Golabki eyed his opponent as another wave of mana narrowly brushed past him. His sharp vision honed onto any openings in Lamps’ guard as he dodged across the battlefield.
For the wily man with such an untrained constitution, a single direct blow would end the match. However, Lamps’ near-infinite mana capacity made even that impossible. The fact that a thick veil of mana blocked every one of Golabki’s shots made it futile to shoot carelessly and hope for a lucky hit.
In fact, he would have been much more of use fighting against the Mad Empress. But Lamps knew that. It was for that very reason he was kept at bay from aiding his new partner, the Chancellor of Sistina.
Golabki’s view of Electi had been tainted by the conniving inventor, Lamps Magellan, a man with hidden desires concealed by pure trickery. Serving under him was once a natural course of action, the inventor’s charisma lulling him into a sense of duty.
But since he met the man called Claude Evers, a clear contrast developed. Despite a similar position of power across the border, Claude was a troubled man, no doubt due to the loss of his Master. He fought with greed befitting of his Electi role. But yet… a certain humbleness could be felt from him. And honesty. The complete opposite of Lamps Magellan.
Different from the tools Lamps manufactured and gathered around him, Claude didn’t need such things to get him to step forward. Just a simple weapon and the will to succeed. The same as Golabki every time he stepped into the ring to slay his opponent. How plain it was, but it resonated with him nonetheless.
And when Claude faltered, he had others charging forward in his stead. Not mindless soldiers given a direct command, but people who had his back. People that told him to rest. People who used their skills to finish what he couldn’t. Other Electi who fought tooth and nail for his sake. All at once, the concept of an Electi changed drastically.
Golabki couldn’t help but feel something hollow within himself, the moment that the tides turned in the battle. When those portals opened and Claude’s companions came charging out, Golabki knew that he had to change himself. That was why he offered his aid in battle. He couldn’t deny the camaraderie that he never got, when placed against a backdrop of lies and manipulation.
Things, of course, didn’t go to plan for his big redemption. The bullets he fired were absorbed in a blanket of mana, stopping in midair before reaching their target. His keen eyesight, able to pick up any weaknesses, failed him this time as Lamps had compensated for nearly everything. At least, everything that a genius was able to.
A lone gunman didn’t have the firepower to break through. And the one person that could wipe out Lamps’ defensive shroud was blocked by a suit that couldn’t be cut. A victory was often decided before the combatants stepped onto the battlefield, and certainly, Lamps made ample preparations for it.
Golabki leapt to the side again. Seeing a flash of mana being dispersed behind Lamps, he fired several shots toward it. After realizing that he couldn’t attack Lamps himself, he then aimed for the moments when Claude managed to strip away the Mad Empress’s mana. A direct hit would sink the bullets into her body.
Of course, Lamps expected that also. As soon as a disruption in mana was felt, he fired his mana-spewing torch of a weapon into the direct path of where the bullets would go. Not even Golabki’s quick reflexes were fast enough to stop the predictions of a super mind.
Golabki could only grind his teeth in frustration. He only had his fighting skills and eyesight to be proud of. How easily that was rendered worthless at the hands of nice tools and abilities. It made his efforts up until now seem pointless.
The insufferable smirk and closed eyes seemed to add to the mockery. The more that Golabki stared at Lamps, the smaller he felt. Never had he met someone so dauntless and confident in his own abilities that he couldn’t find a single crack in them.
But still, Golabki had to persevere. He wouldn’t be where he was if he gave up from initial appearances. If he could get close enough to the so-called ‘Grim Reaper’ and live to befriend him of all things, then he would rather bank on that uncertainty in hopes of a miracle.
And then, that smirk suddenly faltered.
It was the slightest flinch, noticeable to only those who could read Lamps well. It was like he had long put on a mask and never let it slip. However, the split second in which his smirk dropped was a blatant signal in Golabki’s mind. And accompanying that, a rigidness traveled down the joints of his fingers to where he held his contraption. Even the limbs hidden within his military suit couldn’t hide the unsettling discomfort of a realized flaw.
‘Something actually threw off that man’s calculations?!’
That seemed like a near-impossibility. Even after Sistina charged into their empire, thwarted their assaults time and time again, and made it all the way before them, Lamps had never let his expression drop. Everything had been according to plan. And if not, the next phase compensated for it.
Golabki whipped his head to the other fighting pair. A sudden reversal against the Mad Empress was the only thing he could fathom that could unnerve Lamps. But what he saw completely confused him.
“What in the name of the Gods is that?” he muttered without thinking.
Claude was whipping around something long and thin. Not to mention, it looked like it stuck to the Mad Empress’s suit. With a gentle tug, it was ripped off again, with no visible damage inflicted.
Thinking it strange, Golabki turned back to Lamps, who was staring at the pair as well. Stony faced, pondering and pondering, just like he normally did when trying to digest a situation. Maybe he was too uneducated to understand what warranted such deep thinking, but clearly, something Claude had done triggered it.
But all Golabki could see was an almost playful attempt at whipping something sticky onto the suit. At times, the whip itself broke apart. Sometimes, the Mad Empress sliced it short in response. However, Claude’s eyes looked ever hopeful as he grabbed another glob from out of nowhere and stretched it into a long whip again. Swinging it once again like each attempt was effective, Golabki could tell when someone acted upon favorable tides.
Unlike Golabki, Lamps knew exactly what had happened. It was so far outside of his expectations that he couldn’t help but stutter. The genius of his multi-layered, defect-free graphene, was stripped away by such a crude instrument. He could tell from the residual mana adhered to that rope that the suit was flaking off. The very protection imposed upon it was being compromised.
Lamps had banked on his superiority in science to carry him in this world. But when one operated at such a high level, the musings of those merely ‘dabbling’ in knowledge seemed superficial, easily disregarded. The thought of a childish ‘science trick’ never entered his mind as he focused on defending against the attacks of this world.
The combination of mana, rubber and graphene should have guarded against everything. Ballistics, weaponry, magic, even the pesky Electi of Critical that could cut through everything – his invention was the culmination of protection to everything imaginable. So why had he ignored such an oversight? Why had he not realized that something so dumb could be used against him?
Unfortunately, Lamps had disregarded the importance of that ‘science trick’. He had left his world right before it was announced that this childish research had won the Nobel Prize. But Claude had been around for it. That idea left an impression, just as he started his engineering studies. It was a matter of a difference in circumstance and perspective. But that was enough of a slap in the face to Lamps.
His thoughts concluding, Lamps rushed to the aid of the Mad Empress. He could already tell that the integrity of the suit was insufficient. Purple and blue mana trickled all around it. That meant the weak points were no longer covered by the material he spent so meticulously crafting. A suit that offered absolute protection for the Empress had instead failed horribly. And the person wearing it had no idea that it did.
Seeing Lamps’ reaction, Golabki also chased after him. It was now a race to the Mad Empress. Lamps sensed the buildup of mana in the Chancellor’s left hand. He had abandoned his sword for that sticky whip, but now, a different attack was being prepared.
The Mad Empress was too focused on the whip that was flailing toward her. And too ignorant to realize that she had lost her protection. The next strike would no doubt penetrate and take her out. Lamps couldn’t let that happen. She was the linchpin of his entire plan. The very reason for it.
Sensing only this desperation, Golabki fired a few shots, forcing Lamps to swerve away from them. He didn’t have time to negate the attacks, so he had to lose a few precious seconds. A little less leeway to fire his weapon to keep the critical attack at bay. But even still, he could make it. The mana thrower in his hand whirred as he set it to full blast, ready for a large plume to overturn the situation. Then, the Mad Empress could counterstrike.
Powers aside, the other man, Claude Evers, was just a mere otherworlder like him. Powerless without Electi abilities. Only able to use his human gifts to settle things. Well, he wouldn’t lose when it came to that. His previous life of successes had proven that.
But then, Golabki’s body got in the way, the large burst of mana from his weapon slammed into the large man as he crossed his arms in hopes of weathering the attack.
The man had placed himself between them, like it was an obligation. Sacrificing himself on the feeling that this moment would decide everything, Golabki put his faith in the strange plan Claude had come up with. And as the wave of mana died down, he could barely feel his arms and legs, a numbing pain coursing through them due to the attack.
Lamps was made to dash around the now immobile officer, in a panic to coax his weapon to fire again. He had made the Mad Empress do all the fighting. That was because he had utter confidence in his strategy. But now, the sheer number of obstacles made him step forward in haste.
But just as he charged ahead of his Master, a hand gripped his shoulder. And at that moment, he realized that he had failed to convey something to her.
“What are you doing?! Get out of the way!”
That gloved hand pulled him back, with the Mad Empress stepping in front of him again. The fool of a girl who merely had faith in his inventions. Who believed in everything he did because of his track record. Who chuckled deviously when he gave an answer in utmost confidence, hiding away any hint of hesitation or doubt.
Just like that one time. That one girl.
“No, Olivia! You-”
The energy from the Chancellor crashed into the Mad Empress. Her screams of pain silenced any further words from Lamps, as she twitched and writhed. Blood sprayed into the air as she was cut all over by the cloak of miasma that Claude sent forward.
Those howls echoed within the mind of Lamps, triggering his memories. For once, his smile had dropped completely. For once, his face twisted into an absolute look of horror. And with a snarl, he shot his mana thrower straight at Claude, knocking him a good distance away.
Catching the Mad Empress, Olivia, into his arm, he turned and sprayed another plume around him to block Golabki from shooting at them. A dribble of spit hung from the corner of his mouth, and if his eyes were open, then they would be clearly bloodshot.
With a jet of mana from his back, he blasted off from the battlefield and toward the nearest gate in a hasty retreat. The wind whipped at his body, an unfamiliar sensation as he hesitated to use it except for emergencies. Riding through the dense flow of mana at such speeds was far too troublesome normally. What if he crashed and injured his precious mind?
But like a man enraged, he charged back towards the capital, now a complete ghost town. Ignoring the shots from Golabki, some of which nicked him as he escaped, his only thought was to rush to the altar and give himself up. Maybe the God that bestowed his powers would listen now. There had to be enough power for the summoning.
‘It was all according to my calculations after all! Everything! Even this little slip-up could be accounted for!’
All he had to do was get to the altar and do something that a man of science would never think to do.
Pray for a higher power to come down and grant his wish. Olivia’s wish. And then, everything would be okay. All of the efforts in these past years came down to this moment. He had forgotten how bitter failure tasted. He begged it not to grace him again.