137. Sociable (3)
The Cardinals froze. Help? With a rebellion…?
“…Y-you, what are you saying?”
“As I said, you Cardinals don’t wish to lose the Holy Kingdom, right? If this country falls, you Cardinals will become ordinary people, or even less.”
“At this rate, the Holy Kingdom, this great holy nation that has ruled this continent for thousands of years, will end up collapsing. All because of mere Demons.”
“Wait, wait, wait… I’m finding it difficult to understand what you’re saying. To suddenly help a rebellion? Aren’t you supporting the Pope?”
The Cardinals watched Helpharon with confused eyes. They looked at him with suspicion, but they couldn’t figure out his intentions.
“…What is the reason? To help us? No, not help us… Are you perhaps thinking of helping the Demons?”
“You could say that, but you could also say it’s not that.”
“I simply can’t understand what you’re getting at!”
“Do you know what the pagan church spreading throughout the continent is saying?”
The Cardinals turned quiet.
“That the Demon Lord is the messenger of God. They say that she was chosen by God.”
“Hah! It’s indeed an appalling message, but what does that have anything to do with you helping them?”
“I simply serve God.”
“…I’m asking what…” The Cardinals grew quiet. “.. Are you perhaps a part of the pagan church as well?”
“I simply serve God Arrtark.”
Their conversation stopped progressing, and the Cardinals shouted with a frustrated heart.
“Are you playing with us!? I just can’t understand what you’re saying!”
“What if they were truly chosen by God like the pagan church claims…?”
The eyes of the Cardinals grew wide.
“What…are you implying?”
“As Cardinals, you all must have heard about this at least once, the story regarding the fragment God Arrtark left behind in the ancient text.”
The sun poured down scorching rays. Helpharon squinted and shielded his eyes while lying in his rough straw bed. He then got up from a stable constructed with rotting wooden boards. When one of the horses licked his head, Helaphron frowned from its sticky saliva as he pushed the horse’s head away.
“…Aren’t you tired by sleeping in such a place?”
Helpharon looked at a boy with blonde hair and blue eyes. Egil, the heir and son of Pope Salem, stood there. He was holding a platter of bread and a cup filled with milk. Seeing Egil, Helpharon recalled an event from a few days ago. He had said one thing to the Cardinals that had gathered to betray the Pope.
“They have been chosen by the thing called the Fragment of God…? Then are they truly God’s messenger? If so… A-aren’t we supposed to follow them? If they indeed are the ones chosen by God, that is…!”
“No, that’s not always the case. The one holding the Fragment of God at the moment is fueled with a vengeance. There’s no reason for us to follow such an emotional existence, as having the Fragment of God does not make him the true god.”
“A grudge toward Pope Salem.”
“Someone with a grudge toward the Pope has the Fragment of God? I-I see. I realize now why he spent so much effort to attack the Holy Kingdom! Shit, it isn’t like the Pope committed only one or two atrocities…!”
The Cardinals peered over at Helpharon.
“…If he has a grudge, won’t he try to bring down the Holy Kingdom itself?”
“He only holds a grudge against the Pope, so he shouldn’t have anything against the entirety of the Holy Kingdom.”
“I-is that so? Then are you saying that the nation might not fall? If that’s the case, is there someone who can sit on the throne once the Pope is gone? The Archbishops might not covet the seat, but they might all jump at the opportunity if we’re careless.”
“That can be considered after.”
‘A Cardinal becoming Pope? Don’t make me laugh. I won’t let any more filthy bastards rise to power. Do you think I’ll make the same mistake twice…!’
Helpharon watched Egil. He was a boy with both noble and common blood. He was the only one born from the countless women that had shared a bed with Pope Salem and hadn’t been killed. Also, he had experienced everything from the bottom up without having been corrupted by the filthy priests. If a pure and innocent Egil rose to the Pope’s position… Helpharon felt that the Holy Kingdom might be truly purified.
“…No. It’s common for people like us to sleep on rocks or in swamps, after all. It’s rather comfortable.”
“In any case, it’s a familiar experience for me.”
Helpharon replied as such and naturally placed the bread brought by Egil into his mouth and forcibly chewed it as he drank the milk. Seeing this, Egil laughed awkwardly.
“…I’m in a rush, and it’s already late. My vacation is only until today. If I’m late, the Pope might say something.”
Helpharon rose from his place. He dusted off the straw stuck on the plate armor that he had slept in and held the reins.
“You should see the children before leaving. They’re all happy that Sir Holy Knight was coming.”
“It’s not the job of a Holy Knight to look after the children. I believe that the priests staying in this place are taking care of them.”
Egil looked regretful as Helpharon looked straight ahead while exiting the stable. Egil, who had followed him out, saw the figures around him and grew stiff.
“…There were orders to escort the captain back.”
The group wearing black robes with bible scriptures tattooed all over their faces and bodies, the Black Priesthood, had gathered outside. They lowered their heads before Helpharon.
Egil saw them and peeked around. There was a church in the corner of the Holy Kingdom’s capital with many buildings around it, and a lot of the citizens congregated here. Hence, it was crowded around the church. However, they were all glaring at the Black Priesthood and Helpharon with distrusting eyes.
Was it because of the crowd’s gaze? When the Black Priesthood returned the stares, the public feared that their tyranny might begin, as the people continued walking, averting their eyes.
Helpharon felt his hand being grabbed. He looked down and saw Egil glaring back at the Black Priesthood with disapproving eyes.
“…I don’t like those people.”
“Those people keep looking at us. Constantly…all the time… The people around us don’t like us because of them. There are times when the children playing outside are beaten by adults…”
Egil’s eyes grew pale.
“…Then those adults are hung around the church as corpses. All in front of the eyes of the children.”
The church in which Egil stayed was operated by Helpharon. As such, the Black Priesthood had formed a perimeter around the place to keep a watch on him. It must be because of this reason that if anything happened to the children, there was unimaginable retribution. The corpses hung in front of the church should be a ‘warning’.
‘I am protecting you, but if you betray me, the children will turn like this’ must have been the silent warning from Pope Salem.
Helpharon’s wrinkled face grew stern.
“Please bear it for a bit longer.”
“…Even though I’m tolerating it, they keep watching us. The children even cry at night, saying they’re scared.”
“Soon…” Helpharon gripped his fists. “They won’t be here for long.”
Helpharon walked to the Black Priesthood.
“Let us leave.”
“We’ll escort you.”
When Helpharon rode on his horse, the Black Priesthood surrounded him and led him out. They were headed to the massive palace. It was a sanctuary surrounded by looming walls, statues etched with beautiful patterns, and a gigantic gate made of steel. This grand palace was built after the former capital, Lania, was destroyed. The building was constructed over dozens of years by slaves garnered through invasions of neighboring kingdoms.
Helpharon entered the castle after getting off his horse. Tiles, slippery and reflective as glass, caused his metal boots to ring out as he walked. Helpharon looked around. Many priests were running about the palace in a frenzy, their whisperings strangely loud.
“Did you hear?”
“…The Cardinals are rebelling!”
“So brash. Despite knowing Archbishop Tehron’s outcome, they still…!”
“I’ve heard that they’ve submitted to the pagan cult that is the Church of Hell.”
“They’re not in their right minds! To go under those Demon Worshipping fanatics…!”
“It must be because the nation is so chaotic.”
“I’ve heard that even the Archbishops are considering—”
“Shh! Don’t say it. Do you want to die!?”
The priests peeked over at the passing Helpharon and shut their mouths.
‘… Looks like it’s starting.’
The Cardinals left en masse to the Church of Hell. If the Cardinals, their subordinate personal soldiers, and the weapons they wielded were supporting the Church of Hell, it wasn’t a simple rebellion but the birth of a new faction with an army. The Holy Kingdom would have to deploy their regulars in order to stop them.
‘The trajectory of the Holy Kingdom is quickly diverting now. They just have to force Pope Salem to make his move. With just a slight push, there will be war.”
Salem was living his days high on narcotics and in the embrace of women. His life was solely devoted to euphoria now that his interest in state affairs had vanished. Completely entranced in this lifestyle, he had even forgotten things that he had been obsessed about in the past. Thus, they just needed a small bait.
The story of the woman that he was obsessed with, Akareal, being pregnant would mobilize the Golden Army. That would be the start of the Holy Kingdom moving to strike the Demon Kingdom and the Kingdom of Lome, and their movements would cause the sensitive neighboring nations to also choose a side: the Demons or the Holy Kingdom.
‘…Their choices are obvious, though.’
The Holy Kingdom had long since lost their good graces. It was only obvious that they would be isolated. Even the allied nations would come up with some excuse in order to avoid being betrayed and swallowed up to strike at the Holy Kingdom.
And the moment the Order of Evilesse Knights, who served to protect the Pope, also moved out in case of an emergency…
Helpharon gripped the handle of his sword.
‘That will be my opportunity.’
Helpharon stood in front of the door of Pope Salem’s throne room.
— Ω —