"…Who are you?" said Aldrich as he narrowed his eyes and scrutinized the pixelated black stick figure. It was a little eerie staring into the plain circle that was its face as it was impossible to discern any emotion from the being.
"I am known as the System," said the stick figure.
"Where is the goddess Amara?" said Aldrich.
The stick figure ignored Aldrich as if it was a NPC that could only answer certain pre-programmed prompts and questions.
"Here in the Nexus, you will find a safe haven where great warriors like yourselves may find rest. The Nexus is connected to all parts of Eldenia where its Sign has been carved, and so through the Nexus, you may help all parts of the realm," said the stick figure.
Aldrich realized that the stick figure, or rather, the System as it called itself, was speaking the exact same dialogue prompt as the goddess Amara would have. In essence, it was the goddess Amara, just…different.
Aldrich wondered whether it was some placeholder for Amara before she had been completed by the game developers. If so, then did that mean that Aldrich was playing the 'game' on an earlier version?
"Skip dialogue," said Aldrich, and the command prompt worked.
The System paused for a second before moving on. It clasped the black pixelated boxes that functioned as its 'hands' together, and between them, a shining golden orb manifested. The light died down, and a beautifully ornate crystal flask floated down to Aldrich's eager hands.
[Item: Restorative Flask obtained]
"That is the Restorative Flask," said the System. "You may now fill it with the waters of life, granting you the ability to heal even the most grievous of injuries or restore your tired mind."
Aldrich came up to the basin and stared at the flask in his hand. When his attention came to it, details about the item appeared in a screen pasted on his vision.
Restorative Flask Rank 1
Use to consume the waters of life, healing 30% of one's total maximum health or mana or 10 health/mana, depending on which value is greater. Attune charges and refill this item at the Nexus. May be upgraded upon completion of Trial Quests to hold more charges.
Available Charges: 3
Healing Charges: 3
Mana Charges: 0
Aldrich noted that the flask had three tick marks on it that indicated how many charges there were. He poured out the golden liquid into the basin down to the last tick, draining the flask two thirds of the way down.
He then filled the flask back up with blue water.
Like this, he switched up his charges from three healing to one healing and two mana.
"Excellent," said the System as it hovered to the side of Aldrich. "With this, the waters of life may now give you protection on your harsh journey. Now, I will explain to you these twelve great pillars of creation and the Trials that lie behind their doors."
Aldrich listened to the dialogue just in case something had changed and the System would say anything different from the goddess Amara, but nothing changed. The System described how each of the pillars granted access to Trial Quests that unlocked further abilities of one's class.
Each pillar had recommended levels that went up by 10 per pillar, so by the tenth pillar, one had to be level 100. The final two pillars were challenge quests that required highly optimized builds to clear but granted incredible rewards.
Aldrich knew exactly what each trial quest held in store for him as he had completed all of them before. Through them, he could start to find strong undead monsters to raise, equipment, coin, and useful spell tomes.
The first pillar required a level of 10 to access, and so Aldrich would have to grind some Variant monsters out to reach that level first.
After the System spoke about the Trials, it then started to speak extra dialogue that the goddess Amara did not have.
"Heh, lad, you may also come to me for any craftin' or repairin' you need!" said the System.
Aldrich recognized that the System had taken up the tone and mannerisms of Sindri, the blacksmith god that worked at the Nexus who players could turn to for crafting. He introduced the Soul Forging system where rarely, monsters or enemies dropped Souls that could be used to forge weapons or gear that took up their attributes.
Regular drops like monster claws or teeth or whatnot had to be collected in large quantities for craft anything out of them, but a single Soul alone could craft an entire piece of gear or weapon.
In general, it seemed that the System took up the role of all the NPCs that were normally in the Nexus.
Aldrich listened, careful to note whether the System had any extra unprompted dialogue, but it did not.
It just cycled through the same things Aldrich had heard from Sindri, and afterwards, it just remained silent, having exhausted completely through the dialogue from the goddess Amara and the blacksmith god Sindri, the two NPCs of the Nexus.
Aldrich walked down the stairs once there was just silence. At the base of the stair, there was another Sign that he could access to reach Signs he had placed. He knelt down, beckoned Adam and Elaine to come close, and touched the Sign.
As the bright white light engulfed Aldrich and his group, he heard one line of unprompted dialogue from the System.
"May the hunt feed you well, Host…"
Aldrich returned to the real world, right above the Sign he had placed in the Variant infested forest. He wondered what that last line from the System had meant, but it did not seem important enough at the moment to waste time focusing on.
[Quest: Access the Nexus] completed!
EXP: 10/30 ] 20/30
Coins: 0 ] 100
The two Striker corpses were still beside him, and when he looked down to check his wristwatch (a watch that had no Net capabilities, hence, unlike his Eye-phone, it had not been taken from him) he noted that about five minutes had passed.
In the Nexus, however, Aldrich had thought he had spent at least ten or so minutes, indicating that time passed around half as fast as it did in the Nexus compared to the real world.
Aldrich checked his mana.
Good, thought Aldrich. Going to the Nexus restored his health and mana to full as it usually did. His mangled shoulder had completely healed up to normalcy, but notably, the gaping fist sized hole in his stomach did not.
He figured that because he had sustained that injury before his undeath, it counted as part of his body now.
He did not mind it. It gave him a striking reminder that he still had to make Seth Solar pay for what he had done.
Aldrich looked down at the Striker corpses and hovered his hand over them as he cast [Raise Undead].
"Serve," he said, though he did not know why. The word just slipped out of him, as if it belonged as a chant to the spell. The word felt fitting, though, he had to admit.
Aldrich's hand glowed green, and ghostly green energy flickered around the two Striker corpses. The corpses shuddered and then started to move. Their flesh rotted a little, tufts of hair falling out as they became zombified. They stood up on all fours, coming forwards to Aldrich and nuzzling their tawny, rotting heads at his hand like pet dogs.
A hazy dark green aura of rot emanated from them - the same aura emanating from Adam and Elaine.
Mana: 15/15 ] 5/15
Aldrich checked his tab.
Chosen Undead (0/1)
-Zombie Human Level 3
-Zombie Human Level 3
-Zombie Striker Level 5
-Zombie Striker level 5
Aldrich nodded to himself before drinking his Restorative Flask, restoring his mana.
Restorative Flask Charges: 2/3
Healing Charges: 1/1
Mana Charges: ½
Mana: 5/15 ] 15/15
Now, he had a sizable army to work with. Every 10 levels, the base number of units he could control increased by 5 and the number of spells he could attune increased by 3, though leveling the Attunement stat could add even more units or spells to that.
As for the Chosen Undead mechanic -
Legion Necromancers differed from other Necromancers in that they could bind a powerful Undead to their very souls. Normal Undead did not gain levels but Chosen Undead were lifetime companions that continually grew with their Necromancer and could be outfitted with equipment as well.
A level 100 Legion Necromancer could have up to 3 Chosen Undead, though the more Chosen Undead one had, the lower their max level cap was. At 3 Chosen Undead, their max level cap was at 60.
At 1 Chosen Undead, it was a whopping level 100.
Aldrich preferred to work with one strong Chosen Undead that covered his weaknesses perfectly.
A Chosen Undead was so important that without one, Aldrich would go so far as to say that a Legion Necromancer was half as strong as an ordinary Warrior or Mage of the same level that relied on their personal strength alone.
To get one, Aldrich had to reach level 5, at which point he would obtain an item to reach out to a wide selection of Chosen Undead.
In summary, Aldrich had two goals.
First, to reach level 5 for his Chosen Undead.
Then, to reach level 10 for his first Trial Quest.
After reaching level 10 and clearing the first Trial Quest, he was confident he would be strong enough to beat every single one of Seth Solar's gang. The only issue was Seth Solar himself who had an incredible set of powers that no army of ordinary zombies could ever hope to beat.
Aldrich would devise a way to kill Seth Solar as well, he had no doubts about it. But for now, there was the grind.
Aldrich roamed the Variant forest, scouting out where he was while he hunted for more Variants to kill. He figured out that he was ditched approximately one mile out from the single road that led into Blackwater.
That road, along with Blackwater itself, was lined with Anti-Variant Emitters that generated a specific energy frequency that prevented Variants from entering it.
However, as these frequencies were coded only to specific Variant species, there was always the chance that Variants could evolve or some unknown new species could migrate in, hence why Blackwater had walls and why the roads had auto-turrets installed in them.
Aldrich had no idea whether the auto-turrets would track him and shoot, but he did not want to take the chances. He would not return to Blackwater until he was strong.
About twenty minutes into his scouting, he encountered another Variant. It was a huge clump of animated moss, thick, tentacle-like vines, spines, bark, and bulbous yellow eyeballs. It shuffled along the forest floor, leaving a trail of gooey, slime-like sap behind it.
This was a Moss Beast known for its powerful lashing tentacles and its hidden maw full of rotating buzzsaw like teeth that ground up anything that went into it into mush. However, what it was most feared for was its ability to release a cloud of paralyzing gas from various tubes in its body.
If one evaded the gas, Moss Beasts were not difficult to deal with as they were slow and uncoordinated.
Aldrich smiled as he spied the Moss Beast from behind a tree trunk, mentally commanding his four Undead to split up and circle the plant monstrosity.
Because Undead were immune to poison, this was going to be a breeze.
He turned on his [Anti-Life Shell] and stepped out of his cover, firing off a [Chill Bolt].
Mana: 15/15 ] 11/15
Twin bolts of pale blue slammed into two of the Moss Beast's large, exposed eyeballs, splattering them before permeating frost deep into the Variant's leafy body. The Moss Beast gurgled as it started to slowly slither its way towards Aldrich.
Aldrich commanded his Undead to attack. He got the Strikers to unleash their signature charges while having Adam and Elaine hold back, not wanting their bodies to suffer too much abuse.
The Strikers struck from behind, slamming into the Moss Beast's back and goring into it with their tusks. The Moss Beast shook as leaves, moss, and green liquid poured out of its body.
In reaction, the Moss Beast emitted its paralyzing gas. Various tube-like plants in its body opened up, and from them, yellow gas whooshed out, filling the area in a hazy tint of noxious yellow.
Aldrich waded through the gas with zero issue. He breathed it in before making a face. Smelled like rotten eggs, maybe even worse.
[Poison Immunity triggered]
The Moss Beast grumbled as it sent out thorny tentacles towards Aldrich and the Strikers. The Strikers moved backwards, dodging the slow and clumsy tentacles, before running backwards to make distance for another charge.
Aldrich, who was even faster than the Strikers, had zero issue dancing around the Moss Beast. He commanded the Strikers to charge again.
The Strikers slammed into the Moss Beast again, and this time, the dual charges were fatal. The Moss Beast's eyes lost their yellow glow as it slumped down and started to break apart. Vines and leaves and branches split apart and scattered across the dirt as the slime-like green liquid holding its body together oozed out of its damaged form.
Moss Beast defeated!
EXP Bar: 20/30 ] 35/30
Level 2 ] 3
EXP Bar: 5/60
Five stat points available to distribute
"Hm." Aldrich noted with interest that there was not only a grave floating over the Moss Beast's corpse, but also a small white, flickering orb. That was a Soul.
Now, there was a dilemma. If things worked like they did in Elden World, if he took a Soul, the Moss Beast's corpse would crumble into dust, making raising an undead impossible.
As a result, Necromancers could raise soulless old corpses, but if they took the souls themselves, the corpses would fade away, leaving nothing to raise.
Aldrich decided to take the Soul instead of raising an Undead.
The Moss Beast was far too slow and too large to use reliably, in any case. He reached out and grabbed the white orb, and it faded into his palm.
It was far better for him to craft a cheap weapon out of it so he could make use of the Moss Beast's paralytic agent better.
1 x Moss Beast Soul obtained