Interlude: Gravekeeper of Paradise
Church bells tolled solemnly. Startled by the sound, birds flew off into the intense sunlight.
A pure-white bell tower—almost like a symbol of the city port of Lutra—rose high into the sky. It sat on the cathedral located in the middle of the city square.
The cathedral, guardian of the white city, was also white, its outer walls made of delicately carved marble. Numerous spires protruded from the building that looked like a collection of square pillars. Even the birds circling between the spires were white, making for a magical sight.
Unfortunately, the man visiting the cathedral could not see it. He was a blind priest with a leather eye patch covering both his eyes. An adjudicator from Dea Ignis, he bore the sin of Secrecy. Even if he could see, he would not be allowed to enter the cathedral from the front.
Trained to fight witches, adjudicators are more like sacrificial pawns, barely holding any status within the Church. To be more precise, they were not even recognized as churchmen. They were low-born people picked up from death row. With a few exceptions, their bodies were stained with human blood. Yet they were given a great deal of power, making their existence rather irregular.
Instead of entering the cathedral through the front, Secrecy went around to the back door that workers used, and knocked on the door. Shortly after a young apprentice appeared, and after telling him that he was an adjudicator, the priest was immediately ushered inside.
The huge stone walls blocked out the heat of the sun, making it cool and refreshing inside the cathedral.
“Could you get me a piece of paper and a pen?” the priest asked. “I’m leaving as soon as I finish writing my letter.”
The boy cocked his head curiously. “You’re not going to see the Bishop?”
“Dea Ignis must not stay in a cathedral any longer than necessary.”
Perhaps it was because adjudicators were rare, but the priest felt somewhat uncomfortable being spoken to by a Church staff—though only an apprentice—in such a carefree manner.
“Actually, there’s another adjudicator here right now,” the boy said. “Witches have been wrecking havoc recently. Have you heard of the Coven of Zero? They started a rebellion in the kingdom of Wenias.”
“I’ve heard the rumors.”
“Those guys finally made it here. They use never-before-seen Sorcery. Magic, was it? Apparently they took advantage of villagers suffering from an epidemic and corrupted them.”
“Rather than gathering rumors about witches, you should learn God’s teachings for now,” Secrecy discouraged gently. “It is our job as adjudicators to watch evil. Young people with bright futures should move forward while looking only at the beautiful things. I believe that’s what the Bishop would say.”
There was little amusement for young boys performing their daily tasks in the Church to become full-fledged clergymen. It was understandable that he would be fascinated by such notable incidents.
Bishops are the acting leaders of a particular region, residing in a cathedral and overseeing the priests working in the frontlines. Children learn the teachings of the Church while working for bishops, and are then sent to various churches as priests.
“But witches are enemies of the Church,” the boy boldly objected. “We need to know about our enemies to fight them.”
“You wish to learn about witches without knowing God? That is fine, if your mission is to kill witches. But fighting bloody battles is not the job of a cleric.”
“But Knight Templars fight.”
“They are not clerics. They are merely a secular organization serving the Church. The only people in the Church tasked to fight witches are members of Dea Ignis. Do you want to be an adjudicator?”
“I…” The boy hesitated. He wouldn’t say yes. Impossible.
Only those who had commited crimes worthy of death become members of Dea Ignis. Even a young apprentice knew what kind of a group Dea Ignis was.
“I’m sorry,” the boy apologized. “I wasn’t thinking straight.”
The priest raised his hand to pat the boy’s head, but ultimately refrained from doing so. He couldn’t touch a pure youth with his blood-stained hands.
Then, a set of footsteps issued from the long corridor.
“Well, well, well… I thought I heard a familiar voice. If it isn’t Secrecy! I never thought I’d see you in a proper priest’s uniform!”
The boy looked at Secrecy. “So you know each other.”
“Aw, don’t be so cold. Surely you haven’t forgotten about me? Oh, you can’t see through your eye patch, huh? Let me remove it for you.”
Before the priest could say anything, an arm reached out and ripped off his eyepatch. He averted his eyes from the candlestand lighting up the dim hallway. Corruption laughed.
The priest found the laughter grating. The voice belonged to a woman, yet she spoke like a man, which made him uncomfortable.
Squinting at the brightness, Secrecy held up a hand to block the light, and somehow managed to look at the face of the plainly-dressed woman. Her hair, however, was shorter than Secrecy’s, and the tips did not reach the nape of her neck. Her forelocks were extremely short as well.
In addition, she was wearing a male priest’s uniform, so those who did not know Corruption would not guess her to be a woman.
“Can I have my patch back, Corruption?”
“Why are you so cold, Secrecy? I love that beautiful face of yours. I wish I could gaze into your eyes just once.”
Smiling, Corruption peered into Secrecy’s face, but he closed his eyes tight, refusing to show even the color of his eyes.
“You’re so stubborn,” Corruption said, as if admonishing a selfish child. “I think it would be beneficial for you later if you buttered up to me. No matter how weak you are, no matter how incompetent you are, no matter how suitable you are to sit on the side of the road dressed as a beggar, your beauty alone makes you valuable to me. It’s a compliment. I love beautiful women more than anything, but you’re beautiful enough that I’d be willing to add you to my collection.”
“It is not advisable for adjudicators to become intimate with each other, and I would rather burn myself than become a part of your collection.”
“Wow, you really hate me. Are you jealous of my skills?”
“I find your arrogance repulsive.”
Her picking on him every time they met also made him weary. Despite the blatant rejection, Corruption became more and more persistent, as if she was enjoying it.
“Harsh as always. Well, whatever.” Corruption dismissed the matter. “Anyway, I heard that you went to Akdios to judge a saint, but while you were taking your sweet time, the saint performed a miracle. First you mistake a saint for a witch and killed them, next you can’t even do your job properly. You’re such a disgrace to Dea Ignis.”
“Dea Ignis itself is a disgrace to the Church,” Secrecy replied. “So why are you here?”
“There’s only one reason for an adjudicator to be in a cathedral. I’m here to kill witches.”
“I heard the Coven of Zero showed up.”
Secrecy clearly tried to change the subject, but Corruption’s eyes lit up as if she was waiting for this topic.
“As always, you’re quick on the uptake. That’s right. There’s a boring village about a day’s ride from here. New kind of Sorcery—that is, Magic—was used there.”
“The villagers were attacked?”
“Pardon? That’s an odd question. Who cares?”
Secrecy quickly caught himself. She was absolutely right. What mattered was Magic was used in the village. What happened as a result was not important.
Performing Sorcery or Magic was a sin in and of itself. Then why did the question “what did the Magic do?” came so naturally to him?