"Necromancers can sense everything through the zombies. You don’t understand, Anfey. We are exposed already," Riska said, frowning. He pushed himself up and glanced around nervously.
"We’re not exposed."
"How can you be sure?"
"It’s a long story. Sit and eat something."
Anfey made himself very clear. Something had happened, and they were not exposed, though he didn't want to tell them why. Suzanna and Riska trusted him, and both relaxed visibly.
After a quick meal, the three of them meditated to wait for the sunrise. The night breeze had no effect on the rotten smell in the forest, but the sun was the bane of anything dark and unclean. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the rotten scent dispersed.
Riska sighed and looked much more relaxed. "It’s a miracle the smell didn’t kill us," he said.
"You still lack training," Anfey said with a smile.
"Still?" Riska repeated with a frown. He felt the things he experienced in the last few days were much more interesting and dangerous than what he was used to. If this wasn't training, then what was?
"Have you ever been to prison?"
"You will see true hell in a prison. The air there is always foul, and the ground covered in feces and urine. You won’t find a single clean space on the ground. You can find at least a dozen lice just by scratching your head. Even rats are rare, because for the inmates a rat is a good meal. No one wants to let the rodent go. People eat the lice as well." Of course, Anfey wasn’t talking about modern prisons. He was talking about medieval prisons he had only read about in books.
"Really?" Riska asked. He was a commoner, but he was lucky enough to become Saul’s student and was not familiar with terrible things like this.
"You’ll know if you ever find yourself in a prison."
"How did you know? Have you ever been to a prison?"
"No, but there are a lot of rumors."
"It can’t be true," Riska said, shaking his head. "Surely a normal man would go mad in a place like that. If prisons are all like that, no prisoner would survive."
"You are underestimating how strong a person’s will to live can be. Humans can survive in environments much worse than that."
"Go see for yourself if you don’t believe me," Anfey said.
"Don’t curse me," Riska said with a shake of his head. "I don't ever want to see it for myself."
"He’s telling the truth, you know," Suzanna interrupted. Her expression was unreadable. "Riska, you have never seen the prisons the nobility set up. I have seen a man, his body bound by a dozen chains, immersed underwater for years. When they pulled him out, his body was covered by maggots, but he was still alive."
"Stop, stop!" Riska jumped up and shouted. "Stop it. That is disgusting."
Suzanna turned and glanced at the sunlight on the forest floor. "Should we get going?" she turned and asked Anfey.
Anfey frowned and cursed Riska for interrupting Suzanna’s story about her past. Now it would be hard to make Suzanna talk again. He stood up slowly and said, "Alright. Let’s get moving."
The three of them had stopped for the night, but the zombies had not. However, the zombies left an obvious track behind. The thick surges of death magic on the forest floor were a clear indication of the direction of the zombies’ trek.
Anfey and Suzanna were dashing through the forest, while Riska was following in the air. The two on the ground were going so fast that Riska found himself falling behind at times. Riska tried to warn them, but Anfey just smiled and did not say anything.
As the three reached a nameless mountain, Anfey waved his hand to stop Suzanna and Riska. However, he didn’t need to stop them. They already felt strange and were stopping.
From the other side of the mountain, surges of death magic reached them. Normally, surges this strong could be felt hundreds of miles away. Neither Suzanna nor Riska felt anything until they were up close.
"They have a senior necromancer!" Riska exclaimed quietly. Even though his voice could not be heard by people on the other side of the mountain, he still spoke softly. "There has to be a large magic kekkai that hid all the surges."
"It’s your turn now, Riska," Anfey said. "The necromancers won’t feel the magic surge of Eyes of the Sky, right?"
"Highly unlikely," Riska said. He waved his hand and conjured Eyes of the Sky. The mountain appeared as if it was right in front of them, but it was still about a dozen miles away. With the mountain as a coordinate, Riska was able to focus the Eyes of the Sky with only two tries.
Anfey had already prepared himself, but he was still shocked when he saw what was happening on the other side of the mountain. He didn’t know what kind of a kekkai it was, but it was powerful enough to block out even the sunlight. The kekkai was surrounded by white fog, and the entire backside of the mountain was obscured by the fog. Under the fog were thousands of zombies, all packed into the same, small area. If all the zombies were once mercenaries, the necromancers must have attacked more than one mercenary group.
Other than the zombies, there were also a dozen normal looking men in black robes. They were patrolling the zombies. The middle of the kekkai was covered by thick, black smoke, and the Eyes of the Sky could not see what was in the fog.
"I need to rest," Riska suddenly said. He sounded exhausted.
"I don’t know what kekkai that is, but I can't hold on anymore," Riska said. He took a breath and relaxed, and the images in the Eyes of the Sky quickly disappeared.
"Even you don’t know what kekkai that is?"
"I know nothing about death magic," Riska said. "I've never fought necromancers, either. Maybe Suzanna knows something."
"I don’t know anything, either," Suzanna admitted.
"Riska," Anfey said after a few moments of silence. "Tell me, what do you think the necromancers want?"
"It could be a lot of things. Maybe they want to take advantage of the zombies’ power and taint this place, turning it into a graveyard even the Priests of Light cannot clean."
"What good does that do to the necromancers?"
"It will give them advantages we don't have," Riska said with a grimace. "Remember how Hagan summoned a behemoth using the creature’s bones. If bones of creatures similar to behemoths end up in the necromancers’ hands, they can summon a bone behemoth. The behemoth Hagan summoned can only last for a few minutes, but a bone behemoth is a dark creature like ghost dragons. It is immortal."
"There is at least one senior necromancer. Maybe they want to create some killer zombies. It’s unlikely though. Killer zombies are difficult to control, even senior necromancers may not be able to control them."
"Is that it?"
"Maybe they want to collect surges of death magic and create a Death Magic Crystal in preparation for the necromancer’s ascension."
"Necromancers need the taint of a large amount of surges of death magic to advance in rank. As long as there are enough crystals, they can even…"
"Guys, something’s wrong!" Suzanna suddenly called. "Listen."
Anfey frowned and waved his hand. The three jumped into the trees and held their breath, listening to their surroundings.
There were sounds of branches snapping, but it was faint, and whatever was making the noise must have been far off.
Anfey glanced at Riska, who released the Eyes of the Sky quietly. A team of eight necromancers and twenty zombies walked out of the kekkai and were heading away from them. Zombies were clumsy creatures, and did not know how to avoid obstacles. They could not feel pain, and did not care if they were stabbed by branches and thorns. Those zombies were what Suzanna heard.
"What do they want? To find more mercenaries? Aren’t there enough zombies already?" Riska said, frowning.
"Why don’t they move at night? Zombies are much more powerful at night," Suzanna murmured.
"They cannot hide themselves during the night. Sunlight can kill zombies, but it can also mask their trail. Their greatest enemy becomes their ally," Anfey said. "We can't let them go on with this senseless murder. We’ll follow them." The threat would be too great if more zombies were created. No matter what, Anfey could not allow the necromancers to continue on with what they were doing.