that left some skin exposed should have been too thin to block out the cold, but even then, she had no goosebumps.
She looked around. The shapes of the trees and the taste of the air felt nostalgic. She took a deep breath to let it fill her. It didn’t take her long to realize where she was. Home. Or rather, a sweet memory of her home as she knew that there was no way she could have returned.
The moment of homesickness barely sunk in before another girl came into her vision. A girl that was unmistakable but still surprising, nonetheless. If she hadn’t known that it was a dream, then she would have panicked. But then again, hardly anything surprised her anymore.
“Hello, me. What brings you here?” Ludmila asked the girl, herself in the attire of her previous world.
That ‘Ludmila’ was wearing tanned pelts and holding a knife, the old appearance of herself, fresh from a hunt. That was the ‘Ludmila’ that she tried to bury deep within her memories, ones that became too bitter after discovering the true nature of Urkan.
But now, she could face it all with a clear mind. She had people who cared about her in the new world. She had found a Master even better than Urkan – Claude, the humble and quirky chef that fought for family. Even though she had tested him, he would surely forgive her. That stroke on the cheek reassured her of it. That gentle gaze of defeat told her that she had finally risen to his level.
Perhaps, Ludmila simply wanted to be recognized. She wanted her Master to see her no longer as a child, but a fellow warrior that he could call to his side. And with that feeling of trust and courage, nothing would bring her to her knees anymore.
Not the sounds of gunfire. Not the cold, sharp blade of death. Ludmila was now a true warrior. She could pride herself in that, no matter how she looked on the outside.
She extended a hand towards the other ‘Ludmila’ and gave her a smile. An honest, lively smile straight from the heart. How long had it been since her face truly beamed with joy? Not since she arrived in the new world. Not since Urkan had destroyed her last one.
“Come. This time, I’ll take you along with me. Let’s greet Master with a smile. Let’s support him so that he never has a reason to fall. For together, we will watch him. Together, we will decide who to love. Who to protect.”
Even though Ludmila no longer saw Claude as her absolute, old habits were hard to drop. But that was fine. Her respect for him would not change. The fact that he guided her was set in stone. And for that, ‘Master’ would always be an appropriate term to call him.
“I see. Then, you have finally come to terms with this world. But are you not curious as to how Master Urkan truly thought of you?” The other ‘Ludmila’ teased her with a question, one that had long been unanswered.
But she simply scoffed. “A little late to care about such things… Still, why keep secrets between us? There is no longer a need for that. I won’t run away.”
The other ‘Ludmila’ walked over and grasped her hand. Her head approached, touching foreheads together. A flash of memories raced through her mind, giving clarity to the past that was muddled.
A familiar voice boomed in her mind. The rough but gentle tones of Urkan in the good days.
“Little Ludmila, my beloved daughter. I was a very jealous man. I wanted everything. And even when I did, I hungered for more. And the very thought that I couldn’t claim you for myself. That Tygda still claimed your heart, I couldn’t bear it. Greed is a fickle thing. It tells you that what you have is never enough.
And at times, it tells you to do the most unimaginable of things. It drove me mad. It made me destroy everything so that I could keep what was most precious to myself. And even that most precious thing, I wanted it even if it became broken. So long as nothing else resided in her mind but me.
Do not let it consume you. You are far stronger than I ever was. And now, it is your turn to lead. It is your turn to offer your guidance.
You are your own Master. The God of Speed tells me so. A warrior. A champion. However you want to name it, you are the one chosen by him. You are an Electi gifted with his powers. But do not forget, it is your life to live.
Farewell, Ludmila. Take care of your Master. Take care of your family. You will… be okay…”
Urkan’s voice faded from Ludmila’s mind. Whether it was a ghost or a lingering hope that resided in her thoughts, she didn’t care. The form of the other ‘Ludmila’ dissolved before her eyes, before being sucked into her body.
Two existences, separated by a great tragedy, were now joined as one. It felt like a great blessing had been bestowed on her. She felt invigorated. She felt full of brightness. Enough so that her surroundings faded in its light…
“Ludmila! Are you okay?”
The first thing she saw was the worried eyes of Claude, her loving Master. Just like she had expected, his face was filled more by worry for her than his own bandaged chest. He was soon joined by Saki and Katalina, the latter sporting an eyepiece. She recognized that tool for scanning a person’s mana signature.
Ludmila nodded before reaching over and giving Claude a hug.
“I love you, Master. Truly, from the bottom of my heart.”
Claude’s arms froze, a typical reaction from him.
“Whoa, you’re making no sense here. First, you stab me… I assume that you have a good explanation for that… and now, you confess to me? I’m not following your line of thinking.”
Ludmila didn’t care though as she kept hugging him… that was until Katalina decided to peel her off.
“Hold it there! I need you apart to get a good read on your core. If what Claude says is true, you may have become something entirely different…”
Ludmila tilted her head in confusion, wondering what that could be. But Claude beat her to the explanation.
“Your miasma, the purple glow around the core of an Electi. It’s gone, completely. I don’t know what happened to you, but all I see now is white. A pure white glow brimming with power.”