Fallen Monarch: Chapter 14

14. Traitor (3)

***

The doppelganger Ellin was staring at a flower with her usual passive expression, head tilted in curiosity. She was watching as a bee repeatedly landed on and then flew away from a flower, seemingly entranced by its actions. Eventually, her curiosity overcame her caution, causing her to reach out to the bee with a finger. In response, the bee stung her finger before buzzing away for good.

“Ouch!”

Ellin held her throbbing finger, her eyes turning teary from the pain. She looked around her surroundings, seeing nothing other than the small shed Thoma had built her within this small clearing in the forest. It was what she didn’t see that bothered her, she wanted someone to complain to; someone to comfort her and wipe away her tears. She frowned and looked at her finger longingly, before finally making up her mind.

“It hurts. I’m going to tell Ellie.”

She rose from her spot and tilted her head once again.

“Could… Ellie be in pain? Ellie is in pain? I’m worried,” she softly muttered to herself while staring into the forest. “I want to see her. Ellie.” Ellin shook her head as she said this, the promise she’d made coming to mind.

“Ellin! Never, ever leave this place! Aren’t you a good girl?”

“… Ellin is a good girl. I’m not bad. I’ll keep my promise.”

After finishing her conversation with herself, Ellin felt that something was amiss. She quietly scampered into the forest and looked down from atop a small hill. Below her, she saw numerous knights walking in a line, their armor clattering loudly. Her eyes turned to where the knights were headed. In the distance, she could see the lone abbey.

***

“Wait a minute!”

Ellie held a handkerchief in front of Thoma’s face.

“Blow!” she ordered.

“No, wait. Regardless of the situation, this is a bit too…”

“Blow!” she ordered once more, not taking no for an answer.

Still, Thoma couldn’t help but be indignant. “I”m not a child, sister!”

“Says the person that was just blubbering in tears…!”

Thoma coughed when he heard that. There was still some lingering pain, but it had mostly subsided, and was much more manageable than before. He’d regained control over his body for the most part, but he still blushed when recalling what had happened just moments ago. 

It wasn’t like he had no experience with the opposite sex. Even so, this was the first time he’d experienced this foreign feeling. His chest was pounding and a strange sense of excitement tickled his heart. Thoma wanted to be by her side and rely on her even more than before; he knew that what he felt was love.

He looked at her, and unconsciously reached out with his hand to stroke her face. Ellie looked surprised and blushed, but she didn’t resist.

“Did you know?” he asked.

Ellie softly held Thoma’s hand with her own.

“Are you kidding me? You were swerving around, spaced out, and coughing every day. Who didn’t know? If there was such a person, it had to be some of the more indifferent nuns and monks.”

“Then why…”

‘did you not say anything?’ Thoma didn’t get to say the last part.

Ellie, who was well aware of what he wanted to say, sighed and replied.

“I was waiting for you to say something,” Thoma looked at her sheepishly, “and you’ve finally said it. In any case, rest up; and don’t go wandering off somewhere. I’ll be back after I check up on the kids for a bit,” Ellie said before rising from her seat.

She turned to Thoma to gauge his reaction, and debated whether to speak any further. Thoma was vaguely aware of what she wanted to ask. 

‘Can you recover?’ was the question stuck in the back of her throat. Thoma remained silent while watching her struggle, then smiled.

“I am getting better.”

“Really?”

“I am getting better. Yes, it might take a while, but the pharmacist said I would eventually recover.”

Ellie’s face brightened at his words.

“Really!?”

“Yes.”

“Okay! I understand! Oh, right! You didn’t eat, right? Wait a moment! I’ll bring something!”

Ellie nodded enthusiastically before leaving the room. Her face grew stiff as she closed the door behind her.

“… Liar.”

He was truly a monk unfamiliar with lying. 

***

There were children shouting in the garden in front of the abbey.

“Come at me, you evil Demon Lord! I, the Hero, will face you!”

The other children were full of complaints at his words.

“Eeeh? Why are you the Hero? I’m the Hero!”

“There is only one Hero!”

“I want to be the Hero too!”

Watching from the sidelines, the girls shook their heads.

“Why do boys like fighting that much?”

“Right, they should just play nice like us.”

The girls were playing house with the playset that Thoma had built for them. Just then, the girls heard something approaching them from behind, trampling on their toys. All of the children stopped what they were doing and stood still in surprise.  More Holy Knights than they could count were standing before them. They were fully kitted for battle, wearing plate armour and carrying their large shields and cross-spears.

The commander of the Holy Knights surveyed the abbey before shouting and raising his warhammer over his head.

“Charge!”

The Holy Knights brandished their weapons and rushed into the abbey, kicking down the front doors and breaking through windows. 

“W-what is this?”

Ellie looked at the Holy Knights in surprise.

“That sister is…?”

“… A heretic using drugs.”

Ellie went wide-eyed at their words.

“Drugs? W-what are you saying…?!”

“Capture her!”

A Holy Knight roughly grabbed her arm and began dragging her away. Thoma, hearing the sudden racket from outside his room, quickly grabbed his staff and stood up from his bed. He also grabbed his sword in case things turned dangerous..

When he finally opened the door, he found dozens of blades aimed at his neck.

“The Order of Holy Knights?” he asked in confusion, realizing just who was here.

A portion of the Holy Knights lowered their spears and moved aside to form a path, through which their commander walked.

“I’ll be inspecting your room for a moment,” he told Thoma.

“What’s going on…?”

The commander turned to one of his men, who immediately swept Thoma’s legs out from under him with his spear, sending him toppling over onto the floor. The commander stepped over Thoma and began searching through his things, soon coming back out with something in hand. It was the bag of medicine that Kelvin had prescribed to him.

“Now we’re certain. These are narcotics.”

“N-narcotics? What are you saying?”

The commander peered down at Thoma as he spoke.

“Save your excuses for the Court of Heresy, Monk Thoma.”

“Wait! What are you saying?” Thoma asked in confusion. “Did I do something…”

“Confess!”

The Holy Knights shackled his arms and legs and forced him to stand back up, immediately and roughly dragging him toward the abbey’s entrance.

“Wait, t-there’s been a mistake! Just let me explain…!”

Thoma struggled frantically while yelling at the commander, but once they were outside he saw something that made his blood run cold. Holy Knights had surrounded the children, coldly pointing their spears at them. Ellie was also there, embracing the crying children as they huddled against her.

“Wait! What are you doing to children!”

The commander scoffed. “We are protecting them.”

“Protecting? Protecting?! Don’t joke around! You’re going to tell me you’re protecting them at spearpoint?! Damned bastards! Thoma shouted through clenched teeth. “What crime have I committed?! What is the reason for all of this…”

“Your crimes consist of the embezzlement donations and taxes, the possession of narcotics, the mistreatment of children, and threatening the other priests with violence.”

“What kind of bullshit are you spewing?”

Something was definitely wrong. Holy Knights had suddenly burst in and accused him of possessing drugs, mistreating children, and assault? It was all bullshit! For someone like him who had just moments ago been enjoying another peaceful day, this was truly an astounding situation.

“We also have a witness,” the commander said with a smile.

Thoma looked at the Holy Knight in surprise. Meeting his gaze, the Holy Knight and gestured to his side. Thoma followed his gaze and found that the nuns and monks who had left to help out with the festival in Lania were gathered there. They jumped when their eyes met Thoma’s and quickly averted their eyes.

“They have testified against you.”

“Testified?” Thoma asked in disbelief.

“They say that they have been threatened by you.”

“…!”

Thoma turned to his congregation once again, eyes wide. Someone walked out from among them. Thoma was very familiar with the man, it was Brother Faron. He looked pitiful. His hair had all but completely fallen out and his skin was bruised and cut all over. There were sear marks across his face, and he was limping badly. He looked back at Thoma with trembling eyes.

“If you don’t believe us,” the commander said, “we will prove it to you.” He turned to Faron. “Brother Faron, tell this man the truth.”

Faron shut his chapped lips at the commander’s orders. He peeked at Thoma as to say something, but eventually lowered his head. His entire body was trembling. He began to recall what had happened to him in the brief past.

***

After his meeting with Salem, he had been dragged away by a Holy Knight to be interrogated for heresy. The charge was for having embezzled donations. His purification began with him being locked inside a humid and cramped jail cell. When he wasn’t in there, he was being tortured. 

After forcing Faron’s feet into a pot of boiling water, a masked interrogator began to mercilessly burn his body with a heated piece of metal.

“Speak! Who told you to do it!”

“Uwaaaagh!”

“Speak! I said speak!”

“I-I told you! I did it! Forgive me…!”

“No, you’re lying! Speak the truth! Go on!”

A Holy Knight standing to the side poured a bucket of Holy Water over Faron, while at the same time a priest began casting healing magic on him. After his injuries had healed, they immediately moved on to the next punishment. The iron maiden, A steel statue that was hollowed out like a cage. What set it apart from a simple cage were the countless, sharp spikes which lined its interior.

Faron struggled in vain before being thrown into the iron maiden. The door shut violently behind him, sending sharp spikes stabbing into his body. He cried out in vain, his voice simply echoing around inside the metal device. 

There was a hole at the top of the iron maiden which his torturers periodically opened to pour Holy Water through so that he wouldn’t die. The pain from the spikes piercing his body was mind-numbing, but even those wounds would eventually be healed.

“Uwaaaak!”

“Speak! I said speak!” the masked interrogator yelled. “Who told you to do this! Who!”

“I said, I did it! You fucking crazy monster!” Faron shouted with all his strength, but no one paid any mind to his words. 

Seeing that they were getting nowhere, his torturers decided to subject him to one of the worst punishments possible. Sweet honey was poured through the hole at the top of the iron maiden. Faron—who had already been starved for several days—didn’t pay any mind to the sharp needles piercing his flesh and greedily lapped up the honey as it dripped down. However, no matter how much he consumed, more honey was poured in, until it filled the lower part of the iron maiden. Suddenly, something new began falling in from above. Looking closer with what little light entered through the hole above, Faron realized that what they were pouring in now were maggots—thousands of them. A day passed, and another, and then another… Eventually his cage was filled with filth and flies. The maggots squirmed about and dug into his leathery flesh to eat while the flies lay their eggs in his skin.

“Uwaaak! Stop! It hurts! Please…! Just kill me instead! I said kill me! Please! Just kill me-!”

After several days had passed, the interrogator held his ear to the iron maiden before nodding and opening the door. Filth and maggots poured out, and flies buzzed noisily around the room. Faron fell out like a corpse, without even the strength to stand. His body trembled and convulsed, the monk finding it difficult to even breathe properly.

The interrogator who had tortured him for so long retreated with a frown, holding his nose at the stench.

“Ah…ah…Ahhhh!”

Faron began dragging himself forward out of the filth and muck. He flailed wildly as he tried to rid himself of the pain from the maggots digging into his flesh by forcefully ripping them out. Being so consumed by his current state, Faron never noticed that someone had approached him.

“My, my…”

It was Salem Gotteschuranche. He looked at the flies buzzing about and frowned while waving them away with his hand.

“The donations. Who stole them? Could it be…” Salem crouched down close to Faron. “Did Brother Thoma tell you to do it?”

Hearing that question, Faron realized something. All Salem wanted was for him to say that single phrase, ‘Thoma told me to’. Everything that he had suffered through was for little more than a mere confession.

Still, Faron shook his head while trembling.

“Hm? No? Is that right? I see.” Salem stood back up. “The purification. It looks like it’s still lacking. Well then, Brother Faron. I bid you farewell. Have a pleasant time.”

Faron reached out and desperately grabbed Salem’s ankle. 

“P-please. Please… stop… this. I-I don’t want it anymore… T-this kind of pain, so… please..”

He began to sob while Salem smiled.

“The image of you covered in filth is truly… filthy, but your heart is still clean. I do not like that. Yes.” Salem pat Faron’s head, who was still clutching his leg. His hand was stained with filth that caked Faron, but Salem didn’t mind it. “I prefer things that are clean on the outside, but dirty on the inside.”

When Salem gestured with his finger, two Holy Knights brought out a box and placed it before Faron. When they opened the box, Faron thought he was going to be blinded by the light that filled his eyes. The box was full of sparkling lumps of gold.

Seeing this, Faron stared at Salem with a stiff expression. Salem smirked at Faron’s reaction—thoroughly amused—like a tamer watching an animal become trained.

“If this is lacking I can provide more, Brother Faron.”

“N-no…” Faron spoke hesitantly, “that is…”

“Ah, one more thing. I will provide you with a new position. You will be an Archbishop.”

It was widely known that there were only 7 Archbishops beneath the pope. The Archbishopric was a position that no one could ever rise to, regardless of effort. The Pope was offering such a position to him all too easily.

“How about it, Brother Faron. Who told you to do it?”

Faron was split. Would he tell the truth to help Thoma, or speak lies to save himself…! As time passed and Faron remained silent, Salem’s eyes grew cold.

“I see. Then, enjoy your stay.”

Faron grew stiff as the interrogators behind him let out a horrible laughter.

“W-wait! Wait! Your Holiness…! P-please…”

As soon as he cried out, Salem smiled and helped Faron up, supporting his body.

“Yes, let’s… stop.”

And with that, Faron’s interrogation came to an end. The very next day, he was gifted with an abundance of extreme ‘pleasures’. He came to possess dozens of massive rooms within the palace and innumerable lumps of gold were given to him. Beautiful women visited his room every night. Servants, maids, and even other highly ranked priests lowered their heads and praised him. He had access to anything he desired, including drugs and other banned substances. He had escaped the mud only to fall into a thicker swamp, so to speak. Pleasure and authority, wealth and honor. All these things were now within his grasp. Comparing his old self with his current circumstances…

“Ah, my past self… was truly dumb!”

***

“Sir H-hero… no, Brother Thoma…”

Faron raised his head, laughing and revealing a cruel smile. It was a rapturous laughter, containing all of his desires. He could rise to the top, escape his loneliness, and find endless pleasure using his position of authority! All he had to do was abandon that thing called dignity to obtain whatever it was he wanted.

“… stole the donations! He used the money to buy drugs. He also abused the children and threatened these people! That devilish bastard!”

Thoma felt faint upon hearing those words, unable to believe what was happening.

“For the crime of threatening those serving god and for the crime of dirtying the holy title you held, you deserve a thousand deaths. Despite this, his Holiness, the Pope, has granted you the mercy of being purified. You will undergo interrogation for heresy.”

When the word Pope passed the commander’s lips, Thoma’s eyes grew wide. Salem Gattschuranche. All of this had been part of his scheme.

“Why? Why-!”

Thoma was barely able to shout before the Holy Knights surrounding him thrust their spears into him, forcing the former hero to the ground. The commander of the Holy Knights spoke after seeing Thoma had been restrained.

“Take the heretic away!”

The Holy Knights started dragging Thoma along once more. It wasn’t just the Holy Knights and Thoma who were leaving the abbey though, everyone was. Even the children had to follow behind the Holy Knights, still completely clueless as to what was going on. 

Ellin watched all of this happen from within the forest, though she was unable to do anything other than nervously fidget.

“Ellie…! Ellie…! What should I do? What should I do?! Ellie!”

***

“… He has been brought in. We plan to interrogate him today.”

Salem, who had been enjoying the banquet with Prince Pygni, smiled with satisfaction while listening to the report from the Holy Knights.

“Ah, is that right? Good. He’s a truly bad man, so please perform the purification ritual properly. But, no matter what, you cannot kill him. He is a friend, after all.”

The priest nodded at his words.

“You know, this is truly a pleasant banquet we’re having today…”

Salem drank his wine and licked his lips.

— Ω —

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