“Then stay where you are.” Zero entered the circle and breathed a sigh of relief. Casually she sat down between my knees. “This is the most comfortable place to be when it is cool,” she said, satisfied.
The priest glowered at us through his eye patch as he slowly approached the circle. “Is this some sort of an illusion?” he said. “In this heat, it is impossible for the temperature to drop only within a circle. Perhaps once I step into that circle, the sun will burn me to death—”
“Man, just shut up. If you’re curious, come on in.” I grabbed the priest’s clothes and dragged him straight into the circle.
Normally, he would’ve been able to deftly evade my grab, but the fact that I took him by surprise so easily indicated that he was suffering from the heat as well.
“Bastard! How dare you attack an adjudicator—” He froze, then frowned. “It’s very cool.”
Zero smirked. “It is impossible to stay cool in that black attire. Unlike Mercenary, you can disrobe. You can at least remove your top.”
“An unkempt attire is an unkempt mind. Disheveling one’s clothing is unacceptable.” He sat down in the circle and pulled off his hood that he was using to shield himself from the sun. Sticking his arms outside the circle, he muttered, “I can’t believe a barrier can trap even cold air.” He sounded impressed. “But how does it work? Where does the cold air come from?”
“Elementary,” Zero said. “You feel a chill when a ghost is nearby, no?”
Aw, shit. I got a bad feeling about this. I prefer the chill to be on my body, not my spine, thank you very much.
“This Magic spell calls ghosts that are wandering in an area and traps them inside a barrier. There seems to be plenty of souls here, so I can lower the temperature to below freezing.”
“I’m good now,” I said. “We should get going.”
“Yes, there’s no time to waste,” the priest added.
The priest and I stood up at the same time and left the circle. A wave of tremendous heat greeted us, but it was much better than the chill from the dead.
“What? Are you two afraid of ghosts?” Zero asked. “This is a little different from Necromancy. I simply gather the spirits around, not control them.”
Leaving Zero behind, we continued walking down the road.
After a day of walking, night came. We spent the night outside and set out for our destination the next morning. The sun was at its zenith, and we were hoping to reach the village before nightfall, when we came across something strange that stopped us in our tracks.
“A tent? Is that a campsite?”
I peered down the road. Judging by the swords at their waists and the goddess’s emblem on their banner, it must be the Knights Templar.
They weren’t wearing armor under this blazing sun, but they were still boiling in the heat. Only about ten of them were around. They probably split up their troops, each with their own mission.
Their equipment consisted of one carriage and one horse to pull it. Normally, I would have quickly taken a detour, but the priest, wearing a blank look, strolled straight down the road, so we had no choice but to follow him.
“You there! Halt! This is the Knights Templar!”
The priest was donning a cloak to protect himself from the sun, so it was hard to tell at a glance that he was wearing a priest’s uniform. The knight probably thought that he was a blind traveler who didn’t notice the barricade.
When the priest stopped, a young man, who seemed to be the most junior member of the troop, lumbered up to him.
“The area up ahead is currently closed off by the Church. No one is allowed to pass through here!”
“Really? That’s news to me,” the priest said.
“Doesn’t matter. A roadblack means you can’t pass. Turn back now!”
“Whoa, whoa. This blind man has traveled a long way,” I cut in. “Sending them away is kinda cruel, don’t you think? It wouldn’t hurt you to tell us why it’s closed off.”
The knight shot me a glare, then took a step back.
“Don’t worry. This is my servant,” the priest said. “I’ve trained him not to attack anyone.”
Who the fuck are you calling your servant?! I wasn’t stupid enough to say anything in this situation, though.
The knight regained his bravado a little. “I’m not worried,” he said awkwardly.
“If you don’t mind, may I ask why we can’t pass?” the priest said. “I really need to get somewhere.”
“No! If you really want to get past here, you should return to Lutra and ask for a pass from the Church. Not like they’ll give one.”
Something was wrong. According to the map, the village was up ahead. Camping the road that led there seemed too much.
“I see,” the priest muttered. Suddenly he thrust the tip of his staff right before the knight’s eyes. The knight pulled himself back, and the priest cocked his head. “I don’t know if this counts a pass, but could you please verify the crest?”
“A-A crest? I doubt that’ll change anything…” The knight turned pale. Engraved on the priest’s staff was a stake and flames—a crest that symbolized burning at the stake. It only meant one thing.
“You’re an adjudicator from Dea Ignis?!”
“I am, though I may not look like it.”
“What the hell is His Excellency thinking?! The Gravedigger alone is too much for us to handle, and now he sends another one?!” The knight ruffled his hair in annoyance. “Just stop! The villagers have suffered enough already! They’ve received their punishment! What more do you want from them?!”
The three of us exchanged glances. He couldn’t seem to stomach Dea Ignis.
“I’m not going to do anything,” the priest said. “I’m on my way to the village for an investigation. I’ll listen to what the villagers have to say, but I’m not going to condemn them.”
“If my memory serves me right,” Zero said, “the Gravedigger is the adjudicator who was sent to hunt down the Coven of Zero, correct? Did they block this road?”
“Of course, not! We Knights Templar did this on our own. We have received permission from His Excellency the Bishop, of course. However, we are not to get in the adjudicator’s way.”
The priest furrowed his brow. “Why would the Knights Templar block this road themselves?”
“You really don’t know anything? Oh right, Dea Ignis members don’t interfere with each other’s business. Must be great not knowing what your own kind is doing.” The knight gave a tight smile. It looked like he was trying to force a sneer, but his eyes weren’t smiling at all. “There’s no way we let people through. We can’t let others see the hellscape that’s up ahead. A hellscape that someone from the Church created.”
The knight shivered under the sweltering heat, his face pale. He shook his head a few times, as if to get rid of some horrific scene burned in his eyes.
“The Knights Templar have no right to stop an adjudicator. You may pass. Investigate to your heart’s content.” Ice seeped into his voice. “If you have even a shred of humanity left in you, you will conclude that all of Dea Ignis should be executed at once. Makes you wonder who’s really evil around here.”