Written by: AtheistBasementDragon
Edited by: The Usual Gang of Drunken Perverted Idiots
The sun rose over the distant horizon, and shone is warming light down on the hanged bodies that followed mob justice. They swayed still, the wood and ropes creaking in the breeze. Neia rode through the streets on her mount and glanced at the bodies with the passive indifference of someone accustomed to the sight. Her cold blue eyes narrowed briefly until she saw a familiar peasant beating a corpse with a stick. “Ah, now I see.” She said grimly and simply waved at him as she passed, an indulgent smile beneath her criminal gaze.
“What?” Zagan asked her from a few feet behind.
“Yes, what he said, ‘what?’” Skana asked from beside him.
Neia looked up ahead and pointed to another hanging body, “When we got here, it didn’t take long to find out that some of the criminals that had caused trouble in Re-Estize, ended up here. I’d say that these bodies are of those clever criminals who thought they were safe. I swear, smart criminals are the worst, but at least sometimes they’re too smart for their own good.” Her tone was dismissive, and her lack of evident care for the hangings, left silence between them, before she went on.
“I’ll put it another way, the criminals were greedy and cocky and thought they understood what they were dealing with. That after putting down some corrupt nobles and priests, we’d leave. They could lay low, then come out of hiding and start up again. But they…” Neia swept her hand out over the streets where peasants were already cleaning up the damage, “were not going to have any of it. Everybody knew where these men and women lived, and who they were. And the rush of power was too much for the people to give up, not when revenge was a locked door away. At a guess, since most of these are dressed in night clothes when they’re dressed at all, they were attacked at night. My impromptu security squads that secured junctures and had weapons and armor, I imagine.”
“Ah, Ma’am…” Zagan asked gingerly, leaning slightly forward on his horse, “aren’t you going to do anything about it? I mean, mobs hanging people are… kinda a problem, aren’t they?”
Neia laughed loudly from the top of her horse and turned to look over her shoulder, “Did you forget I’m not going to be running this city? Look, just because I put down the governor, ran the trial, and put down the corrupt, doesn’t mean I plan to stay here.” She shook her head vigorously, “No, I’m Tinamoc’s escort. I’ll spread the justice and will of my god at every step, but I’m not stopping to rule somewhere.”
Zagan sat back on his horse, his entire body rigid and he looked at her as if she were from some other world, like she were some strange monster he’d never seen before. ‘You could easily petition and get the right to rule this city… and you walk away from it to go galavanting around as a bodyguard to a merchant?’ Confusion was etched on his face, but the auburn haired girl looked over to him and locked his eyes with her emerald green.
She leaned slightly over, and he inclined himself toward her to catch what she was going to whisper, “Some things are worth more than a city.” She smiled cryptically and then shifted to an erect posture again.
“Ma’am, where are we going?” Skana asked as she kept her eyes glued to the back of her commander.
“To the manor, Tinamoc and his accountants should have gotten a chance to go over the numbers and work out most of the scheme by now. It’s funny, during our time in His Majesty’s home, I gained more skills than I ever dreamt of, but if I have to pour over one merchant document detailing interest rates, credit, and profit… I’ll stab out my eyes to end the frustration.”
“Vivid.” Skana said bluntly in response to the mild laugh Neia let out after her exaggerated claim.
“Zagan, Skana, thanks for riding with me this far, but I know you’ve got things to do with the other merchants, while I don’t ‘expect’ trouble in the market, the full complement should be there to handle anything if it ‘does’ come up.” Neia said with polite dismissal.
“Yes Ma’am, I’ll be parting at the next intersection.” He said formally, and spurred his horse into a slightly faster trot.
Neia took a deep breath and savored the smell of baking bread that was slowly drowning out the smell of burned buildings and corpses that had not yet been removed. Skana however, had not left.
Neia looked over her shoulder, “Shouldn’t you be going too?”
“Ma’am,” Skana said in a clipped, smart voice, “You’re our commander, you should at least be escorted to your destination, after all, suppose some malcontent is hiding somewhere? What if they should catch you alone and off your guard?”
Neia rolled her eyes, but conceded the point when her shoulder drooped briefly. “Fine, but you’d do better guarding me by riding at my side rather than back there.
“Of course ma’am!” She said swiftly and spurred her horse up to Neia’s left.
They rode in silence for awhile as the scout scanned the road. Neia watched with professional interest out of the corner of her eye, the woman tensed almost imperceptibly when a child came darting out from nowhere, and she comfortably ignored the calls directed at her to buy this or that item on sale. In all respects, she seemed to be what one would expect of an elite.
Quick, professional, proactive, and perceptive. Only one thing seemed odd to Neia’s eyes. ‘Every now and then, her right eye lingers on me a little, or seems to. Oh well, probably just used to taking cues from the ones who give orders.’
When they reached the manor, she rendered a crisp salute, which Neia returned, bringing her fist fervently over her heart, and no words were said as Skana rode on, and Neia dismounted and secured her horse.
The smell of wet grass and blood struck her nose immediately, she looked around as the memories of the day prior swept over her. Bloodstains that only magic could erase, still stained the finely sculpted stone where men and women had died by her hand or under her orders. Neia’s ice blue eyes followed the path up to the door. She took a long, deep breath, drawing the scent and bloody remnant scene into her memory, never to be forgotten, and began to ascend the steps.
She walked with the slow, deliberate confidence of familiarity. Her boots cast little noise, and the door even less when she entered the unguarded space.
A smile traced over Neia’s face when she saw workers taking the artwork off the walls, and that smile held fast until she entered the office of the governor, where Tinamoc sat at the desk, while around the room a smattering of his merchants were at borrowed tables or ones improvised out of crates.
“Tinamoc… what…?” Neia asked as she glanced around. His cherub face shot up and a smile spread out widely.
He rushed over in the kind of rushed waddle that the enthusiastic but overweight often had, and thrust his hands out to snatch her left in both of his.
He laughed joyfully, “Neia Baraja do you know what you’ve done?!”
“I should, I was there.” She said dryly, prompting a laugh from the other merchants as he vigorously, even aggressively shook her hand.
“We’ve been getting god damn robbed by this city for ‘years’, every time my merchants came here, and thanks to your little misadventure the other day, we’ve finally gotten to the papers that prove it!” He exclaimed joyfully.
Blushes were on some various merchant faces, it didn’t take a genius for her to recognize that they were some who had been duped in the past.
“Come! Come, let me show you!” Tinamoc said passionately and putting his fat hand behind her back, he pressed his calloused fingers against the center and snatched a chair over and thrust it to the front of the desk. Neia sat slowly, her eyes already glassing over before she even got a look at what he was going to show her.
He snapped up a paper from the top of a stack and slapped it down in front of her. She looked down at it, sweat formed as she was reminded of her time as a student and didn’t know the answer to a question.
“What?” She asked dumbly.
He thrust a thick forefinger down to a line, “This represents the amount initially loaned in credit, the following represent payments, and this represents the interest. But then this…” He pointed to a slightly larger number. “Do the math.” He said encouragingly, a broad smile still on his cherub face.
Neia did her best, and after what she felt was surely twice as long as it took them, she looked back up, “Oh. They were adding the interest to the principle.”
“Exactly. So the amount never decreased. While you were out meeting with the peasant levy groups and seeing to your soldiers this morning, we got all this together and started our unofficial audit. That was how we found what they’ve been up to. Our juniors can handle sales today, we’ll handle all this, we’re owed a ‘lot’ of compensation for this.” His smile fled, and a deep frown formed on his face, and the pointed finger closed into a fist that rested on top of the document.
“How much?” Neia asked with idle curiosity.
“We still haven’t run the full tally, but…” He brought the fist up and stroked his chin, glancing out the window next to the desk and looking out over the city, he lingered there for several minutes.
“Yes, if I were to give it an educated guess, enough that you could build a dozen temples like that one you were seeing to establishing in Hoburns, as well as furnish and staff them for a year.” He said tentatively, Neia’s jaw fell open.
“That much…?” She gasped out and snapped her head down to look at the now priceless document.
“That’s a low estimate, they’ve been doing this to not just me, but ‘all’ the guild merchants since well before Jaldabaoth, and using their official status as a cover. Nobody but the crown had a right to the documents on city trade in all that time. After we go through ‘all’ of the papers? Oh yes, it could be two or three times that.”
Neia swallowed, and Tinamoc flopped himself down in the chair behind the desk, it creaked and cracked under him, but held. “Thieving bastards… the guild is going to be really… really angry.”
“How angry?” Neia asked quietly and raised her eyes to meet him, his brown eyes did not have the merry dance they usually did.
“Angry enough to completely shut down this mission and strike against the crown if restitution isn’t made. A lot of good merchants likely lost their livelihoods thanks to this corruption. I’ll bet they’ll go so far as to demand a full audit of every city in the kingdom.” Tinamoc said with a sharp and decisive nod.
“Well then, let’s get started, I’m honestly impressed by criminal cunning on this one… but now that it’s caught, well I can’t wait to have my fun, mind if we switch chairs? Take a seat along the wall.” Neia stood and gestured to the seat behind the desk that Tinamoc had made his own, he rose slowly to his feet and did as she wished.
A few minutes later, the knock hit the door.
“Enter.” Neia said politely, and soldiers of her own that had come on shift, opened the door and admitted a group of well dressed figures. Out of her left eye she caught the dawning understanding of her employer, and a tiny smile forming on his face.
Six in number, their rich flowing robes of deep reds, greens, blues, and golds were indicative of high status and great wealth. Their boots had buckles of gold and their beards were immaculately trimmed. They wore proud, even arrogant expressions, tilting their heads back slightly so that they looked down their noses at the green armored squire.
"Thank you for coming gentlemen." She said as they sat, and then she sat herself.
"Do you know why you're here?" She asked as she began to sift through reports.
"I would assume," a wheezy voiced figure said, "it is to see how we can contribute to the future of the city as it goes in a new direction."
"And you are?" Neia asked with a pleasant smile that turned her lips slightly up at the corners.
"Ulit, at your service." He said nasaly.
"Well Ulit, you're almost right." Neia said, "Not quite, but almost, see I've had my people review tax records and other documents submitted to the former governor here, and we've found out how you all have managed to steal so much."
A wave of sudden protests came from the men in front of her as they stood up, baby smooth fists curled in outrage, anger was quick to form on their faces, but Neia drew out a dagger and slammed it down on the desk hard enough to make a loud thud and draw their silence. "Silence!" she shouted and shot to her feet. "Sit down or I will put you down.” She said sharply and slammed her fist down on the table hard enough to send a crack along the surface that reached the end where they sat. The crack split in several places near the end, giving it the horrifying look of a deadly hand reaching out from a long arm, an arm that originated where the squire of the undead monarch stood glaring.
They stilled, and sat down, nervousness began to form on their faces in the form of uncomfortable tics and small beads of sweat.
Neia reclaimed her seat and began to explain.
"When lending money to a person you would charge them interest for the risk, and as they paid you back, they should have eventually cleared the debt, however you clever thieves added the interest onto the principle balance, so that the payments made to you, would never decrease the total sum owed. It was really very clever. In addition, I note that the interest rates charged were quite high, and most of the loans were in the amount it cost for healing from the temples... which coincidentally also deposited money with you on a regular basis... every single time one of those loans went out. In short, you were getting kickbacks from the temples for making the loans to pay for healing, while at the same time the temples were profiting from the service and from what interest you provided for storing the money you yourselves had lent out. As thieves go, you truly are second to none."
Shock was painted on their faces. It was evident they had never expected to be caught.
"It was further exposed by me personally that you took security from others in the form of property, which you inevitably seized, usually in the form of people's homes, and that they then had to pay you rent to live in their own residences after you took it from them, and what is more, I notice that whenever you seized a residence, that property immediately jumped up on the rebuild schedule and was shortly after rebuilt entirely. You have been very busy little money making bees haven't you, and the honey must have been sweet indeed."
Their faces fell, and as their eyes went to her desk, they saw and made out some of what the visible documents said. If they doubted they'd been caught before, they did not now.
"Well shit." A portly well dressed man said succinctly.
"Yes. Shit." Neia said in the same tone.
They were shaking. They'd clearly in her judgement, heard about the impromptu trial of the previous day.
"Relax gentlemen, you're not going to die." Neia said, drawing sighs from relief from the group.
"My god has said that evil must be repaid with evil, good with good, life with life, death with death, you have not actually killed anyone, you have only stolen from the ignorant and exploited the desperate. These would be bad enough crimes that some would argue that they merit death, but I don't enjoy killing." She said, and for a moment she thought back to the death of the priest that tried to kill her, and how unsatisfying it had really been. She snapped herself back to reality and looked them over.
"This is what is going to happen. Everything you own, right down to what you're wearing now, is going to be confiscated, and every name on your list of victims will be compensated accordingly, their debts wiped clean and their homes and property returned to them. Your personal residences will be sold and the wealth gained from their sale will be distributed as additional compensation to your victims. If any victims were imprisoned over their debts, they will receive an increased share, and if any of your victims died or took their own lives, any survivors will also be compensated. If there are no survivors from a victim, the city will hold those funds and use them accordingly for governing purposes." She said in a voice of iron, and the jaws of the men fell open as they looked at her with absolute open mouthed horror.
"As for yourselves," Neia continued, and she reached into a drawer and took out a vial, which she placed on her desk, "you have a choice. You can either be sentenced to one year of imprisonment for each victim you had... for some of you, that means you'll never walk out alive... or you can be sentenced to seven years hard labor on the rebuilding projects, serving your victims as if you were the poorest of peasant labor... which in fact you will be... or," she said, and then her voice took on a grave tone and she withdrew a vial from her pocket. "this vial contains enough poison to end your lives here and now, your suicide will atone for your crimes, and if you take this option, your families will receive a portion of the sale of the homes you bought with ill gotten gains. They won't be rich anymore I don't expect, but they'll be able to start off their lives with some means to live, you have two minutes to decide." Neia said, and then she drew out a goblet and a bottle of wine from the desk, and then poured both the wine and the poison into the goblet and set it on the center of the desk in front of her.
They looked around the room at the array of merchants, as if pleading with men of coin to aid men of coin, desperately catching eye after eye, and finding only pitiless resentment, pursed lips and cold stares.
She crossed her arms and looked at them, watching as they considered their options. One of them, who apparently didn't care for any of the options, jumped up and tried to flee, Neia did nothing, she simply watched as the weak looking fellow tried to open the doors and failed, when he realized it wasn't going to happen, he turned and put his back to the door, his hands out, pressing himself against it as if he wished to become one with the wood and walls, his eyes were wide with terror... "No! No! No!" he shouted. His scrawny legs and scrawny arms tried in futility to find escape where there was none. The rest, ignored him.
One of the more portly men who was of somewhat sterner stuff said, "I should have seen this coming. It was fun while it lasted.” And he reached out and took the goblet. “I’m no good for manual labor, and I won’t fall back down to the gutter after rising so high, so, farewell!” He shouted almost cheerfully and raised it in a toast, and took a swallow. He then set it back down. "A good vintage, thanks for one last drink at least." He said, and he fell unconscious. His eyes slowly closing, his breathing stopped, and he was gone. Life fled from his body under the eyes of his fellows, who stared as if they’d never seen a dead man before.
"Brave.” Neia said. "A shame his courage did not translate to character." She shrugged. "Time is up. What say the rest of you?”
The man at the wall had turned back to the door and was now trying to claw his way out with his fingernails, as if he could make a tunnel and escape.
One more reached for the goblet, and the six shortly after became four. The three remaining seated men said, "We will serve our sentence by labor."
"And you?” Neia said to the fearful fellow in the back. He made no response except plaintive noises. "Prison it is then." She said indifferently, and then she called in the guards, the fool at the door tried to press past them, but it was like a toddler trying to push through adults, and he was quickly secured. "Prison for that one, labor for the other three, and these two, see that their corpses are defleshed and their skeletons raised for labor, they can be set to serving at the temple, and are free to be borrowed by the families of those they robbed.” Neia said to her guards, who quickly carried out her instructions.
“Hardly the usual escort mission, is it?” Neia asked as the bodies were dragged out, laughing with some amusement at the oddity of it all.
Some of the merchants around the wall were pale as they watched men die or lose everything.
“No, but it may be the most profitable one ever.” Tinamoc responded, and looked around the room, “I hope you were all paying attention, and tell your juniors about this. All it takes is one stubborn and incorruptible force of will, and the thief can lose everything, even their lives.”
Slow nods of acceptance followed, and several glanced at the now closed door, desperate cries still echoed from the ever more distant figure who was dragged away.
“Sometimes a good example is enough, sometimes a cautionary tale is better. Either way, if I get a better kingdom at the end of it…” Neia smiled sweetly, which somehow made her evil eyes look vastly more predatory and she just let the statement hang until Tinamoc spoke again.
"But now what? I can spend the next few days here, even leave them a day of ease and relaxation, perhaps two, but we will need to move soon." He said.
"Also true." Neia said. "Several of my former comrades have been chosen to represent different parts of the city, and the rest went to the designated temple and are busy turning it into the temple of Black Justice. Between that and the temple connections to the capital, I think things will be fine, there will need to be new lending agents here, and some houses are coming on to the market, are any of your merchants ready to settle down? Have you considered a branch operation within the city?" She asked, rapping her fingers quickly on the desk.
Tinamoc thought the matter over, "I'll talk to them, it would be good to establish a foothold here as it rebuilds, and some of my people are of age to want to settle down, if the manors available are at a fair price, between that and the opportunity presented, I think two or three would like to take it up."
"That will be sufficient." Neia expressed as she glanced out the window.
"Have you still been writing to Lord Ainz?" Tinamoc asked.
"Nightly." She said, "Though I send them slowly as he wished, I expect I'll see the first replies before we leave here."
"What about the capital, I haven't seen any correspondence from your leaders there?" He asked.
Neia shrugged. "If there were reason to worry, I'd have heard about it by now, with the capital rebuilt and most of the foreign influences purged, I'm not very concerned. I am a little curious as to what they'll do with the captives, and I admit I'm disturbed by the stolen documents, that more or less ensures at least some of the guilty nobles remain, but if they have one brain among them they'll at least lay low for awhile."
Neia stood and started to walk out of the manor, Tinamoc fell into step beside her as the rest of the merchants resumed reviewing documents behind closed doors. They were silent for a time, lost in their own thoughts about what the future held for their damaged but healing kingdom.
As they reached a pair of horses Tinamoc asked, "And when they're done laying low?"
Neia mounted her horse and said, "Then we'll be ready for them."
Tinamoc mounted his own, the sound and feel of leather was comforting in its familiarity as he settled into the saddle, "I doubt they will be able to say the same." He said, "I have to go see to the market, and I'll let my men know about the opportunity you're presenting to them. Will you be joining us this evening for dinner?"
"No, I'll be giving my customary speech in the evening, and then I'm going to the temple for a reunion with the people I freed from prison. Plus I may have to reach out to Nazarick to find out how the priestly instruction has been going, I'm sure they'll want official priests soon enough."
"No doubt, well then I'll see you tomorrow, I'll let you know how the warehouse inventory is going then, I'm not a gambler, but I'll bet there is a wealth of stolen goods to be returned or disposed of, and I'll see to the accounting of goods in the manors as well." He said.
"I look forward to it." Neia replied with a warm little smile, and then they spurred their horses at a trot away from the governor's manor.
The trip to the temple did not take long, not because the streets weren't crowded, but because by now the armor of Black Justice was well known, and people were inclined to move aside, it made her frankly uncomfortable. Even after being in command of so many, after speaking before commoners, crowds, and kings, after having knelt before an unliving god and been found worthy of his trust... she didn't like deference. Most of the time she was just... used to it because urgency demanded her focus, but in the ordinary moments of going from place to place, she didn't feel like she was other than she ever was.
She laughed inside her own head, ‘I wonder if anybody else in my position ever feels this way... like they're in over their head and just faking their confidence.’ She shook her head, as if casting off the thought. "No, probably not." She muttered dismissively.
When she arrived at the temple, she had found her sense of focus, and she dismounted her horse and tied it off, the temple was already almost completely painted black, as if the darkness scrubbed away the evil that had permeated it. When she was seen, recognition was instant, and the person who saw her first called inside to the rest that Neia had arrived. She walked up the stairs and as she entered the doors, she was greeted by the liberated persons’ cheerful faces.
"You've been busy." Neia said in a pleasantly surprised voice as she looked around.
"Very." One of them said as he stepped out from among them and reached out to clasp her hand. Neia took it and shook it gladly.
"Varo, wasn't it?" Neia asked.
"Right." He said with shining eyes as she recalled his name.
"You're looking better, you looked like fetid shit the other day." She laughed, and the rest shared in it, one of them spouted off, "Ell that's no different than how he always looked!"
The laughter redoubled, and as their handshake ended, Varo spoke up, "While we were in prison, I sort of... managed things for us, much as we could, so the rest of them appointed me to continue that task here until we get a proper priest. Speaking of which, there are some people you should meet."
"Well, lead on then, Varo." Neia said, and gestured for him to walk ahead of her.
"The rest of you finish up, I'll rejoin you later." Varo said, and amidst the chatter of the former soldiers who turned back to their work, Varo and Neia walked into the inner sanctum.
There, much to her surprise, sat dozens of people... not in common clothing, not in noble attire, but rather men in the priestly robes of the other six gods, they filled many pews on the left, and on the right were a slew of people in common clothing whose heads were deeply bowed, they were uncommonly fit looking, even from behind them, they filled a considerable number of pews.
Their backs were to Neia and Varo, and they were apparently lost in their meditations, so Neia leaned over and whispered to him, "What is this...?"
He leaned in and whispered back, "It’s what it looks like. Word of the atrocities perpetrated by Tapir spread after the trial, and that prompted others to come forward, and others, and others, turns out that a whole great mess of senior priests had been abusing children and women, the city governor had been reassigning ethical people and bringing others in their places, drunks, rapists, and so on, so he could exploit their actions for profit."
"And they're here?" She asked in shock as she recalled the hanged and beaten bodies of the dead she’d seen en route to the manor.
"No, no, as the accusations kept pouring in, citizen militias started arresting them, they're all locked up and secured and awaiting trial, THESE here are the ones nobody accused of anything, or who had people speak favorably of them. They're mostly very young, naive, they didn't evidently know what was going on, or just couldn't believe the accusations they heard, and now... well now they don't have any doubts, they're here for penance, watch." He said, and then from a side door near the altar, a priest came out wearing a red robe and wearing broken manacles that were not bound together, allowing his hands to move freely, and from his wrists fell three and one half links of chain dangled from each wrist.
Neia recognized him immediately as the priest she'd put on trial.
"What about those over there, are they just citizens...?" She asked softly.
"Those are paladins and squires mostly, but also a few guards and ordinary soldiers. See, as it turns out, aside from the paladins who were knocked out and captured, there were others who didn't know what to do at all, and so stayed in their garrisons. They're here out of a sense of guilt, most of them had some idea of the corruption present here, but until the accusations started flying that couldn't be shut up, and the arrests started to come out and even more accusations flew around, they didn't realize how bad it was. So, not knowing what else to do, they're here." He said as he looked out over the small sea of ‘penitents’.
"And I needed to be here because?" She asked with a confused tint to her question.
"Because you brought all this to light, you created these penitent orders that seem to offer a way to make up for what they've all been party to for all this time." He said proudly, lifting his chin and straightening his back just a little bit more.
She swallowed hard. "This is... different." She said as she glanced around and tried to think of what to say or do, before she desperately latched on to the first thought to come to her mind.
"I do have one idea though, that may impress them far more than I." She said, "Give me a moment."
Neia stepped back out of the room and sent a message to Sebas.
"What can I do for you Neia?" He asked.
Neia then informed him of all that had transpired in the city, the corruption, the abuse, the degradation, all that had been uncovered since throwing that fool to the justice of Ainz Ooal Gown, and she informed him of the penitent priests, paladins, squires, and guards.
"...And you want to know if Lord Ainz could sentence these penitents to their service personally?" He asked. "It is a bit presumptuous of you isn't it?" He asked.
"It is." Neia admitted, "However, because I sent one to him for punishment already, I thought it at least worth asking if he would be willing to appear for penance. Plus, there are many here from the corps who volunteered to rescue them, and they were imprisoned for their loyalty to his ideals when they tried to fight the corruption of this city, it would thrill them to no end to see him one more time now that they are free to work his will again."
Silence stretched out and for a moment Neia believed she had been cut off after offending him, but a moment later Sebas's voice rang in her mind, "He will come. Stand before the altar and he will appear behind you."
Neia expressed her gratitude and returned to the room, this time it was not silent, she entered loudly, her feet falling heavy on the floor and sending an echo throughout the room. She walked to the back directly down the aisle, and when she stood before the altar she put hands to her hips and instructed Varo to go bring the others in.
"Anybody not know who I am?” Neia said, and raked her eyes over the room, her vicious, savage eyes were a sight to behold, and if they were not, her armor was well enough known.
There was nobody who asked.
"I know why you're here, and fierce as my look may be, know that I am glad. But I am not alone in this, your willingness to make right what you have allowed to go wrong, has been brought to the attention of the Sorcerer King, and he is coming in person."
The rumble of voices rose among them, and Neia raised her hands to still them. "He does not come to kill you, he comes to bless your choices. He has endorsed the founding of the Chained and the Red Paladins. You who have made this decision, will be forgiven for what you have done, and for what you have failed to do." Her evangelist voice easily carried to those in the back, and no sooner had the rest of her people gathered, than a hole in reality opened behind the altar at Neia's back, and through it stepped the god of justice.
Neia knew from their faces what was happening, and she turned and knelt before him.
"Raise your head, Pope Neia." He said, using her new title. "You have done well, and I am pleased.” He said.
"Thank you, my lord." Neia said softly, raising her head, tears shone in her eyes, but did not fall.
Those in the pews facing the altar, had gone down to their knees when the Sorcerer King appeared, as had those who had come in at Neia's summons.
"You veterans, former prisoners, who suffered in order to work my will, who wished to sacrifice yourselves when you thought I was at risk, come, take your place behind Pope Neia." He said, and they could not move fast enough for their liking, they almost fell over themselves to kneel before Ainz.
"Your loyalty to my will is not forgotten. I regret only that I did not know you were suffering for me, otherwise I would have seen you freed. Those behind bars are little good to anyone, and now that you are free, you may work my will again if that is your wish, but I will not compel you, I wish only loyalty that is freely given, now will you work to make this world a just one once again?” Ainz said, sweeping his staff over their heads.
"We will!" They said in unison, their endorsement rang off temple walls with such a powerful echo back and forth, like water sloshing in a bucket until the momentum faded, that it was almost a full minute before the Sorcerer King spoke again.
"Then let it be so. Pope Neia asked that a corps of priests be trained and established to carry my will out and aid the people. Some from the capital are preparing for this already, you will join them, and three of you will be assigned to each temple we establish. You will also be taught the combat style developed by Neia Baraja, under her tutors, Cocytus and Sebas, in my realm, your training will be arduous, you will have to work to catch up to the rest who have begun before you.” Eager grins met his words.
"Neia, I have received your correspondence and sent answer to you, it should arrive in written form in this city within a day or two, this will provide the core of your efforts to write the sacred texts so that the people may understand them." He said, and Neia's eager smile matched those of the veterans.
The priests and fighters at the pews were shaking as they saw this, some had felt the power of the Sorcerer King before, but most had never felt it so close before, never heard his voice, never felt his aura, and now here he was as if he had stepped out of the afterlife.
"You lot." He said, sweeping his staff in front of them.
"You have failed your people. You have failed your duty. You have failed yourselves. To fail in those things is to fail to execute the will of god." He said, and their downcast eyes were wet with tears of remorse.
“But while your failure showed your sin of weakness, your presence here shows a hidden strength, of character and will. Not every man ever born is able to face up to his wrong doings and try to make amends." He said, and hopeful gazes lifted up to meet him.
Ainz pointed to the priests, "You are the chained. You will serve as Neia directed for three and one half years, and travel the realm caring for the people, the head of your order is the first of your number to repent, but your order answers to the temples which answer to the pope who answers to me. If you die serving the people, your chains will be removed upon burial, you will die having atoned for your wrongs. If you wish to continue to serve beyond your required time, only add links to your chains. Serve well, and make the people glad that you are among them." He said in a regal voice that surpassed the expectations of those who had not heard him before.
He turned his gaze to the fighting men, “You there, had a failure as great as theirs, but you stand in common with them in that you are willing to make right what you have done wrong. You are now the Red Paladins. Your armor will reflect this, and there will be eight of you assigned per Chained Priest, four paladins and four squires, and when stationed at temples, you will escort pilgrims and other travelers to holy places and villages. If you die protecting the weak or the innocent, you will be remembered as having atoned, you must serve as long as the priests of the Chained, but may serve longer if you wish. You likewise, are subject to the governance of the temple's Black Priests. Serve well, and make others glad that you have lived."
Ainz raised his arms out widely, holding his staff aloft in Kingly Pose number twenty three, "I bless these orders in the name of justice, the dignity of life, and the conquest of both death and weakness."
‘It’s… it’s just like that statue of Surshana… in every detail… is he Surshana under a new name… or related to him…’ These and other thoughts like them ran through many minds, and private devotion to a new god was kindled like a fire in dry wheat within many a heart.
As he slammed the tip of his staff down, a holy light emanated from it and shone throughout the temple, with what seemed to be 'pieces' of it settling over those who knelt, but the light went beyond the temple, and radiated over the whole of the city, bearing with it a warmth and a certitude of rightness for all to see and feel, until it gradually faded.
Inside his head Ainz thought to himself, ‘I wondered what this effect would look like in the New World... I sure hope my acting paid off in that presentation.’
"I must go now," he said, "Can I leave justice in your hands this time?" He said somewhat sardonically, and a weeping crowd managed to bellow out a loud collective, "YES!".
"You then," he said, pointing to Varo, "Come with me, you and the others who stayed loyal to me, and see my realm, you have much work to do."
They rose, and followed as if entranced by what they'd seen, until the portal closed behind the last of them.
"Impressive as always." Neia said softly.
"Now," Neia snapped, drawing the assembly's attention back to her. "There are three things to be done. The first is that you must prepare your uniforms, priests visit the blacksmiths and have your manacles formed. Paladins and squires, see to the dyeing of your armor, when you return, separate yourselves into teams, I leave it to you to decide whom to work with. Tomorrow, we will begin sending you out, one team each day, while the rest take care of the temple while the new priests conduct their training. Get going!" She shouted like she was ordering soldiers into ranks, and they quickly obeyed, leaving her alone in the place of worship.
She leaned back heavily, resting one hand against the altar, and rubbed her forehead with her other hand, and let out a heavy sigh. "Damn but this is exhausting. I wish I were a natural at this like the Sorcerer King."