The words that came from Saki’s mouth were a double-edged sword. Though it was the familiar voice of an ally, the name of her skill uttered in such close proximity sent a shiver down my spine. Darkness surrounded me, along with the others.
Knowing full well what Saki’s skill entailed, it was likely that she invoked it to interfere with the battle that had turned against us. However… that meant that I was caught up in it also.
Another voice echoed from behind me, one that I knew couldn’t be real. But at the same time, that didn’t make it hurt any less.
I turned around to see the ghastly visage of Eryn, eyes hollow and bleeding. She reached out with stubs of limbs, presumably torn away in a fight. Her heart spewed from her pierced chest, gushing blood down her front. She hobbled over to me, invoking a sharp sense of fear in my gut.
“You… did this… to me!”
Saki’s ability had the power to make one’s fears come true, and there was nothing worse than seeing the corpse of Eryn, blaming me for my actions. It was a psychological attack meant to debilitate. And if she wanted to, one’s fears would also claim justice on their own.
Of course, I had faced this power once before. I could rely on my eye skill and disperse all the illusions into the miasma it simply was, with a confidence that if I made enough distance from Saki, then I could escape its range.
“Claude… accept it! Accept your sins!… For causing my death!”
But somehow, it didn’t seem right to do that.
I stepped forward, towards the horrible sight of Eryn. I tried not to let the scent of fresh blood or the missing parts get to me. I needed to face it. The gruesome reality. The moment that forever changed me, but in which I knew my own hold on humanity was still there.
I was nothing like Lamps Magellan, who threw away others. I refused to reject Eryn, no matter how terrible she looked.
Slowly, I brought my arms around her broken body. I laid her head against mine, the platinum hair brushing against me. It was still soft like I remembered it. The warmth of her body against mine had not been lost. And then, I let out a few tears.
“I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there for you… I really am.”
I felt her head move towards my neck. A mouth filled with sharp teeth opened and aimed straight for the jugular. But all it chomped down on was the hard metal blade of a knife.
“I can’t let you do that though. There’s plenty more that I still have to do. The others are fighting. I should do the same. I have to step in for the hole that you and Cornelius left. That’s my atonement.”
I felt the knife being moved to the side as Eryn pulled back. When I saw her face, it was no longer the ghastly vision that it was before. Now, it was just normal, as I always remembered her. The caring, concerned face of my Master, the one I fell for.
Just as I had the moment to appreciate it, her body started fading away. And along with it, the heavy atmosphere. Suddenly, I snapped back to reality.
There was Saki standing between me and the sentai suit siblings. She had her mallets out, trying to keep them at bay. I noticed that the two of them were flailing wildly while screaming.
“Gwendolyn! Where are you?! I will not let you take her!”
“Orwitz, dear brother! You shall not be left behind!”
They were frantically clawing around like people blinded and lost in a fog. It appeared that Saki’s skill had some effect, enough to interfere with Lamps’ grip on them. I looked to the side, where Golabki also seemed to be fighting his own inner demons, but his face remained calm. His measured actions made it seem like he would overcome the fears just like I had.
And as for Ludmila, she was passed out on the ground behind me, her exhaustion finally giving out. With all of these circumstances against us, there was only one thing to do.
“Saki, let’s retreat!”
She turned around with a look of surprise at how fast I had broken out but nodded to me in agreement. We slowly backed away from the fight. But then, someone grabbed me by the wrist.
“Would you please reconsider? I would like to save them at the very least.”
Golabki stared at me, his eyes clear and firm. He had just broken out of his trance. Pointing to the two that were rampaging, I wondered why he would bother with such a tall order. He saw the hesitancy in my reply.
“Please, they are but mere children, asked to fight because there is nothing else for them. I know that you owe me nothing, but for their sake, I want you to stop them. I have seen that you can, and with how you care for the young lady behind us, there is no one else I can ask of this. So, please. Help me.”
I drew a long sigh at that. I wasn’t sure how far I could trust this guy, but he had shielded Ludmila. I owed him something for that.
“Alright, one shot. That’s all we can afford. If you’re fine with that, then please look after her while we do it.”
“Of course. You have my gratitude.”
There was something about this Golabki guy. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but he seemed to wear his feelings on his sleeve. There were many times in which he could’ve done something deceptive, but none of my concerns amounted to anything. His actions were completely different from the sketchy ones that I should have noticed by any fakers before.
Even on this battlefield, I wanted to trust again. If I didn’t, I would be worse than the me who took Chrys’s hand, despite her being an enemy at the time. I could truly feel how shocked Golabki was at Lamps’ master plan, and that made the difference.
“Saki! Let’s do that thing! You know, the combination thing!”
Saki eyed me leerily. ‘That’ was something that we had hardly practiced. ‘That’ was a random attempt at Saki trying to fill in for Eryn’s role. Regardless, she nodded and got into position.
I flew forward past her and swung my arm at Orwitz and Gwendolyn, making sure that the purple wave was large enough to engulf them. Lamps retreated to a safe distance, a smirk still evident on his face. There was no need for him to get himself dirty.
Putting everything into this blast of ‘The River Styx’, my enhanced vision watched as the mana around their bodies was blown away like a candle flame. Fortunately, my critical attacks still worked in cleaving away the mana imparted by Lamps, even if I couldn’t damage their suits this way. However, we had to act fast.
Immediately, my pseudo partner bolted forward, mallets ready in both hands. She slammed the ground before the two, throwing the very earth beneath their feet up. With the lack of mana protecting them, they had nothing to use for a buffer as they fell backward.
With Saki having done her job to knock the siblings off their balance, I jumped at them and pinned them to the ground. There was likely only the beat of a few moments before they would regain their mana, which was dense enough to knock me away. I could sense Lamps trying to resupply them with it.
“Not a chance! Soul Rending Strike – Zero Point!”
A wave erupted from me, canceling the mana that was making its way to refuel the siblings. With that out of the way, I jabbed my fingers into their necks, right at the pressure points that would knock them unconscious.
The effect was not instantaneous like I had grown used to. But if these suits blocked my mana, then that was the very reason that my critical attacks no longer worked. Still, putting pressure there had a physical effect. I forced my hand around their necks, keeping hold on those spots. They were reacting more like what I was used to in my old world, where special powers didn’t apply.
But even as their struggling grew weaker, another jolt of mana sent them flailing like mad suddenly.
“Dang it, Soul Rending Strike!”
Yet again, I sent another blast to clear away the mana that tried to revive them again. I didn’t have time to look up, but surely, Lamps was getting nervous. I heard the clink of a grenade land.
“Not on my watch!” Saki used her mallet to smack it away like a croquet ball, where it exploded some distance from us.
By now, the pair under me was approaching dreamland. The natural flow of blood to their head was blocked, forcing them unconscious. Even if they had mana to spare, Lamps couldn’t very well control them when knocked out. I let out a big sigh of relief as they went completely limp.
“Don’t relax yet! Get them out of those suits!” Golabki yelled from behind.
I turned to him, wondering what he meant. But he pointed to his own guns.
“I was not turned into a loyal puppet. And the very reason why is likely because I am not equipped with one of those special weapons. Those that have the blue stones!”
I turned back and scanned the surface of their bodies. Sure enough, there were multiple blue stones all across their suits, many where I saw thrusters firing. Apparently, the propulsion from their movements came from these Resonance Stones. And if Lamps controlled people that relied on drawing mana from these stones, then the best thing to do was to separate the two.
Quickly, I inspected for some sort of opening to get them out.
‘C’mon, there has to be something!’
Flipping Orwitz on his back, I finally spied one. A long zipper running down from the head to the back, somewhat hidden. I didn’t hesitate to pull it all the way down, revealing a boy in his underwear. It took no time to yank him free from the suit and dump his body off to the side. He really was just a young kid underneath that.
I did the same for Gwendolyn. Of course, she was also in her underwear as well. I flinched as the name ‘Chef Strippy Pants’ was whispered in the corner of my mind. But at least, the two of them were free from their shackles. I looked back to where Saki was. Her mallets were swinging through the air, engaging Lamps to keep him from interfering. He was firing magic without care to keep Saki at bay, with what looked like flamethrowers spewing out blue plumes.
However, Lamps hardly moved from his spot. Or rather, he didn’t need to move. The strength of the mana he fired was strong enough to push Saki back like she was weathering against a fierce storm. Looking closely, it didn’t even seem like he was attacking with whatever device was in his hands. The mana spewing out lacked focus, like water simply gushing from the end of a hose. And anyone approaching him was merely caught in that torrent.
I turned back to the siblings at my feet and hoisted them both onto my shoulders. Their bodies felt frigid, and they were shivering. Despite the desolate surroundings, the air wasn’t that cold, but I brushed that thought aside before racing back toward Golabki, who was cradling Ludmila in one arm while defending with a pistol in the other.
“Should we retreat for now? I take it that you’re joining our side?” I asked him as I approached. He simply grunted with a nod.
I looked around the battlefield. We were slowly getting overwhelmed. The non-stop onslaught of Purnesian soldiers that refused to back down until they fell dead to the ground sent a wave of terror through our ranks. Rather than the careful measures of warfare that they were accustomed to, they were now facing against loose cannons that fired without reserve. The bodies of the gunmen were brimming with a buffer of mana, making many attacks ineffective against them.
Just as I was ready to sound the official chime for a full retreat, Saki bounced on the ground next to us. She, too, was battered and bruised. Her armor was in terrible shape, marred by a ton of attacks against her. Though her eyes were still fiery, the grip upon her mallets were unsteady.
I turned towards Lamps, and my eyes widened. Beside him was another person now. Another sentai suit.
“I see that you have dressed yourself for the occasion, my dear Empress. This will be most amusing, to finally see the perfect person that this very suit was designed for. Not those two children who I was merely using to tinker the parameters to the proper specifications.”
The new challenger, presumably the infamous Mad Empress of this nation, stepped forward with a pair of swords. Unlike Orwitz and Gwendolyn, who were only cloaked in the mana of Lamps Magellan, the new fighter glowed with a different power. A combination of blue and purple blazing together in equal proportion.