“My Queen, we can find no trace of the Chancellor anywhere. Neither have we found remnants of the Mad Empress or Lamps Magellan.”
The solemn expression that Ludmila carried spread throughout the throne room. But for Queen Katalina, she had to hide her tears. It wouldn’t do for her to get emotional. Not in such times.
In the following days after the explosion wiped out Purnesia’s capital, Claude never returned. No one could figure out what had happened in the final confrontation between him and Purnesia’s rulers, along with how that explosion occurred. A great power erupted from the castle and simply destroyed everything, leaving any hope of survival grim.
But Katalina wanted to believe that somehow Claude was still alive. She swore that she heard noises from the communicator afterward. With the tidbits of conversation before that, it was enough to piece things together. That was how she had learned about Lamps Magellan’s grand scheme. But it was better not to reveal what she learned to the public.
The thought of summoning a deity to do one’s bidding was far too dangerous. Not to mention, a familiar voice was heard in the background, one that made her heart freeze.
‘It couldn’t be her….’
But Claude’s cries only confirmed it. Eryn had somehow returned, different but having joined in the fight. She was about to tell others the good news, but then, that happened.
“Who are you, really?!”
Claude’s question cut through the static and made Katalina drop everything. For he had found out that Eryn wasn’t really herself. That it was not actually Eryn, but the Demon returned.
The communicator cut out immediately after that. Before she could gather any allies to give him aid, an explosion signaled the end of it all. With that, everything was seemingly over. The fighting that had blanketed the area for quite some time fell into a silence that was unbearable.
Slowly, people moved forward to check, but even with the entire army scouring what was left of Bryansk, nothing could be found. That nothingness felt like a hole in Katalina’s heart, never closing up or finding any relief. But surely, the others felt the same way. She had to put on the face of a ruler and push on for the sake of her people.
“My Queen, your orders. There are many tasks yet to be taken care of.”
Saki spoke up. She, too, felt a bit lost as to what to do. Asked to fill in for Claude temporarily as the Chancellor, she felt unqualified for it all. She was a follower, not a leader. And with her support gone once again, the best she could do was to flail around, doing what she thought Claude would do.
“The refugees are keeping calm now, but rumors spread around. They cannot simply accept that their leaders tried to use them as sacrificial pawns. It will take time for our truth to sink in. Our current kindness cannot override decades of bitterness.”
Because the mana source powering their livelihoods was destroyed, the leaderless Purnesians were allowed to stay in Sistina. Though their wish of returning to their homeland was fulfilled, that didn’t prevent skepticism of the war’s conclusion. Many didn’t believe that Lamps Magellan controlled them like puppets, even with the video evidence recorded by the Queen’s tool. The staunch supporters of the Mad Empress believed that Sistina silenced them.
“How troublesome. Even with a war’s end, nothing will be settled without some acceptance and trust. But we must persevere. We must act as models to rid the dark history between us. How else will they learn not to fear-”
The door to the throne room blew open as several guards spilled in, interrupting the conversation. Everyone inside instantly drew their weapons, still on pins and needles from the war. But the gasping guards merely ignored it and yelled out their message.
“A figure! In the sky! Sailing around the capital!”
Moments earlier, a figure soared across the sky, the energy spewing from it attracting everyone’s attention. The aura that it gave off was unmistakable – the sensation of a demon. The surrounding citizens dove into cover and hid behind the capital guards. Even the Purnesians no longer cared that a soldier of Sistina, their former enemy, stood between them and certain death.
After all, fear of a mutual enemy forced people together, for the sake of survival. People without power clung to those that did, forgetting all else as long as they could grasp a sense of safety. After circling over the capital a few times, it suddenly sailed down toward the castle.
With a crash, it landed right into the throne room of Sistina’s castle, only meters from where Katalina was sitting. Everyone covered their faces as they were showered with debris.
As the dust settled, Katalina wiped the filth from her glasses, and she swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. The others were ready to strike, until the shape of a young girl appeared from within the plume of wreckage.
“M-Miss Faulkner?!” Saki cried out, completely surprised. Instantly, murmurs of the thought-to-be deceased lord filtered throughout the room.
The momentary joy that Saki possessed was instantly dashed by the dark aura around the girl before her. That was the first time anyone aside from Claude had seen her new appearance. Wearing the same armor as before, wisps of miasma cut the air around her like they would sever anything within range. Katalina stared as Eryn tossed two round objects in her hand forward that were shrouded in the dust cloud. They rolled to the foot of the throne.
Two heads. That of the Mad Empress and Lamps Magellan.
“A small gift. Just to give you a warning of what is to come. At that time, I wonder what he will choose.”
A look of smugness permeated Eryn’s face, making everyone believe that she had not come on friendly terms. As the people around them looked down at the heads, many could piece together her involvement.
That she had been the cause of Claude’s disappearance. Though hands clenched their weapons tighter, one look upon her face told them that they would be vastly outmatched, as even the very air quaked with power emitting from her.
Despite that, a shaky voice called out to her.
“He? Do you mean Claude? Where is he? What happened?”
Though Katalina couldn’t hope to win against a demon, especially one that seemed to inhabit Eryn’s body, she mustered the courage to ask. Her composure as she stepped down toward her revealed how determined she was to find out. It didn’t matter that she was facing a dead friend possessed.
Casually, Eryn spoke like she had expected that very question to be asked. Like it was just another round of banter between the two of them in the past. They had always taken jabs at each other over who was more suitable for Claude, but this time, Eryn’s voice carried a tone of finality.
“Claude is mine, just so you know. And when he wakes up, we’ll be together again. Not even the world will stop that from happening. Not this time. I won’t lose him again.”
The voice carried a longing for a lost love, but yet, it sounded a bit strange to Katalina’s ears. Despite being possessed, Eryn still acted like herself in that way, enough to throw off her initial instincts about the Demon’s true intentions. A deep desire unresolved, like a person that had nearly given up on life itself, echoed in those words.
It was not until Eryn slowly walked over to Saki and called out to her that people brushed those ponderings aside.
“It is delightful to see you again, my dear Saki. Oh, how I’ve missed you.”
Saki’s eyes widened as she too realized who was talking before her.
A finger was placed before her lips, silencing that query. And then, it gently traced across her cheek before Eryn reached in and kissed the stunned girl on the lips. Saki didn’t resist. She couldn’t. This was a moment that she had always wanted. But somehow, the lips pressing against hers felt chilly, enough to send shivers down her back.
Slowly, even that didn’t matter anymore. The fuzzy feeling of fulfilling a desire enveloped her. Her eyes lost the glow upon them, as if she had fallen unconscious on her feet. Finally, Eryn pulled back.
“There, there. It is good to have you back. You can enjoy basking in the presence of your dearest, who I now possess.”
Suddenly, Ludmila materialized in front of them, her fist ready to strike with a bright white glow. But with a simple wave of Eryn’s hand, the young girl was tossed aside, right into the wall. Her body dented the surface before she crumpled over, unconscious.
Katalina drew her magic gun and fired, but even that seemed futile. The shots of ice merely bounced harmlessly off and shattered into miniature crystals. The aura of a demon was simply too strong. Without an Electi’s or hero’s strength, there was no one else that could break through it.
“Give it up. There’s no need to give me a reason to destroy this kingdom. I have what I want now. And it wouldn’t do for my grand reunion with Claude to be tainted by the death of his loved ones. We both know that the man’s a softie when it comes to protecting those that he cares for.”
Katalina lowered her gun. “So you will use us as hostages in your plan? To what means?”
“Why, to fulfill his destiny, of course.”
“And what destiny would that be?”
“To overcome the mortal shell that binds Electi to mediocrity. For those that have flown so high towards those we call the Gods. In hopes that they no longer find themselves burning and crashing to the ground. We will transcend our fate. We will remain eternal.”
“As demons? Endangering everyone in the process?” Katalina could find no guarantee that such beings wouldn’t abuse immense power for their own purpose. After all, no one had seen a good demon. Even the ones that co-existed with them for a time apparently had nasty goals.
Eryn smiled widely. “And who is there to stop me? As the possessor of life eternal and inexhaustible mana, nothing stands in my way. There is no going back at this point. I won’t bow down, even to the Gods.”
With a wave of the hand, a portal formed next to Eryn. After ushering the obeying doll that was Saki into it, she stepped into it as well. With a poof, it disappeared, leaving the Queen and her subjects with that ominous future in mind.
Katalina let out a sigh of relief. Rather than dread, that encounter left her with a reassurance that Claude was alive. And that he would be back.
Eryn was wrong. Claude wouldn’t give in to her. Rather, he was the only one that could stop her. That was one thing that she would believe in, regardless of the power of gods and demons looming ahead.
Volume 8 End