“I believe it’s only natural for a priest to be concerned about the safety of the people,” Secrecy said.
Corruption scoffed. “How very kind of you to treat peasants as people. Normally, the Knights Templar would have been enough to deal with a witch incident in some farming village in the sticks, but now’s not a good time.”
For a moment Secrecy wondered what she meant, but immediately understood the situation.
“The Inspectors are here,” he said. “No wonder the area around the cathedral is so bustling.”
“They arrived ten days ago.”
The Inspectors are a group of seven priests dispatched from the seven cathedrals that exist throughout the continent. In order to learn about the situation in other countries and to inform them of the situation in their own dioceses, the priests spend several years traveling around the seven cathedrals.
“A witch trouble would be a dishonor to the Lutra Cathedral,” Corruption said. “But on the other hand, if the problem was solved quickly, it would be a point of pride for the Bishop.”
“What about the Knights Templar?”
“They’re a useless bunch. That’s why I’m here.” She gave her best smile, but her tone held pure malice.
She just clearly insulted the Knights Templar, but Corruption had no loyalty to the Church in the first place. She was tacitly allowed to behave freely because of her track record and the fact that she was originally a powerful aristocrat.
It was said that the reason why she was not executed but selected as an adjudicator was because of various backroom deals. And because of the success of those deals, Corruption lost more and more respect and loyalty to the Church.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really into it,” she said. “I was just going to do my job, but then as I was doing some digging, I heard some interesting rumors that suddenly fired me up.”
“They say that the leader of the Coven of Zero is a silver-haired woman with beauty that is out of this world. Wouldn’t it be exciting if that was true?! I would love to add her to my collection! I already received permission from the Bishop.” Her eyes lit up with enthusiasm.
Secrecy let out a sigh of disgust. “Is that all the information you have?” he asked. “You’re not going to kill all silver-haired women to kill a witch, are you?”
“One more thing.” She held up her slender index finger and lowered her voice. “Her name is apparently Zero.”
Secrecy wondered if he managed to hide the expression on his face. Did she realize that he knew the woman personally?
“So the leader of the Coven of Zero is named Zero. That’s hardly surprising.” Secrecy made his voice sound indifferent.
“Great minds think alike. It’s exactly as you said. It’s too simple it’s almost funny, but that’s what the members of the coven told the villagers. The Knights Templar, in an effort to hunt down this Zero, sent all silver-haired women to the city hall’s dungeon.”
“Most of them are probably innocent.”
“They were desperate to solve the problem before the Inspectors arrived. But they ran out of time. What a shame.” Corruption waved her hand dramatically. “People are calling for the execution of Dea Ignis, but if the Knights Templar are this incompetent, we can’t afford to go away just yet.”
“So, did you get any results?”
“Do you think an adjudicator who came up empty can just show up at a cathedral where the Inspectors are gathered? As soon as I was summoned by the Bishop, I headed to the village immediately. Then I interrogated the villagers using the one method that would really make them talk. What do you think happened afterwards?”
“I don’t care. Just tell me what you got.”
“Now, now. Don’t be too hasty.” Her tone was casual, as if talking to a friend. “Just shut up and listen.”
But Secrecy did not enjoy the conversation one bit. Corruption knew this as well, but she always brought up trivial matters whenever they met, which only annoyed Secrecy.
The quickest way to get rid of Corruption was to go along with her until she was satisfied. Although, Secrecy wanted as much information as possible in this case too. He decided he would make an effort to humor her.
“The villagers just cried, saying they don’t know anything. So yeah, they didn’t give me any info. While they were alive, that is.” Corruption dropped her voice to a whisper. “Their corpses talked, you see. They gave me all the information they had about the witches’ lair.”
“Oh, sorry,” Secrecy said. “Is this is a joke? Am I supposed to laugh now?”
Corruption cackled. “I had the exact same reaction. I thought I’d finally lost my mind. But the fact was, the bodies lying in the red fields at dusk whispered to me. They said they’d been waiting for me. That now was the time to kill the witches.”
“If you’re going to mess with me, at least come up with a better—”
“They also said there’s a copy of the Grimoire of Zero in the lair.”
Corruption shoved Secrecy’s eyepatch back to him. “When I reported that I had found the location of the lair, the Bishop and the Inspectors were very pleased. They even gave me permission to use a new toy to kill the witches.”
“A new toy?”
“The engineers called it the Woodpecker. They want data from actual combat before distributing it to the Knights Templars. Oh, look at the time. That’s enough talk. I’m gonna get rolling. Come visit me in my garden sometime. I’ll show you some of my wonderful collection. You have my special permission.”
Just as she first appeared, Corruption left with her footsteps echoing in the corridor. When her footsteps could no longer be heard, the young boy, who had been silently listening to their conversation, spoke.
“What exactly is Corruption’s collection?”
Secrecy wrapped his eyepatch back tightly and sighed. “Corpses,” he said.
“She has a hobby of collecting the corpses of young women in graves. No, wait. That’s not quite right. She said it’s only meaningful if they’re buried alive.”
Hence the name Corruption. She didn’t bury corpses to honor the departed. She created corpses to bury them.
Secrecy once laid eyes on her gravesite.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Corruption said, smiling. “It’s the most beautiful gravesite in the world, where only the beautiful are buried. Flowers bloom in every season, birds sing, light pours from above. It’s like paradise.”
“When I die, I’ll become a part of this place. Feeling jealous, Secrecy?”
A bad feeling filled his gut. Zero only arrived in Lutra a few hours ago. She would not have been seen here. So who was this Zero that the Church was looking for?
The matter about the dead talking also bothered him. The horrific incident in Akdios where corpses started moving around was still fresh in his mind. Does this case have something to do with that? he wondered.
“I changed my mind,” he said. “I would like to see the Bishop.”