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Chapter 82: Stag

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: Scribble Hub

The further south one headed, the further one went inland, and the closer one got to demon territory—the lands that the other races of the continent occupied. There, mana in the air became denser, and the animals bigger and stronger. Even humans had a greater chance to be born with affinity for magic.

On the flip side, the denser mana meant that the chance of sighting a mana beast went from almost negligible to a small but notable chance. At the border of human lands, the chance rose to around one sighting at day in traveled lands and even more in the wilderness.

Luckily or unluckily, in the days that Carmen played catchup with the advance party, they didn’t see a single mana beast. It was already afternoon on the fourth day.

The traces of battle—from branches snapped during the fighting and mana expended on spells and reinforcement—on the trail they followed had become increasingly fresh.

As a result, both Carmen and Kagriss were in the sky, scanning the land ahead for the advance party as well as keeping an eye out for traces of mana beasts that might pose a threat to Fleur and Anne.

One thing that Carmen didn’t understand was why Orlog was heading south in such a direct fashion. She would have expected something as mindless as these monsters to just meander, not move south so resolutely. Was it instinct telling it where to go? Or was Orlog a kind of undead monster that could think?

“I don’t think Orlog can think yet,” Kagriss said.

“Why?”

“Forgive me if I’m wrong, but if Orlog can think, and it’s faster than the ones we fought in the facility, then that team shouldn’t stand a chance…”

Carmen winced at her bluntness, but she was right. The Orlog that Justin described was essentially a newer and improved version of the facility monsters. Assuming some minor things like the degree of improvement, one Orlog might prove to be a threat to Kagriss if taking into account only the ability of both.

However, the reality was that if Kagriss wasn’t limited by the amount of mana she had available, she could easily destroy one undead monster and, with some effort, two. That was because these monsters were brainless and predictable, running purely on instincts.

If only they could coordinate, could plan attacks, then Kagriss would be in trouble.

Against a stronger version of those monsters that could think and plan, then even a team backed up by an archbishop should be swiftly dismantled if Orlog attacked while Father Pavlor was sleeping.

Instead, the team only suffered minor casualties and a few deaths here and there while the threat of Father Pavlor kept Orlog in check.

The only reasonable conclusion was that Orlog was still running purely on instincts.

Then why south?

Was it because the mana was denser there and Orlog naturally seeked it out? Or was it because of some other reason?

Carmen took out a map, once again marking their current location before tracing a line to the mine. From that line, she tried to extend the lines further, ending up with a sort of cone that missed every city within a week’s journey on horseback. There were one or two towns and some smaller settlements as well in the cone, but Carmen found nothing of note that Orlog or the undead behind the scenes might be looking for.

She hated not knowing Orlog’s thought process.

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Suddenly, Kagriss pointed at something in the far distance, a few kilometers away. The top of the trees were shaking, and then suddenly a gap opened in the canopy far away as an entire tree fell. A moment later, the distant sound of the tree crashing to the ground reached their ears.

At the same time, they both felt the movement of raw mana—the mana of the natural world, as well as a hint of nature mana.

“Mistress, is that…?” Kagriss asked, unsure.

Carmen confirmed her guess. “Yes, that’s a mana beast. It’s quite far away though, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

Although mana beasts tended to be aggressive toward anything that wasn’t natural to its environment, they were also extremely territorial and attracted to the location they mutated from the mana, which meant they rarely wandered.

A few kilometers was more than enough distance to escape its ire unless it came closer and sensed them.

Now that Carmen finally saw a mana beast, she felt a bit of unease slip away. So many days of travel without even seeing a mana beast was unusual to say the least.

Carmen thought that her reply to Kagriss would be the end of the topic, but to her surprise, Kagriss’s eyes lit up.

“Can we go look?”

“Eh? Why? There’s nothing to see…oh, you’ve never seen one before?” she asked. As an undead that had stayed cooped up in Amaranthine Point for most of her life, then it made sense that Kagriss would be interested in seeing something for her first time. “It might be dangerous.”

“Even for us?”

“Well…no, maybe. I don’t know,” Carmen admitted. “Magic beasts are a bit of a mixed bag and they can be pretty unpredictable since they’re mutations from raw mana, which is very chaotic.”

“Walking spell structures?”

Carmen fluttered her wings. “Yeah. Anyways, if you really want to look, we can have a look from afar and get out as soon as possible. We don’t want to attract its attention, after all.”

“Understood, Mistress.” Kagriss curtsied in midair.

With one last warning for Kagriss to keep her mana signature down and hidden, Carmen led her and climbed her and higher into the air. One kilometers. Two. Three. The air became a bit colder but also a bit clearer. Clouds floated beneath them, but fortunately the space between each cloud was wide enough to see huge swathes of forest.

As they began to fly toward the place where the mana beast had last been, Carmen couldn’t help but remind Kagriss to not leak anything.

“This isn’t a joke,” she repeated. “Magic beasts are incredibly sensitive to magic because of what they are. If they sense you nearby, they might decide to chase you out…or go even further and try to kill you.”

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“It can’t fly though, so we’ll be fine, right?”

Kagriss didn’t seem to be worried at all, even though Carmen was desperately trying to convey her seriousness through the bond. Perhaps Kagriss was just confident in her control, which was indeed excellent.

While Kagriss wouldn’t disobey her and start flaunting her mana like Anne seemed the type to do, Carmen couldn’t help but feel that Kagriss was underestimating just in tune with mana mana beasts were.

Well…she had already warned her and done her due diligence, so whether or not Kagriss truly absorbed the lesson was a whole other question.

Keeping to a low speed so that excess mana didn’t leak from the flight spells on her wings, Carmen flew with Kagriss toward the fallen tree. From a height of over three kilometers, the beast shouldn’t be able to sense them easily, but it didn’t hurt to be careful.

Once they were almost directly overhead and partially hiding behind a cloud, Carmen raised a hand and they both stopped. Scanning the forest below, she saw it—the mana beast. The raw mana that passively circulated in and out of its body was unmistakable when compared to that pulse of mana from earlier when the beast knocked down the tree. However, from this distance, it was quite faint.

She quickly motioned toward it, directing Kagriss’s attention to it before looking more closely, subtly enhancing her vision with magic. Kagriss did the same, but the magic was controlled enough that even when Kagriss was right next to her, Carmen barely felt anything.

With a sigh of relief, Carmen realized that Kagriss truly had the control to back up her confidence. Kagriss was even looking a little smug about it, though she did deserve it.

The mana beast was a stag. After mutating into a mana beast, its diet shifted to include meat for the denser energy in order to make up for its higher energy needs and bigger size. Despite becoming a creature of mana, mere raw mana wasn’t enough to sustain it to a healthy size.

After crushing its prey—another deer—against a tree, knocking the tall stout plant down in the process, the mana beast fed. With each twist of its head, huge chunks of meat split from the deer’s body, disappearing down its throat.

“Wow…” Kagriss whispered. “That’s a mana beast? Amazing…”

“Yeah. They’re a real problem in the other races’ territory, but fortunately for us, they’re not very common—”

“I want to fight it.”

“—here…what? No, absolutely not.” Carmen shook her head, turning to head back.” We have places to be. Besides you don’t know if it’s a battle you can win.”

“I want to try though. It’s my first time,” Kagriss said, pulling on Carmen’s hand, swinging it from side to side as she made her case. “Please, Mistress? If we lose, we can just run, since it’s just a deer.”

“No no no, you don’t understand,” Carmen said. “It’s not just a deer. It’s a mana beast in the shape of a deer. What kind of deer hunts down other deers and eats meat?”

“But I’m curious, Mistress…”

Although Kagriss was looking at her pitifully, the expression learned from who knew where, Carmen shook her head. As much as she wanted to help Kagriss experience the world, fighting needless battles against mana beasts was something she’d much rather avoid.

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A creature of raw mana really was no joke, both in regards to their potential strength and how unpredictable they were.

If Carmen and Kagriss picked a fight with one and were lucky, then the mana beast could be just barely stronger than whatever it evolved from, just longer lived. That was likely. But judging from that pulse earlier, it was stronger.

The other end of the spectrum was much less likely to happen, but as long as the probability remained, Carmen refused to take the risk. Rather than risk being unlucky, Carmen would rather just not play the game unless they absolutely had to—as they did often during the campaign, or she had supreme confidence—like if she had an entire squad of templars with her.

Just her and Kagriss was not enough of a safety net.

“No,” she repeated for good measure. She grabbed hold of Kagriss’s arm and started towing her back toward Fleur and Anne after making sure the mana beast hadn’t noticed them and was still eating.

Although Kagriss looked toward the mana beast longingly, she didn’t do something stupid like purposefully leak her mana to catch its attention.

She was being so good that Carmen felt her heart soften despite herself. She couldn’t believe what she was saying, but she was saying it nonetheless, in such a confident and assured tone that she wanted to cry: “Don’t worry. I’ll take you mana beast hunting one day when we don’t have anything else to take care of.”

Her heart dropped when Kagriss’s sad face turned into a wide smile that made it impossible for her to turn back from her promise.

As she cursed herself, Carmen soon realized that it didn’t matter what she promised, because she was about to keep it.

A few kilometers ahead—a point that their group would have reached in just a few hours—there was a faint and almost imperceptible pulse of holy magic. It wasn’t very big thanks to the distance, but Carmen recognized the lingering trace of a large area bombardment magic…the type that Father Pavlor specialized in.

They weren’t the only ones to feel it either.

Carmen looked down and saw that the stag had looked up from its meal, blood dripping from its mouth. It turned toward where the magic had come from, its hackles rising as its extreme territorial tendencies rose to the forefront of its instincts.

Another magic user? Using magic in its territory? Surely not. The absolute audacity of it!

Faster than Carmen could blink, the stag was off, bounding through the forest, disappearing below the canopies, trackable only by the heightened raw mana signature it gave off.

Ignoring the tiny expression of excitement on Kagriss’s face, Carmen gritted her teeth. “You have got to be kidding me.”


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