LOTA CH32 — Change of Heart

 「 Aaron, honestly, what’s up with these damn boxes… Can’t you just rent a cart or something? 」

「 It can’t be helped, Alderhide-sama. 」Aaron replies, putting up a defeated smile,  「 This is why I was very reluctant in letting you help me. It’s fine if you change your mind, we’re halfway to the orphanage anyway. 」

「 And leave you alone with these boxes? 」I frown, 「 it would leave a bad taste for me to do things half-assed. 」

「 Well, if you still insist… I appreciate it. 」

The sky is no longer bright blue, but a rather honeyed dew; the serenity of eventide. A rather spectacular view, as it complements the vibrant rows of white buildings the city Hasten has to offer. As it soon reaches nighttime, manaritium street lamps start radiating their distinctive white light.

The streets even with the sun soon setting down are still littered with all sorts of people, adding more vibrant colors.

Time feels rather quite slow but that must’ve been because of this heavy box.

But somehow in this small trip, a change of scenery is done in an instant. Gone are the pristine white buildings, replaced with worn brown facades.

「 Ahh… This is another reason why… As you can see it’s not a really pleasant thing to witness. 」

Dirt roads with muddy puddles take over the meticulously tiled streets and the lamps become scarcer. A rather nasty smell lingers around this place. It’s very unpleasant and I’m not sure where it comes from, or whether I even really want to know.

Other small shelters are also made of thin wood boards and shabby rooftops.

The residents of this area are surprisingly slim, looking fragile, due to starvation most likely. Their eyes are pure dark with no life in them. Other than me and Aaron, very few can be spotted walking in these places, maybe because it’s nightfall, but even around this time there would still be some people passing by in the center of Hasten city.

Just from these alone, I don’t need anyone to tell me what kind of place we are in right now.

So this is the slums huh… No wonder we walked for quite a long time. This is at the very outskirts of the city.

To think this kind of environment is within a considerable distance to the prosperous and luxurious parts of Hasten city. I want to feel pity for them, for living in this broken, dying place. But why do they have to place it near Hasten city?

Aaron in front of me, leading the way, seemingly quite tense, with how stiff his movements are. Is it because of the eerie, poor environment?

Two people approach us from an alley wearing black and rugged hooded robes. Their face is well hidden. Probably a bunch of hoodlums. They most likely won’t bother to deal with us. We are just carrying plain old boxes with no valuables on us.

As soon as we reach a considerable distance, one of them walks faster than his partner towards us. Strange. His hands tucked in his pockets.

Something’s weird. My hand reaches immediately towards my waist. Fuck, I didn’t bring a weapon.

That hoodlum then dashes towards Aaron who’s further ahead, knocking his box down and instantly going for it. Aaron pushes the hoodlum with considerable strength as he rebounds a few steps back.

They are clearly aggressive towards us. No need to hold back then.

The hoodlum pulls up a knife. Too late. I already prepared a spell for this fucker.

『 Igni 』

The deadly blue blossom sprouts from my hands. Engulfed by it, the target dances like a joyous specter, draining its life to give me this beautiful display.

No time to think. I go to the ashes and pick up the knife to fight the other hoodlum.

「 M-m-mercy! 」

The other hoodlum begs mercy as always. But you never know when they will retaliate back. I plunge the knife immediately towards his abdomen.

「 Alderhide-sama! 」

「 …m-m-ma..maa…. 」

He lets out his dying breath. Well, that was quick. But better than holding us up for long.

「 Alderhide-sama! How could you?! 」

He shouts again as he places his hand on my shoulder.

Aaron looks around. I follow his gaze and look at our surroundings. The people watching us are shivering and hiding to anything they could use to cover them, although their faces and widened eyes are visible.

Why are they so scared? It’s like they saw creepy and humongous hairy spiders like that one time in my adventure quest with Elras. It still sends shivers to my spine to this day.

Some of them retreat deeper into the shadows of entrances and paths. Their faces filled with fear and disgust. The stench of the burnt flesh is rather unappetizing so their reaction is reasonable.

「 We’ll have a talk later. Not in here. Let’s go. 」Aaron quickly says, in an unusually serious manner.

He picks up the pace quicker than before, forcing me to sprint a bit just to catch up, ignoring the stares of the passerby still remaining.

Shortly after, we arrive at the orphanage, a small one that could house at most ten people.

「 Aaron! There you are! What took you so long? Thank the Goddess you are safe. 」A girl decked in a full nun outfit asks Aaron.

「 I’m sorry for making you wait. 」

Aaron places the box he’s carrying on a nearby huge table, I quickly follow suit. He soon opens them. Inside the box is packed heavily with what seems to be brand new toys and dolls alike.

「 The Goddess Maria has blessed us! This is wonderful! I’m sure the kids will love it! They are currently in the dorm room, sleeping, so they won’t immediately get this. But I’ll distribute them tomorrow morning. 」

She takes a deeper peek inside the boxes, counting the amount of the toys inside. Once she lifts her head, she takes notice of me.

「 Oh my, and who is he? 」

「 He’s a friend of mine from the academy, Renald Alderhide, 」Aaron soon replies,「 is the small church next to the orphanage available to be used? I would like to talk privately with him for a moment. 」

「 Ahh… I think it’s fine. Wait for a second, 」the nun reaches into her pocket,「 here are the keys. 」

「 Thank you, it won’t take long. 」

The church Aaron was talking about is actually right beside the orphanage, so we walk there quickly.

I’m starting to feel like I’m a small kid who is soon going to be lectured by his parents. But I’ve never experienced that so I might be wrong.

The moonlight courses through the inside of the dimly lit church from the window sides, creating a rather gloomy yet serene atmosphere. Its interior is overly simple and bland with a stone altar and rows of benches. Definitely a far cry from the churches I’m used to,  with their beautiful paintings and colored window panels, exhibiting a holy and majestic atmosphere.

Well, they did mention it is just a small church, and considering the shitty environment surrounding it, this is actually wonderful in comparison.

「 Do you know why we are here, Alderhide-sama? 」Aaron says as he takes a seat in the front.

Wait, what was the reason again?

「 Because you want to pray…? 」I reply as I take a seat beside him.

「 Well, yes, but not entirely correct. I hope you can also join me in praying to Goddess Maria, for forgiveness. 」

Determination flashes in his eyes and subtlety look quite scary.

「 O-okay.. 」I say, not feeling like fighting back. Even though I’m not a firm believer in the Goddess Maria.

He starts with ushering low whispers, filling the church’s solemn atmosphere with a hint of calm and focus, preparing for whatever mantras he wants me to echo.

「 Repeat after me. Dear Goddess Maria, who art in heaven. 」Aaron solemnly prays, his hands grouped together.

「 Dear Goddess Maria, who art in heaven. 」I say, following his lead.

「 Please bestow us your heavenly grace. 」

「 Please bestow us your heavenly grace. 」

「 For I have greatly sinned. For I am but a little human. 」

「 For I have greatly sinned. For I am but a little human. 」

「 In your love, forgive me and give me a change of heart. Amen. 」

「 In your love, forgive me and give me a change of heart. Amen. 」

A bright-line shines underneath us as we finished our prayers, flickers of yellow lights surround us, a classic effect of the《School of Miracle & Blessing Magic》

「 How does it feel? Is your heart at peace now? 」Aaron asks, his face full of tranquility.

The black hole is still there but it’s now patched up with a soothing yet small bandage, now filling me with a soothing calmness — but not fully for it is still there.

「 I take your silence as a yes, 」Aaron continues,「 do you know what grave sin you have committed? 」

「 Yeah… 」I answer, still not feeling any weight or guilt from what I did but I do know it is wrong,「 I guess you’re right. 」

「 I was furious at you back then. Burning them alive and slaughtering them was excessive and unnecessary. Killing and especially causing suffering is a huge sin. I want to scold you but as soon as I looked at your face, however, I noticed something. A deep dark hatred of oneself. 」

Feels like everybody is slowly but surely starting to get past the facade that I’ve put up.

「 It would be much better if you confess your sin later with an official priest. 」Aaron continues,「 But for now this will do. 」

「 Okay… But why are you doing all of this? 」

「 You seem lost. Reinhardt-sama also mentioned something along those lines before. Now seeing directly from you, I’ve come to believe what he said. 」

「 Damn… So he told you about that, huh… 」

Will he spill the beans if I mention my adsignatos or dragon summoning ability too?

「 Don’t worry, I’m sure he does so with good intention, 」he says, his hand on my shoulder.「 Compared to Reinhardt-sama, you and I interact quite rarely, but that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to extend a helping hand. 」

「 And what is this helping hand? How are you going to help me? 」

「 The most merciful, Goddess Maria, will be the one to help you. My role is to merely guide your path towards her benevolence. 」

Is he going to preach about Goddess Maria?

「 Born a noble with a few servants and a pile of gold in my name, I have been boundlessly arrogant. But even to this wretched sinner did the Goddess Maria extend her graceful hand. And after taking it, I will use this life to repay her by guiding others to her light. 」

「 And so, after repenting you want to become a priest to get closer to the Goddess Maria out of guilt too?  」

「 It’s much more than that. Alderhide-sama, 」he replies, 「 Living a hedonistic life is fantastic I have to admit, but when your pleasure is gone, it lacks meaning in everything. And so hidden deep beneath my arrogance is a dire need to find a purpose. Serving and worshiping the Goddess Maria in return gives me peace of mind and fulfilling life. All of my worries and anxiety are gone.  」

「 Hmm… I see… 」I say as I ponder over his words.「 Then, do you become a priest solely because you feel that you are supposed to? 」

「 No, 」he says, letting out a small smile, 「 it is because I love Goddess Maria.  」

His eyes make their way towards the altar of the church, I follow his gaze. Past the altar is a small sculpture as white as the clouds. A healthy woman with a warm smile holding a white wooden staff, with an enneagram star emblem on the tip — Goddess Maria.

A look of deep reverence and servitude comes from him. I never knew a person can be in such a deeply tranquil state just from devoting oneself to a high deity.

「 I must say… I didn’t expect that answer. 」I say out of bewilderment.

「 It takes true devotion. But you can start with small steps. How about helping others? There’s joy and a sense of fulfillment when you bring them joy. What did you feel when you… how should I say this… end that person’s life back then? 」

「 I.. hmm… 」I say, not sure what to answer,「 it feels… empty… nothing. 」

「 It’s an uncomfortable feeling, judging from your expression, Alderhide-sama. Instead of being selfish, how about being selfless? By serving and helping others, your parents, or friends, you will gain joy by making them happy.  」

Helping others huh… I did that and it didn’t give me happiness. Is it because I’m too selfish? Too much of a sick person to be saved or helped?

「 And I can also help you to follow our Goddess Maria. 」Aaron continues,「 visit the Saint Boxora Cathedral every other day. Other priests and I will guide you in-depth in how to become closer to the Goddess Maria. 」

Well, this is starting to remind me of my past life experience in the US, where many Americans tried to persuade me to convert to their religion.

「 Ah… I see… I’m sorry to break it up to you, but it’s already quite late actually. 」I respond immediately, trying to stir away from this topic before it becomes too unsavory,「 we should go back to our dorm. 」

「 There’s still a lot that I want to share with you, but I agree, let’s head back. The Goddess Maria preaches that the night is full of temptations of bad deeds. 」


『 To Serve And Worship God… Hooooo…. Interesting. 』


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