Deep in the night, in one of the rooms of the Ten Fortresses, Roel sat on a chair with his eyes fixated on a book he had brought with him. There was a huge bed behind him where two women lay asleep. Stuart had also fallen asleep on a desk by the corner of the room.
It was all quiet except for the ticking of the wall clock and the occasional flipping of pages. Roel found this rare moment of peace delightful.
When the clock finally struck midnight, Roel closed his book shut, quietly rose from the chair, and made his way out of the room.
It was a great deal of trouble, but they were able to sedate all of the scholars who had lost their minds after a while. Those who managed to stay sane were also exhausted after all they had been through and quickly fell asleep.
Despite the Treant High Priest’s death, Roel and Lilian dared not to let their guard down, especially since they knew that the Collector possessed powerful spatial means. Thus, they had agreed to maintain Ten Fortresses and stand guard for the night.
Guard duty tended to be extremely boring, so the two of them decided to meet up. Of course, the more important reason was that they were reluctant to part ways just like that.
Roel slowly made his way across the corridor and toward the sentry tower. This was the location they had agreed on earlier in the evening, but after some thought, he decided to make a detour to the guest room to prepare two cups of tea.
The mountainous region near the border of the Austine Empire tended to turn extremely cold at night, especially at higher altitudes. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring some tea over to warm them up.
After preparing the beverage, Roel began walking up the sentry tower. At the top of the stairs was a door linked to the fortress wall. He opened it and was welcomed by a beautiful black-haired woman standing beneath a starry night sky.
"The stars look bright tonight, senior."
"You’re here, Roel."
"My apologies for being late. It took me some time to prepare tea for us."
"You don’t have to apologize; I’ve only just arrived myself too. I thought that it would be difficult for me to excuse myself, but those scholars became much more behaved after you took them out. Did you say something to them?"
Lilian received the cup of tea offered by Roel with a word of thanks before asking out of curiosity.
Roel was momentarily surprised by her remark before bursting into laughter. He didn’t think that his subtle act of intimidation would have such rippling effects.
"It’s nothing much. I only brought them to the battlefield to verify the fallen treant’s carcass."
"I see. The devastation caused by the fight must have unnerved them… I am rather surprised. I didn’t think that they would get frightened that easily," Lilian remarked with a sigh.
Roel agreed with her as well.
The two of them held onto their teacups as they gazed at the beautiful scenery beyond the fortress wall while enjoying the serenity of the night.
As veteran fighters in their own rights, both Roel and Lilian were sorely disappointed by the ‘academic-style’ spells developed by the Scholar Guilds. In their view, those spells were nothing but a waste of resources.
To be fair, there were powerful transcendents amongst the scholars too. It would be unwise to dismiss all scholars over the lackluster performance of those who had joined this mission. Antonio, the principal of Saint Freya Academy, was one such exception, being a scholar who had risen to the highest ranks of humankind.
"Let’s not think about such stuff now. It’s rare for us to have some time to ourselves."
"Indeed. Senior, isn’t it tiring for you to continuously maintain Ten Fortresses over a long period of time?"
"I can still manage it if it’s just a night. I am an Origin Level 2 transcendent, after all," Lilian replied with a smile, heartened by the concern.
"That’s good to hear."
Roel suddenly let out a sigh. Lilian glanced at him and quickly figured out his thoughts.
"What’s wrong? Are you disappointed that you aren’t able to overtake me?"
"Well, a little."
"Really, you shouldn’t get caught up over such stuff. I am older than you."
"I usually don’t get bothered by this, but I’d like to at least be strong enough to protect my wife…"
Those words caught Lilian off guard. Her body first stiffened up before a shudder ran through her body. She turned to Roel with widened eyes and asked in agitation.
"W-what did you just call me?"
"Hm? Ah! I’m sorry. It must have surprised you. It slipped out of my mouth before I…"
"No, I’m not trying to blame you here. I’m asking you to repeat it one more time."
"A-alright. My wife…"
When Roel repeated that intimate address once more, Lilian lowered her head and clutched her own chest. She could feel something heating up inside of her, filling her with bliss. It was such an intense rush of emotion that her breathing started to hasten.
"… I never thought that a day would come where someone would call me that."
"I never thought I would hear those words in my lifetime before I met you. I used to think that such addresses are nothing but formalities, but I’m starting to understand why others pay so much emphasis to them."
After a prolonged silence, Lilian raised her head and spoke. Her tender eyes pulled at Roel’s heartstrings, and he stepped forward to embrace her.
"I see. If we visit a place where no one recognizes us in the future, I’ll introduce you as such."
"T-this… might not really be good."
"Why is that so?"
"I do like being called that way, but I don’t detest you calling me ‘senior’ either. More importantly… this isn’t good for my heart."
Lilian clutched her chest as she looked at Roel with a flushed face, almost as if she was earnestly worried that her heart would beat out of her chest. Her adorable appearance was too much for Roel to take that he hugged her even tighter.
"Senior, that’s cheating.
"I should be the one saying that. You know that it’s something that I dare not dream of," replied Lilian with a pout.
Roel blinked his eyes in confusion before he grasped what she was saying.
Husband and wife were addresses used between married couples, but that was something far beyond the reach of Roel and Lilian. One was a high noble of the Theocracy whereas the other was an imperial princess of the Austine Empire; the difference in their affiliation and standing was simply too great, even if not for Emperor Lukas’ opposition.
It was already a miracle for them to have what they currently have. Getting married, for them, was a distant dream.
The thought of that sank Roel’s heart, and the arms he had wrapped around her loosened in response. Sensing the changes in his emotions, Lilian quickly added.
"Don’t misunderstand, Roel. I didn’t intend those words as a criticism. What I’m trying to say is that I’m overjoyed that you regard me as your wife."
That lifted Roel’s mood a little. Lilian heaved a sigh of relief.
"Actually, I don’t really have a fixation with getting married either. Love is not something that can be guaranteed by a mere piece of paper or a ceremony. What’s more important is the feelings we bear for each other… and I don’t think that it’s entirely impossible for us to get married either."
"As long as we get through this difficult period, we might be able to…" murmured Lilian.
Roel’s eyes turned sharp.
The threat of the Fallens and Emperor Lukas’ obstruction were not problems they could resolve within a single day. However, as long as they continued growing, there would eventually come a day where they were strong enough to resolve these issues.
"It looks like I’ll have to work harder."
"As much as I’d like to tell you to leave it to me, I doubt that you’ll agree to it, right?"
"Of course. I am planning to stand beside you, not behind you."
"… Then I guess you’ll have to work hard, the father of our child," Lilian teased with a blissful smile.
That was a critical hit to Roel. His face reddened and he averted his gaze. He had to take a deep breath before he could bring himself to face Lilian once more.
"I will," he replied definitively.
He then took her lips as if sealing the promise.
The following morning, the fast asleep Selina and Juliana woke up one after another. The first thing they did was to leap to their feet and scan their surroundings. Their common sense told them that it was impossible for such a luxurious room to appear in the rural Marlin Town, especially since they had never seen Lilian’s Ten Fortresses before.
The abrupt change in their environment led to them concluding that they had been captured by the enemy, such that they nearly decapitated Stuart, who heard the ruckus and came to check the situation.
"Wait wait wait wait! Calm down, we’re already out of danger!" Stuart shouted in horror at suddenly having a blade pressed against his neck.
"Out of danger? What happened? Stuart, where are we?" asked Selina.
"Move your blade away first!" exclaimed Stuart.
It was then that Roel walked into the room. The ruckus had caught his attention. He first looked at Stuart, who had stiffened up from being literally inches away from death, before looking at the two confused women. Then, his lips curled upward in amusement.
"You’re finally awake? I’m guessing that you’re both fine given how energetic you are."
After everyone finally calmed down, Roel proceeded to explain the situation to them. Selina and Juliana’s tense expressions visibly alleviated after hearing the story.
"So the enemy has been dealt with?"
"Sorry, we weren’t of much help."
"No, you have done well… At the very least, you were much braver than the main team," replied Roel.
Selina tilted her head in confusion whereas Juliana narrowed her blood-colored eyes, seemingly having understood something from that. It was just that Roel halted his words there, so the two of them tacitly chose not to ask any further.
A night’s rest had significantly improved the scholars’ conditions. Lilian retracted her Ten Fortresses, and the group began heading for the closest military outpost in the Austine Empire.
It went without saying that the insane scholars were a trouble to deal with, but fortunately, the group was able to travel quickly due to their generally high Origin Levels, so they didn’t have to deal with them for too long.
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By sunset, they could already spot a military town not too far ahead of them.
With this, the investigation mission was finally over.
Selina and the others would be waiting in the military town for the academy to send personnel down to aid them. Roel had already left the group to return to the academy by himself. Lilian was going to rest up a little in the military town before resuming her journey to the eastern border.
A major incident like this has to be reported upward, but Roel’s name was conspicuously absent in the reports. No one from the Austine Empire saw him. The insane scholars were in no state to speak, and those who retained their sanity wouldn’t dare run their mouth after having personally witnessed what Roel was capable of.
That helped to further obscure the meeting between Roel and Lilian.
Roel watched from the shadows as Lilian led the investigation team into the town. He thought about everything that had happened during this period of time, and it pained him to know that they had to part ways. He touched his heart and solemnly swore to himself.
"This separation will be nothing but a temporary compromise. We’ll definitely reunite once more when everything is finally over. Wait for me, senior."
Moments after Lilian’s silhouette disappeared inside the military town, Roel turned around and walked away.
I changed high-level transcendents to high transcendents. I have been secretly changing some terms along the way, such as Portas’ Eyes → Portas’ Eye → Portas Eye. Hehehe~