12. Traitor (1)
Thoma was sitting up in bed wearing a dumbfounded expression. He had woken up this morning only to realize that something completely unexpected had happened to him: more specifically, to a part of him. He could no longer feel his legs. Upon trying to stand, he quickly discovered that they had also lost their strength when he staggered and fell to the floor. His head hit the ground hard, and he groaned in pain. However, it wasn’t just his head that hurt, it was his entire body.
“… It’s completely stiff?”
In his current state, it was extremely taxing just to flex even a single finger. It felt as though his skin had finally turned to stone. Was this what it was like for those who were turned into statues in the fairy tales he used to read? Thoma smirked faintly before clenching his teeth as he began forcing his body to move.
‘Move! I’m telling you to move! Go on…!’
He could hear creaking noises coming from his body. It sounded like his bones were being crushed by his muscles. He was drenched in sweat from overexertion, but through his continuous efforts, his muscles started to relax. Albeit slowly, he was regaining control over his body.
“Get up! Get up!” he yelled, as if ordering his body to heed his commands. “Endure it! Isn’t there still time? It’s not time yet!”
Finally, he began to rise up off the ground. He barely managed to stabilize his trembling knees by leaning on a wall before letting out a sigh of relief.
“…Hah… Haha…! Surely this is enough exercise for today?”
Just getting up was as tiring as facing a hundred demons back when he was younger. Thoma dreaded the thought of having to go through this every morning.
‘Yes. It’s dreary, but what can I do? At least today is not the day I die.’
Thoma wheezed once he started trying to walk. He quickly turned back to the wall as his legs began to falter once more.
“… I’m done. It’s exhausting to just walk. Damn, Oskal and Akareal are here too,” he muttered to himself disparagingly. “I can’t let them see me like this, right?”
He had once proudly held the title of Hero; the Hero of humanity who defeated the Demon Lord. That kind of Hero could not show such weakness to his fellow companions, and more than anything…
“I can’t make a fool of myself acting like this in front of the kids.”
Thoma looked to his side. There, he saw a staff he’d made from a tree branch.
“… I brought this in just in case. What a relief.”
Thoma supported himself with the staff and barely managed to stagger forward. After leaving his room, the first thing he heard was Oskal’s loud voice reverberating through the halls.
“… You know, I’m not a horse!” Oskal protested.
“Eeehh?! You said you’d play with us, uncle!”
“You said you’d be our horse!”
“O-of course, when I said horse, I meant I could let you guys ride on my shoulders… Don’t you think this kind of thing is a bit too embarrassing? I am still the Captain of the Royal Guard…”
Oskal was playing with the kids while down on his hands and knees. They were swarming over him, with kids hanging on his neck, back, and waist. A few of them were even doodling on Oskal’s face.
“Ah! What are you guys doing!” he exclaimed. “Drawing is too…”
After he shouted, the children paused in shock and began to tear up. Oskal was surprised by their reaction and groaned.
“Ugh… O-okay. Draw just a little bit.”
“Ah! Thank you, uncle.”
Watching Oskal being roped in by the children, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.
“I apologize that you had to play with the kids so early in the morning.” Thoma said, finally making his presence known.
“Oh? You’re finally up, Mr. Lazy Priest…”
Oskal’s eyes were on Thoma as he spoke, but he couldn’t help but peek at the staff in his old friend’s hands. Oskal could see that his legs were trembling, and the staff that he held looked ready to snap under his weight.
‘… Is he barely managing to stand?’
Thoma noticed that Oskal was observing him, so he quickly sat down on a nearby seat.
“Now that I look around, where is Akareal?” he asked, hoping to change the topic away from himself.
“Hm? Ah… W-well, I’m not sure?”
Oskal looked away with an awkward expression on his face.
“Where did she go?”
“Probably back home. If not, somewhere else to research magic like she always does.”
‘I-it’s not a lie! It can’t be that Thoma can tell, right?’
If Thoma found out that the two had secretly checked on him, he would get mad. He was hiding the truth in order to make sure nobody would become concerned for him.
Thinking of Akareal, he couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious. She had looked distraught as she left the abbey last night.
‘Why… did she look so sad? I couldn’t offer any help because of it. Shit.’
“Yes, the responsibility… will be on me.”
What did she mean by that? Oskal crossed his arms as he considered her words. He struggled with this question internally, ignoring the children grabbing at his hair and kicking him.
‘Akareal was acting strange. Yes, very strange! Why was she so hesitant?’
There was no way that she would have refused to study magic related to saving Thoma because of her conservative personality. She had to have been so resistant because of some restriction.
‘Could it be something like being completely expelled from the mage community? No, she’s not the type of person who’d unwilling to bear that level of sacrifice. If so… then why?’
He had to think about this further. He regretted not having asked her why she was so hesitant before she left, struggling with the fact that he hadn’t taken the opportunity to do something as simple as hear her concerns.
‘Aaack! This boulder of a brain! This is why people keep calling me muscle-headed! What good is it that I’m a renowned knight in the Kingdom of Lome!?’
“Are you worried about something?” Thoma inquired.
Oskal crossed his arms again and nodded in response to Thoma’s question “Yeah, there is something.”
“What is it?”
“Won’t say.” Thoma looked at Oskal, dumbfounded. “I won’t tell you even if you ask. Even if you try to ask me leading questions, it won’t matter. I won’t say anything at all since you know how to tell truth from lies. Hmph!”
“… Are you a child?”
Thoma broke into laughter seeing Oskal huff through his nose. Once morning and then noon passed, Oskal began to don his armor. He turned to Thoma as he put on his helmet.
“Then, I’ll be going.”
The children spoke sadly when they heard Oskal’s announcement.
“Let’s play a bit longer, uncle!”
“Yeah! You promised! You said you’d take us to the festival!”
Oskal smiled as he looked toward the kids and spoke confidently.
“Ah, don’t worry! I’ll play with you guys some more after my work is done!”
Thoma stepped forward to say his farewell. “Good luck on your diplomatic mission.”
Oskal nodded at his friend’s words. “Ah, there’s Salem, who I want to avoid, but I’ll just ignore him even if I see him.”
Oskal grabbed Thoma’s shoulder.
“Take care of yourself.”
Thoma nodded, and bid Oskal goodbye.
He turned to the kids after seeing Oskal off. “We should go and eat now, right?”
The childrens’ eyes lit up at the mention of food.
“We’ll go prepare it!”
Thoma smiled warmly watching the children rush to the kitchen. In that moment, one of the children grabbed Thoma’s hand.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
The child looked around to make sure that the other children left and then spoke quietly.
“Um… Brother monk.”
“It’s… Sister Ellie told me not to tell you, but… Sister Ellie… she’s very sick.”
Thoma hurried to Sister Ellie’s room in shock. He’d been holding onto the abbey’s keys as of late, in order to prevent prying eyes from getting where they didn’t belong. Luckily for him, this also meant he could enter Ellie’s room despite the door being locked. Upon entering, he found Ellie sprawled across her bed. She was groaning in her nightgown while breathing heavily. Her pain was plain to see with her crimson face sweat-drenched body.
Thoma quickly approached Ellie and placed his hand on her head in an attempt to activate his magic, but…
He ended up on the floor with his hand over his mouth. Managing to stop himself from coughing and potentially waking Ellie, he hobbled over to the window using his staff and flung it open, immediately vomiting outside. Alongside the food and alcohol he’d consumed yesterday was coagulated blood, all of it being expelled from his mouth with great force.
Thoma suppressed his moans of pain and watched Ellie from the corner of his eye.
‘She’s also in pain. She’s suffering! Just what happened…? She looked perfectly fine yesterday?! I was told she was just a little anemic!’
Thoma tossed his staff aside and picked her up with both arms. He could feel the muscles in his body twisting in all the wrong ways. Thoma groaned in pain, but forced himself to not give in to the pain through words of self-encouragement.
“Ugg… Ooh t-this feels so refreshing. Yep, refreshing! It doesn’t hurt at all!”
He wanted to ask one of the other monks or nuns for help, but none were here at the moment. They had all left to assist with the preparations in the capital for the coming diplomatic meeting with the Kingdom of Lome, and the festival that would take place after.
Currently he couldn’t even use magic, so there was only one thing left to do! He had to find a pharmacist in the capital! The distance to the capital from the abbey was two hours on foot.
Thoma spat into a bucket inside the shop. He’d carried Ellie all the way to a pharmacist in the capital. The pharmacist himself looked surprised, and slapped Thoma’s back.
“You crazy…! Just what are you doing?! You’ve come in and asked me to help a sick woman, but it looks like you’re about to die yourself! Just how much blood did you cough up?”
“I’m fine…” Thoma insisted, “so please look at the Sister’s condition…”
“You’re crazy! I’ll just diagnose you first-”
Thoma cut him off. “I don’t have the money for myself.”
“Ha!” The pharmacist let out a short laugh. “I don’t need money! Watching you like this hurts me!”
“Haha, you’re quite friendly. I am a first time patient, after all.”
The pharmacist frowned.
“I am a pharmacist. First time or not, it’s my job to save people! No matter how callous the world has become, I wouldn’t abandon someone in your state!”
“Haha… Thank you, but… still the nun first…!”
“…Ugh! So stubborn…! I understand. Don’t die on me! Don’t even drink water, just in case!”
The pharmacist left him with those words to look over Ellie. He felt her forehead, then removed her top to feel her belly. He wore a strange expression before tilting his head in disbelief.
The Pharmacist then touched her back, disbelief written across his face.
‘She has such a frail body, and she’s this cold. She’s also stiff all over as well. These symptoms…’
The Pharmacist gulped. He peeked over at Thoma before looking back to Ellie.
Her symptoms matched with those caused by that new drug spreading through Lania, the one which was considered heresy within the Holy Kingdom.
‘For it to have gotten this bad, this wasn’t taken just once or twice. She’s been taking it for a long time…!’
“Why are you looking at her like that?” Thoma asked, noticing the pharmacist’s worried gaze. “Is she okay?”
The pharmacist replied without looking at Thoma, panic evident in his voice.
“It’s very serious.”
“It can’t be solved with medicine, but… she’s fine for now. She’ll recover if he receives regular healing magic from the priests at a nearby church or abbey. It’ll be expensive though.”
Thoma let out a sigh of relief. It was unfortunate that medicine wouldn’t help, but it was possible to save her through magic.
First, the pharmacist redressed Ellie, and then approached Thoma. He looked at the content of Thoma’s vomit and frowned. He began to feel Thoma’s body in the same way as Ellie’s.
‘Blood clots. The stench. Torn muscles and ragged breathing. These are symptoms of another narcotic, although, that’s not the only reason he’s like this’
There was a rare disease that stiffened the body. If he had been taking the narcotic while suffering from that disease, it was only natural that his symptoms would get worse.
‘He must have relied on the drug because it’s an incurable disease! He probably wanted to lessen the pain, even if just a little.’
The pharmacist shook his head.
‘His body is a mess. This priest… will die soon.’
It wouldn’t be strange for soon to have meant right this instant. What was strange was the fact that this man was even able to move at all. Coming to a decision, the pharmacist spoke to Thoma with disgust in his eyes.
“Leave my pharmacy.”
Thoma could only look back dumbly at the pharmacist’s gaze.
“I don’t need money. Leave now.”
‘Why… is he acting like this?’
Thoma wanted an answer to this question, but it didn’t seem like he’d get one from the pharmacist. He ended up leaving the shop in the same way he’d arrived, with Ellie on his back. Watching the priest walking away down the street, the pharmacist began to mutter profanities.
“You crazy bastard! You call yourself a priest while using drugs? Using a narcotic that’s forbidden in the Holy Kingdom! You’re too full of yourself!”
‘I’m going to report him to the authorities and have him handed over to the Court of Heresy right now! I don’t know which church or abbey he’s from, but anyone working there must be crooked! I hope there aren’t any children there, because if there are, they’re surely being abused!’
The pharmacist hurriedly closed his store and left for the nearest church.
Pope Salem Gottchuranche, who was sitting on his throne within the palace, smiled with his eyes. He was proud of his grand palace. Within the throne room there were giant statues-turned-pillars in the shape of men holding up the palace’s ceiling and rows of Holy Knights arranged on either side of the long path leading up to his throne. Each Holy Knight wore golden plated armor, bearing the crest of the Holy Kingdom.
Before him was the envoy dispatched by the Kingdom of Lome, lead by the 3rd successor to the throne, Prince Pygni Lome. He was a young boy who had just turned 10. Despite his young age he was quite large, his body soft and pudgy with fat. His eyes were unfocused and his face heavily freckled. He was having trouble keeping himself steady, while clumsily kneeling in front of the Pope. Despite all of this, he was busy looking at all of the nuns around the room with a dirty smile. The prince’s disposition was not a good one. Not only did he sexually harass his servants, but he also stepped on and abused those that made mistakes. His misdeeds were egregious enough that even the king had scolded him and banished him from the country for a few months as punishment.
Knowing all of this, Salem looked at the boy with a pleased smile.
‘He’s a stupid child. Dumb enough to be used by women as well. Should I consider it a good thing that he still lacks sexual experience?’
If he was actually lusting after women, wouldn’t he have had to give up some of his cute pets to this filthy swine? Salem thanked God for his fortune.
‘For such an idiot to be born in the Kingdom of Lome, known as the Kingdom of Wisdom… Well, nobody should have expected much of a bastard prince born from some crazy bitch from the countryside? This is truly a joyous event, seeing as the powerful Kingdom of Lome will be reduced to a slave state paying tributes to the Holy Kingdom. It’s an alliance in name, but I can use this foolish prince to form many beneficial diplomatic relationships. Also, if I can place him on the throne of Lome, his usefulness would be endless. With the Holy Kingdom supporting him, it shouldn’t be too difficult to have him crowned king.’
“You are truly a wise prince.”
Words contradicting his thoughts flowed forth naturally from Salem’s lips. Prince Pygni looked surprised, then began to scratch the back of his head in embarrassment.
“Hahaha…! I hear that quite often, Your Holiness!”
‘…Yes, I’m sure you do.’
With his background, the little prince couldn’t help but only hear nice things. Nobody would dare say otherwise.
At that moment, one of the priests quietly approached Salem and whispered in his ear.
“… What do you mean?”
Prince Pygni was surprised by the sudden intrusion on their conversation and tilted his head out of curiosity.
As the priest continued whispering into Salem’s ear, a deep smile formed on the Pope’s face.
“Is that so? It’s sooner than expected. Yes, proceed.”
‘I wanted to wait until Oskal and Akareal left before proceeding, but Oskal can be kept busy here while Akareal is too preoccupied with her research…”
Salem savagely spat out a single command. “Step on him thoroughly.”
“… I understand.”
Once the priest had retreated, Salem fixed his expression before turning back toward Pygni.
‘In any case…’
Salem looked at the Royal Knight standing right beside Pygni. His face was covered with a helmet, but… Salem was aware of his identity.
‘Are you going to play dumb, Oskal? Hah! You must really want to avoid me. Yes, I too share that sentiment. I truly hate you who remained close to the Hero, even after learning of his true identity. Thinking of a mere slave as your friend… I doubt your sanity. I’ll have you stay in the palace for now so you can’t interfere in my plan!’
“You must be tired, Prince Pygni. Please stay and rest here for a while. I am a bit embarrassed to admit it, but there has been an increase in crime in the capital as of late.”
Pygni looked alarmed, and Salem held his head feigning concern.
“Many criminals have been making quite the ruckus recently. There’s even talk of slaves daring to assault nobles. It’s a concerning situation to say the least. Since even nobles were targeted… I don’t think your status as a royal is enough to keep you safe.”
Oskal frowned upon hearing Salem’s confession.
‘… What are you plotting?’
They were from the allied Kingdom of Lome, and the prince was right in front of him. This was a situation where both parties should be trying to impress each other, yet Salem was painting the Holy Kingdom in a negative light with his unprompted confession. His words held no benefit to him as the Pope.
‘There’s only one reason he’d say something like this.’
While Prince Pygni still looked quite startled, Pope Salem rose from his throne.
“So, I hope you will remain within the palace for the time being, where it is safe.”
Oskal grit his teeth.
‘…You’re not asking him to stay where it’s safe. You’re telling him to obediently stay here.’
“Of course, so you won’t be bored…”
Nuns and maids of the palace quietly approached Pygni and brought their bodies close to him. Pygni made a dumb expression as his face turned beet red. Salem smiled at the young boy pleasantly.
“I hope the prince enjoys the party.”
— Ω —