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Chapter 134: Why Are You There?

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: Scribble Hub

Although he’d found out what exactly it was that made Orlog and other monsters like him tick—the corrupted holy mana that acted like undead mana—there was still more work to do, more things to research. For example: can anyone perform this corruption? Is it possible to purify undead mana to act like holy mana?

Is there a reliable way to tell a difference between this corrupted holy mana and genuine undead mana? How can the Church and other interested forces counter creatures using this mana, given that they have the power of undead creatures yet not the same vulnerabilities?

And finally, the most important question: is it reversible?

Although Arvel performed his experiments regularly and on time, he never forgot that this tortured creature that remained imprisoned in the heart of the Church was once a human just like him.

He wanted to give that humanity back to him.

When his best friend became a vampire and left him, he didn’t know how to feel, but his instincts told him that he didn’t like it. While race wasn’t an insurmountable barrier for relationships, it often was.

For the undead continued this twisted plan of theirs, how many more will need to be sacrificed? How many bonds will be permanently broken?

For that reason, he buried himself in the second stage of his research. And to go further, he needed more material.

When he reached his private study, Arvel found the door unlocked, open, and slightly ajar. He paused, countless thoughts flitting through his mind before he pushed open the door with no more hesitation.

As he expected, his precious daughter was inside with her lover.

Surprisingly, they were studying, having taken some of the books off his shelves and sat together in a corner.

“Put them back when you’re done.”

Fleur looked up at his voice, put down her book, and waved. “Good evening! We’re just here to read up on how to cast some new spells. Well, some tips.”

Anne nodded seriously. “Even Fleur can’t cast it. That’s how you know it’s a difficult spell.”

“Anne!” Fleur blushed, mortified, and whacked her on the shoulder. Anne just smiled and looked back down at the book. Seeing that she was being ignored, Fleur sighed, nodded to Arvel, and resumed reading with Anne.

Occasionally, one of them would jab a finger at the page and whisper to each other in hushed tones, or Anne will pull a book from a stack nearby and consult a specific text.

After watching them for a while, Arvel took off his priest’s robes and hung it on the wall. Now that the labs were closed, it was time to go over the data. Opening the notebook experimental notes containing the data Justin helped him collect during the day, he began to analyze correlations, hoping to find some relation between two seemingly unrelated data points. If there was something, then that would be the next clue to chase after the next day.

Sometimes it was a wild goose chase and sometimes it wasn’t.

The only other way to progress research other than trying different things over and over was by sorting through existing, parallel research. The problem was, he and Justin had already exhausted the help that they were going to get from that mysterious notebook that Justin found.

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A bit irritated that nothing was getting done, Arvel began to tap his pen against his lips and then eventually moved to the desk and paper.

Thump thump thump thump thump— “Father?”

Arvel broke out of his thinking trance at the sound of someone calling him. He was the only priest in his room. “Huh? Oh, Fleur. What is it. Need help?” he asked, half-standing out of his seat.

But Fleur just glared at him. “You’re tapping your pen.”

“Oh…oh, sorry. I guess I’ll stop.” Arvel sat back down, a bit crestfallen that Fleur had called on him just to rebuke him. He sighed and closed the notes, deciding to take a break for now. Maybe it would be better to just retire for the night?

On the other hand, Fleur and Anne were still here and although he knew they won’t intentionally do anything bad, he still loathed to leave these two troublemakers here alone—especially Fleur. He knew his daughter best. He might wake up the next morning to find his study trashed!

Silence returned to the study. By now, the only sound that remained was Fleur and Anne talking to each other about the book they were reading. Quite plainly, Arvel was the third wheel here.

Mulling over whether or not he should leave after all, he decided to help his daughter with whatever she needed and kick them out of his study sooner rather than later. He scooted his chair back and squatted down in front of them, peeking at the title.

“The Intricacies of Holy Fire,” he said, reading the title aloud. “Interesting book. What spell are you two trying to learn?”

Fleur didn’t answer. Instead she asked him a question back. “Is there something going on with your research?”

“Is it that obvious?” Arvel asked with a little laugh. So even his daughter could tell. Fleur rolled her eyes at that and didn’t bother to reply. It was Anne, holding in laughter, who answered him.

“Of course! You’re tapping your pen, sighing, closing your eyes. It’s not very research nut of you.”

“Research nut?!” Arvel felt like his heart had been stabbed. “Is that what Fleur calls me.”

Fleur nodded, completely deadpan. “Yes. So about that problem…is there anything we can do to help? Maybe some outside perspective…” Her voice trailed away, dropping so low that Arvel could only just make out what she said, “as slight of a chance it may be.”

She looked away.

Despite her distant act, Arvel felt a little spark of warmth. Fleur cared, even if she didn’t show it. Sometimes, it was like Camilla was her real father…or mother, now, not him, given how close Fleur was to her.

It was hard to say no to such a sincere request, but the problem this time was too far out of Fleur’s depth, not to mention classified. If only Camilla was here…

Now that he thought of it, he should tell her that part of his research was finished.

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…wait, Camilla.

Arvel froze as his mind began to spin into action like a piece of clockwork that just had a critical gear oiled and replaced. And that gear was Camilla.

A new avenue of approach to research.

Undead.

Holy mana.

Corrupted holy mana.

Casting raise undead using holy mana.

Bit by bit, he pieced together an image in his mind of what he believed to be the key to his dilemma! Arvel could scarcely hold in his laughter, but he couldn’t stop himself from jumping up. “I found it! I found it!”

“…found what?” Fleur grumbled, sounding a bit impatient. But Arvel was too happy to care. He patted her and Anne’s heads, leaving both equally unhappy, but he didn’t care about either.

This was potentially a breakthrough!

Now where did he leave that book? Arvel scanned the shelves. It was meticulously organized by subject and then author so it didn’t take long for him to find an empty space where the book once was. Just as he began to sweat, he remembered that he had put it away for safekeeping and easy access during the earlier stages of his research.

He rushed to his desk, then stopped. Slowly, he removed his hand from the handle and turned, looking straight at Fleur. He smiled.

Fleur looked at him wearily.

“Sorry, Fleur. Can you go study somewhere else? You can take all the books.” Arvel stabbed himself in the heart with every word he squeezed out of his mouth. His books!

Thankfully, Fleur didn’t complain. Instead she grinned at him, looking genuinely happy. “Thanks~ I love you!”

“Thank you!”

Before he could change his mind, Anne grabbed the stack of books sitting nearby while Fleur carried the book they had been reading and bolted.

“Huh?” For a moment, he puzzled over why Fleur was so happy, but then he came to the answer. They just wanted to huddle together at their own bed to read!

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Fleur truly left him for Anne…

Trying to recover from the critical damage he sustained, Arvel closed the door and locked it. He pulled open his drawer and there it was, the book: Observations on the Interactions between Holy and Undead Mana, by Father Abersom.

Arvel passed his hand over the book, lingering over the title, and shook his head. A talent lost too young.

As he took the book out of his drawer, his finger bumped against something that rolled and clunked against the wood. Setting the book down, he picked up the object, turning it over in his hand. It was a mana crystal, or rather a storage crystal for mana.

What was it doing here?

It took him a while to remember that it had been the one that Camilla gave him the day she left! He forgot her exact words, but it was probably something about it containing the mana of someone for some reason or another. If he had to guess, it was probably related to the traitors?

Where in the name of the Five Gods did she get this crystal anyway?

Scratching his head, Arvel went into a cabinet and took out a small, portable mana amplifier. Might as well get it over with so he could get back to his research. He quickly undid the seal around the crystal and secured it to the input of the amplifier. Feeding his mana into the tool, the amplifier whirred as it began to read the trace of mana within the crystal.

Sadly, it only worked for lower-tier undead magic and equivalent mana, or else the secrets behind high undeads might’ve already been cracked.

A moment later, the output began to generate huge amounts of mana that almost exactly matched the input, mixed with his own. Arvel extended his mana senses, trying to see if it matched anyone he recognized but expecting nothing. But when that feeling of familiarity hit him, he shivered all the same.

Pavlor!

The crystal contained the mana of Pavlor! Why?

He checked again and again, but there could be no mistake. The mana belonged to Pavlor.

The discovery was too sudden that Arvel was no longer in the mood for researching. Biting his lips, he slipped the crystal into his pocket and hid his copy of Abersom’s book again, heading straight for bed. He couldn’t wait until morning when he could ask Justin and see if he knew anything.

It was a night without sleep.

When morning came, he rushed over to the lab to wait for Justin. The young archpriest-in-training came in right on time after breakfast.

Although Arvel really wanted to start grilling him for information, he stopped himself. If he said or asked too much, Justin might get suspicious. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust him, but rather because he didn’t want this young man to do anything reckless like investigate his own teacher.

There should be trust between a student and his teacher. Leave it to him to be the suspicious one.

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Over the course of an entire day, asking seemingly innocuous questions, Arvel managed to find out some information that he didn’t know about Pavlor.

First, Pavlor had a lot of mistresses outside of the Church. At least five. It seemed only Justin knew about them because Pavlor sometimes came back drunk.

Second, he had an underground research lab and study below his personal quarters.

Whereas Arvel had to make do with a tiny study and slept in the communals with the other priests, Pavlor had a whole building and yard to himself thanks to his status as an archpriest. As it turns out, he took advantage of that and somehow had a whole basement constructed. Or renovated.

Either way, the mere mention of “underground” and “lab” put together sent shivers down his spine when Camilla’s words regarding the monsters she encountered surfaced in his mind.

No way, right?

Definitely not, Arvel assured himself.

Now that he had all the information that he needed it was time for action. But what was the bad feeling that he was having since he learned about Pavlor’s possible betrayal? Should he go to the bishop and ask for an official investigation?

Arvel abandoned the idea before he even seriously considered it.

Even assuming that the bishop was safe, which he hasn’t confirmed yet, an official investigation will cause too much of a ruckus. Anything incriminating that might’ve existed would have been cleaned up by the time the investigation got anywhere.

No. It was better to do it himself. Either him or Justin, but Arvel loathed to put the man in that position.

In that case, it was decided. Tonight, when Pavlor was out womanizing, Arvel was going to pay that little lab of his a visit. But just in case, he left a note for Justin with Fleur.

As the Church bell struck nine times, marking the official start of the first sleep, Arvel put on his robes and slipped out of the communal priest dorms. The Church complex at night was so different from during the day when everything was lit by the sun, or right before the first sleep when lamps illuminated the paths.

But now, past the soft curfew, Arvel barely knew where to put his feet as he slowly made his way toward the archpriests’ quarters.

What should have been a ten minute walk ended up taking nearly twice as long and he finally made it to Pavlor’s quarters. It was unguarded, of course. Unguarded, but locked. Easily fixed with a mere wave of his hands.

With a click, the lock undid itself. Arvel pushed his way through the front gate and into the small, dark courtyard. Although archpriests had their own quarters, space was at a premium, so the so-called personal quarters weren’t all that big in reality. But they were a luxury afforded only to the elite.

The locks on the doors to the house itself were mundane as well. Perhaps Pavlor never anticipated that someone might try to break into his quarters? Arvel opened the door a crack, then wider and wider, ready to run if it turns out that Justin was wrong and Pavlor wasn’t out.

But thankfully, it seemed that the information was accurate.

Although he came here with a purpose, Arvel couldn’t help but look around some more. Despite being at odds with each other for so long, he didn’t know Pavlor all that well. But looking around, the room fit Pavlor to a tee.

All the furniture was of the higher quality, afforded only by the richest. Paintings worth hundreds and thousands of crests adorned the walls, as did vases on the floor and tables. The waste of money was mind-boggling and Arvel was willing to bet his right hand that Pavlor had shady under-the-table deals to make enough money to afford all this. Even an archpriest’s stipend was a mere fraction of this and he doubted that Pavlor’s family sent him enough money.

Arvel grinned. “Wait till the bishop hears about this.” He snickered to himself and continued onwards, looking for what might be an entrance to a basement. With the help of his magic, he quickly found an opening leading downwards deep in the house. In fact, it was inside what seemed like a library—an appropriate place to put a research lab. He nodded in approval and tried to pull open the trapdoor.

But before that, he had to dismantle seven magical formations and seals that barred his process. Although he wasn’t an archpriest, Arvel considered his control over mana equal to one. He just lacked the raw power and output.

With the magic out of the way, Arvel grunted as he pulled open the trapdoor, finding himself peering down a short flight of stairs that nonetheless put the basement several meters below ground.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Arvel headed down, step by step, summoning a ball of light to illuminate his way. It wouldn’t be funny in the least if he tripped on something he didn’t see in the dark and killed himself falling down.

When the stairs bottomed out, he found himself in…an empty room? “No way! That’s it? Where in the heavens am I?”

The light coming from his floating orb was golden, so naturally the room was bathed in golden light. However, even with the help of the light, he couldn’t find anything other than a long, clean table in the center of the room.

There was a small bookshelf, a desk, and chair at one corner, but that was the extent.

Clean, too clean. So clean as to be abnormal. Far from the cleanliness of the so-called research lab alleviating his suspicions, the emptiness merely reinforced Arvel’s feeling that something was wrong. Pavlor was hiding something.

His eyes darted around, searching for traps as he headed for the desk. It was empty. Refusing to give up, Arvel went through the drawers, breaking through the locks as he went.

Empty.

Empty.

Empty. Empt—

The fourth drawer, the final and lowest one, had an especially hard to break lock. It took Arvel about a minute before he gave up. “I don’t have time for this,” he growled, and broke the lock with brute force instead of temporarily releasing it like all the other ones.

With a small crack, the magical seal on the lock split apart, leaving the lock vulnerable. Arvel opened the last drawer and it was empty…or so he wished.

Instead, what he saw made his blood run cold.

Red crystals about the size of his thumb, undulating with power, sat at the center of a cushion in the drawer. Undead mana spilled from within.

“No, it can’t be!” The bishop should’ve recalled all these crystals! Then why were there four crystals here? The return of the Orlog team should’ve made it clear that these crystals were dangerous.

Unable to believe his eyes, Arvel scanned the books. He shivered as he read the titles of the books. Each and everyone one of them had something to do with undead, or the manipulation of mana, or something along those lines.

The very same thing that he had been researching.

What he feared came true—Pavlor was a traitor.

And he was at the heart of a traitor’s territory. He needed to get out and let someone know.

Arvel grabbed the four crystals and shoved them into his pocket and ran out of the basement, sprinting up the stairs as fast as his robes would let him. But it was two late; as he got higher up, he sensed two mana signatures above him. One holy, one undead.

Pavlor was a traitor.

Pavlor was a traitor.

Pavlor. Traitor.

The words echoed in Arvel’s head, growing louder with the undead mana’s presence. Surely they sensed him, just as he sensed them. Was there no way out?

He slowed to a walk, coming up the stairs. At the top, they were waiting for him: Pavlor, and a zombie lich.

When Arvel saw them, he froze. He had experienced too many shocks today; his heart might give out. He could only point a shaking finger at the zombie lich. “W-why are you with them? Abersom!”

Abersom stared at him coldly, not bothering to reply to his question. Instead, he turned to Pavlor who was glaring daggers at Arvel.

“If I’m not mistaken, those things in his pocket are crystals.”

“…yes,” Pavlor said.

“What should we do?”

Before Pavlor could answer. Arvel made his move, taking advantage of their lapse in attention. He didn’t need to win. He just needed to escape!

A huge white flash burst from his fingertips, cast rapidly in the span of a breath. Hidden in the light, he fished in his pocket of some of his own crystal amulets and scattered them before him.

Immediately, one of them activated on contact with the lich, freezing Abersom in a shell of holy mana. Arvel grinned. “You fell for it!”

With one of the dangers gone, Arvel darted exit.

By now, the light of his blinding flash spell had faded. Footsteps sounded behind him—Pavlor was hot on his heels.

Rather than engaging in a footrace, Arvel turned and grabbed Pavlor, who barged straight into him. Taking advantage of Pavlor’s momentum and his bigger stature, Arvel leaned backwards and sent Pavlor continuing his path, this time with Arvel as an anchor.

Pavlor sailed over him and smashed into the hard floor of the library while Arvel stood up, breathing hard from executing the suplex.

He looked at the prone body on the ground and wiped his mouth. “Still not dead, huh?”

Unfortunately, he had no time to deal a finishing blow. Judging by the time that little delay took, Aberson should be breaking free soon and there was no way he would be able to face a zombie lich head on. With one last look at Pavlor, Arvel sprinted out of the library, already shouting.

“Hey! Anyone here? Help!”

Chances were slight that someone would be nearby at this hour, but he had to take the chance. He had to get the information, or escape. Preferably both.

“There’s a traitor here!”

Even if the cries bounced around the walls and were lost, he didn’t care. Mana flooded toward his legs, boosting his speed.

At the point, he was willing to bet on even the tiniest chance, and the Five Gods answered his prayers.

As if having heard his cry, Demuur charged into private quarters. “What’s going on?” he demanded.

“Pavlor is a traitor! He’s conspiring with the undead and producing those evil gems that created monsters like Orlog!” Arvel shouted as he ran the archpriest. “Come on, he’s got a lich with him!”

“Do you have proof?”

“Yeah! Hurry up!”

Demuur’s face darkened, but Arvel didn’t notice.

“…we can’t have that now, can we?”

Arvel opened his eyes wide and dove onto the ground. A bright piercing light pierced over his head from behind him. If he hadn’t ducked, it would have burnt a hole in him…

“…damn. Should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy,” he grumbled. Arvel’s mind spun as he considered his options. Unfortunately, it didn’t look very good. This close to the exit, he could clearly detect a barrier in place, blocking out sound, magic, and matter alike. Or rather, blocking in.

It was the work of an archpriest.

He looked up at Demuur, who stared down at him with a sneer on his face, and gritted his teeth. “I guess that’s it, huh?” he muttered, and relaxed, seemingly giving up.

Although he was just pretending to make Demuur let down his guard, it very nearly turned real when two more figures rushed into the room—Pavlor and Abersom.

Even now, Arvel still couldn’t believe that Abersom was still alive. Though alive might not be the best word to describe it.

Demuur’s grin grew wider. “Indeed. It’s the end. Now, I’m giving you a choice. Join us, or die.”

“I oppose this!” Pavlor snapped. “We can’t let him join us!”

Demuur glared at him. “Silence! I make the decisions here! Although…” his tone turned mellow again as he faced Abersom, “…what do you think?”

Abersom shrugged. “Do what you want. I just want the things that he used on me. It’s very…interesting. Worth studying. Brat, did you make those yourself?”

Despite himself, Arvel’s heart fluttered. His idol was talking to him and even praised him!

But that was as far as his admiration went as the rest of it went into his hatred for the former-archpriest. The traitor.

There was already no way out.

If he became an undead, there was no way to know if he’d still remain himself. If he didn’t he was dead meat. Both options were terrible, and if he was going to go, he was going to die a human.

This fearful, lax expression disappeared, replaced with a fierce scowl. He spat on the ground. “Go shove these up yours!” he growled, baring his teeth as he threw his last batch of amulets at Abersom, keeping only one close to himself.

This time, Abersom didn’t hit them with his magic and instead dodged aside, but it was enough of a distraction for Arvel to clutch the four ruby-red gems that he swiped from Pavlor’s drawers and charge the trio.

“Heard you guys liked creating monsters! Care to join them?”

He thrust his hand out and poured all of his mana into the four crystals into his hand, overloading them as Fleur once did while he activated his amulet. As he plunged into the midst of his enemies, the last thing he felt was something piercing into his chest, exiting from his back.

But he also saw a flash of black and quickly expanded to consume him as well as a mind-numbing chill that drowned out his pain.


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