“Before we start, let me ask you this… Who is your biggest enemy?”
A voice called out to me in the white space, but since I couldn’t feel my body, all I could do was yell back a response.
“The Demon, of course. Now that it knows everything about Eryn and me, how could I possibly fight it? Our strengths, our weaknesses, every place where we could be exploited… how could I hope to defeat a foe such as that?”
“Then, Claude Evers… let’s remove that variable. Shall we see what a world without the Demon would be like for you? Are you ready to face that possibility?”
“This is my test, right? Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”
“Then, let us turn back the clock and see what comes out of it…”
The ticking of rewound time echoed in the background for quite some time, before finally, it stopped, and the outside world opened up like curtains being drawn apart.
“This is a story of a boy who did everything he could to protect that which he felt was precious…”
It started with a normal summoning ritual. A girl fervently drew a magic circle for it, a look of desperation in her eyes. She was at the end of her ropes. Tears streamed down her face as she prayed to the Gods for some ally, anyone in this world that she could place her faith in.
She was Eryn Faulkner, and already, a shadow had caught up to where she stood.
“That damned Duke! How could he- how could he do such a thing!”
Tears dribbled onto the surface, but fortunately, the magic chalk wasn’t affected by a little dampness. After she finished her scribbles, she wiped her face with a sleeve before chanting the magic words to call upon a familiar. She prayed that something fearsome would show up, as her sense of reason and the emptiness of being alone were the only things stopping her from launching a foolish offensive upon her enemy. Foolish it was because her opponent was an important figure of the kingdom. A cruel hand was forced upon a girl with little connections to survive against higher powers.
As the circle started to glow, she waited in anticipation as to what would be granted to her. With all the misfortune she went through so far, perhaps karma would gift her something good.
When the light faded, Eryn nearly gasped in surprise at the form of a young man that looked about her age. Instantly, her heart pounded as the very fact that a human showing up meant that he was one of the esteemed Electi, thought to be summoned heroes in this world.
Finally, finally, she would have her revenge. Clinging onto those thoughts made her nearly throw herself upon him in relief. Perhaps, he would be the hero to save her from the darkness.
Not long after, his eyes fluttered open. He furrowed his brow as he looked around in surprise, unsure of where he was. He looked like he wanted to say something, but all that came out was an awkward “Hi…”
“I know that you are quite confused, but I have summoned you here from another world. Because I truly am in need of help. People like you are called Electi, those who have the potential to become heroes. Will you please offer me your aid?”
The man looked at her oddly for several moments before rubbing his head while lost in thought.
“So… did I get isekaied or something? This certainly looks like some kind of fantasy world from some anime. Man, what a realistic dream I’m having tonight. Must be that game that I’ve been playing or something.”
Eryn wasn’t sure what to make of the statements that came from him. They were littered with foreign concepts, yet all but a few words sounded of the common tongue. Was this how it was like to deal with an otherworlder?
“You know, Miss. I’m just a normal guy and stuff. Unless I’ve been granted some awesome powers or something, I doubt that I could even beat you in a fight.” He looked her over once, noting how she was dressed for combat. “The most I’ve done is some sparring, and that was just roughhousing with friends.”
Eryn couldn’t believe her ears. She had to make sure. Opening the status window that belonged to him, she quickly eyed his stats. Her jaw dropped in the next moment. Though she expected for his numbers to be low at first, his Attack and Magic stats were abysmal. Somehow, he had a maxed out Critical stat in contrast. Not understanding what this meant, she had him fight some enemies.
After a grueling session where Claude, the Electi in question, painstakingly struggled against pathetically weak slimes, Eryn no longer knew what to do.
“He’s an Electi, but he can’t fight… what am I to do?” Her hand covered her eyes, which were once again leaking out tears. She continued muttering to herself, wondering how the Gods could have teased her with such false hope.
This was the last straw. She couldn’t handle it anymore. Even if she had to charge forward alone, then at least, it would be better than the alternative. There was no way that she would be a toy for someone, locked up and played with the rest of her days. Death was better than losing her freedom.
“Hey, uh… Eryn was it? You look pretty down. I know that I’m doing a piss poor job, but what did you expect? Looks like I can’t even be a hero in my dreams.”
Eryn looked up at Claude, his worried expression contrasting the jovial tone he was making. It pierced the mask that she was trying to place on her face for some reason. She wanted to act strong and give a good first impression, but what was the point anymore? How could someone like him offer her any aid?
‘If only… if only I had Cornelius or Pietro to confide in… but… but…’ They were no longer in this world.
“Never mind. I shouldn’t have hoped in the first place. You would be better off not being associated with me then. I shouldn’t have trapped you here by summoning you. The most I can offer is this.”
Eryn threw a bag of coins before him, which contained nearly her entire savings. She wouldn’t need that anymore. Turning away from his bewildered expression, she started to walk off.
“Hey, I was joking when I said that. I know full well that this isn’t a dream. It hurts too much to be one.” Claude’s tone was sharp and lacking the amusement that was present before. “From what I gather, there’s something really bothering you. I’m not sure what hopes you were placing on me, but I can at the very least lend an ear to your situation. You owe me that much for bringing me to this world.”
There was no reason to rush off to her doom so quickly. Even if Claude couldn’t be a proper Electi right away, perhaps he would become one in time. But that amount of time was not something she could afford. Still, a final chat wouldn’t deter her for long.
Eryn turned back around and told him her story and why she had summoned him. By the end of it, the afternoon sun had fallen quite low. It would be dusk soon, so they had to make their way back to civilization.
Claude couldn’t believe what he was told, his expression fuming by the end.
Apparently, Eryn was being targeted by the duke of the kingdom she resided in. Several years ago, he had been after her mother due to some lingering obsessions. But a tragic encounter with some bandits caused the death of her parents. Unknowingly, it was the Duke that planned the whole ordeal to take her mother for himself, but the bandits mistakenly killed her during the struggle.
Mourning his lost love, he then set his sights upon Eryn herself not long after. She looked much like a younger version of her mother, possessing her fiery spirit as well. Using whatever tricks he could think of, he first got rid of those associated with her. This was to ensure that she would have no one to turn to but him.
The Earl’s son who she confided in as a friend.
The wit that Cornelius von Reichenstein displayed quickly launched him through the ranks of nobility. But he seemed to be a playboy, hanging around girls all the time. How easy it was to bribe a low-ranked girl of nobility to slip a deadly poison into his drink.
The head merchant of the family guild.
With the Duke’s resources, he was able to stifle any path of revenue by introducing cutthroat competitors that specifically targeted her family’s wares. The financial demise of a low-ranking family that could hardly be called nobles made negotiations easy. After all, what poor family could resist the Duke’s guarantee in exchange for a single girl?
The caretakers of House Faulkner, who appeared to be trained fighters disguised as house servants.
He merely had to convince Chancellor Magellan to craft some amazing magic tools to ensnare the old couple in a trap. There were many ways to cover up a pair of missing commoners, especially if they were skilled fighters with secrets to hide.
The years after her parents died, Eryn’s life spiraled into Hell itself. Her friends and loyal servants died, her family’s trading company was swindled, and her goal to become a Magic Knight slowly slipped out of her hands.
Finally, when Duke Charlemagne showed up at her barren home with a written contract in his hand, any hopes for a good future evaporated into nothing. She didn’t need to see the parchment to know that her uncle had sold her off. The immense pressure that he was under to maintain his livelihood tipped her off.
The expression of victorious glee on the Duke’s face told Eryn everything as to who was responsible for it all. She could no longer doubt that her doomed fate had been all arranged by him. But it was merely her word against his. The Duke was careful to strip away any support Eryn had before swooping in to claim her, helpless like a newborn chick out of a nest.
Because of that, she ran.
Taking whatever she could hold, she left the city, hoping to make some distance. But she knew that the Duke would come for her eventually. He wouldn’t create such articulate plans only to let her flee. Even now, Magic Pigeons were likely flying about to hone onto the location of her mana signature.
That was why she had bet upon summoning a familiar. If she could gain any chance of escaping the Duke’s clutches, then she would take it. If a beast could swiftly carry her away or a flying dragon whisk her off into the sky, then all the better. But the result was the man before her.
Claude punched his palm in frustration, likely knowing that there wasn’t much that he could do to help her. She could see the bitterness of being helpless in his eyes, which offered the slightest comfort in her heart.
“That is why you should leave. I can’t drag someone that can’t fight into my problems.”
Though Eryn tried to coldly dismiss Claude, she was glad to have shared her story. At the very least, someone would remember her as she was, before she was forced to draw her blade. But Claude had a different opinion.
“How can I possibly just run away after you told me that?! I know we just met, but I’m not the kind of person that would just bail on you. There has to be a reason that you summoned me!”
“If only that were true, but sadly, I don’t have time to-”
Eryn’s statement was cut off as several carriages sounded in the distance. They were heading straight for them, so it didn’t require any thought to know why they came all the way out here. At the speed they were going, she wouldn’t even have time to run away. It was pointless to waste energy fleeing, so she drew her sword in preparation for them.
Pretty soon, the carriages approached. Various sturdy and hardy men walked out of them, presumably guards on the Duke’s payroll. The way they sneered at Eryn’s defiant stance made Claude boil with anger. The men ignored him, of course, after seeing that he couldn’t even put up a proper fighting stance.
“Miss Faulkner, we are here to pick you up. The Duke is anxiously waiting for your arrival,” one man said. The belittling eyes were anything but welcoming.
“Awaiting to make me his whore, I take it. Couldn’t even wait until I turned of age to claim his crush’s daughter. What a vile man!” Eryn spat. In the process of the negotiations for the Duke to claim her, she found out that he had pined for her mother, Gracia, all this time. Realizing that she was merely a replacement sickened her even more.
Seeing that Eryn remained defiant, the men took out their weapons.
“Now, now. Looks like we need to put some discipline into you first. Don’t worry. We have plenty of potions in case you get banged up a bit. Won’t even leave a scar. The Duke certainly made sure of it this time!”
With that, several men approached to detain Eryn. Claude watched as she fought a few of them off with her sword skills and magic, but it didn’t take long before someone slammed the flat of his blade against her back.
Eryn cried out in pain and swung her sword wildly, smacking that weapon out of the man’s hands. It clattered before Claude’s feet. But that one blow left her wide open. The men quickly converged on her. They grabbed her limbs and peeled her sword from her hand. Eryn caught a blow to the face and stomach as they threatened her with force to pare down the struggling.
It was a hopeless scuffle. Ten men against a single girl. There was no hope of winning. She was even robbed of any chance of fighting back on her own terms. She couldn’t even cut down the Duke’s minions, much less the man himself. How worthless she felt.
“Get off her!” A voice growled, interrupting the scene.
Only Eryn recognized the voice. She bit her lip as she merely thought how foolish the otherworlder was. But then, she felt the men’s grip upon her tighten, as if stricken with fear.
“Wh-What is that?!”
Eryn squinted towards Claude, wondering what irked the men. And then, her eyes widened.
Claude was holding onto a sword that caught the faintest glimmer of dusk. But then, her attention was drawn by eyes burning with a purple fire. It spread across his body like it had been coated in oil. In light of that very act, anyone could have mistaken him for a demon itself.