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Chapter 137: Lair of the Skull Lich

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: Scribble Hub

“Will you really give me a quick death?” the lich wearily asked.

Camilla sighed. “For the last time, yes, we will! As long as you fulfill your promise, we’ll swiftly send you on your way!”

The zombie lich nodded once. “I understand…,” he said, shivering.

Despite their captive being a lich that felt no physical pain under most circumstances, everyone present knew magic and magic was one thing that could make undead hurt, especially holy magic that they were at odds with and undead magic.

He ever appeared afraid.

Just for good measure, Camilla nodded at the two twins. The younger one prodded the lich’s back with a finger after a moment of hesitation.

“And make it quick too!” Camilla added, satisfied with Ariel’s performance. It wasn’t easy for the two to get over their fear of the powerful undead, even when he was restrained.

Camilla was being purposefully unreasonable toward the lich, of course.. It’s not like the lich can actually speed anything up, considering that he was still currently limbless and sealed with layers of magic while being transported on top of Elyss’s back. No matter what he did, they were stuck at whatever pace Elyss went at.

But being on top of Elyss was the best treatment that a captive like him, who kidnapped so many holy mages, could hope for. Camilla doubted that Sariel and Ariel was this lich’s first victim.

Had Camilla been a worse mood, she might’ve settled for dragging his torso and head on the ground behind her.

Other than the captive lich and the twins, Kagriss was also on Elyss’s back to keep an eye on their captive, making sure he doesn’t get up to any funny business. That left just Lucienne and Camilla walking on the ground.

They weren’t in a hurry so Elyss just moved at a leisurely pace in the direction that the lich had pointed out

To kill time, Lucienne struck up a conversation with the twins.

“Where are you two from?” she asked. Immediately, the younger Ariel answered, and when another question came, Sariel answered. Sometimes they switched, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes they both answered at the same time.

It was pretty entertaining trying to predict who the next speaker would be.

The pair of twins came from the east with their father’s trade caravan, born in a small town in another country on the coast. Their first years were spent with a relative before their father returned one day when they were four to pick them up and travel with him.

Since then, they’ve never stayed in one place for long—they had so little attachment to one place that they forgot which town it was exactly that they were born in. They grew up under their father’s tutelage. Thanks to his trade, he could both read and read and was decent at mathematics. Both Sariel and Ariel were good at all three.

“So did you ever think about doing what your father did?” Lucienne asked. “Traveling, trading between cities and towns and all that…” Her eyes got a distant look to them as she looked up at the treetops. “It sounds nice to see new places.”

Camilla wanted to chuckle. She didn’t dare call herself well-traveled, but at least she’s gone all the way to and over the southern border of human territory, the distance spanning multiple countries—more like city states, but that’s digressing—and what she saw was more of the same she saw in Moltrost.

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The same swaying fields of crops, maybe some logging towns, small fisheries near rivers, but human culture seemed so similar. It merely seemed varied due to the artificial lines that the local rulers drew to differentiate each other from their peers. The pretense was such that she’d never noticed until she saw something truly different for the first time in her mother’s city.

Different architecture, different foods, different clothing.

When humanity was such a cultural monolith, it was a wonder that the rulers managed to find a reason to go to war so often, though on second thought Camilla knew she shouldn’t really be surprised.

But if Lucienne wanted to see new places, then following her was the right choice, considering that they were heading to vampire territory right after.

Before Camilla could add her own thoughts, the people that the question was intended for answered, chiming in one after the other. Sariel shook her head first. “There isn’t much to see, really.”

“Yeah! You can’t take any warm baths since it’s inconvenient,” Ariel said.

“The horses are dirty as well as they have bad tempers, except Aaron…”

“I hate traveling…”

“We hate traveling,” Sariel said finally, speaking for them both, and sighing.

Each of their words seemed to crush a little life out of Lucienne, chasing away her dreams of traveling, while Camilla nodded to herself. These girls knew what they were talking about. Long campaigns really were the worst, and the more people in the group, the worse it got.

It was truly fortunate that their group was so small and so…abnormal.

“…then I take it that neither of you planned on taking over your father’s caravan? In the past, I mean,” Lucienne said, wincing as she remembered why they were talking in the first place.

If the twins caught her slip, they didn’t show it. They both shook their heads furiously.

“No, never!”

“People can be so dishonest. There’s bandits to worry about, some people try to cheat and go back on deals. I don’t want to deal with it.

“To be honest, we were going to convince our father to buy us an apprenticeship…”

“Sariel wanted to be a seamstress…”

“And Ariel wanted to be a smith.”

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Lucienne’s head went back and forth, trying to keep sight of the seeker, but she froze at the last mention. Even Camilla almost tripped—a smith?

“I’m sorry, say that again? What did Ariel want to be?”

“A smith!” Ariel said proudly. “I love the thought of working with fire and metal. The sounds, the shock…” She began to drone on while Lucienne and Camilla walked silently, keeping their thoughts to themselves.

When no one said anything else, Ariel looked down at her hands.

Sariel hugged her and patted her back comfortingly. “Basically, we don’t want to be traders. We’d rather stay in one place and do what we want to do. But now…our father is dead. Everyone who was with us…”

Everyone knew that the undead left no survivors and they knew when someone was faking it. A battle with the undead always ended up in a blood bath with one side completely annihilated or the living escaping.

Sariel and Ariel being captured with their lives was what was abnormal.

The older twin’s eyes misted up and she punched the face of the lich bound in front of her. “It’s all your fault! Why us?! Why couldn’t you just keep to yourself?”

The lich’s handsome face remained impassive, not bothering to even blink. It was Sariel who had to pull back like she just punched a stiff wall of rubber. The girl gritted her teeth, about to try again, only for a black fog to coil around her hand and stop it short.

Kagriss gently took hold of her hand and lowered it into the girl’s lap as Sariel’s tears fell.

“Why…”

When Camilla opened her mouth, Kagriss glared at her. She shut her mouth obediently. So she wasn’t good at talking and being sympathetic. Fine…she’ll leave it to Kagriss.

Not that Kagriss wasn’t any less…alive…human…than her—whatever property it was, somehow Camilla couldn’t help but feel like she lost something important when Kagriss proved to be a better and more sympathetic listener. It was like that with Lucienne too…

It was just a little depressing.

After a while, Kagriss managed to calm both of the twins down and their tears stopped falling. It was remarkable how they both recovered at the same time. Still, for people whose entire family was killed by undead, it was remarkable how well they took to Kagriss.

“Aren’t you two afraid of us?”

That earned her another glare from Kagriss and Camilla decided to shut up and leave the talking to her girlfriend. She spent too long acting as a commander of a military force, ultimately forced to be detached from the rank and file, that she forgot how to act with true empathy. Until she regained her empathy, it was better to just leave such matters to Kagriss.

Not that that will stop her from listening in on the twins’ replies to her question. Sariel shook her head and rubbed her red eyes.

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“I’m not afraid.”

“I-I’m not either!”

“Why is that?” Kagriss asked, her voice soft and kind compared to the blunt tone Camilla used. “We’re undead too. She isn’t human either,”—she pointed at Lucienne—,“and obviously Elyss isn’t a normal lion.”

Elyss growled. “I am!”

“We’re not blind,” Kagriss shot back before turning back to the twins. “So, are we less scary?”

“Yes…you’re helpful. You saved the village.”

“…and us…” Ariel fidgeted with her hands. “Thank you…”

“I believe that ‘thank you’ should go to Camilla.”

Ariel just blushed and said nothing.

In the end, it was Sariel who half turned and lowered her head toward Camilla. “Thank you for saving us. If it wasn’t for you, we’d have either been captured again by the undead the first time, and the second time…” She trailed off and her voice quivered. “I think it’s a little sad that it was undead that saved us from my fellow humans. At the same time, I’m thankful that I know undead like you exist, or I’d gone my whole life thinking that all undead must be evil and hate the living…”

Ariel nodded beside her and then lowered her head as well.

Camilla smiled back at them with a nod as a reply, diligently keeping her mouth shut.

She was liking these two girls more and more, though. They were both a lot more open-minded compared to many she knew, especially templars.

Camilla peered at the vampire walking alongside her, oblivious to Camilla’s gaze.

In her own way, Lucienne was pretty inscrutable, but at least she seemed to be one of the more open-minded templars…well, ex-templar. She herself had been pretty close-minded as well, even if she did manage to change in the end.

The time passed by rather quickly as Kagriss managed to keep a conversation going with the twins. It kept going until Elyss paused her steps and lifted her nose in the air.

“Undead.”

Camilla looked at the captive lich who quickly nodded.

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“It’s here, then.”

With that, the chatting stopped and the atmosphere became tense. The lich had agreed to tell them where Igthrath’s lair was but not what was inside, even when Camilla threatened torture. But judging based on the lich’s reaction, there were probably traps and guards that stayed behind.

The problem was that the strength of the forces left was unknown.

Soon, they came close enough to the lair that even Camilla could sense the mana. Kagriss had sensed it a bit before Camilla did though. Finally, they completed the last leg of their journey and stood before what seemed like an ancient tomb overgrown by foliage. Powerful mana radiated from the ruins.

Comparing the size of the entrance to Elyss…it didn’t seem like the big lion would fit comfortably. It’d be a tight squeeze.

Did that mutated skeleton that Igthrath experimented on literally crawl out?

Did Igthrath crawl out, for that matter?

The image of the arrogant skull lich crawling through the tomb tunnels made Camilla cough as she tried to hold in her laughter. It was just too ridiculous. Still, that meant Elyss was going to need to stay outside and guard the entrance while the rest of them went in.

“Looks like you can’t go in.”

Camilla half expected Elyss to go on a rampage and “widen” the tunnels, but surprisingly the lion just rumbled her displeasure. In the end she flopped down on her belly and closed her eyes.

“I thought you’d make a bigger fuss.”

“Hmph. Who do you think I am?”

“Good point?” Camilla waved toward the twins. “The two of you will have to stay out here with Elyss.”

“But I want to avenge my father!” “We want to kill undead!” the twins protested, but Camilla mercilessly shut them down. This time, not even Kagriss can stop her, not that Kagriss made any moves to.

“You can’t go. First, what we find inside is a secret. Second, it’s dangerous. Considering the lengths we went to save you, we can’t let you die so soon, right?”

Sariel pursed her lips and reluctantly nodded.

Elyss purred. She wasn’t going to be the only one left behind…was probably what she thought, although Camilly couldn’t be sure.

With just Lucienne and Kagriss accompanying her, Camilla blew open the tomb doors that had been sealed with magic. Kagriss helped.

The stone exploded into little bits with a huge boom, though the flying chunks of rocks bounced harmlessly off Elyss’s golden coat. None of them hit the twins hiding behind the lion.

When Camilla made a templar signal with her hand, the trio charged in, dragging the lich behind them. Instantly, they registered the remaining inhabitants: a bunch of skeletons, a single high undead just a little weaker in terms of mana compared to Camilla. It was a jack-class zombie warrior, still somewhere in the inner depths of the tomb.

As a flood of zombies and skeletons swarmed toward Camilla’s group on the cramped stairs of the tomb, Lucienne stepped forward, her shield glowing with holy light. The light grew to fill the whole tunnel, burning uncomfortably on Camilla’s skin.

But the true damage was in front of Lucienne. Wreathed in the form of a golden ram, Lucienne charged down the stairs, pushing the crush of undead in front of her before the form exploded in a pulse of golden light at the bottom of the staircase.

In an instant, the stairs were cleared.

A couple of cannon fodder were no match for a templar. It took a high undead to stop one.

Unfortunately, Lucienne wasn’t alone even if the zombie warrior who had yet to show itself could beat her. As the survivors of Lucienne’s charge lurched toward her to try and overwhelm her with numbers again, a black mist swept through their ranks, covering and lingering on their heads. A moment later, they dropped undead. Not all of them died such tranquil deaths.

Body parts were scattered left and right as Camilla and Lucienne tore through the undead ranks with their swords, forging ever deeper into the tomb. It was beginning to seem more like a large crypt though.

No matter how many enemies there were, Camilla always made sure to keep an eye on the captive lich. Now that they were on the lich’s home ground, she wouldn’t put it past the undead to try something and stab them in the back. But so far, there weren’t any suspicious movements.

Deeper and deeper they went with the lich saying not a word of guidance. However, they finally met the final line of defense, a jack-class zombie warrior.

When Camilla first felt the zombie warrior’s mana, she had been a bit apprehensive about what she’d be facing. Would it be an abomination like the strange skeleton warrior that had accompanied Igthrath.

Now, she felt a little underwhelmed.

The zombie warrior seemed almost too normal and Camilla had to remind herself that that’s what zombie warriors should look like.

Like the captured lich had a handsome face, this zombie warrior had a pretty one. Standing a bit shorter than Kagriss, she towered over the hunched zombies and skeletons. She held in her hands a single greatsword, just like Camilla did.

When she saw them, her eyes flashed violet.

“Gradun. Did you bring them here?”

“They were going to torture me if I didn’t,” the lich hanging in Kagriss’s hand said.

The zombie warrior shook her head. “Worthless. At least go down fighting, traitor.”

From her words, it was clear she knew she couldn’t win. Yet, she didn’t even consider backing down. She reached up, flipped down the visor of her helmet and hefted her sword. With a grin, Camilla raised her sword as well, ready to meet her in combat.

But before she charged, she offered them both a final olive branch. “If you’re willing to join me, I’ll let you live. That offer applies to you as well, lich.”

The lich snorted. “I’m Gradun. Plus, I said I wanted a quick death, didn’t I?”

While the lich at least bothered answering, the zombie warrior simply charged forward with superhuman speed, her limbs reinforced with magic and filled with power. Matching her, Camilla swung her sword and the two huge weapons smashed together, sending a shockwave of colliding magic rippling through the tunnel.

Compared to the lumbering skeletons, this zombie warrior was a lot more nimble. While Camilla could mostly run circles around the latter, this zombie could match her blow for blow, making it a much more difficult fight. But it was only relative.

She had gotten stronger as well as the battle wasn’t very hard at all.

Slowly but steadily, she began to push the zombie warrior back even without Lucienne’s help. Her blows backed by the momentum of a greatsword in constant motion knocked her enemy’s weapons around, leaving the zombie warrior always on the defensive, unable to muster any strength to go on the offensive.

Being stifled like this was another weakness of the greatsword.

The warrior’s weapon was also just plain inferior compared to Camilla’s weapon. With each clash, Camilla’s ironblood sword bit into the black steel of the warrior, leaving a groove when they separated.

Blow by blow, Camilla pressed her advantage until, with an especially powerful slash, she struck the base of the warrior’s sword and bounced it out of the warrior’s grip. Shoving the zombie warrior backwards away from her dropped weapon, Camilla removed her head from her shoulders before she imbued her sword with a thin layer of chaos mana and split the rest of the body into five parts.

Just as she finished her battle, when she let her defenses down, a sudden burst of undead mana from behind her caught her off guard. But before it could amount to anything, it was extinguished by another pulse of mana. Camilla turned to see a huge hole in the captive lich’s chest, a wry smile frozen on the undead’s face.

Hovering above the hole was Kagriss’s hand.

Meeting her gaze, Kagriss shrugged. “It was a quick death.”

“…yes it was.”

Unfortunately, it was either with them or death. As enemies on opposite sides, the choice was just that binary. In the end, both the lich and the zombie warrior had to die. Camilla sighed. “Lets clean up.”

Compared to fighting the zombie warrior which at least posed something of a challenge, destroying the rest of the undead in the crypt where Igthrath made his lair was more tedious than difficult. Fortunately, the further in they went, the less guards. All the undead guards had been stationed near the entrance.

Past that, it was all magical traps that Kagriss dismantled, sometimes with the help of Camilla and Lucienne.

Breaking past the layers of seals, they finally reached the innermost part of the crypt, where the owner of the tomb should’ve been entombed. However, what they found was not an embalmed body, but rather a coffin of stone that had been repurposed to be a table.

Shelves were dug into the wall, filled with volumes of various books.

More rooms had been gouged into the wall and Camilla sucked in a breath as she saw the huge lifeless bodies of three skeleton warriors laying on top of accumulator formations. No wonder the mana density down here was so high!

But strangest of all was the shape of the skeleton warriors’ bones, like they had been warped, melted, chipped…but they seemed to resemble the skeleton warrior that accompanied Igthrath.

“Are you two thinking what I’m thinking?” Camilla asked.

“I don’t know.”

Camilla glared at Lucienne and looked expectantly at Kagriss, who nodded. “This seems to be another line of research, much like the thing Orlog became but along different lines. I took a quick look at the titles of the books back there and only about a third of them had anything to do with holy mana. The others were notes or research on skeletons.”

“Yeah…so it seems we’re looking at multiple undead researchers trying to improve their power, aren’t we?” Camilla muttered.

This time, Lucienne grimaced right alongside her. “Shouldn’t we get going then? The Orlog monster seems really strong already, and that skeleton I fought was really strong as well…not that I fought a skeleton warrior before…”

“I agree with Lucienne. We should just grab everything and go instead of staying here. You said that there were undead under vampire control during the campaign, right? Perhaps we can have their researchers help make sense of all this.”

After barely a moment of thought, Camilla nodded. Kagriss and Lucienne both made great points and they agreed with each other.

If possible, she wanted to stay here and do some research herself, but they really didn’t have a moment left to waste. They might even return too late.

Whether it was an undead that could master holy magic or a completely empowered skeleton warrior even tougher than normal ones and immune to most weapons, it would be a huge threat to humanity and the living as a whole.

Even if Victoria considered the undead below her, Camilla knew well how powerful lord-class undead were. A king-class undead was probably stronger than even Victoria. Who knew if there was an undead out there researching undead evolution?

She nodded firmly and clapped her hands. “Then that decides it. Let’s grab everything and collapse this place!”

“Okay!” “Yes.” Lucienne and Kagriss answered at the same time.

They quickly fetched a large sack from the surface and collected all the books. Breaking the accumulator formations after Camilla and Kagriss topped off their mana, they destroyed the base that the skull lich had so painstakingly modified.

In the end, it would all fall.

With no enchantments left to keep the crypt standing, they all watched as Elyss roared and reared up on her hind legs. When she slammed her paws back down on the earth, a shockwave rippled beneath their feet and with a huge rumble, the ground in front of them sank in as the crypt collapsed.

A tear fell from Sariel’s face, but that was all.

“…I guess that’s that. So…what will the two of you do now?” Camilla asked the twins. “I could drop you off at a nearby town with some money…”

The twins looked up hopefully.

“…or you could follow us. We’ll be traveling, of course, down south, and into vampire territory.” She showed her teeth. “I’m a vampire myself, after all, as is Lucienne.”

The younger twin’s eyes rolled back into her head and collapsed.


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