Contrary to my expectation, the garden is just as normal as it looks. People say looks can be deceiving, and I fully expected this beautiful garden contained some weird-ass creatures like the ones I met before the arbor.
To my slight surprise however, it doesn't have any; it is just a normal garden ... A normal and beautiful garden. Looking to each side of the stone path, I can see flowerbeds of many kinds of flower I don't know of. 'Well, I'm not a flower person anyway.'
Inhaling the scent of flower that the wind carries, my nose is quickly overwhelmed with a heavenly scent that, I think, literally clean my soul. 'As expected of a Magic World, everything is exaggerated here.' I can guarantee Earth doesn't have flowers of this caliber.
"You look like a girl on aphrodisiac."
'Well, thank you for reminding me, Valerie.' I know that I am enjoying the flower scent too much, but her way of insulting me is really creative. "It's not my fault that I was born like this."
"Yes, but it's your choice to behave like that."
"A girl on aphrodisiac."
To say that I didn't expect that will be a lie, but to say I expected that would be a bigger lie. I thought she would say something along the lines of me behaving like a girl; I didn't expect she would rephrase her insult.
Valeria snorts softly in, what I can say is, amusement. "Make a choice of what you want yourself to be. If you want to be a woman, I will guide you until you become a woman who can look down on any man. If you want to be a man, I will guide you until you can make a whole Kingdom bow before you."
Valeria stops walking, and turns to me. "In this world, your appearance and preference don't matter; power is all that matters. You can be yourself, but you have to be strong—you have to be the winner." She quirked her eyebrow. "What do you want to be?"
Of course, I don't need to think long to answer it.
I am not dissatisfied of the fact that I was born as a male; I am dissatisfied with the fact that I was born as a male, but don't possess the apparent traits that any other male has.
"I want to be a man—a real man. I want to have the ability to trample everyone who stands in my way ... I want to be absolute."
Even without looking at the way Valeria reacts to my word, I know that I got carried away. Despite so luckily, Valeria doesn't ridicule me or anything; she just stares at me silently with a small incomprehensible smile on her face.
"Very well. Behave like a man then."
Instead of answering me, Valeria walks away. She walks away graciously without even turning her head to me once. 'Is she telling me to follow her manner? Is it the famous "observe and learn" method?' As it is highly likely, I am ready to imitate the way she walks.
"Don't be a fool by imitating the way a woman walks."
But, she stops me before I can do so.
"Raise your head, and hold your neck straight. Straighten up your posture, and push your chest slightly forward. Don't shrink your shoulders; push them slightly to the back to accentuate that unmanly chest of yours. Now, hold that position."
At this point, I have already followed every single one of Valeria's instruction—while following closely behind her, of course. While I don't feel like I have become manlier with my current posture, I do feel like I walk like a very confident person.
"It is tiring. Do I have to keep this posture all the time just so I look like a man?" Even though it hasn't been a minute yet, I already developed a strong urge to slump over.
"Holy cat! My nose!" Valeria has suddenly stopped in her track, resulting me in bumping to her back. Caressing my delicate nose to make sure it is okay, I raise my head and say, "What is wrong—"
Upon seeing Valeria's face however, I can't utter a single word.
"Everything is tiring; even sleeping itself is tiring. Life is meant to be tiring, and you have to find the way to enjoy that tiredness. If you can't even bear with it, you don't deserve to live!" Raising her chin, she exclaims, "I can eternally end your tiredness right here right now, if you want to."
I wish I didn't say anything about me being tired; Valeria's eyes are currently too terrifying to look at. While she doesn't look like she is pissed at me, she looks like she is ready to split my head in two and bathe herself with my blood.
"Hmph! Don't be a whiny brat." Luckily for me, she stops being a cruel stepmother not long after. "There will come a time where you don't feel it's not tiring anymore—when you are used to it. Until then, bear with it and stop complaining."
"Didn't you hear what I said?"
"Then why are you lowering your head?"
'Because I'm scared, lady! Why are you intimidating me with your Mana anyway?!' Of course, I can't say it unless I want to say goodbye to my life. Instead, I merely raise my head and stare at Valeria as calm as I can.
"Good." She nods her head. "Keep that posture whenever you walk from now on. Do you hear me?"
"Do you hear me?!"
Assuming her gracious, beautiful lady persona once again, Valeria walks away like nothing happened. It is so natural, I even doubt whether what I experienced indeed happened. 'Does she even realize she behaved like a typical foul-mouthed drill sergeant earlier?'
"Don't stand around like a fool. Follow me."
'At least, she has started to assume her role as my mentor.' I nod my head wordlessly, and follow three steps behind her. I'm not going to lie; her attitude earlier makes me a little bit cautious towards her. 'Who knows what she'd do if I somehow pissed her off?'
As I am busy keeping my posture right, I don't get to enjoy the scenery of the beautiful garden any longer. I am slightly annoyed and disappointed, but it's better than losing my neck; I know Valeria is keeping her eyes on me.
A couple of minutes passed, and we finally reach the bridge that I have only seen from afar before. It is an arched bridge, roughly 30 feet in diameter. The design is pretty much simple, but still looks elegant and special.
Even the woods of the bridge make our step sound pleasant to the ear. Looking at the pond below it, I can't notice a single fish in it; only some lotuses and a few kinds of aquatic flowers.
Looking to the front, at the area the bridge is connecting us to, I can see a whole different world ... A scenery that I didn't see earlier before the arbor.
Before, all I could see were flowerbeds. This time, I can see tall grasses decorating the ground, gigantic trees, and some equally gigantic statues lining on each side of the stone path in front of the bridge.
What makes it feel like a different world however is not only the different scene, but also the aura this place has; it feels more intimidating and profound. As we step our feet on the stone path before the bridge, I can feel the aura of the place is threatening to crush me.
"Stay close to me, and keep your posture!"
When I reach Valeria's side, the heavy feeling instantly disappears like it was never even there before. Heaving a brief sigh of relief, I quickly fix my posture and look around. I'm already quite familiar with the posture, so I can enjoy the scenery once again.
"Who are these people?" I motion at the statues of the armoured individuals on each side of the stone path.
"They are the Heroes."
"Oh." As I expected, all of them must be an important figure to the Kingdom. "Did they achieve something amazing for Verniculos Kingdom when they were alive?"
Instead of confirming my guess, Valeria quirks her eyebrow. "I think you are misunderstanding something."
"Misunderstanding something? No. I get who they are. They are the excellent Warriors of Verniculos Kingdom who sacrificed themselves for its glory, right?"
"Huh? Who are—"
"They are the statues of the Heroes that every generation of the Ninth Demon King—Demon King of Verniculos—killed ... Human Heroes."
I know this is a Magical world, and I am aware of the difference in culture. But to say something like this is normal in this kind of a world will be a stretch. 'What is the point of making your enemies' statues anyway?' I have a guess of what the purpose of their creation is, but I still need to confirm it with Valeria.
"Were the previous Demon Kings of Verniculos a great man? Making a statue to honor—"
"No, it is not what you are thinking."
'Aha! Now I can confirm what the purpose of theses statues' creation is.' Although I don't really understand how it actually works, I am sure they mean like some kind of an insult to the human's side.
"This place is called The Path of Reminder." Valeria starts speaking again. "As Demons are born naturally stronger than the rest of the race, many of them forget that they are not invincible. These statues are here for that reason—as a reminder."
Since the statues hold a deeper meaning than I thought, I can't react properly for a couple of seconds. Of course, when I have regained myself back, I ask Valeria about another thing. "How can these guys remind the Demons that they are not invincible?"
"There." She stops walking, and points her finger to the front. There are seven gigantic statues circling around a patch of land there. "They are the statues of the Heroes who managed to kill a Demon King of Verniculos."
Although they are not many compared to the statues I have seen on each side of the stone path, the amount still freaks me out a little bit.
"They are circling around the grave of the late Demon Kings of Verniculos—the Kings that were killed by Heroes. The grave of the fallen Demon Kings is called Garden ... It was created that way to remind the Demon of their mortality."
Turning to me, Valerie gazes at me incomprehensibly. "If you are not careful, you will end up in here, Demon King Candidate."