༺ Illusion ༻
Similar to the siege weaponry, I made a neat path by cutting through the dense forest.
Even without the use of magic, the tip of Ajetus’ spear broke and bent every tree in its way whenever I swung the spear with my pure physical strength.
However, as Oznia’s presence was drawing near, it became difficult to push the forest further. It was because, if I continued to destroy the forest like this, she might inadvertently get caught in it.
But we were already in close proximity. Even if my senses were to be disrupted again, there was no longer any worry of losing her.
I gripped Ajetus and walked into the forest without hesitation.
As I felt I had gone quite deep into the forest, the surrounding environment suddenly changed like magic.
Just moments ago, it was a dense forest full of towering trees, but now I was walking on a narrow path in a quiet countryside village.
An illusion that not only shows people but also changes the surrounding landscape.
Despite the sudden change in scenery, I calmly looked around.
At first, I thought it was showing me the hometown where I lived with Ella in my memories. Because this village looked strangely familiar to my eyes.
But all countryside villages look similar, so it was just a momentary illusion; upon closer examination, this place was not at all like the village where I grew up.
Then, this must be an illusory world created based on Oznia’s memories.
Oznia’s village was just like any other ordinary countryside village, except for its fairly large goddess church in the center.
However, this village was eerily quiet as if the villagers had suddenly disappeared into thin air. The buildings and fields showed traces of life everywhere, but there were literally no people.
Why? Is it simply because the illusion couldn’t create the villagers?
But the buildings and the surrounding landscape were too detailed. If it were enough to omit people, there would be no problem with omitting buildings as well.
Putting aside the unsolvable problem for a moment, I focused on finding a place where Oznia might be.
The only hut that looked like someone was living in it had a thin smoke rising from the chimney.
As I approached the house, I felt multiple presences inside. Peering into the interior through the window, there was a family that looked as warm as a painting.
They were lovingly expressing their affection while holding a young girl who looked just like Oznia.
“I love you, Oznia.”
“My daughter, Mom loves you.”
I hardened my expression a little at their conversation.
Such a young child?
Oznia usually looked small and young compared to her peers, but the girl in front of me was just a child, looking no more than 5 or 6 years old at most.
At first, I thought it was a fake created by the illusion. However, unlike the man and woman who were merely illusions, I could sense a living person’s vitality from the young Oznia with my developed intuition.
Did the illusion make Oznia younger, or did Oznia wish to return to her childhood within the illusion?
Either way, it seemed difficult for Oznia to escape the illusion on her own. I should take her out now before she gets too deeply immersed in it.
When I opened the door of the hut and entered, the cautious gazes of the man and woman, who I presumed to be Oznia’s parents, turned to me.
“Wh-who are you? Why are you here?”
“We have nothing! Please leave…!”
Ignoring whatever the parents were saying or asking, I focused solely on young Oznia, who looked at me with a mix of fear and curiosity.
“Oznia. Wake up.”
But Oznia showed no reaction.
I spoke again with a firm voice.
“This is all fake. You need to get out of the illusion.”
But still, Oznia did not answer. If anything, rather than answering, it seemed to stimulate her anxiety, and she clung even deeper into her mother’s arms.
This is tricky. What should I do?
The fact that she didn’t react to the words “fake” meant that there was a high probability that Oznia was so deeply immersed in the illusion that she couldn’t recognize the truth.
Or, perhaps, she might know it’s fake but doesn’t want to leave the happy illusion in front of her.
I could have swung Ajetus to shatter the illusion, but I couldn’t know what consequences it would have on Oznia.
If Oznia was too deeply immersed in the illusion, in the worst-case scenario, her mind could be trapped in a state of eternal innocence, losing her current self forever.
To help Oznia, she first needed to recognize that this was an illusion and escape on her own. Shattering the illusion would come after that.
I put Ajetus back into the void, focusing entirely on Oznia and calling her name heavily.
At my call, she cautiously lifted her head and looked at me.
Although her appearance was that of a child, I opened my mouth, hoping that the real Oznia was listening.
“This is not your hometown. Don’t mistake where you are.”
Oznia blinked her innocent eyes as if she didn’t know anything.
Unable to bear it any longer, Oznia’s father grabbed my shoulder and tried to pull me away.
“Hey! What are you doing to my daughter?!”
However, even though the countryman tried his best, my body didn’t budge.
I stayed still, observing Oznia’s reaction, and her mother wrapped her arms around her daughter, seemingly protecting her, showing me her back.
“Take everything in the house if you want, but please don’t touch our daughter! Please…!”
The more I interacted with and responded to non-existent illusions, the stronger the influence of the illusion in reality became. Therefore, it was best to completely ignore them and not pay any attention.
However, knowing they were fake, the sight of the two people desperately trying to protect their daughter brought about a strange sentiment in me.
But something was strange.
Oznia’s parents showed a love-filled attitude towards their daughter, but it created a strong sense of discrepancy, as if things didn’t add up because of that love.
I knelt on one knee, looked into Oznia’s eyes, and calmly asked her.
“Oznia. Haven’t you ever felt that something was really off, even just once?”
A father risking danger to protect his family and drive away strangers.
A mother who wraps her daughter in her arms to protect her.
“Your parents love and cherish you so much, so why do you look like this?”
The love and affection Oznia’s parents poured onto her were completely at odds with the state of their home and, most importantly, Oznia’s appearance.
Oznia was dressed in old clothes that would be more fitting for a beggar than a precious daughter, and her once lustrous silver hair had turned dirty gray from not being washed for so long. Moreover, there was no trace of food, toys, or bedding for a young daughter in the house.
The parents in the illusion were showing love that didn’t match the reality she was in.
At the same time, I realized that the illusion showed what the person most yearned for.
There was no rule that it had to show something that actually existed.
Oznia’s eyes began to cloud with anxiety and doubt upon hearing my words.
“Ah, Dad… Mom… I… I am…! Ugh…”
Young Oznia began to grimace in pain, perhaps realizing the imbalance between the love of the parents she desperately wanted to believe in and the cold reality.
“I hate it, I hate it…! Stop it! I said stop it!!”
As intense turmoil arose within her, the world of the illusion began to turn more hostile towards me.
Oznia’s father eventually began to hit my body, and her mother, throwing her own daughter to the ground, spat out horrible curses and hateful words at me.
“Get out, get out right now! Disappear from my sight! Do you even know how much pain we’re in because of you!?”
“You’re garbage that’s not worth being loved! Everyone knows how horrible you are!”
At the same time, a sudden commotion began to erupt outside the village, where there had been no one other than the three of them.
Suddenly, the door of the shabby house was roughly opened, and the villagers came rushing in.
They held torches and threatening weapons like pitchforks in their hands, and their faces were distorted with intense anger and fear.
One of the villagers raised his voice at me, shaking his pitchfork.
“That thing has brought disaster upon our village!”
Another person raised a torch and shouted.
“We must drive it out of the village right away! Or burn it to death!”
Someone else put their hands together and offered a desperate prayer to the goddess.
“Oh, goddess! Please protect us from this wicked offspring…!”
Their words were filled with hatred, violence, and curses against me. But strangely, I felt that their hatred was directed not at me, but at Oznia.
As if to prove this, the more the villagers spewed their hate-filled words, the more Oznia shivered with her shoulders trembling in fear.
“Stop, stop it…!!”
Her pupils were constantly shaking with deep confusion and shock. Eventually, she could no longer bear it, tightly closing her eyes and covering her ears with her hands.
“Please…! I’m sorry, I was wrong…! So please, I don’t want this anymore…!!”
In the midst of the curses filled with hatred and madness echoing throughout the village, I calmly called Oznia’s name.
“Oznia. Open your eyes.”
Oznia shook her head as if she didn’t want to. Her long, messy silver hair swayed chaotically following her movement.
I didn’t rush her, but instead gently placed my hand on Oznia’s shoulder.
“It’s okay. Open your eyes.”
Oznia slowly opened her eyes at the sound of my voice. Her eyes were still filled with anxiety and fear, but it seemed that she felt a little relieved by my touch.
As Oznia opened her eyes, I was crouching down, shielding her with my back.
The surrounding anger, hatred, and violence were directed at us, but they were only leaving wounds on me and had no effect on Oznia whatsoever.
“It’s just an illusion that can’t affect you. None of it is real.”
She looked at me with an expression of disbelief, as if asking why I was going so far.
I could ignore it easily, knowing that it was a simple illusion that had no effect on reality, and even if it wasn’t an illusion, this level of attack wouldn’t have injured me at all.
However, beyond all that, it was a teacher’s responsibility to protect his student.
Instead of explaining all those reasons in detail, I just lightly patted Oznia’s shoulder.
Just like I did when she first called me her teacher.
Oznia stared at me with a surprised expression, her mouth agape.
At that moment, a short word slipped out from Oznia’s lips.
I didn’t know what Oznia was trying to say, but I could understand her intention from the following words.
In an instant, the illusion shattered into pieces, and the countryside village melted away into a quiet, serene forest.
The angry villagers and the shabby hut all vanished like a mirage.
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