Seeing that other world unfold before me revealed a lot of things, about me and about Eryn. It made me wonder… just what exactly did I want from all this? I went with the flow and did things as expected of me. I fought and struggled to maintain certain identities, but those had always been thrust upon me.
A chef, an Electi, Demon Cleaver, Star Shooter, Conqueror, Chancellor – they were all personas that I became out of convenience. Because they could simply define who I was. And this time, I had approached the Gods to half-heartedly chase after another one, the mantle of the “Ascended”.
But the other ‘Claude’ saw through me. He questioned why I needed to be that in the first place. And he knew exactly why I hadn’t reached it. That time, like every other time, I believed in the title itself, rather than what I could do that made me deserving of it. At this rate, the role would take over me, rather than serve as a part of myself.
I watched as my alternate self didn’t care for any of that. He cut down his enemies and protected Eryn. He acquired those powers through sheer will and the belief that he wanted to be a hero. He wanted to be accepted by the one person that was on his side, so he didn’t hesitate.
Perhaps, that was my issue… I lacked the courage to pursue the dreams that I wanted, unless I had someone at my side. People encouraging me, pushing me on, and directing the way forward.
While that granted me a measure of success, it also brought about a sense of doubt… a disbelief that I wasn’t worthy of such power. Because I felt like I could do little on my own, simply lost without them. So I fought desperately to cling onto those connections, all the while slowly distancing myself from my own abilities.
I was far more capable than I believed myself to be. But because of how I acted, how I thought, my knife would only remain half-sharpened. My subconscious would limit myself to certain ‘roles and talents’.
‘When instead, I am everything that people made me out to be…’
I stepped out onto the battlefield, energized and ready to face my opponents. Several demons immediately made their way to me, seeing what they thought was an easy target due to a lack of emitted mana.
But with a quick flick of the wrist, my knife drew an arc, and from it, a razor thin blade extended out dozens of meters away. A moment later, the pack of demons froze before screaming, purple flames consuming them.
Even the ones before that I couldn’t slice in one blow were now easy as warm butter to cut through. The difference was that the thin trail of mana that I used was both blue and purple at the same time. Its powers focused and combined to create an unstoppable blade – one to destroy the miasma and another to send a slice through their cores.
I was everything at once: the skill of a chef, the critical strikes of an Electi, the mana of Star Shooter, and even the darkness of the so-called ‘Conqueror’. There was no need to separate one from the other, they were all a part of me. And rather than cutting a piece out that I thought wasn’t needed, I had to accept them and make them fully mine. Because I need it all to be…
‘The hero that I always wanted everyone to see me as!’
My childish dreams of such were always disregarded within my own mind, thinking that I was never suited for the task. That even if I managed to help some people, that was only because things fell that way. That soon enough, I would be a nobody all over again. So I never tried to be great, to be responsible of the greatness that I became involved in.
But now, I didn’t see any other way. If I wanted to beat Eryn, if I wanted to prevail against a will forged through hundreds of years of spite upon this world… then I would have to embrace my place and step forward on my own, not merely accept it. I would give this fight every bit that I had in me and then some.
As more demons around me burst instantly into purple flames from a single strike, the voice of a young girl drifted through the air, making me smile. Cheers from Sanshiro and Sistina erupted in tandem, seeing that the miasma around the demons was beginning to shrivel up.
I shouted “Charge!” with the loudest voice I could muster, as the people around me got a second wind. Not wanting to be left behind, I raced forward as well, creating an offensive flurry of attacks that quickly pushed the demons back. With the background of J-pop music, cries of demons turning into ashes added to the melody like random cheers from the audience during a live concert. It was a strange feeling, but oddly uplifting as I got into the groove.
My head bobbed up and down to the beat, quite familiar with the melody itself. After all, I was the one that taught her that song. It was a cheery idol song that invoked memories of an anime I adored. When Chrys asked me once about music in my world, that was what I sang to her.
Albeit, my own singing voice was atrocious, which made me regret doing something so silly. But Chrys just smiled and nodded. She let out a cute laugh, telling me that she was glad. Grateful to share in something that we both had interest in. Because if it was something that brought us both joy, then it would never be a wasted effort.
And then, she stood up and sang as well, picking up quickly on the actual melody that I completely butchered. I was left in awe. Her angelic voice made me wonder if she really could be an idol in this world, the first of its kind. Perhaps, after all this was said and done, that would be a fun little side venture.
But regardless, a simple action like that became something that I could capitalize upon. The influences that I had built up to this point were what I could draw upon. They were my strength as well.
Emitted from Chrys, her voice gave off a divine power that weakened demonic energy, while soothing her allies. Recalling how it drove away the darkness within me, I decided to ask her to give a little performance. Lady Kaguya and Katalina agreed with the idea as well.
The people of this world likely hadn’t experienced just how pumped up one could become with a catchy tune, especially when played throughout a battlefield. They hadn’t experienced the importance of a good battle theme in a video game. It gave otakus like me courage. And combined with the holy energy that Chrys possessed, it would surely lift up the spirits of our allies.
Katalina came through like always, her help essential to the plan. She possessed a sound amplifier in her Item Box, built at some point. Likely, it was because she felt too soft-spoken to project her voice adequately during a speech. This invention had come about after an offhand comment that I hardly recalled. But Katalina certainly remembered.
Such ideas were groundbreaking in this world, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. They could turn the tide in our favor in the right hands. I simply had to believe like how Katalina believed in me.
Zooming quickly through the battlefield, I surveyed how our allies were doing.
A pair of old men charged bravely at an entanglement of mana snakes, which shriveled and recoiled from the joint assault. In another area, two Electi shone brightly as they furiously pounded a giant man, his feet starting to slide from the immovable stance that he was in. And lastly, a trio of warriors coordinated their blows to fight off a powerful demon, never giving her a moment to rest.
Our side yelped and hollered as they tore through the weakened miasma, energized by all that the human side had to offer. Stat-boosting food, weapons and magic working in tandem, and thousands of people redoubling their efforts all due to a charming voice.
It was funny how different things were viewed in the lens of confidence. I had to admit that I felt a little proud. My actions contributed directly to this scenario. It had changed the world before I realized it. And now… I had to take responsibility for it all. I made a beeline for Eryn, fully believing that the others would prevail in their own fights.
And somewhere in my mind, I knew the truth. That everything here had been a meticulously crafted plan. At the end of it all, the thread all came down to Eryn and me. Just like in that other timeline, we were at the very center of it all. And because of that, I was confident in what I had to do.
As I raced toward her, I caught Eryn’s eyes staring in my direction for a moment, despite being half the battlefield away and in a 3-on-1 fight. She was waiting for me too. For one of us to end this farce.
As I propelled myself through the crowd of demons and humans, I zipped in between all of them, my attention focused solely on Eryn. How she struggled to hit the correct twin with her magic or sword, failing at times and having ‘Total Rebound’ and ‘Absolute Reflection’ activate to counter her blows, and how her nose crinkled every time she had to smack Koujiro when his holy sword chipped away at her miasma.
But in those moments, I could see that it was not the Demon fighting, but Eryn herself. The way she moved was careful and calculated. Her attacks had just enough power to injure but not kill. I had fought her myself with Saki at my side, and I could tell that she was holding back.
Like she was waiting for the main dish quickly approaching, she had to conserve her energy. It was a chef’s duty to serve what his guest hungered, and it looked like Eryn was saving the bulk of her room for me. That was fine. It was my problem to begin with.
Grinning at my approach, Eryn roared as a wave of miasma erupted from her, forcing the other three to pull back. But they knew it as well; I was sure they could feel my mana signature nearby. None of them so much as blinked when I whizzed right past them and straight into the purple dome of energy.
With a single slice, the burst that threw back the others parted, letting me dive right up to Eryn without stopping. She brought up her sword to catch the knife that was aimed right for her. Sparks flew between us as our auras fought for supremacy. With mana and miasma working in combination, I refused to let Eryn pull back and attack, giving her no time to create an opening.
Since she couldn’t swing, her massive attack power didn’t kick in. Right now, it was the pure strength of our bodies holding each other back. Shrouds of purple and blue energy whipped around us, her inexhaustible supply trying to regenerate as each lashing of my aura canceled hers in waves. I couldn’t hope to beat her in endurance, but my critical strikes were enough to momentarily overcome the strength she now possessed.
“Go on and help the others! I got her, leave it to me!” I turned to yell at the Sun twins and Koujiro, who looked on in wonder. They nodded, hearing the confidence in my voice. Or perhaps, they felt deterred by the massive spike in energy around us.
Looking back at Eryn, her eyes lit up with anticipation. This would be our final confrontation. Everything she had hoped for. Because everything that she had done was for me and me alone. So that I would succeed and become what I was meant to be.
Eryn had never wanted me to become a demon in the first place. It was all a lie. She was simply looking for a place to die. For me to kill her myself. To end everything as how it started. Just me and her. Freeing our fated connection to each other forever.