༺ Breakthrough (2) ༻
It was an oath that I willingly engraved in the final moment of my past life.
An oath to acknowledge that my selfish and immoral life was wrong, and an oath that I made to never live such a life again.
Despite my vow, I didn’t know what to answer when I asked myself, ‘What does it mean to live for the Saint?’
After all, a life lived for someone else is a vague concept to judge, isn’t it?
Could it be a life that brings immediate happiness to that person, or perhaps a life that, while causing present sorrow, ensures future joy?
So, I just stayed by her side.
My skills were limited to wielding a sword, so I was fixated on protecting Renee from external threats.
Yet, facing my calling, I realized this wasn’t truly living my life for her.
I am the proxy of the greatest oath.
I do not serve as a shield to guard the commandment.
Therefore, I must face my calling directly.
It felt like an answer to the question eventually emerged before my eyes after much thought and uncertainty.
A metallic clash, as if an explosion rang in my ears.
However, I couldn’t care less about it.
Right now, only one concern and one specific person were taking up my thoughts.
A woman with long, white, wavy hair that reminded me of a flower kissed by the morning dew.
She had left such a deep impact on me that I had no choice but to chase after her.
As all my senses seemed to fade away, her face emerged as if trying to fill the void. Her hand reaching out, her warm voice full of playfulness, and the warmth she directed towards me—all emerged in my mind.
As I faced all of that, I looked at the color of my soul.
It was neither gold, the color which represented the honor of the oath, nor ashen, which represented the traces of my immorality.
It was a very gentle and tender shade of red—a raw, pulsating heart-like color.
From its place of concealment, my unveiled heart struggled to hide itself, contorting as if ashamed.
It seemed to find itself utterly shameful.
I took a step closer and observed it.
I tried to examine what kind of heart that was.
It was such a diverse heart, changing with every beat.
Sometimes it was like a blazing fire, other times like swirling waves in a storm.
It felt scorching like a midsummer sun, yet carried a chilling winter breeze.
It seemed to tirelessly chase a certain direction before suddenly bowing its head.
I thought about what this heart was for a long time, and now I felt like I understood a little about it.
I also understood why this heart tried so hard to hide itself.
‘You think your very existence is a sin.’
This heart thought that its existence was sinful.
Despite its beauty and radiance, it felt like it shouldn’t exist and hid itself.
I understood why it behaved this way.
No, it was more accurate to say that I had no choice but to understand.
I was the one who created this heart, and I was the one who hid in shame.
Now, I could face the biggest mistake I had ever made.
By solely focusing on the other, I had failed to face my own heart. Because I looked at her with my mind and not with my heart, I was unable to fulfill my oath.
It was impossible to know what living for her meant when I tried to comprehend it using moral principles rather than a human’s heart.
I grabbed the fleeing heart once more, lifting it in my hands.
It was heavy yet warm.
Its brilliance was almost blinding, yet looking straight at it didn’t hurt my eyes.
I gave it a brief stroke and then embraced it in my arms.
‘I will not turn away from you.’
As I said this, my fragile and tender heart ceased its struggle. It stopped trying to hide itself. Gradually, it merged with me.
In that moment of merging, I realized it.
That my heart was my oath.
This heart, present within me since an unknown time, was another name for my oath.
The light I had longed for had already existed within me, alongside a name too shameful to bear.
It was a heart that took on tens of thousands of forms.
Even now, the heart constantly changes its shape.
It was a heart that could be joy, sorrow, resentment or despair.
However, amidst these variations, it was still a heart that united under one name.
Too ashamed to utter the name, I couldn’t bring myself to say it aloud and instead repeated the name of the heart in my mind.
The name of the oath that I could only face now.
It was love.
He returned to his senses.
The world regained its color.
Vera trembled briefly as he felt himself returning to reality from a long, long dream.
At that moment, he swung his sword.
The clashing swords made a jarring noise.
His opponent was the Black Knight, who wielded a sword bound with deathly aura.
The scenery seemed unchanged, but Vera felt things were different.
Finally, he started to see the meaning within it after reaching the next realm.
He could see the form of Hodrick’s sword.
He could see why the sword was shaped like a mirage.
It was regret and resentment.
Hodrick’s sword was rushing toward an unfinished past, subsequently cutting through an unfinished illusion.
Although Hodrick charged towards Vera, his ultimate target was his own heart.
The two exchanged blows.
Vera’s body got increasingly worn out as the swords continued to collide.
However, Vera felt a surge of strength unlike before.
He raised his sword up and swung it at the wave of regrets.
A gentle flow emerged.
It evoked an unwavering steadiness.
It evoked speed that exceeded anything else in the world.
In a single stroke, he unleashed the force of thousands, if not tens of thousands with a blade that defied form.
One could argue that using a formless sword was wrong because a sincere sword required meaning and form, but Vera didn’t care.
Every shifting form was his own, and the diverse sword was a tapestry of myriad variations. And for him, that was more than sufficient.
At last, he realized that his ever-changing sword was similar to love.
Vera looked at Hodrick again, at the source of his regrets.
Hodrick’s Intention was still more solid and profound than his own.
He lacked the physical strength to combat him in addition to having an unrefined technique.
However, Vera was sure that victory was within his grasp.
He had made an oath in the name of love.
That’s why, he wouldn’t lose.
There was no need for other oaths, vows, or declarations.
Vera wasn’t going to lose since there was one oath that was worth more than tens of thousands of vows.
His divinity blazed up, circulated, and then released.
He blocked each of Hodrick’s sporadic sword attacks, seamlessly counterattacking within the gaps.
In his first move, he swung at Hodrick’s wrist. In the second, he struck it. By the third, he had deflected an incoming fist. And in the fourth, he twisted his sword to pierce through the armor.
Hodrick’s body staggered.
Vera adjusted his grip on his sword again and then turned to face Hodrick, taking an offensive stance.
He looked at the restrained remnants of the Apostle of Oath’s power that was engraved in Hodrick’s soul.
It was regret and resentment.
He couldn’t cut off his own sins, so he left the responsibility to Vera.
There was no hesitation.
Vera swung his sword.
From bottom to top, he made a diagonal swing with his sword, slashing through the air.
Although there was no physical impact, Vera felt the slashing sensation at the tip of his fingers. A sensation of something viscous and thick being cleaved in an instant.
Vera didn’t move any further, and withdrew his blade.
At the end of his gaze, Hodrick collapsed like a broken doll.
After Hodrick collapsed, Jenny reflexively ran toward him.
The self-disdain reared its ugly head for only watching from the side during the fight.
Her heart broke at the thought that Hodrick might really disappear.
Jenny fell to her knees in front of the fallen Hodrick.
She shook Hodrick’s armor back and forth.
Gently shaking, the armor around Hodrick’s body swayed with Jenny’s movements.
Despair was etched across Jenny’s face.
This is unacceptable.
I don’t want you to leave me alone without even saying goodbye.
No, I don’t want to part ways with you at all.
Do you think it makes sense to leave when there is still so much to learn and so much we haven’t done together?
Jenny gritted her teeth, took off her backpack, and began to take things out one by one.
And unleashed her stigma.
An deep blue divinity that resembled the night sky began to seep into Jenny and the objects she took out.
Placing the enhanced items imbued in a specific arrangement on Hodrick’s body, Jenny chanted a spell.
The divinity of death enveloped Hodrick’s body.
However, even after this process, Hodrick remained motionless.
[…It’s useless, kiddo.]
Jenny looked at Annalise, who was sprawled on the ground.
Annalise turned her head to Hodrick before continuing.
[He cannot be summoned through necromancy since it’s his soul that is broken, not his body.]
A fallen soul couldn’t be summoned through necromancy.
Jenny’s expression fell apart after hearing the irrefutable remark.
Vera, who arrived late, froze as he overheard their conversation.
Vera clenched his fist.
He had nothing to say.
Vera extended his hand but then withdrew it, finally speaking.
“…I’m sorry. I had no other choice.”
His regrets were essentially what bound his soul to this world.
Vera had no choice but to finish off his opponent, who was plagued by regrets.
Jenny briefly turned her gaze to Vera before returning to Hodrick.
Her hand was still on Hodrick’s chest.
Absently staring at Hodrick for a while, she clenched her fist and called out to him again.
I’m hearing nothing but lies.
They don’t know what they’re talking about.
Jenny denied everything she heard and kept shaking Hodrick.
“I-If it’s His Majesty…”
Wouldn’t Maleus be able to save Hodrick?
Such a thought crossed her mind, but it was also impossible.
Maleus wasn’t here.
He was currently facing the intruder in the palace.
Jenny’s eyes welled up with tears.
Her lips quivered.
She was saddened by the fact that she had to say goodbye in the most unexpected way.
‘Please,’ she pleaded, once again releasing her power and letting her divinity flow.
She yearned for Hodrick to come back or, if that was not possible, at least give them time to say goodbye properly.
Jenny’s desperate effort lasted for a long time.
Vera watched the scene with a somber countenance, while Annalise opted to stay silent.
Even the bright Valak closed his eyes in condolences, while the divinity that Jenny had wring out began to fade.
When Vera, who couldn’t bear to watch, tried to stop her.
A shrill sound came from Jenny, and Vera’s eyes widened.
Annalise gasped in shock.
At the end of their gaze, a translucent white crown rose above Jenny’s head.
Maybe Jenny wasn’t aware of it yet, but she only released her divinity through her clenched teeth.
While everyone was frozen due to the sudden turn of events, Annalise watched the crown with a belated realization.
She finally realized the meaning of the ‘Crown’ that Vera had asked her about.
She knew its exact name, and its origin.
[…The Crown of Rebirth.]
Ardain’s first legacy.
A relic woven from all nine of the powers granted to him.
It was his crown, to weave souls.