༺ The Lord Is With Us (3) ༻
Like most people, the Saintess followed a simple daily routine.
She would wake up at dawn to offer her prayers. Following that, she would have her breakfast before going to the shrine and attending to the sick. Then, she would attend her lectures, read through the scriptures, and pray again before returning to her patients.
Her life was like a treadmill. Each day was repetitive and similar to the day before. However, she never complained.
Compared to her childhood days in the orphanage, where she had to endure the cold and hunger, her current life was infinitely better.
Her bed was warm and she no longer had to worry about meals. People even looked up to her in reverence. It was something she could never have imagined in the past.
She felt a sense of pride. As an orphan who grew up without any parental love, she secretly yearned for recognition.
Externally, she projected an image of benevolence and gentleness. However, such naïveté had no place in the political battles within the Holy Land. Contrary to popular belief, the Saintess was calculating and clever.
However, that didn’t mean she was deceiving the public. She only showed specific facets of her persona to others.
Her concern for her patients was genuine. She always did her utmost to help them, sometimes even secretly treating those who were otherwise unable to get treatment elsewhere.
Her status as a “Saintess” wasn’t limited to the academy but also followed her everywhere she went.
Whenever she went outside, she was surrounded by people who would sometimes even attempt to grab onto her clothes. Many of them were the poor who couldn’t afford to visit the temple.
Yet, God’s grace didn’t shine fairly upon all, and sometimes, the world was cruel to the powerless.
Like all other things, holy power was a finite resource. The Saintess knew that she couldn’t help everyone and that there were proper timings and occasions to use her powers. Even then, she sometimes thought that the world was too cruel to the powerless.
Many were in difficult situations where they could live just by receiving treatment but could only wait for death.
She empathized with such people. As a child, she experienced hunger and shivered helplessly in the cold. As such, she found it difficult to turn a blind eye to those suffering.
She strived to do her best within the scope of her abilities without overexerting herself.
But that was enough to earn the respect of the masses. They were desperate for grace, and it was she who provided for them.
“Did you hear? She visited a neighboring village just a while back…”
“How can she be so compassionate? She even extends her grace to mere commoners like us!”
Before long, the Saintess’ name began to spread amongst the common people.
For her, healing a patient was as simple as lifting a finger, but the people praised her to the high heavens as if she was making a great sacrifice.
She found the whole situation ridiculous, but she didn’t let it show.
As her reputation grew, so too did her influence, and she found no reason to stop it. In this way, all her actions were comprised of equal parts righteousness and calculations.
It was the same for the way she dealt with people.
On that particular day, she was walking to the temple as usual when she came across a familiar face on an empty street.
It was a man with black hair and golden eyes. Ian Percus was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, evidently waiting for her.
The Saintess smiled the instant she laid eyes on him. He was someone she’d been approaching with a keen interest.
His sudden rise to prominence took everyone by surprise. It felt as if all the events at the Academy revolved around him, and even his skills rose along with his reputation.
She held a subtle sense of curiosity towards him while feeling that there was nothing to lose by becoming friendly with him.
She had met a few people who displayed kindness to both nobles and commoners alike. In fact, she was one such person.
However, she had rarely witnessed a nobleman risking his life to save a mere commoner girl. No, it wasn’t just rare, it was the first time she had seen it.
Despite her high reputation as the Saintess, even she was just a human woman. And although she didn’t show it, she harbored an inferiority complex from her past as an orphan.
As such, she couldn’t help but admire a man who treated others with sincerity regardless of social status. It also amused her how he stole glances at her body every time they met.
She was well aware of how alluring her body was and how it could serve as a tool to further her purpose. She felt unpleasant whenever incompetent horndogs cast lustful glances her way. At times, she was tempted to pray divine retribution upon them.
Compared to them, she felt Ian was better. Unlike them, he was at the very least, competent, and she figured he would be useful to keep around.
There were many men who, when shown even the slightest fondness, would misunderstand her intentions and give up everything for her. She thought it wouldn’t hurt even if Ian happened to be one of them.
Of course, after watching him for a while, she knew Ian wasn’t that pathetic.
Even so, it was good to treat them kindly as men instinctively felt protective of women who showed them goodwill.
Thus, the Saintess’ attitude towards Ian consisted of a dual nature—part genuine fondness and part calculated.
Either way, there was no reason not to offer a smile. After wearing a warm smile, she greeted him.
“What a coincidence, Brother Ian. Our pleasant meeting must also be by the grace of the Heavenly Father, Emmanuel.”
However, today, the man’s eyes seemed somewhat strange.
The golden eyes that usually sparkled with vitality no longer shone, and only a dull weariness remained.
The Saintess momentarily paused as she recalled where she had seen those eyes before.
Those were the eyes of battle-hardened soldiers. They resembled the gaze of veterans who had fought endless battles on the front lines against the demonic beasts.
She had been to the front lines several times to tend to the wounded soldiers, and that was where she had seen them—The eyes of someone who had witnessed numerous deaths.
Ian Percus had told her that the recent incident had been his first time hunting a demonic beast.
He showcased his terrifying talent by slaying 10 demonic beasts, including a high-rank beast, on his first hunt. But even then, talent couldn’t substitute for experience, and the look in his eyes was something that could only be honed through overcoming countless deaths.
While she was lost in thought, the man moved away from the wall he was leaning against and approached her.
Ordinarily, he would have stolen a glance at her breasts, but there was no such leisure in him today.
Rather, his voice was lathed in fatigue.
“Saintess, let’s have a private conversation.”
The Saintess pondered for a moment. A man and woman talking alone usually meant their relationship had progressed far enough for them to be comfortable.
Normally, she would have been happy to accept the offer, but Ian’s current demeanor felt extremely off-putting.
There was something dangerous about him. She subconsciously felt an unfamiliar bloodthirst that alarmed her instincts.
After a moment’s hesitation, the Saintess chose to trust her instincts as a voice feigning regret flowed from her mouth.
“Thank you for the kind invitation, Brother Ian. But I’m afraid I’m occupied with another sche-“
“Did you leave the book well-hidden under your bed?”
The Saintess’ smile froze over as her words came to a halt.
Instead, she looked at the man as if she was facing some horrifying existence.
Then, as if it were a matter of fact, he started revealing her deepest secret, one that even Yuren didn’t know, with his jaded eyes and expressionless face.
“You sure do have a peculiar fetish. You only read stories in which women are tied and restrained during se-“
Finally, unable to endure any longer, the Saintess shouted. Her pink eyes fluttered wildly, and her face flushed crimson all the way to her ears.
With clenched fists, her entire body trembled, and her pupils shook with immeasurable embarrassment.
Raising her voice, the Saintess cried out to Ian.
“T-That’s b-b-blasphemy! Sacrilege! Brother Ian, I’m disappointed in you! I’m going to report you to the Church!”
“…? This is about what you’re rea-“
The Saintess interrupted Ian with a quick scan of her surroundings to ensure no one was eavesdropping before grabbing hold of his sleeve.
“……S-since you’re so desperate, let’s talk elsewhere!”
Then, the Saintess pulled Ian along as if trying to drag him away, and Ian, who was silently observing her antics, followed her lead.
That was how their secret meeting in the Sun’s Shelter began.
“…Why is Yuren here?”
Ian inquired in an apathetic voice. After stepping into the reception room on the second floor of the Sun’s Shelter, he discreetly glanced at the lanky man standing beside the Saintess.
Yuren raised his hand in greeting with his usual crooked smile.
Yet, Ian did not return the greeting and simply stared at the Saintess inquisitively.
She coughed and began making excuses.
“I’m sorry, Brother Ian. As you may know, there are a lot of people who worry about me unnecessarily…”
However, the real reason she’d brought Yuren along was because of her intuition.
Her instincts went off like blaring alarms every time she cast a glance at Ian. It was as if they were warning her of a beast that would unhesitatingly sink its fangs into her neck at any moment.
But on the other hand, there was also a part of her that felt uneasy with having Yuren around because she didn’t know if Ian would bring up her “secret book under the bed”.
After all, no matter how close of a relationship she had with Yuren, it wasn’t to the point where they could comfortably share such personal secrets. In fact, she wondered how the heck Ian had gotten hold of such private information.
There was a hint of wariness in her pink eyes as she carefully observed the man sitting in front of her, but he simply nodded his head.
Then without wasting time, he cut straight to the point.
“Can you provide me with some information on orphanages supported by the Church? Specifically, ones that are struggling financially and are located on the eastern part of the continent.”
Silence filled the room as the Saintess directed her puzzled gaze at the man.
She couldn’t grasp his motives for needing that information nor why he was asking her for it.
Sure, she was more than capable of gathering such information with her influence within the Church, but she saw no reason to divulge information regarding the Church’s internal affairs to outsiders—no matter how trivial the information might be.
The Saintess sighed, seemingly regretful.
“Brother Ian, no matter how close we may be, I cannot provide you with the Church’s internal infor–.”
“Is Archbishop Aindel doing well?”
It was a short, offhanded remark, but it was enough to silence her. Yet, she didn’t let on and feigned ignorance while looking at Ian with puzzled eyes.
Ian fiddled with the teacup in front of him, seemingly lost in thought, before speaking in his characteristic emotionless voice.
“I heard that some forces are working to have him removed from office. He’s someone who’s soon to become a cardinal, but it would be disastrous if he were to become entangled in a scandal at such a crucial time. I wonder who could possibly be behind this?”
Stunned, the Saintess and Yuren exchanged glances. Both of them knew who it was.
It was none other than the Saintess herself.
Archbishop Aindel was a conservative within the Church and had long since been at odds with the progressive-minded Saintess.
It was only recently that she had received a tip-off from one of Archbishop Aindel’s close associates regarding his corruption, which enabled her to secretly plan to have him removed from office.
It was a highly confidential operation as the Saintess had never even been on the political forefront of the Church. She had always operated from behind the scenes while gradually expanding her political influence.
So, how could he have known?
In truth, it didn’t matter. Regardless of how he found out, the important thing was to ensure their secret plan wasn’t leaked. And it wasn’t just Ian, they had to figure out and deal with everyone involved in leaking the information before devising a new plan.
And there was only one way to do that.
They had to somehow get the information out of Ian by any means necessary, even if it meant resorting to violence.
That was when a tacit agreement was formed between the Saintess and Yuren.
“……Bring it on.”
It was a voice tinged with fatigue. As the Saintess and Yuren remained silent, it was obvious whose voice it was.
Ian Percus continued to fiddle with his teacup. It was only when the Saintess and Yuren directed their gazes at him that his golden eyes met theirs.
His gaze was cold and calm without any hint of nervousness. His gaze alone rattled the Saintess’ resolve.
Perhaps she was making a mistake.
Yuren was an exceptionally skilled swordsman, and it was difficult to imagine him being defeated, especially when they were fighting together. Yet, a chill ran down her spine as she locked eyes with Ian’s golden gaze.
But it was too late to back down. As Ian brought the teacup to his lips, he delivered one last message.
“It seems like you were already thinking of subduing me even without saying it anyways.”
He was provoking them.
Words were no longer necessary and there was no time for any hesitation.
Yuren’s blade flashed through the air as it shot towards the man’s teacup.
The battle had begun.
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