Pides knelt humbly before Sang-je, beseeching his forgiveness.
“Your Holiness, I’m deeply sorry. I couldn’t complete the task you gave me,” he admitted with regret.
“Please, stand,” Sang-je replied.
Pides was the last among the knights assigned to track Anika Jin to return. Sang-je had already acknowledged the mission’s failure and had no intention of reprimanding Pides further. Those who had reported the failure earlier had already felt the brunt of his anger to some extent, so Pides, arriving later, was spared the storm.
However, even if Pides had returned earlier, Sang-je would not have chastised him. It was common knowledge that Sang-je had a special affection for Pides.
While Sang-je claimed not to show favoritism as God’s representative, no one took that statement literally. Sang-je did not hide his preferential treatment of the Anikas, and among them, there were those he cherished even more. He also had particular bonds with certain priests and knights.
“Is there a specific reason for your delay?” Sang-je inquired.
“I apologize for my disheveled appearance,” Pides replied.
“No blame lies with you. If you ever find yourself in a difficult situation, please speak candidly.”
Pides’ silver armor bore traces of dirt in various spots. The other knights treasured their armor, keeping it pristine, free from even a speck of dust. It was said that you could spot a knight in gleaming armor from a distance.
Shortly before his meeting with Eugene and Kasser, Pides had faced inner turmoil and buried his armor in the earth. Later, when he resolved to return to the holy city, he dug up the armor, wiped away the dirt, and put it back on.
“No, Your Holiness. I thought it best to report the mission failure to you as soon as possible. That’s why I neglected my appearance,” Pides explained.
“You’ve endured much. Take good rest.”
“Your Holiness, I humbly request punishment for failing in my duty.”
“I do not blame you. I doubt anyone could have succeeded,” Sang-je assured him.
“Your Holiness, forgive me for this bold request, but I’ve been troubled in my heart lately. May I pray and reflect in the sanctuary until I find peace?” Pides asked.
Sang-je watched Pides closely as he bowed his head, then finally nodded. “Go ahead.”
After Pides left, Sang-je muttered to himself, pondering, “Human emotions are truly mysterious.”
Sang-je suspected that Pides’ inner turmoil was related to Anika Jin. He had long suspected that there might be mutual feelings between the two.
At first, he believed Jin’s affection was one-sided. Jin, who openly displayed her feelings, made it clear to everyone. That’s why he had always sent Pides to the Arse Mansion, both to use his involvement in an affair and to keep Jin’s strong personality in check.
However, Pides’ response had surprised him. Given his character, if he received unreasonable orders repeatedly, he might have eventually shown his displeasure. But Sang-je noticed that Pides carried out his tasks without any sign of discontent.
From Sang-je’s perspective, it didn’t matter if they eventually became a couple. He thought it would be interesting to see Pides, who had always kept his distance, respond to Anika Jin’s affectionate gestures.
Did he ever see it coming? Jin, who had once said she’d become a priest if she could win Pides, was now falling in love with another man.
The emotion of “love” in humans was something Sang-je couldn’t quite grasp. When it came to love, people often became blind, sometimes acting recklessly and foolishly. On the other hand, they were also incredibly fragile.
With Jin leaving the Holy City alongside the Fourth King, Sang-je had now learned this firsthand from the situation. Pides had served his purpose as bait to lure Jin back.
“I can’t bring her back to the Holy City until after she’s given birth,” Sang-je thought, realizing there was no way to change what had already occurred. He needed to focus on what lay ahead. He suppressed his anger and began to think seriously.
“How long does it take for an infant to grow to a certain extent?” he pondered. For someone who had experienced countless ages, a few years were but a brief moment. However, this time, there were many complicated factors at play. He didn’t know why Jin had left the Holy City, and Mara was lurking nearby in the Hashi Kingdom.
“He’s probably waiting for the right moment to approach Jin. That’s why I had to be careful about which Anika I sent to the Hashi Kingdom,” he muttered to himself.
Aside from the king, Mara posed the most significant threat to Sang-je. In a direct confrontation, Sang-je was undoubtedly stronger, but Mara was cunning and knew how to use strategies beyond physical strength. In this world, if you were to compare two beings that were closest to humans, it would be Sang-je and Mara. Sang-je had taught Mara everything he knew.
“I should have dealt with him sooner,” Sang-je regretfully admitted. It was a painful mistake that haunted him, one he had made himself.
When he first encountered Mara, he had considered consuming him, having stumbled upon him while hunting for prey.
Normally, larks behaved like any small creature facing a formidable predator—a frog in the presence of a snake. It was an instinctual fear, ingrained deep within their nature.
But Mara was not like most larks. Despite being a recently awakened lark, he displayed a will to fight back. This defiance against instinct marked him as something out of the ordinary.