Chapter 107. New Year’s Festival (8)

The girl who introduced herself as Hillis smiled brightly after seeing the offering bread in my hand. "Oh my! You are a believer of the temple!"

I’m not. That is what I wanted to say, but something about her looking so happy made me uneasy.

"Yes, I am. Every night I fall asleep looking at the goddess statue in my room."

The last part was not a lie. Every night, I observed the plastered up golden goddess statue that I stole from the temple before falling asleep. I still could not find an explanation for why it would not enter the pocket space.

"I see! You are so religious that you even have a goddess statue in your room!"

Hillis nodded to herself with a proud face, saying, "Yes, yes.”

For a moment, I thought she might have been an unfortunate person with a head injury, but seeing the pattern on her clothes protruding from under her thick overcoat, she seemed to be a priest. It was hard to notice because it was embroidered with white thread on white clothes, but that pattern was part of the embroidered design on a priest's uniform.

I guessed that there was probably a priest's uniform made of pretty luxurious silk underneath that coat. Looking at the tip of Hillis's hair, it didn’t have any split ends despite being long. It was like the girls in my hometown who infused mana into their hair to boost its vitality, similar to how you would infuse mana for sword aura.

That hair belonged to the head of a person who has been under constant care. The same went for her hands. I don’t know about 120 years ago, but nowadays, low-ranking priests had to do physical labor for the operations of the temple.

Of course, if she belonged to a temple that received a great number of donations, the story would be different, but most of the priests who belonged to such temples were higher-ranked. As such, seeing that Hillis’s hands seemed soft, her position must be high. In addition, the buttons on her coat being made of silver and her white skin with visible blue blood vessels further displayed her high standing. 

However, what made me certain most of all, although I pretended not to know, was the fact that five men surrounding this area were staring at me.

By the way, if you openly display such a vigilant aura, anyone would notice even, if it wasn’t me. Do they actually want to guard properly? I don’t know.

Still, the escorts’ levels were quite high. Roughly three out of five of them were similar to the wimpy Burden, the vice-captain of the White Deer Knight division, and two of them were even stronger.

The escorts made me want to tease them a little. Should I test out the escorts' reactions?

I discretely used magic to splash some muddy water and pulled at Hillis's hand. "Oh, it's dangerous."

From the escorts’ point of view, they would not be able to see the muddy water move on its own.  It would only seem that the muddy water on the floor was splashed by the crowd. Grasping Hillis's hand, I held her waist and naturally changed our positions as if we were doing the waltz.

There was a little splatter on my clothes, but it wasn’t expensive, so it didn't matter. In fact, I could have avoided the muddy water, but there was a risk that if I did, the escorts might realize I was not a mere passerby from seeing my movements. There was no need to take that kind of risk for this little bit of teasing.

When they saw that Hillis was in my arms, the escorts immediately sent a vigilant aura mixed with martial aura towards me, but I did not respond. The moment I felt the sudden martial aura, I almost flinched, but ordinary people usually could not feel martial aura.

Puhaha! It was funny to see the escorts struggle and hold back from trying to jump over here at any moment.

No. I can't laugh. I have to hold it in.

"Oh my, you got muddy water splashed on your clothes because of me." Hillis took out her handkerchief in surprise. 

"No, it’s okay. I'll wipe it with mine." There was no need to defile a handkerchief that looked like it was made of expensive silk just for my fabricated scenario. I roughly wiped the parts with muddy water on them with my handkerchief.

"It got splashed because of me, so I’ll wash it for you."

"No, it’s okay. It's just casual clothes I wear when I work." I waved my hand at Hillis’s guilt.

These clothes could be bought with just a single refined bronze coin. It was at least ten times cheaper than Hillis’s handkerchief. The cost of washing the handkerchief was probably more expensive. Personally, expensive clothes and cheap clothes both became ruined if I sincerely moved about, so I was treating them as consumables.

But can't you get off now? 

I had already released my hand, but Hillis was still holding on. Hillis’s escort was now staring at me as if he wanted to kill me immediately. Thinking that I should stop now, I took a step back, but Hillis matched me and took a step closer.

Hillis was smiling. I realized the situation the moment I met Hillis's eyes. This girl! She's making fun of her escort!

As expected, my eyes were not wrong. The girl in front of me was my kind.

Hillis sneakily looked around and smiled benevolently as if she had tricked some wicked people. "Could you hang out with me for a moment?"

Her smile was an expression that indicated that she wanted to tease them more. That smile was very much to my taste. 

"Well, as you can see, I'm a civil servant, so I am busy." I showed the civil servant ID card hanging around my neck. To follow my tastes, there was a risk.

The escorts were staring at me as if they were going to ambush me in a back alley if I provoked them too much. Furthermore, it was not desirable to establish a close relationship with a high-ranking priest.

"Oh my, really? But it says trainee here? I don’t know anything up until yesterday, but there's almost nothing for trainees to do, right? That's what I’ve been told."

Once again, I was convinced that she was a priest of high status. The only people who knew about the trainees’ movements during this period of time were civil servants or high-ranking people in the temple.

The high-ranking people of the temple cooperated closely with the ceremony department during this time, so even if they didn't want to, they couldn’t help but know.

"But trainees are given grades."

Hillis took a step back with a regretful look. "Then it can’t be helped."

It was surprising to see her give up quite easily, but when I thought about it, we had just met for the first time. Her social status was so high that it was strange that she was asking to hang out for just a little bit.

At that time, a middle-aged man who looked strong and had been staring at me the most intensely amongst the escorts approached Hillis and whispered, "Saintess-nim, Vibrio has been found." 

Wait, what? Saintess?

That man probably thought I wouldn't hear him if he whispered, but unfortunately, my hearing was so sensitive that I could listen to sounds even quieter than a mosquito.

Damn it, just who have I been talking to? Why is it that a person I met while passing by the street is a saintess!? What's the difference between this and meeting the crown prince on the street!? 

For some reason, I feel like I’ve been so unlucky these days. I’m afraid I might actually meet the crown prince at this rate. 

With the best straight face I could muster, I pretended not to have heard anything.

Hillis nodded. "Some work just came up for me. May the grace of God be with you."

When Hillis said goodbye while making a cross, I said the same thing and drew a cross. "May God’s blessing be with you."

After Hillis entered into the crowd, the escorts glanced at me once then followed her.

The winter sun was slowly sinking, and the sky was trying to shine a mysterious scarlet glow with the sunset.

* * *

Separated from Hillis, Vibrio sat on a fountain in a crowded square near the market, staring blankly at the sky. Then she dipped her left hand into the water of the fountain behind her. Perhaps because it was winter, the water was very cold.

She had come out like this due to her beloved sister’s suggestion, but she did not want to be outside. No, the truth was that she knew she had to go outside of the Great Temple. She couldn't stay stuck inside forever.

She knew better than anyone else that her lover, Mario, would not want her to be depressed. Her lover was more faithful and sincere than anyone else and loved the weak.

"Mmm, is that so?"

Vibrio suddenly stood up, surprised at the voice coming from beside her. Next to her sat a man wearing a half black and half white mask.

Vibrio briefly felt goosebumps all over her body, and she positioned herself to be able to attack at any moment. The movement was unbelievably swift, unlike what one might expect from the body of a warrior who had been in despair for three and a half months.

"Who are you?" Vibrio blamed herself even while asking.

It didn’t matter how much she neglected her training due to losing her lover. As a warrior who had honed her sword her entire life, the fact that she didn't notice him until he was sitting next to her was shameful.

The masked man slowly rose from his seat, holding his cane. Then he stared straight at Vibrio and answered the question. "My name is Libra. Is it enough to introduce myself like this?”

Vibrio became warier of Libra. She judged her opponent to be in the same class as the person she followed, Cardinal Fernando, and she retreated to widen the distance. Fernando was considered one of the most prominent battle priests in the temple’s forces and was an existence who had risen to the level of madosa by ordinary magician standards.

Vibrio knew better than anyone that she was no match for him if he was in the same class as Fernando.

"Mmm. You seem to be mistaken about something." Libra faced Vibrio with his index finger pressing his temples.

Even though Vibrio didn't say anything, he spoke as if he was reading her thoughts. "I'm not looking down on Leo, but Leo is the weakest in terms of military force in the 12 Zodiacs."

"That’s nonsense!"

When Vibrio grated her teeth at Libra, he reached out his hand and tried to calm her down. "I'm not looking down on Leo. I'm just telling you objective facts.”

Vibrio was furious and tried to pull out her sword. However, when she only grabbed air, she realized that there was no sword on her waist. What a disaster. No, before that, it was a disgrace as a knight.

She was walking around the streets defenseless without her sword. Even a squire wouldn’t make such a mistake. Vibrio realized what a hopeless state of mind she was in.

Libra smiled when he saw Vibrio’s actions. "Don't be so angry. I just said so because I think Leo’s strength lies in the power of the group, not the power of the individual."

Libra's words were not wrong. Leo's true weapon was his ability to instigate the religious public. If Leo truly provoked the believers, it would not be too difficult to make the Empire fall into chaos.

However, doing such a thing could only cause temporary chaos. The end result would only eat away at the temple forces. Cardinal Fernando was well aware of this fact and so did not use this method.

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