THE ALTAR BOY
The church doors eventually fell off its hinges. A loud clap echoed as the door slammed against the cold, hard floor. A slight but audible rumble followed. “This place won’t hold for long. Let’s get out of here first,” Terrence suggested. Adam replied with a slight nod. After hearing Adam’s retort on him rushing without having a conclusive plan, Terrence now had a slight understanding of what kind of person he was dealing with.
He was working with a calculative person, at the very least—someone who plans ahead. Now, it would be a shame if he did not match the attitude of his benefactor. It would appear as him being disingenuous. Worse, burdensome. His pride as a man of good faith would not accept such a tarnishing. ‘I’ll make sure to not become a hindrance.’
A good five-minute walk and the unlikely trio came out of a hole in the ground. It was not the same one, however, where Adam fell from a while back, but a dirt passage dug by none other than the church grim, Goo. “I instructed him to look for someone who he could trust with our current dilemma, thus this little tunnel here. It seemed he found someone a lot more suitable than we imagined,” Terrence explained with a stiff smile on his face.
“It’s tough to be expressive when we have nothing but bones,” Adam jokingly commented.
Terrence scratched the back of his skull, despite feeling no itch, “Right…”
Now on the surface, Terrence had a clearer look at the plain that was once a thriving village. In all fairness, the assigned geomancer did well enough of a job to conceal properly the horrible scene that lay beneath. Any passersby would not think much of the place. It looked nothing out of the ordinary. On the same note...
“How were you able to find your way here? Coincidence?” Terrence asked.
“Sort of,” Adam replied. “I got drifted here by accident. As I have said, I'm merely lost.”
Terrence let out a dry cough after hearing Adam’s blunt answer. ‘So it wasn’t a bluff after all?’ The vicar pondered upon what Adam said back then. People often tell lies to get out of unfavorable situations. The man in front of him, however, was telling the truth right at the get-go. The priest somehow felt bad for doubting an honest man.
“Is there a problem?” Adam asked, looking at Terrence in confusion.
Terrence shook his head. “No, no! Not really, I just went into a daze.”
“All right then… Well, it’s getting dark and we’re not sure where we’re heading yet. Let’s rest here for now.” Even though none of them needed food or rest, including Goo, mental exhaustion could affect them still—as for any sapient beings.
Getting lost in the comforting clutch of a dream world could benefit even the unlikely undead.
They may be in a hurry, but winter won’t come until four months’ time.
A dozen clipped parchments went tumbling across the long wooden table after the young intern threw them on haphazardly. A few incidentally fell off while some barely missed the edge. “That’s twelve out of twenty that stayed on top! I won!” the young intern exclaimed, albeit having no one to compete against and was messing around with himself.
“David! How many times do I have to tell you to handle these documents properly? One more of your stupid shenanigans and you’re out!” the middle-aged priest sitting across from where the young intern stood warned, his grayish beard quivering in anger.
The cold expression on the intern’s face, however, showed he did not care about the threat. It was meaningless. How could they dare pull out the only one left to do the job? Besides, why would he—a boy who wields the power of heroes—be afraid of some old man. David crossed his arms as he glared back at the priest. “Worry not, I am leaving on my own as soon my request gets approved by His Holiness. This city is terrible anyway.”
Other attending ministers, including a bishop, sat in silence and listened to the bickering of the two.
The middle-aged priest then let out a boisterous laugh. “Hah! Do you really think the Pope would fund you? Keep dreaming, young man! You are way too delusional for an altar boy who just awakened! Your powers won’t get you far! You’ll stay as an idiot for the rest of your life,” the priest mocked. “Haha! That’s right… you’ll be just like your fath—”
Before the priest could even finish his sentence, a knife suddenly found its way into his neck—Guhak!
The middle-aged priest let out a pitiful screech as he fell on the floor. He struggled hard. The honed tip of the blade barely missing any vital points—but still dug deep into his skin and flesh—made him suffer even more. Like a fish out of water, he flailed frantically across the room, his hot blood spilling everywhere. Oddly, not one of his colleagues stood up to help. David brandished more blades and sauntered towards the priest.
“That’s enough,” the bishop timely halted the spiraling situation. Kalen, the only woman, and bishop in the room stood up and walked towards the dying priest. A vicious ray of light grew on her palms and in an instant, healed the middle-aged man. As if nothing conspired, she sat back calmly and peeled open a parchment.
“We’re here to read the reports, not kill each other.”
David couldn't help but form a grin after hearing her stiff and uncaring response. ‘Good, that’s more like it!’ he thought as a chuckle vaguely escaped his lips. In contrast, the middle-aged priest left the room in haste, not wasting another breath. His slightly hunched back disappearing hurriedly was laughable to a degree. If the man uttered anything more, then it would have been impossible for him to leave the room alive—He was good as a corpse if it wasn't for the timely intervention.
As though nothing had happened, the clerical assembly went on.
The first report came from the church of the Fourth Corner. It was conflicting news regarding the sudden increase of monsters appearing near the village. On one hand, monster emergence meant the month of cold was near. However, stronger monsters might threaten the lives of the residents—the believers—needed for the sacrifice.
The church must keep a certain threshold in check at all costs for the Pentagon Project to work.
“Can we not send holy knights to patrol the place? Surely our knights can handle mindless creatures. It ensures the village doesn't get overrun by those monsters,” A priest made an immediate suggestion. Logically, it was the best course of action to take. If no complications occur, the holy knights could take on the task with absolute ease.
Bishop Kalen shook her head and brought up a concern, “An unforeseen conflict rose between the Senate of the Cyrus Kingdom and the Order. They're trying to resolve the issue as of the moment, and so we cannot guarantee that they could leave even if we request a dispatchment until everything gets settled,” she explained.
A conflict? Hushed whispers resounded inside the assembly room. After a moment, a priest finally spoke, “It would seem that everyone else besides you, Your Excellency, do not know about this conflict you're speaking of?”
Bishop Kalen waved a parchment stamped with the seal of the Order. “This was among the pile of reports that came. It is from a holy knight assigned to the war against the Carmine Kingdom. If I am not mistaken...” she then expounded on the report’s contents.
“Interesting…” A broad and devious grin lingered on David's face as the meeting went on. However, he wasn’t smiling because of the good news on some reports, nor was he for the terrible ones. A certain detail caught his attention—a peculiar monster that disrupted the raging war.
For a Skill Thief, finding a fresh unsuspecting prey has always been great news.
'And it seems I found myself a worthy target.' David thought as his smile widened.
Only a fool would believe that a monster as strong as what the reports suggested would die in such a dismal manner. It being suddenly “underwhelming” could well be a farce to evade needless suspicion. It doesn’t take a genius to figure the monster merely escaped. ‘Surely, an undead monster would have a grudge against the church,’ David figured.
With no delay, the young man brazenly called the attention of the esteemed bishop.
“If it's not a problem, Your Excellency, I’ll gladly volunteer in assisting the Fourth Corner.”
The blinding gleam of the bright morning sun—reflected on the skull of the undead man uneasily pacing back and forth—shone down the wide grassy plains of the Third Corner. Adam woke up earlier than Terrence and had been thinking about his future for the past couple of hours. The one concern he has was how he would strengthen himself further.
Unlike other level-able people, Adam had no solid method of getting stronger. Those with immoral agendas, like Umbra, could gain indefinite experience points by committing mass murders and genocides. Others, the more tame and amoral ones, do well by hunting down monsters that threaten humanity. They are what mankind considered heroes; the typical ones. However, neither would work well for him.
Adam would not even consider the former as a choice on the matter.
At the least, monster hunting sounded much more workable. How would he do it? He was still unsure.
‘I guess the latter could be an option for me if there’s nothing else.’ he thought.
“What is it you’re thinking so deeply this early in the morning?” a voice asked. It was Father Terrence—or just, Terrence.
Adam unwittingly dropped the excessive honorifics to make things a lot more comfortable between the two of them. He greeted the vicar with a brittle smile on his face. “Well, I have a few things to worry about,” Adam briefly replied. On a whim, he told the priest his quandary. A smile consequently bloomed on the vicar’s face.
“By any chance, have you heard of the ‘Den of Relief’?”