Chapter 4 - I Will Survive, Hey, Hey!
If earlier my heart had been racing from the fear of losing track of the future I knew, now it pumped furiously in anticipation of a new possibility.
Mayer focused his gaze on me unblinkingly. Had he noticed that my heart had been shaken? “I need you to defeat the demon lord. Please, work with me to bring justice and fight evil,” he said in a murmur.
“…Why me, of all people?” I asked, my tone shrewd. This was something I had to clarify. “Because I have memories of the first playthrough? Because I’m a support mage who’s more capable than you expected? But you must’ve been unaware of these factors when Your Excellency decided to rescue me. So I must ask: why did you?”
Feeling as if the dizziness in my head had suddenly been washed away by cold water, I tried to visualize the situation as objectively as possible. True, I did feel betrayed by Fabian, but it wasn’t like I couldn’t understand why he did so. He must have thought it was the best option toward achieving victory against the demon lord. While I couldn’t blame Fabian for his criminal decision, that didn’t mean I wasn’t angry.
He couldn’t imagine leaving me out of the expedition? My foot! He shouldn’t have said something like that in the first place! The feeling of being fooled by the empty promises that were typical of a protagonist was just as bad as being scammed by a trusted acquaintance. Its effect on me was quite large—pessimism had replaced my love for mankind.
In any case, it would benefit me to accept Mayer’s proposal if I wanted to act on the front lines as an expedition member. However… I still couldn’t figure out why he had chosen me. What use did he see on me, when even Fabian had thrown me away?
“I see that you underestimate your worth. You will be of more use to me than you think; this I guarantee,” Mayer suddenly said as if hearing my thoughts. He didn’t give me a specific reason, however; it seemed we weren’t close enough to share thoughts. My use… indeed, I could be very useful. Much more than Fabian knew, and Mayer guessed. I was confident that, should I decide to fully support him, Fabian would never be able to beat the duke.
By using the game walkthrough I knew, the information gained from the player perspective distinctive of a possessor, and my skills as a support magic specialist, victory in the battle against the demon lord would surely be Mayer’s.
But would this be okay? I hesitated not out of guilt for stealing the protagonist’s position; I just worried whether I could reach the final ending with the one supposed to become the final boss. Choosing Mayer meant exchanging a certain future for an uncertain one. Then again, it wasn’t set in stone that Fabian could reach the true ending either. The path to the true ending was a difficult one, to begin with. Even when it was played as a game, it was a path of suffering that required many challenges. The only reason Fabian was able to clear the first playthrough was because of me and the knowledge I held.
But it would be a grave mistake to expect the second playthrough to go the same way as the first. Fabian had likely abandoned me under the assumption that I had already given him all the information I had; that was a huge miscalculation on his part. Everything I told him was about the first iteration and that didn’t include dungeons and items that weren’t related to his expedition corps. Because of that mistake, he would fail to complete the second playthrough. I was so certain of this, I could even call it a prophecy. I did feel uneasy leaving the future of this world in Fabian’s hands, though…
Anyway, I now had a choice to make between a certain future that was out of my control and an uncertain future where I’d be the one behind the wheel. I had the feeling the stress of that choice would give me an ulcer.
While I was chewing my lips, conflicted, a shadow of a smile appeared on the duke’s face. “I also feel curious… Curious of where your limits lie, how much you know…” he wondered aloud and my heart jumped at his meaningful tone. He didn’t seem to be talking about the information I knew about the first playthrough… Had he noticed something else? Could it be that he had found out that I tried to assassinate him?
…Yeah, I had tried to kill Mayer Knox in the first playthrough. And it wasn’t just once.
* * *
To kill the demon lord, it was necessary to proceed to the second iteration; however, the best-case scenario was to off him in the first playthrough. The fewer fights, the better, after all. Back then, I had nothing to lose, so I gave it a try. Unable to let go of my hopes, I attempted to get rid of Mayer Knox, the demon lord’s core, before the last battle. Needless to say, I failed.
As I cautiously observed him, I bit my lips out of anxiety. He couldn’t have noticed; if Mayer knew I had tried to kill him, he would’ve killed me on the spot instead of trying to recruit me… No. He wouldn’t have even come to rescue me in the first place. If I were to judge based on the goodwill visible in his gaze, I’d say it was impossible for him to know. Besides, I hadn’t been that clumsy to have left traces. Strictly speaking, what I did for him was more like digging a pit for him to fall into rather than trying to kill him with my own hands. I had discreetly leaked information to the Dark Knights about one of the dungeons I knew, one that seemed too difficult for them to clear… misleadingly, naturally.
However, my efforts were fruitless: Mayer Knox cleared that dungeon effortlessly. After repeating the same trap several times, in the end, I had no choice but to give up on trying to get rid of him. Since no one else was capable of killing him—a man who could clear high-level dungeons—how could I, a mere support mage, succeed?
But anyway, it seemed that for the time being, I wouldn’t be finding out how he truly felt on the inside nor why he was trying to have me in his expedition corps. Only time would tell, see in as I couldn’t even join Fabian’s corps at the moment. However, there was one condition—the most important one—that I had to negotiate before joining up. Surveying Mayer sharply, I said, “In exchange for joining, I have a condition.”
I took a deep breath. I had no idea how it happened, but I was living in the husk of what used to be Jun—I had stolen her life. It wasn’t like it had been my choice, but I still felt sorry for her. That was why ever since I had possessed her body, I had constantly thought about what I could do for her. But no matter how much I thought about it, I could only come up with one answer. “I want you to… I want you to please carve the name of Jun Karentia in history.”
To engrave Jun’s name—someone who had been ignored for being a support mage—in the annals of honor so that she wouldn’t be forgotten as a mere shadow in the background. I felt this was the only way I could atone for visiting her body.
Mayer raised an eyebrow, taken by surprise. Then, after a moment, he burst into laughter. “Ha, hahahahaha! I never expected you to place such a condition. I had no idea you were so hungry for honor.”
It was easy for him to misunderstand from his point of view. I couldn’t correct him, nor did I have any intention of doing so. I quietly waited for his bout of laughter to end and, a while later, he spoke again with a satisfied grin. “Very well, I will have your name recorded in history for eras to come. You shall forevermore be remembered as the vice-captain of the man who slew the demon lord.”
Since he had declared as such, I had no more reason to refuse. Whatever the case, this life was the only opportunity I had left so I couldn’t carelessly throw it away just because Fabian abandoned me. I swore to myself that I would survive to the end and live a grand life as a hero in a peaceful world.
Yes, given a second chance, even a dog would change owners. Therefore, since I was Fabian’s dog once, why not become the Dark Knight’s? With a determined heart, I nodded and said, “…Fine, I’ll join the Dark Knights.”
“A wise decision. You will not regret choosing me over Fabian,” he assured me with a smile that reached his eyes, something I had never thought I would be seeing. The moment my guard lowered, he grabbed my hand for a big shake, making me feel as if I sealed some huge deal. His hand was so big I couldn’t grasp it completely, even when I stretched mine out as much as I could.
“I would like to thank you for your decision,” he continued. “I will not treat you badly, nor will I spare any support you may need. If you have any problems, you may come to find me anytime.”
Find him anytime? It shouldn’t be that easy to meet him, even if we were in the same corps. “Haha… You’re almost treating me like the vice-captain of an expedition corps,” I joked.
“Did I not say I would give you the best treatment?” he said, standing up. “I do not lie about such things.”
His upright figure cast its shadow over me. As he was still holding my hand, I had no choice but to get up as well, albeit with a crooked posture. It almost looked like he was escorting me.
I was—reluctantly—led away by the hand, feeling awkward as heck inside.