༺ End of the Midnight Sun (4) ༻
During the last few hours before nightfall, Sir Norn paced anxiously around the village entrance.
‘It’s already close to the time you said that you would return….’
Before leaving, he said that he’ll be back before sunset. Vera’s figure when he said that clearly resembled a person who was determined to fight.
Perhaps something did happen, or maybe not. Such a thought occurred to him.
In retrospect, maybe it’s just a needless worry. In addition to being an Apostle who received the stigma, Vera was strong beyond comprehension; even Sir Norn couldn’t compare to him.
Still, he was worried.
Aside from his strength, Vera was a young man who had only reached the cusp of adulthood. For Norn, an 18-year-old would be considered an inexperienced greenhorn and would fail rather than succeed.
As an adult, it is natural to have such worries.
‘Why isn’t he coming back?!’
Should I have followed him? While Norn was panicking with distressing thoughts in his head.
Faint rustling sounds were heard from the bushes behind Sir Norn.
Norn turned his head reflexively towards the source of the sound.
A figure sprang out of the bushes. It was Vera, who looked like he had just come out from a bloodbath.
“Oh! Sir Vera…”
Norn approached Vera with a delighted expression, but soon his steps halted and he was forced to hold on to his breath.
He inquired in a bewildered tone.
“I took care of it.”
Vera briefly replied while revealings signs of intense fatigue that subsided in his body.
“…Are you all right?”
“Yes, as you can see, there are no injuries. But first of all, my clothes have become like this….”
Vera gestured by lifting the hem of his robes. Norn’s eyes turned to the blood dripping from it.
How much did he fight that he even got drenched in blood? And so much of it too…
Such a question crossed his mind, but he didn’t spit it out.
He clenched his fists to shake off the thoughts that had come to his mind, then bowed his head toward Vera and continued speaking.
“…Oh, I see. Please go in for now. You have some time before the Saint wakes up, so you can take your time to sort things out.”
“The Dragonians may intrude again. We need to figure out their route in advance, so please gather any information about the surrounding landscape and any rumors circulating about them.”
“Then I’ll take my leave.”
Vera issued his instructions and walked past Norn in the direction of the village.
Norn looked straight at Vera’s back which was treading further away.
The dripping blood painted Vera’s trail. In addition, his dismal voice, which Norn had heard, remained stuck in his head.
Norn became slightly concerned about Vera.
‘Did something happen?’
He seemed to be in a strange mood.
Vera took his spare clothes and headed for the river. He threw himself into the stream as he was coated in blood.
The feeling of fatigue washed away as the cold temperature permeated his skin.
He soaked as much as he could to awaken his lethargic mind in the freezing water, but it wasn’t easy because there was a sight at the end of his eyes.
Vera’s gaze turned to the blood that was washed away from him.
A long red trail over the crystal clear water.
Looking at it, Vera thought of the bloody trail that overlapped with his own path that he carved until now. He felt an agonizing disgust at his eternal stubborn self.
Negative thoughts began to surface. Vera took a deep breath and stuck his head in the stream.
Vera regained his mind by feeling the cold current that brushed against his face, as if piercing his mind.
“…Get a hold of yourself!”
It wasn’t the time to be so miserable.
What if he didn’t change? What if he was still wielding the sword of a beast?
Renee is here. He has to protect her.
Even if I had to wield the sword of a beast.
The only thing that stood in his way now was his own heart.
Vera held his breath, clenched his chest, and then, with eyes wide open, lifted his head up, which had been plunged in the water for a while.
The water splashed around with Vera’s movement.
Vera stood up, clenching his teeth as he watched the water spattering around as he moved.
“I can do it.”
He was confident that they could fend off themselves no matter how many they came. And Renee was also opening her heart little by little.
All he has to do is curb this self-hatred of his.
If he can protect Renee, he’ll be able to change himself if she finally lights an ember for the flame that will lead him down the right path.
At that moment, Vera will be reborn as a human, not a slum-born villain.
Water flowed down his cheek, dripping from the tip of his chin, causing a fast ripple on the river.
When Vera turned from the scene, he turned his body and moved his steps.
I’ll protect Renee.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
Renee’s tapping cane and Vera’s footsteps resonated, creating a constant beat.
Vera took a step further away from Renee.
As usual, not many words were exchanged. It was just a brief conversation. They talked about the weather, the breeze, and indulged themselves in nostalgia.
So, they kept walking as usual.
Suddenly, Renee asked.
Vera twitched slightly upon hearing her words, but quickly uttered a reply.
“Is that so?”
As firm as possible, Vera gave Renee a satisfying answer so she wouldn’t unnecessarily worry about him. Then, he closed his mouth again and moved on.
But were there any signs that something was amiss?
Or is there a sign that only Renee could sense?
Renee asked another question.
“Do you know?”
When Vera asked as such, Renee’s steps came to a pause.
She stopped and turned around to face Vera. She then continued speaking.
“Among the people who are troubled… those who especially try to hide it will often speak in a low-pitched tone.”
Vera flinched. As a result of becoming conscious of Renee’s words, his reply was a beat slower.
“…Is that so?”
“Yes, it’s like swallowing before the moment you start talking. When you speak a lie, your voice becomes heavy and your tone becomes erratic. Even if you try to hide it, the end gets cut short because of the heaviness of the voice. The guilty conscience get through that way. It’s easier to notice if you remember your usual voice and compare it with the voice you just heard now. Isn’t it amazing?”
Vera looked at Renee.
He sighed inwardly. He should have known that she was a person who could distinguish a lie this way, but because of his complex state of mind, he overlooked it.
“Is it something you can’t tell me?”
Words of concern followed. The moment Vera tried to spit out the specifics, Renee spoke again.
A smile with endless warmth accompanied those words.
“My ears are fine. Although I can’t see, I can listen. That… and usually, Sir Knight always listens to my problems, so I think I should at least do this in return….”
A slightly embarrassed expression appeared on her face. She slightly lowered her head, her voice gradually dimmed toward the end of her talking, flustered by the words she spoke to him.
There was certainly something in her words. Every word she said, there was consideration for himself. It contained the consideration that made him immensely weaker, which reminded him of the day he first met her.
Vera felt his will weakening a bit from her words. Thus, he struggled to clear his throat and then said.
“…Nothing really happened. I think my voice was a little hoarse because it was slightly chilly last night. I apologize.”
A long, drawn-out excuse.
It was a simple excuse that Vera uttered with as much ease as he could muster, but Renee seemed to catch a different meaning.
Renee continued thinking, assessing the words she just heard, and felt the distance between the two slowly widening more than usual.
Vera’s voice cracked a bit.
It could be called anger, or maybe sorrow.
In the meantime, if she were to pick out the most intense feeling in that voice, Renee would answer ‘hatred.’
Renee was a person who could relate to the wavelength of hatred better than anyone.
Why not? When her lifelong prayer was betrayed, she herself cried in the same manner.
Of course, she didn’t know who he hated.
She didn’t even know what caused that hatred.
She just knew it was hatred, but she couldn’t fully understand.
It was natural, of course. Aren’t human beings foolish creatures that don’t even understand themselves, let alone others?
Meddling might seem impolite. Perhaps it would be a nuisance to the other party.
But nevertheless, Renee wanted to listen to Vera’s troubles.
She couldn’t solve it or completely empathize with him, but she thought she could at least listen.
Renee thought it was a courtesy to Vera, who silently followed her and received her ire when she acted selfishly.
“Sir Knight, do you know?”
“Now, I smell the scent of blood. It’s a pretty bad scent, too.”
Vera intuitively took a step away from Renee. The sound of grass strands being trampled resounded.
Renee noticed that Vera was stepping back from her through the sound and the faint smell of blood.
Then Renee carefully took a step and approached Vera while Vera took a step back again.
Seeing that, Renee spoke again.
“I may be blind, but I am no fool.”
“There is nothing to apologize for.”
“Apology is a word spoken when you make a mistake.”
Vera’s replies stopped.
Did he stop speaking?
Renee realized that Vera, who had always kept silent, had been shut by her this time. She grinned slightly and said.
“I think Sir Knight is my friend. You listen to my concerns, and we have been for over a week now. Well… I think we’re probably friends.”
“It’s my pleasure to help you….”
“I mean, that’s my opinion. So if Sir Knight insists, it can’t be helped.”
Again, Vera’s mouth was sealed shut.
“I know friends help each other. I can try to comfort you in the most difficult moments. So… Could you tell me? I have been comforted by Sir Knight so far. I want to comfort you instead this time.”
Upon hearing her consoling words, Vera scanned Renee’s face.
Her eyes were out of focus, and her gaze was slightly off from him.
However, Vera recalled her former appearance while staring at her.
Her lips crept up to form a smile, and she approached him enthusiastically.
Seeing her coming close to him, the tremors in his body intensified, and the surge was visible to the point that they could not be dismissed as mere tremors.
For a moment, Vera laughed in vain at the thought that his arrogance and stupidity made him do something unnecessary.
Who’s going to save whom? Who’s going to protect whom?
No, on what grounds did he believe her embers didn’t get ignited yet?
Vera’s brow furrowed. He heaved a deep sigh and clenched his teeth.
Although she couldn’t protect herself, she was virtuous enough to face his gushing resentment.
Even amidst such a hard time caring for herself, she had a brilliant light.
That flame, which Vera had judged being not yet lit, was already in her heart.
Eventually, his arrogance and ignorance clouded his eyes and he couldn’t look straight at her.
At the end of Vera’s gaze, Renee spoke once more.
What a fool.
He was determined to follow that light, and even while he was fixated on protecting her, he got distracted by his flaws and became impatient.
Vera felt ridiculous about the thoughts that crossed his mind and finally accepted Renee’s advice.
“…Sure, why not?”
“Oh, you’re going to tell me then?”
A bright voice bloomed and resounded in his ears.
For some reason, against his will, Vera failed to manage his expression, as intense emotions swirling inside were on the verge of eruption, and his throat felt parched.
What followed were words similar to a confession of a truly sinful being.
“…I feel that the light I’m trying to chase is too far away.”
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