“Where is this place?” Robert asked as he feasted his eyes on the massive hallway expanding for a good hundred meters in front of him before splitting into two perpendicular junctions at the end. Pillars stood proudly on both sides, adorned with banners bearing an insignia.
The insignia was of a twin lozenge-shaped shards entangled by vines blossomed with flowers and leaves. It was oddly familiar but Robert couldn’t recall for the life of him.
“You don’t recognize these banners?” Creed responded as he led Robert down the hall. “That’s the insignia of Suryo.”
“The Suryeon Faith.”
“And where are the girls?”
“Just ahead.” Creed pointed. “The door at the end. And they have all being cleaned and treated by the Temple Sisters. However, the Sisters told me that their mental health would be another problem.”
“Why didn’t you just teleport us directly to them?”
“This is a holy ground. It has its rules. Unless it’s due to some special circumstances or privilege, no Arcane or violence is permitted within the sanctuary.”
“Sanctuary? What is this place exactly?” Robert questioned. “It sure ain’t the temple.”
“This is the temple,” Creed answered with his usual smile. “But it’s an annexed section of the main temple, the forbidden section of the temple, as they called it. Only the clergies are allowed to be in here. Well, that’s the official story, at least.” Creed gestured at themselves.
“A reception hall for the paramount guests. Or as you can see, it’s also a sanctuary for these guests.”
“And how does one pass as a paramount guest?”
Creed chuckled. “Everyone who has been acknowledged by either the High Priest or Mister Smith. Of course, the Arch Priest is also included, that goes without saying.”
“The Suryeon Faith is conspiring with Mister Smith, huh.”
“Unexpected, isn’t it?” Creed gauged Robert for his reaction.
Creed’s smile slackened.
“The Suryeon Faith treasures arts in almost any form. Arts and cultures are usually lost in wars or other similar apocalyptic events. What better to ensure that all would not be lost by machinating with an entity like Mister Smith.”
“You didn’t mention the Empire, I’m surprised. Even Mister Smith view them as a prime threat.”
“The Empire is faithless. They will never let religion interfere with politics. I will applaud them for it. They save themselves a few headaches.”
“Well, I digress,” said Creed. “Actually, there is one other person who has the power to approve one’s state as a paramount guest.”
“The Saintess?” Robert arched an eyebrow. “That’s actually an official title?”
“Official only to the Suryeon Faith and Kiva Faith.”
“From what I can infer,” Robert rubbed his chin, “the Saintess holds as much power as a High Priest. How does that work?”
“It’s not that simple,” said Creed. “The Saintess is more of a… symbol than a leader. And no, the power the Saintess holds is actually more than a High Priest.”
Robert raised both of his eyebrows. “You’re telling me that she holds as much power as the Arch Priest?”
“In essence, yes but like I have said, it’s quite complicated.”
Robert took a whiff of the air. “Yeah, complicated.”
“What did you just do?” Creed asked with a slight frown.
“Does the Saintess like Chamomile oil?”
Creed stared. “You smelled that? From where?”
“The door ahead.”
“Chamomiles have medicinal properties. You might be smelling the medicines or just other ladies. Why do you think it’s the Saintess?”
“It’s not medicine, I’m sure,” Robert asserted. “And so far, the only people in the room ahead are the clergies and the girls. Samara and Suri don’t use any aroma oil. The Temple Sisters certainly don’t either. The tavern girls have just been cleaned and healed, so they won’t be using any medicine. Even if they are, it won’t be something like Chamomile.”
“Have anyone ever told you terrifying your sense are?”
Robert thought for a moment. “Not in a long while, no.”
As they reached the end, two lightly armored Paladin stepped aside to allow the two entry.
“So even the Suryeon Faith has Paladins,” Robert spoke his thoughts.
“It’s a must even if it’s not their focus, unless they want to be trampled by random aggressors,” Creed told Robert as he gave the door a gentle push.
They were greeted by a sight of white brilliance. The massive room had multiple colors to its palette but white dominated the ratio. It was a healing room— hall but healing in itself held a variety of meanings.
Dozens of beds draped with curtains were align in columns. There were a lot of unwonted items strewn about that one would not normally see in a healing hall, such as musical instruments, weapon racks, odd trinkets, and a small bathing pool by the end of the room. And those were just things that Robert could see. He didn’t doubt the healing hall was hiding more of its aberrant nature.
Despite the size, only a fraction of the hall was occupy. Robert looked around but he could not find the source of the Chamomile aroma. He concluded the aroma must had been a lingering scent.
“It smelled expensive.”
Robert and Creed walked towards to the occupied fraction of the hall, where Suri, Samara, and the rest awaited and were gather.
The girls have all being treated and were in clean clothes, a far cry from their usual revealing garments. It was boorish of Robert but he couldn’t help but to revel in the stark contrast of the girls. The pure white dresses also gave him a peace of mind; they were safe now.
Samara sat by the side of Ilynn’s bed, comforting the crying former tavern proprietress. When Ilynn saw the two approaching, she pushed aside Samara and tried to get out of the bed, dragging the sheets along.
“Ma’am, you need to rest,” Samara implored but Ilynn struggled out of her grasp easily. Samara did not dare to use too much force as Ilynn was still recovering from the assault and her injuries.
Ignoring Samara, Ilynn came up to Creed, grasping at his clothes, and looked him in the eye. “Take me back,” she begged. “Please.”
Creed stood shock but he managed to recompose himself within an instant and calmly respond, “Madam, I’m sorry but your tavern is no more.”
“No… you’re lying…”
“It’s true, Lynn,” Robert chimed in.
“Shut up!” she snapped at Robert, drawing all the glances in the hall, including the other girls and the Temple Sisters who treating them. “You don’t know that!”
Robert flinched but he took a step forward. Wordlessly, he brought Lynn to his embrace. Gently caressing her hair and back, he kissed her forehead.
“Please… take me back…” she wept into his chest.
“No,” Robert firmly answered. “The building has been burned down.”
“No… no…” She squirmed in his arms but it remained wrapped around her shivering body. “Take me back… I beg of you… I’ll do anything, so please… take me back…”
“Listen to me, Lynn.” Robert raised her chin with his fore finger. “It’s gone.”
“No!” She flailed. “Stop lying!” she spat.
But Robert held her face in place with his thumb and index. Their eyes met. “It’s gone. Just like your husband and your son. They’re gone. There’s nothing more for you there. Wake up.”
“No… please don’t say that…”
“I have to.”
Finally, she relented as she burst into tears, her cries echoed into the massive hall.
“I’m sorry,” Robert said. “I’m so sorry.”
After a while, Lynn fell into slumber when she exhausted the last ounce of her strength on her grief and sorrows.
Robert laid her back gently onto the bed. He tidied up her dishevelled clothes and combed her fair with his fingers. After giving her a soft peck on her cheek, he then turned to face the other girls.
Surprisingly, Rose was the one who came up to him. She walked with a limp but she did not let it faze her. Her fellow girls seemed to be hesitating on letting her go. Robert knew why. Rose wasn’t the most cordial person to talk to, after all.
“Robert, right?” asked the red-haired girl.
“Thank you,” said Rose with a domineering glare. Her gratitude was tinge with a hint of censure. “Did you kill all of them?”
“Yes,” Robert answered promptly.
“Did they suffer?”
“Not all of them but the one who have his way with you definitely did. The others didn’t exactly die a clean death either. So… there’s that.”
“Good.” She nodded. “Who were they?”
Robert was genuinely surprise at her tenacious and scrutinizing nature but then again, this was very much like her. It reminded Robert so much of Olivia.
“You can’t tell me?” she questioned with a scowl.
“Harlots are known to have lips as loose as their cunts. This isn’t something that can be known to loose lips.”
Rose snorted and jabbed at Robert’s chest with a finger. “You don’t threatened me over what we deserve to know.”
Robert smiled. “You have guts and fire but you don’t have brains.”
A sharp noise bounced across the vast hall as Rose slapped Robert across the cheek— but it was her hand that stung instead. She clutched her hand in her belly as she staggered and stifled her moans.
Robert sighed. “They are Rieans.”
“Rieans?” Rose frowned. “Why are noblemen raiding a tavern in this part of the city? Did they ran out of gold or something?”
“Worse. Clan Riean is no more.”
“It was destroy by the Dragon Knights of Aeryo. Those people are the few fortunate ones who weren’t present during the ruin of their household.”
Rose fell silent as she allowed the information to sink in. After awhile, she spoke up, “were they trying to get back at someone? Otherwise, I don’t see a reason for them to attack a tavern that people wouldn’t go to as their first choice.”
“Exactly why, lass. A lonely old tavern in the quiet parts of the city. No guards or anything. Whatever they do, by the time it reached the ears of the guards, everything will be all too late.”
“Just who are you?” Rose asked, narrowing her eyes. “How do you know all of this?”
“Because it’s my job.”
She glanced observantly at Robert. She may not had pay much attention to him the first time he visited the tavern but she was sure he was shorter and his face was smoother. “I may be a whore but I’m not stupid. Something tells me these people attacked because of you.”
“Rose! You are being rude,” reprimanded the blue-haired Gloria. “He saved us.”
Rose glimpsed back. “I have already thanked him, haven’t I? But as the victims, we deserve to know the truth, don’t we?”
“Even if the truth will only bring more harm?” Robert asked. “Sometimes, being ignorant helps.”
“You don’t get to decide that,” Rose retorted.
Robert smiled wryly while he laughed inwardly at the fiery spirit of the red-haired girl in front of him. In a span of a day, he met two girls who wore their similar unabashed manners like medals. Silently, he walked up to her until the difference in their height became apparent.
Bending his head down, he stared at the obdurate harlot. “Neither do you,” he served back with a clear voice.
“Just so you know,” Rose bumped her chest against his and snorted, “you don’t scare me.”
“I know,” Robert said. “I also know you want to be strong and tough for your fellow girls but be careful, you’ll never know what kind of collateral you will garner with your attitude until it’s too late.”
“Don’t change the question. Do you have anything do with it?”
After a short clash of their gazes, Robert broke into a chuckle. “I do,” he answered.
Gasps could be heard from the other girls.
“But not directly,” he added.
Rose grabbed at his collar. “How?” she asked, staring daggers into Robert.
“Are you really sure you want to know? What if something much worse happened than what you have just been through?”
“I can handle it,” Rose said, sternly.
“Maybe but can you say the same for the other girls.”
Her grip loosened at his words. She glanced back at her fellow harlots who watched the two with trepidation.
“You want to hold someone accountable for this, I understand.” Robert pried her fingers completely off his clothes. “But you have to understand too, now it’s not the time nor the place for you to know. Your fellow girls need you. You need each other, right now more than ever. Retribution can come after.”
Clicking her tongue, Rose snapped her hand out of Robert’s. “Fine,” she said in a huff. “But do remember, I will not let this go until the one responsible for this paid their dues.”
Robert arched an eyebrow but he put on a smile anyway despite his surprise at her choice of words. “Of course. I would even remind you if you forgot.”
She snorted one last time before leaving to join her fellow girls.
Robert then turned to Suri and Creed.
“What?” asked Suri.
Robert pointed at the Demon maid and gestured for her to follow him. Creed wasn’t asked but he followed along anyway, incurring a twitch in Robert’s brows.
The three came to a secluded corner where they were out of sight from the only crowd in this massive room. Given its design and structure, the corner might as well be another room, Robert thought.
Suri had a fidgeting glare while Creed had a woeful smile as he stared at Robert.
“You’re bringing a lot of baggage with you,” Creed remarked. As usual his tone betrayed his amiable expression. “They will only slow us down.”
“Tell me everything you know about Azaela and the Dragon Knights,” Robert ignored Creed and directed his question at the Demon maid.
Suri creased her brows. “The deal was only Azaela.”
“That’s not the answer I want to hear,” Robert leaned in, his breath getting wilder by the minute, “and I’m in no mood to play along with your attitude. Now, answer the fucking question.”
“Ross,” Creed called out but he was ignore, again.
Suri gulped as she unconsciously took a step back from Robert but her back met a wall. She fought down a shriek when Robert’s hand went for her neck. He unclasped two of the top buttons around the collar, revealing a minor bit of her tanned and freckled skin underneath. Suri felt no disgust nor anger from his act. She only felt fear. Something about his hand was imprinting a lot of dread into her pores. Soon, she started shivering when his finger drew a circle on her slightly revealed chest.
She wanted to summon her Soul Weapon to cleave the boy in front of her but circumstances were unkind to her.
“Ross, what are you doing?“ asked Creed as he clutched at Robert’s arm.
“If you have something to say, just say it.” Robert shot him a glare. “Don’t beat around the bush.”
“I can’t say I know exactly how you feel or what you are thinking but… whatever you’re about to do, it will only cause further complications to the whole plan.”
“Complications?” Robert scoffed and battered Creed’s hand away from his arm. “When the Blue Rose discovered my existence and you started using the Dragon Knights as chess piece, the plan has already fallen apart at that point. So, to hell with complications.”
“Plans fall apart all the time, it’s how we keep it intact despite its broken state and persist until the end that matters. It’s how we all stand where we stood. I will not reproof you for what you did but please consider the bigger picture.”
“This happened because I only considered the big picture!” Robert shouted.
Suri stifled a yelp as Robert unintentionally applied some force into his grip around her neck. At the same time, she was also shocked. It was uncharacteristic of him. She didn’t knew him long but the few words they exchange was enough to tell her of his personality. Raising his voice was unbecoming of what she knew of him.
However, Creed smiled, it was his usual seemingly affable smile. “You really are an unexpected one.”
Robert frowned. “How so?” he asked, dubiously.
“I will admit, I have been skeptical. I thought you were uncompromising and uncaring.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, then,” Robert retorted as his thumb brush the skin of Suri’s neck.
“I’m not disappointed, Ross,” said Creed. “I’m relieved.”
Robert raised an eyebrow and released his hand from Suri.
Suri was about to distance herself from the two but Robert cut off her path with a palm slammed to the wall.
“Mr. Tann, Soraes, Missus Yu, and Me. We’re all doing this because we have something or someone we care about and we want to protect it. I wasn’t sure you’re the same as us. You were… detached. You understand love but you weren’t attach to it. I thought you did all these simply because you were bored.”
With coarsening breath, Robert asked, “what’s so bad about that?”
“Because… usually, if we can’t trust a person’s character, we trust their interest. For those who do things because they are bored, we can’t even trust their interest. They’re the most dangerous kind of individuals. I’m glad I was wrong about you.”
“You’re not completely wrong though.”
“Maybe but at least, you are capable of getting angry for others.” Creed chuckled. “Well then, take your time, you two,” he said and vanished into thin air after.
“Fucking weasel,” Robert cursed.
Suri poked at Robert’s chest. “Forgive me for my appropriate interruption but can I leave?”
Robert turned to her with a smile. “Our business hasn’t even started, Suri.”
She sieved her breath.
“Don’t forget why you’re here in the first place.”
She grimaced. “Fine, what do you want to know?”
“What kind of person Azaela is for starters?”
With great reluctance, Suri began to answer every questions Robert had. These weren’t her knowledge but what her mistress, Iora told her. Normally, second hand knowledge wasn’t that highly regarded but Suri was the personal maidservant of the Devetra’s young lady. Her memories were one of her great many talents. Overall, she managed to satisfy Robert’s inquiry, except for one.
“You’re telling me that no one knows the extend of her Unique Arcanes?” Robert gazed.
“She is a Master-level, need I remind you? Unless she’s fighting against more than six Elites or against another Master, she had no need to use her Unique Arcanes. You want the best results? Fight her yourself.”
Robert chuckled, caressing the Demon maid’s cheek. “Why are the girls around me so fervent?” His breathed was getting rough.
“Maybe you like to be hounded by such ladies?” Suri glowered. “Be at ease, I’m just a maidservant, I don’t judge.”
Without a warning, Robert pulled Suri in by her waist and smacked his lips onto hers.
She struggled and tried to push him away but she was only made to realize the difference in their strength. Suri herself was skilled in fighting but in the aspects of Arcane, she was much of a gentry. Even so, she knew she was stronger than him before. But upon their meeting this afternoon, after the incident in the slums’ alley, Robert had become stronger than her.
With much effort and desperation, she pushed him off but only because Robert relented.
“Have you lost your mind?” she rebuked with an intense scowl at the deplorable boy in front of her eyes. “Have you forgotten where are? This is a holy ground, you filthy brat.”
Robert grinned. “A Demon talking about courtesy, what an irony.”
“Get off me, you brute!” She put some Arcane into her shove but Robert wasn’t bulging.
“I have never been much of a romantic,” Robert said, “so forgive me for what I’m about to do.”
Before any more complaints could leave Suri’s lips, she was shut up by another fervent kiss as Robert began unclasping the rest of her shirt’s buttons.
And this marked the first unholiest of copulation in the known history of Midas Valley.