As the sunrise came, Senia simply wakes up and started to change inside the tent. It had been ingrained in her mind and body that she needed to present herself flawlessly as a saint, even though she was travelling she couldn’t neglect that.
As usual, before she starts the day, she did her morning prayer – asking for a peaceful and blessed day ahead. After the short but sincere prayer, Senia came out of the tent with her usual beautiful smile.
“Did you two sleep well?”
“Oh, good morning, Senia.”
Senia laughed bashfully, a bit unfamiliar but at the same time glad for his friendly greeting. Their usual morning always started quietly. However, since Tess joined them, there was another person that could reply to her.
Another rare sight was Carr still sleeping with his back resting against the tent. Throughout their trip, Senia has never seen him deep asleep, in addition to that he was sleeping right in front of her tent. She tilted her head and slowly approached to wake him. Just when she is about to take her second step, Carr opened his eyes. His face looked tired despite the sleep – very unusual.
“Sir Carr? Are you okay? You look very tired.”
“Hahaha. He was talking with me until dawn. Don’t worry about it, Senia.”
“Is that… so?” Senia hesitated and looked at Carr more carefully.
It was understandable that Carr would end up talking to their guest until dawn as he wasn’t able to reply to her normally. She couldn’t help but feel bad – knowing that Carr must have it difficult all this time. Although, she was surprised that Carr talked to Tess when she kept noticing the glares that Carr gave to their new guest all night long.
The real reason why Carr couldn’t sleep well was because of Tess, but it wasn’t because they spent the night talking – no, he had to stay awake to keep Tess from trying to sneak inside Senia’s tent. Carr had to stop him repeatedly and Tess only gave up when it was around dawn. However, even then, Carr didn’t sleep right away. He waited until Tess had been sleeping for few hours before he too fell asleep.
“….I don’t mind if take a bit more time before we started going,” Senia offered as Carr got up and stretched himself.
Carr shook his head, not wanting to delay their schedule even further because that only meant for him to spend more time with Tess. It was something he wanted to avoid at all cost.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Tess asked, moving closer toward Senia who is preparing their breakfast.
“It’s okay. The food will be ready soon. Tess can just relax,” Senia answered softly not wanting to show her wariness at the close distance between them.
“I feel bad for only receiving a meal without contributing. I’ll pay you back soon.”
“It’s only natural for a priest to help those who are in need. Don’t think it’s a debt that you need to pay.”
“Well, then I have to say thank you once again.”
Even though he was saying ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’, there was no sincerity in his tone. It was natural for Tess to act like that as not all people believe in God or even take priests’ goodwill as something of a blessing. Carr could tell that Tess belonged to those groups, after all the man was a demon himself and someone who practices magic. However, seeing Tess’s gentle smile, he didn’t want to pour cold water over Senia’s innocence that not everyone she met has a good intention or those in need.
He just needed to be alert and ready to protect Senia from Tess.
Two more days had passed by since Tess had joined them. Surprisingly, the journey was calm and without a hitch. The fact that both Tess and Senia were even more energetic and excited than the first day they met. It was a small but at the same time big difference between talking alone and talking to someone who able to respond and continue the conversation.
“Hey, Senia, what’s your hobby?”
“Well… I’m not sure. I like to read books if I have time off from all my prayers.”
“Oh? Really? I didn’t peck you for someone who read.”
“Only when I’m alone. I thought it would be rude to read a book when there was someone with me.”
This kind of scene was what he saw for the last two days. Tess, who had a great interest in Senia, started by asking about her hobby, preferences, and even her family. There was no problem with the conversation itself as Tess’s eyes just filled with curiosity instead of pure malice, so Carr did not intervene.
In front of Senia, Tess managed to put a decently human act although Carr could tell that he was worried Senia might bring up an odd topic, so he was always on edge.
Carr glanced up, needed some distraction from the conversation. It was somehow hard for him to see the bright, simple, soft, and almost like a sunshine fresh smile, directed toward others and not to him. He could tell that the heartburn he felt was not just because Senia and Tess shared the same love for books, but because Tess managed to learn more about Senia within the two days they are together. On the other hand, Carr just recently learns about this even though he had been with Senia for a couple of months longer.
He cannot talk to Senia and he had told himself several times that it was inevitable, but now those words weren’t enough to placate his complicated feelings.
“Senia, you said you are on a pilgrimage, right? There is a big city called Daran in the east if you have a chance go there. The library there is huge.”
“Oh, I think I have heard of that name before,” Senia whose eyes glistened, smiled a bit awkwardly.
“I’ve never been able to go there because I’ve been busy with church affairs. Have you been there, Tess?”
“I’ve been there once. I couldn’t stay long because I was a nomad, but I managed to get my hands on a lot of good books.”
Of course, he stole it but Senia didn’t need to know that and Tess just smiled innocently. He was proficient in lying through his teeth. It was second nature to him as he had been living in human society all his life and it helps in covering his identity, unlike Carr.
“Well, if in the future, the thieves turn themselves and I managed to get my bag back safely, I will show them to Senia.”
“Oh! I’ll be looking forward to it,” Senia chuckled happily, perceiving Tess as a joker.
Tess, who had been observing Senia’s reaction for two days, saw her response as a green light and continued to joke.
“But Senia, you know… I’m quite weak. Actually.”
“Are you sick? If you need to be cured, you can leave it to me.”
“No, no. I’m not saying that now. it’s just that it’s cold at night, isn’t it? I’m worried that I might catch a cold. So….” Tess’s eyes bent down, mimicking that of a kicked pitiful puppy.
A seductive and playful smile which always weaken women’s heart.
“Can I sleep with you in the tent?”
“Oh! I’m sorry. I should have offered it to you. Of course, it is fine.” Senia cut Carr’s perplexed voice.
In an instant, joy and sorrow crept into the two men. Carr was shocked to see that he was not special while Tess was happy to have won. However, just as Carr about to open his mouth, Senia continued.
“Tess can use my tent. I’ll sleep outside for a while.”
“I appreciate the idea of sharing, but it’s going to be difficult because it is small. And because I am a priest, I couldn’t share the tent with you.”
Tess made a quiet whimpering sound at the pain of the tender refusal. Senia was very firm about her decision that Tess couldn’t argue about it. Although he had always managed to get his hands on the beautiful ladies that he had targeted, this was the first time he was dumped.
‘As expected, a saint is a saint.’
“No, I was only joking. If I took Senia’s tent, your escort wouldn’t stand still.”
“If you know that, don’t bring that up in the first place.”
“Then it’s not fun. Oh, do you envy me for able to talk to her?”
The atmosphere suddenly turned cold due to Tess’s mischievous prank. Senia alternately looked between two men not knowing what to do until she spotted a landmark standing not too far away.
“Ah! We’re finally here Just over the hill there is Pirel River!” Senia said brightly, trying to break the tension between the two men.
If they cross the river, they will just have to journey ten more days before they arrive at the White Temple. There were only two or three villages left to pass through and both Carr and Senia could feel that their trip was coming to an end.
As they struggled up the high hill, there was a comfortable downhill road and an open view unfolded for the three travellers. The Pirel River shone as clear and blue as the sky. The city next to it had a splendid exterior wall, decorated with colourful flowers. There were large and small boats floating on the river.
The three people walked down the hill, taking in the peaceful sight of nature with their eyes.
“Please wait here, I’ll be right back,” Senia told the two before she made them wait and walked to the port, wanting to check the time for the ship in advance before they got inside the city to rest.
She had decided to leave Carr and Tess alone in hope that the two would get along with each other. However, in Carr and Tess’s eyes, it was such a vain gesture from her as there was nothing to be talked about between them.
“Haa… I thought this would be easy, but it’s worse than I thought. That woman…”
“What do you mean?”
“The more she tries to hide it, the more she uses that smile as a weapon. Therefore, she’s very good at lying. She’s a saint, someone who is soft but at the same time she is vigilant, she is the same as me right? That is not going to work in a normal way.”
Carr knew that Senia had a strong will which contradicts her fragile appearance. He had seen how she suffered several times but never going back on her decision. However, he didn’t like to think that Senia was the same as Tess or that she was a liar.
“….I didn’t get to ask you before.”
“Are you a solitary devil, too?”
Tess, with his arms crossed, look at Carr surprised at the question, “Is that what you were curious about? I think you got it wrong. I got out of the pack. I don’t like being ordered around or forced to act in a group. You must have been a loner then.”
“Yes, I’ve been alone since I was born.”
“Is that the case? Then it’s an easy thing to fix. I’ll take you to your people.”
For a moment, Carr froze and turned to look at Tess who was smiling.
“Even if it’s not an underground continent, there’s a hideout for the demons. They will gladly accept you if you are the same kind as them. You are someone who does not look hostile by nature, so why don’t you quit playing this mercenary game and live-in peace? If you have a leash on you, I’ll find someone familiar with the cancellation of such curses.”
Kind. Peace. Those two words had such great weight that Carr could not just ignore them. He had been persecuted by humans for years because he couldn’t hide his red eyes since he was a child. He always longed to have a stable life and right now he only had a few days life of this so-called ‘peaceful’ life before he returned to his old life.
“And the conditions?” Carr asked agitatedly, not able to hide his inner thoughts.
“There is none. Do I look like someone who asked for something like that? We don’t have a lot of demons left on the ground, so we’re trying to help those. I don’t like humans either, but I’m willing to be nice to those that are the same race as me.”
Tess’s tone was neutral and somewhat full of sincerity that Carr raised his head from staring at the ground to look at the other guy.
“Why do you hate humans?”
“Isn’t that natural to hate them? They won the war just because they were loved by the Gods. I’m more than happy if I able to destroy them when it comes to that.”
“….I don’t understand.”
“Ha-ha. Because we’re demons. Don’t you have a desire that matches your instincts?”
There were many differences between human and demon, but the biggest one was how demons had more instinct when it came to their appetite, sleep, and sexual desire. Although some had the desire to do good, they were rare. And Tess was one of those that belonged to the extreme side.
He gained pleasure when he able to destroy something and he didn’t mind if he had to torture a living human being or make them suffer for the matter. That kind of insanity and blood lust was something that Carr was able to read from Tess’s eyes.
“So, I’m looking forward to it now. I was wondering what kind of face that the saint will make when she is crying,” Tess hummed cheerfully.
Imagining the sight alone was enough to make him excited. Now that Carr had confirmed that not all demons were villains. Carr couldn’t hide the displeasure toward Tess’s attitude.
“I don’t think I’ll hear the end of this.”
“Because I’m this kind of person. So, what are you going to do? If you leave Senia and me alone, I’ll guarantee your future.”
Carr looked back at the pier harbour. His eyes were looking at Senia who was about to make her way back and he could see her bright smile. The regret that he had been feeling since earlier was easily washed away by that soft smile.
“That woman is stronger than me. Even if I fall, it would not because I was beaten by a guy like you.”
“Wow, I’d like to underestimate that, but it’s true. It’s because she’s a saint, huh.”
“Yes, but I have to refuse your offer. In the end, I would leave her side once my work is done.”
“Ha-ha.” Tess shrugged his shoulder, not liking to be pushing others to change their decision.
It was a strange situation between them. Tess was trying to get his hands on Senia, and Carr was the person that trying to protect her. For now, they had to be content in this stalemate situation.