Fortunately, today’s reconnaissance returned with only three injured.
It should be true that any number of injured or suffering people is inherently wrong, but now, if there are only five or six people hurt, then it couldn’t help leaving the impression that it’s ‘not too much’ or even ‘it’s okay.’
Usually, I would think that this mindset was really callous, but I also couldn’t help feeling relived when I saw other priests approaching the bleeding soldiers.
It was a small blessing that the injuries weren’t serious enough for me to be called.
After the reconnaissance was over, everyone had to move to the base camp location that the knights had scouted in advance.
At first, the Paladins and Nickel Knights took the lead together, and the priests followed with the mercenaries at the back of the procession.
But now, it was decided that the Nickel Knights would take the lead, since they know best the way through the mountain, and the Imperial Knights were to follow the procession from behind.
And of course, Elvin took the lead in such a case.
My pace was still far from being fast, but fortunately, I wasn’t as completely behind as usual.
This was only possible because of the heavy rain that made the path more treacherous, forcing everyone to walk slowly and carefully.
In the future I hope it rains every day so I can walk leisurely like this… but after a moment of thought, I realized that if that were to happen, I’d most likely find myself staying up till dawn every day, so I dropped that wish quickly.
Well, when you gain something, you lose something.
I had learned early on that when it comes to ‘no pain, no gain,’ I’d be much better off with ‘no gain,’ so that I’d have ‘no pain.’
In addition, my mind became unburdened since I now have a fresh and brilliant Elvin following behind me, not Cabel with his black aura.
So, what I mean is… I’ve been in worse situations.
As the road became more rough, my body wobbled often.
I almost fell forward a couple of times because my poor ankle got twisted.
Fortunately, Lily would catch me, so I was able to avoid showing everyone an image of myself sprawled out on the ground.
However, Elvin would also try to catch me from behind, and a rather embarrassing situation ensued.
Still, Elvin was trying to help me, so I felt obligated to say thank you.
But when I looked at him in those moments, each time his expression wasn’t so good.
As if he was about to say something, he’d turn to face me with a very ambiguous expression, but in the end he never said anything.
I bit my lips in nervousness more than once, but in the end I could only smile, and, well, it seemed only I felt better enough, so I started walking forward again.
Nevertheless, the awkward atmosphere couldn’t be avoided.
The intrusive and strange tension coming from behind me was breathtaking.
But whenever I tried to make eye contact, he would avoid my gaze.
Two hours passed in this way.
I had just started accepting the fact that being around Elvin made me feel light with a ticklish heart, so I couldn’t help feeling a bit depressed since things have now turned awkward so quickly.
As I was lost in thought in this way, I met Elvin’s eyes again.
It occurred to me then that maybe he had seen my divine power weakening, which was why he was acting so strange, so I immediately smiled, trying to appear reassuring.
I must have a fickle divine power that is easily swayed by my mood.
I haven’t taken any special notice of it so far, but I’ll have to be more careful from now on.
Now, we have just reached the middle of the mountain.
The sound of people arriving at the base camp could be heard from far away.
Wow, that means the hike has ended so quickly today.
Now at this next camp I can take a good rest.
It looks like it won’t be raining anytime soon as well…..
“Uh, it’s slippery there, so be careful…”
I was taking a step while looking up at the sky when I heard Lily’s words.
I tried to answer that even I knew that much… But right at that moment, I really slipped like Lily had said, and my body lost its center.
We were on an uphill road, so at this moment the slope was quite steep.
My feet slipped at this critical time, and I fell back into something hard—
“..…Are you okay, Priestess?”
I blankly blinked my eyes.
Just now I… am I in the arms of Elviniraz?
It took longer for me to buffer this time.
The fact that my head was resting against Elviniraz’s chest, who had been walking right behind me, held no sense of reality.
I got up in a hurry, barely holding onto my sense of reason.
He was a big man from the beginning, but while wearing solid armor, he felt even larger than usual.
Ignoring the sound of my heart that was beating way too strong from the shock of falling backwards, I apologized, saying that I would walk properly and correct my posture…
He spoke, his golden eyes facing straight at me.
“I will help you.”
“…..What? Oh, it’s okay, they said we’ll be arriving soon.”
“That ‘soon’ you heard really means another hour.”
…..Well, ‘We’ll be arriving soon,’ doesn’t necessarily mean ten minutes.
I knew that much.
But at the same time it’s a bit too disheartening to hear that it means another hour of walking on this road.
As I wore a lost expression, staring at the ground, Elviniraz let out a short burst of laughter and reached out to me.
“Shall I follow you from behind? No, follow me.”
Until now, it seems that I’ve only ever heard suggestions coming from Elvin, so I wasn’t quite prepared to hear such a firm command.
I widened my eyes in surprise at the unfamiliarity of it as I looked at Elvin.
He was ordering the knights behind him to walk ahead of us.
The Paladins followed the order without raising any objections.
Gardiel cast me a slight glance as he passed by.
Well, I had taken Elvin’s words to mean that it was okay to walk a little behind, but what he really meant was to literally follow the slowest person in the procession.
No, I mean, I was able to maintain an average walking speed this time? But how did I end up lagging at the very end again… ?
As I watched the Paladins moving farther away with a distant gaze, Elvin stood in front of me and reached out his hand.
I tried to refuse, saying that kind of support was unnecessary, but he wouldn’t lower his hand.
I thought about it for a minute.
No, I really thought about it for a second.
I had been taught that it was wrong to reject the extended hand of a handsome man.
My hand resting atop Elvin’s felt very small.
I’d noticed it before, but the size difference was really no joke.
I walked forward with a fresh energy, thinking that it would be rather nice to have someone nearby who can catch me now… when I suddenly heard Elvin’s voice.
“I kept getting worried.”
Yes… my legs are a bit weak.”
Was my walking really bad enough to be a serious cause for concern? The thought was so embarrassing that I could only laugh awkwardly.
Elvin’s gaze stayed fixed on me until, at last, a boulder appeared that would take all of my focus to climb.
When I was deciding how to overcome it, Elvin grabbed me and lifted me up powerfully.
He held my hand tightly, the heat making my fingers burn and tingle.
“……But this, I’m not doing it for the Priestess’s divine powers.”
And in that moment, listening to Elvin’s low voice, I could only respond with an instant, “Huh?”
Elvin watched me quietly.
He slightly lowered his eyes, focusing on the hand that he was holding so tightly.
I involuntarily flinched, feeling pierced by his gaze.
But the strong grasp on my hand never slackened.
Uh… So, if I’m not misinterpreting his words now… is Elvin saying that he wasn’t being kind to me only because of my divine powers?
I didn’t mean to attach such a reason to his every action.
But when I think about it, I did think it was his main reason, so I couldn’t say anything in response at this moment.
There was a short silence.
Elvin furrowed his eyebrows for a while, trying to see what I was thinking.
Eventually he let go of my hand, shrugging it off.
“The Priestess doesn’t seem to mind it at all.”
It felt like he was talking to himself.
It was such a small voice, but at our proximity I could hear him clearly.
“But I can’t understand it, I really can’t.”
He seemed to mull it over again.
It was unintelligible.
After a while, Elviniraz closed his eyes and smiled gently.
“Shall we go, Priestess?”
The voice that asked me was as calm as usual, so I looked at him with a bizarre expression for a moment, but finally nodded my head.
I felt strange.
* * * * * * *
Incredibly, a month into this campaign has passed.
A doctor once said that it takes 21 days for a habit to form.
Afterwards, a professor claimed that it should take 66 days, which would make a huge time difference.
But personally, my experiences have aligned with former hypothesis.
In just half the span of this two-month journey, I’ve grown accustomed to so many things.
The uncomfortable barracks-life is now calmly accepted as the norm, and even the priests’ inter-relationships, which had gotten off to a rough start, have now matured into people who can share occasional, silent greetings with their eyes.
In the earlier days, there was an ambiguous rivalry amongst the different temples, but as our situation became more serious, the importance of healing quickly and efficiently far surpassed any petty envy over the superiority of each others’ divine power.
There were even occasions when Abnel’s priests would come to me first and ask for assistance.
As it has been a month since we’ve arrived at the mountains, which were so difficult to climb, I finally got a bit used to it.
At first, I had a hard time hiking every day.
But after the second week, ever since we crossed the last major mountain, we only had to move camp every two days, making it less burdensome.
I have gotten used to it.
Everything from the simple, spartan meals, to the irregular sleeping schedule, or even to the rough mountain roads.
And as the end of autumn approached, the nights got colder and colder, with everyone sitting together, shivering around the bonfire.
However, the one thing I couldn’t get used to—well, rather, the one thing that I couldn’t become indifferent to, even though I have technically gotten used to it—was the sinking sensation I felt every time I saw an injured person.
Paladin Gardiel once told me, ‘It’s not a real war because it’s just to this extent of wounded or killed.’
He’d said that the two-month period allotted took into account only the time it took to climb the roughest mountains of the western fortress*, and that Vios itself was nothing compared to Keschmir’s military power. It was just a symbolic march to annex Vios into the territory of the empire.
[tl/n*: I think the point being that they didn’t even allocate any time for battles or other complications, since it was basically supposed to be a walk through the mountains lol]
As we entered the third week, that is, after we passed the lord’s villa, the attacks noticeably reduced.
Contrary to the expectation that there would be more attacks as we got closer to Vios, the number of raids has actually decreased significantly, and the number of wounded soldiers has never strayed beyond five or six.
At this point, even I could understand the feeling of this being, “not very much.” Nevertheless, every time I saw an injured soldier, my heart dropped lower and lower.
In fact, I don’t understand well why I’m still affected so deeply.
Is this what PTSD is? Since we’re still at war, it’s only natural there’d be no sign of improvement.
Lily seemed to handle it all well in her own way, so why the heck is it so difficult for me? It’s not like I spontaneously break down in despair or sorrow; but sometimes, a feeling of suffocation overwhelms me, like I’ve fallen into an endless abyss.
People dying in war had always been a faraway concern, but for now, it’s my very close reality.
In online games, it was always so cool to see a hero escaping death whenever a healer flew onto the scene.
But now that I think about it, the true mental master in the game is the healer.
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