༺ Worry (2) ༻
Unfortunately… Hodrick’s advice wasn’t helpful to Vera.
Making a confession through songs wasn’t an ideal way to confess by Vera’s standards.
So Vera crumpled up Hodrick’s advice and threw it at the back of his mind. He went to his next target, Norn.
First, he was a person from the same era. Second, wasn’t he a married man with an adult daughter?
In other words, he must be someone who was more attuned to what the common proposal would be than Hodrick.
With that in mind, Vera went to Norn with some expectations, but was immediately overwhelmed with dismay.
“…You say you were assaulted?”
Norn scratched the back of his head while averting his gaze.
“A-Anyways, we’re living happily now so I’m satisfied.”
Vera wondered if the sorrow in Norn’s eyes as he spoke was an illusion.
Looking at Norn, who claimed that he was ‘together with his current wife because she assaulted him during his deployment in a northern village’, Vera agonized about how to respond for a long time.
However, it was impossible to answer properly.
“…Thank you for your help.”
All Vera could say was a hollow expression of gratitude.
Late at night on the old castle’s watchtower.
Jenny was sitting there with a blank expression.
Hodrick briefly observed Jenny before approaching her and spoke.
[Why are you out here by yourself rather than sleeping, young lady?]
Jenny turned her head.
Hodrick sat down right next to Jenny before casting his glance in the direction Jenny had been looking at.
His vision was filled with the ashen, dead land.
As he watched that, Hodrick began talking.
[…Did something scare you?]
This was a question that he asked knowing very well why Jenny was here.
Jenny would always run here whenever she felt scared of something ever since she was young.
She must have suddenly felt scared, knowing that the moment they would soon have to part was approaching.
“…I don’t want to go.”
Burying her head between her knees, Jenny said.
“I want to stay here…”
Jenny’s shoulders trembled subtly.
Hodrick had to suppress his own emotions as he witnessed this.
Jenny had become a person who couldn’t remain here any longer.
She had the Crown of Rebirth, which Alaysia sought.
In this situation, staying at the Cradle was the worst choice for Jenny, so she had to leave.
She was now in a situation where she had to set out on a journey that was not of her own choosing.
It was only natural that a 14-year old would be afraid of this situation.
Hodrick looked at Jenny and soon reached out to stroke Jenny’s head before speaking.
[You will branch out into a bigger world. You should be happy.]
“There’s no Master if I go.”
[Why would there be no Master? I will always be right here.]
Jenny slightly lifted her head.
Hodrick watched Jenny’s eyes glisten with tears and added.
[Young Lady, have I ever mentioned my hometown to you?]
It was always like this.
There was nothing more heart-wrenching in the world than Jenny’s pitiful appearance.
Thus, Hodrick did not talk much about the topic until now.
But it had to end now.
At last, Hodrick realized that it was time for him to let Jenny go, so he added.
[As life goes on, there are times when things get too hard and painful that you just want to run away somewhere.]
He wanted to reassure Jenny that she didn’t have to be afraid to leave this place.
[There are moments when I feel like giving up, when I have too much on my plate, and my body and mind are too tired to deal with it. During those times, there’s something I always think of.]
“…Is it your hometown?”
[That’s right. It’s a place that holds memories when I was still ignorant. People tend to miss places like that. They want to go back to the innocent and happy past.]
Jenny’s lips trembled as her gaze shifted downwards.
[…I’m sure such moments will come in your life as well. There will be times when you just want to run away. But there’s something that you should be grateful about.]
[At that time, your hometown will always welcome you back in the same form as it was before. As everything remains the same, you can continue living in the past to forget about your problems and take a break there.]
Hodrick said in a voice filled with laughter.
He laughed when he saw Jenny’s tearful face and her tenacious attempt to hold back from crying.
[Isn’t that a blessing no one else in the world has ever received? There is no reason to feel sad about how your hometown will change or how you will honor the deceased. As we are already dead in this stagnant land where the dead repeat the same things over and over, we will always welcome the young lady in this exact form, so you need not be afraid.]
Jenny crumpled her forehead.
It was a reaction that came out from suppressing her tears.
“…I can’t live without you, Master.”
[Why do you think so?]
“I’m a coward… I only cause problems every time… I can’t even make my own bed properly…”
[Is that a problem?]
[I am not worried about you at all, Young Lady.]
She looked clearly shocked when she turned to Hodrick.
Hodrick smiled at her before adding.
[Because the Young Lady is the bravest person I know.]
When he said that, Jenny loosened her expression a little.
Hodrick withdrew the hand that was constantly stroking Jenny’s head, and then wrapped it around her hand.
[Did you know that the real brave one knows how to step up for others before themselves? Those are people who know about love, consideration and how to humble themselves.]
“…I’m not like that.”
[That is not true. The Young Lady is scared because she knows how to be considerate of others. You tried to do something on your own because you know how to be considerate of the one who is always by your side, like Kiki and Toby. It does not matter if things do not work out right away. Humans are animals who learn from experience, so I believe that the Young Lady will excel in everything someday.]
Jenny’s gaze returned to look in the distance.
She couldn’t muster up the courage to face Hodrick, who was speaking to her in a way that embarrassed her.
[I will always wait for you. I will look forward to what the Young Lady will say after she returns from traveling the vast world. Each day will be filled with joy as I wait for the moment you tell me about your adventures and the people you met. So can you smile for me and say goodbye to me like that?]
Jenny clenched her fists and closed her mouth.
After a brief silence, Jenny nodded.
[That is great. My heart is already racing with anticipation.]
“…But you don’t have a heart.”
[I am just saying. It is a figure of speech.]
“Do as you please…”
Jenny’s ears were burning red.
It was so red to the point it was visible even in the dark.
[Well, go inside and sleep now. You should rest well if you want to leave tomorrow, right?]
Jenny, who nodded, slowly got up.
While climbing down the watchtower stairs, Jenny suddenly stopped and asked Hodrick.
“Aren’t you coming down?”
[I wish to look at the scenery a little bit more.]
“…Don’t stay outside for too long. You’ll catch a cold.”
[How can a dead body catch a cold?]
“I’m just saying… it’s a figure of speech…”
A small grin clung upon her face as Jenny spoke.
Her little grin caused Hodrick to burst into laughter.
It was a quiet departure.
The surroundings around the Cradle itself weren’t very pleasant, and the one who should have seen them off was leaving with them.
The group bid a short farewell and started to leave the Cradle.
Hodrick waved to Jenny, who turned to face him while carrying her usual backpack and following the departing group.
And then he said.
[…Aren’t you going, too?]
He uttered to Valak, who stood next to him with arms crossed.
Valak, who blinked as a response to Hodrick’s words, soon said with a laugh.
“Strong One! I want to fight you!”
“I enjoyed watching the fight of Strong Ones! Watching it makes my heart burn! I feel like I can gain something from fighting with Strong One!”
A dry laugh escaped Hodrick’s lips.
Even though they fought several times, he still couldn’t figure out what this orc was thinking.
[Well, do as you please.]
Hodrick’s answer served as a confirmation.
When Valak clenched his fists almost immediately after he responded, Hodrick shook his head in disbelief, but his hand reached for his sword at the same time.
Hodrick thought to himself that the time spent waiting for Jenny to come back would not be too boring, after all.
In the pitch-black palace, Maleus laughed as he felt the Crown’s departing presence.
[Oh no, the Crown is leaving the Cradle.]
Maleus looked down.
His gaze headed to Alaysia, who was gnawing on his arms in the frenzied underworld.
Alaysia’s gaze went up.
It was directed to Maleus.
“Yeah, I think that’s the case.”
As she was talking, she let go of the arm that she had been chewing until just now.
“Bleh, it’s nasty. Now that the Crown has left, are you going to let me go?”
Maleus swung his hand to smack Alaysia in the head as soon as she said that with a cunning smirk.
[How absurd. You should be stuck here for another few months.]
Maleus was aware of the extent to which this evil wench would go to use her dirty tricks.
Alaysia would pursue them from behind and attempt to take the Crown if he let go of her at this moment.
It shouldn’t happen at any cost.
‘I am certain they will search for Locrion.’
Only nine… no, only eight others knew exactly about the Crown.
They must have a hunch about it already, so it won’t be a stretch to say that they were looking for it.
As he seated himself on the throne, Maleus looked down at the regenerating Alaysia and said.
[I am looking forward to the day when you will sink to the bottom and merge with my underworld.]
“It won’t happen.”
Alaysia regenerated as her bones and flesh fused.
She raised the corners of her lips high and spoke with a giggle.
“I can’t die. Even if I die, I will rise from the dead. I will be Alaysia the Eternal, hehe.”
Maleus bowed his head.
After removing the darkness that was cloaking him, he leaned his face closer to Alaysia.
[You will come to me when you die. Do you know why?]
[Because I am the final destination of all species.]
Maleus pointed at the crown he was wearing with his shining white finger.
[The Crown is called Death.]
Next, he pointed to the necklace.
[The Necklace is called Reincarnation.]
Sequentially, he pointed to the jewel-encrusted cloak he was wearing, the ring on his finger, the belt on his waist, and the boots he was wearing.
[This is the Fighter’s Paradise that the orcs out there speak of, this is the Heaven of Providence as called by the wizards, this is the paradise where milk and honey streams and only the virtuous are permitted entry, and these boots are the Eternal Hellfire that punishes evil souls.]
The ghostly flame was burning in Maleus’ empty sockets.
[It is all me. Those are the other names that adorn this ‘King of Rotten Flesh’. All of your evil deeds will come to an end, and your soul will arrive here to suffer at my feet.]
A string of curse-like proclamations.
However, Alaysia showed no signs of being affected by it.
“You’re such a fool, Maleus. If I were supposed to die and come to you, Aru should be here too. Have it make some sense, will you?”
[Well, do you think you will die the same way as Ardain? No, I assure you. Your evil soul will never perish that way. Your entire soul will leave your body and come to me.]
Maleus chuckled heartily while Alaysia put on a frown.
[Indeed, so you have nothing left to say?]
At his words, Alaysia extended her fist and crushed Maleus’ left jaw.
“I’m in a bad mood.”
She spat out the words with a severe feeling of displeasure.