I stared at the Mad Empress, and then, at the crowd behind her and Lamps. Slowly, my heart sank as what I saw finally registered. Lamps had done something inexcusable, but I felt powerless to do anything against it.
Civilians, dressed in their normal city attire, dashed out of the city, each with a weapon of their own. Each was possessed by the Will of Yaldabaoth. Young and old, those who didn’t belong at all on the battlefield, they were like a swarm of cultists charging in the name of their beliefs.
None of them realized what they were doing, and the very sight of it made my arms lose strength. I couldn’t swing my blade at them. They were innocents caught up in a dastardly plan. One orchestrated by Lamps and the Mad Empress.
I wanted so much to charge straight at the man and cut him down, just so this would all stop. But that chance disappeared as their bodies blended into the stampede.
I could cut them down, for the sake of reaching the true villain, but my sense of humanity forbade it. Even with the devilish eyes and the cries of hatred directed at me, the mere thought that it was all some fake ploy made it impossible for me to strike at them.
And it was the same for Saki. And Golabki.
We backpedaled in fear of them. Not wanting to be forced into an act of cruelty.
A clamor of static seemed to echo the emptiness I felt. The ruckus of battle sounded putrid to my ears now. I beckoned for the others to run. Maybe, I could figure something out on my own. There was already too much blood on my hands, so what was a little more?
I kept trying to give myself petty excuses, but they didn’t work. The will to fight wouldn’t come back. After Ludmila and Saki accepted me for who I was, it just felt wrong to ignore my beliefs. Even in the worst of times, I would remain ‘Claude’ and not someone who I didn’t want to be, goals regardless.
Even as the bullets smacked against the miasma coating around me, I waited and waited for them to approach. I couldn’t swing anymore without fear of harming them, but there was something else I could do.
The gush of pure energy, straight from my core. It was the only attack that was left untainted by the miasma. It was a pure gift from my other self that couldn’t be sullied.
“Soul Rending Strike!”
I sent it forward in a fierce wave, which bowled over a good portion of the charging people. The attack struck Lamps’ mana signature and cut them off from it, like snipping the connection. I watched as the guns flew from their hands and they collapsed. As long as they were no longer holding onto it, Lamps’ influence over them would stop. They would be toys without batteries.
Still, that was a mere drop in the bucket. Only the first row of people that the strike collided into fell. There was no way that I could fight against a tidal wave crashing upon our shores.
“Claude, run! Now!” I heard Saki yell. Both she and Golabki were already many paces ahead in their escape.
I did the same, but launched another wave as I did, hoping that some of them could be thinned out. The fewer that reached our side, the less casualties would happen. But even that was a lost cause. The sounds of retreat echoed everywhere. It looked like our side had all come to the same conclusion.
And among all of this, a heavy static hung in my ears.
“Claude? You there?”
I shook my head, thinking that I was hearing things in the static. That sounded like Katalina.
“Answer me, Claude. This is your Queen speaking!”
Suddenly, I realized that the voice was coming from below, under my armor. While still retreating and swinging ‘Soul Rending Strikes’, I awkwardly reached in with my other hand to grab at the source of the voice.
I completely forgot about the communicator that I carried, which linked me to the others. I broke the last one during the incident in Lodz. And since then, I hesitated to use a new one. Too embarrassed to face the others while wallowing in my despair, it laid silently inside of my armor, untouched.
But now, Katalina was clearly trying to get ahold of me… despite the fact that I hadn’t clicked the button to receive the call.
“Uh… did I accidentally butt dial you or something? I’m a bit busy here!”
“Of course not! I can force connect if I need to. It’s my own invention.” Katalina’s voice relaxed as she finally got ahold of me. “In any case, can you stop fighting and back up another 100 meters, quickly?”
I focused my mana into my legs and turned around in a full dash, wondering what she was up to. In response to that, she simply told me to look up, where I saw a random portal hanging high up in the air, an arm waving out from it.
‘What is she doing all the way up there?!’
I didn’t have time to think as it was just better to book it and see what she had planned. Sure enough, as soon as I crossed the mentioned distance, I felt a spike of mana behind me. The whoosh of something activating caused me to trip over my feet and tumble to the ground.
Bullets crashed into something solid and shook the ground before metal clinked upon the ground. I looked back, noticing that I was no longer showered by gunfire. Instead, the flickering of a tough wall of mana stood between me and the opposing side.
‘A barrier?! Out here?!’
Though I was surprised, there was no doubt in my mind as to who was responsible. Looking all around, it seemed like the barrier stretched as far as I could see on either side. Just when did she have the time to set this up? And even if she did, there wasn’t any mana in the environment to draw upon!
“Are you surprised? I switched out the mana stones in the device with Resonance Stones. It took a while to carve the proper inscriptions. Especially for something as large scale as this-”
After Katalina found out about the immensely powerful guns invented by Lamps, she couldn’t sit back and let someone outwit her. So she set to work on creating something that would fight against it. Naturally, she wanted to protect her people from the devastating gunfire, so powering up a mobile barrier that connected to a plentiful mana source was imperative.
At the very least, we didn’t have to worry about them storming at us… or did we?
A large portal opened right next to the group of Purnesians, which instantly caught our attention. And then, another started sailing across the sky over the barrier before dropping down once again to ground level next to me. Lamps was trying to jump the barrier.
But before the crowd of deranged gunmen could pour through the new opening, the swirling entryway exploded in a wave of mana. A magic shot destroyed it, putting a stop to Lamps’ intentions.
Even when he tried to send more over toward us, each one was sniped out of the air before it could travel very far. The Army of Sistina turned its head to where the shots came from, seeing their Queen proudly standing in front of a large portal. She had warped to the battlefield via her new device, all the way from the capital.
And apparently, she was not alone.
Several others emerged from the portal as well. Familiar faces that made my eyes widen. They put a grin on my face. And nearly stopped my heart.
The first two were a pair of elderly combatants, a swordsman and a fist fighter. Their veteran eyes gazed upon the battlefield and scoffed at the ridiculousness of it. To them, the many years of battle experience spoke that it was nothing worse than their olden days.
Next, one of two twins stepped out, giving a cheeky grin at the thrill of battle. His spear and armor glistened in the light like a celestial warlord. Spinning his weapon over his head, he charged forward like descending upon a buffet of goodies.
And lastly, a lone warrior king, with armor far bigger than his body was meant to wear, sauntered out. His sword was already drawn and glowing deep blue. A man who refused to be stopped, who challenged everyone in his path – merely for the thrill of adventure, he shook off the rust from babysitting to proudly display his skills.
I was speechless. They had said that they wouldn’t interfere with another nation’s war. But yet, here they were. I could sense a strong fighting spirit in them, a sense of cooperation, like they knew what was going on.
Katalina spoke to me from the communicator, as she was standing a good distance away.
“Surprised at the company? We’ve been listening in on the recent events. I finally got the long-range transporters set up in Sanshiro and Macali. And then, we had a council. About the Electi, about this growth in power and technology. It seemed like it was time to band together on a mutual path forward. Don’t you think?”
“Still, that doesn’t explain why all of you are here.”
“I might’ve hacked into your device to listen in on how you were doing.” I heard a chuckle. “And well… we heard it all. The Will of Yaldabaoth. A power to exploit an entire nation. How could we sit still when the very idea was revealed to us? So we decided to act. All of us.”
Pietro, Lau, Wen Zhi, and Koujiro had stepped forward to take down this mad genius otherworlder. They decided that Lamps Magellan had twisted the world enough with his ideas. And if wasn’t going to play nice as an Electi, then it was up to the others to keep him in check.
Koujiro was the first to approach me, bubbling with confidence like he always was. A man who was utterly useless without his equipment, but still, he had the will to face what was important when the time came. Despite all of his grumbling and complaining, Katalina mentioned the changes his wives saw in him. No longer the shallow man he was, he found genuine joy and pride whenever his children started doing things on their own. Now, he was fighting for their sake.
“Well, don’t you look like shit?” He laughed, still crude as ever.
“At least, it’s not the literal shit that you have to deal with,” I teased back.
A gloved hand thrust itself before me, offering a help up.
“We made a great team on those Isles. How about a reunion party? And don’t worry, I’ll set my blade to ‘stun mode’.”
Rather than a battlefield, Koujiro made fighting seem like a sport. But that was enough to lift my spirits up. A good distraction in this otherwise grim atmosphere. And that was exactly what I needed. A different perspective to guide the way. I took his hand, just like that time he took mine after I defeated him.
“You know, if you had really been in so much trouble, you should have said so. I would’ve come flying here, kingly duties be damned. I’d even give up the crown if it meant that you could be with that knight girl again. She was a true gem. I’ll give you that. There isn’t a man who wouldn’t break down over seeing her go.”
“Yeah, she was something alright.” Tears welled up in my eyes.
“Then, that’s why I’m here. To help you finish what she started. To help you bring peace, so that all of us Electi can live without worry of falling into the darkness. It’s not just you we have to worry about. But all of us, and our Masters. So, how about we go do our thing and take care of some rogue super weapons?”
Just like how Ludmila and Saki had convinced me in their own ways, Koujiro made sure that I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t have to bear the burden of everything like some heroic destiny. This was a fight for everyone’s sake, and it was a mistake to think that I was responsible for dealing with it all. I would do what I could. Nothing more.
As I watched the others get into position for battle, my spirit never felt more invigorated. The miasma around me settled, the purplish hue retreating into my core. The aura around me reverted to the bluish hue of normality. Of humanity. Sure, I could call upon the miasma within me as needed. But it no longer controlled me.
I didn’t need to harm to claim victory. I could just be ‘myself’ and fight as simply Claude. That was enough because I had friends to help me with what I lacked. The might of three nations had my back, banding together to stop another which had lost its way.