༺ Delusional Obsession (1) ༻
About a week after the King’s Palace closed, the sharp and alert atmosphere in the Cradle slowly began to return to its former relaxed atmosphere.
The first reason was that they couldn’t put their lives on hold because they didn’t know how long the palace would remain closed, and the second was the belief of the undead that Maleus would never lose no matter who he faced.
Of course, the front of the palace was not left empty.
As if there were a manual for this kind of situation, the undead had taken turns guarding the front of the palace among themselves.
In the midst of it all, the group was… Unfortunately, all they could do was wait for Maleus to come out, unable to do anything else.
After all, the purpose of coming to the Cradle in the first place was the ‘Crown’ that Maleus had, so they couldn’t go back empty-handed.
As such, what they ended up doing was a repetition of what they had been doing since they came to the Cradle.
[It looks like you have a lot to worry about.]
The entrance of the Old Castle.
Returning to his daily life to some extent, Hodrick said to Vera in front of him.
It was a question that Hodrick asked because he noticed that Vera seemed more disorganized than usual as they continued their sparring.
At that, Vera flinched and then shook his head.
“…That’s not it. I was just slightly distracted.”
[Is it because of His Majesty?]
[So, it is.]
Hodrick sheathed his sword.
[How about taking a break before we continue? You do not need to overexert yourself to awaken your Intention through the sword. In fact, pushing too hard can be a poison. A sword unable to attune to its wielder’s inner world will never reach that realm.]
Hodrick sat down with a clatter and gestured to Vera, who stood dazed, gripping the Holy Sword. The up-and-down hand gesture was Hodrick’s own way of urging people to sit down.
After a brief hesitation, Vera sheathed the Holy Sword and took a seat not far from Hodrick.
“Are you sure about this? If the opponent in there is none other than Alaysia, then…”
[Hmm, perhaps I did not clarify well enough.]
[About the reason why we feel so secure. If I break it down a little bit… First of all, do you remember how I mentioned this is not their first encounter of this sort?]
Vera nodded, recalling the words spoken on the day the palace was sealed off.
Hodrick nodded and continued.
[His Majesty also fought Alaysia before, right here in the Cradle, in this very palace. It occurred around the end of the Age of Gods.]
Vera’s body froze. A look of surprise crossed his face.
[It was the time when Ardain awoke. Hm, referring to the story I heard from Sir Vera, it would be more accurate to say that it was when the ‘Shell of Ardain’ was awakened. In any case, His Majesty and that woman had already fought once back then. The outcome has already been determined, so there’s no reason for concern.]
“Did Maleus win?”
[Wrong. It was a draw. No, it had to be a draw. After all, aren’t Ancient Species unable to harm each other unless they use a very special move? Moreover, both are immortal and perfect beings from birth, so there is no change in superiority due to growth. In other words, we can reasonably expect this fight to end in a draw.]
Vera’s expression relaxed, and he chimed in.
Rather than just saying it to reassure him, what Hodrick had said seemed quite plausible to Vera.
“…If that’s the case, then that’s a good thing.”
[Yes, so do not worry about it too much. All Sir Vera has to do is think about the sword.]
Hodrick’s playful response was tinged with a little laughter.
[So, you also have a lot of trivial worries.]
“Because I am the type of person who thinks that it’s not enough no matter how meticulously I prepare.”
[That is a good habit for a knight, but I think it is bad for someone who wields the sword. Even Sir Vera relies on instincts when wielding the sword, do you not?]
Vera didn’t deny it. However, a vague unease was still lurking beneath the surface.
[Intention is, in essence, a path carved by instinct. In my case, it is a sword shaped by the regrets I could not erase in life, which then became my Intention after death. So consider how Sir Vera’s path is engraved in your instincts.]
“…I’m aware of that already.”
“The direction in which I will wield my sword–I already know that much.”
Vera’s eyes remained fixed on the ground. Hovering over his face was a very tranquil look of deep contemplation.
“I’ve already made my decision. Before coming here… From the moment the oath was engraved in my heart, I’ve been set on my path.”
Slowly, Vera’s hand moved to rest over his heart.
As a former Apostle of Oath, Hodrick knew all too well what that meant.
[…That is a good thing. It is a blessing to have unwavering convictions.]
“Yes, indeed it is… But my frustration lies in not being able to progress with Intention even though I am aware of my path.”
[Then there is only one reason for that.]
Vera’s head snapped up.
Hodrick guffawed at Vera’s appearance and continued.
[The approach is wrong, Sir Vera. You only have your eyes on the destination, but you are not clear on your journey to get there.]
Vera frowned his eyebrows slightly. He couldn’t understand the intent behind Hodrick’s words.
Hodrick laughed broadly and added just one more word to Vera before getting up.
[Ask yourself the question ‘why’. It would be a good way to ask fundamental questions about the path you want to take and the destination.]
Hodrick drew his sword.
[Now that we’ve had our rest, shall we try again?]
Vera thought about Hodrick’s words for a moment, then nodded and stood up.
The ensuing sparring match ended in Vera’s defeat once again.
After sparring with Vera, Hodrick stood alone in front of the castle gate and looked at his hands tightly wrapped in black gauntlets.
As he repeatedly clasped and unclasped his hands, the sparring with Vera replayed in his mind.
‘At this rate…’
Won’t Vera fully awaken his intention soon?
As he reviewed the sparring, Hodrick laughed at that conclusion.
He was incredibly fast. He was also clever.
In contrast to his own stupid self, Vera was able to realize ten words with only one word.
He knew the virtue of prudence, worthy of the name Apostle of Oath.
Besides, hadn’t he already made a single oath to carry with him throughout his life?
While Hodrick was thinking that Vera might indeed be better suited to being an Apostle than he was, the sound of small footsteps approached the castle gate.
Hodrick spoke as he continued to look at his hands.
[You are here, Young Lady. Did you eat well?]
It was a question he asked, already knowing whose footsteps they were.
At that, Jenny’s shoulders jerked, and soon a pouty emerged.
[Did I not tell you to spread your power a little thinner to hide your presence?]
[It will gradually get better.]
Only then did Hodrick turn his head to look at Jenny.
[Are you not playing with the Saint today?]
“No… Sister said she has a meeting.”
[Why not join them? Young Lady is also an Apostle, so there is no reason not to join.]
“…No, I am a person of the Cradle.”
Jenny approached Hodrick. Quietly, she reached out and tapped the sword hanging from Hodrick’s waist.
At her appearance, Hodrick felt a worry in his heart.
[…Young Lady, as I always told said. You must also go out into the world one day. This is not a land for the living.]
“Then I’ll di…”
[Do you want to be scolded?]
Jenny’s body trembled slightly.
Immediately after that, Jenny became more sullen and lowered her head. Hodrick felt his nonexistent lungs get stuffy at that.
He felt so sorry for this poor child who was abandoned as an infant at the entrance of the Cradle. A shy child who had lived all her life with the undead without warmth.
Hodrick did not want her to spend her entire life here.
So he turned to Jenny and knelt down to be at eye level with her.
[…There is a bigger world beyond the Cradle. If you go out there, you will be able to see and experience many of the things you have only heard about in stories. Are you not curious about that, Young Lady?]
Jenny shook her head without thinking at Hodrick’s words.
“I’m not curious.”
“Outside, there is no His Majesty, no Master, no Kiki, no Toby…”
Hodrick’s long words were answered in the same way this time.
Hodrick was both grateful and saddened by Jenny’s caring heart for him and the Cradle. Once again, he chose not to push further and concluded his words.
[…Fine, it is not something urgent.]
Jenny looked at Hodrick, then smiled shyly and nodded.
Hodrick’s shoulders trembled. On the outside, all she did was smile.
However, Hodrick knew.
The reason why his heart felt weak at the sight of this white and cute smile was because it was so similar to the smile of someone he couldn’t protect.
So when he stood in front of Jenny, his own lingering feelings boiled over.
Hodrick pushed away the rising sorrow and instead spent time with Jenny.
A pitch black space.
Maleus, now one body with the underworld, continued to crush Alaysia.
However, that didn’t extinguish Alaysia.
It was an obvious and also familiar thing.
“How long are you going to stay like this?”
Alaysia, who kept getting crushed and regenerated, asked.
Maleus responded to that with a sarcastic tone.
[Well, I guess I’ll stop when you’re all crushed up and dead.]
“You know it won’t work. We can’t kill each other. That’s why Locrion and Nar are still fighting.”
[It is not like there is no way. If I use the same method you did to kill Ardain.]
“Aru isn’t dead.”
[Oh, right. He is not dead. Because of you, bitch, he was ripped apart to the point we could no longer call him Ardain. I forgot that.]
The words he uttered as he laughed were full of mockery and condemnation towards Alaysia.
Maleus looked at Alaysia, whose entire body was once again crushed, and continued.
[Really… I do not know what the Parent was thinking, keeping a whore like you alive.]
“Because I didn’t do anything wrong? And because I’m loved?”
Maleus’ face crumpled as Alaysia, who had quickly repaired her face, replied.
[It is very unfortunate that the good harvest in this Cradle is only your bullshit.]
“Eww, you’re like a grandpa. It’s no fun at all.”
Alaysia’s face was crushed again.
Maleus clicked his tongue and continued to condemn Alaysia.
[It is so disgusting to face a delusional obsession that doesn’t know how to give up. How many times do you have to fail before you give up?]
“I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never failed.”
[Ah, you have been unable to tell success from failure because you are an idiot, huh? Did you forget that you have never once succeeded in your life?]
“Stupid Maleus can’t tell the difference between success and failure.”
“And I thought your toy is the one with the delusional obsession, not me?”
Maleus wasn’t stupid enough not to realize that the toy she was talking about was the Wraith under his control.
The darkness deepened. The pressure on the space had become even more intense than before.
[Is this how you use Ardain’s legacy?]
What came out was an angry roar.
In response to that, Alaysia answered with her mouth wide open.
“Your toy is laughably easy to manipulate. Just a little influence, and it started changing. It’s so funny. I can’t believe how it can’t overcome me, even after all these rewinds.”
Alaysia laughed for a long time, then let out a long breath with such words.
“Huu… It’s too bad I didn’t get the Crown, but at least you made it easier for me to deal with that child. At their current level, they’ll never beat your toy.”
Alaysia was crushed once again.
Then, Maleus declared.
[No matter what you do, nothing will go your way, you bitch.]
His words were both a curse aimed at Alaysia, and a firm belief that his friend would not fall.
About ten days after the sealing of the palace, the endless power struggle between the two transcendents had once again come to an end.