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Chapter 139: Unmarked Borders

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: Scribble Hub

Despite the usual monotony of long-distance travel, crossing over the territory of multiple states, the group managed to keep themselves entertained through various methods. Camilla and Kagriss explored the new capabilities in the new bone reinforcement effect that Kagriss developed. Lucienne made herself busy teaching Sariel and Ariel the basics of holy magic with Camilla chipping in here and there. Elyss mostly napped during breaks, true to her original species. When she walked, she peppered whatever conversation was currently happening with her blunt, scathing mental remarks.

After what seemed like an eternity but not really that long considering their pace, the group finally neared the border that separated the territories of the humans from the territories of the vampire. It was at this border that the mana density rose significantly and the trees in the forest grew taller and denser. The Border Forest.

In this forest, mana beasts were relatively common.

The anticipation of crossing the border and clashing with these beasts that made their homes in this forest put the entire group of edge. However, despite Elyss’s pleas, Camilla shot down her requests to go mana beast hunting.

“No means no,” she repeated. “I’m not here to have fun. There’s a place I want to get to and this forest is merely a place we’re passing through.”

“But I want to fiiight…”

Elyss’s voice made her seem like she was going to roll over and start thrashing on the ground any minute if Camilla didn’t agree, but Camilla remained resolute in her decision. As she watched Elyss sulk as the huge lion dragged her paws over the ground, she couldn’t help but remember that time with the stag and Kagriss that almost turned into a huge disaster.

When she looked at Kagriss, she found her lover staring back with an amused smile tugging at her lips. Looks like Kagriss was thinking about that time too.

Still, letting Elyss sulk like this was bad for morale. “If you just want to fight strong opponents, then just wait until we get where we’re going. The city I’m talking about has an arena where fighters could test their skills, be it against other fighters or beasts,” Camilla said. “You might be able to participate.”

That perked the lion up. “Promise?”

“I promise. If not, I’ll somehow find a way to get you in.” Thinking about it now, it was pretty cruel to lock Elyss in the stronghold for all those years. Even if there were plenty of templars willing to spar with her, fighting the same techniques and magic over and over could be pretty dull. Besides, in a spar, measures were always taken to minimize the risk of permanent injury or death.

That was probably far too tame for Elyss. What Elyss craved was a true, bloody fight to the death with nothing held back. Those only occurred in the wild between two equally bloodthirsty mana beasts, or in places like the arena that Camilla heard about from her mother.

“I’ll hold you to it.” Elyss growled. She looked like she was about to say more, but suddenly she looked up and held her nose up high.

Camilla knew that look. Elyss had just caught whiff of some kind of mana.

That happened pretty often. While sometimes they led to interesting or dangerous things and served as a warning, other times the source of the mana was just some kind of mutated plant, the plant equivalent of mana beasts.

The last time was just a day ago when Elyss found a strange, leafy plant. It was rather obscure and they were going to just ignore it, but at the last moment Camilla remembered what it was. In the end, Sariel and Ariel drank tea made out of the plant’s leaves to improve their mana channeling.

What was it this time?

Elyss sniffed around for a while more while the whole group waited for her. Finally, she raised her head. “Mana beast.”

“Eh, really? Where is it? Let’s circle around…wait, did it sense you?” Camilla asked. “We’re not going to fight it—”

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“It’s already fighting.” Elyss tilted her head. “I sensed it before it sensed me because it’s actively using its mana. It’s fighting with something.”

“It’s fighting? Is it with another mana beast then?”

“Just one. I don’t sense a second.”

Camilla fell silent. Just one mana beast meant that whatever was fighting the mana beast were too weak to be individually sensed from this distance. Most likely some adventurous group of hunters.

That was a pretty foolhardy thing to do in her opinion, but who was she to judge when she didn’t even know the party’s identities. Although she was kind of curious and a little worried for the hunters, it was none of her business, so she decided to go around.

Before she could state her decision, Kagriss interrupted her thoughts from atop Elyss’s back.

“Shall we go check it out?”

“Huh? But…”

“It’s not a big deal, right? I can tell you’re worried. If they’re okay, then all’s good and we can go on our way. If they’re not, we can save them. If they all die before we get there, we can take their stuff.” Kagriss’s eyes shone and Camilla couldn’t tell from her matter-of-fact voice whether or not she was joking for the last option.

Seeing her still hesitating, Kagriss patted Elyss’s shoulder. “Is the beast stronger or weaker than you?”

Elyss raised her head and stuck out her chest. “I have more mana.”

“And there you have it. No downsides, especially since it’s in the same direction we’re going. Isn’t it more of a pain to take a roundabout route and maybe encounter something else that Elyss can’t detect?”

Kagriss’s argument made so much sense that Camilla couldn’t find a way to refute it. With a sigh, she nodded. But as she did, she caught a sly glance from Kagriss and Elyss licking her lips and knew she fell into a trap.

Those two were colluding behind her back! This was definitely Elyss’s idea. She just wanted to go where the fighting was.

But Kagriss wasn’t wrong anyway and she’d already made her decision known…all Camilla could do was lower her head and accept she lost this time.

With Elyss in a much better mood, even her pace quickened, going from a walk that was neither fast nor slow to a rapid trot that at her size still made the trees fly by. Camilla and Lucienne had to break into a run to catch up.

“You’re too excited!”

“Am not.”

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“You are!” Camilla laughed. It’s been a while since Elyss has been so energetic. “What’s happening now?”

“I think the battle’s over.”

Camilla thought she heard wrong. “Wait, what do you mean the battle’s over? Why are we still hurrying then? Elyss?”

Elyss glanced at her. “Why not?”

She didn’t answer the question though. Camilla grumbled to herself. If the battle is over, then who won? Soon, she got her answer as a massive but unsteady presence loomed up in the distance in front of them. It was a mana beast, seemingly injured.

A bit closer and Camilla sensed the mana of the other combatants, much smaller than the mana of the beast, but burning steadily.

“Wait, vampires? There’s humans too. Elyss, you didn’t say anything about that!”

This time, Kagriss answered her in Elyss’s pace. “You didn’t ask.”

“Who would?!” Camilla snapped. The rest of her protests had to wait before they broke out of the trees right into the remnants of a battlefield with toppled trees, scorch marks, and scars in the ground.

Every single one of the combatants still remaining turned their attention on the new arrivals.

Camilla made a quick headcount—a total of twenty in all.

But when she arrived, she realized she had made a mistake lumping all those people together. It was actually a group of six and a group of fourteen. The massive furry form of the wounded mana was laid nearby, bound by magical shackles, while the two groups stood facing each other over an invisible line.

The atmosphere, which had been so tense that the two groups almost came to blows, shattered with Camilla’s arrival. She skidded to a stop, raising her hands as weapons raised and mana began to fill the air. “Wait, wait, we don’t want a fight!”

At least that’s what she said, but Camilla had already begun to create a golden barrier of holy magic, cursing the need to keep her undead nature a secret. If she had bared her identity as a zombie warrior, the spells would probably already have started flying.

Luckily, her shout stopped most of the offensive actions while her shield deterred the rest.

With nothing particular dangerous looming in the near feature, Camilla coughed and let the barrier drop, surveying the two groups in detail for the first time. On one side was, for lack of a better term, a group of demons.

Two vampires, three elves, one orc. One of the elves and both vampires wielded heavy weapons and shields while the other two elves had bows in their hands, already nocked with arrows. The towering orc was dressed in red leather, the air above her hand distorting from the heat of a held fire spell.

The mana from that held spell was truly impressive, as was the feeling that Camilla got from the other members of the demon group, for that matter.

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Meanwhile, on the side of the humans, there was a huge assortment of different weapons and professions, ranging from mages and shieldbearers to archers and spearmen. While there was one person—a spearman—that seemed to be about equal to Lucienne in terms of mana, all of the others weren’t quite as powerful.

In all, the two sides seemed about equal. Although the humans were individually weaker, their total strength rivaled the demon group owing to their superior numbers, at least in Camilla’s opinion. No wonder they didn’t fight despite the atmosphere being so hostile and tense.

The humans shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. Finally, the spearman who was at the front of the line when Camilla barged in on them stepped up and looked Camilla up and down. Mostly down, since he was really tall.

His scarred eyelid jumped a few times and he opened his mouth, only to think better of it with a glance at the huge lion crouching behind Elyss. Whatever came out of his mouth next would no doubt be a mostly sanitized version of what was supposed to come.

He showed his mouth full of white teeth as he finally spoke. “Who are you? Why are you here?”

Camilla smiled amicably at him. “I’m just passing by. Our group became curious, you see, so we came to take a look. Is there a problem with that?”

The spearman sniffed. “Yeah. I’d tell you that this place is dangerous, but by the looks of it, you’re no ordinary girl. Not with the company you keep.” He looked behind her and took in Camilla’s companions.

A huge lion; mana beast. Three human mages judging by their staves and lack of other weapons. And…a vampire.

And finally, Camilla herself, a seemingly unassuming, smiling girl. No doubt the man was feeling uncomfortable in her presence, but Camilla just kept right on smiling. It was something she learned from her experience with Kagriss…

“Ahem. Anyways, you should scram. This here is none of your business and if things get ugly, you don’t wanna be here, right, knifey?” The spearman looked over at the demons.

One of the elves, a tall man with the high cheekbones of elves, shrugged as if he didn’t really care. But he still supported the human spearman’s words. “Right. This is our business, so you should—”

When Camilla turned her smile at the demon group, two of their members visibly paled. One of them grabbed the speaking elf and whispered something into his ear. The elf’s eyes widened in shock, and when the female vampire finished, he looked again at Camilla.

Camilla smiled at him. That smile. Camilla’s lips parted, just wide enough that if she had fangs, they’d be showing.

But despite the seemingly lack of fangs, the elf shivered, because if nothing else, at least the height matched up with what the vampire told him. If Camilla knew what he was thinking, she’d probably throttle him right there and then.

Luckily, the elf held his tongue and changed his tone with a cough. “—I mean, after further discussion, I’ve decided to remain neutral on this matter. No one owns this forest after all, and who are we to decide where this lady goes?”

The man’s expression soured as he waved his spear. “Hey hey, that’s not what you said to us!”

“Different times call for different measures.”

Without anyone to back him up and Camilla not leaving yet, the spearman could only suffer the humiliation in silence with gritted teeth. “Fine then! Do what you want, but don’t interfere with what we do!”

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He turned to head back to his group but a teasing voice rang out from above. Kagriss sat on Elyss’s head with her legs crossed, looking proudly down at him like a queen to her subjects. “Halt. How is it that you can tell us that we have the freedom to do what we want while restricting our actions in the same breath? Don’t you find that…conflicting?”

“Wha—.” The spearman reddened. “You…are you suggesting…” He took a deep breath to calm down and gather his wits before he glared up at Kagriss, spitting out his words through gritted teeth. “From your words, can I take it to mean you want a fight?”

“Are you saying you want to interfere with us?” one of the humans shouted.

“We’re not scared of you!”

One of them spat. “You keep bloodsuckers in your company, eh? You with them?”

Kagriss uncrossed and crossed her legs the other way. “The rabble you keep sure is noisy.”

“You—!” The spearman was beginning to look like a tomato and the crowd behind him was becoming more and more rowdy.

Although Camilla wanted to laugh, the mana being gathered in the human backlines made it rather difficult. As hilarious as it was watching Kagriss rile people up, an actual battle was going too far. She held up her hand. “Now, now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. For starters, why don’t you tell us what’s going on?”

“None of your business.”

Undeterred, Camilla simply looked to the demons for answers and answers they gave readily. After further discussion, the elf decided to step back and one of the vampires of the group, the same one that had warned the elf, took the stage.

Beads of sweat hung from his brows under Camilla’s gaze and he almost knelt if it wasn’t for Camilla’s warning glare.

“If you don’t mind, my—, i mean, miss, I’ll tell you what happened.”

The spearman raised his head. “Wait…”

Camilla ignored him and nodded at the nervous vampire. “Go on.”

The vampire wiped her brow. “The truth of what happened is…”

As if her throat was dry, she swallowed again. “Well, we’re a team of hunters from a city not too far from here. We recently accepted a request to capture a worthy beast for the arena. We ended up tracking this one here,” she pointed at the furry mound, “all the way here.”

She thought and then added one more thing. “I’m fairly sure it came from our side of the forest…”

“That’s a lie!” the spearman roared. “It’s clearly from our side. Besides, it’s not like you’ve got any rights to it. We had our eyes on it first!”

The vampire didn’t respond, as if she was waiting for Camilla’s reply. The spearman’s expression turned thoughtful, but before he could think too much, the elf recouped his role as speaker.

“We fired the first shot,” he said. “It was running toward us, but you decided to attack it.” His non-vampire companions nodded and stepped up in solidarity, infuriating the humans who seemed ready to brawl at a moment’s notice.

It seemed a battle was about to break out at any moment.

Camilla considered just taking the others and leaving the two groups to their fight, but when her gaze swept over the unmoving vampires, she reconsidered. No matter what, she was still a vampire noble. In a way, these two vampires could be considered one of her subjects.

They certainly acted like they were her vassals, showing her a reverence that far exceeded the respect and occasional idolism that Lucienne displayed.

She’d feel bad if she just left them to their fates.

But Camilla really didn’t want to get involved…so what should she do. What would she usually do in this kind of situation?

That thought process was interesting, a way to distance herself from the problem to come up with a more objective decision. In times like this, she’d probably take into consideration the other members of her group.

She favored the demons, as there were other vampires among them. Kagriss wouldn’t care. Lucienne would probably stand on whatever side Camilla picked but would default to humans, as would the twins Sariel and Ariel. Elyss would probably try to fight both at once.

With the exception of Elyss the warmonger, none of the others exactly wanted to fight, so her best decision was probably to try and stop the battle…?

Feeling like she was sticking her finger in a turtle’s mouth, Camilla cleared her throat. “Since you both think you have a valid claim over this, why don’t you just split it? Since you need it live, maybe you can give them half of what you would’ve gotten?” she asked the elf.

The elf stroked his smooth chin.

To be honest, he doesn’t look very willing. But in the end, he nodded. It was probably out of respect for her identity as a vampire noble.

But the spearman shook his head. “I can’t accept that. Just money isn’t enough. You seem to be misunderstanding something here, miss. We’re hunters. We hunt for both money and glory. We need the trophies!”

“Ha?”

“The horns! We want the horns as well. You can keep the rest if you live.”

“Absolutely not!” the elf cut in. “The horns are part of the show. It’s the beast’s weapon!”

The tension flooded back as the two leaders glared at each other. The spearman glared at Camilla, then at Elyss behind her. His eyes narrowed.

He leaned back, straightening his back.

“How about this? We release our claim on the beast. In return, we’ll pay you a fair price for your lion, how’s that? That one’s tamed, right?”

Camilla’s mouth fell open at the same time as the atmosphere seemed to freeze behind her. Every person in Camilla’s group stilled and the vampires fell a chill down their spine. The demon group managed to read the atmosphere and their teammates’ reactions and began laying low.

Only the humans seemed proud of their suggestion.

To them, mana beasts were mere commodities to be traded and sold, especially since they were hunters. A beast for a beast plus compensation was a fair trade.

Of course, it was like that for Camilla too, but it was different this time. Elyss was a part of their team. There was no price that anyone could name that Camilla would accept for Elyss.

“I’ll give you one chance to take it back,” she murmured.

“Huh? Why? If you don’t want the deal, just say so. If you refuse, we fight. We were going to anyway. It’s our honor.” The spearman tapped his breastplate. “Right, guys?”

“Hear hear!”

They say a cornered beast was the most dangerous. In truth, no one here wanted to fight. Even if Camilla joined and tilted the advantage over to the demons, someone will end up killed or mained.

The humans were probably betting on playing the part of the cornered animal.

But if neither side backed off, then sooner or later, their bluff will be called. Given their offense, Camilla didn’t mind calling it now. She bared her teeth and tossed off her disguises, letting loose her mana. The foreboding, deathly aura of a zombie warrior radiated from her body along with the bloody haze of the battlefield.

The haze carried with it a regality that marked the bearer as a ruler of vampires to those lesser.

At the same time, the aura of a zombie lich joined hers.

The sudden appearance of two jack-class zombies caught the spearman off course. Not only the humans, but also the demons. Their eyes widened. “You’re undead!”

“Correct. But does it matter? She’s with me and I’m a vampire as well.” Camilla showed her teeth and brushed her two-tone hair over her shoulder. A bloody mist covered her and golden armor materialized over her body along with her greatsword.

“So are you going to be with me or against me as well?” she asked.

The elf hesitated, but when the vampire poked him, he licked his lips and dipped his head slightly. “With you.”

“And that settles it,” she said, turning toward the spearman. The pale man stepped back, cowed by the red eyes glowing behind her visor. “Take your pick. Will you fight both my group and that team of hunters? To the likes of you, I might well be immortal. Even a cornered dog cannot kill something that hunts from beyond the grasp of death.”

She tore through his bluff mercilessly. “So what will it be?” she growled.

The spearman’s eyelid began to jump again. His grip on his spear became so tight that his knuckles whitened. “Fine! We’ll go!” he spat. “Let’s go!”

“But boss! All our efforts will be wasted!”

“It’s not worth it,” he growled. But before he left, he turned one last time, his gaze locking onto Sariel and Ariel who watched with wide eyes from atop Elyss’s back. “You two in the back.”

“Us?” the twins asked at the same time.

“Yeah. You two are humans, right? You don’t belong with that bunch of demons and monsters.” He held out his hands. “Come with us.”

The twins looked at each other when a voice cut in between them.

“Sariel. Ariel.”

It was Lucienne.

With her voice, the twins seemed to silently agree on something. Meeting the spearman’s glance, they shook their head. A triumphant grin rose onto Lucienne’s face as she stared into the spearman’s eyes.

The spearman shook. “Fine! Have it your way, traitors!” He turned and left, waving for his men to follow.

Lucienne’s smile faltered, but when a pair of hands reached down and tapped on her armor, her smile regained its former radiance. “Good riddance.”

As the last of the humans disappeared into the trees, Camilla dispelled her armor and heaved a sigh. “Finally.”


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