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On this day, the world was shaken to its very core.
The disappearance of the “Natural Calamity”-class monster “Storm Dragon Verudora” had been confirmed.
Though it may have been sealed 300 years ago, it was nonetheless a Natural Calamity-class monster.
There was still the possibility that it was feigning death, waiting to reappear as a new threat in another location.
However, it was only after 20 days had passed since the report of the missing dragon, before the Western Holy Church had declared that the “Storm Dragon Verudora” had completely ceased to exist.
Earl Nidol Maigam was beside himself with rage.
[How utterly ridiculous can this be!!!]
Remembering the words of the Cardinal not too long ago, he couldn’t help bursting out in fury.
The words spoken by the Cardinal Nicolas Schpeltas.
The mere memory of it aggravated the Earl.
[The “Storm Dragon Verudora” no longer threatens the lands. Thus, the payment of the emergency support funds we have been providing until now, will end as of today.]
After saying that, the Cardinal had one-sidedly dismissed further talk.
That was the conclusion he had met, on top of being arbitrarily summoned, at the end of a 3 hours wait.
There was no doubt, that the support funds up to this point were exceedingly helpful.
The territory under Earl Maigam was a vital defensive frontier due to it being located alongside the Great Forest of Jura, right by the borders of the Kingdom of Falmus.
However, this fact was by no means unrelated to the Western Holy Church that was based on land nearby.
Even while “Storm Dragon Verudora” was sealed, it had remained as a huge threat to the people.
But this held true for the demons of that region as well.
Or rather, it could be said that it had an even larger influence on them.
With the menace that was holding them at bay now gone, it would inevitably lead to a rise in the activity of demons.
There was now an even greater need than before to strengthen the guard at the frontier, yet it was at this timing that the Church had chosen to cut off their support.
This was what caused Earl Nidol Maigam to be so furious.
The Western Holy Church may have had their own reasons, but for Nidol, this had nothing to do with himself.
From here on, he had to consider how best to protect his territory.
To hire mercenaries you also need money.
As for the adventurers of the Freedom Association, they couldn’t be counted on when needed.
The Church was his last resort, but they had already refused to help.
And his final hope, the Kingdom…. Recalling the King’s face, Nidol only despaired.
Even during the time “Storm Dragon Verudora” had existed, the Kingdom had not once sent any form of assistance whatsoever.
It appeared that they believed when a threat disappeared, the costs for national defense would simply vanish along with it.
If the Earl was not careful, it would bring about even heavier taxes.
Nidol made a grimace as he thought of that prospect.
He was racking his brains for countermeasures while riding the carriage headed towards his own territory.
Too busy while worrying about the impending danger of demons, Nidol didn’t have the luxury to spare a thought for anything else…
Nidol was not alone in his troubled contemplations.
The Kingdom of Falmus was roughly a medium-sized country. Therefore, no matter what happened, it could depend on the frontier.
Thanks to this kind of circumstance, the country lacked a sense of danger.
Just as Nidol had predicted, many of the ministers of government wished to save budget on national defense.
However, the other smaller countries near the border of the Great Forest of Jura could not afford to do the same.
With no one to turn to, they had no choice but to rely on themselves and come up with countermeasures.
Every day, the kings and ministers of each nations would enter prolonged urgent meetings to strategize and gather information.
The minister for the small Kingdom of Burmund, Baron Belyaad was also one of these people.
[There is only one reason I’ve called you here. The matter regarding “Storm Dragon Verudora”, I assume you’ve heard of it?]
Baron Belyaad questioned the man in the room, as if it was the most natural thing to do.
Though low of height, he was a man with ever vigilant eyes.
[Of course, Baron.]
The man quietly affirmed crisply in a gravelly voice.
[Hmph. As expected of the Guild Master!…to say the least.]
Baron Belyaad arrogantly continued as if spitting out the words.
[Well then, won’t you let me hear of the countermeasures the guild has come up with?]
[At the moment, there are no plans to make any movements.]
[What? I didn’t hear that quite clearly…. You mean to say you have no intention of making plans?]
[Yes. We do not feel the need to do so.]
The man called Guild Master replied with indifference.
He looked as though he could not understand why the Baron was so angry.
On the other hand, while the Baron found the other man’s attitude unpleasant, he tried not to show it on his face as he continued speaking.
Although, it was hard to say if he completely succeeded in his efforts.
[To say there is no need to act, I find that rather strange. What the disappearance of “Storm Dragon Verudora” means, is that we can expect the demons to become increasingly active once more! And in spite of that, you say no countermeasures will be made?!]
[You do speak of some odd things. The planning of such things is the duty of the country. We are of the Freedom Association. You do realize that we are not volunteers?]
It was the truth.
The Freedom Association was not bound to serve any one country.
Compared to the workers belonging to a country, the livelihood of its guild members was not guaranteed.
However, a minimal social status was ensured, as well as the rights granted to citizens. Therefore, their only obligation was to pay a fixed amount of tax.
To clarify, a chef that belonged to a country would be given the full rights of a citizen, but would carry the obligation of paying a corresponding amount of tax. In exchange, the country would guarantee the social status and assets of that chef.
In regards to a chef of the Freedom Association, only a semi-citizenship would be granted, but the tax would be relatively cheap. Those taxes are paid to the Freedom Association, which in turn would guarantee the identity of that chef. However, the chef would need to ensure his own assets and personal security.
A chef belonging to a country was allowed to open a shop within the safety of the royal capital surrounded with walls, and it was also possible for the children of that chef to inherit said shop.
The Freedom Association was not given those rights, and would only be allowed to open a shop in the outskirts of the country, such as the free market. And even if a shop was set up outside the royal capital, the children of that chef would not be allowed the right of inheritance.
The difference in such treatment was the origin of a widespread tendency to look down upon the autonomous Freedom Association.
This system was not limited to the Kingdom of Burmund, and was commonly used in almost all other countries nearby.
But from another point of view, it could be said that the Freedom Association was an organization that had overcome the limitations of a country, and also possessed the organizational capability to surpass a whole nation…
Although unknown whether intentional or not, the current circumstances of the Freedom Association showed that they were only working under other countries, as if to conceal their activities.
[Protecting the fortunes of the citizens is the obligation of the country, is it not? Likewise, the Association will protect our guild members. We each have our own share of troubles.]
These shameless remarks from the Guild Master caused the veins on Baron Belyaad’s forehead to pop out.
It was obvious that the Guild Master was taking advantage of the situation.
[Enough nonsense!!! From the Freedom Association, how many mercenaries can you bring out? What about the adventurers proficient in battle? How many men can you turn over to defend this town!!!?]
The Guild Master sighed in resignation.
[I do not want to cause a misunderstanding, but we are not a volunteer organization. If a contract was to be made between your country and our Freedom Association, we could mobilize 10% of our total manpower, and if a further amount were to be demanded, it would merely become a question of price.]
The population of the Kingdom of Burmund numbered 1 million.
Included in that number was around 7,000 guild members, not counting family members.
In the case that an arrangement to mobilize reinforcements was made official, 10% of the Freedom Association’s members (in this situation, 700 men) would be assigned under the command of the country.
Naturally, the number of men would only include those pertaining to the guild members affiliated with the country involved, so the agreement of reinforcements would not apply to the guild members in other countries. In that way, the Association members’ respective affiliations with other countries could be clearly discerned.
Furthermore, although the period of an established contract could be decided by the country, it would be on the condition that the tax collected from involved guild members would be reduced by 20% for the duration of said contract.
This system yielded legal power to the contractee, but in turn prevented excessive tax levied from the contractors.
Of course, since it was within the interests of the Freedom Association to remunerate its members’ for their losses in tax, this kind of agreement was to be expected.
For example, if every member of the guild was to be levied tax, it would be impossible to cope with the losses.
The reason was because at least half of the guild members were non-combatants.
Everything about this system was well known and understood across the Kingdoms.
For that reason, in ordinary circumstances the Freedom Association would not be pressured into anything, however…this time the situation was desperate.
The demons would begin to move
Certainly, that was a reason compelling enough to act.
However, the real reason was that…
[I give up. Oi, Fuse. Do you really need me to speak my mind?]
The Guild Master, no, Fuse was slightly surprised his name was called.
And then, for the first time, he properly looked into the face of Baron Belyaad.
[The area where “Storm Dragon Verudora” was sealed that was once unapproachable. Now that it is possible to establish a direct route through that place, there is a possibility that the Empire in the east will begin to move.]
[Exactly! They had always held themselves back, and whether because it was they feared the seal on Verudora coming undone or something else, I don’t know, but now there has been a change in the Empire that had been quiet up till now!!!
You know this as well don’t you? If they can pass through that forest, this Kingdom will be swallowed up in no time. Not to mention, the Western Holy Church will not be of any help at all!
Before long, the disorganized countries near the Great Forest of Jura will be placed under the control of the Empire!]
[So the Church will not lift a finger…but of course they wouldn’t. For them, the conflicts between men are of little interest. The extermination of demons is their creed after all.]
[It’s just as you say. At the very least, the help of a single Holy Knight would cause the Empire to be careful…even if they were to only guard against the demons in our place, it would buy us much needed time.]
[That is unlikely to happen…when it comes to the Church, they would definitely not bother to meddle in matters unrelated to them, even if the country were to fall to ruins. Those who follow the creed of the Church will not necessarily save everyone.]
Fuse stared at the face of Belyaad as if in contemplation.
He thought to himself, ‘He looks so exhausted, this fellow…’ .
It was quite understandable that Baron Belyaad looked as if he had aged all at once in the past few days.
The two of them were in fact childhood friends.
Though only a Baron he was still a noble, and thus it would cause various inconveniences if the public were to know of their friendship.
Because they needed to give off the impression of a relationship with only mutual benefits, usually they always acted as if on bad terms.
With such a small country, they would not be able to overcome this difficult situation.
However, it wasn’t impossible that it was all needless worrying.
Although it was certain that movements were detected within the Empire, it wasn’t for sure that they would attack.
If it was just the demons, countermeasures could still be made.
[Isn’t it too early to determine if the Empire will attack? In any case, the one thing I can do for you is to carry out a personal investigation into this.
Don’t expect too much, but I’ll try to find out more about the current situation in the Great Forest of Jura and keep track of any changes in the Empire.]
[I’m sorry about this…. You’re a lifesaver.]
Indeed, it was not set in stone that the Empire would move.
If they truly intended to attack, then there would have been military movements on a large scale. They would not be so lenient as to come with small skirmishing numbers.
Using the might of a military force exceeding 1 million, they would trample across the neighboring countries altogether.
If that was to be the case, the preparation would take time.
At the very least 3 years….
Although it was nowhere near enough, it still allowed a margin of time to make the necessary arrangements.
[Anyhow, what I need to do is to gather information. There’s no time. I’ll be going!]
[I leave it to you…]
The two nodded to one another, and bid farewell.
There was a mountain of tasks to be done.
Cardinal Nicolas Schpeltas was faintly smiling as he watched the leaving figure of Earl Nidol Maigam.
Suddenly, an affectionate smile appeared across his face as he spat out the word,
A parasite that held no faith towards God, but only flocked to the wealth, authority and power of the Church.
That was how Nicolas had assessed Earl Nidol Maigam.
But he was never alone in such thoughts.
All those who belonged to the Church held the same ideal.
They all followed these words,
[If you believe in God, then you must devote yourself to the Holy Ruberios Empire and become a true believer!]
The Western Holy Church was the established religion of the Empire lead by the revered Pope.
The Holy Ruberios Empire also happened to be the main headquarters of the Church, where every citizen was made to be a believer of the religion.
To the believers of the Church, no matter how much those foreigners spoke of faith, it was considered to be nothing more than a worthless facade.
God took precedence over all else.
That was all the more reason why no compassion was needed for those who refused the citizenship of the Empire under the pretext of ties of obligation and whatnot.
Such was the consensus among Cardinal Nicolas and all those who belonged to the Western Holy Church.
Originally, Nicolas had thought, ‘Every single one of those unbelieving heretics should die!’.
But there was one person who had scorned upon, and changed that way of thinking.
“Other Worlder” Hinata Sakaguchi.
She had said,
[It’s pointless. Breaking the wills of those who believe in other gods would require an enormous amount of effort. Instead, you should simply extend a helping hand to accommodate them. This way will be more effective!]
[Let us be known to the public as a “righteous group” that protects the people from the demons. After all, since war is something that will never disappear from the world, it’s better to lend help where it’s needed! Demons are the common enemy of humanity, but do humans need to fight amongst themselves?]
[There is no need to go out of our way to make enemies. The masses are just like sheep, so merely the act of saving them in troubled times will turn them into believers. Isn’t that the very purpose of religion?]
*Hinata is speaking in all three dialogues
She was a pragmatist, through and through.
In spite of being an atheist, she did not deny religion.
She intended to make use of it to the fullest.
Even Nicolas felt her appearance to be of unwavering determination.
She had stared at Nicolas with such cold eyes that it had made him shudder.
[We need not do anything but wait. Wait for the strength of the other countries to fail! For that moment, we must gather favor.]
When she had whispered these words into his ears, shivers had run down his body.
Was it from ecstasy, or perhaps terror…?
Nicolas had obeyed her.
Because of that, the standing of the Church had changed greatly.
Even before she came along, the Church did indeed possess considerable influence, but within just 7 years, it had become an irreplaceable existence among the many nations.
With these achievements, Nicolas had risen from Bishop to Cardinal.
All of it was thanks to her.
[Well, just like she said, even parasites may have their uses.]
Nicolas considered what he would do from now.
It was unknown whether the Empire would move or not, but the activity of demons would only increase.
There was no doubt things would get busy.
For the first time in a long while, he thought that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to get in touch with her again.
*Ruberios Empire and Empire are two separate countries
The person who was now the leader of the Imperial Guards under the Pope’s direct command, Holy Knight Captain Hinata Sakaguchi…