༺ The Slum (2) ༻
Roughly three days had passed.
I couldn’t say for sure… because of the slums’ distinctive nature.
When the sun rose, the nearby tower blocked the light, and when darkness fell, the place was only dimly lit by the scavengers’ lanterns.
The slums were always a vague place, with no distinction between day and night.
Of course, he was in poor physical condition for other reasons.
A constant pain ran through his body. His consciousness was on the verge of fading.
Vera was lying in a state where it wouldn’t be strange to die at any time, so he wasn’t able to measure the time.
As soon as he coughed, Vera felt his chest suffocate as he gasped for air.
Taking another deep breath, he examined his body’s condition, he figured at this rate it wouldn’t be long.
‘…A week at most.’
He would die in this place.
Apart from his curse, his injuries were severe. He needed medical treatment right away, but he wasn’t in a situation where he could afford to do so.
Quite a sight worth seeing.
“Are you okay?”
The blind saint who had lost her power, Renee, was at her wit’s end.
In other words, there was no way for him to live.
“…Naturally, I’m not fine.”
“Wait a minute.”
As Renee’s hand touched his chest, a moan erupted from Vera’s mouth again.
Vera suppressed his groans and looked at Renee, who was exuding divinity that would soon deplete.
“Stop doing useless things. Doesn’t the Saint realize there’s no hope?”
“You never know.”
It was a determined tone.
Vera looked at Renee, struggling to keep his consciousness from fading again.
What Vera felt while staying with her for a short time was that she was a very unusual person, enough to deserve the nickname of a monster.
She had burn marks that distorted her original appearance to the point of being unrecognizable, and went out begging with her blind eyes.
All she got was a bowl of porridge that was worse than livestock feed, which she savored as if it were a delicacy.
It was an act that Vera couldn’t understand.
Why would she? While living as a beggar in the slums, the thing that Vera ate more than anything else was scraps and rotten foods, so it was impossible for him not to know its taste.
What was even funnier, was that she didn’t eat all of it, despite savoring it.
After a couple of spoonfuls of porridge, she poured the rest into Vera’s mouth, who couldn’t move, wasting it to satiate his hunger.
Yes, it was a waste.
There was no need for such waste, Vera thought.
He would die soon. The injury had become so severe that it couldn’t get any worse, and he didn’t know when he’d stop breathing.
So Vera repeatedly told her to let him die.
“You never know.”
That was the only response she gave him.
Vera noticed Renee pushing a spoon towards him, shifted his gaze into the air and muttered out words.
“I didn’t know that the Saint was an idiot.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you’ve lived your whole life as a Saint, wouldn’t you know the state of my body better than I do? But… Since the person who should’ve known better keeps doing things so mindlessly, wouldn’t it be natural for me to think of the Saint as an idiot?”
He wished she would just throw him away, but was annoyed that she was clinging to him so foolishly.
However, Renee wasn’t concerned with Vera’s attitude and pushed the spoon towards Vera again.
“You never know. Isn’t it possible that after eating this porridge, you will recover and get up?”
“Eat it first.”
Vera felt his innards twist while staring at Renee.
Renee was looking into the air with her unfocused eyes, waving her spoon around to the position his mouth was expected to be.
“…You are a fool.”
“In the Holy Kingdom, such foolishness is called love.”
“Does the Saint love the sight of someone dying soon?”
“I know that love doesn’t necessarily mean lust.”
The burn marks were pushed up into wrinkles. At the end of Vera’s gaze, Renee was smiling.
“The Lord has said to love your neighbor. How can I turn away from her as a body that was once her most favored servant?”
“Well, if the Lord was such a loving personage, they would have taken pity on the Saint and would not have left you in a place like this.”
Vera harshly mocked her. Of course, she wouldn’t be able to see the expression on his face, but he did it just because he wanted to laugh at her.
“It was my choice.”
“Saint, in the slums, they call such people morons.”
“It’s a pleasure. And it’s not Saint, it’s Renee.”
She responded with a smile.
Two days or more had probably passed.
Renee was once again holding a spoon to Vera’s lips.
“You’re a patient.”
“Yes, I am.”
Vera’s mouth closed.
“Hurry up and eat.”
Vera watched the spoon swaying around his face. He exhaled briefly, lifted his head and ate.
Vera was praised. His gaze then turned to Renee.
It was a smiling face. Vera could now tell her expressions apart.
Vera looked at that smile and thought.
‘She’s a really strange woman,’ he muttered inwardly.
There was no obligation or responsibility for her to do this, but seeing how well she was taking care of him, it seemed appropriate to express it that way.
Renee looked so hideous that he couldn’t even consider her to be a Saint who was praised by everyone.
A hideous, scarred face that would make a stranger scream and run away. Blue eyes that could be seen through the barely opened eye sockets. White hair that had lost its shine, covered in dirt.
If she had gone out in that form from the beginning, she must have suffered all kinds of insults, but she showed no signs of sadness.
Just a smile.
It was the only thing hanging over her face.
Vera couldn’t understand it at all, so he was extremely curious and asked Renee a question.
“…Don’t you regret it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Giving up your power.”
If she hadn’t given up on her powers, she wouldn’t have to live like this. Even if war broke out on the continent, she would have been safe.
As he looked at Renee with such a thought, she chuckled and answered.
“I have no regrets at all.”
“Why do you think I will regret it?”
As she questioned him in return, Vera was left speechless.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have anything to say. On the contrary, there was so much to say to the point of becoming speechless due to not being able to convey them into suitable words.
Life in the slums was so miserable and ugly that it couldn’t even be called life.
They starved every day, the slums were filthy, and there was no wall to keep the icy wind from freezing them to death in the winter.
But why aren’t you afraid of that?
Why don’t you miss the moments of splendor?
Why do you accept it with a smile?
As Vera recalled such thoughts, he remained silent.
“…You know, there was a time when I could actually see.”
I heard such a fact.
A soft tone. Renee, who raised a gentle smile, continued.
“At a very young age. I was five or six years old, a toddler who had not even lost any baby fat. Until then, like everyone else, I could see the light of the world with my own eyes.”
What came out of her mouth was a story about Renee’s past.
“I was a farmer’s daughter. The village I lived in was a small rural village in the corner of the Eastern Kingdom of Horden.”
It was a story that Vera didn’t know. That was because back then, he didn’t have an interest in finding out more about her personal history.
“There’s something I still vaguely remember. Flowers blooming in all colors on a warm spring day, the radiant sunshine in summer, wheat fields dyed golden in harvest season, and a pure white world when winter was in full swing.”
Renee closed her eyes and continued with a faint smile, as if trying to recall the moments that were floating in her mind.
“Everything was amazing. I was also happy. After becoming a Saint, I was happy to live for others, but… Selfishly, if I were to pick the happiest moment of my life, I would pick that moment.”
Words spoken with a smile. Even while Vera remained silent, Renee continued to speak.
“So, when I suddenly turned blind one day, I felt like my world was falling apart. It felt as if my glittering world had fallen into the depths of the abyss.”
“I guess the Saint is also a human being.”
“Of course I am a human being.”
It was a sarcastic remark, but she let him go as softly as ever.
“Anyway, I think I spent so many years crying. I guess I thought that the most unfortunate person in the world was me, that the world was cruel only to me.”
Vera could deeply sympathize with those words.
It’s because he had thought like that in the past.
It wasn’t just him. All of those in the slums, at the bottom of their misery, have lived with such thoughts.
Even as he was thinking, Renee’s words continued.
“At that time, the stigma of the Lord was etched on me.”
It was a story that Vera knew well.
How could he not. The continent was turned upside down when the stigma of the Lord, which had not appeared for nearly 400 years, appeared on the body of a young girl who had just entered puberty.
For Vera, it was a well-known fact because it was the period when he was amidst uniting all the cartels in the slums and started trading with the Imperial nobles.
“At first, I resented them. Although it was blasphemous, I thought that the Lord took away my light and threw me that stigma as a compensation. That’s why I blamed them.”
“If the priests of the Holy Kingdom heard that, they would be shocked.”
“It’s a secret deep in my heart.”
“Can you tell me this easily? I see, I’m going to die soon, so it doesn’t matter.”
When Vera, who was listening to the story in full swing, said something sarcastic, Renee fumbled and pressed her hand against Vera’s chest to close his mouth.
“That is not good. You have to think about getting better.”
Vera glared at Renee, but again, staring at someone blind was meaningless.
Renee chuckled for a moment and continued.
“So, while I was living a life filled with resentment, I stopped by the slums.”
“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of it.”
“It was a secret, of course. There was a time when I secretly ventured out to share my power across the continent.”
Renee spoke like that, licked her lips for a moment, then spoke out.
“It was a place where there was so much despair that even I could tell without looking. The sound of death, the howls of pain, the smell of blood and filth, the damp air on the skin. All of that was a shock to me.”
The slightly opened eye sockets showed blue pupils that had lost their light.
“At that time, after I came to the slums, I felt ashamed for the first time in my life. Even though I knew it would be wrong to sympathize, seeing the people who lived here made me realize how ugly and childish I was, and I felt ashamed.
Again, a smile crept across Renee’s lips.
“That was the first time I thought of an emotion that wasn’t resentment. Plus, I had this idea. Maybe the reason why the Lord had taken the light away from me was because she wanted me to share that light with them.”
“…That’s quite a leap in logic.”
“It might be. However, would that matter even if it is? Isn’t it important that I obtained such a realization? So, I have no regrets at all about living here now. Although I have become a very feeble existence, I’m still really grateful that I can be of help to someone with this body.”
Vera’s gaze turned to Renee.
A smiling face. It was an expression devoid of any wrinkles.
Suddenly, Vera, who was looking at Renee, realized why his stomach churned when he first saw her.
I realized why she was called that.
Because the Saint was a human with such nobility, it made his stomach churn.
He was so distraught by her nobility, which was different from him, who trampled on everything he saw at every given moment, fearing that he would return to the slums and starve to death.
Vera tried to avert his gaze from Renee and closed his eyes.
Suddenly, misery ran through his body.
Not even once in his life had he ever imagine himself feeling regret. At that moment, because of that shabby woman, regret bloomed inside of him.
Clearly, this situation should’ve been so difficult that it would make her vomit, and since she used to live a brighter life than this, she should be even more desperate.
“I’m glad to hear that”
A simple sound of laughter made Vera’s stomach churn again.