Silence reigned supreme in the meeting hall for a long time as everyone present considered the new invasion in the Baruch Kingdom. Eventually, the pope had to urge them on, "Your opinions?"
The cardinals exchanged knowing looks, none willing to speak their mind. However, it seemed like they had already reached a consensus. One of those who hadn't received the oracle had to speak up with resolution, "We of the Church are the hounds that guard the sheep of the Lord. We must follow His will to the best of our abilities, but some of the hounds need to be left behind to protect his herd."
The rest let out a sigh of relief, all nodding in agreement. The pope raised his head and looked in the direction of the brave cardinal, the praise in his eyes reassuring the worried man.
The same situation was unfolding in many other churches as well. Legions of battle priests and paladins were being mobilised, sent towards the Baruch Kingdom.
All sorts of armies with different flags and crests met up as they poured into the Baruch Kingdom. Endless carriages rushed over from the neighbouring countries as well; even with most of the troops coming with their own rations and the Kingdom itself being home to the fertile Pampas Plains, they needed to make urgent purchases of food and materiel.
The various clergies were tense but still maintained their composure, the nobles' troops marching in an orderly manner as well. They all knew that a combined oracle from all the gods would give them more than sufficient time to prepare. The invaders would take at least a month to arrive, and the moment they stepped out they would be facing a head-on attack.
This was an important norm in the gods' protection of Faelor. Only the astral beast invasion had a meagre three days of warning before the attack, and that had been the worst in all of history.
The different churches and shrines were making their own preparations. All that could march an army to the Baruch Kingdom in time sent as much of their troops as they could spare, while those that could not spent large sums of money to send their upper echelons over via teleportation.
Those countries and churches that could do neither had prepared reinforcements, promising not to wage war against the countries who participated in this crusade for a year. A handful of the churches seemed rather reserved in their preparations for this event, but it wasn't anything odd.
The Baruch Kingdom was holding a grand ritual. King Anwod was wreathed in golden armour as he climbed the 800 crimson stairs of the Shrine of Lutheris, greeted by two rows of priests, warriors, and even young boys and girls with ceremonial robes and weaponry.
Two girls walked up to him as he approached the twenty-metre-tall building, giving him a golden sceptre and crimson robes. He equipped himself and entered the temple.
The Baruch Kingdom was a theocracy, with the king being both the secular leader and the representative of the Wargod. King Anwod hosted a grand prayer ceremony to call upon the immense will of Lutheris, a deep voice like booming thunder resonating deep within the soul of every devotee, "Raise your swords and crush every intruder!"
Upon receiving the oracle, Anwod took large strides back towards the entrance of the building. At the top of the near-thousand steps, he looked down at the orderly formation of his troops and suddenly raised his sceptre up high into the sky. Blinding rays of golden light radiated from its body.
"Rako, Ta!" No victory, no return. The King's cry resounded through the troops below, as crisp and loud as Lutheris himself. Every soldier who heard this ancient war chant of the Baruch Kingdom and felt their blood boiling with the urge to fight. Your sword gives glory to the Lord! Wield it to protect the land and its people! Battle on, battle on, and only return victorious! No victory, no return!
All the soldiers started moving out in formation, heading to the battlefield where they would give up their lives for the land. Only when the last regiment left did Anwod return to the temple, heading towards the back in solitude. He left through the back door and headed up another flight of stairs to reach some inconspicuous ruins at the back of the mountain.
This was a ruined shrine filled with dust, spiderwebs on all the corners. A few shackles hung down from the ceiling, and Anwod spotted a head of glistening black hair that seemed to descend to the ground like a waterfall. Looking at the youthful owner of that hair, he stood at the entrance for a long time before mustering up the courage to break the silence, "Zangru…"
"Oh? Tsk tsk, how rare! The first visit in five years!" a youthful voice sounded out, lacking all hints of respect. The man didn't even turn around to look at the king, only cracking his neck a few times and raising his right arm in greeting, "Well, you just hope I die as soon as possible. How fucked up is it that you're looking for me to solve your problems? Be quick, if my mood's good I might even give you a hand, father.
"Well, you're the fucker that brought me into this damned world, so you should know my price is high. Are you sure you don't just want to smash your head against the wall instead?"
Anwod's face only grew darker as he looked up and focused on the domed roof, his mouth moving in silence for a long time before he regained the composure to speak, "Powerful invaders from another plane are about to appear in the Baruch Kingdom. The gods consider their power second only to the astral beasts and have sent down orders to kill them all. I trust we will achieve victory in this war, but as it stands the Kingdom could be destroyed. I need you to protect our land and its people."
The youth called Zangru burst into laughter, "Your land and its people, what does it have to do with me? I can't wait to kill your men and rape your women myself!"
Anwod's expression turned even darker, but he repressed his fury, "You… If you participate in this war, you can choose to wield any of the three sacred artefacts."
"Wow, even the artefacts? Looks like you're really in a bad situation, huh? Well then, my charges for helping you should also go up. Why don't you give me all three sacred artefacts and I'll consider it."
"IMPOSSIBLE!" Anwod roared.
Zangru finally turned back to look at him, revealing a face of cold beauty. He looked rather feminine, but what came out of his throat was clearly the voice of a man, "Impossible? Who else in this country can even use those things properly? They're an utter waste in your hands."
Anwod paused for a long time, "Alright, you can wield all three. However, they will have to be returned after the war. So, will you fight?"
Zangru laughed again, this time more maniacal, "My great father, has so much time passed that you think of me as a lunatic who only cares about killing? You think I'll be satisfied with just that?"
"What more do you want?"
Zangru put out two of his fingers, "One, freedom. Two, some playtime with the women of your palace. You can relax, I'll give them back once I'm done."
The king seemed to have predicted these terms, "I can agree, but once you attain your freedom you are not to step within the borders of the Baruch Kingdom again. As for the second condition, excep—"
"Tch, tch tch! If there's going to be an except, then there's no point in talking anymore. You know, I've already set my eyes on the ones you love the most. Think through it clearly, what's more important? The country and its people or your lovers? My dear father…" At this point, Zangru's voice was dripping with sarcasm.
Anwod retreated a step out of fear, rage clouding his face. He pointed at Zangru, finger trembling a little, but no matter how much time passed he couldn't drum up the courage to reprimand his own son. Eventually, he just sighed, "I… agree to your conditions. But aft—"
"No, not after, right now! What should I do if I die on the battlefield? I'm not giving you that chance."
"… Fine." It took an enormous amount of effort for Anwod to speak that one word.
Zangru turned back once again, his charming eyes staring right through his father, "You truly are a great king!"
The king seemed to ignore the ridicule, his golden armour emitting a bright glow as a battleaxe, helmet, and shield appeared on the ground. He then removed a golden token from his waist, placing that on the floor as well. This was the royal token that held authority equal to Anwod himself; it would allow Zangru to go anywhere he wanted and do whatever he wished.
Zangru let out a charming smile, picking up the exquisite axe and using it to break off the chains covering his body. The rusting links that stuck to his body had to be pulled out one by one, drawing blood as they were removed. His face twisted with pain with every segment, forcing him to take a few rapid breaths before he could continue extracting the metal from his body.
When all the chains were removed, Zangru's legs almost gave out from under him. He levelled a cold glare in Anwod's direction, "My dear father, you really did put your life's effort into these chains! I'm afraid the wounds on my body will only recover in a week's time. I'll be strolling through the palace until then; if anything goes wrong, please take responsibility for me. You should pray the invaders don't appear this week.
"Right, also mobilise those so-called country guardians of yours. I'm afraid they'll be useless on the battlefield, but with how many you have they'll still slow down the enemies at least. The arrangement should hold as I recover from my injuries, no?"
Anwod nodded his head heavily, heaving a deep sigh before turning to make his way out.