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Chapter 61: Conviction

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

Something seemed to break inside her chest with a painful crack as Fleur flew backwards, slamming into a tree and slumped down. It hurt to breathe.

Were her ribs bruised, fractured, or broken? She was in too much pain to tell. At least her arm still moved fine even if it hurt a little. Blinking past the pain, she saw the deerhead paw at the ground with its head lowered, as if it was preparing for a charge.

“Fleur!” Anne cried. Swinging her mace at the remaining wolfhead, she slowly backed up until she was standing in front of Fleur, positioning herself between the deerhead and the Fleur.

When Fleur looked up, all she could see was Anne’s back that covered everything like a massive monolith.

“Fleur, are you okay? How do you feel?”

Fleur coughed, each heave of her breath feeling like her lungs were going to rip apart. “I’m fine. It’s painful, but I’ll be okay.”

When she spat out what she had coughed up there weren’t any red flecks. Either the bleeding hadn’t begun yet, or her lungs weren’t actually damaged despite all that pain on her chest.

That made sense, since the deerhead was nowhere as violent as it could have been, and on top of that, the mysterious explosion lessened the impact even more. Somewhere, Kagriss or Camilla was watching them and making sure that they wouldn’t get seriously hurt. However, to make sure it looked real, a little injury was unavoidable if she was stupid enough to get hit, which she was.

“Can you stand?”

Anne was fending off the wolfhead. When she had another Purifying Impact charged, she smashed the buckler in front of her, but this time, the wolfhead dodged back before resuming its assault on Anne.

Fleur couldn’t let Anne keep worrying when she was fighting so hard. Holding back the pain as best as she could, she staggered to her feet. “Yeah.”

“Can you walk?” Anne continued to fret.

“Yeah!” Fleur took a deep breath and charged a Purifying Impact on her buckler. Her mastery over the spell allowed her to create one that was more powerful compared to Anne’s. The wolfhead that Anne was fighting shrank back, giving Anne an opening to press an attack.

The mace bashed into the skull of the wolfhead, making it stagger, and while it was still, Fleur charged forward from behind Anne, wincing from the pain in her chest as she ran. “Purifying Impact!” she shouted as she shoved the buckler into the wolfhead’s neck, catching it off guard.

There was a bright explosion from white light, and before Fleur could see the results of her work, Anne grabbed her hand and pulled her away. The sudden twist agitated the injury on her chest and she gasped out in pain, but Anne didn’t stop. “Sorry, let’s go!”

As the wolfhead fell to the ground, the deerhead, seeing them running, charged after them, its huge body slamming into the ground causing the earth to tremble beneath their feet. However, it wasn’t very nimble and even without Fleur having to give any warnings, Anne suddenly pulled them aside behind a tree, letting the deerhead run past them.

The undead monstrosity’s passage kicked up a powerful wind that whipped their loose hair in their faces.

With the excitement of having inflicted serious damage to three of the four undeads over, they finally had real time to breathe. Although Anne didn’t let her sit down, Anne still supported a portion of her weight, letting her put her arm around Anne’s neck.

As they rested, they kept their eyes and ears out, keeping track of all the undeads. Especially Fleur—she wasn’t going to make the same mistake of not paying attention again. The deerhead had barreled past them and ran into a tree, getting its tusk-horns slightly stuck. The boarhead, after being gored by the deerhead was still on the ground, black mist billowing around them. One wolfhead with its snout missing was carefully circling around them, while the final wolfhead was on the ground, having been decapitated by Fleur’s Purifying Impact on its neck.

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That left two active threats, with two more coming up if they took too long. But on the other hand, if they managed to hang on, Camilla might come to save them.

As Fleur prepared to suggest that they just keep running until Camilla came back, she suddenly felt a burning hot gaze on her. It was intense and filled with anger, and she thought she saw an illusion of Anne’s amber eyes glowing.

“Anne?” She coughed, clearing her throat and lungs of mucus. “What’s wrong?”

Anne shook her head, but the intensity in her eyes did not fade. Her gaze moved down onto Fleur’s chest. “Where does it hurt? Can you heal?” she asked. “You might be able to move now, but we don’t know what will happen after this. What if it becomes worse.”

“I know that’s a possibility, but I only know enough to heal cuts,” Fleur said, troubled. She held her hand over her lower chest where the pain was the most acute. It had been where the bottom of her buckler hit. She winced as she applied even a tiny amount of pressure. “But it’s okay! I have enough strength to run forever. It’s our original plan, isn’t it?”

The ambushing with Purifying Impact only came after, and it was never meant to be used to directly confront these monstrosities. They had originally chosen the forest because they’d be hard to catch by these monsters. The goal was stalling and escaping. So why did Anne have such a bloodthirsty look in her eyes as she glared toward the deerhead?

Even when the deerhead glared back at Anne with its purplish, glowing eyes, Anne did not back down.

“Anne? We should go,” Fleur said, pulling on the back of Anne’s shirt. It was difficult to do it while holding a buckler. But Anne shook her head.

“No. I’m going to fight. I can do it.”

“It’s too dangerous! Come on, let’s run,” Fleur protested. Why was Anne being so stubborn now?

Still, Anne shook her head while keeping her eyes on their enemies. “But you can’t run in this state. Even if nothing’s broken now, running might hurt you more.”

“We were running before, literally just now. I hit the wolf with an Impact and you grabbed me and ran. Why was it okay then?” Fleur wished she had arms she could cross, but all she could do was settle on her buckler on her hips. “Well?”

“That’s different. We had to get out of a bad situation, and that was the best way to do it. You were in pain when we ran too, so don’t lie,” Anne said. As Fleur was about to protest, Anne cut her off. “But if you want to run, you can. But if you run right now, I’m staying behind and covering your retreat!”

“You! You’re threatening me!” Fleur shouted. “How could you say that! I’m not going to leave you behind! You stupid…!”

Anne didn’t reply, but her shoulders sagged ever so slightly. Fleur felt guilty for saying that, but could anyone blame her? She was just trying to make sure that Anne doesn’t get hurt either.

After all, even if this was all part of the plan, the person in charge of the actual operation, the one that raised the zombies, was Kagriss.

She didn’t know Kagriss and the same was true vice versa, so as long as Kagriss achieved her goals to stimulate Anne into protecting Fleur, she did her job. For all Fleur knew, Kagriss didn’t care about any non-permanent injuries, no matter how painful it was.

However, Fleur knew that as stubborn and full of herself as Anne was being, it all stemmed from a desire to protect her from further harm. That’s why she was so bravely standing against two powerful opponents and acting like a shield for her.

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However, in doing this, Fleur had betrayed Anne’s trust and played with her feelings. She understood now that not only was this whole staged attack something selfish that she came up with, it was also her exploiting Anne’s feelings for her. If Anne found out, will Anne hate her for being so manipulative?

Without giving them any more time to argue, the deerhead began to charge once more. The wolfhead missing its snout ran toward them from the side, leaving only one place for them to flee.

Fleur’s heart froze as she tried to predict what Anne would do. Will Anne dodge?

Will Anne run if she runs? Or will she stay like she said she was going to? She could try to pull Anne along, but what’s more likely was that they both lose their balance and possibly become seriously injured. But if they don’t run, then it was the same result as Anne just staying.

“Anne!”

“Fine! We’ll do it your way! But if I think you’re hurting yourself from it, I’m turning around!” Anne shouted, her shoulders trembling. Grabbing Fleur’s hand, she circled around the tree before running away.

This time, the deerhead managed to turn in time to not crash into the tree directly. Instead, it shot past the tree trunk. If Anne and Fleur had only dodged slightly like they had before, they would have been hit.

But the danger wasn’t over. The wolfhead dodged around the deerhead’s body and continued, nimbling chasing after them, the gap closing rapidly. Finally, it pounced. The cruelly curved eagle talons attached to its claws glinted in the dappling sunlight. Anne alone couldn’t block both paws. She could block one, but the other will definitely slip past her defenses, raking across her chest, carving deep wounds into her.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be fatal and Camilla and Kagriss will suddenly make an appearance in time. But she couldn’t trust in that considering what had already happened. Even if it was painful, Anne will still experience pain.

The pain was real, and so was her guilt. She couldn’t let Anne get hurt because of her own mistakes. This was a test for her as much as it was a dysfunctional treatment for Anne.

Sparks screeched off the metal surface of Anne’s buckler as the claws struck. With a practiced motion born of fighting and parrying the attacks of stronger zombies and skeletons, Anne managed to redirect the claws. But she only had one shield. Helpless and with her face white, she could only try and bat the claws aside with her mace, but such a motion was much harder.

As she prepared for the claws to slice into her, ready for the excruciating pain she couldn’t even imagine, a blur of brown hair appeared out of the corner of her eye as Fleur rushed out from behind her with her shield outstretched. Her movement was so incredibly sloppy, but her weight was enough to knock the claws from its original path.

However, the mass of the pouncing wolfhead was still too much and it knocked them both over with Fleur gasping in pain as she tripped and fell face down on the ground.

“Fleur!” Anne scrambled to her feet and rushed over to the girl, putting her onto her back. But Fleur’s face was white with pain, and her breaths were shallow. She looked to be barely conscious as if she was on the verge of passing out from the pain.

Now they couldn’t run even if they wanted to.

While she considered dragging Fleur away, the wolfhead made her decision for her by not even giving her the chance to. It charged toward her and reared onto its back legs, slamming its front paws down.

“Damn it!” Anne shouted. First it was that stupid deerheaded monster, and now it was the wolfhead. Again and again, these monsters keep putting Fleur in danger.

Bracing her whole body behind her buckler, she began to charge a holy impact. As the monster’s paw struck her shield and the half formed spell, both exploded, charring the monster’s limb. However, Anne couldn’t avoid the tips of the monster’s claws that raked her leg.

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Despite the unexpectedly cold pain that seeped deep into her bones, she gritted her teeth and swung her mace, slamming the head of the monster aside with her mace that was glowing with golden light, sending the monster crashing to the ground where it laid for a mere second before it began to rise once more.

A feeling of hopelessness fell over her. Anne could clearly feel the presence of Fleur behind her. If she took even a single step back, there would be no one to protect Fleur. Even though she had sworn to keep Fleur safe…

She swallowed. Behind the rising wolfhead, she saw the deerhead circling around, gaining speed. It was as if it knew that since Fleur lies behind Anne, she wouldn’t dodge, so it was going to make its final charge count.

So what if she couldn’t dodge?

Being hated by Fleur was nothing compared to a world where she lived without Fleur. Bracing herself once more, she prepared for a final futile stand. The deerhead came closer and closer like the living embodiment of an earthquake. Even the wolfhead jumped aside to not get caught up in its charge.

Anne met the deerhead’s eyes that glowed purple and grinned.

The moment before the tusks smashed into her tiny buckler, a female voice rang through the forest. “Wall of Black Roses.”

A black wall sprang up between Anne and the charging deerhead, pushing her back. As she fell sprawling next to Fleur, she felt a massive thud reverberate through the air as the black wall rippled. When the ripples faded, Anne watched as most of the darkness that made up the wall melted, leaving behind only a thicket of thorns. Trapped against the wall, entangled in those thorny vines, was the deerhead. Although it struggled, it soon collapsed onto its knees, even as black roses bloomed all along the thorns.

Anne looked up to see where the voice had come from and saw her in the trees.

High above them, a woman in a revealing red dress stood on one of the tree branches. She was looking emotionlessly down at Anne before she turned away.

“Wait!” Anne shouted. “Who are you? What do you want?”

But the woman was gone before she even finished her first question. A rain of black spears descended from the skies, impaling each of the three remaining monstrosities onto the ground—easy pickings even for Anne.

Why did that woman help them?

Regardless, Anne would recognize that aura and magic anywhere. It was unmistakable. The woman was a lich.

But at this point, Anne didn’t really care if the woman was a lich or not. What was important was that she saved them. After she finished off each of the remaining monstrosities, she ran back over to Fleur and sat her against a tree.

As she shook Fleur to try to wake her up, her hand glowed with every kind of recovery magic she could remember.



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