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Chapter 78: Archpriest-in-Training

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

Despite looking quite young, the man that sat behind the desk tingled with holy power. He didn’t even attempt to hide the power he exuded, and Carmen felt Kagriss shifted uncomfortably behind her, grabbing onto her hand. Carmen squeezed Kagriss back reassuringly before focusing on the secrets of the man before her, or more specifically, his aura of holy power.

She’d never sensed something like this before, but she did have a few reference points—Anne and Fleur.

Simply living in a consecrated place could cause an effect that’s similar to that, as seen on Anne and Fleur’s body, but it would be nowhere as powerful as the power that Carmen sensed from the man.

That could only mean that the power came from the man himself. Despite being powerful magic users, Carmen hadn’t sensed anything close to this from Barsig and Reinhard…in other words, this man was an archpriest, or at least someone with the potential to be one.

So this is what an archpriest felt like to an undead.

Certainly, most lesser undead will shy away while greater undeads will try to take them out first if they could literally feel power in the archmage’s body…

Actually, when she was still alive and a templar, she often felt something similar from liches and skull liches when they casted spells. When Victoria showed up, blood mana became much easier to sense as well…something that didn’t happen with Ismelda.

There was something about high mages that resonated with mana, enabling them to do things like remote cast and play with complicated formations and other advanced magic, Carmen supposed. She’d be lying if she said that she wasn’t jealous.

Still, being a martial mage had its own set of advantages, since at least she wasn’t useless when caught off guard. Besides, lacking that overwhelming and threatening aura, she was more prone to be underestimated compared to those high mages.

If she wanted to right now, she could kill this man before her right now before he managed to react. Since high mages were so slow to cast, he wouldn’t be able to do anything to resist, especially with Kagriss here to counter—

Ah, what was she thinking about, planning how to kill a priest like this?

Somehow, her thought process naturally shifted until she viewed this man as a threat to her and Kagriss, but especially Kagriss. Carmen felt how tightly Kagriss gripped her arms.

Taking a deep breath—in her mind, so she didn’t give away her internal conflict—to calm herself, she took out the orders from Barsig and tossed the rolled up parchment onto the parchment. The orders slid to a stop in front of the man.

The man looked at her, clearly displeased with her action, but Carmen stared right back without even a hint of backing down. Young prodigies often needed to be taken down a few notches and shown they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.

She’d know. She was once such an arrogant young prodigy, and her fellow templars made sure she knew humility. Carmen thought it changed her for the better.

Probably because she looked young as well, the man refused to back down either. With neither of them willing to give up, sparks flew between their eyes as the mental battle for supremacy raged. Eventually, it became a staring contest, which Carmen obviously won.

She was an undead who didn’t need to blink. How could a mere human bound by such limitations defeat her in a staring contest?

As the man finally averted his gaze, staring up at the ceiling and rubbing his eyes, Carmen felt a warm tingle in her chest—the sweet feeling of victory and accomplishment.

When the man finally looked back down, his eyes were bloodshot, but since he lost, he reluctantly picked up the parchment and scanned it over. After reading it for a long enough time that Carmen would’ve finished the whole thing five times—he was likely checking for mistakes and hidden text, and Carmen couldn’t blame him—he finally put it down, opening his mouth and speaking for the first time.

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“Wait, is this it? That’s all there is to it?” he asked, incredulous. His voice sounded as young as he looked…quite pleasant to hear too. He didn’t look bad either.

“Before I answer, let’s introduce ourselves. You’ve earned my respect; what’s your name, Father? You may call me Camilla. I’m a templar of the Cloud Order,” Carmen said, lying through her teeth as she stimulated the man’s ego a bit. It was doubtlessly hurting after that exchange, and such prideful people with wounded egos didn’t tend to be very willing to be helpful.

Sure enough, after her “acknowledgement” of him, the man’s annoyed expression softened.

Easy. Carmen had to stop herself from laughing, something easily done by freezing her face.

The man sat up. “Oh, forgive my rudeness. I’m Justin Karvone. You may just call me just Justin…” He laughed at his own joke while Carmen forced her lips into a smile as well.

Honestly, he probably just avoiding having to call her Sir Camilla, which she did admit sound a bit weird. But no more weird than Sir Carmen.

Whatever, she wasn’t going to argue with kids.

She nodded to him. “Justin. To answer your question, yes. That’s the entirety of the order that Barsig gave us.”

“But…it’s one sentence long. One. No elaboration? Tasks?”

Carmen shook her head while keeping a straight face. “The orders were left intentionally vague to allow for flexibility,” she said. “You can verify it with the mana in the stamp, as well as Bar— Sir Barsig’s signature.”

The incredulous expression on Justin’s face never faded even as he pulled out a book containing the signatures of key figures in nearby Templar Orders and Churches. He began to leaf through the pages. “Barsig, was it? Cloud Order…”

He finally stopped and pointed triumphantly at a name. “Sir Barsig Escorn, vice captain of the third Cloud company.” After comparing the recorded signature to the one on the parchment, he finally nodded and put the book away. Then he handed the parchment back, which Carmen put away.

“So what do you need? We’ll assist to the best of our abilities…although considering we’re just a relay post, we don’t have much resources to spare.”

He spread his hands, showing empty palms.

Carmen didn’t really need any supplies to be honest. Just information on where she could find Arvel. “Well, since what we’re supposed to be investigating isn’t here, it’s further south. Where did the team sent by the Church go? Also, is there any information you think that we’d find helpful?” she asked.

As the person in charge of the information relay, especially with his status as what appears to be an archpriest-in-training, Justin should be reading through every single piece of information that went through.

Whatever the advance team sent back, he should know.

Justin tapped his lips as he thought about his answer, no doubt wondering what he should or should not reveal. Finally, he jerked a thumb toward the wall, no doubt pointing at something beyond.

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“South. That’s the way you want to go, but you already knew that. Honestly, you can’t miss it, since a dozen people went through, as well as that monster. Claw marks all over the trees…weird mana…”

Claw marks.

The presence of the undead monsters she and Kagriss faced in the facility were pretty much characterized by the claw marks they left. Deep and evenly spaced apart—the very image of a mark left by a human who became stronger and whose nails became sturdier. That eerie similarity yet twisted difference was what made these monsters look so unsettling.

And that weird mana Justin mentioned was probably a mix of holy and undead…which was strange, since the undead they fought had mana that felt mostly undead. It wasn’t strange at all, or she wouldn’t have been so surprised by the holy mana.

Did Orlog evolve even further?

The notion was terrifying to consider.

On guard now, Carmen nodded. “Thank you.”

As if he had sensed the change in her demeanor, Justin’s eyes narrowed, the last of his arrogance and lackadaisical attitude draining away. “As for what you should know…well, the team isn’t faring well at all. Even with an archpriest—my teacher—with them, they’re having trouble capturing the monsters.”

Carmen’s eyes widened. “Even an archpriest?” She looked at Kagriss, who shook her head.

Kagriss would have been easily able to capture Orlog if he was the same as the monsters they’d encountered in the abandoned facility. Granted, undead magic was more tricky than holy magic, which favored direct force and was thus less suitable for capturing targets, the difference wasn’t huge.

Since as a lich, Kagriss was about as strong as the average archpriest, the fact an archpriest was having trouble at all was a sign that something was wrong. Very wrong.

That Orlog was an improved version of the facility monsters was practically guaranteed by this point. At the same time, the chance that the liches that abandoned the facility because their goal had been reached spiked significantly.

Carmen felt sweat drip down her back and she quickly disabled that particular body function. Kagriss looked worried as well, knowing exactly what Carmen was thinking.

Their little movements did not escape Justin’s eyes.

“Do you two…know something?” he asked.

They both turned to him simultaneously, the intensity of Carmen’s gaze cowing him slightly. Carmen nodded. “Yes. However, if you want me to tell you, you must swear to keep it a secret, because as far as I know, no one else does. It will be disastrous if any of this information leaks.”

“W—what? I swear.”

Hunger for knowledge burned in Justin’s eyes and he agreed without even thinking about it. However, Carmen shook her head. “Not good enough. To be honest, it would be immensely helpful for us if you knew, but first, you must really swear it. Make a holy contract with me.”

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Justin’s eyes twitched. However, the hunger continued to burn, though much more tamely, now that there was a cost associated with the promise. “What’s the price?”

Carmen hesitated, trying to pick a price that would be heavy, but not unacceptable. She needed to get Justin on her side after all. A future archpriest would be especially valuable to her since she was no longer in contact with the Cloud Order. Plus, she still needed more information.

“How does…your status as an archpriest sound? If you leak the secret, even half a word to anyone, you forsake your future as an archpriest, not to be ordained as one, and you must cease your training.”

The chair that Justin sat on clattered to the floor. “My status? No, absolutely not!”

To some extent, Carmen had predicted that reaction. However, now that she had set a high ceiling, she could start decreasing the stakes. The boy was easy, after all.

Her brows furrowed in worry, pleadingly.

“Are you sure you won’t consider it? This secret involves the entirety of the Moltrost Church,” Carmen said. “If you want, we can even set a limit of one year. If, after a year, you feel like keeping the secret is detrimental, you may reveal everything.”

That must have hit Justin just right, as his expression turned pained.

On one hand, Carmen had just used the identity of a templar to tell him that she knew a huge secret, and he only had to keep it for a year. On the other hand, his archpriesthood was at stake on the off chance he does tell.

It was a difficult choice, but in the end, he was as predictable as Carmen thought he would be. “Fine.”

The worry drained from Carmen’s face, even as she hid a sly smile.

Perhaps the only one who knew the truth of what had transpired was Kagriss, who was privy to all of her emotions. Even Anne and Fleur were clueless since they didn’t know about the undead facility.

Justin took out a sheet of parchment and a bottom of ink. He slid the bottle between them and rolled up his sleeves.

“No wait, I’ll go first, to show my sincerity,” Carmen said. Justin’s hand froze before he pulled back.

“Very well. This had better be worth it.”

“It will be.” Carmen put her hand over the ink and closed her eyes. She began to create holy mana, carefully hiding her undead mana deep within her so that even Justin wouldn’t be able to tell.

Holy mana flowed from her hands into the ink, and at the same time, she casted a spell, binding her mana to the ink.

When she finished, she passed the bottle over to Justin.

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