༺ Cradle (1) ༻
The next morning.
Renee ripped the tent open and emerged.
As she staggered out of the torn tent, Renee had an appearance reminiscent of a lunatic.
The white sword in her hand trembled violently. A crazed smile hung over her reddened face.
Her cry felt like the howl of a savage demonic beast.
Of course, this reaction was because she remembered every bit of her ugly behavior from the previous day.
Renee screamed internally, unable to push away the hangover that made her sick to her stomach.
‘This crazy person!’
Why did she end up drinking so much!? Why did she throw herself at Vera like that!?
No, throwing herself at Vera was one thing! But what were those cute sounds she was trying to make!? Why did she put divinity into the alcohol bottle!?
Renee wanted to cry.
She wanted to pretend that the events of the previous day had never happened.
She wanted to rip apart her drunken self from the day before, who had so much fun pointing out Rohan’s behavior with Vera that she ended up drinking too much.
For the first time in a while, Renee was trembling in place, feeling the need for the power to turn back time.
‘How am I going to see Vera…’
Of course, she was blind and couldn’t actually see, but wasn’t there something called an idiom?
Renee wasn’t ready yet to act so shamelessly in front of Vera after causing such an ugly scene the day before.
Another thought came to mind.
‘…Should I pretend not to remember?’
She could say to Vera, ‘Ugh, I was so drunk, I don’t remember anything from last night. What happened?’ while playing innocent.
If she playfully pinched Vera’s side while saying that, wouldn’t he turn a blind eye to what happened the day before?
It seemed like a pretty good idea.
Having made up her mind, Renee tapped the floor with her cane.
Divinity spread from the tip of the cane, enveloping the village. She could feel the orcs, who were taking care of their respective weapons and preparing for the ceremony. She felt the twins, Miller, and Norn in one place. Hela was brushing Aisha’s hair, and finally Vera…
“Saint, did you cough?”
…was right behind her.
Renee’s body jumped like a freshly caught fish.
A scream leaked out.
In an instant, Renee spun around and lost her balance, and Vera quickly came to support her.
“You need to be careful.”
Vera’s words were delivered with an indifferent tone as if it was no big deal.
At this, Renee felt like her face was burning and nodded her head. All the while, she observed Vera’s mood.
‘…I-Is he pretending not to know?’
Is he going to overlook what happened the previous day?
There was no apparent change in his emotions, nor did he seem like he was about to say something.
Renee felt a glimmer of hope starting to rise within her.
‘Please, let’s move on!’
Nothing happened yesterday!
…Just as she thought that, Vera let out a sigh.
Vera saw that and opened his mouth.
“Saint, is there something you want to say?”
His demeanor as he spoke was stern, more so than she had ever seen before.
It was as if he was saying, ‘I’m about to scold you now.’
Renee felt cold sweat trickling down her face. Amidst all this, memories of yesterday flashed through her mind, filling her with shame.
“Uh, did something happen yesterday…”
She tried to act innocent and dragged her words out, but it didn’t work on Vera.
“It’s really time for you to be reprimanded this time. I’ve been thinking, perhaps I’ve been overly indulging you for too long. Seeing someone who hasn’t even had their coming of age ceremony behave like that, and not even feeling a hint of hesitation, I felt utterly dismayed.”
Each word from Vera felt like a stab to Renee’s heart.
It was as if the dagger of a skilled assassin had struck her.
Renee subtly approached Vera, grabbed onto his collar and said.
“I-I was just caught up in the atmosphere…”
Her voice was slowly losing its power, becoming despondent, as she muttered and spoke unclearly.
It was an attempt to convey her embarrassment and to ask him to stop, but it didn’t come across well to Vera.
In the midst of all this, Vera’s eyes became tired, and he reached out his hand with the thought that Renee, who showed no signs of remorse, was being rather cheeky.
He placed his hand on Renee’s left cheek, slightly pinching and stretching it out.
“Are you sure that’s what you should be saying?”
He did an action he wouldn’t normally do, and his words were filled with the intention that he wasn’t going to let it slide this time.
Renee replied with a face that seemed like she was about to cry at any moment.
Her response came out that way because of her cheek, which was being stretched and squished.
After a storm of scolding had swept over Renee, she received assistance in dressing up from Hela, who arrived late. When Renee reached the center of the village, Valak began his speech with a loud and energetic voice.
“Today is the day of the ceremony! Are our people ready!?”
His voice was soaked with a fighting aura.
The orcs responded with a roar of ‘Woooooo!!!’.
Miller, still tipsy, mumbled in a dying voice.
“Are they going without any preparations…”
His voice was filled with disbelief.
From Miller’s perspective, it was natural.
They were heading to the most notorious and forbidden location on the continent.
It was the Land of the Dead, where none who ventured emerged unscathed.
There’s no sorcery, at least not with primitive spells or mystical aid. Are they just going there to pick a fight?
‘How in the world do these people cross through there?’
As his curiosity grew, such thoughts started to rise in Miller’s mind.
‘Are they alive because they don’t think? Is the Cradle of the Dead a place only idiots can pass through?’
Upon reflection, it was quite a plausible speculation.
If that were true, he thought the twins wouldn’t need to worry about safety.
Meanwhile, after finishing his speech, Valak approached the group.
“Strong ones! And less strong ones! Are you ready!”
Valak’s face showed an absolute fighting spirit, a fierce expression ready to throw a punch at a moment’s notice, yet also one filled with glee.
Feeling himself shrink back at that sight, Miller asked Valak.
“Um, I’m asking this for the second time, but are we really going in without any preparations? It’s the Cradle of the Dead. Is there a way for us to come out unscathed?”
Miller had a reason to ask this, to gain reassurance.
Why wouldn’t he? Hadn’t he told the group himself to accept the orc’s help? This situation was his own doing.
If anything were to go wrong, it would be his responsibility. Thus, Miller had to analyze the situation more closely than anyone else in the group.
Valak burst out laughing at Miller’s serious face and responded.
“Just go and come back! You can come out if you prove your fighting aura!”
It was the same answer as before.
Miller’s eyes narrowed.
“How do we prove our fighting aura?”
Since this phrase kept coming up, it must be the key point. Miller asked because he couldn’t quite grasp the meaning.
“A competition of superiority against strong undead! Get undead’s acknowledgment! If you do that, King of the Dead turns a blind eye!”
At Valak’s answer, Miller’s eyes widened greatly.
‘This is what I thought!’
The speculation about finding a way to survive and escape from the Cradle of the Dead by seeking permission from Maleus had turned out to be correct, and that realization prompted his reaction.
Only then did Miller nod in satisfaction.
“Thank you for the answer.”
Valak nodded his head greatly, constantly twitching his already restless body.
This time he turned towards Vera.
“Ah! Strong one must remember as well! You must fight strong undead! As strong as strong one, or even stronger, you must prove yourself!”
Caught off guard by being singled out, Vera questioned him.
“Do you mean me?”
“Exactly! You can’t prove anything by fighting weak undead! You have to choose your opponent wisely!”
An undead as strong as himself.
Funnily enough, the first thought that came to Vera’s mind the moment he heard those words was.
“…Will there be such an undead?”
It was a question of whether an undead as powerful as him could exist.
It might sound arrogant, but Vera had more than enough reasoning to think so.
Who knew his own power better than himself?
Vera was aware. Except for the part regarding his utilization of intent, his strength was at a level where no one could defeat him, unless Vargo personally retaliated.
Even if someone as strong as a Commander of the Demon King’s army were to come, he might struggle, but in the end, he would win.
If he were to fight directly with the ancient species Maleus, that might be a different matter, but Valak’s concept of proving oneself wouldn’t be that difficult.
This was the conclusion Vera had drawn after considering various factors.
Upon hearing Vera’s self-confidence, Valak burst into a huge laugh and responded.
It was a reply as if to crush Vera’s self-confidence.
“Wraith Knight of Cradle! One of them just as strong… no, in some ways, even stronger than strong one!”
Valak’s smile deepened.
“I know because I’ve met them!”
He seemed to be reliving that moment, his words laced with a fighting spirit bordering on madness.
“The strongest of any I’ve ever met in my life! Valak has yet to defeat this strong one! The Wraith Knight’s sword made Valak feel fear! Valak is certain! Even this strong one will struggle if he meets the Wraith Knight!”
His voice was unwavering.
Upon hearing this, Vera’s expression hardened a bit. It was a reaction that could be described as both surprise and tension.
Valak felt a sense of expectation at this sight.
‘I want to see!’
He wanted to see the scene of the strong one fighting against the Wraith Knight.
He had an odd belief that witnessing it would take his own fighting aura to the next level.
Valak thought to himself.
Maybe his fighting aura, which had yet to be fully realized, might be completed in this upcoming ceremony.
Immediately after the speech, the orcs and the group moved unhesitatingly toward the Cradle.
After an hour of riding horses to the east, they arrived at the entrance to the Cradle.
While there were no other landmarks, castle walls or gates, no one was unable to recognize that this was the entrance to the Cradle.
That was because the boundary of the Cradle starkly contrasted with the Geinex Plains.
“The landscape changes color three steps ahead. The vibrant grass and trees abruptly wither and die beyond that boundary. The ground is black, and the sky is ashen. If you focus, you can see the undead wandering around. A landscape truly fitting of the name ‘Land of the Dead.’”
After giving the explanation, Vera felt Renee’s hand tighten with tension and reassured her.
“There’s no need to worry. I will protect you without fail, Saint.”
Renee nodded slightly, showing her agreement with Vera’s words. But despite this, she couldn’t help but feel worried.
It was because of what Valak had said before they left.
-Wraith Knight of Cradle! One of them just as strong… no, in some ways, even stronger than strong one!
The Death Knight, who had been designated as the opponent Vera would have to fight to ‘prove’ himself.
Thoughts related to that kept bothering her and made her feel anxious.
Of course, since their goal was Maleus, and they needed to get the ‘Crown’ from him, they might not encounter the Death Knight. However, the world doesn’t always work as planned.
There was a possibility that Vera might have to fight the Death Knight.
Finally, Renee opened her mouth.
“If you end up fighting that Death Knight…”
However, she couldn’t finish her sentence.
How should I say it? How should I put my feelings and this anxiety into words?
It was because of such thoughts.
Fortunately, Vera understood what Renee was worried about and was able to provide an answer.
A small smile appeared on Vera’s lips.
“There’s no need to worry.”
Vera lifted his head slightly and answered, feeling a strange warmth within at the sight of Renee’s gaze on him.
It was a response filled with a firm belief in himself and stained with a burning desire to win.
“The Saint seems to have forgotten.”
“What I do best. Haven’t I told you?”
Renee’s mouth fell open slightly.
Vera saw this and answered.
“I’m more confident in my swordsmanship than anything else in the world.”
Their held hands had unconsciously formed into interlocked fingers.
“Now, let’s go.”
As Renee felt Vera’s fingers intertwine between hers, she blushed slightly with a foolish lovestruck look on her face.
A thought came to her mind.
For some reason, these small gestures from Vera gave her a stronger sense of faith than all of the oaths and vows he had made up until this point.