V2 Chapter 130: Unyielding

The Pope, having let go of her large scythe, firmly grasped my hands with both of hers.

I tried to shake her off immediately, but I was surprisingly overpowered by her immense strength.

The word “trap” involuntarily flashed through my mind. Was the opening she showed when she fended off my Kei technique a deliberate act to lure me in? If so, I had fallen right into her trap.

As I inwardly clicked my tongue at this thought, the Pope spoke.

“Your recent Kei technique – Goura, was it?”

“…I did say that, what about it?”

“Such a Kei technique does not exist in the Phantom Blade Style. Not even in its ancient forms. I surmise you developed this technique yourself.”

The Pope continued speaking calmly, even as my Soul Equipment was piercing through her chest. Not a trace of pain flickered across her face.

For a moment, I almost mistook the Pope in front of me for an illusion, but that was impossible. Because even now, through the Soul Equipment, the Pope’s soul was flowing into me.

Since I could consume her soul, the Pope in front of me was real. And given the volume of her soul, comparable to that of a Mythical Creature, there was no possibility of her being replaced by a body double.

Yet, there was no disturbance in the Pope’s behavior. This fact only heightened my vigilance, but she kept on talking.

“The harmony of sword and Kei, let alone the unity of mind, technique, and body, cannot be achieved by someone of your caliber. Yet you managed to do it. It’s nothing short of remarkable.”

“It’s just the Phantom Blade Style’s basics with forcefully added Kei.”

“For a mere human to forcibly amplify their power with Kei is a Herculean task. Especially to elevate a Kei technique by harnessing the detestable power of a dragon. It’s as difficult as trying to deliciously roast an egg with a dragon’s breath.”

I frowned at the Pope’s oddly mundane analogy and his praise. Like her previous remark about ‘the wisdom of age’, the Pope of the Light Faith occasionally made strangely humorous comments.

Of course, such remarks wouldn’t make me let down my guard or soften my attack. The Soul Equipment was still thrust into the Pope’s chest, and the influx of her soul was unceasing.

My indulgence in the Pope’s chatter was merely to bide time until I completely devoured her soul.

Most likely, the Pope was well aware of this. It’s improbable that she didn’t realize her soul was being consumed. Yet, she continued to hold onto my hands, engaging in nonsensical conversation.

—What on earth is she thinking? Whatever it is, she shouldn’t have any moves left.

For what felt like the umpteenth time, I questioned her motives inwardly.

The total amount of the Pope’s soul I had consumed had already surpassed that of a Hydra and was approaching the realm of a Behemoth. Even accounting for Azrael’s share in the Pope’s soul, the limit should have been nearing.

Yet, the expected limit never arrived. The strength in the Pope’s hands, holding mine down, did not wane in the slightest, and the volume of the soul flowing into me was not decreasing but, rather, increasing.

The reason lay with the dragon behind the Pope.

I could feel an immense amount of magical power flowing from the dragon to the Pope, even more than before.

I clicked my tongue quietly.

I did not know the total amount of the dragon’s soul, but from the Pope’s demeanor, it seemed she still had plenty of leeway. If so, my current position, with both hands and my Soul Equipment pinned down, was extremely disadvantageous. With this in mind, I once again tried to break free from the Pope’s grasp — but, as before, her hands did not budge.

Seeing this, the Pope let a smile creep onto her lips.

“I won’t let you escape. I have waited three hundred years for this moment.”

As if in agreement with her words, the dragon roared loudly. The second Dragon Roar.

I gritted my teeth and endured the intimidation of the roar while keeping a close watch on the Pope’s movements. No matter how vast the dragon’s soul might be, she couldn’t do anything as long as she was pierced by the Soul Equipment. The dragon’s power would weaken, and mine would only increase.

Therefore, there must be a moment when the Pope would make her move. I had to catch that moment precisely and respond immediately.

So, I waited.

I waited with my Soul Equipment still thrust into the motionless Pope’s chest.

I waited while feasting on the seemingly infinite soul of the dragon.

I waited even as the increasingly impatient dragon let out a third roar.

I waited even as the dragon, suffering from the loss of a significant amount of soul, writhed in agony.

I waited even as I leveled up a couple of times from consuming so much soul.

I continued to wait for the Pope to make her move, even after the dragon’s sounds shifted from roars to screams.

— And yet, the Pope did not move.

By this time, even someone as insensitive as myself began to develop some insight.

Perhaps the Pope’s target was not me, but the dragon. Maybe her earlier words, “I won’t let you escape,” were not directed at me, but at the dragon.

The Pope is connected to the dragon through a divine descent. As long as they are connected, an attack on the Pope is synonymous with an attack on the dragon. The same applies to soul consumption.

The Pope’s unyielding grip on my hands, refusing to let go, might be her intention to take both herself and the dragon down together. This theory could explain her unnatural behavior.

In truth, this idea had occurred to me much earlier.

However, acting on the convenient thought that ‘the enemy I thought was an enemy might actually be an ally’ could lead to unforeseen consequences. Moreover, making me think this way could be the Pope’s intention.

Therefore, I continued to consume the Pope’s soul, keeping my doubts sealed away.

Even now, the Pope is being pierced by the Soul Equipment and her soul is being continuously consumed. Whether a human or an immortal king, such a wound would normally be fatal.

Yet, the Pope is alive only because she is connected to the dragon. Conversely, this means the Pope cannot die until the dragon perishes. It’s unlikely that the dragon is bearing the pain of the injury. The agony and torment of enduring a fatal wound in an undying body are unimaginable.

But even so, I couldn’t and wouldn’t pull out the Soul Equipment. Above all, the Pope wouldn’t allow it. Even now, my hands are firmly held by the Pope’s grip, strong as a vice.

As time passed, the multitude of eyes, ears, and mouths covering the Pope’s body, as well as the four black wings sprouting from her back, began to disappear. It signified the loss of the Mythical Creature Azrael’s power from the Pope.

“You—no, you are…”

While facing each other at a distance where we could hear each other’s breathing, I addressed the Pope with a voice mixed with confusion.

Now that the power of the Mythical Creature had faded, the Pope no longer had the strength to fight me. It was safe to say the possibility of it being a trap had vanished.

As I opened my mouth to speak, I hesitated, wondering what meaning there was in questioning the true intentions of someone I was trying to kill.

Without seeming to mind my hesitation, the Pope slowly opened her mouth.

“As I mentioned before—you are remarkable, Sora-sama. The rebellious blade forged by Jin-sama and connected by Kazuma-sama truly dwells within you. They would be delighted in the afterlife. And I’m sorry. I deeply regret that we were unable to fulfill our duty, causing you and others to endure such hardships.”

I was taken aback by her words. The Pope now was clearly different from the one I had crossed swords with earlier, and even from when she claimed to be my senior disciple.

Her voice, imbued with a sense of inclusiveness, was soft and tender. The murkiness in her eyes had cleared, now resembling a serene night sky, captivating anyone who looked into them.

Somehow, just somehow, I thought.

Now, standing before me, was likely Sofia Azurite herself, who fought three hundred years ago as a warrior of the Phantom burial.

Before I could ask about the truth of her identity, the Pope—Sofia—continued speaking. The slight hastiness in her words suggested she was aware that her time was running short.

“Sora-sama, please be vigilant. The ruin you’ve defeated this time is merely the remnants of the calamity from three hundred years ago. The current destruction has already begun, with the Divine Child in motion.”

“That means—”

I swallowed my question just before asking it, realizing Sofia’s figure was starting to disintegrate.

When I defeated Sharamon, the immortal king, his body dispersed like ash blown by the wind. Likely, the Pope was meeting a similar fate.

In that case, it was more important to prioritize her words over my questions. After all, I was the one who had ended her existence. Listening to the last words of the final warrior of the Phantom burial, who had persisted for three hundred years, was undeniably my responsibility.

“Please live a healthy life. Live with the woman you love, have children, grow old, and return to the earth. Fulfill a normal human life. Live without perishing in battle, without being poisoned, and without being consumed by a dragon. This is all I wish for you…”

As soon as she finished speaking, Sofia’s body dissolved into the air, vanishing as if Sofia Azurite had never existed. Whether the abrupt disappearance was a mere illusion or a manifestation of the world’s malice, I couldn’t tell.

Perhaps Sofia’s instability stemmed from her inner conflict of worshipping the dragon while desiring its destruction. Still, it’s hard to believe that a being revered as a god wouldn’t notice Sofia’s betrayal. The reason why Sofia could retain her identity as a warrior…

—Was it because she was broken, or did she break herself to preserve it?

Such thoughts crossed my mind, but I quickly shook my head, dismissing them. These were now unanswerable questions.

As Sofia vanished, the dragon, too, began to lose its form.

Unlike Sofia, who melted into the air, the dragon’s massive body seemed to be swallowed by the dragon’s lair. It appeared as if a snake was returning to its hole, or as if the lair was devouring the dragon’s body.

At that moment, the dragon’s final scream marked the end of the battle.

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