༺ Suspicion (1) ༻
When something unbelievable happens, after achieving something that you’ve only dreamt about for a long time, a reaction always follows.
It was none other than insomnia.
Thoughts such as ‘Maybe everything that happened today was only a dream,’ or ‘Maybe it was just a hallucination because I’ve been desperately hoping for it.’ Thoughts like these keep people awake at night.
Of course, Renee was not an exception to this universal sentiment.
Recalling the moments where they had walked with their hands interlocked together and the memories of resting her head on Vera’s shoulder kept her awake at night, as she walked with unsteady steps.
The sound of her cane was making an irregular beat.
It happened on the first day of her volunteering at the clinic, when she was supposed to be in a good condition, but she didn’t know how to manage her emotions.
Usually, Renee would be tottering from her sense of guilt… but today was different.
A shy smile lingered on Renee’s face as she staggered along.
‘It wasn’t a dream.’
Realizing that everything that had happened yesterday was real, Renee felt very happy.
Her condition was not good.
However, the schedule was not impossible.
Her happiness would carry her through, and she would be out on the streets with Vera again today.
She was able to get over the drowsiness that was creeping up on her.
And with that, Renee opened the door, feeling especially happy, then Vera’s voice suddenly rang out.
“Were you coughing?”
Despite knowing that she would be seeing Vera today, his voice brought back memories of the previous day.
She felt her cheeks getting hot again.
Renee hesitated for a moment, feeling a mixture of embarrassment and excitement within her, before she answered Vera.
“Good morning, Vera.”
Vera’s behavior was also different from usual, as he answered with his head bowed down.
Vera also did not get any sleep.
The only difference between him and Renee was that his condition had not changed. It was a given. It would have been more weird if Vera’s body, which was almost superhuman, broke down after he spent a single night awake.
Vera tried very hard to get rid of the shaking and the pounding of his heart.
Even though she was hiding her identity, Vera wanted to get his head straight, since this would be Renee’s first appearance as a Saint in the Empire.
But still, there was something he couldn’t conceal, and that was eye contact.
Ever since Renee had walked through the door, Vera had been staring at the hardwood floor, even as he assisted her.
Just the thought of looking Renee straight in the eye was enough to break his composure.
“Shall we go?”
Renee spoke, reaching out her hand.
Vera flinched and overlapped his hand beneath hers.
What immediately followed was entanglement as Renee’s fingertips started to interlace themselves with Vera’s.
As if it were natural, and as if it had always been that way.
Vera felt his heart drop with a ‘thump’. He felt like someone was squeezing it from the inside.
However, he did not resist. Vera simply curled his fingers around Renee’s.
It was an unspoken, implicit rule.
When holding hands, they had to interlock their fingers.
No one said it, but the promise has already been inscribed.
“Where shall we go?”
Renee asked in a tone as brazen as her hand movement. Vera also answered brazenly.
“We’re going to 11th Street. It’s a neighborhood for low-income commoners, so there are many who are frequently sick but cannot afford to see a healer.”
“Ah, a healer…”
“Yes, they are considered a high-quality service, so you’d have to spend a lot of money to be treated by them.”
“…Okay, let’s go there then.”
The conversation went no further.
There was a subtle atmosphere that was difficult to describe in words, and even if they kept their mouths shut, there were emotions flowing back and forth.
The two of them walked without saying a single word, just like the day before.
A residential district on the 11th Street of the Empire.
In a plaza there, Renee began her healing services.
They didn’t do any publicity.
Nevertheless, there was already a long line in front of Renee.
It was something the priest’s robe had achieved. The golden cross embroidered on the shoulder part of the priest’s robe vividly showed their purpose in coming, and there was no reason for those seeking healing not to line up in front of them.
Renee radiated pure white divinity. The little boy, whom she was holding in front of her, was wide-eyed. The boy’s gaze shifted to the sight of the long gash on his arm being healed instantly.
“It doesn’t hurt now, does it?”
Renee smiled at the boy’s dumbfounded tone. She could feel the joy inside it.
“Do you want to go to your mom now? I should probably look at the other people behind you.”
“Yes, thank you!”
“Goodbye, don’t hurt yourself again.”
There was no response, but the sound of his lively, receding footsteps made Renee chuckle.
Vera watched Renee’s back as she laughed, and he began to have a dazed expression.
Should he be relieved? For some reason, Vera felt relieved that he was standing behind Renee in this position.
Standing behind her, he couldn’t see Renee’s face, so he could finally keep his composure.
Of course, he still felt some residual heat, so he hadn’t completely recovered, but he was in a much better state compared to the day before.
It was thanks to the sense of security that the baggy priest’s robe and the long white veil covering her head gave him.
That combination, which made her a Saint rather than a woman, eased Vera’s mind.
For a little while, a breath escaped Vera’s mouth.
Vera composed himself.
Even though it was the capital of the Empire with good security, there were still crimes happening.
Moreover, 11th Street was not that far from 13th Street, where the slums were located, so it was not surprising to see the occasional criminal coming out from there.
He shouldn’t be distracted.
The criminals in the slums didn’t hide their true nature, even when they came out. This was because life in the slums had already been ingrained in them, and their moral compass was so broken, causing them to commit crimes without even realizing it.
Vera knew this from his experience with various criminals in the slums a long time ago.
Not only that, but Vera also knew what an easy prey they were right now.
Because he and Renee were dressed as priests, and they were only here for medical treatments, the criminals would surely bare their teeth.
With that thought in mind, Vera looked around.
First, the long line of patients in front of Renee. He estimated that it would approximately go on for a few hours.
‘There’s none among them.’
It was natural. If there was one among them, they would be beaten up first by the citizens of 11th Street.
The next thing he looked at were the alleys near them. Vera stared at the alleys for a while, thinking that if anyone was after Renee, they would likely be lurking there and keeping watch.
‘…There’s nothing immediately visible.’
He couldn’t see anything.
Vera’s eyes narrowed. A suspicion was brewing in his mind.
‘It shouldn’t be this quiet…’
There was no way they would leave such easy prey alone.
It never occurred to him that there might not be anyone who would come out of the slums.
That was because it didn’t make sense.
The slums weren’t a self-sufficient place. Naturally, they would have to get their supplies in a nearby district in order to sustain their livelihood.
If they don’t go through that process even for a day, there’s no way the slum rats wouldn’t come out because they know that the system would collapse.
Suddenly, Vera’s expression turned serious.
He started to realize something.
Something so obvious that he felt stupid for not recognizing it.
‘…It’s not the same as my last life.’
The slums weren’t the same as the slums in his previous life.
In his previous life, the slums were already under his control at this time. It was a time when he had changed all the rules and conducted business based on them.
So naturally, the slums were different now compared to back then.
‘…How is it running now?’
The power balance between the Five Cartels and the new outside organizations would have changed.
He continued his thoughts.
If that change was the reason the rats were nowhere to be seen, then what kind of things were happening inside?
Vera’s gaze began to wander towards the left side of the plaza.
Beyond the end of his line of sight was 13th Street, the Imperial Cancer.
It was the slums.
In the end, the slum rats didn’t show up even after all the treatments were done, and they had to go back.
Vera eventually had to return to the mansion with unanswered questions, and just like that, it was already late at night.
Inside Vera’s room.
Vera sat at the table, his face serious and troubled.
‘Something is strange.’
There was definitely something wrong with this.
It didn’t make sense that the slum rats were locked up in the slums.
‘Did they create their own production line?’
In the slums?
He thought about it over and over again, but the answer was the same: it was impossible.
It was the answer Vera came up with after thinking about it more seriously than anyone else.
It was impossible to grow crops within the slum, where the sunlight doesn’t reach.
Of course, the terrible sanitary conditions also prevented them from raising livestock.
They also couldn’t trade with other districts because the slums had nothing to offer.
It was a dumpsite of epic proportions that even the Imperial Family had given up on.
This was the result of a vicious cycle that had been going on for hundreds of years, starting when the floating Magic Tower, Aurillac, blocked the sun from reaching 13th Street.
It wasn’t a productive land, but they weren’t able to clean it up, and just let it fester.
How were the slum rats surviving?
All the systems in the slums would collapse in a day without a supplier, so why didn’t he see any trace of them on 11th street?
Vera, with his arms crossed, tapped his fingers.
His gray eyes peeking through his hair added a melancholic tone to his expression.
‘…If I can’t figure it out.’
I’ll just have to go and check it out.
As much as he wanted to ignore it, he couldn’t.
Renee had to provide treatment from now until the start of Foundation Day, and the districts she had to visit were from 8th Street to 12th Street.
All these places are not that far from the slums.
That wasn’t all.
The slum rats were ticking time bombs that didn’t know what they’re doing.
So if the people controlling them were planning a terrorist attack, it would be no different from detonating a bomb in the middle of the Imperial Capital.
As such, Vera knew that ignoring such threats was not the right thing to do.
Continuing his thoughts, Vera narrowed his list down to those who might be in control of the slums.
‘…The Five Cartels.’
If they were controlling the movements within the slums in such an organized manner, they must have united.
He didn’t know who the leader was, but since all five of them were lunatics among lunatics, a detailed investigation was necessary.
Vera wasted no time putting on the black robe that he had hung in the corner of the room.
He wouldn’t be sleeping tonight either, but that wasn’t a problem. A superhuman body doesn’t fall just from that.
Vera let out a long breath, closing his eyes for a moment to compose himself.
Although the situation of having to go to the slums on his own was not a pleasant one, he was trying to reassure himself that it was something he had to do.
‘…It’s something that has to be done.’
Vera quietly opened the window of his room and looked outside.
It was a pitch-black night, with not a single star in the sky. The only things illuminating the dark city were the magic lamps spaced far apart.
It was a nostalgic sight that he had gotten sick of seeing in his past life.
Vera quickly pushed aside those thoughts and leapt out through the window.
It was Vera’s first time coming home in about seven and a half years.
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