“Lake Inat?” asked Orpé.
“Yes,” replied the maid, “I know because I’ve come here before.”
“How far is it from the capital here?” Orpé inquired.
“It usually takes about a day by carriage,” the maid answered.
Orpé’s face stiffened at the maid’s words. She wasn’t as adept as Erna in using space-shifting magic. It was the kind of magic that could only be performed by the most powerful and accomplished wizards in the first place. Even if all the present wizards in the lake gathered their magic, it would still take a long time to conjure the spell.
Orpé slumped to the ground. Then, a gigantic circle spanned the skies above her. Everyone gazed up in shock, terrified by the sight that covered the whole sky. The magic that hovered over the castle was vivid even from a place that was a day away from the capital. It continued to spread farther and farther, as if it would devour the whole world. The servants, who were unfamiliar with magic, sensed the ominousness and sought a shelter to run away, but there was no such place.
A moment later, a huge light appeared on one side of the sky. Orpé stood, transfixed, as the light rapidly spread toward the capital like waves crashing against the shore, until she was suddenly knocked over by a gust of wind. At the same time, a cry could be heard among the rustling of trees. Orpé turned around in surprise, but she only saw the wizards and maids of the Grand Castle crouching in fear of the harsh breeze. They, too, all had their eyes widened in shock. Just whose scream is that, then?
As Orpé raised her head, she discovered the culprit.
“Isn’t that the army of,” she paused in incredulity before continuing, “Haband?”
“That’s right,” chimed the wizard next to her.
At first, she thought they were simply lost branches carried by the wind, but as she looked closer, she realized it was a group of men wearing Haband’s armor soaring through the skies. The light spreading from the direction of the capital was pushing them away as if it were a wall, and Haband’s army was carried away like a swarm of insects stuck to a wall, helpless against the trees in their paths.
Orpé lowered her gaze and frowned, realizing that Erna’s magic was no longer what it had been. The magic no longer felt like doom; it only drove away their enemies instead of killing them. In awe, Orpé gazed at the magic floating in the seemingly infinite sky. Its range was throughout Hesengard.
In the meantime, the light came to the people of the Grand Castle. The shriek of the army of Haband echoed loudly and tore their eardrums. The maids and wizards closed their eyes tightly in hopes they wouldn’t become like them. But the light passed quietly through them. There was no pressure, no pain. After the light had faded, Orpé opened her eyes immediately. The screams for help were receding.
As Orpé stared at the distant enemies, she was certain Erna changed her magic.
“Duchess…” she whispered under her breath.
Erna will certainly live.
* * *
Listening to the tearful Orpé, Erna breathed in relief that the magic had worked as she had hoped.
Magic can never be extinguished. Therefore, she altered the letters of the spell to transform it. It could be argued that it was too kind, but on reflection, the magic was actually quite cruel. They would have encountered many obstacles before reaching the border. Perhaps they may have all perished in the capital itself, killed upon impact with a wall or a rock or drowned in the lake or sea. One thing, however, was certain. They can never step foot inside Hessenguard again.
Erna, comforted that her plan had succeeded safely and that she had lived, hesitated for a moment before she spoke.
“Hey, uh…” she trailed off.
“The Grand Duke Kalion?” Orpé asked, sensing her curiosity.
Erna nodded to Orpé. She had assumed Kalion would be next to her when she opened her eyes, but his silhouette was nowhere to be found. She was, frankly, upset. The first person she wanted to see when she awoke was him.
As Erna stretched her shoulders with a sullen face, Orpé hurriedly replied, “Well, Grand Duke Kalion…” She pondered for a moment before answering, “It’s best if you see it for yourself.”
Erna’s heart sank at her words. Was there something wrong with Kalion?