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Chapter 135: For Whom the Bell Tolls

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: Scribble Hub

The sound of the dorm bell woke Justin from his sleep. Snorting a bit from the snore he interrupted, he rolled out of bed. “What in damnations…it’s in the middle of the night, isn’t it?” he grumbled as he looked out the window.

The sky was still pitch black without even a hint of sunlight. He groaned. It was way too early for this. Was the bell-keeper playing a prank? He waited a bit to see, but when the bell hit its sixth chime with no signs of stopping, he reluctantly grabbed the clothes from the edge of his bed.

He began to change, grumbling under his breath. “Bloody heavens. What is it this time? Someone annoyingly got a woman pregnant?” he thought, thinking back to his teacher’s escapades. He laughed. “Be nice if that happened.”

The very thought of it cleared up his bad mood. The last thing he put on was his robes of a quality just between that of a regular priest and an archpriest, white and trimmed with gold-colored thread.

However, he still lived in the communal priests’ living quarters like the others. When he opened the door, he spotted sleep-deprived priests just like him shambling down the hall like zombies which put another thought into his mind.

This couldn’t be an undead attack, could it?

Was the Church marshalling manpower to oppose an attack on the city? No way, right? Not that it would be a bad thing, since he was itchy to test some of his new theories and spells on live targets. He kept that thought to himself though; it was improper for a priest.

Looking at the other priests, Justin figured that even if he asked someone, they wouldn’t know what was going on so he just joined them and headed downstairs and out the door. When he came out, the moon was still hanging high in the sky, attesting to the earliness… or lateness of this whole affair.

Most of the priests seemed to be heading toward the cathedral. This late at night, the cathedral was closed to the public. “What could be happening?” he wondered.

One by one, they filed into the huge building and took a seat in the audience. As one of the apprentice archpriests, he sat in the second row. From then on, the priests were seated by seniority. As the front rows filled up, Justin looked around, trying to find Arvel.

Despite being such an excellent researcher and holding a bit of soft power, he wasn’t actually that senior so he should be in the back. However, when Justin looked, the priest was nowhere to be seen, even when the younger ones had already taken their seat. A bad feeling fell like a pit to the bottom of his stomach.

“Where is he?” Justin muttered to himself. The last of the priests trickled in. The last one looked behind him and, apparently seeing no one, closed the door behind him. Justin furrowed his brows.

Something was wrong.

Arvel was missing from the assembly and now the bells were ringing? At this point he was willing to bet his next month’s stipend that the old fox had something to do with this. He made up his mind to chew the man out afterwards.

Sitting back in his seat to wait for Arvel’s appearance, Justin crossed his arms with a mask of displeasure on his face. Hopefully Fleur and Anne are unaffected by whatever mess Arvel’s gotten caught up in this time.

Now, the archpriests are coming in from another door.

As the first one came through, Justin stirred, staring at each entering archpriest. Had his teacher come back yet from his night activities? Even if he was an archpriest, there were consequences.

A while later, the door closed and all the archpriests were seated at the very front of the seats, up close to the sanctuary. But there was just one problem, maybe two.

First, his teacher wasn’t among them.

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Second, Demuur wasn’t there either. That bad feeling that Justin had just chased away returned.

One missing priest was okay. An archpriest also gone was worrying, for various reasons… But a second archpriest coincidentally missing at the same time had practically never happened before. Scanning the front row, Justin checked again, only to confirm his previous observation: both Pavlor and Demuur weren’t among them

What in the world was happening?

As his patience wore thin and he was about to ask someone near him what was going on, a side door opened for one last time. Normally accompanied by the sound of great, holy-sounding organs, the bishop rushed in, scurrying along like a little rat.

Honestly, did anyone like him?

Justin had to suppress a little laugh before he sobered. The bishop was in his position for a reason. Of course someone liked him. Liked him for his money-driven personality. Ask him for a thousand crests and he’d probably be able to give it to you, no matter the cost of doing so.

That is, if you outranked him and he owed you.

Justin’s eyes turned cold as he watched the bishop hurry to the pulpit and pick up the hammer, slamming it against the podium. The sound rang out loud and clear, echoing against the high ceilings and walls of the cathedral, silencing the little conversation that had sprung up here and there.

“Silence, silence! My fellow believers, a great tragedy has befallen us!” he shouted. Despite his small, portly frame, his voice was loud and powerful, a necessary property for anyone who preached or spoke publicly.

No one answered him. He had been the one to silence them after all. But it wasn’t as if he wanted an answer either.

“A great tragedy! This evening, a foul demon had managed to sneak into our most sacred sanctuary and launched an attack on us!”

Murmurs of shock and surprise rippled through the seated priests. Justin could hardly blame them, given that he himself had not expected this.

How could this be?

The inner holy formation had the effect of detecting undead, which was how they sensed Camilla and Kagriss coming the moment they entered the barrier. To bypass it, any intruders must be able to use holy magic, but that was impossible!

Or is it? Justin bit his lips as he corrected himself. No, it was possible. Especially now, as he knew better than almost anyone else how undeads are growing to be more and more unpredictable. First it was Camilla who could make holy contracts and then there was the pseudo-undead mana created from corrupted holy mana that things such as Orlog used.

While the barrier could still detect Orlog, there was no guarantee that the next monster that the undead created would still be subject to that vulnerability. A shiver went down his spine.

Where the hell was Arvel?

Justin looked around again, only to find the seat that Arvel should’ve been in occupied by someone else. Before he could look any more, the bishop continued his speech, dragging Justin from his thoughts back to reality. Only then did Justin realize that he didn’t even know if anyone died, nor did he think about it, even though both Arvel and Pavlor were both missing.

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They were the two most likely victims judging by the situation.

The bishop’s words confirmed his worst fears. “Unfortunately, we lost some of our brothers and sisters in the attack. Our brother Arvel was regretfully killed in the attack. Pavlor is lost and during the fighting, Demuur sustained an injury that cost him his arm!”

This time, the reaction wasn’t limited to just a few murmurs as several priests in the audience stood up in shock.

“Impossible!”

“Yeah, that’s impossible!”

“How many were there? Right under our noses too!”

Justin almost joined them if not for his inability to breath. It was like the breath had been sucked out of him, or forced out of him by a punch. He could hardly believe his ears. His teacher, missing? Arvel, dead?

And one of the strongest forces in the entire Church, crippled?

How did things come to this?”

He wasn’t the only person with that question as one of the archpriests at the front stood up to speak. He sounded calm, but Justin could hear the edge in his voice. “How can this be? Did we at least kill or capture one of the enemies in return? What exactly happened?”

Cries of agreement rang out throughout the nave.

The bishop slammed the pulpit hammer again, silencing the curious crowd. He hung his head, too dramatically for Justin to believe it, but more than real enough for the others. Even before he spoke, there were already murmurs of disappointment and sadness.

“Most of the enemies got away. However, we did manage to kill one of them,” he said. “As you all may know, a few weeks ago, one of our forces brought back a specimen of undead. It is unique in that it can use holy magic to some extent. Regrettably, Pavlor and Arvel were members, as were many of you.”

The bishop’s sonorous voice calmed the gathered priests. Some of them were even nodding. Justin had no time for that.

Why were Arvel and Pavlor involved in this? Was it a coincidence or had they been targeted specifically in this attack? His thoughts shifted back to the traitor that Camilla had spoken about. Was this the work of the traitor?

“However, although we may have lost Arvel and Pavlor, we managed to bring down one of the attackers. It’s another specimen of that special undead. When the enemies escaped, they left that monster behind to guard their rear and delay pursuit. Demuur managed to kill it before it escaped as well.”

“How do you know all this?” an archpriest called out. “Where’s Demuur? How is he?”

The bishop paused. “Demuur is bedridden. I heard all this straight from his mouth when he came to find me and report this.”

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The archpriest nodded, satisfied.

The rest of the meeting flew by with the bishop answering or deflecting any question that came up, but Justin couldn’t wait to get out. He was worried about the research. If the enemy killed Arvel and then left, then they might be after the research as well.

If Arvel died, then the most Justin could do to preserve his legacy was to ensure that he saved Arvel’s notes. And keep Fleur safe. Justin’s heart sank.

How was he going to tell Fleur all this? Or did someone already tell her?

The moment the bishop concluded the gathering, Justin sprinted out of the cathedral toward the research labs. As usual, there were people—templars this time—guarding the entrance.

He skidded to a stop in front of them, a bit winded.

“Did you hear about it?”

“Hear about what?” one of the templars asked through his helmet.

Justin shook his head. “There was an attack! One priest died, one archpriest, my teacher Pavlor, went missing!”

The armored templars paused, their armors clinking. But they soon recovered.

“And then?”

“The priest that died had been doing research. I’m afraid that they might target the lab and I want to hide the research data.”

“It’s safe with us here!” the templar said, striking his chest with a gauntleted fist, but Justin shook his head again impatiently.

“It might be safe with you here but what about when you rotate out and some clerics take your place and lose it? At least if I take it and no one but you and I know about it, it will remain safe.”

The templar looked at his buddy. After a moment, they nodded and stood aside to let Justin pass.

Bowing in thanks, Justin ran into the research lab he shared with Arvel and gathered up all of his books and notes, putting them all into a bag. On his way out, he nodded to the templars who saluted back to him.

Once out, Justin looked around and tossed the bag in a random place behind some bushes where no one would think to look, walking away as if nothing happened.

Next on the list was to visit Fleur and make sure she’s okay. It’s going to be a bit awkward to go into the female acolytes’ quarters but now wasn’t the time to worry about it. Hopefully he got there before the higher ups chose someone blunt to deliver the news.

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The Church at night was dark, really dark. Several times, Justin took a turn at the wrong moment, but after a while he finally reached the quarters. He knocked on the dorm matron’s door. It took three tries for the door to finally open and a middle-aged woman glared at him, still in her sleepwear.

Her eyes widened when she saw him and almost closed the door if not for Justin being in the way. Justin sighed in relief. Judging by the sleep in her eyes, no one else has been here yet.

“You’re…! W-what do you want?”

“I need to talk to someone living here!”

“Can’t you wait until day?” she asked.

“No. It’s news about a death!”

The matron paled a little. She opened the door a little wider, letting him inside the little suite. Inside, she took out a little book, probably records. “Who are you looking for?”

“Fleur. Arvel’s daughter.”

“Oh, her? I remember her,” the matron said, closing the book. Without even bothering to look Fleur up, she gave Justin the nickname. Despite the situation, Justin found himself wondering what Fleur did that the matron knew her room number by heart.

Hurrying up the stairs to the third floor, he knocked on the door. A moment later, Anne stood in front of him with her hands on her hips. “Do you know what time it is?” she asked.

“Yes! You’re the third person to ask me that already! I need to talk to Fleur; it’s important!”

“Not as important as her sleep,” Anne retorted but she went inside to fetch Fleur anyway. She returned with Fleur in tow, the girl just as sleepy as the matron had been.

She rubbed her eyes and peered up at him. “Mm…Justin? Anne said you wanted to talk to me…” Her head dipped.

Justin’s heart melted upon seeing how groggy she was. Here she was, sleeping, and now he woke her up to ruin the rest of her night. He almost turned away to save the news for the morning but he caught himself before he could retreat.

As Arvel’s daughter. Fleur had to know as soon as possible.

But that didn’t make breaking the news any easier. Justin’s mouth opened and closed a few times while Anne’s eyes grew colder and colder until finally he blurted it out.

“Arvel’s dead.”

He slapped himself, but it was too late to take it back. He cursed himself. He’d been too blunt! Exactly what he didn’t want happening! “I mean—”

“What did you say?” Fleur no longer looked asleep as she stared up at him. “Repeat that again; who’s dead?”

Justin’s mind went white. “A-arvel. Your father…”

“This is a joke right?” Anne asked, stepped forward in front of Fleur as if to shield her from the bad news. “Tell me you’re joking. No, tell Fleur that you’re joking!”

“I can’t. He’s really dead. Apparently, there was an undead attack earlier tonight. Arvel’s dead and my teacher’s missing. Demuur is seriously injured,” he said. Suddenly, he heard a thump and looked behind Anne.

Fleur wasn’t there.

His eyes moved down and there she was, sprawled on the floor, her eyes closed.

“Fleur!” Anne cried, kneeling down, shaking her friend. But no matter how hard she shook her, Fleur didn’t wake up. She stopped and turned, glaring up at Justin as if it was all his fault. Her eyes were so intense that Justin backed up a step before he realized what he was doing. But even then he didn’t step back forward.

It really was his fault…he should have sat down with Fleur and broke the news to her slowly and gently. Instead, he just blurted it out…

But the hateful glare was gone as soon as it appeared as Anne bit her lips. Before Justin’s very eyes, Anne carefully set Fleur’s head down on the cold wooden floor and went into the room.

“Anne?”

There was no answer, only the sound of a drawer being open and the faint glow of a magic light hovering around Anne. Finally, the light went out and the drawer closed, as if Anne had found whatever it was that she’d been looking for.

She came out of the darkness, holding a tiny folded-up piece of paper in her hands, which she silently handed over to Justin. Without a word, she picked up Fleur and went back inside, closing the door in Justin’s face, leaving him standing in the hallways along with a piece of paper in his hands.

Slowly, Justin opened up the paper and his eyes opened wide in shock. Scribbled onto it was none other than Arvel’s flowing handwriting. But it was the dead man’s words that shocked him the most and Justin immediately incinerated the paper with a burst of holy fire when he finished reading it.

Arvel had gone to Pavlor’s place. That was the reason he died.

The reason: to investigate Pavlor regarding whether or not he was a traitor.

With a start, Justin realized why Arvel had suddenly asked him all those questions.

But if his teacher wasn’t outside womanizing, then what was he doing at home? A seed of suspicion spouted in Justin’s mind. Was it a mere coincidence that Arvel had been investigating Pavlor and that same night, he died. Was it a coincidence that he was killed by an undead? Was it a coincidence that Pavlor disappeared?

Coincidences existed, but that was way too many for Justin’s liking. And seeing Fleur reminded Justin about what the bishop had said about Demuur’s condition—the archpriest had lost an arm.

Slowly, the puzzle pieces fell in place, forming a blurry picture in Justin’s mind. The seed that had initially spouted now grew, this time encompassing Demuur as well. Holding those suspicions in his mind, Justin returned to his quarters, finding the place still buzzing with the activities of the priests that couldn’t sleep from the excitement.

Neither could he, but he did his best.

He needed all the energy he could get tomorrow.


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