There was a heavy-security dungeon beneath St. Laurent's Cathedral.
It was a publicly known 'secret' on the Mycroft Continent that churches had dungeons. Thanks to all sorts of knight novels and historical documents even peasants knew that darkness existed beneath those sacred grounds. Against the criminal element and cultists, even priests who gave food to the poor did not show any hints of pity.
That's because they had betrayed their identity as humans, abandoned human morality and left society. They were undoubtedly sub-human scum. It was not necessary to repent for any actions against them; even crueler methods would be forgiven against these beings that deserve to be loathed.
Nobody was dubious against that notion; the cultists tales that spread amongst the people made it known that it was sheer justice.
Stepping past a dark corridor, heading downwards a granite staircase and behind two huge steel doors, before crossing a narrow passageway laden with traps armed with holy spells, Joshua and his band arrived at the dungeon fifty-meters deep below ground.
Built with solid granite over a meter thick as its foundation with a layer of liquid metal, St. Laurent's underground prison was less a dungeon and more a huge cauldron buried deep underground. It was flawless and airtightits atmosphere purified by holy spells to guarantee absolute separation against the world outside. Many other spells were used to conceal its appearance and block all communications.
In other words, being in here was being isolated from everything else.
And now, every cultist in Moldavia was being locked here as they await their deaths; they would be executed during the annual autumn harvest. On that day, all sorts of execution equipment would be placed at the city square.
Crosses, guillotines, pyres and the like would be armed and ready as each cultist would be sentenced to a death according to the people's wishes; number thirty-seven of the Empire's codex states that the form of punishment and type of execution will be decided by the people.
Dim pyroxene lights hung on both sides of the dungeon, the silver-grey flashes swayed, illuminating airborne dust. Under Artanis's lead, the trio walked past outer cells that were dusty and empty and looked unoccupied for a long time.
Noticing the warrior's curious stare, the old priest explained, "The Northern realms haven't seen the cult's presence for a long time."
Even Artanis's voice turned thick and serious in this place; there were flashes of cruelty and bitterness in the gaze of the kind archbishop. "Other than the few cases of sacrificial rituals when I was a child, there had been no cultist setting foot in Moldavia for at least sixty to seventy years."
And my sister had vanished then; there wasn't a word from her after so many years.
He did not say that out loud but continued with his quiet voice, "This bunch of cultist can be considered the first batch under my tenure. I've placed them in the deepest cells.
Joshua noticed that the old priest was referring to the cultist as animals in the Mycroft common tongue instead of as fellow humans.
But does that matter? The warrior shrugged indifferently. Cultists weren't human; they were monsters born after the Chaos had consumed their hearts.
Several knights keeping watch had stepped out vigilantly after hearing their footsteps. When they noticed that Artanis was with them they reverently lowered their heads and let them pass.
"Thank you for your service. Our count is here today to take a look at the cultists, please guard the doors well." Nodding slightly at the knights, the old priest paused for a moment and ordered gravely, "Later, do not approach whatever you hear."
"Yes, Your Excellency!" The knight answered together. They never suspected that anything was out of place; it was absolutely normal for the liege of the land to interrogate the cultists.
Neither would it matter as to how the cultists were treated, or how they screamed and wailed; no saint would spare a shred of sympathy towards those scumbags if they were to see the sacrificial altars the cultists made.
It was also thanks to the knights lowering their gaze that they did not glimpse Joshua's face. They were not deterred even as they lifted their eyes and saw his side profile or the back of his head. The most they got were light palpations, and sighs of their count's formidable valor and substantial power; there would be panic and confusion otherwise.
The depths of the dungeon were completely dark; in place of pyroxene lights a bizarre magical tool hung above; a diamond-shaped purple crystal that emitted blurry magical radiance. Joshua stretched out his fingers to feel its magical fluctuation. "An anti-magic field?"
"And an anti-cloaking barricade. Whether with magic or aura, there's no slipping in."
Artanis stopped walking after he answered the warrior. Staying silent for a moment, he said, "We've arrived."
He then clapped his hands, and holy light surged, as if some magical formation was activating. A brilliant positive radiance sparked horizontally from the ceiling, illuminating the dark dungeon in its entirety.
"TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OF!!!!"
Countless screams immediately rang across the desolate place; Joshua squinted, sweeping his gaze around beneath the brightness.
They were standing inside an oval hall surrounded by thirty compact cells, fenced with dual steel bars painted with visible stripes of holy light, giving it an extremely sturdy appearance. The cells were so small that occupants would not be able to stand or sit but only squat, although more than half of them were empty.
The floor of the enclosure was stained black-red, and the four walls were spread with marks of deep-crimson. There was also suspicious yellow oil that seeped into the cracks of the wall.
In the occupied cells were human silhouettes that screamed and twisted maniacally; the rays of positive energy were lighting them upblack smoke flowed from their body. Due to the tight space they could not stand or lie flat, and after long periods of squatting their knees were immobile, as if they had turned to steel.
"It's these guys. Don't look at how haggard they are, their mouths are quite sealedwe've interrogated them long and hard but couldn't even get half a word from them."
Artanis expression was as cool as steel but spoke in an absolutely neutral tone that Joshua never heard him use. "Eight died during questioning and now there's nineteen of them left. My child, you can do as you like with these things, it won't matter if every single one dies."
As long as you get them to talk.
"Damned followers of the fake gods"
Hearing those words, a screaming prisoner suddenly lifted its head. With a blurred voice, it laughed madly. "You people will never know what you're up against. The gospel of my Lord is upon you and all there will be IS DESPAIR, HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHA!!!"
The others who were in the cell alongside it were quickly spurred on, and the screams vanished immediately as all sorts of obscene chants and abominable prayers roused at once. One of the voices was louder than others. "You guys know nothing!"
Without question these convicts had a human appearance, with eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. Nevertheless, hunger and fatigue had left their bodies devoid of flesh, their eyes were haunted and tunneled deep into their own socketsa look alone was enough to tell that this was not humanly possible.
Their flesh and blood resembled a layer of mud slapped upon bones that never ceased to squirm, and their faces formed convoluted expressions that looked both like a smile and a pained moan simultaneously. Blood vessels and veins were popping up on their skin and were pulsating with a dark purple liquid. The cultists had their eyes shut tight under the positive energy illumination, but their eyeballs could be seen whirling unnaturally beneath their thin eyelids.
As they slowly got used to the glow, the cultists opened their eyes wide and looked towards the center of the hall.
Every single pair of eyes gleamed in a rotten, disgusting dark green color. As if an abyssal whirlpool they twisted, conjuring images of a bottomless swamp of slime.
"Not talking? That isn't up to you." Ignoring the utterly loony followers of the cult, the old priest smiled icily. He turned and patted Joshua's shoulder, saying in a low voice, "It's up to you."
Do not hold back against these monsters.
Soon, Artanis made way for the silhouette and left the prison hall.
"No problem," Joshua replied softly as the clergy walked past. "I never show mercy to the enemy."
The warrior gestured for Ling, Ying and Artanis to leave. Though the siblings were hesitant, they obeyed their master and vacated the prison hall with the archbishop.
As the sound of their footsteps grew distant, the warrior stepped into the middle of the prison hall. Laughing, he looked around the entire dungeon and said with a voice cold as ice, "Break time's over. NOW, LOOK AT ME!"
The cultists had been a little confused due to the old priest's prompt departure. They were not quite sure why the clergy Artanis would so willingly hand his investigation to a strangerbut that was not important right now.
Just as they prepared to laugh and ridicule the man who stood in front of them, the air froze.
They saw Joshua's face.
What was the feeling? It was indescribable as if the air in their lungs were all sucked out in an instant, while their throats could only emit clicking sounds of spasm. Every single follower of evil quickly closed their mouths as their teeth clattered.
It was as if the scorching light of positive energy that had been brighter than the sun darkened in moments. Endless fog as black as ink wafted off the man. Though it appeared to be just a shroud, the faces of a thousand savage monsters surfaced, materializing and pressing down with the crushing pressure of the ocean on their bodies. Gasping for breath, they despaired as they discovered that their lungs ceased functioning out of fear and that they were suffocating bit by bit.
Unable to fall or kneel, their noses were filled with the thick odor of rusting iron. The compact cells were preventing them from turning their scalps, while their necks and eyeballs refused to cooperate and could not be lowered or closed. All they could do was wait as their will turned murky.
The cultist nearest to Joshua acted as if it had seen an archdemon who had ascended from hell. It was closing in with every step and held his handformed from black steel and bladesaloft, to point at itself.
Before passing out entirely, the cultist felt a hand grab its hair and jerking its head up. A pair of red, burning eyes stared into its own, and a sharp chill flowed down his marrow and bloodstream, jolting him awake swiftly.
"TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU KNOW!"
Upon hearing the voice reminiscent of clanking metals, the cultist's consciousness that had been corrupted by Chaos felt as if it was struck by a gigantic hammer. It could feel its very soul reverberating violently, its heart struck by the tremendous despair of falling into an abyss. Its vision went fuzzy and its lips trembled and parted slowly. Its will, unmoved by the knights' severe beatings and torture for almost half a month, was being overturned.
However, just as its prepared to spill its secrets, the cultist's eyes suddenly bulgedand it unleashed a violent wail.
The sound was so sad and terrible, and much more painful than the burns from the scorching positive energy luminescence that even Joshua felt the suffering at the depths of its soul.
He watched as its eyes bulged as if prepared to pop out of its sockets. Its thin, withering flesh expanded vigorously, while its face covered in green veins and blood vessels turned green-blue, and its internal fluids flowed viscously and audibly.
"NO! MY LORD, NO! I DIDN'T TALK, I DIDN'T TALKKKK WWWAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!"
The shrill lamentation shot out from the Cultists at an inhuman pitch. Joshua relaxed his grip and let go of its hair; he frowned at the sight, his gaze completely dignified.
That cult member had been manthat much was obvious from his once rather comely profile. But now there's nothing left of its face; all that was left of the flesh had turned green-black as if something had completely melted underneath the skin. Its skull appeared prepared to drop from at any given moment.
A stream of blood ejected out of its ears turbulently as a stench engulfed the entire hall within seconds. The positive energy lights kept shining and cleansed the disgusting smell of Chaos. As for the cult member, it was neither struggling nor screaming anymore. Like a zombie it stood its ground, its eyes bleeding just as its body bloated bizarrely all over.
"Unexpected And I thought it's going to be just an ordinary cult ambush; this never crossed my mind."
His eyebrows tightened and raised, Joshua looked utterly serious. Without glancing at the other convicts that had already fainted, he glared tightly at the cultist that looked as if it was dead.
"Brought forward?" He muttered to himself. "No, it should have happened far south. I've never paid much attention to the northern lands in my past life, so perhaps the same thing had happened there then"
At his words, all sorts of outlandish transformations were occurring on the cult member's body. Firstly, its bloating body bursts open, and huge amounts of black muddy liquid sprayed out from the opening underneath the popped skin. Afterward, a bunch of half-melted guts leaked out, and finally, as if corroded, everything melted within the black murky liquid.
Since all its blood and organs had flowed out and were melted by the black liquid, all that was left of the cultists were skin held on by his bones. Obviously, dying did not go much more than that.
"The Black Plague."
"A big move from the Evil God of Pestilence."
"A super plague that killed sixty percent of the coastal population far south."
Turning away unsentimentally, Joshua's expression became truly cold.
"This can't be handled by the northern realms alone. Against a plague, the nation must go in full force. A report must be given to the Imperial City, and His Majesty the Emperor must be notified.