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Chapter 5: Attempted Assimilation

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

As the lowest form of undead, a zombie was weak, even if they were physically strong compared to normal humans. They lacked the speed and coordination to do anything by themselves.

Alone, zombies were even less of a threat than a horned rabbit as long as their opponent could run. That’s why the demons always deployed zombies in massive hordes.

But Carmen was alone. He needed a way to cover that fatal weakness.

He thought about what he could do for a long time, but nothing ever came up.

One way he could get reinforcements he could control was with the red gem of control that Orlog held. It’s not like he’s never thought of it—it’s that the method came with its own set of problems.

From the way that the priest spoke to Orlog, the Church had some way to track the gem. Besides, Carmen knew for a fact that holy armor and sword from when he was still a human knight had several tracking enchantments that allowed the Church to follow his movements.

Even if he threw away the gem far away to avoid being tracked after escaping, that still left him with the problem of being controlled when the Church gained hold of the gem.

He’d have to find some other way.

Several more days passed as Carmen slaved away in the mines. By then, he had become so used to picking out ores from the rock that he was almost as fast as the other zombies who could tell the difference instinctively, which meant he didn’t have to steal filled ore bags from the others to keep up.

Not that it stopped him.

On the day that marked a week of seven days since the zombies started work, the expansion zombies—the team responsible for expanding the mines—returned to the surface, passing by him on their way up.

The zombies were returning to the surface for fresh tools, supplies, and a much needed break.

Compared to the other three groups of zombies, their work was more violent and rough, and their regeneration couldn’t keep up with the wear and tear their bodies sustained.

Black mist covered their body as the mana within them manifested to protect the exposed flesh from rot and repaired the damage that already exists bit by bit.

As they passed, the extra mist spread into the tunnels, swirling around the other zombies before fading.

Curious, Carmen watched as the mist approached him.

Carmen had already known that zombies could regenerate. He even knew about the black mist, and often saw it when he was a holy knight. The mist was the pure, physical manifestation of the undead power that sustained undead. They allowed the zombie to move and repaired their wounds.

As a holy knight, Carmen merely saw the mist as a minor nuisance in his quest.

And as a zombie, he never even saw the black mist before now, since he only suffered minor scratches at most when he fell or bumped into the walls.

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He reached out with his hand toward the mist. Just as it reached it, he felt a sudden sense of danger from the black wisps and drew back, but it was too late. The mist latched onto his fingers, clinging to his flesh and crawling up his arm.

A huge amount of power came crashing down on him through his arm, bringing him to his knees as the mist stole away his strength.

Damn! Carmen swore. He almost fainted from the massive amount of undead energy. The mind dominating spears he had encountered on the first day accompanied that torrent of power.

Different from the other zombies in the mine that were fully under the control of the gem, Carmen alone was independent.

As someone not ‘totally part of their collective,’ the dark powers flowed endlessly into him, trying to assimilate him.

His undead body which should not feel pain tensed as a frigid cold washed over him, seeping deep into his bones. His teeth clattered as he shivered. He had never felt so cold, not even during those days as a knight-in-training when he went without blankets in the middle of winter.

The feeling was day and night compared to the holy energy the acolyte exuded.

The holy energy she radiated was searing hot and wore away at his very being, while the undead energy was cold. Instead of trying to destroy him, it instead seeked to steal away his mind and take him into the collective of the zombie horde, unified by the magic that raised them.

Spear after spear of mental attacks drove into his mind. Carmen knelt on the floor, groaning as he squeezed his eyes shut to concentrate on defending himself.

Although each spear was weaker, there were many more of them, and they came without end.

While the attack on the first day was much more powerful, the ordeal was over after he destroyed the spear. Here, the needle-like spear chipped away at his resistance. Whenever he deflected or destroyed one, two more took its place.

Come. Join us. Become one of us. He heard whispered words in his mind as part of his own thoughts.

Even though the magic had no language, Carmen’s mind automatically interpreted the emotions and intent that the magic tried to convey. The magic, through the spears, infiltrated his mind and posed as him, trying to trick him into submitting.

The disunion in his mind stretched his sanity to its limits. Carmen gritted his teeth, fortifying his thoughts as he chanted his own words.

Leave, leave, lea—come. No! Leave. Leave!

Even as the expansion zombies began to move away, unaware of what was going on, the mist continued to lash out at him.

As the distance increased, the attacks grew weaker, until the mist finally withdrew all at once like a taut rope snapping.

Panting, his heavy breathing coming out as short groans, Carmen sat there on the ground trying to regain control of his powerless limbs. Although he managed to maintain his free will, he didn’t get off unscathed with his encounter with his zombies. His hands and feet twitched like they had a mind of their own.

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That was way too close. The zombies and their mist had caught him off guard. If he was just a bit more distracted, or his mind a little weaker, he might have fallen to the undead magic that controlled all the others.

But with risk came reward.

Carmen sucked in his breath as he flexed his fingers that were under his control once more. Before, they had been clumsy, barely able to pick up the smaller pieces of ore. Now, they felt much more nimble, though still awkward.

It made sense—the black mist embodied the magic that powered the undead. More magic meant stronger undead, and perhaps more nimble too.

It was just that the magic had been spread evenly across the entire horde, allocated as needed, such as when a zombie got hurt. Not being part of the horde, he didn’t receive any extra mana, having to replenish his own energy over time, but the horde couldn’t take from him either.

Even if they poured their energy into him, trying to force him to become one of them, what was his remained his.

I can work with this. The seed of an idea formed in Carmen’s mind.

As he continued to throw the tiny pieces of ore into his bag—Orlog might be suspicious if he took too long—he formed a hypothesis, combining his knowledge as a holy knight and his experience just then with the mist.

If the hypothesis was true, he might have a solution to his problem.

During his time as a holy knight, he was often sent to exterminate undead. However, in places where undead naturally appeared, zombies weren’t the only things that rose. Sometimes, more powerful beings appeared. The Orders called them zombie knights, out of respect for their strength, or even zombie lords and kings.

Like everything else, to Carmen these zombie knights were just things to kill. But now that he knew that zombies could gain power by absorbing the undead power of their fellow zombies, he guessed that these anomalous zombies formed when they took on the power of their horde.

One zombie had a stronger will than the others, and they managed to hang on to their power instead of giving it away to someone who needed it more. Over time, they grew stronger and could gather more power, snowballing until a zombie knight was born. Essentially, zombie knights were evolved from the zombie.

Carmen’s plan was to become one such zombie knight. They were much stronger than regular zombies, and killing Orlog will be easy then. Even the acolyte will be no more than dust in the wind. Best of all, zombie knights should be too powerful to be controlled by a simple red gem that had an expiration date.

He took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts.

Now that he had a plan, he had to figure out how to achieve it. It was one thing to talk about becoming a zombie knight, and a whole other to actually undergo evolution. Besides, higher-tier zombies like zombie knights tend to look similar to humans.

Their flesh were no longer rotten, and they began to take on the appearance they had in life. When they became zombie lords, they became more beautiful and bewitching. Zombie kings…well, he had never seen a zombie king before.

But the one zombie lord Carmen had the misfortune of fighting was more beautiful than any human woman he had ever seen, falling short of beauty only compared to the vampire that ultimately captured him. Not only was the zombie lord beautiful, it also wiped out a third of his army alone, taking himself and several other holy knights to finally vanquish.

The point was, if he actually evolved into a zombie knight, what will he do about his appearance?

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He was currently in a little girl’s body. Half-rotten, but a girl’s body nonetheless. It’s just that he had been holed up in a mine in the middle of nowhere, so his appearance didn’t matter.

On the other hand, if he managed to evolve into a zombie knight, he’d look almost indistinguishable from a human. In order to investigate the Church, odds were good that he’d have to infiltrate a town. His appearance will matter.

What if he wanted to visit old acquaintances for help? No one would recognize him. Will he have to live the rest of his life as a girl?

Palming his face, Carmen sighed again. If someone told him before that he’d be worrying about becoming a girl, he’d have laughed in their face. But now, it has become reality.

In any case, the problem’s very existence hinged on his plan to evolve actually succeeding.

Sitting down on his bag of ores, Carmen took a short break and considered his options.

First, he could try to steal the horde’s energy by visiting the expansion zombies when they went down again after they resupply.

After they returned to the bottom of the mines, they’d start taking heavy damage again while clearing more tunnels, forcing the mist to reappear. He’ll be able to leech off the black mist then, and if he was careful, he could keep the mist’s influence to a minimum.

While that method seemed like it would work, especially since he’d already had a taste of it when the expansion team passed by, it took way too long.

Taking almost the full brunt of the mist’s power for what seemed like almost an eternity only barely raised his strength. He didn’t even want to imagine how long sitting at the very edge of the mist will take.

There was a second, much faster option, but it was one Carmen wasn’t sure would work.

Instead of passively taking in the mist, he could instead devour the zombie that was part of the horde. By eating the zombie, he will make the zombie a part of him, and take into him the pure essence of undead power, rather than the diluted mist version.

The method was not without its risks and his stomach turned at the very thought, but…

Carmen eyed the zombie arm that had been sitting on the floor of the tunnels for months. Heaving another great sigh, he stood up and walked over. As he brought the arm to his mouth, he gagged.

There was no time like the present.

Pumping himself up and trying to convince himself that his nose didn’t work, and that he was just imagining the smell and taste, he bit into the arm.


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