༺ The Lord Is With Us (20) ༻
It was a hazy memory.
In that memory, a man was drinking with a woman. With a glass of wine and jerky in front of them, it was quite the meager spread relative to the fancy tent they were in.
The two drank in silence.
The two didn’t bother to breathe in the cheap wine’s aroma and simply filled and emptied their glasses repeatedly.
It was only when the man’s eyes glazed over from intoxication that the silence was broken.
“…Is it fine for you to drink?”
They had already been drinking for a while, and while it seemed pointless to ask at this point, it was a question that naturally popped up.
The woman nodded with a vague smile.
“Why wouldn’t it be? We’re both human.”
“It’s just my first time seeing you drink.”
The woman covered her face with her hands and let out a light chuckle. Her pure, flawless skin had, at some point, become colored with a faint blush.
“……Truthfully, I only recently learned to drink since it was difficult to cope while sober.”
“Do you finally understand Sepia now?”
“You shouldn’t bring up another woman while drinking with a lady.”
He nodded as a bitter smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Then, he downed another glass as the woman’s voice entered his ears.
“I used to be proud of my strength. After all, it’s a rare gift to be able to help without hurting anyone.”
“I think so as well.”
As the woman’s laments continued into the night, the man chimed in from time to time.
The man’s vision gradually became obscured as he became more and more inebriated.
“But now, I’m not so sure. Nothing… I can’t do anything…….”
“Everyone feels the same way.”
The man gave a hollow response to the woman’s heavy voice, a look of pity contained within his golden eyes.
“It’s not only the Eastern Front. The Northern and Western Fronts as well… they’re all in dire straits. The Holy Nation also seems to be preparing to abandon the Holy City.”
“Because the Saint passed away.”
A heavy sigh fell from her lips as she held her head with a melancholic smile.
“How did it come to this? If only we had solved everything at the orphanage…….”
“It’s pointless to think about such a thing.”
His voice was firm. The woman wordlessly looked up at the man.
It was unknown whether her eyes were glazed over from intoxication or emotions, but her gaze contained a gentle warmth.
And before long, a despondent voice slipped through the woman’s lips.
“……I know. We just have to obey.”
“Obey, you say…”
‘Obey’. The word was exchanged between the two as if it were a secret code.
A sigh escaped the man’s lips.
“Will that change anything?”
“It won’t change anything. It will simply help us to cope and accept it.”
The woman’s head started jerking up and down as she started to nod off after reaching her maximum alcohol capacity.
“We’ll talk… about this… a little more… to…morrow.”
With that, she collapsed onto the table and drifted off to sleep. Now alone, the man poured himself a few more drinks before rising to his feet.
He took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders. Then, after silently gazing at her sleeping visage, he quietly mumbled to himself.
“…..You can’t even handle a few drinks.”
That night, the moonlight poured through the curtains.
Then, with a flicker, the lantern went out and the world went dark, marking the end of the memory.
It was then that I awoke.
With a gasp, I took a sharp intake of air and opened my eyes. I seemed to be in a brightly lit room, and while I attempted to look around, my vision was blurry from the light.
I felt dizzy, and as my senses gradually returned, I felt a piercing pain in my abdomen.
When I groaned in pain, I felt a hand grasp mine before beginning to shake me.
“I-Ian-oppa, are you awake?!”
A pair of hazel eyes came into view as I forcibly focused my vision.
Then, long, black hair came into view followed by a face that was all too familiar.
It was Celine Haster, my childhood friend and a second-year student of the Knight Division at the Academy.
Even while groaning from the pain, I opened my mouth to reassure her.
“Y-yeah, it’s me! Ian-oppa, you’re finally awake!”
Celine breathed a small sigh of relief, her hand gently patting down her chest as it outlined a shapely curve.
She wasn’t quite as curvaceous as the Saintess. I moaned and groaned while entertaining such insubstantial thoughts until a realization flitted across my mind.
I became fully alert as my vision cleared and the surroundings took shape.
It was an old building, and from the stale smell of the room, I was certain that I was in the Gilford Orphanage.
However, the mystery was still ever-present. My eyes flicked towards Celine in suspicion, but hers wasn’t the only unexpected face there was.
At that moment, the door opened with a creak and a rather good-looking man with curly, brown hair stepped through. It was Leto Ainstern.
“Oh, you’re finally awake?”
My eyes went blank, and I looked back and forth between Celine and Leto.
It was only natural that questions would flow through my lips.
“Celine, Leto… just how did you guys-“
Before I could even finish speaking, a girl came loudly rushing from outside as she barely managed to come to a stop at the doorway.
Possessing silver hair, and deep blue eyes that resembled aquamarines, it was Seria.
Unlike her usual stoic expressions, she was wearing an expression that one wouldn’t have possibly imagined seeing from ‘Yurdina’s Bastard’.
Judging from her teary gaze and how she seemed to have gone crazy from worry, her emotional expression seemed to have improved. As I was thinking that, Seria rushed in.
She squeezed my hand and spoke with a voice brimming with concern.
“Senior Ian, are you o-owh…okay?”
In her hurry to speak, she accidentally bit her tongue.
No, come to think of it, she had always fumbled over her words.
Since it hadn’t been long, my head still felt foggy. I squeezed my temples in an attempt to jog my brain, but I just couldn’t figure out why the three of them were in front of me.
Since I couldn’t figure it out on my own, I decided there was only one thing to do.
“……Why are you guys here?”
I decided to ask them directly.
Faced with my question, Leto nodded as if he had expected it. Then, with a wide smile, he promptly answered.
“Because of you, you stupid son of a bitch.”
It was quite an aggressive response. As I was giving him a puzzled look, the sound of a feigned cough filled the room.
It was Celine. She had on a smug smile.
“I-I was worried about Ian-oppa! Even if there are two fourth-year seniors, the more the merrier, right? That’s why I got Leto-oppa to choose his practicum in this area.”
“I was thinking of taking on a theoretical research project…….”
Seeing Leto’s distressed face, I had a rough idea of what had happened.
After I refused to let them accompany me, Celine and Seria had made their way to Leto.
Leto was also in his third year and had the right to take practicums. As such, Celine and Seria must have pestered him about it, and in the end, he wasn’t able to turn down his two nagging juniors.
And the result was now in front of my eyes.
We already had five Academy students at the orphanage, but three more had joined us.
Our group now possessed a force comparable to even a small order of knights.
The Saintess of the Holy Nation and her escort knight, the heiress of Yurdina, and a battle mage from the prestigious Rinella family.
Our original group alone was enough to take on large commissions, and adding those three to our current fighting force, a mere demonic monkey wasn’t going to stand a chance.
Just, the only thing that worried me was that the practicum assignment at Gilford Orphanage wasn’t a simple subjugation.
The letter from the future stated that I would be grievously injured. Not to mention, the word ‘ambush’ carried an ominous connotation that implied that we weren’t the ones on the offensive.
It was a situation that could potentially be life-threatening, and the fact that Leto, a non-combatant mage, along with Celine and Seria, who were only in their second year, had come to such a dangerous place made my heart heavy.
But there was no point crying over spilled milk. For now, I decided to greet them with a smile.
“You guys came just on time. We were struggling at the orphanage due to lack of manpower and could really use more hands.”
I was being sincere. The five of us already had our hands full with the children, the chores, and searching the forest, but now that there were more of us, we would be able to take it a bit easier. Celine seemed to be aware of our situation as she replied with a bitter smile.
“We know. The Saintess and the other seniors are still struggling right now. But… Hey, shouldn’t you let go of his hand now?”
Celine seemed to be annoyed that Seria was still holding onto my hand. On the other hand, Seria, who was gazing at me like she was about to cry, immediately hardened her expression as soon as Celine spoke up.
This was the Seria that everyone knew — ‘Yurdina’s bastard’, who possessed an ice-cold expression.
“I don’t want to.”
Celine’s brows slightly furrowed with a hint of irritation appearing in her hazel eyes.
“Stop freaking out. It’s not like Ian-oppa is going to die.”
“But I’m still worried. Aren’t you?”
“Hey! You make it sound like I’m not worried. I was the one watching over the room until you came running!”
“I was watching over it last night, and I would have done so the whole time if it wasn’t for the chores.”
The atmosphere was slowly heating up.
I heaved a sigh and looked at Leto. In response, he shrugged his shoulders.
In the end, it seemed like I would have to intervene. I turned to look at Celine, who was snarling, and Seria, who was coldly glaring back, before speaking in a low voice.
“Both of you, stop it. You’re giving me a headache.”
“Or go stab each other instead of arguing. Unlike last time, we’re outside the academy, so you won’t cause a ruckus, and the Saintess is also here to cure your injuries.”
Intimidated, Celine dropped the matter and Seria fidgeted while avoiding my gaze.
Evidently, neither of them wanted to go so far as to hurt each other with their swords.
As things quieted down, I had time to collect my thoughts. I thought back to what I had seen moments before I passed out.
It was huge. At over two meters tall, the demonic monkey had left a deep impression with its long arms and overwhelming reach.
I couldn’t see its nails when it was sitting on the wall, but when it attacked Senior Elsie, they had emerged like blades, meaning it had a deadly weapon at all times.
Another thing I remembered was the light on its nails.
“What are you talking about?”
Leto inquired upon hearing me mumble to myself, but after a brief hesitation, I shook my head with a wry smile.
I was getting carried away. How could a demonic beast possibly use aura? Aura was a crystallization of mana that only beings with both intellect and imagination could wield.
Even if a demonic beast had intellect, it could not train its imagination. That was something unique to humans.
Anyways, there was time to think about it later. For now, I wanted to ask about someone else.
“By the way, how’s Senior Elsie doing?”
Celine’s reaction was cold. It was understandable since I had gotten hurt protecting her. Celine’s behavior was consistent and more predictable than expected.
If you hurt me, you were her enemy. That was also why she and Seria had fallen out.
At that moment, Seria began speaking cautiously.
“Um, she was working with me. I knew you woke up when I heard Haster’s voice, so Senior Elsie will also probably-“
I interrupted Seria, signaling that there was no need to say more.
My eyes strayed towards the opened doorway where a hat was peeking out.
A girl with a petite frame appeared from behind the doorway.
She possessed brown hair, eyes that resembled sapphires, and an adorable appearance that was aptly ‘doll-like’.
Fiddling with the brim of her hat, Senior Elsie refused to meet my eyes. She looked to be feeling apologetic for my injuries.
In any case, it seemed like we had to talk in private.
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