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Chapter 14: Riding Home

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

“D—did I lose them?” Fleur pulled on the reins, causing her horse to slow to a stop, its sides heaving. Hanging onto the reins with her single hand, she turned around to look behind her, being careful to not fall. Riding a horse with one hand was much harder than she had expected, and she nearly did fall several times.

With a bit of relief, Fleur found that the horde of zombies that followed her out of the mines were nowhere in sight.

She had a close call when she couldn’t untie Barley, her horse, from the tree. In her panic, she forgot that she could just cut the rope and the zombies almost caught her.

After escaping from their grasping hands, Fleur had spent the last few minutes pushing her horse to run faster and faster, hoping to open up distance between her and the zombies.

When it came to outrunning zombies, it didn’t matter how much endurance she had if she couldn’t lose them. The best way to escape from zombies was to get so far away their unique undead senses could no longer sense her.

The horse was panting hard, frothing at the mouth. The only reason Fleur didn’t keep going was because she was afraid the horse would die. Still, that was the only option she had, or they both died.

Zombies sensed large lifeforms. Anything bigger than a small child was their prey, and they sensed the life and tirelessly chased it until they caught and killed it. They did not hunt to eat—they simply hunted to kill. After they killed, they searched for a new target, forever and ever until they were destroyed.

Fleur patted the horse’s head, still holding onto the reins. “I’m sorry, Barley. We can slow down now. Just walk.”

At the last word and a twitch of the reins, Barley trudged forward in a slow walk, cooling down from his run. As she no longer needed to concentrate on falling or worrying about being killed by zombies, Fleur finally had room to think. The more she thought, the more she wanted to turn off her brain to avoid reality.

“Now that they’re not chasing me, they’re going to scatter into the forest, aren’t they?” she muttered to herself, groaning. Even if they called an Order to take care of the zombies, by the time the Order came, it’d take forever to find and kill all the zombies.

Most likely, the Order won’t bother, since it’s too much trouble. The forest here was largely untouched, and only a few villages settled out here in the middle of nowhere.

If the zombies scatter, then only one or two will reach a village at once. Even random villagers would be able to disable a zombie once they got over their fear.

In short, the Order will probably just remind the villagers to watch out for zombies before heading back.

“It’s all my fault,” Fleur said, sighing. “I broke the gem, causing them to lose control. Orlog’s death was my fault too.”

The image of Orlog’s swollen appearance flashed through her mind and she grabbed her stub of an arm. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I just wanted to help. I thought I could do it…”

Her arrogance caused all of this. If only she didn’t overestimate herself. If only she didn’t let hubris go to her head. If only she hadn’t insisted on taking on something way stronger than she was…then none of this would have happened.

She managed to seal that zombie girl, but at what cost? Her arm and at least one innocent life.

Not only that, was there even a need to seal that girl?

“She’d probably be laughing at me, right now, saying something like ‘I told you so,’ or whatever…” Fleur squeezed her arm as pain lanced through the air where the rest of her arm should have been. She winced. At the same time, she felt her forehead throb with the start of a headache. The pain was funny. She deserved it.

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“Honestly, that zombie girl wasn’t too bad,” Fleur muttered. “She’s pretty, knowledgeable…a tad annoying, but she didn’t seem like she’d harm anyone, or she claimed. That ‘innocent humans’ farce. Wait, what am I even saying? She’s a zombie. She’s evil. She’s a girl.”

A spell of dizziness fell over her and she swayed in the saddle. Her stomach turned, threatening to expel its contents. Luckily, she hadn’t eaten recently, so she wouldn’t make a mess even if she did.

“Oh heavens, Father Arvel is going to kill me. Now that I think about it, they have two ways to know I screwed up. I activated the Father’s amulet and the Church knows their stupid, flimsy ruby broke,” Fleur grumbled, smoothing Barley’s mane. “Why is the gem so fragile anyway? I just used a command so why did it break? How is it my fault?”

Barley huffed, his lips flapping.

“Yeah yeah, I know. Oh! What if I told them that I didn’t do it?” she asked Barley. “Hahaha—maybe I can say that Orlog dropped it and you stepped on it. Do you think they’ll believe me?”

Barley didn’t reply this time and Fleur fell silent too. She couldn’t get the final living image of Orlog out of her mind. He had been arguing with her. She remembered his last expression well: a look of fear.

She had held out that gem toward him, billowing with that dark miasma, and he had backed away. A moment later, that very gem exploded and killed him, turning into that…creature.

“Why did he come down? No, it’s not my fault,” she murmured. “Urgh, I feel so sick. Barley, do you know the way home? If I sleep a little bit, you won’t get lost, right?”

Honestly, it wasn’t that far from the mine to the town. It took a few days to talk, a day by carriage, a few hours by horse.

Struggling to keep her eyes open, Fleur looped the reins around her hand so even if she fainted and fell off the horse, Barley won’t leave her behind.

“Are you rested now? Lets go faster.”

Pressing her legs against Barley’s flank, she urged him into a trot. Barley could maintain it for all day, and if she used some of the recovery magic that she had been practicing, Barley might be able to go even faster.

In fact, why didn’t she try it now?

Fleur held up her hand, still wrapped in the cords of the reins, and gathered her mana. The effort made her head swim and she almost threw up. Light gathered in her hands, bathing her in a warm glow that made her feel a little better at first, but a hammering headache soon following, shattering the spell with her concentration.

Sensing something wrong with her, Barley slowed back down to a walk.

“Thank you…” She leaned over Barley’s side and threw up onto the ground. Without bothering to wipe her mouth, she had Barley trot again.

She saw stars in her vision, black and white, and the occasional explosion of color. Bile rose up in her throat several times, but she always managed to push it back down. Although she swayed, almost falling off at times, she always managed to catch herself in time.

Finally, when it grew to be too much to sit upright, she leaned forward and rested her forehead on Barley’s neck.

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“Sorry, Barley.”

As they followed the trial, Fleur barely registered her surroundings. All she could tell was that there was a lot of green passing her. She didn’t even know how long she had been riding Barley, or how long she would be, but the next time Fleur opened her eyes after blinking, she no longer saw so much green.

“Hm? This place is…”

The forest had opened up to open fields. “Barley, we’re almost home.”

The horse whinnied and shook his head and neck.

“What’s wrong?” Even as Fleur asked Barley the question, she realized that Barley’s mane was wet with her saliva. She wordlessly wiped it dry, but even that action made her dizzy.

Clinging onto Barley’s back, Fleur managed to hang on until she reached the gates of Moltrost. Through blurry vision, she saw two armed guards running up to meet her, reaching up to steady her.

One of them sucked in a breath, shocked, when he saw her right side. “Sister! Your arm!”

Fleur winced at the noise and shrugged off the guards. Her tongue felt thick and she could barely speak. “Have…get…back…” she managed.

The guards exchanged glances. “You want us to get back?”

“No! I…have…”

She shook her head, trying to concentrate, but the movement only made her sicker. Helpless, the guards let her pass into the city, sparing one of their numbers to escort her to the church toward the center of the city.

The people on the streets pointed at her and gossiped with hushed tones, but Fleur was in too much pain right now. She felt chilled to the bone and she shivered, but every movement made her headache worse.

Luckily, the people on the streets parted before her with the guard leading the way, and they soon reached the Church. When the guard made to lead her in through the front, she waved him aside, nodding to him in thanks. It was all she could do. Her eyes were too blurry to even make out his face.

Barley, being the smart horse he was, knew the way home. He walked slowly over to where the side entrance was. Before he could get far, a couple of acolytes came running out. As Fleur recognized their familiar white robes, she sighed and closed her eyes.

Fleur looked around. Rough, dimly lit stone walls greeted her. She was in a large cavern, facing the walls. “This is…the mine? Why am I back here again? Didn’t I leave?”

She felt like she was forgetting something. She reached out and touched the stone wall with the tip of her fingers. It was cool and dry.

“What was I doing here again? I…” She couldn’t remember. She searched her pockets and pouches, but found nothing. She had nothing on her entire person. She was just about to give up when something tickled her neck. She reached up and her hand closed around a necklace.

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It was a ruby necklace, glowing blood red.

As Fleur stared at it, mesmerized, a hand grabbed her shoulder. “Hmm? Who is it?” She turned around and stared right into a swollen purple face, laced with red veins. “Ahhhhhh!”

She screamed and shoved the monster away, but right as she touched it, it disappeared in a puff of cold black mist that caressed her face. It entered her body, reaching deep inside like tendrils of ice.

Fleur fell to her knees, clutching at her heart that felt frozen, like a block of ice. The sheer cold made her breath catch her throat. She couldn’t breath no matter how hard she tried.

Was she going to die, just like that?

“Hey, are you alright?” A deep voice sounded next to her ear, rich and almost melodious. It sounded familiar, somehow. Something touched her shoulder once more. It was heavy, each finger thick and hard, as the person was wearing a gauntlet. Fleur tensed. A warm feeling washed over her, melting the ice that froze her heart. The hand patted her reassuringly and disappeared.

That feeling of warmth, that voice that she hadn’t heard in so long. “Sir Carmen?” Fleur stood up and whirled around, hoping to catch sight of the man once more, but there was only empty space behind her. “Sir Carmen?”

“Looking for someone?”

Fleur’s heart jumped at the voice, but the flicker of hope died immediately. It was a girl’s voice, coming from somewhere below her. She looked down and saw a beautiful girl sitting on the floor with her head tilted.

The girl wore nothing but rags that barely covered her body. Long golden hair fell down around her, spread out over the ground. Staring at the hair, she thought she saw a shadow of Sir Carmen in it.

“Yes. I thought I heard Sir Carmen. Ah, he’s this man with the same color hair as you, but twice as tall,” Fleur said, gesturing his height with her hand.

But instead of answering her, the girl stood up. The top of her head only reached Fleur’s chin. “Unfortunately, no. But I’m here, so stop worrying about someone like him, okay?” The girl smiled.

Fleur’s eyes widened. How could anything be so beautiful? It almost lit up the whole cavern.

“Y—your name…” she mumbled.

“Hm…Should I tell you?” The girl’s head tilted the other way, the smile turning more sly and devious.

“Please! Can you please tell me your name?” Fleur blushed.

The smile returned, brighter than ever. “Ahaha, are you sure? I’m a zombie, you know?”

“A zombie?” Fleur repeated. She knew what zombies were. They killed people. This girl was a zombie?

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“Yup! Like the one behind you.”

Fleur slowly turned around, meeting the eyes of a rotten corpse, way too close. She opened her mouth to scream, gathering holy power, but it was too late. A hand that covered the all else reached out and grabbed her face, turning the whole world black.

“Ahhh!” Fleur screamed. She sat up, the blankets that had covered her body flying off. “A dream? I…where is this?”

“It seems you’ve woken up. About time too.”

“Father Arvel?” Fleur looked at her mentor who sat beside her bed. He had pulled a small table over and was sitting at it, writing in his little book as always.

Father Arvel didn’t reply. He continued to write, and Fleur didn’t push him. Finally, he put down his pen and flicked Fleur’s forehead. “Ow!”

“Do you know why I flicked you?” he demanded, and flicked her again. She had already covered her forehead, so the second flick landed on her fingers, which hurt as much. Fleur winced.

“…Yes. I was too reckless,” she said. “You warned me too.”

“Hmph. As long as you know,” Father Arvel said, returning to his book. “Hopefully this taught you a lesson, because you paid quite the price.” His voice was strained.

Fleur looked up, but Father Arvel refused to meet her eyes.

“Father?”

“Be silent! Do you know what you did? You went and desecrated your arm! At least you managed to purify it before it killed you and turned into an undead immediately. On top of that, you didn’t purify that massive amount of undead mana within you. It’s a wonder you’re still alive!”

Fleur thought back to the nausea and chills she felt while riding home. So that’s what it had been.

“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again,” she mumbled.

Father Arvel shook his head. “I should think not. You’d better hope that letting so much undead mana within you doesn’t leave a permanent mark. Besides, I’m warning you now, but you’re in huge trouble. Even I can’t get you out of this one.”

“Why? What did I do?”

He looked at her. “What do you think?”

Fleur swallowed and grabbed her arm stub. “It’s the stupid gem, isn’t it.”

“It is. The bishop isn’t happy that he lost a gem. Those things are quite rare and difficult to obtain. Your future as a priestess in this church might be impacted.” Father Arvel sighed. “You’d best prepare yourself.”



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