We had known that this day was coming. Despite returning to her old self again, what Eryn had done as the Demon couldn’t be ignored. There were only a few that knew of her intentions, complicated as they were, so it was hard to separate the truth from what people saw. As a Queen, Katalina certainly had the responsibility of not turning a blind eye to it. Eryn could not easily go back to her old role.
The obvious option was exile after she had fully recovered from her precarious state.
“Very well, if you could make your escape in the cover of night, that would be appreciated.”
All three of us wore stiff expressions at this final verdict, but we understood that it was necessary. Since Eryn was officially killed in action, it would be quite troublesome to suddenly bring her back. And if we did, she would go under extra scrutiny, revealing her connection with the Demon and spreading that ugly truth everywhere. It was better to have her disappear, leaving behind the belief that the Demon had taken over a dead host.
Eryn simply nodded with a bow of gratitude. Her last act in service of the queen and her kingdom. At least, for the time being.
“A few years. I hope enough will be forgotten by then. It is my duty as Queen to make this kingdom thrive. Such that we will not look back upon these times as a tragedy, but the trigger for a great, new era.”
Fortunately, the exile wouldn’t be indefinite. Only while the people had the demons fresh upon their minds. The struggles that we faced would erode in the face of time, becoming more and more of a faded remnant. Katalina only asked Eryn to stay away until the people’s hatred for her could be dulled to the point of near indifference.
“I will do my best to rebuild my name and reclaim the faith that you have in me.”
And with that statement, Eryn was now a wanderer, free to act under her own discretion but hiding in the shadows. Eryn planned to adventure all around the world, lending a hand to those she could. A ‘ghost’ wandering the lands that came to aid those who needed it.
But at least… she wouldn’t be alone.
“I take it that Claude will be going with you also,” Katalina sighed. “It looks like I’ll need to appoint a new Chancellor as well…”
I held my hand up to stop her from getting ahead of herself. “Now hold on, I didn’t say that I was going anywhere.”
“Wait, you’re staying?!” My statement made Katalina nearly leap up from her throne, eyes wide. “But don’t you-”
“No, we’re not Master and Electi anymore. Even though we are still connected by this new bond that’s been formed, Eryn doesn’t need me as an excuse to live on anymore. She’s got a whole world to experience and love, waiting for her.”
The treatment that I gave Eryn had somehow forged a bond similar to a Master and Electi. That was evident by the trail of mana linking between us that grew stronger and stronger with each injection of divine energy. Though there was no official notification, no indication in our status windows, we could feel each other’s presence once again. The hole that was created when our connection broke previously now had something to fill its place. That much was enough.
“Hey, if she ever misses one of us, I’m sure you can portal us to her for a quick meeting. The world’s ‘not thaaaaat big’.”
My joke seemed to bring smiles back to the two girls. But then, Katalina furrowed her brow in wonder.
“But if you’re not going with her, then…”
“I will be,” a silky voice echoed in the throne room as the echo of footsteps sounded. Cornelius came out from behind a pillar, waving casually to us with a smirk on her face. Cornelius was another person that had died but been recently summoned back to life, as the Electi of Magic, no less. “An Electi for an Electi. A fair trade to better suit our whims and desires.”
“You make it sound like we are couple swapping for a night on the town… Your issues with lordship inheritance all settled, I take it?” I called out to her.
“Oh, they are fine. My cousin, Oberle, will be the new Lord of Reichenstein. Despite my parents’ worries, he’s a good kid with a grounded sense of values.”
“Overly Rich… Is it just me, or do all your relatives have terrible naming sense?”
In the past, Cornelius’s father had been so vigilant against the extended family taking over lordship that he purposefully raised Corny as a guy. But that seemed to be less of a problem as time went on. Cornelius became the next lord, and the younger generation of Reichenstein admired her. That was why she could pass off the title to someone else without worry.
“Don’t worry, Mister Chancellor,” Cornelius walked right up and drew her arm around Eryn’s shoulders, “I’ll be sure to take goooood care of her.” She gave a mischievous smirk before continuing. “Man, it is a bit unfortunate that I couldn’t have been summoned as a guy. Truly unfortunate. Then, maybe I would find myself pinned to a bed…”
Eryn’s face heated up from that. “How long are you going to tease me about that?!”
“Sounds like it’ll be just fine. You have me on speed dial if your ice gets a bit too melty.”
I couldn’t even get jealous at the suggestive teasing. After all, it was no longer my business. While I still ‘loved’ Eryn, it was a love borne out of my honest desire to protect her and see to her happiness. The date that we had proved that. In times of peace, we felt like good friends casually helping each other out. We were just lonely, clinging onto each other while ignoring everyone else trying to broaden our world.
The time apart would do us some good. We could take care of our own aspirations, so that when we meet up once more, our lives would become much more than just how we saw each other. Our lack of self-worth made us kindred spirits. But now that we were healed, it was time to walk our own paths.
With the matter at hand settled, Eryn and Cornelius said their farewells, heading off together to prepare for their new journey. Before they disappeared, they both shot me a wink, hinting at what I needed to do next. With the door closed behind them, the throne room fell into an eerie silence with only Katalina and me there.
“You wanted to go along, didn’t you?” Katalina finally asked.
“Almost as much as I wanted to stay.” I turned back to face her, giving a wide smile.
“Really? You are making it hard not to infer that I am the reason that tipped your balance.”
“Now you’re not being logical. For what reason could that be the case?” Katalina turned her head away, tears starting to bubble from her eyes.
“Because you’re the one I decided to give my heart to, Katalina Bastia de la Sistina.”
Tears streamed down the Queen’s face while she desperately tried to hide behind her hand. I wondered if she thought there was some catch in store, as she completely clammed up. I took that as a signal and approached the throne, inches before her, and knelt.
“I told Eryn that I would protect her because that was what I could do for someone dear to me. But for you, Katalina, I don’t have to make myself do that. I love being around you, without excuses or reasons. Before we even knew anything of titles or positions, we were simply two people who enjoyed talking about ourselves. Our interests, our ideas, our future – that is the bond that we share in our moments together.”
I pulled something out from my chest pocket and presented it to her.
“Katalina, you have my heart. I don’t need any reason to justify it. I love you just for the fact that you are you. Like how you have always simply seen me as just Claude. Will you marry me?”
The moments of silence that came after were brutal. I swore that I could see every little movement that she made while my full confession sunk in. Just as she bent forward to respond, a loud clatter of metal objects scattered across the floor beside the throne, making us both jump.
Apparently, Katalina was so mentally flustered that she had called up her Item Box by accident, secretly wanting some tool to ‘appraise’ whether this reality was true or not. The result was that her tools came spilling out of the opening and crashed onto the floor.
Once we realized this, we both broke into laughter. I hadn’t expected a reaction such as this, but it had ‘Katalina’ written all over it. As soon as I started to regain some sense of myself again, the next thing I knew, a body tackled me to the ground. Lips wrapped around my own as a pair of hands gently held my head in place. The tickle of blue hair brushed against my skin and the feeling of glasses jabbed lightly across my cheeks.
Those little nuisances hardly bothered me. I was with the woman I loved. It didn’t matter if the guards busted in, nor if the world found out. This was our decision to make, not theirs.
After several minutes, we decided to compose ourselves. The throne room wasn’t the proper place for such things. Katalina immediately grabbed my hand, tugging me along to more private quarters. We were all smiles as the empty throne room fell into silence, the end of a long day. We spent our first night together, officially as a couple. There was no need to tiptoe around each other’s hearts.
The sun peeked between my eyelids, causing me to scrunch up my face and turn away from it. It was morning already. The fog of waking up quickly dispelled as I recalled the previous night.
I had finally chosen. My heart had gone to Katalina, who now lay beside me in bed. I reached over and pulled her against me, listening to her breathing sharpen due to the sudden warmth pressed against her. A minute passed before she spoke.
“They left already, haven’t they?”
“Yeah, I can feel Eryn’s signature growing more distant. Probably took a carriage out of the city.”
“And you’re completely sure about this?”
“My place is here, by your side.” I stroked her hair, not willing to let go of what I now had.
“You know… that part slipped my mind.”
“How?!” Katalina turned around, an expression of bewilderment on her face.
“For some reason, I thought this kingdom just having a Queen was enough.”
“And not give me the excuse to split half my duties to you? Not a chance. My productivity will increase dramatically if I don’t have to govern all the time.”
“When you put it that way… I guess there’s always room for you to craft more neat things. Better for the kingdom in the long run.”
“Exactly.” Katalina giggled, seeing that I had resigned myself to do my part.
I hopped out of bed, putting on a robe to cover myself. Walking out on the balcony, I stared at the view of the Capital, outlines of buildings sprinkled with the glow of sunrise. Then, I smiled to myself before turning around with a look of confidence on my face.
“Alright! If I do it, then I might as well try to be the best king this kingdom has ever seen!”
Katalina fetched her glasses and put them on, clapping at my bold words.
“So raring to go about it, too. No complaining about how much trouble it’s going to be?”
I shook my head. Anything that I could think of were just mere excuses for not trying. I wouldn’t complain anymore until I tried everything that I was capable of.
“No, this is a role that I choose to take. I’m not going to shy away from the reality of it. More than that, I love this world, so if that’s how I can play my part, then that is exactly what I’ll do.”
Katalina put on a robe as well, joining me at the balcony. Together, we looked at the kingdom.
We wouldn’t be alone in the effort. Everyone that we knew played a part in it all. And just like how I found my motivation, it was time to move forward with everyone in tow.
I looked out toward the horizon, wherever Eryn and Cornelius’s travels took them. They would return some day. By then, Sistina would be a completely different place. The hand that gently clasped my own gave me reassurance of that.
Volume 9 End