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Thursday, May 17, 2007 A Soul Unmasked, A Soul Lost Part 2

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Robert walks hurriedly out from the Restricted Area. Luckily no one there suspects Robert on anything. They think he must be in some kind of urgent mission from the Pope. Robert tries hard to look calm, but his mind is racing wildly.
This is madness. All Vadis' teachings still can't change her. She's still in love with her obsessions, her beauty and lust. Now I have to flee from her sight because of that. Perfect piety and wisdom are just her masks, hiding the beast within.
Now what? I must take my friends out from here, but they are now in separate places around the Basilica. There's no way I can find them all quickly.
Then suddenly an idea comes to him. Instead of going around the Basilica, Robert goes directly to the dormitories. He enters his room, packs his things and finds that his kiliji is not on his back.
Damn! It's missing! I must've left it in the Pope's room! Now she has more leverage to force me! No way, I must flee immediately! No time to take the others! But if I left, they'll be in trouble. What should I do? Oh, I know.
Robert takes out a paper and a quill, and after scribbling a memo on it, he puts it on the table, finishes packing and goes out at once.
He walks towards the North Gate, and the guards there stop him, saying, 'Sir Robert? Aren't you supposed to guard the Pope in the Central Chambers?'
Robert doesn't look nervous at all because he is ready with an answer.
'The Pope sent me away on a secret mission. Don't tell this to anyone else except my partners. If you try to confirm this with the Pope, she'll deny that because if she does, it won't be a secret anymore.'
'Lo, what's so secret, Rob?' says a voice. Robert turns around and finds Chris standing behind him. 'Are you trying to go away without us?'
'On the contrary, my friend,' says Robert, still calmly. 'Gather our friends, go packing and look at the note I left you in my room. Follow the instruction there and you'll know. Go now! Leave your post and make haste!'
Chris is a bit confused on hearing that, but he immediately responds, 'Okay, Rob. You're the leader. We'll follow your instructions.'
'Good. See you later, my friend.'
'You too, my friend.'
Robert immediately walks away through the gate, and vanishes into the darkness of night. And Chris sets off at once to gather the rest of the party.


Meanwhile, in the Restricted Area, a nun is standing in front of the Pope's room, knocking on the door.
'Your Grace. Your Grace, your tonic is ready. Do you wish to take it now or later?'
There's no response from inside.
'Your Grace, are you sleeping? Please, Your Grace, it's almost time for your dawn praying. Please, Your Grace!'
Still, no answer from inside, although the nun rose her voice a bit on the last sentence so the Pope can hear it. The nun sighs, and the female guards are also a bit puzzled upon this.
Maybe Pope Xylen is angry? Or too tired? Or fell sick because of her excessive fatigue? Never once in her fifteen years reign she missed the dawn praying. She always gives perfect practices of discipline, and her wisdom exceeds her predecessors. Why breaking it now?
The nun waits for another minute, and then she realizes that Pope Xylen will punish her severely if she fails to remind the Pope about crucial rituals like this. So, once again, this time with a loud voice, the nun calls.
'Your Grace, please wake up! Please, for Vadis' sake, for the fellow believers' sake!'
The nun said that with her voice trembling and her body shivering all over. She'd rather be punished for insolence than negligence. But still, she receives no answer. So, gathering her last drops of courage, the nun talks to the guards.
'Please let me in. You know the Pope didn't answer at all, so I think there must be something wrong with her. Sister Nabelia! Go to Cardinal Ryddus and see if he can override the magical lock on this door! Go now!'
Nabelia, the servant nun's companion rushes away to carry out her instruction, while the servant nun outstretches her hand to the door.
'Let's check if the door is all right. I want to break an entrance. Should the Pope is angry; I'll take all the blame.'
The nun touches the door. Nothing happens, but she is still tense. Now comes the difficult part. She tries to push the door open. Although it's a heavy door, a woman can open it without much difficulty. And to her surprise, the door opens!
She begins to worry. The magical lock is not on! Only the Pope and Cardinal Ryddus know the spell to open it! If the Pope didn't neglect to put the lock back, I'm afraid...
As the nun comes in, her worry proves to be true. She shrieks in extreme horror at the sight in front of her. There, on the marble floor, Pope Xylen Felicitia lies face down, unmoving. Her blue hair is dipped in a puddle of blood under her body. And the most saddening thing is, there's a curved long sword stuck on her back. Her body and her rare-fabric nightgown are all covered in blood. The wall just behind her, the marble table and two square-shaped marble vases are also splattered with blood.
There's no mistaking it. The Pope was murdered! Someone used the curved sword to take her life away. The guards are also dismayed on seeing that proof of failure, and one of them immediately runs away, shouting an alarm.
'Murder! The Pope is murdered! The Pope is murdered! She's dead! Sound the alarm!'
Soon the alarms and the shouts of 'The Pope is murdered!' spread in the Basilica like wildfire. All who hear that are panicked, like a body that just lost a head. Terror and chaos spread in this holy ground as the Pope's blood tainted it. Some fall on their knees, some faint, and the rest rush to the Restricted Zone. They don't believe what they just heard, and now they don't believe their eyes.
Cristophe is walking with Carol and Iris to find Andreas when they hear the news, and they can swear that nothing is as shocking as this one in their entire life.
Chris exclaims, 'WHAT!? Pope Xylen was murdered during our watch!? That's... that's IMPOSSIBLE!'
'And Robert left the Basilica? This is very odd. Very odd indeed,' says Carolyn, shaking her head in disbelief.
'Shall we go to the death scene or to the dormitories first?' Iris asks.
'Rob instructed us to go to his room, so we'll do what he told. It might be related to this matter,' says Chris.
Iris adds, 'It's all so... suspicious.'
They all go to the west wing dormitories immediately, and not seeing Andreas there, they decide to go directly to Robert's room. In there, they only find a letter on top of the table. Chris picks up the single-folded letter, and together with Carol and Iris read it without speaking. Robert's writing is as bad as ever, but it is still readable.

Dear friends,
The Pope can't be trusted. She banished me from Valanis. She took my kiliji, please ask her to return it to me. Leave the Basilica at once, and meet me just outside the North City Gate before noon. If you don't find me there, that means I fled for my life, parted from you for your own good. My quarrel with the Pope doesn't concern you, and I hope she is alive and well because the war against the heir has begun.
And for you, take care. Keep this secret.
- Robert

From his writing, we can say that Robert wrote that in a great hurry, but kept his habit on trying to explain everything. When Chris and the others are a bit thoughtful, trying to make ends meet, suddenly there's a loud banging on the door. Startled, Iris moves towards the door. Chris puts Robert's letter beneath his armor as the door opens and several people rush in.
Father Andreas and Father Bernides are among them, with a very concerned look on their faces. Cardinal Ryddus, on the other hand, shouts with authority.
'Robert Chandler! Surrender yourself at once!'
'But he is not here, Father Ryddus,' says Bernides.
Ryddus is disgruntled, and then shouts to the guards, 'Search this place! Search for clues of his whereabouts! Strands of his hair, drops of blood, anything!'
Then, turning again, Ryddus just realizes something.
'And... what are his friends doing here? ARREST THEM! Interrogate them in the dungeons!'
'Wait! Wait!' says Chris. 'We just arrived here. We have nothing to do with the Pope's murder.'
'But you are his friends, right? That's just enough to charge you on conspiracy to assassinate the Pope, and the penalty is death! Robert used his kiliji to kill the Pope, and left it there! It's obvious! He's the killer!'
'Hold on a minute, Father Ryddus!' says Andreas. 'I know Robert, I've been with him for quite a long time, and I'm absolutely sure he didn't do such thing!'
Ryddus cuts in, 'Unless he is the heir.'
That word alone throws the entire room into silence. Robert is the heir. Maybe. It's no use arguing about other possibilities when almost everybody is in panic. The formidable defense in Basilica Vadisium was breached by a traitor, an insider, the man the Pope counted on most.
Reasons are futile now, when despair fills the air. Chris, Iris and Carolyn don't have a choice but to follow the guards quietly.
'Don't worry, my friends. I'll help you out of this. I think Robert is framed. I got a number of good reasons why,' says Andreas.
'I don't know him much,' says Father Bernides the morbit. 'But I'll help you ponder on this matter because I need to help Prince Cristophe.'
Andreas talks on, trying to calm his friends, 'Be patient, my friends. By Vadis, we will clear this matter up and clear our names... and Robert's too.'

End of Chapter IX

Andry Chang
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