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Chapter 51: A Line to Cross

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Author: TypeAxiom Original Source: ScribbleHub

It wasn’t a coincidence that the path went the way it did. It follows the nearby stream for quite some distance. Dinner was an affair much like lunch, with Carmen bringing back just a small bird this time, since dinner didn’t have to be too big.

Anne and Fleur went to fetch water together, and this time, neither of them came back crying, which was good. Carmen felt that she had seen enough heartbreak and almost-lost friendships to last her a lifetime, although she suspected that for as long as she looked after Fleur, she was going to have to keep dealing with them…if she was alone.

Luckily, she could just foist the responsibility off to Arvel, who was Fleur’s actual adoptive father, even if they didn’t act like it.

Pitching tents after nightfall was a difficult matter, even with the help of the campfire that Anne created. Anne’s eyes had lit up as the fire crackled in life for a moment, this time without Fleur’s help. Considering it was only her second time, her excitement was understandable, although it was odd that Anne was being so expressive when she had been so lethargic all afternoon and dusk.

With their little tents set up right next to each other, the two girls went to bed, leaving the night watch to Carmen who did not need sleep. With the noisy children in bed, all became silent and still except the sound of night critters and the crackle of the campfire slowly immolating the wood.

After making sure that both of the girls were asleep or at least pretending to be, Carmen left the campsite, disappearing into the darkness beyond the reach of the light from the fire. Clouds covered the moon, making the night doubly dark.

She didn’t go far. From where she was on the other side of the path, she could still clearly see what went on in and around the campsite.

Under the cover of the darkness, she met with Kagriss, who dropped down next to her. “Mistress.”

“Kagriss,” she said, acknowledging the lich. “What kind of undead can you create?” she asked.

The whole plan hinged Kagriss’s ability to create undead. All liches could raise undead, and the undead created by liches were all “pure,” as the undead from Amaranthine Point called them.

If not, then Carmen wouldn’t have asked Kagriss for her help with this no matter what.

However, while she knew that Kagriss had the ability, she didn’t know the extent that Kagriss could push it, since she wasn’t a lich herself. A zombie warrior naturally had less control over mana thanks to devoting so much of their power on strengthening their bodies, so they couldn’t raise undead.

Kagriss answered without blinking or stopping to think. She knew all of her capabilities like the back of her hand. “I can create any undead that is beneath knight-class,” she said. “There are no strict limitations as long as I don’t go overboard.”

“Oh.”

In other words, undead creation was limited by class, or the tiers of power. Even the biggest, strongest undead of a lesser-class would lose to a small child-like knight-class thanks to the latter’s intelligence and greater power.

“What do you think will be suitable for spurring Anne to protect Fleur, a zombie or a skeleton?” Carmen asked. “On second thought, I don’t think there’s a human corpse around here, and I’d be very worried if there was.”

“That won’t be a problem. There are plenty of corpses of lesser creatures nearby. Although they won’t be as strong as undead created from human corpses, it should be enough for your purposes, mistress,” Kagriss said. With a wave of her hand, undead mana split off from her fingertips and floated down toward the ground, changing shape as it went.

Carmen looked on with envy.

Remote spell construction—the ability to construct spells from a point that wasn’t right by the caster’s body. As a templar, she didn’t have the ability to remotely construct spells like archpriests could. Even if her skill and affinity for holy magic was not inferior compared to them, it was simply a matter of different talents. For example, those archpriests wouldn’t be able to handle the intensity of close combat like templars could no matter how much they practiced.

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Now, as a zombie warrior, her talents were once again focused on physical combat rather than spellcasting for undead magic as well.

The door to remote spell construction seemed to be forever beyond her grasp. Perhaps it was just fate.

By the time the blob of undead mana reached the ground, Kagriss had completed the construction, and the undead mana surged through the spell and manifested as the spell’s effects, becoming a black light that shone into the ground, disappearing into the dirt.

After a moment, the ground rose up, and a small robin covered in dirt broke through the earth. It beated its wings and flew slowly up to them, wobbling in the air, and past a certain height, it simply lost its balance and fell back down to the ground.

“Even animals aren’t spared from the undead’s natural lack of coordination, I see,” Carmen said. Undead animals were rare, so she didn’t have many chances to see them.

Kagriss nodded.

“But why are its flesh and feathers intact?” Carmen asked. A corpse buried that deep in the earth should be an old corpse long picked clean. According to common knowledge, such a corpse should have become a skeleton, rather than a zombie—let alone such an intact one.

As if Kagriss herself wasn’t sure of the answer, the lich thought for a while before she spoke. “I thought that it might look prettier. Don’t you think so too?”

The fluttering bird on the ground struggled to get to its feet, but failed again and again. An invisible force much like the one that had altered the trajectory of Carmen’s fifth stone lifted it up and placed the zombie robin in Kagriss’s outstretched palms.

The lich offered the bird, who had stopped moving, to Carmen.

Accepting the gift, Carmen became speechless at Kagriss’s explanation. She hadn’t expected an answer like that to come from a “pure” undead.

Pretty?

Come to think of it, Kagriss preferred the purple armored dress over the black and white one that she currently wore. Was this…a sense of aesthetics? For some reason, Carmen subconsciously dismissed the idea that undead could have anything but pure functional preferences as impossible. After all, even the knight-class undeads that she fought as a templar were rarely interested in anything except their own survival and the elimination of the living.

Of all the reasons that Carmen came up with that might have explained Kagriss’s actions—like giving the bird more muscles with which to move, or the ability to fly—to restore its beauty was something that she had never considered.

But what did that mean?

Carmen looked at the bird in her hands. It was perfectly restored, its flesh regenerated by the undead powers that Kagriss bestowed upon it. It looked as beautiful as a living bird, although it lacked a crucial spirit that only evolution or true life could give it.

She tore her gaze from the bird and fixed it on Kagriss, trying to find the answer to her question on the lich’s body.

Kagriss’s expression betrayed nothing, as blank as usual. But as Carmen continued to stare at her, Kagriss tilted her head, the movement mechanical and strange as if she wasn’t used to doing it, but it still clearly communicated her confusion. “Why are you looking at me like that, Mistress? Aren’t we planning how to solve Fleur’s problem?”

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“Oh! Yes, yes we were.” Carmen shook her head. “So we’re settling on animal corpses as the monsters we use to attack them. What do we use, though?”

The dead remnants of a few dozen remnants of animals rested beneath them in the earth. It was less than she had expected, but then again, it took exceptional circumstances to preserve intact skeletons. Most corpses are scattered long before they could be buried.

Of those bones, most were of herbivores or omnivores like deer and boar. Only a few were of things like hounds. Carmen wasn’t sure which would be the better choice.

When she brought up her thoughts to Kagriss, the lich fell silent for a moment as she processed the question and then once again surprised Carmen with her answer.

“Why not all of them?” she asked.

“A—all of them?” Carmen echoed. “What do you mean? Because one undead isn’t enough to scare them?” That was a point she hadn’t thought of. Anne and Fleur did their fair share of work in the necropolis, especially with that spell that Fleur called “Purifying Impact.”

It looked painfully similar to the melee Purification that Fleur used on her back in the mines…and in fact judging from the name, it was probably a derivative. Carmen sighed and pushed the painful memory away, coming back to the present.

One undead animal wasn’t enough, so how many were numerous enough that Anne will worry about Fleur’s safety, yet also little enough that it didn’t pose a real threat? Three? Five?

“No. That is something we have to think about, but not what I was thinking of,” Kagriss said, shaking her head. “I mean that I could combine the corpses of multiple animals. Although there will be issues with compatibility and movement, I believe that you are going more for show rather than actual combat prowess, right, mistress?”

Kagriss continued to pull surprise out of surprise from her sleeve, bringing up possibilities that Carmen never thought possible. An undead chimera was something that she had never considered before. But thinking about it, what Kagriss suggested made sense.

If Kagriss could restore the flesh of one creature and undead mana did most of the work moving the body, there was no reason a chimera couldn’t exist by combining those two applications.

Even if the resulting chimera was physically weaker and clumsier than undead raised from a single corpse, the fact that such an abomination could conceivably exist was…disturbing, to say the least.

Excusing her morbid curiosity with the excuse that the undead they’d be creating were pure and mindless, she found that she was actually anticipating the game of build-a-monster.

If Arvel had been here, he’d be excited as well for new possibilities to explore.

Carmen nodded toward Kagriss, showing her approval. “Let’s do it.”

Making a quick circle around the camping site, making sure to not go too far, Carmen and Kagriss casted their senses out to search for appropriate corpses.

They quickly found the remains of several wolf-like creatures, deers, boars, and even a large bird of prey nearby. After excavation, the mostly intact skeletons of several large animals were laid out before them deep in the forest, away from any prying eyes.

As Carmen looked at these skeletons laid out before her, she took a deep breath, aware that she was about to cross an important threshold.

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She had once condemned the Church for raising zombies to use as labor. She condemned Orlog for using those zombies for his personal wealth. Now, she was doing the same thing. Even if she was not the one personally raising the zombies, she was still the one ordering their creation. Not only was she going against the natural order of life, she was even further defiling it by creating chimeras.

Once Kagriss cast her spell, there was no going back.

“What’s wrong, mistress?” Kagriss asked. She extended a hesitant hand and touched her shoulder, making Carmen jump. It was the first time that Kagriss had touched her for no reason—what had happened the previous night notwithstanding.

After casting a bewildered look at the Kagriss who maintained an innocently blank face, she shook her head. “Nothing. Come on, let’s start.”

She began sorting through the bones, picking out combinations that she thought would look as horrifying as possible. Kagriss helped her, acting as her assistant, helping her reach the bones that were too far away.

Even as Carmen asked herself if she was willing to cross that line, the answer had long been answered in her heart.



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