136. Sociable (2)
As the country remained chaotic and the corruption continued, their influence sped up the rate of decay rather than healing the wound. The Pope had imposed heavy taxes, and he was not alone in this. Since the nobles could benefit themselves by acquiescing to the Pope, they continued to oppress the peasants and demand more from them.
Their greed for more riches, land, and slaves knew no bounds. They seized the assets of those who didn’t pay their taxes, turning them into slaves or conscripting them into their armies. The fleeing commoners were harshly punished as well, so the Holy Kingdom of the present could be considered a prison itself.
The peasants trapped in that hell could only feel despair, as they had nowhere and no one to rely on. Then, the ‘true’ priests appeared before them. Wearing black robes, they healed their wounds with miraculous liquids without asking for anything. They also used the filthy and corrupted priests’ corpses to form their army and acted as the sword and shield of the hopeless peasants…!
A necromancer claiming to be spreading the word of god had appeared in their midst. They first moved to a small village, forming a forward base of operations there. After that area was taken, they saved the people within the village, expanding the number of their priests at the same time. As their size grew, news of them also spread. Not only in the Holy Kingdom, but their reputation continued to echo throughout the continent.
A Necromancer followed god? It sounded like nonsense to most people, and it was an incomprehensible story. However, the citizens of the Holy Kingdom found solace with them. The peasants, now in complete despair, only bent their ears to some emphasized words: ‘Light’, ‘Hope’, ‘Freedom’, and ‘a New Home’.
“I shall grant you light, hope, and freedom!” The Necromancer poured out his Holy Water. “So trust and follow us! We shall lead you all to a new world…!”
The Holy Water healed any wounds and cured any disease. The peasants first heard, saw, and then personally experienced the miracle. Soon, the Holy Kingdom’s subjects submitted to the Necromancer’s sweet whispers and the miracles performed in front of their eyes.
They were praised! The god they followed was worshipped. Those that followed them had their wounds healed and their illnesses cured, and they were all blessed…! Those that died for them would even have their souls saved-!
Such rumors spread like wildfire.
Corpses with weapons in their hands charged in front, while the Holy Kingdom’s citizens held their farming tools and followed them. Their numbers continued to multiply. From the small village, they eventually grew to a large city.
“Kill the filthy priest-!”
“Capture the fallen and corrupted-!”
The subjects wielding farming tools roared and charged. The undead army made of former priests acted as their shields.
“It’s an uprising…!”
“T-these heretics…! They couldn’t find anyone else, so they chose to follow a Necromancer…!?”
The Black Priesthood and the priests grew pale as they rushed in with their clubs, but they were instantly overtaken. Although the Holy Kingdom’s soldiers fought back, the citizens’ suppressed rage proved too much to handle. They had nothing more to lose.
“The wounded shall be healed through a miracle of god…!”
In the end, another downtown area was taken, and its numerous residents gathered around to watch a single figure.
“You all shall feel it! The greatness of God-!”
A wrinkled elder stood there, with his lone hand holding a staff. He was Belve, the leader of the Necromancers. He had a crow with golden eyes sitting upon his shoulder. Belve claimed that the crow was a mythical animal that delivered the word of god, embedding it with a holy and symbolic meaning, which the citizens accepted as a matter of course.
Belve turned to the crow before slamming his staff down to gather those downtown residents. He then started his proclamation.
“Aah, you poor lambs! God has graced us now with His presence! He will speak to you now!”
The mumbling citizens quieted down before they turned to the crow.
“He shall speak to us now…! Listen carefully!”
Belve turned his head toward the crow. The golden-eyed crow opened his mouth, and a voice filled with Magic Power and authority rang out.
[My subjects! Look at this city…!]
The citizens looked around the city as asked by the crow—no, a holy beast blessed by God. The buildings were collapsing in flames, and the streets were littered with corpses, as if they were in the middle of a war. However, that was not what God had wished for them to see. The crow opened its mouth and spoke again with a voice filled with Magic Power.
[With whose power did you recover this city!?]
The rebels shouted in response to God’s question, “By the grace of God!”
The eyes of the rebels grew wide.
[It is you, and you, and you, and you…!]
Belve pointed toward the crowd like a puppet in accordance to the crow’s words.
[It is you who have recovered this city!]
[You have found a new home, a new land, and a new hope…!]
Hearing those words, the rebels could feel emotions bubbling up in their chests. The crow chosen by God continued its sweet speech.
[You all are humans! What is a human? They have freedom of choice! And I have presented you all with such a choice: abandon your homes and flee from those filthy enemies, or stand and fight against those scum for a new home?]
The rebels clenched whatever weapons were in their hands.
[Choose! With your freedom of choice!]
The crow opened its wings. Its black feathers, imbued with Magic Power, turned white and scattered everywhere. When they touched the rebels’ bodies, they felt a divine power surge through them.
[There will be endless despair and torment for those who flee, but there will be hope and freedom for those who fight…! Those that want a home to live in, hope for their children, and light for their future…fight those degenerates and earn what you desire!]
Belve placed the crow down and knelt before it. Then, the rebels raised their hands toward the white crow and prayed with all their hearts.
[Worship! Revere! For a divine presence shall guide you toward the right path! Her name is Lily Golt! The Demon Lord, whom you once feared, has led the Demons in accordance with God’s decree. She shall save you all and charge forth to swing the iron mace of God at the fallen Holy Kingdom!]
[They will sever the heads of the fallen priests, save the righteous citizens, and give blessings to all!]
Once the speech was finished, the crow closed its eyes and went to sleep.
The plaza erupted with deafening cheers. Belve turned to watch the roaring rebels.
He was also trembling from the sleeping crow, Tom’s, speech. This was exactly what Belve had sought: to drive the filthy priests out and set a new order! It was finally happening now, and he was even preparing the stage. He had established and formed a religion! Belve felt intoxicated by the excitement as he raised his staff and shouted.
“God and God’s messenger, Lily Golt, shall come to save us! Pave a path for them!”
“We shall charge toward the next city! Show them our strength! Let them know of our existence, those blessed by God!”
With the undead army in front, the devotees headed to the next city. It was the birth of a new religion, one that worshipped the Demon Lord; the church of Hell was born.
“…Do you think that makes any sense?”
The Cardinals of the Holy Kingdom secretly gathered in a narrow space. They held lanterns in their hand as they scanned the area, their backs drenched in a cold sweat. In the silent forest, one of them spoke nervously.
“I-it’s true…! Three cities have already fallen, not just one or two! The factions supporting them are also increasing at an alarming rate. Their influence is spreading like a plague. It won’t take long for them to swarm over the whole kingdom!”
“W-what is the Golden Cross Army doing!? Shouldn’t they be able to quash this rebellion instantly…?”
“The Golden Cross Army doesn’t move without orders. They are still defending the capital. The Pope is high on drugs and preoccupied with women, and it doesn’t seem like they’re paying any attention to this rebellion.”
The Cardinals swallowed drily with a nervous expression. They continued to scan their surroundings while whispering amongst each other.
“E-even still, they have nothing to worship, so they’re worshiping Demons!? The religion is also called the Church of Hell…? Isn’t this an act to incite the Demon Kingdom? Isn’t it a cult that has abandoned God and turned to worship the devil itself?”
“…Realistically, the Pope did go too far. It might be that they couldn’t bear it any longer and ended up joining hands with the Demons. They must have sold their souls in a desperate attempt to survive…”
The discussion between the Cardinals was cut short, and a calm silence followed. They had eventually realized that this was their own doing. With a cough, the conversation topic changed.
“S-still, they are unforgivable!”
“A-and…they’re also claiming that the Demon Lord is the messenger of God and that she’s going to purify the polluted Holy Kingdom… To say that, not even a Pope, but a mere Demon Lord is a messenger of God…?”
“Does that make any sense?”
“But, isn’t this also an opportunity? There will not be another such chance to be rid of this insane Pope.”
“Is that really possible? Didn’t you see how Archbishop Tehron ended up? He committed suicide, and the Cardinals under him were all burned at stake. Their corpses are still hanging in the streets!”
“W-what if we tell them that we’ll join them?”
“Join them? Are you saying the Church of Hell? They’re bound to call us filthy priests and shout for our purging! You’re speaking nonsense!”
“No, that’s not always the case! Some of the priests have been kept alive. Only, there is a condition.”
The conversation was cut short again. A second later, contemplative groans sounded as they considered the possibility.
“…Hah, are you saying that we have to lower our heads to them!?”
“But look at the state of our nation! It’s already being destroyed! In five years—no, one or two years, the country might fall, and even the subordinate states and allied nations that currently worship us might turn their backs. If a war starts… we might be isolated and will have to face the entire continent on our own. Now is the time to choose a side, the Demons or the Pope!”
“To mere Demons…”
The Cardinals sighed in defeat. Someone among them spoke up.
“Even if they are Demons, their power could be considered close to divine intervention. Or it might actually be the source of God.”
The Cardinals were shocked as they turned their heads, holding their breaths and shutting their mouths. Their faces paled while retreating. An old knight donned in silver armor and wearing a sword at his waist stood in front of them. He was the right-hand man of Pope Salem, Helpharon. He was also the one who committed all manner of heinous and horrible deeds in his stead.
‘Why is he in this place…!?’
The Cardinals paled. All movements of the priests had to be reported to the Pope after the incident with Archbishop Tehron. However, those gathered here did not put this meeting in their reports. In other words, they had married themselves as the ones who stood against the Pope’s faction, and such people were gathered in secret? It was enough evidence to paint them as rebels.
“N-no…that is… Um…”
“Haha…isn’t it Sir Helpharon…? What are you doing here…?”
They retreated as they made various excuses. All the while, they gripped their staves and holy books.
‘Can we win…?’
No, they probably could not. Their opponent, Helpharon, was an outstanding Knight within the Holy Kingdom. As the one in charge of the Pope’s security, ordinary people could not win against him. They had come secretly by themselves in an attempt to evade any spies, yet they were about to be killed by the one standing in front of them!
Helpharon stared at them without any expression and said, “I simply followed you Cardinals, as your movements seemed strange.”
They were followed? He suspected them? Them? They, who were conspiring a rebellion…!?
One of the Cardinals with a sharp mind dropped on his knees, his head lowered. Fighting wasn’t possible, so all he could do was beg! His fellow Cardinals followed his lead and also lowered their heads in a frenzy. Seeing the authoritative Cardinals looking so feeble and pitiful, Helpharon closed his eyes and pressed his temple.
‘…Regardless of how the Holy Empire has deteriorated, for the high-ranking Cardinals to beg for their lives like this…?’
He almost wanted to cut them down right away, but he couldn’t act as he wanted. He had only one objective: the assassination of the Pope. And to achieve it, the current Holy Kingdom must grow even more chaotic through war. For that…
‘…I have to use Hero Thoma.’
Once war intensified and the Pope’s attention was focused on Hero Thoma, his chance would come.
‘I can not hand over the Pope’s death to the Devil of Lania.’
If he managed to kill the Pope, he would become a hero, and the one he supported with a royal bloodline would be given a chance to rise to the position of Pope. That would be the son of Salem, Egil, the only other member to the bloodline of the Pope.
The Holy Kingdom’s priests would not want their nation to be taken by the Demons, so they would back Egil as well. It meant that Egil met the minimum requirements of popehood.
‘The problem is the people’s hatred, but…’
It was something that could be resolved through diplomacy. There was already no way to stop the Church of Hell. Besides, not even the Demon Kingdom could rule the entirety of the Holy Kingdom.
Helpharon turned to the groveling Cardinals.
“…For what purpose have you all gathered here?”
“T-that is… It isn’t…”
The Cardinals thought he still hadn’t caught on to the situation. No, they knew that he was aware but was acting like he didn’t. If not, why would he interject into their conversation by saying, ‘Even if they are demons, their power could be considered close to divine intervention’? So, why was he asking this even after that comment?
‘Why? For what reason?’
Although the Cardinals had questions plaguing them, this was not the time to ask. They coughed and rose from their seats.
“Would you like to rebel against the Pope?”
Frozen, the Cardinals looked at Helpharon. His face was expressionless and couldn’t be read, but there had to be a reason that he was talking in this way.
‘Aah, the old knight is ridiculing us.’
Despite feeling humiliated, the Cardinals restrained themselves. Nothing good would come out if they spilled the beans.
“No, why would we dare harbor such thoughts!?”
“We are fully aware of Archbishop Tehron’s final moments…! We shall never become like him!”
The other Cardinals frantically nodded in reply as they begged to Helpharon. However, something unexpected popped out of his mouth.
“Then do it.”
“Rebel, that is.”
The Cardinals shut their mouths. They were unsure whether they had heard wrong, so they carefully broached the topic again.
“C-captain Helpharon… what are you saying?”
“I said what I meant. I’m saying to rebel against the Pope.”
“…Y-you’re joking, right?”
Or, it could be an attempt to get them to convict themselves. However, the next words out of his mouth convinced them otherwise.
“I shall help you with the rebellion.”
— Ω —