Chapter 43: Growing Flames
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Being an undead was practically cheating when it came to hunting. Although she suppressed her undead aura so the animals didn’t know she was there, she could still use her senses to detect the living. From there, she easily tracked down a rabbit that was in the open.

Although there were other rabbits she could have hunted, she passed them up because she sensed a few little rabbit lives nestled together at the bottom of a rabbit warren nearby. 

The rabbit she just found was on its own though, which meant it was unlucky.

Carmen picked out a pebble from the five she had taken from the side of the path. Angling her body so that her left side faced the rabbit and her right which held the pebble on the opposite side, she lined up a shot and took a deep breath to prepare herself. Then, she took a massive step toward the rabbit.

The sudden movement startled the rabbit and it bolted. However, it was already too late—with superhuman speed, Carmen swung her arm forward along with the pebble. Faster than an arrow, the pebble spun toward the rabbit, whistling as it flew…or so it should have.

The rabbit dove into the burrow while the pebble that should have struck it careened into the distance and embedded itself in the tree, leaving Carmen awkwardly standing alone in the forest holding her four remaining pebbles.

“…Eh? Was throwing this hard?” she muttered. Why did the pebble not go where she wanted it to? Everything felt right and she was so sure that it was going to hit.

But the truth of the matter was that she missed and she was just going to have to deal with reality.

“It must have been a fluke.” Glaring at the ground where her lifesense told her the rabbit was currently holed up in its burrow alone, she gave up and headed off to find another prey. 

However, reality once again proved to her that her failure was not just a fluke. No matter how hard Carmen prayed, the second, third, and fourth pebbles all missed their target.

The more she missed, the harder she threw the next time, until her fourth pebble was so fast that it drove a hole straight through the tree, blasting out the other side in an explosion of bark and splinters. Creaking, the tree fell down, the subsequent crash resounding through the forest. 

Nonetheless, power did not make up for accuracy, and the fourth rabbit ducked into its burrow, safe and sound and free from its status of potential dinner. 

Carmen gripped the last of the pebbles. “It can’t be me,” she said. “I can’t throw? Surely the next one…”

While making sure to keep tables on the direction of the path and campsite, Carmen began to wander through the forest again while paying attention to her lifesense. Once more, her senses alerted her to an unfortunate rabbit hopping about aboveground, carefree and unaware that it was being targeted.

Making her footsteps as soft as feathers, Carmen crept up on the unsuspecting rabbit. Instead of simply looking for a clear shot like she had, she instead circled around so that the rabbit was directly between her and its burrow. In other words, if it wanted to escape, it was going to run in a straight line that was still in the path of the pebble.

Clenching her fist to pump herself up, Carmen took a silent breath and palmed the pebble in her hand. Although there were plenty of other pebbles in the forest just like it, it was a matter of pride that she hit at least one of the original five she brought.

She brought five into the forest, and she was only going to use five on her honor of her identity as a templar. And if she fails…well, there was still that sword she was storing in her blood. Or spells.

Although she wasn’t in Amaranthine Point anymore where she had near unlimited mana, she still had plenty to spare.

Again, Carmen brought her arm back to a starting position and took a deep breath. And then she stepped forward. Like every rabbit before it, the one she currently set her sights on bolted for its life. However, this time, Carmen’s aim was true—not. The pebble exploded from her hand, whistling through the air.

She watched, her heart sinking, as the pebble flew too high. No matter what the rabbit did, unless it literally jumped high into the air for no reason, the pebble won’t hit. 

But suddenly, she felt undead mana in the air, right when she released the pebble, or perhaps even before. The pebble dipped ever so slightly in its flight.

As the rabbit crouched and hopped forward, its head lifted above its body, straight into the path of the pebble.

Carmen winced at the aftermath, beginning to regret her choice of hunting methods, even as she looked around for the source of the mana. It had come from somewhere above her in the treetops. 

“Kagriss!” she shouted, gritting her teeth.

“Yes, I’m here, Mistress.” A woman flew down from where she had been hidden behind a layer of branches and trees above, landing in front of her. 

Seeing the lich in that cocktail dress, with her full breasts pushing against the fabric until it was almost bursting out—why hadn’t she noticed before how big they were…argh!—and her hips well defined by the tight red silk, the memories of the previous night and what the lich had tried to do to her all came back.

The temperature in Carmen’s face rose. Although her undead emotional inhibitions kicked in when her face got too hot, all it did was keep her emotions below a certain level, meaning her blush stayed despite her best efforts.

Was she going to have to use blood magic to forcibly stop her blush? It was such an improper use of magic—and so shameful that she’d be forced to resort to it—that Carmen refused to consider it a second longer.

“I thought I told you to stay away from me!”

E—even she hadn’t touched her own body in that way yet, and that lich…Carmen took a deep breath as her anger and embarrassment threatened to spill over the maximum limits.

Compared to her, the lich wasn’t flustered at all. Her face remained blank as she matter of factly explained why she disobeyed. “Mistress, it appears that if I stray too far from you, my clothes will disappear and return to your storage.”

For a moment, Carmen considered just calling back the dress that she had allowed the lich to borrow, but when she considered how Kagriss looked underneath those clothes, she just couldn’t. 

The only reason why she gave her that dress was because Kagriss wore nothing but that ragged robe when they first met, baring everything.

“Then stay out of my sight. Don’t come near me,” she said. Carmen knew she needed to calm down. Deep breaths…don’t let that lich get into her head. Even though she knew the lich was just clueless… 

“You’re the one who called me,” Kagriss pointed out. “I had been in the trees above maintaining proper distance as you have asked.”

“Arrgh! You know what I meant.” Did she really have to explain everything to this lich?

Carmen was too used to the people who were good at magic to also be the prodigies in most other studies, even if they turned out to be a bit eccentric. This lich was totally different. She was excellent at undead magic, but she—while not an airhead, sure acted like one since she had no common sense to speak of whatsoever.

Which made sense, because undead didn’t need common sense in Amaranthine Point beyond the ability to fight. 

“Why did you change the trajectory of my stone when I asked you to not bother me?”

Kagriss thought about the question before answering without blinking. “I didn’t bother you. You were going to miss, and hitting the last shot seemed important to you, so I helped you hit it.”

This wasn’t the first time Kagriss took things literally so Carmen could only blame herself for not specifying what was considered bothering. Burying her head in her hands, she tried to calm herself.

Like a puppet, Kagriss didn’t come any closer, nor did she go any further. She just stood there watching Carmen’s every movement, studying.

That night, Kagriss had been studying too.

She had found in the essence of her body the methods of human pleasure. Since Carmen was usually awake all the time and Kagriss didn’t want to bother her, she had always held back. But when Carmen left her body while using blood projection, Kagriss apparently found it the perfect time to experiment.

Not that it was entirely unwelcome, but Kagriss didn’t even ask before she did it. It had been really shocking… 

Carmen covered her body, her face that she had just gotten to be a little bit paler reddening once more. “Anyways, just stop. Follow me if you want, but don’t help me or bother me until I ask, okay?”

Although Carmen wasn’t sure if Kagriss really knew what she was mad about, the lich certainly understood that she was at least partially forgiven. With a tiny, shy smile on her face that seemed completely out of place when paired with such a lecherous body, Kagriss nodded and floated back up into the sky, weaving magics that made her harder to detect.

Feeling that one day even her remaining golden hair will turn silver for reasons unrelated to vampirism, Carmen went to fetch the dead rabbit that was lying face down and spread eagle on the ground in front of its burrow.

What a place to die—so close, yet so far. 

Instead of scaring the girls back at the campsite with a bloody carcass, Carmen decided to clean the rabbit at the nearby stream. She was downstream, so she didn’t have to worry about getting blood in their drinking water…not that she was going to waste it.

The rabbit was freshly killed, and its blood was still warm. Closing her eyes, Carmen brought the corpse of the rabbit to her mouth and sank her fangs into the artery.

Even without a beating heart, the pressure remaining in the rabbit’s bloodstream sent sweet warm liquid spurting into her mouth and down her throat, and like a good vampire, not a single drop was wasted.

“And that takes care of the bloodletting,” she said with a smile.

Cleaning the rabbit was easy and Carmen had plenty of experience with doing it—unlike the hunting itself when she didn’t have a bow and arrow. In just a few minutes, she was burying the grisly remains of the head and tossing the rabbit entrails into the water for the fishes, keeping only cleaned carcass and pelt. 

With her stomach filled with sweet warm blood, Carmen walked with a bounce in her steps. When she finally reached the campsite, she found the two girls sitting together on a log with the basket sitting on top of both their laps, eating berries.

As she stepped out of the forest, the two looked up, their hands hovering midair, looking almost guilty. Hiding a smile, she greeted them. “Hello, I’m back. I got a rabbit. It should be enough for you two to share?”

“Us two?” Anne looked surprised. “You’re not eating?”

“Ah, I don’t really have to eat,” Carmen said as she placed the rabbit on a pile of freshly picked leaves and began to whittle at a stick to make a roasting spit rod. “Do you mind starting a fire?”

Anne and Fleur looked at each other before Anne shook her head. “I don’t know how to create a fire,” she said.

Carmen almost frowned at her tone, which sounded like the fire wasn’t her problem. However, Carmen had no doubt that if Fleur was the one to ask for the fire, Anne would not only sound apologetic, she would be even willing to try making the fire with just a rock and a stick until her hands bled.

She sighed and looked toward Fleur, who blushed. 

“I know how to make a fire, but…” she shrugged her right shoulder, which was missing an arm. 

Carmen shook her head. “So in other words, one of you knows how to make a fire, but can’t physically do it, and the other has the ability but not the knowledge…”

At her words, Anne practically threw the basket of berries to Fleur and rushed to the horses where they kept the firestarter while Fleur was still sitting in confusion at Anne’s movements.

“She’s so predictable,” Carmen said, watching Anne rummage through the saddlebags. 

By now, they were half a day of easy riding away from the outpost, far enough for Carmen to reveal some of her secrets without having to worry about Anne taking them right back to the outpost. 

“But is it the right time?”

“Are you talking to me?” Fleur looked up at her, holding up a purple-blue berry in her hand. “Do you want one?”

“I’m fine,” Carmen said, realizing that her thoughts had slipped her tongue. Deciding to just go with it, she nodded. “Should we tell her about what I really am now?” 

It was better to be upfront with information like this. Rather than gain Anne’s trust and then lose it when she reveals that she’s really an undead, it was better to make Anne suspicious now and eliminate the problems that might arise down the line.

“It’s your secret, isn’t it? I won’t say anything,” Fleur promised.

“No…I’m saying that that girl might attack me after learning the truth, suspecting me of brainwashing you or something of the sort. I’m going to need your help calming her down afterwards.”

If even Fleur freaked out upon learning that she was an undead, who knew what a veteran of an Amaranthine Point outpost would do? Add that to Anne’s already dislike of her for ‘stealing away Fleur’ and the whole situation was a recipe for disaster.

Fleur thought about her role and nodded. “I’ll do my best,” she said, patting her chest with her hand. “You can count on me!”

“To do what?” Anne was running over, holding the firestarter kit in her hands. “I got the flint! What do we do now, Fleur?”

After exchanging one last glance that Anne didn’t catch with Carmen, Fleur set aside the basket of berries and stood up, leading Anne into the forest, presumably to search for kindling and firewood.

With Anne accompanying Fleur, Carmen wasn't too worried about their safety. Even if she was, she could probably send Kagriss to watch over them. It would do Kagriss good to observe human relationships develop instead of jumping straight to the…ahem. Carmen covered her face again.

Besides she wanted to give the two girls real privacy. By intentionally giving them time alone and proving that she truly had no intention of standing between Anne and Fleur, she might even be able to decrease some of the enmity that Anne felt toward her.

It was obvious that Anne still needed time to sort out her feelings for Fleur. It probably won’t be too late to intervene if Anne’s obsession really did trend toward an unhealthy direction. Hopefully, by that time she will see Carmen not as a rival but as a friend.

After splitting the rabbit carcass in two and impaling both on sticks, Carmen was about to fashion a rack to hold the spits over the fire when she spotted the half eaten outpost brick left on a leaf.

She tried to imagine Fleur eating roasted rabbit along with that monstrously hard bread. Even with water to wash everything down, the only outcome that Carmen could imagine was both Fleur and Anne choking on the food and dying. 

Sighing to herself, she went to pick up a small pot from the saddlebag and headed toward the stream for water. The brief stop she had envisioned did not happen.

Carmen hoped that she wasn’t spoiling the two of them.

When Fleur and Anne returned to the campsite, there was no one there.

“Where’s that woman?” Anne asked, looking around. She held a bundle of dry twigs in her arms.

“It’s not ‘that woman!’ Her name is Camilla,” Fleur scolded.

Not answering, Anne went over to the firepit and dropped the bundle on the ground next to it. “What next?” she asked.

Fleur knelt next to Anne. “It’s really easy. You’ll get it the first try. First, put the tinder in the center and pile it up a little.”

Doing as Fleur asked, Anne dumped the little scraps of wood chips, fragments, and dead leaves into the center of the firepit. Her heart pounded with excitement as she waited for her next instruction, straining her ears.

“Take the flint and strike it against the steel. Sparks will come out and fall on the tinder” Fleur said, handing her the two heavy objects. This was the step that Fleur couldn’t do. In that case, she will do it for her.

Taking the flint and steel, Anne began to enthusiastically slam the two together before Fleur’s waving hand at the edge of her vision stopped her. Was she doing something wrong?

“Wait, I’m not done yet! You have to be quick for the next few steps, so after you get sparks on the tinder, you have to blow gently on it so that the air mana in the air will feed the fire and make it grow,” Fleur said. “Gently! And when you hit the steel, use the edge of the flint.”

Nodding, Anne looked back down at the pile of tinder. Striking the flint against the steel, an odd emotion rose up in her heart as sparks fell onto the dry leaves and wood. Striking a few more times for good measure until the little orange dots were like glowing stars chasing away the shadows she cast over the tinder, Anne put away the flint and steel. 

As gently as she could, she began to blow on the little sparks nestled in the tinder. Although some faded out, others became brighter and brighter until they caught fire, bursting into flames that reflected in her eyes.

“You did it, Anne!” Fleur shouted. “The rest is easy. Break some of the smaller twigs and add them, and when those start burning, add the bigger sticks.”

“Got it!”

Anne felt a bright smile growing on her face. As she helped the fire that she and Fleur created together grow, she felt a warmth that she had never felt burst to life in her chest.

 

Thank you Alice! Not going to lie, I'm actually garbage at worldbuilding. Hopefully the other characters will become less flat over the course of this arc.

Also, a lewd manga one shot I found.

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