Victor followed his goblin servant with newfound anxiety. 'How should I approach this? My maxed out [Raise Undead] skill allows the dead to keep their memories. Interrogating information will be a breeze, so should I keep any of them alive?'
After arriving at a clearing, the goblin scampered off and left Victor with five gruff-looking merchants. One was constantly checking a crude compass that pointed towards the fleeing girl around a hundred meters away.
'Merchants means there is civilisation nearby. That at least confirms one of my questions.' Victor watched the men silently for a while longer, but none of them suggested a high social status or a reason to keep them alive.
"You will better serve me in death."
The merchants jumped in surprise at the ancient voice, and one of them dropped their lantern, plunging the area into darkness.
"Great dragon, we are sorry for trespassing-"
'Dragon? Do they think I am a dragon? How amusing.' Since the merchants huddled together with two well-placed claws, all five found themselves without a beating heart.
Eerie silence returned to the cursed forest. Victor relished for a moment his first human kill. 'It does feel different from slaughtering monsters, maybe because I still think it is taboo? How interesting...' With his many eyes, Victor had a near-perfect vision in all directions, but he still turned his head towards the fleeing girl.
'I don't have much time to waste since my stats are still falling but watching for a little while shouldn't hurt.' To Victor, this was pure entertainment, a twisted form of theatre. There was a shocking lack of amusement in a silent forest filled with unintelligent beasts. Victor was curious how a local of this world would react to this situation. Does the girl know magic? Maybe the humans of this world cultivate like in those Chinese novels? The anticipation made him feel some emotion for the first time in months.
Victor watched the girl stumble and fall through the darkness towards him. 'Interesting. Why is she heading toward her pursuers? Did I read the situation wrong?' Once the girl entered the clearing and smiled at the corpses before breaking down in tears, Victor concluded, 'She is just a terrified girl. I guess I overestimated her. Moving deeper into the forest would be suicide, and it's hard to track where you are without night vision, so going back the way she came is only logical.'
Watching for a while, Victor debated what to do next. He wanted to watch her antics a little longer, but she looked near death. So here came the next issue. How can he help her? He could use the undead, but Victor wasn't sure she would see the undead as friendly. If he were alone in a forest back on Earth, nothing would terrify him more than a talking skeleton appearing out of nowhere.
Victor took a deep metaphorical breath. He hadn't spoken to a sentient creature other than his undead since he arrived.
"Are you lost, little human?" The tree's rustled as his voice boomed through the clearing. 'Maybe I overdid it a little.'
The girl understandably froze. She reached for a nearby stick with calm and careful movements.
"W-who..." she choked back her tears and steeled her resolve as her fingers gripped a stick longer than a dagger and as sharp as a blunt butter knife.
"Who goes there!" She shouted, her voice quivering. "Come out! Please..."
Victor was floating right beside her with his stealth active. 'Do I show myself? Would she be able to comprehend my existence?' Victor wasn't an eldritch being, but he did originate from the void and had many eyes and a massive body that towered over the tiny human. 'In her current mental state, showing myself would be counterproductive. Better to act ancient and indifferent. Maybe I could raise her like a pet?'
A sudden, fun idea crossed the monster's mind. 'Maybe I could teach the girl some magic. Can humans even level up with this system too? So much to find out.'
"Don't be afraid, little one. I was merely passing by." Victor put on the persona of an ancient unknown creature, which was surprisingly accurate.
The girl stagged back and leaned against a nearby tree, her legs wobbled, and her body shook in the cold. Her matted black hair covered her face as she hung her head low. "I am so tired... please help this pathetic human." Blood trickled down her bone-thin frame as she dropped the stick to the floor.
"Can you use the system, human?" Before she died, Victor needed to know this fact. 'If she can, then saving her is potentially within my capabilities... especially if there is a party or shared exp system.'
"Yes... yes, I can." She began moving her arm in the air, it used all her remaining strength, but a second later, a blue box appeared floating in front of her that Victor could also see.
"See, I can use it..."
[Join Party? Yes/No]
'So there is a party feature! Why doesn't my system have such a thing?' Victor reached forward with a claw without deactivating his stealth and clicked Yes.
Blue screens displaying information rushed through his mind.
[Party formed of 2 members, Alice(Leader) + Victor]
[Name: Alice] (Leader)
[STR: 30 (Weakened), DEX:42, CON: 12 (Weakened), INT: 72, WIS: 56]
(Extreme Hunger) (Extreme Fatigue) (Bleeding) (Weakened) (Freezing) (Slave)
[STR: 259200, DEX: 259200, CON: 259200, INT: 259200, WIS: 259200]
(Life Force Unstable)
Victor read the new popup with interest. Alice appeared to have high stats, especially in magic-focused ones like INT and WIS. It was also amusing that the party system didn't recognise him, 'Likely because I'm a monster... Can monsters usually join parties?' Before Victor could continue his line of questioning, Alice fell forward onto the floor and groaned.
Victor realised his time to question was short, "One last question, can party members harm one another?"
"Area affect spells... do not affect party members..." Alice mumbled as she passed out.
Without wasting time, Victor floated over to the merchant corpses and used [Raise Undead].
Mana wrapped around the bodies before thinning out into the shape of a nervous system. Finally, the blue light faded away, and the corpses began to move. Suddenly, Victor felt a bizarre feeling in the back of his mind. The constant static buzz of the undead army's hivemind transformed into clear and coherent thoughts.
'The goblins can talk? Why would adding a human undead to the hivemind cause such a reaction? How curious...'
With five undead humans standing at the ready, Victor wanted to ask some questions, but alas, the girl's situation was dire and needed immediate attention.
"Humans, you are merchants, correct?"
They all replied in unison with a resounding yes.
"Excellent. Is your merchant caravan nearby?"
Again they nodded.
"Go with the goblins, retrieve everything, including the wagons, and bring it back here. We will use the forest as cover from search parties and other caravans passing by."
Without another word, the human undead moved to complete their task alongside a horde of goblins that had remained nearby.
Victor looked at Alice, sleeping on the floor, "See how lifeless and dull undead are? Don't die on me and turn into one of them. We still have much to do!"