Under the Oak Tree-Chapter 264 -

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264 Chapter Maxi felt her skin crawl. Frozen in place, she tried to make sense of the horrific sight before her. Nearly half of the wall surrounding the village lay in ruins, and dying flames still flickered among the charred debris. Without thinking, she spurred her horse toward the village, only to be blocked by Ulyseon.

“There is still smoke, my lady! The attack was likely recent. The enemy may be lurking nearby.”

“B-But… if the attack was recent… there may be survivors.”

A sudden gust forced Maxi to rein back her horse. Her stomach churned as the acrid smell of smoke filled her lungs. Above the ash-black village, pure white snow flurried along winds that seemed to be blowing stronger. Kuahel Leon trotted his warhorse forward, breaking his silent assessment of the nightmarish scene. He seemed startlingly calm.

“Vinther, scout the area. The enemy might have hidden in the vicinity. Cedric, you will come with me. As Lady Calypse has pointed out, there may be survivors.”

Kuahel glanced at Maxi before turning to Calto.

“How many of you can use tracing spells?”

“That would be all of our wind and earth mages,” Calto replied, his voice grave.

Before the commander could even request it, Calto addressed a short, portly mage named Nevin.

“Take the Sigrew mages to aid the reconnaissance. The others will follow Sir Kuahel to the village.”

“We should send a messenger to the nearest city at once,” Ulyseon interjected. “If they were able to raze a village of this size, we are likely dealing with a large band of monsters. We must request reinforcements.”

Kuahel Leon fixed Ulyseon with an ice-cold glare, nettled that someone other than the pope had the gall to give him orders. He furrowed his brow but soon conceded.

“Harman! Take Luke and Abett with you. Go west, inform Viscount Sevron of what happened, and ask him for aid. Warn the villages on the way to prepare themselves for a possible raid as well.”

“Yes, Commander!”

The darkly tanned knight took off like the wind alongside two others. Maxi wondered whether it was wise to only send a group of three. She was watching them leave, a look of concern etched on her face, when Kuahel Leon started down the hill with the remaining Temple Knights. The mages swiftly followed them toward the ravaged village.

“Stay close to me, my lady,” Ulyseon said, keeping a vigilant eye on their surroundings.

Maxi nodded and tried to ride as close to him as possible. At the same time, she summoned her mana in case she had to cast a barrier at a moment’s notice.

The Temple Knights climbed over the ruins of the fallen wall first and entered the village. A mixture of fear and nerves had taken over Maxi, making her forget about the cold. As she led Rem across the blackened soil, she warily swept her eyes over the houses turned to rubble. There was an arched stone entrance ahead, miraculously intact. They passed under it to find themselves on a desolate street littered with scorched wood. As they rode along, she realized in horror that the dark lumps strewn all over the village were the charred remains of its inhabitants.

Forcing down the urge to scream, she pulled Rem to a stop. The gruesome sight made her stomach turn.

“Could you use a tracing spell to search for survivors?” Kuahel Leon asked in an eerily calm voice.

When Maxi met his gaze, the detachment in his eyes seemed to quell her raging emotions. She steeled herself, trying to stop her legs from shaking, and dismounted.

“A-Anette… you search west. I will take the east.”

“All right.”

“I’ll cover the area around that church,” Armin said brusquely before walking toward the wreckage of a building with only a single wall standing.

Tugging Rem’s reins, Maxi cautiously made her way through the still-smoking rubble. When she reached a suitable spot, she began the tracing spell. It was a magic that essentially worked as a temporary contract between the caster and a gnome, an earth spirit. This would allow the caster to glean information within a set distance.

As soon as a gnome accepted her request, her mana pathway connected to the mana flowing underground. She felt her senses sharpen. Veins of mana spread out like a closely-knit web, allowing her to perceive nearly everything touching the ground. However, no matter how much she searched, she could not find any traces of human life. Maxi reluctantly stopped the spell.

“Th-There are no survivors… in this area.”

Anette strode over with her horse in tow and said grimly, “It is the same over there.”

Clinging to a shred of hope, Maxi looked to Armin, who was coming down the slope. He shook his head with a gloomy expression.

“We’ve searched the entire village but found no survivors. The ransackers also seem to be gone.”

Armin gravely looked up at Calto Serbel and Kuahel Leon.

“What do you intend to do now?”

As the de facto leader of this expedition, the commander of the Temple Knights was the one to reply. He surveyed the remains grimly.

“We cannot leave. We must take measures to purify the deceased, or this place will soon be teeming with the undead.”

“Then, we will have to camp here tonight,” Calto replied calmly.

Fear clouded Maxi’s face. The thought of spending the cold, pitch-black winter night amidst a horrific heap of burned corpses sent chills down her spine. Still, she was well aware that they had no other choice.

The party promptly lit fires all over the village and began gathering the dead. Snow still poured from the sky, and darkness was beginning to take over. Though they were exhausted from a full day’s ride, everyone worked without a moment of rest.

The mages managed to find a church that was still standing and, after sweeping away the ashes, set up their tents inside. Some even prepared a makeshift stable within a stone structure next to the church. Meanwhile, the Temple Knights purified the gathered bodies and buried them once they had conducted the rite.

Despite their efforts, the sheer number of casualties made gathering the dead before sunset next to impossible. When night eventually fell, they were forced to halt the purification and congregate inside the crumbling church to rest.

The knights returning from the reconnaissance stepped in, their faces grim. f𝔯𝒆𝑒we𝚋𝓃૦ν𝙚Ɩ. c૦m

“It appears the raiders have escaped north.”

The mages who had accompanied the knights added, “From the traces we found in the forest, we suspect it was a horde of red goblins. It’s winter, and early at that. They probably came to plunder food.”

Maxi, who sat hunched by the fire in a stupor of shock and fatigue, muttered, “But… but what about the burned sheep on the east side? Cows, swine, and horses, all burned alive as well. If it was food they were after… why do such a thing?”

“The carnage probably sent them into a frenzy,” Miriam retorted contemptuously. “Monsters are no better than beasts. You can’t expect logic from them. They are only capable of destruction, defecation, gluttony, and procreation.”

Maxi wanted to refute Miriam’s statement. Her experience in the war three years ago had taught her how shrewd and manipulative the monsters of the Ayin race could be. However, she was too tired to argue, so she simply pressed her lips together and pulled her blanket over her head in reply.

Throughout this exchange, Ulyseon had been seated on a nearby window sill that gave him a clear view of the outside. He addressed Maxi as he polished his sword.

“I shall stand guard, my lady, so please try to get some sleep.”

Maxi did not protest and lay down on a nest of straw. She had worried she would be unable to fall asleep in the middle of what was essentially a giant graveyard. That concern was quickly rendered moot as exhaustion took over her, and she soon found herself slumbering as deep as the dead.

There was no telling how long she slept, but she was eventually awakened by a shake. When she managed to open her dry eyes, it took a moment for her blurred vision to regain focus. Ulyseon’s ashen face came into view.

Maxi propped herself up on her elbow, a strange sense of déjà vu washing over her.

Ulyseon shook her by her shoulders. “Wake up, my lady! Monsters! We are surrounded!”


Instantly awake, Maxi shot to her feet. The other mages clambered up as well, pulling on boots and grabbing defensive weapons. Maxi hastily strapped on her protective gear and ran out of the building, only to be met by a chilling sight.

The sea of charred corpses in the dirt had staggered to their feet and was now tottering toward them. Maxi fought down a shriek.



In just the span of one night, the corpses they had been unable to purify had mutated into these creatures. Faced with hundreds of glowing red eyes flashing in the dark, Maxi found herself trembling.

Calto came running up behind her. He cried out, “Move the horses! Cast a barrier at once!”

Snapping back to her senses, she hurried to the makeshift stable and led the horses out. Sixty knights were already in position at the bottom of the hill, ruthlessly cutting down the ghouls moving in on them like a swarm of ants.