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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 the current run 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 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 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. In the centre of this church was 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 told everybody that Demi-Humans were impure devilish creatures to be looked down upon. This prompted the people of Melromarc to look Demi-Humans with disdain and to not treat them as equals, but as creatures to either be exterminated or enslaved. The Church also tampered with historical facts 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 the aristocrats and commoners alike. Anyone who spoke out against them was either killed or branded as traitors 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 the High Priest) approached the current ruler of Melromarc, King Aultcray, and suggested that they summon the Four Cardinal Heroes in order to protect the world. 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 faith 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 heroes; 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 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 in order to gain favour with the other heroes. King Aultcray, who had his own reasons to hate the Shield Hero, was aware of this plot and agreed 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 seemed to back up the preachings of the church. The Queen also told him, that there had 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 mysteriously murdered before they could join him.
The Duel of the Heroes
With their mission 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, Church representatives 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 but that was 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 by returning to Naofumi's side, where she delivered a passionate speech, making it clear that if given the choice between freedom and Naofumi, she would rather choose the Shield-Hero.
Although the High-Priest would later praise Naofumi for his actions in the duel, these events seem to have set the Church of the Three Heroes firmly against the Shield Hero. It is also possible that they installed this battle also installed the first traces doubt about the capabilities of the other three heroes since the Spear Hero only won due to 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 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 and general experience as nothing more than a video game. This led to a number of blunders on their part, which created to greater calamities (including a plague, famine and monster attacks) endangering the lives of many citizens across the Kingdom.
Naofumi and his companions, on the other hand, became travelling merchants aiding citizens whenever possible by cleaning up the other heroes messes. As such, they were able to test their skills against real opponents, whilst earning themselves a good reputation. 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 two times prior to the third wave.
On the first occasion, he 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 for trying to swindle Naofumi and allowed him to purchase true holy water. During their second meeting, the Hour-glass attendants refused to allow Raphtalia and Filo to Class-up without paying an exorbitant amount of money. Although Naofumi surprised everyone, by announcing he was prepared to pay it, timely intervention from the King prevented him from doing so, 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 before being easily defeated by Glass. As such the Churches situation looked desperate, as people began openly questioning the accuracy of the Churches teachings. 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 Princess concocted a plan, 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 subsequent search for the Shield Hero (Melty wanted to repair the bad relationship between her father and Naofumi as per her mother's instructions). 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, 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 him in the anime. In the original story and manga counterpart, however, the soldier told him 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 undone 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.
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. This footage was subsequently distributed across the nation.
Following this most recent ploy, Naofumi and his party became wanted fugitives. Soldiers from all over Melromarc were dispatched to find and eliminate him, aided by several nobles (such as Idol Rabier), the Church and the Three Heroes. During an encounter between the Shield Hero and the later, Princess Malty successfully covered up Naofumi's actions by claiming that he had unlocked a brainwashing shield and that he was forcing people to serve him against their will.
Final Battle and Betrayal
Despite the Churches best efforts Naofumi and Princess Melty avoided all attempts to find and capture them. Worse still, during a confrontation between the Four Heroes, Naofumi and Melty presented evidence of the Churches conspiracy. This coupled with the subsequent actions of the Knights was enough to convince Ren and Itsuki that something was awry, and instead of pursuing Naofumi the pair began their own investigation.
Recognising that the Bow and Sword Hero 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 proceeded to 'eliminate' the pair and then told the Spear Hero that the Shield Hero had been the one who killed them. This led to a confrontation between Motoyasu and Naofumi, where the former called the later a villain, and the accused demanded whether his foolish counterpart had seen the proof of his supposed misdeeds with his own eyes.
Using the situation to their advantage The High Priest 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. 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. For the first time since coming to this world, the Four Heroes and their parties stood united against the very institution that had summoned and 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, however, seemed relatively unaffected. As the battle unfolded, his followers 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 unlocked his latest shield, Blood Sacrifice, dealing 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 eliminated, the surviving members of the Church's army found themselves not only leaderless but surrounded by the heroes and forces loyal to the crown. Their crimes exposed, they were arrested on the spot. Queen Mirela Q Melromarc had no sympathy for the Churches followers tried to assassinate her beloved daughter. Also, the Churches actions against the Shield Hero and initial summoning of the Cardinal Heroes 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 either executed or imprisoned. The final blow 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 may have been due to different ideological beliefs. This was probably inspired by the real-life division between the Catholic and Protestant churches, during the Protestant Reformation.
- Despite being fully aware of the Church's evil doings and almost being killed by its previous leader, Itsuki's party members later joined the Cult of the Three Heroes in a bid to eliminate Naofumi.