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Chapter 5: Holy Maiden Candidate

Holy Maiden Candidate

Thelma Zayin.

The woman who once held the title of Holy Maiden drew closer to the burned down carriage as we kept lookout of the surroundings.

There were traces of battle around, and in the burned carriage, were the bodies of men holding weapons, whom I assumed to be guards.

Whether their deaths had led to victory or not was cleanly burned away.

Eva held her hand to her mouth, while Aria's face was pale.

I didn't feel too great either.

(... Come to think of it, that was the first I'd directly dispatched a human on my own.)

I had rendered the return trip of some adventurers in Arumsaas impossible, but it's not like I had directly dealt with them.

I felt a strange sense of unease. Clara walked over to my side.

"Lyle-san, only one of them survived. They've lost consciousness, but they're more or less safe."

I nodded, and headed in that direction.

Zayin's former High Priest [Gastone Bonini]intended to perform their last rites, and bury the dead.

But due to a lack of time, he was digging out the holes with magic.

"... Couldn't you give them a more respectful burial?"

Is what Thelma-san said, but Gastone-san shook his head. He understood how dangerous it was to remain here.

Clara tugged at my sleeve.

"Lyle-san, I didn't want to say it, but if you'll let me have my say; why did you accept this request, even listening to her willfulness on top of that? We should have been on our way as soon as time permitted."

Clara's words were correct. They were correct, but I had circumstances of my own.

Mainly the ancestors in the Jewel.

The Third spoke.

[Put her in your debt here, and have her rely on you in Beim. Luckily enough, Novem-chan and the others are out searching for our own stronghold in Beim. They plan to buy a relatively big one, so you could even give them shelter!]

Novem, Miranda, Monica and Shannon... the reason the four of them were left behind, on top of information gathering, was to attain a base in Beim.

Normally, I'd have taken Monica along, but there was cleaning to be done in the property they'd purchase, so she wanted to stay behind.

But as she saw the rest of us off, she looked extremely lonely.

The Sixth.

[You've got to give a good impression. While you're at it, to get yourself more involved in this mess, do you think you could try drawing out some information, Lyle?]

The ancestors were even more lively than usual.

I felt like letting out a sigh, but I endured it and turned my eyes to the survivor. He had yet to regain consciousness, and we had handed over some of the medicine we had on hand to treat him. The Fifth spoke.

[... How suspicious. Even after they'd erased all other evidence so cleanly, having a survivor left behind feels quite out of place. Is it a trap?]

I turned my eyes to the surviving man, but there wasn't anything strange about him. Even confirming with Skills, I couldn't really understand anything.

(I should've taken Shannon. Rather than leaving her to lend a hand in cleaning, she may have been more useful on this side.)

It was too late, but I regretted not putting more thought into our formation. I addressed Clara.

"Well, it isn't a bad thing to get her in our favor. And let's remain wary of this survivor of ours. Theres something bothering me."

Hearing that, Clara nodded, and went off to transmit my words to the rest of our comrades.

I looked at the former Holy Maiden Thelma-san.

A hooded girl was standing beside her. From how those around were treating her, she was being cared for just as much as Thelma-san, so she must be an important one.

When I remained vigilant of our surroundings, I sensed the pursuers close in the distance a bit.

(They haven't given up. I can only think they're getting their numbers together to launch an ambush.)

Our opponents were familiar with battle, and they were resolved enough to blow themselves up.

On top of equipment gathered in accordance with their ordeal, I could tell they weren't bandits.

There was a possibility there would be poisons in their weapons, and I got the feeling concealed weapons were fair game.

(How troublesome. The Giant Sword will be a bit rough. And the Bow was blocked.)

I didn't think they'd start their counterattack so soon, but they were accustomed to battle. Turning the Jewel to the Giant Sword to fight would be too dangerous.

The information about the Bow was already transmitted to them, and perhaps they had put up some countermeasure with it.

While I tried thinking up a new plan, Gastone-san came over to us.

"I apologize for taking our time. Let us depart at once."

I nodded, and issued orders. I had me comrades board Porter, and had us take up the rear.

I also thought it best if we looked after the injured.

"We'll take care of the injured."

When I said that, Thelma-san wandered over, and shook her head.

"We cannot trouble you to such an extent. And I want your party to concentrate on guard duties. The injured man is one who has been in service to us for many years. Please let us use our own hands to treat him."

From the Jewel, the Seventh let his voice.

[... So pushing her to leave him with you won't work. If you tell her there may be something wrong, her sentiment for her friend will dull her decision. Lyle, he won't wake up for a while, but you have to stay on your guard.]

The Fourth was of the same opinion.

[I want to remove uncertain factors as much as possible, but you'll lose credibility if you force them apart.]

And tying him up since something may happen was also impossible.

He was a cause of concern, but we abided Thelma-san's opinion. But the Third gave a proposal of his own.

[Lyle, tell them to lighten the load on a carriage so the important ones can get away, and load the man onto that one. At the very least, keep damage to a minimum.]

Just calling him suspicious wouldn't get anywhere. I gripped the Jewel, and proposed the Third's proposal to Thelma-san and Gastone-san.




The way back to Beim.

Stationed at the back of the group, we looked at the three carriages pressing on in front of us.

They had stripped off quite a few of the parts, but their constructions were sturdy. With a former Holy Maiden and High Priest riding them, it doesn't seem they were something prepared spur of the moment.

Climbing onto the roof, May looked behind, and started up a conversation with me.

"Hey, I'm a bit curious, but..."

"What is it?"

I turned to her, and she plopped herself down cross-legged, but she continued speaking without sending her eyes my way.

"What will we do if those guys from before come back? Run? Fight?"

I answered the question.

"Run if we can. I'd like to think they won't follow us all the way to Beim. But if we're going to fight, we're going to crush them."

There was the possibility they'd infiltrate Beim, and lay in wait. Luckily, the attackers were stuck on us, and there weren't any traces of them having sent a message to their boys back home.

Twelve in number.

We didn't have that many fighters, but we had May along. She was the most reliable among our current numbers.

Aria and Eva were dependable as well, but the problem lay in that they had hesitation.

And I can't say I didn't have any either.

(Hah, so when it comes down to it, it'll dull my blade. But if I hesitate, I may die. And I can't go around dying here.)

When I confirmed my resolve once more, May turned her face to me.

"Then aim for victory in the road ahead. The path becomes narrow, and our opponents seem to be in a hurry, so wouldn't they aim for such a point? You're using a Skill to raise this group's movement speed, so the other side will be a bit impatient."

The [Speed] Skill hastened our movement. If I pushed it, then outrunning them may be possible as well.

"Do you have some sort of plan?"

When I asked, May smiled.

"It isn't a plan. I'm just a quilin. I've taken on humans seeking to seize me. And a number of them were quite troublesome folk. No matter how far you run and run, they'll give chase, so there wasn't a choice but to defeat them. But if you hold out slaying them, the survivors build up their knowledge, and build up their traps and numbers, so I always aim to take out the whole herd at once."

(Purposely fall for the trap, and lure them out?)

I nodded and listened, when the Fifth's voice came from the Jewel. I ignored it.

[You've been through a lot, May... the tears are...]

May gave a grin.

"Even we will kill humans if they corner us so. But at such time, you've got to get all the troublesome ones together, and take them out at once. Fall for the trap, and aim for the moment they all try to jump you."

As I thought, she was thinking to purposely take the bait.

"That's a dangerous one. If we're surrounded like that, there'll be casualties. You aren't here alone."

There, May looked right at me, and scoffed.

"You're joking. Lyle, it's best you trust in your own power just a little bit more."

Saying that, she turned her field of vision to the back, and didn't say another word.




... Inside the carriage.

Thelma called out to the young girl sitting beside her.

"Aura, you've been acting strange for a while now."

The girl beside her was [Aura]. Her hair was long and wavy, while her body's build was quite delicate.

She had gone against the current generation's Holy Maiden [Remis Zayin] in the Saint Selection process, so Thelma had taken it to herself to take her out of the country.

"It isn't anything, in particular. But how nice it is. For us to be able to meet adventurers on the way. They're huge softies, and easy to make use of."

Thelma narrowed her eyes, and cautioned Aura.

"After they saved us, what's with your attitude? If you didn't have that side to you, you'd have been the perfect candidate."

Her education was the same, but Aura's appearance was of high class. Thelma and Gastone had backed her, and recommended her as the next Holy Maiden.

Of course, it's not like her appearance and education were the only reason for which she was selected.

Just as with Thelma, Aura was a member of the moderate faction. A little over twenty years ago, while being a Theocracy, Zayin was going through a stream of continuous war.

It waged war on its surroundings, and continued to pillage and plunder.

But it's not like those surrounding nations would just sit quiet, and suffer. They invaded Zayin's land in a similar fashion, and brought pain to their populace.

Aura lifted her legs up onto the seat in front of her, in quite a sloppy fashion. She didn't look like what one would call a candidate for leadership.

"They're only chasing us because we ran. We should've just stayed quiet back at the temple in Zayin. Those divine knight blockheads just hate it when a virgin gets involved in politics."

Those divine knights she wrote off as blockheads were Zayin's official knight brigade. Under the name of the Goddess, the knights that abided the Holy Maiden. But their role wasn't really any different from the knights of any other country out there.

No, in violence, perhaps the divine knights were a bit superior.

The pillager's mindset built over long years of war had persisted through Thelma's time, and she had found herself unable to alter it.

And because of that, the anti-Thelma radical party was able to gather and organize itself. The candidate pushed forth by that radical faction was [Remis].

Thelma let out a sigh, and apologized to Aura.

"I do feel sorry for getting you dragged into the mess. But if we had run alone, then it would have invited harm unto you without fail."

Aura looked up at the ceiling.

"That's why I never wanted to be a Holy Maiden candidate. There were plenty more options, weren't there? They should've just had a pretty girl a bit lacking in the head department sit on an empty throne, yet they just had to get her dragged into politics, did they?"

Thelma held her head to her brow. Likely from a headache.

"And so war came year after year, and I couldn't do anything of the hatred that had been passed down through the ages. In my time, our neighbors made an alliance, and came from all sides to wipe Zayin off the map, you know."

Aura laughed.

"And wouldn't that have been better for all of us?"

"Of course not!"

A silence fell between the two of them.

After a while, Aura opened her mouth.

"... Once we get to Beim, I'm going to go on to live a quiet life."

Thelma shook her head to the side.

"That has a nice sound to it. But there should be an, 'if' somewhere in there. The adventurers we've hired seem proficient, but I really don't know what's to come."

She had a hunch towards the identity of the squadron chasing them.

The subdivision of the divine knights kept for assassination, sent by the radicals.

Under absolute secrecy, they'd committed a number of ill deeds, and they were a squadron that existed for covert operations. They were the elites of the divine knights, and quite a troublesome existence.

But they hadn't dispatched that great a number.

If they were able to make it to Beim, the assassins would probably return to the country, thought Thelma.

Aura rearranged the folding of her legs as she looked at Thelma.

"Wouldn't this have been solved if you tried to get along with those blockheads? If it's you, Thelma-sama, then you could've done it, right? In truth, couldn't you have retired over ten years ago, built up a temple or something in the sticks, and lived a quieter life?"

After her face became expressionless, Thelma began grumbling out complaints.

"Even I wanted to retire and build up a family... but Gastone wouldn't stop crying. And we weren't able to find the next candidate. On top of that, the divine knights went on strike, and we couldn't use them at all. Yet whenever we relied on adventurers for their neglected jobs, they'd complain... just what did they want me to do, dammit? I wanted to retire to the countryside and get married or something."

Having flipped a strange switch, perhaps Aura knew she had done wrong, as she tried to follow through. She was in debt to Thelma.

She was able to serve by the Holy Maiden as a consecrated virgin, and was treated quite favorable.

"How about you find a quiet life in Beim too? See, marriage is still..."

After hearing that much, Thelma smiled.

"Aura, I turn thirty six this year, yet you imply there's still a partner for me? Even when it would've been hard ten years earlier?"

Seeing her enlightened smile, Aura's heart began to fill with pitiful sentiment...