Side story 10 – A Certain Prince’s Despair
“You-! This is plain harassment!”
General Godwin struck the round table in the center of the conference room with his fist.
“I understand how you feel, but calm down, General. His Majesty is here.”
“F-, Forgive my rudeness!”
Chastised by the Prime Minister Lord Forgen, the angry General Godwin suddenly came back to his senses and apologised to my father in a fluster.
“It’s fine. I feel the same way.”
Not just my esteemed father; it was likely that nobody gathered here would blame the General’s words. The reason was because the people here all held the same feelings.
At present, the topic of discussion for the group called the Royalists Faction was that the Church of Sacred Light had declared an edict for the formation of the Order of the Sacred Light. It was an edict regarding the subjugation of a group of adherents of an Evil God cult that were gathered in a certain dungeon near our kingdom, Fortera. But no matter who looked at the situation, it was clearly an overreaction to form and mobilise the Order of Sacred Light just to subjugate a group of cultists not even numbering 1000.
The Church of Sacred Light claimed that it was because traces of a being that appeared to be the Evil God was witnessed in the dungeon in question, and the formation of the Order was necessary for the sake of its investigation, and if possible sealing or subjugation.
There was no lie more barefaced.
Because the higher-ups of each nation knew that the Evil God was a fictitious threat created by the Church, after all. The Church wasn’t seriously aiming for the subjugation of the Evil God either, and the other nations passed this suggestion knowing quite well that it was a lie.
“So it really was because of the proposal from the other day.”
“That seems to be the case. There are no other reasons.”
The Church of Sacred Light is the largest religion in the Human Territory, and is the official religion of all nations. Because of that, the money that each nation donates to the Church’s headquarters, the Luxiria Theocracy is no small amount. Of course, our Fortera is no exception.
However, because the crops and tax yields in our kingdom were anticipated to be lower than average this year, we declared that we would be reducing next year’s contribution to the Theocracy.
There was probably no doubt that it was correct to interpret this edict as revenge for the contribution announcement.
Although it was the formation of the ‘Order of Sacred Light’, in truth it was a coalition force of the knights and soldiers of various countries. With an edict from the Luxiria Theocracy, they expected participation from various countries, but because it was officially participation in order to fulfil their duties towards the Church of Sacred Light, there was no remuneration. If this was the invasion of the Demon Territory, then there would be de facto remuneration in the form of territory distribution, but because this time was the formation of the Order in order to solve a domestic issue, there would be no such thing.
Of course, our kingdom has no responsibility to give out remunerations for this. But despite this, if a domestic issue of ours is solved by the military of other nations, we’ll end up owing a debt, and would need to take this into account in future diplomatic exchanges.
“Revenge, and an example to the others, huh.”
“You could certainly interpret this as a show of force through the difference in military power.”
The other nations probably understand the Church’s purpose in this edict as well.
Not to mention that they’re sending this message as well: ‘If you report that you’ll be decreasing your donation, this is what will happen to you.’
“It’s too late to change the donation back, isn’t it.”
“Now that the formation of the Order has already been announced, it is probably impossible. And to begin with, the reason we reported a reduction was because we couldn’t pay it. You can’t use money that you don’t have.”
The meeting sank into silence.
“So, what will you do? We received a strong suggestion that as one of the nations involved we should scout out the location and set up camp, but…”
“Making us do subordinate work on top of harassing us, huh? Just how much do they intend on messing with our kingdom.”
Both scouting and setting up camp formations are certainly important for an army, but it’s difficult to gain achievements for doing it. The more achievements another country gains, the larger the debt our kingdom will owe them, so this too was a form of harassment.
But this was a good chance as well.
“I shall lead the army and head for the battlefront.”
Hearing my declaration, the people sitting around the round table all turned their gazes to me.
“Hmm, and your intention?”
“Pretend to scout and set up camp, and just subjugate the enemy at the same time. We might be slandered for acting arbitrarily by the other nations and the Church, but this should be better than letting them gain large achievements and owing them a large debt. If we say that the young commander was anxious for merits, it shouldn’t seem unnatural.”
I answered my father’s question with my plan.
The other nations might be quite disgruntled because they had gone out of the way to prepare their armies, but as long as they hadn’t actually headed for battle, they probably wouldn’t be able to strongly demand anything from us.
The Church of Sacred Light probably won’t stay silent, but given that their official aim was the subjugation of the Evil God and cultists, they shouldn’t be able to openly criticise us.
“But there should be no need for you to take the blame, Your Highness.”
“As a member of the royal family, the other nations shouldn’t be able to strongly reproach me. If any other commander does it, they may demand punishment.”
Even if they can’t publicly condemn the Kingdom, it’s entirely possible that they would blame the commander personally for disobeying orders. Once you consider this, I can’t leave the role to the generals.
Perhaps because they understood my intentions, the Prime Minister and General reluctantly fell into silence.
“How is it, Your Majesty?”
“…Very well. I shall leave it to you.”
Having set up camp in front of the dungeon in question, I gazed at the Evil God worshippers before me.
The enemy had also set up a military formation, but you could say that it was entirely crude. On top of the fact that they barely reached a thousand people, there were elderly people, as well as women and children mixed in, so they wouldn’t even put up a proper fight. It was obvious that they didn’t even have enough troops to set up an ambush, so I had faith that as long as I sent the soldiers forward, we would easily crush them.
Honestly speaking, it was strange that having come to this they still hadn’t run away and scattered, but was this also because of their disgusting piety?
Having thought that far, I accidentally let a wry smile slip.
“No, it’s nothing.”
Finding my smile strange, General Godwin had questioned me, and I told him not to worry.
Disgusting piety, huh?
The fact that I can’t understand those who would worship something like the Evil God hadn’t changed, but after this incident, the piety that we the Forteran Royal Family had towards the Church of Sacred Light had fallen to rock bottom. Of course, there was no way we could reveal such thoughts to the citizens after all, and we certainly weren’t opposed to Sacred Goddess-sama, but at the very least, I had no intention of believing in the corrupted Church that was rampant with money-worshipping. Both as the prince, and as a person.
Between the believers of the Evil God who were risking their lives, and the people who secretly demanded money under the flag of the Sacred Light, just who was better? When I started wondering this, I found it so funny that I couldn’t help but smile.
Lightly shaking my head, I switched gears.
──Both of them were the same.
If they threaten our kingdom, then they must be eliminated. This was my duty as a member of the Forteran Royal Family.
“Look at the formation of these evil bastards, General! What a pathetic formation.”
With the General by my side, I looked at the cultists in front of me before speaking in a loud enough voice that the knights and soldiers around us could hear.
“With an enemy more worthless than garbage, can’t we subjugate them on our own even without the Order’s main forces?”
“Indeed, however we were instructed to scout and set up formation.”
Reciting our lines exactly as planned, it felt like I had become a clown. However, that didn’t matter. What I wanted to become was a foolish and hot-blooded prince.
“We can end things if we attack now. There is no need for either scouting nor formations.”
“Your Highness, that is…”
But still, the General… can’t he do anything about that acting? Isn’t he speaking in monotone?
“That is of no concern! Sitting here while the cultists lie before us will incur the wrath of Sacred Goddess-sama! All troops, commence mar──!?”
Just as I was about to give orders, at that moment, the sound of an explosion resounded around us. At the same time, something seemed to rise before our eyes.
As I was speechless from the confusion at this incomprehensible scene, that made itself known.
Everybody looked up dumbly at the scene.
In a place that had been a simple clearing until now, suddenly rose an ominous, yet somehow divine feeling temple.
Were my eyes telling the truth…?
Wasn’t this almost a feat of God? It couldn’t be that the Evil God truly resided in this dungeon, could it?
But no, the Evil God was supposed to be an imaginary being concocted by the Church.
However, this scene was…
Almost as though cornering us in our bewilderment, the abnormal scene continued.
Night suddenly fell around us, and the surroundings were filled with faint light.
I could feel that this series of abnormalities had caused chaos to spread through the soldiers.
The General and I tried to call our to sooth the soldiers, but sooner than we could, a staircase of darkness stretched down from the top floor of the temple to the ground.
Neither I, nor the General, nor the soldiers nor the cultists did anything but turn our gazes to those stairs.
No, strictly speaking it wasn’t the stairs that we were watching, but the one descending them.
At a glance, they seemed to be a girl.
With a relatively small figure with jet black hair and a jet black robe, they slowly descended the staircase with two girls in tow.
Everybody had forgotten how to speak, and held their breath as they looked up at that figure.
Finally, when that figure had reached a landing halfway down, we could see the face that had been invisible until now.
A face with features beautiful like a doll, and a turbid gaze that seemed not of this world… Glared at by those eyes, I felt goosebumps all across my body.
In the midst of this silence, devoid even of the sound of breathing, I unconsciously muttered,
“… … … … … …Evil God.”
In that moment, the word ‘Evil God’ seemed to spread like wildfire through the soldiers.
The moment that somebody shouted that, our formation collapsed.
Both the soldiers and the knights ran away in chaos.
Given our positions, the General or I would normally have needed to stop that. But, we couldn’t.
And the reason was because both the General and I as well, had lost all thought of remaining there from the sheer terror.
Together with the soldiers, we turned our backs to that temple as we ran towards town as fast as we could.
I thought that the Evil God was just some fictitious being fabricated by the Church.
I was sure that even this whole disturbance was just the theatrics of some fanatics.
But I was wrong!
If that wasn’t the Evil God, then what else could it be!
We were deceived!
It wasn’t that the Church of Sacred Light had created an imaginary enemy to fool the masses, but that they had pretended to the leaders of each country that a real enemy was imaginary.
And the reason was probably because that the Evil God was an inconvenient truth to the Church.
Could it be that even Sacred Goddess-sama’s esteemed power is no match for it?
But no, something like that can’t…
As though ridiculing me for reaching a dead end in my thoughts, as I ran, a black flash appeared behind me.
For a moment, everybody stopped and turned their heads in that direction, but that flash flew off into the distance.
The soldiers around me felt relieved, but I instead had trembled in terror.
That light was most likely… an enormous mass of mana that the Evil God had fired as a joke.
It was good that it had been fired in a different direction, but had it been fired as us, or the town, or even the capital, then…
While praying in my heart that the Evil God didn’t aim our way, I once again began my escape to town.
With this, the side stories have reached the main story, but to tie the side stories in, there will be one more short story to go.