"G-general... are you alright?" a dizzy soldier who remembered his duty asked as he stumbled towards Claude.
Just as Claude was about to speak, he saw a flash of light in the air. A terrifying gash appeared from the soldier's left shoulder to his right lower abdomen. It was as if he had been bisected by an axe.
"Ugh..." He didn't even manage to cry out loud and fell to the ground, unmoving. Blood began to flow out of the wound on his chest.
Windblade! he thought in shock. It was a legendary combat spell. He had indeed been assailed by a magus. Even though he didn't know the reason, he was now at death's door.
What... what should I use... He finally regained some semblance of clarity. Magic Missile... He looked at his revolver. Oh, I still have Energy Barrier. It's crucial for a battle between magi. Now, he no longer cared about outing himself as a magus and immediately used his mana to channel the basic spell in his second hexagram within his void space in preparation of casting a barrier on himself.
"E-enemy attack!" The other three guards behind crawled back up. The only takeaway from seeing their comrade fall dead was that they were under attack. The soldiers kneeled on the ground on one knee and immediately raised their muskets to fire at the figure ahead. However, they only noticed when they pulled the trigger that the slow matches on their muskets had been extinguished by the shockwave from the explosion when the ball of fire struck the carriage.
Just as the guard was about to take a piece of flint out to reignite the match, a long, green, watery arrow impaled him from afar. Halfway through his body, the arrow turned into a stream of water and came splattering out along with his blood. The guard dropped his musket, clutched the wound on his chest and slumped to the ground.
This is... W-waterjet! He cast Energy Barrier on himself with great difficulty amidst all that shuddering and finally felt some relief. However, he didn't know what he had done to cause so many magi to come troubling him. Fireball, Windblade and Waterjet weren't all cast by the same magus. No magus would pick three attack spells with different elemental attributes. Normal magi would only pick spells that suited the element they had the best affinity with for optimal power and efficiency. Claude's Magic Missile, on the other hand, had no elemental aspect.
The two guards behind ended up no different than those ahead. One of them had his slow match extinguished, while the other's snapped and he was just about to switch out and light a new one. At that moment, the guard ahead fell to the ground and put on his bayonet before charging in to act as cover for his comrade to light the slow match.
When he was only some ten steps away, the charging guard thrust his musket towards the two figures. He was definitely not thinking clearly, for him to be making his approach without the slightest bit of subtlety. He was enraged after witnessing the deaths of his two comrades and had used up all his energy in that one thrust.
The two figures saw the charging guard. However, the one in front didn't appear panicked in the slightest and remained standing. The other figure beside him, on the other hand, stopped in his tracks, raised his hand, and began chanting.
"Kill!" the guard yelled. Shockingly, a bubble seemed to appear in front of his bayonet and stopped his strike. The point of the blade was less than an inch from the figure, but it couldn't be pushed forward no matter what.
The guard was immediately stunned. Before he knew what was going on, the man in front let out a savage smile and swung his large robe. The guard's vision blacked out as he fell into eternal darkness.
Claude, however, could clearly see that a long, wooden stake came piercing through the charging guard's head after the figure in front of him waved his hand. The figure behind had stopped chanting and a watery, crystal glow formed in his raised right hand. In a flash, a red hole appeared on the face of the guard behind who was loading his gun before he fell silently to the ground and stained it crimson.
All that happened within a few short moments. Claude glared at them and furiously pulled his trigger, only to notice that it bore the weight of the thousand mountains. He wasn't able to pull it down no matter what. It just occurred to him that he hadn't toggled his safety.
The two figures moved quickly and were upon Claude. They were only five metres away. With the cloud of dust mostly settled, vision was restored.
"He alone is worth 100 thousand gold keptons? This prize money is too easy to claim." The grey-robed man in front was a middle-aged man. He smiled when he saw Claude in his general's uniform.
Claude aimed his toggled revolver at the man, but he didn't panic at all and continued chatting to the figure behind him. "Do you think he's shocked stupid by us? He even forgot to fasten a slow match to his short-barrel! Is he trying to bluff us?"
Claude calmly looked at the two and asked, "Who hired you to kill me?"
The man laughed. "Since you're about to die, I'll let you know who. The Shiksan king, Majid III, offered us 100 thousand gold keptons for your head. Now that you know, time to die."
Just as he raised his hand, Claude pulled the trigger without hesitation.
Bang! Smoke wafted out from the barrel of his revolver. He watched as the transparent bubble of the middle-aged man flash and shatter. A black, finger-sized hole appeared on the man's forehead as his body stiffened while he fell backwards, crashing towards the ground.
"Kyaah!" a high-pitched voice cried out. The magus behind him was a woman. She immediately thrust her right hand at Claude as she chanted something. Perhaps she thought Claude's gun was a single-shot short-barreled musket, so she began her chant without taking cover at all, simply standing there.
Another bang resounded and the female magus fell to the ground with a look of unwillingness on her face.
"Darn, why does he have two short barrels?" bellowed a figure in the distance as he swung his hand. Claude watched as a bright and transparent blade came towards him at a speed he couldn't avoid.
A transparent barrier appeared in front of him; it looked just like the moment when the middle-aged magus was about to be impaled by the bayonet. The barrier blocked the blade, but it flashed rapidly as if it was about to shatter at any moment.
"Darn it, how could he have an Energy Barrier?!" The magus who cast Windblade was stunned. Just as he was about to charge, he stopped. Claude cocked the hammer with his left hand and motioned his right hand to line the sights up with the magus. However, his next shot didn't strike him, only barely grazing the magus' thigh.
"His gun... can actually fire consecutively..."
He turned to run immediately, but Claude had immediately cocked the hammer and shot twice in succession. the first shot got the magus' left shoulder and the next went through the back of his heart. The magus fell and struggled on the ground.
The magus who used Fireball still remained. Claude turned to the spot the Fireball came from, but saw nothing. He swept his gaze through the streets, only to see them emptied out. Nothing but groans of pain could be heard near the carriage.
He circled around the carriage with his revolver in hand and saw a dead horse with two guards in a pool of blood. Unlike the four killed guards who fell from their horses due to the shockwave and regained their bearings, only to be snuffed off by the magi, they had been heavily injured and burned by the initial explosion.
The coachman was dead; he was the worst off. The fireball tore half his body away during the explosion and left only one leg on the seat of the carriage. Recalling that there were six guards in front that attempted to resolve the conflict that put a stop to their trip in the first place, Claude looked ahead. Given the chaos that ensued, they should've been running back towards him.
But he felt a chill down his spine at the sight of what was in front of him. The six guards were already in a pool of blood. Three grey-robed figures were already charging in his direction.
WIth a fizzle, he felt a shock from behind and saw his barrier shimmer and flash. He turned around and saw that the magus that cast Fireball was at the entrance of an alley some 30 metres away, as well as a colourless projectile coming his way.
It was Magic Missile, but a tier-zero spell like that wasn't able to breach his barrier at all. He raised his gun to aim and the magus attempted to dodge. After a loud bang, the magus cried in pain as blood spurted out of his right leg while he dashed deeper into the alley. Claude cocked the hammer again and pulled the trigger, but was met with only a dull click.
He had emptied his rounds. He hurriedly reached for his black leather sack for a fresh wheel and cracked the revolver open. Just as he was about to pop the wheel in, he recalled the piece of bone. He put the wheel on the ground to free up one hand to remove the bone before popping the new wheel into his revolver.
As he loaded his gun with his head low, the three figures shot two barrages of spells towards him, but he couldn't be bothered with them. He could only bet that his barrier would hold up.
It turned out he wagered his chips on the right bet. Two of the grey-robed magi used Magic Missiles, which Claude's barrier took graciously. The other used Windblade and it caused his barrier to flash rapidly and dull. Though on the brink of collapse, it did manage to hold on.
"His Energy Barrier is merely a tier-one spell scroll! Break it and he'll be dead!" the Fireball magus cried from inside the alley once he made it behind a turn.
Claude ignored him. Since he had finished reloading, he would deal with the three fearless magi that charged at him. He turned around, knelt on one knee, and cocked the hammer with his left hand while raising his right. He aimed the revolver and pulled the trigger.
They were fighting within a short distance of 20 metres, Claude versus three magi. The moment he fired, the magi used tier-one spells. There were two Windblades and one Waterjet.
Bang! He repeated the same series of actions and fired all six rounds away. The first bullet hit the magus in the middle, causing him to fall backwards. The next to fall was the shorter magus to the left. He took two shots; he had attempted to cast another spell after being hit once, but Claude didn't give him that chance. The second shot struck his heart and fell him for good.
The lankier, taller magus to the right took all three of Claude's shots as he had tried to escape. He seemed rather cowardly. When he saw that his two comrades had been shot dead, he no longer cared that his Waterjet had hit its target and turned to run.
Claude missed his first shot when he was struck. The second shot hit the upper thigh of the magus. Seeing the magus continue to run while dragging his leg and exposing his back, he didn't ignore his goodwill and took a deep breath and fired a stable shot. The last bullet felled his target.
He didn't fare that well himself. All the spells the magi used were tier one. When the first Windblade hit his barrier, it managed to barely hold on. The second shattered the barrier and affected his aim, leaving a long wound across his left arm and causing him to miss the magus' vitals, which necessitate another follow-up shot.
Fortunately, the cowardly magus' hand shook after seeing his two comrades dead. His aim waned and the Waterjet didn't pierce Claude's heart, striking his lower-right abdomen instead.
Had he been braver and instant cast another Magic Missile, Claude might've been the one who ended up dead. However, he chickened out at the sight of his fallen comrades and turned tail to run, giving Claude plenty time to aim and fire his last three shots despite the great pain he felt.
He clutched his Waterjet wound with his left hand and dropped his revolver. The pain rendered him powerless and numb. While he was aware there was another magus hiding in the alley, he no longer had the energy to cast another Energy Barrier nor reload his revolver.
He struggled to turn around and saw the magus outside the alley with a bright ball of red forming in his hand, growing increasingly bigger.
Claude suddenly felt like laughing. The magus had truly gone out of his way unnecessarily. Had he known that the two Windblades had shattered Claude's barrier and left him injured after his exchange with the three other magi, he wouldn't have chosen to use a tier-two spell like Explosive Fireball.
He could easily have snuffed Claude's life out with a Magic Missile. There really wasn't a need for Explosive Fireball, unless, he was worried Claude still had an Energy Barrier on.
The moment Claude saw the magus swing his hand from the corner of his eye, sending the fireball towards him, he grit his teeth and dove forwards, enduring the pain. The next thing he felt was a wave of heat before he was sent flying through the air some five metres away. Right before he blacked out, he seemed to have heard two gunshots...