Chapter 204:

Of War and Love (2)

Atk 0 Crit All ~My attack stat is negligible, so I can't help but rely on critical hits to succeed!~

Once the others had left, I broke the silence.Bookmark here

“So, I’m guessing that we won’t be getting any help from the other nations?”Bookmark here

Katalina’s calm face scrunched up from that. She sighed before giving me a blunt answer.Bookmark here

“Claude, asking someone to join us in war is no small request. Even if they owe us some measure of gratitude, that is more of a personal favor. They are in no position to simply ask their nation to dive into a war that does not involve them.”Bookmark here

“Plus, they gain nothing by helping. Neither are they the subject of Purnesia’s aggressions. This is, after all, a war stemming from a messy history between Sistina and Purnesia. A grudge in which they have no place in butting in,” Cornelius added.Bookmark here

“Yes, we are on our own. And if we do not solve our own problems, then what are we as a kingdom?”Bookmark here

Katalina’s last point made a lot of sense. As annoying as it was, only Sistina’s people had the ability to clean up after their own mistakes in the past. We had no right to draw others into the conflict.Bookmark here

“However, both Koujiro and Kaguya wish to speak with you about other matters… Please give them a call soon,” Katalina said, a slight look of concern appearing on her face.Bookmark here

Likely, it was about the condition of Ludmila. I had told Katalina about her deep phobia of guns. Not to mention that I felt a hint of darkness brewing from her. We were hoping that they had some idea with how to deal with it, as they had helped with Saki and me before.Bookmark here

“Sure, I’ll get on that right away. It would be best to leave Ludmila with you here in the capital where she is far from the sounds that could trigger her once again. With the barrier and Pietro standing guard, that is the safest option.”Bookmark here

If anything, I wanted to see if something could be done to lessen her fear. Though I didn’t particularly want her out fighting again, there was no doubt that Katalina would have to help out, with Ludmila following along as her protector.Bookmark here

“I’ll be in the lab for the time being. If we want to outsmart Purnesia, then even better inventions are necessary. That is where I can help you all the most.” Katalina walked by, brushing me on the shoulder lightly with her hand. Her eyes seemed almost happy that I wasn’t going to be involved in the fighting yet.Bookmark here

Cornelius rose from her chair and followed after her. As she passed me, her eyes narrowed, and she pointed with her chin to a slightly brooding Eryn.Bookmark here

“Don’t leave before talking to her,” was all she said before exiting.Bookmark here

I stood there stunned for a moment, wondering what could be wrong. The sound of a chair heavily scraping across the floor interrupted me. Eryn got up and trudged for the exit. Recalling Cornelius’s warning, I reached out and gripped her shoulder.Bookmark here

“What’s the matter?”Bookmark here

“Nothing,” Eryn flatly said. Obviously, that was not simply nothing.Bookmark here

“Don’t lie to me. I can tell when you hide your feelings and turn tsundere.”Bookmark here

Her cheek twitched, and she grabbed my hand attached to her shoulder. A sting from her strong grip shot through my palm before she lightened up.Bookmark here

“Are you… are you not going to fight by my side anymore?”Bookmark here

“Eh?! I mean… uh, of course I will, but- but I think it would be best to use my cooking abilities to protect everyone!”Bookmark here

I was caught off guard by her sudden question, but it seemed the most logical to grant everyone buffs. With my snacks on the field, I could provide the strongest boosts at the most critical moments. It would certainly cause a larger impact than tearing through enemies with my fighting skills.Bookmark here

“Besides, didn’t we agree that Saki would be a better guard for you at this time? That girl would tear the ground asunder and bury them alive for your sake.”Bookmark here

“That’s not-“ Eryn turned away, not finishing her sentence.Bookmark here

I watched her fidget, unsure of what else to say. It took a few moments for her to turn back.Bookmark here

“I-Its just… as if you were avoiding me….” If Eryn’s statement hadn’t confused me so much, I would’ve given her a hug in that rare moment of timidness that was uncharacteristic of her normal self.Bookmark here

“Avoiding you? Why?”Bookmark here

“Because! Cornelius told me how you reacted after… I, uh… burned… through the army.”Bookmark here

The sight of half-burnt corpses was unearthed from my memories. Immediately, I felt a chill run down my spine, which hardly went unnoticed.Bookmark here

“See! Just the thought of it unnerves you! And being that I was the one that did that… I got worried. Worried that you were using that cooking to make distance from me…”Bookmark here

“That’s not true!” I immediately responded, but she pointed a finger straight into my face.Bookmark here

“Is it not? When was the last time we did anything together, without ‘duties’ and ‘excuses’ getting between us? I know that we each have our respected duties, but we are Master and Servant after all. But time and time again, you run off and do your own thing.”Bookmark here

I reached out to grab her hand, wrapping my fingers first around her pointer finger and then cupping her hand in my palm. Trembling knocked against my grasp.Bookmark here

“I just want… I just wanted you to be there. Even if you’re only hanging around in the back, knowing that you’re somewhere close by makes the battlefield less lonely. Knowing that I have something to protect drives me more than any gimmick that I could take with me to battle!”Bookmark here

Eryn looked up, slightly misty-eyed. Suddenly, I wanted to smack myself for the thoughts I had not long ago. I realized that Eryn’s fighting slightly scared me, so I had likely come off as cold and cautious of her.Bookmark here

‘But just what the hell am I scared about? She’s doing it for your sake, you big dumbass!’Bookmark here

At that moment, I pulled her body towards me. A splash of tears dribbled onto my face as my lips pressed against hers. I felt a quiver of resistance before it melted away, letting me dive deeper. More tears rolled down her cheeks and smeared against mine as our heads moved to and fro. Slowly, her arms snaked around my back as she forced her lips against mine – harder, fiercer, like she had waited for ages.Bookmark here

When the intensity had finally subsided, I realized that I needed to gasp for air. Also, there was an immediate urge to sit down before I tip over. Instead, I ended up leaning into Eryn, my head resting against the side of her head to ease the vertigo. A tiny voice whispered into my ear.Bookmark here

“You won’t keep me waiting, will you? Too many things keep happening. I was afraid that we would never get anywhere…”Bookmark here

“I’ll try to hurry. As soon as I get the other chefs up and running, I head to you with my knives drawn.”Bookmark here

Eryn pulled back from me and smiled. “Okay. I’ll hold out until then.” As she stepped away, she fingered the hilt of Radiant Light, her mother’s sword. With a swift spin on the balls of her feet, a few graceful steps led her out the door.Bookmark here

More slowly, I left the room also. However, I nearly had a heart attack when I saw Katalina standing just outside.Bookmark here

“Gah! K-Katalina, what are you-“Bookmark here

“Spying on you,” she replied nonchalantly, pointing to the small portal next to her that she used as a viewing port into the room. Bookmark here

My heart thundered in my chest as I fought for some excuse. But, Katalina simply reached over and placed a finger on my lips.Bookmark here

“Yes, I saw everything. And no, I’m not mad. This was not outside of my expectations.”Bookmark here

“B-But, but I-“Bookmark here

“Oh, be quiet while your queen is speaking!”Bookmark here

Katalina grabbed both sides of my face and planted her lips onto mine. Unlike the fierce kiss I had before, hers was a gentle peck that tickled the entrance to my mouth. Seeing that I was frozen, she sighed and placed her head on my collarbone.Bookmark here

“You’re probably thinking that I’m being foolish. And logic dictates that to be the case as well. But reason doesn’t solve everything. I want to be with you. As does Miss Faulkner. So I won’t back down. I know that your heart is in the right place, so I trust you.” Katalina looked up at me with a smile. “Do your best for the both of us, okay?”Bookmark here

With that, she stepped back and casually walked toward her lab. I was left there speechless. The only thing left for me to do was to turn around and smack my head against the wall a few times.Bookmark here

Of course, my head banging was considered an attack, so it didn’t nothing to the wall. Neither did my head feel anything more than a stiff recoil.Bookmark here

I could feel another voice within me dance around with celebratory fans, but I had too many worries on my mind to do something about it. I honestly wasn’t sure whether to celebrate with it or kick its ass.Bookmark here

Rather, I robotically moved to an empty room before pulling out the long-range communicator in my possession. Hitting a few buttons on it, a pulse of blue emitted before I sat in a chair and waited.Bookmark here

“Yo, it’s Koujiro!”Bookmark here

“Heyo, Koujiro. Did you get the message about the charms?”Bookmark here

“Ah, yes. Your Queenie asked before, but we can spare a couple more of them. But just to let you know, don’t let the miasma get too wild. Because there’s a limit to how much can be siphoned out.”Bookmark here

Apparently, the charms worked using a small resonance stone that connected the user to the holy shrine located in the Isles of Macali. The stone could only pull out and transfer a certain amount of miasma to be neutralized, so it couldn’t resist a full-blown demonic transformation.Bookmark here

“Too much miasma, and I’ll have to come hunting you down with my EXCALIBURRRRR!”Bookmark here

“Excalibur, my ass. I know you have a holy sword, but wasn’t it just called plain, old ‘Holy Sword’?”Bookmark here

“Don’t burst my bubble, will ya? If that’s all, I have bottle duty with the midgets now. I’ll pass the charms off to the next ship heading out.”Bookmark here

I bid him goodbye and cut off the communication, chuckling at how he could go from ‘chuuni’ to responsible father so quickly. Waiting a moment for the stone to shut off, I pressed another set of buttons which pinged someone else.Bookmark here

“Kaguya speaking.”Bookmark here

“Lady Kaguya, I believe you heard from Katalina about Ludmila’s situation?”Bookmark here

“Yes, Chancellor Claude. I may have a solution, but unfortunately, I cannot be there to administer it.”Bookmark here

“One of your Oracle abilities, I take it?”Bookmark here

“That is correct. Just like how I was able to dive into your mind, the same can be done for Ludmila. Searching and understanding the source of her darkness may provide a clue on controlling it. However, I simply cannot leave Sanshiro, especially with Sistina in its current state.”Bookmark here

I recalled how we traveled through memory lane, where I had discovered my alternate past. Frankly, that was the easiest way to find the source of her phobia.Bookmark here

“That’s understandable. But what can be done then?”Bookmark here

“Having her come here would be best, but I have a feeling that she won’t respond positively unless you accompany her. You are her lifeline, if you haven’t noticed.”Bookmark here

“Her lifeline? Why would that matter?”Bookmark here

“Her subconscious is unlikely to let those untrustworthy to pry into it. For that reason, not having you there would simply be a waste of time. But you hardly have the time to spare, so the other alternative is to train someone else in the ritual.”Bookmark here

I pondered for a moment about that. Bookmark here

“Wait, I trusted you enough for such things? Or am I just that easy?” I heard a light chuckle in response.Bookmark here

“Hmm, certainly, it seemed like you let your guard down when I laid your head in my lap. The gentle touch of a mature lady is a useful technique at times.”Bookmark here

I choked on my breath at that statement. Apparently, she simply needed to touch me to look into my mind. Certainly, she made me feel close enough to her in that moment that I couldn’t put up any barriers. But then…Bookmark here

“Wait, that obviously won’t work on Ludmila, so what then? Do you mean that someone close to her has to go through the training?”Bookmark here

It didn’t seem like the skills of an Oracle were that easily passed on. Unless she had someone in mind already. “Wait, do you mean…”Bookmark here

“Why, the young Miss Chrysanthemum, of course. From what I hear, she already possesses an affinity for the Gods through song. That should make things easy. A little practice and some lyrics memorization should do the trick. Though I make it sound simple, connecting to divinity through song is no doubt the hardest part. Besides, it would be best for the two young ones to return while your kingdom is in turmoil.”Bookmark here

I agreed with her statement. Though Chrys would be quite helpful with her own mana-infused cooking, she and Yi Long were residents of Sanshiro, so they really shouldn’t get involved.Bookmark here

She planned to help out with training others, but it was settled that the two would head back right after. Especially since her special stat didn’t correspond to fighting, Chrys was an Electi that could be targeted if the enemy knew about her. And there was no reason to leave her in potential harm’s path.Bookmark here

After finishing up the arrangements, I bid goodbye to Kaguya as well. The presence of silence filled the room for a few minutes as I sorted through my thoughts.Bookmark here

War tactics, relationships, trauma – various things swirled in my head as I tried my best to manage them somehow. I drew my knife and stared at my own reflection on its shiny blade.Bookmark here

I was Claude, the Electi of Critical, and the Chancellor of Sistina; there were plenty of people that depended on me, but there were only so many things I could do.Bookmark here

For now, making stat-enhancing food was the first priority.Bookmark here

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