Rodrigo, my faithful servant, said the voice.
“High Priest. Mara’s servant Rodrigo is ready to listen to the great one”. Rodrigo replied with a desperate voice, bowing with his head on the floor. It was the great God’s miracle to convey His will by using an object. Faith for Mara overflowed from his heart. If it was now, he would not hesitate should the high priest ask to plunge himself into a blazing fire.
Rodrigo, who became an orphan as a little child, grew up to be a skeptic who did not believe things easily unless he had seen or heard it himself. This young merchant possessing such a strong character had now turned to fanaticism after seeing the miracle of God unfolding before his eyes. His suspicious and greedy nature did not change, but every time he witnessed the power of the great God, Rodrigo’s faith became stronger.
– Rodrigo, he has called me. He has made me deaf and blind so that His great words cannot be influenced or changed. He makes sure there is no intervention when He expresses His will.
What Rodrigo heard was not the harsh scratchy voice he had heard from the high priest a while ago. This voice was pure and clear, almost melodious.
“Ah, high priest, I did not know. I anxiously looked for you everywhere. My frivolity must have provoked His anger”.
– Mara is merciful.
“This child prostrates before God to express his gratitude”, Rodrigo supplicated.
– He told me something auspicious had happened. What has come to pass, my loyal servant? Tell me.
Rodrigo was confused and looked up. “Auspicious? I don’t know what you mean, High Priest”.
Far from being auspicious, the things that had come to pass were worrisome. Rodrigo was ready to air out all his worries and concerns in front of the High Priest.
– Are you saying Mara lies? I entrusted you with an important task, but it seems you do not even know what happens around you!
Rodrigo trembled as an angry voice filled his head. He shook his head, hoping to provoke his memory. He remembered an incident that had occurred in recent years, though it was far from auspicious.
“I do not dare question the Great One. There indeed has been a mishap involving the Saint”.
– A mishap? Go ahead, speak!
“On the day you had visited, a lark appeared in the middle of the capital and started a riot. It is said that the saint made that lark into a tree”.
The bright red eyes of the mouse facing Rodrigo brightened and seemed to peer into Rodrigo’s soul.
– Alas, of course. That must have been the brilliant energy that woke me up.
Rodrigo did not understand what the High Priest meant. He thought it to be just a metaphor. He did not grasp the importance of what he had just heard.
– Rodrigo, I had asked you to arrange a place to meet the Saint. What has happened with that?
“I have already met with the Saint, lord. I could not convey the message as my voice could not reach the high priest”.
– That is unfortunate.
Rodrigo felt a knot twist in his stomach when the high priest talked about the saint, Queen Jin. Whenever the whereabouts of the high priest were not clear, Rodrigo slept uneasy. The queen never had an interest in the church at all.
“High Priest, this servant dares to ask. Why is it auspicious for the Saint to express her Ramita? That is something for the evil God”.
The rat’s eyes glowed and seemed to carry an energy of their own. Rodrigo could feel the rat’s stare even though his face was down on the floor, bowing. He heard the High Priest click his tongue in disapproval.
A typical human, thought the High Priest. Humans were very difficult to deal with. It becomes problematic when they begin to have doubts. If you turn a blind eye toward them, they become stupid and cannot think for themselves. The High Priest had learned this about humans through countless encounters with them over the centuries. Humans were different from the Lark. Humans did not blindly obey or trust. The most effective way to gain their awe and respect was not to show supernatural strength, but to persuade them with lies about what they already believed in.
– Rodrigo, my faithful servant. Since you are the most devoted of all, I will tell you a secret of the hidden world.
“It will be an honor. I will open my heart and listen carefully.”
– Ramita is not the power of the evil God.
“I beg your forgiveness, High Priest. What?” Rodrigo could not hold back his surprise.
– Anika is a fundamentally different being from Mahar’s dog. Mahar’s dog is a cursed tool that has been domesticated by Mahar to the core. Whereas Anika is a holy vessel that holds God’s power.
– A vessel that can hold anything. Thus, He has instructed Queen Anika to serve as a saint.
Rodrigo stared in awe. He felt amazed at what he had just heard. It countered everything he knew to be true.
“Does that mean it is possible for Mara to walk on Earth by borrowing the queen’s body?”
Again the high priest thought, typical human. Why did humans feel the need to ignore reality and instead follow unseen, mysterious sources of power? Why was such a foolish creature made to roam the world and made so crucial to the survival of everything else? The High Priest did not know.
‘God himself?’ The high priest mocked Rodrigo silently. If such a thing even exists. “Visitors” like Mara will not be able to play God’s role in this land.
Rodrigo sighed, unable to verbalize his thoughts. Is it possible to see God in person? With just a little grace of God, Rodrigo could become the most powerful human being in the world. Just imagining that outcome sent pleasurable chills through Rodrigo’s body.
Rodrigo found his words. “High Priest, the foolish child does not understand. This should be known. Should we not spread it to the religious people and use it as a way to get closer to the altar of God?”
– There is a reason to keep it secret. Some impatient servants have a history of doing foolish things with such information. Keep my words in mind, Rodrigo. Do not divulge this secret. Be sure to ask me for opinions and follow my instructions on matters regarding the Saint. You are the only one I trust with secrets and important tasks alike.
“I will never disappoint you. High Priest”.
Rodrigo bowed his head with an emotional heart. He knew he looked like a crazy fellow, prostrating to a little vermin. He was a fanatic after all, a madman.
– The Saint must choose to be a vessel herself. That’s why I instructed you not to go against the will of the Saint. Serve her with all your heart, until she has been fully embraced by the arms of the Great one.
“The High Priest’s instructions have a deep intention, so I always keep it in mind. Your will is important to me”
Going by what the high priest had said, active work was needed to make the queen feel favored toward Mara’s denomination. Rodrigo had never made such an effort. In front of the queen, he lost all his strength. He felt crippled, pretending to be supportive. Rodrigo simply regarded her as a customer with large pockets. He thought that the scope of the high priest’s instruction to receive the queen as a saint was limited to concealing the ability as Cage. He sold his information and footwork to the queen at a high price. The queen had never been stingy while paying the price, but the queen will not know that she has incurred high costs.
I wish he had spoken about this earlier, thought Rodrigo. Didn’t he meet the queen just a while ago and openly ask for money? Rodrigo had read contempt in the eyes of the queen who threw her jewelry bag toward him that day. He had pretended to laugh at himself and said, “I am just a merchant who only knows money.” It was never likable.
Moreover, the queen refused to say that there was a problem with Tanya, whom he had sent in. He had not known how much he had fallen in favor with the queen.
A cold sweat ran down Rodrigo’s back.
“High Priest. When I met the Saint not long ago, I talked about the ceremony and told her that the High Priest wanted to see her.”
Rodrigo wanted to emphasize his achievements to cover up his mistakes. He was unaware that Molly was currently being confined in a dungeon and under strict surveillance. He believed in the information that was leaked that she had left for the holy city after losing herself within the ritual procession.
“If the High Priest decides to see her, Taniya will deliver the information to her… Oh, the Taniya is out in the desert with the Saint. As soon as Taniya returns..”
Rodrigo stopped speaking as the voice interrupted.
Desert? The Saint went out to the desert?
“Yes. She went to attend a dry season ritual”.
Rodrigo. For the time being, I cannot move. As you have done so far, prepare the rituals thoroughly, and respect the Saint with all your heart.
“I will certainly do what you asked me for.”
With that, the red energy disappeared from rat’s eyes that had stood upright on its hind legs. An ordinary black-eyed rat flinched and convulsed, then returned to the crack in the wall.
Rodrigo, who had been bowing with his face on the floor, waited for a while until he could no longer hear the high priest’s voice. The High Priest’s messenger had disappeared.
Two days passed, and in the afternoon of the third day, the procession arrived at the holy land.
Eugene got off the camel and looked down at her feet. There was grass all around her.
“To think it is a desert…”
The holy land looked different from what Eugene had imagined. It was not an old castle’s ruins half-buried in the sand, but a green island in the desert beautified with vivid colors.
She trained her eyes on the horizon to her right, searching for the sand dunes that were certain to be seen on the outskirts. Surely enough, hills of yellow sand stood tall, glistening in the sun. She looked on the landscape on her left and it stood in contrast to the sand dunes that lay beyond. She saw a lake and a lush green forest on its shore. She felt like she stood in the middle of two very different worlds.
Eugene shook her head, and her eyes were now focused on the ground where she stood. Workers moved diligently to pitch tents. The air felt peaceful, but Eugene could also taste a great sense of optimism around her. People smiled easily, and kind words were offered to each other as they all seemed dedicated to their tasks. The greenery seemed to invigorate all who stepped within. She felt a surge of energy despite the long and rough journey she had just made.
She was told to begin the ritual with the first ray of dawn. It was too late today, so she decided to make her way to her temporary home after making her offering at the temple.
“Sir Sven, you said you had been here before, is that correct?”
Sven, who was waiting nearby, was quick to reply. “Yes, My Queen.”
“Does this entire place come within the boundaries of the holy land?”
“Indeed. This holy land is the origin of the kingdom. You can see the exact origin at a point along the lake shore.”
“Is it far from here?”
“You will have to walk a little.”
“Will I be back before the sunset?”
“Oh, certainly. It is not that far.”
“Will you guide me, Sven?”
“Of course, My Queen.”
Sven knew it was not the first time the queen had visited this place but thought she had perhaps forgotten her way around since she had come back after so many years.
They began to make their way to lake, and Sven noticed a flutter of movement. He looked behind to see four more warriors in step with them, following behind but maintaining their distance.