Joseph had always radiated brightness and warmth. He had been elated when he entered the sanctuary. Pides couldn’t fathom why he had undergone such a profound transformation, carrying the weight of the world as if burdened by it.
“Pides, perhaps… If, by any chance, I am unable to return to the Holy City’s Palace… In that case, inside the lower stone… No, never mind,” Joseph trailed off, his voice filled with uncertainty.
He bowed his head slightly, a gesture filled with reverence.
“May Mahar’s blessings be everlasting.”
Pides was unable to catch up to Joseph as he swiftly exited the prayer room. Hastily, Pides trailed behind, but Joseph was already striding ahead, too far for Pides to call out to him. The unease he felt when he observed Joseph’s cautious demeanor earlier lingered in his mind.
“Will Joseph be unable to return to the Holy City’s Palace? Could he be detained in the Kingdom of Delano?” Pides pondered, feeling a sense of unease settling within him.
Throughout the day, Joseph’s image remained etched in Pides’ thoughts, refusing to fade away. As dusk approached and Pides finished his work, he made his way back to his lodging. Along the corridor, he sensed the presence of another knight approaching from the opposite direction. Ever since he swallowed the relic not long ago, Pides had developed a heightened awareness of his fellow knights’ presence.
The two knights met midway in the corridor, exchanging a brief nod before continuing on their separate paths. Pides took a few steps forward before pausing and glancing back.
“Why would an Inquisitor…?” he murmured to himself.
Among the knights, there existed a group known as the “Inquisitors.” They seldom remained within the confines of the Holy City’s Palace, entrusted with special missions that took them across the world. Their purpose was to track down followers of Mara, apprehend wanderers, and hunt down major criminals.
Pides considered the Inquisitors to be shadows lurking within the Holy City. Though they bore the name “Inquisitors,” in truth, they were executioners.
Indeed, they possessed the authority for summary executions. As long as there was a valid reason, Sang-je did not hold them accountable, even if it meant executing a criminal on the spot. Yet, Pides had never witnessed an Inquisitor apprehending a sinner and bringing them back to the Holy City’s Palace.
Encountering the Inquisitor knights sent shivers down Pides’ spine at times. There were moments when a hidden ferocity would flicker in their eyes, a gaze far from that of men devoted to serving God.
Pides acknowledged the existence of darkness and shadows in the world. They were the harsh reality that couldn’t be ignored. In that context, the Inquisitors served as a necessary evil.
Yet, a sense of unease tugged at Pides’ heart. Was it truly right to execute sinners rather than seek their conversion? He had never found a clear answer to that lingering question.
Releasing a heavy sigh, Pides resumed walking, only to stop abruptly once more.
“If, by any chance, I don’t return to the Holy City’s Palace…”
Joseph’s words echoed in Pides’ mind, sending a chill down his spine.
“No, it can’t be.”
Could it be possible that the Inquisitor…?
Pides lowered his head, attempting to dismiss the thought. If Joseph had committed a sin, there was no way he would be granted permission to leave the Holy City’s Palace.
Despite his mental denial, Pides’ heart continued to beat restlessly. He retreated into his lodging, sinking onto the bed, consumed by deep contemplation. Then, a memory resurfaced—Joseph’s earlier words.
“The lower stone…”
Engrossed in his memories, Pides suddenly stood up. In their youth, Pides, a knight, and Joseph, a priest, struggled to find time to meet due to their conflicting schedules. To bridge the gap, they resorted to exchanging letters, like diaries, detailing their daily activities. These precious letters were hidden inside a stone beneath the outer staircase.
Early the next morning, while the priests still slept and the compound remained tranquil, Pides ventured to that place of cherished memories. Though it had been a while, the memories remained vivid, guiding him swiftly to the designated spot.
Feeling along a discreet area behind the stairs, Pides detected a slight protrusion. He carefully inserted a small twig into the crevice and extracted the stone. Then, he reached inside. A stern expression adorned his face as he retrieved an item wrapped in oil paper, swiftly placing it in his pocket before replacing the stone.
Returning to his lodging and securing the door, Pides withdrew the item from his pocket, laying it upon the table. It was a compact notebook, tightly enveloped in oil paper. Pides gazed down at the notebook, his countenance reflecting a mixture of anguish and determination.
The hypothesis that had formed in Pides’ mind unfolded as follows:
Joseph had stumbled upon a forbidden secret, something he should never have known. However, that secret had shaken Joseph’s unyielding faith to its core. As a result, Joseph had made the difficult decision to forsake his path as a priest and depart from the Holy City’s Palace. And for that very reason, Joseph might face the dire consequence of being silenced, potentially through murder, to prevent him from exposing the truth.
Pides found himself torn, caught between two choices. The contents of the notebook held the power to shatter his blissful ignorance, yet he also pondered the possibility of simply destroying it and preserving his peace of mind.
Gazing into the empty space before him, Pides paused for a moment, contemplating his decision. Then, he firmly clasped his hands together, a resolute expression etching itself upon his face.
“I refuse to succumb to cowardice. I won’t compromise my pursuit of justice,” he declared with conviction.
With unwavering determination, he unfolded the notebook. As he turned to the first page, his eyes fell upon a solitary sentence, etched in ink.
[“Why? Why is this deemed a divine ritual? Why is it believed to be the sacred will of God?”]
Kasser received a report from his subordinate, who was ordered to gather information about the current state of the Myung King. It was news that the Myung King was coming to the Holy City’s Palace. They said he would arrive in about two days.