1

Sylvester kicked the door open with his full might. He expected that since it was Cardinal Suprima's office, it would be firm and have some anti-break-in mechanisms.

He was wrong.

Boom!

But the door was still strong as one unit. And that meant it flew right into the room and slammed ahead into the wall.

"Ugh… I hope the Cardinal is fine." He muttered annoyedly and entered amidst the small dust of destruction his kick caused. "Cardinal, are you okay? Forgive Lady Tenth. She overestimated the door."

"..."

"Why are you taking my name, boy?" Lady Aurora stopped in her tracks. "Don't try to push me under the carriage. Don't think I have not forgotten how you cheated that time."

"Everything is fair in love and war, Lady Aurora," Sylvester replied without even looking and jumped onto the desk of the Cardinal.

"What did you do, Sylvester?" Isabella asked curiously. Her hair was covered at the moment in her Bright Mother robes, so nobody recognised her.

"Nothing." Lady Aurora exclaimed and followed Sylvester in.

The room was small and modest as it was just an office. Nothing was extravagant other than the large, made-of-gold church emblem hanging on the wall behind the chair.

"Cardinal Cornelius, Where are you? Please come out, so I don't have to dig around in the office to find you. I do not wish to cause damage to church property." He shouted aloud as he knew the man was around.

"H-Here… my lord."

"Under the table? What in God's name are you doing there?" Sylvester jumped down from the table and looked. The Cardinal appeared to be a short man, maybe around five foot six, and very thin. The face was pale white, and the hair was brown, as was a stubble beard. The face looked so malnourished that a mother would take pity and feed him milk in natural ways.

The man also had eyes that would make one feel pity for no reason. And the dark circles under the eyes were enough to consider him a zombie.

"Let me help you." Sylvester grabbed the man's arm and let him rise. "Are you okay, your eminence?"

'Hmm… he appears to be more scared of something other than me or the blast of that door. The fear, anxiety, sadness, anger and doubt I smell are too strong. What could it be?... Better keep things vague.'

He helped the man by patting his robes. It looked weird as the Cardinal seemed like a child in front of six-foot-three-tall Sylvester.

"I'm quite alright, lord bard. Welcome to the Ironstone duchy and my monastery. I heard about your arrival, but forgive me, I could not participate in the feast last night." Cardinal spoke in a rushed tone.

Then he looked at Lady Aurora and bowed his head, ignoring Isabella as a simple Bright Mother. "Lady First, you are as beautiful and mighty looking as I first saw you in the Holy Land."

Lady Aurora, of course, didn't even know the man. "Thank you, your eminence."

"Ah! I need to go and see the people in the town—Bishop, prepare my horse outside. My Lord and lady, please ride with me. I will show you the town." Cardinal suggested, still sounding rushed as before.

'The scent of sunflowers is too strong—he's hoping I agree with his suggestion. Let's go with the suggestion, then.'

"Please lead the way, your eminence."

Cardinal happily nodded and fixed his robes and mitre on his head before heading out. He tried to appear calm and holy, but only Sylvester knew what went on inside—as in that man's heart, a lot of misery resides.

They soon got out of the Monastery and mounted their horses.

The Cardinal addressed his subordinate before leaving. "No need to send men to guard me! I don't believe I have anything to fear with Lady Tenth and Lord Bard beside me."

With that proclamation, they rode out into the bustling town. Sylvester rode on the man's left, Isabella and Lady Aurora on the right.

Seeing they were far away, he decided to ask vaguely. "Does a snake reside in the rabbit hole, your eminence?"

Cardinal Cornelius turned his head towards Sylvester abruptly and smiled, feeling relieved. "I thought I'd have to explain, but it seems the rumours of your wisdom are underreported. Indeed, it is not just infested with snakes but also infected with the venom."

"In your home as well?"

"Indeed—I am but another rabbit trapped in the strangles of a python. But let's move somewhere a little more private before I reveal how far the venom has spread." Cardinal increased his speed.

Sylvester had a better place, so he loudly voiced. "Your eminence, have you seen Lady Aurora's carriage? It's the most fabulous and magical thing you'll ever see. Come, I must show it to you."

"Is that so? Even better than my carriage? I guess I must take a look then. Please lead the way, Lord Bard." Cardinal similarly replied loudly.

'Good, he's a neatly smart man, it seems.'

Sylvester glanced at Lady Aurora and nodded. With that, they galloped to the Crusader camp and only stopped after reaching its middle, near the carriage.

"Come inside, my lord." He invited him in.

Once inside, he locked the door and windows and spoke. "This carriage has runes to ensure minimal noise goes outside, your eminence. As long as you speak lowly, none shall hear a word."

Thud!

"Please save me!"

The Cardinal jumped to Sylvester and fell to his knees, grabbing Sylvester's feet. "Please save me, lord bard! Your light can do miracles… just once more!"

'Broken, that's all I can feel from him. What the hell can even break a Cardinal Suprima, the mightiest clergyman in any Duchy?'

Knowing he needed to calm him down first, he ruffled his hand on the Cardinal's brown hair, ensuring his light shined from the palm and made the latter feel the warmth.

At the same time, he spoke a few lines of a hymn, showing the halo behind his head, as that always gets the job done.

♫Worry not of the darkness around.

Let all the fears go for you have been found.

All is the Lord's plan, and it's so profound.

Feel it, for in his warmth, you're being crowned.

So calm your heart, and let the delight abound.♫

"Amen!" Lady Aurora and Isabella lightly bowed their heads and muttered with closed eyes. They truly believed in Sylvester's gifts, after all.

The Cardinal was crying by then, but he made no voice while his eyes watered. Sylvester also sat down, not far from the man. "Bright Mother, can you give the Cardinal some water?"

"..."

Lady Aurora nudged her. "Mother Isabella?"

"Ah, yes." Isabella had forgotten she had a new title. But after that, she carefully brought a glass of water.

"Have I seen you before, Bright Mother?" The Cardinal asked while taking the water.

"Yes, you have," Sylvester exclaimed, making the eyes of Isabella and Lady Aurora pop out. "She's a Bright Mother, and all Bright Mothers are our mothers, be it any. They may sometimes appear the same in their headscarf and clothes."

The Cardinal nodded and focused on Sylvester. "I heard you were inside the castle. Did anything happen? Anything you're confused about, or… do you feel strange? As if you can't remember something?"

'Does Felix feel this right now?' Sylvester wondered.

But he feigned ignorance. "Something did happen that has me interested in Lady Artemis, but what you're particularly talking about, I have no idea. We are here to investigate the murders of noble women and their breasts being chopped after."

"The duke denied you, didn't he?" Cardinal guessed it right.

"How do you know that, your eminence? Can you please elaborate on the snake infestation?"

Sylvester got to the point.

The Cardinal turned depressed instantly and nervously rubbed his hands. He glanced at Lady Aurora and Isabella before turning to Sylvester. "It all started when I was newly appointed here a few months back since the last Cardinal Suprima was recalled after that Bright Mother rape and murder debacle by Count Ranthburg.

"The day I took charge, I was invited by the Duke and stayed the night there. But, the next day, when I woke up, I felt a sharp pain in my head, and I could not remember anything that had happened the previous night.

"I then observed that it occurred every time I went to stay in the castle. So I stopped going there no matter what, but it happened to me in my residence as well. So I got extremely annoyed, so much so that I suspected an evil creature of the night had possessed me. So, I made a small secret room beside my bedroom and installed a small eyehole. Then, I told my two subordinates to sit there every night and watch me sleep."

Sylvester straightened his back, for he knew the moment of truth was coming.

"Then, a week later, as it was told to me, I learnt that Lady Artemis, that filthy witch! She'd enter the Monastery and come to my room. I'd invite her in respectfully as she'd cry fake tears, saying she needed help.

"Then, slowly, she'd start touching me, and I'd become a statue, not moving—not even blinking. She'd take my clothes off and lay me on the bed before copulating with me by sitting on top. The whole time, she'd ravish my mouth with her tongue while humming something—akin to an incantation.

"After that, she'd ask me questions, and I'd reply to everything she'd demand, from church secrets to private matters. She'd then copulate again, as I believe there is a time limit to her fiendish magic. Then, she'd make me write letters to the church and the various lords in the duchy—asking for more faith tax or some other information.

"Then, she'd blow some dust on my face, put my clothes back on me, and leave me in the bed as if nothing happened."

Clank!

"This is the highest order of blasphemy!" Lady Aurora barked in anger.

The Cardinal agreed. "That witch… she's a demoness, my lord. She killed my assistant that night and left his body chopped into pieces in that little room to greet me in the morning."

"We should call for the full Inquisition and end everything that woman has touched." Lady Aurora suggested, being in her rightful place as her adoptive father was the Lord Inquisitor.

"No! Please! What about my brother? She must have done something to him too!" Isabella cried.

But Sylvester was only staring at the Cardinal with a doubtful gaze.

Ting!

He took out a dagger and placed it on the floor before himself. "Cardinal—if she killed your subordinate that night, how did you learn all this?"