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Chapter 32: The Researcher

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

Arvel put on a pair of gloves and took out a glass case that looked pristine, without a single imperfection on its surface.

Somehow sealed within was a crystal wrapped in multiple layers of cloth so that it could not move or bump against the glass. Placing his hands over the case, Arvel unlocked it with a spell.

A crack in the glass appeared where there hadn’t been. As soon as the crack appeared, the crystal began to darken as if being tainted.

Arvel opened the case and held it up high, waving it around. With that movement, the darkness in the crystal grew, becoming more and more black until the crystal was inky black, speckled with gold. When the color didn’t change anymore and began to swirl this way and that without aim, Arvel closed the lid of the case and once again sealed the glass closed with a spell.

“And with that, the mana sample has been collected,” he said, taking off his gloves. Next, he had to inspect the sample to confirm what he sensed when he came here.

The mana in this tunnel was strange—most peculiar. He had never seen anything like it before, at least before he got to this mine. There were more examples of the mana outside, spread in the forest, but due to the open nature of the outside, the peculiar mana was quite sparse.

Down where he was in the deepest part of the mine, the peculiar mana was much more concentrated—more so than anywhere else. Fleur had talked about this cavern in her report. It was here that the control gem exploded, in other words, the root of this current incident.

He’d have to run some more tests in order to be certain, but Arvel was fairly certain that this peculiar mana was formed from a mixture of holy mana and undead mana.

Different things happened when different types of mana mixed, some good, some bad, but among them were new types of mana. This must be an example. Arvel knew from a glance that this mana was bad news, because nothing good ever came out of a mixture between holy and undead.

“Why would there be such a strong presence of holy mana here though? At first I thought it was a mix that resulted from a clash of spells, but the connection between holy and undead is too perfect to be natural. It is remarkably balanced and stable.”

Arvel tapped his chin, looking at the box in his hands.

“I can assume that this mana was released when the control gem exploded. In that case, this mana was originally stored within that gem, holy magic and all…”

He knew from his years of studying magic that his conclusion was correct. However, it did not make sense considering the gem’s origins.

These control gems were really found on the bodies of knight-class undead—the extent to which they were made by the Church only amounted to slight modifications to be usable by humans. By using the gem’s power of absorbing ambient mana, even lone knight-class warrior undead could create and command their own undead subordinates.

In that case, there was no reason for these gems to contain holy mana. While the modifications the research branch made to the gem in order to allow humans to use it will add holy mana, the mana should not have been so perfectly and thoroughly integrated.

“I do not have enough information,” Arvel concluded, shaking his head. “Any more will be pure speculation.”

Stopping his errant train of thought, he placed the glass case back into his box of supplies before closing the lid and turned to leave. The tunnel was stuffy and warm this deep underground. He could not imagine how uncomfortable Fleur would have been when she confronted that abnormal zombie down here.

Speaking of the abnormal zombie, it was strange how he found no traces of it down in that cavern. Not only was it not sealed by his amulet, his amulet itself was gone and he had no idea where it could be.

“How had the zombie escaped? Was my spell flawed? Did I forget to fill it with enough mana? Well, if the zombie was truly on the verge of evolving, then it makes sense that it could break free by itself given enough time. It might have destroyed my amulet out of anger.”

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The problem with the abnormal zombie’s escape was that now there might be a knight-class zombie loose hunting for Fleur. Undeads did not feel emotions, yet they held grudges for quite a long time.

There were even anecdotal stories of priests failing to exterminate abnormal undead and then encountering the fully evolved version years or decades after. Naturally, he did not believe such stories, but he would not be surprised if they were true.

If this was two years ago, he’d have asked Carmen to come with him to hunt down the zombie before it became a threat, but now there was nothing he could do for Fleur. At least at the outpost there were several templars that could keep Fleur safe until he found a better solution to the vengeful zombie problem.

Toward the entrance of the tunnel, Arvel saw the claw marks scored into the stone again. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen it, but after finding nothing special about it except its size, he had lost interest.

Now, he knelt down and placed his hand over the mark.

His hand was nowhere as wide as the claw marks. Not only that, the claw marks only seemed to be getting bigger and deeper the further up it went, as if the creature that made these marks was gaining strength at a prodigious pace.

In a little more than the time it took Fleur to run from the bottom of the cave to her horse, it had gained the strength, weight, and toughness to tear into stone. Not even abnormal zombies grew this fast.

“A monster formed from Orlog’s body, huh. Purple, swollen flesh. Abnormal speed as it crawled, starting out slow with Fleur having a large head start, but almost catching her before she managed to escape on her horse. Drooling.”

Arvel paused at the last property Fleur had described the monster as having.

While every aspect of what Fleur described was strange, it was the last one that stood out to him. Most undead didn’t drool—they simply couldn’t produce. Knight-class zombies could if they willed it since they were masters of disguise, but this Orlog monster didn’t sound sapient enough to control whether or not it drooled.

Perhaps the Orlog monster was a new type of undead. It was a frightening thought.

“To be honest, this sounds more like a hellspawn than an undead,” Arvel muttered. “If anyone else told me about it, I’d think they’re playing a prank on me, but Fleur wouldn’t lie. Not in that kind of situation.”

He still remembered the fear he saw in Fleur’s eyes when she pictured the monster in her eyes. For her sake, and the sake of the mission, he will be sure to destroy it. To do that, he needed to head southwards after the monster.

The monster wasn’t subtle with its movements at all, so it was easy to tell where it went.

According to the forensics team, after the first team of clerics ran into it in the forest, they ran back where they came from—north. The monster managed to catch and kill every one of them, snapping whole trees in the process. Large claw marks scored the large, intact trees.

After where the bodies of the clerics were found, there were no signs of the monster’s passage. Instead, the monster headed back to the mines, and then south.

“Why south? Is it random?” Arvel wondered. “No, it couldn’t be. The doubling back seems purposeful. Could it be driven by some kind of instinct? From the sound of it, it seems that this monster was created from the peculiar mana in the cavern.”

Arvel took out the case containing the crystal, staring at the gold speckled inkiness. A glow came to his eyes.

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“What will happen if I insert this enough mana into an animal and seal it inside? Will it become an undead like that Orlog monster? If so, which way would it head? So much to study, not enough time…heh hehe.”

Laughing to himself, he walked toward the house where the late Orlog had set up his base of operations. There were already several priests and war clerics milling about the buildings. They worked to clean up the site and gather information and research material.

Unfortunately, the most valuable research subjects had already been purified and destroyed. The half eaten cleric bodies that had been in contact with the monster were cremated as soon as their identities were ascertained.

“No, now that I think about it, there’s one more. Fleur came into contact with it too.” Arvel’s heart nearly stopped as he realized the implications. “I need to hurry with my research! No, I have to warn her first.”

The cough that plagued Fleur started after Fleur was infected with that mana. Although Arvel didn’t know what it was except that Cleansing Light could temporarily suppress it, he now had some idea.

The peculiar mana may be forcing an undead transformation on Fleur! No, he was quite confident in his hypothesis, and he could not afford to be proven wrong or right this time.

Arvel quickened his footsteps toward the house, already feeling the pen and paper that would be in his hands.

Thanks to the need for secrecy, mail didn’t go out very often and everything was checked so he had to be sure to pick his words carefully. His last letter from yesterday barely got through.

Whatever happened, Fleur must not stop her casting of Cleansing Light!



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