Chapter 3 - How Much I Want You
I went wide-eyed at the sudden mention of Fabian’s name. His implication was clear; Mayer must have realized that I had memories of the first playthrough. All of a sudden, I felt panicky and dizzy, even more so than when Mayer first offered me a position among his expedition corps.
Who would’ve imagined that he would have such a card up his sleeve? More importantly, I wondered if I should just pretend I didn’t know Fabian… The real question was whether Mayer Knox would believe my words or not. He was practically treating me like a vigilante already…
Golden eyes flashing with confidence, the duke smiled slightly and said, “I detest wasting time and talking in circles. I believe I have given you more than enough time, so let us get to the main point now.”
I sighed tiredly. It seemed that these few minutes after we left the dungeon were all the time Mayer was allowing me to consider his offer. The man was being more difficult than I thought he’d be. At times, simple problems were even more complex because of their simplicity; Mayer was exactly that type of person. With a voice that sounded resigned and wary at the same time, I asked him, “…How did you know I have memories of the first playthrough?”
“…First playthrough? What a curious expression. Going by your words, are we in the second playthrough, then?” Mayer wondered out loud, seemingly amused by the gaming terminology I let slip by habit. He repeatedly muttered “playthrough” to himself, rubbing his chin, before continuing. “You want to know how I knew? Why, just by looking.”
“Pardon?” I asked, flabbergasted.
“If possible, you should avoid lying. Even a child is better at fooling others than you. You may have thought yourself secretive enough, but your face is like an open book.” He chuckled.
I was speechless. Surely it wasn’t that bad! As my face grew hot by his teasing, I tentatively asked, “…You’re joking, right?”
“I am serious. Although, of course, with the knowledge that I am not the only one who remembers the… ‘first playthrough’, as you put it,” he said, “it was easy to catch onto your strange attitude.”
“It can’t be…” I murmured.
“Indeed. Fabian Ignis; he also knows what will happen.”
So Mayer had already realized that Fabian had retained his memories? It was amazing how precisely he had filtered those who remembered the first iteration from those who didn’t. Was this what people called the ‘power of an ultimate boss’?
His unexpectedly quick comprehension of the situation froze me on the spot. Disregarding whether I felt nervous or not, he continued speaking in a dry tone. “At first, I thought I had gone mad; everything I remembered was happening again.” He tapped his head lightly with his fingertips. “And yet, while everything else in the world was happening exactly the same way, Fabian Ignis alone was making completely different decisions. It was then that I became certain: I was not the only one who had these memories.”
I remained silent and so he went on. “Despite knowing you would be waiting for him in this dungeon, Fabian intentionally chose to go to another dungeon. He abandoned you. Therefore, if your intention is to wait for him to come, I would like to inform you that you are waiting in vain.”
Although I had assumed he would say so, it didn’t help me feel any less hollow inside. I inwardly counted to a hundred, trying to maintain a calm appearance. No matter how dejected I felt, I couldn’t let it show; if I did, I’d be led by the nose. It would be quite troubling to have the man expecting me to join him take revenge. Fabian was Fabian, while Mayer was Mayer. I tried my best to draw a line between us as I responded with feigned calm. “He probably went to raid Ignota Dungeon to get the Ring of Flames…” I voiced my speculation.
“Exactly,” Mayer said, sounding genuinely surprised. “I cannot understand why you refuse my offer despite being so clever. How can you side with Fabian after all you went through?”
Side with Fabian? I could side with him forever if only it helped me avoid getting involved with Mayer—I could curse Fabian as much as I wanted later, after all. Forcing a laugh, I said, “Well… It’s certainly a good item. I’m sure Fabian had his circumstances.”
Immediately after I uttered those empty words, I felt as if my tongue had become stiff. Only a Buddhist that had attained Nirvana could react as I did. The lengths I was willing to go to be rid of Mayer… Gotta say, what a tough girl I am!
Mayer frowned, seemingly not expecting me to be so unwilling. He shot me an impatient look and sneered, “Are you just that good of a person, or perhaps… Oh. Now that I think about it, you were famous for being Fabian’s dog. Is that why you remain loyal to him despite having been abandoned?”
I laughed bitterly. “I see that you still remember that unpleasant nickname I got.” It was a humiliating nickname, yes, but I didn’t even have the energy to get angry. Besides, it wasn’t exactly wrong to call me that either; I was more surprised that Mayer knew about it.
Mayer switched his tone into one of pleading, saying, “How about you tell me the conditions you want? I will give you the best treatment.”
“Is there a need for the Dark Knight to pick up something discarded by another?” I taunted.
“I will do so all too willingly if that something is more precious than diamonds. You see, I value efficiency over honor,” he tried to persuade me, staring at me fixedly with eyes full of longing. They burned hot with the desire to obtain me no matter the means, making me feel as if I’d suddenly become Zhuge Liang.
No, no can do. I almost wavered there. I swiftly got a grip on myself and chanted, ‘Steady now, keep calm…’
So far, Mayer had been keeping a leisurely attitude; however, seeing me tolerate his every word without so much as a blink made anger cross his face. “You would have died had I not intentionally entered this place to save you! Despite knowing this, you still remain faithful to Fabian?” he pointed out.
“You… you came all this way on purpose?” I blinked. Just to rescue me? I was just as shocked as I’d been when I realized Fabian had cast me aside. It was surprising enough that he even knew about me, so why on earth…?
My reputation in the first playthrough had reached almost rock-bottom, whereas Mayer was a celestial being whom everyone wanted to serve. There wasn’t a single common point we shared, so there was no reason for him to come looking for me. I was anxious to find even the smallest hint of that reason on Mayer’s face as I stared at him, but it was useless.
“Alright. I admit that you being able to recall what happened is an unexpected gain, but…” Mayer trailed off with a small smile hanging on his lips, appearing please that I had shown a positive reaction, albeit slight. If his plan had been about me joining the Dark Knights from the start, then rejecting his offer would be next to impossible. As much as he had given up what he could’ve gained from another dungeon, he likely desired to return with some achievement. “This is how much I want you,” Mayer added.
What a perfect line to take out of context. In particular, the way he kept his eyes fixed on me so seriously coupled with that handsome face made him seem like an obsessive male lead out of an angsty novel. But in reality, he was just headhunting.
“It is a principle of mine to get my hands on whatever I want, no matter the means,” he stated. “Your rejection gets me fired up.”
“That’s very suggestive…” I pointed out, feeling a tad uncomfortable.
“Fabian is, in the end, a failed hero,” he continued, ignoring my words. “You chose the wrong person to be loyal to.”
But he was the very reason for the hero’s failure! The Demon Lord would’ve croaked if only time didn’t rewind thanks to the core inside this man! I had much I wanted to say, but nothing I could voice.
As I was busy trying to stomach my complicated thoughts, the duke did not waste the brief pause and resumed his attempts to persuade me. “But that is not your fault; it lies completely with Fabian. You too should be aware of such, having gone through everything. Fabian Ignis failed to defeat the demon lord once, and things will most likely be the same this time around as well. He cannot kill the demon lord,” he said with a voice full of conviction.
I felt ill just from listening to him. Yes, he was the one who’d kill the demon lord, not Fabian, but wasn’t it pointless to kill the last boss only to become the last boss himself? Why the heck would I join him when I knew dang well what his fate was! Begging Fabian to join his corps again would be better than joining Mayer, and it was an option I was considering seriously.
One might ask, “Don’t you have any pride?” Yes, just like everybody else, but the significance of Fabian’s existence far outweighed it. He was the protagonist, the only chance of defeating the demon lord. I couldn’t give up on him so easily, even more now that this was not a game to me anymore, but reality. Of all the other options I could choose, there was a surefire way to be happy in the future—how could I ignore it?
But it wasn’t as if I could just tell Mayer that we were living in a world inside a game, that this world had a set ending, and that I was behaving like this because Fabian was the protagonist of the game… How could I get out of this? I fell into thought, trying to find something that could work as an excuse. Sure, the duke outperformed Fabian by miles, but in terms of offensive power alone, Fabian was probably better. The only issue was that the commander of the Dark Knights absolutely could not defeat the demon lord.
Mayer was recognized by the world as being kin to the demon lord; as a result, any attacks against the final boss would be rendered completely useless until the demon lord’s health dropped below a certain threshold. His magical attacks were less effective—since they were of the same element used by the demon lord—and there was a limit to using physical attacks. Considering that Mayer Knox was the main offense of the Dark Knights, it was inevitable that he would lose if he fought the demon lord from the start. It was the reason why only after Fabian’s corps whittled down the final boss’s health that the duke could get an effective last hit in. Unless, of course, he changed his dark element to the holy element instead…
Eh? Come to think of it… Didn’t I have an element conversion skill? I hastily checked the detailed description of the skill window.
[The specified target’s element is converted to the opposite element for a certain period.]
Element conversion was, honestly, an overpowered skill if one only looked at its description; however, most monsters in dungeons—aside from a few exceptions—were of the null or dark element. In short, people didn’t need to worry much about elements, which was why the element conversion skill did not shine much. Mayer, on the other hand, was the complete opposite case.
The opposite of dark element… Hang on. Would this work on Mayer too? If so… this might just be worth trying!