Seeing the ‘me’ from my previous life, I scrambled to my feet in a space where an endless expanse of white surrounded me. The smell of things burning in the distance and the roaring sounds of battle were gone. The voice of a possessed princess that shook me to my core was no longer heard. There was a deafening silence as the only other thing here was the other ‘me’.
“At least, it’s been a while since you got your butt handed to you. But tripping and falling on sharp ice? Smooth….”
Though I couldn’t refute that statement, I stared at him with my jaw slack, wondering why he was making fun of me.
“You cut through magic attacks, barreled through entire armies, and even did hit-and-runs on a mythical god-like being, but a comical trip and fall did you in? This particular book sure had some influence on you.”
In the other Claude’s hands was a book that I had nearly forgotten about. On its cover read, ‘It’s Not My Fault He Tripped Over My Foot and Fell on My Knife.’ Suddenly, I noticed other books from that time around his feet.
“Dah! What the hell are you doing reading those here?!” I smacked the book out of his hand, which fell to the floor with a clatter.
There were more pressing matters to deal with. What was I doing here again? Why did he appear all of a sudden? And wasn’t I in the middle of a battle? I had to get back!
Feeling my anxiety that was all too apparent, ‘Claude’ placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Settle down. Just for a bit. Time doesn’t flow the same here. Stick around and listen to what I have to say.”
Frankly, I had a hard time accepting that I needed a heart-to-heart conversation with myself. The first time, I believed it to be a fluke, but now, it seemed like something really wanted me to face my past memories. ‘Who sets up these strange things? Is it you, God of the Isekai?’ I wanted to yell at whatever being that was responsible for summoning otherworlders.
“Look, if you just go back there as is, you’ll just lose your nerve and get thrashed again. I know you. I am you. Regardless of whether you want to accept me or not.”
I crinkled my nose at him. Of course, I didn’t really want to accept him. Who could accept someone who had destroyed a whole world, even if things had gotten dicey? Surely, I didn’t have the heart to go through with it here, so it felt like I wanted to give him a piece of my mind.
“As if you could do any better? Mr. Slice-Everything-to-Bits?” I was angry, ignoring how weird it was to be literally calling a spinoff of myself dumb names. “Why don’t I tag you out, and you can deal with that Demon? I’m sure that you could do the job! You can cut anything, right?! You have the resolve to kill and kill your enemies without having to worry about the consequences!”
That earned me a sock to the face. I stumbled back, holding my bruised cheek. My eyes looked furiously at him.
Looking at his fist, ‘Claude’ sighed pensively.
“Things don’t always go right, do they?” He looked towards me sternly. “To think that the things you do are the right decision, that is what everyone believes. It’s our nature to not want to doubt ourselves or to choose wrongly. And I regretfully have….”
That was certainly an understatement. The man in front of me had been the key factor in bringing the downfall of another nation, having been tricked into doing so. And even after he had found out, he failed the one person he promised to protect, the previous incarnation of Chrysanthemum.
As a result, an entire nation of people was massacred, and in response, that had sparked his revenge, doing the same in return. At the end of it all, there was no one left but him. The world ended with him destroying it.
“Why should I listen to you after all I remember? I do not want to be like you. Not again! Not ever!” Turning away from his gaze, it seemed like anything he said would be pointless.
I refused to be anything at all like him. But in truth, I was simply scared to get any closer. To understand why it had come to such an end result.
“Then, don’t be me.”
I looked up, questioning what he meant by that.
“As I said, I know you. I know that you don’t have the heart to hurt others. You’re handwavy. You’re brash. Sometimes, you’re simply an idiot. You have the best of intentions, but that gets you into trouble.
Good or bad, words have an effect on a person. And for you, kindness is what you try to see in them. Because of that, you may get betrayed. You may be tricked by your own naivety. But at the end of it all, we can only do what we can. That’s what we have to keep telling ourselves.”
I smirked at his statements. “Kindness, huh? Where is your kindness?”
That was what I wanted to know. Where was the ‘kindness’ in the tragedy that he had created? The ‘Claude’ in front of me didn’t hesitate at all to answer.
“For me, I trusted the summoner’s hand that extended to me. I believed that ending the war even the least bit sooner would bring the ones I was around back home safely. Even if it was only a day sooner, I was willing to charge forward and overrun the enemy.”
‘Claude’ looked off into the distance for a moment before continuing.
“But I failed to see the kindness from those on the other side. My ‘allies’ made sure of that. They blinded me with sweet favors. They tempted me with endless, empty praise. Not until I met that girl had I seen that those I fought were human too.”
“And I’m just supposed to accept that and forgive you? That sounds like you’re making excuses… but I guess that was all I ever did back home.” I smiled bitterly at that realization.
‘Claude’ grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me into his gaze. Our eyes examined each other’s as he had more to say.
“You don’t have to accept me. What I did was wrong. You have every right to reject such a thing from happening ever again. That is why I thought to show myself before you. To knock the life back into you. I chose, and I chose wrongly. But you, you have yet to choose.”
“Then tell me, what am I supposed to do? How do I choose between saving Katsys or saving the world? I don’t have the will to just toss one to save the other-“
“Then, don’t!” ‘Claude’ literally yelled over my hesitation, whacking me in the side of the head for good measure.
Not just from the smack, I was stunned as to how he could say that. My eyes searched for the hidden meaning behind those words.
“When given the option, I ended up saving nothing.” With that, ‘Claude’ shoved his finger into my chest. “But you-, in my place, I want you to save everything. Stop hesitating on what you can’t save and just go out there and kick that demon’s ass out of Katsys and save the day!”
I chuckled at how idealistic he sounded. Saving everyone? That seemed like some kind of half-hearted pipe dream by a naïve person. How was it possible to save everyone? Unless…
“You have a plan? Something you saved up for just the occasion?”
‘Claude’ nodded. “Or rather, more like something that I can pass onto you. A technique that I learned from my time as a summoned hero.”
Instantly, my mind perked up in interest as to what it could be. But how would I learn it in time? Even now, the battle was raging on. Who knew how long I had been out and whether the others were still safe?
“Don’t worry. You already know how to do it. It’s all in here, just locked away.”
‘Claude’ pointed to his own head before reaching out to touch mine. As his fingers brushed against my forehead, a glow of light seemed to appear before my eyes. At that moment, I could see the world that ‘Claude’ lived in before.
He had lived as a normal summoned hero, hopelessly optimistic, like some character out of a video game. Perhaps, that was why he couldn’t see it coming. Perhaps, that was why ‘I’ had been led into a false sense of security only to be deceived at the end. I should have seen it coming. The flags were there, but when one focused on merely a portion of his life, even the obvious became overlooked.
Within these memories was a technique that widened my eyes and gave me hope. I saw myself training to learn it. I saw the efforts placed into mastering it. It wasn’t until near the end of that journey that I did.
Throughout the whole time fighting for Botticelli, there wasn’t a moment that I didn’t regret having to kill. But neither did I have the choice. That was the nature of that world. If I held back, then there was no doubt that I would have fallen.
Because of that, I continued to work on this technique, striving to master it such that it would make a difference one day.
A technique born from the wish to be kind. A feeling of regret sprung after it was too late to use it.
The visions ended there. Once again, ‘Claude’ stared back at me, a look of confidence on his face.
“You got it down?” He asked.
“Yeah, that could work. If only I had known that such a thing was possible….”
Through some restored memories, ‘Claude’ had passed to me a move that he developed in the previous world. Despite not having done it myself, there was a strange feeling of confidence that I could rely on it against the Demon. Or rather, it was the only option there was. I had to place my faith in it. This was a technique that-
“Oh, by the way. Remember to add ‘Ni-no-Tachi’ to its name,” ‘Claude’ interrupted me.
“The Second Strike? Why the heck would I do that?” My eyes squinted with a look of skepticism.
“Because… Doesn’t it just sound cooler, the longer the name is? Like some kind of special, final attack, ‘Redux’!”
Strangely, ‘Claude’ gave off an air of childish immaturity when he said that. Excitement emitted from him as he yelled out the name of the technique again, to my embarrassment.
On one hand, I was relieved to know that my core personality was the same even in that world. On the other hand, I just facepalmed at how my perception of him had suddenly made a 180. There was an inkling of sympathy for my friends who I subjected to these fits of dorkiness.
“Ah well, I guess this was a talk worth having.”
For now, I had shaken hands with my former self. Although I couldn’t accept what he had done in the past, at the very least, I understood why it had come to that point. The only thing I could do was to learn from those experiences and push onward.
“Speaking of which… I should probably give Katsys-, no… Katalina, a proper answer after I save her. That’s the bare minimum that I owe her. God… what the hell do I do with these feelings?” I was no longer sure how exactly I felt about her compared to Eryn. But one thing was for sure, I could no longer ignore any aspect of her, neither the down-to-earth princess nor the quirky inventor. The next words I heard didn’t help with that.
“Not my problem! But wouldn’t it be nice if you went the harem route?” ‘Claude’ yelled from a distance. At some point, he had already started floating away from me, blending back into the whiteness of the surroundings.
“As if!” I chucked a knife at him, but it simply passed right through his fading body, making a clatter on the ground farther away.
The white scenery grew brighter, and brighter, until I could no longer see anything else in front of me.
I was ready. Ready to face the Demon once more.