Chapter 2 - Join Me, I Say!
Why, oh why was Mayer Knox so hell-bent on having me join the Dark Knights?
Jun Karentia, the character whose body I had taken over, was the only mage in the game that exclusively used support magic. She had no offensive, defensive, or healing spells in her arsenal. Among all the players of ‘The Sacred War’, there was no one who didn’t consider Jun just a filler party member.
There was a time when I had hoped that things in this world would be different from my reality. Mages were revered in this world, so I naively thought that even a support mage wouldn’t be received too badly. Looking back, it had truly been wishful thinking.
Disdain for support mages was prevalent not only among the players from my world but inside the game as well. Being a support mage was enough reason for my family to disregard me and for people to question why I had been included in Champion Fabian’s expedition corps. Even the other members of the corps gave me the stink-eye, their gazes full of doubt. Back then, it had still been somewhat bearable; the humiliation was brief and their appraising gazes were meaningless to me.
‘Reputation? Pah! Everything will reset when the first playthrough is over, anyway,’ I remember thinking at the time. To me, all that mattered was having Fabian’s appreciation. As a playable avatar, Fabian was the only character that began the second playthrough with memories of the first. Mayer Knox retained his memories as well, but only because he was the demon lord’s core. I was the only exception, being a transmigrated person.
Then, Fabian had once again set out to gather comrades to help him defeat the demon lord. Of course, those who were useless during the first playthrough were not chosen by him. By the end of the first playthrough—no, actually, by the start of the second playthrough—I didn’t consider Fabian’s choice something for me to worry about. It was only natural that I would be included among the expedition members to be recruited on the second playthrough… or so I had mistakenly believed.
“I can’t even imagine leaving you out of the expedition, Jun. I absolutely need your help to defeat the demon lord,” Fabian had whispered to me sweetly, only to abandon me in the end. Him not showing up at the promised rendezvous point in the current iteration was proof of his betrayal.
We had agreed to meet inside the dungeon where we first encountered each other in the first playthrough. That dungeon was located near a village I was staying in at the time, and it had suddenly burst open. The villagers then panicked and tossed the only mage available—me—inside as a shield. I had lashed out, shouting at them, “What do you expect a support mage to do alone? Don’t you people know the meaning of support?”
In short, I had become a human sacrifice. It hadn’t been long since I had entered the world while it was still in the first playthrough, so I hadn’t had the time to figure out my situation. I had struggled, face bathed in tears, to no avail—eventually, I got thrown into the dungeon. Meeting Fabian in there had been a stroke of good luck, otherwise, I would’ve died right after possessing Jun.
Maybe that was why I had devoted myself to Fabian and thought of him as my lifeline. When the second iteration began, I was able to face the situation with more resolution than I had during the first time. And so, when the villagers decided to throw me in the dungeon again, I followed them without much resistance, certain that Fabian would come to my rescue.
Had I known it would’ve been like that, I would’ve never gone in. Who’d be mad enough to challenge a dungeon alone? I could only silently regret it now, biting down on my lower lip. Sure, he already had all the information I could provide him so he was done with me. Still… Couldn’t he at least have come to save me? Even if I was too useless to have as a comrade, he could’ve… Even though he knew my situation better than anyone else…
Had it not been for Mayer Knox, I would’ve died in that dungeon while waiting for Fabian. Died without even knowing why he hadn’t come. I would’ve just assumed he was being held up by something.
Dungeon raiding was a political matter. Since Mayer had entered the dungeon I was in, it meant only one thing: Fabian had given up on the raid.
There was only one reason why Fabian would give up on a raid: he had found a more profitable one. A dungeon where he stood to gain more by raiding it than saving me. And most likely… the one he went to was the Ignota Dungeon.
Ignota was one of the dungeons that opened around the same time as the dungeon I was thrown in. By raiding Ignota, it was possible to acquire a Ring of Flames—a significantly important item to Fabian, a flame mage. Since he could only choose one, he had given up on saving me.
I hadn’t even lost to a person; I lost to a ring.
* * *
This was pathetic. As the saying went, “you never know what’ll happen in life…”
Life in a game world was proving to be no different than the life in the reality I knew. Who would’ve thought that, of all the expedition corps that could show up, Mayer Knox would be the one to rescue me? Truth be told, I was shocked when I spotted him. I was truly grateful that he had saved me, but my feelings of gratitude were separate from his offer to join his squad. That suspension bridge effect? I gave my heart away once because of it, and once was already too many.
Wetting my lips, I forced them open and said, “First… Thank you for rescuing me, Your Excellency. If it weren’t for your assistance earlier, I would’ve died to that cyclops.”
“…First, you say. You do not seem much inclined toward my offer.” Mayer raised a brow, seemingly unsatisfied by my response.
He immediately hit the bullseye. I gave him a very innocent smile, put on a troubled expression, and scratched my chin sheepishly. It would’ve been so nice if he played along and just forgot about the offer, but he was proving to be more persistent than I’d expected.
“Moving with light footsteps, immediately casting magic upon sighting a monster… As someone who obviously knows how to act within a dungeon, you wouldn’t be trying to make me believe that you have no thoughts of joining an expedition corps, now… would you?” he questioned, staring at me.
Sweat began to form on my forehead. Had he been watching me the entire time I was fumbling to get away from the cyclops…? But I didn’t even sense his gaze! I hadn’t felt such chills down my spine even as I was trapped in the dungeon, being chased by a monster. “That’s… Well… I’m a support mage, and—”
“How is that a problem?” he interjected.
“But you don’t even truly know my skills, Your Excellency!” I cautiously told him what I thought. After Mayer had rescued me from the cyclops, he had immediately summoned me to his tent, only to begin doggedly persuading me to join his expedition corps. What a joke. Did he think the Dark Knights needed to just act overbearing and people would just suck it up and join?
…Then again, I suppose some people would do that.
“Hmm…” As I contemplated a way to dissuade Mayer from having me in his squad, he seemed to be deeply immersed in his thoughts. He rubbed his chin for a moment before saying, “Fine. I admit I was impatient.”
Feeling saved, I couldn’t restrain the delight I felt the moment Mayer retreated and involuntarily displayed it. Elated, I hastily smoothed my expression and put on an awkward smile, trying to show him how sorry I was. “Haha… Well, I’m thankful that you’d consider giving such a good opportunity to a support mage like me, but—”
“Very well,” he cut me off. “Let us have another talk after I take a look at your skills. After all, we have yet to finish raiding the dungeon.”
And so, after he said that, Mayer sent me out of the tent so briskly, it made his earlier persistence seem like an illusion. Interestingly enough, I was firmly convinced that he was never going to let me escape.
As I trudged out of Mayer’s tent with heavy footsteps, determined to lay low, I wondered how I could dissuade him from recruiting me… Either way, I needed to hide my skills as best I could.
* * *
I was doomed.
* * *
“I shall ask you again, Jun Karentia: will you join my expedition corps, the Dark Knights?”
As I entered the duke’s tent for the second time, I was struck with a strong sense of déjà vu: the same words, the same voice, and the same suffocating atmosphere.
The source of my suffocation stared at me with a self-satisfied smile, very much like a snake leering at an ensnared prey. “By raiding the dungeon together with you, I have learned more about your skills. As a support mage, you drastically reduced the time needed to clear the dungeon. You are an indispensable talent necessary for our expedition corps; therefore, I insist that you join the Dark Knights,” he said.
“Haha…” I let out a hollow laugh, feeling the urge to cry. I had tried my best to do nothing during the raid, but I couldn’t actually stay uninvolved, not with Mayer Knox staring at me with his terrifying gaze the entire time.
“Jun Karentia. You must find the dungeon a cozy place since you do not seem like someone who wants to get out of it,” he had said, and his implication? If I didn’t show him what I was capable of, he would leave me to rot in here. He already looked like he would truly abandon me inside the dungeon if I made the slightest mistake. In the end, I had to swallow my tears and do some work.
Upon starting the second playthrough of the game, players would inherit all the ability points and skills they had acquired during the first iteration. This was a display of consideration from the game company that aimed to keep players from getting bored. Naturally, inherited abilities were vastly superior to regular abilities of the same level.
Perhaps it was because I had transmigrated, but my body possessed all those game-like characteristics—including inherited abilities. Of course, I already had a complete grasp of my abilities, which was why I was able to deliberately lower the level and effectiveness of my support magic. But the problem was the experience I had gained during the first playthrough. I ended up discovering the optimal timing to cast my spells, which made them more effective than I expected, and as a result…
I completely failed in “laying low”.
But I couldn’t join the Dark Knights… Not like this! I tried my best to explain once more why I could not join the duke’s team. “The expedition corps under Your Excellency the Grand Duke’s command has such cohesive teamwork that… I don’t think there’s any way I can fit in—”
“Do you not feel it yourself how poor of an excuse you are giving me?” he interrupted me, and I couldn’t give him a response.
He didn’t have to point that out like that…
Unlike the other time, where he had quietly let me go, Mayer seemed to be bent on recruiting me this time. Just as one would drive a fellspawn to a corner, the duke continued to press me hard. “What is the reason that makes you so reluctant to join my expedition corps?” he questioned.
“You will find prejudice against support mages no matter where you go,” he continued. “Our expedition corps is the only group that can fully utilize your talent.”
“I’m grateful that our Excellency acknowledges my skills, of course, but—”
“Then is there another reason why you refuse to join?” he asked, cutting me off again. “Perhaps… another corps you have already promised to go to?”
My heart sank at his probing question. His golden eyes seemed to pierce me, an intense and unrelenting gaze that kept me rooted in place—he was the hunter, and I was his prey. As I then realized that he had herded me straight into a trap, my back became drenched in a cold sweat. What was this, an unavoidable event? Was it even possible to refuse? Licking my dry lips, I forcefully pulled the corners of my lips into a semblance of a smile and attempted to explain. “Another corps? I’ve lived in this village since I was born, Your Excellency. The Dark Knights are the first expedition corps I’ve ever come across.”
“…The first one, you say?” Mayer asked, lips curling upward ever so slightly. I blankly stared at his smile and couldn’t help but think, ‘So he can smile too…’
I was snapped back to my senses by the sound of his fingers tapping on the table and hurried to say, “I just—”
“So you still have some lingering attachments to Fabian?” he abruptly asked, rendering me speechless.