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In my world, a creature is made up of three parts: the body (the physical stuff you live in), the spirit (your senses, locomotion, survival instinct and what makes you 'alive'), and the soul (the driver, the thing that translates sensory input, stores experiences, and travels to the afterlife). After years of use, the various parts leave impressions on each other such that all three aren't always necessary. A soulless body can still move around and remain alive for a time without its 'driver', but can't adapt to new circumstances. A spiritless body can survive for a short time in a comatose state. A bodiless soul and spirit can anchor onto a location for a time. Likewise, even parts from other species can be worked in via magic to replace a missing soul and/or spirit, albeit with some loss in function.

Seeing as the enslavement of human souls is horrific to polite society, neutral (as in non-necessarily-evil businessmen) necromancers began breeding some kind of fantasy animal for the purpose of harvesting their spirits and souls and implanting them in a recently-dead human corpse for a cheap source of zombie labor.

The question is, can you think of circumstances that would make them go through this convoluted process rather than just using the livestock as beasts of burden, or if there's something special about the zombie state, put animal souls/spirits into other animals to get the same effect?

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    $\begingroup$ This sounds line a new betting sport - dog-in-corpse racing. Or a weird sex thing (totally ewwww). $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 4 at 23:26
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Obvious answer: humans have hands.

Imagine trying to get a cow to muck out the stables, or make you tea. (Or, if you want to go darker, wield a sword in an army). They just can't do it. But a human corpse that's been reanimated?

That said, you're looking at this wrong. They won't breed cattle to use their souls to reanimate corpses rather than just using the cattle as beasts of burden (or delicious steaks 😋). That would be stupid.

They'll breed dogs. They're intelligent, easy to train, loyal, and there are far fewer ways in which a canine body is superior to a human body.

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    $\begingroup$ Thumbs man, thumbs $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Mar 4 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't say cattle, I said livestock: something you raise for the purpose of being killed. This is a fantasy world, and I'm sure the animal in question will be something we've never seen before. $\endgroup$ – Carduus Mar 5 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Carduus Do you have some reason they cannot use just cattle and pigs and other things they are already raising and using for food? Realistically that reason might be relevant to your question. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 5 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Carduus, but you did say "beasts of burden", which tend to be on the large and dumb, or at least docile, side. I guess what I'm arguing is that, no, they won't use the souls of animals that make good beasts of burden, because, yeah, they're already useful as-is. They will use the souls of animals that are intelligent and loyal, especially if having a human body is more useful than the animal's "natural" body. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Mar 5 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Carduus, and that's my point; unless you don't need the body to do much (ahem: see Willk's answer), you won't use a cattle soul, you'll use something like a dog, pig, crow, parrot... Although bulls might make okay soldiers, bouncers... $\endgroup$ – Matthew Mar 5 at 15:46
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Tractable humans for human / human interactions.

I read a scifi where a man visited a bordello and his assigned prostitute was dead, reanimated by some sort of tech. That is how they all were there. He wondered who she had been when she was alive and how it was her body wound up here. The body had clearly not been treated well, but it did not mind and neither did the customer. The oldest profession in the world is alive and profitable. Maybe it could also be dead and profitable.

That said, deviants might get away with mistreating a robotic corpse. Robots don't care. But people who decide to mistreat a body inhabited by the spirit of a tractable old dog might want to think twice. That old dog might remember how to bite.

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    $\begingroup$ OTOH, there is some real cruelty potential here if you can get away with doing things to a human-with-an-animal-soul that would be illegal to do to a human-with-a-human-soul. We did, however, say that we're talking about neutral necromancers, not evil ones... $\endgroup$ – Matthew Mar 4 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew By neutral, I'm just saying not NECESSARILY evil. Businessmen, not professional villains. I'm trying to break out of the undead-powered-by-raw-concentrated-evil trope and get into shades of gray. $\endgroup$ – Carduus Mar 5 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Carduus, I'm arguing that if they're shoving souls into a body that (they know) is going to be tortured, they are evil. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Mar 5 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @willk Do you by any change remember the title/author of that SciFi? That sounds like the short story or novella that I have been trying to track down for a couple of years. I read it about 25 or 30 years ago in some anthology. I was actually going to ask a story-id question over at the SF&Fantasy SE this weekend about it. In the story, as I remember, a human controller could operate a number (4 to 6 ?) re-animated bodies, via some techno mind-control interface. Some of the memories of the bodies could linger and sometimes affect the operator via the mind-control interface. $\endgroup$ – Tonny Mar 5 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Tonny - could it have been in Anthonology; short stories by Piers Anthony? It seems to be in the corner of my mind with other stories from that. $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 6 at 12:35
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The body of the human has the advantage to use things designed to humans. Like a car. Or a drillpress. Or a parachute. You got it. So if you have a soul of a smart dog, if it is on a human body you can give it the hability to use more human things.

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The Problem:

Before we get to this the meat of the question, we should first address the MUCH more obvious thing to do with Necromancy: extend human life. Instead of putting animals into human bodies, people would generally prefer to extend thier own lives meaning that it is far more likely for your mythical creatures to be bred as vessels for human souls than the other way around. If your body is irrevocably destroyed, a necromancer could place your soul into a soulbeast to keep it from moving on, then if you are wealthy enough, when another human body in reasonably good shape shows up that COULD be used as a vessel for an animal soul, you would then put the rescued human soul into it. Nobility would spend a fortune on such a service meaning that the market value of a human souled zombie would far outway the unit value of an animal souled zombie in most cases.

With this being the case, an animal-souled zombie would need to have a job in mind worth as much to an investor as extending the life of a wealthy merchant or nobleman. Putting an animal's soul into a zombie for plowing a field would simply not be a worthwhile investment compared to putting a rich man's soul into zombie. This means you need to solve one of two problems:

OPTION A: Make zombies for jobs that are worth more than most person's life:

Human loyalty is subjective compared to many animals. If your mythical creatures are breed for loyalty and obedience, then thier souls would make for ideal servants in places where trust is paramount. They would be prefered to human souled servants as bodyguards, royal cooks, tax-collectors, etc. To a king, the guaranteed trustworthiness of the single person who can most easily kill you is worth more than a hundred extra soldiers guarding some remote outpost; so, they would pay a lord's ransom for these zombies. Also, tax collectors in the ancient world were often the richest people in any given town due to the sheer volume of wealth they were able to skim before delivering thier collections to the state. Eliminating this corruption could save a ruler hundreds of pounds of gold and silver per year making the investment in a zombie worth a lot more money than most people could ever afford.

OPTION B: Make zombie-hood undesirable for humans, but not soulbeasts:

When a person dies and another person's soul is put into that body, the body is permanently scarred from the trauma of its death. To live in a body that was once dead is to live in a state of unending pain. Your mythical soulbeasts however are unable to experience pain of any sort so when thier soul goes to live in a zombie body, the soul simply does not register that it is in pain, because it is not designed to understand what pain is. So, while a human soul is tortured to the point of madness by the experience, soulbeasts can use the body to more or less the same effect as a human could use a natural body. In this case, a land owner might keep a flock of soulbeasts so that when one of his serfs dies, he can have a necromancer reanimate it for a modest fee so that it can go on to farm and pay taxes for years to come.

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The first bit has been touched on already: Humans have hands, or more accurately opposable thumbs. Humans can hold tools and manipulate things made by humans better than any livestock or fantasy animal.

As to why breed a new fantasy animal as opposed to using livestock? Well, this fantasy animal is smart, but not too smart. In addition, they are specifically bred to be obedient and can be trained to handle a specific task or two. In short, they are a good servant, but they don't have the human features needed to be a near-perfect slave. Stuffing that soul into a dead human makes the closest thing to a perfect zombie that does not involve human souls.

As a more magic-based addition, they can also be bred to be more soul-compatible with human corpses if this make the soul-body mismatch easier to overcome. If these creatures are also delicious when cooked, bonus.

The resultant zombie that would come from this is smart enough to do a task without being told every last thing, but not smart/wise enough to rebel or question orders.

Livestock or other animals will be handy in a pinch situation where the docility of herd animals is best, or the loyalty/training of a dog best serves the cause. But they do not create the same quality zombie as these fantasy animals does.

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