97. Forces (10)
The Cardinals gathered together to start their meeting, their voices hoarse with frustration.
“Pope Salem has done it again.”
“We’re going to have to make a decision.”
“Words fail me! My God… he’s unleashing inquisitors on the street? These are prisoners! They’re gathering vagabonds to start a riot even as we speak! This is absurd. He’s the leader of this kingdom, and he claims to be the deliverer of God’s words, yet look where he’s led us!”
Cardinal Michael had gathered them and had fiercely advocated removing Pope Salem. He looked at Cardinal Petra, who provided the meeting room, and expressed his gratitude before the crowd.
“Firstly, thank you all for coming here, and for Cardinal Petra for providing the place.”
“Ha, haha… n, no. I only did it as a matter of course!” Petra said. He wiped the sweat from his brow. “Please partake of some tea my staff has prepared.”
The maids around him dispersed and served tea to the Cardinals, which they gulped down to wet their parched throats. Cardinal Michael silently closed his eyes.
“Archbishop Teron is late.”
“I’ve sent a letter. He’s also received reports about what happened. He will be here soon.”
“Hngh! He also can’t ignore the situation any longer.”
While the Cardinals continued their discussion, Cardinal Michael opened his eyes again.
“The great Holy Kingdom will be sullied at this rate. The dirty heretic’s’ hands will stain God’s territory…”
A hush came over the room at Michael’s words.
The Cardinal used the word ‘heretic’ to refer to the ‘Pope’. To him, Salem was the Holy Kingdom’s ‘cancer’.
“T-then what would you do?” someone asked.
“The opponent is the Pope!” another chimed in. “We haven’t even properly found evidence yet…”
“It’s simple,” Michael said. “We hit first.”
“A revolt? You speak of open rebellion?”
“Cardinal Michael! What kind of ridiculous…!”
Michael cut them off and said,
“The Pope can’t move the army, so he releases inquisitors on the street. He’s fomenting unrest by buying off vagabonds. This is a warning. A direct challenge to us! He’s saying, ‘Come after me if you dare’.”
The cardinals frowned. Pope Salem was looking down on them.
“This alone doesn’t make sense,” Michael continued. “Nobody knows what he may do next. Eliminating him will be good for our country and people.” Michael held his teacup near his lips. “Archbishop Teron will be here soon. We can move troops enough with his authority. Until then, maintain your composure.”
Michael sipped his tea. Like the others, he was angry, although he didn’t show it. No matter Salem’s temperament, he was still the Pope. Yet, he used his power to suit his own needs rather than the needs of the people.
The Popes of the past would be disgusted if they could see how the office was being squandered. Michael sipped his tea again. A strange feeling began to wash over him.
‘What is it…? It’s fragrant. And yet, it makes me feel good in a strange way. Of course, tea would bring calm, but not like this. It feels like my mind is slipping…’
Michael’s eyes widened. He looked around him wildly. His vision blurred. Curvy lines formed in the background, and Michael’s balance became tenuous.
“This tea tastes… r- really good,” a Cardinal said.
“Give… me more, please,” said another.
The maids poured the tea slowly. But the Cardinals who were watching became impatient and shouted.
“Why are you not pouring it quickly!” one snapped.
“If you do it this slowly…!” another growled.
“Uh…? It feels good. Really… good! Hahaha!” A third melted in revelry.
“Oy, being only a maid… you’re quite beautiful though? Won’t you show me how it is inside that? Haha!?”
The Cardinal near Michael snatched the tea from the maid and pounced on top of her, but Michael didn’t stop him. Instead, Michael thrust his finger down his own throat.
“Uweeeekk! Keooook…! Cough! Cough!”
Michael stepped backward as he wretched his food. The haziness persisted, even after he vomited.
‘These symptoms… is it by any chance the petrified herb…!?’
A narcotic, an evil drug banned in the Holy Kingdom! People went crazy once they got addicted, becoming enslaved to dreamy pleasures and visual and auditory hallucinations. The tea must’ve been spiked with a lot of it, too. Michael turned pale and turned to Cardinal Petra.
“W-what happened! Cardinal Petra!”
“I-I have to survive. I had no choice!”
“What have you done? How could you betray us!”
As Michael gritted his teeth, the door opened. Figures in black cassocks poured in and looked at Michael and the Cardinals. They turned to the tea made of petrified herb and then looked at Cardinal Petra.
“Thank you for the cooperation, Cardinal Petra,” one of them said. “You played an important role in catching the heretics meddling in state affairs. His Holiness The Pope will be pleased.”
The black priests looked at the Cardinals and Michael and said,
“Every Cardinal except rebel Michael, listen. You stand accused of plotting a revolt.”
The muscles in Michael’s eyes twitched. He glared at the group of black priests while stumbling.
“Revolt…? Ridiculous! To Archbishop Teron right now I’ll…!”
“Archbishop Teron has killed himself.”
Michael’s face hardened. The black priests sneered at him.
“A written confession of your sins was found. That would be clear evidence of your crime.”
Michael shouted his throat out. However, all that gained him was a thrashing with an iron rod. His head cracked and he fell to the floor. The black priests began to beat the rest of the Cardinals with iron rods as well. They struck without hesitation, as if hitting animals.
The Pope’s purge had begun, and the capital had started its descent into hell itself.
The priests who rebuked the Pope were unable to resist after losing Archbishop Teron and Cardinal Michael. Even though they gathered together to try and organize some form of resistance, their efforts were in vain. Local priests and other Archbishops that were scattered all over the continent heard about what happened and gathered in the capital again, but they had missed the pivotal moment. Those who rebuked the Pope disappeared, and rumors of traitors existing among them left Salem’s opposition as wary of one another as they were of him.
Soon, the Cardinals who followed Archbishop Teron were hung on crosses and burnt alive in the square of the capital—with what was left of their corpses displayed on the streets. The private soldiers who followed them were beheaded and their heads were hung from houses like decorations. Anonymous men in black cassocks roamed the city and displayed their strength to the people. City guards and Holy Knights alike turned a blind eye as they passed.
The country of religion, guided by thousands of years of history, law, regulations, and tradition fell into a state of chaos where such things were useless. All that remained was absolute power—the domination of the weak by the strong. Pope Salem sent out his new troops as a triumphant display of this newfound power.
And so, a call went out across the kingdom.
“Pope Salem Gottshuranche commands you. Assemble the Golden Cross Army!”
With great haste, The Golden Cross Army was assembled in the capital. It was clear by now that whoever opposed the Pope would be destroyed.
“Oh… my God.”
“… The sacred Holy Kingdom… like this…!”
The priests looked on in despair, forced to watch their country transform into something nightmarish. They had bet on Archbishop Teron’s revolt and Salem Gottshuranche’s waning authority. However, instead, Salem had ended up with absolute authority—more than he’d had previously.
Salem looked upon the capital. It reeked of blood burning flesh. Black smoke stacks floated up from several parts of the city. In the week since the purge began, the smoke had risen without end, the fires below burning day and night.
Everyone who opposed the Pope would be judged, just like he wanted. Salem smiled gleefully as the faint sound of cries from the streets below reached him.
“It has become a truly clean city.”
Tom shook his head after reading Karakul’s report. Salem’s behavior made no sense.
“…He’s completely lost his mind. Haha! He’s causing more trouble than I expected!”
Salem would end up destroying everything but himself, whether it was authorities that opposed him or the innocent people he trampled underfoot. That was what the Holy Kingdom, with its thousands of years of history, had been reduced to. History would remember him as a crazed Pope drunk on his own power.
“But he won’t last long.”
A tyrant was bound to die someday, Whether it was through a revolt or assassination by insiders, it wouldn’t be an easy death. The people of the Holy Kingdom would be up in arms against the Pope’s behavior. Salem had gone too far, and, as a result, people would need to act. If they didn’t, all that awaited them was death from foreign invaders or from Salem’s regime itself.
‘The Aylans Kingdom and the Demon Kingdom will surely be the first ones to do so…’
Salem had assembled the Golden Cross Army and formed a group of inquisitors called “the black priests”. It was also likely that he would conscript soldiers en masse, regardless of whether they were young children, old people, or women.
He was preparing for a proper war.
“That’s actually great.”
Karakul narrowed his eyes at Tom’s words.
“Great?… are you talking about this situation?”
“Now chaos will overtake the continent.”
“It will become known across the continent that the Pope has gone totally crazy. Fearing his madness, kingdoms will form new alliances to stop the Holy Kingdom. Also, any allies the Holy Kingdom has left will be hesitant to help them, unless they want to get dragged into an all out war.”
“The continent is on track to experience an unprecedented war—one that may bring the human race face to face with extinction. And there’s only a single person to blame for this: Pope Salem.” Tom’s smile grew wider. “…He has overcome war and rebellion, but what if the one to land the final blow on such a villain was the Demon Lord? What if the blade that slew the scourge of humanity was In Lily Golt’s hands.”
Karakul’s eyes grew wide.
“The human race shall be saved by demons, the same demons they have pushed toward extinction for centuries. If such a future came to pass, the Demon Lord would be hailed as an unprecedented savior.” Tom curled the corner of his lips while looking at Karakul. “Just like a Hero who vanquishes evil and saves the world.”
— Ω —