Based on the intelligence report, Cage, going by the name Rodrigo, operated a small store selling miscellaneous items. People passing by the vicinity would assume that it’s nothing but a shop like its nearby establishments.
Little did they know, the shop only served as a guise, hiding the fact that it is actually the place where Cage bought and sold information. Although there were people who really came to buy goods, all of the usual transactions were handled by an employee, whose task was to serve customers and protect the store at the same time, as to not make the establishment look suspicious.
This morning, Cage had been in a bad shape, coughing his lungs out all morning as he struggled to hold it in together. His coughs troubled him the whole day and by late afternoon, he decided to leave the store early and went straight home. Once inside his abode, he summoned a doctor to tend to him.
A few moments later, a doctor could be seen on his doorstep and went inside. He did not take too long and left the place soon after. To anyone lingering by, it was not an unusual sight, just a doctor stopping by for a sick patient.
However, people didn’t know that the man who left Cage’s house was not the doctor anymore. Rather, it was none other than Rodrigo in disguise.
Rodrigo was already a cautious man, but the past few days had him take extra precautions. Strange rumors had been circulating in the town and he could not risk exposing himself and the rest of the cult.
Like wildfire, rumors about the possibility of the kingdom recognizing and accepting cults serving the evil god Mara spread. This grew by the day, making the whole congregation at edge. Even though people weren’t entirely convinced, some part of them actually believed it.
Even though rebellions were not treated badly in the Kingdom, Rodrigo and servants like him were still unable to talk proudly about their cult. He was always on his guard, if people around hear him speak of the cult, they would for sure report him and have him arrested by the soldiers for surveillance.
Those who had faith in Mara had to hide from the naysayers’ eyes, and most of them wished that they were able to gather around confidently and pray during the day— when the sun shines so brightly as it looms over the horizon.
However beautiful that dream may be, Rodrigo didn’t think that it is likely to happen, ‘There’s no way the Kingdom would recognize us.’ Why would the Hashi Kingdom recognize the Mara Church, and turn their backs on the Sang-Je?
Even if that thought was possible, Rodrigo didn’t want it at all. ‘Troubles are what makes the faith, faithful. How can I receive God, without having to suffer?’
The oppression human beings have to deal with was ideal. That way, the power to control church believers became stronger, making it easier to pursue things in accordance to the will of God.
‘What a foolish dream, such, silly things. The fact that such rumors are circulating is already unusual in itself.”
Mind heavy with thoughts, Rodrigo walked mindlessly as he arrived at his destination. It was a street lined with small shops across the road. During the active period, the stores open late in the afternoon and close late at night, so by the time he reached the street, all the stores were lit up brightly and in full swing.
Rodrigo went past the narrow side street in between the stores, coming in at the entrance located at the back as he went up the second floor. It was one of the sanctuaries prepared by the Church.
The people of the Church called the place where they hold their private meetings, or a place to hide in, as sanctuaries. Only a few sanctuaries were formed in urban areas compared to the remote places.
It costs a lot of money to buy or rent a building. The majority of servants of Mara was mostly low and poor, and collecting donations from the unfortunate could only do so much. However, thanks to Rodrigo’s help, the congregation grew in numbers rapidly and continuously. Among all the believers, Rodrigo was the prime of them all, for being a resourceful and an effective member.
And with the power of money, Rodrigo’s influence with the Church soared greatly.
Rodrigo placed the bag down, the first time he’s letting go of it since carrying it the moment he left the house. He looked around the small room, a stressed out expression worrying his face.
This was the recently prepared sanctuary, with one year’s worth of rent already paid in advance. No problem for the time being, however, Rodrigo was worried if he could still maintain it after that. He was having financial troubles lately, and he’s already thinking of places he could gain money from. So far he’s trying to make do with his depleting funds.
There was only one reason why he proclaimed Queen Jin as a Saintess. Jin had donated a huge amount of money to the Church, so even if Rodrigo took some of it for his personal gain, the budget remained unscathed and abundant.
But of course, he paid for the money he acquired. ‘I sent three different Tanyas inside the castle, and gave up two sanctuaries. This was one of the sanctuaries the Church had prepared for decades, one of the few left.’
There were secret bases from where Molly and her grandmother’s house stood and the house that was connected through their basement. The bases were prepared with great care by the Church.
Molly’s house was the first sanctuary established by the Church, and while they were digging the basement of the warehouse for the purpose of creating a secret meeting place there, they stumbled upon a closed sewer pipe and they used it to create a secret tunnel. It took more than ten years to complete the passage between the two sanctuaries.
However, the locations containing the Church’s history, and where they communicate with the queen were no longer useful, and his attempts in bringing a Tanya inside the castle were already proven dangerous.
He found himself not trusting the queen as he used to, so he arranged all the contact points between the sanctuary and the Church, being able to severe its ties the moment it gets found.
After all, the value of the two sanctuaries was more than the queen’s donation.
‘Tanya Molly must bring the queen.’
He couldn’t wait for the day when the queen finally chooses. He was impatient for several reasons.
One of which is money. He would do almost everything just to have the donation in his hands. ‘If it’s this one, I guess it would be good enough.’
He opened the bag and shoved his hand inside, taking out an item that was wrapped in leather and placed it on the table. ‘Because the High Priest didn’t give any answers.’
Another reason why Rodrigo had been restless was because of the High Priest’s absence. After the queen was shrined as a Saintess, the High Priest often sent messengers to Rodrigo. And in the last couple of years, Rodrigo had heard the voice of the High Priest several times compared to the last decades. Lately though, the High Priest remained silent and unspeaking, despite how they earnestly called for him.
‘It started after that day.’
The day the High Priest showed up is also the day he disappeared completely, when three Larks appeared in the middle of the capital, which caused a commotion.
‘The day the lark tree appeared.’ Rodrigo frowned.
At first, Rodrigo was afraid, couldn’t bring himself to go near the lark tree. He initially thought that the spiritual tree that was blessed by Mahar would affect him in any way, with him being blessed with Mara’s power.
However, having budget constraints and the absence of the High Priest overwhelmed him greatly, making him courageous as he stood watching at the tree from a distance. He couldn’t feel anything then, so he opted to go towards the fence that surrounds the tree, and he felt nothing. ‘Is that really a lark tree?’
He had his doubts about the tree. Everyone seemed to believe that the queen transformed a lark into one, but he wasn’t sure if it’s actually true.
‘Why the queen, of all people?’ He was confused the moment he was commanded by the High Priest to proclaim the Anika Queen as a Saintess. The question lingered on the back of his mind even while he’s receiving the donations from the queen herself.
‘If the Queen is a Saintess, why would she make a lark tree to contribute to Mahar’s prestige? With this, how is she deserving of the high position as a Saintessess?’
T/N: Mahar (to which this world is named after) is their righteous god, while Mara is believed to be the opposite—the source of all evil.
If Ramita is the power of Mahar, how can a person who was bestowed with such a gift be a Saintess of Mara?
Rodrigo wanted to get answers to that persisting question inside his head, and he planned to have it resolved when he gets in touch with the High Priest.
A knock on the door made him turn his head, his eyes glowing a reddish hue. If it was a person he doesn’t know, his orbs were ready to manipulate and hypnotize.
“Elder, I have brought your guest.”
Upon hearing the familiar voice, Rodrigo’s glowing eyes simmered down as it regained its’ muted color. He quickly stood up from his seat and opened the door. Two people stood waiting for him.
Rodrigo bowed his head deeply towards the woman holding a small basket right next to Molly. “You have given me a precious visit, I’m thankful.” Rodrigo said.
Looking down at Rodrigo, Eugene saw Jin’s memories unfolding right in front of her eyes. The place was like that of a shop’s, where miscellaneous items were scattered around.
[Thank you for your precious visit. What an honor it is to receive you. I am Rodrigo. Greetings to the Saintess. May Mara’s blessing be everlasting.]
[I was commanded to serve you like I would a Saintess.]
The memory seemed like it’s their first meeting.
[If I am a Saintess, what can you do for me then?]
[I will do everything in my power to do whatever it is the Saintess wills.]
[You’re an information trader in the field, am I right? I heard that you are the best in your field.]
[I’m thankful that you’re appreciative of my talents.]
[In the near future, make sure to use your full abilities solely for me.]
The memory slowly disappeared. Eugene passed by Rodrigo and went inside the space, looking around the small, compact room. Molly took the basket from Eugene’s hand and placed it atop of the table. She decided to wait patiently as she took a chair from underneath the table and sat dutifully.
‘I’m proud of him. I will give him a reward once we return.’ Yesterday, she practiced walking around with Abu placed inside the basket. Abu cried pitifully, clearly disgruntled for being placed inside the container.
Eugene really thought that it would not work, but Abu stayed quiet, not making any sound nor did he move at all. Even the cloth covering him did not sway one bit.
Closing the door behind him, Rodrigo turned and bowed to Eugene. “Mara’s servant greets the Saintess. I was looking forward to seeing you again, and I’m humbled that you agreed to my request of meeting here.”
“You may get up.”
“Thank you for your generosity. May Mara bless you forever.” Rodrigo pulled himself from the ground as he stood up. As if unsure what to do, he clasped his hands together and slightly bowed his head.
“Why did you wait here?” Eugene thought that their meeting would take place on the building situated on the street lined with other warehouses, the one she saw in the memory. However, Molly, who was leading the way, turned to the wrong place, which shocked Eugene. If not for Abu inside the basket, she would’ve been very nervous.
“The warriors snooped around so we decided to change places. Please forgive me for failing to inform you of the new meeting place in advance.”
‘Are there other places like this?’
“I waited for news when I brought the Tanya inside the castle. Has the Tanya been a capable servant for the Saintess?’ Rodrigo asked.
“I’m not sure yet. I plan to observe her more.”
“Saintess, Tanyas are loyal servants.” Rodrigo assured her,
Eugene stomped her fist fiercely on the table. “Loyal? Do you have any idea how much I suffered because of the people you let in?” Eugene asked, almost shouting.
“I-I don’t understand, Saintess. Did that child do something wrong?” Rodrigo asked quietly.
Eugene brought up the missing maid, Tanya Eli. Rodrigo had no idea that Tanya Eli went missing after going to the desert with Jin. It was a useful tactic to question Rodrigo. “My position had become troublesome. That’s why I stopped my donations and asked you to wait patiently.”
Rodrigo knew about the queen’s situation courtesy of his informant, Molly. Molly obeyed Rodrigo as much as she obeyed Eugene, serving the two obediently and fiercely.
When Rodrigo found out that the queen was actively engaged in various duties that are way different from before, Rodrigo got worried and pondered on what exactly the queen was doing. He even speculated that she was going to betray the Church of Mara, thinking that it is no longer worth her time, but he was perplexed to hear her unexpected words. And he was glad that all his doubts were eased now.
“Saintess, what did the child do?”
Advance chapters of the novels are now available at Keopi’s Patreon! Please do know that offering support is not in any way compulsory, and only a means to support the team behind the translations. Thank you very much. 🤗