Seeing the blond-haired psuedo-ninja revived a sense of hope, especially since I knew that she couldn’t have come here without some help. The portal in the sky was proof of that.
It took but a moment for her to scan the surroundings and discern friend from foe. Pulling out a portal gun of her own, she shot one next to her before shooting another next to the one in the sky. Before anyone could move to react, all I heard was the loud cry of “Clock-endspiel!”
The next thing that I knew, I felt something hit me, sending me sailing into the air. By the time my senses returned, I had fallen out of a portal and was on the ground once again. This time, the warm smile of familiar faces greeted me. Among them, in particular, was a queen whose glasses were dripping from tears.
“Welcome home, Claude!” Katalina wrapped her arms around my head and hugged me.
Surprised that I had suddenly appeared before her, the pieces had all clicked together. Ludmila froze time and booted me into the portal, sending me out of that strange place. I looked around, seeing Saki in a similar state of surprise, so I sighed in relief that she was safe as well.
But then, there was no sign of Ludmila yet. The portal was still active, so it was likely that she was on the other side. I was about to get up and check, but then, she popped out of the portal, looking perfectly fine.
With the last person back, Katalina closed the connection.
‘But do we even have time to breathe now?’
Eryn could likely use portals of her own, given that the Demon had the capability to drag me into subspace. And with infinite mana and Katalina’s know-how of the portal guns, she could literally show up anywhere.
“Activate the portal jammer!” Katalina called out to someone.
A hum activated nearby, and I could feel a shift in the air. As if answering my worries, Katalina brought out her portal gun and tried to shoot it. The burst of mana that came out quickly scrambled and dispersed before anything could form.
“Don’t worry, the entire capital is safe for the time being. It wouldn’t do to sit around and let her waltz right up to us again.”
I had to hand it to Katalina. She made plans for everything.
“Now, Claude. You are in quite the horrid state. Miss Saki too. How about we get you cleaned up and re-outfitted before continuing this discussion?”
Eryn continued to stare up at the sky, where her prisoners had escaped. With the intrusion by Ludmila, the speedy huntress easily rescued her companions.
With how powerful the ‘Clock-endspiel’ skill was, not even Eryn could move under its duration. But placing a large amount of energy into her eyes, she could just barely make out what happened.
Ludmila spent the twelve chimes of her skill sending palm strikes to both Claude and Saki, lining them up with the portals. As soon as time returned to normal, the force of her blows sent the two targets flying into the nearby gateway, lined up with the remaining one in the sky. An escape path that led back to Sistina – the ability to not only locate but intrude upon her domain was certainly something praiseworthy.
Eryn looked at the remaining girl, who stared daggers at her. Deep within herself, Eryn could recall the love she had for the young huntress. The monotone, reserved girl who was utterly devoted to Claude – she seemed to have changed quite a bit since then.
The white glow of her core was likely the cause of it. It was undeniable proof that she had accepted her role as a candidate, being granted the blessing from the God of Speed. It was quite admirable for someone so young to achieve such a feat, to reject the darkness that was within her.
‘Too bad that she would have to die.’
“Eryn Faulkner. You have lost your way. As such, it is my duty to fight against you. But… now is not the time for that.”
Ludmila looked around, seeing that the demonized people were now free to advance forward. Saki had left the area, removing the obstruction that kept them at bay. But Ludmila had completed her objective. There was nothing that Eryn could do in time to keep her from escaping.
But Eryn still had parting words.
“Believe in those little games that the Gods have set up for you. And then, you will see how much of a farce it is.”
Ludmila stared at Eryn. “And this does not seem like a farce to you? I, Ludmila, know what to believe in. And it is certainly not your tricks.” With that, she dove into the series of portals before they each disappeared behind her.
Eryn brought up her hand, summoning a portal in front of her. But as she took a step forward, she noticed that it never formed a gate to the other side. She lightly smiled.
“As expected of my dear Queen. So capable. You have earned a short respite for that.”
There wasn’t any point in rushing the next phase. After all, she had lived as a demon for such a long amount of time. What was a little more?
Eryn sighed as she looked around the domain that was built, all for her. All for whoever would join her side. It was no doubt a farce, just as Ludmila said. But that could be true for the world that they lived in to begin with.
The people of this world were not her true enemies. They were merely subjects indoctrinated by a belief that things were meant to be this way. But Eryn knew. It had all been set up by someone. The very concept of good and evil, that was all determined by the very gods that gave the Electi their powers.
They defined the rules. The very blessings and curses given to the chosen of this world were all due to the whims of the deities that people worshiped. But Eryn was sick of that. She had seen a glimpse of the truth.
Those same gods were her true enemy. They were the ones who defied her existence. And to oppose that, she needed the Electi to come to her side. Those otherworlders – bestowed with a measure of power from the Gods themselves – were lured to this world and made to believe that following the ordained path was the correct one. By cleansing themselves of their impurities, they were granted the right to become a God Candidate. The beacon of white light was proof of that holiness.
But power came not only to those who sought the correct path. Growth of one’s own power was undeniable. It was a natural result of possessing those blessings. Only a restriction could be placed in case the chosen ones went astray.
Power gained without the approval of the Gods was taboo. The very core of an Electi would grow dark as skills were granted. And if they didn’t submit to whatever arbitrary approval that was needed by the Gods, then those Electi were doomed to demonize. The inherent fear of the world against demons would ensure that they would be hunted down and exterminated.
A self-managing system that didn’t allow for anyone to gain a separate will from their benefactor – how ridiculous the truth was!
But Eryn had escaped from that. From failed Electi to demon, she had gained what was needed to survive and thrive with her power intact. Now, it all came down to which side was stronger.
Kill and consume their existences, gaining their powers, or let them fight by her side?
Either way, the end of the Electi was drawing close. Eryn smiled as she opened another portal.
That had been how long I was gone for, ever since that final confrontation in the capital of Purnesia. I had been stuck in a coma for that duration, under the care of Eryn.
“And just a few days after your disappearance, Miss Faulkner showed up, right in this very throne room. She confirmed that you were alive, before proclaiming the propaganda of demons being your destiny. Kidnapped Saki while she was at it too.”
Katalina was circling around me, her complicated scanner clicking and whirring for any irregularities in my mana output and core. That was understandable after I spent such a long time surrounded by miasma.
She had given a look over of Saki as well, confirming that she developed a signature similar to the change in Ludmila. She was now officially one of the ‘Ascended’.
“From what little I recall while being controlled, it seemed like I was tasked to nurse you back to health. The state you were in was quite serious when I first became a maid.”
The explosion that resulted from Eryn consuming the Electi of Mana’s core had severely injured me. Eryn used her powers to put me in a suspended state while she sought after recovery options. What she used was an ability called ‘Life Link’, which allowed for two people to redistribute their vitality in close proximity.
Saki’s face flushed pink as she recalled the details. She was ordered to attend to my needs, even sleeping next to me to strengthen my vitals and accelerate the healing. That was almost the same as when Katalina flushed out the miasma in my core. This time however, it took more than two weeks for a full recovery.
All that time, Katalina was trying to find out where we were taken. And it wasn’t until she detected a giant spike in white mana that allowed her to pinpoint the location.
We were in another dimension the entire time. Just like how the Demon had trapped me in some strange space after returning to Sistina from Sanshiro, she had created an entire domain in that space. It was no wonder the place felt so enclosed. That made it hard for our mana signatures to be tracked normally too.
“Another dimension, huh… is it a parallel to some location in this world?” I wondered aloud, thinking if it was some sci-fi thing where it was an adjacent plane to a real place.
“That… seems to not be the case. The coordinates do not align with anything that is known in this world. In fact, that location seems to exist outside of this world altogether.” Katalina scratched her head, showing me a strange holographic display that looked kind of like a map. The one dot she pointed to was off in some no-man’s land, far apart from the others.
“It’s really like she wants to create a haven away from the eyes of the Gods, doesn’t she?” I said.
Separate from this world. Existences thriving on their very own. Free from the lies of the Gods. That was what Eryn had mentioned. She wanted to build a world that rivaled their power, now that she had a bit of her own.
“Such a threat, how do we deal with it?” Ludmila joined the conversation, asking the one question that we didn’t want to think about.
Even though the Demon had taken over her, we were still facing off against Eryn. Ludmila’s resolve was clearly much stronger than ours.
“Is there nothing we can do to purify her? Even… even if it’s not her anymore, I don’t like the feeling of condemning her along with the evil. Isn’t there… something?” I squeaked out, weakly.
My heart couldn’t separate the desires of the Demon with those of Eryn, who I still saw traces of deep inside. Even though she was gone, I wanted to hold on to some piece of her. A fragile hope that she could move on without being tied down to the dreaded existence that claimed her.
“Perhaps, the Oracle might know something… But more than that, aren’t you still being targeted?!” Katalina realized suddenly.
“Ah, that’s right! Unlike Ludmila and Saki, there’s still a chance for me to fall and join her side! If that’s the case…”
I knew what had to be done first. If Eryn lost the final chip that she had her eye on, then maybe the balance of power would shift. After all, Ludmila and Saki both got stronger after their ‘Ascension’. If more of the Electi were able to ‘ascend’, then Eryn wouldn’t stand a chance against our combined might.
“Alright, I guess that it’s time to give Sanshiro another visit! To the transportation gate!”
With that, we got ourselves cleaned up and dressed back in our armor. Thankfully, there were spares of the equipment Saki and I wore before we were taken. Katalina even had another set of tools for me to replace the ones I lost. The items I kept in my Item Box were thankfully safe. Whatever craziness that happened didn’t affect them in the slightest bit. I chuckled as I considered how strange it was that we had been exploiting subspace in a similar way the whole time. I threw a bunch of recovery items and whatnot into storage, just like how Eryn had kept her entire army safe until the right moment.
As our team stepped through the portal leading to Yakuman, we were immediately greeted with a battle. Those supplies would come in handy.