It did not take long for the atmosphere to take a turn for the worse. Although it is quiet enough to hear a pin drop, Maximillian’s aura has flared into an overwhelming torrent of hostility. His expression is unchanged and yet the look in his eyes is a thousand times more chilling. It feels as if a thin veneer of civility and Lili’s presence are the only thing stopping him from snapping my arm like a twig and taking the core by force. Nonetheless, I continue to face him like an unflinching sentinel.
“Perhaps you misunderstood my intention, Enbos, but that wasn’t a request.”
“Even so, I still have every right to refuse.”
“Because, sir, I am the one who recovered this artefact. Unless you’re willing to give the cultists a claim, it is now by all rights a belonging of the Novuseus house.”
“It is not some historical trinket to be squabbled over, but an unholy item being sought by our enemies. Even if you are entitled to the core, it is well within our power to recover it.”
“But that’s the crux of my claim, Sir Iudico. You are under the mistaken assumption that this gem is the Undead Ravager’s core, when it is not. In truth, this artefact… is actually a relic from the Golden Age.”
“Hmph. Quite a bold claim.”
“But one I can easily prove. Just look. Look at its enchantments. Look at its meticulous design and symbology. These runes are clearly foreign to everything that we use today. How can such perfection be anything but a product of its time?”
“Or so you say, but I can clearly see a rune belonging to Maleosis, the heretical entity, branded on its surface.”
“What? Oh, you mean this insignificant mark that has been boorishly embedded atop its seamless enchantments? It is no different from a stain. No doubt a remnant from the ritual the cultists were in the middle of casting.”
“A ritual that was being performed around a colossal bone hand-”
“Correction: a stone protrusion that resembles a colossal bone hand.”
“… which was found among the ruins of Tiel.”
“Or so the witnesses say, none of whom are historians or archaeologists. Can you truly say that the walls belonged to the lost city?”
“No. Not when the entire site has been reduced to but rubble and mud, as you are obviously aware.”
The tension in the air is not unlike a life-or-death situation, which I find fitting as I won’t hand over this core without a fight. I’m well aware I sound almost flippant with my arguments, but at this point I no longer care about staying on Maximillian’s good side. I risked everything to keep it from Tascus, and I will show the same amount of resolve in this exchange of words.
“Nevertheless, if you’re asking for proof, then its already lingering around your body right now.”
“I’m referring to your curse, Enbos. Lieutenant Gregoria. Brother Moore’s injury report, if you may?”
Reaching into her bag, Agnes presents a one-page report to Maximillian, to which he then flicks to my side of the table. I take the document to read for myself, but as I do, Maximillian begins listing the items with obvious familiarity.
“Impaired bodily functions, loss of motor functions, loss of balance, loss of sense of smell, loss of sense of taste, dulled sense of touch, dulled sense of pain… These are all symptoms of a well-known kind of curse, though it is the first I have seen powerful enough to endanger a Holy Knight. As a matter of fact, it is what led me to believe you had possession of the core. Have you finished reading the diagnosis?”
“Undying’s Grudge. A curse born from the lingering resentment of the undead, particularly those with some semblance of consciousness. For a curse as powerful as this, it can only belong to the Undead Ravager, and as such, it is clearly an artefact of heretical nature.”
Maximillian taps the table with a resounding thud, but I’m barely listening. A shadow crosses my brow as I reread the list of symptoms.
It’s… familiar. But where have I…
“Are you convinced, Enbos?”
“So you say you have proven your point,” I arrogantly reply, flicking the report back to his side, “however, this still doesn’t challenge the fact it is a Golden Age relic.”
“Even if it is, it changes nothing. After all, the relic may have been repurposed by necromancers to make the first Undead Ravager, thus explaining the diminished mark. Nonetheless, it is the duty of the Order to recover any and all items associated with Maleosis.”
“Then all the more reason you cannot…”
“What do you mean?”
“Sir Iudico, the spiritual energy that forms the curse is not contaminating the core: it is a part of the core itself, sustaining its ancient enchantments. Therefore, if you dare take the artefact under the assumption it is the Undead Ravager’s core… you are implying necromancy existed during the Golden Age.”
“… I beg your pardon?”
Shock, doubt and overwhelming rage now fill the air as my words sink into a room of pious believers. Despite his calm front, Maximillian’s hostility has flared to incomparable heights. It feels as if the tundras of Hell are reflected in his cold eyes. Agnes has not yet transcribed my words, seemingly fearful of writing such blasphemy. Lili appears to be having trouble breathing in Maximillian’s crushing presence, but he soon relaxes his aura and takes a moment to regain his composure.
“Tell me Enbos… Do you understand the severity of what you have just said?”
“I am only stating the facts, sir. Whether it is an unrelated relic or the most sacrilegious object in human history, the determination is ultimately yours to make.”
“And I have determined that your logic is flawed. Your reasoning is based your own evaluation that it comes from the Golden Age, of which you have no definitive proof.”
“Shall we have it checked at one of our estates, then? If you still disapprove, I am more than happy to have its runes dated by a third party. After all, I’m sure they will still agree.”
“Then for argument’s sake,” says Maximillian as he massages his temple with a finger, “let us entertain the idea I was wrong about the Undying’s Grudge and the core is indeed unrelated to the infamous undead: it still doesn’t change the fact it is a powerful artefact being sought by the most dangerous cultists in the region. It would be best left in our care.”
“And where would you propose to keep it? At the cathedral that has been compromised by Tascus’ forces? The city garrison which lacks the magical facilities to accommodate it? Or do you plan on sending it back to your Order, effectively reappropriating the core for your country? That will not do, Sir Iudico. If you cannot confirm it is a heretical artefact, then it should be kept within the Kingdom’s borders, in the hands of the mighty Novuseus house.”
“By the heavens, Enbos, you truly do not comprehend. There is no bargaining. There is no negotiating. The “relic” is far too dangerous – magically, societally and diplomatically – to be allowed in anyone’s hands but our own. No matter how powerful your family may be, this will not go unchallenged by the Order- no, the highest echelons of the Lysium Theocracy. You seem to believe you can live without God or the Church of Eden, but know that your actions will have consequences. They will echo to everybody around you and reach even the King’s court. And for all you that stand to lose, in the end, you will not keep the prize gave so much to hold.”
“… Then so be it. But until that rueful day arrives, the relic is mine.”
Be it a month or a week, any time I can spend studying the core is well worth the risk. The Novuseus house may discover I’m an imposter, but they are also human. I doubt any mage will give up the opportunity to study the most powerful artefact ever recovered, and I’m the only one who can safely handle it. Moreover, thanks to the Holy Knights, we’ve confirmed that my magic extender can be applied to teleportation arrays, which is invaluable for a family that deals in commerce. They would gladly accept me as one of their own, although it would most surely bind me to the Reinsol Kingdom… and make me an enemy of every clergy under the sun.
If looks could kill, I would already have two holes pierced straight through my skull. Evidently, his hostile aura can even be felt outside these four falls since somebody is hurriedly banging on the metal door as Agnes calls out to them to cease. However, despite all the ire in Maximillian’s glare… I’m far more alarmed by the tender gaze coming from the woman behind him. My phantom heart beats faster as she moves closer to the table.
No. Don’t say it… I can tell from the tone of your voice…
“… I do not doubt your words, but I want you to know that what I am about to say is irrespective of the truth…”
I know you’re trying to help, but stop. You don’t understand how much this means to me…
“… I value our friendship and I know you always act with the best of intentions. If the relic were to be possessed by somebody outside the Church, I could think of no better candidate…”
I bluffed Tascus and stared down Maximillian to keep this core, so please… don’t make me go through you too…
“… N-nevertheless, I believe it would be best to leave the relic in Maximillian’s hands. At least, for a time.”
“I’m sorry Lili, but I can’t follow that advice.”
“I-I’m not asking you have to give it to them unconditionally, but in light of the cultist threat, Maximillian and his knights are best suited to protect the artefact. You can always study it once the entire situation has diffused.”
“Or so you say, but I don’t think that is what Sir Iudico has in mind.”
“We can arrange something formal, but you must reconsider. The repercussions of your choice will be severe, and if you do this…”
She doesn’t complete her sentence and instead glances at my travel visa resting on the table. I begin to nod slowly as I then look towards her tome.
“Yeah, I know. I’ll have to give up on my plans to travel along the Velvet Road. More than that, I’ll probably be confined to a heavily-guarded lab for the entirety of my research. The freedom I had as an adventurer will effectively be gone.”
“Nonetheless, I’m a mage first and an adventurer second. I’m not doing this for myself, but for something far, far greater. I would gladly give my all for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“As I have said, Enbos, you will still have that chance. I’m only asking you not to cut your ties to do so.”
“It wouldn’t matter. Be it now or later, my having of the relic will still sour my relations with the Lysium Theocracy… and that is assuming they would even consider obliging your idea. This is well and truly my only chance.”
The moment I give it to them, they would do everything to keep the core out of my hands. The easiest would be to have one of their “experts” date the relic after the Golden Age. Although its origin has complicated matters, it has only given Maximillian more reason to lock it away from the rest of humanity.
“Enbos, there is another way.”
“Once this entire crisis is over, I am willing to arrange a collaboration between the Ascleson house and Novuseus house. My family will procure the artefact from the Church and provide financial support to the venture. It will have to be done on the Ascleson estate and be conducted under the highest level of secrecy, but the fruits of your research will be shared between our families. Naturally, as the only mage who can handle the relic, you will be at the helm of the venture.”
“Do not worry about me. The Asclesons will abide, and although I do not know the nature of your research, I do know you. You’re a noble man, Enbos, and I would gladly offer my aid to any endeavour you deem worthier than your own life. Do you have any qualms, Brother Maximillian?”
“While I question what good could ever become of such an unholy artefact, I agree with your proposal. As always, Milady, I am truly impressed by your ability to seek a harmonious Path.”
Although it is his usual flattery, I have to concur. I would never have thought of such a thing, or rather, I would never have thought to ask her in the first place. By offering to borrow the core against her family’s name, she has turned my dilemma into an opportunity. If I agree, the Church won’t blacklist me and I can even complete my journey before I visit the Ascleson house. There is only so much I can do while on the move, but Lili’s proposal provides a long-term solution at the end of the Velvet Road. However, the biggest selling point is the promised sense of autonomy and security. I won’t need to worry about being watched by Novuseus mages or about losing the artefact at any given moment. The arrangement is superior in almost every way, except…
“E-enbos? You do still harbour doubt?”
“Lili… what if they refuse? Can you honestly assure that the Church would even agree?”
“… No, Enbos, I cannot. The only thing I can pledge is my support, and I would try a thousand times if I must. I-I know it’s nothing concrete, but I truly believe this is the best choice for us all. So please…”
… “will you believe in me?”
Taking a deep “breath”, I stare long and hard at the core in my half-clenched hand. I am holding possibly the most powerful artefact in human history, and although there will be opposition, it is mine at this very moment. Should I risk all this knowledge, all the progress I could make with but a shred more time, on a single hope? Or should I keep the core and turn my back on everything Lili has done, everything she is willing to do, for the sake of our bond? Chances are slim, and if Maximillian adds a “recommendation”, they will only get slimmer. But regardless of chances and payoffs, the real question is… whether I can live with the decision.
“*Sigh* Really Lili, you’ve got me completely figured out… Here you go.”
To everybody’s surprise, I reach out to the holy box and drop the core inside. Maximillian blinks half-a-dozen times as I close the lid and offer it without another fuss. The curse that was lingering on my body quickly disappears alongside it, leaving me feeling bare, frustrated and a little hollow. I find some comfort in Lili’s beaming expression as I relax my clenched hands.
“… Thank you, Enbos, for cooperating with our demands and answering our questions to the best of your ability. You have done a great service to humanity.”
“Are we done, Sir Iudico?”
“Yes, although I wish to discuss something with Sister Liliana. But for now… Lieutenant, please stop the record. Brother Victor, the door.”
Calling out to his subordinate behind the door, the metal door opens outwards to reveal said Holy Knight waiting on the other side. Maximillian collects my items and returns them in my bag as I unwrap the Chain of Sincerity.
“Here, have your effects. And please follow my brother to your quarters. We will protect you and your disciple from Tascus until their cult has been crushed.”
“Thank you, Sir Iudico. I will take my- Hm!?”
Suddenly, as I’m about to exit the door, I feel an external sensation burrowing into my back.
It’s not physical but spiritual, and it reminds me of… Ah, I see now.
Nice try you two, but it’s going to take more than that to-
“W-what… the hell!?”
T-that’s impossible. How could it-
“Hm? Is something the matter, Enbos? Did you perhaps forget something?”
“… No, it’s nothing, sir. Farewell.”
The door closes with a resounding thud as Brother Victor leads Enbos away. Turning back to the table, I look at seat that he was staring at so intently. Nothing, but then again, it may not. I give a small nod to Nessa to note the observation while I lock away the core, or relic, in the Box of Sealing. A sigh escapes my lips upon spying the words transcribed on the report.
“Good heavens. He truly is an unconventional fellow.”
While it is by no means the longest or most stressful of sessions I’ve ever held, it is most certainly one of the most eventful. I never thought Enbos would have the unflinching audacity to lay claim to the core, but I suppose that is to be expected of the man who dared confront a cultist Apostle. Had he continued it would have complicated matters beyond my liking. However, it did not, and it’s all thanks to one extraordinary lady…
“You have my sincere gratitude, Lady Liliana. I’m glad you could see the greater good.”
“I didn’t do it for you, Maximillian. Had I not, Enbos would have met immediate reprisal. I’m not naïve enough to believe you hadn’t prepared for the possibility.”
“My predecessors, perhaps, but not me.”
“Well, Brother Maximillian, what do you wish to discuss? I would very much like to check the survivors, so I would be grateful if you kept it brief.”
“Oh, it won’t take long Milady, I promise. I just want to catch up with you for a-”
“Goodbye, brother. I hope your endeavours are successful.”
“Now, now Lili, please don’t be like that. It has been quite some time, and believe it or not, this is fairly important to the future of our priory. After participating in this session, I would like to ask: what do you think?”
“What do I think? I think you are as ruthless as the day you assumed that mantle. Despite knowing all of Enbos’ heroic deeds, you apply unreasonable and coercive measures as if he were presumed guilty. Without me, you would have led him straight to the gallows.”
“I have to disagree, but nevertheless, you can’t deny it is a marked improvement from six years ago. After all, if my teacher were still with us, Enbos would have been questioned while on the rack. While I confess our approach still needs refinement, I want you to know that we are changing, and it is all thanks… to you.”
It has been seven years since I became prior of the Cleansing Swords. I was young but I quickly rose to my new position and people took note of my accumulating accomplishments. Wherever I went, I would be showered with praise from the nobles and silent respect from the masses. I felt I had truly succeeded my teacher, but then a year later, I met you.
On that night, in a ballroom filled with noble ladies, each an exquisite flower in their own right… I saw the most beautiful woman in all the lands. Your angelic grace. Your tender kindness. It was no wonder I was drawn to you, as I still am to this day. You even forgave my sudden and embarrassing display and allowed a private audience. Being the immature man that I was, I sought to impress you with tales of my exploits… only to be confronted with the harsh truth. Indeed, what I remember most from that fateful night, alone under the pale moonlight, was not your boundless charm… but your look of horrified loathing. It was at that moment that I began to suspect what everybody had secretly felt, but it was not until that incident when I truly realised their collective thoughts. That is why you mean so much me, Lili… and that is why seeing the same expression from six years ago now wounds me so.
“No, Maximillian, you haven’t changed at all. I have not been deaf to your deeds during my travels, and while I accept you are different from your predecessors, you are the same as the night that I first met you, or the day I realised who you really are. I don’t hate you, brother; I just can’t accept what you embody.”
“Please Liliana, what I and the priory have always embodied is a symbol of justice. While I admit said symbol once resembled a guillotine, you opened my eyes to its imperfections and for six years I’ve been trying my best to reshape it. We now have tighter controls on our authority, more rigorous guidelines regarding our summoning, and greater rights to non-believers and foreigners. Our procedures have aligned closer to other priories, and we have even become the standard in some respects. Can’t you see all the progress we have made?”
“It doesn’t change the fact you are merciless when you believe the situation demands it. While I am relieved with how Enbos’ case turned out, do not forget it was only because I was here to support him, and that we are standing on the territory of the Reinsol Kingdom. The oppressive methods you’ve used would have only been worse in St Telis Cathedral.”
“It wouldn’t have been any different, Sister Liliana… I swear to our Lord.”
As I say these words, I sharply tilt my head towards the ceiling. Lili does likewise, and she immediately spies the magical lamp hanging overhead, decorated with the symbology of our faith.
“A chamber of secluded prayer, blessed by an archbishop, of course. I find it heartening that there are so many followers within this garrison, enough so to warrant the creation of this room.”
“S-so, it wasn’t an interrogation room. Y-you were acting as His divine hand all along…”
“Indeed, I was. Do you see now, Lili? I-”
“I-it was worse than I thought. If I hadn’t had convinced Enbos, you would have cut him down on the spot!”
“A-actually Lili, I was hoping you would see it as a show of my sincerity.”
“I would have believed so if you hadn’t tried to teleport us to St Telis Cathedral without warning! You have been far too unfair toward Enbos, and if this is how you intend to treat all those in your custody, then I fear for our judicial system. What did he do to deserve such injustice?”
“Regrettably sister, I can’t divulge the details of an ongoing investigation, but please consider my perspective for but a moment: he’s a fully-covered man carrying the most cursed item in recorded history. His past is indeterminate, his reputation is poor, and his presence spreads suspicion, fear and the stench of dried blood, no doubt due to several unsavoury titles. He managed to snatch the artefact from the cultist hierarch and not once did he think to disclose the fact, despite claiming to have a valid stake.”
“That isn’t fair to him, brother. Enbos narrowly survived a life-threatening ordeal, exerting every ounce of strength to hold out against a human monster, and in the end, he found one of the most prized relics a mage could ever hope to recover. I would be shocked if he did not feel entitled in the slightest, and yet still, he willing handed over the relic without seeking recompense or collateral for the deal. How can such a person be anything but just?”
“And yet this “just” man knowing endangered everyone around him for his own greed. He should have seen firsthand the lengths the cultists would go to achieve their ends, and had I not realised, all your companions would have been denied the protection our priory is providing now. It is for that reason I find him deplorable, and to be honest Lili, I just can’t understand how you could support such a selfish character. Is it out of obligation, or does he hold some kind of-”
All of sudden, Lili walks up to the table, and to my shock, she takes the Chain of Sincerity from its open box and wraps it around her hand. After a brief jolt to her body, the cores on the chain begin to light up. The strain on her mind is clear to see.
“Lili, are you al-!”
“Enbos is… one of the most virtuous souls I’ve ever had the fortune of befriending. He always reflects on himself… confronting the darkness in his heart. He never seeks to justify his actions for his own peace of mind… unlike you. After all these years, it pains to see… that you still don’t understand.”
“I’ll be taking my leave. Please excuse me, Brother Maximillian.”
“Be well… Milady.”
She returns the Chain of Sincerity and proceeds to leave the room. The door shuts with a quiet thud, and yet the sound seems to linger in the air. I massage my temple as her words claw into my heart. Noticing Nessa’s calm gaze, I try to offer a smirk but it comes off as half-hearted.
“It seems she’s rejected me once more…”
“Don’t worry, Maximillian. Even if nobody else believes you would go through all this trouble just to court a lady, I will still scorn you.”
“Thank you for your usual words of comfort, Nessa, although Liliana is hardly just another lady. She is the reason the priory is as it is now.”
“A shadow of its former self being led by a hopeless skirt-chaser?”
“I would say a reputable force being led by a dashing reformist, and a stunning and capable lieutenant.”
“I’ll quote that in your next behavioural report.”
“Heh, please don’t. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that she’s an pivotal figure in my life. I would do anything to receive her blessing, because then I would know my Path is true. However…”
“She gave her approval to a scarred man, with an even more marred reputation.”
“So it would seem…”
“Feeling jealous, Maximillian?”
“Please Nessa, any man would be jealous of the one who manages to win her fair heart… but I’m well aware it’s not that kind of relationship.”
Lili’s outbursts during the questioning. The joy on her face when Enbos relented his claim on nothing but her word. The declaration she made whilst holding the Chain of Sincerity. Those are not things born from obligation or coercion, but genuine, mutual fellowship. I’ve always respected her judge of character, so I feel her support of Enbos speaks volumes of her disapproval of me. However, she doesn’t see what I see… and it would sadden her if she knew.
“Hm, the more I think about it, the more I’m amazed by Lili’s boundless compassion. How she could see past Enbos’ “unfortunate” appearance and foster such trust.”
“I agree. While I would normally admonish you for allowing the suspect to retain his mask, I don’t think I would be able to concentrate if I had to continue to look at his eviscerated face.”
“Is that your impression? To me it resembled melted wax, b-but let us not continue the topic. I do not wish to recall.”
“So tell me Nessa, what did you see of Enbos with your skill?”
“I saw nothing. My <Analyse Soul> was blocked.”
“But Nessa, didn’t you say that you would be able to read Enbos’ soul if the curse subsided?”
“I did, Maximillian. However, it seems Enbos is rather adept at spiritual control. He may even make a better Scribe than myself.”
“Or a good necromancer. What of his disciple then? Did you get a chance to inspect him?”
“I have, but I wouldn’t trust it at all. The description of his race says he is a “kobold”.”
“Heh, despite his reserved manners, it seems he is actually a mischievous lad.”
“I also sensed something peculiar about Liliana, however-”
“Did you analyse her soul too?”
“No. I know better than to invite litigation from the Ascleson House.”
“Good. In any case, we don’t have anything substantive to use against Enbos. He even saw through our ruse.”
“Which one?” says Nessa as she erases the page with the three circles.
“Port Profligo. Real or not, I had only intended to disturb Enbos’ confidence and shift the conversation to my favour. Instead, he held steadfast unlike so many others who would crumble or lash out in rage. This audacity combined with the fact he wears a mask makes his lies far more difficult to discern.”
“Lies, brother? Isn’t the Chain of Sincerity already guaranteeing his words?”
“Not so, Agnes, because I had already realised by that point… that the Chain of Sincerity wasn’t working. Rather, it was functioning but Enbos had somehow managed to circumvent its power.”
“Hmm, while I admit he showed a peculiar lack of side-effects, the degree can vary from person to person. It’s hardly prosecutable ground.”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking of. The transcript, please.”
Agnes passes the record and I begin scouring the lines until I find implicating moment. She walks over to read the sentence beneath my finger.
“… My apologies, but I know nothing of the elder lich’s core…
I see. I had thought nothing of it at the time, but elder lich?”
“Indeed. I only ever referred to the core as belonging to an Undead Ravager, so how did he come to such an assertion?”
“I apologise brother, but I still don’t see how you came to your own conclusion. After all, if he earnestly believes it was an elder lich, then he still has not lied whilst holding the Chain of Sincerity.”
“True, except he contradicted himself in the same breath. The true nature of the Undead Ravager has always been an enigma, and he insinuates as much by never referring to it as such afterwards,” I explain as I flick through the pages to check. “However, the fact he says he knows “nothing” of the core…”
“… means it shouldn’t have been possible to claim it belonged to an elder lich. Even if it is an earnest belief, it would mean he knows something more.”
“Precisely, Agnes. He has broken his oath to answer truthfully and cooperate to the best of his ability.”
“That is all well and good, but the best it would warrant is another questioning, not a full-scale investigation into his character. After all, the oath is largely a formality, and even if he has lied in that one regard, the rest of his account has been consistent. Moreover, since you used such an unorthodox method, there are no guidelines on how best to proceed. Unless, of course, you wish to make an executive decision…”
“No, I don’t believe it would be wise to use his case to establish a precedent. After all, we don’t even know how he subverted the Chain of Sincerity in the first place.”
“<Purity of Will>… In other words, an incorruptible soul. Considering his abilities, it would be fair to assume the protection afforded by his unique skill extends beyond curses.”
“Ah yes. His unique skill. How could I ever forget…”
Thinking back to the moment of that revelation, I’m unable to hold back a subdued sigh as I tap the small wooden box. I look up to the lantern overhead and begin to recount a sacred line from the Word of Eden.
“Life begins with nought but dirt to pave their own way. For those who find more than nought, their steps shall convey…
To think Enbos is a unique skill holder, one who has been bestowed a God-given blessing.”
“If Enbos were born in our holy nation, he would have been treated like the reincarnation of a saint, destined to lead others along the Path. While there have been precedents of convicted unique skill holders, there has always been strong pushback in every instance. He may end up walking the Path of Redemption.”
“Indeed. Honestly, it’s almost like Enbos’ case is a trial from God, sent to test our reformed ways.”
“It would be simple matter if we reverted to our ways of old.”
“Feeling nostalgic, Agnes?”
“For the days when you were not my superior? Of course. However, while it is true our methods were more “efficient” in the past, I must confess I much prefer our current arrangement.”
“So do I. If anything, I now feel further inspired to continue our Path. Because no matter what kind of man Enbos is, there is but one truth and one conclusion before the <Eyes of the Judicator>.”
He may be able to escape Agnes’ skill, but there is no escaping mine; Enbos bears a mark of Maleosis, and a fairly powerful one at that. I had considered if it was the core at first, but I can now see the false god’s power clearly branded on his soul. His trial will be another step in curbing the stigma that has long plagued our priory, although I will earn nothing but scorn from Lili. Nevertheless, it will have to wait until we have dealt with the heretical menace at hand…
“Lieutenant, have we received news from our returning group?”
“Yes, sir. There was nothing to report. They are returning to Catorrem at the scheduled pace.”
“Tell them to abandon the operation and make haste to the city. If there is truly a spy at St Telis Cathedral, then the cultists must already know that Enbos is here and that the core is now in our possession. They will surely strike within the next few days while our forces are divided. Once you’re done lieutenant, please prepare several defensible locations for me to review. I will choose one and have the others be decoys.”
“By your will, Sir Iudico.”
“Oh, and before you go, lieutenant… lend me your writing apparatus. I wish to compose a letter.”