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Chapter 23: Carmen

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

The skeleton stepped out of the smoke, dragging its hammer behind him. With no flesh or skin, the skeleton could make no expressions, yet its toothy grin seemed mocking to Carmen’s glaring eyes.

“Weak One. I apologize. It seems you are strong, at least compared to other zombie knights. However, you are still weak compared to us.”

“Hmph. Call me what you want, I don’t care. What’s your name?” Carmen asked. She pointed her sword at the skeleton’s head face. “As a knight-class undead, you must have been given a name.”

“I do not give my name to the weak but…I will make an exception for you, since you are quite the exception. My name is Maelplos. Take it with you to oblivion.”

“Call me Carmen. I’m returning every one of those words to you.” Carmen smiled, her lips pressed tightly together. “Watch and regret ever coming after me.”

Pushing off the ground, she charged toward Maelplos, who raised its weapon in anticipation. Out here on the streets, the situation was a lot more favorable to her. She had plenty of places to dodge. Weaving around zombies, she drew close to Maelplos.

As it smashed down with its hammer, Carmen stepped to the side and ducked beneath its guard, slashing at its armpit where the armor was thinner. However, her blade merely clanked off its armor. “Missed.”

Without waiting to try again, she ran away from the skeleton, mixing into the lesser undead crowd before Maelplos could turn around.

“Do not hide. All it will do is prolong your death.”

Their eyes met and Maelplos charged toward her, swinging its hammer, knocked aside the zombies and lesser skeletons in its path. The huge hammer crashed toward Carmen, and at the last second she jumped, letting the hammer crash into the ground beneath her.

Holding the sword with both hands, she slammed the blade into the skeleton’s exposed head. Black smoke billowed from the edge of the sword, dancing in the air where the sword had traveled.

The skeleton’s skull should have been split in two. It would have if Carmen been able to properly imbue her sword with mana. But instead of cleaving through Maelplos’s skull, Carmen’s sword simply slid along the surface of the bone before catching on the horn.

“Damn.” Cursing, Carmen kicked off the skeleton’s chest, barely avoiding being grabbed.

She stared at her sword, at the thin wisps of black mist and smoke. If only she could master that imbuement. Without it, she couldn’t kill a skeleton knight even if it stood there for her to cleave.

How did other undead learn how to imbue their equipment? Even Maelplos’s hammer was filled with the undead mana of a few spells Carmen couldn’t identify, but reinforcement was one of them for sure.

As she faced off with Maelplos, planning their next moves, she tried again and again to imbue her weapon, only to fail each time. She gnashed her teeth as once again the mist that had been wrapped around the sword drifted away into thin air.

Finally, she gave up. If she couldn’t do it, then she’ll just have to keep trying while in battle. Explosions sounded on the other side of the houses in the next street over as the two knight-classes joined the battle, but Carmen tuned them out.

There were now only three outcomes to this battle.

First, Barsig’s team is wiped out, and she runs.

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Second, Barsign’s team retreats, and she runs.

Third, Barsig’s team wins and helps her kill Maelplos.

One against one, there was no way she would die against Maelplos as long as something unfortunate didn’t happen. In every scenario, all she had to do was hold out, and then a new option opened up for her.

Resolving to draw out the battle and stall Maelplos for as long as she could, Carmen began to circle it. If the chance to land a solid blow opened up to her, she’d take it, but victory was no longer her main goal.

As if having enough of her circling, Maelplos raised its hammer and charged at her. Its speed was phenomenal if a bit linear. To remain unpredictable, Carmen charged straight at the zombie. The moment before impact, Carmen ducked, tumbling around Maelplos’s legs. The hammer swung horizontally above her head, meant to catch her if she jumped. Too bad she did the opposite thing Maelplos expected.

Rolling to an upright position, Carmen sprang forward onto the skeleton’s back. Having just made an attack and having a light body in the first place, she managed to topple Maelplos. They both crashed into the ground, Maelplos’s armor clanking.

In a flash, Carmen had Maelplos in an arm lock without even realizing what she was doing.

By the time her action registered, she hurriedly dropped Maelplos’s arm and grabbed her sword, jumping away. The instant before she jumped, she suddenly felt the powerful aura of an undead coming from right behind her.

A sword sliced through the air, and had she been a tiny bit slower, if she insisted on keeping Maelplos in a lock, her upper body would have been separated from her lower.

Landing in a crouch, she stared at her attacker. However, she did not recognize it. It was another knight-class skeleton knight, wielding a single longsword in both hands. It was much like her own, but with less rust.

Had one of the new arrivals in the other battle on the other street come here? No.

Carmen sensed four knight-class signatures fighting against Barsig’s team. This one was another knight-class who approached while hiding its aura. “Who are you?” she demanded.

Without answering her, the skeleton raised its sword and swung it at her. Concentrating, Carmen managed to parry the slash, sending it veering off course. In the same stroke, she stabbed at its head, once again imbuing her sword with mana. She half expected her sword to bounce off again and her eyes widened as her sword carved a shallow groove on its skull.

This one was soft. It seemed much weaker than Maelplos too, as if it was a newly evolved skeleton knight…

A sword wielding skeleton who wished to kill her…

As she blocked a powerful overhead chop from the skeleton knight’s sword, she stumbled back. As expected, she was still too weak to contest a skeleton knight’s strength.

“Could you be the skeleton that I took this blade from?” she asked as she regained her balance. “No, you can’t be. That skeleton was a long way from evolving when we last met.”

She threw out the bait, and all that remained was for it to be bitten. The skeleton knight fell for it.

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“Evolution is nothing before the Greatest, Yazartho, who has bequeathed to me my new strength. You impure zombie, die and become my stepping stone,” the skeleton said. Its voice was the same as it had been when Carmen first stole its sword.

Its appearance changed too, but not by much. It was slightly taller, with one less set of ribs and spikes on its arms, but otherwise the sword skeleton looked the same as a normal human.

Maelplos, who was watching them from behind the sword skeleton, looked more like the bones of an ogre in comparison.

“Hmph. So you lost to me and went crying to your leader. And now you found a bunch of helpers since you can’t beat me alone, right? Little skeleton.” Carmen added the last two words just to annoy the skeleton. However, normal undead did not feel emotions, so it was wasted effort.

The skeleton’s eyes grew brighter. “The Greatest has bestowed to me the name of Saevar and you’ll do well to call me that,” he said, his tone as even as ever. “You’re also wrong. I did not call for helpers. They overheard my conversation with the Greatest and came to steal my merits.”

Saevar half turned and stared at Maelplos. “Leave. Now that I’ve arrived, return my prey to me.”

“No. However, you may attempt to take her life before I do so,” Maelplos rumbled and hefted its hammer.

As both of the skeleton knights turned toward her, Carmen backed away. Maelplos was slow with its hammer, but Saevar was just as fast or faster than herself. Fighting both at once was going to be difficult if she didn’t find a way to distract them. Her mind flew as she tried to come up with something, finally settling on a question that she still needed answered.

Parrying Saevar and dodging Maelplos’s ground shattering hammer blow, she tried to voice her question without splitting her own attention and killing herself.

Once, when she opened her mouth to speak, Saevar almost decapitated her. She managed to duck under the slash and counter, slamming her blade into Saevar’s neck. Like before, she managed to cut a little of the bone, but failed to go all the way through.

By the time she dragged open the distance between her and Saevar again, the crack in its spine was already regenerating. Staring hatefully at how her hard work was being undone so easily, Carmen took a deep breath and took advantage of the lull in battle.

“The reason you are both after me is because I am ‘impure,’ right? What exactly does impure mean?” She spat out the question as fast as she could and followed with a charge against Saevar. Compared to Maelplos who she couldn’t even scratch, Saevar was a much more attractive target.

Her sword clashed again and again with Saevar’s, their strikes blurring. When she saw out of the corner of her eyes a large shadow looming, she dodged out of the way, just in time for Saevar to take the full brunt of Maelplos’s hammer smash without even the chance to block.

The sword skeleton knight flew down the street, bowling over some newly risen zombies before it tumbled to a stop.

With the annoying one gone, Carmen turned to the towering Maelplos, who looked utterly unconcerned that it might have just killed its friend.

“Well? Will you answer me?”

The skeleton thought for a moment before it nodded. “Yes, Weak One. You have the right to know of your crimes. An Impure One is an undead who claims to be formerly of the living. They claim to remember a previous life. In other words, they are ‘impure.’”

Carmen nodded. So there were others like her, but she probably won’t find one here.

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It was a strange relief to find out that she wasn’t unique. But what exactly was the difference between an impure and an undead who absorbed the essence of its body?

What caused an impure to come into being?

The more questions that were answered, the more other questions surface, each harder to answer than the others. She didn’t think that Maelplos would know. If anything, she should be asking that skull lich.

But there was one more thing that Maelplos should have the answer to.

“Why do we ‘impure’ undead have to die?”

Maelplos raised its hammer. “Impure Ones often sympathize with the living. They are a threat to our order, a thorn in our sides, a traitor in the making. Impure Ones must be purged.”

The hammer descended and Carmen flipped back to avoid it. Instead of attacking Maelplos, she turned and charged toward Saevar. The sword skeleton knight had just stood up and was looking around for its sword.

Like Carmen was going to give it the chance to regain its weapon.

“Die!”

She slashed toward the skeleton. Right now, Saevar was extremely fragile. She could see unhealed fractures all over its body. She didn’t even need to aim that well.

As Saevar tried to block her sword with its arm, the force of Carmen’s swing forced the fractures to widen but not break.

“Another!” She was about to slash again when the shadows once again alerted her to Maelplos’s incoming attack. She lowered her body and dodged backwards, crashing into Maelplos’s frame.

The skeleton’s arm landed on her shoulder, forcing her to the ground, but the hammer didn’t manage to hit. As Maelplos raised the hammer once more, Carmen rolled out of the way and flipped to her feet. She hooked her fallen sword with her feet into the air and caught it before spinning out the way of a second hammer strike. She used the momentum from that same spin to once again widen the fracture on Saevar’s arm, this time breaking the bone in two. Smiling brightly, she slashed one more time toward Saevar’s neck.

If she could just break off his head and toss it far away, Saevar will be out of the fight for a long time. Then, it’ll be just her, Maelplos, and her original stalling plan.

She had total confidence that Saevar now stood defenseless.

Right as the sword was about to crash into Saevar’s neck, when Carmen could practically see the skull flying through the air, Saevar crouched slightly.

The sword that was originally aimed toward the skeleton’s neck was now slashing toward its mouth. As Carmen’s sword crashed into solid jawbone, there was a second crack as Saevar bit down on the metal, locking the sword in its powerful bite.

Although she tried to pull it free, Saevar merely moved with the blade. But abandoning the sword was not an option, or else she’ll be facing two skeleton knights with no weapon.

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The shadow of Maelplos loomed over her like the harbinger of doom.

Time slowed down. Carmen sighed to herself. She never learned.

Once more, her overconfidence was going to be her downfall. The last time Victoria helped her. What about this time?

Was there a way out of this, or was this going to be her last moment?

No.

She won’t let it end like this. She wasn’t just a zombie. Didn’t she have one more option left for her? She was a holy knight. Carmen.

Undead power gathered in her palm that she thrust toward Saevar’s head. The instant she touched bone, black turned to gold and an explosion consumed them.



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