༺ The Lord Is With Us (17) ༻
Mr. Gilford, the director of Gilford Orphanage, was an elderly man with white hair and a bushy beard.
Yet, despite his old age, his body was sturdy and full of vitality with muscles that defied his age.
When I asked him about it, he simply replied with a roaring laugh.
“Hahaha! Even though I look like this now, I used to be a mercenary that went around hunting down demonic beasts. I even had quite the reputation back in those days.”
“The rumors were true…”
As the sun started setting and casting its final rays upon the earth, I found myself engaged in a conversation over a cup of tea with Mr. Gilford in a humble office.
The Saintess was also currently sitting next to me, her face adorned with the same gentle and courteous smile she always wore in the presence of others.
She was already a woman of celestial beauty, but the lovely smile truly made her seem deserving of the title ‘Saintess’. Heck, even I had been deceived by that very smile before.
Now, the very thought of the Saintess possessing a benevolent and warm personality was ridiculous.
She had a kind heart but wasn’t as pure and innocent as people thought. She always calculated her every move, ensuring she would never be on the losing end.
Case in point, from what she just muttered under her breath, she seemed to have already investigated Mr. Gilford.
The practicum was only two weeks long, but it was likely that she’d already learned every detail about the orphanage. She was just that kind person – One who was always thorough in her every action.
And that woman was gently conversing with Mr. Gilford.
“I heard that you retired from your long career as a mercenary and built this orphanage that’s currently sheltering over two hundred orphans using your remaining wealth.”
“Hahaha. I’m grateful for your kind words. I couldn’t have done it alone. It’s all thanks to the support from the Church.”
Smiling at Mr. Gilford’s humility, the Saintess bowed her head as her gentle voice was tinged with warmth.
“Even with the Church’s support, how could you have possibly saved even a single orphan if you didn’t have the courage to dedicate your life and fortune to the weak? I wish others would take a page out of your generous heart.”
Her pink eyes subtly shifted towards me as if telling me I should try to take after him.
My brows furrowed.
As expected, seeing how she continued to take jabs at me, she had quite the temper.
For some reason today, I was often missing the sensation of having my hatchet at my waist.
I wondered how long it would take.
Assuming Yuren wasn’t present, and I successfully caught her off guard, I figured I could beat her down in less than a minute. After all, even the most skilled martial artist would struggle against a blade to a certain extent.
Especially if they were unprepared.
Obviously, this was nothing but a delusion. As long as she didn’t truly wrong me, I wasn’t so ill-tempered that I would brandish my hatchet just because she slightly got on my nerves.
Right, as long as she didn’t cross the line.
Otherwise, I would never be violent with her.
Then again, considering her calculating nature, the chance of her crossing such a line was practically nonexistent, and it also seemed impossible to improve our relationship at the moment.
Not learning how to speak eloquently when my younger sister nagged me to was coming back to bite my ass.
Back then, I was a child and I believed that I could solve all my problems with a single blade.
Still, there were many things in the world that couldn’t be solved with peaceful conversation alone that could be solved with a sword.
And there was a matter I wanted to solve today, leaving me no leisure to deal with the Saintess.
“So, Mr. Gilford, I’d like to confirm your request.”
Mr. Gilford’s expression became serious and his voice turned grave.
“The truth is… a demonic beast has been attacking the orphanage once a month.”
I crossed my arms and leaned back in my seat, processing the new information.
A demonic beast coming by at regular intervals? It was an odd case as most demonic beasts lacked intelligence and were driven solely by bloodlust and hostility.
Granted, there were some exceptions as named beasts displayed some level of intellect, but their cruelty and viciousness remained unchanged. With that said, I couldn’t find a reason why they would go out of their way to frequent the same orphanage numerous times.
Upon the first attack, they would normally have killed everything in their vicinity. In the end, it seemed that the requested mission wasn’t reconnaissance and subjugation, but to track down and kill the beast responsible for attacking the orphanage.
But that wasn’t the only odd detail.
“And whenever the demonic beast appears, an orphan always goes missing.”
“Always just one?”
My brows furrowed into a slight frown, and even the Saintess’ usually unwavering smile changed into a frown.
A demonic beast always appeared once a month, and each time, a single orphan would disappear.
That meant that every month, an orphan was being kidnapped by a demonic beast. It was strange, to say the least, that the intervals as well as the number of orphans that were taken were consistent.
What kind of beast would be so meticulous and methodical in its slaughter?
However, as I listened to him speak, I began to understand why this request had been left unattended for so long. In fact, it was the reason why the Saintess and I found ourselves here.
Since the request had been neglected for so long, the Church decided that if they were to send some manpower, they might as well send the Saintess for her community service.
Simultaneously, I had quickly accepted this request for my practicum assignment, resulting in us arriving at the orphanage, unaware of each other’s involvement.
The Church’s decision was understandable.
Given the vastness of the continent, their administrative and military capabilities were limited.
Considering how a few missing orphans didn’t raise much concern even in major cities, one or two orphans disappearing from an orphanage on the outskirts of the continent every month wasn’t reason enough for them to mobilize the army.
And their financial difficulties prevented them from hiring mercenaries as well. Even Mr. Gilford, despite his mercenary background, wasn’t able to find a solution to the issue.
In other words, his formidable strength wasn’t enough, and resolving this request required more manpower and combat capabilities.
And with the risk far outweighing the reward, no one was willing to accept the request.
No one except me.
As such, Mr. Gilford, out of gratitude, brewed tea for us using the precious supply of tea leaves he had been saving.
Even then, the tea leaves were of poor quality. However, I gratefully sipped on the tea as I appreciated the intent behind his gesture.
“……Have you noticed anything about the beast?”
The Saintess inquired, and in response, Mr. Gilford awkwardly scratched the back of his head.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s a monkey-like creature with long arms. It emerges out of nowhere and snatches a child before disappearing in an instant. It’s so fast, you can barely even see it in action.”
First a wolf, now a monkey.
I was getting fed up just from listening to his description. Not only were monkeys adept climbers, they were naturally intelligent. I didn’t even want to imagine how much of a pain in the ass they would be.
It was even more so if there happened to be a named-class among them.
“They must be quite cunning. Do they have a leader?”
“Most likely. I’ve seen a few monkey-type demonic beasts in the surrounding forests. I left them alone since they keep their distance from the orphanage, but the one that raids the orphanage seems to be in charge.”
He then gestured with his hands, emphasizing its colossal size.
“I was told it was well over two meters. If, by any chance, it’s purposely limiting its attacks to once a month to avoid a formal subjugation team-“
“Its intelligence must be abnormally high.”
The Saintess cut in with her conclusion.
The atmosphere instantly turned heavy.
It went without saying that the more intelligent the opponent, the more difficult it was to defeat them. Considering they were capable of suppressing their inherent demonic nature, it was necessary to think their intellect was on par with that of humans.
I pressed a hand against my head as my head began to throb.
I turned to Mr. Gilford.
“For now, we’ll search the woods as soon as my colleagues arrive. Do you happen to remember when the last ambush was?”
“I believe it was about three weeks ago. Based on its previous patterns, the next attack will probably be within a week or two…….”
If that was the case, the clock was ticking, and we also had to stand guard during the night.
It was looking to be insufficient with just Senior Elsie, Senior Delphine, and myself. I even found myself feeling grateful that the Saintess and Yuren were here.
To be honest, I hadn’t expected this to be such a difficult request, and as if the Saintess was thinking the same, both our footsteps felt heavy as we left the office.
At the last moment, Mr. Gilford bowed his head.
“I-I’m sorry for burdening you with such a difficult request when you must be busy……..”
He seemed genuinely sorry as he looked at us, but we shook our heads as we reassured him.
“No, it is the duty of a noble to defend the weak.”
“Likewise, may the Lord watch over us all, Emmanuel.”
Silence befell us once we left the office.
I didn’t know what to make of the information we had just received. The behavior of the beasts that attacked the orphanage was strange in many ways.
My gaze flickered toward the Saintess, who had been staring at me, but she quickly averted her eyes.
She didn’t seem to have an answer either, but I decided to ask anyway.
“Do you have any other information?”
“No, none at all…….”
The Saintess immediately replied with a heavy sigh. It meant that even she, who held one of the highest positions in the Holy Nation and had virtually unlimited access to their vast knowledge banks, was at a loss.
As such, the solution was simple—we just had to directly find out ourselves.
With a sigh, I made a suggestion to the Saintess.
“Then, I’ll head into the forest tomorrow once my companions arrive since we’ll need more information if we want to formulate a plan…….”
“What about tonight? We might lose another precious life if it attacks tonight.”
And an opportunity to take down the leader of those demonic monkeys would also vanish.
Although she didn’t say that part out loud, her calculative intent was clearly implied underneath. The way things were unfolding made me regret taking this commission.
‘I should have ignored the letter and done what I wanted instead.’
But I knew that I would be consumed by guilt and be plagued with sleepless nights if I heard that someone had died. I was frustrated.
Why did it have to be me when countless others were more capable?
I lacked both strength and influence. The whole thing felt unfair, but there was nothing that could be done about it.
With careful consideration, I began laying out a plan.
“We have no choice. Tonight, the three of us will have to take turns-“
Suddenly, a voice called out to us, accompanied by a loud noise.
Our gazes simultaneously turned in the direction of the voice, where a man with jade-colored hair was waving at us.
It was Yuren who was carrying a child that appeared to be an orphan on his shoulders.
But he wasn’t alone. The source of the loud noise was the dozens of children trailing behind him. He had said he was going to go scout out the orphanage, but it seemed he had gotten to know the children.
We stared at him in bewilderment as he approached us with a bright smile.
“Help me out. We have to prepare dinner now…….”
“……We have to prepare dinner?”
The Saintess’ composed mask cracked at the unexpected request, yet Yuren appeared as though he was stating the obvious.
“Yeah. They’re extremely short-staffed.”
“……What about the other volunteers?”
“Apparently, they all ran away when the demonic beasts started attacking?”
Damn it. The Saintess and I both held our faces with our palms.
Not only did we have to hunt down the demonic beasts, but now, we also had to take care of the kids.
Delphine arrived in front of Gilford Orphanage the following day.
The brown horse she rode on whined and whimpered as she silently stroked its neck, soothing the animal.
Although she appeared to be calm on the surface, she was bothered.
Her gaze swept across the Orphanage as she took note of its features. It was a dilapidated building with many cracks, but she couldn’t tell if they were due to the passage of time or poor maintenance.
A sigh escaped her lips.
She had no idea what she was doing at this old orphanage. Truthfully, she had no desire to come to a place that wouldn’t help her grades.
However, she was unable to refuse when Ian asked her to come along.
The sight of his golden eyes still made her heart race as she was reminded of that particular night.
The bloodstained man naturally raised his hatchet, eliciting a torrent of blood, screams, and pleas.
It was a horrifying memory—The humiliation and terror of having her limbs torn to shreds, treated as nothing more than firewood rather than a human being. As Delphine recalled that day, her crimson eyes began to tremble as she bit down on her fingernail.
The man she had encountered that night was a monster. Although she had come across and defeated countless demonic beasts and evil creatures, she feared Ian more than any of the other beings.
And that truth mercilessly shattered Delphine’s self-esteem.
Every time she closed her eyes, she saw herself on her knees, begging for mercy with her head buried into the ground. What was worse, however, was that every time she recalled that moment, she felt more relief than shame.
Crazy bitch. One measly defeat had irreparably shattered her.
And what drove her even more insane was the fact that she had to spend the next two weeks with the very man who had broken her.
She couldn’t even make eye contact with him, fearing that her knees would involuntarily kneel the moment he raised his hatchet.
In fact, kneeling and driving her head into the ground was the better alternative. At least then, there was some assurance that she would be forgiven. She was oddly relieved by that assurance.
He had said he would set her straight, making her worry about what kind of horrifying experience he had in store for her.
But that wasn’t the only thing that made her depressed.
“Hmph! You finally arrived.”
A girl dismounted from the saddle with a cheeky comment. She was too short to ride a horse by herself, and in the end, she had ridden behind Delphine.
Brown hair, blue-sapphire eyes, and a doll-like appearance characterized by a large-brimmed hat.
It was Elsie Rinella, someone Delphine was on terrible terms with.
“…Shouldn’t you at least say thank you?”
“Why would I? We’re going to be together for the next two weeks. Rather, shouldn’t you be the one acting kindly to me?”
This rude little bitch.
In any case, the small girl had a completely different perspective from her.
Delphine and Elsie glared at each other before simultaneously snorting and turning away from each other.
Delphine wanting to avoid any interactions with the girl, turned to leave but ended up halting in her place.
A particular sound was coming from the orphanage.
Most of the noise came from the children, but there was an unmistakable voice mixed in.
Delphine’s eyes widened in terror as she recognized the voice of the man who had broken her. She wondered why he had forced her to come.
She was already broken. She swore to the heavens that she would never defy Ian, that she would never draw a weapon in his presence. She had even sworn on her family name.
Forcing the stiffened muscles on her arm to relax, Delphine pushed open the gates of the orphanage with quivering eyes.
The old door opened, revealing the bloodied man who had cruelly wielded his hatchet that night.
“Hey, hey! I told you to stop running! Bell, stop bothering the girls! Ah, I’m seriously about to go crazy,… Huh?”
He stood among dozens of shabbily-clothed children with a mop in his hand.
He looked so different from how Delphine remembered him that she involuntarily froze on the spot.
Catching sight of her, the man broke into a smile.
“Senior Delphine, Senior Elsie, you’re just on time! Can you grab that broom over there for me?”
A broom? Delphine’s eyes followed his gaze and landed on an old broom leaning against the gatepost.
Did he call her to do chores for him?
Delphine was the heiress of the Yurdina family. Nobles had their noble duties, and commoners had theirs.
Menial tasks like cleaning were not her responsibility, especially considering her family’s prestige.
Perhaps he wanted to crush the last remnants of her pride.
Frustration overwhelmed Delphine and she attempted to raise her voice.
But the moment she met the man’s golden eyes, her head immediately dropped down and she could only eke out a muffled complaint.
“Why? W-why should I….?!”
Tears began to pool up as she felt ashamed of herself for not daring to resist the man.
As she stood still, biting down on her lips, she heard a sound.
A petite figure darted past her, grabbed the broom, and ran towards the man.
For a moment, Delphine couldn’t make sense of the situation, but then, her pupils focused on the girl.
It was Elsie. Without any hesitation, she picked up the broom and ran towards Ian like a loyal dog.
Upon witnessing such a sight, Delphine was left speechless.
Elsie Rinella was also a member of high nobility. Delphine found it difficult to believe that such a proud girl had readily completed the man’s request.
“Thank you, Senior Elsie.”
He even patted her head. It was a demeaning gesture, but instead of taking offense, Elsie leaned into it, enjoying it with a foolish smile.
Speechless and confused, Delphine’s crimson eyes locked with Elsie’s sapphire eyes.
As their gazes met, Elsie’s mouth curled into a smirk.
Elsie seemed to be mocking her, reveling in her victory as if they were engaged in some sort of competition.
Faced with such a nonsensical situation, Delphine felt like she was on the brink of losing her mind.
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