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Chapter 15: A Possible Truth

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

Instead of following the winding path that led from the mine to Moltrost, Carmen cut straight through the forest. With her running speed as a pseudo zombie knight and tireless stamina, she could easily reach Moltrost before the sun set, but she was in no hurry.

Instead, she acted like she was taking a walk, stopped every now and then to take a closer look at wildflowers.

It’s not like Carmen has never been in a forest. On missions, she often camped out in the forest when she needed to intercept her opponents while they escaped. Being on a mission didn’t offer much time to enjoy her environment either.

She snapped the stem of a mysterious red flower she couldn’t identify and brought it up to her nose. The scent was sweet and a little intoxicating, but it was faint. “My nose still doesn’t work too well, huh?”

Carmen picked out the white crystal her mother—Victoria had given her. A bit of black tainted the otherwise pristine clarity.

Until she became a true zombie knight, she wouldn’t be able to truly experience again what it was like to be human.

Except for her eyes, most of her other senses were dulled. Sounds were muffled, scents muted. Her fingers, when touching something, always felt like there was a dull barrier between her and the item. Her sense of taste didn’t seem to work at all.

The easiest way to complete her evolution was to absorb the energy sealed within this crystal. There was enough mana to forcibly break through, but Carmen was reluctant to use it, even if she wasn’t sure exactly why.

“Whatever. This is sufficient for now. I can just visit one of the desecrated sites later and find a few undead.”

Carmen took a break from her walk. Even though she didn’t need one, it just felt right.

There was a rather large tree nearby with roots that jutted out. She walked over and sat on the root, being careful to not let her dress touch the ground. Settled, she took out the map she permanently borrowed from Orlog and looked it over again.

“I’m probably here. The Order is there, so…” Mumbling to herself, Carmen tried to remember where the desecrated sites were in this region, but the map was so badly drawn she was having a hard time doing so.

“Hmm. Speaking of the Order, it’s about time for their fall cleansing, isn’t it? I wonder how they’re getting on.”

The Order she used to serve was known as the Templar Order of the Clouds, or the Cloud Order.

Every year, right around the time for the Fall Blessing, she’d conduct a fall cleansing. She’d lead a team and go around the region sweeping through the smaller desecration sites to cleanse the accumulated zombies.

Arvel claimed that conducting a fall cleansing will guarantee a good harvest that year, but as far as Carmen was concerned, Arvel was just pulling her leg. Still, she didn’t really mind the extra work, and killing undead was better than sitting around.

“Do they still hold that tradition, I wonder. If they do, then this is pretty bad timing,” she muttered. “Hopefully I don’t run into a team before I evolve. If they’re anything like me, they’ll stab me first and ask questions later.”

From an undead’s point of view, Carmen had to admit that she was a bit too…zealous, perhaps. Undead weren’t all bad—she was a good undead, for example.

After studying the map, she finally remembered the location of a nearby site. It was a bit far, but it wasn’t too bad. At worst, it will delay her arrival to Moltrost by a week or so at her current pace.

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Putting both the crystal and the map away, she looked up at the sky to check her directions and set off toward the desecration site.

The only things that ruined her enjoyment of the walk was the way the wildlife seemed to fall silent with her passage. All day long, she didn’t hear a single large animal and even the birds avoided her.

Her walk was in dead silence, broken only by the sound of her walking through the foliage.

As a lower level undead, Carmen couldn’t fully control the undead mana that ran through her body. It constantly leaked and spread around her. Just like she could sense the living, the more primal living beings could also sense her, and they avoided her out of instinct.

Just when she was sure that until she evolved, she was doomed to not see anything else, the bushes rustled somewhere to her right. “Hm? An animal? No, this is…”

Rather than a large animal, Carmen sensed the presence of another undead. “An undead out here? Did that Fleur girl lose one? Wait, Fleur?”

She bit her lips. The name sounded so familiar, just as that girl’s face had been familiar. “Fleur…Fleur. Ah!”

Carmen knocked on her own head. How could she have forgotten? Fleur was that girl that was always with Arvel. When she left to join the campaign, Fleur had been so much smaller.

At the time, Fleur was still a novice, just a trainee instead of an acolyte.

Carmen grimaced. “She sure grew up quickly. I’m glad I didn’t manage to hurt her. Honestly though, why did it take so long for me to remember? I didn’t remember fighting Ismelda back then either. Are my memories incomplete?”

She couldn’t think of anything she had forgotten, which made sense. It was a bit frustrating though.

While it was fortunate that Carmen hadn’t hurt Fleur, there was another side of the coin to everything. Namely, the fact that she had lost to a little girl she watched grow up.

Oh, the embarrassment. Carmen covered her face.

Still, the realization that the acolyte was the same girl as Fleur brought up some implications that Carmen hadn’t wanted to consider. Fleur probably served under Arvel, so was Arvel a part of this undead labour debacle?

Her old friend, summoning undead…she couldn’t really imagine it.

“I have to ask him…”

As Carmen was lost in her thoughts, the zombie came closer. However, its moans and the ruckus it was making brought her back. She watched as it staggered between the trees, tripping over roots. Their paths crossed a little further ahead.

The zombie didn’t seem to have noticed her. Or rather, it didn’t seem to have the mental capacity to notice her.

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Did it lose its purpose since it was so far from the gem of control?

Since Fleur lost a zombie, Carmen didn’t mind cleaning up a bit after her. She continued at her own pace and the zombie continued at its own pace. Finally, as she predicted, the zombie stumbled in front of her.

She paused, considering how best to kill it without dirtying her clothes too much. Unlike the tatters she wore in the mines, the clothes she had on now were clean and a gift from Victoria. Walking through the forest in them was already the limit she was willing to go.

Carmen resolved to buy a set of clothes she didn’t mind getting dirty when she reached Moltrost.

“Okay. Let’s go with this.” She rolled up her sleeves and as the zombie passed her, she grabbed the back of the zombie’s neck and lifted its whole body up, or at least she tried to. Carmen frowned.

The zombie was too tall. Her plan wouldn’t work.

Signing and resigning herself to getting a bit dirtier, Carmen slammed the zombie into the ground before she stepped on and broke all of its limbs to make it stay down.

Although it would eventually heal its broken bones if she left it alone, she wouldn’t give it the chance. Black mist burst out from her body and stabbed into the zombie’s mind, destroying its resistance and forcing it to become her thrall.

Stop!

At her command, the zombie stopped struggling. She knelt and placed her hand on the center of its back. A black mist rose from the zombie’s body to wrap around her arm.

She stood up. In her hands was a writhing black mass, pulled out from the zombie’s body. As the black mass detached from the zombie, it became an ordinary corpse, losing all signs of undeath.

Here in the forest, it would eventually decompose and return to the natural order of life.

Carmen looked at the black mass in her hand. “As I expected, it’s much easier this way. I don’t even have to allow my vampire side to come out. It’s too late now, though.” She shook her head.

Rather than forcibly tearing out the zombie’s undead mana as it was resisting, like she had been doing in the mines, it was easier to first dominate the zombie and have it willingly offer up its mana.

Harvested this way, the mana was both docile and easier to absorb, like the mana contained in the crystal Victoria gave her.

Closing her eyes, she let the mana enter her body and she felt herself grow stronger. Unfortunately, that feeling of strength soon faded. She felt like she had hit a wall, a limit to her strength that prevented her from becoming a true zombie knight.

She needed more power to break through. It couldn’t be power that trickled in either.

Instead, it has to be a torrent of power entering her all at once to crack open that wall.

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Her only choices now was that crystal from her mother, or that site of desecration. Making the detour had been a good decision.

Stretching, Carmen made the most of that lingering feeling of strength to refresh herself and continued her walk, leaving the corpse behind.

She thought about burying it, but taking into account her clothes, she thought better of the idea. “I really changed. I would have definitely buried him in the past, but now, it just feels like too much trouble.”

It was like she had lost respect for humanity as a whole.

The change should have been worrying, but right now, to Carmen, it felt wrong to worry about it. If anything, placing human life on such a pedestal was unnatural. Even left alone, the world will reclaim the corpse.

The walk remained uneventful. The forest seemed endless, but continued to remain silent. It was like she was in the center of a moving bubble that erased any signs of life. The only things that broke the monotony of the greenery was the occasional stream or river that took a bit more effort to cross.

Carmen grew to look forward to seeing the next stream. The sound of rushing water, bubbling and splashing, was like music to her ears. Not only that, she sometimes even sees fish swimming through the water, though they avoided her like usual when she dipped her hand into the river.

“Come to think of it, these are the first living beings I’ve seen in over a week aside from Fleur and Orlog,” she murmured. The thought was strange, since she had always imagined that life was ubiquitous.

To not see a single animal for so long, not even a single rat in the tunnels, was unsettling, even if she knew the reason.

Instead of stopping to sleep when the dusk set, Carmen traveled through the night. The silver moon that bathed the forest in white light. Some flowers that remained closed during the day bloomed when struck by moonlight, opening in brilliant colors that made the forest at night nearly as vibrant as it had been during the day.

“The world is beautiful,” Carmen muttered.

All these sights that she had casted aside in favor of her holy mission—she had missed so much. Had she remained a holy knight, would she ever have thought to enjoy the forest like this? Forests weren’t just an obstacle to the march. It was another part of the natural world that did not revolve around humanity.

Right before Victoria turned her into a vampire, she had given her these words: “Experience the truth for yourself.”

Was this another “truth” that she referred to?

Carmen knelt next to another flower that hung down like a bell. When she tapped it, pollen fell down, glowing in the moonlight. It looked no less holy, or sacred, than the golden light of the Gods.

Compared to the world around her, she was the odd one out, isolated from everything else. In a world where the cycle contained both life and death, undeath remained an abnormality. Yet, it’s only because of this abnormality that she was experiencing all this.

“I…” she began, but trailed off.

She had no words. Or rather, she needed no words.

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Stepping around the patch of bell-shaped flowers, Carmen resumed her walk in silence, her eyes never ceasing to move. The forest was no longer monotonous, but filled with wonders, even if she could only see half of it.

Before she realized it, Carmen finally managed to catch sight of the grand towers of an ancient stronghold peeking out from over treetops. The battlements were crumbling, worn down by the merciless grinding of time. Around the fortress, the world was even emptier of wildlife than usual. However, everything was not silent.

Under the silvery light of the full moon, howls of zombies filled the air.



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