Alice stared at the cup in Mr. Skelly’s hand. “A drink? What’s in it?”
“If I had a stomach or a tongue, I could tell you,” Mr. Skelly said, “but as it stands, I can’t. Ask Henry; he’s the newest bishop of our church.”
“Bishop?” Alice asked as she accepted the cup. She stared at Henry who cleared his throat and looked away. “I didn’t know you were religious. You never worshipped the holy dragons. That’s why I thought you were one of the best workers. What made you change your mind?” She sniffed the cup before taking a sip.
“Ah. Well, you see,” Henry said and scratched his head. “It’s not a bishop for the church of the holy dragons. The, uh, church of the damned is being founded on this continent, starting with Anfang. I actually get a lot of benefits as a founding member, such as free mana crystals for up to 50 years’ worth of life after I die. I also—”
“Hold up,” Alice said, spitting out her drink. “Church of the damned? What the hell? Don’t you, what even, you…. You’re an idiot,” she said and sighed. “There’s really a church of the damned?” She glared at Mr. Skelly.
“Of course,” Mr. Skelly said with a nod. “How else are we supposed to gain supporters? Religion is the best method to garner support and sympathy. Besides, we’re a lot better than the church of the holy dragons—won’t you consider joining us? We promise life after death, food in exchange for mana, living quarters in exchange for mana, and reunions between your deceased loved ones and yourself. What do the holy dragons offer?” He cupped his skeletal hand beside his head where his ear would’ve been if he had one. “That’s right. They offer nothing except for some measly healing. Anyone can be healed if you throw a potion at them—what makes the holy dragons’ priestesses special?”
Alice made a face. “You know, that sounds really tempting, but I’d rather not sell my soul to a necromancer,” she said. “And from what I’m gathering, you seem to have plans to stay for the long term? I know you’re from the same continent as Tafel since you know each other, so why don’t you just complete your mission and go home? Why establish a religion?”
“The religion is part of our mission,” Mr. Skelly said. “Without it, we can’t accomplish what we have to do—which is a secret only divulged to followers of Damnedism by the way. Join now and I’ll throw in a free ten years of life after your death.”
“Henry gets offered 50, but I only get 10? What the heck is this? He’s not worth five times as much as I am,” Alice said, furrowing her brow. “Wait a minute. I don’t even want to join.” She held her hand out in front of her face. “I think I’ve heard enough of your case. And I’ve decided to nip a problem in the bud.” Her shield expanded. “Meaning you should kindly return to the grave.”
Mr. Skelly’s eye sockets widened as the shield descended. Before he could react to the strike, Tafel appeared in front of him and blocked the attack with her sword. She pursed her lips as her arms creaked under the pressure.
Alice frowned as she retracted her arm. “You’re going to defend him?” she asked. “It’s unnatural for something to live beyond death. Destroying him will bring about relief instead; I hope you know that.”
“How would you know that?” Tafel asked as she lowered her sword. “You haven’t died and came back to life. Mr. Skelly lives a in a fulfilling and satisfactory manner. Who are you to deem what’s unnatural or natural? No one wants to die; isn’t it natural to seek an alternative to death?”
`”Everything from your continent is unnatural!” Alice said, practically shouting. “The amount of mana you have is beyond normal limits. Undead retain their memories and are actually sovereign citizens. And don’t even get me started on Vur!”
“Yeah, so we’re a bunch of freaks; what about it?” Tafel asked with a snort.
Alice bit her lower lip. “I didn’t mean it that way,” she said. “It’s just that your culture is way too different from mine. I’m having trouble adapting—like the skeleton said, I’m a bit old fashioned.”
“So your first response is to try to kill my friend?” Tafel asked, glancing at Mr. Skelly.
Alice raised an eyebrow. “I thought he was just an acquaintance.”
“Same difference,” Tafel said. “You don’t see me coming here cutting people down because they’re different from what I’m used to.”
“You killed a gryphon,” Alice said.
Tafel coughed and turned her head away. “That was Vur.”
“And by extension, you. You’re responsible for Vur’s actions as his wife,” Alice said, crossing her arms over her chest. “How about this? I’ll go against my better judgment and allow the skeletons to stay and accomplish their mission, but anything that happens is your responsibility. If the holy dragons retaliate, it’s completely on you to do something about the situation.”
“That’s…” Tafel furrowed her brow and glanced at Mr. Skelly who grinned at her. “I’m going to regret this, but alright. It’s a deal.”
“You’re the best demon lord the world could ever ask for,” Mr. Skelly said and made a move to hug Tafel. She grimaced and smacked his body away.
“I’m not doing this for you,” she said. “I owe Auntie quite a bit. Don’t do anything that’ll land me in serious trouble, alright?”
“Of course,” Mr. Skelly said. “We wouldn’t bring betray your trust in us like that. Nothing serious will happen at all. In fact, I’ll clean up all the messes that occur myself. You won’t have to worry about a thing.”
Alice sighed. “Maybe it’s my mindset that’s been holding me back this whole time. I believe in common sense—things can or can’t be done—while you don’t. You’re a lot more open-minded than I am.”
Tafel scratched her head. “It feels weird to be praised like that,” she said. “I don’t think I’m open-minded though. You just learn to not sweat the small stuff when your mother-in-law is a dragon.”
Alice snorted. “It wasn’t praise.”