88. Forces (1)
The 2nd capital of the Holy Kingdom, Freitarok.
Many priests, Cardinals, nobles, and Archbishops gathered in Freitarok’s holy palace. They gathered in a line, maintaining their dignity, with their heads bowed in respect to their master… though this respect was only skin deep.
Salem Gottshuranche, who sat on his throne, smiled on as he looked at the priests. Belying his expression, his eyes twitched irritably
“We heard that an army called ‘God’s Paddle’ has made a move. They have broken the continent’s law and attacked the Aylans Kingdom. The army wasn’t simply defeated, but completely destroyed.”
“Aylans Kingdom has lost an estimated fifty thousand troops. On top of that, Innocent believers have died in the attack.”
“Breaking the continent’s law is the same as breaking God’s teachings. The center of the continent that must remain neutral while sticking to law and regulations… broke the law instead?”
“Other kingdoms and empires on the continent are questioning their diplomatic relationships with us; they worry we might betray them.”
“They would be wary even though we agreed to be allies and adopt non-aggression towards them. They now have an excuse to change the diplomatic relationships they have with us because of this.”
Salem tapped on the armrest with his fingers, keeping his smile. Beside him, Helpharon noticed Salem’s muscles grow terse. Pope Salem found the grumbles of the priests before them akin to the barking of dogs. Though he tried to let their words pass through him, there was a limit to the number of times he could just ignore remarks that condescended and challenged him.
‘…I’ll think about punishing these fools later.’
“More than anything, Archbishop Holfmann was murdered in the Aylans Kingdom’s capital city.”
“Does Your Holiness know why he was in the capital city of another kingdom?”
Salem smiled, but the words coming out of his mouth were totally in contrast with his smile.
“… Damn it. If he was going to die he should’ve died nicely.”
Salem muttered under his breath. Only Helpharon could hear him.
Neither of them expected Holfmann to die. Who would’ve known the most powerful human in history would die in vain like that? Holfmann didn’t even cause much damage to the army before he died, he only blew away a part of their capital city.
“We heard that Holfmann was trying to assassinate King Paulie, the king of Aylans Kingdom,” one of the Priests said. “We want to know if that’s true.”
Salem saw that all of the priests looked at him with distrust. The ones who used to not be able to even look at Salem in the eyes were barking, only now. They feared absolute authority but were united as one to oppose him as soon as they had the ‘reason’ to.
‘… Do these insects dare to look at me this way? When they know they could not match my power, even united?’
Salem made a puzzled look with confidence.
“What do you mean? I never ordered Holfmann to assassinate King Paulie. As long as I’m a Pope, responsibility…”
“We never said that Your Holiness ordered him to assassinate, but by any chance, does Your Holiness have any idea?”
“And did Your Holiness say responsibility? Yes, whoever caused this should be held responsible.”
The priests smiled wryly; they didn’t want to miss the opportunity to watch the fall of an incompetent Pope who was only given authority by luck. Salem gripped the armrest tighter, cracking it slightly.
He peered around, looking at the highest-ranked priests, Cardinals, nobles, and Archbishops gathered together. They were all influential figures who could move most of the Holy Kingdom. Although Pope Salem had powerful authority, it would be hard to suppress hundreds of smaller authorities.
“Somebody was moving the army as they pleased without our agreement in this God’s Paddle case.”
“Also, we heard that the head of Holy Knightage, Helpharon, came in contact with Holfmann. By any chance, did it have anything to do with Holfmann being in Aylans’ capital city?”
“We want Your Holiness to tell us the truth.”
So they had been monitoring him since the start. They likely had their suspicions but needed evidence. They were trying to gnaw off Pope Salem by any means.
‘I bet they would try to pull me down from this position. Those worms…!’
“The truth? As I said earlier, I have no idea about…”
“Your Holiness would still have to take responsibility for this, even though Your Holiness makes an excuse saying Your Holiness doesn’t know.”
Salem glanced at the man.
A chubby man in his mid-30s walked in. He was a Cardinal named Machael.
“If even Your Holiness says that Your Holiness doesn’t know about this case… then it’s a really big case. It means that somebody had moved the army as they pleased, and also lured and sent Holfmann to the Aylans Kingdom. Isn’t it a really big problem if somebody else, who was not Your Holiness, did all that?” Machael said as he glared at Salem. “Also, if Your Holiness didn’t notice such a big movement… there is also Your Holiness’ fault.”
Salem gritted his teeth, still smiling. His teeth creaked as if they were going to break, and his gums bled. He took a deep breath and tried to maintain his composure while having his chin relaxed. He said with his unique benevolent smile,
“Of… of course that might be my, the Pope’s fault. But since Cardinals also didn’t know about such movements, there would be responsibility also…”
“Of course. I will also be held responsible.”
‘They’re totally determined to come at me!’
The lower ranks were tired of the Pope’s madness and were going at him through this case, risking their lives. Salem’s atrocities since he sat on the throne were known to the Holy Kingdom’s priests and many others across the continent.
The worst Pope in history, the incompetent believer, the mad priest, and so on… he knew what they called him. The priests couldn’t just sit and watch him any longer.
“What the Cardinal said is right.”
Salem shifted his gaze. An old man in his 70s followed Machael in, wearing a chasuble. He was Archbishop Teron.
“We should find who moved the army called God’s Paddle and ordered Archbishop Holfmann to assassinate King Paulie.”
“Ha… haha… Archbishop. You’re good at joking. It had been revealed that the one who moved the God’s Paddle was the Cardinal Kamisell, who opposed the Holy Kingdom’s intention. Wasn’t a will that said that he took responsibility and ended his life found? Also, what do you mean assassination order to Holfmann? Would there be anyone who dares to order an Archbishop around?”
Salem was anxious the whole time he was talking. Anger welled up within him.
An Archbishop leading fifty thousand troops? That made no sense. Giving orders to the most powerful human in history, Holfmann? Who would be able to order him such things? There was only one person who was able to do all that. The Pope.
The opponent was openly saying ‘you’re the one who did it, right? Say the truth!’ All the priests gathered here in this church were gnawing at Salem as ‘enemies’.
‘Damn it old man! Just move on with the God’s Paddle case! Don’t you feel bad for Kamisell who died taking responsibility? I put a lot of effort to put all the blame on him!! On top of that, I ordered Holfmann to kill heretics! I didn’t even care about that old man King Paulie!’
It was all twisted up. It was really, crazily troublesome.
‘Aah… those bastards, I want to kill them. I want to ram them into the torture room, rip off their fleshes, preserve them in salt, and cover them with filth. I want to see them screaming and begging for forgiveness saying it was their fault!’
Salem’s whole body was raring to do it. If it was only dozens of them resisting, he could’ve just finished them at once. But since hundreds of people of authority were teaming up, he couldn’t use his power.
Cardinal Machael said,
“I think the truth should be revealed to all the believers.”
Archbishop Teron followed,
“Your Holiness should issue an apology to the continent now. It is the priests’, our job to correct any mistakes.”
The priests nodded simultaneously as if they had planned it.
“God Artaark is taking care and giving grace to our country to balance the world, not to use it personally-!”
Finally, Salem couldn’t stand it any longer and got up from his seat. When all the cold looks were directed at Salem, he smiled and said,
“…Do as you nobleman wish. Inspect God’s Paddle and Archbishop Holfmann’s death. Since it was also my fault for not noticing…I will discipline myself.”
‘Damn it sons of bitches-!’
Salem cursed with his body shaking. He didn’t have any choice but to step back.
“These sons of bitches-!”
Pope Salem spat his curse. A table tumbled down and a sofa broke. A flower vase shattered and water was dripping out of it.
“Sons of bitches! Trashy bastards! Crazy jerks!”
He recklessly swung the papal ferula like a bat.
The sacred papal ferula, made of the root of the world tree, was now a bat used to vent his anger.
“Eu Aaaa! I will burn them all at the stake! No, I will torture them, and torture them, and torture them until those bastards regret it and…! I will use them as materials for research! How dare they treat me like an insect…!?”
Salem heaved his breath. He used children as a sacrifice and earned youth and power, but he was already addicted to petrified herbs that his current body was also gradually stiffening.
He ruined his body to lengthen his life and gain pleasure forcefully. His body was already broken, a mess. There was no way his mind would be fine that his body had already been broken.
Salem gripped onto his papal ferula and turned to Helpharon, who stood tall, and without expression.
Salem’s face grew twisted.
“Why are you absent-minded like that! And not catching those bastards right now to put and heat them up in the cauldron…!”
Salem shouted fiercely and approached Helpharon. Salem took the ferula with both his hands and hit Helpharon’s forehead
Helpharon’s head turned with a ‘puk!’ sound. Blood burst from his head and sprayed in all directions. Helpharon turned back his head and kept standing to attention. Blood flowed out from his head. Even so, Helpharon’s expression didn’t change.
Salem looked at his papal ferula and Helpharon. He frowned and put his hand on Helpharon’s forehead. Holy power gathered and healed Helpharon’s injury.
“Stupid kid, you don’t even dodge. Pathetic jerk! Old jerk!! Take those bastards’ blood quickly!”
And the papal ferula was swung again, breaking more furniture. Helpharon, who was watching the enraged Salem’s moves, silently opened his mouth.
“…It will be difficult.”
Salem was shocked and looked at Helpharon who showed a reaction. His eyes, which were filled with madness, were locked with helpharon’s own.
“Hard…? Why? How come…!?” A vein protruded on Salem’s forehead. Assemble the Golden Cross Army! To kill those bastards…! Assemble the holy knights and kill those bastards!”
“It seems impossible. Your Holiness has lost the power to move the army. The priests are not going to stay still if they sense a hint of the army moving even for a bit.”
“Are you telling me to just let them go berserk!?”
“Currently not only Cardinal Machael, but more than 30 Cardinals of the Holy Kingdom are inspecting this situation. There’s no way to stop them. More than anything, Archbishop Teron… is the best man of authority after Your Holiness. If he proceeds with it more than 100 Cardinals would assemble and do their best to investigate this situation.”
“Following him when I, the Pope, am here? Is that the way of a Cardinal? Ha! Okay, let’s say those heretics make a move. Then what would happen to me?”
“They would find the proof that Your Holiness moved the army and find traces that Your Holiness ordered Holfmann to assassinate and they would… dethrone Your Holiness.”
“Dethrone? You said dethrone…!? Do you think that makes sense? Huh?!”
Salem grabbed and pulled Helpharon’s hair. Helpharon shut his mouth again. After a moment of silence, Salem let go of Helpharon’s hair and spit at Helpharon’s face.
“… Helpharon… how old are you this year again? Since you’ve been taking care of me since you were young… Are you over 90 years old this year? Haha! You managed to stay alive. You managed to move like that! But it seems like you have dementia! I really don’t know what you’re thinking about. Dethrone? Then who will be the Pope if they dethrone me? Teron? That insect…? That hypocrite? Is ridiculous! Tell me a joke that makes sense. Haha!!”
Salem changed the way he talked and fixed his chasuble. Helpharon opened his mouth again,
“They would look for an heir.”
“Heir? I don’t even have a son. I took women here and there but… nobody was pregnant with my child. You want to know why…?”
Salem formed a twisted smile on his mouth.
“Because I killed them all.”
“The only one who was pregnant with my child was…aah… only that damn bitch!”
Damn bitch, the woman Salem referred to was clearly ‘Akareal’. His obsession over her was more than lunacy. A war because of her. Salem recalled Akareal and had an ecstatic smile on his face before he was startled and stiffened.
“…Wait, so… what do I do?”
Salem looked at Helpharon.
“Currently… Your Holiness can’t invade Aylans Kingdom, right?”
Pope Salem was being kept in check by the priests. He couldn’t move the army all he wanted in this situation. Not only the priests, but continuous criticisms from other kingdoms would also fall on him for a few months. Salem didn’t know that the effect of breaking the Continental Law would be this big.
“About the Aylans Kingdom invasion, it would go back to the cease-fire treaty.”
“… Then what about Akareal?”
“And Your Holiness would have to pay compensation to Aylans Kingdom as responsibility for the war.”
“…Can we catch Akareal?”
“I asked if we can catch that bitch! Helpharon!!” Salem grabbed Helpharon by his neck with both his hands. “…kkeuugh…”
Helpharon let out a groan this time.
“Why! Why! Why!? Everybody is trying to devour me …!! .Kkeugh…eugh… also… you’re going to be held responsible…kkeugg… and get… dethroned.”
Salem loosened his grip.
Whatever he did, the result would always be ‘dethroning’.
His face that was frowning loosened up immediately.
Salem took a white powder from the broken shelf and inhaled it through his nose. The drug made of petrified herbs was spreading through his body and he felt as if his mind had gotten clearer. Salem felt pleasure and he calmed down.
Salem grinned and turned at Helpharon.
“So… is there any measure we could take?”
— Ω —