I maneuver a long, disproportionate arm that is already accustomed to using the machete, to slay a monster monkey that jumps out of a tree overhead.
The sweet smell of blood fills the air and the woods grow quiet.
I wonder if the monkeys sitting up high on the treetops, observing the fight realized that the opponent was too out of their league. They let out a strange call and hightailed it deep into the woods.
A body that can freely move around. The sensation of life dispersing from the monsters that I can feel through the machete. All of it fills me with a strong feeling of satiation that permeates my soul.
In the beginning, after I was reincarnated, I thought the feeling of satisfaction may have been my body’s reaction to free movement. But it appears I was wrong.
The Lord who was mending my arm glanced at the corpse of the monkey and turned around to look at me.
“End, you bastard… did you get stronger?”
I just stood there quietly. Because I was not given the permission to answer.
It has been a few months since I became an undead. An unfettered body, which I had pretty much grown accustomed to. Owing to hunting daily, I have become able to read the movements of the beasts to a certain extent.
I, who suffered from backlash at exhibiting strength beyond my limits before, am now capable of ‘holding back’ my strength when hunting beasts. The number of times the Lord has had to mend me has also greatly gone down.
I have been doing my best to focus so that I do not feel the strange sensation that I felt during my first combat. Although it is true that actual combat has become a lot easier, I have had a hard time regulating my strength so that the Lord does not feel like he is not observing any changes in my body. Because I have no idea what he would do if he were to think that I showed no changes.
This unshackled body is a pleasure. I enjoy running around, jumping around and learning. Most of all, it feels wonderful to be alive.
I know that I still haven’t tasted absolute freedom nor can I afford to let my guard down. But I have pretty much grown accustomed to my life as an undead over these last few months, and have gained enough composure to actually find it fun.
“Hmph… I see you’re still a fleshman. You should already have a fair number of kills under your belt. It would not be too strange for you to have already evolved into a ghoul…”
The Lord stood in front of me, and tapped a bony finger to my arm and body, giving it a check. I simply stood still, my face betraying no emotion.
A few months have passed since I got my hands on some books. I know a lot more about undead now than I did before.
The Lord’s library was a perfect place to learn things. I sneaked several books to the morgue and hid them on an unused shelf. I read them whenever I could find the time.
That said, most of the books in the library were written in a language that I do not understand. There were only a few books that I could read, but they were enough to give me some basic knowledge regarding the undead.
The undead are fundamentally different from the living. The concept of time does not exist in them and they are sustained by the negative energy released by the living at the time of death. The accumulation of this negative energy strengthens them and helps them evolve. It means that the dead are living frozen in time.
This phenomenon was designated as ‘evolution’ in the books.
I found the same written in the book I first came across, that the undead are born as a result of a curse cast by a necromancer.
Cursed by necromancy, the corpse undergoes a change in its nature and comes to life, so to speak. That is who I am right now.
The curse came with a process of evolution.
The undead are resurrected by means of an evil curse by the necromancer. They are bound to their master’s command and by the accumulation of negative energy, they acquire an ego and further evolve into stronger undead. Being a fleshman is but a beginning.
The Lord is completely absorbed in his research, so much so that he does not leave the room even to partake of his meals. And yet, he never forgets to bring me out to hunting every night. I am certain the reason is for me to accumulate sufficient negative energy in order to evolve into an even stronger undead.
It would appear I have a predecessor. Same as now, the predecessor accumulated enough kills under the command of the Lord and evolved into a ghoul. After which, he left to hunt by himself and was devoured by the monsters of the woods. It would explain the reason behind the Lord always accompanying me during the hunt.
Eyes that glinted in the dark. With eyes as dark as that of an undead, the Lord looks at me with his head tilted.
“Looks like you still haven’t gained an ego… Well, no matter. There is nothing wrong with your present state of condition”.
That is right. Everything is fine. I still haven’t been exposed.
Not yet, for just a little longer, I should be able to deceive him.
The Lord may be a powerful mage but he had not handled enough undead to be able to see through my act.
It would appear that fleshman do not possess an ego by nature. And of course, obviously, the Lord had not a single shred of suspicion towards my behaviour.
The time that the Lord and I spend hunting are extremely advantageous to me. I can focus on increasing my strength under the Lord’s protection.
If he were to find out that I had an ego, he would alter his commands. He would surely command me to never raise arms against him at the very least.
All I needed was the perfect chance. I am being kept alive by the Lord’s curse right now.
However, the curse once cast is not broken even upon the caster’s death.
“End. Carry the monkey’s corpse and follow me”.
The usual command. I grab the still profusely bleeding arm of the corpse and follow the Lord.
The overwhelming odor of blood and beast. The sweet-smelling corpse. Black blood trickled down the deep, shredded gash.
I felt something hot squirm inside me.
☠ ☠ ☠
I have recently begun to feel hunger.
Hunger. Something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. It spread like wild fire within me and was too much to bear.
I made my move after I was mended and left in the morgue as per the usual routine.
It has been more than a month since I felt the need to eat. The moment I felt hunger I understood that my body had evolved.
Hunger. Sleep. Libido. The three basic needs of a living being. These desires had no place in a fleshman but once evolved, it meant the exact opposite.
I had a basic understanding of the undead by then, so I could tell that these desires happened as a result of ‘evolution’.
Evolution happens as a result of taking quite a fair number of lives. I had evolved from fleshman to an existence referred to as a ghoul.
The appearance of hunger was proof that I had evolved into a higher being. Unlike a fleshman, a ghoul possessed a bit of an ego and the brains of a human infant.
The physical body is also enhanced due to the accumulated negative energy but the biggest difference between a fleshman and a ghoul would be that the latter has intelligence.
As I already possessed an ego and had retained my memories, the only advantage to becoming a ghoul is that I have a stronger body now. I do not know if that makes up for the disadvantage of having to deal with hunger. But even if that makes me weaker, it was still a change that I would welcome any day.
Hunger. It is a very human desire. Being an undead was very convenient but that desire was valuable enough that I would not mind forsaking convenience for it.
I was not able to ingest any food before my death. I did not feel hunger. My mind was too occupied for that. Hunger was one of the things that I had lost.
I suppress another emotion that I felt rise up besides hunger and strip off my tattered clothing and quietly leave the morgue.
Ghouls feed on meat. On corpses to be more precise.
In that sense, the morgue is something like a pantry to me. The putrid smell of corpses that would make one turn their nose up in disgust, smelled sweet to the monster that I had become. However, feeding on any of the corpses there would spell trouble.
Just like when I killed a monster for the first time, I did not particularly feel any aversion towards the thought of eating a corpse. Well, looking at it from a human viewpoint, it is something I would like to avoid but I cannot afford to falter with my survival on the line.
I may be under his radar right now, but if the Lord were to notice a decrease in the number of corpses which are his research material, he would cast an eye of suspicion towards me.
I should calmly think this through. The searing hunger was so unbearable and if I let my guard down for one minute, I might sink my teeth into one of the corpses nearby.
It was necessary to satiate my instinct of hunger before it took over my reason.
I slip past the skeleton knights on patrol and exit through the door.
Humid breeze caressed my face the moment I opened the door. The night sky was hidden behind voluminous deep indigo clouds.
Upon exiting the door, I happen upon a huge gate to the garden. There were several ferocious fleshwild in the garden that stood guard against trespassers. Most of these beasts were born in the woods and had been slaughtered, either by myself or by my predecessors. Of course, the pitiful beings had been resurrected by the Lord.
A night wolf undead sniffs out my scent and directs its empty eyes at me. It looked no different from the night wolves that inhabited the woods but its gaze no longer held the power to invoke any fear. The night wolf sniffed the air once and maybe it identified me as the undead that was always beside the Lord, that it soon turned around and left.
They were simply puppets that followed orders just as it was written in the books. Every time I witness it, I thank my fortune that I did not end up the same.
And I tell myself that I need to make sure that it stays that way.
The night breeze brushes past me as I near the gate. The huge metal railing is several feet high and encompassed the whole mansion.
The gate was only a physical obstacle, as there was a magical barrier around the mansion as well. However, it has no effect on me since I am a comrade.
The gate was chained and had a gigantic lock slapped on it. The Lord was the only one who possessed the key. I disregarded the gate and moved a bit to the side and grabbed the railing with both my hands and began to scale it. Before death, it may have been impossible for me to use my hands to support my whole body, but the task was effortless for me now, owing to the negative energy inside me.
Once I reached the pointed end of the railing, I grabbed onto it and deftly hurled my body over it.
The world spins around and I land on all fours. I wait till the numbing shock to my limbs pass before slowly getting up. Nothing was broken and I could move well. ‘Ghouls’ unlike ‘Fleshmen’ were capable of self-healing small wounds.
The whole thing had me nervous at first. Now, I can leave the mansion with ease as if I was going to go for a walk.
So, I proceeded to enter the whispering woods enveloped in darkness without the least bit of hesitation.
Unlike before when I had to walk in front of the Lord, I could move at full speed now. That also meant that I would not have the Lord’s assistance. However, none of the inhabitants of the woods are capable of harming me now.
Cracking sounds escape my fingers on the right hand. My fingertips begin to feel hot. Out came pointy claws that were as sharp as a knife.
It was one of the abilities of a ghoul.
I conceal the claws that still feel hot with my left hand and speed through the dark forest. The smell of beasts. The smell of wind. The searing hunger in my mind was sharpening my senses.
I soon found my target. The silhouette that stood amongst the tall grass in the midst of shrubbery.
It was two meters wide. It was as tall as when a four-footed animal stood on its hind legs. And yet, the creature that was two or three times bigger than me looked nothing more than food to me.
I lower my body and sprint towards it. The delight at possessing an unshackled body makes the mind that is impatient with hunger go wild.
The wind rustling through the bushes. The screeching cries of the insects. I ran past all of it.
Maybe the target noticed me drawing near, for it started to make a move in my direction. However, the woods that were overgrown with shrubs did not cooperate with its huge body.
I made use of the opportunity and used the momentum to project my body into the air.
Feet up in the air and my head hung down. Everything starts to spin. At the same time, the silhouette right below me turns its head around.
Jet black fur. Blood red eyes. A glance was enough to tell that it was fully grown and appeared strong and lithe.
A bear type monster. The Lord referred to them as night bears. They were tougher than the night wolves and unlike my first kill, this one was not a cub.
However, it does not matter who the opponent is.
As I pass over the monster midair, I swing my arm and run my claws through it. My claws, a few inches long, manage to slightly wound its head under all the fur. The tough fur and its solid skull are slightly scraped and its head starts dripping blood. The monster roars. I land and bend down to lunge at the torso of the bear.
I am no longer just a walking corpse.
In that moment, I was more of a beast than the night bear. And, an intelligent beast…or should I say, a demon.
The strong odor of the beast stimulated my searing hunger. I thrust my hand towards the heart of the bear. With the physical strength and knife-sharp claws of the ghoul, my hands easily pass through its armor of fur, muscle and finally bone.
Its huge body, twitched, convulsed and stopped roaring in an instant. All that remained was the stillness of the woods that brought on a sense of emptiness. Heat and the feeling of satiation spread throughout my body. I pulled my hand out from inside the bear.
I could hear the sound of blood vessels being shredded. In my palm lay a still pounding, source of life. The heart was too big for my hand. The intense odor of blood that appeases my sense of smell and the smell of death, all stimulated my appetite even more.
I stepped away from the bear as I pulled my hand out of it. As if the monster had been waiting for that moment, its huge body collapsed to the ground. It was dead. Even so, its heart was still throbbing in my hand. That vague, throbbing felt like life.
I puffed out a steamy breath.
… Even though undead do not possess any warmth nor do they breathe.
I raise the heart that was still glistening with blood and run my eager tongue over it.
That was all it took to feel like shocks were piercing through my brain. The feeling, the smell and the taste. My body craved all of it. Of course, I felt no revulsion. This is what I need right now.
Ahh. I am no longer human. The reality that I had felt on countless occasions ever since I became an undead, came into my mind once more, as I deliriously sank my teeth into the heart.