༺ Nightmare (1) ༻
It’s the woes of my hasty decision—Renee thought at least.
“Do you like it?”
A sharp voice emerged. It was the sharpest tone she had ever heard in her life.
It was the tone she heard in the last [Application of Gastronomy] lecture from a group of faceless girls who had been clinging to Vera.
A voice that she remembered because those foxlike girls approached Vera with their tail wagging as soon as the lecture started, spouting nonsense such as ‘you’re so cool’ or ‘you’re so cultured about gourmet food’.
Perhaps due to how aggravating it was, Renee blamed herself for choosing a subject without considering things thoroughly.
She should have known that those who attended this lecture must be raised in affluent households, which would explain their interest in delicacies, and would have no trouble engaging with high-ranking people due to their upbringing.
Renee’s white face showed a sign of anger.
Vera, who shuddered at the sight, turned away from Renee and said.
“…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You seem to enjoy it so much, though?”
“That’s not true.”
“I didn’t realize Vera was such a talkative person.”
Vera kept his mouth shut.
He’d just figured out why Renee was angry.
‘…I should have kept my mouth shut.’
It seemed that the problem was that he answered all the questions asked by the young ladies during the lecture.
For him, they were just having a conversation about their favorite foods, but Renee saw it differently.
Glancing nervously at Renee, Vera bit his lips and said.
“…I won’t answer any questions starting next class.”
“Gosh, you don’t have to. You know how guilty I’ll be if you give up what you enjoy doing for me, right?”
Renee’s mouth crinkled into a smile. No, that was anger disguised as a smile.
Vera instinctively cowered as he felt the tension and refuted.
“No. Your feelings are more important to me than my own interests. So you don’t need to feel guilty at all.”
“Why can’t someone who shows such concern for my feelings accept them?”
Vera shut his mouth.
Ho! Renee let out a loud scoff.
“Let’s see how long you last.”
After blurting out all those words, Renee pursed her lips and quickly turned her head away.
It was an act of protest which seemed to express ‘I’m very angry right now!’.
In fact, it was embarrassing for her to be this angry, yet there was nothing she could do. Even if her mind understood that, her heart didn’t follow.
I don’t like when Vera talks with another woman. I hate seeing him have long conversations and getting all friendly.
I just… hate everything.
Renee’s ears turned red. It was so childish of her, but she couldn’t give up her desire to keep Vera to herself.
Vera looked troubled when he looked at Renee, who was clearly upset.
He was unsure what to do whenever Renee behaved that way.
He wished that Renee would never make such a face, and that he could always see her smiling face.
With that in mind, Vera tightened his grip on the hand he was holding. In an effort to ease Renee’s mind, he began forming words in his mind.
The force of his grip made Renee flinch.
“…What is it?”
She spat out the words as if shooting them out.
Vera turned his tense body in Renee’s direction and spoke.
“I will always be by your side, Saint. That’s why…”
He wanted to say something cool, but as he was always tongue-tied in front of Renee, all he could say was some lame truth.
“…You don’t need to worry about me going somewhere else.”
It was a phrase he had said so frequently that he had become tired of it; but to put it differently, it was a way of conveying his unchanged feelings over the years.
“I hope you stop being angry.”
Renee stayed silent. She wriggled her fingers and slid it in between his, clasping their hands as she went to reply.
“…Instead of being by my side, you should just come closer.”
“Again with that damned apology…”
She said that grumpily, but her anger slightly lessened.
Vera looked a little worried and began to look embarrassed as he watched her.
He thought to himself.
I can’t get close to you yet.
Since he wasn’t quite sure of his own feelings, and he didn’t want to hurt Renee.
However, he wouldn’t remain in this state forever. Someday, a day would come when he could respond to those feelings of hers.
Vera looked at Renee through his blurred gaze, and concocted words that he couldn’t tell her.
It was an apology for making her wait, and gratitude for her unconditional love towards him.
Late at night, at Miller’s office.
Henry, the teacher assistant who couldn’t get off work on time today as well, heaved a sigh as he cleaned the cluttered table.
‘…I cleaned it up three days ago, though.’
And now it’s a mess again.
It seems like this cranky man really has no idea of what being organized means.
A deep sigh came out as anger boiled up inside.
‘Why did I…’
Why did he stay at the Academy? He should have just gone back to his hometown after graduation, worked on the farm, worked at a lord’s estate, or done anything else.
Three years ago, the face of a senior who had recommended him for the assistant position before graduation flashed in his mind. His fist clenched tightly.
“Agh, damn it.”
I should have known when he handed off his duties to me with a grin.
Continuing his grumbling, Henry was organizing the mess when his gaze suddenly shifted towards one corner of the desk.
At the end of his gaze was the Grimoire [The Whispers of the Dream Demon].
Henry narrowed his eyes.
‘It feels like…’
…Something has changed. I think the dried blood that was on the cover has faded.
He hoped it was just a misconception caused by his own uneasiness, but no matter how he looked at it, something seemed off.
He didn’t lay a finger on the Grimoire, and neither did Miller.
But why do I feel like something has changed?
Henry swallowed hard.
‘S-Should I take a look?’
Let’s go closer and examine it once and for all. If I look closely and confirm that Grimoire has not changed in the way I’m worried about, I’ll be able to continue cleaning without fear.
Henry wasn’t even aware that he was doing something he wouldn’t normally do.
All he could think of was, ‘I have to check that Grimoire’.
Henry inched towards the Grimoire. As his expression grew increasingly blank, his mouth slightly opened.
He reached out to the Grimoire with a trembling hand, and laid it over the cover.
It was hard and rough, yet also soft. The cover gave off the sensation of touching a woman’s skin.
As soon as he touched the cover, Henry unintentionally thought of this.
‘…I have to open it.’
I must open it.
If I open the Grimoire, I can talk to ‘that person’. At that thought, Henry opened the Grimoire with a spaced-out expression.
A translucent fog erupted all over the place.
Meanwhile, at Vera’s dorm.
Vera was lying on his bed, trying to sleep, when he sensed ‘something must have happened’ due to the sudden shift in the surrounding atmosphere. He abruptly sat up.
It was because he thought that he needed to head straight to Renee.
…However, the sight in front of his eyes made such a thought vanish into thin air.
His surroundings abruptly transformed, and there was somebody in the center of it all that made Vera’s entire body freeze.
Dull colors, damp air, buzzing insects, and a nauseating odor.
The sight of a woman in the middle of a rundown shack that seemed on the verge of collapse evoked such a reaction from him.
The moment he saw the woman, Vera was unable to think – he couldn’t make sense of the situation, the reason he was in this place, nor anything else.
The voice suffocated him. As if his heart was being cut to pieces. His trembling eyes and sorrow were all directed to one place.
The woman who spoke in a clear and crisp voice… was Renee in the past.
And this was the last time he saw her alive.
It was a confusing situation.
Vera, whose state resembled that of a stuffed beast, was watching Renee as she left the shack.
The door opened.
The door that swallowed her closed as if it was breaking.
After what felt like an eternity, Vera, who was staring blankly at the door closed on him, abruptly jumped to his feet. He then burst open the door and left. And just like that, he ran.
He still looked as confused as ever. His mind was still in a trance.
In that state, Vera walked through the slums which shouldn’t exist in the present world.
Vera’s chest was pounding heavily, and he struggled to breath as if a blade had been sawed through it. He ran like a madman.
Vera’s head was only filled with one thought as he ran frantically.
All he thought about was that he must never let her go.
Right now, only death awaited her at the end of the road she took alone, where a dark and cold shadow hung in the air, so he only thought of finding her and pulling her out of it.
His action lacked any sense. He lost all reasoning. He was only driven by instinct.
That was why Vera didn’t realize.
The path he took right now was bizarrely long.
That he was running through the same landscape over and over again.
Or that he was in the Academy dorm until just a while ago.
Vera was only thinking about protecting Renee at the time, so everything else slipped his mind.
Vera suddenly coughed, spewing out blood as well.
Vera collapsed to the ground.
Vera felt pain in his chest. Even a slight movement caused the chest pain to spread throughout his entire body.
But, it didn’t even faze him.
So, even in such a state, he crawled.
Gushing out blood, looking thinner and thinner over time.
Vera crawled through his waning life, leaving blood trails as he went, until he eventually faced his deeply rooted despair.
Vera stopped moving. He was no longer breathing. He couldn’t even widen his eyes further.
Vera called her name.
He called out to her, towards that terribly deformed face, whose lips curved up into a smile even as she fell into the dark pit.
There was no answer.
The moment Vera reached out to her, breathing heavily.
The world began to warp along with a deafening buzz.
No, it was more correct to say that the world rewound itself.
Vera’s body crawled backwards uncontrollably, while Renee moved away from Vera’s line of vision.
By the time Renee was no longer visible in Vera’s sight, Vera got back on his feet again, and his complexion got better.
But his body was still moving backwards.
He ran backwards. After passing through the same scenery that he saw countless times, Vera returned to the shack and had his hips fastened to the cloth that would be fitting to be called rags.
Only then did Vera regain control of his body.
It was the moment when Vera finally questioned what was going on.
Then he realized that it wasn’t reality.
The door opened just when the realization hit him.
She came back in, her gray hair streaked with dirt.
The door closed.
“I’ll be back.”
The door opened again.
Vera’s face was filled with shock.
‘I have to grab her.’
He thought that as he reached out his hands.
His body didn’t move. In the meantime, Renee had already left the shack, walking straight to her death.
As Vera looked at the door with his quivering eyes, he realized again.
That he was inside a terrible nightmare right now.