63. Havlin Village (4)
Lulu was surprised. He could see the Necromancer’s face underneath his black robe’s hood. Even though his voice was that of a middle-aged man’s, his face was wrinkled well beyond its years. His eyes were also dull gray in color, and his face reeked of rot, with flies buzzing around it.
There was a reason why the Black Mages avoided Spirit Magic. It was possible to form a powerful army through coordinated effort, but Undead summoning carried with it a dangerous cost—other than magic power—in the form of the caster’s vitality. In other words, one would be shortening their own lifespan.
Although it allowed for great power, it was a cursed power that aged the caster with each use. Still, some mages fell for Spirit Magic due to its allure. Offering their own life energy allowed them to quickly gain strength, strength that other mages could only attain after many years of research.
The Necromancer opened his mouth and revealed his rotting teeth.
The remaining Necromancers raised their staffs as they turned to face the cavern wall.
“I don’t know who you are, but it’ll be better if you come out! If not, we’ll tear your body to shreds!”
“A stranger recently arrived in the village. Could it be that guy?”
“Wasn’t he a Holy Knight? This right here is magic power! And it’s also very unique. Is there any human with this kind of magic power?”
“It’s also quite small…? I might not have even noticed! This magic… I’ve never seen it before…?”
The Necromancers turned to the wall with curiosity, but they were still prepared to fling their magic at a moment’s notice. A violent ball of fire sizzled dangerously above each of their staffs.
“Dispel your magic already! I know there’s only one of you here! Do you think you can face the three of us?”
Lulu gritted his teeth and dispelled his illusory magic. His transparent body slowly regained its color, revealing his form.
The Necromancers looked surprised and lowered their guard. They had believed it was another magician of their age or a Holy Knight… but for it to be a child in a Holy Knight’s uniform!
“Wait! This isn’t a Holy Knight! It’s magic! One that’s different from humans’…!”
A Necromancer hurriedly pulled off the robe on Lulu’s head. When rabbit ears popped out from underneath, he turned stiff.
“The ears of a beast? Is it a beastkin? This… For a rabbit to crawl in here!”
“What should we do?”
They turned to each other before looking back at Lulu.
“First, we’ll take him to our master.”
The one that spoke raised his staff and struck Lulu on the head.
Lulu, having lost consciousness, awoke to find himself in a wide hole within the cavern. His surroundings were brightly lit by torches. His confusion along with the damp, chilly air gave the place an eerie feeling, but the sounds he could hear were more disturbing. Even the quietest of sounds rang loudly in his ears, due to his addled state.
In this cave where no soundwaves could escape, every small sound rebounded off the walls and echoed back into his eardrums many times. The rhythmic beating of drums and the sound of humans cheering and shouting in awe all assaulted his auditory senses.
When Lulu raised his dizzy head, he saw humans holding dishes. They kept them in both hands and knelt toward an altar with their heads lowered.
“Ah, Lion of God…!”
“Lead us to a Heavenly World!”
“This soul and flesh, we offer it to you!”
Lulu’s eyes grew wide upon witnessing the scene. The altar was littered with corpses, and surrounding it were Necromancers wearing dark robes, each holding a staff. One of them walked forward, plunged a dagger into a corpse’s stomach, and split it open wide, causing blood to bubble out from the opening.
The Necromancer with the dagger smiled. Before long… the corpse twitched and rose from its slumber.
A boy’s eyes flew open, looking at the revived corpse as he bawled. The corpse looked toward the boy and embraced him. Behind them, the Necromancer quietly muttered something.
“Aah, son. I have just returned from the Heavenly World!”
The revived zombie moved its jaws and spoke the same words. Ventriloquism. It was a method to throw one’s voice with magic, a nonsensical trick. Nonetheless, the villagers were falling for it.
Lulu looked at the surrounding people. They were all astonished.
“Aaah, it’s a miracle-!”
“A miracle is here!”
“We have been graced with a blessing…!”
They continued to sing praise as they drank the tea in the dishes before them. It was the same drugged tea that Tom had mentioned. As it slid down their throats, the eyes of the followers glazed over. Their bodies grew stiff, and one-by-one, they began to fall over.
As they lay there, unmoving, they suddenly began to smile. Next, they began to laugh, seemingly reminiscing some of their happiest moments. Some even started to cry tears of joy, while others were convulsing as though they were suffering from a nightmare.
Lulu was able to sense all of their emotions. The euphoria and joy, and also their pain-filled voices, were all caught by his ears.
“I’ll drink as well!”
Lulu stiffly turned toward the voice. He could see Fran and the Chief. Fran struggled in an attempt to drink the tea in one of the dishes, but the Chief held onto her and shouted,
“You can’t drink it! That… that is a cursed drug of the Devils!”
“No…! I’ll be blessed as well! I’ll drink it! I want to drink it! I’ll drink it-!”
Fran began to scream. She showed an unnaturally strong affinity toward the tea as she scrambled with all her might to escape the Chief’s grasp, but the old man maintained his grip. One of the Necromancers noticed the disturbance and approached them.
“Ey, old man! What’s wrong? The girl says she wants to be blessed! Shouldn’t we give her what she wants?”
When the Necromancer held out a dish filled with tea, Fran began to fight even harder. The Chief held her back and shook his head.
“She can’t! Please, please just don’t touch my granddaughter! Haven’t I done all you’ve asked?!”
“Haha! Well, I won’t force it. Even if we have learned the forbidden Spirit Magic, we’re still mages. We keep our promises! Since you’ve gathered followers for us, we’re overflowing with reagents. As long as you keep doing that, we won’t touch your family. Of course…” the Necromancer snickered, “If you both take it of your own volition, we won’t stop you.”
The Chief gritted his teeth as the Necromancer turned around. He looked at Lulu, who was being held in a birdcage-like prison, and smiled wide.
“Oh! Rabbit. You’re awake. Our master is very curious about you. He rejoiced when he heard that we’d captured a demon!”
“W-what are you planning to do with me? Let me go!”
The Necromancer tilted his head, as though he was being asked an obvious question.
“Mm? Do you think we’ll release you? If you’re a demon, it’s it obvious? We’re going to experiment on you! Don’t you think we should see what happens to your body, piece by piece…?!”
The Necromancer looked at Lulu with wicked eyes.
“What do you think will be sweeter: the screams of a human or a demon, when having their stomachs split open?”
“I-if you kill me, you won’t be safe either! W-when Sir Tom arrives, you will all die!”
“Sir Tom? Ah, is that the Holy Knight you serve? Haha! You think like a child! Do you think the Holy Knight you serve is the strongest or something? You don’t see reality.” The Necromancer laughed at Lulu’s naive words. “We actually caught that Holy Knight.”
The Necromancer snickered.
“That’s right! He let himself be caught! Just like the deserter he is! They’re probably heading here right now! Hahaha!”
‘Captured? What does that mean…?’
“L-lion of God!”
The Necromancer peered behind him, noticing one of the followers running over frantically, and frowned.
“I-it’s just… the heretic… the heretic…!”
Beyond the dense forest, a mountain cave appeared. Torches cut through the darkness, illuminating the only path.
The farmer struggled with his head still restrained. Despite his efforts, his head, being held by such a firm grip, felt like it would explode. However, the pure and clear aura that was flowing into his mind was even more painful.
“S-stop… please… S-stop…!”
The farmer began to beg with tear-filled eyes as he gradually became sober. The euphoria and joy that he was feeling were being extinguished. As his mind began to acknowledge that the blessings and miracles were all lies, the clear-headed farmer fell into despair.
Once his body was purified by the Holy Power, all the strength in his body gave out and he simply sat on the ground. He looked dumbly at Tom, as though his mind was broken. He had been so happy moments ago. Through the hallucinations, he had met his family that was long gone and conversed with them as he floated through a carefree world.
Once that illusion was shattered, reality crashed down on him… His family was killed by a cult, and he had dragged away others in his village with his own hands to suffer the same fate. Emptiness crept into his mind until shame and despair filled the void, making him fall into a deeper hell. He grabbed at his hair as he looked at Tom as he wept.
“Why…! Why have you taken my hope…!?”
“That isn’t hope. It’s just endless despair.”
“Just kill me instead…! Just kill me… Shit-!”
The farmer screamed in despair. All the followers that saw him hesitated. There were other villagers, adventurers, and even mercenaries, but they trembled at the power Tom had shown them. Since they were still under the drug’s influence, they could feel it instinctively. If they were caught by him, they would be forced to face ‘reality’.
“Kill that bastard-!”
They rushed in with weapons in hand, but their resistance was futile. As soon as his hands touched them, they screamed in anguish, crying and wailing. Tom ignored their pitiful state and entered the cave after having touched each and every one of them with purification magic.
“This Holy Knight… must be more skilled than I thought.”
Tom’s eyes turned forward. Within the cave, a Necromancer stood in between some torches with a staff in hand. Behind him were just some zombies; he had brought no living followers. This was because the Necromancer had realized that things would only get messier if they all regained their sanity.
“…Dear God! You cured all the addicts? With just a stretch of your hand?” The Necromancer complimented him. “I have lived in isolation on this continent for a while… but for such magic to exist! The Holy Empire has made something extraordinary!”
The Necromance believed that Tom was affiliated with the Holy Knights, as it would be strange for someone to have such a skill otherwise.
“… Are you the one that made them into defective toys?”
“Toys? Aah, those people outside? Haha! It’s so fitting to call them toys! Aren’t they so pitiful? They fled and only managed to get their minds, bodies, and souls stolen by us. Humans are so simple! People in despair believe even the simplest of magic to be a miracle! Thanks to them—”
The Necromancer stopped talking midway. He could feel the air pressing down on him, and all the torches blew out, even though there was no wind. All he could see in the darkness were a pair of golden eyes.
“They must have fled out of hope. They sought after a new home, a new life, and the hope of a better tomorrow. Yet, you would steal even that slight glimmer of hope from them?”
The eyes drew close. Within the pitch-black darkness, they glowed like will-o-wisps approaching him rapidly. The Necromancer could do nothing against the figure that was now standing right in front of him. He trembled as his terror-filled pupils stared into Tom’s eyes, mesmerized.
“Then it’s my turn to give you despair.”
He slowly extended his hand and grabbed the Necromancer’s head.
“Oho… This is truly…! An interesting subject! You did well! To capture such a rare species of demon! This must be one of those infamous Moon Rabbits of legend, right? Haha! For me to have seen a Moon Rabbit in my lifetime! To be able to meet such a rare creature! It’s weak, but it can cast wide-area illusions, right? Truly amazing!”
The master of the Necromancers, Belve, scanned Lulu with an astonished gaze. His wrinkled brows were stretched over his eyes, and he had a large nose with a long beard. His hunched back lowered as he went down to Lulu’s line of sight.
“If I extract your Magic Power, would I be able to get my hands on that unique power…? I want to experiment soon!”
Lulu frowned at the stench emanating from Belve’s mouth. The stink of rotten meat, no, of a rotting corpse. The scent of death lingered on his person, as though he himself was a corpse. Lulu stared back at him.
Belve met his gaze curiously before looking up. Suddenly, a gigantic monster appeared in the cave; a golem made of stone covered the entirety of the available space. When it extended its hands, the Necromancers stumbled back in surprise.
At the same time, Belve simply looked at the Golem in amusement before hitting it with his staff. It pierced straight through the stone. He laughed at the sight of Golem’s rippling body.
“Haha! Amazing! It’s truly a realistic illusion! It’s such a small amount of magic that even I can barely feel it! To be able to cast such a wide area-of-effect spell with so little power Good! As expected of the legendary Moon Rabbits…!”
Lulu clenched his teeth. Belve had easily figured out that the Golem was an illusion. His opponent seemed to be more aware of him than he thought.
“Just who are you? Were you the one who made the humans in the village strange? What did you do to them!?”
Belve’s eyes narrowed at Lulu’s words.
“Mmm… Me? Who am I? Good! The followers here know full well who I am!” Belve laughed as he stuck his staff onto the ground and stretched out his arms. “Now, say it! Who I am!”
As Belve’s eyes turned to the followers, they lowered their heads and responded.
“The Lion of God!”
“The one who has toppled the perverted Holy Empire and set the ideology of the new faith!”
“The Prophet who will lead us to the Heavenly Garden!”
“The noble and great…”
His followers sang praises in unison before raising their hands in a show of respect,
“…The Devil of Lania-!”
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