104. Undecided (2)
The Black Priesthood entered the palace. Despite their misconduct and their appearance, the other priests around them tread carefully, unable to interfere. The mob of blasphemous Interrogators outranked them. The capital, once pristine and breathtaking, was now a ruined and horrid hell—the palace a lawless place where these false priests ran wild.
The country was in a curious state, to say the least, leaving Pygni thoroughly conflicted.
‘What a strange turn of events. Can a country keep running in this state?’ he thought to himself. Then, he smiled. ‘No. It will collapse in two, maybe three years from within. The Pope really stepped out of line this time.’
Having lost his mind, Salem’s deeds toward Aylans and the Demon Kingdom were brutal. Those who worshipped the Pope like a god would soon have their faith, and their loyalty to that faith, brought to question.
‘Heresy is spreading throughout the continent like an unchecked flame, thanks to the Devil of Lania. The strength of the Holy Kingdom has been in decline for some time now, and heretical factions will only appear more frequently due to a lack of faith.’
And, among the heretics, there were many that worshipped the Devil of Lania himself. The Holy Kingdom may be strong, but how long until the Demon Kingdom overcame them?
‘How troublesome. The Holy Kingdom will fall at some point, but what will happen if the demons gain more influence…?’
The Kingdom of Lome and its declaration of war piled on even more complications.
‘Aaah, it’s painful to even think about!’
“It’s here. Enter.”
The Black Priesthood escorted Pygni to the throne room and departed. Pygni turned his gaze to the door and took a deep breath. The Pope was on the other side.
“Are you nervous?” Oskal asked.
“We aren’t dealing with a rational man, ” Pygni replied. “We’re dealing with an insane one. A lack of caution would be to meet insanity with insanity.”
“Okay. I’m opening it.”
Pygni pushed open the door. Thick smoke billowed out from within. Inside, members of the Black Priesthood and those that looked to be priests rolled about the floor, disrobed and with women in their embrace. Food, decadent, luxurious, and carefully prepared, laid scattered about the room, trampled over by those in a decadent stupor.
‘I anticipated a mess, but this is a shitshow!’
Pygni, repulsed by the sight and smell, plugged his nose.
“Hey! You…already arrived? Your Majesty, King Pygni!”
A noble stumbled over, red in the face and hiccupping. He spoke to Pygni, his words slurring and uncouth.
“I completely forgot that you were coming today! I planned to meet you outside… But ugh, what is my memory anyway? Hahaha! Ah, but please enjoy the banquet!”
“Banquet…?” Pygni looked at him with disgust. “This? Just what have you been doing until now, Count Menia?”
Count Menia, one of the great nobles of the Kingdom of Lome, was one of the ambassadors Pygni dispatched to the Holy Kingdom. That same person now stood before his king with a belly full of alcohol and his lower half not covered by even a single piece of cloth. It was an act of supreme disrespect and arrogance. Wasn’t this the same as a noble of a country ignoring their king…?
“… You must have gone mad to forget yourself so, Count.”
Count Menia blinked and looked upon his form. Suddenly realizing the kind of act he had committed, the drunken red drained from his face. Regardless of his position, this kind of disrespect could lead to his status being revoked, or even his imprisonment, no questions asked.
“W-wait…!” Count Menia pleaded, trembling.”Your Majesty! I must have gone mad momentarily! I-I was too drunk on spirits… Also because of the drugs I was not in my right mind…!”
Count Menia gave a shocked expression, quickly shutting his mouth. Immediately Oskal whipped out a handkerchief and covered Pygni’s mouth.
“What is it?”
Pygni stared at the smoke lingering in the air. When he curiously took in the scent, its sweet armona turned his head numb. It provided him with a slight sense of euphoria and excited his lust.
“…It seems like some type of incense, but it certainly is a drug that muddles the mind.”
Disgust came to life within him. His emotions rattled against his control, fluctuating wildly.
‘This must be…the narcotic I’ve heard so much about?’
The drug was one of several being smuggled into the Kingdom of Lome, responsible for all kinds of suffering amongst the citizens. The Holy Kingdom forbade its use among its citizens… yet liberally used it in the Pope’s Palace.
Pygni’s eyes turned towards the center of the chamber.
“…So this is the famous narcotic.” He looked upon the throne. “And you would openly use this in the middle of a sacred place such as this?”
Upon the throne, a man seemingly approaching middle age was reclining, his clothes strewn about and a goblet of wine in his hand. His expression was vacant, his blue eyes clouded over beneath strands of blonde hair.
‘I suppose, now that the factions that opposed you have been purged, there is no need to pretend to have any semblance of shame?’
Pope Salem Gattschuranche of the Holy Kingdom, the man who dragged his own country into madness and chaos.
The other party, having finally taken notice of Pygni, smiled wide, and rose from his seat.
“Aah! Look who it is…? The great and grand…the bastard of a whore. If it isn’t His Majesty, King Pygni!?”
At his words, everyone within the room exploded into laughter. Not a single shred of respect was shown toward the king of another nation. Instead, a level of mockery that belittled and ignored his station greeted him on a grand scale.
‘He used to respect me as a prince or king at the very least. Now that he has consolidated his power, it seems that he has no use for such airs. He’s doing whatever he feels like.’
In the past, there had still been a few priests that would have protested such a thing, but now Cardinals and even Archbishops had to fall in line for the sake of their lives.
“…Oskal, should I just kill him now?” Pygni muttered quietly, almost to himself. “There are only a few Holy Knights present.”
Oskal fidgeted with his sword’s handle. At that moment, the Holy Knights drew closer to Salem. They were those wearing a pale white armor embedded with a golden cross.
“Of course,” Pygni said, “I’m just joking.”
Seeing them, Oskal’s eyes grew wide, and he grit his teeth.
“…Bastards; they’re monsters. Still, I was thinking of pulling out their vocal cords after severing their heads.”
“As I said, it was a joke.”
Pygni narrowed his eyes carefully while looking at the knights around Salem.
‘The day that I choose to kill the Pope is at the moment of his dethronement, but monsters?’
“Are they Heroes?”
“They’re skilled enough to be around that level.”
“… Was the Holy Kingdom developing Heroes independently? Were they what they had faith in when they broke the Continental Law?”
Pygni’s eyes returned to the Evilesse Order of Holy Knights. There were at least 20 men, but there were probably more of them somewhere within the palace. Thinking about that…
‘… He has a disgusting amount of power.’
Pygni groaned. Compared to the past, the standard at which one could receive the title of Hero was low, but he still couldn’t underestimate them on that basis.
“… How many could you face?”
“… About 20. I could kill everyone gathered here, but if they drag it out and gather men, I might not be able to kill the bastard.”
Pygni looked at the Evilesse Holy Knights and groaned again.
“Ah, forgive me,” Salem continued. “I accidentally called you the son of a whore. I just lose my senses when I get a drink in me these days!”
Salem slung a string of mockery toward Pygni. In his heart, Pygni sneered, but continued to maintain his composure.
‘More like the drug than drink.’
“So, why did you come again?” Salem pondered, then smacked himself on the forehead.“Ah, that’s right. That’s right. Now I remember! You want me to dispatch some skilled Hero-grade men, for your little mission into the Demon Kingdom? Haha, Isn’t that too arrogant? What was that letter you sent before–” Salem’s glare grew more vicious.
“‘I’m trying to participate in this war as the Pope commands. However, my kingdom is not in a good state, so it’ll be difficult…?’ Hah! Why didn’t you just write, ‘I’m about to be dethroned, so I won’t do what you say.’!?”
Pygni forced a smile onto his face and bowed at his waist.
“How could that be? At that moment, the kingdom was truly not in a good state due to the rebellion. So to aid our allied nation, the Holy Kingdom, even this late…”
‘Ah, why couldn’t you just be dethroned quietly? You’ll die in three to four years regardless of how much of your life you extend. Now that you’ve run your country into the ground, it’ll fall into poverty and crumble apart. It makes no difference whether it disappears due to an invasion or a revolt.’
Regardless of how powerful the force or whether that force was absolute, there was a natural path which a tyrant followed. Assuming he didn’t find some way to turn into a true god, Pygni was confident: Three to four years was how long the Pope and the Holy Kingdom had left. Thanks to this large scale war, the Kingdom would lose not only its national power but its standing among the other nations. Win or lose, the Holy Kingdom would be the fodder for the other countries.
Then, Pygni could finally have his vengeance upon the Holy Kingdom, using their breach of the Continental Law and the mockery he had to face as his casus belli.
‘That’s right, I’ll be the first to lead you up to the guillotine. It’ll be simple enough pulling out that filthy tongue and cutting off your head.’
Until then, and only until then, Pygni would continue to turn a blind eye to Salem’s abuse and grovel.
“… Haven’t I led an army here at Your Holiness’s request?”
Salem replied to Pygni’s words.
“What are you going to do with a mere 30 thousand troops, King Pygni?”
Pygni’s smiling muscles twitched.
‘…This bastard. Is he that foolish? Is he that dumb? He thinks war is a numbers game. Also, a mere 30 thousand? Does he think an army of 30 thousand is some paltry number?’
Pygni cursed the Pope in his heart as he replied.
“I apologize, Your Holiness! It might be a small number to the Holy Kingdom, but to our Kingdom of Lome, that was the greatest number I could gather!”
‘That’s right, the true number of men I could gather is being prepped for when I strike you down, so just wait.’
Salem exploded in laughter.
“Aah, that must be it. That can’t be helped. Seeing that you’re doing this much, of course, I should dispatch the Heroes! But… Why not the Kingdom of Aylans. Why do you want them to infiltrate the Demon Kingdom?” Salem spoke unhappily. “Why, just why…? I definitely said that I wished to strike Aylans. I have said that I want to take King Paulie’s head and claim his wife, the beautiful Akreal, as my own…?”
Hearing his story, Oskal’s grip on his sword grew stronger. The sound of his skin around the handle being crushed could be heard, and Pygni turned to Oskal and muttered quietly.
“… Calm yourself, Oskal. That’s an order.”
Pygni smiled wide and replied to Salem.
“It is because I wish to fight against the being known as the Demon Lord and stand victorious. It is a task that will leave my name within the history books. Also, aren’t they heretics as well? I wish to show our religious fervor to the Holy Kingdom! I also believe that if we strike the demons first, wouldn’t attacking the Kingdom of Aylans be that much easier?”
Salem looked like he was deep in thought, contemplating Pygni’s words.
“Are you saying you wish to receive the title of Hero?” Salem smiled with his eyes. “That kind of reason is fine. I just…” Salem’s gaze turned to Oskal, “thought that old fogey was trying to avoid fighting out of sentimentality.”
— Ω —