31. Gambler’s Den (9)
Cold sweat streamed down Rahon’s face as he looked at the figure in front of his eyes. He could sense the air growing heavy and felt out of place. He could hear his instincts screaming against facing this opponent. Without even knowing, a foot began to turn toward the other direction, as if to flee.
Rahon’s eyes grew wide underneath his helmet.
‘Running away? With a heretic before my eyes? Running away?! As a man of faith who worships God, am I willingly committing heresy?!’
Rahon turned his body to glare at Artarrk.
“Who are you? You bastard, what manner of monster…?”
Rahon could not finish his sentence. The ground beneath Artarrk’s feet began to corrode and melted away, as though it had suffered through untold ages of neglect. All manner of undead began to crawl out of the rusted, dark, crimson fluid.
“… Undead. A formidable one as well!”
Rahon felt a chill streak down his spine. Each one of them exceeded the Royal Guards of the kingdom in strength. On top of that, such beings were pouring out without any consequence, without any casting, and without any summoning seal. It was like the sovereignty of the Gods, completely ignoring the laws of nature. This turn of events made him feel extremely uneasy.
‘These are beings that an average Holy Knight can’t face. Just what…’
Rahon grew stiff as he thought up to that point.
“Could it be… the Devil of Lania?!”
There was a single devil that had toppled the capital of the Holy Kingdom, which stood as the dominant force on the continent 30 years ago. It was an existence that commanded an endless army of undead, wielding both holy and demonic powers.
Rahon unconsciously muttered to himself. Tens of thousands of priests, Holy Knights, and clergymen stationed at the capital had all died by its hands. And now, Rahon was standing against such a being by himself.
Ellin looked toward Artarrk in surprise, still in his embrace.
‘He’s the Devil of Lania?’
She had also heard the infamous name. It was an incredible story among the demonkind, after all. The unprecedented monster, at a rank similar to a Demon Lord, that had utterly dominated the capital of the Holy Kingdom and left a warning to the Pope. The Demon Kingdom had tried to draw him to their cause but failed over and over again, without even being able to meet him, leaving the monster as a figure of legends. Artarrk laid the dumbstruck Ellin down beside the wall. She was surprised once again by his soft actions, contrary to his fabled notoriety.
“Devil of Lania. The source of evil that caused the deaths of countless clergymen.”
Rahon calmed his breathing. The figure before him was definitely a monster, the devil itself who had imprisoned and corrupted the souls of those he killed to turn them into evil spirits.
“Regardless, you must be nothing more than a mere necromancer.”
Necromancy was considered taboo amongst taboos by the kingdoms of the continent due to the influence of the Holy Kingdom. They had claimed it was because necromancers corrupted innocent souls to form undead, but in reality, the reason was completely different: it was because of the threat of an army of undead conjured by necromancy.
A single necromancer could command a dozen undead, and several of them amounted to hundreds of undead. They were able to command a personal army with ease. If these people were allowed to move in any semblance of organized manner, they would be a walking disaster capable of leveling a city or two. Fearing this power, the Holy Kingdom had banned necromancy in its entirety.
However, they weren’t without their weakness: the undead would be destroyed if the caster was slain. Therefore, the one that everyone feared was the undead, not the feeble mage.
Rahon smiled beneath his mask. Looking around him, all he could see were a mere dozen or so undead. Hence, he would be able to handle himself in this situation, and he could also use the opportunity to kill the Devil of Lania standing before him.
‘This is going to be a major feat!’
“Foolish. For a necromancer to step up personally, are you that confident in your abilities?”
Artarrk looked at Rahon and tilted his head quizzically.
[… Are you talking to me?]
“Who else is there?”
[Absurd! You know who I am and still remain so bold? Others that have seen me before wet their pants.]
“Hahaha! Do you believe me to be an ordinary Holy Knight?”
[A mere corrupted Holy Knight… is what I want to say, but…]
Artarrk turned to the rune papers plastered over the wall, Rahon’s armor and sword, and the holy text in his hand, all magical objects created with the heart and soul of people at a Cardinal level. They explosively raised holy power and also helped neutralize their user’s enemies. They were expensive objects that the average Holy Knight wouldn’t possess.
[…Did the world change so much that the equipment that Cardinals should possess is now held by a mere Holy Knight on the frontiers?]
“Hah, A fallen Holy Knight? Are you still uttering such nonsense?” Rahon laughed. “I’m not a simple Holy Knight. Even though I’ve been sent off to the frontiers, my rank isn’t as low as you seem to think. I am someone commanded by the Pope himself!”
There was only one reason that he had been relegated to the frontiers; his orders were to observe the man named Kelvin and decide whether he needed to be disposed of. While the Holy Pope did not issue the order himself, it was given by a close aide of his. Rahon disliked being dispatched out here, but due to the benefits that Kelvin provided him with, he swallowed those complaints and accepted the assignment.
Rahon opened the holy text and tore out a page. As he chanted, more pages attached themselves to the walls surrounding Artarrk. Overlapping with the pages that had originally been there, the runes began emitting a brighter light than before. The undead around Artarrk were wrapped in this light and sealed in place. They began to scream horrifically and their bodies turned pale and began emitting a holy light.
One of the undead that had adapted its body to the energy escaped the seal and rushed toward Rahon, but he was prepared and all too easily decapitated it with a single swing of his greatsword.
“Tch, enemies that I’ve already learned of. Besides, I also heard that the Devil of Lania had both demonic and holy powers.” Rahon looked toward Artarrk. “However, you still can’t escape my magic.”
Another page from the holy text was swiftly torn out and thrown, it’s energy enveloping the entirety of Artarrk’s body. The other runes began to emit a blinding light as they suppressed him. The air grew heavy, and the ground shattered from the pressure. Rahon’s armor and the runes written on the pages filled the hall with their light. The dimly lit corridor became flooded with holy light as seconds trickled by.
“Hahaha! Watch! This almighty, holy power…!” Rahon watched the immobile Artarrk as he let out a triumphant cry. “This is the blessing of Pope Salem Gottshuranche!” He raised both his hands, holding his sword and holy text aloft in the air, as he let out a peal of hysterical laughter. “The Pope himself had graced me with this strength! This miraculous power…! Forbidden magic researched by the ancient kings dreaming of true immortality. The blessing obtained through the blood of innocent children!” Rahon leisurely walked over to Artarrk, gripping his sword tightly. “That is what Iblis, those like me, are! The great name that will bring despair to those like you!”
Iblis were a group of Holy Knights that Pope Salem had formed in secret. As he continued researched into the magic involving true immortality, they were created with the intention of utilizing the infinite life force that such magic offered. In short, they were human forces specifically designed and established to stand against the Devil of Lania. A human monster whose strength was comparable to that of a Hero, bred at the cost of a hundred children used as sacrifice.
“When the Pope decides to gather the Golden Cross Army, hundreds, if not thousands, like me will gather! With their strength, all kings, kingdoms, and nations will be destroyed within a matter of days! That’s right, even if it’s the Demon Kingdom with their Demon Lord!”
Rahon tossed his holy text onto the ground near Artarrk and raised his sword with both hands.
“Devil of Lania! You are nothing more than the past! You may struggle, but the Holy Kingdom can kill someone like you without breaking a sweat! Realize your mistake in hell and repent! May you be blessed by Pope Salem…!”
Rahon kicked off the ground. The floor exploded, and his figure cut through the air and into Artarrk. He didn’t let his guard down just because his opponent was immobilized. Rather, he put all of his strength into this thrust. When his cross sword split the air in order to pierce the foe’s heart, it instantly became rusted and turned to ash as Arrtark’s dark gauntlets touched the blade.
Rahon froze in shock. His eyes stared at the palm that had stopped his blade in disbelief.
‘Did he stop it? Did he actually stop it? He did, but how? All he did was hold out his hand. My blade didn’t even touch his palm, yet it rusted away. He merely held out his hand.’
Rahon looked up toward Artarrk, his waist still lowered in his thrusting posture. The golden light in his eyes looked down on him as Artarrk’s tail moved. The snakehead bit down upon the holy text on the ground and brought it up to him.
Rahon, who couldn’t respond from the shock, only continued to look at him in his thrusting stance.
[What was that spell?]
Artarrk browsed through the holy text. To Rahon’s surprise, it remained unscathed under his touch, the same one which had disintegrated his sword just moments ago. Rahon’s eye twitched upon hearing Artarrk’s words. He didn’t like that his holy text was being dirtied by the hands of a heretic. Despite the bizarre spectacle before, he spoke with a trembling voice.
“T-that is the holy text made by the Pope himself! Unless you know the activation phrase, you can’t use it! Take your dirty hands away…”
Artarrk tore a scroll from the holy text, stuck it to Rahon’s forehead, and uttered the phrase, [Ah. Just, kneel.]
Instantly, Rahon’s body crumpled. His body was crushed and caved in as though an unseen boulder had fallen on it.
By a single scroll and with an unbelievable amount of holy energy, Rahon’s body was being turned into tenderized meat. Artarrk’s eyes grew sour at the scene, and he began to look back and forth between Rahon and the holy text.
[Oh my, I only told him to kneel.]
Rahon continued to scream internally.
‘This… doesn’t make sense, at all!’
That single book itself was created through dozens of Cardinals pouring countless hours of sweat and blood into it. It was an encrypted magic tool that required undergoing a procedure to adjust to its special characteristics, but the devil managed to use it right away. Not only was it able to figure out the password, it understood its unique features and then adjusted to them immediately.
“Could it be that you deciphered it? Even Grand Mages and Archbishops would take ages to figure out the password…?!”
[Would I do such a troublesome thing? I only said ‘kneel’.]
When Artarrk’s activation phrase was uttered again, Rahon’s body was pressed down even further.
“U-unbelievable! J-just who are you?! I-I am a warrior of a hero’s grade…!”
[Hero-grade? Ah, I see.]
Artarrk looked down on Rahon and smiled with his eyes.
[You must be like an apprentice hero, a chick.]
Rahon’s eyes widened in shock.
[You’re quite audacious with such a paltry amount of strength. Do you truly believe yourself to be comparable to a genuine hero?] Artarrk recalled his party with his former companions. [People that I know of wouldn’t budge even if there were a whole lot of you. Just which country are you going to wipe out? Laughable. To call yourself a Hero with such a bug-like strength!] Artarrk looked down on Rahon and reprimanded him even more. [Don’t sully the title of Hero! You insect!]
Artarrk’s snake tail looked at Rahon, filled with curiosity.
[It’s a good nutrient. Eat up.]
The snakehead opened its maw as it grew larger, then swallowed Rahon whole.
“Just what happened?”
Ellin was leaning against the wall, staring dumbly down the hallway which Artarrk had disappeared into. Her eyes had clearly seen what had happened before them, but her head could not comprehend it. Everything had taken place instantly, and she was left wondering if it had all been nothing more than a dream.
“Was that truly the Devil of Lania?”
‘Did someone who hid their presence for 30 years suddenly appear? If so, why did he come here?’
Ellin could only sit in silence with those questions plaguing her mind.
“Shit, Shit, I have to leave this place. I felt nervous after seeing that weird crow! For there to have been a priest that I recognized and a demon that tried to kill me!”
Kelvin opened his satchel and unlocked his vault in order to move his gold. Once he confirmed the bag was full, he lifted it in a hurry. He struggled with all his might, but his skinny body didn’t have the strength to move that amount of gold.
“W-why won’t you move?! I can’t abandon it! I can’t!”
Kelvin did not give up, though. As he continued to drag himself, the wall of the room containing his vault began to turn black. It eroded, then melted away, forming a path. Kelvin raised his head in surprise, his eyes overwhelmed by the golden light radiating throughout the room. He couldn’t help but feel fear from the color that he once loved so much.
Kelvin noticed Artarrk and attempted to run away, giving up on his bag of gold, but tripped over one of the nuggets on the ground. He tried to crawl away, scrambling for his dear life.
[Pathetic.] Artarrk approached him slowly. [You couldn’t abandon your love of gold and still lived like this.] His eyes looked down on Kelvin. He could see his soul; it was dyed dark red with greed. [Gold! Gold! Gold! Do you love gold that much?] Artarrk stretched out his hand and held it over Kelvin’s head. [Then, let me adorn your life with gold.]
A slit in the air began to form above Arrtark’s hand. Kelvin’s eyes grew wide as he saw what was happening. Gold was falling from where the air was split into a dark void. Gold that had been kept within the palace of Lania began to slowly dribble onto Kelvin.
Kelvin, despite being pummeled with the gold, smiled instinctively.
“G-gold is falling! It’s falling like rain… Ah… Ah… S-stop… It hurts! Stop…!”
However, his smile didn’t last long. Gold continued to pour down, and it fell onto Kelvin’s head. It piled up, wrapping around his figure. His frail body was crushed under the weight of the gold. With the sound of bones breaking, blood began to spill out between the nuggets of gold, dying it with a shade of red.
“S-stop…! It hurts! I’m dying! Dying!”
Artarrk looked at Kelvin with narrowed eyes.
The gold began to gradually heat up until it started to melt. That liquified gold seared and clung to Kevin’s buried flesh.
Artarrk became amused, seeing Kelvin’s figure in that way. Like playing with a toy, curiosity filled his eyes.
From behind, one of his undead servants approached and kneeled. Artarrk turned to it and calmly gave it an order.
[Knead the poor bastard into a symbol for the glorious Golden Cross Army of the Holy Kingdom!]
The undead moved under his command. It grabbed Kelvin and the hardening gold.
The rumors of the Devil of Lania’s advent spread across the continent in an instant. It was the notorious devil that had toppled the capital of the Holy Kingdom at its peak. The news of his arrival left the continent with an inescapable feeling of unease. Many were frightened by the report of the re-emergence of the sinister devil while the demons cheered and celebrated at the news. Both sides held vastly different opinions, but in reality, he was a concerning existence for one and all; nobody knew what he wanted..
Humans understandably considered the devil who had attacked them as an enemy, while the demons could only suspect he might become hostile, as he had yet to visit their cities. Both factions were wary of the Devil of Lania and began to prepare their defenses for the possibility of an attack. Each would be happy to have him as their ally, but without any certainty in that regard, they could only be wary of this potential enemy..
Both factions tried to look into the Devil of Lania, but once again, he had vanished. They were only left with a single warning.
“…What is this?”
The Holy Knights that rushed to Golden Fief after hearing the news of the devil’s advent shut their mouths. There was a massive cross before their eyes. The golden cross contained a hideous human figure within it. His arms and legs were poking out in strange directions from within the cross, and various parts of it were spotted with his blood. The face of the elderly man frozen within this horrendous golden mass looked to be screaming in horrendous pain.
The Holy Knights looked at the letters etched into this horrid cross in bewildered terror.
[Just wait, Salem Gottshuranche!]
Dozens, if not hundreds, of such messages were etched into the cross in different spots.
— Ω —