I awoke from what seemed like a very long dream, but seeing the ‘other me’ and Katalina nearby, I realized what had happened. We were back in that fake, empty house from before.
“That… what was that?”
‘Claude’ smiled at me, like I was asking something ridiculous. “A tale, your tale, if things had happened just a bit differently.”
Thinking through all the events that I had seen, my eyes darted toward Katalina. Her expression was also a bit shaken up. She had apparently seen what I had. That story happened so differently… and it was all because of…
“You mean to tell me that the Demon not existing would cause such a tragedy? And what was the point in showing me such a dismal life? To tell me how great of a journey I’ve had instead?! That I could have had it a lot worse?!”
Katalina furrowed her brow. Seeing an alternate me become her enemy and eventually lead to her death was no doubt a harrowing experience. I wondered why she was shown it to begin with as I could only feel it casting doubt on our relationship.
I reached out and clasped her hand, making her snap back to reality. She gave me a smile, almost reassured that it was all an illusion. But then, it turned to a slight frown as she spoke.
“I believe it’s to show that you have the determination to do whatever it takes when you set your mind to it.” Katalina looked away from me. “In this case, protecting the one person who had ties to you in this world.”
“Determination? Me? Who are you kidding? I hate conflict! I fail a bunch! I’m not the reliable person you think I am! I just want a peaceful life where I’m not bothered while I’m doing the fun things I like to do! Complaining and thinking of ways out of it in the meantime!”
I knew Katalina had high hopes for me. She always had. But that always felt like a constant pressure on me. Like she saw someone else than the person I kept seeing in the mirror.
Katalina grabbed me with her other hand and looked me in the eyes. I could feel her grip tighten almost painfully around my arm. The motion was so forceful, so uncharacteristic of her that I couldn’t help but stare, frozen.
“But you do it anyways… all the trouble, all the problems… you shoulder them upon yourself, no matter how much of a pain they are. Because that’s just how you are, isn’t it, Claude? Even when you feel hopeless, even when danger is upon you, I see you charge right in. Regardless of who it is, your feet start moving at the first moment of trouble. Tell me, tell me that isn’t determination!”
Tears streamed down Katalina’s face. I could tell that my actions often worried her. Every time, I would walk away from her, to some new conflict, while she waited behind and prayed for my safety. As the Queen, she couldn’t be at my side to protect me. All she could do was rely on the others to do that in her place.
“She’s right, you know,” ‘Claude’ said. “Whether you realize it or not, you do everything you can to help others. It’s your thoughts that hinder you, your perception of your own self. But when you let your instincts take over, that ‘unique’ part of you comes knocking, in all of its strange glory…”
The other me pulled out a small stack of anime DVDs and video games, which he fanned out in his hands. The titles were instantly recognizable. The basic stories of a main character gaining powers and using them to do good.
RPG fantasies where the heroes overcame all odds to win in the end – generic, overly done, straightforward. But I loved them anyway. I had always wanted to be one of those people as a kid. And even when the reality of the world slammed its reason upon my face, that feeling wouldn’t go away.
But because that same reality told me that I could never be what I wanted, my actions grew half-hearted and discouraged. And in time, I grew to ‘expect’ that I wouldn’t make much of myself. That I was doing things adequately to satisfy the minimum. My ambitions didn’t align with what ‘others wanted’.
‘Claude’ chucked the disc cases aside, like they were of no significance anymore.
“This isn’t your old world, Claude. You need not be bound by such thinking. I chose you to be an Electi for a reason. Don’t make me regret it.”
He seemed to know exactly what was on my mind. But then again, wasn’t he like a god?
“The proof is right there in that other tale. You went from zero to a national threat in a matter of days. You made the decision to fight, throwing all caution aside, and you rose to the occasion. And even though circumstances are different, I’m sure that Miss Queenie here would attest that you’ve done the same here, but in more gradual steps.”
I felt Katalina hug me from behind as he said that. Her blue locks of hair lightly ruffled as she dug her forehead into my back.
“You are a hero, my hero. Don’t you ever forget that! No matter what you do, no matter who you try to impress, I won’t see it any other way! Because in my eyes, you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone otherwise!”
Something clicked within me at that point. A sudden realization. The feeling of it had always been there but suppressed. Like I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I thought it was just childish, a fool’s dream.
Everything that I willed myself to do, each time was because I wanted to ‘impress’ someone. Like those heroes in my hobbies, I wanted some way to prove my worth. I wanted to be validated. I wanted others to accept me. And the easy way to do that was to throw myself into helping them out. To take on the role of the ‘hero’ in someone’s eyes.
“I-I get it now…,” I mouthed softly.
“Oh? What do you get? Let’s hear it. Pop quiz time!” ‘Claude’ jokingly said.
“Even if the situations are different, this feeling that I still have when I look at Eryn… I wanted to be her hero, from the very start. I wanted to show off. I wanted her to like me. To say that she would be glad to have me at her side. That’s why I feel so conflicted. Because I couldn’t let go of that notion. Even with the Demon inside of her, I wanted to be the one to save her!”
“And?” ‘Claude’ stared at me, waving his hand nonchalantly like questioning if that was all.
“Because in this world, my worth was a new, blank slate. I wanted so badly to be judged favorably, vying so hard to continue some good role that I was given. Not wanting to take any chances… Well, doesn’t that make me a shallow person?… That must be why I haven’t awoken like Ludmila and Saki have! I-”
A sharp pain on my forehead made me pull back. As I moved to rub the sore spot, I eyed ‘Claude’ with his hand out still, having given me a forehead flick. A punishment for the words I said before.
“You’re thinking about it too hard, Claude. Determination and will are just that. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. You still got things done. It’s okay for them to be selfish. Everyone is greedy in some way.” ‘Claude’ lowered his arm. “And conflict is just a method of drawing out one’s own capabilities. It’s up to you whether to unlock them or not.”
“But I have been unlocking them, haven’t I? Just a lot more slowly than the other me that just couldn’t catch a break. I’ve been afraid of using them too much. Every time I do, it seems like they gnaw at my core. I don’t want to lose my way and become a demon myself!”
‘Claude’ chuckled. “Oh? Is that what you really think? Using the powers given to you by the Gods is the recipe for disaster? It sounds like you lack faith in what I’ve given you.”
“Do you blame me? Some sketchy deity grants me power, and I’m supposed to just go along with it without any conditions? I’ve read enough isekai to know how dumb that sounds.”
“Touché… Putting aside your skepticism about divine gifts, what about the one in that tale you saw? Can you say the same there?”
I thought back to the many battles that occurred when Eryn and he were on the run. He used his powers liberally, not even stopping to consider what consequences came with them. But he didn’t have time to. There was hardly a moment where he could relax and worry about such things. He charged straight into battle, fully embracing what he could do with it.
He cut down his foes, mercilessly, without regard to holding back. Because the only thing in his mind was protecting Eryn. Nothing else.
And during that whole time, miasma never overcame his core. His attacks glowed menacingly with power, but his heart never faltered. Just like what was implied. He had cast all doubt away and committed himself to his new role.
“Trust in your own abilities, Claude. Have confidence. When you start to doubt, that is when you fail. There are too many times in the past where you quit early when you should have pushed on. A different mindset is sometimes all the difference in the world. Success comes to those who persevere.”
Katalina stepped in between us. She took both our hands and connected them together.
“And don’t forget. You’re not alone.” She smiled. “So go ahead and make all the failures you want, because we’ll be there to back you up! Don’t limit yourself, but embrace it, everything that you are! Leave the rest to us!”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself.” ‘Claude’ winked at us as his body started to glow suddenly.
I could feel some strange power creeping into me as the glow became brighter and brighter. ‘Claude’ looked at me and nodded, like he was ready for something.
“Now think about it, Claude. For so long, I have guided your vision… But after all that you’ve experienced, can the world be truly defined by just ‘lines’? Do not be afraid to trace outside of those boundaries. The answer lies there. Explore and maybe you’ll find what you are missing.”
I absentmindedly nodded back, wondering if he meant what I thought he did. I wouldn’t know until I faced Eryn again. Perhaps, that had always been the true test to begin with. The very reason why I struggled.
“Two existences, separated by will, are now joined as one,” ‘Claude’ chanted. And with that, the glow permeated through my body as well, before the other me disappeared.
For some reason, it felt like I was gaining back a part of my body that I didn’t know I lost in the first place. It was an eerie feeling. Almost like an extra appendage being reattached.
‘Actually, no. That would be creepy, like a monster or something…’
But regardless of how strange it felt, it was only momentary. After that, I wondered how I could have lived without it in the first place. But then, I clutched my head. A flood of memories whizzed through my mind like everything had been unlocked and streamed directly into my brain.
My eyes widened as one part of those memories struck me dumb. The story that ‘Claude’ had shown us. It had a continuation. And within it, another truth became apparent to me. Katalina came over to check on me with eyes full of concern, but I simply needed a moment to process what I saw.
I smiled as I looked at her. ‘Claude’ had left a parting gift for Katalina as well. A suggestion that I couldn’t help but consider. But everything had its proper timing. We were still in the middle of the battle. I had to get back and confront Eryn.
I placed my hand upon Katalina’s and nodded to her.
“Let’s head back to the others. I have all I need now.” With that said, I simply snapped my fingers, and the surroundings shattered like glass. The illusion was broken, sending us out of this dream world.
My eyes shot open to the familiar floor of the Oracle’s tower. Even though I had simply woken up from a dream, my body felt instantly different from before. I had fallen asleep full of doubt, but now, a certain eagerness to face my challenges brewed within me. It was an interesting feeling, to have confidence. To know what to do and let go of all the second-guessing.
I looked around the room, quickly finding Katalina next to me before seeing Lady Kaguya and Chrys sitting just outside of the ritual circle. They were exactly who I needed to reverse the course of battle.
“How do you feel, Sir Claude? I hope you found proper guidance,” Lady Kaguya said, but then she smiled as the answer to her question was no doubt plastered upon my face.
“Yes, I have a game plan. Will you hear me out? Things are going to get interesting pretty soon!”