Book 4, Chapter 80

Crusade

“You should be aware that Richard Archeron has a connection to the three dukes of the Sequoia Kingdom,” the pope pointed out, “And with the power he’s shown, it’s quite possible that he has a legendary being or even demigod backing him.”

Having started on this, the cardinal could not back off. “His being an invader from another plane would explain everything.”

The pope opened his eyes, lightly thumbing through the report on the table. After thinking it over for a while, he asked calmly, “The same report will have been sent to the popes of Cerces, Runai, and Lutheris, yes?”

The cardinal dropped to one knee with a thud, “Ah! I… I really didn’t know. This report was… It really was…”

The pope flapped his hands downwards, silencing the cardinal immediately, “Remember, we are servants of the Lord. In front of His glory, we must take responsibility for every word we utter. If you haven’t yet thought it through, go back now and look for me once more when you have come to a decision. Go, take this report with you.”

The cardinal retrieved the report, practically weeping with gratitude as he retreated from the office. Only once he was out did he dare to turn around and leave.

The pope leant back into his high chair, closing his eyes and rubbing at the temples. A graceful youth appeared within his office like a ghost, exquisite hands beginning to massage the pope’s back as he asked quietly, “Your Holiness, the cardinal actually dared to lie to you. Why did you not punish him?”

The pope sighed, “There were no lies. Although someone instigated him to make that report, it is likely that Richard truly is an invader from another plane.”

“Ah!” the youth exclaimed, “Then we should immediately mobilise the battle priests and paladins and kill him!”

“Think it over once more. What kind of person is Richard? Even if he truly is an invader, where is the proof of that? In fact, it is the other option that is—” The pope paused mid-sentence, struggling for a long time before he spoke three more words in a near-whisper, “A new god.”

The youth gaped but could not say a word.

He obviously knew of Richard’s achievements in war. The new Viscount had swept through the Bloodstained Lands in only two years, defeating Prince Salwyn of the Iron Triangle Empire twice in quick succession. He had then decimated the Sequoia Kingdom’s Mage Association in one campaign, forcing them to yield their monopoly over enchanted equipment for the first time in their existence. He had then gone quiet for a while before appearing once more, and this time there was no way to adequately describe his prowess. A few thousand armoured knights had raided the boundaries of the Iron Triangle Empire, sweeping through it like a tornado as if it was unoccupied land.

It was a pipe dream to take someone like that down with only a few battle priests and paladins.

Besides, just as famous as his military successes were his mage legion and clergy. Most of his clerics came from the three goddesses, but who was unaware of the true might they held? Nobody dared to think of Richard being an invader because of a term that was a hundred times more dangerous— divine war.

Divine wars were the realm of the gods, a taboo for mortals to even mention. There was no forgiveness of this blasphemy, even if the reason these words were uttered was to maintain one’s faith.

“Then should we just let him be?” the youth asked, unwilling to back down.

“Until we receive a new oracle, that is all we can do,” the pope said with exhaustion.

The youth went quiet once more. He knew that no oracles had been sent down from the God of Valour in a long time. Even the pope himself could not contact him, and the church’s might was slowly waning as time passed. Everyone was anxious right now, and provoking a dangerous enemy like Richard at this time was not wise.

However, the pope’s entire body suddenly trembled and he stood straight up. The youth was startled as the pope pulled at a rope by his table, sounding the bells of summoning. “Quick, my robes! Quick! The Lord is about to send an oracle!”

The youth had been frightened at first, but the mention of the oracle turned his look into one of ecstasy. He almost flew out of the room to retrieve the papal robes.

The bells resounded through the Church of Valour. The pope was dressed in his sacred attire, wearing splendid robes and mitre with a golden staff in hand as he knelt before the statue of Neian. Behind the pope were rows of cardinals, many somewhat messy in dress as they fiddled with their clothes and hats even as they knelt.

The pope began chanting hymns in praise of Neian while the cardinals echoed from behind, impassioned prayers resounding through the lofty hall. The choir of young boys and girls behind the pillars on either side had already straightened their necks, faces flushed as they sang at the top of their voices.

The Church slowly began to radiate light as a tremendous will descended upon the building to the tune of cheers. Some of the cardinals grew so emotional they nearly fainted. The gods were everything to those of faith, and this was only enhanced within the clergy.

The pope lay completely on the ground, carefully listening to Neian’s words.

“A powerful invader will appear within the lands of the Baruch Kingdom in one month. This invader must be exterminated at all costs!”

This oracle left the pope stunned. Very few invaders in history had been called powerful by the God of Valour. A description of greater danger had only been used once, and that had been when the astral beasts had invaded.

These words were not comforting, nor was the fact that Neian’s will was unbelievably fuzzy to the point that even he had some trouble catching it. Not more than five cardinals would be able to hear this oracle. In the past, the words of the Lord would resound clearly in the minds of all the cardinals. Normally, the oracle would be spread far and wide so the cardinals and pope would not use it to scheme. It would also be a test of faith; most cardinals who could not hear the oracles would quickly be retired and replaced by new believers.

Now, Neian’s voice was very weak. The Pope was certain that something had to have happened to him, leaving him in a frail state. Many other gods were reported to be showing the same symptoms, their oracles weak or even non-existent. Could a divine war have occurred in the skies? However, the gods had been united for thousands of years. Even if there was a war between them, the representative of Neian in the mortal world would have been informed.

Wars between gods were balanced between battles in their divine kingdoms and in the mortal realm. Striking at the source of an opposing god’s faith would weaken them greatly, and was just as important as attacking their true body. The churches never took it upon themselves to grow hostile with each other. Belligerence without explicit commands was considered blasphemy.

The pope took a long time to get up even after the oracle ended. His movements were slow and aged, causing him to miss out on a lot of things like the panic of most of the cardinals. By the time he turned around, they had already regained their stately demeanour and made it impossible to tell who had received the oracle and who hadn’t.

Of course, they didn’t think such actions would hide the facts from the pope himself, but they were trying to retain their dignity in front of their peers and subordinates.

The few cardinals who really had received the oracle were not excited, instead fallen into deep thought. If the god one worshipped faced problems, going silent or falling from their divine position, the higher-levelled priests were consigned to their end. Those who had received the oracle could sense the frailty of their god.

“Cardinals, follow me. There needs to be an emergency meeting.” The pope headed to the back hall, all twelve cardinals following behind. Half of them were calm and serious, having received the oracle. The other half were slightly uncomfortable.

The meeting hall was in classical style, regal and stately. There was just enough space here for the pope and the twelve cardinals to sit, but the ceiling was nearly twelve metres high. The dim light from the magical lamps could not completely light the room, even the murals of Neian’s past glories on the domed ceiling indiscernible.

The pope’s gaze landed on the bible that had been used for countless generations as he said slowly, “Some of you have heard the oracle today, while some have not.”

A portion of the cardinals appeared flustered. The pope rarely brought up such matters and normally discussed things in private, making arrangements that would let them retain their dignity.

“However, whether you heard it does not matter. The question is how we act upon it.” The pope then repeated the oracle, causing all the cardinals to sink into deep thought.

They would normally call upon all the elite paladins and battle priests, dispatching an enormous legion that gathered the personal armies of local nobles to join a battle to the death with the invader. However, in the current situation it was difficult to justify that course of action. With their Lord weakened, those of true faith could not be sacrificed so easily.

“The location of the oracle is the Baruch Kingdom,” an old cardinal about the same age as the pope pointed out.

The Baruch Kingdom! This immediately whirled the minds of everyone present as they recalled all they could about this kingdom in their minds.

The Baruch Kingdom was much more powerful than the Sequoia Kingdom, with a total of seven duchies with expansive lands nearing the power of a true empire. If not for their focus on expanding into the southern seas, they would long since have advanced north and swallowed up all the duchies with their powerful armoured cavalry.

There was one more important thing. The shrine to Wargod Lutheris was headquartered in the Baruch Kingdom as well.

And Lutheris was one of the unaffected gods.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Ying

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA