The Mad Empress and Lamps Magellan were standing before me, like imposing final bosses waiting for the hero’s approach. Even with everything that happened, they hadn’t jumped into action. It was strange. For what reason would they have to stand there idly while the tides of war changed against them?
I couldn’t help but wonder what drove the two of them. To spark a war, all to see it devolve into hell on earth. If our side had been less merciful in our attacks, then the grounds before the capital would be bathed in the blood of its citizens. If we were any less strong, enough that we lost the luxury of going easy on our opponents, then… what was the point of all this?
‘Why send your people to battle as mindless puppets willing to die?’
‘Why shatter what peace that both sides had and seek revenge instead?’
I had slain my fair share of people at this point, but I understood. Death was not something to be taken lightly. But sometimes, there were no other options on the table. None that I could see at the time. If the others had been there for me, then we could stop it together without unnecessary bloodshed. Just like this moment.
That was why I decided to quit feeling sorry for myself. I would do what I had to do. Regrets would always plague my mind, but if someone had my back, then surely, it couldn’t have been the worst decision.
But because of that, the emotionless expression of Lamps Magellan pierced me as I stepped through the portal. Even with everything gone wrong, it was like he felt nothing. It hung conspicuously in a background filled with chaos. Uncaring, detached, like he was simply bored.
It didn’t help that I couldn’t see the Mad Empress’s face either, as it was covered by a helmet that completed the super sentai suit. The two of them standing there like that made my stomach churn.
“Why?! Why are you just standing there like that?! Stop it! Call off your attacks!”
But Lamps simply shrugged at me.
“And why should I bother with that? Everything is going according to plan.”
“According to plan?” My jaw hung for a moment. “Can you not see what is going on here?!”
“A funny statement that is. You’ve hit the nail on the head. I am blind to what ‘you’ see.” He pointed to his eyes. “But in its place, a gathering of mana flooding the very environment is exactly what a conductor such as myself is orchestrating!”
Lamps’ lips curled into a smile, one that gave off a sense of victory. A chill went down my spine as I glanced to the side at Golabki, hoping that he knew what the hell was going on. His face said that he didn’t. But he knew one thing.
“Lamps is blind, but he sees the world as pure mana. With all this fighting, the surroundings must be full of it being released.”
Sure enough, the surroundings felt saturated with the spent energy of the fallen. Lamps clapped his hands, making us turn back to him.
“Corrrrecto, Monsieur Golabki. Forget the war, forget the losses. Those are all for the sake of one goal and one alone. To give my dear Olivia here the chance to rule the wor-“
Lamps was suddenly cut off as the Mad Empress turned to him and pointed her sword before his face.
“Do. Not. Call me that!”
“Yes, yes, my Empress. I am your loyal Electi, ready to serve always.” Lamps placed his arms up in a fake show of defense, continuing on with his monologue.
“To do that, there’s no choice but to call upon a God unto this world. One that will use my body as a vessel and unleash its endless powers to take control of every person that walks upon this land.”
That sent a chill down my spine. He possessed the ‘Will of Yaldabaoth’ skill, which made that ambition a heavy possibility. But the fact that he needed to call upon a God to do so meant that he had been building up towards it. A grander scale than what could be done normally. That required not only what he could muster in Purnesia, but mana expended from our side as well.
Realizing that, my body lunged forward, knowing that I had to stop him. But of course, the Mad Empress stood in front, ready to take me on.
Her swords each glowed with a different energy, blue on the left and purple on the right. I quickly aimed a strike at her with every intention to blow away her mana, but suddenly, a thought ran across my mind.
‘Which mana to target?’
I hastily chose one and watched as the purple flames licking across the Mad Empress’s body extinguished on the right half, but to my surprise, a dull bluish glow remained underneath it. The sword in her left hand, still raging blue, crashed into my shoulder and sent me sprawling to the ground. After a few rolls, I came to a stop.
‘Sonofa- I knew that was going to happen. The hell am I supposed to do in this situation?”
The place that I was hit stung, but luckily, the armor seemed to have dulled the strike. Fortunately, the Mad Empress’s attack did follow the basic stat system, unlike what I encountered against the twins. That meant the Holy Armor of Sistina could shrug off some of the damage.
My gaze flicked over to a blur that whizzed by the Mad Empress. She didn’t bother to chase after the swift dual-wielding gunman that was backing me up. Golabki headed straight for Lamps, so I could focus on this opponent.
Still, I couldn’t think of a worse matchup. I could only strike down opponents by targeting their weaknesses.
I could cut through equipment or bodies along the cracks where mana exited. But Lamps Magellan had created a suit that had no weaknesses. My eyes couldn’t see a single crack highlighted, aside from the zipper on her back. There was no way she would let me get behind her.
I could cut through magic and mana with ease, no matter how well the user controlled it. But as I had found out just now, that only worked for a single source at a time. Two different mana signatures, each with unique weaknesses. I couldn’t target both at the same time.
“Get out here, I’m not gonna let this stop me!”
I cried out as purple miasma erupted from my core once again. The strange power surrounded my body like a shroud, because I let it come out. I wanted it to come out, because that was the best chance I had to fight back against such a strong opponent.
Had I given into my darkness once again?
No. But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t use it.
I realized it as I watched Lamps flaunt his abilities, when Saki pushed forward and saved me, and when Ludmila rejected her darkness and became the light. Power was simply a chance. How I made use of it determined whether it was good or evil, not the power itself.
And so, I stood up, cloaked in miasma but with eyes clear and focused. I wouldn’t let it get the best of me. I would make it do what ‘I wanted’. Fear of it going wild was because I had been too weak to control it.
I shunned it. I avoided it. I treated it black and white. So scared of becoming who I was in the past, that I never learned from it. I was always in the driver’s seat, but I let my worries and emotions direct me instead. Blaming it all on a cursed power was the easy thing to do. But no more.
I launched myself from my feet toward the Mad Empress, both knives out. The miasma had turned the dinky weapons into dark purple blades that were as long as what she wielded. Streaks of mana clashed in a glowing flash as we pushed against each other.
The mana blades sparked heavily against each other as I dug my heels into the ground in an effort to win against the deadlock. But I could feel myself being pushed back. After all, the Mad Empress had the mana of two people in her and better stats. Even with my miasma out in full force, even as I willed my core to pump out more, the pressure was overbearing.
With a leap backwards, I settled for a temporary loss. But my feet soon left the ground again, dashing around her. She, of course, moved right into my path, almost faster than what Ludmila could manage. Clearly, she didn’t want me to pass.
I looked over to Lamps and Golabki, who were also in the middle of combat. Golabki was skillfully dodging away from the same blasts of mana that took Saki out. He was much nimbler than the girl who relied on smashing everything around her.
Still, neither one was having any real luck in connecting with a hit. Lamps was able to control small portals around him to deflect any bullets coming his way. That seemed remarkably similar to what I had seen Katalina do. Perhaps, geniuses fought the same way.
Seeing the Mad Empress and Lamps dance around without really trying to take us down, it only confirmed my suspicions. They didn’t have to win. They were merely buying time until the god was summoned. Though, I had no idea how that was being brought about; the mana in the air was getting thicker by the minute. And we had no idea how much was needed for the ritual. That meant that I had to act fast.
But as the blades continued to collide over and over again, I started to wonder if I could ever get the upper hand. I poured everything into what Lau had taught me, trying to be crafty with my swings. But somehow, the Mad Empress matched every blow with one of her own.
‘I’m not skilled enough…’
That was the one conclusion I could make. Even at my best, my attacks weren’t making a dent in her. With every swing, one color of her mana would be blown away, but the other color remained. Finally getting one lucky shot in, I managed to blow away both before they had time to regenerate… but then what? I still couldn’t cut the suit.
That moment of hesitation allowed for the girl to kick me away, resetting the whole engagement again. She wouldn’t let another lucky strike slip in the same way.
“Give it up. Pretty soon, nothing will matter. The war will end either way. At the very least, I desire for everything to end. All the conflict and sadness. Let this be the final confrontation.”
“End?” I looked at her, almost hoping to see the face behind the mask. “How can it end with these kinds of shenanigans?”
“Humans are foolish. They always hurt others. They are greedy and stupid fools that don’t know what’s best for themselves! Isn’t that what you would call shenanigans? Then why not let the world fall under a spell instead? A charmed mind that treats everyone the same, so this…,” she waved her swords at the fighting in the distance, “all of this will no longer come to pass!”
Now, the Mad Empress decided to take a step forward, taking swings at me, rather than just defending. I leapt away as her swords sliced menacingly through the air. I could feel the mana pricking against my body even without it touching me.
“This is what the people wanted! To fight! To feel accomplished! And at the end, whether they live or die, they can finally take solace that no one, NO ONE, will ever stab them in the back ever again!”
A horizontal swing approached, too fast for me to dodge. I crossed my knives to shield against the attack, but it still tossed me aside like a punching bag after being ripped off its chain. Angered, her strength was even more fearsome, like it could split me in two if a good hit made contact.
She posed with her sword hovering before me.
“Tell me, Otherworlder. How do you propose to bring peace to this broken world? If one such as you, with the backing of the world, cannot hope to defeat me, how can you propose to fix everything?”
I shook my head. “That, I have no clue. But I can tell you that you’re wrong about this world. I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I’ve seen a lot of good and a lot of hope. But it’s you two that’s spoiling the fun. That’s why I’m here. Because this world means something to me. And I have the power to do something to help it.”
The Mad Empress reared back and swung downwards, but I was already anticipating it. Rolling awkwardly backwards, I didn’t care that I looked utterly silly as I somersaulted along the ground. At least, I made enough distance to regain my stance.
But just then, my communicator hummed with a familiar voice.
“Special delivery, Claude! The full backing of your queen!”
Apparently, it was time for Katalina’s touch to boost the odds.