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Chapter 121: A Lack of Practice

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: Scribble Hub

The irony was that the very same day that Kagriss complained that it was a pain to wait for an overcast night to go mana beast hunting, as the sun set and painted the sky red and orange, clouds darkened by night on the opposite horizon rolled in.

“Ohhh.” Lucienne nodded in understanding as Camilla and Kagriss finished telling her about their plan. “Okay, so we just keep an eye out for it while hiding our own mana, right?”

“Yes. While normally we’d be blind while hiding our mana to this extent since we’re not getting any information, the mana of a mana beast tends to be much denser than normal so we’ll know when it’s coming.”

“I see…as expected of someone who’s killed a mana beast before,” Lucienne said.

Camilla looked away at the compliment. She didn’t really deserve it. Not the way Lucienne meant it, since it was mostly luck that she managed to kill the stag. “It’s nothing. Where did you hear about it anyway?”

Lucienne wasn’t part of the team sent to hunt down Orlog, so how did she know?

“Everyone who returned was talking about it, you know? The stag was so big and apparently they even got to eat the meat from the beast…” Lucienne’s gaze turned distant and Camilla heard her swallow, as if she was imagining the taste of mana beast meat.

Camilla poked her. “Well, if everything goes right, you won’t have to wait long before your first bite.”

“You’re right! I’ll be relying on you and deferring to your judgement!”

Once again, there was that trust. Was it really okay for a templar to be trusting of an undead, even if it was for a mana beast hunt. Besides, Lucienne didn’t really know what Camilla was capable of.

All she heard was hearsay.

Luckily for her, Camilla did have experience hunting mana beasts aside from that time she lucked into making the stag kill itself. She’d done it plenty of times as commander, leading a team of templars, after all.

Not only did she manage to participate in killing over a dozen mana beasts, she even managed to capture one.

Speaking of that captured beast, Camilla wondered how it was doing. She hadn’t taken it with her on her campaign, so it should be guarding the stronghold even now. Visiting that beast was one of the primary reasons she wished to take a look back in her old home.

As she started to get lost in her memories of the past, a cold hand enveloped her own, pulling her both mentally and physically. It was Kagriss again, looking at her with worry.

“Are you okay? You were spacing out.”

Even Lucienne looked at Camilla then, as if waiting for her answer.

Camilla hurriedly shook her head, one to indicate that she was fine, and two to clear her mind. Now was not the time to dwell on irrelevant things. Mana beasts were dangerous, after all. She had to focus or things might go wrong.

“I’m okay! Come on, let’s start hiding then,” she said. She looked up at the sky. “We’re quite lucky, aren’t we?”

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“Seems like it,” Lucienne agreed. “If your information is reliable and taking into account how many days it’s been since the last cloudy night, we might be able to catch our culprit tonight.”

Her fingers tapped on her scabbard, and then she strapped it to her belt again, once again ready for combat and raring to go.

Camilla hated to pop her bubble, but she had to do it anyway for the sake of their success tonight.

“I’m glad you’re excited, but do you actually know what I mean by hiding your mana?” she asked.

“I’m offended that you think I’m so incompetent” was written all over the templar’s face, and instead of answering, Lucienne decided to instead prove her worth through actions rather than words.

Closing her eyes, she drew the mana that she usually allowed to run free back inside herself and held it in with sheer willpower. She looked smugly at Camilla, only to find her smiling back.

A bad feeling flashed through her mind, but Lucienne tried her best to ignore it. “See? I can do it. Why are you smiling like that? It’s kind of creepy.”

But Camilla said nothing, and Lucienne soon found out why without needing to be told.

Her willpower only lasted so long, and while keeping her mana stifled was easy at first, it soon became exhausting as mana began to leak. That first leak was like a crack in a dam that wore away the construction, and ultimately the dam gave way to the pressure behind it.

The mana that Lucienne held inside burst forth like a massive shockwave and she almost blacked out from the mental exhaustion.

“What…it’s so difficult…”

Truth be told, even Camilla didn’t expect that kind of reaction. She had only expected Lucienne to leak a bit like Kagriss did from time to time, not be completely unable to hold in her mana like that.

The smile on Kagriss’s face disappeared as both of the taller women fell into a solemn mood as they realized that as long as Lucienne was here, their plan might not succeed. Only Camilla had her mind elsewhere as she stared at Lucienne and bit her lips in thought.

The target of her stare shivered as if ants were crawling all over her. “W—what? I’m sorry…I’ll go away until day comes if necessary…”

“No, that’s not the problem,” Camilla said, shaking her head. “Why are you so bad at it though? Were you never taught?”

Hiding mana was the basics of basics, especially for templars that practically lived to slay undead. How could you sneak up on your target if they felt you coming long before you entered their life sense range?

Most templars leaked, but against most undead, a little leaking didn’t matter. After all, not many things were as sensitive to mana as mana beasts were.

But Lucienne’s problem went way beyond a little leaking, and worst of all, she hadn’t known that it was a problem until now! Was it a systematic issue with her teaching?

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“I was taught! And I can do it—I did it just now. Just not for a long period of time.”

“Well, did you work on extending that time?” Camilla asked, glaring at her.

Once again, Lucienne felt an invisible pressure descend on her, weighing heavily on her shoulders. A pressure laced with the disappointment of a teacher faced with a failure of a student. She stared at her hands that had found their way into her lap and was neatly clasped. “N—no…”

“How did you pass the final series of examinations then?”

“I just had to show that I could, not do it for a long period of time,” she shakily admitted. The pressure reminded her so much of the instructors back at the Cloud stronghold that she braced herself, only to find that the berating she expected never came.

Opening one of her eyes cautiously, she looked up to see Camilla shaking her head and sighing while Kagriss patted her back and hugged her reassuringly.

It only made the guilt in Lucienne all the more fiercer.

“Sorry…”

“No, it’s fine. It’s not the end.” With her face covered by her hands, Camilla’s words were barely audible.

“Huh?”

“I said, it’s not the end.” Camilla looked up. “You can still stay with us, but to compensate for your lack of skill, you’ll have to practically exhaust your mana first. Start now.”

Draining her mana would leave Lucienne helpless to any attackers, but she followed Camilla’s instructions without hesitation.

Drawing her sword, she channeled a vast amount of mana into it as she cast a powerful spell that wreathed the sword in golden-red flames. Her mana visibly plummeted as Lucienne continually drew on her reserves to fuel the spell.

Camilla stared at the spell. She didn’t recognize it, but she didn’t ask about it either. Despite appearances, she wasn’t yet close enough to Lucienne to ask about the weapons she had in her arsenal.

Or at least, she thought so, because Kagriss didn’t.

Her lover Kagriss actually stopped hugging her, leaning forward to get a closer look at the flames burning on Lucienne’s sword. “Wow, it’s pretty. What’s the spell called?”

“Oh, are you interested? I call it ‘Aster Blaze,’” Lucienne said, her eyes lighting up, recovering from her dejection. “Because it’s red, you know? It’s not that much stronger than some of the other spells I know, but I like red, sooo…”

She trailed up, not bothering to finish her sentence and instead sat there proudly with her blazing sword.

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So it was just a variation. But just a color change away from the basic color of a mana type was already impressive. Camilla chalked Lucienne’s inability to hold her mana inside herself up to faulty curriculum, but Lucienne’s spellweaving was the real deal, if she did indeed derive the variation herself.

For a moment, Camilla felt behind the times. Spell variants weren’t easy to make. It required a deep understanding of spell fundamentals and the original spell itself.

Did spellweaving become so easy when she wasn’t paying attention so that even someone like Lucienne could do it? Why didn’t anyone tell her?

Or…maybe Lucienne was actually a prodigy?

Perhaps it was thanks to the blunder Lucienne did before as well as her naivety, but Camilla had a hard time matching up the image of Lucienne with the word “prodigy.” But in the end, she had to reevaluate.

She sighed and pulled out a few gems she had bought.

“Alright, that’s enough,” she said. “Store the rest of your mana in here and be careful with them, okay?”

A few transparent gems flew through the air and landed in Lucienne’s hands, who looked at them apprehensively. “Um…all of them? I still have a lot of mana left, you know?”

“Just do it, or do you want to face a mana beast while having no matter yourself? And I did say be careful.”

Lucienne dropped her head in defeat. “Okay…”

Storing a bit of mana in a crystal was completely fine. A lot of mana was a no-no since it blew up so easily. There were ways to stabilize mana inside crystals, but the methods were expensive and difficult.

Lucienne eyed the crystals in her hands. These haven’t been stabilized, but what could she do. Slowly and carefully to not let the crystals touch or disrupt the mana, she stored the remainder of her mana inside the crystal until she was almost drained.

Only then did the mana in her body stop trying to escape and circulate, and she no longer needed to dedicate all her concentration for the grueling task of hiding her mana. But at the same time, she felt vulnerable, and without the mana within her acting almost like a layer of fat, the undead aura from Camilla and Kagriss’s body chilled her.

After one last look at the crystals, she put them carefully into her pouch before she glared resentfully at Camilla. “It’s cold! You two should hide your mana too!”

As Kagriss began to pull in her mana, Camilla stopped her with a look before she turned her cold smile on Lucienne. “If you practiced, you wouldn’t need to drain your mana and you wouldn’t be cold!”

“…stop reminding me…” Lucienne covered her eyes before she shivered again. “I’ll practice, okay? I’ll practice hiding my mana every waking moment after this!”

Satisfied that Lucienne learned her lesson, she nodded to Kagriss again and they hid their mana until there were no longer any traces of any magic caster present.

Now, all they needed to do was wait.

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Kagriss nudged Camilla. “Didn’t you tell me to be nicer to her? Why are you bullying her now?”

Lucienne nodded, still looking at Camilla resentfully, but Camilla just looked away, refusing to meet her eyes and turning her nose up in the air.

“It’s not bullying. It’s teaching.”

After thinking about her reply for a moment, Kagriss nodded, satisfied with the answer.

Losing her last ally, Lucienne slumped down onto her springy stack of straw, staring blankly up at the ceiling while trying hard not to leak. And if she did, what warned her was a whack on her head from Camilla with a few golden stalks of straw braided together.

The sky darkened and the red-painted skies finally disappeared.

The mice came out to play, only to be caught and killed by a prowling predator who once again slipped and fell onto the soft straws. The cat looked up at them, and this time Camilla saw it with her eyes instead of her lifesense.

An orange cat with dark stripes, holding something grey in its mouth.

At Lucienne’s beckoning, it unexpectedly approached, slowly coming over to lay down next to them before digging into its dinner. It flinched when Lucienne ran her hand over it from head to tail, but relaxed again.

Camilla looked at Lucienne with an eyebrow raised. The cat’s ears twitched as she spoke.

“Do you know this cat?”

“No?”

“So why is it so friendly with you?” she asked.

Lucienne shrugged. “I’m a good person after all.”

“Sure. Of course,” Camilla said. Anyone could tell she was being sarcastic, but Lucienne didn’t care. Instead, Kagriss stood up. “Where are you going?”

“To pet the kitty.”

Camilla stared as Kagriss left her side, walking away step by step before sitting down next to Lucienne on the other side of the cat. There, she began to pet the cat with her slender fingers, taking turns with Lucienne.

Betrayal.

Was this how betrayal felt?

As despair fell over her from the betrayal of her beloved, Camilla glared at the cat, who paid her no attention as it blissfully accepted the touch of two pretty ladies.

What was so good about a cat anyways?

With a start, Camilla remembered that she knew the answer to her own question. She should know better than almost anyone.


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