Since its inception, the learning hub of the capital known as Ginger’s Vocational School had steadily grown in popularity. With the construction of additional buildings to match its ever-growing scale, the name had since changed to Ginger’s College.
Today, many young women clad in white robes were gathered in one of the lecture halls.
A woman standing at the front of the crowd asked, “Is everyone ready?”
“““Yes, Saint Mary.”””
The response caused Mary to let out a troubled little laugh. “I’ve told you I’m not a saint anymore, and all of you are former saint candidates now, aren’t you?”
They were the members of the Lunaria Girls’ Choir, composed of former saint candidates who’d fled the Lunarian Orthodox Papal State.
The choir girls showered Mary with looks of admiration as if she were their big sister.
“No, Lady Mary, you were the one who saved us from the Orthodox Papal State!”
“You are our savior!”
“No matter what anyone says, you will always be a saint to us!”
Hearing these words paired with their adoring gazes, Mary didn’t know how to respond.
“Ha ha ha! Why not just let ’em worship you if they want to? I don’t see the harm,” came a voice in a very casual tone.
Mary glared at the speaker. “You say that as if it’s so simple, Your Holiness Archbishop Souji...”
“Hey, hey, don’t go glaring at me,” Souji said, spreading his arms wide. “This is undoubtedly the result of your own actions. I hear with Fuuga’s supporters currently holding sway in the Orthodox Papal State, there’s a rain of blood as they carry out constant purges in the name of hunting heretics. If these girls had stayed in the country, they would’ve fallen victim to the hunters. Those supporters want to cement the authority of Fuuga’s saint, so the existence of other candidates is nothing but a nuisance to them.”
“Fuuga’s saint... You mean Anne, I suppose?” Mary’s expression clouded over. She had extended her hand to Anne when they were going to escape from the Orthodox Papal State but had been refused. Anne was one of those she’d failed to save. Or rather, if the girl chose this for herself, perhaps it was wrong to think of it as failing to save her.
Anne... What are you thinking now? What do you feel when you see the blood that flows at your feet? Does it not break your heart? As one who wanted to live a life of being needed by people, and is now used as a prop to support another’s authority...
As Mary was thinking this, Souji suddenly clasped his hands around her temples and shook her head.
“W-Wait, what are you doing? Please stop,” Mary protested, but Souji just chuckled.
“Well, you know...you just had such a sour look on your face. I thought I’d give it a bit of a stir.”
“Don’t shake me like that. Jeez, look what a mess you’ve made of my hair.”
Freeing herself from Souji’s grasp, she puffed out her cheeks as she fixed her disheveled hair.
Seeing her expression, Souji laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s more like it! Openly displaying your emotions suits you far better than a brooding expression.”
“Who asked you...?”
“If you look gloomy, it makes a whole lot of people uneasy,” he said, pointing behind her with a gesture of his chin.
Mary turned and saw the former saints looking at her with concern. Why? she thought.
“See? It means you’re a big, important saint to those girls now,” Souji affirmed. “Whether you recognize it or not, they respect and adore you. If someone you love and respect looked like they were in pain, you’d get worried too, wouldn’t you?”
“That can’t be right. I’m not that big of a deal...” Mary tried to act humble, but the more than twenty-four pairs of eyes aimed in her direction told her otherwise.
It was hard to be excessively humble in front of all of them. If they had expectations of her, it was natural human compassion to not want to disappoint them.
“I guess at some point...I did become that big of a deal.”
“A degenerate priest like me managed to become archbishop, after all. People change when the world or the environment they find themselves in changes. The key thing is to think with your own head—stand on your own feet—no matter where you find yourself. Whether going with the flow or fighting against it, there’s meaning in deciding your own path to take.”
Think for yourself, huh?
If Anne had chosen to be a saint, just as Mary had chosen to free herself from the chains being a saint imposed on her, then perhaps there was no reason to worry herself over it. Perhaps Mary ought to recognize Anne’s choice as one of the few who knew the suffering it entailed. No matter how people of the present, or the future, would view the path she was taking.
Mary’s expression softened. “I have to hand it to you, Your Holiness. You have a knack for leading stray lambs back to the path.”
Hearing this compliment, Souji rubbed his smooth head and laughed. “Ha ha ha! I’ve always been more of a mutton man than a lamb man, but somehow I keep helping out lost little lambs. It’s a crying shame.”
“Oh, but a certain sloth bear is always being helped by lambs. If it weren’t for Miss Merula and me, the archbishop’s office would quickly become so cluttered there’d be nowhere to stand, and your prestige would have long since fallen to the ground, Your Holiness.”
“I see you’ve learned to hold your own, young lady...”
Having been specifically asked by King Souma to look after Souji, Mary managed much of his daily life. Because Souji was the face of the Kingdom’s Lunarian Orthodoxy, the loss of his authority would have a negative effect on all Lunarian Orthodox believers in the country. In the process of strictly overseeing his activities, she’d formed a joint front with Merula the high elf, who lived rent-free in his house in exchange for cleaning the place.
Merula had once been declared a witch by the Orthodox Papal State, and Mary had been in a position that required her to condemn Merula, but now they’d bonded over the goal of reforming Souji. Thanks to the two of them (and a change of mentality on his own part), he was living a healthier lifestyle.
In regards to this, Souma had said, “You know, Kingdom Orthodoxy doesn’t forbid its men of the cloth from marrying, so take them both as your wives,” which Souji frowned at.
The former saint candidates smiled as they watched this exchange between archbishop and saint, in which it wasn’t clear who had the upper hand.
Suddenly, a low, gentlemanly voice echoed through the hall. “Ahh, ahem. Are you both done?”
The source was a man with a walrus-like face wearing a tuxedo, standing beside the college’s president—Ginger—and his wife, Sandria.
This was Morse, a member of the walrus race (composed of walrus beastmen), one of the Five Races of the Snowy Plains in the Republic, and also the representative of the Labor Songs Society. Following the success of the East and West Real Song Battle, Morse had followed the path of music and was now the conductor of the Lunaria Girls’ Choir.
With a wry smile, Morse said, “It’s about time we started the experiment. Sir Ginger, is everything ready for us to begin?”
“Yes. The jewel that we borrowed from His Majesty is showing this lecture hall now,” Ginger said, gesturing to the jewel set up by the entrance. “The feed is viewable not just in this country but in all the nations of the Maritime Alliance. The experiment is to determine whether participants in each city can heal the wounded through listening to this presentation of the Lunaria Girls’ Choir singing.”
Lunarian Orthodoxy’s secret art, Area Heal, involved the church’s light mages revitalizing a large number of ailing people all at once through song.
The recent Real Song Battle had demonstrated that mental images were important to the efficacy of magic, and that songs effectively gave the caster the right visualization. That being the case, this experiment was to test whether listening to hymns over the broadcast would have a buffing effect on healing magic. Genia, Merula, and the other geniuses of the Kingdom believed there was a good chance it would. Their view was that the effect would likely be lesser than if listening to the singers in person, but the imagery of the song wouldn’t be lessened by the broadcast.
If this hypothesis proved correct, each country of the Maritime Alliance could use its broadcast channels to assist with healing the wounded on a global scale whenever there was combat. Even if the other side noticed these broadcasts, the Maritime Alliance could signal one another to change their frequencies to prevent enemy use, so it was expected to be a major advantage.
Once Ginger explained the experiment’s intention, Sandria stepped forward and said, “So, basically, your bantering has been visible to the entire world. Might I suggest you keep the flirting confined to your own home?”
“Uh, no, we haven’t been flirting,” Souji protested, but Mary turned her face downward, blushing in embarrassment. The former saint candidates squealed with glee at their reactions.
Then a clapping sound echoed through the room.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough. It’s rather uncouth to nose into other people’s love lives,” Morse said in his deep sonorous voice.
“Right!” the former saint candidates replied enthusiastically.
Souji seemed to want to say something, but couldn’t because he understood it would be stirring up a hornet’s nest. Mary, on the other hand, was covering her face and wishing there was a hole she could crawl into.
With a wry smile at their predicament, Morse raised his baton. “Now then, everyone. Shall we begin?”
And so, the Area Heal broadcast experiment began.
The result was a success, as anticipated. Souma and the others were delighted when they heard the report, and they ordered Ginger and his team to continue experimenting.