The Black Demon King 472
Chapter 24: The Battle of Holy Night
The Oracle of Holy Night
The night of the 24th of the month of Gloom. That night was called “Holy Night” in the Cross Church and was considered to be the most sacred day of the year.
A long, long time ago, back when “Eden” still existed, and the White God still lived amongst humans… On that day, God met a woman.
It was said that she was a beautiful woman with black hair as dark as the night and eyes as red as fresh blood.
Her name was Aria.
It wasn’t clear how much time had passed since their first encounter, though it at least happened after God left this world and returned to his world.
Aria gave birth to a child. The Son of God, created through the union of God and mankind.
The day he was born also was the 24th of the month of Gloom.
The child was blessed by his father, God. And that’s how the First Apostle “Adam” came to be.
And Aria was worshiped as “The Virgin”, the mother who gave birth to the Son of God.
That’s all that was written in the Bible. The day when God met the Holy Mother, and the day when the Son of God was born. The fateful day of the 24th of the month of Gloom, was therefore regarded as sacred by the Cross Church and known henceforth as “Holy Night”.
In particular, the episode about their meeting and their son’s birth was regarded as a famous passage that deepened the relationship between men and women –or rather, it transformed it into an universal custom. The young couples awaited this day even more than the most devout Cross believers, since it was very special for them as well.
The Second Apostle, Abel, was no exception.
In a dark bedroom, Abel gently got up from bed, sweating from his forehead.
The room was one of many like it found in the living quarters of the St. Elysion Cathedral, which was for the Apostle’s exclusive use. This room in particular was usually used by Abel.
After having set out to find the Demon King who had been born in the Pandora continent, Abel was determined to return to Elysion by the afternoon of the 24th of the month of Gloom, though since he arrived before daybreak it would be more precise to say he returned the day before. Originally, he wanted to spend a little more time on his way home, but he had a reason to make it on the 24th.
“Oh, are you already awake…?”
A voice so sweet it could melt Abel’s soul came from his side, that is, from the person who had been sleeping next to him.
“Sorry, Michael. Did I wake you?”
“Oh no, I was just in the middle of waking up anyway.”
Though he couldn’t see much more than a shadow getting up from bed in that bedroom without any lights, Abel’s black and blue eyes could see her exactly in the dark.
Her long platinum blonde hair –which was a little disturbed after her sleep– adorned the soft smile on her slightly sweaty beautiful face. She was hiding her naked chest by holding a blanket over it with her hand, but her still bare back and shoulders were suggestive enough to derail a man’s reason with just a peek at them.
However, after having had a long relationship with her for more than a hundred years, Abel still saw Third Apostle Michael –with whom he was close enough to share a bedroom during Holy Night– with watchful eyes, as if she was some kind of strange monster.
“…Did you hear what the Oracle said?”
Michael’s eyes were shining in the dark like a magical amethyst.
“Looks like Sariel was defeated.”
Despite the fact that an Apostle had been defeated, the gentle smile did not disappear from Michael’s face.
“She didn’t only lose, it seems. I honestly would have never thought, ever since becoming an Apostle, that I’d hear something like that from the Oracle…”
“Oh, is that so? I think this was better for Sariel overall.”
Those words were by no means ironic or anything like that. They sounded more like a teacher rejoicing that their student had gone forward with their ideal course.
“You may be right, but… God was not happy about it at all.”
“If you had been betrayed twice during Holy Night, you wouldn’t be too happy either, hehe.”
“Are you talking about the Original Sinner, Eve? Nonsense. Aria simply ran away.”
Few knew that there was another tragic episode in the legend of the 24th of the month of Gloom. It was also one of the taboos of the Cross Church, known only by a limited number of clerics.
The facts that had been passed down were that Aria eventually betrayed God and escaped from Eden, and the existence of a woman named Eve who seduced her into doing that.
That woman was the first known human to oppose God. She was regarded as a scum of the earth, bearer of the original sin. This earned her the name of “Eve, the Original Sinner”.
Her very existence was spoken of in the Bible and was known to everyone who followed the Cross Church. However, the part related to how Aria and her were related was particularly left out, and all it said about Eve was that she was the first person to disobey God.
In other words, in the popular knowledge passed on by the Bible, Aria did not betray God.
By the way, the fact that Eve seduced Aria and both of them were women was probably one of the reasons behind the Cross Church’s prohibition of homosexuality. Officially, the reason was that it wasn’t productive, because they wouldn’t be able to give birth to children. And since God said, “Bear children and multiply”, being in a relationship that could not produce children was seen as something against His will.
“But more than God’s temper, the problem here is that someone among us Apostles is going to get very angry about this.”
“Well, you’re right… But it’s to be expected. After all, losing a loved one is something really, really painful.”
“…Are you talking from experience?”
“Listen here, I’m the one who’s by your side now.”
Abel reflexively turned his face away from Michael.
“Sorry, that was improper of me.”
“Oh, come on, hehe, it’s fine, I don’t mind.”
Michael’s soft palm gently covered Abel’s hand. Abel’s shoulders shook in response, as if a venomous snake had coiled itself around it instead.
“Hehe, you’re completely awake, aren’t you…? But the sun isn’t even up yet…”
Before Michael’s white arms could wrap themselves around him, Abel jumped out of bed as if his side had been spring-loaded. Almost as if he was trying to avoid being embraced.
“I’m sorry, but with something like that happening, it’s going to cause quite a stir in Elysion. In the worst case, the other Apostles might get recalled.”
“Yeah, you’re right… Will the ones from the north, where things seem to have calmed down, be recalled, or the ones from the south?”
“The east is looking pretty strained, but it’s possible that they themselves are expanding the front line. It might be better to keep the problem child away from Pandora.”
Abel quickly changed into his clothes and hurried to leave the bedroom. It seemed that taking a shower could wait at this time.
Then, when Abel put his hand on the doorknob, Michael’s sweet voice caused him to stop for a moment.
“Can I wait for you here tomorrow as well?”
“…I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow, though.”
“I’ll wait for you here until you come back. But don’t be too late, or I’ll–”
“Got it. I’ll be back here by tomorrow, or the night after tomorrow at the latest.”
With an unabashedly unpleasant look on his face, Abel’s reply sounded as if he had to squeeze it out of himself. He had thought he had skillfully refused her holy invitation, and so it seemed extremely painful for him to make a definite promise about their next meeting.
“Hehe, I’ll be waiting for you, dear.”
Despite seeing the expression on Abel’s face, Michael saw him off with a pure smile, like an innocent child.
When he finally escaped Michael’s line of sight and entered a dimly lit corridor, Abel quickly switched his thoughts and began to put more strength into his pace.
“Should I check again with the Oracle first?”
Collecting his thoughts once again, Abel thought back on the revelation he had in his dreams, which came as a vague mist that seemed to be about to disappear at any moment.
“The Seventh Apostle Sariel fell into the hands of the Demon King, and has fallen from grace. Her being able to repeat Eve’s original sin has been deemed a serious act against God on her part. She has been immediately dispossessed of her Divine Protection as a result. And the position of Seventh Apostle shall be forever missing from our ranks.”
“Though fortunately there was no mention of Sariel’s execution or anything similar.”
There were some who would be happy to move out when they are told to find and kill a transgressor. Both in the Cross Church and among the Apostles themselves.
“At any rate, it seems that the Demon King has really appeared after all.”
Abel began to form a conjecture.
He started to think that this oracle may have been passed down this information not only to the Apostles but also to other priests. In other words, the emergence of an entity known as the “Demon King” would finally be an open fact for the entire Cross Church.
“Phew… God, please don’t tell me to go on a journey to defeat the Demon King. The adventures of the hero Abel should be over for good.”
“…Oh, the Crusaders seem to have lost.”
Bishop Gregorius suddenly woke up while he was asleep in a carriage seat, which was comfortable to sit in, but not so much to sleep in. However, even though he had woken up from sleep just like any other day, his blue eyes weren’t throughly open yet.
“W-What are you saying just as you’re waking up, Lord Bishop?”
The first thing Gregorius’s eyes caught was the face of a strict-looking middle-aged man who he didn’t want to see so up close as soon as he woke up. It was Head Priest Norz.
“What do you mean, the Crusaders lost…?”
A young priest who was riding along asked that question while repeatedly blinking his puppy-like round eyes. It was Rudel, the fiancée of –and living sacrifice to– Esther, the captain of the Pegasus Knights, who was the acclaimed guard of their carriage.
“Yes, the outcome of the battle has just been decided. Even though it was Holy Night tonight, you still couldn’t show God your true worth, could you, Count Bergunt? Oh, that’s too bad…”
As if Count Bergunt himself were right in front of him, Gregorius gladly talked about the defeat of his army not with irony, but with a grinning smile that seemed to be fanning the flames with all his might.
“No way, was that part of your ‘prophecy’, Lord Bishop?”
“Well, yes, more or less.”
As far as Norz was concerned, Gregorius’s “prophecies” didn’t seem to be mere advanced predictions created through his own intelligence, and instead believed that some higher power was at work in their creation. It was reasonable for them to think that he had received a blessing from the White God, and was endowed with a special ability.
The question was exactly what kind of ability that was.
“More importantly, is this alright?”
“That is… if the Crusaders have lost, then we’re stranded in the enemy country without anything to support us.”
Norz had acted on the premise that the Crusaders would succeed in capturing Spada. If the Third Army of the Crusaders, that is, the company of the aristocrats, had been able to occupy Spada territory, they could have simply crossed over to Avalon.
However, with the Third Army defeated, Spada would remain strong, which meant that there would be no way for them to use occupied territory to reach Avalon. So how were they going to get there?
“Stranded? What are we, a raid squadron?”
What were the Pegasus Knights for anyway?
But even though the Pegasus Knights had excellent mobility, there was no way a single unit could cause any disturbance in the rear. They were simply too far from the battlefield.
In that case, then their duty when infiltrating truly was to take the least number of men possible, just as Gregorius had explained.
“The Third Army has done a good job. Thanks to their reckless tenacity at the wintery Galahad Fortress, we have thus smoothly stepped on Avalon soil– Whoops, but we haven’t stepped on it yet now, have we?”
Gregorius would take advantage of the battle to capture the fortress in order to sneak into enemy territory, but was he really using the Third Army’s battle just for that? In fact, due to the flashy battle that was taking place in the Galahad Mountains, Spada’s border security had been clearly weakened.
The number of soldiers on guard was halved. Griffons and Pegasus, which would normally keep an astute watch over the sky, had no choice but to create gaps in their surveillance network.
As a result of that, they have finally crossed the territory of Spada and entered the territory of Avalon.
“Lord Bishop, I’ve been silent so far… But can you tell us what is the true reason for us being here? I’m already prepared, and above all, we’re all here. None of us can go back anymore.”
“…Huh? Haven’t I just said that?”
He had mustered his resolve and asked him that, and yet all he received was an elusive answer.
He really hated this guy’s guts. Norz started thinking again.
“You were listening just now, right, Rudel?”
“Ah, um… Yes.”
I’m the Head Priest, Father Rudel. How come someone below me has received the command as if I didn’t exist? Is this some kind of middle management issue? No way. This must be a joke.
That was the resentment and anguish contained in Norz’s “Huuuh!?”.
“C-Can you fill me in…?”
“Ah, sure, sure, sorry about that. That was careless of me.”
Come on, just fill me in already. He waited for his talkative superior to continue talking while biting his own lip.
“Hmm, let’s see, our mission in Avalon is to– Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I’m receiving something…”
Norz silently endured the time it took for Gregorius’s telepathic call to end, though he was getting as impatient as a dancer who wanted to take their shoes after a long session.
“Yes, yes, so what happened, Commander Esther? Eh, ah, I see… that’s…”
The communicator was a small earring that gave off a blue glow. Therefore, Gregorius seemed to be speaking to himself, making him even more annoying to look at than ever. It would be more convincing to see him being face to face with a communicator that looked like the head of a rugged and old-fashioned golem.
“Ah, could you wipe the window there a bit?”
The young priest turned to the window as if he had been just slapped across the face towards it, and after some consideration, used the long hem of his robe to wipe off the cloudiness of the winter cold off the glass surface, making a squeaky sound.
“Hmm, I see– Indeed, there’s a battle going on.”
At the other side of the window, they could see a field of red flames that bloomed like flowers in a pure white snow field.
Armed groups were attacking the carriages stuck on the highway from all sides, gradually narrowing down on them. From how fierce the battle looked, it seemed that it was not just a trader being attacked by bandits.
There was no way to see that much fire on the battlefield without either party having a decent number of mages.
“Well, from up here, it’s easy to see what’s happening on the ground. I feel kind of jealous of the Pegasus Knights, they always get to see this kind of scenery.”
The view they could see from the window was one of the ground below looked up from the sky.
In other words, the carriage was actually flying.
It wasn’t an ordinary carriage. It had been specially made to be pulled by four Pegasus and enchanted with magic so that the carriage itself could float in the air. Gregorius had spent a lot of money getting this carriage prepared so that it would help him sneak into Avalon.
“Well, everyone, looks like we have work to do.”
Clapping his hands, he looked at Norz and Rudel, who were still gazing through the window.
“Let’s go help out. Of course, I’m talking about the carriage that is being attacked.”
“Wha-!? But if we show ourselves here, we’ll–”
“Wait, wait, please. Don’t you all shout at the same time, please! It’s hurting my ears!”
In a reflexive-like manner, Gregorius pressed his communication piercing over his ear, temporarily interrupting any further objections.
But the opinion of those present in the carriage had already been handed down.
If they were to poke their noses into trouble in enemy territory, their presence would be immediately revealed. Why go through all that trouble to travel undetected by the enemy’s surveillance network if they were just going to throw it all away on a whim?
“Well, aren’t you both literally God’s shepherds?”
“N-No way, you mean this part of our duty as believers to help those in need…?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Nonsense! They’re either demons or heretics!”
“No, they’re ‘non-believers’.”
He wasn’t saying that they were infidels who had chosen not to believe in God, but merely pitiful people who lived their entire lives without even knowing about God’s existence. Therefore, they shouldn’t be considered as enemies of God who had to be defeated, and instead should be saved by receiving God’s teachings.
The idea of “non-believers” was controversial even among the followers of the Cross Church, but it was a very major stance for priests to spread the teachings of God in the colonies and remote areas they controlled.
“Would that be okay, Head Priest Norz? We’d be doing missionary work on our way to Avalon.”
That didn’t leave them with much of a choice in the matter.
In the past, the Cross Church had repeatedly carried out missionary work on territories that were about to be invaded by the Crusaders, turning the people from enemy territory into new fellowmen rather than just allies, allowing for a smooth invasion and subsequent domination.
However, something like that had never been tried in the Pandora continent.
The reason was simple. It was the presence of demons.
The areas where the Crusaders conducted their missionary work were all human-only countries. Only humans could be believers of the Cross Church. Elves, dwarves, beastkin… There were many other different races, but they could never recognize these sub-races as believers, since they were different from humans.
Even among humans, if another faith had been deeply ingrained in a specific area, the Cross Church’s teachings would not permeate. Moreover, those belonging to the race of demons could not accept the teachings of God.
“No, it will definitely work, because the people of this land are waiting for God’s teachings. We will start from Avalon and spread our faith in the White God to the Pandora continent. That is my ‘prophecy’.”
The word “fanatic” flashed across Norz’s mind.
His smile, which had seemed to be just a little sketchy up until that point, suddenly became infinitely more ominous than ever.
Norz couldn’t do anything but regret that he had put himself in a position from which there no longer was a way out.
“Now, let us go, Head Priest Norz, Commander Esther. Let’s save those poor lambs in danger.”
With that, the “Order of Aria”, a missionary group of but a dozen people led by Bishop Gregorius, landed on the land of Avalon.