|Author: TypeAxiom||Original Source: ScribbleHub|
“This is…” Carmen muttered, turning over the crystal. Her brows furrowed in confusion until she thought to push her senses into the crystal. Something reached back in response—pure undead mana.
Unlike the undead mana from the zombies she had been absorbing from, the undead mana sealed within the crystal was tranquil. It didn’t try to assimilate her and it was ownerless. It didn’t belong to any undead.
The energy was incredibly pure and primal.
But apart from the store of undead mana, there was something hidden even deeper inside of the crystal. As she studied the magical construct, Carmen recognized it as a mental imagery spell, much like the one in the moonstone. This one was much weaker and simpler, though.
Unlike the one in the moonstone that also summoned bloodbonded clothes from within the moonstone, this one was only meant to be played once and seemed to carry only a single message from what Carmen knew of spells, which wasn’t much.
“What could it be about?” Sending a tendril of mana into the crystal, she activated the spell. In her mind, an image of Victoria suddenly popped up. Her face was huge and up close, almost scaring Carmen out of the spell.
Not only that, Victoria had a huge grin that Carmen never thought that she’d see on the vampire’s face even in her dreams. It was just too different from the Victoria she was used to—always serious and elegant.
“Hello, my daughter. I bet you didn’t expect to see me so soon again,” Victoria said. She backed away, hands her hips. Unlike the formal dress Victoria always wore, the Victoria in the imagery spell seemed to be wearing some kind of nightwear.
Her impeccably combed hair was a bit messy, as if she had gotten out of bed.
“Right before I cast this spell, I had just watched you eat a zombie—your fifth one, in fact. Did you know it’s the middle of the night right now? You’re eating around the clock.”
Carmen frowned. Why did Victoria care when she ate? It’s not like the time of the day mattered when she’s a zombie that spent most of her time underground. Besides, she wasn’t digesting anything, just absorbing energy. How or why was Victoria watching her anyway?
“As expected, your personality as a vampire is so much more pleasant than when you were a human. Anyways, I also happened to just learn that the little Church girl that had been hanging around you the past few days returned to her church. You’ll never guess what she got from that priest,” Victoria said as she kicked back and laid down. “Knowing what I know, I am hereby making the prediction that you’re going to utterly fail your evolution. Remind me if I’m right the next time we meet, okay? With love, Mother.”
Victoria waved at her and the mental imagery spell ended, the magic construct unraveling. Carmen stared at her blank mindscape where the spell had just been playing.
That was Victoria?
It must have been some other vampire that looked like Victoria since they all looked similar—but the last line that Victoria said eliminated all doubts. Only Victoria would be shameless enough to call herself Carmen’s mother after forcibly turning her into a vampire.
But the difference was just too big to reconcile. Carmen thought she felt a headache. Technically, zombies couldn’t have headaches unless they were suffering from mental attacks, but Victoria might have made the impossible possible.
She came to two possible conclusions.
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The first was that Victoria had been hiding her true personality when she was in public. The only reason she revealed her true self in that mental imagery spell was because it was in private, and the spell will be erased right after.
The other conclusion was that Victoria did this whole spell as a joke. It had been another way for Victoria to torment her and make her overthink things.
The second was more likely, and so Carmen resolved to not dwell any longer on that topic.
No matter which was true, though, it was undeniable that Victoria had great foresight. Her prediction ultimately came true and right now, Carmen was stuck on the cusp of evolving into a zombie knight, yet unable to advance any further thanks to Fleur’s interference.
Carmen looked at the white crystal in her hand, feeling the undead power sealed within, feeling a bit conflicted. Undeath was pure evil…probably. It violated the natural order of life and death, and she still sometimes felt ill knowing that she was a zombie herself.
She didn’t know how Victoria had gotten her hands on this mana, what atrocities she committed in the process.
However, she needed this mana to complete her evolution, and Victoria had anticipated her dilemma and gone to the trouble of preparing this crystal just for her.
“‘With love,’” she repeated. “Impossible. We barely know each other. I hate her. How could she love a daughter who she neither knows, nor love her back? I haven’t forgiven you.”
Her new dress came with a small bag that could be adjusted to hang from her waist or her shoulders. Carmen slipped the crystal into the bag and closed the bag securely, making sure it wouldn’t fall out even if she made any sudden movements.
Finally, she was going to be bidding goodbye to her home of a little more than one week.
When she first arrived, she had been little more than a regular zombie with a rotten appearance, staggering around without any coordination, easily purified by even an acolyte.
Now, leaving, she looked indistinguishable from a young daughter of a noble house that somehow found herself in this mine. Despite her fragile appearance, she was stronger than any man unreinforced by magic.
The difference was also too much to believe, and for it to have happened in just a week…
Carmen looked around one last time and shook her head. “And some home this was.”
Tools were scattered everywhere. There were a few limbs and other sundered body parts from her battle with the zombies that piled on top of her. Some ore veins were exposed.
With one last look, she left the cavern and headed toward the surface. As she passed one of the side tunnels where the miner zombies work, she hesitated and walked in.
There was a sack lying abandoned just inside at the entrance, thrown aside when Fleur called the zombies down to kill. They never came back.
A few chunks of rocks contained chunks of unrefined metal spilled out from the bag. Carmen knelt down and picked one of them up. Even though she had only been in the mines for a few days, she identified the metal the raw ore contained without much trouble. “Tin.”
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She picked up another. “Copper. Gold.”
The mine produced all kinds of metal, whether it was a precious metal or for industry. Mining was dangerous and had one of the highest death rates of any profession, often being used as a form of capital punishment.
Logically and pragmatically, golems and undead were the best choices for these kinds of dangerous jobs that required only menial labor. The only reason why Carmen disliked this mine was because of her hatred toward the undead.
But was her hatred justified?
Carmen slipped the three pieces of ores into her bag along with the crystal. She didn’t have any use for them, but it felt like the right thing to do to take them with her.
She was never going to go back to being a human, even if she solved everything else. Neither vampirism nor undeath was reversible. Thus, in a way, her new beginning had been here. Despite that, she would never be coming back here again.
There was a certain irony to that, since when she had been human, her hometown had been destroyed in a demon raid. Even after she became a holy knight, she never went back to visit, since there was nothing to see about a village already partially reclaimed by nature.
“Will this mine be reclaimed as well?” she murmured. She stood up and held out her hand, feeling a slight breeze that blew through the tunnel from one of the ventilation shafts. “Probably not.”
Ambient undead mana was thick in the air—way thicker than even before, yet still too thin for her to absorb efficiently. Something must have happened while she was unconscious.
No matter how it happened, it didn’t change that no life will sprout here for years until this undead mana faded.
It didn’t take long for her to reach the entrance of the mine. She wasn’t particularly surprised to see that the ground outside was covered with countless footprints. All of them headed off in a single direction, disappearing around a bend in a small path through the trees.
“So they’ve decided to call the Order in early, huh?”
No wonder she couldn’t find anyone when Victoria woke her up. After the Order cleaned up the zombies, they’ll be coming back here for her. Too bad she’ll be long gone by then.
Carmen was in no hurry, though. The footprints looked no more than a day old, so it will be a while before the Order came. First, she rummaged through Orlog’s room, looking for a map.
She managed to find one in one of the drawers, along with a small bag of coins. There were also some trinkets that looked like they had sentimental value, as well as a crude painting of Orlog, his wife, and a daughter.
“Hmph. So even he had family.”
Despite herself, she smiled.
She was glad that the whole incident resolved without anyone getting hurt. She didn’t even have to kill Orlog like she originally planned. She had already seen too many families being broken up over her tenure as a holy knight to needlessly do it again.
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As long as greed doesn’t harm anyone, it shouldn’t be punished. Rather than blaming Orlog for taking advantage of undead labour, the fault lies with the Church that provided the service in the first place.
The smile faded from her face. She placed the trinkets and painting back into the drawer and slid it close.
As Carmen walked out of the cabin a few coins richer and in possession of new information, she examined the map. As she read out the names of the nearby cities and towns, her eyes widened. “Oh…it’s really close.”
Of all the places she thought she’d find herself, she hadn’t expected that she’d be so close to the fortress abbey her old Order was based in. It was only two days’ ride away.
Even closer was Moltrost, the town where the church that his old friend Arvel worked at was.
Carmen paused. How strange it was that when she reminiscenced about the past, she sometimes thought of herself as a man without a hint of strangeness.
His old friend Arvel—no, her old friend.
“Well, whatever. I’ve already accepted it,” Carmen muttered bitterly. She sighed and looked back at the map.
While there were several villages closer, she ultimately set her sights on Moltrost. Perhaps there, she will gain a possible ally in her new crusade.
Carmen checked the direction one more time before she folded up the map and stuffed it into her pouch. She checked her boots for loose laces. Finding nothing out of place, she nodded. “Alright. Let’s go.”
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