The Church’s Intentions
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
The Evil Eye’s video feed showed the stalker entering a chamber that contained a self-important looking man dressed in an extravagant but priestly robe. He clearly looked like someone high up the organization’s chain of command.
“Well? Let’s hear it.” After setting down the documents he’d been glancing at, he raised his eyes towards his subordinate and urged him to report his findings.
“Right away sir,” said the observer. “It was immediately made clear to me that the two are fond of one another. They are clearly in a relationship.”
“Tell me about the man, the Masked Meister, as the soldiers call him. I know that he assisted the king in keeping his crown during the prince’s rebellion, but I’ve heard little else of him. Who exactly is he?”
“I haven’t uncovered anything new just yet, sir, but we’ve records of several key pieces of information. We examined him with a Crystal of Appraisal once before, when he visited our underground facility. I believe that we’re the only ones privy to the information the crystal divulged.”
“Oh? That’s wonderful news,” the priest, or whatever he was, smiled. It was a sickening expression, like one of a snake ready to ensnare its next meal. “I suppose that adds to the list of tools we have at our disposal. So? What exactly did the crystal tell us?”
“His name is Wye, sir. He is human and of the Thief class.” The spy responded immediately. The information came not from a prior report, but memory. “These three key facts are all we have, but that isn’t a problem, sir. They’re all we need to trace him—if that is your desire.”
“How strange… Wye isn’t a name I recognize. I would have expected him to be someone more famous given the extent of his prowess.” The priestly man frowned. “In that case, have his origins investigated, but keep it as a lower priority task.” He paused for a moment to raise a hand to his chin. “Do you think that it might be possible to convince him to side with us?”
“It would be incredibly difficult, sir. The report Carlotta, who briefly worked with him, submitted about his person stated that he lived far away from the reaches of society, and thus, is unlikely to express interest in money or authority. We are fairly certain that he only worked with us during the crisis because he wished to stand by the hero’s side. It is safe to assume that he is willing to act against us should we displease him.”
“That is… unfortunate,” said the priest with a click of the tongue. “It looks like we will have to put our plan into action after all. Fortunately, the conditions are perfect given that the hero’s strength has been called into question by a great many people.”
“If I may, sir, I am under the impression that the accusations of her weakness are unjustified,” said the observer. “She has more than enough power to be worthy of her position.”
“She does,” admitted the clergyman, “but she remains in her predecessor’s shadow. He was so powerful that he brought new meaning to the term ‘hero.’ He equated it with promised victory for all forty of the years he served. Even in his old age, he continued to do away with the concept of defeat. The standard he set is one that she cannot reach.”
“I was under the impression that Sir Remiero had indeed failed, and on several occasions, in fact.”
“He did, but none of his failures were ever brought to public attention. By contrast, the incompetencies of the court have clued the public into not one, but two of hers. That is the difference between them,” said the priest. “Are you asking as many questions as you are because you’re hesitant about proceeding with the plan?”
The intelligence agent was given a harsh glare. Still, he expressed his opinion, albeit nervously.
“N-not exactly, sir. It’s just that… with all due respect, Nell is someone that we, the paladins, regardless of order, find dear to our hearts. We watched her grow into the person she is now, sir. We watched over her as she continued to push forward and allot effort far beyond our expectations, despite the harshness of her training. She is like a sister to us, one that we raised ourselves in the lack of a parent’s presence. I am not alone in thinking that I would, if possible, like you to allow her to be happy. We would prefer she wed the man she chose over coercing her into an undesired relationship with His Excellency for the sake of political gain.”
“Don’t be so naive.” The priest shot down the heartfelt profession without hesitation. “This political marriage is far more important than you may think. Marrying her to His Excellency is for both the church’s sake and this country’s. I am sure she would be glad to offer herself up for such a wonderful, patriotic cause.”
As he knew his place, the agent, the holy knight, opted to remain silent. An unconvinced frown was the only thing he offered to express his opinion.
“Hmph…” The clergyman snorted. “It does not matter what you think of my decision. Do your duty, paladin. Continue observing them and report to me immediately if you find anything worthy of note.”
“Master. Calm down.”
Enne’s reminder came just a little too late. I’d already accidentally squeezed the brick fence I’d been leaning against hard enough to make it crumble.
“My bad…” I said, after a few deep breaths. “Sorry you had to see that. I’m okay now.”
The information that I was given both angered me and informed me that the person the pair referred to as “His Excellency” was likely the mastermind I was after. The clergyman’s decision was one that made plenty of sense. Playing a key role in the king’s liberation and therefore the country’s salvation had rendered the church a key figure in the Allysian world of politics. Seizing control of government affairs only benefited them, which naturally led to their higher-ups to seek methods to strengthen their position in the court. Forcing Nell into a political marriage was a natural vector to explore given its ease of execution.
Convincing “His Excellency” was undoubtedly a simple feat to accomplish, given that strengthening ties between the two parties was mutually beneficial. The church’s accomplice would likewise be furthering his own influence, especially in the areas in which the religious organization held major influence. Given Nell’s current position, it was certainly possible for things to go as per the priest’s plan.
I didn’t know exactly how far the poisonous influence he was afflicted with had spread, but there was a possibility that the entire sect was now effectively hostile. I was filled with such rage that I wanted to throw reason out the window and blow the entire thing up without any further warning. But I knew better than to let myself see nothing but red.
As evidenced by our stalker, not every church-affiliated person was a bad egg. Some thought well of Nell and had her best interests at heart; they had personal connections with her, connections that I was sure she valued. I couldn’t just crush them underfoot without careful consideration. I needed to separate the guilty from the innocent as opposed to indiscriminately slaughtering every single one of the priest’s associates.
“Mark my words, asshole. I’m going to fucking destroy you.” I knew that the man responsible for my seething anger wouldn’t hear me. But I spoke the curse nonetheless. Because it was an oath.
I knew what he looked like. And I knew where I could find him.
There was no escape. Everyone that thought of Nell as a tool to further their own interests was going to suffer. Paladin guy gets a pass though, even if shit does go down. I wasn’t really much of a fan of all the stalking, but the guy tried his best for her. It’s not his fault his boss is a dick.
“What’s a political marriage?” asked Enne, who had joined me in observing paladin bro.
“Hmmm…” I took a moment to come up with an explanation that would make sense given the limited scope of her knowledge. “You know how I chose to get married to Lefi, Nell, and Lyuu because I love them, right?”
“That’s how normal marriages are supposed to happen. But political marriages aren’t like that. They’re about forcing people into loveless relationships for the sake of accruing authority.”
“That’s what he’s trying to make Nell do?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Then he’s one of the bad guys.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “But I’m not going to let him have his way.” Anger slowly began seeping into my voice as I spoke. “Anyone that tries to use Nell like that is going to feel my wrath.”
“Mine too. I’ll cut down anyone that tries to do bad things to Nell.”
“Thanks, Enne. I’ll be counting on you when the time comes.”
“I want to marry you too, Master. Can I, once we solve all this?”
The proposal came from so far out of left field that I did a spit take.
“H-how about we hold off on that until you grow up?” I said, defaulting to my usual response. “You, Illuna, and all the others are still too young for that.”
As she was technically an inanimate object, I wasn’t actually sure whether Enne was going to grow up the same way the other girls were. And I’m not going to think about it either. That’s a mystery for another time.
“…Mmk.” After a moment’s delay, she nodded her head in agreement.
Thank the heavens. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wonder how much longer this dumb excuse is going to hold up? And is it just me, or are they already starting to back me into a corner…?