Chapter 210:

Those Left Behind

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

As Ludmila told me the chilling past of her previous world, tears welled up in my eyes and my throat went dry. The heaviness of her trauma was much worse than I could have ever imagined. And yet, the girl who had recalled it all, who experienced every bit of it, calmly spoke with the same tone as she always carried.Bookmark here

The only difference was a quiet fury that built up as she neared the end of the tale. Presumably, she died shortly after that point, but she could not recall anymore. Still, that was more than enough. My ears felt like they should have been bleeding, my hands gripped her sheets into a tight ball, and a dull ache came from the teeth that I had been grinding in anger.Bookmark here

Eventually, Ludmilla wrapped her arms around me to give me assurance that it was all in the past. That there was nothing for me to be upset over.Bookmark here

Yet, I could feel something still off about her. But who wouldn’t be after remembering such sadness? To have everything she knew slowly stripped away and watch helplessly on the sidelines – the fact that she hadn’t completely shattered was miraculous.Bookmark here

However… that was likely why she turned out the way she did. The girl in her story was cheerful and hopeful, clinging onto her dreams. That part of her had died along with her family, leaving behind a stoic girl who desperately clung to a ‘Master’.Bookmark here

Finding someone to look up to when she had nothing else was her pillar for survival. That feeling remained in her small body even when all else had been lost. And to keep from losing that single guiding hand, she desperately fought. No fear was greater than the possibility of being alone once again.Bookmark here

And that scared me to no end.Bookmark here

I suddenly realized why she never hesitated to provide me with support. Death, in her eyes, was preferable to seeing her ‘family’ killed. Her subconscious pushed her forward, dauntless toward any dangers. If I ordered her to, it was possible that she would march straight to her death.Bookmark here

Ludmila fell asleep in my arms, exhausted from the long story. On this final night before heading off to the battlefield, I stayed there with her for the entire night. Sleep was the farthest thing from my mind. The thoughts of how to act afterward plagued it.Bookmark here

But one thing was for sure. I wouldn’t let her fight in this. She didn’t need to fall any further. I wouldn’t let her use this as an excuse. There was no ‘getting used to violence or brutality’. She had paid for it with her emotions and dreams, so it would only break her further if she continued.Bookmark here

When the sun broke into the room and I felt her stir, I sat up in bed and watched as she slowly crawled to consciousness. With a heavy heart, I waited for her to turn to me before I made the decision to tell her, something that would undoubtedly be cruel to her feelings.Bookmark here

“Ludmilla, listen to me. For the first time ever, I have an order for you.”Bookmark here

Ludmila’s eyes flew open. She anxiously popped up and eagerly awaited what I would say.Bookmark here

I bit my lip as I mustered up the resolve to spit it out.Bookmark here

“You are not to step foot on the battleground. You will not follow me. You will not protect me. From this point on, I no longer need your help. Instead, Katalina will be your new Master. That is my final and sole order.”Bookmark here

I watched as her face dropped in shock at my words that rung so hollow in her. She tried to mouth something, but her eyes only looked down to hide the tears building up silently.Bookmark here

“I am not abandoning you. But you cannot cling onto me as your sole hope. I am not strong nor wise like your previous Master. And because of that, you cannot follow. You should not waste the life given to you. Not for me. But use it for yourself.”Bookmark here

I stood up from the bed and started walking away, only to hear a small voice, barely audible even in the silent room.Bookmark here

“Is Ludmila not worthy to stand by Master? Does Master still treat Ludmilla like a child?”Bookmark here

I stopped in my tracks, unsure of how to answer her. After a few moments, I thought of something that made me want to punch myself.Bookmark here

“Yeah, that’s right. I can’t focus properly if I have you weighing on my mind. Leave this to the adults. You have no reason to stand next to me if something like gunfire will cause you to hesitate.”Bookmark here

With that, I quickly left the room before she could reply. I didn’t want us to part in such a manner, but kindness would only cause her to leap to my side. Any hesitation on my part would cause her to follow along secretly, like I caught her doing at times.Bookmark here

I couldn’t risk that. Not in a battle where both sides were struggling. The slain bodies that I had already seen weighed heavily in my mind. And I knew that if I were to lose one ounce of focus, my own could be one of those joining them.Bookmark here

That was why, I couldn’t let Ludmila anywhere near the battlefield. She would no doubt leap forward with her incredible speed, putting herself into harm’s way.Bookmark here

‘For my sake! Why? That isn’t something worth risking!’Bookmark here

My heart wasn’t strong at all like hers. I couldn’t bear to see her end up as another casualty. Eryn and Cornelius, and all the other knights and soldiers in this kingdom, had resolved themselves to their fate if they happened to meet a tragic end. However, Ludmila was doing it purely to keep me safe, and that proved to be a guilt that I couldn’t bear to carry.Bookmark here

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Soon after, I gathered my gear and made my way to the band of wagons that was carrying the first batch of mana-enhanced foods. Hopefully, this would be enough to break the deadlock around Minsk. I wasn’t sure how, but I would leave that to the actual war strategists, like Cornelius.Bookmark here

My destination was the encampment directly north, where Eryn and the others were holding the line. I suddenly questioned myself as to whether I had any right to criticize Ludmila, as I was fighting for Eryn’s sake rather than for myself. The only difference was that she wanted me to be there to serve as her strength.Bookmark here

But for me, I would simply worry endlessly if Ludmila was on the battlefield. In my mind, she was still a child, one that was given a second chance to build a proper life for herself. Even if her society treated her as an adult starting at age 12, my own set of values kept me from doing so. No matter how mature she acted, her hands felt so small compared to mine.Bookmark here

As I hoisted the last of the supplies into the wagons, an exasperated queen, who had a wild tuft of bedhead, dashed up to me.Bookmark here

“Claude! Didn’t I tell you to find me before heading off?” Katalina said, slightly out of breath. It appeared that she dashed all the way here once she heard that I was about to leave.Bookmark here

“Ah… sorry. I forgot all about it…”Bookmark here

Adjusting her glasses as she glared at me, she poked me in the chest with her finger.Bookmark here

“I get that you didn’t want Ludmila going with you, but couldn’t you have been… more sensitive? You just abandoned the poor girl.”Bookmark here

“What choice did I have? You know how loyal she is. The last thing that I want is for her to suddenly appear out of nowhere or sneak around defending me in the shadows,” I said, looking away from Katalina’s accusatory glare.Bookmark here

“Then, say that. She’s far more mature than she appears. And she will listen if you truly mean it.” Katalina paused for a moment. “But for just this time, I agree with you. After seeing her traumatized by Purnesia’s weapons, I cannot let her be exposed any further until she overcomes that which haunts her.”Bookmark here

I reached over and gave Katalina a hug. “Thanks, for understanding. Take care of her.”Bookmark here

“Of course. As she claims, Ludmila is family. Family take care of each other, no matter what.”Bookmark here

I let go and tried to move back, but Katalina grabbed me firmly by the shirt.Bookmark here

“And that goes the same for you, Claude. You are family to me, and to her as well. Don’t think that we won’t be chasing after you if you get in trouble.”Bookmark here

“Then, I better do a good job at meeting your expectations so that you won’t have to, Your Majesty.” I smiled as a bowed formally to her. I felt a light smack on my head for the theatrics.Bookmark here

Paying that no heed, I moved to get into the wagon, but once again, Katalina tugged on my shirt. I turned back, wondering what was on her mind now.Bookmark here

“You didn’t let me finish. Did you think I would send you off to battle without a little gift?” Katalina gave me a wink as she opened her Item Box and fished around for something.Bookmark here

After several moments, she dug out a strange object. It was a flat slate that had buttons and knobs on the left and right sides, with a large pad in the center. As she handed me the flat device, I held the thing and looked all around, expecting there to be a power switch on the side. Even though it was impossible, I also couldn’t help but wonder if a cartridge slot was also hidden somewhere.Bookmark here

‘Blame my mind for craving handheld entertainment still, even after nearly two years.’Bookmark here

“Take this with you. I’ve been working on it as a countermeasure. Hopefully, it will work out as well for you on the battlefield as it has during my small-scale pilot run.”Bookmark here

I got a sudden chill as a warning flag was raised.Bookmark here

“Uhhhh, that means that you… haven’t made sure it works?”Bookmark here

“Didn’t have time to. Maybe if I had the entire ten days that you initially estimated to prepare, it would have been verified. But no, you get the honors of testing the full capacity.Bookmark here

I laughed nervously at her statement. However, I knew that she wouldn’t simply hand over something without having some confidence in it. Bookmark here

‘I just have to believe… and make sure I hold it away from my face when using it.’Bookmark here

“Thanks, but how do I even use this? Not even sure what the thing does, but is there even time to properly explain?” I scratch my head as I gingerly tucked it away in my Item Box.Bookmark here

With a grin, Katalina pulled out a thick notebook and plopped it in my hands.Bookmark here

“This is?” Somehow, I knew the answer, but I asked anyway.Bookmark here

“An instruction manual.”Bookmark here

“I have to read it?”Bookmark here

“Mhm. Every word there is lovingly penned, just for you.” Katalina bent over and planted a kiss on my cheek. The last parting gift before I headed to battle.Bookmark here

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Thirty minutes later, the wagons had left the Faulkner domain and were steadily rolling north. I watched from the back of the covered wagon as the city grew smaller and smaller. Currently, I was wedged in between boxes of pizza buns, fried noodle buns, and roast boar buns. Luckily, the scent of the fillings was trapped in their edible bindings, and not driving me into a feral hunger.Bookmark here

The instruction manual in my hand was open, but I had barely made it past ten pages. One reason being that it was littered with ‘Caution’ notes as to what to avoid when in use. Seeing those first pages, my motivation to use the contraption took a nosedive.Bookmark here

But with little else to do before arriving, I had no excuses not to read through it. Turning my eyes back to the notebook while trying not to get wagonsick, I skimmed through the next several pages. I finally got to the explanation of what she had handed me, but I couldn’t believe my eyes. An awestruck smile crept onto my lips.Bookmark here

The genius of Katsys the Inventor had managed to astound me again. I knew exactly what she created, and that it would turn the tide of the war more than anything that I could have thought possible.Bookmark here

With my attention span suddenly invigorated, I made sure not to miss a single explanation in the pages. While they were filled with scribbles and blemished signs of erasing, there was a certain charm to how it connected back to all the memories she shared with me. Of conversations about various fantasies and desires from my home world. That no doubt lingered in her mind for quite some time before such a thing could be made real.Bookmark here

My fingers were itching to test out the shiny new toy.Bookmark here

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