139. Sociable (5)
‘Why is Lord Egil here?’
Helpharon’s hand trembled.
“What’s the matter, Helpharon? These are your beloved pets and children.”
“Why them?” Helpharon’s voice trembled.
Salem’s sneer twisted.
“To eat,” he said lightly. “They’re our ritual sacrifices. Finding suitable candidates has become increasingly difficult lately, and there are only so many orphans and slaves out there, as I’m sure you know. They’ve been conscripted for the war, so now, all I’ve got left are these church boys; they are no use in battle. They’re better off here, within my grasp.” Salem salivated over the seminary boys. “The street urchins are such unsanitary things, anyhow. A Pope of such esteem as myself deserves more than the trash of society. Fresh, pure children are more to my liking. And where am I to find more pure children than in the church!”
Salem as he reached for the children. They recoiled, a few of them clutching each other and weeping.
“See? Even now, they brim with purity! God would be well pleased with them to receive God’s blessing.”
“Have you lost all sense?” Helpharon asked, his expression hard.
Salem, surprised by his face, answered.
“Why? Isn’t this a greater honor for these children than any they would receive from their parents, who abandoned them? What greater salvation is there than to extend my life? This is to be their joy!”
“You are beyond yourself!” Helpharon shouted.
Salem shook his head, pitying Helpharon’s misguidance.
“Why do you protest? They are just toys, anyway, and you looked after them as a pastime. You didn’t think that someone like you could seriously care for these children, did you?” He threw back his head and laughed, mocking Helpharon. “You? With the litany of evil acts you’ve committed? I can’t even begin to compare to you, who did everything I ordered. Attempting to atone for your sins with a few good deeds late in life? As if the people you’ve killed could forgive you so easily, ‘Look at him, his nobility now surely undoes my death!’ They’d sooner curse you–”
“Same for you.”
Salem ceased his mockery, open contempt on his face. Helpharon lay on his side, barely able to lift himself.
“You will be cursed by the dead you have killed, or the living who survive them.”
“Who would dare? The dead? Let them–as I have outlived them. The living? Let them, too. No matter how much this world overflows with people that resent and curse me, they will lower their heads before me! I am the great Pope! Who could dare to harm Salem Gattschuranche–”
“The Hero, Thoma.”
Salem froze in mid-shout, his eyes bloodshot.
“I’ve known you too long not to know what you’re most afraid of.” Salem tried to hide his agitation, but Helpharon continued. “His resentment toward you has not abated. He will kill you.”
“Now, that is funny. ‘Hero’ Thoma? There isn’t much a dead man can do, except dredge up old memories…”
Even so, Salem was shaken; Helpharon could see it. A dead man could still bring terror–and Thoma’s hatred was deep.
“My interest has cooled,” Salem deflected. “It was my own folly to allow light jests to be tainted by sin. I’ll have to purify myself–through this great ritual, I will purify my body!”
Salem snapped his fingers. The Black Priesthood raised their bats. “Draw the magic formation with their blood.”
Their bats descended upon the children. Blood splattered violently, and the head of the Black Priest rolled to the floor. The Knights and Salem’s eyes alike grew wide, a Helpharon stood over the fallen Priest. In but a moment, he had put himself between the children and the priest, his blade pointed towards Salem.
The Evilesse Knights exchanged amused glances, quaintly speaking with one another of Helpharon.
“Did you see that?”
“Very impressive; I was a little distracted myself, but I didn’t see him get up!”
“As expected from one of the greatest knights of the Holy Kingdom. Moving like that at his age; he’ll be quite the challenger.”
The knights fidgeted with their weapons: swords, daggers, scythes, hammers, and metal chains. They looked at Helpharon like a pack of wolves over prey. Helpharon was drenched in a cold sweat, and he gripped his sword nervously.
‘I’m no match for them.’
Each of them were Hero-grade, living weapons created through the sacrifice of hundreds of others. They would overwhelm Helpharon. He had planned to take out the Pope without them present, but now he was in the worst-case scenario. He had to fend off the Knights and kill the Pope.
Salem looked at Helpharon and tilted his head with an unhappy frown.
“Eh? Helpharon, what are you doing?”
Salem blinked and scratched his own head.
“You’re supposed to be protecting me, aren’t you?”
The nail that was scratching his head began to scratch at the skin.
“ Are you leaving me?”
The skin dug through the flesh.
“You’re leaving me…?”
His hair began to fall as the grotesque sound of meat being torn could be heard.
“Do you dislike me?”
Scratch, scratch, scratch…
“I asked if you disliked me!!”
Holy Power burst out with Salem’s shout. The throne room reverberated at his mad scream.
“You’re betraying me? Haha! Helpharon, you dare leave me for a few toys…!? I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you!”
Salem extended his finger at Helpharon.
“Get him. Break his arms and legs, then torture him! Until he begs… ‘Spare me~. Spare me!’!! Then kill all the children as he watches!”
The Order of Evilesse Knights cackled upon hearing Salem’s outburst. They each held their weapons as they approached Helpharon.
“Haha! The order of His Holiness has come down!”
“How shall we kill you…? Should we pull out your head with your spine? Or skewer you with a spear?”
“Ey, ey. We can’t kill him. He said to torture him.”
“But, he said to kill him before that, so shouldn’t killing him be first?”
“Ah, that’s true!”
They approached Helpharon with a tone like expectant children that wanted to play to their heart’s content.
‘… I can’t face each of those bastards.’
Helpharon lowered his posture. Once his blade was imbued with Holy Power, light poured out, enveloping the blade.
“… I was planning on killing the Pope and at least one of you anyway.”
His form disappeared. There was no sound or presence. When he reappeared, the head of one of the Evilesse Knights was gone, and behind the dead knight, Helpharon appeared with his blade already swung.
“What was that…?”
The Evilesse Knights tilted their head and looked at their dead comrade. His head was flying in the air as his headless neck spouted blood. His body collapsed to the ground, causing the others to whistle as they looked at Helpharon.
“Not bad, old man.”
“If we’re not careful, we could die as well.”
Helpharon narrowed his eyes, and his form disappeared once more.
The Evilesse knights raised their weapons defensively in response, but Helpharon was aiming for that. When he appeared…he was next to the Pope.
Salem’s eyes grew wide. He saw a blade next to his face. Salem’s twisted face was met with the blade glowing white with the intense heat of Holy Power.
“…Die. Pope, Salme Gattschuranche.”
Helpharon’s blade dug into the center of Salem’s face, in between his eyes. Knowing this, Salem’s opened his eyes.
Terror having faced death. He let out a cry in a desperate attempt to survive. His voice burst out, repelling everything around him. Helpharon’s blade, despite being imbued with Holy Power, was destroyed and his body was flung back.
Helpharon’s entire body collided with the wall. He bounced off of it and rolled onto the throne room floor.
“Uwack! Uwaaaa…!! S-save me! Save me…!”
Salem flailed with his hand and covered his face. Seeing this, the Evilesse knights looked at each other dumbly.
“…What was that?”
Their eyes turned to the weapons in their hands.
“…It was but a moment, but the Holy Power was destroyed?
“…That’s a joke, right? There’s magic that can destroy Holy Power?’
“The ability of the Pope?”
“A…mazing. An ability that can destroy Holy Power?”
“… Don’t just gawk. That guy might disappear. Looking at it, he has the ability to hide his form and presence with Holy power. He might disappear again.”
The Evilesse Knights headed toward the collapsed Helpharon.
— Ω —