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Chapter 17: Sharp Teeth

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

Carmen’s mouth fell open. “You can talk?”

“You speak. Why can’t I?” the skeleton pointed out, its voice deep and monotonous.

Carmen watched the black mist gather around its throat pulse, as if mimicking vocal chords. However, its lungs remained empty, so it wasn’t true speech. Besides, proper sounds required both lips and tongues, and the skeleton had neither.

Was it pure magic after all?

“Ahhh.” She touched her throat, feeling the vibrations of her voice.

“This sound is produced through a spell,” the skeleton said, guessing her suspicions from her movements.

“Ah…I see. Forgive me, I was just surprised. I’ve never seen a talking skeleton before.”

The purple glow in the skeleton’s eyes glowed brighter. “You are only my second talking zombie. The first one is a zombie knight. However, you are by far the more talkative.”

Well, sorry. It was a habit she had developed from being by herself all day.

Anyways, that confirmed the existence of yet more knight-class undead. Every time she came by, she ran into at least one. Carmen groaned as she thought about the sheer amount of power Amaranthine Point could bring to bear if only something managed to unite and control all these undead.

“What about skeletons?”

“Many.”

Carmen blinked at the difference in the skeleton’s answers to the two questions. “Why so many skeletons and only one zombie?”

The skeleton laughed. “Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Of course it’s because zombies are weak. Of them, only zombie knights are worth talking to.”

“What do you have against zombies?”

“It is simply the truth.” The skeleton spread its arms, displaying its structure of bone. “Behold, the ultimate undead form. We are the pinnacle of undeath, unsullied by flesh. Flesh is weak, a relic of life. Only bone remains eternally after death.”

Even while boasting, its voice remained monotone and flat.

Carmen grimaced. Although the way the skeleton said it annoyed her since she was currently a zombie, she couldn’t argue with facts: skeletons were stronger than zombies.

In fact, their brief clash from earlier proved the skeleton’s point.

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She was a zombie at the cusp of becoming a zombie knight, while the skeleton was merely in the middle of its growth. Even though she didn’t have a weapon on her, it didn’t change the fact that the skeleton was already both faster and stronger than she was.

The skeleton wasn’t done. “That is not all. As zombies evolve, your flesh becomes more perfect, your skin more flawless.” He pointed a body finger at Carmen’s face. “In the end, you merely become more faithful imitations of life. How can you claim to be undead if you seek such weakness?”

Carmen touched her skin. “I like how it looks. I don’t particularly want to be all bones,” she said. “How will any girl like me then?”

“Girl? You seek living company? Shameful,” the skeleton growled. It lifted its sword, leveling with Carmen so that it stared down the edge at her. “Are you truly an undead? You feel like one, but I have never seen one that acts like you.”

For the first time, its voice grew even deeper until it rumbled. Carmen heard the interrogative suspicion in its voice. Before, it had been only the haughtiness afforded by the strong to the weak, but now there was hostility.

Carmen couldn’t figure out why.

“Of course I am. I’m a zombie,” she said, holding up her fingers. During their talk, her fingers were almost finished regenerating. Her pinky had been cut off at the first join, but now she only had the tip of her finger left to go.

At the sight, the skeleton’s purple eyes dimmed, and the hostility seemed to fade, although it did not lower its weapon. That made sense—even if they were both undead, they had been fighting a short while ago.

“By the way, what do you mean I don’t act like an undead?” she asked.

“You make excessive movements. You are predictable,” the skeleton said. “But most suspicious of all, you are abnormally expressive for a zombie that is not yet knight-class. You seem to possess true emotions, as unbelievable as that sounds.”

Carmen shrugged. “Well, I used to be human, so isn’t that natural?”

“What?”

The skeleton’s eyes flared to life again. “Pardon. Do my senses deceive me, or did you just say that you used to be human?”

“I…did,” Carmen said, taking a step back. All of a sudden, the skeleton seemed to be exerting a powerful pressure. “Is there something wrong with that? You’re the same, right?”

“No!” The skeleton’s voice was much louder now, despite remaining flat. Several skeletons and zombies on the streets turned. “Impure!”

Without even answering Carmen’s question, the skeleton grabbed its sword with both hands and pushed off the ground in a powerful leap toward her. It landed agilely on both feet, but the momentum from its leap remained.

The sword fell in an overhead chop, black mist trailing behind the slash like the tail of a meteor.

The moment Carmen saw the skeleton jump, she was already dodging, but the skeleton was too fast, too strong.

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She couldn’t completely dodge in time.

Instead of foolishly grabbing the edges of the blade like earlier, she clenched her fist.

At the same time as she stepped to the side away from the chop, she punched the side of the sword, bouncing it from its path. The slash, made with all of the skeleton’s strength, buried itself in the ground, shattering rock.

“Impossible,” the skeleton said.

It tried to pull back its weapon, but Carmen stomped down on the blade, burying it deeper into the flagstone streets, wrenching it from the skeleton’s grip.

Balancing precariously on the blade’s edge, she pivoted and kicked the skeleton, sending it flying. It was too light to crash through anything, so when it crashed into a wall, it merely slumped down on the ground, though it jumped to its feet before long.

By then, Carmen had already picked up the sword and was giving it a few test swings.

“It’s not bad. It’s a bit dull, though. Now then, it’s time to answer my question. What do you mean by impure?” she asked.

“You claim to be human. If that is not impure, then what is?” the skeleton asked. Its arms were dropped down on its side. Without its sword, it seemed much less keen to fight.

“No, I said I used to be a human; I have my memories from when I was a human,” she explained. “My soul is a human’s, although I’m in a zombie’s body.”

“I know what you speak of, zombie. You are impure,” the skeleton growled.

Carmen’s mouth twitched. It was too difficult talking with undead. “To start from the beginning: I was killed. When I died, my soul was captured by an undead raising spell and placed into this body,” she said. “Do you get it now?”

The skeleton’s bones clicked as it shook its head. “I know! But we undead are not powered by the souls of humans. Our bodies may be forged from their remains, but we are unique!” it growled. Its voice boomed. “Our existence is forged from nothingness, by undeath itself! And you, who are not, are IMPURE!”

Its jaws clacked as it trembled, staring up at the sky. After a long time, it finally looked down at her. The purple glow in its eyes flickered as it held up its arms as if ready for a fist fight.

Carmen readied her weapon.

At the moment the flickering in the skeleton’s eyes stopped, replaced by a solid bright glow, the skeleton burst forward, much faster than before now that it didn’t have to focus on handling the sword.

Despite its speed, it lacked a weapon while it must be wary of Carmen’s sword. It darted around, seeking for an opening, but Carmen left none as she kept her sword facing the skeleton.

When it dashed forward, bony fingers pressed together in a spear, Carmen swung her sword. Although the sword didn’t manage to cut through the skeleton’s bones, her following kick nonetheless connected and sent the skeleton flying once more.

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“I don’t understand. If you don’t have a human’s memories, then why is your swordsmanship so polished? I doubt you learned it here,” Carmen said.

She didn’t really expect an answer, but to her surprise, the skeleton hid nothing.

“The answer is simple. This body retains the essence of its life,” the skeleton said, placing its empty hands over its chest. “By being raised in this body and becoming aware of my own existence, I have attained this body’s essence.”

“Essence? What do you mean?” she asked.

“A false undead like you would not understand,” the skeleton said. Its eyes glowed. Without another word, it turned and jumped onto the roof of the building behind it.

“Wait!” Carmen called, but the skeleton ignored her. With swiftness born of powerful legs and a light frame of only bones, it disappeared behind the house.

Carmen slowly lowered her reaching hands and looked at the sword she had gotten. It was rusty, but somehow, it managed to cut her and even managed to cause her pain. How did the skeleton do it?

When she was a holy knight, she imbued her sword with her holy mana, but now that she was an undead, holy mana was her antithesis…

“…No way, right? Maybe?” she muttered. She held out her hand. Black mist poured out of her palm, congealing into a sphere that floated over her hand. “Purification.”

As Carmen uttered the name of the spell, she constructed it as she always did. The black ball of undead mana didn’t move. She was about to give up when a bright light seemed to shine through the inky darkness and the congealed mana exploded—annihilated, turning into pure mana that melted into the world.

The explosion took with it her hand.

Carmen stared at her stub speechlessly before she let her arm drop to the side like nothing happened, instead turning to look around. Her surroundings had gone silent, with every single undead turning to stare at her.

Finally, one of the undead, a zombie, moaned and staggered toward her.

Carmen could only raise her sword with her remaining arm, backing up into an alley as the zombies and skeletons began closing in on her. Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any higher undead mixed in the group, or she’d be in trouble.

The only ones that had been close enough to sense her creating holy mana were these weak, lesser undead.

As long as it stayed that way, this development wasn’t unwelcome.

The reason she was here was to evolve. Whether she had to chase her prey or they came to her of their own volition didn’t matter. Doing it this way even saved her some trouble.

Resolving to fight a boring battle, Carmen nonetheless licked her lips in anticipation. It was about time she completed her evolution.

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At the same time as she directed most of her mana toward regenerating her left hand, she poured the rest of it into her right that held the sword. From there, she imagined the sword as an extension of her body and pushed mana into it.

Slowly, a black aura covered the sword, much like what the skeleton did, only much more rudimentary. She didn’t have any time to develop anything more efficient or sophisticated on the spot.

Satisfied with her weapon, Carmen lashed out at the zombies that stumbled into the alley. Compared to the skeleton earlier, the zombies were as slow as molasses.

For each undead, she gave three cuts: one to decapitate and two more sever the arms at the shoulders. Soon, headless and armless bodies that had lost their balance clogged up the narrow entrance of the alley, forming a small mound. When undead tried to climb up the mound to get at Carmen, the thrashing legs made them lose their balance. They fell, becoming part of the pile of bodies that rapidly became unscalable.

Safe behind the wall of bodies, Carmen stabbed the sword into the ground and reached out with her hand.

Mist that had been wreathed around the sword’s blade pulled free and poured toward the mountain of bodies instead. Through the black mist, Carmen sensed the minds of several zombies.

One by one, she drove a stake into their minds, forcing them to bend to her will. Even natural zombies belong to their own hordes, and by driving that stake into the zombies mind, she severed their connection with their previous horde and pulled them into hers.

As she converted the zombies one by one, she continuously issued a single command over and over again. Offer your mana to me. Offer your mana to me!

Without hesitation, the zombies gave up their entire being, wiping out their own existence. Pure undead energy flowed into Carmen, easily making up for her losses. Even her hand began to regenerate faster, new flesh growing at a visible pace.

“So that’s how zombie knights regenerate so quickly. They steal their subordinate’s mana,” Carmen said. Before long, her left hand was as good as new, pale and slender.

The mana within her surged. Her strength, which had been stagnant for so long, began to grow again. It pushed up against that wall, that threshold of strength. Carmen closed her eyes, internalizing all that mana, until finally, she broke past the limit.

Like a river flowing through a collapsing damage, her strength rocketed up, coasting on the unending mana that flowed into her. Even more mana leaked out from her body, swirling around her until it wrapped her in a cocoon, hiding her from the world.

At the sight of the huge ball of darkness, even being in the mere vicinity of it, the frenzies undead that had been trying so desperately to reach Carmen faltered and trembled.

One by one, they fell to the ground, unable to move before the majesty of a higher undead.

Minutes, or perhaps even hours passed by, and the cocoon cracked at last.

Carmen opened her eyes. The world around her was dark, and she felt safe where she was, curled up enclosed by the comforting darkness. However, her instincts told her that this wasn’t a place she should be staying.

Although she didn’t want to, Carmen trusted her instincts. Reaching with her hand, she felt her fingers brush up against something. With just a little pressure, the wall she pushed against cracked. Rays of moonlight poured in, cutting through the darkness.

Carmen squinted as her eyes adjusted to the new light.

Her hand in the darkness looked…different. Her fingers looked slimmer, longer. There were other differences, but there was too little light so she couldn’t see well.

She got to her feet, each of her movement breaking off large pieces of the black shell. As the pieces fell to the ground, they disappeared into wisps of black that flowed toward her, disappearing into her body.

“Where am I?” Carmen looked around, taking in the sight around her. Walls on three sides of her, a mountain of bodies in front. “Oh, Amaranthine Point. I had been trying to evolve. Did I succeed then?”

She looked at her hands again, turning them over in the moonlight. It hadn’t been an illusion; her fingers really were longer. Not only that, her eye level changed too, getting a little higher.

“I grew taller!” She gasped. “Not by much, but I grew taller!”

That was a huge weight off her shoulders. Undead, being dead bodies, didn’t grow taller. Carmen had been worried that she’d be stuck forever in that little girl’s body, but the Gods had not forsaken her.

“Let’s see, with my height now, I should be…about the same as Victoria? Hmm”

Hmm? Carmen paused, a bad feeling coming over her.

The same height as Victoria.

Her mouth quivered and her lips felt dry all of a sudden. Naturally, she licked her lips to wet it, and as she did so, her tongue swiped over two things in her mouth that happened to be long and pointy.



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