V2 Chapter 61: Confrontation with the Pope

“It hasn’t been long since we last met, so saying ‘it’s been a while’ wouldn’t be quite appropriate. I’m truly glad to hear you’ve safely returned from the desert known as Catalan, a place referred to as a demonic wilderness, Sora.”

The one who smiled subtly as she spoke was Noah Cornelius, the highest leader of the Holy God Church.

Her radiant flaxen hair, single eye reminiscent of a jewel in lush green, and her pure white skin. Her impeccable appearance remained unchanged from the last time they had met.

The only difference, if one was to point out, was the attire that Pope Noah was clad in. Unlike the simple priest attire she wore for travel the last time, now she was dressed in a solemn, priestly garb, befitting her position.

The white cleric attire was made from the Holy Cloth — a fabric woven from threads created using holy water. Upon closer look, one could see the astonishingly intricate embroidery. The reason why the embroidery didn’t stand out was because it was stitched using thread of the same color as the fabric. It was clear that these embroideries were not just patterns, but designs that contained magical implications. Naturally, the blessings of the Holy God were likely imbued within it as much as possible.

Perhaps this attire, both physically and magically, was far more robust than any castle wall.

The reason Pope Noah was wearing this robe was not out of caution towards me — of course not, she was merely wearing a dress suitable for her position. I knew that, but still for a moment the thought, “Maybe she’s cautious,” flitted through my mind. It was without a doubt the influence of my interaction with Lascaris.

I let out a small sigh, making sure she didn’t notice.

It had been five days since I defeated Behemoth and heard Lascaris’s story. I was now in Horus, the royal capital of the Kingdom of Canaria, having a meeting with Pope Noah who was staying as a guest at the royal palace.

By the way, although he wasn’t present in this place, Cardinal Sylara was also in the royal capital. He was there to attend the wedding ceremony of Crown Prince Azar and Princess Sakuya.

Given that things have become a bit muddled, allow me to clarify the sequence of events that led to this situation.

First of all, by the time I had defeated Behemoth and returned to Berka from the Leero Oasis, the cardinal had already departed for the royal capital.

According to the guards at the temple, a dragon knight from the Canaria Palace had come to pick me up the day after I had set off for the desert. Upon hearing this, I left Berka, following in the footsteps of the cardinal.

On the way, I met Larz in the village of Melte and informed him about Katia, and from there went to Ishka. In my absence, Miroslav had prepared the magical barrier, and Noah had switched places with a double and had gone to the capital. After learning this, I set out for the capital once again.

Upon my arrival at the capital, I visited the Dragnaut Duke’s residence, and through Claudia, who was serving as the Pope’s attendant, I managed to arrange a meeting with Pope Noah, leading to where we are now.

The reason I came here was to deliver to the Pope the Philosopher’s Stone that I received from Lascaris. The horn of the Behemoth, our original objective, was lost, but the Philosopher’s Stone could serve as an ample substitute. By delivering this to the Pope, I was hoping to resolve one of the pending issues that had been troubling me lately.

However, considering the hostility Cardinal Sylara, a senior member of the Temple of law, showed towards Lascaris, I was hesitant to explain the situation straightforwardly. The cardinal was not the only one who regarded the Night Assembly and its leader, Lascaris, as an enemy. Rather, Pope Noah, who has been fighting directly against the Undying King, would likely harbor a deeper hatred towards Lascaris.

Would the Pope willingly accept the Philosopher’s Stone sent from such a person?

It would be natural to suspect it’s a trap. In the worst case, even I could come under suspicion.

Yet, even if I tried to pass over a national treasure without explanation, the Pope surely wouldn’t accept it. I would undoubtedly be questioned about how I obtained it. If I tried to respond with lies, the Pope’s discerning eye would easily see through them.

After pondering these considerations, I decided to honestly tell Pope Noah the entire sequence of events.

Rather than sour the relationship with cunning, it was better to confront her with the truth from the beginning. If that led to hostility with the Temple of law, then I would deal with that when it came.

I took out the Philosopher’s Stone from my pocket and placed it on the table. It made a small sound as it tilted on the surface.

Upon seeing this, Pope Noah slightly widened her right eye.

“That is…”

“The person who handed this to me claimed it to be the Philosopher’s Stone. They stated it was a top-quality product from the Golden Empire Imperium, capable of sufficiently replacing the Behemoth’s Horn.”

With just that, it seemed the Pope understood the gist of it. She lost the surprise from her eyes and gave a nod of comprehension. Then she spoke.

“So, Lord Sora, you have met with Lascaris. That wretched Dark Elf.”

“Yes, Your Holiness – Eh?”

He nodded in response to her question, then tilted his head, as if something seemed strange about her previous statement. However, Pope Noah continued with a calm expression, ignoring his reaction.

“I have received a report from Cardinal Sylara. A disagreement arose between you and him in Berka.”

“Yes, indeed. There was a bit of a clash of opinions between the Cardinal and me over the matter of my comrade.”

“Comrade, you say. It’s quite like you to take a Kijin under your wing.”

Saying this, Pope Noah gave a faint smile. He had thought this before, but the Pope’s changes in expression were subtle and fleeting, making it difficult to gauge her emotional shifts.

What kind of emotions did the Pope harbor towards him after hearing the Cardinal’s report? And now, how did she perceive him, who came bearing the Philosopher’s Stone passed on from Lascaris? Discerning these from her exterior was challenging.

The Pope picked up the Philosopher’s Stone from the table and squinted her eyes in silence.

“…… It appears there are no strange mechanisms involved. Indeed, this magic stone holds sufficient magical power to serve as a catalyst for the barrier.”

After returning the Philosopher’s Stone to the table, the Pope bowed deeply towards me.

Her motion made the girl’s flaxen hair flow down her slender shoulders, falling onto her chest.

“I thank you, Lord Sora. With this, the people of this kingdom will no longer have to suffer from the deadly poison.”

“Please lift your head, Your Holiness. I merely did what I could as one of the inhabitants of this country. The rest, I entrust to you.”

“Leave it to me. I stake the honor of the Temple of Law, we will surely erect a barrier for you to witness. A strong barrier that will not falter over time.”

The Pope, Noah, who had lifted her face, nodded firmly.

Then, while intently looking at me, she continued.

“By the way, about that rotten dark elf. It wasn’t just that he handed over the magic stone to you, Lord Sora, and left, was it? Don’t you have something you want to ask me?”

Her voice and expression were sincere. When she called Lascaris a “dark elf,” I felt something dark for some reason, but there was nothing else that hinted at any negative feelings towards me.

To the Pope’s question, I nodded slightly.

“There is just one thing I’d like to ask.”

What I wanted to know was not the details of what the Temple of Law was planning to use the dragon’s lair for—rather, it was something else.

I don’t entirely trust the information that Lascaris divulged. I can’t say that everything the Undying King spoke was a lie, but his true intention in passing it onto me was to use me. Knowing that much, I have no intention of acting based on that man’s information.

In fact, I hadn’t shared anything about this matter with anyone. If I were to relay Lascaris’ story to others, it would only be after thoroughly verifying the information.

Naturally, I had no intention of voicing my suspicions about the Temple of Law. In the first place, it’s hard to say that I’ve lived a particularly upright life. Whether the Temple of Law is scheming something with the dragon den they’ve secured, I don’t have the qualification to condemn them high-handedly.

Still, there was one thing I wanted to confirm.

The Temple of the Light God.

The last words Lascaris uttered. They were also the words spoken by the Kijin Ouken with whom I had battled on Demon Island.

Two people belonging to entirely different factions had spoken the same words.

If it’s just a coincidence, that’s fine. The deity of light is an entity that wouldn’t be surprising to overlap in different cultures, different mythologies.

But if it wasn’t a coincidence…

“Do you know of the Temple of the Light God, Your Holiness?”

I asked Pope Noah, with a certain tension and resolve.

The answer came back surprisingly quickly.

“Yes, I know. It’s impossible for me not to. That’s because the Temple of the Light God is the predecessor organization of the Temple of Law God.”

“‘A precursor organization, you say?'”

My counter-question was met with a nod from the Pope. The action she took after was oddly reminiscent of Lascaris.

She recited the holy scripture of the Law God.

“‘Law is to maintain order. And order is to shine light upon the darkness of the human world – Light is another divine aspect of our Law God. I have heard that the Temple of Light was ostracized as a heresy because they sought justice too purely.'”

“‘Heresy is a harsh word. You say they sought justice purely, but what exactly did they do?'”

“‘During the war three hundred years ago, a faction of the Temple of Light sided with the Kijin. They believed that the war was a product of human desire, and sided with the Kijin for their own sense of justice. However, regardless of the circumstances, they betrayed their kin. This is not the only reason, but it is one of the factors that led to the Temple of Light changing its name to the Temple of Law.'”

With that said, Pope Noah looked at me quietly.

My face was reflected in her emerald green eyes, as if I could be drawn in.

“I cannot judge their actions as wrong. I have assumed that you may share the same sentiment, how do you feel?”

“As you said.”

It was clear that Pope Noah’s words were directed at Suzume, and for that reason, I had no other choice but to nod.

Facing me, the Pope continued her words.

“‘The remaining disciples of the Temple of Light were denounced as traitors, expelled as heretics, and suffered the torment of utter devastation. The High Priest at the time, fearing that at this rate, both people and teachings would dissolve into the earth, took a desperate measure. That was to change the name to the Temple of Law, and ally with Adoastera, which at the time was nothing more than a small country. The journey that the Temple of Law has taken with the Empire since then is something I believe you are well aware of.'”

Pope Noah fell silent after that, as if everything that needed to be said had been spoken.

A veil of silence descended upon the room.

Just as I was about to break the silence, the room door was gently knocked, cutting me off.

The one who appeared was a priest of the Temple of Law, stating that there were details about the wedding ceremony that needed to be confirmed. Furthermore, it seemed that he was not the only one who needed the Pope’s attention, as I could sense multiple presences beyond the door.

Without giving it much thought, it was clear that the Pope, who was in charge of the wedding ceremony between the two nations, must be so busy that she could use all the help she could get. Just creating this time to talk with me must have been quite a stretch.

Realizing this belatedly, I hastily stood up.

I was able to ask most of what I wanted to know. If I wanted to delve deeper into the conversation, I also needed to prepare. With only the unconfirmed information that Lascaris mentioned, I could neither deny nor affirm the Pope’s story.

“Your Holiness, thank you for sharing your valuable insights. I will take my leave now.”

“I apologize for being hasty. I wish I could have talked more…”

“I am humbled. If there is another opportunity, by all means.”

After bowing deeply to the Pope, I turned on my heels towards the door.

A voice echoed from behind me. It was a whisper, small, yet profound enough to linger in the ears.

“–Please, do not become my enemy.”

The voice was, indeed, saying that.

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