Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Zero cast me a glance. “There is an adjudicator here. A sorcerer lived on this island, and now they are gone.” Her voice was low.
Argentum—the Stargazer sorcerer who lived in the forest. A shiver ran down my spine. No way, I thought. It wasn’t denial, but conviction.
Argentum had predicted his own death. He told us that he was destined to die that day, and he wanted me to behead him.
I thought his prediction was off when I didn’t kill him, but now that we knew the priest was here… What if he went to the sorcerer’s house after we left?
“Yes. There are no more sorcerers on this island.” The priest flashed a smile so gentle it was almost revolting, as if he was saying, “I killed the vermin.”
He was saying he killed the defenseless old man, and he firmly believed that he did a good thing.
Gouda swallowed hard. “You killed the great sorcerer?!” He stepped forward in rage.
“Calm down, Captain,” Zero said, putting her hand to his chest. “He is a priest. It is the way of the Church—and the world—for priests to kill sorcerers. Just as the people of this island killed a priest as well.” Gouda wanted to say something more, but she pushed him back.
The priest gave a smile. “The young lady is right,” he said. “And a man of your rank should not refer to a sorcerer as some noble person. I may be locked up in here, but I am still an adjudicator from Dea Ignis.”
“Adjudicator? Ha! Good one! You’ve already witnessed the humans on this island use Magic. You’ve already made your judgement! To you, everyone on this island is already a heretic. Who cares about what I say at this point?”
“You shouldn’t be so quick to judge. I have no intention of executing everyone on this island. People often forget that the job of an adjudicator is not only to kill witches, but also to save their victims.”
“I’m referring to you.” Licking the fruit juice from his fingers, the priest pointed at Gouda with his staff. “It’s obvious that the people of this island have been manipulated by that sorcerer. It is a common tactic of heretics to mislead suffering people with smooth talk. But the root of the evil was defeated by the Church. I’m certain you will all regain your faith soon. Including you.”
Gouda stepped away from the cell, his face pale. “M-Me? I abandoned my faith long ago…”
“The emotions you’re directing at me are the emotions of a believer who committed sins—regret, guilt, repentance, and a desire for salvation. You may pretend to have abandoned your faith in order to survive, but the Goddess has never disappeared from the depths of your heart. It must have been very difficult for you.” His voice took in a note of sympathy.
I didn’t like where the conversation was going, so I grabbed Gouda by the arm and pulled him back. Gouda was currently the princess’s representative. If he were to say something stupid, it would be taken as the will of Nordis. But I was a mercenary and an outsider. Whatever I said could be taken as simple drivel.
“Sure, this guy was a pious believer,” I said. “He can’t even use Magic. I’m surprised you could tell. Nothing less from an adjudicator, I guess.”
“That is my job, after all. Well, most of the information I gathered was from the believers in town. On the outside, they follow the kingdom’s policies, but they all fear and hate Magic. They say that ever since Magic came, they couldn’t choose their own jobs.”
“Oh, you mean the people who have no aptitude for Magic.”
Those who could use Magic were given preferential treatment. I could understand why those who couldn’t would feel unhappy with that. It was more comforting to think that “I can’t use demonic witchcraft because I’m a devout believer, not because I don’t have the gift for it.”
I could easily imagine those people voicing their complaints when they met the priest, even when they themselves benefited from Magic.
“Believers are being oppressed by Magic. It’s unacceptable. Didn’t the sorcerer induce the princess to slay the holy dragon?”
“Can you blame her? The dragon wants to devour everyone on the island. It’s kill or be killed.”
“Then they should surrender the island to the dragon. Call a ship, load up the citizens, and move to the mainland. It’s that simple.”
“No, it’s not! They wouldn’t be in this mess if they could do that! The dragon will sink any ship that comes near the island, so they can’t leave.” Realizing something, I drew closer to the priest. “How the hell did you even get to this island?! You didn’t get attacked by the dragon?”
“Why, by normal means, of course. I came here by a ship.”
“By a ship?!” Gouda and I exclaimed at the same time.
“Impossible!” Gouda exclaimed. “The dragon is smart! It knows that ships carry supplies and people, so it attacks them to exhaust our resources.”
“Yes,” the priest said. “That’s why I came by a ship halfway, then rowed a small boat to shore with a sea chart and compass to guide me.”
That hardly qualifies as normal. Far from it, even.
It wasn’t unusual to take a small boat ashore from a large mother ship, but it was dangerous and odd to sail a long distance in a small boat towards an island you couldn’t see.
“Did you row the boat by yourself?” I asked.
“Yes. Sailors don’t want to get near the island. What of it?”
I thought he was blind. Oh, wait. He just can’t see when it’s bright out. He can see just fine at night, I guess.
Basically the priest rowed a small boat across the sea at night, alone. Definitely not normal. Although there really was no point in talking about normalcy when it came to Dea Ignis.
“You may have been able to come to the island,” Zero said, “but it is currently impossible for the citizens to evacuate. The dragon will sink the ship the moment it gets close.”
“Then we should just transport them little by little in small boats. The mother ship has a few boats for evacuation, so if we can get them to come here, it’s possible.”
“That is not very practical. I doubt there are that many boats. We will have to make several round trips to transport all the citizens. There is also no guarantee that the dragon will stay quiet while they are being transported, and if it were to notice the evacuation while the people were out at sea, they will be annihilated.”
“True. It sounds like a real challenge,” the priest grunted as he chewed on some bread.
I might not be in a position to say this, but he was awfully calm even when we were talking about people’s lives.
“It is now or never, priest,” Zero continued. “The princess’s Magic has weakened the dragon. If we give it time to recover, the dragon will be more eager than ever to exterminate humans. Or it may leave the island, fly to another place and kill people there.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “It could also fly away from here, huh?”
That’s bad news. The people of this island sort of deserved the dragon’s wrath, but not others. A dragon flying portends disasters. It wasn’t just mere superstition. People of the past actually meant it literally.
Stay away from dragons. Don’t ever wake one up.
The priest showed some signs of distress, but he did not give in. “I cannot allow you to slay the dragon. The wrath of the dragon is the wrath of God. If you can’t escape it, a believer should resign to their fate and accept death.”
I scoffed. “That’s the Church for you, all right. Bunch of deranged lunatics.”
“You think your words bother me? You’re a Beastfallen. Your existence alone is deranged.”
If my words don’t bother you, then don’t say anything back. The priest and I glared at each other, and Zero let out an exasperated sigh. Why do you look like a mother sick of her kids fighting?
“I understand the Church’s sentiments,” she said. “But I do not plan to die here. And the thought of everyone on the island dying makes me feel a little vexed.”
“I feel the same,” the priest said.
“Then let us find a compromise. All we have to do is not kill the dragon, yes?”
“But if we don’t kill it,” I cut in, “we can’t leave—”
Zero pressed her forefinger to my nose. “Do not interrupt.”
It was humiliating, and it hurt a little.
“I understand the situation very well. You do not need to tell me. The priest has a ship off the coast. We simply need to buy enough time for the ship to come to the island, pick up the citizens and leave. Ships fear this island. We cannot wait for help that might not arrive.”
“Buy time?” I asked. “You mean keeping the dragon busy while the citizens evacuate?!”
“It is not that absurd, is it? Rather than killing it, it would probably be much easier to lock the dragon up somewhere and force it to sleep.”
Gouda couldn’t keep his mouth shut any longer. “Stop making plans without consulting us! You talk about leaving the island like it’s nothing, but where are we supposed to go?! We’ve lived here for centuries. We can’t just abandon everything we’ve built!”
“So you wish to perish here?”
Gouda became silent.
“If we kill the dragon and the Church finds out, every single person on the island will be mercilessly burned at the stake. If we kill the priest to silence him, the Church will think it strange that the adjudicator they sent had not returned. They will then dispatch the Knights Templar. Am I right, priest?”
“Yes, you are. Normally, imprisoning me would be treason against the Church, but if you change your heart and decide to walk the path of God once more, then I will overlook this transgression. Unlike other adjudicators, I am not a person who is satisfied with simply killing as many witches as possible.”
Do nothing and get killed by the dragon, kill the dragon and get killed by the Church, or escape the island. We could kill the priest, but then the Church would realize something was wrong if no report came, prompting them to send the Knights Templar.
The only way to survive was to flee.
“You can make the choice, Captain. Or should I call you king of Altaria? You decided on a ceasefire, fully prepared to be executed, to keep casualties at a minimum.”
“I can’t. I can’t make a decision on my own. I have to ask the princess.”
“Then you may ask her. Either you take your people with you and perish, or you abandon this island and seek a new life in a new land. Which one is the best option?”
The options were laid out before him, but he might as well have no other options.
“Shit! We need the princess to convince the people to evacuate Nordis. Slay the dragon, or keep it busy—either way, I have a duty to fight alongside the Magic Corps.”
It’s decided, then. Zero and I nodded at each other.
Zero turned to the priest. He had already emptied the contents of the basket. “You heard him,” she said. “Some are no longer able to fight because of your attack. You will cover for them, yes?
“Of course,” the priest replied. “Protecting believers is also a duty of Dea Ignis.”