༺ The First Letter (62) ༻
Although gender discrimination had been becoming less common recently, it wasn’t always the case.
Only men had the right to succeed in status, and women weren’t even allowed to fully enjoy educational freedom. This was largely attributed to the societal structure where men were expected to make the majority of sacrifices in the face of the common enemy, the ‘demonic beasts.’
Men had a much better physique than women. This wasn’t a bias but simply the truth. Therefore, men were often dispatched to war and missions to suppress demonic beasts. Even large-scale defensive civil projects were primarily handled by men.
According to the Church of the Heavenly God, it was humanity’s God-given divine mission to stand against the demonic beasts. From there, men followed God’s will while women could not. This religious logic further solidified gender discrimination.
However, a wind of change began to blow as magic engineering and techniques developed further.
Mana alone had the power to sweep away dozens of demons at once. As for physical abilities, although physical training wasn’t completely meaningless, power and speed were both dictated by the amount of mana one had.
Strength was power. Regardless of gender, if one were to be born with an exceptional amount of mana, it was possible to become a skilled warrior who could dominate the battlefield. As a result, “gender discrimination” had quickly become outdated and irrelevant.
It was clear just from seeing Senior Delphine. Despite being a woman, she had already been recognized as the successor of the great Yurdina Family. This was evidence that gender was unimportant as long as one had the skills and capability to lead as the head of a household.
It was a contrast to the conservative beliefs of the Church along with the common people who were unable to systematically cultivate their mana. However, at least among the imperial nobles, such discrimination was no longer prevalent.
And even if someone had such thoughts, they were usually kept to themselves and never voiced. Power and authority were no longer solely a man’s privilege, and there weren’t any nobles who enjoyed opposing power, regardless of how significant or insignificant it was.
I was the same. I had grown up with Celine and made many friends without discriminating based on their genders while at the academy.
I thought I had long since parted with a sexist worldview. However, the old saying that suddenly came to mind was truly sexist.
“Three women are cause for disaster.”
It meant that when three women gather, they’re either so loud that something breaks, or they create a mess while arguing with each other. In any case, their surroundings would be inevitably devastated, and like most proverbs, it had a sexist perception.
It was evident just from seeing Seria. Whether someone was extraverted or introverted was simply a matter of personal inclination. However, I couldn’t help but recall that old proverb.
The hospital room was permeated by a chilly silence, heavy with an air of foreboding, much like the stillness that precedes the first frost of winter. And all of this had arisen from the convergence of the three women.
Celine, Seria, and the Saintess.
All three women were distinctly different from each other. Celine, who was part of the Empire’s lower nobility, was bright and outgoing. Seria, daughter of the esteemed Yurdina family, had a quiet personality. The Saintess, as a noble priestess of the Holy Nation, was renowned for her benevolent and empathetic nature.
The sight of the women, each with their unique characteristics, sitting silently as if they had made a prior vow of silence, was enough to send chills down my spine. Although I didn’t know why they were behaving like this, I could tell the atmosphere was tense and heavy.
Celine looked a little flustered. Her hazel eyes repeatedly bounced between me and the Saintess as she seemed to be unable to figure out what kind of relationship we had.
The Saintess wore a compassionate smile on her face, but it was honestly difficult to discern her thoughts. However, what was clear was that her smile was giving off a different feeling than usual.
Seria’s gaze became a little cold. Although she had been disregarding Celine, she had turned and stared at the Saintess with her aquamarine eyes ever since the Saintess had made her entrance.
Tension hung in the room. The atmosphere was so heavy that it seemed like even the slightest movement from any of the three women would cause an explosion.
Surprisingly, it was the Saintess who broke the ring of silence. As always, she drew a cross above her supple breasts. Immediately after, her voice rang throughout the room.
“Emmanuel. Hello, Brother Ian and fellow sisters. I’m sorry, but if you’re not involved, would you please vacate the room for a moment? As the attending priestess, I would like to examine Brother Ian.”
It was a normal and reasonable request. The air in the room, which had felt as if it could fracture space at any moment, gradually began to settle down. It was that flawless of a request.
There was nothing to argue about an attending priest examining their patient. Celine looked at the Saintess with slight suspicion, but soon sighed and waved her hand.
It meant she would leave for a moment. It was unavoidable for her to step out as it was partly her fault that I had become a patient.
“Then I’ll step out for a moment, Ian Oppa. Saintess, please take good care of Ian oppa. He’s very precious to me…….”
Celine glanced at the Saintess with her hazel eyes. Right. It was just as if she were a fisherman tossing bait. However, the Saintess merely drew the cross again in response.
“Of course, Sister. Brother Ian is a special person to me as well.”
The Saintess’ voice was as serene and natural as ever. Celine seemed momentarily taken aback by the unexpected tranquility of the Saintess’ tone. After a slight hesitation, Celine opened her mouth again.
“Ian oppa and I grew up togethe….”
With a warm smile, the Saintess gently placed her hand on Celine’s shoulder as she walked by.
“Please don’t let him get hurt as much as he is precious to you.”
That was the final blow. Celine’s mask of concern cracked while the Saintess’ smile remained unchanged.
In the end, Celine couldn’t find any words to retort with and left after replying with a wavering voice.
“Yes, I’ll keep that in mind.”
After Celine had left, only Seria remained in the hospital room. Seria was looking at the Saintess without a word. The Saintess approached me quietly.
After she glanced at Seria with her pale pink eyes, Seria finally opened her mouth.
“Uh, I, I am! Uh…. I-I’m Seria Yurdina. Nice to meet you, Saintess.”
She had been silent until now, but she must have been pondering how to greet the Saintess all this time. The Saintess burst into laughter upon hearing her.
“Sister Seria, didn’t we see each other not too long ago? It was the day you injured your arm.”
“Uh, well, yes…”
Seria had bit her tongue out of nervousness, but the Saintess’s remark only made her stutter even more, causing her face to turn pale.
This fool. Seria must have chosen her words poorly in an attempt to give a proper greeting. Considering her lack of social skills, it was entirely possible for her to make such a mistake.
I tried to make an excuse to rescue Seria from her fumble, but before I could even do so, the Saintess looked at her with an understanding gaze.
“We can talk more later. For now, it’s time to examine Brother Ian………”
Despite the Saintess’ gentle tone, Seria remained still with her head bowed and body slightly twitching hesitantly. The Saintess and I both turned towards her, wondering if something was amiss.
Seria struggled to speak for a moment before eventually speaking with a determined gaze.
“Ca-Can! U-uh…. Can… stay here?”
The subject was omitted, but her intent was clearly conveyed. Seria declared that she wanted to stay in the hospital room.
What for? I tilted my head in puzzlement, and the Saintess smiled at Seria with a weird sound.
After a brief moment, the Saintess smiled slyly and asked Seria,
“Are you his fiancée?”
That short question had a profound impact. Surprised, Seria sprang up and her eyes quivered uncontrollably.
“F-fiancée…n, no way! H-how could someone like me possibly be engaged with Senior….!”
“Then, are you his romantic partner?”
“N-no. Uh, I-I’m not, but……”
“That’s a relief.”
I wasn’t sure what she was relieved about, but the Saintess smiled. Shortly after, she delivered the final blow.
“Then, please leave.”
“Ah. Ah, um, ok…..”
Seria looked like she was about to protest. However, she gave up and her shoulders drooped in defeat when she realized that her poor communication skills wouldn’t get her anywhere.
And just like that, Seria left the hospital room with a glum expression. The Saintess, who had subdued both Celine and Selia with just a few words, finally heaved a heavy sigh.
She gave a wry smile.
“I’m sorry for making you wait. Shall we begin the treatment?”
“Um, Saintess. Was there a need to send them aw… Arghhhhhhh!”
Although I wanted to ask if her actions were necessary, I couldn’t even finish my sentence since the Saintess firmly gripped my arm.
And as my injuries had not yet fully recovered, all that came out of my mouth was a scream.
It hurt so much that tears welled up in my eyes. I shot her a questioning gaze. The Saintess had never treated my injuries so roughly before.
However, the Saintess’ expression remained nonchalant. After hearing my scream, she earnestly exuded her holy power and then began shaking her head.
“You’ve been getting injured too frequently lately. You might have to steel yourself for some semi-permanent damage if you get severely injured again.”
The Saintess’ eyes turned cold as she scolded me. I couldn’t find any words to retort with and just awkwardly turned my head away.
“I-I see. I’ll have to be careful then.”
“Don’t just say it, take it seriously. It is imperative that you keep my words in mind since Brother Ian is very competitive and always willing to go to great lengths to be victorious.”
I just kept my mouth shut because I knew she was right.
I’ve always had a slight competitive streak, but ever since losing my memory, it became irrepressible. I started prioritizing victory over taking care of my body and I didn’t even know just where this tendency came from.
Although it had brought me many victories, it was also true that it had heavily burdened my body.
After seeing me stay silent, the Saintess heaved a sigh.
“I’m like that too. I’m also so competitive that I can’t stand losing.”
“Yes. Surprising, isn’t it?”
I nodded, struggling to comprehend how the Saintess, who was known as the embodiment of compassion, could be competitive.
The Saintess showed a wry smile as if she knew what I was thinking. Then, she continued in her typical soft voice.
“That’s why I sent those two away. It was for no good reason other than acting out in a fit of bad temper…”
By ‘those two,’ the Saintess must have been referring to Celine and Seria. But was there ever a reason for her to be upset with those two?
I didn’t bother to voice the question that came to my mind. The Saintess probably had her own circumstances. In our silence, the Saintess placed her hand on my wound, covering it with a bright light.
I felt the blood flowing back into my sore arm. Starting from my fingertips, my arm regained its sensation as the nerves started regenerating.
The Saintess, who had been treating me quietly, turned her pink eyes towards me and directly met my gaze.
Beautiful… It was a breathtaking beauty that evoked admiration every time I saw her. Yet, even though I was in close proximity to such an otherworldly figure, my mind steered clear of any impure thoughts.
It was because her pink eyes were sunken and tired. Shortly after, the Saintess warned me with an unprecedently grave face.
“Don’t participate in the hunting festival.”
“I’m warning you as your attending priestess. You need to give up on the festival. Brother Ian’s body is already at its limit.”
Her stern voice left no room for doubt. I remained silent.
Was my body in such a precarious condition? Participating in the hunting festival would certainly expose us to all sorts of dangers. After all, it was a battle against named demonic beasts and it was almost a given that I would suffer injuries.
The Saintess was advising me against participating since I might have to live with some disabilities if I were to be injured again.
Fear suddenly gripped me.
Suffering semi-permanent damage was no different from having a disability, and even minor disabilities could significantly impact a swordsman’s ability to wield their sword.
The human body was like an intricate machine, and a swordsman’s body, in particular, was extremely delicate.
Even the smallest irregularity could throw off the balance of the entire body. The Saintess must have sensed my anxiety.
She grasped my hand with both hands with a concerned face. Her touch was warm and soft. For the first time, I was able to feel warmth and sincerity from a woman’s hand.
“…It’s a promise, Brother Ian.”
What man could possibly refuse in the face of her earnest gaze and irresistible voice?
I, myself, could only respond with a choked voice.
“I understand, Saintess.”
And so, the Saintess and I drew a cross as we made a silent promise. It was an oath between us. Perhaps relieved, the Saintess finally showed a benevolent smile.
And the next day, I submitted my application for the hunting festival.
I inwardly bowed my head in apology to the Saintess several times.
‘I’m sorry, Saintess.’
But shouldn’t we first save the world?
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