༺ Divergence (2) ༻
That was the first question that came to Vera’s mind when he narrowed down the suspect.
If it really was Renee from my first life who distorted my memories, then what was her reason?
Was her compassion and nobility a lie, after all? What have I become under its influence?
He lost his balance as the dizziness took over.
Vera began slumping down against the wall that he was leaning on.
He was consumed by the fear that everything he knew might be false.
An overwhelming despair washed over him at the thought that his whole existence and the path he took was rendered meaningless.
Vera, who fell in a heap, swept down his scruffy face.
Renee spoke up.
Renee knelt to match his gaze, then gently wrapped her arms around his head to pull him into her embrace.
Her gesture made him shake violently.
Clenching her teeth, Renee gently caressed the back of his head.
She spoke afterwards.
“Calm down. Now, breathe slowly. Pheww…”
The words were spoken in a soothing tone, as if to calm a raging beast.
No, it wasn’t a stretch to say that about what Renee did at this moment.
Vera’s flickering blurred vision and the roughness of his breath and heartbeat made her think that Vera might truly collapse if she left him alone.
“It’s all right. I’m here.”
She didn’t know how Vera felt.
Renee didn’t know what it was like when a belief he took as gospel shattered to pieces, knowing that the culprit was the most important person to him.
So, Renee just embraced him in her arms.
She did it because she knew that there was a time when such warmth was worth more than a hundred awkward words of consolation.
“I’m here. You’re fine. Breathe in… breathe out… good, well done.”
A slight relief came out when Vera began to catch his breath, so Renee added.
“Nothing is certain yet, right? Calm down, and let’s slowly think about it together. I’m right by your side. Vera doesn’t have to worry alone.”
Out of the blue, he found a secret hidden in an unexpected form. How deeply would it have wounded his heart?
Even her heart was throbbing over how much she could feel his anguish just being near him, so she couldn’t fathom how much worse it was for him.
Renee leaned her cheek over his head while stroking the back of his head and said.
“We’ll figure out something if we think about it together. So let’s calm down and think about it slowly, okay?”
Vera felt his breath catch in his throat at Renee’s words. Trembling, he gave her a small nod.
Renee’s words and warmth had placated the mind that fell into shambles due to the shocking truth.
Vera closed his eyes tightly and reached out to embrace Renee. For the first time in his life, Vera was clinging to someone.
But he didn’t even realize it.
He just felt grateful that there was someone who would hug him so warmly and stick by his side that he couldn’t bear to think about anything else.
It was funny that Renee consoled him for the mayhem caused by another Renee, but that wasn’t important to Vera at this moment.
No, it would be correct to say that Vera had already distinguished between Renee from the first and second life at this point.
Vera couldn’t utter anything for a long time. Instead, he sniffled as he buried his head in Renee’s arms.
After quelling his raging emotions and removing himself from Renee, Vera found himself blushing due to the shame that only hit him afterwards.
“…I’ve shown you my ugly side.”
It was something he finally said upon realizing that he clung to Renee like a child.
Renee flinched and shook her head side to side.
“Not at all! It’s understandable! Yes! I was surprised too!”
When Renee, who felt oddly comfortable when she embraced Vera, answered in a bashful manner which didn’t suit the mood, Vera cracked a little smile.
Remembering that her words helped him recover from the verge of falling apart, a smile just naturally emerged.
‘…That’s right. Nothing is certain yet.’
Vera pulled himself together again.
Despite the lingering uncertainty about why Renee of the first life had tampered with his mind and manipulated the circumstances surrounding her actions, Vera didn’t want to lose his faith in her.
Even if there were still certain aspects of this situation that he wasn’t sure about, he didn’t want to harbor any doubts about the person who had shown him such kindness.
Knowing how awful and depressing it was to live in constant doubt, he knew the importance of holding onto whatever thread of faith was left.
Now, he understood the importance of faith between two people.
Vera calmed himself down and said.
“I’m sorry. I thought I could use the knowledge from the first life to be a great help to you… but I think it’ll be difficult now.”
“Huh? Ah, it’s not a big deal. Forget about that.”
Renee waved her hands and added.
“From what I’ve heard, it has been useless since we left the Holy Kingdom, so what’s the use of apologizing this late?”
She said in a bubbly tone to lift up the mood, but the phrase ‘It has been useless’ seemed to stab Vera in the heart.
Vera’s eyes narrowed.
What followed was a sullen face.
“…It’s not that useless.”
He let out a protest.
He wasn’t just saying it.
To be fair, the knowledge from the first life was proven to be really useful. Whether it was information about the Demon King, many regions, and everything pertaining to the Empire had all produced such positive outcomes. At least, that’s what Vera thought.
Renee, who just noticed the bitterness in his words, exclaimed ‘oh my!’ inwardly before nodding her head.
“Right! I made a mistake! Um, I made a slip of the tongue!”
Feeling relieved, she blurted out her words too hastily.
With that in mind, Renee thought about breaking the awkward mood by swiftly changing the subject.
“C-Come to think of it. The fact that your knowledge from the previous life was useful means that your memories aren’t entirely lies, right?!”
She thought ‘screw it’ and blurted those out.
At that, Vera’s eyes grew wide. Then, his face turned a bit grim.
“…I guess you’re right.”
Even his voice was filled with grimness.
On second thought, she made a point.
The knowledge from his past life that could be utilized in the current life simply indicated that his memories weren’t that skewed, only if he left out the key part of his distorted mind, which was about Renee from the first life and the Holy Kingdom.
“…In short, the Saint from the first life only distorted my perception about herself. I guess that’s understandable.”
In other words, the other Renee already knew him, and it probably wasn’t their first meeting either.
He came to such a conclusion.
Renee, who tilted her head, began to nod when she understood what he was saying.
What he said reminded her of something.
“…You know, it makes me think of what Orgus showed me.”
It was about the voice she heard in the vision.
“The me from the first life went to Vera’s territory when she was in the Empire.”
It didn’t cross her mind at that time since it was muted, but looking back, it was definitely the other her who troubled Rohan until he pleaded with her, ‘This is Vera’s territory that we’re talking about, so you mustn’t go there’.
“Maybe the me from the first life approached Vera with knowledge about your existence. If your memory isn’t fully distorted, and assuming that the past Orgus showed me is true, then the parts that were distorted in your memory aren’t very significant…”
“…I can also say that the vision he showed you was unrelated to the distortion of my memories.”
As the mood sank, Renee, who was preoccupied with thinking, blurted out lightly.
“In the previous life, it was publicly known that I died during the battle with the Demon King, right?”
“What if I was really dead at that time? What if the one with burn marks that you met wasn’t me…”
“I can assure that wasn’t the case.”
“Since I swore an oath, the oath I made to her responded similarly to the Saint, so you two are the same person. I think there’s no need to doubt since it has been guaranteed by the power of God.”
I guess the problem won’t be that complicated then.
Renee, who breathed freely again at the thought, nodded, and Vera, who had been watching her, carefully asked a question.
“…Do you have any other thoughts?”
“It was Renee from the previous life, but I figured you’d have similar ways of thinking as her since you’re the Saint herself.”
He basically asked, ‘If it were you, what would be your reason for distorting my mind?’ to her.
Renee broke out in a cold sweat over that and replied bewilderedly.
“I-I don’t know… honestly, our lives are too different that it’s hard to say we’re the same person.”
Weren’t humans essentially animals that were evolved through experience?
How would she know about herself from another iteration when she took a totally different route upon coming to the Holy Kingdom after receiving her Stigma?
Vera let out a small groan at her reply.
Renee searched her mind for an answer, thinking, ‘Should I say anything that could be a hint?’
And that was how Renee came up with a theory that was somewhat off-topic but not too much so.
“..It’s a little sudden, but there’s something I’m skeptical about too.”
“Please say it.”
Vera straightened himself up on his seat.
Renee, who discerned his frame through the cluster of light, swallowed hard before asking Vera a question.
“Vera, I’m talking about the one inside that shack right now.”
“You mean the imaginary Saint from the first life?”
“Yes, do you really think it’s a hallucination? No, is that really the Dream Demon’s thought-form?”
Vera’s brows furrowed.
“…What are you trying to say?”
“Isn’t it a bit strange?”
Now that she brought it up like this, it was indeed strange.
“Vera may not know, but I broke my dream and came out. I’ve already met the Dream Demon.”
She felt a mysterious sense of divergence with that woman. And vividness.
“…Wasn’t it too vivid for the Dream Demon’s thought-form? Wasn’t it extremely self-aware for a hallucination that originated from Vera’s memories?”
Unlike the Dream Demon, who only needed a few slaps on her cheeks to discern its true nature, the Renee in that house was too different.
Even in that fleeting moment, she could sense the vivid outline as if it were actually her.
Vera’s face hardened as he listened to her.
There was something that came to mind.
‘Come to think of it…’
Before Renee came here, that thought-form reacted to his Oath.
He thought it was an illusion caused by the hallucination…
‘…But if it wasn’t the case…’
I need to check.
Vera looked toward the shack with a hand on his chest.
He felt the Oath resonate within him.
A deep confusion hung over his face.
Sitting close to Vera and sensing his demeanor, Renee thought that her conjecture might actually be true and voiced her thoughts.
“Speaking of me from the first life, I’m not sure what it is, but she must have something she wants to accomplish through Vera, right? Since she went as far as even distorting your memories.”
“…I guess so.”
“And I think she made you regress for that reason.”
That aside, it was clear that Orgus was involved in the process.
“…Do you believe that she merely fabricated Vera’s memory and sent you to the second life? The same person who even mobilized Orgus?”
The person who desired something so intensely that she would turn back even time wouldn’t simply stop there.
Yes. If she sealed the memory of the person whom she sent to the past, wouldn’t it be right to create at least a safety measure to ensure that the target who lost his memory went in the way she wanted?
Furthermore, there was something she knew because they were categorically identical.
“…It’s a hallucination inside this grimoire, and she instilled a consciousness in it. If she did this, then surely I can do the same?”
She, the owner of her Stigma, knew best how far she could go through her power.
She could do this.
“…Getting this grimoire to reach Vera is much easier than instilling a consciousness into you.”
Delivering the grimoire infused with the consciousness to Vera was a task as natural as breathing.
Vera’s body grew stiffer.
His eyes started piercing the shack.
Renee squeezed Vera’s hand even more tightly as her conjecture was now confirmed.
“Considering that your mind is distorted and assuming that the other me didn’t lose her power. Wouldn’t it be possible that the thing inside that shack is the thought-form of the real me from the first life?”
To explain the inexplicable sense of divergence that she couldn’t shake off, she attached that reasoning.