The next day—
Both Ellen and I woke up as it turned to dawn.
We fell asleep, leaning on each other, with our backs against the wall of a building.
We were so exhausted that we had stopped thinking about what might happen. We just completely gave up thinking and fell asleep. Well, it was more like losing consciousness than falling asleep.
“Are you up?”
Eleris greeted us calmly as if she had been awake for quite some time already. Ellen looked confused.
“Could it be that you haven’t slept at all… Because of us?”
“No, I’ve been sleeping like a lot… That sure was quite risky, for all of us to be like that.”
She said that, but she obviously didn’t sleep. When I woke up, I found it quite unfathomable that I had managed to sleep in that kind of environment.
There were piles of charred corpses and flesh as well as blood scattered everywhere. The smell of those burned corpses was also incredibly rancid.
“There’s some cold water at the inn. Let’s eat something and leave. We should clean this place up a little first though.”
We decided to clean up our mess first.
* * *
The zombies had been turned to ashes. Like that, they wouldn’t be able to ever rise again. I didn’t know if the fire we lit was just that powerful or if Eleris did something while we were sleeping.
Ellen and I washed our dirty bodies in the inn where the zombies had been roaming around. We could change our clothes, but we couldn’t really do anything about our armor—we had to put them on.
We also had time to maintain our swords, but I only wiped mine with some oil since they had an automatic repair function.
After a simple breakfast, we got ready.
“Should we just keep going South?”
Eleris tilted her head, posing that question. It encompassed various meanings. We had already encountered a large number of zombies that mysteriously appeared in Klitz Point.
The further down south we went, the more dangerous things would get.
She asked if we would continue even while knowing what might await us. Eleris would protect us if anything were to happen, but she still left the decision up to us.
“What about you, Ms. Relya?”
Ellen asked for Relya’s opinion. We were faced with an unexpected threat the previous day, but we knew that things might get very dangerous for us going forward.
“Well, I’ll leave the choice up to you.”
Relya left the decision-making up to us.
At that moment, Ellen looked at me.
Up to that point, Ellen had made the decisions on her own and took action, but at that time, she included all of us. My life had been threatened the previous day; that could happen again, or I might fall into an even more dangerous situation.
She was asking me if I still wanted to go, despite knowing the risks.
“…If you go, then I’ll go as well; if you won’t, then I won’t either.”
Of course, I left it up to Ellen. Both of us suffered from some mental damage when we annihilated the bandits, though in different ways.
Dealing with those Undead was more of a mental issue than a physical one as well. It was incredibly taxing to deal with the abominations.
“…Will you be fine?”
Ellen stared at me as she asked me that. She was asking if I could really endure any more of it.
“…I don’t think I would have been okay if I was alone.”
“Well, I think I’ll manage somehow.”
Ellen nodded when she heard my answer.
Ellen looked between Eleris and me. “I’m of the same opinion.”
Just being with someone helped one endure even the greatest of horrors.
It seemed that Ellen was the same as me in that regard.
In the end, we decided to continue to go south.
* * *
We headed south along the road to Als Point. Ellen was warier of her surroundings than before but still posed various questions.
“How did the zombies know where we were right away?
It was a question directed to Eleris. The previous day, Eleris gave us an immediate answer as to what zombies were and how we could deal with them during our small crisis.
As a wizard, one had to play one more role as well. A limitless encyclopedia of knowledge—that was what Eleris had seemed like.
Of course, she didn’t know about those things because she was a wizard, but because she came from the Darklands. Ellen seemed to have misunderstood her knowledge as part of her being a wizard, though.
“Zombies can track down living creatures. I don’t know if they do it by smell or by some kind of instinct, so there’s no point in even attempting to hide from zombies.”
So the battle was inevitable.
“We’d have to fight if we come across zombies again.”
“Yes, but zombies usually only come out at night, so we should be careful during the night.”
According to Eleris, zombies were nocturnal creatures.
“Then they are sleeping during the day or… something like that?”
At my question, Eleris put her index finger on her lips as she looked far away.
“I don’t know if you could call that state sleeping or not. It is said that zombies move to shaded or cold places during the day… They’ll probably wait there until nightfall, but I’m not sure if they are sleeping or something similar.”
“Why do they go to cold places?”
That was when Ellen expressed her doubts.
“Probably to limit the speed of their decay.”
Their decay would progress rapidly during the day because of the high temperature.
“Zombies are usually dead beings. As their bodies are already dead, they would continue to decay, right? So if the decay continued, the only thing remaining would be nothing but bones in the end.”
Eleris lifted her index finger and explained as such. She explained something pretty horrible while making some pretty cute gestures.
A zombie was a reanimated corpse, more or less, but their decay would eventually progress like normal. Flies and maggots would feast on them.
So they actually had a very short life span, if one could call those things living beings, that is.
In the end, only bones would remain.
Although zombies didn’t have a shred of intelligence in them, they still wanted to extend their lifespan instinctively, huh?
“And when they have reached that state, their behavior changes completely.”
Didn’t they have a limited lifespan? How would they change? Seeing the look on my face, Eleris smiled strangely.
“What would you call a zombie moving around with nothing but bones left?”
Is that what it was?
When the progress of a zombie’s decay reached its final stages, they would turn into a skeleton from a zombie.
They were both undead monsters, after all.
* * *
“You know a lot.”
Eleris was a bit startled at Ellen’s words, thinking that she might suspect something.
“Ah, that’s… I read these things from books. I thought I should at least skim them, just in case.”
To me, Ellen didn’t really seem particularly suspicious of anything. Ellen turned her gaze back to Eleris, who wondered what she wanted to ask next.
“You’re quite skillful with a sling…”
“On my level, I can’t just blindly believe in my magic. I have to prepare other means to defend myself. I’ve been using it as a hobby since I was little, so I’d say I’m pretty good with it.”
Since she was supposed to be a low-ranking wizard, she couldn’t just solve everything with her magic, so she prepared a secondary weapon. Of course, her accuracy when using her sling was more than ridiculous, and as soon as the shots hit the zombies’ heads, they had exploded.
There was great power behind her shots—incomparable to any low-level magic spell.
Eleris took out the slingshot she used previously from her bosom.
“There are even some enchantments placed on it.”
So that wasn’t just a normal slingshot but secretly a magical artifact?
“The enchantment placed on it is ‘Weight increase’. The things that you shoot with this sling gain more than double their weight for a very short period of time.”
“Ah…So it had that kind of power…”
So there was a reason why the zombies’ heads didn’t just break but exploded. Even a very light object could become as heavy as a cannonball if thrown using that slingshot.
Ellen didn’t ask her why she didn’t bring it out during our annihilation of the bandits. Did she already think of it as a thing of the past?
…But was that really a magic artifact?
Didn’t she just cast some weight-increasing magic on the projectiles as she tossed them with the sling?
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I couldn’t really ask Eleris those things at the moment, so I couldn’t help but be confused.
“Then how are zombies made?”
That was the most important question. Eleris furrowed her brows and tilted her head at Ellen’s question.
“Well… Zombies can occur naturally, or they can be made artificially through black magic.”
Zombie outbreaks could be either a natural occurrence or artificially made.
“However, if the zombies were created by a black mage, they’d be controlled by the same wizard. Yesterday’s zombies, however… There was no sign of them being controlled, right?”
Zombies had just suddenly appeared from all directions, drawn to us. It didn’t feel like there was any kind of strategy behind their behavior or movement.
“Of course… There’s still the chance that black magic was involved in all this, but at this point, I’m assuming that they were natural zombies.”
Eleris seemed to think that the zombie outbreak was unlikely to be the work of a black mage.
“When do zombies naturally occur then?”
Eleris frowned again at my question.
“Well… There are so many causes that I can’t put them into words, but if I had to explain it in simple terms… Strange phenomena occur in places filled with unclean energy, and the occurrence of zombies is one of those phenomena… I think that should be enough.”
It was a bit too vague to actually understand how that incident happened. However, simply put, a lot of strange things happened in ‘unclean’ places, and zombies were one of those strange things.
That meant that the place had already turned into such an unclean place.
Eleris looked at the winding road stretching into the south.
“We’ll just have to find out just what on earth is causing this energy to accumulate.”
We were all aware that things would become more dangerous the further south we got.
“If such phenomena spread all the way from Als Point…”
“Yes, something truly unusual must have happened, to say the least.”
If Als Point was the core of that incident, to the point that such strange phenomena even occurred in Klitz Point, which was a three-day journey away, then it was more than clear that something outlandishly unusual was taking place there. “Ms. Relya.”
Ellen quietly called out to ‘Relya’.
“You can go back, Ms. Relya.”
She tilted her head when she was told that she could go back if she wanted.
“Reinhardt and I have Teleportation scrolls, so you can just go back separately. If an emergency were to occur, we could always escape with these scrolls.”
It would be dangerous if we continued to go together, and we had an escape route, but she didn’t, so Ellen suggested that she go back.
She worried about ‘Relya’.
“You’d get paid pretty well if you just went back and reported that Zombie incident we came across in Klitz Point.”
“Ah… I see.”
Eleris nodded quietly as if she knew what Ellen was trying to say. She smiled a little.
“It’s okay. I also have at least one trump card up my sleeve.”
She might ask what that would be.
“Something like the sword that Ellen took out yesterday.”
I didn’t ask about your circumstances, so don’t ask about mine
That was what she was trying to convey, so Ellen couldn’t really bring herself to ask.
She bit her lip before murmuring silently.
“If it becomes dangerous, I hope you won’t blame us for teleporting away without you.”
“Of course. If you have a way to survive, you should use it.”
Ellen seemed to find it increasingly harder to comprehend that wizard called Relya.
However, in the short time we had known each other, we had ended up fighting for our lives together twice.
So Ellen couldn’t simply disregard Relya’s opinion. She seemed slightly less suspicious of her.
It was a three-day trip to Als Point. We would arrive there after approximately two more days.
We walked all day southbound. Nothing really unexpected happened during our march.
“More zombies might come out again like yesterday. We should avoid camping completely in the open.”
Eleris and I agreed to Ellen’s judgment. If there were any zombies around us, they could immediately pinpoint our location, so hiding was more than meaningless to begin with.
“I wish we could camp somewhere close to a cliff where Zombies couldn’t climb up… Although, I don’t see anything like that close by. Then, maybe on a big tree, while that would be a bit uncomfortable, we have no other choice but to sleep in a place like that.”
“That’s a good idea.”
We might not be able to sleep properly, and we might fall off if we fell asleep on top of that tree; however, it was the best resting place we could choose at that moment, as zombies wouldn’t be able to get to us even if they appeared again.
We continued to walk until the sun was about to set, making sure that we found an appropriate tree to climb up and sleep on.
Soon, the thin twig-like trees parted before us, allowing our gazes to fall on a beautiful, thick, old tree.
“That one looks pretty sturdy.”
Zombies couldn’t climb trees, so it seemed like we could rest on one of that tree’s thick and sturdy branches. Ellen and I had experience climbing palm trees on that deserted island.
“…But how do we climb this?”
But we managed to do that because we could actually grab around the tree. It was impossible for us to climb up the tree we were looking at with our bare hands.
Ellen didn’t answer, rummaged through her backpack, and pulled out a rope.
I didn’t even think about using other tools but single-mindedly thought about somehow doing it only with my body. A slow brain would make one’s body suffer.
Ellen tied a stone to one end of the rope and threw it over a branch. The rope with the stone on its end rotated around the branch three or four times, tightly winding itself around it.
Ellen tested the stability of the fastened rope by pulling on it a few times, then grabbed it and started climbing.
Ellen, after climbing more than six meters in but an instant, landed on a branch, making the branch sway a few times with her feet. -It’s sturdy. Come on up.
There didn’t seem to be any problem. I grabbed the rope and started climbing as well. Things that wouldn’t have been possible in the past became effortless, so I was a little surprised when I managed to climb up so well.
When I got up and decided to look down a bit, I felt dizzy. Of course, the branch was considerably thick, so I honestly thought that I could lie down on it without a problem.
However, regardless of how sturdy it was, wouldn’t I still end up breaking my neck if I fell asleep there?
Ellen looked down and shouted.
“Ms. Relya, if you hold on to the rope, I can pull you up.”
Since not everyone could climb a tree like that, Ellen seemed to want to try and pull Eleris up there herself. Eleris grabbed the rope, and Ellen pulled her up quickly—as if she wasn’t heavy at all.
“Wow, you’re so strong.”
Eleris looked at Ellen, who had just lifted her up without exerting much strength, talking to her with admiration. At that height, even if a whole horde of zombies came, they would have no choice but look up at us dumbly.
Ellen quickly moved and leaped over to other branches, climbing up even higher. It looked like she was searching for an even better place.
As a result, she found something like a cave inside the huge tree trunk—it was like a crack that one usually saw in old trees.
“I don’t think we’ll fall if we stay in there. It’s spacious enough.”
Although it would be a bit cramped, it seemed that three people could somehow sleep in there. Even if we tossed and turned a bit in our sleep, we would be inside the tree, so we wouldn’t have to worry about falling down.
Of course, our posture would be a bit uncomfortable.
I was in the hollow tree, Ellen was in my arms, and Eleris was sitting opposite me.
It wasn’t that big after all, so Ellen was sleeping with her back against my chest.
It kind of seemed like I was hugging her from behind. We both had to sleep in that posture.
“Hey, you seem to be getting along very well…”
Eleris looked at me with a soft gaze, teasing me a little.
Stop talking nonsense!
“Let’s eat something.”
Of course, Ellen had her back to me, not even giving the whole setup a second thought and talking about food.
* * *
It was a relatively safe place. We still could hear the sound of zombies slowly gathering, but we couldn’t do anything about that. We set up a guarding rotation again.
—Two hours each.
I took the first shift that time. The darkness of night fell over us, and Eleris and Ellen both fell asleep. I didn’t know if Eleris was really sleeping or not. However, wasn’t she staying up for far too long, considering that she didn’t sleep much at all? She must have been under a lot of pressure.
I thought it would be nice if Eleris found some rest as well. We were safe for the moment, after all.
Ellen was fast asleep, her breath low and even.
She wiggled for a bit as if she felt slightly uncomfortable, but it seemed like she didn’t care much. Normally, even if one didn’t really pay attention to those kinds of things or didn’t care for them, one would still feel their heart pounding a bit in that kind of situation.
I was just as sensitive to the situation as Ellen seemed to be.
I felt like it wouldn’t even be strange if a ghost were to suddenly appear.
I was originally the type that hated jumpscares or anything having to do with ghosts.
However, because I had seen so many things that were even more frightening, I felt like I wouldn’t actually mind seeing some.
If zombies were to pop up, how should we respond? There weren’t any tree-climbing types among them, right?
All sorts of weird thoughts swam around my mind in that darkness.
However, nothing much was happening except for Ellen wiggling and letting out strange groans in her sleep.