|Author: TypeAxiom||Original Source: Scribble Hub|
As Elyss ran from the city as fast as she could just in case someone caught Camilla and Lucienne on their way out and were gathering reinforcements, Camilla looked back at those tall walls one last time in regret.
Thanks to those geezers stuck to their outdated ways, unwilling to cooperate with what is essentially a minor evil to take on a mutually enemy that was objectively a greater danger, she was left without allies.
Unless she managed to persuade more templars to join her like she did with Lucienne, something she neither had the will nor the time to do, she’d continue to be painfully short on manpower thanks to the doors of the Orders and Church closing to her.
Meeting Elyss and her agreeing to join had been an unexpected boon, but against undead, Elyss was far from enough help.
“Ugh. This sucks.” She rubbed her head.
“What does?” Lucienne asked from behind her. The wind blowing past her made the skirts of the dress borrowed from Camilla flutter.
Although Lucienne had new armor, she didn’t put them on them yet. Unlike the armor used by the templars, the new set that Camilla gave her was bog standard issue that didn’t even fit her right entirely, let alone have magic gems that helped with cooling and ventilation.
It was fortunate that Camilla bound the armor to a gem for her, or else she wouldn’t even be able to put it on correctly by herself. However, unlike Kagriss, she could produce and charge the gem with her own blood mana while Kagriss had to come to Camilla for a recharge every now and then.
Camilla looked at her balefully. It must be nice to be ignorant.
But soon. Soon Lucienne will be just as worried as she was, if not more. She grinned, sending a chill down Lucienne’s spine.
“Now that you mentioned it, you have no idea what’s happening, do you? I didn’t tell you before, but now that you’re with us and there’s no going back, it’s time for you to know.”
“K-know what?” Lucienne asked, a bad premonition rising up in her, brought on by Camilla’s stalling and that shiver she felt earlier.
Camilla patted the lion beneath her, earning her a shiver that almost tossed her off. She only managed to hang on by grabbing a handful of Elyss’s fur. “Hey! What was that for?”
“Oops…” Elyss sounded sheepish. “That was an accident. I was shaking as a way to ask ‘what,’ you know?”
She sounded legitimately sorry, so Camilla didn’t continue on with her accusations. She was too used to Elyss intentionally pranking her and then gloating over it, so she instinctively put her guard up, but it seems it wasn’t necessary this time.
That didn’t mean she was going to grace Elyss with a reply or explicit forgiveness, though.
“Hmph. Ayyways, what I was going to ask if Kagriss told you anything about the undead plans?”
“No, why?” Elyss perked up.
“I’m about to tell Elyss, so you being here is perfect so we don’t have to explain it twice,” Camilla said. She cleared her throat. “So you probably don’t know, Elyss, but there’s actually a new type of undead running around.”
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“A new type?” Elyss asked, alarmed.
As a templar, Lucienne should already know this much, so Camilla glanced at Lucienne, indicating for Lucienne to explain. It was a good chance to see if Lucienne had any gaps or misconceptions as well. Lucienne nodded.
“A few days ago, an expedition from the Church to kill an undead that wiped out a team of priests returned with a capture thanks to Camilla and Kagriss’s help. It could use both holy and undead magic. The Church is keeping everyone away from it so I didn’t get a close look, but it looked kind of grotesque.”
As she described what she remembered, Elyss began to growl, only to stop when Camilla patted her between her shoulder blades.
“That’s worrying. So then? What does that have to do with undead plans? They’re mindless since they’re not jack-class yet, right?” Elyss asked.
“And that’s where I come in. Before I helped that team, I explored what seemed like an undead research lab with Kagriss. There were four undead of the same kind and we ran into problems with their regeneration, so we almost lost.”
“Wait, I didn’t hear anything about that!” Lucienne protested.
“That’s because we kept to ourselves except for a select few people because we don’t know who we can trust,” Camilla said. “I feel like I can trust the two of you, for various reasons, so I’m telling you now.”
Feeling like she was being a little too sappy, Camilla hurried on past the topic. “Anyways! The lab was really suspicious. It’s obvious from the material that we found that the undead are conducting research on how to create more monsters.”
“What does that have to do with trust, though? If you told the Church, they’ll get rid of the problem for you. Objectively, they have more firepower, no?”
As former mascot and guardian beast of the Cloud Order, Elyss knew well how strong the Order was even having fallen past their prime. Lucienne nodded.
But Camilla shook her head. “It’s not that simple. The Church has been keeping secrets too. After that massive loss against the vampires, the Church is short on money and manpower. Every branch is dealing with it in their own way, and Moltrost seemed to have gotten their hands on a certain gem.”
As she described the black gem and its properties, Lucienne’s eyes widened in horror. Even Elyss began to growl again, though her running made it sound staccato; even if she was never truly loyal to the Order, some of the templars’ values rubbed off on her.
Lucienne in particular wasn’t very happy, as upset as Camilla had been when she first found it. And unlike Camilla, she hadn’t had months to come to terms with it.
“How could they do this?! Why? Even if it’s to get money…even if it’s to build up a possible combat force…that’s what the Order is there for—to act as their arms! They don’t need zombies…” Lucienne muttered.
She didn’t even look up when Camilla reached over and patted her back.
At least she wasn’t thinking about the moral implications of using zombies. Even now, Camilla wasn’t entirely sure what she thought about it. Normal zombies as labor were comparable to using livestock, but one that’s potentially dangerous and can turn into something that could think and speak—a jack-class. But that was like a farm animal somehow mutating into a mana beast.
That wasn’t unprecedented, and Camilla guaranteed that if he could, the farmer would’ve gone right on using that mana beast as a beast of burden. Although, he died and the mana beast was killed, so that particular question never really materialized. On the other hand, mana beasts were sometimes subdued and traded around as commodities…as were slaves.
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She was getting a headache from this and Camilla shook her thoughts away. Now wasn’t the time for this. She cleared her throat to grab Lucienne’s attention, shaking her for good measure. “That’s not all.”
“T-there’s more?” Lucienne’s head snapped up. “What else…?”
Seeing the pain in Lucienne’s eyes, Camilla waved her hands, try to get her to calm down. “Wait, it’s not about the Church this time. Well, it is…”
Lucienne was staring at her with a look in her eyes that practically screamed “you’re not making this any better” so Camilla closed her mouth about whatever she was going to say. She sighed and moved on.
“The truth is, the gem is what’s creating those special undead. Somehow, they can change a living person into a living undead monster capable of both holy and undead magic. You don’t know, but according to…contacts I have in the Church, they were introduced to the Church as spoils of war from some jack-class undead the Church defeated. Afterwards, they were modified by some researchers in the Church to work with holy mana.”
“That seems convenient…”
“It does, but any suspicions need evidence to back it up.”
It seemed that Lucienne was getting the point, so Camilla didn’t continue explaining why she couldn’t rely on the Church or Order for help. Sighing, she shrugged and looked into the distance ahead of them. Somewhere, far far ahead, Kagriss was waiting for her.
She’d have to make a decision about what to do next soon.
A low rumble sounded below them. “Wait, why’d you stop talking?”
Reminded that Elyss wasn’t actually the best thinker, Camilla smiled and let Lucienne fill her in.
Although it was getting dark when they left the city, it only took until shortly after the start of the second sleep to reach the village that she had arranged to rendezvous with Kagriss. Once they neared, Camilla let out her undead mana and quickly received a response.
Even without it, though, Camilla felt she’d still be able to find Kagriss, thanks to that mysterious bond constantly pulling on her.
They soon reached the location where the signal had come from.
Kagriss stepped out of the trees, holding the reins of three fidgety horses that seemed afraid of her.
“Sorry. My mana scared the horses.”
Without a word, Camilla jumped off Elyss’s back and jumped at Kagriss, sending her stumbling back a few steps.
“It’s been less than a day, you know?” Kagriss hugged her back.
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Camilla shook her head, not answering.
“Are you hurt? I felt something over…”
At Kagriss’s question, Camilla remembered that she had done something without consulting Kagriss first. She pulled away, looking guiltily at the ground. Seizing the moment before Kagriss realized, she came clean.
“I’m not hurt, but I ran out of mana. You see, I… turned Lucienne into a vampire.”
Camilla wasn’t sure what to expect from Kagriss. Jealousy? Anger? After all, it was one of her first times and turning was a surprisingly intimate process, not to mention it created a bond.
When she looked up, however, she found Kagriss smiling at Lucienne. The smile was so bright that it looked fake at first, but upon second look, Camilla realized that it was just because Kagriss looked weird smiling.
The smile itself was genuine.
“Welcome, Lucienne!” she said. Then she paused, scrunching her brows. “Lucie?”
Kagriss didn’t answer, leaving Lucienne sitting with a confused face on Elyss. But she didn’t push for an answer either, so the confusion was never resolved.
In the end, Camilla collapsed in Kagriss’s arms again after excusing herself from the two new additions to the party, making herself completely boneless. Lucienne and Elyss were nice and dependable, yes, but Lucienne was a stranger and she hasn’t seen Elyss for two years.
Kagriss was the closest to her and the most calming one by far.
She closed her eyes as Kagriss began to comb her hair with her fingers. The slight tug on her scalp was good and almost hypnotic.
“So what’s got you so worked up?” Kagriss asked as she massaged Camilla’s scalp.
A lot of things. With a half-sob that she’d probably never show anyone else, Camilla poured out all her worries: the traitor in the Church, their bad relations with the Church and Orders, the stupid undead plans, and finally, her own helplessness.
“There, there. You’re not helpless or useless.”
Although Kagriss reassured her, Camilla still frowned. “But without the Orders, how can I do anything? You said yourself there’s multiple lichs at a minimum, right? We can’t beat so many, even with Lucienne and Elyss.”
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Then Kagriss flicked her head, grinning evilly. “Got you back. Who said you were allowed to hit Lucienne? The only one you’re allowed to hit is me and I’m the only one allowed to hit you, okay?”
Camilla blushed. “F-fine. But be serious! This is serious, you know?”
“Yes, yes. But it’s simple, no? You’re missing something.”
“What am I missing, though?”
Now that Kagriss mentioned it, there did seem to be a solution, but one that she kept missing. It was hidden in plain sight, but such things were often the hardest to find.
Seeing that she kept silent for so long, Kagriss finally sighed. “What did you turn Lucienne into?”
Camilla almost cheered as she realized what Kagriss meant, but before she could get too excited, she laid back down and shook her head. “My mother already said she wasn’t going to provide help. This is my own test, after all.”
“And you’re not even going to try?”
Kagriss’s voice was full of disapproval. Camilla shrinked back. “Well, I guess I could try.”
“The best time is right now.”
Under Kagriss’s watchful glare, Camilla closed her eyes and felt for her kin, moving up the bloodline until she found what she was looking for: her mother Victoria.
Although it was in the middle of the night, Victoria was still awake. Sensing that it was her, Victoria retracted her defenses. However, instead of letting her out into the real room, Victoria stuffed her into an imaginary space that they shared.
The space was a white room with no doors or windows, filled with red ornaments. Red cloth that billowed with the slight wind that meandered around the room. The chandelier was red as well, dying the room in a soft, red ambience.
A single round table of smooth, polished white stone stood in the center. About a meter across, it wasn’t very large, yet the solid stone it was made out of gave it a sense of sturdiness. Engraved onto the surface and filled with some lustrous material were patterns of red that made it look esoteric, like a magic construction circle.
It was at this table that Camilla’s mother Victoria sat at with a cup of tea in her hands and a tiny plate of cake in front of her.
None of this was real.
All of it was just another function of the blood projection talent, one that Victoria showed her when she asked her mother for help regarding Lucienne’s vampirification. Since there wasn’t physical manifestation, it took less mana and concentration to maintain and there were less risks. For mere talks rather than tours, it was more than enough.
Camilla’s vision went black for a moment and when she could see again, she was materializing out of a floating ball of blood that pushed her out and melted into her body.
Unlike when she entered the first time, she managed to land perfectly. Her wings fluttered to guide her down to sit in the chair, not touching the ground or flailing in the process.
Victoria smiled and nodded slightly in approval. “Much better. So much better. Well then, what do you have to talk about?”
Despite how allure it was with its fluffy light yellow bread, white cream, and a strawberry on top, Camilla didn’t touch the cake. She went straight to the point that she came here for.
“I need help,” she said, quite frankly.
Victoria’s expression didn’t change. “Again? I helped you less than a day ago, did I not?”
With a single sentence, she shut down all of Camilla’s hopes, but she didn’t stop there and continued mercilessly.
“Why are you asking for help anyway? I remember telling you that in our line, all vampire nobles are required to complete a task that is assigned to them, proving their worth before they are officially accepted as one of us.”
Neither quickly or slowly, as if she was just idly chatting while taking a walk in a garden, Victoria took a drink of her tea. “In your case, you had your own self-appointed quest. It’s one that I helped you find but you chose it yourself nonetheless. Since it’s your test, I can’t help you too much even if I wanted to. Helping you turn that girl is the limit of what I can do.”
Camilla slumped, resting her head on top of her arms on the table.
“I see… but then what should I do…? Incidentally, what’s the penalty for failing?” she asked, a bit worried.
“Failing the task proves you’re unworthy, but just because you’re unworthy now doesn’t mean you’ll forever remain that way. You will simply be assigned an additional task on top of a replacement task, making it so that you must complete two instead of one and so on, until you either pass or die.
“Although…” Victoria smiled. “Given your circumstances and how you’re weaker than even most newborn vampire nobles, I suppose exceptions can be made if you fail or give up. Do you—”
Before she could finish, Camilla sat up straight, shaking her head. “No I don’t! It was just a question.”
As if Camilla’s reaction was all within her plan, Victoria smiled again and poured herself another cupful of tea and then daintily slicing off a chunk of the cake with her fork, delivering the piece to her mouth before closing her mouth to enjoy the taste.
The last time Camilla was here, she had been in a hurry so she didn’t eat either. She had no idea how the food, being fake, tasted here. But watching Victoria, she couldn’t help but be curious.
Her eyes followed Victoria’s fork. Then, Victoria looked up, meeting her eyes. Camilla hurriedly looked away.
What an embarrassment! She tossed away her thoughts and pushed the cake away from her toward Victoria. She didn’t mean anything with that movement, but Victoria gave her a look.
“Bribing me with imaginary food won’t work, you know.”
“I’m not! Oh, never mind…” Camilla took a deep breath, trying to mentally reset. She came here wanting something and because she wasn’t getting it, she was getting irritable.
That was unacceptable. She had come here prepared to be rejected in the first place, as she had explained to Kagriss. She had no excuse.
In and out, feeling the breath go into her lungs and then back out through her mouth. After a few repetitions, most of the tight feeling in Camilla’s chest had gone away.
“I’m sorry for my attitude.”
“It’s okay~. As long as you understand what you did wrong, there’s no harm done,” Victoria said. “By the way, if it’s not a bribe, then can I have that cake?”
Camilla looked at the cake. She liked sweets and it looked appealing, but if her mother wanted it, then she could have it. No objections from her.
“Yeah.” She pushed it further, closer to Victoria, who pulled it the rest of the way and happily dug on. Despite her enthusiasm, Victoria’s movements remained elegant.
“Why do you want mine though? Since it’s imaginary, can’t you make more?”
“Of course I can. But food tastes better when it’s someone else’s, you know?” Victoria asked, licking cream off her lips. Her eyes gleamed and she smiled, showing her teeth this time.
A predatory smile.
Camilla remained silent as Victoria ate, firstly because she didn’t want to bother Victoria, and secondly because she was still trying to figure out just what Victoria meant with her words. But even racking her brains, she couldn’t figure anything out.
Was Victoria comparing food to something? Was she the food or…
The more she thought about it, the more confused she got. Slowly, she spaced out at the table, staring at a point on the wall behind Victoria.
It wasn’t until something flashed in the corner of her vision, a projectile speeding at her, did she snap back to her current reality in this strange world. By the time she moved her head to the side, the silver item had long pierced into the wall behind her.
Even if she hadn’t dodged, the fork wouldn’t have hit her.
Camilla turned to see Victoria staring at her with her ruby red eyes. “I was talking to you.”
“O-oh…Um, what did you say?”
Victoria sighed. “I said, since you so graciously offered me the cake, I’ll offer you some advice, but it seems you don’t want it,” she said drily.
“No, I want it!”
Victoria shrugged. “I already told you, but you weren’t listenin—”
“Please tell me again!” Camilla said, interrupting her, afraid that if she let Victoria finish, she’d lose her change for real.
It was rude, yes, but Camilla always trusted her instincts.
You’re totally shameless, aren’t you?”
When Camilla didn’t answer and just smiled a little with a blush on her face, Victoria shook her head. “It helps to be shameless, I guess. Anyways, my advice is simple. While I cannot send you any help directly, there’s no rule preventing you from gathering allies from my city…or anywhere, really—to help you complete your task.”
It was like a candle was suddenly lit up in Camilla’s mind, and the source of the fire was provided by Victoria.
Allies! Why hadn’t she thought of that before when she just picked up Lucienne and Elyss? A bit ashamed, she blushed again and stood up, curtsying to her mother.
“I understand now. Thank you!”
Her gratitude seemed to bounce right off of Victoria though. Her mother just picked up the fork still on the table and pulled another plate of the cake out of the air.
She waved the fork, evidently excusing Camilla.
Camilla once again curtseyed and she left the room in a fine mist of blood that dispersed, leaving Victoria behind enjoying her cake alone. Bit by bit, the strange imaginary world began to crumble, with the table and chair that Victoria sat at disappearing last of all until nothing was left.
When Camilla opened her eyes again, she found herself in Kagriss’s lap again. Those eyes of amethyst stared down at her, full of expectations.
“Did you get anything?” she asked.
Compared to Victoria, Kagriss’s voice was quiet and soothing. There was a strange song-like quality to it, whereas Victoria always gave off the impression that she was in charge.
Camilla nodded and began to get up, only to be pushed back down by Kagriss.
“No matter what it is, it can wait until tomorrow, unless it is really really important, okay?” She leaned down and Camilla’s heart skipped a beat.
Although Arvel suspected Justin of being an undead agent at first, he allowed Justin to help anyway, reasoning that allowing Justin to potentially sabotage the research, it will expose him.
But as they worked together more and more and the expected sabotage never happened, Arvel had to give up that avenue of approach. Instead, one night, he gave most of his remaining stash of sealing crystals to Fleur. With that many gems, even a jack-class undead could be delayed for a few seconds or ten, just long enough for her to run away if she needed to.
The very next day, Arvel sent Justin to take care of and tutor Fleur, wanting to see if Justin will ever decide to use Fleur to threaten him. Of course, Arvel kept close watch to make sure nothing really happened.
He was not willing to gamble using Fleur’s safety and happiness, and those gems are merely the first layer of the defense he prepared for Fleur.
Surprisingly, those days proceeded quite well, and under the private tutelage of an archpriest apprentice, Fleur and Anne’s skills in holy magic grew by leaps and bounds.
Slowly, Justin and the girls’ relationship grew better until they were friends, leaving Arvel no choice but to consider a second opinion: could it be that he had been wrong about Justin being the spy?
He’d be quite happy if he was wrong, to be honest. Arvel even thought that If it wasn’t for his suspicion, he’d get along quite well with Justin, as the apprentice was the textbook definition of “warm-hearted and friendly noble,” the complete opposite of Pavlor.
He was a good researcher assistant as well, showing…genuine curiosity.
The more time that Justin spent with Fleur and Anne, the more he grew suspicious of Arvel’s position. From what he saw of these two girls and their relationship with Camilla, they were quite close.
Fleur was Arvel’s adopted daughter.
On the way back from the mines, Camilla often hung near Arvel. Their closeness didn’t seem at all like two people who had just met, even if Camilla saved Arvel’s life, considering how cold they acted to each other.
“But what is their relationship? Was Fleur Camilla’s adopted daughter, then? And Camilla was Arvel’s mistress from the outside that got turned into an undead?” And angry that Arvel didn’t come save her, they broke up even when Camilla came back.
Justin’s mind wandered.
“If that was true, then everything makes sense!”
At least, that’s what he said out loud. Inside, even he knew how cheesy and dumb of an idea it was. A simple distant ally relationship explained it. Camilla didn’t make allies often, so Arvel was probably special.
And he was. Considering Arvel’s research capabilities and his access to more sensitive records usually closed to priests of his rank, he was the perfect spy. “So… Arvel is a fellow spy for Camilla, then?”
Justin weighed the possibility in his mind.
Expectedly, it seemed to have merit.
And as Arvel said, ideas that seem to have merit are the ones worth experimenting with.
Ignoring Pavlor’s command to stay away from Arvel, Justin returned to Arvel’s lab day after day as he tested each and every one of his hypotheses.
4.2k chapter. Whew, that took a while. As you can see, despite Camilla and Lucienne having just left the city, on Arvel’s side, several days and weeks have passed. Time isn’t synced.
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