86. Negotiation (4)
Holffmann abruptly shouted. He tended to have a gentler personality, but seeing all the Holy Power that he had spent so much effort accumulating be made worthless, he couldn’t help but be angry.
A portion of the glacier began to melt, and holes began to form in it. The figure clad in pitch-black armor held out his hand and broke through the weakened surface.
Hoffmann gathered his Holy Power in his hand once more.
“My word… Do you know how much effort it took to gather that much Holy Power? If you pierce through it so easily, what do you think will happen to the dignity of this old man?! It’s a matter of courtesy to stay down for a little bit after taking the attack of an enemy, wouldn’t you agree?! Nnngh… fine. I’ll end you for sure this time…!”
Holffmann’s eyes grew wide as he spoke. Through the new hole in the glacier, he could see a helmet made of a lion’s skull, a pair of large deer antlers, and beneath it, armor made of various plates and scales of fish, and a snake for a tail made of Magic Power. Within the gap in his opponent’s helmet, amber-colored eyes gleamed through and glared at him.
‘… What is that appearance?’
Holffmann looked dumbfounded, even forgetting about the Holy Power he had accumulated. It was a strange sight that he couldn’t remember ever seeing before, but somehow, it seemed a bit familiar.
‘… Doesn’t it coincide with the appearance of Lord Arrtark?’
The recorded appearance of the god within the ancient texts had the head of a lion, the antlers of a deer, various scales and shells composing the armor, a snake for a tail, and the hands of a beast. It was recorded with a horrendous appearance that could be compared only to the Chimera, a monstrosity made by fusing together various creatures. Humans that felt fear from this hideous appearance distorted the truth to protect themselves, so they removed the hideous descriptions from the original texts and replaced them with those of a goddess. In short, the creature before his eyes was not a cheap imitation, but the true form of God.
Holffmann’s eyes trembled with conflict.
‘This bastard, who is he? A fake, imitating the appearance of God? Or… Might he actually be real?’
It was just too similar to the appearance of god as recorded by the ancient holy texts. It was obvious when con artists were trying to reference the ancient text, but the presence pouring out from the creature before him was overwhelming and dignified, like a true god’s.
‘More than anything, this dense Magic Power… There’s no way it’s fake.’
‘However, it couldn’t be the true Lord Arrtark… But then what could it be? Who was the figure in front of him? An apostle of Lord Arrtark? A necromancer that was also a holy man? If not…’
Holffmann, who had fallen into deep thought, narrowed his eyes.
‘A Creation of God…?’
There were records within the ancient texts of such creations―records of those that became retainers after offering their lives. These people had sacrificed themselves in despair to have a fragment of power embedded into their bodies. From it, these sacrifices would gain a new life and strength, but they would have to live their lives as a ‘mediator’ maintaining the balance of the world for the rest of their lives as a price. If those references in the ancient texts were referring to creatures like the one in front of him, then it meant that he was now standing against a Creation of God itself.
Arrtark glared at Holffmann.
‘… What a headache.’
Tom knew of Holffmann. He had seen him at the Hero Anointment Ceremony for the Demon Lord subjugation in the past. He was known as the most powerful and the most terrible existence in history. He was a monster that people called a ‘human’ but really wasn’t one anymore.
Even the heroes of the past couldn’t win against him. The Demon Lords of the past had also feared him. A figure that transcended humanity with Holy Power so pure that it was compared to that of ‘angels’. It was also said that he was one of the primary reasons why the neighboring kingdoms couldn’t all join together to retaliate against the Holy Kingdom that was so often abusing its power against them. It might be impossible for anything other than a creation of Arrtark to stand against such a person.
‘… And he was also known to be stubbornly old-fashioned.’
He was known to be a good-natured man. He took care of orphans, kept to the societal norms, and spread the teachings of the Holy Scripture as intended without any alterations or hidden motives. He took in and raised the unfortunate and protected and cared for the weak. He was seemingly a model for all priests. However, there were times that conflicted with such a saintly image. He didn’t care to sacrifice anything for the things that he valued, for instance.
He spoke of the teachings to others but disliked being told about them himself. He knew how to speak, but refused to lend his ears to others. It was so bad that he was known to be a person that was resolute to his interests without change and only lived for those values that he held important to himself.
He regarded all those that broke the teachings of God as heretics and had the violent tendency to kill dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of innocent people just for the sake of killing a single heretic without mercy. To describe him perfectly, he could be said to be a person who was confident in himself to the point of fanaticism.
“Are you a true Creation of God…? No, is there any evidence that you’re real…? That Magic Power and the ability to use Holy power… Is that evidence enough?”
Holffmann felt extremely conflicted. He was a priest that worshipped God, and the figure before his eyes was a fragment of God and its Creation. He was standing against such a person. He was trying to fight against a Creation that God himself had made. As if he himself was a heretic.
“No, no. I… am not a pathetic heretic.”
Holffmann drew in his breath. He was trying to remember the literature in his mind. God Arrtark fell into loneliness and molded mud to form humans, demons, and other such creatures. God Arrtark watched over them and created the rule that he wouldn’t intervene with worldly affairs. However, feeling regrettable by the chaos unfolding in the world, he killed himself and buried fragments of himself within the world. He intervened with the world through the ‘Creations’ that he left behind.
“… The Creations of God intervene with the world?”
Holffmann trembled. This was his nightmare. It was a ‘bad’ sign that gave him goosebumps.
“Retainer of God, Fragment of God, Creation of God… All kinds of descriptors were recorded within the ancient texts. God killed himself and buried the fragments into the world.”
And those that were imbued with those fragments existed as moderators that maintained the balance of the world. However…
“However, those beings shouldn’t exist in reality!”
God was a bystander. He was one that was to only ‘observe’ his creation, and must never intervene with worldly affairs. Not even as a fragment.
“… Aah, it still doesn’t feel good. When I found out about the Creations of God within the texts in the past, I felt that I would be honored to meet one… But I am rather enraged.”
Holffmann glared at Arrtark.
God had to remain neutral. He had killed himself and buried his fragments into the ground, and those that were chosen by the fragments intervened with the world.
It was almost as if God had broken his own rule against ‘intervention’. God was just. God was true. However, God was an evil and contradictory figure as well. All kinds of records were left of God within the ancient texts, but they were jumbled together in a complicated manner making them ‘contradictory’.
Holffmann was conflicted. He couldn’t decide whether he should accept the figure before him as the Creation of God, or a heretic that had broken God’s rule. However, there was one reason above all that he felt uneasy about within that conflict. The being before him used ‘Spirit Magic’.
Holffmann glared at the undead surrounding Arrtark.
“… When a soul is subordinate, they cannot be free. They are caught in eternal torment unable to gain new flesh, live a new life, or feel new emotions.”
Holffmann closed his eyes and spoke quietly.
“As God exists, one must live in faith, and not even a Creation should intervene with the world. One that is burdened with a soul must not defy death.”
As his conflicted mind was slowly becoming organized, he made a decision.
“Even if you are a Creation of God… If you intervene with the world, then that is heresy…!”
A Creation of God was not ‘omnipotent’. The Creator, Arrtark, created human and living creatures and suffered by watching their acts of evil. He sought to restore the balance between them… and paid the price of the sin of intervening with the world, albeit indirectly. He intervened with the world with his Creation through his ‘death’. Even Arrtark, a god, faced death. The idea that the Creation of the Creator cannot die was a fabrication. Even the Creations of God can die. At least, Holffmann thought as such.
‘He shouldn’t die just once, either. It’ll be fine if I keep killing him over and over again.’
Holffmann quietly closed his eyes and offered a prayer.
‘Lord Arrtark…! Please forgive this old-fashioned old man… From this point on, I will defy your will and destroy this Creation!’
“Let us fight! Creation of God!”
Holffmann tossed the clothes he was wearing aside. He had a developed bulky figure that was abnormal for an old man. There were countless scars upon it and it was battle-hardened. Holy Power began to gather around him, and ice began to form. As the inside of the solid ice began to freeze, the transparent surface turned a thick, pale color. The dense ice wrapped around Holffmann’s body to form a suit of armor. Frost began to sprout from his back to form a pair of wings.
When he extended his hand into the air, ice pieces gathered to form a sword. A chill filled the air and the sword began to exude a bright light.
This was the reason that Holffmann was called this. The form he took when he wanted to fight seriously was like that of an angel, a messenger of God. Holy and powerful, white snow fell around him causing the ground to freeze.
Around Arrtark, the snow turned black. To others that might be watching, it might have appeared as if an angel and the devil were facing off.
Holffmann glared at Arrtark through his icy helmet.
“… Humans can live a worldly life, but God must only exist in the world of faith. That is the logic of the world…”
Holffmann raised his sword.
“… Those that break this rule regardless of whether it’s a Creation of God that does so or not… are heretics!”
Holffmann kicked off the ground and shot off. His freezing sword swung toward Arrtark. His frosty blade was deflected right before it would land, however.
Holffmann’s eyes widened.
Arrtark grabbed his spear made of bone and instantly, it was covered in ‘flame’.
It was the ability of Janus, the commander that invaded the Kingdom of Aylans. The moment the blade of frost was deflected, the frozen ground broke away causing chains to shoot out. The chains were made of dark Magic Power and they easily restrained the sword of frost.
A magic seal made of runes appeared right where Holffmann stood as well, making his body feel extremely heavy.
It was the ability held by the Holy Scripture of Rahon in the Golden Fief.
At that moment, a pitch-black spear pierced Holffmann’s back. The ice covering his back was pierced through by the weapon and broke away allowing the flesh underneath to be skewered. Blood poured out of the wound.
It was the power of the Hero Ludin’s Sword of Light turned to Magic Power.
Looking at the bone spear covered in flame held by Arrtark, the black chains shooting out of the ground, and the pitch-black sword penetrating his back, Holffmann was speechless. Whether it was Holy Power or Magic Power, each person manifested their abilities in different ways. There were some that were naturally specialized toward magic relating to fire while others were specialized toward restraining magic, and others were specialized toward magic with the properties of light, but to develop those abilities required focusing on that one path. In Holffmann’s case, his abilities were ice-based. As he was specialized in abilities relating to ice, he only used those abilities.
However, the figure before him ignored this convention. It was as though he had absorbed all manner of magical properties.
It was as though he emulated the power of God himself.
“There is truly no one more distasteful for a mere heretic!”
Arrtark’s eyes narrowed.
“Heretic…? That is truly something grating to the ears. I respected you once in the past, but thinking about it now, the ideals you value are so rigid that they are detestable. I was truly stupid back then.”
Holffmann spoke with surprise.
“You know me?”
“I’ve seen you before, back when I was a Hero. Thinking about it now, you were a completely closed-minded person even back then.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m closed-minded?”
Holffmann denied his claim.
“I only live and breathe for the ideals I value!”
He was correct. To him, the standard for heresy was rigid.
‘… Yes, the center of his standard for heresy is one that disrupts the order of faith. The problem is that he sacrificed too many people to punish the heretics.’
Holffmann was an Archbishop of the Holy Empire, but his authority had been revoked. And there was only one reason why that could be. When a coven of necromancers had vanished and hidden in a city in the past, Holffmann, who had heard the news, committed the unbelievable act of destroying that entire city to seek them out. When he was handed over to the courts afterward, the investigators had asked why he had committed such an act. Holffmann’s reply had been: ‘If I hadn’t caught them, the entire city would have become inundated with death. And that death would even spread to other cities. Rather than having that happen, isn’t it better to simply pull it out by the roots…?’
It was truly an irrational reply. To catch a mere dozen, he had killed thousands, tens of thousands of fellow countrymen. It could be clearly seen that he wasn’t in his right mind at the time.
Arrtark felt disgusted looking at such a man. It was similar to the disgust of his own kind as he had the same tendency. To achieve a single result, he sacrificed countless in the process―with the excuse that it was better to sacrifice the few for the benefits of the many. Comparing himself to Holffmann, he spat out the only word that came to mind.
“Don’t think I’ll let you ignore my values, you heretic!”
Holffmann swung his sword of frost. He severed the chains made of Magic Power and shattered the pitch-black blade that had been lodged in his back.
Then he swung his sword toward Arrtark.
A whirlwind of chilled air descended upon him.
Arrtark swung his spear towards it. A flame made from Magic Power struck the frosty air and created a whirlpool. The sounds of burning and freezing began to blend together to create a deafening roar. Surrounding buildings ended up being swallowed by the power and broke apart into pieces.
“Heretic, heretic, heretic… A word I truly hate. Just what is your standard for heretics? Those that don’t believe in God? Those that you don’t like despite their faith? Or are demons heretics?”
“Hah! Those that disrupt the order of the world are heretics! You are an existence that would cause chaos just from living quietly away from the world! Such a Creation of God sides with Demons? An existence that is meant to keep the balance disrupts the world by siding with a single race! One who was formerly a Hero, and one that has also received power from God, has fallen so far as to use his power for personal gain! Laughable!”
“… I am thinking this now, but almost all priests in the Holy Kingdom are not in their right minds, are they? Faith is good, but it is too fanatic and too closed-minded!”
Holffmann slammed his sword into the ground. Spikes shot up from it in response and shot toward Arrtark.
The ice spikes pierced Arrtark’s body. His armor made of Magic Power broke apart causing fragments of it to fly off. Between the armor, a rotten liquid, similar to blood, seeped out.
“…That actually hurt a little bit.”
Arratrk swung his fist to shatter the icy spikes.
“Holffmann of the Holy Kingdom, I knew that we would clash someday. I will take away your faith and claim your power for myself.”
Arrtark’s eyes began to shine. A black aura poured out from his body and his armor started to reform.
Holffmann’s eyes widened.
‘Doesn’t he die? No, he does! Even if he doesn’t die, until he dies, until he is destroyed, I’ll keep killing him! Even God dies! There was no way that a mere Creation would not!’
When Arrtark extended his hand, several undead shot out from the ground. They all rushed forward the instant they were on their feet. Undead wielding swords, spears, and shields, with their swift movements, swung their weapons together toward Holffmann, pouring out Magic Power all the while.
Holffmann cut them all to pieces with his sword of frost. Some, he slashed apart. Others, he grabbed the heads of and froze them directly with his bare hands.
The place where Arratark stood became dyed black like a lake of death. But still, more undead came. The dead continued to crawl out of the ground in order to restrain Holffmann from every direction.
Just being near Holffmann caused the flesh to freeze and the body to stiffen. However, even when their frozen flesh broke away, the dead moved ceaselessly to kill their target without hesitation.
Holffmann froze and shattered his enemies, then froze and shattered some more. As he broke the undead horde to pieces, Holffmann gradually approached Arrtark.
“Impressive,” Arrtark replied.
It was hard for a human to get strong enough to wield this level of strength.
Arrtark raised his spear. Then he swung it to the side a single time before settling down into a combat stance and aiming it toward the approaching Holffmann.
“…Holffmann. As long as you dare to aim your sword against me, I have no intention of letting you live. From this point on, I shall kill you and take your power!”
Arrtark moved. A series of pitch-black blades formed in the air around him and he aimed them all toward Holffmann before launching them. The blades pierced the air and flew toward Holffmann at an incredible speed.
“It’s no use!”
Pieces of ice formed around him to deflect the swords.
In response, chains broke through the ground to restrain Holffmann.
However, even that effort was frozen and shattered away by a blast of frost shooting out from the ground.
Holffmann broke through the undead, deflected the blades, and broke the chains.
As he approached, Arrtark swung his flaming spear. The flames followed his spear and spread forth, colliding with Holffmann’s sword. The opposing forces collided to cause an explosion of steam.
The battle continued from there.
Spear and sword continue to trade. The frost from the sword seeped through Arrtark’s armor, causing it to freeze, while the spear’s flame spread to various places on Holffmann’s body, causing it to burn.
Arrtark narrowed his eyes. Even his flames began to freeze.
“A simple flame like yours can be frozen over!”
His flames finally froze and the bone spear fractured and broke away after colliding with Holffmann’s sword.
A human not only seemingly exceeded a Creation of God but even managed to destroy his weapon.
As the shock in Arrtark’s eyes grew, Holffmann’s sword penetrated his body. It pierced his chest and exited his back.
Holffmann collided with him and pushed him back.
Arrtark’s back collided with the glacier causing a portion to break off from the impact.
Holffmann, who had managed to skewer Arrtark’s chest with his sword and pushed him back, let out a rough sigh of relief. He gathered the last remnant of his Holy Power and released it explosively out of his sword.
Ice spread throughout the entirety of Arrtark’s body causing him to completely freeze over.
Holy Power struggled to freeze its target. Conversely, Demonic Power desperately tried to push the Holy Power back.
Holffmann was using all of his strength to pour out the last ounce of his Holy Power, but it was slowly reaching its limits. When Arrtark’s body was about half frozen… Holffmann’s Holy Power finally ran dry.
“… Well, it’s been a while since I’ve cut loose, so my body isn’t doing as well as I ask. Haha…”
There was a sword in his chest, but… Holffmann still couldn’t sense his opponent’s death. Rather, his opponent’s golden eyes were firing up as they looked back at him.
‘This… is my loss. This was supposed to be the final blow.’
He already used up all of his strength. It was not only hard to move, but it was hard to even breathe while standing up. In the very next moment, a pitch-black spear and the weapons of the undead pierced through Holffmann’s back. Chains made of Magic Power shot out of the ground and suddenly restrained his body. Even flames were summoned to cover his body.
His armor began to melt away, having lost its Holy Power.
“If only I hadn’t starved for a week getting lost… I would have been able to move around far better.”
“If only I would’ve been a hundred years younger, I’d have been using your bones for hangover soup… This is regrettable.”
He was speaking the truth. If he had been full, he’d have moved better. He was sure that if he had been a hundred years younger, he would’ve won.
“Brilliant. Holffmann. A mere human like you having this much strength is a miracle in of itself. No, it might be something unprecedented. You might be the first one to ever get this strong.”
Arrtark extended his hand into the air. The space split apart to form a spear made of blood and bone. It became covered in flame a moment later.
“… A miracle? Is that supposed to be a compliment? It feels disgusting to be talked to in such a way by a heretic! However…”
Holffmann faintly smiled.
“… To die by a Creation of God might be another kind of honor…”
The spear of flame penetrated Holffmann’s body. The armor made of ice that had been covering Holffmann instantly melted. As his body was seared by the flames, even his flesh began to melt away. The flames swallowed his flesh, and the Holy Power pouring out from his body was all sucked away through the spear.
“I shall take your strength, Holffmann.”
When he pulled out the spear of flame, Holffmann’s body fell away like a pile of ash.
— Ω —