~A few days ago…
“Has the state of emergency been lifted yet?” Father Bamph looked at the younger man, his face serious rather than the usual calm and inviting demeanor. “The crown saw it fit to exclude us from the investigation though clearly we’re at the center of it. His Holiness and I wish for the case to be resolved before rumors and fear spreads.”
The other spoke with an even monotone, “no, Father. My informants from the palace tell me that the Crown has no plans of lifting the declaration in the foreseeable future.”
“By informants, I presume you’re speaking of your doubles working for the palace.”
“We don’t speak to each other during our jobs. It’s a common courtesy drilled into our family. There is someone there who is known for her tongue in taste and gossip,” the agent spoke, removing his sunglasses and hanging them by the pocket of his dress shirt.
The older Priest took his words with a grain of salt, taking note of the agent’s red hair, “So that’s how it is. An entire family would fall apart without trust; were that even a family that raises entire generations as a lucrative espionage and security ring that sells their services even to opposing sides.”
“We do what we must to put bread on the table,” the agent returned neutrally, though there was some underlying wounded pride “one relief is that we do not hand our services to extreme factions as most mercenaries do.”
“May Odin bless your family for being sensible and wise. On the matter at hand, it’s been three months since the disappearances started. We are approaching a critical time in our history, and we don’t need those who could help vanishing like this and being found dead the next day,” not one to mince words, Father Bamph sighed and picked up a paper on his desk, scanning its contents. “As I see it, we have no choice but to conduct our own investigation without alerting the Crown. The names on this paper worry me. To date, there are 34 missing within the last month and 6 the first week of this month alone. It’s alarminf that some of them are very familiar.”
The agent approached the Priest closer and pointed to all the names, skimming his finger throughout the list. “With all due respect, Father, they should. All of those victims have two patterns in common.” And one by one, he began to recite all the names and details.
With each passing name, Father Bamph paled. It was one thing to read it, but another to have someone tell him about it. The gravity of the situation was very dire, but he made sure to pay attention to each name, remarking every once in a while if something was off.
“Remove Edith Schweiz from the list. I know with certainty that Sister Schweiz had no link to the disappearances. I’ll have one of the clerks make a separate profile and file it in the Sorin Investigation.”
“I noticed that at some of the dates, 2 would disappear at the same day. I remember on August 8 that Sister Aohara was together with Sister Solahilde, the same day both disappeared. Remove Aohara Satsuki, Shang Weiyu, Lucia Magallhaes, and all expatriates from that list. I have a feeling that those five were only victims due to missionary work with their partners as converts. Keep Ju Yi Jeon of Payon on the list.”
“Frederick Cohburg and Nicolai von Schonnbrun…it’s troubling how they died unusually from the rest of the victims. May God bless their souls and accept them to Valhalla. An Acolyte and a Priest, but the others so far are all High Priests or Archbishops. Are they also the only males in the whole list? If so, remove their names.”
After all the names and details like age, job class, and date of body recovery were done, Father Bamph sat down and closed his eyes in deep thought, before looking at the agent and commenting, “I’m surprised Brother Moohae didn’t encounter this sort of problem, or had he?”
The agent was as stoic as ever, putting his shades back on before tacitly replying, “I have no direct sources of information on that regard, but there is hearsay from St. Capitolina that at least five Champions were successively found dead, and as with the list, the victims all died of poisoning except one which died of strangulation and all were female.”
“Tell me, were the poisoned victims showing any unusual side effects? Skin marks or anything of the sort?” Unsettled, the old Priest asked his agent. Everything hinged on this answer. The silence between both men was heavy with carefully masked fear and apprehension.
“None of the victims...except the Canoness Balthild, the former superior of Cardinal-elect Germain. She was also the highest ranking victim on the list, which I’m sure you’re aware of, Father. She had strange marks on her back, like that of...feathers. Unfortunately, there is no more information due to the canon law stating…”
“…that no one under the counsels may be autopsied.” Father Bamph continued for him, standing up and turning to close the curtains of the window but not looking back after “the names on the list were some of the most prodigious clergy in terms holy and spiritual power.”
The agent had not been able to pick up on it, and his neutral demeanor broke for a moment when he asked, “if that were true, Father, how come the Archbishops Fiona and Dania were not targeted?”
“Both have gone and already disappeared into obscurity, but I doubt that was why. Popularity in the eyes of the laity has nothing to do with power, my son. If you were to remove the expatriate converts and males, and include the Champions’ casualty, you’d see that all the intended victims were clergywomen”, resigned to exhaustion with a sigh, the Priest continued “not just ordinary clergywomen, but those exclusively under the vows of the counsels, at least for those who are Priest-class. Non-adventurers. Even Sister Sorin and Sister Yuufa were unqualified for the vows. Only the most gifted were ordained to take on the vows. The counsels belonged to the mid-tier and high-tier echelons of the clergy. The disappearances were not random, but after you confirmed the marking of the canoness’ body, my fears were realized. I have a feeling who the next victim will be, but I’m not sure of the perpetrator yet. I need to know for certain, someone needs to investigate and guard the potential target if it’s not already too late.”
“Just say the word, Father, and I would be on my way to uncover the matter.”
“No, it would be a loss to send you or anyone else in this case. Your talents for espionage would do no good if the offenders really are who I think they are. As for this matter, I can only think of one person who could do this now,” he said, before growing quiet once more and pinching the bridge of his nose “the time of hiding has come to end, and mercy to the ones who come in the path of the ‘Stellar Spear.’”
~September 21, 999
Frowning, Seirin couldn’t help but feel out of place while listening to the cantata outside. Was it karma or something for sneaking out some days ago to see the festival? What bothered her the most, however, was why she was summoned. She just knew what was going to happen, right after another black suit (a.k.a. agent) told her that Father Bamph wanted the “Stellar Spear” back. Some part of the back of her brain couldn’t help but wonder what she had even done to earn such a strange moniker, one of the noms de guerre that preceded her and had (unwillingly) adopted as a title. But the even bigger question was that what had happened that Father Bamph had invoked her service once again. It’s not like she would have refused but…
The sight of her old armaments and armor on the altar was unnerving, and here she was in civilian clothes as an asylum refugee. Today seemed to be the last day though.
“Marshal Leiden,” the title made her want to shrink, crawl under the Priest’s desk, and just die; she was never one for formalities, especially from her elders “I think you already know why you have been called here.”
Dumbfounded, all she could do was reply, “no, Father.”
“You also do voluntary work here, yes? You took it upon yourself to be an assistant mentor to Acolytes, though you knew nothing about the way of the clergy. You also had a brief stint at being the chorale master. Your most notable task, however, was being the all-around groundskeeper”, Father Bamph said, waiting before determining that the young woman really was stumped “such as the chores of gardening…interning and undertaking.”
Preparation for the rites of the dead? Yes, she had at least buried or cremated ninety, maybe a hundred, dead in the span of time she had been under sanctuary. It was the least she could do, but what did that have to do with anything?
“What I say in this room must not leave these very walls”, and so the Priest explained the entire event, the disappearances, the investigation, and the conclusions. With each passing sentence, Seirin’s face became graver with her flushed coloration becoming paler. Nevertheless, she absorbed it all in with a steady countenance. What caught her attention however, were his last words, “I feel that Sister Bonnie’s life is in danger, if it really is ‘them’ are perpetrating of this heinous crime. I didn’t worry about it before, but now I must.”
Feeling a bit withdrawn rather than scared, Seirin asked him, “why me?”
It was Father Bamph’s turn to sigh, and with serious lamentation, he told her the entire situation at hand. “Sister Bonnie and her family should have arrived back here in Prontera 3 weeks ago for resettlement. We were in correspondence, but she stopped answering letters the week before she was due to move back,” he paused then continued “I had thought she was only preoccupied with packing arrangements. Now we may have waited too long. I sent an Acolyte two days ago to check on Sister Bonnie’s old residence; I thought it safe since it was in a relatively populated part of the city, but he has since not returned. I don’t know if she is still alive, but only you would be able to find out due to your close involvement with the affair…and out of all the Crusaders and Paladins who became Royal Guards, you were the only one who remained within the fold of God than serve mortal men.”
A short brief pause, before his hand landed armor lay in waiting,“so I am now asking you, will you resume your duties as the arm of the Church, Marshal Leiden?”
Seirin didn’t hesitate for second and approached the altar, picking up the long forgotten Imperial Spear and Hallowed Long Horn. She waved each spear, trying to see if the feel was still the same as the day she “retired.” Here she was, safe inside the walls of the Sanctuary. Would she be willing to risk losing it all and then some for her love to the faith? She did not even have to ponder on such thoughts while her fingers grazed over the Imperial Shield. “I-”
The two were interrupted, shock on their faces as a gasping young Priest was leaning and grasping the doorway, out of breath and stricken with what could only be fright. Father Bamph walked over and steadied him, casting Heal and a few standard buff spells. “What is it?”
“There…there’s a…a commotion at the culverts! You…haah...need to see. Another one…an Acolyte…”
Drawing out the worst possibility, Father Bamph looked back at Seirin. The ex-adventurer stared back and spoke at last, “go. I’ll follow soon. I can’t resume my militant duties in civilian clothes, can I?”