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The Church of The Three Heroes, later known as the "Cult of the Three Heroes", is a corrupt religious cult organization and an antagonistic faction, which served as the main antagonists of the 3rd and 4th volumes of the light novel series The Rising of the Shield Hero, the first saga of its original web novel story, and episodes 12 - 21 of its anime series. This monotheistic order based within the Kingdom of Melromarc serves as the country's chief religion and they were secret allies of its first Princess Malty Melromarc.
Led by High Priest/Pope Balamus, the Church openly preached of love and acceptance towards humans but promoted discrimination against Demi-Humans and the Shield Hero. On top of a large priesthood, the Church also had ties to the military (though whether this was their own militia or Kingdom soldiers helping them is not known) as well as the Kingdoms Shadows. As a sign of devotion, many of its follower's carried a special rosary comprised of the three cardinal weapons that the Church viewed as sacred (The Bow, Sword and Spear).
The Church of the Three Heroes split from its parent religion, the Church of the Four Holy Heroes several hundred years before the start of the series. The reason for this division is never explained, but following their desertion, the founders of the new faith stole a sacred replica weapon from the Church of the Seven Star Heroes from the neighbouring country of Faubrey. This weapon replicated the effects and abilities of three of the four cardinal weapons: the Sword, Spear, Shield and Bow heroes but required a tremendous amount of energy to use. The Pope later revealed that over the centuries, many of the churches followers sacrificed their energy (and in some cases their own lives) so that when the time came, the High Priest would be able to wield it in order to strike down the Churches enemies once and for all.
In time, the Church established itself as the dominant religion in the Kingdom of Melromarc. Their central base was a huge cathedral in the countries capital, the steeples of which bore giant monuments to the cardinal weapons that the Church viewed as sacred. The church also oversaw the Red Hour Glass of the Dragon Era, which meant any heroes summoned to Melromarc had to go through the church in order to receive updates on the waves and class upgrades.
It was the Church of the Three Heroes that were responsible for the discrimination against Demi-Humans and the Shield Hero. Preaching to the masses over many centuries, to rich and poor alike, they proclaimed that Demi-Humans were impure devilish creatures to be looked down upon. As such, many of the people of Melromarc looked down Demi-Humans treating them with disdain rather than equals, and as creatures to either be exterminated or enslaved. The Church also tampered with historical records so that whilst the wielders of the Bow, Spear and Sword were said to be sacred heroes chosen by God to save the world, the Shield Hero was a brutal, evil and treacherous person akin to the Devil, and therefore not to be trusted. To further exemplify this claim they pointed to the fact that the previous Shield Hero had been known for their kindness towards Demi-Humans.
By the start of the series, the teachings of the Church were firmly ingrained within the minds of Melromarc's aristocrats and commoners alike. Anyone who spoke out against them was either killed or branded as a traitor and imprisoned. It was for these reasons that Naofumi Iwatani found no support and suffered prejudice in the early stages of his journey.
Rising of the Shield Hero
Summoning the Cardinal Heroes and Framing Naofumi
Following the devastating events of the first wave, representatives from the Church (including Balamus) approached the current ruler of Melromarc, King Aultcray, and suggested that they summon the Four Cardinal Heroes in order to protect the Kingdom. In reality, Queen Mirelia Q Melromarc was the true power behind the throne, (since Melromarc is a matriarchal monarchy), with Aultcray serving as a proxy ruler in his wife's absence. With the Queen away on a diplomatic mission with the rulers of the other countries, however, the Church used this situation to their advantage since the Queen (who served the Church of the Four Holy Heroes) would never have agreed to their scheme of summoning the four heroes together, since doing so would give Melromarc an unfair advantage over the other countries, who normally summoned one hero to each country.
The ploy was successful, and (ignoring the political implications of their actions) the Church, at the King's instruction, successfully managed to summon four people from alternate dimensions to wield each of the four cardinal weapons; Motoyasu Kitamura (Spear Hero), Ren Amaki (Sword Hero), Itsuki Kawasumi (Bow Hero) and Naofumi Iwatani (Shield Hero). From the moment of his arrival, Naofumi recognised that he was being treated differently to the other heroes, with many people either flat out ignoring him or looking upon him with open disdain.
Unknown to any of the heroes, The Church had already conspired with the sadistic Princess Malty to frame the Shield Hero, i.e. the weapon their religion despised, in order to gain favour/support from the other heroes. King Aultcray, who had his own reasons to hate the Shield Hero, was aware of this plot and agreed to use his position to back them up. Their plan was successful and within forty-eight hours of his summoning, Naofumi was falsely accused of rape by Princess Malty. Word of 'his crime' spread quickly, and stripped of his armour, financial support and honour, The Shield Hero became an outcast in the Kingdom hated by everyone and accepted/appreciated by no one.
Naofumi would later learn that prior to receiving his false charges, agents of the Church were already spreading bad rumours about him, and making other false accusations. This explained why the citizens of Melromarc were so hostile, and the lie so easily believed because it appeared to back up everything the Church had been preaching concerning the Shield Hero. The Queen also told him, that contrary to what the King said, there had in fact been several adventurers prepared to fight alongside Naofumi following his summoning, just like the other three heroes. As these supporters opposed the Church's teachings, they were all arrested or murdered before they could join him.
The Duel of the Heroes
With their mission to destroy the Shield Hero apparently successful the Church of the Three Heroes, set about doing its part to help Motoyasu, Ren and Itsuki fulfil their destiny and become the heroes of legend. Like the rest of the Kingdom, they gave the three preferential treatment, and prior to the second wave, the Sword, Spear and Bow Heroes not only received sand from the hour-glass helping them learn new skills but were provided with a class up.
Shortly before the second wave, representatives of the Church encountered Naofumi for the first time. They were kind enough to let Naofumi visit the dragon hour-glass so that he could learn about the time for the waves, which was ultimately, as far as their assistance for the Shield Hero extended. Any time he visited the Church Naofumi noticed the hostile glances from the people in attendance. Queen Mirelia later theorised that the only reason the Church of the Three Heroes did not eliminate Naofumi straight away was that they believed he would not be able to defend himself with only a shield and that he would either die straight away or could be eliminated later on by the more powerful heroes.
Naofumi, however, did survive the second wave with the assistance of his Demi-Human slave/partner Raphtalia and a small number of knights. At the celebration that followed, Myne saw an opportunity and tricked Motoyasu into challenging Naofumi for Raphtalia's freedom. The High Priest watched the duel alongside many other attendants, and whilst the duel was initially going in Naofumi's favour, Malty illegally intervened causing Motoyasu to be declared the victor. Like everyone else, the High Priest said nothing in Naofumi's defence and watched on silently as Raphtalia was freed. However, these actions came to nothing as following the duel Raphtalia, Ren and Itsuki angrily called out the unfairness of the duel. The Demi-Human girl then snubbed "the efforts" of the Kingdom and the Church "to save her" by returning to Naofumi's side, where she delivered a passionate speech, making it clear that if given the choice between freedom and staying with Naofumi, she would rather choose the Shield-Hero.
Although the High-Priest would later praise Naofumi for his actions in the duel, the events of this duel appear to have set the Church of the Three Heroes firmly against the Shield Hero. It is also possible that the battle also installed the Churches first traces doubt about the capabilities of the other three heroes. The Spear Hero only "won" the duel due to the illegal interference from one of his party members. Plus, the Bow and Sword Heroes took Naofumi's side in the aftermath.
Framing the Shield Hero a second time
Between the events of the second and third waves, the Church (possibly through the use of their shadows) kept tabs on the four heroes, noting where they went and what they did. Whilst Ren, Itsuki and Motoyasu went around acting like heroes, they continued to treat their adventures as nothing more than a video game. This led to a number of blunders on their part, which created to greater calamities endangering the lives of many citizens across the Kingdom: -
- Motoyasu was asked to help a local village which was undergoing a famine. Ultimately, he gave the villagers a seed he'd recovered from a nearby dungeon, one which had been altered by an alchemist many years before his arrival to produce fast-growing food. However, what the Spear Hero and the villagers did not realise was that the seed had been sealed away because it was dangerous. Whilst the vegetation produced by this seed did grow rapidly, the plants grew to fast to control and were sentient, making them dangerous to anyone and everyone around them.
- Ren killed a dragon at the behest of the guild that had taken refuge in a mountainous region close to a human settlement. However, he did not dispose of the corpse properly, and as it decomposed, the dragon's corpse unleashed a massive plague upon the surrounding area. Many citizens and adventurers became sick as a result of this, with several dying as a result. To make matters worse, poisonous monsters were attracted to the area, making it even more dangerous.
- Itsuki was asked to deal with a local lord, who was overtaxing his people and using the money to hire mercenaries. Ultimately, Itsuki joined the local resistance against this lord, overthrew and killed him, before installing a new governor from the resistance in his place. What Itsuki did not know, however, was that the country had been undergoing a famine. Although corrupt, the Lord's intentions were to use the money to buy food for his people and hire mercenaries to protect his land from greedy invaders. All Itsuki accomplished was a changing of the figurehead. Shortly after taking over, the resistance had to level similar taxes, leading to people starving. Things got so bad that some survivors were forced to flee across the border into Melromarc, in order to beg for help and food.
Naofumi and his companions, on the other hand, became travelling merchants aiding the citizens of Melromarc whenever possible. This included cleaning up the other heroes messes; -
- Naofumi, Raphtalia and Filo were able to defeat the sentient plants created by Motoyasu's seed, with the help of some herbicide. After that Naofumi used one of his shields to alter the plant's composition so that whilst it continued to grow rapidly, it was now completely harmless. Thus the villages famine was solved.
- After treating the villagers affected by the plague, Naofumi and his companions travelled into the mountains in order to destroy the corpse. The corpse, however, reanimated itself as a zombie dragon. An intense battle ensued, in which Raphtalia was badly injured, and Filo was apparently eaten. Ultimately, however, the heroes triumphed, although Raphtalia needed special treatment in order to get fully healed, and the trio were forced to remain in the area until all of the poison monsters dispersed.
- During his travels, Naofumi encountered a group of refugees from the domain Itsuki had interfered with. Explaining what had happened the group tried to exchange material goods for food. Naofumi ultimately fed them for free and provided them with some of the fast-growing seeds to take back to their country and end the famine once and for all.
Throughout all of this, Naofumi and his party were able to test their skills against real opponents, whilst earning themselves a good reputation. Behind the scenes, this caused the ordinary citizens to start doubting the Church of the Three Heroes teachings and they started to look towards Naofumi as the only true genuine hero out of the four cardinal heroes.
The Shield Hero himself would encounter the Church on two occasions prior to the third wave.
Following the incident with the zombie-dragon, Naofumi went to the cathedral in the capital in order to purchase holy water to aid in Raphtalia's recovery. There he met the High Priest who chastised one of his subordinates when she tried to swindle Naofumi and allowed him to purchase true holy water. During their second meeting, the Hour-glass attendants refused to allow Naofumi's party members to Class-up unless he paid an exorbitant amount of money. When Naofumi surprised everyone, by announcing he had the necessary funds to pay it, the attendant responded by producing a document from the King. Said document prevented Naofumi from classing up, much to the Nuns amusement.
Despite this setback, it was Naofumi's party that defeated the third wave boss, whilst the other heroes wasted time bickering amongst themselves and were easily defeated by Glass. When word of this reached the capital, the Churches situation looked desperate, as people began openly questioning the accuracy of their teachings. However, an opportunity presented itself, since Naofumi's relationship with the King had reached an all-time low after the events o the third wave. Conspiring with Princess Malty who had recently come into conflict with her young sister, the Crown Princess Melty Melromarc, the Church of the Three Heroes and the evil older Princess came up with a plan, one which they believed would literally kill two birds with one stone.
Agents of the Church subsequently posed as Princess Melty's bodyguards following the Crown Princess in her search for the Shield Hero. Melty it turned out had been sent to repair the bad relationship between her father and Naofumi as per her mother's instructions, and was determined to do so for her father's sake. Whether these men were imposters or actual guards sympathetic to the Church is never stated but upon finding Naofumi the agents took their opportunity.
With one guard holding a crystal ball to record what was happening, one of the men drew a dagger and tried to stealthfully assassinate the young princess. This failed, as Naofumi was able to prevent Melty's assassination. A short scuffle broke out, and despite the best efforts of Raphtalia and Filo, a few of the soldiers managed to escape claiming that Naofumi had abducted Princess Melty and was now holding her hostage.
Naofumi subsequently interrogated a captured soldier, (who refused to answer him in the anime). In the original story and manga counterpart, however, the soldier informed Naofumi that they had fully intended to assassinate Princess Melty. Even though their mission had failed, the soldiers that escaped would bring news of the Princesses 'abduction' back to the Capital. As such Naofumi's reputation would be completely ruined and that "the Devil of the Shield" would now become a wanted fugitive in every single nation. In every version of the story, Naofumi found a rosary on this soldier and started to recognise the Churches involvement in this scheme.
Doctored footage of the "abduction" was shown across the entirety of Melromarc. In the anime, agents of the Church were shown deliberately modifying the recorded footage so that Naofumi and his party members were shown as evil, bloodthirsty fiends that abducted the innocent Princess then slaughtered most of her knights. In the Light Novel, it was also mentioned that the guards that brought this footage to the castle were heavily wounded and died shortly afterwards, indicating the extent the Church was prepared to go to in order to get rid of Naofumi.
Following this most recent ploy, Naofumi and his party became wanted fugitives. King Aultcray (who was not aware of this plot) dispatched soldiers from all across Melromarc to find and rescue his daughter. The soldiers were also instructed to eliminate Naofumi and his party members once and for all. They were aided by several nobles (such as Idol Rabier), the Church of the Three Heroes (the real perpetrators), along with the other Three Heroes and their party members.
The borders were closed off, in order to prevent Naofumi seeking refuge in an of the neighbouring countries, specifically Siltvelt. During an encounter between the Shield Hero and the Heroes, Princess Melty and Naofumi almost managed to convince the other heroes that they were the victims of a conspiracy. Princess Malty, intervened, however, and successfully covered up Naofumi's heroic actions (both past and present) by claiming that the Church discovered that he had unlocked a brainwashing shield and that he was forcing people to serve him against their will. It was here that Naofumi realised that Malty (as Melty had suspected) was in on the Churches scheme, planned to kill Melty in order to become the crown princess and frame Naofumi for it. When Naofumi refused to back down and comply with the other foolish heroes, a fight broke out, resulting in the defeat of the Sword, Bow and Spear Heroes, their parties and the knights of Melromarc, allowing Naofumi and the others to make their escape.
Final Battle and Betrayal
Despite the Churches best efforts Naofumi and Princess Melty avoided all attempts to find and capture them. Worse still, during the confrontation between the Four Heroes, Naofumi and Melty presented evidence of the Churches conspiracy. This coupled with the subsequent actions of Princess Malty and the Knights were enough to convince Ren and later Itsuki that something was awry. Instead of pursuing Naofumi the Heroes of the Bow and the Sword began their own separate investigation.
Recognising that the pair were both getting to close to the truth, the High Priest decided to take matters into his own hands. Using the Church's replica weapon, he and a massive band of followers tricked Ren and Itsuki into going to a specific area, then proceeded to 'eliminate' the pair. They subsequently informed the Spear Hero that the Shield Hero was responsible for the death of his comrades.
This led to a confrontation between Motoyasu and Naofumi at their next meeting. The former called the Naofumi a villain, whilst the accused demanded whether his foolish counterpart had seen the proof of his supposed misdeeds with his own eyes. Throughout the fight, Malty urged Motoyasu to not listen to Naofumi, and kill the Shield Demon once and for all. Thus Naofumi and Melty realised that she was involved in Ren and Itsuki's downfall. Throughout the fight, Naofumi tried his hardest to convince Motoyasu of his innocence and of the greater conspiracy. The Spear Hero, however, refused to listen blinded by his absolute belief in his comrades, a desire to free Raphtalia, Filo and Melty, the need to avenge Ren and Itsuki and his personal hatred of Naofumi. Although the fight did not go the Spear Heroes way, he ultimately refused to back down and the fight would have continued had fate not intervened.
Using the situation to their advantage High Priest Balamus and his followers ambushed the two heroes and their party members proceeding to fire upon them indiscriminately. Branding Naofumi a Devil and a murderer, and calling Motoyasu, Ren and Itsuki false heroes that had already been killed and reanimated by the Shield Demon, the Pope declared that he would eliminate all of them in the name of God. He also revealed that he was the one who had killed Ren and Itsuki, leaving Motoyasu shocked at the revelation that Naofumi had been telling the truth the entire time.
When Malty tried to scold the Pope for trying to kill her, the next Queen, Balamus merely laughed. He then made it clear that Malty's usefulness to them was ended and that the Church of the Three Heroes would now overthrow the monarchy, in order to restore balance to the world. With the Churches lies finally exposed, Naofumi and Motoyasu, reluctantly joined forces in order to defeat their latest enemy. They were soon joined by Ren and Itsuki who survived their assassination attempt thanks to the intervention of the Queen's shadows. For the first time since their summoning, the Four Cardinal Heroes and their parties stood united against the very institution that originally summoned and subsequently betrayed them.
An epic confrontation followed pushing every single one of the heroes and their comrades to their limits. Due to the sacrifices made by the churches followers over countless generations, The High Priest, seemed relatively unaffected by the battle. He utilised powerful imitations of the Bow, Spear and Sword to cause massive damage to his adversaries. As the battle unfolded, his followers (soldiers, clergy and shadows alike) continued to stand and fight despite suffering horrific injuries. As such, it quickly revealed that it was the High Priest that had the brainwashing power. When the Pope unleashed the full might of the replica upon the Queen's reinforcement army and used a camouflaging spell to hide amongst his followers, Naofumi realised that desperate measures had to be taken in order to defeat him.
Ultimately, the Four Heroes prevailed thanks to the timely intervention of Queen Mirela Melromarc, who imprisoned the Pope and his followers in an ice field. With the Pope's powers temporarily nullified, Naofumi used his latest shield, Blood Sacrifice, to deal justice to the High Priest for all of his misdeeds. The Popes body was completely destroyed by the power of the very hero his religion vilified, undoing all of his brainwashings and leaving his name, institution and soul damned for all eternity.
Fall from Power
With their leader defeated, the surviving members of the Church's army found themselves leaderless and surrounded by the heroes and forces loyal to the crown. With their crimes exposed, they were arrested on the spot. Queen Mirela Q Melromarc had no sympathy for the Churches followers as they tried to assassinate her beloved daughter. Also, the Churches actions against the Shield Hero and initial summoning of the Cardinal Heroes had led to diplomatic tensions with the other countries, which had not soothed over and left the entire world vulnerable.
Upon returning to the capital, one month after the confrontation with the Pope, Queen Mirela took back the throne and was able to publicly clear the Shield Heroes name, proving beyond any doubt that any accusations made against him by Malty and the Church were false. As such the Naofumi quickly became a celebrated hero, whilst the atrocities of the Church Three Heroes were publicly brought to light.
The Queen also took the necessary steps to punish the institution (and its supporters) that almost brought her nation to ruin. King Aultcray, Princess Malty and several other nobles were stripped of their noble titles indefinitely for aiding the Church of the Three Heroes. Any captured members of the now shamed institution were investigated, and based upon their level of involvement were either executed or imprisoned. The final blow to the institution came when Queen Mirela Q Melromarc publicly outlawed the Church of the Three Heroes, stripping it from its position of the state religion, and installing the Faith of The Four Holy Heroes in its steed.
Despite this, the damage caused by the Church of the Three Heroes would still felt. Many nobles remained distrustful of Naofumi, and the rumours that had circulated about him did not truly disappear. Some people even continued to support the Cult of the Three Heroes, who became an underground movement still preaching about the treachery of the Shield Hero. In the long run, their preferential treatment held the Spear, Sword and Bow heroes back, making them uncooperative with each other, which following the events of the Spirit Turtle eventually led to them being viewed as failures, whilst Naofumi, the Devil of The Shield continued to save the world alongside his party members, completely contradicting, the Church of The Three Heroes teachings.
- To date, it is not known why the Church of the Three Heroes split from its parent religion, though it was most likely due to different ideological beliefs. This was probably inspired by the real-life division between the Catholic and Protestant churches, during the Protestant Reformation.
- At the same time of the Church of the Three Heroes foundation, a rival sect established itself as the dominant religion in Siltvelt, Melromarcs arch-nemesis. This religion, The Church of the Shield Hero, was the complete opposite to the Church of the Three Heroes. Unlike their rivals, they worshipped the Shield Hero exclusively, whilst branding the other cardinal heroes as demons.
- The Queen later revealed that the weapon used by Pope Balamus was also capable of replicating the effects of the Naofumi's shield, not just the bow, spear and sword. Given the tenants of his religion, however, the Pope did not use this. The Queen said this was a good thing, proclaiming that if he had, Balamus might have been able to survive Naofumi's final attack.
- Despite being fully aware of the Church's evil doings and almost being killed by its previous leader, Itsuki's party members ultimately betrayed him and joined the remanants of the Cult of the Three Heroes in a bid to eliminate Naofumi.