Hundreds of undead sat slumped, side by side, against the walls of buildings that enclosed the town square. Their eyes burned dimly, in a state that seemed more like temporary inactivity rather than death or sleep.
The four bone knights Chris had seen earlier sat slumped together against a far wall—looking like discarded dolls, their ribcages swung open like furnaces demanding coal.
In the center of the square, rows of Undead artisans clustered around torchlit workstations. To their sides were stacked piles of bones. They hammered and clamped and crimped and cut their materials together, laboriously crafting more bone knights from their heaped supplies.
Chris ducked away. Where were all the Undead? The human tutorial town had been bustling with people. This town, should have held thousands. Instead, there were only several hundred on duty. The town might have been conquered, ransacked, the broken fixtures of many houses lent credibility to such an assertion; conversely, the Undead had little need for such things as doors or windows, which could be allowed to fade into disrepair—gathering their numbers in a single central location was far more efficient and secure.
The bones had to come from somewhere as well. But that was far easier to solve. The Undead had stripped the forests of weaker monsters to fuel the creation of their knights. That would certainly explain why they were so quiet, except for the rock trolls, which would be far harder to take down—given their durability and tendency to congregate together.
The Undead—the sapient ones at least—were all humanoids, however. Which meant the bodies had to come from somewhere. He peeked back around the corner. Now that he was looking, the Undead all had fine features and pointed ears—once one looked beyond the whole ‘being dead’ thing. Elves.
Chris had already seen that the race was capable of turning wolves, so the predominance of elves was more likely due to availability rather than a prerequisite for the creation of Undead. There weren’t any Undead wolves strolling around here, though. Maybe it was something to do with them being Enlightened or not. Undead wolves were possible, he’d seen them rise; however, they’d also seemed a little feral, just not aggressive to their fellow Undead.
That meant that the Undead constantly needed a supply of Enlightened races to replenish their numbers. Elves if they were nearby, humans if they weren’t, and probably any other race that they came across as well. He doubted the Undead were fussy. They just needed someone that was living and able to become dead.
He turned and walked away from the square, intending on using one of the abandoned houses to shelter in until he figured out what to do. It was late and he should probably get some sleep, maybe some food as well if it was available. Although… he didn’t feel particularly hungry. He looked at his right arm suspiciously, narrowing his eyes. Yeah… he didn’t want to think on that too deeply.
Chris ran into a patrolling Undead before he could duck into a house. It took no notice of him, especially after a mace caved in its skull. He wanted to increase his Undead killing quest anyway, it was just a good opportunity, and the only one he had available, to be honest. He didn’t know whether the Undead slept like the dead or not, and smashing skulls wasn’t super loud, but it wasn’t quiet either—ambushing solitary enemies was his best shot at getting good results in the quest.
Chris dragged the desuscitated body through a doorway. The domicile he’d chosen was small and cramped, but a counter blocked the view of the floor from the window and door—making it a great place to hunker down for the night.
He brought the corpse behind the counter and patted it on the shoulder. “Just you and me now, buddy.”
If there was one blessing, it was that the corpse wasn’t rotten and didn’t smell. It was surprising, but also not. Rotten muscles didn’t really move very well.
He closed his eyes and faded off to sleep.
Chris woke mid-morning light streaming over the countertop and his arm draped over the corpse. That was creepy enough, but it would have been slightly less disturbing if his arm hadn’t gotten peckish while he slept and made a midnight snack of half the body’s head, neck, and torso.
He jerked his arm away, reining in a surprised exclamation at the last moment when he remembered where he was. Nowhere good.
He stood and exited the house. He wandered around the Undead town for a while, it was even more deserted during the day than it had been during the night. The bone artisans were still in the square, working tirelessly through their piles of bones as parts of bone knight took shape.
The inactive Undead must have risen bright and early, and a fraction of them ferried bones that had been stripped clean over to the artisans. The four bone knights were still inactive, their ribcages hanging open to receive whatever it was that powered them. Beside them now lay several small pieces of interlocking breastplate—the first parts of a fifth bone knight.
There was a shield and spear wielding guard standing at each of the three entrances to the town square to protect the artisans. It was daylight now, and they looked far more alert than some of the other guards. Those bone knights were deadly, and, as a result, the artisans that made them were invaluable to the Undead. They couldn’t be allowed to live.
Chris ducked back into the house where he’d stashed his victim and held his right arm out to half-eaten corpse.
“Go on, eat it.” The arm did not react.
He tried to convey the idea of the body being stripped of flesh by Slime, leaving smooth bone behind, only to be met with a sense of reluctance from his arm. It seemed to be full.
He tried again. Grudgingly, his arm rippled and spread itself over the dead flesh. There was no full-body dissolving like last time. Instead, thin lines emerged over the corpse’s clothes and skin. The body’s flesh sagged and suddenly collapsed, leaving a skeleton sitting in its place, leaving folded flesh and meat slumped around the legs and hips of a gleaming skeleton. Chris didn’t fail to notice that the internal organs were gone, but he was unsure if the Slime had consumed them now or during the night.
He poked the bones and they collapsed with a clatter—the joints had been dissolved as well. He picked them all up in a messy armload, then circled around the town via back alleys. He marched confidently toward the central square, his roundabout route making it seem as if he was coming from the town gates.
He joined step at the back of a line of Undead ferrying bones to the artisans. The guard gave him a brief glance, but turned away after seeing nothing amiss in its cursory inspection—less suspicious of the members in a group than it would be of a lone individual.
Chris was through. He lingered behind, going at the minimum acceptable speed. The Undead who had gone ahead of him were already halfway out of the square before he dumped his bones in the pile.
He pulled his weapons from his belt, one in each hand, and walked up to two of the artisans working side by side. One of the artisans turned to him and gurgled something in a language he didn’t understand, but sounded like clotted blood and burnt skin. It was the first time he’d heard an Undead speak. The thing paused mid-sentence as it met his eyes.
Chris smiled, then bashed in its skull. A swing of his axe decapitated the other. Both Undead fell as the other two across the tables looked up.
He jumped onto the work tables, bone scattering beneath his feet. The artisans ran in two direction. Chris went for the slowest as the guards drawn in by the commotion converged on him.
He jumped down from the table, driving the Undead artisan into the ground with a single blow.
He turned as the first of the three guards reached him, spear at the ready. Chris stepped backward, giving him a moment’s space as he prepared to fight.