When Joshua turned to leave the prison hall, he sensed a spreading air of Chaos.
Magical plagues were not caused by simple bacteria or living things. Sickness caused by natural elements or magicless elements could be uprooted no matter how serious they were.
On the other hand, the black liquid that was the cultist's blood and organs had already been corroded by Chaos power and was slowly propagating. Moving slowly under the illumination of positive energy, it spread steadily towards its surroundings. Now, the compact jail cell looked entirely like a different world; the disgusting murky liquid squirmed across the stone floor as if alive.
Joshua turned to watch the scene.
A malevolent plague of the Chaos wrought on by berserk dragons, the Black Plague.
In his preexistence, a dragon from the oceans had suddenly surfaced and destroyed half of the southern kingdom in the far south. The coastal zones fell without exemptions, though the kingdom, through its vast power, managed to carve out an impenetrable central defense line at the cost of many lives. Still, many places had been abandoned helplessly, thoroughly occupied.
Within those locations, most humans were eaten by frenzied draconian beasts; a minority of individuals with formidable professions went into hiding and survived between the cracks. As time passed and the kingdom's armies began to get used to countering the draconian monsters, things turned for the better.
Under the full support of the adventurersotherwise known as the gamersthe kingdom's troops launched waves of counterattacks and reclaimed a number of coastal fortifications. Using those as a rally point, they slowly reclaimed all the land that they had lost.
And that was when the Black Plague came and ruined it all.
It was the end of Starfall Year 833, a freezing day of winter. Amidst the snow that blanketed the land, a trembling man came to main gates of Hal Harbor Fortress.
He was still breathing although his entire body was soaked in black blood. The city guards recognized him; he was a famous elven adventurer who had entered the forest thicket to scout the habitat of draconian beasts. They quickly approached to welcome him, and upon finding that he was fainting they quickly rushed him to the fortress' medical bay.
Along the way, the local adventurer kept moaning and dripping black blood. The air was tainted heavily with the putrid sanguinitybut since it was the frontline none of them took notice of the odor; they kept dashing towards the clinic, detecting nothing out of the ordinary. The thicket was filled with all sorts of creatures and draconian monsters, so perhaps the adventurer was ambushed by some poisonous monster? There were so many varieties of venom that keeps wounds open that no one paid extra attention.
Either way, all of them did not notice the seriousness of the matter.
In the clinic, doctors and priests worked together urgently to save the adventurer with a combination of divine spells and potions. The elf's external wounds were quickly healed and the black blood stopped flowing.
However, things took a turn for the worstas they looked on in horror, the adventurer's body bloated as he gasped in pain. His flesh was expanding visibly and, in the end, after one final scream of agony he blew up violently; the liquefied flesh and organs sputtered across the surgical room.
The bizarre manner of death and the fact that they could not save the poor patient left the healers crestfallen. They naturally detected the smell of Chaos hidden within his corpse and purified it. Most believed that it was some sort of toxic from a new species of berserk dragon, similar to that of giant desert scorpions that could melt humansalbeit more mortifying.
For that, Hal imported a huge batch of anti-venom from the capital to counter the unknown draconian species, while the adventurers prepared the appropriate countermeasures too.
They believed that they were prepared for anything.
But in reality, they weren't. Chaos, concealed within shadows, had already spread through the entire town. On the first day, sixty percent of the population felt discomfort. On the second, forty-five percent were taken ill, their bodies emitting a weird sound of flowing fluids. On the third, a large number of them were coughing blood. Other than the unaffected Gold-tier champions everyone else were showing extreme symptoms.
It was then that the people finally sensed that something wasn't right. Perhaps it was not venom but an undiscovered plaguebut it was all too late; there was no coming back.
After a week, other than three Gold-tier champions who were confused and at the brink of collapse, every citizen turned into piles of bones and blood that splattered all over the place. The harbor, once clean and tidy, became a purgatory that reeks of blood; the putridness, not bound by the cold, flowed alongside the northern winds.
Thus, the name of the Black Plague spread throughout the land.
Joshua's own body had been gripped by the plague in his pre-existence. Still, it had been the latter stages of the pestilence and the warrior survived thanks to high-level holy healing. Nonetheless, he entirely understood the sensation of his own body being melted by an unknown existence from the inside, bit by bit.
It was far viler than being nibbled off by ferocious beasts.
"The extraordinary bodies of Gold-tier members could easily resist the invasion of this sickness. Anyone who has not reached that leveleven by just incheswould still be infected."
Mumbling to himself, Joshua unconsciously recalled the days he fought against the plague. It had been a difficult time as countless lives were lost to the symptoms and turned into a warm viscous pool of black blood. All that was left were skin tissue and brittle bones that floated on top of the pile.
Although the cold could not stop the spread of the plague, flames could.
Raising his hand, the warrior clicked his fingers and black-red flames appeared out of thin air over the squirming black blood. Combat Aura mixed with Order Power cleansed it all in its entirety, turning even the corpse into ashes. The plague had corroded the bonesit was no tougher than cookies.
Cold to the eye as he oversaw the complete incineration of the black fluids, Joshua shook his head before turning to leave.
Fire can completely destroy the materials that the black blood latches onto and turn it all to ash. In the plague zones of the far south back then, any who showed slight signs of being infected were pushed into pyres by frenzied mobs. Although their actions mistakenly killed quite a number of people who had the occasional ordinary cold, it did stop the plague from spreading.
Due to the surging Combat Aura and the sudden extreme heat, the unconscious cultists were jolted awake. They were brazened enough to blaspheme against archbishop Artanis but were now shrinking themselves into a bunch, silent and shuddering, afraid of even making a sound.
Unbelievably terrified, they watched Joshua's every step as he left the hall. They were even rejoicing; they did not want to face that walking nightmare even if it meant torture before death.
Artanis was chatting with Ling and Ying outside prison.
The trio seemed quite happy in their conversation. When they heard his footsteps they all turned towards the exit.
"What? Joshua, why you're out so quickly?" Curious, the old priest stroked his own white beard and asked doubtfully, "Perhaps you need some torture tools? That's my mistake, I actually forgot to prepare the goods."
With those words, Artanis rose and walked towards the guardsmen for some.
"No, it's fine, I know their intention."
Joshua's tone as he stopped Artanis had never been so serious, his gaze solemn. "This may be beyond belief, but"
"I believe you." Quickly cutting him short, the elderly clergy was now solemn too. He looked around and added softly, "Let's take this upstairs."
Nodding and agreeing with Artanis, the warrior called for Ling and Ying and they all left. Though the other clergies were rather unsure, they silently followed as they saw their master's rare sobriety.
The positive energy luminescence dimmed at the lowest jail cells. Artanis had summoned all the knights who were keeping watch over the prison under Joshua's suggestion. They combined to activate the lockdown system, and a bulky metal layer that was a meter-thick completely isolated the oval-shape section from the typical prison room. For insurance, the warrior also got the archbishop to conduct a large-scale Gold-tier cleansing ritual, completely purifying half the underground jail.
Although they did not know why the liege of this domain was leaving so quickly or what he had gotten out of the cultists, the knights could tell from their actions that there was an air of danger. After ensuring that the metal layer cannot be unsealed all of them left the dungeon.
It's also worth mentioning that Joshua had his back to the knights the entire time.
"It's a plague." Joshua told Artanis in a low voice after they walked out of the spiral corridor and into the ground level of the church. "The cultists plan to spread an absolutely lethal plague from the Evil God of Pestilence."
He left it at that as he enlightened the doubtful old priest about why he was being so cautious; he was prepared to tell the rest at a safer place, and the dungeon wasn't secure enough to talk about it.
His eyes gleaming in the darkness, the archbishop nodded slowly but said nothing. Artanis obviously made conjectures from Joshua's requests.
They walked silently towards the surface, past the darkened corridor and the Mass hall and up the stairs to the first floor. While they looked for a secured room for discussion regarding the Evil God of Pestilence, a blond man with blue eyes appeared before them.
He was tall, muscular and gorgeous, but he also looked tired and haggardas if he did not rest for days. Catching the sound of Artanis's footsteps he approached to greet the archbishop, but his eyes opened widely in surprise as he glimpsed Joshua's face.
"Joshua?! You're awake?!" he uttered in shock.
"Yes, my friend. I'm up."
A slight smile appeared on his grim face as Joshua greeted the blond holy knight. He approached and clapped him on his shoulder. "It's just a few days, Roland, although you look much worse than I did."
"It's a long story Looking at you, are you having some important discussion?"
Exhaling slowly, the holy knight looked exhausted and appeared to have much in his mindnot that he had the strength to talk about it right now. Taking note, the warrior crisply shook his head. "Don't think too much. I do have something to discuss with the archbishop, but it's not so important to have you join in while you're so worn out. Just wait, he'll tell you when we're done."
Despite his intentions to refuse, Joshua was not really leaving Roland any choice. As Ling and Ying bade him rather regretful farewells, the holy knight could only stare blankly as Joshua and the archbishop quickly went upstairs, his tired gaze looking rather dull.
"Can't even retort I really need to rest a bit."
Finding his condition was indeed under-par, Roland shook his head and walked towards his own room.
Along the way, he can't help remembering his conversation with St. IgorHis Holiness the Pope himself.
The holy knight never rested since returning from the other realm three days ago; the first thing he did was pray calmly to remove the divine blessing from Father Nature that remained in him.
A god's boons, though greatly beneficial, still was not a good thing for a holy knight to possess since it was power from another god. It had taken half a day to remove all traces of it, although in a twist of events the holy knight felt his abilities grow after the cleansingapproaching the levels of extreme.
Naturally, that took everything out of Roland, but it was not the time to rest. He resisted his drowsiness and arranged a report of his journey at the other world, before rushing to the cathedral's circle of communication, ready to tell it all to the pope.
However, the ones on the receiving end were the pope's guards. The loyal knights said that His Holiness was deep within the Great Altar in communion with the gods; he was to wait for some time.
Obviously, Roland did not protest; but instead of sleeping or meditating he stayed by the circle, waitingso that he would be there the moment the pope returned.
That wait was a day longmeaning less than half a day ago from the present, the pope finally completed his communion with the gods and answered Roland's call.
Pope Igor was immensely patient towards his godchild, the strongest amongst the younger generation of holy knights in the Church of Seven Gods. He took in every world of Roland's description of his adventures in the other world, never showing a sense of distrust. Instead, he inquired about certain intricacies, revealing his complete trust.
"I see Father Nature, Evil God of Calamity, Sage's inheritance and the King of Searing Souls."
The projection of his Holiness who was millions of miles away nodded slowly; the wise old man appeared to take Roland's words at face value.
"You believe me?!"
That fact alone had taken Roland by surprised; he never thought that anyone would be convinced by such outlandish stories. He believed he was doing his duty by telling everything as it is and never expected anyone to believe him or counted on the elderly pope to regard his encounters as the truth.
"Don't be surprised, my child. I've had a premonition about this."Igor said slowly, his eyes flashing with sagely wisdom. "A power surge as an ancient god unleashes its full force could cover the distance between realms. I've detected it early on, albeit not expecting you to be involved."
Pausing for a moment, the pope slowlyand asked probingly, "Now that you've seen firsthand the grand armies of Chaos and the true form of the Evil God what do you think, Roland?"
At the pope's question, Roland kept mum for a while as if reminiscing. He then replied, steadily and somberly, "Holy Father, it's the first time I've seen such massing of Chaos soldiers, and the first time I fought against them without comrades or knowing anything."
"I do not know what kind of world it was, how the elven civilization came to be or how far the civilizations of that world had developed and wasn't privy as to why Father Nature would slumber there. The only thing I understood was that they are our comrades against the Chaos."
Though weak, the belief was firm and could be understood without words.
Roland's pallid face devoid of rest for days showed resolve. "It's as you said. Joshua definitely told me a few truths; he said that fires need firewood the world may be of the Order but it's also built from the void of Chaos If the flame of our world is dying it will need to consume the endless power of the Chaos, just as his family and other house of Guardians did."
"I see that you've come to understand this."
Looking pleased, the pope nodded. "Since you know this, I have no reason to keep this from you Yes, the war in the last epoch had almost extinguished the very embers of our world. If we are to keep the flame going we will require new firewood from the Chaos, and head towards the domain sealed by the Evil Gods, the steadiest source of Chaotic force."
"That would mean that their sacrifice is meaningful, right."
Silently, Roland's eyes glinted in a troubled manner. He inhaled deeply, and asked in a low voice, "There must be sacrifices so that our world could go on their deaths are not without value, right?"
"Of course, my child."
The venerable white-haired man, pope of the Church of Seven Gods nodded before answering somberly and respectfully. "Whether it's your fallen comraded or knights whose lives were lost long ago, they are heroes of humanity."
On the first floor.
Joshua closed his eyes to recall the past after telling the archbishop everything, while Artanis gripped his chair handle tightly, his face somber.
Quiet for some time, Joshua then said in a rumbling voice, "I will tell 03 to keep a close watch over the citizens' health; the church should dispatch priests and knights to search towns and villages for signs of the pestilence."
"As for me, I will head to the Imperial City and give the Emperor my report on this matter. The realms and the other three domains must learn of this at once too."
"That's for sure."
The old priest nodded and assume the responsibility spontaneously, but he still looked doubtful.
"How are you going to solve this problem? Unlike an enemy with form, this is a shapeless plagueit can't be destroyed with fists or weapons."
"I have my methods."
The warrior smiled and looked to the southas if with his gaze he could see the land where the plague had first erupted.
A place where berserk dragons prowled, a battlefield he once fought on.
Now his eyes were indifferent; there was just a little spark concealed profoundly in him. "Nobody knows it better than I do."
Those cultists who were spreading the plague with the intent of harvesting countless lives could not even dream that this world has an existence such as him.
The warrior understood the plague much more, and the result would definitely be different from the unchangeable past.