I looked all around wondering what Katalina was going to send me now.
“Claude, above you! Use those!”
Out from a portal, a sheathed sword stabbed down from the sky. Before it could hit the ground, I snatched it from the air and popped the sparkling blade out slightly. Katalina must have gotten it back from Violet for me. But attached to the sheath, there was also a big bag, which I quickly opened. Inside was an outfit, decorated in the likeness of the Royal Armor of Sistina, but upon fabric instead. I did a double take as I pulled it out fully, revealing it to be a chef uniform.
A simple touch and look over already told me how fine this article was. I didn’t even need to check the stats of it. But if I did, then I would have known that they were superior to the traditional armor that I wore.
“Put it on, quickly! If Lamps thinks that a suit is enough to stop you, then that is my answer for it!”
Katalina’s voice was full of confidence, and I knew from the tone of it that I could trust her. But the only question was, “How the hell do I put this on? I’m mid-battle!” It wasn’t like the enemy would simply give me the time to disrobe and dress. If only I could go to my menu and materialize the outfit around me like an avatar.
“Oh, about that. Give me a moment. And hold still.”
I stared dumbly at the outfit, but moments later, it disappeared from my hands. A sudden metallic clunk sounded as something hit the ground. I looked to my side as the Royal Armor of Sistina sat there, causing me to jerk in surprise. My gaze immediately went down to the new threads on my body. It had magically placed itself on me!
“What the, how the hell did you-”
“Vector manipulation of objects to simulate instant transport. Something that the King of Macali requested of me while fishing for ideas to replace his equipment, in case an article was destroyed.” I could practically see the smug grin of intelligence on her face as she said this.
“That’s nice, but how did you science the magic to this?”
“Is that really what you need to know right now?”
“Guess not.” I sighed in defeat.
Still, the upgraded chef uniform felt so surprisingly regal in and of itself. Katalina had really outdone herself by making something so high quality, but at the same time, so easy to wear. I felt like I could use my abilities to the fullest now.
“Remember Claude, as you’re wearing that. You’re not a fighter. You’re much more than that. You’re a chef, a champion, a man willing to do what it takes. The one who stands for my ideals. The one who can come up with the craziest solutions by being true to himself. I will always be ready to make anything so that you can achieve your best. And after you’ve done that, come home. Back to us. So you can show us yourself time and time again. Your queen demands this of you. Don’t give up.”
The voice from the communicator clicked off, leaving me with only the sound of footsteps approaching. The Mad Empress got into a fighting pose, waiting for me to act. Her posture suggested a wariness at my new equipment. The Purnesian side knew full well that we had a genius of our own that could give Lamps a run for his money. After all, they had chosen to steal her inventions.
Or rather, they had chosen to steal ‘our’ inventions. Ideas that were collectively pooled together by many people but made into reality by Katalina. Surely, they held more weight than those created solely by one man, no matter how brainy he was.
I grabbed Radiant Light and charged forward, holding it high up in the air. With a quick slash, it collided with one of her blades. Like a gust of wind, the blue aura of the Mad Empress’s left side was snuffed out like a candle flame. As the purple sword in her right hand swung, I punched with my left, blowing that aura away as well.
My movements were sharper and swifter, compliments of the extra stats my equipment gave me. They gave me the confidence to fight back with all that I could.
The Mad Empress tried to retreat at that point, letting her mana rejuvenate, but I wouldn’t let her. Mana flowed from my body into Radiant Light, and suddenly, the glimmering around the sword became brighter.
Blinding, mesmerizing, like the glimmer of gems that were so beautiful that one couldn’t help but stare into it. The white light drowned out much of my vision and hers as well.
Even with the helmet on, I could tell that the Mad Empress was awestruck by it for a moment. That brief window of hesitation allowed me the chance to charge in and grab her by the right arm. Gripping it hard, I pressed a pressure point in her wrist that caused her to release her weapon, which fell with a heavy clang.
Dropping my own sword, I reached forward to knock her out, just like I had done with Orwitz. Because of this impenetrable suit, that was the only option I could think of. But then, I felt my wrist being grabbed instead.
Because the brightness of Radiant Light still blanketed the area, I couldn’t see well enough to avoid it. But as the glare finally faded, we could see the deadlock that resulted. We had discarded our weapons and chosen to grab each other by the wrists. Now, she was struggling to keep me from poking her into submission.
A swift knee caught me in the stomach, causing me to bend over, but I quickly steadied my footing. Fortunately, her mana hadn’t returned fully yet. It had enough force to knock the air out of my lungs, but the outfit absorbed much of the attack.
I tried to rip my hand free so that I could have another go, but she wasn’t letting me escape so easily. Her knee chambered in preparation for another blow, but I pulled her right arm to knock her off balance. She tried to rip it from my grip, but I clamped down harder.
Like a schoolyard scuffle, the two of us continued to struggle within each other’s grasps, hoping to capitalize on a decisive moment.
I lost first.
A helmet slammed into my forehead, literally sending me to the ground. With an angry shriek of rage, a strong kick, now full of mana, slammed into my side. I felt myself soar through the air before landing hard against the ground and tumbling a few more times. The pain in my side nearly overwhelmed all else as I struggled to get up.
I gasped for air to quickly recover from the exchange. Even given that chance, I still got knocked down easily. ‘What a monster the Mad Empress was!’
Unlike the sentai siblings, she was no puppet that could be stopped by clipping the strings. She was in full control. She knew how to fight. And every hit that got through hurt like hell.
‘How am I supposed to beat that?! When all her weaknesses are covered!’
“Claude! Are you okay?! Hang in there!” My communicator echoed with the voice of a concerned queen.
“Just peachy… aside from having no freaking idea how to win!” The taste of iron hit my mouth. I spit out some blood. Apparently, that kick hurt me more than I thought.
“Ah, you told me before. The suits appear to be invulnerable to your critical attacks. No weak points, I recall…”
“Got any tips of wisdom, your Highness? I could really use something right about now.”
“Well… my hypothesis is that the materials in those suits were magically aligned to be free of any defects. If there are no defects, then theoretically, there would be no mana grains exposed. One would have to rely on radiative transfer of mana to-”
“Whoa, whoa. Free of defects, huh? I get that part. But how do I chip a crack in it then?” I interrupted her, hearing something of interest. “What kind of material could even do that?”
There was a moment of silence before she spoke again, enough for me to see that the Mad Empress was collecting her weapons before making her way over here. Not much time to devise a strategy.
“Usually, magic gems are highly prized if you can refine them to be defect free. They make much better catalysts when everything is perfectly aligned. It helps the flow of mana.”
“Gemstones… well, I guess in my world, diamonds are unbreakable. Kind of like how I’m feeling with this situation.”
Slowly, I got up, wondering what I could even do knowing this. I knew that a diamond had the toughest of endurance given its arrangement of atoms. If Lamps had somehow made a perfect material out of it, then I was completely out of luck due to my negligible attack power. But then, Katalina slid in with another theory.
“But… I would honestly be stupefied if Lamps created a perfect gemstone layer upon a suit. The amount of magic control needed to achieve that is astronomical. A far more inferior material would be more manageable.”
‘Inferior?’ I thought back to when I gripped the Mad Empress by the wrist. Certainly, the suit didn’t feel like anything tough or rigid. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to poke through it.
I looked down at my left hand, suddenly noticing that a dusting of black powdery substance stained where my grip was. With my other hand, I rubbed at it, seeing that the smudges smeared upon my fingertips like pencil lead shavings.
“Wait, pencil lead?” I said aloud. The gears in my head suddenly started turning. “Diamond is just perfectly-arranged carbon in all directions, but if you just want resistive force in one direction….”
Given what I had just learned, I was reminded of another popular material that was a hot topic in the science world. Most engineering students would have heard of a seemingly magical material that could be created in sheets. Perfect sheets that could be applied to many purposes. Even for something as ridiculous as covering a suit with it.
“Did he… really cover a suit with layers of graphene?”
The idea was laughable, but that material was certainly a hot gimmick in research. The fact that my hand was coated in a black powder that flaked off seemed to support that wild idea. Sheets of graphene combined into graphite, which had the feel of pencil lead if rubbed the wrong way. It was weak to being scratched, soft and easy to strip off. That was probably what Katalina meant by an ‘inferior’ material. If that was the case, then I had a chance.
“Um, Claude. Are you okay? You’ve been chuckling to yourself for the past few moments.”
Katalina had most likely not heard of graphene, so she had no idea what was on my mind. Regardless, there was no time to explain. The Mad Empress was on her way, ready for another round. I only had time to reach into my Item Box, the one thing I could think of to give me an advantage.
“If my guess is correct, then I’ll be more than fine.”
Just as I pulled out a long stretchy wad of stuff from my Item Box, the Mad Empress came within range. Quickly, I pulled the glob into a long rope and started spinning it in the air. Dodging the sword strikes that whizzed by me, I lashed out like a whip, watching it curl and stick around my enemy.
Of course, the Mad Empress saw my attempt at flinging something on her, but she sliced the rope easily. She stared at the remaining piece still attached to her, wondering what the purpose of it was in the first place. The yellowish rope was soft and gooey as she picked up the dangling end that was cut off.
But then, she yanked it off, unsticking the part that had curled around her suit. My eyes caught a black stain on the rope that was peeled off. And with that confirmation, I grinned, knowing that the fight would end in my victory.
With my ‘Eyes of Providence’, I could see clearly the result. Where she had pulled off the sticky rope, little cracks started to form on her suit. To celebrate, I took a bite of the rope. It was honey-flavored. A piece of stretched-out taffy that led to my success.
At this point, the Mad Empress probably thought that I had gone crazy, flinging random goop at her. But she didn’t know what I knew. Lamps probably never bothered to tell her. Everyone with knowledge of graphene in my world had heard of the famous ‘sticky tape technique’. And while I didn’t have any sticky tape on hand, a gooey, sticky rope made from taffy was a suitable substitute, especially appropriate for a battling chef.
The genius protection against my critical strikes would be defeated by a simple, homemade concoction, and I had plenty of taffy made for the occasion. I took another bite of it before reading another whip for my next attack.
Katalina was right. A crazy solution was all that was needed to pave the way forward. One that astounded even the greatest minds in the world.