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Chapter 138: Southward

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: Scribble Hub

Camilla hovered over Kagriss’s shoulder like an annoying wasp. Her lover sent her a judging glance out of the corner of her eyes, but it completely failed to deter Camilla as Camilla just grinned right back. After a while, Kagriss’s reproachful expression faded to be replaced by a soft smile.

It had been a few weeks since they first got their hands on those notes from Igthrath’s lair. At first, Camilla had written them off as practically useless until they got the notes to someone more knowledgeable than they were in the vampires’ territory, but as it turned out, she underestimated her lover. Severely.

Kagriss was knowledgeable, and Camilla kept forgetting that just because she wasn’t a powerful skull lich doesn’t mean she couldn’t do the spellwork they could, even if the final results were a bit weaker.

Over the course of their journey so far, Kagriss spent all her spare time looking through the notes herself, trying to find something of use.

Although a good number of books was related to creating half-holy monstrosities like Orlog, there was an even larger amount dedicated to knowledge and theories about pure undead like Kagris…and maybe Camilla.

Unfortunately, the majority of those books was focused on skeletons instead of zombies, but some of the information applied nonetheless, much to Kagriss’s delight. And now, the fruits of Kagriss’s labor were finally coming to light.

“Is it done?” Camilla asked.

Kagriss nodded. “It’s not perfect, but it’s workable for now. Watch how I do it.”

Under Camilla’s wide eyes and attentive, inquisitive gaze, Kagriss held out her bare arm, her pale skin almost glowing in the light. Undead mana flowed through the arm before settling in the bone and then all but disappearing from Camilla’s senses.

And that was it. Camilla blinked, a bit confused. She gave whatever was supposed to happen a few more seconds, but nothing happened. Biting her lips, a bit afraid that she was missing something, she looked at Kagriss’s proud face. “Um…what’s happening? Did it fail?”

That was unlikely, given Kagriss’s expression, but there’s no such thing as a certainty…

“Of course not. You’re not supposed to be able to see or sense anything happened,” Kagriss said.

“Uh huh. Okay, so since I can’t see it, then what am I supposed to do? What did you do anyway?”

“I derived a new spell from the research notes we found.” Smiling proudly, Kagriss launched into an introduction of her results while Camilla listened. “It’s a new reinforcement spell, but it’s rather weak and only works on bones. It temporarily changes the structure of the caster’s bone to become similar to a skeleton’s, but since we’re zombies, we’ll revert back to normal in the end.”

That sounded very powerful. Skeletons were tougher than zombies partially due to their durability. If a zombie could partially adapt that strength and incorporate it into her own repertoire of tricks, it’ll greatly benefit them.

Camilla had to hold back her excitement to let Kagriss finish, although her eyes may already be sparkling.

As if she could read Camilla’s mind, Kagriss flexed her wrist and fingers. “You can’t sense it since the mana is used to fundamentally change yourself rather than a true reinforcement spell. The mana expended is used to maintain the change and prevent our bodies from changing our bones back. So, how is it?”

“You already know the answer. It’s the best! Show me, show me!”

“You’re so immature when it comes to this,” Kagriss held out a hand to put Camilla at arm’s length, right as Camilla jumped up to hug her. “Calm down. Go back to how you were before”

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“Ah, yes…” Trying to hold back her blush without resorting to simply cutting off her blood flow, Camilla took a deep breath. And then another. Several deep breaths later, the excitement receded enough for sanity to take the reins again, her better judgement returning with it.

Her judgement brought several questions that she had neglected in her excitement and she coughed and blushed again. “Ahem…now that I think about it, how strong is this exactly? Can it be used at the same time as regular reinforcement spells? How long does it last?”

It’s kind of embarrassing that she forgot about such important factors. She was really slipping. Camilla smacked her own cheeks as a little wakeup call and looked up to see Kagriss smiling with satisfaction at her.

“Unfortunately, it’s incomplete so the results are a bit inconsistent and it depends on some factors. It’s not that strong, enough. Luckily, you can reinforce your body as normal so there’s no downside other than the mana used,” Kagriss said, answering Camilla’s questions one by one to various degrees of satisfaction. “As for the mana and time, it surprisingly doesn’t need that mana. However, the more powerful you are, the more mana it takes to maintain the change since you’re fighting against yourself.”

Camilla winced. “Doesn’t that make it pretty useless in the future? How long can I maintain it at my current level of strength? What about you?”

“That’s a good question…” Kagriss sank into thought, trying to calculate the numbers, taking peeks at Camilla occasionally. “I’d say at full strength, you can maintain it for maybe three hours doing nothing else. Since I have more mana and less attachment to my body, I can maintain it for almost five!”

“That efficiency is horrible!”

“But it’s something. And if you get good at activating it only when you need it, an hour is a long time,” Kagriss pointed out.

“I guess you’re right…I still feel like all my excitement was for nothing, though.”

“There, there.” Kagriss stood up and hugged Camilla.

The energy slowly returned to Camilla’s body as Kagriss’s soft hands gently caressed her head, running through her hair and combing through the golden strands soothingly. After a while, Camilla opened her eyes, rejuvenated. “I want to learn it.”

“Even though all that excitement was for nothing?”

“Oh, don’t tease me. Please?” Camilla looked up at Kagriss with her eyes wide. Whenever she asked Kagriss while looking like this, Kagriss almost always agreed.

Sure enough, Kagriss nodded. “I just can’t say no…fine. First, you feel for the core of your being from when you meditate…”

Step by step, following all of Kagriss’s instructions to the letter, Camilla learned how to perform the new reinforcement method that Kagriss developed. The complexity was on par with casting a reinforcement spell from scratch, but unlike spells, the process was entirely internal.

That meant that as long as she practiced, she could shorten the time from several seconds to almost instant. So that was what Kagriss was talking about when she said that the efficiency wasn’t really an issue. But for as long as the reinforcement remained active, she could feel the slight drain on her reserve of mana. On top of that…

“It’s difficult.”

“But knowing you, that’s a good thing, right?”

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Camilla cackled. “I guess you’re right. I’m always up for a challenge! Now, first…testing so I know the ins and outs.”

She deactivated the reinforcement and held up her left arm before breaking it over her knee with the other with a sharp, sickly crack. White spikes poke from the skin and blood poured out of the wound, only to return as Camilla forced the blood back into herself. Slowly, the break in the bone and skin healed.

The whole time, Kagriss didn’t bat an eye.

No doubt she’d done it multiple times the past few days while testing.

When Camilla tried it again, this time with the reinforcement active, she found she couldn’t break it. Or rather, her arm simply popped out at her elbow socket rather than break somewhere in the middle. She stared speechlessly at her now limp forearm.

“I guess that’s enough? It’s actually stronger than I expected,” she said after she popped it back in and healed the tiny wounds that remained. “What do you think, now that I’m the one to use it?”

“It matches. The effect is stronger than when I used it and it uses more mana for you too.”

“Perfect. I’ll be sure to practice it,” Camilla said. Then, a terrible thought flashed through her mind and she stepped up close with a sly smile on her face while Kagriss remained where she was, totally unaware of what was coming.

Suddenly, Camilla jumped up and quickly kissed Kagriss on the lip.

Although Kagriss opened her eyes wide in surprise, she quickly grabbed onto Camilla and pulled her closer as Camilla began to struggle.

“Mmm! Mmmh!!!” she said, trying to talk through the lips pressed against her own.

This wasn’t supposed to happen!

It was supposed to be a quick kiss to tease Kagriss, but how did it come to this…slowly, as the lifeforce drained from her through her mouth, Camilla’s struggles weakened until she gave in and began to kiss Kagriss back again.

With the little bit of freedom she had left, she lightly bit Kagriss’s lip, drawing a tiny blood. But before she could begin to feed, Kagriss suddenly pulled away. Air rushed between them, momentarily making Camilla’s head go white.

“Hey, why’d you pull away?” she complained. “I was just about to do…that…”

Kagriss pressed a finger to her full lips and wiped away a bead of blood before licking it off. Camilla swallowed.

“Well, there’s one more thing to show you. I’m happy you’re in such a hurry, but you have to let me finish, right?”

Each one of Kagriss’s words struck into Camilla’s heart. Her lover’s tone was different from before. Whereas Kagriss had been mostly informative, speaking without much inflection no matter how she was feeling, Kagriss now spoke with a deeper, almost seductive tone.

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It was the Kagriss that usually came out at night.

Camilla swallowed again, licked her sharp fangs, and shivered. This Kagriss always sent tingles down her spine.

But unfortunately, now wasn’t the time. Kagriss still had something to share…

“What is it?” she asked, trying to hide the impatience in her voice.

The finger on Kagriss’s lips began to tap, drawing Camilla’s gaze to it, but the lips never parted in speech. The silence dragged on as Camilla realized that Kagriss was deliberately making her wait. But what could she do?

Finally, Kagriss decided to take pity on her, but not completely.

Even when she did speak, her words came out slowly. As impatient as Camilla was, it almost drove her nuts. However, when the skin on Kagriss’s arm bulged and split with the eruption of white bone, all of the stress that had built up in Camilla disappeared, replaced with a different kind of stress.

“Kagriss, what is that?!”

“What do you mean? Like I said, it’s something new that’s better shown to you,” Kagriss said, looking at the white growth on her arm. The bone seemed to tremble as it grew, slowly expanding. Once it grew enough to clear Kagriss’s skin and flesh, it began to widen until it became a small shield attached to her arm. Or perhaps it was an arm bracer?

Either way, Camilla squirmed uncomfortably as she beheld the sight. She was no stranger to blood and gore, but when it came to unnatural things like Orlog and…that, she couldn’t deal with it.

“What did you do?!”

“It’s a direct application of that skull lich’s research. I merely recreated the conclusion he came to, bone growth. See? A shield.” Kagriss waved the white thing in front of Camilla who backed away. “You don’t like it?”

“I-I have my armor…”

“What if it breaks?” Kagriss asked. “Are you just going to fight unprotected?

“Yes!”

Not the slightest bit offended or even caring much about Camilla’s reply at all, Kagriss shrugged and literally snapped off the growth. A moment later, shards of bone rose from her exposed flesh and fell to the ground before the wound healed.

The bone slowly turned to dust in Kagriss’s hands and slipped through the cracks between her fingers. “As you can see, it’s not like the bone is particularly hard or anything for how much mana it takes to produce, so it’s actually useless this time.”

Only then did Camilla notice that a huge amount of Kagriss’s mana was gone, much more than if she had simply regenerated an equivalent amount of bone.

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It seemed that whatever it was that Kagriss had recreated from the notes, it was just too costly to use directly on the battlefield.

The only way to put it to use was to produce all the bone beforehand over time.

“No way. That’s so ugly and gross!” Camilla growled.

“Right? I’m so sorry that you had to see that. As compensation…” Kagriss let her words drift off into silence, leaving the rest of Camilla’s imagination.

Slowly, the heat that had sparked to life in Camilla’s heart—but was extinguished with that earlier display—reignited. The fangs in her mouth grew out a bit longer and Camilla drew her tongue over them in anticipation.

The corners of her mouth pulled into a smile.

“They’ve been gone for so long. What are they doing?” Lucienne leaned back on Elyss and kicked out her legs, looking up at the clouds floating by.

“Isn’t it obvious? They’re obviously imitating rabbits.”

“You’re really holding nothing back. Is that really okay, considering that Camilla is your master?”

Elyss fell silent at that and Lucienne had to hold in her laughter.

Time and time again, Elyss would say something snarky about Camilla, only to clam up when Lucienne asked her about it. It’s getting to become a routine of theirs, one that has gone on for way too long.

Although Elyss clearly respected Camilla enough to stay for the journey south instead of simply leaving one day, her mouth or mind just tended to get away from her. Maybe it would be better if Elyss could physically speak, because clearly the filter on her mind wasn’t strong enough.

As a result, Elyss constantly badmouthed Camilla.

“Never mind.”

Lucienne offered Elyss a way out and the lion took it.

“Okay.”

Before long, with the sun about to set and the light became drowsily warm, Elyss’s eyes began to droop while Lucienne remained as energetic as ever. Just as Elyss was about to fall asleep, a pair of annoyingly familiar voices popped up right next to her, persisting no matter how much she flicked her ears.

Lucienne looked down to see the twins that had come with them all this way standing next to Elyss and looking up at her.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“It went great…”

“I didn’t know that controlling mana could be so easy!”

Ariel and Sariel both held their new staves up high. The staves were freshly made from large branches cut from a mana-rich they came across a few days ago and were only ready to be used a few hours ago after the mana stabilized.

Prior to getting their new staves, they used two random sticks that merely acted as a focus.

Combined with their terrible spellcasting foundations and the fact they never really knew what proper spellcasting felt like, their magic was frankly garbage. Even Lucienne had done better when she was their age.

Most acolytes would, for that matter.

But now that they had new staves, their education could begin anew.

“Good. Now that you know the feeling of proper mana flow, do you think you can reproduce it without the staff?”

Sariel shook her head. “Actually, I tried it earlier. But it’s still difficult.” She held out her hand.

When Ariel didn’t move, Sariel elbowed her and Ariel jumped. The younger twin obediently held out her hand as well. They concentrated, squeezing their eyes shut, but the mana that came from their hands was weak and unstable.

Even molded into spells, the unstable mana would result in unstable and underpowered spells.

Lucienne winced again at the sight. “Yeah, that needs work. Luckily, this is the easy part that just takes time. Just keep trying to channel your mana through your new staves to get used to your mana flowing correctly until you can evenly release mana with just your hand.”

“Okay!” “Understood.”

Sariel took off first, her fingers still intertwined with her sister’s. So when Ariel didn’t move, they were both violently pulled toward each other, their heads knocking together in what seemed like a painful collision.

To their credit, aside from the clonk of their heads bumping together and their simultaneous “ah!” they didn’t make any other sounds, like crying. They just sat on the ground, holding the spots they bumped.

Again, Sariel was the first to recover as she looked with tearful eyes at her sister. “Ari, are you okay?”

Ariel nodded. “You?”

“I’m fine too.”

They both breathed a sigh of relief while Lucienne looked on in amusement. However, by the way Elyss’s tail was swinging back and forth like an extra-thick bullwhip, she wasn’t amused in the slightest.

Covering her mouth, she slid off Elyss’s back and pulled the two twins up from the ground. The moment their hands touched, Lucienne cast a spell in parallel, two of the same spells at the same time through each of her hands.

A warm holy light filled the girls’ bodies and washed away a tiny bit of their fatigue and dulled the throbbing on their heads.

“Wow…”

“Hehe…it’s actually not that impressive,” Lucienne said after they let go. “I can cast it at the same time because the spell is fairly elementary. Anyone with holy mana can do it with enough practice. You think you can do it too?”

“Ah, yes. We’ll definitely be able to do it in the future,” Ariel declared, puffing her chest up.

Lucienne was just about to praise her again when a low, barely audible growl sounded from behind her. Laughing to herself, she took the twins’ hands again. “That’s great. Now before we get started, let’s move places…”

The girls followed without protest.

Soon, they were a fair distance away from Elyss. If Elyss could hear them from here, then too bad. Maybe she should scare away all the birds nearby if she was that concerned about total silence?

In any case, the responsibility fell to Lucienne to tutor and correct the twins’ spellcasting foundation, and Lucienne had no intentions of failing. It was her first assignment from Camilla, after all, and she had to prove her worth.

She was going to, if she had anything to say about it.

Starting with the basics of the basics, Lucienne began to correct the twins’ faults that she found. Even if she herself wasn’t a dedicated spellcaster, all templars were superb at the basics, so she was plenty qualified to teach, though whether or not she’d be good at it remains to be seen.

Lucienne sat on a fallen tree and watched with her hands cupped under her chin. While the twins practiced their magic channels together in a clearing, their movements mirroring each other, Lucienne had her own practice.

So far, she was doing okay. Now, even at full capacity for holy mana, she could hold the mana within herself for at least half an hour. From there, the practice required for each extra minute will be grueling, requiring a lot of her focus.

Just like how the twins worked hard to meet her expectations, Lucienne worked for Camilla’s.

Silence returned between the three of them as each of them did their best to focus, and that meant no talking. It persisted for more than half an hour, and just as Lucienne doubled down and decided to push her limits again, the silence broke.

“Excus—”

The holy mana erupted from her body in a huge pulse, blowing the words from Ariel back into her open mouth. She looked fearfully at Lucienne.

“Um…sorry? Are you angry?” Ariel asked when she found the courage to speak again.

Lucienne blinked in confusion. “Huh? I’m not angry.” What were they talking about?

“Then why did you do that mana pulse thing?” Sariel asked. Although fear showed in her wide eyes and furrowed brows, she still demanded an explanation as she held Ariel’s hand.

It took a moment for Lucienne to make the connection and when she did, she covered her laugh with her hand. “Oh that! I wasn’t mad. I just messed something up and lost control of my mana for a second there. Were you going to say something?” she asked Ariel.

The younger twin stabbed the bottom of her staff into the ground, watching her progress as she avoided meeting Lucienne’s eyes.

“A-actually, I was wondering if you take apprentices. I want to be like you, but I don’t have any money on me.”

Sariel’s wide eyes widened even further. “That’s not fair, Ari. I want to as well. Miss Lucienne, can we be your apprentices?”

“Wait, wait, hang on, you’re going too fast. What’s this about apprentices? Don’t you want to be a smith? Weaver? Why change now?”

“I wanted to be a seamstress,” Sariel corrected. “But it doesn’t matter now. I…I think that you and Camilla are cool. You saved us and we want to save people like you do, so…please make us your apprentices.”

Her words contained no sign of insincerity.

Ariel’s pleading eyes and Sariel’s little speech touched Lucienne’s heart and she almost agreed on the spot, but common sense reigned in the end as she shook her head.

“I’m sorry. The decision isn’t up to me. I answer to Camilla.”

“Oh…” “I see…”

Both the twins’ heads dropped at her words.

Lucienne couldn’t bear seeing them like this, so she added one last line. “I’ll ask her for you. No guarantees, though.”

“Really? Thank you, Miss Lucienne!”

“Can we call you Lucy?”

“Ari, that’s rude!”

Lucienne grinned. “It’s fine. I don’t really mind being called nicknames, you know.” Then the grin faded and she put on a mock scowl. “Alright, chatting time is over. Get back to practice!”

If these girls wanted to be apprentices of her or Camilla, then they’d best get ready for discipline.

Still, she found herself liking the pair more and more.


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