At the darkest time before dawn, Lancelot looked towards the sky. The sky here was no different from the sky of his hometown. Beautiful stars embroidered it forming a river and the moon glowed like jewels.
Would the night sky also be as beautiful where Den is? Would he be looking up at the same sky? Lancelot snickered at the thought.
Den had once said he liked the night sky. He’d said that at times only after seeing a starless night when he encountered a beautiful scene, one would be moved to tears.
Lancelot was a little scared thinking that he had never seen a night sky without stars. A starless sky would be very dark and lonely.
But when had Den seen such a lonely night sky?
Lancelot answered his own question. Den was a magician, so he should be able to see and hear anything.
"I want to hang out together."
Thinking that Den might be able to hear him, Lancelot let the words escape his mouth, but it only added to the loneliness. It was as if the starless night sky that Den had mentioned had settled into his heart.
"What are you doing there?"
As Lancelot was looking up at the night sky in front of the bonfire, Leisha came out of the carriage and asked.
"Nothing, I was just looking at the night sky."
Leisha took a pot out of her pocket space. Then, she made water with magic, poured it into the pot, and hung it on a thin rack over the bonfire to boil.
"Um, There’s no blood in there, is there?"
Seeing Lancelot's reluctance, Leisha tousled his hair.
"No, I made it in a hurry last time, so I drew in all the water around me. But this time, I extracted it from the water mana, so don't worry." Leisha waved a bluish stone at him.
The stone that Leisha was holding was a natural mana stone and had only one attribute, unlike the demon byproducts. It was known as ‘nature stone’ because it was born in nature, as well as ‘spirit stone’ because it could be used for spirit magic.
The Olympus Forest was an environment where spirits could not exist, so Leisha had never learned spirit magic. However, a spirit stone could be used for various magic besides spirit magic.
"I'm glad to hear that.”
Seeing that Lancelot was relieved, Leisha chuckled and took out something from the pocket space to add to the hot water. "What would you like to drink? There are Mandrago flower petals, fruit of Fragach, and 1000 year honey."
All of them were sold at astronomical prices in the market, but in Olympus Forest, they were food and magic materials that were scattered around the earth just a short distance away from the village.
"Then I'll have the fifth flower petal of the Mandrago."
Although each Mandrago petals had a slightly different fragrance, the scent was maximized by boiling them with 83 degrees of purified water, allowing each scent to be distinct.
“How many spoons of the 1000 year honey do you want?”
“Three spoons please.”
"Your teeth will rot." While speaking playfully, Leisha put three spoonfuls of the 1000 year honey and the fifth petal of Mandrago in the cup. She took the pot of boiling water out of the bonfire and cooled it down to 83 degrees using magic. She then poured hot water into a cup and cast a spell to keep the temperature from dropping.
"Thank you." Lancelot took the cup and waited for the spell to disappear.
About three minutes later, the spell slowly disappeared and the temperature began to gradually drop. Three minutes was enough for the flavor of the petals to come out.
"Oh! Can I have a drink, too?” Mac approached the bonfire and asked after having smelled the sweet aroma while patrolling the surroundings.
"I’d like the third petal. Oh, and no honey is fine. Sweet things aren't to my taste."
Leisha put the third petal of the Mandrago in an empty cup and handed it to Mac.
As he received the cup, Mac took a slightly cooled pot and placed it on a bonfire. Then, before the water even boiled, he poured hot water into the cup and wrapped it with mana to maintain the temperature. After about three minutes, the aroma wafted.
"Wow, how do you get the temperature so accurately?" Leisha stuck her tongue out and asked.
Mac smiled slyly. "If you want to seduce a woman, being able to make tea with the right temperature is basic.”
Leisha snorted. Despite him saying that she had never seen Mac with a woman.
"Oh my, such a nice aroma."
Hillis spoke in a slightly tired voice while stretching as she came out. Leisha poured a lot of water into the pot and began to boil it. As the paladins crawled out of the tents one by one, she made tea for them all.
"Thank you, Miss Crow!"
"Wow! I don't think I've ever had such a fragrant tea even in St. Percival."
The paladins drove out the coldness of the desert night from their bodies and warmed up as if they were imminently going to charge in.
"So now, let's divide the men who will stay to protect Miss Saintess and those that will go to the slaughter of the black magicians.”
Hillis shook her head at Albatoss. "No, I'm going too.”
"You can’t! It's dangerous!"
Despite the paladins’ dissuasion, Hillis was resolute.
"The power of the World Tree in the Holy Land is the same as poison to the black magicians. I’ll be fine."
She looked in Zaharam's direction. Although still far away, she could feel the power of the World Tree, which filled Zaharam. Others didn’t know it, but the power of the World Tree was welcoming her. It was not possible to know why. But Hillis could feel it.
She could feel a scent of loneliness from the power.
"But it isn’t only the black magicians who are in Zaharam. You must also consider the existence of the Mercenary King, no, the black knight."
Inside the Holy Land, the power of black magicians was greatly reduced. But the black knight, Malecia, and his men were just pure soldiers who had nothing to do with black magic.
But Hillis was confident. "It's all right because no one can harm me if it's in the Holy Land."
It was not conceit but certainty. It was something that couldn’t be explained, but kind of an intuition that Hillis could feel because she was a saintess.
"And didn’t you say that as you stood on your watch, you saw the black knight and his soldiers go out of the Holy Land?"
The paladins shook their heads.
"That's why it is dangerous. It could be an enemy strategy to cause confusion."
"Even if there are only black magicians in the Holy Land, it is still dangerous."
Hillis faltered in the stiff opposition of the paladins.
Then Lancelot asked the paladins, "If the black knight and his soldiers went out of the Holy Land, isn't it dangerous out there?"
"What do you mean?" The paladins looked at Lancelot with questionable eyes.
After flinching at the sudden attention, Lancelot spoke with courage because he did not want to waste any more time. "Honestly, isn’t it so? If you split the guards and enter the Holy Land, Miss Saintess’s guards will be reduced. Shouldn't we consider the scenario where the troops who came out of the Holy Land would attack Miss Saintess?"
The paladins’ faces stiffened at Lancelot's comments. It was a probable theory.
Nevertheless, Albatoss shook his head. "If the ones that remain receive Miss Saintess’s blessing then they will be able to fend off the attackers," he said as he recalled that the five of them had an equal fight with an entire battalion of troops.
But Lancelot sighed. "Think about it. If that's the case, it doesn't make a difference whether or not she enters the Holy Land."
"But considering the possibility of danger and jumping into enemy territory is a starkly different story," said Albatoss.
"Yes, it is. But that possibility will force you to increase the number of people who protect Miss Saintess, right?”
Albatoss nodded. The first thing was to ensure Hillis’s safety.
"Then, if the number of men going into the Holy Land will be reduced, will it be enough to recapture it? If we don't recapture the Holy Land, it's the end. No, there's a possibility that it'll become even more dangerous for Miss Saintess and others waiting outside."
"That's…," said Albatoss.
"Or just back off altogether. Let's step back, get some support, and take back the Holy Land."
The paladins were silent at Lancelot's words. It didn't matter to Lancelot whether they attacked the Holy Land or not. He just wanted to go to the capital and find Denburg as soon as possible.
Hillis looked at Lancelot and made a declaration. “No. We can't back down.”
“Why not?” Lancelot looked straight into her eyes and asked.
When Lancelot, who had been afraid of her until yesterday, looked at her so confidently, Hillis was slightly shocked.
"That's—" Hillis searched for a reason to answer Lancelot's question. We must not back down as it is. Why not?
Thinking rationally, it was right to step down as Lancelot had said. But they couldn't. Because of religious teachings?
No, Hillis thought that actual life was more important than a phrase that was only written.
And yet, why didn't they step down?
Come to think of it, why did she want to make an unplanned pilgrimage to the Holy Land? Because she thought having a large group of escorts would be bothersome?
No. No, that wasn’t it. That was just a reason she used to justify her action afterwards. The reason that the escort was bothersome was not wrong because it was what she actually thought.
But the action was an impulse that came before the reason was given. What for? Why did she leave on impulse?
Hillis felt indescribable displeasure pondering over it.
No, was it anxiety?
Yeah. It was anxiety. There was uneasiness at the root of Hillis's behavior. Because of this uneasiness, she had left on an unplanned pilgrimage with a minimum number of people to quickly get to the Holy Land.
Perhaps the uneasiness was a sign from the feeble foresight given only to a Saintess, or a signal from the Holy Land's World Tree. Or it was possible that religious thinking which she had been taught since childhood had dominated her subconscious.
Complex emotions entwined in Hillis's mind revealing themselves through her expression.
The paladins were startled by the sight of the Hillis struggling. This was because she didn’t show her emotions easily. Seeing her distressed mired in the complex emotions, the paladins interrupted.
"Don't worry, Miss Saintess. We will do as you wish."
"Yes, if you want to go to the Holy Land with us, we will follow. So—"
"Please don't make such an expression.”
The paladins knelt down. They felt a pang of unbearable guilt seeing a Hillis very different from her usual bright and cheerful self.
Hillis closed her eyes. "Thank you." She was sure that she was someone who had received a blessing. She felt like her heart was filled just by the fact that there were people who cared about her with all their hearts and not in pretense.
"Everyone, let’s go to the Holy Land."
The paladins answered Hillis with a roar.
Lancelot nodded and backed away as the direction was set. Whether they attacked or retreated, it didn't matter if they could just head to the capital quickly.
Hillis silently thanked Lancelot and looked towards Zaharam.
Then she said softly but powerfully, "I don't know what the black magicians are planning on doing in the Holy Land, but let's teach them how foolish it is to camp in Zaharam."
The old man persistently memorized the incantations in front of the altar. The preparations for the ceremony were insufficient and the most important item, the carnelian crystal, was not present. However, it was possible to fill the gaps with the flesh and soul of the black magicians that he had just killed.
The mana, which was supposed to be dense, was rather loosely woven as it entered the altar, even so, the ceremony continued. It felt like he was walking on a tightrope, the old man concentrated on not failing even as he broke into a cold sweat.
"We’re in big trouble! The paladins, huck!"
The black magician that hurriedly entered the room was startled at the sight of the ceremony.
The old man, the head of the black magicians, was working hard to adjust the mana in front of the altar. The problem was the sight of the black magician’s teacher and others that had turned into corpses and were being used as offerings for the ceremony.
On the surface, it was a crazy act to use human sacrifices. However, even in the eyes of black magicians, it was not something that humans should do. It was even more frightening to see it from the eyes of a black magician as his greater knowledge would allow him to understand the scene better.
The black magician, who came to tell the news, backed away in a dilemma. Right now, the Saintess had arrived and started a massacre, and right in front of him, his superior was carrying out a ceremony that violated a taboo amongst taboos.
Turning on his heel, the black magician went out of the temple. If he died fighting outside or was caught by the paladins and handed over to the heresy interrogators, at least his soul would be safe.
Of all the worst options, he chose the one that seemed the least bad.
To the darting black magician, there was no such thing as the lesser of two evils.Previous Chapter Next Chapter