Hours before the final assault on the capital of Bryansk, several leaders were seated around a large table, faces full of concern. A priestess in long robes patterned with the sun and moon sipped her tea as she patiently listened. The brow of a warrior furrowed as he sat listlessly in a set of armor that looked way too big for him. Several others were gathered around them on either side – their attendants, guards, or fellow advisors. They waited silently, as the voice of the newest leader floated in their ears. Her heavy words tickled their emotions and caused them to tense slightly at times. But given that they were all respected people at the top of their nations, those flickers of worry did not show on their faces.
The bespectacled lady with curly blue hair displayed recorded images before them while speaking, giving them a panoramic view of what was going on due to the war. Using the capabilities of her own inventions, the pictures jumped out before them of the various battles between Sistina and Purnesia.
They had gathered in Yakuman, home of that nation’s Oracle. After Queen Katalina established long-range portals for easy travel between the lands, there was a need to reaffirm the Kingdom of Sistina’s intentions.
It was one thing to know the kind-hearted gestures of one person sitting upon a throne, wanting to remain closely connected with friendly rulers. It was another thing to see what the kingdom really had in store for the world. With how rapidly things were progressing due to the inventions of Sistina, there was worry that such power would not be contained, but rather, reach beyond their own borders in greed.
After all, that was what the war between Sistina and Purnesia was about. Holograms of people firing guns that could demolish armies contrasted by the might of crafty tools and powerful Electi invoked fears of a morbid arms race. Each side was growing into monsters that couldn’t be contained. At least, that was the fear of the other nations.
Power, developed in haste, would likely lead to ruin. And because of that, Sanshiro and Macali stepped in. While it was in their best interests to keep out of a war that didn’t involve themselves, seeing such dangers outside of their borders was a different matter.
As the last images faded from Katalina’s presentation, she turned to them with a weary look on her face, like she hadn’t slept in days. There was some truth to that, as she had expedited the instant travel devices. She could see how the war affected her kingdom, and most of all, how much it hurt Claude.
The antagonism brought about by a history of oppressed people was nothing out of the ordinary, but the very fact that the war was decided between the ferocity of two powerful Electi threatened the very balance of the world.
Her kingdom was already speaking in not-so-hushed whispers. That the Chancellor would be the next to become a demon. And then what? As Queen, what would she have to do? She couldn’t bear to face the consequences of turning an entire kingdom against him.
And so, strange as it would be for a ruler to do so, she reached out to her ties, hoping that they would respond to her request for aid. Sanshiro – home of a divine Oracle that could speak to the Gods and who understood more about Electi than anyone else. Macali – which contained the technology to create advanced devices and tools out of Resonance Stones that alleviated the miasma.
Katalina turned to them not to aid in the ongoing war, but to request that they help her dearest people, the Electi who were in danger of falling into the darkness. She was fortunate to have stopped Claude once, but when would be the next time? How could she go on, knowing that she had so few options to deal with it?
Katalina, the genius that she was, knew where her limitations were. But at the same time, she would not demand their help. A militaristic approach to governing was the last thing on her mind. That was the very reason that they fought against Purnesia, who used such tactics.
After several moments of silence, Lady Kaguya broke the silence.
“Queen of Sistina, my prophecies warned that this would come to pass. The dangers of losing loved ones, particularly with the case of your Chancellor’s Master, drive even a normal man into madness. So I shouldn’t have to say what this does to those already tempted by the darkness.”
“Yeah, I mean, yes. Sir Claude would have been in some dire straits if not for the charms created in Macali. And as we’ve seen it just now, he can really tear through some, er, stuff.”
Koujiro sounded a bit awkward, trying to speak properly. There were a few times when he slightly jolted from a playful pinch by Liruru or Relia, who sat on either side of him. A light sigh could be heard each time, as they had to discipline him for his moments of etiquette faux pas.
“It was a surprise to me as well. That of a Master and Electi connection. How could a bond bestowed by the Gods bring such turmoil? Hearts so close yet dragging each other into darkness? Just what are Electi? And why are God-given powers meant for such a purpose?”
Katalina, having lived most of her life in the castle, only knew of Electi in the pages penned in the royal library before meeting one. But she knew especially from being with Claude that their hearts were no stronger than a normal person’s. The temptations of great power given to the typical man could easily be used for evil instead.
“I understand your worries. I have questioned this myself at times,” the Island King began. “If I were to lose Liruru or Relia, nay, if I were to lose any one of my precious wives… would I seek vengeance? I am but a normal man under this armor. My blade strikes with the fury of my emotions. My ego was propped up by those around me. I have come to learn in this world that a life without struggle is an empty one indeed.”
“Sir Claude has done much to help you from what I’ve heard, as he has done for this country,” Kaguya smirked with nostalgia. “That is why we do not hesitate to offer our aid. However…”
That word hung at the tip of Katalina’s tongue like a mouse trap had just snapped upon it.
“We need to see for ourselves the madness within his eyes. Truthfully, the sudden change has brought me hesitation. For his kind-hearted pacifism to reverse course so suddenly, I cannot help but wonder if some part of him is breaking out of its shell, just like Miss Ludmila.”
Kaguya’s words stung Katalina, who bit her lip. The Queen had been there to see it. The moment when Ludmila became a different person. She had faced her past, pulled out her true self, and ascended. Ludmila’s core became a brilliant white that couldn’t be tainted by miasma.
“Then, could we not bring Claude here? To guide him out of the darkness and find his true self?” Katalina hastily spoke, but a lump was caught in her throat, a dreaded hypothesis as the cause of it.
“And what if, his true self is not what you think it is? What if the warrior in his past, the same one that became a destroyer, is the real Claude? Could you still accept the man before you? Do you have full trust in him?”
Flashes of Katalina’s memories with Claude played before her. But one, in particular, stood out – the smiling face of Claude and the tender hand upon Ludmila’s cheek, even as he was stabbed in the heart. She knew – he was not the heartless conqueror his former self was led to be. More likely, that was the struggling form of someone that couldn’t find peace within him. The kind-hearted person she had seen from the very beginning had been his raw self, untarnished by deceit. As long as someone was there to support him, he would never lose sight of his true self. He was just being a stubborn idiot.
“And that is backed by… your science?” Kaguya’s tone shifted to one of amusement.
“No, science cannot explain everything. It needs not to. I have faith and I have love. Enough that he doesn’t have any choice but to listen. And he knows. The last thing that I want is for my voice to not be heard. And for all else… I have these.”
Katalina smiled as she patted her magical guns holstered on her belt. That sent a fierce chill down Koujiro’s spine. It was an experience that he did not want to replay. But still, he could muster out his own words.
“That guy is lucky to have you watching his back.” He turned to Liruru and Relia, who each gave him a nod. They didn’t need to say anything to know what he had decided. “I’m in. We don’t mind sharing our technology to figure this out.”
Lady Kaguya nodded as well, letting out a chuckle.
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to do a deeper dive into his mind now. I am rather ‘curious’ as to what it holds at this time.”
But then, Kaguya’s tone dropped to a more serious one.
“But I would like to warn you. We may need to overrule that trust you have of him, if necessary. Especially after our little investigation.”
Katalina cocked her head to the side, wondering what she meant. But this lasted only for a moment before she recalled what it was. After Claude returned from the Divine Isles, he had enlisted Lady Kaguya’s aid in deciphering the strange runes in the caverns.
She dispatched a team of scholars, along with the Sun twins as guards, to investigate. What they could decipher of the divine language revealed a seal that was placed to ensnare a deity itself. But there was no indication whether the being kept there was good or evil. Given the rapid changes for the worse that Claude and Saki faced, they had to fear for the worst. Lady Kaguya’s words couldn’t cover up the potential cruelty of it all.
“It pains me to say, but there is a chance that evil deities exist to provide Electi with their powers.”
Katalina froze, not believing her ears.
“But that is mere speculation at this point. It would be wise not to ignore those little signals, no matter how deceiving they may be. Trust in man, but only a God can reveal the truth.”
Having the sudden urge to check in on Claude, Katalina pulled out her communicator. Quickly, she input a series of button presses that only she knew of. The device hummed a bit before muffled sounds emitted from it.
Adjusting a few dials, she could finally hear the sounds of battle in the distance. Claude must have been in the middle of combat, as he didn’t notice how his communicator had been remotely activated. Katalina was about to ask him about the situation, but a jovial voice erupted from it. The tone was strangely happy for it to be coming from a battlefield.
“Ahaha, that was a simply marvelous show. Truly. It is quite the wonder to have someone be able to pick up the inherent flaws of my works and show me all its points of failure. Iteration is key to invention, and nothing else can make me prouder than to have it critiqued so well.”
The voice of Lamps Magellan caught the attention of everyone in the room. But it was the conversation between Claude and him that made their jaws drop. The Electi of Mana had just proclaimed his dominance over the entire Empire of Purnesia through his special abilities. An entire nation of people were now his puppets, sent to die according to his whims.
All this talk of Claude falling into the darkness, and suddenly, a true madman appeared before them. Immediately, the ones in the meeting moved to act.
“I’M GONNA GO OVER THERE AND KICK HIS CHEEKY ASS! WILL OF YADA-BALONEY! JUST WAIT UNTIL I GET MY SHINY BOOT UP THERE!”
Koujiro roared in fury, nearly drawing his blade in reflex. Liruru and Relia both knocked him on the side of the head to calm him. The others couldn’t help but flinch at the love tap given between married warriors. Still, it cooled him enough to bow his head in apology for his outburst.
Lady Kaguya, shocked but retaining her composure, waved for the guards to come over. She turned to Katalina for a question.
“That gunfire. Is it elemental or physical in nature?”
“Physical, from what I can tell. The same as the raw mana from an expert weaponsmaster.”
“Very well. Have Lord Ki Young and Lord Wen Zhi prepare for battle.”
With that, the guards scattered to locate them.
Katalina brought a hand to her mouth in surprise. Why would she be calling for them unless…
“Do you mean?”
Lady Kaguya shot her a grin. “After hearing that, I believe the first action of this new council would be to stop a true act of villainy, would it not?”
Katalina nodded as she dashed out of the room to prepare for warp.