༺ The Slum (1) ༻
An agonizing pain that felt as though his entire body was breaking down. Vera opened his eyes.
A trembling and dry voice came out of his mouth.
He felt a piercing headache and crackling in his ears. The droplets of water dripping down his skin only added to his discomfort, and with every breath came a sharp chest pain that tore through his stomach.
A body in the worst possible state, coupled with unpleasant sensations.
What’s going on? Vera thought for a moment, then turned his head around slightly to scan the surroundings.
A dark space.
Water seeped through a neatly arranged pile of planks resembling a house because it couldn’t adequately block the rain and wind.
On the inside, there were a few layers of tattered clothing and a few rusted brass bowls.
On the walls, bugs were crawling as the mud kept trickling down from the roof.
They seemed to be the cause of the suffocating air and creaking noise.
Vera took a quick glance and immediately knew where this place was.
…He couldn’t help but know.
The place where he first opened his eyes was the slums, where he was born and raised, known as the ‘Imperial Cancer.’
A question came to Vera’s mind as he looked around.
Why am I here?
Vera thought back to the situation before he lost consciousness.
‘I must have succumbed to the curse.’
It was a curse brought on by the many sins he had committed over the years.
Three years after the Demon King was subjugated, the Heroes who had erased the long and deep scars of war sought to clean up the interior of the continent.
He tried desperately to avoid it, but in the end he was cursed while on the verge of death.
However, strangely enough, he didn’t feel the accursed aura that had been relentlessly devouring his body.
The only thing he could feel was pain from the scars of the previous battle.
Vera tried to remember why he was lying there, and why he had collapsed at the entrance of the slums, but couldn’t think of any logical explanations. As a result, he immediately shook off those thoughts and closed his eyes.
It didn’t matter whether he was saved by a kind Samaritan or someone pursuing him because there was nothing he could do now, so there was no reason to dwell on it any longer.
The place was in terrible condition, but still, there were signs of life everywhere.
He wouldn’t have to think about it for long because he would soon meet the person who lived there.
When Vera had finished assessing the situation, he closed his eyes and waited. The door of the shack opened with a ‘click.’
Vera opened his eyes and looked at the door as soon as he heard the noise.
It was a woman with a hideous face, covered in a tattered robe, and burn scars on every inch of her exposed skin.
The white hair that peeked out from the hood of the robe was stained with dirt, and her feet were soaked in muddy water, as if she had no shoes.
It looked like she couldn’t see. He could tell through her blue eyes that had lost their light, and the way she walked crookedly while leaning against the wall.
Who is she?
Vera contemplated that for a while, and then listened to the clinking sound that he heard whenever she moved.
It was the sound of metallic articles brushing against each other.
‘Daggers… an assassin? Coins? Or is it jewelries?’
Vera started listing the things that immediately came to mind, but only realized the identity of the sound after she sat down on the floor.
There was a platinum-colored necklace visible on the woman’s scorched nape.
‘Is it jewelry?’
Vera’s eyes narrowed.
It was a precious accessory that a person living in such a rundown house couldn’t afford.
At that, Vera suspected that the woman might have sold herself in exchange for the necklace.
It was a very plausible reason. Among those who wanted my life, there were plenty of people who had the ability to pay for such a precious necklace.
While looking at her anxiously, Vera took a deep breath as he lowered his head and observed the shape of the necklace.
This was because the necklace, which revealed in its entirety, was something that even Vera knew well.
What hung around the woman’s neck was actually…
‘Rosary of the Holy Kingdom.’
A platinum-colored rosary that can only be possessed by those with the highest status in the Holy Kingdom. That was what it was.
‘A counterfeit… no.’
Because of all the knowledge he had gained over the years, he was able to distinguish it right away.
‘It’s the real deal.’
It was because the platinum rosary’s value couldn’t be evaluated. Just by trading that rosary, you would be pursued by the entire Holy Kingdom.
The thought that came to mind was that the woman was a personage from the Holy Kingdom.
As he continued to think, a figure flashed through Vera’s mind.
‘White hair. Blind. A platinum-colored rosary.’
It wasn’t because there weren’t people with similar characteristics, but Vera couldn’t ignore the reasoning that came to his head. So, he looked at her with a tensed expression, then softly licked his lips.
A cracked voice came out.
The woman’s body trembled at Vera’s voice.
When Vera’s whole body shook, he knew he was correct based on her fingertips twitching.
Vera noticed that the Saint appeared tenser than before. The Saint turned her head toward Vera and spoke.
“Are you awake?”
A tranquil voice. That was Vera’s first thought as he heard the Saint’s voice.
After saying those words, the Saint looked at Vera and attempted to form an expression as her facial muscles twitched.
The burn scars were strangely distorted following the movement of the muscles, but Vera could sense that the expression was meant to be a smile.
It was because of her atmosphere.
The calm tone he could hear, and the blue eyes that looked straight in his direction even though they were cloudy from being out of focus. Moreover, there were facial muscles that seemed to be trying to raise in some way.
All of that, for some reason, felt like a smile to Vera.
Vera looked at the hideously melted face revealed through the tears of her tattered robe, and thought of a question.
“…I heard you passed away.”
The Saint died in the final battle with the Demon King. Vera knew about it because the news spread like wildfire.
By the way, why is she, who was supposed to be dead, here?
The Saint smiled and replied playfully to Vera’s doubtful question.
“If it’s the Saint, it’s true that she is dead.”
“Then what about you?”
“I’m a beggar of the slums.”
It was a twisted word, but Vera grasped her meaning.
“…The funeral that took place in the Holy Kingdom was fake.”
“You can’t say it’s fake. Whatever the case, it is true that the Saint of the Holy Kingdom is dead.”
The Saint fumbled her arm and stroked Vera’s chest as she said that.
The next instant, Vera let out a moan. It was because the Saint’s hand passed through the rib that was injured by a blunt weapon.
“Does it hurt a lot?”
Vera grit his teeth and glared at the Saint.
Don’t show your weakness too hastily. Vera continued to be silent after coming up with that thought. It was then that the Saint tilted her head to him and stroked Vera’s body once more.
“The first aid has been completed, but… Still, you’ll have to stay here for a while. It might be uncomfortable, but please be patient.”
A voice filled with concern. At that, Vera became vigilant.
‘What’s her intention?’
It didn’t seem like she was after him.
As he looked at the Saint, there were too many questions that came to mind, so he struggled to answer her back.
Why is the Saint alive? Why are you here like this? How did you find me? And do you know my true identity?
As countless questions flew by, Vera looked at the Saint, deciding that he had to solve them one by one.
“Was the curse lifted by the Saint?”
“Fortunately, I was able to do it.”
It was a vaguely positive answer.
“The care of the Lord was sufficient.”
Wrinkles formed over her melted face. Vera recognized it as a smiling face.
Vera looked at that smile and expanded his thinking when he heard the word ‘sufficient’.
It was because Vera knew something about the Saint’s abilities.
Although the curse on him was on the extreme side, if it was the Saint’s ability, she should have been able to cast the curse away without growing weary.
That said, there was no reason to include the word ‘sufficient’.
Vera remained silent and looked at the Saint. After contemplating for a while, he finally understood the meaning of the Saint’s words.
“…Your powers were stolen, isn’t that the case?”
“To say it was stolen is wrong. It wasn’t mine to begin with.”
The Saint continued to speak with a smile in a calm tone.
“I just gave back what was lent to me.”
“Did you give it up yourself?”
“Now that there’s no reason to have it, it’s natural to return it.”
Vera heard her answer and couldn’t help but laugh.
It was because he felt that some of his questions had been answered.
‘She must have faked her death by her own will.’
There was no question of ‘Why?’
It was because if you knew the Saint, you could easily tell by looking at her peaceful face.
“You must have been tired of war.”
At the time when the Demon King vanished, if the Saint had been in her original position, the continent’s countries would have waged another war over the Saint.
Why not? The Saint’s abilities were well worth it.
The Saint must have wanted to avoid that situation, and her solution was to erase her existence.
As he continued his thoughts, the Saint opened her mouth.
The tone was a little muffled.
“…You know a lot.”
“So, are you going to kill me?”
Vera asked and looked at the Saint.
His body was in the worst possible condition. Even if the Saint strangled him right now, he wouldn’t have been able to resist at all.
…To be honest, he had no regrets even if he were to die here. It was true that he lived a life deserving of death, and expected such a miserable end.
Vera closed his eyes as he imagined the Saint reaching for his neck.
At that moment.
“There is no reason to kill.”
The Saint’s mouth opened.
Vera frowned at the words he heard and opened his eyes. The Saint had a calm expression at the end of his gaze.
“Why do you think I will kill you?”
“Wouldn’t it be a problem to have someone that knows who you really are?”
“I just want you to keep your mouth shut.”
“What if I’m going to spread the word?”
“It would be unfortunate.”
An answer that flowed like water. Vera studied her expression again, hoping to understand the Saint’s intentions, but couldn’t read any signs on her face, which was completely scarred from the burns.
The silence continued, and when Vera didn’t answer after a long time, the Saint took a short breath and continued.
“Calm down for now. You are ill.”
“If you knew who I was, would you still be willing to treat me?”
“Should I know?”
“Things like that happen, too. Have you ever thought that the person the Saint healed might be a murderer who dices people into pieces?”
“Then it would be very unfortunate, but I don’t have the courage to turn a blind eye to the sick. All I can do is pray that you are not a murderer.”
After hearing that, Vera saw the Saint leaning her back against the wall of the shack, and he started laughing.
The Saint pulled the rosary from her chest, gripped it tightly, and closed her eyes.
It looked like a prayer.
Vera made a sarcastic remark at that sight, and for no apparent reason felt a stabbing pain in his stomach.
“Saint, you certainly are faithful.”
“I’m not the Saint, I’m Renee.”
To be so agreeable all the time, and yet she would surprisingly retort when it came to her name.
Vera closed his eyes, thinking that the Saint was indeed a strange person.
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