After what felt like an eternity, Valera finally put Aldrich down. She took off her bucket-like black great helm, finally exposing her face, and knelt into the grass before Aldrich. Her face was deathly pale just like Aldrich's, showcasing that she was an Undead just like him.
More specifically, a hybrid between Dullahan and Vampire. Her features reflected this. Her sharp, ferocious eyes possessed black sclera and the pupils centered within them were a bloody, glowing crimson red.
Her hair was dark black and styled in a rough, messy bob cut that went down ever so slightly to her neck. Her bangs concentrated on one side of her face, forming a sort of veil of hair that obscured her left eye.
Her lips were notably black, as would her claws be if Aldrich remembered her correctly.
"You look as good as ever," said Aldrich. In proper fantasy game manner, Valera was modeled to be stunningly beautiful, and real life did even more justice to her looks than what rendered graphics, no matter how advanced, could ever do.
Aldrich's Undead mind and body stopped him from getting distracted any by her looks, and he suspected that as long as he had a purpose he was driven to, he would not suffer those kind of distractions.
This was the quality of risen Undead like Aldrich - many were arisen for a single purpose like vengeance or haunting, and they tuned out any unnecessary emotions or needs for it.
In contrast, natural Undead like Vampires or Dullahan that were born as Undead could experience the full spectra of emotions without much issue, though of course, their moral and instinctive sensibilities would be quite different from that of humans.
"Th-thank you, my master," said Valera as she closed her eyes and took in the compliment with a deep, almost shuddering breath. She opened her visible eye and looked up at Aldrich. "You too, look marvelous, my master. Though I must wonder - why have you changed your appearance so? And you have become an Undead? Also, where has your wondrous equipment gone?"
"I could say the same to you."
"I-I look different? Does my new appearance displease you?" said Valera, worried.
"About your equipment, I mean," said Aldrich. "Your equipment's gone. Your level's been reset, too, despite the fact that you remember our past adventures."
"Yes, I do wonder about that," said Valera.
"What happened, Valera?" said Aldrich. "After I left?"
"When we slew the Howling Darkness together, we parted ways. I to the Nether for some rest while you, my master, were to address the United Council of our victory," said Valera.
Aldrich nodded. He knew this part. After the Howling Darkness, the final boss, was defeated, the player made a grand speech to the United Council - a coalition of all races that had banded to fight against the world ending threat of the Howling Darkness - and told them that the battle was over.
Any summoned units one had did not make it to this final cutscene, so Valera must have returned to her home in the Nether.
"Then?" said Aldrich.
"Then…I do not know. I returned to my Keep in the Nether, and then…darkness, I suppose?" said Valera. "There is only darkness in the Nether, yes, but this was a kind of darkness that settled over my mind. I fell into a great trance. A sleep from which I felt was to never awake.
In that trance, I felt time pass. Years upon years upon years. All that time, I awaited your return. When you did not return, I believed that you had also fallen into this dark sleep just like me, and so, I awaited your awakening, for I knew you would never betray me, my dear master.
I knew one day, you would awaken and call out to me.
In the meanwhile, I dreamed of our adventures. Our past struggles. And then I dreamed of our reunion."
Valera's voice cracked as single tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. However, she did not let them fall, for she had her pride as a warrior.
"For years and years, I dreamed. Of us. Being together."
"I'm sorry, Valera," said Aldrich as he knelt down and put a hand on her shoulder. "I was away, too. But we're together now."
"Yes," said Valera as she nodded. She smiled at Aldrich. "Yes, we are. I do not know why we have returned to this level of weakness, but I do not care how weak we start - that only means we have even more chances to grow stronger together.
And I know this: I will never, EVER let you go again." Her smile grew wider, almost impossibly wide, her large, vampiric fangs showing. "And anyone that dares to drive us apart, I will rip and tear their flesh from their bones, then I will scatter their bones to dust, and the lament of their women and cries of their children shall be music to my ears."
Well, at the very least, Valera seemed absolutely loyal to Aldrich.
"Nice to see that you still have your fighting spirit," said Aldrich. He stood up, and Valera did so as well, standing by him in stiff posture and attention as a knight would. She towered a full head over him, and it was not as if he was short. He was slightly above average height at 5'11 (~180 cm). She was just particularly tall, standing at 6'3 (~190 cm) without her armor.
That would make her a little harder to conceal, but her generally human appearance would mean she could visit cities alongside Aldrich without the need for much of a disguise. She just looked like a tall goth girl - not entirely out of place in the often diverse and colorful crowds of cities, especially larger, more festive ones.
If her starting inventory was like it was in the game, then she also had a casual equipment set in the shape of a black dress to blend in even more.
"But you have to be careful, Valera," said Aldrich. "This…is a new world. It isn't like the one you knew before. Everything is different. I know how this world works, so whatever we do, you have to listen to me."
"I am always ready to follow your commands, my master," said Valera with a half bow.
"That means no [Blood Rage], not unless you absolutely have to," said Aldrich. As a half vampire, Valera could access a [Blood Rage] racial ability that changed her from a shield bearing protector into a fist-fighting berserker.
Her personality in game was described as fiery spirited with rage that burned as hot and steady as her loyalty for the one she deemed her worthy master. Aldrich simply hoped that fiery spirit would not cloud her judgement for after entering [Blood Rage], Valera became a non-controllable unit that damaged anyone hostile with 0 strategy.
In real life, he imagined that Valera simply became akin to a monster that attacked anything that moved aside from Aldrich and his units.
"Of course, my master," said Valera. "I will suppress my urges. Though that means if I cannot quell my thirst in battle, I must quench it outside."
She looked around to the Strikers and Adam and Elaine. She grimaced. "I do not like the taste of lesser Undead blood, but it must do." Her eyes landed on Elaine, and she raised a black brow. She pointed her gauntleted finger at Elaine accusingly. "And who is that my master? Someone you fancy, perhaps, now that you are an Undead? May I tell you now as your most faithful knight and most loyal confidant that she is not right for you?"
"I know," said Aldrich. He looked at Elaine, then at Adam. "She wasn't right for me. She was right for him. I wasn't ready to make anyone happy, and I doubt I am now. But I saw the spark of happiness between them, and I wanted it to grow. I wanted to see them happy. But now, this is all they're reduced to." Aldrich sighed before shaking his head. "She is - or was - a close friend, Valera. So was he. I hope you can treat them with respect."
"Of course, my master," said Valera with a deep nod. "If they are your friends, then they are mine also. And my master, your words from before, about not being ready to make anyone happy, that is simply not true.
You have made me happy beyond measure. Back then and now. No, even more so now."
"And I want to keep that happiness strong," said Aldrich, knowing that as Valera was now a sentient being, he had to take care to keep her in good graces to maintain her loyalty.
Valera simply blushed and remained quiet, taking in Aldrich's words in bliss.
Aldrich manifested the [Tome of the Dark Arts Rank 2] from his inventory.
Another flesh-knitted tome appeared in his hand.
"Ah, learning more spells?" said Valera. She looked Aldrich up and down, and since they were linked together, she could see his status. "Let's see, you are currently level six and can attune three more spells. Considering that is the Rank 2 Dark Arts Tome, will you be taking [Negative Burst], [Summon Undead (1st Ring)] and [Negative Surge]?"
"Close, but not quite," said Aldrich. Valera remembered what he had taken when they were adventuring together. The spells she listed were the most optimal set for fighting.
[Negative Burst] released an area of effect wave that healed undead and damaged the living, [Create Undead (1st Ring)] allowed for the creation of Undead from scratch whereas [Raise Undead] required a corpse, and [Negative Surge] buffed an ally unit with enhanced physical stats for a brief period of time.
"I'll be taking [Negative Surge], [Summon Undead], but I won't be taking [Negative Burst]. Instead, I'll be taking, hm, let's see…"
Aldrich's green eyes glowed as he saw a list of fifteen spells he could choose three from. He saw what he wanted. "Ah, I'll take [Horror Warp]."
[Horror Warp] was a projectile spell that took the shape of a slow-moving cloud of darkness. Once the darkness contacted an enemy, it would wrap around their heads, stunning them as they inflicted a nightmare of pain and horror that would drain their life energy and cause psychic damage.
Those afflicted by the spell needed to constantly struggle to escape, with greater psychic resistance and vitality helping break the spell easier.
In combat, [Horror Warp] was not that useful. It was a good single target stun when it landed, to be sure, but it was so slow moving it could get parried or spell broken or dodged or blocked quite easily.
"[Horror Warp]?" said Valera, slightly confused. "Are you sure, my master? It is not as effective in the battlefield as [Negative Burst] which can heal all your Undead and drive back the foul living from harming you."
"Like I said, Valera, this world is different. The battlefield isn't all there is to it. There's much more I'll have to do. Like interrogation. And there's nothing like horror and pain to break a man to speak."
"Ah, that is true," said Valera casually. "I was no torturer, but I do know how to strike to hurt, not to kill. I can help with the torture, too!" she continued enthusiastically.
"When the time comes for it, I'll consult your expertise," said Aldrich with a smile, her enthusiasm leeching onto him.