Sensing that something was wrong, Artanis hurried to the great hall to find more than half of St Laurent's clergymen had fainted.
"What's going on?! An ambush by the cult?!"
All he could see were priests and pastors strewn across the floor. Though he had aged, the archbishop's reaction was still sprightly. Gathering a bunch of divine flare in his hands, he enveloped himself a layer of divine protection. A Word's Truth: Annihilation skill was also prepared in an instant, ready to be unleashed at any given moment.
At the same time, Artanis analyzed the infinite possibilities that could have led to this.
Were cult members ambushing them in preparation of a huge sacrificial ritual in such a faraway place like the Northern Realms? Perhaps it was an old enemy from Artanis's own adventuring days looking to even the score? Or could it be a malignant plague that escaped attention, infecting half their knights and priest while lying dormant before showing sudden symptoms?
Artanis quickly refuted those possibilities.
Preposterous. With the presence that Artificial Intelligence so-named 03, Moldavia had been secure as if the city was surrounded with iron walls that would not even let a fly in. Would the cult be able to penetrate the defenses so stealthily? A non-existent old rival and a plague never even heard of were even less likely.
So, what is actually going on?
It was but a brief moment in which all sorts of possibilities crossed his mind. Then, he noticed that there was a light ringing by the front door. Artanis cautiously looked up front.
He immediately felt his sight darken; it was if all lights had vanished.
Three people were standing at the corridor by the front door of the main prayer hall. In particular, the burly man who stood in the middle had gotten all his attentionunending shadows were flowing from him and blanketing the hall.
Blanking out momentarily, the old priest shook his head to escape the illusion, after of which Artanis finally saw the figure in front of him clearly. Eyes widening, he quickly extinguished his holy flare.
"Joshua?! You're awake!"
The old priest spread his hands and stepped forward and exclaimed delightedly at the huge man, "My child, may the gods bless you, you're up so quickly!"
Noticing Artanis, Joshua also quickly moved to embrace the elderly white-haired man. "Yes, Lord Archbishop." He grinned. "I'm up thanks to you."
"No, I couldn't do anything to help your coma, how embarrassing You should be more thankful to Ling and Ying, those kids had been taking care of you for the last few days."
The two men parted; Artanis nodded and smiled kindly at the pair of youths, who appeared chagrined. Then the old man swept his gaze across the hall, asking suspiciously, "But what's all this? Joshua, why did everyone pass out?"
Though the archbishop knew that the warrior was formidable, he never suspected that Joshua would be responsible. There wasn't any reason he would do this and every unconscious personnel did not bear any scars; they seemed to have been knocked out after seeing something horrifying.
" That's a long story"
Sighing, Joshua too turned towards the clergies scattered all over the floor. He helpless told Artanis, "It's fortunate that you don't feel it too muchor it'll be some trouble. This isn't the place, let's discuss it further at a place without people."
"No problem, although"
With a clap that emitted waves of holy light, Artanis sent for several people to handle the mass of fainted clergymen. He then turned to size up Joshua, frowning as he swept his gaze across him. "Joshua, are you cursed by something? Why do I sense that there's a thick shadow hiding within your body?"
"That's exactly what I intend to talk to you about."
Before the other church workers entered the hall to help their fainted fellows, Artanis and Joshua's band went up a stony spiral staircase to the first floor of the church. Walking through the empty walkway Artanis found an unoccupied room; they entered and grabbed a few chairs and sat face-to-face.
Artanis did not ask them about where they had been or what they did that led to his coma. The elderly priest did not want to be too mindful of things that would not change either way; his experience as a senior man told him that it would probably increase his list of annoyances instead.
He was only interested in what sort of explanation Joshua would give him.
Naturally, the warrior wasn't being evasiveand explained everything going on with his body exactly as it was.
"The Breath of Chaos?"
Artanis furrowed his brow again after Joshua's explanation. He muttered doubtfully with his arms folded, "What I do know is that your body is enveloped by the vengeful spirits of many dead magical beasts. That would definitely deal a heavy spiritual burden on those who met you for the first time. But could the Breath of Chaos increase that load?"
And it was at a threshold that even spirited and composed priests and knights could not endure? That in particular surprised the archbishop.
"It's just as you say," Joshua replied on his sturdy wooden chair. "I have a hard time making the connection but the truth is exactly that. All who see me for the first time would be affected by the Breath of Chaos, rid of their consciousness and pass outwhich was the reason for the fainted knight and priests.
"This mustn't continue," he quickly added. "I have to get rid of it as soon as possible."
"Of course." Drawing a deep breath, archbishop Artanis nodded in agreement. "If everything is as you say it must be handled swiftly. Ultimately, you aren't like most others; you're a count of the landthere will often be religious ceremonies or festivals that you need to host. And when that time comes"
Picturing a scene where Joshua appear and the large crowds that faint at the sight of himit would most certainly be cause for mass panic. What's more, if the spiritually sturdier clergies were defenseless and fell like ragged dolls, it would not be a stretch to imagine that the common folk would have heart-attacks.
"What solution does the Church of the Seven Gods to handle such a problem?" Joshua cut to the heart of the issue. It seems that he, too, has predicted what could happen in days to come and could not wait to be rid of it. "Even if it can't be completely removed, it could still be hidden."
"A dispel is out of the question."
Though he shook his head decisively, the old priest's voice was hesitant and he looked as if he was unable to make up his mind.
Gripping the chair handles, he said, "I've said before, it's very difficult to remove vengefulness of such beings before their deaths. I could try if the symptoms were lighter, but your case needs the hands of His Holiness the Pope or a divine blessing. It can't be quelled otherwise; and there's the Breath of Chaos now, which makes things even more complicated."
Pausing as if gathering resolve, Artanis looked up and met Joshua's gaze. "Still, there's still a chance. The spiritual pressure requires one conditionand that's to look you directly in the eyes."
"What do you mean?" Keenly sensing the ray of hope for a possible way out, Joshua quickly pressed on just as he himself thought of a possibility.
"It means if you cover your face or use some trick that conceals your true face, the stress would be greatly decreased."
Running through a few ways to counter the problem, it was clear that Artanis had thought long and hard about the issue. "The Dragon Might of gigantic draconian species could cause mass hysteria. However, when they change into human form that power is inapplicable because the common folk wouldn't be looking at their true form. Your circumstance is almost the same, and the solution just might be the same if we think along the same lines."
"Equip a helmet or a mask or some illusionary spell to change your facial features even using your exact same face is viable too. As long as others couldn't see your real face the problem could mostly be solved.
With those words the elderly priest rose, the corners of his mouth showing the hint of a smile. Looking at Joshua who stood up too, he said in an unusually low voice, "At present, I have a spell that suits this purposeor more precisely, a holy spell item.
Such a coincidence? The warrior was taken aback, although it was not that surprising when he thought about it. Magical equipment that conjured phantasms were the easiest to produce. Additionally, every faction usually had dealings whereby they need to cover their trackswhich was why it was common even for a church to have magical tools that change appearances.
In reality, as the Liege of Moldavia, Joshua could easily buy a wide variety of high-quality illusionary equipment. But since the archbishop had one, there's no need for him to go out of his way to make a purchase.
"There's no need to rush." The old priest's smile widened then, as if realizing something; his wrinkles even seemed to be fading. "Before your trouble is solved, I'd like your assistance on a matter too, Joshua. It'd also be helping yourselfto a certain extent."
"It won't be an issue as long it's within my power," Joshua answered without hesitation. Artanis had helped him much and had long protected his domain. He also never tried to grab power even if he were one of the leaders of the Church of Seven Gods in the northern realms. If the old priest really did have some trouble, the warrior would most certainly help.
"Perhaps you've heard from 03," the elderly man smiles broadened even more at Joshua's promise. "There's been cult members and demon worshippers slipping into town intent on sabotage. It's thanks to Miss 03 that they were all caught and sent here."
Joshua nodded, and Artanis continued, "These cultists in town bear ill-willand they are swarming incessantly from outside of town. But since we still couldn't uncover their motives up till now, the church and the city watch are quite passive on the matter. We don't even know which area should be fortified."
"But there weren't any major problems?" Joshua frowned, looking doubtful. "It may slightly damage the reputation of the Church, according to what I know"
"The Church will not show a shred of sympathy or tolerance. We will use extreme measures or even Holy spells to torture them and have them spit out whatever they know."
Artanis cut the warrior short, shaking his headhis ancient face showing very little regret. "It's a pity that these cultists are surprisingly determined, even the knights who executed them looked shaken at their pitiful sight. Either way, they are not talking, and there is only nineteen left out of the twenty-seven Cultists and demon worshippers. And we're still in the dark about their intentions."
" I understand."
Mostly grasping the meaning behind the old priest's words and the assistance he seeks, Joshua held back a smile and sigh, shaking his head. "Your Excellency, you're really"
"Frankly speaking, that's not really evil." Artanis smiled too, appearing quite hearty. "Does it count as evil, for the master of a domain, to take a look at cultists ready to stir up trouble in his lands? It's normal however you look at it!"
The two of them looked at each other and exploded in laughter. Beside them, the young boy and girl glanced at each other silently, and smiled helplessly together.