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Chapter 130: Into the Forest

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: Scribble Hub

Kagriss scowled. “It got away,” she muttered.

Camilla looked at the retreating zombies and then back again at Kagriss—though it was more like, she tore her gaze away from the zombies. The sight was all too rare. Zombies had almost no sense of self-preservation and their fighting style resembled that of a slow and clumsy berserker. As a result, alone, they fight to the death, while controlled, they are mere disposable pawns to make the most out of. They almost never retreated.

Another point to someone controlling them from behind…although that fact was all but confirmed by now.

“It got away? What do you mean?”

Should she give chase? The zombies disappeared into the trees. Elyss and Lucienne looked at her as if waiting for instructions, while Elyss’s tail lashed to and fro, irritated.

“What are we waiting for?” she growled. Her claws extended and retracted, scoring the floor. “They’re getting away!”

“You too?” Camilla grumbled, “hang on! Kagriss?”

Kagriss pursed her lips as she summarized what she had been trying to do. “Very well. Long story short, I tried to use the connection that these zombies have to their master to find them. However, it detected me and pulled away instead of fighting me…”

“So what does that mean?” Camilla asked. She remembered her early days of undeath when she had to fight with her mind. Those were hell and afterwards, ever since the mana of lesser undead became near useless to her and it became easier to just kill them en masse physically, she stopped using her mind.

But Kagriss just brought up something interesting.

Although she was looking forward to something new, Kagriss’s reply disappointed her. Without even changing her tone or taking notice of Camilla’s anticipation, Kagriss shrugged. “It’s a battle, just in the mind. It’s rather tedious and focused on attrition, but a won battle by anything other than a landslide leaves both sides in pain and exhaustion. However, an absolute victory can bend the opposing side to their will.”

That sounded similar to what Camilla did to those zombies back in the mind and the city. But it really was troublesome, not to mention slow.

Kagriss continued. “In this case, I tried to find this enemy’s physical location by tracing it through the mind battle, but the other bad part about this is that most of the time, as long as you’re far away, you can simply retreat and avoid the battle with no repercussions. Even if I challenge whoever is on the other side, as long as it doesn’t want to fight me, it doesn’t have to.”

“Wait, so isn’t that a pointless ability? Other than lesser zombies who can’t think for themselves, no one would agree to a mind battle given basic cost-benefit analysis,” Camilla said.

“It was worth a shot…and it’s not pointless, especially if you’re face to face. It’s just extremely difficult unless there’s a massive difference in mental strength. Even a lord-class might lose to a jack-class if they’re not strong enough.”

Although Kagriss looked dejected, Camilla was having a bit of trouble comprehending why. Given all the caveats, there was a slim chance at best that the other side would actually engage in battle, a battle would be the pleasant surprise while the failure was expected.

“So why are you upset?” she asked. Camilla couldn’t keep the confusion out of her voice.

A little offended, Kagriss turned away. “Stop looking at me like I’m stupid. I just thought that they’d at least spar a bit to test the waters. Even a single blow exchanged would’ve let me know their location, but I didn’t think that they’d be so cowardly…”

Stepped forward around the zombie body on the ground whose undeath had been erased by Kagriss, Camilla consoled her with a hug. “I’m not looking at you like you’re stupid. I was just confused. You’re right, it was the person behind this who was a coward…”

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She ignored the fact that Kagriss shouldn’t even be able to see her face and eyes.

Before she could continue on with her comforting, a cough that sounded in their minds took them out of their moment of intimacy. As they looked up, Elyss was fidgeting harder than before.

“Will you hurry it up? That mind thing is cool and all, but we can still catch up to them if we hurry! Maybe they’ll lead us right back to their master!”

This time, Camilla really did look at someone—Elyss—like they’re stupid. If the enemy refused even a brief mind skirmish, they clearly wanted to stay hidden. Given how brainless and clumsy the zombies were, it was a piece of cake to follow them. A smart enemy would know that.

Why in the world would the person behind all them have the zombies lead their enemy back to them? Unless they’re stupid. Surely no one was—

—but on second thought, considering Elyss was one such person, then Camilla couldn’t rule out that their enemy was just as incompetent.

Changing her plans, she turned to the others. “Alright then. I’ll follow the undead. But honestly, I don’t have high hopes for a result to come out of this, so the three of you stay here,” she said.

Seeing Kagriss about to protest, Camilla forestalled her. “You can’t come with me since you’re needed here. Besides, we have some questioning to do, don’t we?” she said, tipping her head toward the village enwalled by the palisades.

The protests died in Kagriss’s throat and she nodded. However, it didn’t stop another of her suggestions. “I’m still worried though. Why can’t you take Elyss or Lucienne with you?”

Lucienne raised her helmeted head when she was named and Elyss lashed her tail in anticipation.

“Yeah!”

“I’d rather neither of those two go either. I doubt that this will be particularly fruitful and honestly, the zombies might just be bait to lure to the tiger from its den. Lucienne can’t keep up with me if something happens, and while Elyss is fast, she’s a much bigger boon here in case any undead comes up. Her holy magic will be helpful.”

After she explained the logic behind her decision, Kagriss finally approved. Even Elyss puffed up her chest at the praise.

After leaving Kagriss with the task of dealing with the village and the two holy mages holed inside, Camilla sprinted off in the forest, chasing after the zombie horde’s footprints and mana traces. They had long disappeared in the trees but it only took a short moment for Camilla to keep up.

Following the slow, shambling crowd of zombies wobbling through the trees, she couldn’t shake the thought that this was a fool’s errand and a waste of time. Her instincts were rarely wrong. Despite her doubts, she wasn’t too worried, though, since the village was guarded by Kagriss.

Since the undeads, or rather the person in the shadows, probably already knew there were going to be people following, Camilla didn’t bother hiding her mana and aura, although she did take to the trees just to get a better vantage point to look for changes in the situation such as ambushes and to keep tabs on the whole horde.

While Camilla was tailing the zombies, Kagriss cleaned up the mess that was left behind from the battle.

And the mess was pretty bad.

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Before they arrived and threw a wrench into the zombies’ plans, the zombies had almost broken through. Multiple sections of the palisades were almost uprooted. There were teeth marks and the bark on the outer sections of the wood had almost all been stripped off. If the zombies came again, this village wouldn’t stand a chance.

However, Kagriss merely took in the damage and shrugged, not paying them any attention. The mess was more interpersonal.

“I thought I was going to die in there!” Red-faced, Lucienne recalled her armor, breathing hard and fanning herself while Kagriss watched with jealousy.

It might be nice to be a full vampire, being able to freely use blood binding like that. If she wanted to change, she had to ask Camilla to swap for her using the gem. Sighing, she turned toward the village walls again.

Flanked by an irritated Elyss and Lucienne, she began to circle around the palisades, trying to find the entrance. Because of the damage from the zombies, it was actually quite difficult to tell what was or was not a gate. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to see a section of the walls that clearly looked different, even if the gate looked a bit lopsided.

If a dozen zombies much stronger than normal men couldn’t break through the walls, then a lich like Kagriss wouldn’t be able to either considering physical strength wasn’t her strong point. Instead of trying, she simply stood aside.

Still peeved that she couldn’t go with Camilla, Elyss obliged Kagriss’s silent request and charged forward before ramming the gate straight off its hinges, sending it crashing inwards. It had been stuck anyway and would’ve required repairs, so no great loss.

Unsurprisingly, no one came out to greet them. Kagriss already knew that almost none of the villagers left where they hid. The only people out and about were the two holy mages, going from door to door doing something, but never staying long at each one.

When the gates came crashing down, they immediately made a beeline toward the entrance of the village, peeking out from behind a corner, one above the other, looking quite worried.

Their brows were furrowed and their eyes were wide with fear, especially when they first saw Kagriss. But when they saw Lucienne, the fear subsided somewhat but not entirely. Stepping out from behind the corner, they took little hesitant steps toward them, hand in hand.

Although Kagriss couldn’t tell whether or not clothing was considered high-class or not, at the very least the two girls that now stood trembling before them wore brightly colored clothes similar in quality to many of what the zombies wore.

Based on Camilla’s words, Kagriss assumed that the girls weren’t from around here and that they weren’t villagers, but that was it.

Perhaps Camilla had overestimated her. Although she had left diplomacy to Kagriss, despite Kagriss’s calm and mature exterior, she wasn’t really as competent as she looked when it came to people.

Three pairs of eyes stared wordlessly at two and by now, Elyss was wrinkling her nose as she leaned her head forward and sniffed. “They’re afraid.”

Kagriss had to stop herself from telling Elyss to not speak the obvious. Of course the two mages were afraid! Anyone with eyes could see it.

But the problem was how to remedy that. Finally, she turned to her left, away from the lion, and nudged Lucienne. Lucienne looked up, startled, before she seemed to get what Kagriss wanted and nodded.

Putting a friendly smile on her face, she stepped up as a representative and held out her hand politely, using a bit of her holy magic to both remind these two holy mages that she was a fellow holy magic user as well as emitting a bit of warmth that might help the two trust her a bit more.

The twins looked at each other before they let go of each others’ hands and stuck their hands out at once, shaking Lucienne’s hands at the same time.

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They were so in sync that for a moment, Lucienne was taken aback. It was as if the two mages were clones of each other, even if they had slight physical appearances. The biggest difference was that their hairstyles were—before they turned into the mess that they were now—probably meant to match yet be mirrored.

Straight black hair with slightly diagonal bands. Even if the actual hairstyles were messed up, the hair length won’t change as easily.

With the handshake completed, a layer of ice seemed to have broken and one of the two twins began to introduce herself, taking Lucienne’s hand in both of her own even as the other twin dropped her own hand. “Hello, Miss Knight! I’m Sariel Akkra, and this is my younger sister.” She nodded at the other girl and stepped back as the other girl took her place.

“I’m Ariel Akkra and that is my older sister. Thank you for saving us!”

Lucienne blinked at how forthcoming they were before she broke into a smile ago. “Nice to meet you, Sariel, Ariel. I’m Lucienne, a knight. The two behind me are Kagriss and Elyss. Kagriss is a lich, but she’s nice. Elyss can understand our words.”

“Wow.” The twins’ eyes went wide as she looked at Kagriss and then Elyss in turn, drifting all over Elyss’s massive frame before going back to Lucienne before thanking them again repeatedly, almost crying.

It took Lucienne a while to stop them and when the twins finally managed to calm down, they wiped away the tears that had gathered in their eyes. They both still sniffled occasionally though. “Thank you…there’s nothing we can give you as thanks for saving us…”

Lucienne smiled helplessly at yet another expression of gratitude, so she just pushed the focus over to Kagriss. “Don’t thank me, thank her. She and Elyss did most of the work, really, and it was her idea to come see what’s happening in the first place.”

Ignoring the venomous look at Kagriss gave her, she back off, shifting the focus back to Kagriss. After all, with the ice broken, Kagriss could do her job. She wasn’t the one who got the task from Camilla after all.

Finding herself the center of attention again, Kagriss suppressed a sigh. Lucienne was doing great, so why bring her into this? Doing her best to ignore the formerly fear-filled eyes that were now filled with worship, she tried to think of what to say.

After much consideration, she began with a simple question to get a hold of the situation. After all, they only had half the picture. She looked the twins in the eyes, fist at Sariel and then at Ariel.

“Can one of you explain what happened? We only came here after the battle started, so we don’t know the circumstances. Who are you? Why did this happen?” she asked, specifying the information she wanted as straightforwardly as possible.

The twins looked at each other and it was as if they were telepathically communicating, because one of them nodded without the other making any movements. It was the younger one who had nodded.

“I’m Ariel Akkra, daughter of a merchant. Ever since I was born, I lived on the road with my sister and our father. Our mother died giving birth to us.”

Seamlessly and without any transition, Sariel began to speak. It was actually a bit disorienting, but the similar voices made it not as bad as it could’ve been.

“We learned to read and write from our father. Once we learned about magic, we wanted to learn about it, so we explored how to cast magic by ourselves. We learned that we possess the holy affinity.”

“After we learned magic, the Church came to ask us to join.”

“We turned them down though, since our father still needed us.”

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There, the twins launched into a story about their travels with their merchant father and Kagriss’s attention bounced back and forth between the two girls until she wanted to throw up. She quickly put up a hand to stop them. “Wait, so what happened in the end? Where’s your father and your caravan?” she asked?

For people as vocal and animate as the twins had been, they became mute really quickly at the question. Even Kagriss knew that it was the wrong question to ask and she would’ve realized it if she thought a bit more. Where else could their father be if they had just been stuck on top of a roof in a village besieged by zombies?

Before she could offer her condolences, Sariel rubbed her eyes.

“They’re both gone now. It was just a while ago too. We were traveling between villages trying to sell some of our stock, but then zombies, hundreds of them attacked us!”

“Because we could use magic, our father decided to hire less guards, but…”

“…more guards probably wouldn’t have made a difference,” Sariel said with a small sniffle and Ariel hugged her.

Although Ariel looked like she was about to cry too, she continued on. “Although we killed a few zombies, there were too many and they tore apart everyone. Everyone except for us, and they were dragging us somewhere.”

Kagriss looked at their clothes. Sure enough, although it looked quite fancy by Kagriss’s standards, the clothes looked worn and damaged. It certainly did look like someone dragged them through the undergrowth, so at least that part wasn’t a lie.

Moreover, she didn’t think the girls would lie either. They had no reason to.

“So how did you escape?”

“We ran…since the zombies were dragging us, they were slower and fell behind the rest of the zombies. After we realized that we could run, we broke free and fled all the way to this village since we remembered the location from the map.”

Sariel nodded in agreement.

But while the experience just seemed like a traumatic event in their point of view, Kagriss realized that it had much greater implications for her and Camilla’s goal. Although she wasn’t good at dealing with people compared to Camilla, her mind worked fine and she instantly thought of how the monstrosities in the underground undead research base had monsters that could use holy magic despite being undead.

First that, and now zombies are trying to capture mages alive?

“I see…” she said simply.

Although Sariel and Ariel looked at her questioningly, as if they were waiting for something, she had no idea what they wanted so she just stayed silent. But just as she saw Lucienne open her mouth to say something, she felt something and Elyss did as well.

But what they felt were very different from each other. What she felt was a few of the villagers finally working up the courage to come out. Meanwhile, Elyss growled and bristled, her eyes narrowing.

“Undeads are coming back! Three of them, hiding their mana but not very well. However, they’re quite close!”

“Undead are here?” Kagriss tossed the matter about the villagers into the back of her mind, turning and leaving with Lucienne immediately putting on her armor again after hearing Elyss’s words. Rather than looking upset, Elyss actually looked…excited.

To the twin mages still in shock about the sudden news regarding the incoming undead, she just waved. “Stay here.”

“B-but we want to fight too!” Ariel said.

“We can’t let our saviors fight alone while we hide!”

“You two would just be liabilities,” Kagriss said bluntly before she marched out of the village, flanked by Elyss and Lucienne. As she stepped over the fallen gate, she took a moment to regret breaking it in the first place, leaving the village a little too undefended.

But what’s done has been done. As Camilla said, always look forward and focus on the future, and that was exactly what she did. With the matter of dealing with people gone, Kagriss regained her passive, emotionless expression.

Whatever was coming was still too far for her to detect, so she turned to Elyss, the person who gave the news in the first place, for more information. And just in case, she tried to ping Camilla through their connection, trying to let her know what was happening.

While she was busy alerting Camilla, Elyss took a moment to refresh her data before she told them what she knew.

“It’s powerful. In terms of raw magical power, one is above both you and Master while the two are around equal to you,” she said. “Of course, they’d still be no match for me at my full strength.”

Ignoring Elyss’s boast, Kagriss winced. Stronger than her meant either an especially powerful zombie lich, which was dangerous in its own right, or a skull. Given the power differential that Elyss mentioned, one of them was definitely a skull lich while it was a toss up whether the second was a skeleton warrior or a zombie lich.

If she had to choose, it’d be zombie lich, even if it meant dealing with two spellcasters.

Two spellcasters were easier to deal with than a combination of a warrior and a mage, after all.

Although Lucienne looked worried and Elyss looked way too confident for her own good despite losing to Camilla, Kagriss tried to tell herself that it was okay.

How could she lose?

If she lost, then she wouldn’t be a worthy partner for Camilla. She couldn’t have Camilla always protect her after all.

As Kagriss prepared for her battle against the incoming undead, Camilla was still deep in the forest, having chased the zombies for quite some time.

Just when she was about to turn back after receiving Kagriss’s alert, she found that the zombies that she had been following suddenly turned back as well, swarming toward her at a markedly fast shamble.

Although Camilla considered ditching them and heading straight back, eventually she decided against it.

A horde of zombies by itself is one thing, no threat to even a lone templar. A horde of zombies led by a high undead was a whole other story, becoming actually capable of tactics, especially when liches empowered them to ever higher strengths.

Rather than trying to outrun them, her actual mission was to eliminate all of these zombies before they could join whatever Kagriss was alerting her about.

Summoning her sword but leaving off her armor for maximum speed, Camilla jumped off the tree branch, straight at the surging zombie horde.


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