༺ Breakthrough (1) ༻
Inside a quaint room, Jenny was busy stuffing items into her backpack.
A cursed straw doll wrapped in cloth, a dagger with a shining blade, Dullahan’s hair, Specter’s essence, Lich’s ribs, and the Death Knight’s molar that Hodrick had given her.
Jenny had only one thought that kept coming to mind as she packed items that nobody knew what she would use them for.
— I found Sir Hodrick, but he wasn’t in a good condition. I believe he was involved in an accident. In the worst case scenario…
Jenny refused to accept it.
The fact that her family was missing and caught up in a mysterious accident, the fact that there was no way to undo it, or the fact that they must part ways.
It was impossible for Jenny to accept those facts.
‘If it’s about spells…’
Jenny thought to herself that with the spells she had been working so hard to master, and the application of her power taught directly by Hodrick, she might have a chance to save him.
As she continued her bustling movements,
[…What are you doing?]
Annalise chimed in.
Jenny turned to look at her.
Annalise, who had at some point been left alone in a corner of the room, popped her head out from among the piles of teddy bears and watched Jenny.
“…I’m going to cure master.”
Jenny swallowed nervously, clearly anxious.
Annalise turned her buttonholes, which functioned as her eyes, toward Jenny just as she felt a smirk about to pop out at Jenny’s antics.
‘If she says master…’
She must be referring to the Death Knight, who stopped by here every now and then.
He must be in trouble since she said that she would go to his rescue.
‘It must be that bitch’s doing.’
Coincidentally, Alaysia had invaded the Cradle.
There was no way that wicked woman would come all the way here unprepared, so that was the only possibility that crossed her mind.
She mulled over it for a while.
At last, Annalise said.
[…Take me with you.]
Jenny, who was eyeing Annalise with a face full of doubt, soon nodded.
At the back gate of the old castle, Vera frowned as he spotted Jenny carrying Annalise and the giant orc standing next to her.
It was Annalise and Valak.
“…What’s going on here?”
It was a question shot at both of them at once.
Annalise looked away and snuggled up into Jenny’s arms as if reluctant to answer, while Valak replied with a broad smile.
“The battle among strong! I can’t miss it! I must watch it in person!”
He exclaimed, flexing his greasy, tanned muscle that instantly made Vera frown.
Vera then mulled over it.
‘…I don’t see why not.’
The reason he had wanted to take only Jenny in the first place was because he thought that the others might get in the way of the fight against Hodrick, who was using Intention. That was why he could tolerate Valak, who had already reached that realm, and Annalise, who was trapped inside a doll.
‘No, it may be a good thing.’
They might be useful to have because he could leave Jenny to them in a dire situation.
After coming to that conclusion, Vera nodded his head.
Valak, looking very excited, blew his nose loudly, while Jenny tightened her embrace on Annalise out of nervousness. Annalise sobbed, ‘Damn it…’ while being cradled in Jenny’s arms.
“Then, let’s go.”
Vera turned around and started walking.
They were heading for a small hill that was visible in the distance.
To where Hodrick was.
Vera looked ahead on a hill with dry vegetation obscuring the view under a gray sky, leaving the sound of crunched leaves under his feet behind.
There was a knight in black armor.
A formidable knight stood there, his body emanating a pitch-black deathly aura reminiscent of an endless abyss.
It was Hodrick.
He probably ended up getting consumed by that ‘dream’.
Am I right to think that he chooses to stay here instead of going elsewhere as his final act of desperation?
With that in mind, Vera realized that his speculation about Hodrick all this time was correct.
‘…I knew it.’
There was a coincidence.
In the previous lapse, something happened here when Ardain’s body was running around in full swing.
After some thought, there was something off about this.
‘…Teira the Conqueror.’
One of the commanders of the Demon King’s army, the Black Knight who ravaged the Geinex Plains.
Given where the other commanders came to be, his creation should have occurred near the plains.
Alaysia, who had her eyes set on Ardain’s resurrection, had to be involved somehow as well.
Hence, he could roughly guess Teira’s identity based on the current situation, Valak’s growth, and Hodrick’s level.
“Was it you…?”
Vera’s expression darkened.
Hodrick, who had been staring blankly at the sky, cracked his neck as he turned his head towards Vera. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed Vera’s presence at all, but the moment he saw a moving creature, his eyes ignited with a ghostly light.
With a loud sob, Jenny took a step forward.
She looked at Hodrick in disbelief.
However, he remained impassive and then pulled out a sword from his waist.
His aura of death amplified significantly.
[Kiddo! It’s dangerous…]
Along with Annalise’s scream, Hodrick charged at her.
It was them again – his past self that he loathed to death.
‘There are three this time.’
He thought none of them would appear anymore, given that he had cut them down day after day, yet three remained.
Just as he was ready to slash the one nearest to him, a figure behind raised their sword and blocked him.
Hodrick felt his anger boiling within him.
‘This wretched thing.’
How despicable is it to see you fighting so desperately to save yourself, even after losing everything?
What is so precious about that life of yours? It is utterly repulsive watching you pick up your sword when there’s nothing left to protect.
He raised his sword once more.
This one seemed a bit stronger, showing signs of resistance. That meant he had to strike with all his might.
Only by slicing through these vestiges of his past and tearing away each of his regrets until none remained, could he finally find peace.
My sinful life will finally come to an end.
Clenching the tilt tighter than ever, he channeled his soul-crushing resentment into its tip.
It was a sword that could only pierce illusions, but in time had become an illusion itself.
Whether this sword could solely cut through illusions or had turned into an illusion, that was enough.
In the end, he would be the one who cut these illusions.
The swords clashed, their metallic collision shrieking through the air.
Vera parried his violent attacks, swearing inwardly.
Is a pain in the ass.
His attacks were so sharp for someone who lost his rationality and became consumed by a dream.
In addition, it was hard to figure out his trajectory.
He was surely going for the neck, but he quickly pivoted toward the waist.
When Vera thought the sword was going for his heart, it went to his wrist.
The sword didn’t move fast enough to become invisible or anything like that.
Even at a speed that the eye could follow, the trajectory defied understanding by constantly changing.
They were movements that made him doubt his eyes.
It was a movement that could only be attained by creating mental images.
It was called ‘Intention’ for a reason.
The strenuous movements quickly wore him down, but he couldn’t stop.
An uptight defense led to a number of injuries, but he had no time to recover.
They clashed swords again.
A brief confrontation.
Vera was about to utilize his power when he suddenly stopped.
— Don’t forget the weight of an oath.
That was what Hodrick had said to him.
They were words said by his predecessor, who wished to die a knight until his last breath.
It suddenly struck him that using this move against him wasn’t right.
As his contemplation deepened, Hordrick’s sword swung at him once more.
Vera parried it, still lost in thought.
‘…He’s not someone I can defeat even if I use my power.’
It was crucial to use Intention.
It was different from his previous battle against Valak.
Valak’s Intention wasn’t perfect, and Valak’s physical ability lagged far behind him.
How about Hodrick in comparison?
A long-lasting swordplay.
A tireless dead body.
Furthermore, his Intention had reached its full potential.
At that moment, Vera, who once again successfully defended himself by following Hodrick’s sword’s trajectory and forcefully changing it, thought to himself.
‘I can do it…!’
It was different.
The oath engraved within his soul was taking on a different hue now.
Just a little, a little bit more, and he would be able to step into the realm of Intention.
The clash between the two swords resumed.
During that, Vera pushed himself to his limit.
Vera lost track of how much time had passed or how many times he had parried the sword.
There was also that.
His senses started to get paralyzed as soon as the physical strain reached its limit, and his mind became blank.
Even in the midst of that, his body moved on its own.
It was a strange sensation that disappeared the moment he realized it.
In this moment, Vera was immersed in such sensations, feeling like everything around him was distancing itself.
Or rather, it was more accurate to say that the colors were fading.
The noise and flow of air, the aura of death piercing the skin, the rhythm of muscles—everything conveyed through the senses lost its color and was delivered to his body as stimuli.
As everything that had been woven together started to unravel and take on a fragmented form, a world that he had never seen before unfolded before him.
In a blur, Vera could spot a ‘sword slashing’ movement as the sword was currently thrusting toward him. He swung his sword to the side to thwart it.
Friction occurred as the two swords clashed, and Hodrick’s sword turned into a ‘sword thrusting’ movement after it was thwarted.
Inside the achromatic world, Vera swung his sword from behind his neck instead from his waist like it was a given.
A shrill noise transpired.
The moment repeated itself.
The swords collided and scraped against each other.
Thoughts and emotions scattered into pieces.
The conspicuous darkness of the deathly aura among the emerging gray disturbed his vision.
In a perpetual moment when fragments came after fragments, Vera felt as if Hodrick was talking to him.
— There is a reason you can never get there despite knowing the way. You have too many trivial thoughts.
Hodrick said the reason that he couldn’t deal with pure intention was because he thought about everything too deeply.
— As I see it, you care too much about keeping your dignity. Have you considered that maintaining dignity is like building a wall around yourself, and a flaw that needs to be removed in order to reveal the real you? I do not know why you want to keep your dignity, but you must put it aside whenever you draw your sword or show your sincerity.
It was because he had no idea how to show his true self.
— You seem to get along well with the Saint, huh? Oh my, look at you blushing. Are you embarrassed? There is nothing to be embarrassed about. Loving is not wrong, is it?
It was because he turned away from his feelings.
Vera had an unknown urge to pour it all out to him.
Their swords clashed again.
Little by little, Vera’s sword began to change its shape.
With each stroke and each blow, it unleashed a sword of a different nature.
The thrusting sword was blocked by the flow of divinity.
The slashing sword was parried by the sword aura.
In a blink of an eye, he saw an opening and launched a high-speed attack.
Everything was unintentional.
Nevertheless, his body was moving on its own.
His thoughts were constantly echoing words he had heard.
The oath that was engraved in his soul was burning stronger than ever.
A different sound came out from their clashing swords.
Annalise watched the unfolding situation from within Jenny’s arms.
Vera, who had been relentlessly on the defensive, abruptly switched to an offensive mode.
Once heavy with the aura of impending defeat, the atmosphere shifted dramatically as Vera managed to seize victory from the jaws of defeat.
Annalise knew what that meant.
How could she not know when that very sword had sent her head flying?
It was a fragment of Providence.
It was in the process of melting into his body.
What was only dimly visible during the previous battle was now clearly being etched into Vera’s body.
She didn’t want him to realize it until the very end. She wanted him to lose those fragments of enlightenment.
That son of a bitch is finally doing it.
As a result, she came to a renewed realization.
That she might have underestimated him.
Her belief that she alone on the continent had the right to speak of salvation may have been mere arrogance.
She had likely been too self-absorbed, thinking she could shoulder everything on her own.
The possibility that salvation might not be achievable solely through her own hands tormented her.
While she could have just turned a blind eye to it, Annalise didn’t do that.
Instead, she observed Vera, who had finally managed to grasp what she herself had never been able to do, and came to a realization of her own past.
It showed her the reason for her failure.
The one who had been hailed as the greatest intellect of her time began to examine the flaws she had unwittingly imposed upon herself.