Chapter 1 - Join Me Into The Dark Side!
Act 1: Given A Second Chance, Even Dogs Would Change Owners
I had been betrayed.
At the same moment I realized this, blood rushed toward my head, making my temples throb painfully. Betrayed. Backstabbed by the very man to whom I had devoted my heart and soul for so long… It had never crossed my mind that the ‘dedicated partner being deserted’ trope would be a story I’d become the protagonist of.
All the suffering I went through, the sacrifices I made to push Fabian Corps into becoming the best expedition team… In the end, this is my reward. Thanks to the quality of the information I provided and the talents I scouted for him, Fabian was able to assemble a decent expedition corps under his command. With my support magic assisting them, he and his expedition members cleared dungeons and leveled up with ease. When crisis fell upon them, I sacrificed my left arm and saved them all.
At first, it didn’t matter to me whether or not my efforts were acknowledged, so long as Fabian appreciated what I did for him. That was why I hadn’t cared even as I got mocked by the others, getting nicknamed “Fabian’s dog” and labeled as a support mage who curried favor to strike gold—I had endured for Fabian and him alone.
And yet all I got in return for my efforts was abandonment. Even though he knew I’d die if he didn’t come to rescue me. I knew I had to feign calmness as much as I could, but it wasn’t easy to refrain from displaying any emotion. Even worse, only Fabian and I were aware of my past devotion.
“So, have you made up your mind?”
A voice suddenly interrupted my thoughts and I was reminded that we weren’t the only ones who knew.
I was so dizzy that, for a moment, I forgot about that man. That beast—radiating such a presence it was nothing short of a miracle I even forgot about him—was also somewhat aware of what had happened between me and Fabian.
Mayer Knox. The descendant of a hero, the only grand duke, the dark knight, the strongest swordsman… He, the man with numerous titles decorating his name, was the one who enlightened me about Fabian’s betrayal and drove me to a dead-end. Now he was busy ceaselessly whispering honeyed words of temptation to my ears.
He was also the one who saved me from the clutches of death, whereas Fabian had abandoned me.
“I shall ask you once more, Jun Karentia: will you join my expedition corps, the Dark Knights?” he asked, his low-pitched voice paralyzing me, resounding throughout our surroundings like the strike of a hammer on iron. Superficially, it seemed like he was giving me a choice, but that wasn’t the case at all. The mere pressure of that knowledge made the inside of my mouth utterly dry.
I wanted to escape, but there was nowhere to run; I was inside the Dark Knights’ camp. There was nothing around me that wasn’t of the highest quality; be it the material of the tent or the array of furniture, everything lived up to the standards required of the title of grand duke. But all those things were outshined by the man himself, Mayer Knox. His black hair was like a lion’s mane while his eyes—staring at me unblinkingly—seemed as if their shape had been carved with a knife.
Although Mayer was an impressively handsome man, his aura—the air around him made it impossible to casually appreciate his appearance. He was covered in black armor, true to his fame as a dark knight, appearing as if he had been carved from black steel. In short, he was like a fortress, impervious to any word I might say.
He truly was a formidable one.
Having been bestowed the title of grand duke at a young age, Mayer Knox was the first and strongest swordsman to enter the portal gates that had appeared within the empire when the fellspawn’s invasion began. And yet, at this moment he seemed anxious, very unlike his usual self. Was it because I wasn’t answering his proposal with an immediate nod?
“Why are you agonizing over it so much? It is not a bad option; in fact, it is the best option you have. I cannot, for the life of me, comprehend why you are rejecting it,” he said, his tone urging me to accept his proposition.
And he was right. After all, everyone wished to join his acclaimed expedition corps, the Dark Knights. Not to mention, be it before or after Fabian’s debut, they had occupied the number one seat in the rankings for a long time. However, I wasn’t willing to accept his offer. After all, this man… This was the core of the demon lord, the true final boss of this game I possessed my way into.
The true final boss, or the real final boss—the strongest enemy that the player would encounter in the end, regardless if they were evil or good—the ultimate boss.
* * *
This world that I had unwittingly transmigrated into was an RPG game called ‘The Sacred War’. Not only did the title evoke a sense of nostalgia, but the story was also a very classical trope: defeating the demon lord who wanted to achieve world domination. It was unbelievable that a game released in 2020 came with a plot like this. Granted, playability was more important to a game than the story, but anyway… The demon lord’s attempt to take over the world resulted in the creation of dungeons throughout the continent, dangerous locations that were connected to the Demon Realm. The player’s role was to accompany the protagonist—Fabian—in recruiting various characters and clearing dungeons.
One of those recruitable characters was the owner of the body I was inhabiting, ‘Jun Karentia’, a support mage in her mid-twenties with gray hair and cat-shaped scarlet eyes. She was my favorite character in The Sacred War… though, of course, that didn’t mean I wanted to become her. It still eluded me how I ended up transmigrating into the game and possessing Jun, but again, moving on…
In my original world, the demon lord was advertised as the final boss the player had to defeat to clear ‘The Sacred War’—at least for the first playthrough of the game. Actually, the demon lord was a fake boss meant to take players by surprise; in other words, a figurehead. Once the player defeated the final boss hell-bent on world domination, the demon lord would be driven to his limits and go berserk. The player would then witness a hollow ending where the demon lord used his hidden core to turn back time.
But of course, that wasn’t the end. This game had a feature that had become increasingly common within games of the latest generation: a hidden ending. To see that ending, the player had to begin a second playthrough. After going through the same storyline with the same characters and battling the demon lord for a second time, the plot would then branch out and proceed differently: the former rival of the protagonist, Dark Knight Mayer Knox, would suddenly appear in the demon lord’s castle.
The player would then learn that Mayer was the core of the demon lord. To be rid of the demon lord’s curse that slumbered in his blood, the duke would slay the king of evil. However, there was an unexpected factor in all this—once the demon lord died, Mayer would absorb all his power. Consumed by the vast demonic energies, he would then become the new lord of the demons.
Only by killing Mayer Knox—who, upon becoming the second demon lord, would immediately go berserk—would the player be able to see the true ending.
Therefore, joining his Dark Knights meant being booted straight out of the main story. Not to mention, once Mayer became the demon lord, there was a great likelihood that the Dark Knights corps would be captured and persecuted as demonic minions, and I didn’t want to be involved in any of that!
My ultimate goal was to defeat the demon lord and then, as one of those who had fought alongside the champion, live a glorious life in the peaceful era that was to come. Even if joining the champion’s side was not a possibility anymore, giving up my planned peaceful life of retirement was unacceptable.
This was why I couldn’t just up and join Mayer’s side, despite the bitterness I felt from Fabian’s betrayal. His offer that now seemed like a brilliant, golden rope of deliverance would soon become a rotten thread that led to my downfall. My situation was bad enough as it was; Mayer’s appearance only worsened it, giving me a headache.
Cold sweat ran down my cheeks. I had to decline his offer no matter what… question was: how? The duke did not seem like a person who would back down easily. Even now, he was staring at me fiercely, his golden eyes glinting with the determination to have me join his expedition corps—by any means necessary.