|Author: TypeAxiom||Original Source: ScribbleHub|
Seeing the suspicion in Fleur’s eyes, Carmen nodded, satisfied with the girl’s perception. “Yes. Kagriss can raise undead, because she’s an undead herself. A lich.”
Lich and skull lich was only a word apart and Fleur stiffened at the mention. But after a while, she relaxed—it was hard to reconcile the menacing visage of the grinning skull lich with Kagriss’s beautiful face.
Perhaps it’s because Fleur knew that Kagriss was with Carmen, but she began to drop her guard despite Kagriss’s identity as another undead.
“You don’t mind that she’s an undead?” Carmen asked. Back in the mines, Fleur had been a pretty typical Church acolyte that espoused the belief that every undead not under the Church’s control should be destroyed. After what she witnessed at the battle in Amaranthine Point, she had expected Fleur’s beliefs and biases against wild undead to grow stronger, not weaker.
Carmen always thought that she was an exception for Fleur because of reasons twofold: first was that she proved her friendliness by saving them at the necropolis, and second because of her previous identity as the templar Carmen.
Was she wrong and Fleur didn’t actually mind undead?
“I don’t, because anyone you don’t mind being around can’t be bad,” Fleur said in such a matter of fact way that it made Carmen want to knock some sense into her.
She settled for flicking Fleur’s forehead, which was painful enough thanks to the difference in their physical strength and toughness.
“Judge the characters of others for yourself! No one is perfect, including me,” Carmen scolded. While she was reasonably convinced that Kagriss had no ulterior motives immediately detrimental to her, she couldn’t be sure.
Fleur crouched down holding her forehead and nodded. “I understand.”
After a long enough time passed that the pain faded away, Fleur stood up and looked at Kagriss, studying her face. The slight furrow on her brows that showed her caution turned in two arches of curiosity. “It’s my second time…no, third time? My third time seeing a knight-class zombie,” she said.
“The first one was you, Camilla, and the second one was that zombie warrior in the necropolis, but I couldn’t see his face since he wore armor. Kagriss was my third!”
“And? What about it?” Carmen asked, not understanding what Fleur was getting at. She didn’t see what was so strange about knight-class zombies, although that might have been because she had fought so many that they weren’t really rare to her anymore. “Is the third one special?”
“Special…? Of course not!” Fleur said, shaking her head furiously. “It’s just that I’ve never had a reference to what a real knight-class zombie looked like. Father Arvel said they were indistinguishable from a human appearance wise, and now I see what he was talking about.”
Fleur looked like she couldn’t take her eyes off Kagriss’s face, while Kagriss just stared back at her without blinking. Where another person might find Fleur’s staring rude, Kagriss had no such common sense and didn’t make any indication that it bothered her.
But even if Kagriss didn’t mind, Carmen didn’t want to tolerate any rudeness from Fleur. “Don’t stare,” she said. “Anyways, didn’t you have me as a reference?”
She was a knight-class zombie too.
“Yes, but…I felt like you didn’t count,” Fleur mumbled. “Ah, using Father Arvel’s words, you’d be the control group.”
Control group, huh. They were getting a bit far from the original topic. As soon as she said that she was willing to help, all of the Fleur’s tension seemed to drain away, leaving behind Fleur’s natural carefree personality.
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She couldn’t help but feel that Fleur put way too much confidence in her, treating her like some kind of god. All she could do was try to not betray Fleur’s confidence, but one day she’ll fail at something.
Would Fleur’s image of her shatter, then?
“In order to make the whole thing more realistic, that’s all I’ll tell you,” Carmen told Fleur. “That way you won’t know what to expect.”
“I understand. Thank you for helping me!” Fleur bowed to Carmen, her hair bobbing. All of her movements seemed much lighter than before as if a weight was lifted from her shoulders.
That weight was merely transferred to Carmen’s shoulders, although Carmen thought her shoulders were wide enough to handle it.
They were in no hurry since they still had a few days until they reached the mines to start their true journey southwards after Arvel, so Carmen sent Kagriss into hiding again. Although she felt a bit sorry for leaving the lich out to dry alone like this while she traveled with two other people, she needed Kagriss hidden from Anne until their plan was completed. They could then meet afterwards to remove suspicion.
They returned to the camp, where Anne was sitting alone holding her bowl and staring into the fire.
Upon their return, their progress through the forest marked with snapping branches and crinkling leaves, Anne looked up. When she spotted Fleur, she made to stand up, only to think better of it and sit back down.
Fleur too. When Fleur saw Anne, she left Carmen’s side immediately to go fuss over Anne.
It was during moments like these when Carmen doubted Fleur’s words that she didn’t romantically like Anne even a little, considering how much she cared about the latter—although they could just be really close friends that trusted each other with their lives, as seen in that Amaranthine Point battle. Such close friendships were common among the templars after all, although it wasn’t unheard of for the relationship to turn romantic.
Thankfully, during the short time that Carmen had been gone with Fleur discussing how to “help” Anne, Anne seemed to have gotten better by herself. With time alone, the girl must have undergone some introspection and came to terms with what her current situation was. No longer was she purely sulking, and she became a little more expressive.
“Is just one bowl enough? You should eat more,” Fleur said, taking the bowl from Anne’s hands. Holding the bowl in her one hand, she made her way over to the pot of stew.
Carmen hadn’t made a lot in the first place and the stew was quite thick, so there surprisingly wasn’t much left. The ladle scraped the bottom and side of the spot as Fleur tried to fill Anne’s bowl with the remaining content, transferring the stew from the pot to the bowl on the ground.
It looked so awkward that as Carmen was about to step over to help her, she saw movement out of the corner of her eyes as Anne stood up and slowly walked over to Fleur, picking up the bowl so that Fleur could have an easier time.
“Thanks, Anne,” Fleur said, giving the girl a smile, and the girl just nodded, a little spark of hope shining in her eyes.
In the first place, Fleur had no intentions of hating Anne, so the red haired girl’s fears were completely in her own mind. However, it was exactly those completely baseless inner fears that were irrational and neurotic and the hardest to get rid of if rooted deeply enough in the person’s mind.
The only one who could truly help Anne was Anne herself, and Carmen thought that Anne was already on her way to a relatively complete recovery, judging by how the girl acted.
Given enough time, Anne would be perfectly fine…although that didn’t seem to be enough for Fleur.
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As Anne began to eat the last of the soup with Fleur beside her, she looked up and offered some to Fleur. “…You should eat some more. I’m not that hungry,” she said, her voice quiet.
Fleur looked surprised at the offer, and after a moment of debilitation, she opened her mouth and allowed Anne to feed her.
“That…was for when you tried to feed me earlier,” Anne said, and then fell silent, unwilling to say any more. What she just did seemed to be the extent to which she was willing to directly interact with Anne, and after that it was back to treading on a bed of nails once more.
After she finished, Anne grabbed the pot and headed into the forest without a word, going to go wash everything without being asked. Carmen couldn’t tell if it was because she wanted to get away from everyone for a while longer for alone time, or if she just wanted to be helpful.
If it was the former, then Anne was bound to be disappointed, as Fleur got up and followed after her. “Wait for me!”
Anne lowered her head and walked faster. Even burdened, she was a bit faster than Fleur whose entire balance was compromised due to her missing arm.
Carmen watched, finding the scenario an accident waiting to unfold. Sure enough, Fleur fell right on her face as she tripped over her own foot after overcompensating her stride. Carmen winced as a pot fell to the ground with a series of clanks as the bowls and spoons rattled violently against each other.
Anne had dropped the pot and rushed back to Fleur.
It was such a quick reaction, almost instinctive.
Although Anne slowed down the closer she got to Fleur, as if afraid to approach, Carmen smiled.
It seemed the plan was going to work.
Since a little fall on the soft loam of the forest floor was enough to make Anne react like that, she could only imagine what Anne would do when confronted with an undead monster threatening Fleur.
When the two disappeared into the trees together, Carmen set about putting out the fire and preparing the horses for travel. It was only late in the afternoon, so they still had plenty of daylight.
Putting out the fire was simple. She didn’t even need fire.
All she needed to do was point at the flames. Frigid, black undead mana poured from her body, overwhelming the natural wild mana of the flames while simultaneously pushing away the air mana that fueled the fire.
The flames sputtered a few times, shrinking as she suffocated it, until finally it went out completely, leaving behind glowing embers that turned dark soon enough. The black mist flowed back into her hands.
In order to not spook the horses with the mana of the undead, she had converted undead mana into blood mana, and then into holy mana in her other arm and bathed the large animals in golden light, overwhelming their senses so they couldn’t detect the undead while soothing them at the same time with the gentle, cleansing warmth that the holy light bestowed upon them.
As Carmen finished putting out the fire, she breathed out in relief that nothing had gone wrong. She looked at her hands. Her left hand had been responsible for the holy, and her right responsible for the undead.
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Using both types of mana at the same time was much harder than she expected, especially since she had the extra steps of converting twice. The two types of mana were so dichotomously different that it was hard keeping both of them under control, and even harder to make sure they didn’t mix inside her body and blow her up.
If using the same type of mana in both hands were as natural as moving her hands in the same direction, then using holy and undead was more like doing two completely different things at the same time with each hand, only with much more dire consequences of failure. However, with practice and careful management of the mana, she could do it, as long as she didn’t rush.
By the time the two girls returned, the front of Fleur’s face and her hair was wet, freshly washed to rid her of the dirt from her fall. After packing up everything and putting the pots and utensils into their rightful place, they set off away from the campsite, urging their horses a little harder than usual.
Now and then, Carmen felt Kagriss keeping pace with them. Even physically weaker liches had enough speed to keep up with a horse that was merely trotting without much trouble.
Although Anne and Fleur didn’t talk with each other, they stuck together like glue. However, the surprising thing was, Fleur was the one that constantly urged her horse to get closer to Anne’s while Anne tried to keep her distance.
That the situation reversed from how it was that morning made Carmen want to laugh, although she kept it held inside to not disturb the antics of the two girls. “Who’s in love with who?” she muttered to herself.
The little chasing game continued all the way until nightfall, where they pushed on a little further until they reached the next camping site used by their predecessor travelers.
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