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 Ashtehar kneeled down and inspected the soil: 'The trail is fresh, but I don't sense him anywhere. Where could they have gone?' He sighed and examined the other pieces of evidence. 'The soul shard should have sent him back to me by now.'

'Have faith in him,' his voice said.

'Yes goddess,' he thought as he stood up. The trees were scratched up but they were too old for them to be from a battle. 'There was a fight, but I should at least sense the victor. They couldn't have; gotten far. That means this was between two non-magical beings and that these footprints aren't Oliver's. I wish I had some tracking skills.' It was almost as if his disciple disappeared in the middle of their fight. He looked around, stopping when he noticed a covering of vines. While from first glance it looked natural, he could have sworn something was moving underneath it.

...

"He's looking right at us," Oliver whispered as he crouched behind his chair.

"Be quiet," Doevm whispered back. "We can't take him on right now or else we'll get killed. Just wait for him to pass by us." A bead of sweat went down his cheek.

'If I had a couple more years, I could take him on. All I need is more mana. While I could use that light spell, he could see and dodge it before it forms. I can't seal his mana like I did to Oliver's and mine because he has more than me. I'd die if I went out there.' He slowly backed away from the entrance, pulling Oliver with him. He clamed his breathing and his rapid heart.

...

Ashtehar walked towards the bottom of the cave and felt the wall. 'This has scratches too, and more recent. It's like I just missed them.' He put a hand on the wall, ready to climb, but a sound from behind him made him turn around and get into a stance. "Who are you?"

In front of him was a man dressed in all black that he had never seen before. The man bowed and said, "Ashtehar, the captain has been waiting for an update. I have been waiting for months, ready for you to deliver a report. You only need to tell us Marcus's formation."

"He's the sp-" Oliver said before Doevm covered his mouth and put a finger to his own lips.

Ashtehar clicked his tongue at the man: "Get lost, I'm looking for my disciple right now." He took a step up the wall.

The man bowed again: "I'm sorry Ashtehar, the captain needs this information for the final battle tomorrow with the Acrin kingdom. I must insist."

Ashtehar hopped back on the ground. "Fine, if you must know, Marcus plans on going to the graveyard site in five flat line formations, over in the west side of the forest. My advice is to get several squads ready to ambush. In return, I need Doevm dead or my sect will pull its support."

"One more thing." The man kept bowing since Ashtehar clearly wanted to ascend into the wall. "The captain needs a reason that you have been so quiet. For ten months, you have said nothing to us. Were you compromised?"

"No," Ashtehar snarled. "That damned captain tightened security. It took me months to make a pathway for myself so I could come out in secret. I've been gathering information on squads and their capabilities in all this time. Although there have been some promotions like a partial Elf named Hopi ascending to squad leader and Wade getting his own squad, there has been nothing major." He pulled a folder from under his robe and handed it to the man. "This should explain everything in detail." The man bowed and left.

Ashtehar took one last look up the vines and sighed. He ran further away from the wall. Doevm and Oliver looked at each other. "Aren't you supposed to be strong?" Oliver asked. "Why can't you take on Ashtehar? You saved me?" It wasn't meant as an insult but Doevm still frowned.

'Should I kill him?' Doevm thought. 'While I would like to do a few more experiments on him, I have gathered everything I needed from him. Dead, he can't help me fight against Ashtehar. Living, he could tell others about my identity and get the mage association after me. What if I just kill him after he helps me kill Ashtehar? No, I don't think I can pull that off in secret. He is a risk either way. I might as well go for the option that has a greater likelihood of benefiting me.'

'But he's a human,' the Lich interrupted his thoughts. 'He cannot be trusted. Even if you've saved him, someday he'll turn on you. You can do everything he can. What is the point of keeping him around? So you can keep up appearances? Why practice healing magic if you're not going to use it?'

'You know damn well why I'm hiding,' Doevm resisted the urge to say those words out loud. He took a second to calm himself. 'Sorry. Over time my emotions are getting stronger than I've ever experienced before. Oliver is practice. Over time, if he shows side effects, I won't use my solution.'

'Solution to what?' The Lich practically screamed as its skeletal hands flew about. 'What have you spent the past ten months trying to do? You've even stopped growing in life essence because you accepted use of magic in combat. If before you were useless, now you're just an obstacle for yourself and me.'

Doevm shook his head and the Lich vanished. "I don't have enough mana," he said. Oliver would have laughed if it wasn't so sad. "I need a team to take him on. You're the first member."

Oliver backed off and held his hands up: "I'm not fighting him. He's going to kill me. H-He beats me every-"

"I don't care," Doevm smacked him. "Doesn't that hurt?" He smacked him again. "What are you going to do about it?" his hand flew at Oliver again, who ducked this time. "Good, you at least have a little bit of spine, even though it's twisted and deformed."

Oliver glared at Doevm from under the darkness of his hood. Doevm knocked the hood off: "You will fight with me because Ashtehar is your problem. He was the one who dragged you into this mess wasn't he?" Oliver nodded, but still showed a little hesitation. "And what happens if I don't kill Ashtehar?" Oliver's gaze went to the floor. "So are you going to help me or what?"

"But," Oliver bit his lip, trying to decide what to do. "But you're a Lich. How can I trust you? You did save my life and I am grateful, but you tortured me and keep talking about me like I'm just a toy to you. Why should I follow you?"

Doevm smacked Oliver again forced him to look outside. "Look out there. What do you fear? What is your worst nightmare that's hiding out there in the dark? Is it me, a Lich, or is it Ashtehar? Their sect manipulated you, tried to turn you into one of their puppets all for that damned goddess, and you're not sure if you should resist them? I will treat you like crap but at least I won't control you."

"I get it," Oliver pried Doevm's hands away and pulled his hood over his head. "I'll join your team. Now let's go tell Marcus."

"Tell him what?"

Oliver cocked his head to the side. "About Ashtehar being a traitor and the trap?"

Doevm pulled Oliver out of the cave by his sleeve. "That information is not enough. We are accusing a mage of high standing of being a traitor. To do that, we can't just point fingers and proclaim we are in the right and no one is allowed to ask questions. We need proof. Luckily for us, I know where to get it."

He dragged Oliver through the forest to the west side of the forest, stopping when they reached a clearing. "This is our proof." Doevm gestured to the surrounding dirt.

"I don't see anything," Oliver said, squinting to get a view of whatever invisible thing he was supposed to be looking at. "It's just a normal clearing. Is this where Marcus plans to attack?"

"Probably," Doevm said. "If we had gone ahead and tried to accuse Ashtehar, this would have been our proof: nothing. Ashtehar said something about a graveyard. What does that make you think of?"

"The Undead," Oliver said. "So there should be a hidden Ghoul nest out here, like the one you fell into?"

"Probably not," Doevm kept sighing so much that his head was getting light. "Battles are fought in the day. Ghouls only come out at night. That means the "graveyard" was code for something." He pointed to the right side of the field. "You go search the vegetation out there and I'll search the left side." They separated and chopped at the shrubs.

As Oliver looked for something which he knew nothing about, he couldn't help but take glances at Doevm. 'Is this a Lich? He seems to act odd, but that's all. He's nothing like I imagined when Ashtehar described him.' He felt around his head, where it finally felt peaceful for the first time since joining the sect. 'And what did he do to me? He said something about my soul and even seemed happy to help fix my soul, like he had just saved himself from something. Maybe he's not as bad as I thought.'

After he finished looking through one bush, he walked to inspect another. He bent down, leaned forward to part its branches, and fell. He screamed and flailed around for less than a second until he hit solid ground again. Doevm ran over: "Are you ok down there?"

"Yeah," Oliver tried to heal himself, but his mana was still sealed from whatever Doevm did to him. He rubbed his sore back. Around him was a space twice as big as his room of solid earth. There was a single entrance hidden under a bush, which he had unwittingly fallen through. Doevm hopped down and helped Oliver to his feet. "What is this?" Oliver thought out loud. "I know my master...Ashtehar, said graveyard, but this is much to big for a grave."

"It's not a grave," Doevm said. "It's a hiding place for setting up an ambush. This space is wide enough to fit a squad." He walked over to one of the walls and struck it. Bits of dirt fell from the ceiling, but the place stood firm. He frowned, "This place was called a graveyard, meaning there should be more than one "Grave"" He walked out of the hole and inspected more bushes along with Oliver. "Found another," Doevm's faint voice called.

Oliver hurried over to find Doevm in another "Grave," which had the exact same dimensions as the previous. Doevm hopped out of it and cursed. "We need to hurry." Since they were in a clearing, he was able to look up at the sky, which the moon was halfway across. After an hour, they had found every single grave.

...

"You're telling me there were ten of these graves?" Marcus asked Doevm and Oliver, who had woken him in the middle of the night. The side of his face was red since he had fallen asleep on his desk. He pulled out the map and examined the placement of the figures. "This is bad," He mumbled. "Tomorrow's battleground is not avoidable. While it may not look like much, it's an essential supply route. Since carriages can't move around easily in this forest, these clearings are all essential. If it's taken over, we can't get food anymore. Our army will stave" He called someone in. "Go check on the battlefield for holes." The scout bowed and left.

"Assuming this is true," Marcus said, "We can't call the battle off but I'm not sure I can think of a solution. Off the top of my head we can send our troops in the holes and then ambush the enemy when they try to enter them but then the enemy will barricade our own troops in them. Then they really will be graves. We can fill the holes but that will take too much time. Even changing our formation won't amount to much. There should have been guards patrolling that area..." He cursed and mumbled various things to himself while Oliver and Doevm stood there, unsure of what they should do.

"I have an idea," Doevm said. "This way our troops will be saved, and we can even win the battle." He pointed to the figures. "May I move them?"

"Wade said you were smart," Marcus said. "I'll hear you out." After Doevm explained his plan, the captain laughed. "It seems his judgement wasn't wrong. This is brilliant. I'll send troops down there immediately with shovels and make-shift tubes to breathe through."

"You can't be serious?" Oliver nearly coughed up blood. "I'm not going down there. We'll be trampled to death! What about the distraction? How am I supposed to make a magic circle that big?"

"Fake it," Doevm shrugged. "It doesn't need to work, only to distract the enemies."

'I was wrong,' Oliver thought. 'Only a Lich could think of something so dangerous and label it as good! It's too late to back off now.'

"The only issue now is Ashtehar," Marcus said.

"No worries," Doevm shrugged. "Just send him with the rest of our mages to engage the enemy mages somewhere else. They should be hiding in wait. If we pit the mages against each other, they will essentially cancel each other out. It will only be down to our normal troops fighting each other." As he talked, the scout from earlier came in and whispered something to Marcus.

Marcus nodded. "Very well, my scout just confirmed your words. While I would love to admonish Ashtehar, I'd rather keep him in the dark. If we confront him, we'll lose a lot of troops that we need for the battle. We'll deal with him later. I'll inform three of my most trusted squads to hide as you advised. One more thing before I announce this to everyone: are you sure you want to be the bait in this plan?"

"Yes," Doevm agreed, but he wasn't happy. "I need to be promoted. This is the fastest way to do it."

"Very well." Marcus handed Doevm and Oliver the orders. "Then I'll see you all on the battlefield tomorrow. Go get some sleep."

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