Chapter 8: Dark Smoke

Chris shifted the body of the wolf around just in time. The axe buried into its body, kicking like a jackhammer and sending Chris flying back. A burning line of pain surface on his forearm as the axe head bit clean through the wolf’s body and gnawed at his arm beneath.

He landed on his back, the corpse of the wolf heavy on top of him as monsters continued to stream around him, heedless of the bone knights on the wall. As the monsters moved around him, he saw flashes of the wall between him. The bone knight that had thrown the axe was staring down toward him, its spear now retrieved and poised to throw.

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Chris remained still as his mind spun. What was it waiting for? Movement? Stillness? For him to rise as an Undead? He thought back to when he first saw the battle. The dead wolves only rose again if they had been touched by an Undead before they died. He wasn’t sure if getting hit by the bone knights’ spears and shields counted as being touched. He wasn’t interested in finding out anyway, thank you very much.

The axe was just a normal metal and wood one, so that must mean that the bone knight expected him to stay dead. He happily fulfilled its expectations.

The wolves continued to move around him, and the bone knight was still looking. Then it turned away. Chris breathed a sigh of relief.

He waited for another few minutes as the tree ramp was pushed to one side, letting it fall to the side with a thud. Then he pushed the wolf corpse off of him and began army crawling away, his mace in one hand.

He paused after making it two meters, then crawled back and retrieved the axe from the body of the wolf, flashing a middle finger up at the wall. Sadly, the bone knights were no longer up there after the crisis with the tree had been averted.

With a weapon in each hand, he crawled into a bush, then watched the battle from relative safety as the sky began to darken.

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The Beast Horde was nearly broken by midnight. The rock trolls had been defeated when the defenders hurled stones down on their heads. Torches and burning bales of hay had been dropped to provide illumination near to the wall, but still, large areas of the battleground were wreathed in darkness.

It was then that Chris decided to make his move. He’d left his stolen axe and mace behind; instead he carried several bushes under each arm. He snuck forward, slipping from shadow to shadow. He prayed under his breath that the Undead didn’t have dark vision or something. Then he’d look like an idiot.

No arrows came his way, so he continued forward, until he was near one of the burning bales. With most of the monsters dead, it wasn’t too hard to maneuver around.

He was as close as he could get without entering into one of the lighted areas. But that was where he needed to be. He dashed forward, dodging from side to side as arrows began to whine toward him. When he was near several of the burning hay bales, he tossed the green bushes onto the thick of the searching flames.

The fire crawled over the wet vegetation and began belching out dark smoke. Chris made good his escape, but one arrow buried itself in his thigh. He gasped. He didn’t like the amount of pain he’d been experiencing since he got here. Thankfully, no other arrows hit him before he once again disappeared into the night.

He took a moment to lean against a tree, wondering why he was doing this. He knew why, of course. But it was something you needed to ask yourself after you got hit with an arrow. He’d been trapped and powerless in an alien laboratory, experimented on and turned into something other than human.

He knew how tutorials worked, they all had to end eventually, and there were even odds that he’d be returned back to the alien operating table. If he was, then he needed to be strong, he needed to be ready. He had needed the distraction earlier, trolling Steve and Bruce, but he genuinely did need more titles—the bonuses they gave were too much to pass up.

Gasping, he wiggled the arrow out his thigh and dropped it. He wiped his hand against his clothes, but there was surprisingly little blood—probably due to the fact that he had Slime flowing through his veins. He tested his weight on his injured leg, then staggered upright and returned with more bushes that he’d harvested earlier. Now that smoke was obscuring the defenders’ vision, it was easier to get close.

He dumped more and more vegetation onto the burning bales until thick smoke obscured the top of the walls. It wouldn’t suffocate them, but it would ruin the visibility.

Now that the Undead couldn’t spot him, he searched around the bottom of the wall. A few fallen humanoids lay at the bottom, ripped to pieces by the wolves. He began gathering some of the intact armor, stripping the corpses of their valuable protection.

The he heard his right arm gurgle. What the hell? He had almost forgotten about it, given that it had been inactive and he’d had other things on his plate. Now, however, he could feel a palpable hunger coming from the limb. It had been the place the alien experimenter had injected with the Slime, of course there had to be something odd about it.

He looked away as his arm became jelly-like in consistency and began stretching toward the nearest corpse. Was it…? It was. The Slime arm stretched farther, settling over the Undead corpse… the redead corpse? Devived? Reparted? Receased… no, desuscitated, that was good. Who knew finding the proper terminology for talking about dead undead was such a pain? The Slime arm stretched farther, settling over the desuscitated Undead.

Chris still had sensation through the appendage, so he could feel as his arm pressed against the corpse’s clammy skin and began to dissolve it. He looked over, unable to help himself, then wished he hadn’t. Gross.

He didn’t pull away though, he could feel the satisfaction the Slime radiated; more importantly, he didn’t want a starving Slime to do to him what it was doing to the corpse. It was best to think of his Slime arm as a pet. Like a cat. Something that attached itself to him, didn’t listen to instructions, and would eat and do whatever it damn well pleased.

He blocked out the sound of the Slime burping as it turned back into his arm, then he strapped on the armor and a particular style of helmet he’d spent some time searching for. With everything else done, and his arm fed, he went back for the final piece of the puzzle. His ladder.

Calling it a ladder was a little generous, perhaps, but it would do. He’d carved down a small tree with his stolen axe and gnawed a few handholds into it. It would do.

He adjusted his armor, shoved the mace and axe into his rope belt, then lifted the ladder and began maneuvering it around the trees.

He ignored the smoke-filled battleground where he’d looted the bodies. Instead, he circled around the town, to a side that the Beast Horde hadn’t assaulted. This part of the Undead town was far calmer and opened onto a plain rather than a forest.

He set his ladder down in the long grass, then adjusted his helmet so that its brim mostly hid the fact that his eyes didn’t glow. He looked up at the wall. The torches up top were intermittent at best and the Undead guards had gathered around the smoked out area, prepared for an assault. Even the few on this side of the town were distracted by the smoke.

Perfect. Chris lifted his ladder back up and set it against the wall with a whisper of wood on stone. Then he began to climb, his mouth drying out more and more with every hand and foothold he pushed himself up with. His heart hammered frantically in his chest, so loud that he was afraid it would betray his ascent to a race whose hearts did not beat.

Finally, he reached the top. He peeked over the crenellations. Then, seeing no one facing him, he slipped over the wall. He pushed the ladder away, letting it fall. The sound of its impact was swallowed by the long grass, reduced to a rustling thud. He pretended to look over the side, feigning curiosity, just in case the other guards had heard. None had.

He adjusted his helmet once again, pulled free his axe and mace, and began walking. He watched the other guards and soon his walk morphed into a march.

A guard, walking in the opposite direction approached him. The Undead’s hand shifted on its weapon. Chris’ breath stuck in his throat, but the guard just marched on past him and kept on going about its patrols—occasionally glancing over at the smoke.

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Inside the walls, ladders allowed the guards to ascend and descend when their rotations were over.

Where they were going, Chris had no idea. He doubted they were going for a midnight snack, or a nap. From what he knew, Undead didn’t need either of those.

Emboldened by their lack of reaction to him, he summoned up the nerve to leave the wall. He descended a ladder that was far more structurally stable and aesthetically pleasing than the slapdash one he’d put together and set both feet upon the street of the town. He made it down without incident.

The town was eerily empty, the shuttered windows were broken, hanging loose from windows, and the thatching of the rooves was patchy and rotted from this angle. Doors were smashed open and the entire town seemed to be in a state of complete disrepair.

He turned a corner and came face to face with hundreds of Undead.

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