135. Sociable (1)
After an invasion of the Demon Kingdom long ago, slash-and-burn farmers had formed a village to survive, and the ones who ruled them were the Necromancers and their leader, Belve. His right hand was severed, and he was now just an old man with nothing but bare bones left after having used necromancy for so long. He cried out earnestly to beg for his life.
He flailed with his one remaining hand, wishing to touch Tom for even a little bit.
“Did you say ‘a chance’? Yes, I should give you one.”
As Tom opened the prison and entered, Belve got on his knees and lowered his head.
“There is something you all must do.”
“J-just say the words! We shall follow every order! I even offer my soul…! So, please acknowledge me!”
Tom liked Belve’s subservient attitude. He brought out a single bottle from his grasp and laid it down in front of Belve.
Belve, groveling on the ground, turned to the bottle and raised his head to look at Tom. Tom squatted down and locked eyes with him.
“I shall now tell you what you must do.”
“What we must do…?”
“Establish a religion.”
Belve’s eyes grew wide in response.
A wonderful nation of faith, the Holy Kingdom!
With the teachings and laws of religion in place, the Holy Kingdom was acknowledged by everyone. They had less crime than any other nation, and as their economy was well-developed, the cities naturally prospered, allowing them to be a nation of freedom. The streets were filled with hustle and bustle, and even the most impoverished had hope!
This was the image of a superpower that had reigned supreme on the Continent. However, that image was now faded and dyed black. They had forgotten the teachings of religion, and their laws had vanished due to the authority of the Pope.
Thugs roamed the streets, robbing the independence and the possessions of the populace. As war brewed, young children, old men, and old women alike were forcibly drafted into the military. Since they were trying to maintain their army through the winter, when they couldn’t even properly grow their food, all manner of corruption rose, making it inevitable for public order to crumble.
Eventually, the subjects of the Holy Kingdom could no longer tolerate the Pope’s abuse. They abandoned their country for other nations, but…the Pope still charged them with desertion and ordered their recapture.
“W-we’ll reach the border of the Kingdom of Aylans in a little bit…!”
A man held the hand of a woman carrying a boy as they ran through the forest. In the dark night, they barely found their way forward under the illumination of moonlight. Their hearts were pounding like drums, and they continuously peeked behind them.
Torches were visible in the distance, rapidly making their way toward the family. The men holding the torches were wearing black priests’ hoods, wielding clubs in their spare hands. They stumbled along, as though they were having difficulty walking, but they didn’t stop their pursuit.
The man was frightened by the madness in their eyes, and he grew pale and shouted, “W-we have to run…!”
“H-honey…any more…is too much.”
“J-just a bit more! If we don’t, those bastards will…!”
The man grabbed his wife’s hand and forcibly dragged her along. However, her face suddenly grew stiff, along with the rest of her body, as she dumbly stared forward. Her husband felt a chill along his spine upon seeing her expression. He fearfully turned around; the men were beating her face with clubs.
Her nose bone shattered, causing blood to pour out of her nose and mouth. She wrapped her arms around her child, wanting to protect him, even as she collapsed onto the floor.
“You’re a pain in the ass. To make great priests like us go through such hardship!”
The Black Priesthood. A group wearing black robes with bible verses tattooed on their faces had appeared out of nowhere. They played with their clubs as they surrounded the man and his wife to prevent their escape.
“What will you do now?”
“You both tried to abandon your holy motherland and escape to another nation. In other words, you’re heretics who have violated God’s teachings…!”
A member of the Black Priesthood aimed his club at the man as he declared, “…He shall be burned! The child as well.”
The bat then turned to the woman. The priest scanned the woman’s face and body before looking around. In this dark forest, there was no one else. His body moved roughly in his excited state.
“…This woman shall undergo a special purification.”
The man knew exactly what purification meant. It wasn’t the process of sprinkling holy water to grant a blessing in order to pardon a crime, but what they were referring to was an act only thought of by irrational minds.
The priests moved. They grabbed the man and bound him with rope, while the child was thrown onto the ground.
They poured oil onto the father and son bound to a tree, then…they tore off the woman’s clothes.
“…W-what are you doing! Let her go!”
“You talk a lot for a heretic.”
The priest grabbed a fistful of dirt and forced it into the man’s mouth. At the same time, the priests holding torches surrounded the man in order to start the execution. The remaining priests approached the woman and gave obscene smiles as they extended their hand.
“Then shall we start purifi…?”
Everyone stopped in their tracks. They had heard something move in the forest. When they turned around to scan their surroundings, they caught a glimpse of something wavering in between the grass.
“…Are they other priests?”
The priest looked to his subordinates, but they shook their heads. These were all the members stalking this family. It meant that there were others trying to escape the border.
“These fools! They dare try to escape the holy land…! What are you all doing!? Go get them a—”
The priest extended his finger toward the wavering shadow, but something fast brushed past his side.
With a frozen expression, he turned toward the sudden scream. One of the Black Priesthood members was twisting and rolling on the ground after being hit by an arrow.
The Black Priesthood faltered back in surprise, clutching their clubs.
“W-who is it?! You dare oppose us, who are personally ordained by the Pope…! We are Heresy Interrogators! None who stand against us shall survive…!”
There was no answer, only more arrows.
More priests were hit by arrows, forcing them to step back once again.
Although these thugs had a mean streak, as they had no real military training, they were rather incompetent. They had also only read the bible on the surface, and most of them had no actual Holy Power. Therefore, the Black Priesthood turned tail without any hesitation.
The priest, however, tried to stand his ground and shouted in surprise, “D-don’t flee! D-do you all want to be heretics as well…!?”
However, his yells had no effect. They were disorderly people from the start. To them who only respected authority, they were nothing more than rowdy criminals that wouldn’t respond to anything other than ‘by the name of the Pope-!’
The priest grabbed the woman and forced her on her feet. He then held the sturdy club against her neck.
“S-stay put! If you fire another arrow, I’ll break this woman’s neck!”
Despite his shouts, the shadows hidden in the forest grew close and finally revealed themselves: pale white bones wearing armor and holding swords or bows. Skeletons. They were the undead skeletons.
It was the dead of the night in a forest. The sudden, frightening scene made the priest scream.
‘Undead…!? Hostages wouldn’t have any use!’
The priest pushed the woman aside and fled for his life. He believed that he might have a chance if he used the woman and man as bait. However, the skeletons left the couple alive as they nocked more arrows toward the fleeing priest.
The word resounded in the quiet night, making the priest lose all hope. The skeletons didn’t have much accuracy, but as dozens of arrows were fired in one place, the fleeing priest turned into a pincushion.
The man bound to the tree spat out the dirt and desperately shouted toward his wife, “D-dear! Run! Hurry…!”
“B-but what about you…?”
“Don’t worry about me. Take our child…!”
The woman gritted her teeth and lifted the child thrown aside by the priest. He was breathing roughly, indicating he had some life in him, but his condition appeared critical.
‘If I don’t get him treated soon…!’
Just as the woman tried to flee, a pale white bone captured her hand.
“Here, here…where are you going?”
Magicians in black robes slowly walked out of the trees. They turned to the corpses of the Black Priesthood and began to chant a spell while their hands performed all kinds of seals. Soon, the corpses began to rise and flounder.
The couple finally realized the newcomer’s identity: Necromancers. They were worshippers of the devil and controlled humans like marionettes and sullied even the soul…! If they were captured, they would be made into living experiments or turned into zombies, whether they were men, women, or children. Thinking of this, the man frantically called out.
“P-please, just let my wife go! Please, please, I beg you…! F-for a sacrifice, I will come willingly… so, at least, my wife…!”
The Necromancers looked at the emotional husband before exchanging glances with each other. After a few moments, their leader approached the woman held by the skeleton.
“P-please…save him. Please…!”
The leader of the necromancers brushed his chin. He brought out a bottle from his possessions after seeing the child in her grasp,
“The child is very sick. Let him have this.”
An unknown bottle given by a necromancer, and he wanted her to feed it to her child? Was there anyone who would follow such an order?
The woman’s legs turned to jelly, and she broke into tears.
“P-please, I beg you. At least the child, spare the child.”
“I told you to feed it to him.”
“At least the child…! Please…!”
The woman couldn’t hold it in much longer, and she broke down into whimpers. Her actions had annoyed the leader, though. Just as he raised his foot to teach her a lesson, he was startled before he lowered it again. His gaze turned toward a crow. It seemed to be observing them. Its eyes glowed with a golden color as it intently watched the whole scene.
The leader groaned, refraining from kicking the woman. He then held the bottle toward the man.
“W-what do you want?”
“It’ll be best if you drink it and feel it for yourself.”
“J-just what is in the bottle?”
“You’ll know once you drink it. I’ll leave it up to you whether the child should be fed or not.”
“…You’re not lying?”
“I don’t lie. I swear upon my Black Magic.”
The man held the bottle given by the Necromancer to his mouth and drank the liquid in one gulp. The next instant, his body underwent a change. Not only were his injuries completely healed, but his body also felt lighter, and his vitality was completely restored. His mind felt clear, as if he had woken up from a long rest.
“W-what is…? Just… what is…?”
Within seconds, the effects manifested themselves, causing the man’s eyes to grow wide. The woman was also surprised at the sudden change as she watched her husband.
The Necromancer’s leader, Belve, extended both his hands and solemnly said, his body trembling as though he was genuinely touched by what he saw.
“Did you see that? You must have been surprised! This is truly a miracle of God! It is the power of the Devil of Lania, who will topple the Holy Kingdom and establish a new order!”
“Yes, what you have just seen was a miracle of God!”
Belve brought out another bottle and sprinkled it on the child. When the water touched the child’s skin, his body absorbed it at once, stabilizing his breathing and lowering his fever. Afterward, he fell into a deep sleep.
“…H-how could this be…?”
Holy Water…? Was something like Holy Water this effective…!?
The parents, who were watching the child, turned back to Belve. They had fled in despair from the Holy Empire, and now Belve, their benefactor, was enticing them with the sweet whispers of the devil.
“Now, follow me. I shall prepare for you a new light, a new hope, and a new home!”
Belve gazed at them with a warm smile as he extended his sole remaining hand. His magnanimous expression and bright smile lowered the couple’s guards.
“A new home…?”
The man and his wife held out their hands, as though mesmerized, and held Belve’s hand.
— Ω —