It had been five days since they left the little village and now, they arrived at a new city. Different from the last village, the city was large with tall, sturdy exterior wall. A queue of people waited to enter the city at the main gates while soldiers were checked their identification meticulously.
“There will be a festival today. It is why everyone seems to be working hard.” Senia explained the noises that could be heard from beyond the gate. “It’s a good feeling.”
Carr nodded his head. For them, the one-sided conversations were no longer an awkward routine, but to others it appeared odd and pitiable, especially to those that fell into the category of nosy middle-aged people.
“That young man is too cold. If that pretty priest talked to me, I would treat her nicely….”
“….it’s useless trying to meddle.” Senia covered her mouth and quietly laughed at Carr’s consistently awkward reaction.
The middle-age man was about to continue nagging about Carr’ attitude when he realized that Senia’s gaze was fixed on him. He quickly shut his mouth.
“There are many things that you can see in the festival here. From small puppet shows to famous wandering bands. There are even street vendors” Senia’s eyes sparkled as she explained what happened during the festival, “Oh, at night, the square is turned into a dance floor. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun if you join!”
The excited smile suddenly turned awkward, “Ah, I wish I could see it.” Senia mumbled quietly.
Carr tilted his head, wondering why she sounded as if she wouldn’t be able to participate in the festival. Actually, it sounded like she had never participated in one. Even Carr had gone to the mask festival as it was the only times he could hide his red eyes from people. It’s weird that someone in Senia’s position never joined one.
‘Well, it has nothing to do with me.’
Carr decided not to pry even though he was curious because he knew they weren’t close enough to share things.
“Welcome, priest. Which denomination are you from?” The armor-clad soldiers greeted Senia, which snapped Carr out of his own musings.
“I serve the sun god, Acronix.” Senia showed her sigil. The soldier’s’ facial expression to relax noticeably.
“Right. Identification, please.”
Carr handed his own identification, the one that was prepared by Arte, showing that he was a mercenary hired by Senia who was a saint. It didn’t take long for the soldier to confirm their identities and handed the documents back.
“It’s clear. I pray that you have a good rest. The temple of the sun god is in the northeast section of town.”
“Thank you for your consideration.”
There’s no man in the world that wouldn’t be thrilled to see Senia’s soft smile. So, it was no wonder that as they passed through the gate, the soldier eyed Carr with envy. Carr ignored the man’s gaze and instead focused on the sights of the crowded city. Everywhere he looked, men, women, and even children were in high spirits as they prepared for the festival. Festive decorations covered every corner of the city.
“Well, now we just need to pick our accommodations. Then…” Senia voice trailed off and Carr watched as she focused on something behind him. He noticed the frown caused her forehead to wrinkle and wondered if he should ask about the matter, but decided not to.
“In the temple…. Then…”
“Excuse me! Please move!”
Someone shouted from behind them and Carr pulled Senia by the shoulder toward his body. The person barreled past them. Senia knew the gesture was only meant to protect her, yet she couldn’t stop her face from growing warm.
Carr’s arms were thick and strong and made Senia want to cling to him for a moment longer. However, when Senia noticed that her thoughts had started to wander off in that direction she quickly pulled away and attempted to calm her breathing. Carr on the other hand, looked away in search of the person who had nearly run into them.
“Oh! You, you are priest that belongs to the same sun temple!” A boy, probably in his teenage years, with broad shoulders came to a stop front of them.
Carr recognized him as the boy who was responsible for the little commotion earlier. Looking a bit more closely, the boy wore the same robe style as Senia. There was a sun-pattern embroidered all over the pure white robe and an additional decoration of a yellow armband on the right arm. It meant he was a priest in training.
“Nice to meet you, postulant. You must be busy preparing for the festival.” Senia smiled softly after noticing that the boy is a priest in training, someone who had just joined the church.
“Hehe. Yes, I’m still in training so I have many errands to do. I’ve never seen you around here before, sister…”
“I came from the capital church. I stopped here to visit the temple.”
“The capital?” The boy opened his eyes wide, shocked that someone came for a visit. However, he didn’t seem to recognize Senia. He looked at Carr, noticing that he was a mercenary and quickly surmised what was going on.
“Is this a pilgrimage? That’s amazing! I haven’t even received my blessing yet! Oh, do you know there’s a festival tomorrow? The bishop here has decided to give a blessing. Sister you should join, it would be a lot of fun!” The boy tried to pull Senia toward him, excited to show her around.
“The inns will already be fully booked by now because of the tourist, so come to the temple! There should be two empty rooms!”
“That’s…. we…” Senia wanted to decline, but seeing his innocent expression and the excitement, she just couldn’t. “Right, please lead the way.”
The boy’s grin got bigger and he guided them through the streets. He introduced himself as Dan, a 16-year-old who had entered priesthood two years ago. He didn’t let go of Senia’s hand during the entire walk, afraid that the two travelers might get lost, but the sight made Carr uneasy.
“What’s wrong?” Dan asked noticing Carr’s dark expression.
“….No, it’s nothing. I just think we are walking too slowly, so I’ll carry the luggage.”
Carr couldn’t give a clear answer on his sudden dark mood. He couldn’t really identify the feeling that he was experiencing and he wanted to ask someone regarding those feelings. He needed someone to explain them to him.
“It’s okay, I can…” Dan tried to dismiss Carr’s concern about the luggage he was carrying. But Carr easily snatched the wooden materials from Dan’s shoulder and carried them like they weighed nothing.
“Wow… you’re very strong!”
Carr glanced at the boy, who was still holding Senia’s hand and wished that they’d get there sooner.
It took another ten minutes before they finally arrived at the sun god’s temple. Dan explained how in town the seven gods’ temple were spread out all over the city. This was different to small village where all seven were combined under one temple.
“There you are!” A tall gentleman who was sweeping the floor at the front yard of the temple interrupted Dan’s story, “You’re late! Did you go around and forget your task?”
“Ah, no! I saw a pilgrim on my way back….”
“Yes! This is….” Dan stopped as he stared at the two people, noticing that he didn’t ask for their names before dragging them to the temple. But before he could say anything more, the older gentleman interrupted in a loud voice full of bewilderment.
“Aren’t you the saint?!”
“Long time no see, Brother Gaol. How have you been?”
“Ah! Yes! I’ve heard you’ve recovered your power, I’m so thrilled that I’m able to see you again! Come in, come in! Bishop Hale will be happy to see you!”
The older gentleman, Gaol, welcomed Senia with much warmth and familiarity. He passed the broom he held to Dan and glanced at Carr.
“Is he your escort, sister?”
“Yes, he is.”
“I see. Dan, prepare two rooms.” Gaol ordered Dan who was still too shocked about the revelation, but the boy quickly nodded his head.
It seemed their accommodations were settled smoothly for the night, however, Senia frowned slightly the moment she took a step to the temple.
“For Sir Carr. I think you should arrange for his quarters’ outside.”
“I will stay in the temple and accept your hospitality but since Sir Carr is not a priest, it’s okay if he doesn’t stay here.”
Carr didn’t really care or fuss much about his accommodation. He only ever got his own room when he was captured by the church in the capital. However, Senia’s dismissive attitude bothered him.
“Hmm… if that’s your opinion, then I understand. Dan will guide your escort to a good inn. He knows the city very well.”
“Huh? Ah… yes. I am able to do something about it….”
“I’ll see you at dinner, then.”
Carr nodded his head while Dan frowned.
“That’s weird. We have many empty rooms, so why did the saint tell you to use outside accommodation?”
“Well…” Carr tensed as he followed the boy. He didn’t have the right answer, because he didn’t know why Senia had ordered it either.
“Let’s just say that her order won’t harm me.”
“Is that so? Is it because she’s a saint?”
“Well, I can roughly say that it was the reason.”
“Oh my. I still can’t believe that I saw the famous saint. My heart’s still beating fast you know! I only ever heard of her from the rumors.
In the quiet yard of the temple, it was easy to listen to the boy’s voice compared to earlier when they were in the heart of the city. Carr could tell that Dan was star struck after meeting Senia. He must have heard rumors about Senia’s achievements as a saint.
“Yes. Didn’t you know, sir Carr?”
“Well, I’m not part of any religion. I was only hired to escort her.”
“The saint of the sun god is the most famous and powerful among the seven saints. She was the hero during the war against the Great Devil three years ago. She was the person who was responsible for getting rid the Great Devil himself!”
“Hmmm… so she eradicated the Great Devil?”
“Oh no. Her decision was controversial you know.”
“Unlike the rest of the saints or priests. Senia doesn’t kill all demons, but instead uses divine invocation to force them back to the underworld. She did the same thing toward the Great Devil. Many people didn’t like it, but I respect her decision. Only one saint, only she, can show such mercy toward such an evil. Isn’t that amazing?”
Dan looked up at the sky with his voice full of hope while Carr only stared down at his feet.
“She is someone who embraces and cares for things more than anyone. No matter if they are someone above her or below her. I heard that she makes everyone around her happy.”
Carr couldn’t help but remember Senia’s face. Her open, desperate expression as she said that she couldn’t give up her blessings for the people, even if she had to sleep with a demon. Then he remembered how she came to the solitary room that night, asking if she could stay to get some rest. She was someone who said that she would apologize to others because she was saint, even if they had hurt her.
Was she really happy?
The memories left an unpleasant sensation in Carr’s chest as thoughts of Senia flashed behind his eyes.
“I think she is a woman who laughs a lot because there are many people she needs to save.”
“But I don’t know if she’s happy…”
Carr ignored Dan as he continued to walk. He didn’t elaborate on his vague remark and he didn’t wait to check if Dan was following him. Carr couldn’t wrap his mind around the rumors and anecdotes that Dan had told him.
Everyone saw Senia as a saint and took her for granted. They didn’t see her as an ordinary person at all.
“I’m getting hungry. I was promised that you would show me around.”
“Ah! Yes!” Dan snapped out of his trance and motioned for Carr to follow him. Apparently he had decided to accept Carr’s answer.
Once night settled over the city and dinner time had passed, Senia arrived at Carr’s quarters. She knocked on the door and the moment Carr opened the door she quickly bowed her head, apologizing.
“I’m sorry about earlier. I’m not very good at talking or conveying my opinion, so I think I hurt your feelings.”
‘It wasn’t a problem.’
Carr wanted to say that it wasn’t a bother for him, but he couldn’t really say it. Instead he shook his head and watched as Senia visibly relaxed at his answer.
“Oh, can I… can I come in and talk about some details with you?”
There were many people passing through the hall, so they couldn’t really trade secrets. Carr nodded his head, moving aside to let Senia enter. The room was simple and neat with a small window overlooking the main street. There was only one desk and a single bed covered with white sheets. Dan had said that he couldn’t find a better place because of the festival, but in Carr’s opinion this was the best type of place.
Senia jumped slightly at the door closing and quickly turned around to face Carr. She hesitated before speaking and couldn’t look at Carr properly in the eyes.
“I’m here to talk about the reason I dismissed you earlier.” Carr nodded, prompting Senia to continue, “In the temple, the bishop’s and priest’s rooms are located on sacred ground so it is protected by holy power to prevent demons’ attack.”
Carr waited silently, watching as Senia explained the situation seriously.
“Back in the capital, you were not in the main building, but the basement prison. So, there was no protection. I forgot to inform you about it until we arrived at the temple. I would like to apologize for not informing you much earlier.”
“When demons enter sacred ground, they experience tremendous pain. Because you have demon blood, but at the same time a mix of Bishop Arte and my protections, the pain will be lowered but it would still hurt you, sir Carr.”
The more Senia explained the situation, the more Carr was reminded of the rumors. She truly cared about him, a demon, more than necessary. Perhaps it might be because no one knew she was travelling with a demon, but she went out of her way to make sure he was comfortable, even by explaining herself like this.
“So, Sir Carr, I think you can sleep comfortably here while I stay at the temple.”
Carr nodded his head. After all it’s not like he could refuse such an arrangement.
“And.. uh,” Senia opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She tried a few more times, but in the end, she only sighed.
“It’s nothing. I’m sorry to bother you.” She looked up at Carr, fingers no longer fidgeting with a resigned smile on her face, “Did you have dinner yet? Do you mind if I join you?