༺ Nightmare (2) ༻
He couldn’t keep track of how many times it had happened.
After she said ‘I’ll be back’ and exited through the door, he looked at the closed door for a long time before bursting it open.
The closer he got to her, the more his body broke apart. His body was on the verge of becoming a corpse, just like in the final moments of his past life.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t stop. He crawled toward the pit where Renee fell to her death.
That was how he discovered her, and the moment he reached out, time started to rewind.
Vera, who returned to the shack, nibbled his lips as she entered through the door.
‘It’s the Grimoire.’
There was no doubt about it.
It was a hallucination made by [The Whispers of the Dream Demon].
He couldn’t help but think of how this situation matched what Miller said on the way to the Academy.
– This grimoire is incredibly evil. It triggers people’s trauma and constantly replays the same scene. That’s how it devours your mind over and over, and you’ll naturally turn into skin and bones in the end!
Indeed, it was a truly malicious grimoire, just as Miller had described.
Even though he was aware that it was a hallucination, the repeated scene terrified him.
Vera bit his lips harder.
He bit his lips so hard until it made a sound and then gushed blood.
Only then did he regain some control over his body.
‘I must find the Saint.’
He must go out of here to save Renee. He couldn’t even begin to think of what would happen to Renee, who was still in her teenage years, if he, who had endured all kinds of difficulties, could be in such a state. She must be more terrified than he was.
Vera mused on what Miller told him with anger on his face.
– That isn’t the worst yet! You won’t wake up from this dream even if you regain awareness. And it doesn’t end even when you manage to get out of that scene! The premise of this dream is ‘looping’. If you get through that phase of your dream, you’ll have to go through an infinite loop again at the next phase, and after you pass another phase, you’ll get caught in an infinite loop. That’s~ when your head hurts to death.
– Is there any way out?
– Well, I suppose so. You need to clear all the phases. Since your memory serves as a framework for your dream, the dream will break when the Grimoire runs out of hallucinations to create.
If Miller’s words were correct, then this would be the “first phase.”
The clearing condition was probably…
‘…to stop Renee from leaving through that door.’
In the first round, Renee staggered toward the door, held out her hand and said.
“I’ll be back.”
She said, making a promise that she would never keep.
Vera felt his mind being shaken again as he witnessed that scene. He forcefully bit down, tearing his lips apart to regain his composure.
He did that and said, “Hold… on.”
Renee stopped. She looked back and asked, tilting her head.
Her burn marks crinkled up following her clear voice.
Vera’s eyes trembled watching her.
The smile he hadn’t seen in a while, and the light that did not wane even in this dreadful den, all evoked some sense of nostalgia into him.
He should have said something, but the instant he recognized that voice and smile, all thoughts vanished.
As his mind lapsed, Miller’s words so full of life sounded like a mockery.
– Well, to put it simply, it’s practically impossible. The Grimoire doesn’t just trigger trauma.
– What do you mean?
– It’s a hallucination which you cannot escape from even when you regain awareness. It was made that way. Your inner weakness within the hallucination will be triggered the instant you recognize it as a hallucination and want to run away. So even though you are aware that this is a dream, you won’t be able to wake up, and wish to stay there forever.
He was positive that nothing could have better described his situation than that.
– It may show a person’s greatest desire as well as their most agonizing regrets. As if saying ‘you can achieve your desire in this dream’.
“I’ll leave now if you have nothing else to say.”
Renee’s words rang out.
With a face that was completely broken, Vera stood up, rushing towards her like a child looking for his mother. He grabbed her wrist.
A look of surprise crossed Renee’s face as she stopped dead in her tracks.
Just as Vera was about to say something…
“Are you able to get up now?”
Renee said in a voice that seemed to contain the whole world, as if she had experienced unfathomable joy.
“Look at that. I told you that you’d be able to get up, right?”
A bright smile rose over the jagged burn marks. Renee, who slowly stretched out her hand, touched Vera’s hand.
The rugged texture of her hand and her laughter, reminiscent of pearls rolling around, rendered Vera breathless, causing him to grimace and involuntarily nod.
In a shack that might cave in at any moment. In a place where there were only a few piles of rotten garbage, Vera gazed at Renee.
She continued to pray while leaning back in the same spot as always, holding her rosary tightly in her hand.
It really made Vera feel like he was back at that moment.
Vera urged himself.
It’s not the time to do this. I have to get through to the next phase quickly.
He had those thoughts.
“…Are you not hungry?”
Unable to find a way to get rid of the hallucination before him, Vera just crumpled his expression.
He spoke informally. He did so because there was a desire to not acknowledge her, and to say it was all hallucinations.
However, saying that instead made Vera feel nostalgic, as if he had returned to that time.
Renee adjusted herself on her seat before turning her head to Vera.
“You said you could stand up now, but don’t push yourself just yet. You can fully recuperate if you eat and sleep well. So, please let me know if you’re hungry.”
…She spoke softly as if trying to soothe him.
Vera inadvertently felt his anger rising and snapped.
“…Don’t imitate her.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are the evil thoughts of the Dream Demon. The worst kind of trash. I’m saying you should at least be able to discern the extent that the likes of you can try to imitate her.”
He glared at Renee as if he was going to kill her.
At his words, Renee burst out laughing and said.
“Oh, did you have a dream like that? Gosh… what a terrifying dream it must be.”
She opened her arms wide.
“Come here. Let me comfort you. The scary dream is no longer here.”
“Swearing is not good. Words are a reflection of one’s behavior. If you keep saying bad things like that, your personality might worsen.”
“Shut up. Talk more and I will tear you apart.”
“Would you like to give that a try?”
Renee asked, tilting her head. The crinkled up burn marks formed a smile that was unmistakably hers.
“Come to think of it, you said that you’d slap my cheek when you’re able to stand up. I guess now is your chance.”
Renee stood up and slowly approached Vera. Vera’s body stiffened.
“Here, do it. To you, who is able to get up, I will gladly offer my body.”
Vera stopped breathing. His eyes widened.
He clenched his fist. It was an action he attempted in response to the impudent Dream Demon, but…
He couldn’t do that.
All he could do was scream profanity out of fear.
Vera’s expression crumpled.
Renee’s smile deepened upon seeing that, then nodded.
“Let me know if you ever change your mind.”
Those were also words the version of her in his memory would say.
Vera bit his lips, trying hard to ignore it.
He lost track of how much time had passed.
All Vera did was stand firm and ignore her.
“How are you feeling today?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Who else would be worried for you if not me?”
“Shut up, whore.”
“Oh my, am I allowed to do that even with this body?”
“You’re not mistaken. If you think about it, it’s a life that is surviving by living off others.”
The hallucination was exactly like her in his memory.
Her soft tone, not skipping even a beat with her speech, and the smile that never faded in the midst of it all. It was exactly the same Renee as Vera remembered.
Vera couldn’t possibly admit it, so he asked in a fit of anger.
“What’s the next phase?”
“I’m not sure what you’re asking.”
“Don’t play innocent with me. Aren’t you going to devour me again? I’m telling you to try everything. I’ll trample on them all, get up and leave this place.”
“Mhm, that’s a good determination. Life is about overcoming the storms coming your way and standing on your own.”
His anger burst out.
He was furious with himself, who felt nostalgia in those words.
Vera clenched his fist before adding.
“You hideous thing.”
“If you’re talking about my looks, as I said the other day, people used to stare at me in admiration before my body got into this state…”
Vera banged his fist on the ground before screaming angrily.
“I told you to shut up!”
“I don’t want to.”
At that, Renee’s smile grew wider.
“How can I keep quiet while you’re talking so passionately?”
Vera’s expression trembled. Immediately after, he gnawed on his lips and spoke in a restrained voice.
“…I’m not doing this for you, bitch.”
“Yes, I can see that. You’re doing that in order to hold onto your will to live.”
Renee spoke, put her hand over her mouth, and added with a giggle.
“Since you’ve put so much effort into regaining your strength and recovering, I will pray that you use that life meaningfully.”
“I will do so without you telling me, bitch.”
Vera snapped, glaring threateningly at Renee before muttering.
“You know? I made an oath to the actual Saint, not you, that I would become good. I have lived while suppressing all evil thoughts and have barely made it this far. I am preparing to finally approach that light.”
Vera didn’t even know why he was telling this to her.
He probably wanted to tell the illusion that he wasn’t shaken.
He probably wanted to say that her words meant nothing because he was already living for the real Renee.
However, amidst all that, what was certain was that Vera, who was speaking right now, felt a suffocating sensation in his throat.
“I am preparing to approach it. Even someone like me can become a righteous person because the Saint is here, believing in me and my ability to live that way. So, I will go back. I will return to the Saint and prove that you are nothing but an illusion.”
Funnily enough, Vera was able to tell her things that he couldn’t tell Renee.
That was Vera’s mistake.
Those were words that he should never have spoken.
The reaction she made upon hearing this, and the words she spouted with a smile that crinkled up her burn marks was…
“I’m very happy for you.”
Her words shook Vera even harder.
“If it’s you, I think it’s possible. Then, from today onwards, I guess I’ll pray for that?”
Vera was led to believe by what she said that ‘perhaps’ it wasn’t an illusion, and that he might actually be encountering Renee from his past life. He had such thoughts because of those remarks.