༺ Cradle (3) ༻
Renee thought to herself.
I can’t seem to get used to the voices that enter my head instead of my ears, no matter how much I try.
[Such a beautiful child has come.]
It was a gloomy echo, but an echo with a hint of warmth nonetheless.
It was the voice of the Undead Wizard Lich.
Even though the echo didn’t have a discernible gender, she strongly felt that it belonged to a woman. Could this also be considered a mystery?
Renee absentmindedly pondered such thoughts while greeting the Lich.
[Yes, it appears a baby has come here to try and prove herself.]
The replying voice had a particularly gentle tone.
‘She’s very kind.’
Renee felt the same thought that had been floating in her mind since she entered the Cradle of the Dead resurface.
‘Why is this place forbidden?’
No matter how much she thought about it, there didn’t seem to be any reason for the Cradle of the Dead to be labeled as ‘forbidden’.
Wasn’t that right? The undead were kind. Even though they had to fight for proof, they did so in moderation. Also, there were no threats like sudden curses or disasters.
In other words, there was no reason to call it forbidden, no matter how one looked at it.
Renee, unable to resolve this question, asked the Lich.
“Excuse me, grandmother? Oh, can I call you that?”
[What reason is there not to? Call me as you like.]
“Thank you. There’s just something that I wanted to ask.”
[What are you curious about?]
“Why is the Cradle of the Dead forbidden? I’m not sure if you know, but on the continent, it’s widely accepted that not a single person has ever entered here and come out unscathed.”
It could be seen as a rude question, but Renee had a strange feeling that the Lich would happily answer this question.
Her intuition wasn’t wrong. The Lich answered Renee with an eerie echo unique to the undead.
[Because they chose the calamity that befell them on their own.]
It was a somewhat vague statement.
Renee tilted her head slightly. Out of Renee’s sight, the Lich, with a ghostly light swaying in her eye sockets, added more.
[Kindness is not always returned with kindness. Even more so when that kindness comes from the undead like us. Our kindness must have been an unexpected fortune to the greedy ones who’ve come this far. They could take what they wanted without threats. But sadly, we’re not generous enough to tolerate those who have broken our trust.]
A surprised expression formed on Renee’s face as she belatedly understood the Lich’s words.
‘Come to think of it…’
A thought occurred to her.
Those who had come all the way to the Cradle of the Dead each had their own purposes. Some sought treasure, while others sought the knowledge within this place.
However, all of them violated the Cradle’s only rule, ‘Do not take out what you have obtained here.’
“Um… Well, I’m sorry about that.”
The apology came with an awkward smile.
She felt like humans might be seen as a despicable and wicked race by the undead.
At Renee’s demeanor, the Lich laughed softly and responded.
[I can roughly understand what you are thinking. There’s no need to worry. We were once human as well, so there’s no reason for us to not understand.]
The Lich was in a good mood.
Thus, she felt the urge to give this lovely girl some additional advice.
[Bear in mind. The Cradle is a land of regret. It is also a land where the past that needs to be let go lingers. So when you leave this place, you must let go of all your regrets and lingering attachments.]
“Yes, I’ll keep that in mind.”
As the Lich laughed heartily at Renee’s determined answer, she calmed her laughter and continued her words.
[Well, that’s enough small talk. Shall we proceed with the proof? Shall we see if you are worthy of being a guest of the Cradle?]
The Lich tapped the floor with the staff she was holding.
At the same time, the mana around them pulsated.
The phenomenon was akin to ripples forming on a lake.
Feeling a sudden tension from that, Renee concentrated all of her senses on the wave of mana that was being transmitted.
[Yes, this will be a good start.]
With a sweep of her skeletal hand, the rippling wave became a storm that began to sweep Renee.
Thorns the size of a child’s body sprouted from the black storm, spiraling around Renee, then split into dozens, then hundreds.
In an instant, hundreds of split thorns rained down upon Renee.
The sheer intensity of the wave of mana sent chills down Renee’s spine. Yet, her expression remained firm as she evoked her divinity.
She couldn’t see, but she could feel.
The flow of mana and the structure of the spell.
Their direction, and their aim. As well as their weaknesses.
All of the non-visual information wasn’t frightening at all to Renee.
Renee struck the floor with her cane which was imbued with divinity.
She felt the surrounding landscape, her companions watching her from a distance, and the Lich swinging her hand ten steps ahead.
Renee began to weave the unleashed divinity into a spell.
A pure white blessing rose from the ground and enveloped Renee.
With very soft sounds, the thorns struck the blessing.
‘It’s assassination magic.’
The sound of the thorns impacting the shield was eerily quiet, their presence hardly noticeable. However, each hit conveyed a force that was far from subtle.
Renee quickly grasped the nature of the spell the Lich had cast and wove a new spell within her blessing.
‘She said it was just a ‘start’.’
This is nothing, then.
In that case, it would be better to put more power into the attack rather than just counterattacking with a spell of the same level.
She weaved a spell in her open palm.
A white dot moved to form a line, and that line dashed out to form a flat plane.
It was a technique necessary for her to cast an intermediate spell.
Still, it wasn’t enough.
If the Cradle’s Proof required one to fight against an ‘opponent of a similar level’, then the Lich would also be able to use advanced spells just like her.
Having finished her thoughts, Renee didn’t simply launch the spell as it was. She layered five more spells on top and began to assemble them.
The end result was a hexahedron mass of divinity.
Renee threw it to the ground.
Divinity exploded from the ground, taking on the form of a wave.
As the black storm and the white wave clashed, the wave grew in size.
The wave, overtaking the storm, began to devour it like a starving demon.
Advanced Divine Arts [Spatial Domination].
In addition to being the inspiration for Vera’s power [Sanctuary] long ago, it became the basis for the next spell that Renee was trying to use.
Renee stretched out her hand, firmly grabbing the air in front of her, and began shaping the surging divinity.
At that moment, the Lich swung her hand once again.
In a tone as if praising a child’s ingenuity, she began to dispel the spell Renee had woven as if it was no big deal.
The black storm became clear once again. From where the storm and the wave overlapped, the mana from both mixed like paint and turned into gray mana.
It was an uncontrollable mana.
[My dear, you’ve never fought a wizard before, have you?]
The Lich laughed.
[Did you know? The battle of wizards is decided by who can use the most ‘force’. They cause phenomena that should not occur and argue ‘I caused the real phenomenon’, and ‘You’re a liar’. It’s like… yes, in the end, it’s like children bickering.]
For the first time, the Lich raised her staff.
She began to channel mana into the orb at the end of her staff, conjuring an ominous darkness within.
[In grown-up terms, it can be said to be a very, very boring power struggle. Wizards have such weak bodies that the moment the phenomenon manifests, the victor has been decided. The conclusion is that the key is to nullify the opponent’s spell before it’s completed and somehow complete your own.]
The gray area where mana and divinity collided began to boil as if it would explode at any moment.
[Now, shall we try again?]
When the Lich struck the floor with her staff, the gray area was instantly dyed with darkness. It didn’t end there. The white wave that Renee had manifested began to turn black and started spiraling out of Renee’s control.
Renee’s shoulders shook, and her mouth opened wide.
It was practically an advanced spell. Moreover, it was a spell that covered all the existing mana with divinity and made itself bigger.
But, why did she lose control so easily?
Renee was shaken, but eventually found her answer in the Lich’s words.
‘…Because grandma evoked her spell first.’
She had to interrupt the spell and end the fight immediately.
Since the spells were connected to the phenomenon that the Lich caused first, it would take more mental energy for Renee to control.
So technically, she had lost in a battle of skill.
‘I need to start over.’
Renee clenched her teeth.
She delved deeply into the flow of mana that she felt and analyzed it.
‘It’s not a spell.’
It’s not a phenomenon.
They were things that had yet to become and only had the possibility of becoming a phenomenon.
Should these things remain as mere ‘possibilities’, Renee could control them.
Renee unleashed her stigma, interweaving that power with her divinity.
The fatal penalty that prevented her from using her power for her own benefit significantly reduced how much she could draw upon. Yet, even with such a limitation, it was enough. By lifting only a piece of her power, no bigger than a speck of dust, over the enormous divinity, she could disrupt the flow of mana.
She conveyed her wish to the wave she had created herself. Then, an astonishing sight for the Lich and a thrilling one for Renee unfolded.
All of the mana colliding against each other vanished.
Only the ground overturned by the raging mana and divinity was exposed in the empty spot.
The Lich applauded.
Irritated by the Lich’s relaxed attitude, Renee took a deep breath and began to weave her divinity once more.
‘Spatial domination won’t work.’
As the Lich said, it might turn into a fight for control.
The longer the conflict persisted, the more likely she was to be at a disadvantage.
To compensate for her glaring lack of experience compared to the Lich, she had to engage in a battle of firepower rather than allowing the battle to drag on.
Fortunately, there just so happened to be a good spell for this.
Renee quickly assembled her divinity.
A white lance extended long and thin.
It was the [Holy Lance].
As she launched the holy lance, the Lich shrouded herself in a black veil. Renee began to produce more lances, firing them ceaselessly without pause. A white streak followed each lance as they barraged the veil repeatedly, obstructing the Lich’s sight.
In a world dotted with black and white, the Lich felt Renee assembling her divinity again and said.
[Doing such a thing will give you a headache.]
A technique that allowed one to weave two types of spells simultaneously.
The Lich expressed surprise and praise at her attempt, but Renee was unable to focus.
Naturally, it was because of her throbbing headache that felt as if it would burst at any moment.
It was like solving two math problems at the same time. The calculations necessary for the spells were tangled together.
Renee held her breath and focused all her thoughts on spellcasting. At last, while firing a barrage of holy lances, she managed to complete her second spell.
Just as with [Spatial Domination], this was also an advanced spell.
This time, the spell was formulated into a tetrahedron.
Shortly after, Renee infused her cane with divinity and tapped it against the ground to locate the Lich’s position.
‘She still hasn’t moved.’
Fortunately, the Lich hadn’t taken even a step.
Renee grinned, inputted the Lich’s coordinates into the spell, and fired.
The tetrahedron spell suspended before Renee’s chest began to oscillate, sparking white lightning. This reaction occurred as mana was accumulated, compressed, refined into divinity, and then absorbed.
Following a momentary charge, the spell, which seemed about to burst any moment, was unleashed.
Advanced Annihilation Spell [Thunder Call].
The white lightning bolt extended in a straight line, engulfing the Lich’s entirety.