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Chapter 25: Give and Take

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

Reality of what had just happened slowly caught up with Carmen.

When she had no options left against Maelplos, she had thrown away every limiter she had in an attempt to find something that might save her. Nothing remained suppressed, including something that she subconsciously denied long after she accepted her undeath.

Her vampire side, which she had held back since she first gained this body to varying degrees of success, finally threw off all of its shackles and saved her life.

“It can’t be… That was the power of a vampire? I’m a full vampire now…”

She touched her hair, which had mostly turned silver, the exact same color as Victoria. There was still a bit of gold, but they were in the minority. She didn’t have a mirror so she couldn’t check, but were her eyes red now?

For greater power, she too gave up her humanity. The difference between her and those skeletons was merely their appearances. While she remained mostly human, they looked more monstrous.

She laughed to herself.

What she gave up by becoming a zombie instead of a skeleton was gained back by her transformation into a full vampire with the same cost. Worse, she couldn’t even resent that transformation—it felt natural.

Would Victoria be happy when they next meet?

She stared at the silver hair in her hands and had a sudden urge to cut them all off, but she stayed her hand as she reached for her sword. Cutting her hair wouldn’t solve anything.

Her nails were tinged red, slightly pointy at the tips. Although they looked so fragile, they were almost as tough as her fangs.

The change went beyond appearance as well. Ever since she became undead, she had never felt hunger. Even those brief moments where her vampire instincts came through, it had only been an urge to feed for pleasure, but it was different now. Painful pangs of hunger from her stomach and mind came again and again, threatening to drive her crazy.

The hunger would not be satisfied by just anything. Carmen knew by instinct that she needed blood. While she won’t starve like regular vampires because she was undead, she might be driven insane by the pangs.

She closed her eyes, trying to ignore it. The nails on her right hand dug into her palms but there was no pain—nothing to distract her.

“Please, just go away for awhile. I promise I’ll eat soon!” she whispered, pressing against her stomach. It didn’t work. Although the pain was from where her stomach was, it originated in her mind. “Blood…I have to finish this. But I can’t beat Maelplos. I can’t even hurt that stupid thing!”

Her imbuement was too weak. Against older knight-class skeletons like Maelplos, it wasn’t even enough to scratch their bones. Even against newly evolved ones like Saevar, she needed several hits.

If it wasn’t for that, she’d have won many times over by now. Compared to her training as a former knight, whatever essence they absorbed weren’t enough when it came to skills and experience. Yet, she still lost.

“Urgh. Somehow, I need to find a way to crack that defense.”

Wincing from the hunger that screamed in her mind, Carmen reached for her sword, only to find her side empty. Confused, she looked around, only to find her surroundings empty. “Where’s my sword?”

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Then she remembered. She lost it when she accidentally used that strange vampire ability to save her own life. When she turned into those tiny blood bats, her sword hadn’t come with her while her clothes did. Why?

The weapon she had fought so hard to keep—gone. Carmen had the urge to curl up and cry, but she held back her tears. Now wasn’t the time to give up. She could still hear the dying cries of people nearby.

Their screams even pierced through stone and wooden walls of the houses.

Her conscience wouldn’t let her live down their deaths if she didn’t at least try to help them. Holy knight Carmen wouldn’t.

“Still, I don’t even have a weapon now. How am I supposed to fight Maelplos now—with my bare hands?”

Talk about impossible things. If she couldn’t even hurt that skeleton with a sword, what could she do without?

As Carmen mulled over what she could do, the undead mana within her slowly healed her organs. Unlike her extremities, her chest was also her center where she had the most mana gathered. Her heart healed first, followed by her lungs, and then the other organs she didn’t even need.

With her heart restored, she could cause her blood to flow again. Only when her blood flowed could she use some of her vampire abilities—not that she even knew how to use them at will.

Sighing, Carmen returned to healing her arm.

Was it just her imagination, or was she healing faster? Carmen stared at her arm. The burning feeling in her stub was far more muted now. The blackened parts were receding at a visible place, replaced by pale unmarked skin.

What changed from before? The wound that refused to heal no matter what now regenerated visibly.

Confused, Carmen took a closer look. Although her eyes couldn’t spot any differences, her senses for magic spotted the difference near immediately. Mixed in with the chaotic undead and holy magic was a third type of mana of a completely new configuration and different properties.

If undead was black and holy was golden, then this new mana was the color of blood. The blood mana flowed from her newly regenerated heart into every single corner of her body, through every muscle, down to her fingertips and toes.

It ignored the undead mana, coexisting with it, but every scrap of the chaotic mana was mercilessly consumed and changed into blood mana. In turn, the blood mana spread out once more to other places to do the same thing.

Although the process happened slower and slower every time, and the hunger that Carmen felt grew sharper and sharper, the blood mana absorbed everything before coming to a rest within her, falling dormant again.

By that time, every trace of the chaotic mix of holy and undead mana was gone, leaving her body clean of impurities and with a newly grown lower arm.

Every type of mana was unique and had its own properties. Holy mana was bright, warm, and cleansing. Undead mana was dark and cold, corrupting.

Feeling the red mana in her body, Carmen slowly unveiled the properties of blood mana. Blood magic was gluttonous and full of vitality—give and take. Compared to simple hot or cold, it was much more complicated.

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With the affinity for blood mana that came with the awakening of her vampiric side, Carmen realized that there was so much more she could do…if she was skilled enough. First among that list was the answer to her imbuement problem.

If it worked, then she wouldn’t need to hide from Maelplos anymore.

The more Carmen thought about it, the more she was annoyed with herself for losing so badly against that skeleton. Yes, she was slower and weaker, but she landed more hits against it than it did on her. If Maelplos didn’t have that freakish defense, it’d be the one hiding in the corner of a room!

Her face burning, Carmen looked at the ceiling. She was going to rip that skeleton apart with her bare hands, weapons be damned.

Her new nails should be strong enough as weapons if her theory worked.

Power gathered in her hands, surging into her fingers, gathering at the tips. When she scratched at the ground, her nails easily scored through the stone. Satisfied, Carmen headed for the front door. As she left, she let her undead aura out for the first time, broadcasting her location.

“Come! I won’t hide anymore!” she shouted.

In response, Maelplos’s previous hidden aura came crashed down on her. She looked around, tracking the origin, finding the skeleton up on the rooftops of a house rather far away from where she was. The way Maelplos came hurrying over, dragging its hammer behind it, was suddenly funny to her.

Maelplos was fallible—it was looking in the wrong place for her just now.

With her hands crossed leisurely behind her back, Carmen waited as the skeleton finally reached her, swinging its massive hammer. Her feet were light as feathers. A simple step to the side let the hammer brush past her and crush the ground.

Although Carmen hadn’t gotten that much physically stronger even after awakening as a vampire, hope gave her strength. Before, she had been constantly worrying about not being able to defeat the skeletons.

Her goal wasn’t even victory—it was stalling.

As a vampire, could she even suffer this cowardliness? What would Victoria say? Her eyes glowed red, meeting Maelplos’s gaze. She bared her teeth, matching the skeleton’s toothy grin.

Although she was nowhere as lighthearted as she looked, owing to her hunger pangs, she had to keep up the act. “Why the hurry?”

The giant skeleton did not answer. “You changed, Weak One.”

Since it didn’t humor her, she wouldn’t humor it either. Shrugging, Carmen uncrossed her hands and brought them out up front. She shaped her fingers into claws, displaying her nails. Dark mist, the same rudimentary imbuement as before, wreathed her fingers.

Now wasn’t the time for her to reveal her trump card yet.

After a moment of planning, she jumped straight at Maelplos’s face. It swiped at her, but she clawed at its hand. Her claws screeched off of its bones, but she managed to push off of it, landing a distance away from the skeleton.

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“What gave you this confidence to confront me frontally?” the skeleton asked. “You are no stronger than before.”

Carmen smiled again. The skeleton will understand its folly soon.

Again and again, she attacked the skeleton, weaving around its hammer strikes. Her claws never manage to pierce past its iron toughness, even when she struck its exposed neck. Soon, the skeleton adjusted to her new fighting style, having figured out her limits.

Maelplos abandoned defense since it wasn’t necessary, focusing on offense. Carmen’s pressure skyrocketed as the massive hammer rose and fell with blinding speed. Wherever she looked, there were fragments of stone flying in every direction, further tearing her dress.

Although she could protect it by imbuing it with dark energy, she couldn’t spare the attention.

Maelplos’s hammer was turning the ground from stone into sand which slowed Carmen’s steps. She had to constantly lead the skeleton up and down the street, changing locations every time the footing became too treacherous. A panicked expression floated onto her face, replacing her smile of confidence.

The skeleton’s eyes glowed brighter. “Fall, Weak One!”

“Why…are you…in such a hurry?” Carmen asked, threw out the sentence word by word as she dodged around the skeleton, making futile attack after futile attack against it. No matter how big the opening was, she still didn’t take it.

Not yet, not yet, it still wasn’t time. The skeleton was still on guard. She had to make it more confident, more assured of its absolute victory. She needed it to underestimate her.

For a moment, Carmen thought that she was about to be ignored again, but skeleton replied at last.

“Saevar is about to return.”

Saevar, the sword skeleton. Carmen had destroyed its head, so she thought that it would take longer to recover. Was she mistaken? But instead of panicking, Carmen just smiled to herself.

Saevar’s arrival was perfect. She could kill both of them at once.

She had not forgotten how she fared against the two skeletons when they tried to work together. Saevar constantly messed up Maelplos’s rhythm as the hammer zombie tried to avoid hitting the sword zombie.

When Saevar appears, there will be an opening she could take advantage of.

Carmen carefully molded her expression into one of terror, saying nothing. She changed up its cadence, dodging a bit faster at times, and a bit slower at times—the image of panic. Like a shark scenting blood, Maelplos went into a frenzy, trying harder and ever to hit Carmen.

Chilling black mist spilled from its body in massive clouds as the skeleton overloaded its physical imbuements.

The power of its offense grew so swift, so powerful that shockwaves buffeted Carmen even when she managed to dodge. She lost even the leeway to feign panic. Gritting her teeth, she temporarily disabled her claw imbuements, concentrating on dodging.

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A few more openings appeared, one as big as she originally wanted, but she didn’t take it. Saevar was weaker than Maelplos and if she killed Maelplos, Saevar won’t bite. She had to have patience in order to catch a big fish.

More and more zombies that the Barsig team had killed before were started to reanimate, the power of curse breathing a dreadful facsimile of life into the corpses. Carmen almost tripped on a corpse that suddenly started to move, but she managed to regain her balance in time.

The newborn zombie exploded into small bits under the destructive power of Maelplos’s hammer.

Carmen’s heart pounded, pumping blood. Though she might be imagining it, having blood flow through her veins seemed to make her movements more nimble—at the price of her hunger growing worse and worse.

When was Saevar going to come? If it wasn’t soon, she was going to have to kill Maelplos. She couldn’t take any more of this.

The hunger became almost unbearable. Carmen dodged another hammer blow, her body trembling and her face paler than normal. She didn’t even need to fake the discomfort she felt.

Mana gathered in her hands, reinforcing her skin and flesh. Her already tough body became even tougher to damage. All of this happened beneath the surface of her skin as she maintained control, never allowing her mana to break free and go wild, leaking all over the place like Maelplos’s mana was.

But even more concentrated was the mana at the very tips of her fingers. Her nails dyed black, filled with barely suppressed mana. But that was only the first step.

As she was about to continue, the output of Maelplos’s mana surged like never before, even when the skeleton first entered its frenzy. It only took Carmen a moment to process it before she realized what had happened.

Saevar was near, so Maelplos was pouring everything it had into its final strike.

It’s here! Her chance to kill Maelplos was here.

Instead of billowing softly from the skeleton’s body, the jet-black mist seemed to spray from its bones, covering the area in a fog. All of the muscles in Carmen’s legs tensed, their strength boosted with the mana that reinforced it. If she didn’t avoid this attack, then all her work would be for naught.

Maelplos’s eyes glowed bright, changing from a dark purple to a rich violet. It lifted its hammer high in the air and the weapon itself exuded a powerful presence like a collapsing mountain or an avalanche.

Carmen found herself shaking despite her resolve and confidence. “Stop, you can do this!”

The hammer skeleton’s mouth clacked open for the first time. Before now, even when he spoke, his mouth had remained closed. “Undead…Weapon Art…!”

The words seemed forced, almost a hiss.

Carmen finally understood why she felt this sense of unease. The skeleton was about to unleash an Art—an especially powerful one at that.

Named or unnamed, Arts possessed abnormally strong effects for its mana usage in exchange for being more complex to cast. They were the pinnacle of spells of their level.

Where did this skeleton learn this Art? Was it originally developed by a higher undead, or was it adapted? Did it have a name?

The questions rushed through her head in an instant and she threw it all out and braced herself.

“…Siphoning Crusher!” Maelplos roared. The hammer descended and the wind picked up, spiraling toward the bottom face of the weapon. The fog that had been spread out over the area was all drawn toward the hammer, giving the hammer a pseudo-reinforcement attack.

The air and mist weren’t the only things sucked toward the hammer. Carmen dug her heels into the ground, trying to stop herself from flying toward the hammer.

No wonder Maelplos hadn’t bothered aiming. Anyone caught off guard would be drawn directly into the hammer’s way.

Even she almost fell for it. She crouched, sinking her claws into the ground, digging down until her hands were buried and her claws formed a natural hook.

After what seemed like an eternity, the wind stopped as the hammer completed its journey, slamming into the ground. There was a dull thud, and a black pillar silently erupted from the ground. Carmen couldn’t see the exact effect the strike had on the ground, but it couldn’t be pretty.

Maelplos stood there, both hands gripping the hammer. Its eyes were bright, yet it seemed to stare at nothing. To Carmen’s senses, Maelplos was currently weaker than even the youngest zombie knight, although it still possessed its frightening natural toughness.

However, that toughness meant nothing to her now. After unleashing such a powerful Art, Maelplos was wide open and helpless.

Using her claws to gain traction, she shot toward Maelplos. She raised her claws, and something began to change at the tip of her nails and fingers before spreading downwards. The black became blood red. The blood red turned gold.

Give and take. The blood consumed her undead mana, eagerly absorbing it all. The blood became holy mana, buffered against the undead by the blood so that they do not mix.

Her hand shined gold with holy light. Relying on her instincts, she shaped the light into the keenest edge, turning her hand into a blade.

“Holy Knight Art! Sever!” With fluidity gained from years of experience, the light emitted by the most basic Art of the Templar Orders followed the path of Carmen’s hand.

The light shot forward, slicing through the darkness in its path, cleaving cleanly through the bones of Maelplos’s neck.

As Maelplos’s skull fell from its unmoving body, Carmen stepped forward and shoved her left hand into the skeleton’s open rib cage through the opening of the gorget, the piece of armor that should have protected Maelplos’s neck but failed.

The black mist that formed Maelplos’s muscles surged toward the invader.

“Art. Eruption.”

With the price of her left arm, a golden glow filled the inside of Maelplos, annihilating the center of its existence. Light leaked out from the gaps in the armor until the glow faded away.

Carmen pulled out her charred left hand and arm. It hung limply at her side, devoid of undead mana to control it. Without even blinking, Carmen grabbed it and twisted it off at the shoulder, severing her connection with it.

Immediately, her left arm began to regenerate at a visible pace, the bone outpacing the muscle, the muscle outpacing the skin.

Still holding her arm, she turned and grinned at the skeleton who had been running toward her with its sword raised, but now stood still in the middle of the road.

Carmen’s eyes glowed red as she clutched her belly. Her smile turned wild, with teeth bared and eyes wide open.

Her appearance flickered, becoming a slightly taller, average looking girl with short brown hair. Even as she walked toward Saevar, her appearance flickered and changed once more.



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