“How observant of you,” Lady Camilla said. No, it’s just Camilla. Undeads deserved no such titles!
To think there was an undead walking around in the outpost right under everyone’s noses and everyone was none the wiser. Why reveal to her though? Is it because she was going to die anyway so that it didn’t matter since she won’t be telling anyone?
Fleur tried to wrench her hand from Camilla’s freezing grip, but the undead’s grip was like steel. No matter how hard she pulled, all she did was hurt herself. Was she going to have to sacrifice her remaining hand too? Even if she did, it’s not like she could escape.
An acolyte with no hands running away from someone who could easily kill a higher undead…impossible.
This deep in the forest, no one will ever find her after she dies, and Camilla could simply disappear and no one will ever know. “Father…uwahhh!”
Tears streamed down her cheeks. As she cried, the power drained from her limbs until she was barely pulling away, relying entirely on her leaning weight. Soon, even the strength to remain standing disappeared and she fell to the ground.
Her eyes burned from her tears, but she couldn’t even wipe them away. “I’m sorryyyy Father…!”
The pressure on her wrist disappeared and Fleur retracted her arm, wiping her face. However, the tears would not stop. Shrinking to appear as small as she could and offer a smaller target, she looked up at the undead through blurry eyes.
“W—what are you going to do to me?” she said, sniffing and hiccupping.
“I’m not going to do anything. I just wanted to talk…and you said you didn’t remember me.”
The undead knelt down next to her and Fleur drew away from her. “I don’t believe you. I don’t remember you!” Although the undead looked familiar to her at times, it was all a trick to lure her here. She sniffed, wiping her eyes again.
Camilla sighed. “I’m really not going to do anything. I’m sorry for scaring you, so calm down and let me talk first, okay?”
Her voice was gentle and songlike. Fleur felt the fear in her ebbing away as Camilla’s voice calmed her down, but Fleur shook her head, casting out those feelings. “No! Stop talking! I don’t want to hear you! Don’t speak to me like that!”
She tried to cover her ears but she couldn’t with only one arm. “No!”
“Fleur, calm down!” Camilla said.
Fleur refused to listen, turning away. “Just kill me and be done with it! Stop taunting me! I don’t want to listen! Wahhh—Hic….mmf… ”
She squeezed her eyes shut and curled up in a small ball on the floor. She closed her mouth, sealing her sobs inside even as her chest heaved painfully. At least she won’t die crying.
A cough rose from deep inside her but she shoved it down too. Even if she’ll turn into a monster, it didn’t matter.
A rustle sounded next to her and she tensed all her muscles, waiting for pain and oblivion. But instead of whatever it was she expected, Fleur found herself pulled onto a cool embrace in someone’s lap. Her face rubbed against a smooth fabric.
“Fleur, listen to me. I’m sorry for scaring you. It’s my mistake, okay? I admitted I’m an undead, but I’m not just any undead. Remember the mine, Fleur?”
Although she tried her best to ignore the undead’s treacherous words, she couldn’t when they were being whispered into the ear she couldn’t cover. Memories came pouring into Fleur’s mind unbidden, piecing together.
The familiarity she felt. The golden hair. Although the height was wrong and she had seen Camilla use holy magic with her very own eyes, everything else matched up. Father Arvel even said the zombie girl had escaped.
Fleur opened her eyes a crack, seeing a beautiful face leaning over her, feeling cold fingers comb and play with her hair. She opened her mouth, her lips a bit chapped and her throat dry from her crying. A hiccup followed by a cough shook her body. “I tried to kill you, so why are you treating me like this? I don’t understand.”
“Well, putting aside the fact you never really had a chance to succeed in the first place…” Camilla trailed off and her gentle smile changed into a mischievous one. “How could I bear to hurt a little girl I watched grow up?”
Fleur furrowed her brows. “You watched me grow up? I don’t know how you became so tall but I was there a day after you were raised…”
She watched as Camilla’s face fell. “I guess it was too much to expect you to infer something so impossible,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Fleur asked. She coughed.
Camilla rubbed her on the back, massaging it for her as she answered. “Camilla is a fake name. My name is Carmen.”
“What?” Fleur gasped. “No way…it can’t be. He died in that campaign…but, you…”
She felt the way Camilla was massaging her back, remembering the way she used to try and pass on her cough to Carmen and run away, only to be caught. As Carmen purified the sickness within her, he had rubbed her back in the same way as Camilla was doing now until her cough was cured.
During those times when Carmen visited and Father Arvel was busy, she’d huddle up with him on his lap and get him to read stories for her. Wasn’t she nestled in Camilla’s embrace, sitting in her lap right now?
She stared up at Camilla’s face. An image of Carmen floated up in her mind, overlapping with Camilla’s. Although Camilla looked much younger, there were so many little similarities: in the way her eyes were shaped, in the bridge of her nose, and in the way Camilla’s hair was the exact same color as Carmen’s had been.
“Is it really you? You came back…” Fleur stretched up a hand to touch the face above her. Right as her fingers were about to touch the pale skin, she hesitated. What if everything was an illusion, and she’ll destroy it if she touched it.
“I did. I didn’t think I would be able to, but I’m back now, Fleur. I won’t leave again,” Camilla said. She pressed Fleur’s hand against her own cheeks.
Fleur’s hand was enveloped by cool, soft skin. It was real.
Everything that had happened before was real too. When Anne was about to die, it was Camilla who had saved her. It was Camilla who promised her that she would make it out. Camilla who so enchanted her with her smiles.
Her face burned as blood rushed to her face. Squeezing her eyes shut again, she covered her face, taking deep breaths. But no matter what she did, the blush wouldn’t fade away.
It wasn’t just the blush either. As she breathed, the cough that Camilla had worked so hard to suppress through her massages came back. Flecks of blood flew from her mouth as she coughed over and over, nearly falling from Camilla’s lap.
With shaking hands, Fleur tried to gather mana in her hands, but each time she coughed, what little concentration she could muster scattered along with the mana. She couldn’t breathe and her lungs hurt.
After she dies, will she become like Orlog? Even though she finally managed to see Carmen again. Or was it Camilla? She didn’t even get to tell Father Arvel the good news.
“Fleur? What’s wrong!”
Her whole body was cold. It itched, as if ants were chewing holes all over her body and all the holes were filled with icy water. Darkness crept from the edges of her vision.
A bright golden light filled her vision, cutting through the darkness. A brilliant ray of sunshine descended from the sky, covering her whole body, chasing away the frigidity that had taken root in every part of her body. The ants disappeared as well, washed away by the light.
Fleur closed her eyes, bathing in the glow, and all she could think about was how warm she was, and how she was making trouble for Camilla again.
Fleur opened her eyes, blinking away the blurriness. “Camilla?”
“I’m here, Fleur. You really scared me. First your arm, and now that cough. What exactly happened to you?”
Camilla’s voice came from behind her, and only then did Fleur realized that she was still lying in Camilla’s arms. This time, she was leaning against Camilla like she was a reclining chair while Camilla’s arms on both sides of her held her in place.
They weren’t in the same place as before though. Camilla had moved them to the trunk of a tree instead of a random place in the middle of nowhere where she decided it would be a good place to sit and cry.
Thinking about that moment again, this time with the knowledge of who exactly it was that she had been so scared of, Fleur blushed and covered her face again. “Um…I’m sorry for how I reacted earlier.”
“It’s not your fault. Anyone would be frightened in that situation,” Camilla said. “So, are you going to tell me what happened to your arm?” She lifted her empty sleeve and gave it a wiggle.
Seeing her sleeve flopping, Fleur had to cover her mouth to stop herself from laughing. Then she realized that now might’ve been the first time she actually laughed about her missing arm. She had spent the past week wallowing in self pity—she couldn’t keep going on like this.
Fleur nodded. Taking a deep breath, she began to describe what had happened. Most of the things at the beginning Camilla already knew, but their knowledge of the events deviated when Fleur got to the part where she returned to the Church to ask Father Arvel for advice.
“He hasn’t changed at all.”
When she got to their battle at the bottom of the mines, they both had a good laugh about how stupid they had been. It wasn’t even that long ago, but it seemed like an eternity had passed thanks to the huge battle at Amaranthine Point, at least for Fleur.
Finally, she got to the part where she tried to command Camilla to stop.
“I remember that command. It was so powerful that it knocked me out,” Camilla said.
“And right after, it broke. And this dark mist came out and infected my arm, and it really hurt. But Father Arvel’s amulet saved me and I purified my arm to prevent it from spreading.”
And from there, it was all downhill.
“After I used Father Arvel’s amulet on you, all the other undead woke up and they chased me. Orlog became a monster! He chased me all the way to my horse before I managed to escape. And as I rode home…”
Fleur shivered as she remembered the pain she felt. The nausea.
She clenched her teeth and held her stub, feeling a phantom pain where her arm should’ve been. “It hurts…I lost my arm for nothing…you weren’t even going to hurt me. Why didn’t I believe you?”
Tears were threatening to spill again.
“You couldn’t have known. Don’t blame yourself for everything. Some things are just unavoidable because of circumstances.”
Fingers combed through Fleur’s hair. She nodded.
“So because of that gem, I lost my arm and I have this cough. That gem also created Orlog’s monster. I hate that gem,” she said, sighing. “Why did the Church make something so dangerous? Father Arvel didn’t like it but they wouldn’t listen.”
She felt Camilla stiffen behind her. “Camilla?”
“No, nothing. What about your cough? Is there a way to cure it for good?” Camilla asked.
“Father said that Descent of the Heavenly Feathers would…might work, since it’s very powerful, but Father Arvel doesn’t have enough mana for it…” Fleur sighed.
“I don’t have enough mana right now either.” Camilla sighed as well. Fleur felt the cool breath on the top of her head.
Suddenly, Fleur remembered something that she had completely forgotten earlier when she told her story. “Father Arvel is in danger! I received two letters from him, look!”
She reached into her robes and pulled out the two letters, handing them to Camilla.
“He said he’s going to hunt for Orlog since he wants to see if he can find a cure for me, but I’m worried about him. Is there anything you can do?” she asked.
Camilla nodded. “Yes. I was going to go looking for him after I found you, so this saves me a trip to Moltrost. Do you want to come?”
“I do! I want to, but I can’t. I’m stationed here as a punishment,” Fleur said, “for breaking that gem. It’s rare and I guess I got off easy…”
“Don’t worry about it. You can come if the commander here assigns you on a mission to go with me. If I take care of it, will you come?”
Fleur nodded. “Of course! Although I don’t know how much help I’ll be, but I’ll do my best.”
Camilla patted her head. It was a really strange feeling, since Camilla’s hand was much larger back then and almost covered her whole head, but now it was so tiny.
“Ah, can Anne come if she wants to as well? She doesn’t like you very much so I understand if you don’t want her here, but she’s my friend,” Fleur said, suddenly reminded of another girl who had a habit of touching her head.
“If she wants to, I can arrange for it,” Camilla said. “By the way, don’t say anything about what we talked about to anyone. Not even Anne. Let her decide first, and if she comes, I’ll tell her what I think she needs to know myself.”
Fleur nodded. If Camilla wanted her to keep a secret, then she’ll make sure to not let a single word leak…even if it’s to Anne.
It took much less time to get back to the outpost. Instead of walking, Camilla carried her to save time. It was like she weighed nothing from how Camilla ran with Fleur still in her arms.
After they got back, Camilla went off her own way and disappeared, probably to look for the vice captain. Fleur went to the assignment room to see if she had been assigned any tasks, but since there was nothing scheduled for her for the rest of the day, she went back to her bunk to practice her magic.
She didn’t see Anne again until after they ate dinner.
“Anne, Anne. I might be leaving soon. Do you want to come with me?” she asked.
“Leaving? The Church called you back?” A look of horror fell over her face. “That was too quick…”
“No, I’m going with Camilla,” Fleur said, correcting her. “She’s going to go somewhere and wants me to accompany her. I asked her if you could come with us, and she said it was up to you.”
“Camilla…was during that talk? What did you talk about?”
“I can’t say. It’s private, but if you agreed, Camilla might tell you.”
After a moment of hesitation, Anne nodded. “Okay. I’ll go, but only because you’re going. I promised to protect you and be your right hand, and I can’t do that if I’m here and you’re not.”
“O—oh…” Fleur stiffened as Anne jumped at her and hugged her. Fleur hugged her back.
Now that she wouldn’t have to separate from Anne even if she went with Camilla, her last immediate worry was gone. That should have lifted the weights from her mind and granted her a restful night, but what she expected did not come.
As Fleur lay in her bed, she couldn’t fall asleep at all as the day’s events played in her head over and over. Camilla was Carmen, but somehow, he became Camilla. Things shouldn’t be so complicated, but it was.
What was she going to do with the feelings that she thought had died when she received news of Carmen’s death. Now, he was back, but as a girl, every bit as gentle to Fleur as Carmen had before.
Cautiously, Fleur swapped the images of Carmen in her memories with Camilla. Carmen became Camilla. Instead of Carmen the templar playing with her, it was Camilla the undead.
She liked her memories with Camilla better. Carmen was older, a templar with an inviolable sense of duty, seemingly unapproachable. However, Camilla looked to be around the same age as Fleur, even if she knew better. As friends rather than a guardian, they could be closer than before, crossing boundaries that could not have been crossed before.
With that, then her feelings that she had suppressed all those years will…
Fleur curled up, remembering the feeling of Camilla’s touch on her face and back.