༺ Fear (1) ༻
The golden light slowly faded. At the same time, Galatea’s body was crumbling into ashes.
In the midst of the slowly fading light, Vera fell to his knees and gasped for air.
After that, there was a popping sound.
A crack sounded once again.
Vera slowly turned his head to look at the source of the crackling. It was the Demon Sword.
A crack was spreading from the hilt of the Demon Sword to its blade.
In a way, it was only natural. After lasting against the onslaught of Galatea’s offensive and being used with divinity beyond its limits, there was no way a Demon Sword that wasn’t even a fully completed masterpiece could withstand it.
Vera groaned in regret at the sight of the shattering Demon Sword, and his body suddenly began to twist in nausea.
His whole body was trembling. Something inside his stomach was being regurgitated.
And pouring out onto the floor was blackened blood.
He gritted his teeth and tried to swallow it down, but it was of no use. Vera gagged again and began to vomit up the remaining blood.
His heart was pounding hard. He was losing so much blood that his head began spinning.
He was hoping that this would be the end of the gut-wrenching pain, but unfortunately, the recoil hadn’t even fully begun yet.
His soul burned. In response, Vera’s entire body began to shake.
Vera collapsed to the floor and began to wrap his arms around himself.
Pain ripped through his whole body. The repercussions of his futile efforts to fulfill the Oath were beginning to take its toll.
The power of an Oath was not a power that came without a price.
It was an ability that should be used as a premise to get the right quantified power back at a tangible and clear price.
But, the rules that Vera brought to this battle were anything but clear.
Considering that he fought with unquantifiable things such as to ‘calm his mind’ and ‘uphold his duty’, and that he was able to do so at the end, it was only natural that there would be a backlash since he drew power without setting a price in the form of a ‘Vow’.
Blood spurted out of his mouth again.
It wasn’t the black blood he’d been pouring out all along, but crimson, fresh blood.
‘The sword that pierced the heart of Galatea’.
Vera’s body and soul were being taken for the price of materializing that sword into existence, for the price of holding something beyond his grasp.
His flesh was crushed, and bones grinded. His guts were twisting and blood was being spilled out.
The pain of having his soul used as firewood was too much to bear, even for Vera, who had taken a step into the realm of the extraordinary.
Vera forcibly tried to stop his thoughts that seemed like they could snap at any moment, and tried to stand up, but all he could do was fall back down to the floor.
‘To the Saint…’
He had to return to Renee.
He had to stay by her side for the rest of the day, as if nothing had happened. He shouldn’t be lying here.
He tried to calm his mind, but his thoughts remained subdued.
Just like that, Vera fell to the floor and lost consciousness, nearing death.
Stepping outside on a slow morning, Renee, groggily awake, shook her head at the somewhat gloomy atmosphere around her, and managed to ask a question.
Hela shuddered at Renee’s words, hesitating.
She wondered if now was the right time to say anything.
That Vera had gone out in the dead of the night with his sword, and hadn’t returned.
Even the clueless Hela could see that the outcome would not be good if she were to say those words to Renee.
Hela couldn’t bring herself to say it, so she signaled to Norn.
It was the signal.
Hela’s eyes met Norn’s, and then turned to Dovan beside him.
The atmosphere was engulfed in silence.
“By the way, where’s Vera? Has he gone to training?”
Renee spoke up again. Renee remembered that Vera often left the room early in the morning to practice, but the atmosphere became gloomier at these words.
A short time passed before Dovan, sitting across from Renee, gripped the armrests of his wheelchair and spoke in a gruff, distorted voice.
“…He went out in the middle of the night and hasn’t come back.”
Dovan’s head dropped down. It was due to the regret that came over him.
It occurred to him that it had been a mistake to send Vera off on his own last night with his sword drawn.
“…Sir Vera left the forge last night with his sword in hand, and hasn’t returned yet. It looked like he was going to battle. He said he’d be back by sunrise…”
The smile on Renee’s face was distorted.
“Wh-what are you talking about?”
“…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have sent him away like that.”
Dovan’s voice was filled with regret.
Renee, who felt that regret better than anyone else in the room, began to pale at the picture that suddenly appeared in her mind.
Vera had gone out to fight in secret. Without telling her, and while she was sleeping. And he hadn’t come back yet.
These facts weaved together to form a scenario.
It was dangerous.
“I-I have to go find…”
A murmur flowed out without her knowledge. Her walking stick extended. Renee stretched out her foot, soon followed by a ‘tak” but her clumsy step was hasty and wobbly and sent her sprawling onto the floor.
Renee faltered, followed by Norn’s voice.
Norn quickly stepped forward to support her. Leaning against him, Renee took another step forward with her staff, only to hesitate again, like a doll with a broken thread.
A look of sorrow washed over Norn and Hela’s face.
Norn chewed his lip hard, then looked at Renee and spoke.
“Hela and I will go searching. It should be fine. It’s Sir Vera, is it not? And who would dare put him at risk?”
A dazed response escaped Renee’s mouth.
Norn’s expression grew serious at the sight, and he turned to Hela.
“Hela, let’s get going right away.”
“Saint, please wait just a moment.”
Renee’s head weakly nodded up and down.
Norn and Hela left, and Aisha, who hadn’t known what else to do, ran after them, shouting.
“I’ll look for him too!”
Even as they were walking away, Renee remained where she was, with a dazed expression on her face.
Returning to her bedroom with Dovan’s help, Renee curled up in a ball on her bed and began to shiver nonstop.
They had left in the late morning and had not returned until well into the afternoon.
There should have been news about something by now. However, she could feel the anxiety within her grow as there was no news at all.
‘It will be okay. Nothing will happen.’
Despite reassuring herself, she couldn’t suppress her anxiety.
The longer she crouched alone in the dark and the longer she waited, the more her anxiety took on a more concrete form, creating a frightening picture.
Vera might be dead.
The thought never left her mind.
Her fingertips trembled, and she felt the illusion of a chill hovering over her fingertips.
Renee shuddered at the realization that she was stroking Vera’s dead body, then curled up tighter.
A world without Vera.
That was her immediate reaction to the thought.
Her thinking went awry and her breathing slowed. Her chest tightened more and more, and she felt stuffy.
After a few moments of breathlessness, Renee realized that if she stayed like this for much longer, she was going to lose her mind. She staggered to her feet, realizing that she had to go find Vera.
She grabbed her cane, which was leaning against the side of the bed. Slowly, she lowered her foot and slid off the bed.
With a loud ‘tak’, Renee grabbed her cane and stopped dead in her tracks.
Where should she go? Where would Vera be?
No, even before that…
Where was it?
Her fingertips started trembling, and it eventually spread throughout her body. Her panic-stricken mind was no longer capable of rational thought.
Everything was black.
Her world was so black that she couldn’t see a thing.
She needed to find Vera, but she didn’t even have an idea where the door was in the small room.
Vera was supposed to be there, knocking on the door, giving her directions, holding her hand, and guiding her.
But there was no Vera.
He had disappeared from her world, and nothing was known.
Renee sank to the floor, groping around in a daze.
Not without Vera. Without Vera, without that hand, she could not move forward. She couldn’t do anything.
She would be back to that time again. Back to seeing nothing, clinging to a barely fading memory, circling the same path again and again.
She was seized by fear.
The tightness in her stomach and the pounding of her heart combined to release heat. She squeezed the corners of her eyes.
A single tear slid down her cheek, and a sharp intake of air escaped.
She stuttered and groggily crawled on the floor.
She hit her head on the wall.
She stood up and walked along the wall, then sideways.
She slammed her shoulder into another wall, this time at the end of it.
Renee’s body slid down the wall.
She couldn’t get out of this room. She couldn’t find the door. No, even if there wasn’t a door…
‘I don’t know…’
She didn’t know the world beyond that door.
Renee crouched down, wrapping her arms around her shoulders. Her head was buried between her knees, her trembling lips spitting out the same name over and over again.
Without Vera, she knew she wasn’t going anywhere.
Norn gulped at the sight before him.
After initially searching only the peak where the forge was located and then over two peaks to the edge of the forest that bordered the village, he came to a desolate clearing.
It was a scene of devastation.
The ground was dug up and turned over.
There was not one single untouched tree all around, and the view was blurred by the rising dust. Norn was certain.
This was where the battle took place.
This is where Sir Vera would be.
His steps quickened. His divinity rose up, dusting himself off.
The cry echoed through the clearing. However, there was no response back.
Nonetheless, Norn continued to trudge through the clearing, until he felt something on his foot and ducked his head.
What he saw was…
It was Vera, who had collapsed and was in a terrible-looking state.
Norn quickly leaned over and pulled Vera out of the dirt, then put his ear to his nose.
‘He’s still breathing!’
He was still alive. Norn wrapped his arms around Vera in a hasty movement and began to strengthen himself with divinity.
He didn’t know when Vera would stop breathing. He had to get back quickly to entrust his treatment to the Saint.
With that in mind, Norn sprinted to the forge with all his might.
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