Book 5, Chapter 10

Devotion

Neian had to pay for instigating a holy war or even his closest allies would not denounce Richard’s wrath. Even a greater deity would fall if all of their followers were killed. He had even sent down an oracle to those of his church, mentioning the bottom line at which he would be willing to compromise. The sheer amount he was willing to cede had shocked all his worshippers.

The priest eventually nodded at Richard’s request. Although it was an enormous price to pay, it was still within their allocated limits. He even grew a little happy; if he managed to settle on the truce without any more deaths, he would likely be rewarded by his god.

However, Richard suddenly grinned, “I know the God of Valour should have sent an oracle mentioning the limit at which he would stop the fighting. Can you tell me what those terms are?”

The priest’s face quickly beaded with sweat. Settling for an armistice right at the bottom line would give him no reward. After all, he had still lost a page from the Book of Holding. And if Neian realised he had leaked the oracle, even the best end would be death by penal servitude.

Richard saw through the priest’s worries and smiled gently, “Don’t worry, the terms we’ve agreed on will not change. I just want to know the oracle’s contents to verify some conjectures of mine. If you’re unwilling to speak…”

“I’ll tell you about it!” the priest immediately gave in. Neian’s limit had included the Sequoia Kingdom and some of the dukedoms nearby that had aided in the war effort.

Richard nodded and asked curiously, “How did a coward like you even get to your position? Aren’t you just one step away from becoming a cardinal?”

“My devotion to the Lord is not to be doubted!” the head priest’s face shone with piety, but that soon devolved into a charming smile, “However, if my personal interests do not clash with His desires, he allows some selfishness.”

Richard’s jaw had almost dropped at the abruptness of the transformation. It took much effort for him to regain his mind and ask, “What is your name?”

“Busquets, Lord Richard. You can just call me Bu.”

Richard nodded. “Alright then, Bu. I… see some rare potential in you, surprising potential. We might be able to work more closely in the future. How about this: I’ll help you join the ranks of cardinals, and in exchange you inform me about every important oracle Neian sends down. What do you think?”

“Wh-What? No, that’s betrayal! I cannot do it!” The priest panicked, but Richard noticed a brief look of excitement behind the fear.

“I believe you can, you just need some… little tricks. You already have the means to do this, you just don’t know yet. Here, I’ll show you something.” Richard tore off a blank piece of paper from a nearby tome and started to scribble on it, filling it up before passing it to the priest.

As Busquets started reading through it, he was immediately shocked and all of his doubts were swallowed back down his throat.

The page was titled ‘How to Make Yourself Seem More Devout,’ and below it were a few procedures as well as a strange spell. This spell allowed the caster to fool their own mind into becoming the person they wanted to be, something that could be maintained for about half an hour. If one believed themselves to be devout, they would become the most pious of worshippers. Even if a god’s will swept through the mind, it would be difficult to notice that it was all a trick.

Half an hour was definitely enough for most ceremonies.

The priest’s brows furrowed as he pored over the spell. It required a chant he could not understand, and the power it mobilised was different from the divine grace of one’s god. It was his first time seeing a divine spell that didn’t require the power of faith, but as he muttered the chant under his breath he could feel the compulsion on the verge of taking over his mind.

“So you don’t have to be worried about being discovered. If you believe you are devout, then that is what you are; it has nothing to do with your actions.” That last sentence was something Richard had quoted directly from Theodore.

Theodore was a mage through and through. The only reason he had turned into a divine spellcaster was to study the mysteries of divine power and faith. Just like Raymond, he had been a Mage of Soremburg; someone who sought the truth of the world.

Busquets looked over the piece of paper once more, this time completing the incantation. A short flicker of light was the only indication of the spell’s presence, and the priest’s eyes immediately filled up with fanatic zeal. He stared at Richard and opened his mouth to scream in rage, but Richard promptly tossed a dispel in his direction and removed the effect.

“That…” Busquets looked over himself repeatedly, “That was unbelievable!”

“Easy, isn’t it?” Richard grinned, pointing the priest back towards the paper, “Burn it after you learn everything, and forget it ever existed.”

Busquets promptly looked through it thrice, memorising every single word. A bright gold flame then started to blaze in his palm, but Richard shook his head and nimbly snatch the piece of paper away, “Nope, magic or natural fire, please. Don’t want Neian discovering us.”

As the paper was burnt to ash, the priest’s gaze towards Richard started to fill with a reverence rivalling that for his god. Someone who could even fool gods could not be defied. His mind wandered to an old legend from the Age of Gods, something that held a hint of truth regarding the deity backing Richard. However, he immediately shivered and dispelled that thought.

“Okay. Now that that’s taken care of, let’s get you some favour from your god.” Richard unfolded the map where Busquets had just marked the Valley of Darkness, looking at the distribution of Neian’s worship in the Sequoia Kingdom. He nonchalantly marked out a piece of land in the northeast with three churches and two shrines, “You can keep this bit, that should be enough to get you to cardinal.”

Busquets’ eyes went wide, but with fear instead of joy, “This much would push even a normal priest to the rank of cardinal. Why did you choose me?”

Richard smiled, “Because you’re careful enough to ask such questions. Now, do continue that caution. This spell isn’t invincible; if Neian grows suspicious and focuses on you for any length of time, your disguise will fail. Don’t think too highly of yourself either, ignoring our agreement will… not end well.”

“Of course, of course!” Busquets understood the threat. Going against Richard would likely send a letter about his heresy directly to the pope.

“Oh, right. You can keep this too!” Richard tossed the record book over as he left. He had already memorised all of its contents.

……

Early morning the next day, a group of clergymen headed out for the central Church of Valour. Busquets insisted on walking, mentioning that this would be the only way to lighten the sin of losing a church. However, the rest of the priests and clerics weren’t as heavy-hearted as their leader; some were even joking around. They knew the terms of the treaty had been rather generous, so generous in fact that the Lord would likely reward them upon their return.

In the meanwhile, Richard announced that he would be staying in Sequoia City for three days. During this time, he would clear out the Church of Valour and turn it into a combined shrine to the three goddesses. The news immediately delighted all three; a long list of glorious adjectives were added to his divine title, and an oracle was passed down commanding all members of the church to assist in the construction. It also commanded the churches to give him whatever he desired.

Whatever he desired… Those with clout in the churches knew exactly what that meant. Faylen herself led a group of beautiful clerics and priests in a rush to Sequoia City, trying to entice Richard with an entire crowd.

However, Richard was busy putting out the fires that had been created by his charge to the capital. Seven armed rebellions were quelled one after the other, killing hundreds of soldiers and taking many times more captive. Of course, most of these weren’t true rebellions at all; Richard had just forced some eyesores into a corner and given himself a reason to attack.

Even the biggest rebellion had 4,000 soldiers fighting against Richard’s 1,500 elites. There was no one who expected Richard to lose, but it still surprised all onlookers when his rune knights drilled through the enemy soldiers in only three minutes. The entire battle had only lasted ten.

As such, the royal family that had been weakened by Raymond’s invasion were now utterly void of military power. 

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Ying

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA