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The plague had cut the population of the Sakartes Empire in half, and their military power had sharply declined as well. Leylin’s Hope Stronghold continually absorbed the nutrients of Debanks Island and grew ever more prosperous. However, he estimated that a new wave of power would soon arise.
‘The earth-bound spirits and totem spirits should be planning something massive…’ Leylin stroked his chin and pondered. The spirits of Debanks Island were in fact borne of the wandering spirits of the various regions. Their strength was somewhat limited to the area they came from and the knowledge they possessed.
Leylin had only slain the spirits of small tribes thus far, even the strongest among the totems containing a shred of divinity. Even if such a spirit possessed a domain, Leylin did not fear it in the least.
However, the Sakartes Empire had several powerful spirits with strength approaching the level of demigods. In their own domains, their powers would be amplified to put them on par with true gods! Put bluntly, if Leylin stepped into the boundaries of the Sakartes Empire he would be mobbed to death by godlike spirits.
On the contrary, if those spirits dared to venture out from their domains, they would at most have the strength of demigods. Their strength would even deteriorate in the vicinity of Hope Stronghold.
Due to these conditions, Leylin was not eager to challenge them. Instead, he would continually weaken them and erode their forces. To him, these spirits were like caged beasts. He could weaken them easily with the power of faith and mortal armies, so there was no need to hurry.
With the aid of the plague, Leylin’s forces grew without any resistance, slicing through their opponents like hot knives through butter.
There were even occasional natives who had thrown off their faith in their totem spirits and requested entry into the stronghold. One tribe’s nobles themselves had abandoned their beliefs to come seek shelter.
After all, Hope Stronghold represented life to the mere mortals. Outside of it, one could only wait for death. Under such immense pressure, only the most zealous worshippers of the totems would be unwilling to convert.
The spirits did not have any solution to Leylin’s plan at all. Given their powers, the priests and clerics they had nurtured would at most be able to save a small part of the nobility. The commoners would be left to die. What was even more shameless was that Leylin’s pathogen could infect a person even after they had been healed previously!
Debanks Island had now turned into an island of plague. The natives who didn’t comply with Leylin could only hide in their city corners or altars, waiting for the inevitable plague to strike. Once most of them had abandoned their faith, the totem spirits and earth-bound spirits would be a bunch of sitting ducks.
A demigod couldn’t sustain their divine force on the backs of zealots, priests, and nobles. Their holy magic would decrease, causing more people to die. It was a vicious cycle. As their control over their worshippers dwindled, so did the domain of their powers.
Right now, Leylin’s influence had spread to almost a quarter of the island. Although it started at the corner of a region, the totem spirits of the empire were unable to do anything about it. Meanwhile, Leylin’s influence only grew more as each day passed. Leylin felt like he didn’t even need to personally attack them. The regional spirits would go extinct purely due to a lack of worshippers.
On the other hand, it wasn’t as if these spirits lacked countermeasures against him. Although large scale battles were impossible since the inception of the plague, they had passed down oracles with a strategy to stop the natives from moving over to Leylin. They were spreading rumours that it was Leylin himself who had spread the plague, which ironically was the truth.
“The giant serpent from the west cruelly dug out the hearts of our people, using their fresh blood to make a sacrifice to evil. That is how this devil of a plague was born…”
“The fair-skinned devils never came with good intentions. They covet our wealth and fertile lands, and are even prepared to use our lives in doing the bidding of their gods…” Such rumours were very prevalent on Debanks Island, some even making their rounds within Hope Stronghold.
However, it was precisely from these actions that Leylin detected something abnormal.
‘Life and reproduction are the most primordial desires of living beings. The strength of this desire leaves even gods in awe…’ He looked at the bustling Hope Stronghold and grinned widely.
‘And the desire to live is far greater than the desire to reproduce… Even if I proclaim that I am indeed killing the natives and using their flesh and blood for sacrificial rites, they still have a strong will to live. As long as they are able to undergo my baptism and get rid of the plague, there will still be many natives who come over… Before the gods find an antidote to this plague, this situation will be irreversible. As for the rumours, they can at most increase the workload of Tiff and the church.’
The pathogen Leylin had devised was backed by his ability as a Magus, and the power of bloodlines from another world. In addition, it was only effective on the natives. It was almost impossible for those gods to find a cure for it.
“Almighty Lord… You are the colossal snake which will devour the world, the torchbearer of massacre. One day, you will turn into the stars in the sky…” Tiff entered from a large door behind Leylin, dressed in pristine white robes.
In this vast and boundless world, Leylin had finally established a church with a proper schedule. Constant battle and conquest had given him a great number of worshippers, and the acolytes had undergone a baptism as well. They were now equipped to carry out his bidding.
He had given Tiff a group of clerics, and placed a member of his own family in charge of administration, leading to immense gratitude from both parties. Apart from that, he had a foundation of zealots in huge numbers and a church. Everything else would just fall into place.
Leylin had named it the Colossal Serpent Church, with an image of a Targaryen as the insignia. Tiff was taking care of the holy scriptures and the like. Given that he’d been infused with Leylin’s soulforce and was the second legendary of the church, he had naturally been appointed as the pope.
With Tiff’s contributions in nurturing the acolytes, the position was his anyway. This was in line with Leylin’s plans, and Isabel would never fight over this position.
“What is it?” Leylin turned around, the occasional imposing aura radiating from his body.
“We have already captured a few suspects spreading rumours to taint your reputation,” While Tiff had an inkling of the greater ploy at play, neither him nor Leylin would openly admit to it. In cases like this, unless they caught the perpetrator himself in the act of spreading the pathogen, what evidence would suffice?
As for the cure and holy water, they could justify it by saying that Leylin’s divine force countered the pathogen. He had not cultivated the domains and godhoods of plague and disease anyway, so he wasn’t afraid of an investigation.
Truth be told, if the gods did try to get to the bottom of this, the Goddess of Plagues would become a scapegoat for Leylin. Who asked her to enjoy doing malicious things like spreading plagues and diseases in the first place?
An epidemic not backed by divine powers was unheard of in the World of Gods, where such a thing entailed ascending to godhood in that very domain. After all, what Leylin had done came from another world.
“Almighty Lord, should we punish them?” Tiff asked in a low voice.
The punishment would naturally be their life. After all, Tiff had originally been from the dark world, and had done countless things like this. Even the purest of good gods had people in the church carry out their dirty deeds.
“Tiff…” Leylin’s voice was extremely gentle, but it carried a dignity that could not be opposed. Tiff stiffened and listened earnestly. “The church is open and above board. We will grant a fair trial even to those vile rats from the darkness, especially in such matters…”
“I understand…” Tiff put on his best thinking face and left respectfully. Leylin’s meaning was for him to convict them of their crimes immediately, only publicly. He could not fool the sages and intelligent people, but so what? In every era the commoners made up the largest part of the population.
Making the Arrest official, and substantiating it with some proof, Leylin could use his rulership to convict them. He and the church needed a white cloth to cover themselves in, and if they disposed of people on the sly it would only lead to more rumours. However, if his prestige and reputation were to pick up, those people who could see past his ploys could no longer overcome this surging wave.
Sometimes, superficiality was extremely important. With his troves of data and memories, Leylin was way ahead of the gods of Debanks Island in controlling the hearts of others.
Several days later, the trial began under the watchful eyes of the people, who bustled to watch the scene.
Tiff did not press them to admit their crimes, instead charging them for ‘smearing the holy name and causing distrust amongst the worshippers.’ It caused a huge buzz amongst the gathered people.
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