Had it been about 20 days since they boarded the ship?
Land started to come into view.
At first glance, there were quite a few tall buildings, at least three.
Piqued by the tower-like structures, the ship finally came to a complete stop.
“Let’s get off the ship now.”
Iriel issued instructions to those around her and stepped onto the land for the first time in a while, feeling uplifted.
The past twenty days had made her deeply appreciate the land.
Her body wasn’t tired, but she felt mentally exhausted.
The relief of finally arriving was almost enough to bring her to tears.
As they waited for the carriage to disembark from the ship, Iriel approached.
“There will be no welcome party from Priyas Holy Kingdom. So, we must travel by carriage for another three days.”
Having anticipated the need to travel further by carriage, he took it in his stride.
Even if the gods they served were sisters, it would be too much to expect a welcome at the port.
She shivered, arms crossed.
“…Goddess Priyas oversees adversity, hardship, and trials. Her followers are the same. You should be prepared.”
This warning came from Iriel herself.
For someone usually as unflappable as her to be so frightened was telling.
Ray frowned slightly.
“Adversity and hardship… sounds like the followers are the ones suffering.”
Goddess Gaia governs abundance, so her followers enjoy prosperity.
What, then, do the followers of Priyas Holy Kingdom enjoy?
They must relish hardship and trials.
Ray concluded that Priyas Holy Kingdom was a gathering place for masochists and boarded the newly arrived carriage.
‘Ah, now that I think about it, Iriel would know the most about the gods.’
The lineage of heroes fundamentally originates from the gods.
Beings like saints and saintesses are artificially created by gods.
Perhaps Iriel knew something?
He approached Iriel, who looked somewhat anxious.
“Iriel, there’s something I want to ask…”
“…Go ahead. Sigh…”
She closed the book she was reading and inhaled deeply.
“Do you know about the lineage of heroes?”
“…I do, but…”
He had not expected her to be aware, yet her knowledge surprised him.
He moved closer to Iriel with eagerness.
As he gazed at her with expectation, she lifted a finger.
“The lineage of heroes… it’s half correct and half mistaken.”
“Only half correct?”
“That’s because they grow stronger through mutual destruction. Within a family, only one can emerge as a hero. So, if you think about it, it’s only partially accurate to refer to it as the lineage of heroes.”
His shock matched the revelation.
Killing one another?
This was news he had never heard from his parents.
After a pause to gaze out the window, she resumed speaking.
“Would you like me to tell you an ancient tale for clarification? In those times, black magicians were esteemed as genuine magicians, and magical towers stood tall.”
Determining the exact period was challenging.
Three hundred years prior, black magicians faced condemnation as heretics.
The ‘old times’ she referred to must have dated back even further than three hundred years.
“Afterward, trouble arose. The black magicians’ spells conjured demons. These creatures took to the skies, prompting a perpetual conflict with all the world’s races. Countless dragons perished, and many hidden races were decimated. The war lasted so long it was almost farcical to survive it.”
“And so, the gods intervened. They created entities known as ‘heroes,’ who would enact their will. It is said that each was endowed with not one, but two blessings…”
He was aware of only a single divine blessing.
Skill in various domains, a lifespan surpassing that of humans, extraordinary focus, memory, and capabilities that dwarfed those of the average person.
But two blessings?
Had the divine favor not been unique?
“Yes, the initial blessing granted them capabilities far exceeding those of ordinary humans… To that extent, they could be deemed heroes among men. But that alone was insufficient to conclude the war with the demons.”
That much was clear.
Even the strongest humans would not have stood a chance against the adversaries dragons faced in their fight for survival.
They would have been effortlessly overwhelmed.
“The second blessing, though… it was so cruel it hardly seems right to call it a blessing.”
“The gods made them so that by killing one another, they could absorb each other’s power and experience.”
He gave a hollow laugh.
This was not the work of a god; it was the act of a murderer.
“That’s why only one hero is born in a village. That’s their lineage. The artificially created hero ended the war and is said to have committed suicide… but the exact truth is uncertain.”
Suicide seemed improbable.
Or, even if an attempt at suicide was made, it likely failed.
After all, if the last hero had died, his descendants, his parents, would not have existed in the first place.
This led to another question.
The gods of this world are not a singular entity.
Yet, only a few appear to interact with humans.
So, who was responsible for this lineage?
“Which god forged this lineage of heroes?”
Could it be Gaia?
Did Gaia, who seems to be involved in every misfortune, intervene once more?
Sensing his thoughts, Iriel shook her head.
“It was not our Goddess Gaia who created them. I believe it was Goddess Priyas who was responsible.”
The sisters are very close.
Both have created saints and heroes; they certainly deserve our recognition.
Of course, the intention was to end the war with demons, but why must they gain strength through the death of one another?
Iriel responded to his curiosity.
“If I may speculate cautiously… perhaps it’s because Goddess Priyas governs hardship and trials? Just as we, chosen by Goddess Gaia of abundance, live a life of power and prosperity, those fashioned by Goddess Priyas must constantly face pain and trials.”
After voicing her thoughts, she averted her gaze slightly as though regretting her boldness and added softly,
“But that’s just my conjecture.”
If that’s indeed true, it’s an exceedingly tragic existence.
To spend years in pain and then to engage in life-threatening deathmatches?
That’s not even a joke!
It seems the sisters have gone mad together.
Otherwise, how could they have come up with such a crazy idea and put it into action?
Listening to the story, it seems most of them were doomed to live a hard life and die.
The sole surviving hero must not be feeling too cheerful either.
He mumbled quietly, pondering their lives.
“They were created to be sacrificed.”
A lineage forced to sacrifice under the name of a god, giving up their humanity for a long lifespan.
And ultimately, a deathmatch created by a deranged god.
Their life’s journey was full of dramatic twists and turns.
He leaned back against the carriage seat, sighing.
“Do you know where they are gathered?”
“I’m not sure about that. What I know is just the related history…”
Iriel looked apologetic, and he waved his hand dismissively.
“No, it’s okay. What you’ve told me so far has been helpful.”
“Why did you ask about this story?”
“It seems I’m somewhat involved in it.”
At his words, Iriel’s face went pale with shock.
Did he mean he was related to the heroes?
‘Wait a minute… With his level of power and strategy at that age…’
There was only one answer.
He was directly from the lineage of heroes.
Not just related, but perhaps he was a saint directly descended from a hero’s lineage.
“Ray… you can’t mean…”
“Right. I found out not long ago, but it seems my family is like that.”
“Good heavens… What is this…”
What a crazy family tree!
Iriel barely swallowed her follow-up words.
A hero created by Goddess Priyas and also chosen by Goddess Gaia!
‘Oh, Goddess Gaia…’
Why would a goddess overseeing abundance give me such a trial!
This is unfair! How about an explanation!
She felt like confronting the goddess right then.
But she couldn’t voice it out.
How could she relieve this frustration!
Silently, Iriel started hitting the carriage’s backrest with her small fist.
Ray was startled.
He knew she wasn’t normal, but to this extent?
“Why, what’s wrong…”
“No, it’s nothing. Don’t mind it.”
He didn’t want to get involved, but he couldn’t help being concerned.
As he seriously contemplated changing carriages, the carriage stopped, and the paladin captain announced that they would camp.
After camping three times, they began to see the castle.
It was a castle situated on a high plateau.
Their own Celonia Castle was also located on higher ground, but this was on another level.
Choosing to face adversity and hardship?
Building a castle on a cliff, they must have been out of their minds.
The foundation looked weak, and part of the castle jutted out over the cliff, possibly a balcony, which was quite striking.
The view was nice, but the fear of it collapsing at any moment might keep one awake at night.
He muttered without realizing,
“…This is surprising in its own way. Is it a trial of not knowing when one might die?”
She laughed without meaning to.
But she quickly composed herself.
“We should hurry if we want to reach there by today.”
The carriage picked up speed, closing the distance to the castle.
The long procession caught the attention of the villagers, who looked on curiously.
The focused attention allowed them to quickly complete the entrance procedures with the guards.
“You may enter.”
The guards’ faces seemed gaunt—perhaps it was just his imagination.
As they entered, maids came to greet them.
“Welcome. You must be tired from the long journey, but let us pray to Goddess Priyas. Please kneel in your place.”
“…This is crazy.”
He blurted out in frustration.
It was a curse marking the beginning of hardships and trials.
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