༺ Towards the Empire (1) ༻
The next morning, in Dovan’s living room.
Renee was sitting in the middle of a heated discussion.
They were talking about where Dovan’s destination would be after he left the mountain.
The initial request was to protect him from the Federation until the masterpiece was completed. But since they had come this far, Renee grimaced, thinking that it was only right to help until the end.
They couldn’t just leave without a plan.
Dovan’s leg was uncomfortable, and Aisha was the only one by his side. It wouldn’t be easy for the two of them to leave the mountain range and settle somewhere else.
They needed a place where they wouldn’t get ostracized. Moreover, it should be a place where the Federation couldn’t easily track them down.
After much deliberation, Renee suddenly had an idea and exclaimed.
“Ah! What about the Holy Kingdom?”
“Hmm? The Holy Kingdom?”
“Yes! You can’t come inside the fortress since you’re not a priest, but you can settle down in the nearby town. Also, we can come help you anytime since it’s the Holy Kingdom…”
Renee, who thought that the idea was a pretty obvious solution, turned to Vera.
“What do you think, Vera?”
“It’s a great idea. Certainly, the Holy Kingdom holds a lot of influence in the area, so no one can easily bring in forces from the outside. There would be no better place to avoid the Federation.”
Vera’s response brought an even bigger smile on Renee’s face.
“If you don’t mind, Mr. Dovan, we’ll take you to the Holy Kingdom. That is, if you don’t have other destinations in mind.”
Dovan made a gentle look at Renee’s words for a moment, then made an embarrassed expression and continued.
“I’m really grateful, but… would that really be okay? I heard you’re out to circumnavigate the continent, but if you do that, you’ll be heading back the way you came.”
“It’s all right. Uhm…”
Since it was a revelation of indeterminate duration, it didn’t matter if they went back the way they came.
As Renee was about to offer words of affirmation, she hesitated and asked Vera, Norn, and Hela for their opinions again, feeling sorry for the inconvenience they might face if they took a detour.
“Um…are you all okay with this?”
Vera paused for a moment at Renee’s words.
It would take about two weeks by carriage to get to the kingdom from here. If they went back there to arrange for Dovan’s accommodation and went to other areas, it would take more than a month.
Time itself wouldn’t be the problem, but it would definitely bring a lot of trouble.
Was there no better way?
As he dwelled on that thought, Vera remembered Marie, whom he met in the Great Woodlands. He told Renee what he was thinking.
“Then, how about going to the Empire? I believe it would be a good idea to go there and ask Marie for assistance.”
A gasp escaped Renee’s mouth.
“That’s right. Marie!”
“Yes. I’m sure her work in the Great Woodlands is long over, so she’s probably on her way back to the Empire by now, if she’s not already there.”
Apparently, once Aidrin was settled, Marie planned to go back to the Empire and spend time with her family.
It wouldn’t be a short trip, since it would be the first time in 10 years that she would be meeting her family again. If they went to the Empire now, they would have a high chance of meeting Marie.
“What do you think, Mr. Dovan?”
“That’s very kind of you. I don’t know how I can repay you for all your care…”
“You’ve already compensated us more than enough.”
Vera said as he stroked the hilt of the Holy Sword at his waist.
He had received a masterpiece as a gift. If he couldn’t do this much, then it would be inhumane. Of course, he wouldn’t have demanded any other repayment even if he hadn’t received it. Demanding another repayment after receiving a masterpiece as a gift would be an ungraceful act.
With a small smile on his lips at the passing thought, Vera added.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s just something we should do.”
While looking at Vera’s refreshing smile, Dovan replied with a playful tone, feeling both grateful and guilty.
“You’re the only one who has been repaid. The others didn’t get anything.”
Vera’s fingertips trembled, not because he didn’t know it was just a joke, but because he felt guilty that it was true.
Dovan laughed at Vera’s reaction. Norn and Hela, who were standing behind them, also laughed.
Only Renee, who was worried that Vera might be upset, spoke up with a bewildered expression.
“Of course it’s okay! We’re not doing it in hopes of getting something anyway!”
And in that peaceful atmosphere, it was decided that they would head towards the Empire.
That same afternoon, Renee went outside in the sun to kill some time.
Norn and Hela went to help Dovan tidy up the forge, while Vera and Aisha joined her to take a break.
Renee was lulled into a false sense of peace, thinking that her work here was finally done when Aisha spoke up.
“What sort of place is the Empire?”
There was curiosity in her voice.
It was only natural for Aisha to be curious, as she was taken in by Dovan as a war orphan living on the streets.
Renee chuckled at Aisha’s eagerness and patted her on the head before answering.
“Well, I’ve never been there before, so I can’t really say. All I know is that… first of all, it’s the most prosperous place on the continent, and the place that we’re going to is the biggest city there.”
A gasp escaped Aisha’s lips.
Renee stroked Aisha’s hair, feeling her ears perk up under her fingertips, then told her about the Imperial Capital that she learned about while in the Holy Kingdom.
“As it is at the center of the continent, I know that its market is immense. They traded everything from specialty goods to rare artifacts from all corners of the land.”
Good thing she’d done her homework.
Renee thought to herself. After speaking for a while in a cheerful tone, feeling that the things she had learned in the Holy Land over the past three years had not been in vain, she turned to Vera with a question.
“By the way, do you know anything about the Empire, Vera?”
For some reason, she thought that Vera might know more about it than she did, so she asked for more information.
“…Yes, because I grew up in the capital of the Empire.”
A small shudder ran through Renee’s body. Aisha’s gaze shifted to Vera.
“There definitely is a thriving market, but among them, the black market auctions have a particularly unique culture.”
Aisha asked, “What is the black market?”
“It’s an underground market where forbidden items are secretly traded,” Vera explained.
“People who are caught trading there are the most enthusiastic users, so it’s hard to catch them.”
Vera had firsthand experience running the black market in his previous life.
It was a place where noble families of the Empire, who had inherited the culture of depravity and obscenity passed down through their generations of wealth, wandered around the most.
From simple drug deals to unauthorized knowledge, such as ancient books and living beings, everything was traded there.
As they could no longer be satisfied with ordinary stimulation and had come to use the auction house more than anyone else to relieve the desires inherent within them, the black market of the Imperial Capital had been continuing its legacy for hundreds of years.
“So, they are not good people?”
“Well, most of them.”
Of course, there were some who were good, but only a few.
As Vera’s mind wandered back to the past, he turned to Aisha and asked.
“Anyway… shouldn’t you be going back now? I know you still have a lot of things to do.”
He was telling her to stop fooling around and just go.
And with that, Aisha pouted her lips and stood up from her seat.
“You don’t have to tell me, I’m going anyways. I’ll see you later, Renee.”
Renee waved her goodbye and Aisha went away.
Once Renee was sure that Aisha was a distance away, she turned to Vera.
How should she say it?
Renee knew very well that Vera doesn’t like talking about his past.
That was why Renee hadn’t asked him about it, which was why she was surprised when he brought it up earlier.
Renee felt a little uneasy at the thought that Vera might have felt compelled to speak because of her question.
Vera realized Renee’s worries about him, so he spoke to reassure her.
“You didn’t burden me, Saint.”
“It’s just a matter of my mind, so you can rest assured.”
Yes, it was ultimately a matter of mindset.
The words were spoken out of the realization that one must accept even the past they once thought was despicable and tried to ignore.
If it was a shameful past, then facing it head-on was the only way to avoid making the same mistake again.
Of course, he wasn’t about to tell her that he was from the slums just yet. Not because he was embarrassed or ashamed by it, but because he didn’t want Renee to feel sorry for him.
He had lived a life that didn’t deserve sympathy, so he wanted to let her know when he was more confident with himself. With that in mind, Vera added.
“I apologize for not telling you about my hometown until now. If you have any questions, I’ll answer them as much as I can.”
Renee nodded her head slightly, sensing the calmness in Vera’s tone.
A small smile appeared on her lips.
“Maybe some other time. I can’t think of anything right now, so I’ll ask you when something comes to mind.”
“Yes, please do so.”
She had a sudden thought. Since leaving the Holy Kingdom, Vera has been constantly changing.
Vera had always said that he was chasing the light, and he had been proving that his words were true over and over again.
Has anything changed?
What had changed from before she left the Holy Kingdom?
Suddenly, Renee somehow felt small and ashamed of herself for not knowing what she wanted to do with her life yet, and for only chasing after love.
Then, she remembered that longing desire.
It was the longing to become the right person for Vera, someone who could keep up with Vera as he moves forward.
The longing that Vera once had for Renee. Now, Renee was in the exact same position.