༺ The Lord Is With Us (16) ༻
The process of choosing an assignment for the practicum was difficult.
There were numerous assignments to choose from, each varying in their difficulties and corresponding credits. Given the Academy’s rigorous standards, the students had no choice but to be conscious of their grades. As such, the main topic of discussions for third-year students naturally gravitated towards their practicums as the time for final exams inched closer.
Opting for an easier assignment to avoid failing was a viable strategy.
Each year, there were always a handful of groups who ambitiously took on challenging assignments just to end up failing.
A misguided judgment when selecting their assignment spelled disaster since those who failed their assignment received no points, and the practicum was weighed heavily.
As much as the practicum could potentially boost a student’s grade, it also meant failing significantly increased their likelihood of dropping out even though it could be somewhat cushioned with high grades in their theoretical classes.
For that reason, students fought desperately in their practicums to avoid failing, with some even dying in their desperation.
By this point, you would think that the Academy would take measures to reduce the casualties, but they had not once abolished the tradition of sending their students on practical dispatch assignments.
This was due to the fact that the Academy was both an educational and training institution.
They emphasized safe theoretical education within the school grounds for the underclassmen, but by the time they became upperclassmen, the emphasis gradually shifted towards practical training and on-field experiences.
The practicum was a prime example.
The real world was harsh in the sense that every battle was likely to claim lives, and it was exactly this point that the Academy wanted its students to grasp, even if only in the slightest.
As such, a crowd was ever-present in front of the task board during the days leading up to their deployment, and today was the same.
With each passing day, the board brimmed with more new tasks than those that were cleared. It was a testament to the continental demand for talented individuals.
Among the ever-increasing tasks, the safer assignments with higher pay disappeared quickly. So much so that some of the third-year students even cut class to camp out in front of the task board.
Such desperation was rampant among the third-year students, but I was one of the few exceptions.
To begin with, I was never particularly interested in my grades and always floated around the lower-middle ranks of my class. Now that I placed in the middle-upper ranks, I was perfectly satisfied.
Significantly improving my grades to that extent within a month was a remarkable achievement, but if I were to objectively assess my abilities, that was my limit.
Surpassing the top students required a substantial amount of luck.
It might have been a different story if it was ‘me’ from the future. He was skilled enough to defeat Senior Delphine, and with that kind of ability, aiming for the top of the class wasn’t a pipe dream.
However, it was ridiculous to even entertain such an absurd possibility. The letter may have been from seven years in the future, but it was entirely possible that future ‘Ian’ was from a time far beyond that.
It wouldn’t be strange even if he had come from decades into the future. By then, I would have become a full-fledged swordsman, and a mere student who lacked sufficient practical experience would have been child’s play.
I thought it would be nice if I could perfectly replicate his skills, but that was currently impossible. For now, I had to rein in my greed while being satisfied with my current achievements.
That being said, my current focus was not on improving my skills or my grades. I had a far more important responsibility on my shoulders.
It seemed surreal, but I was tasked with saving the world.
To that end, my practicum had to be at a specific orphanage. Even though the war had been over for hundreds of years, the continent was still overrun with orphans due to the existence of demonic beasts, which led to the formation of many orphanages. As such, the first thing I had to do was find the right one the letter had mentioned.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to start from scratch since there were clear conditions, and I also had the document the Saintess had given me.
A struggling orphanage supported by the Church in the eastern part of the continent.
There were dozens of such orphanages.
I was now comparing each orphanage, and luckily, I was left with only a single orphanage that met my specific conditions.
The Gilford Orphanage.
Their request was to scout and kill any demonic beasts in the vicinity.
Scouting for and slaying demonic beasts was a fairly common request. The expected difficulty wasn’t that high, and as expected from a struggling orphanage, the reward wasn’t good either.
In other words, it had all the makings of an unpopular request. In fact, it had been sitting there for so long that the request paper had become tattered.
I carefully took down the request. It contained the same information as mentioned in the second letter from the future.
‘Does not affect your grades.’
It fit perfectly. I knew Senior Delphine and Senior Elsie would find it disagreeable, but it didn’t matter as they had likely accumulated enough points by now.
My hesitation didn’t last long. My gut was telling me that this was the right one.
My heart felt heavy. A sense of dread washed over me as I didn’t know what exactly was going to happen at this orphanage.
I only had two words to go off of.
‘Ambush’ and ‘Nest’.
In the end, it seemed that I would have to wait until I got there to find out what they meant. For now, all I knew was that there would be an attack and that there was a nest.
With that in mind, I turned and headed to the General Department of External Affairs to notify them of my decision and group members.
Afterwards on the way back, a familiar figure caught my eye. It was a lanky man with a stern face.
It was Senior Fermin. He was the monk who accompanied Senior Delphine, and I was indebted to him for various things.
He had given me first aid, but I returned the favor by biting off his nose.
Human feelings were quite a complex thing. Although it was unavoidable at the time since it was in self-defense after Senior Delphine and her group ambushed us, I still felt apologetic towards him.
As I was contemplating what to say, Senior Fermin’s eyes met mine.
His eyes opened wide in surprise, and I greeted him with a wave of my hand and an awkward smile.
“Hello, Senior Fermin.”
“It’s been a while, junior… Have you been well? Emmanuel.”
It was only after hearing the greeting unique to the Holy Nation that he seemed like a proper monk. I hadn’t known before since he always used a sword, but he was a skilled martial artist.
His swordsmanship was nothing to scoff at, either. He wasn’t particularly well-known among the fourth-year students, but he was incredibly strong in actual combat.
He was truly a ‘hidden talent’ obscured behind his skinny body and pale complexion. He also had a compassionate heart that cared for his opponents even while in battle.
Truly, a formidable opponent in both character and skill.
As such, I bowed deeply out of both respect and my wish to apologize.
“That… I’m sorry about last time. Is your nose okay?”
Senior Fermin burst out in hearty laughter at my cautious question. He flashed a friendly smile and shook his head.
“There’s no need to apologize, junior. If anything, we’re the ones at fault for launching a cowardly ambush. You merely chose the best option available under the circumstances.”
He spoke with humility, making me feel even more guilty. If he had instead angrily screamed at me, I would have dismissed him with a snort, but now, I could only eke out an embarrassed cough.
Since Senior Fermin said it was fine, I decided that there was no point in dragging out the issue.
Then, words began to flow naturally from my mouth.
“Right, Senior Fermin, I guess you were a monk.”
“I suppose you thought otherwise?”
I quickly shook my head in denial as he showed a wry smile.
“No, no. I just hadn’t realized it until now because you’re so skilled with your sword, but seeing how you say ‘Emmanuel’…….”
“It’s a nice greeting, isn’t it?”
He smiled slightly, his mood seemingly improving as I asked him a question regarding his faith.
It was a characteristic of devoted followers that with just the smallest mention of their faith, they would preach for hours on end.
Right on cue, commentary began pouring out of his mouth like a waterfall.
“As you know, junior, ‘Emmanuel’ means ‘May the Lord be with you’. But due to its simple meaning, it’s able to be used in a variety of contexts. It can be used as a blessing to the other person, it can mean to fulfill one’s duty, and it can also mean to obey the Lord’s will as the Lord is with us.”
Despite his quiet demeanor, Senior Fermin was clearly devoted to his faith just from how he was rattling off information I didn’t even ask for.
Normally, I would have just nodded and listened along in consideration of his feelings, but today, a certain word caught my attention.
‘Obey’. It had been written on the back of the second letter.
“……’Obey’, you say?”
“Yes, it’s one of the core doctrines of our faith to obey God’s will. In the beginning, the Heavenly God Arus gave us our reason and spirit, and the Evil God Omeros created our bodies. As such, we humans are inherently sinful, and it’s in our nature to sin.”
His explanation was something I was already aware of, but I couldn’t understand how it was connected to obedience.
His face suddenly become animated with enthusiasm. All devotees were alike.
“Therefore, we cannot live free of sin with only our strength. It is only by emptying ourselves and obeying the Lord’s will that we can live a life of integrity.”
“……Is that possible?”
“It’s not easy.”
A bitter smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he promptly gave a detailed explanation.
“Everyone is afraid to abandon their ‘self’. Even I feel the same even though I dedicated my life to the Lord. So, how much more afraid would others feel? Abandoning oneself means having the resolve to end one’s own life.”
“But is it necessary to go that far?”
Senior Fermin drew the holy cross across his chest, the corners of his mouth curled into an enigmatic smile.
He seemed to want me to find the answer myself.
“I try to live following those principles since it is my faith, but you don’t have to live in obedience. However, you might one day find yourself in a situation… where you will have to abandon yourself…….”
With that, Senior Fermin walked away, leaving behind an ominous phrase that seemed almost prophetic. He didn’t forget to bow his head and say ‘Emmanuel’ at the end.
I stood still for a while, lost in thought.
To obey, and abandon oneself?
For now, it was just an indecipherable religious slogan. However, considering the future ‘Ian’ had written it down, it couldn’t be meaningless and would be significant when that time came.
Holding those words close to my heart, I resumed my walk.
It was almost time to leave for the practicum.
A warp Gate was the transportation hub that connected the continent’s major locations.
The tolls were high due to the immense amount of magic required. However, it was a gift just to be able to travel distances that would otherwise take days or weeks in a single moment. It wasn’t an exaggeration to call it one of the greatest inventions of modern magic.
Although it was usually so expensive that even lower-class nobles couldn’t freely afford it, students of the Academy were allowed to use the Warp Gate for free as long as they were on an assignment.
But even with the warp gates, I would have to rent a horse and ride for another half a day or so to reach my destination, the Gilford Orphanage, as it was located quite far from any major city. It was unfortunate, but there was no other choice.
I could only be grateful that I could avoid being homeless by using the Warp Gate. With such a thought, I inspected the items I had packed.
Clothes and other necessities were mixed in, as well as a few potions Emma had given me.
One potion to slow my heartbeat and conceal my presence, one to boost natural healing, and one antidote.
I wasn’t sure I would need them, but all of them were undoubtedly useful. Considering I didn’t know what was going to happen, it was best to be prepared.
In the end, our group only had three members instead of four.
The norm was to form groups of 4, but many students went in groups of two or three, depending on their interpersonal relationships. I was the same.
Given that we didn’t know what was going to happen, the quality of the members was more important than the quantity, and both Senior Delphine and Senior Elsie were amongst the top students of their year.
I organized a balanced group, thinking having members with mediocre skills would only increase the risk of casualties.
If there was a downside, it was that both of them had matters to tend to regarding their respective groups of followers.
As such, it became impossible for them to leave with me, but they said they would be joining me in a day or two, so I only needed to hold out on my own for a few days.
With that in mind, I stepped through the warp gate.
A disgusted voice echoed through the room.
A woman with silver hair and pale pink eyes, and a man with jade-colored hair trailing behind her like a shadow.
It was the Saintess and her escort knight, Yuren.
Yuren smiled and waved as soon as he saw me, but the Saintess frowned and slightly slouched over as if in discomfort.
Her eyes expressed her dislike of me, and that feeling only seemed to have intensified after she found out that I was the one who had left Senior Delphine in that precarious state.
I understood her feelings, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t upset.
I felt an impulse to draw my hatchet, but I restrained myself.
It was not in the spirit of nobility to use indiscriminate violence, and I wanted to win her over in a dignified manner.
“……You don’t have to hate me so much, do you?”
Unfortunately, contrary to my imaginary self, who was able to quell the Saintess’ anger, the real me could only utter my grievance in a curt voice. At times like this, I resented my lack of vocal eloquence.
If it were Leto, he would have been able to deal with the Saintess’ anger in a much more refined and sophisticated manner.
Speaking of which, Leto hadn’t shown up today.
While wondering what he was up to, the Saintess’ voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Hmph! Excuse me. My true feelings came out unknowingly”
“They’re still coming out now.”
“Ah, please understand… I’ve never been one to put on pretenses to conceal how I feel.”
The Saintess then politely bowed in apology. Except, her ample bosom dragged my sight and made it impossible to look anywhere else.
However, as a boy who had grown into a man, I couldn’t allow myself to be so easily mesmerized and dragged along by her breasts. So with a cough, I cleared my throat before retorting.
“Not one to put on pretenses? What bullshit… Anyways, where are you two heading? Groups of 4 is the norm for practicums.”
The Saintess snorted and shrugged her shoulders, clearly expressing why I should care, but surprisingly, she responded.
“Do you think a Saintess can wander around anywhere she wants? Instead of a practicum, I have a ‘service assignment’. I have to go to the location selected by the Church and stay for a few days while managing my image. And I guess it wouldn’t be bad if I end up proselytizing while doing so.”
Her words were extremely blunt. It was almost as if the ‘Saintess’ I’d met before and the woman in front of me now were two different people.
Well, maybe only partially. Yuren had told me that there were only a few people on the continent who had seen past that ‘mask’ of hers.
Truthfully, I was proud to be one of them. And obviously, I was being sarcastic. I felt that arguing any further would only give me a headache.
Sighing, I shook my head and bid her farewell.
“I see. Then, I hope you succeed in maintaining your public image with your skilled acting. Emmanuel.”
“And may you suffer for your sins. Emmanuel.”
She was indeed a woman who refused to be on the losing end. Clicking my tongue, I quickened my pace.
The warp gate was one giant building. Once inside, there were dozens of short passageways to navigate depending on where one was heading to.
In other words, it was normal for us to go our separate ways.
And yet, something was off. We were still walking side by side even though we should have gone our separate ways long ago.
Our gazes met discreetly from time to time, and although we were pretending not to be, we were bothered by each other’s company.
Eventually, she was the first to reach the end of her patience.
“…… Excuse me, why are you following me?”
“Aren’t you the one following me? I’m going where I’m supposed to be going.”
As the two of us started to bicker, Yuren began giggling as he watched on from the side. Both of our gazes turned to him.
He was smiling like a mischievous child who had just discovered an amusing prank, and it seemed he had figured something out.
“Ian, where did you say your destination was?”
The Saintess’ eyes widened. From the look on her face, I was able to deduce the truth.
Yuren’s smile grew wider.
“Bingo! I guess we’ll be eating from the same pot for a while.”
The Saintess’ pink eyes met mine in dismay.
Our gazes froze as we realized we were both heading to Gilford Orphanage.
I would have to stay with the Saintess for the next two weeks.
You can rate this series here.