In a reversal of roles, it was now Aldrich that charged the Striker, sprinting at the monster before it could build up speed for its own charge. He determined that the only way for the Striker to escape its situation was to charge Aldrich and force him to dodge, thereby giving it a clean getaway path.
By charging first, Aldrich removed that option, though this was far riskier for his own personal safety. Regardless, he wanted the EXP and undead from the Striker.
The Striker snapped at Aldrich when he got close, managing to close its jaws around his shoulder. Because Aldrich had not leveled his vitality, the durability of his body was still similar, and the Striker, even as a E-class monster, had bite force capable of tearing apart metal.
Aldrich felt his shoulder bones shattering and his flesh tearing like paper, but he held the Striker off with his arms while Adam and Elaine pounced on its back, tearing the Variant away and throwing it to the ground.
"Do me a favor and kill this thing," said Aldrich as he held his mangled shoulder. Adam and Elaine began to bite and claw at the Striker, wrestling it into the ground where it had no escape.
The Striker turned and managed to bite Adam's head, cracking his skull, and Aldrich reacted by throwing out a precisely aimed, powerful kick at the base of the Striker's neck, breaking the bone supporting it.
The Striker fell down, limp and dead.
[Striker defeated! +10 EXP]
[EXP Bar: 0/30 ] 10/30]
"Sorry, Adam," said Aldrich as he saw the huge tooth marks dug into his former friend's skull. "But you'll be patched up soon with my [Anti-Life Shell]. Plus, like you said, it's not like you're missing out with that face of yours."
Aldrich did not know why he talked to his friends as if they were still alive. He felt a twinge of hurt when he saw them as zombies. He thought he was immune to loss, and though he definitely was cold to it, there was still a part of him that grieved and tried to hold on to the memories of the two that had been his only friends in this unfair world.
Or maybe Aldrich was just going crazy. Perhaps a side effect of being Undead. Speaking of -
Aldrich inspected his damaged shoulder and moved it around. There was no pain, and despite the fact that tendons and bone and muscle had been torn to shreds, he could still move it with no issues. He truly was an Undead now, and this, he was not familiar with.
In Elden World, player characters could choose from a wide variety of races, but being an Undead was not one of them. He had no idea how his character would progress or whether he could evolve from being a basic Undead to something like a Lich.
Aldrich's thoughts were broken by Adam and Elaine tearing chunks from the dead Strikers and eating the raw, bloody meat.
"I know you guys are hungry, but I need a mostly intact corpse to raise," said Aldrich. Adam and Elaine stopped chewing and stood up with grunts, swaying as they awaited further commands.
Aldrich's current mana was at 2/15, and [Raise Undead Rank 1] cost 4 mana, so he needed at the very least 8 mana to cast two of it. He needed to rest and recharge. In Elden World, mana regeneration mechanics were such that there was no in combat mana regeneration.
Mages therefore had to rest out of combat to slowly regain their mana, though this would take quite some time. A full recharge on mana took several hours at the minimum.
As a result, mages generally had to rely on using consumables to recharge their mana, specifically using an item called the [Restorative Flask].
Every single player started out with a [Restorative Flask] and it was the only basic item that stuck with the player all the way from level 1 to 100. The item had a set number of charges which could be set for either healing health or restoring mana.
Melee characters used skills that had a charge based system and not spells that consumed mana, so they could set all the charges on their flask for healing. Mages, however, had to generally set aside around half of their charges for mana.
This was the tradeoff for being a mage who was generally safer with ranged abilities.
The only issue was that right now, Aldrich did not have the [Restorative Flask] on him. Normally, it was given to the player at the beginning of the game when they entered a space known as the Nexus which was a central hub that housed the fast travel system where players could teleport to various saved locations.
As if to answer Aldrich's worries, however, a message popped up in his vision.
New Quest: Access the Nexus
Quest Difficulty: 1
Access the Nexus using the [Sign Stone] item.
In Elden World, coins were the main currency of the game. Even though there were no blacksmiths or artificers in the real world, the Nexus did have a shop system that Aldrich could use coins for. The only issue was that it seemed that real life Variants did not drop coins, meaning the only way he could farm them was through completing quests.
Aldrich switched over to his tab where he saw the [Sign Stone] deposited. He selected it and manifested it. A small, crystalline black rock appeared in his hand, humming with a warmth that made it feel almost alive.
Aldrich knew what to do. [Sign Stones] could be used to imbue an area with a Gate Sign that players could access to reach the safety of the Nexus to refill their [Restorative Flask] and run from dangers.
[Sign Stones] were incredibly rare items granted by completing difficult Trial Quests accessible through the Nexus, but Aldrich could not be picky with how he used this one. He needed to get to the Nexus soon and all things considered, using the [Sign Stone] in this forest that nobody ever investigated was not that bad of an idea.
Aldrich knelt down and placed the stone onto the forest floor. It flashed with a white glow for a second before dissolving into the dirt, etching out a spiral shaped sigil. It continued to glow brightly, but when Aldrich moved away, the glow faded, and the sigil turned invisible, ensuring that it would be completely secret.
Aldrich wondered if anyone else could access the sign. In Elden World, only players who were chosen to save the world could access signs and the Nexus, so he figured that other than himself, nobody else could trigger it.
Which meant that Aldrich now had his own personal pocket dimension that he could hop into where nobody else could chase him or threaten him.
Aldrich tapped the sign and a selection message appeared in front of him.
[Access the Nexus?]
Aldrich immediately projected his consent, and the sign flashed with a blinding burst of light, enveloping him before drenching his vision in pure darkness.
The darkness quickly faded, revealing the familiar environment of the Nexus.
The Nexus was a circular, temple-like room fashioned out of muted grey stone. It was sizable, easily the size of a two-story home and just as tall. At the center of the Nexus, there was a large basin of water swirling in a gentle spiral current standing atop a pillar engraved with carvings of armored fighters wielding blades and robed mages holding staffs.
One half of the water glowed a bright gold, indicating liquid that restored health, and the other half glowed blue, indicating liquid that restored mana.
Twelve large pillars dotted the walls of the Nexus, supporting a domed ceiling dotted with large, glowing white and gold crystals that emitted light that approximated sunlight. Each of these pillars housed double stone doors at their bases, and through these pillars, a player could access Trial Quests of various difficulty.
Trial Quests were tailored for the individual player's class and clearing them were pre-requisites to maximizing and unlocking the abilities of one's class.
Aldrich heard groans behind him, and he realized that Adam and Elaine had followed him here. Made sense, considering that they were counted as his units.
"So, how's the Nexus in real life, Adam? Though you've probably seen it too many times for it to be a surprise anymore,' said Aldrich. Anytime a player died, they revived at the Nexus, though Aldrich had no idea if he could actually respawn.
Until Aldrich got confirmation he could, he would assume that he only had one life to spare.
Adam and Elaine both just stared blankly ahead, their minds long gone.
Aldrich sighed before he walked over to the basin. It was elevated on a platform, so he had to climb some stairs to get to it. As he approached, he knew what would happen: light from above would descent on the basin and the player and the goddess Amara, the creator of the Nexus, would materialize and float down, granting the player their [Restorative Flask] and telling them of their purpose to save Eldenia, the setting of Elden World, from the great threat known as the Howling Dark.
But what happened was entirely out of Aldrich's expectations. No goddess appeared. Instead, when he reached the basin, strange, pixelated boxes started to cluster in front of him. He immediately stepped back, wary.
The boxes looked like graphical distortions, like glitches in the game, and when they faded away, it was not a beautiful, golden haired and golden eyed goddess that stared back at him, but a pixelated black stick figure.
"Welcome, Host," said the stick figure in a gender neutral voice underlined with a hint of static.