Chapter 5 - One Of Us
As he spoke, Mayer’s tone was very kind. “We shall discuss the details of defeating the demon lord after we return to the base,” he said, his voice sounding from way above my head.
“…Don’t I get an adjustment period?” I asked cautiously.
“I trust in your ability to cope.”
“I don’t know what part of me you’re trusting in…”
“I would say you are reliable enough, considering how you participated in the previous battle as a supporter,” he said.
“Though I’ve apparently been cast aside in this second round.”
“That is because Fabian Ignis is a fool,” Mayer said. Strangely enough, he sounded delighted.
Who would’ve imagined we’d stand side to side, insulting Fabian together? It truly made me realize I was one of the Dark Knights now. “Yes, indeed… What a fool.” I replied in a small but butter tone full of self-mockery.
Act 2: I’m A Dark Knight Now
“Everyone, this is Jun Karentia. From now on, she is one of us.”
“Hello. I’m Jun, a support mage…” I introduced myself, cautiously observing my surroundings as I gave a deep bow in greeting. The Dark Knights—clad in a black uniform and armor—all focused on me, their eyes showing a mixture of incredulity and stupefaction. We did clear a dungeon together a while ago, but that and joining the Dark Knights were separate matters.
A stranger they ran across in a dungeon joined them right afterward? I could understand their bewilderment. After all, from their point of view, this recruitment was ridiculous. However, their feelings only appeared on their faces—no one was daring enough to try and appease their curiosity in front of Mayer. With each step their captain took, the other members made way like the Red Sea parting for Moses. I glanced at the prophet in black and swallowed dryly.
He looked very handsome. And that wasn’t just me—even when I played The Sacred War on its release, all players aimed to recruit Mayer Knox because of his good looks. To the despair of many, he was an unrecruitable character. Back then, no one had a clue that he would be the final boss of the true ending.
“Axion!” Mayer called out loudly.
“Yes, Your Excellency!” A handsome, scholarly-looking man answered his call and dashed toward us. He had curly red hair braided to one side and glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. Mana could be felt just by looking at his hair. That was Axion Flama, a flame mage. Although he was also a famous individual, he wasn’t as well-known as Mayer. Still, he was a core member of the Dark Knights, peerless when it came to flame magic.
“As comrades who will be braving through life and death together,” the captain said, “I hope you will take good care of her.”
“You mean to say that she will be part of our main force…?”
“Indeed. She is a talented asset who will become the vice-captain of our corps.”
Axion’s eyes widened in astonishment, and so did mine. “Vice-captain, you say?”
Immediately, I grabbed Mayer’s arm and asked, “Hang on a second. What do you mean, vice-captain?”
“Aieee!” Axion suddenly exclaimed, looking even more shocked than before. I wondered if I had done something wrong, but before I could ask what I had in mind, Mayer laughed.
“Did I not say I would give you the best treatment?” He replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
However, this wasn’t an issue that could be easily overlooked like Mayer was making it out to be. I had thought he would treat me “like” a vice-captain, not “as” one! There was a subtle difference there! I had been under the impression that he would treat me well without giving me any power.
Noticing my apprehension, Mayer sighed heavily and said, “Everyone else is eager to become my second-in-command, yet you seem dissatisfied about it.”
“Because I know my place well.” I shot back, then begged him to take back his words, but the shameless man just smirked instead.
“I am sure a vice-captain would be regarded with more importance than a regular member in history books…” he said, pausing for a moment before continuing. “But if you are against it, then…”
“Very well, I’ll take it. Vice-captain.” I replied swiftly, just in case he took back his words, and he laughed loudly. He knew exactly how to use the carrot on me; I must’ve looked like Son Goku on Buddha’s palm, dancing at his every word. I huffed, annoyed.
While Axion blankly watched as the two of us talked—his gaping mouth showing no signs of closing anytime soon—Mayer was rubbing his chin in satisfaction. “Good. Since I have a definitive answer from you… Axion. I ask that during our journey back to base you teach our prospective vice-captain everything she needs to know about the Dark Knights.”
“…Yes, sir!” The mage promptly replied in a disciplined tone, even though he was glancing at me with confusion visible in his eyes.
After giving his subordinate what was practically a one-sided notification, Mayer turned to me. “Then, Jun, I shall be on my way. I need to receive a report on the previous dungeon. If you have any questions,” he added in a softer tone, “ask Axion.”
As soon as I nodded, he turned around and disappeared somewhere. Meanwhile, Axion looked between the captain’s retreating figure and me with eyes overflowing with astonishment. “Wow… This is the first time I’ve ever seen His Excellency behave like that,” he said.
“Well, yeah,” I shrugged. “This isn’t your ordinary case of recruitment.”
“No, not that. Well, yes, that’s strange too, but…” Axion babbled incoherently, a clear indicator of how lost he was at Mayer’s behavior. “His Excellency didn’t even say anything when you grabbed his shoulder.”
“…Is that such a big deal?” I asked, confused. I had appeared out of nowhere and became the vice-captain, but he found that more serious?
Axion was too immersed in his thoughts to pay me any attention. “Normally, he would’ve given you a look full of disdain, or shaken off your arm… But no, he even made a joke…”
“Then again, it’s extraordinary enough to have been chosen by His Excellency as a new member of the expedition. You certainly are worthy of it… The time taken to raid the dungeon got reduced by a whole two-thirds, after all,” Axion mumbled to himself, off in a world of his own. He didn’t look very sane as he went back and forth between denial and acknowledgment.
Spooked, I involuntarily stepped away from him, and the motion seemed to belatedly snap him out of his reverie. With a bright grin, he looked at me and said, “Ahh, my apologies. I was a bit confused as this isn’t something that happens so commonly.”
“…Just in case, I’d like to make it clear that I never asked His Excellency to take me in as one of the Dark Knights. He was the one who proposed it to me from the start.” As I spoke, I recalled the conversation I had with Axion back in the dungeon. He had been against having me—someone they had found alone in a dungeon—among them because I was a suspicious person. He had insisted that it would be troublesome if I clung to them later in an attempt to try and join the corps; however, Mayer had strongly insisted on bringing me with them.
In hindsight, I should’ve noticed something was off, but now it was too late to regret anything.
After that, Axion had continuously bothered me even while we were clearing the dungeon, annoying me so much I even swore ‘Saint Marianne’s Oath’—an unbreakable vow—to him. I had promised to never ask to be recruited as one of them, and I made good on my promise: the captain had been the one who invited me to the corps.
“Ahh, the oath…” he murmured a bit sheepishly. “Actually, I should be the one apologizing. I’m sorry about my actions back then.”
His change of attitude was quick… surprisingly so. With an uncomfortable nod, I replied, “Well… It was understandable. I know how support mages are looked upon.”
“But because I met you, I have realized how helpful support mages can be so thank you for expanding my narrow view of the world, Jun. Please call me Axion, I’m a ranged attacker of the Dark Knights’ First Platoon,” Axion said, extending a hand toward me for a shake of reconciliation.
I surveyed the gesture with mixed feelings. As Mayer’s faithful right-hand man, Axion was extremely displeased when Fabian Corps made steady achievements in the first playthrough, rising to fame alongside Mayer’s name. The two expedition corps rarely met, due to both being busy closing dungeons, but there would always be a big commotion whenever they did. I could still remember how he ignored Fabian Corps for having a support mage.
In any case, aside from not having a good personality, he was fierce-tempered, too. It was why I had been expecting him to lord it over me for being a newcomer. Surprisingly enough, though, he willingly welcomed me. His abrupt change in attitude was almost freaky.
Axion held power among the Dark Knights. There was nothing to lose from being friendly with him, considering how he was the second strongest damage dealer after Mayer. I laughed lightly and accepted his handshake. “I look forward to working with you.”
“I feel ashamed for my particularly irritable behavior in the previous dungeon. You see, at the time I was taking the lead as a test from the captain, which is why when I came across an unknown factor from the very start…” He trailed off.
No wonder. I did think it weird that Axion had been the one cracking down on me so hard when his captain hadn’t been saying much. “Was your evaluation ruined because of me?” I asked, worried.
“No. I received very good marks because of you. Thank you,” he said, his eyes curving up and expressing his gratefulness. It was puzzling to me how he acknowledged my skills much simpler than I thought he would.