༺ The Empire (4) ༻
If someone who knew Vera and Renee saw them now, they would not be able to hold back their laughter.
The sight of them was that ridiculous.
There was a sense of awkwardness in their stiff, synchronized steps as they walked with their heads turned in different directions.
After about ten minutes of walking in such an awkward manner, they arrived at the library and finally let go of each other’s hand.
Of course, they didn’t let go completely.
Their interlocking hands changed just a bit, and are now clasping each other’s forefingers.
The fact that they did not let go and go back to the way they were before meant that they did not want to put a distance between them the way that it had been, although they were not aware of that.
In the midst of that awkwardness, Vera spoke up when he felt a delicate finger grip his index finger.
“…It’s a three-story building. It’s about the same size as Marie’s mansion. The exterior walls are white and made of stone, with large windows spaced evenly on the wall.”
“It’s quite large.”
“Yes, it’s directly managed by the Imperial family, after all.”
Their conversation was the same as usual when they walked, but the energy between them was something the two had never experienced before.
“There’s a big garden in front of the building. It’s very neat, you can tell that they put a lot of thought into the landscaping. The plants are all manicured and shaped uniformly, and they’ve put some benches and tables in between so people can read outside.”
Renee nodded as she listened to Vera’s calm voice as he explained the scenery around them.
“So, shall we read outside then?”
“Wouldn’t you be cold? It’s still a little windy.”
Vera said so out of concern for Renee.
For some reason, Renee remembered his promise.
“…You said you were going to read to me.”
She said so with a hint of complaint in her voice.
Renee’s head hung low as usual, and she felt Vera flinch when she spoke.
“It would be rude to others if you read it inside, so…”
‘So let’s read it outside, so you won’t have to bother with that, and you can just focus on me.’
Vera agreed with Renee’s timid words.
It was a reason with a lot of room for rebuttal. Nevertheless, Vera answered her that way.
He thought that concerns such as ‘A lot of people would stare outside,’ ‘You might get a cold if we stay too long outside,’ ‘My voice might get drowned out by the outside noise’ were not important.
Whatever Renee wanted to do was the right thing.
Vera, who had not been able to think straight all along, barely managed to think of such a thought, and went to the library to borrow a few books.
Borrowing the books didn’t take long. What he wanted was records about the ancient species. He narrowed it down to witness testimonies or research journals, and narrowed it further to those books that mentioned Orgus, and finally, he was left with only five books.
Vera took the five books and walked outside before sitting down in a corner of the garden.
Renee spoke up shortly after.
“Why are you researching the ancient species?”
She asked this question because he went to the library for work and was looking up something unexpected.
Vera took a while to answer the question, but then he managed to come up with an answer.
“…For some reason, I seem to run into them a lot. I wanted to do my research and prepare in advance, just in case I run into them again.”
Renee immediately understood what Vera meant.
How could she not?
There was Terdan, the mountain-pushing colossus that they had met when they were on their way to the Holy Kingdom, and Aedrin, the Deepest Roots in the Great Woodlands. That was two of them so far.
They had already met two ancient species that others would never even see a glimpse of in their lifetime.
Of course, for Vera, there had already been three, including the Time Walker Orgus, but that was something Renee didn’t know about.
Renee felt a sudden curiosity at Vera’s words and made a ‘ehem!’ coughing sound before speaking.
It was time to read.
Renee sat very close to Vera for some reason, with four unread books stacked on her thighs, waiting for Vera to read.
Vera opened his mouth to read, feeling Renee’s long hair tickle his hand as they leaned a little too close together.
“…Everyone who has met Orgus said the same thing. That he never moves without a purpose.”
Suddenly, Vera felt conscious about how his voice sounded.
He felt worries that he never had before in his life. He’d never even really thought about it, but for some reason, it was bothering him at this moment.
Was it uncomfortable to listen to? Or perhaps he was speaking too fast?
“…He is a being who literally walks through time, tirelessly shifting between the past, present and the future.”
In the meantime, the divinity that he had unleashed stealthily began to create a barrier around them.
The barrier blurred people’s perception, muffled sound, and drove those who approached away.
Vera believed that the barrier he made was for protection, but…
His real intentions were a little different. Vera’s consciousness was speaking.
He didn’t want their moment to be interrupted.
“…Therefore, the author defines him this way. Orgus is an elder who knows the most secrets in the words, the Greatest Sage.”
Renee heard the tremor in Vera’s voice, and she hoped that it was for the same reason as her own. She wished that it was a tremor due to the time they spent together in this subtle atmosphere.
Despite the cold air and the blowing wind, she felt like her body was heating up.
She also felt sorry for Vera, as she could not focus on the content of the book.
She just loved the sound of his voice, and the fact that he was reading to her made her heart shake.
Was she shameless for paying more attention to Vera than what he was reading? Was she being ungrateful?
It was logical. It was only natural.
Because of her love, and because she had been imagining this scene for a long time, it was not strange for her to think about it, now that it was so close to her.
She had been feeling this way for about three and a half years.
That was how long it took for them to interlock fingers.
The feeling was so sweet and yet so embarrassing that she felt like she was drunk.
Her fingertips were flinching and trembling. It was also due to the fact that she wanted to interlock hands with Vera.
…Aside from that, it was also because of the desire to try something else.
Figuratively speaking, it was the feeling of a pilgrim walking in a desert, looking for water.
The emotions she had now were similar to those of the pilgrims who had been wandering throughout the desert for a long time and finally had a sip of water.
To put it simply, it wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t a strong desire that truly tormented a person, but an unfulfilled impulse. There was nothing more cruel than that.
It was barely enough to quench her thirst that she had the whole time. It was actually making her more thirsty.
“…The secrets that the elder is keeping will probably never be known. He is the most faithful servant, serving his parent’s dreams.”
His voice shook her emotions, intensifying her unfulfilled desires.
Renee couldn’t take it anymore.
She tilted her head, resting her cheek on Vera’s shoulder. Their arms touched as they began to feel the sensation of each other’s body.
Vera’s body trembled, and he stopped talking.
Renee said, closing her eyes.
There was a saying that the first time was always the hardest.
It was the truth. Renee’s small act of courage, which started with linking their fingers together, allowed her to take such a bold step.
“…The First Dragon, Locrion existed along with the smallest world, Alaysia, but they would not dare show off their wisdom in front of Orgus.”
As he spoke once again, Vera’s words floated in the air for a long time.
“…That’s the end.”
Vera spoke as his gaze remained fixed on the closed book.
Vera hadn’t looked at Renee even once since they sat down.
No, he couldn’t. It wasn’t because he was focused on the book, nor was it because Renee was wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
He felt guilty, and it felt like he was doing something he should not do.
Renee answered Vera.
And that was her answer.
The scene remained unchanged.
In a corner, there was a bench between the trees, where two people sat, a white-haired woman resting her head on the shoulder of a black-haired man. The man’s gaze was fixed on a book, while the woman had her eyes closed.
The man spoke up again.
“…The sun is still up. Do you have any other books you’d like to read?”
He said it because he couldn’t stand still and wanted to do something, and reading a book might help him distract himself.
The truth was, the usual Vera would’ve been very frustrated after not getting any information about Orgus even after reading all five books.
But he didn’t because he couldn’t concentrate on the book either.
He felt a small warmth on his right shoulder the whole time, but it was a presence that he felt heavily. Vera couldn’t concentrate on the book because of it.
Vera, who had his gaze on the book the entire time, saw a white wave flash in his eyes.
It was Renee’s hair blowing in the wind.
As the wind died down, some of Renee’s hair rested on top of Vera’s hand.
Vera stopped breathing.
Because the tickling sensation brought up emotions that Vera was not familiar with.
I shouldn’t do anything.
Even though he was telling himself that, his jumbled mind was commanding his body to do something else.
Vera’s hand moved very carefully. It wrapped around a strand of hair that had fallen over his hand.
He rubbed the hair in between his fingers slightly, twisting the strands.
Still, Renee didn’t answer.
The question of whether she had any other books she wanted to read has vanished into thin air, already forgotten.
Vera, who was no longer looking at the book, but at his hand, finally snapped out of it and spoke.
Renee cut him off.
“…Let’s stay like this for a while. We don’t have to do anything else.”
It was clearly an order.
And Vera followed those orders more faithfully than anyone else.
It was fortunate for Renee, and for Vera.
Renee’s thoughts were interrupted by a strange heartbeat that she had never felt before, and a heat raced throughout her body. She focused on the sensation, not thinking about anything else.
It was a shocking sensation that shook her entire body, but it was also something that she could ignore.
It was, for lack of a better word, overwhelming.
All her senses, heartbeat, and thoughts were being consumed by this strange heat.
It was a very sweet trap.
It was a trap that she could not free herself from, even though she knew there was no turning back once she got caught.
Suddenly, Renee’s obstructed thoughts started moving again.
She wished that time would stop. She wanted the world to stop and save this moment forever.
A more outspoken thought popped up.
Her logic and reasoning disappeared, and her impulse remained.
But Renee didn’t mind.
Knowing that there was nothing wrong with it and knowing the name that defined that state of mind, she just enjoyed the moment.
It was such a sweet and blissful feeling.
It was an inexplicable feeling that could not be explained by any logic.
Still, it was a fragment of memory that would innocently remain with her forever.
…It was the fluttering feeling of her first love.
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