The Geist made its way into the clearing, walking Dynamite Girl in front of it to minimize risk to itself.
Dynamite Girl stumbled forwards, her head still limp and down, moving with stilted, awkward movements like she was a puppet being jerked along by strings.
The Geist cocked its head as it sat by the flowing stream where the Strikers had slept. In front of it, it stared down at a Striker corpse. It picked up the corpse in its large hand, raising the decently heavy wolf creature with ease to its face.
With a gurgle, the Geist tossed the Striker away once it identified that it was not a human.
"Gehgeh," said the Geist in a strange, garbled, almost alien voice, though the pitch was high and curious, almost questioning.
It looked ahead at a trail of Striker corpses leading into the forest.
The Geist stared at the line of corpses for a second and then made Dynamite Girl walk ahead to investigate, obviously realizing something was suspicious. It sat there and stretched out its thick, muscular, barbed tongue as Dynamite Girl continued along the line of Striker corpses.
As Dynamite Girl walked further and further ahead, the tongue tethering her to the Geist grew thinner and thinner.
Dynamite Girl stepped out of the clearing, a full twenty meters away from the Geist, and stopped in front of the very last Striker corpse.
There was nobody around it. No surprise attack.
It was just a lone corpse.
"Gehhhh?" the Geist garbled. It started to bring back Dynamite Girl, and that was when something severed its tongue.
The Skeleton Rogue materialized, its twin daggers down from having slashed straight through the middle of the Geist's tongue where it had been stretched thinnest and easiest to cut.
Dynamite Girl fell face first into the dirt, her connection to the Geist severed.
Aldrich had seen that the Geist used Dynamite Girl to investigate and thus baited the Geist to draw her out using Striker corpses.
Since the Geist could not detect the Evil Eye, it could not detect the Skeleton Rogue either.
Aldrich had the rogue use its [Shadow Walk] and stay still in the center of the clearing so as to minimize any movement it had to make.
The Geist let loose a garbled, warped scream of pain before it used a high-speed dash to appear right in front of the rogue. The Variant cocked back its huge, musclebound arm to destroy the rogue, but a series of arrows flew from the treetops, lodging into its arm and chest.
"Geh!?" the Geist stepped back and tore the arrows out of its body. In this moment, the Skeleton Rogue ran for its life, or rather unlife, disappearing into the cover of the forest.
"Geh…geh?" The Geist stared at the puncture wounds made by the arrow. The flesh around them rotted, the white skin turning black and festering with push. It cocked its head, wondering why its regeneration did not kick in.
The Geist then tried to pick up its tongue and re-attach it with regeneration.
That was when Valera stormed out, using her own [Dash] skill. She became a black blur as she slammed into the Geist at full force, bashing its body with her shield.
The Geist was strong and fast too, though, and it reacted by holding up its arms in a guard, using them as a shield of its own to resist Valera.
The sound of concussive impact rang through the forest as the Geist drove back several meters under Valera's momentum and power.
"Gehhh!" The Geist roared and pushed back, its enormous back muscles rippling, and this time, Valera started to give ground.
"Oh? A little strong, are we? How about THIS!" Valera used the [Shield Slam] skill and drove her shoulder into her shield. Her shield glowed with crackling red energy that exploded outwards in a shockwave as it slammed against the Variant.
The Geist tumbled backwards several meters before righting itself, its large fingers digging into the dirt. The creature shook its head from the impact and then started to release its neurotoxin.
Various pores in its body opened up, and purple gas steamed outwards, quickly covering the clearing in a mist of toxins.
Valera breathed in deeply, mocking the Geist. "Is that it!? Poison!? Utter foolishness!"
"Geh?" the Geist cocked its head as it saw that its toxin had zero effect on Valera.
She banged her breastplate before she charged again, using this time a basic attack where she swung at the Geist horizontally with her cross shield, aiming to cut its head open.
The Geist showcased its surprising agility and ducked beneath the swipe before punching Valera straight in the chest. Its fist popped through her [Crimson Furnace] blood barrier and smashed straight into her armor.
Valera skidded backwards several meters as the echo of dented metal rang through the air. She suffered damage, but nothing considerable. The blood barrier had reduced some of the damage and she did not have any weakness to crushing damage that skeletal or lesser undead like Aldrich had.
She looked down to see a crack in the armor around her torso, and she laughed. "That's it! That's more like it! Hit me! Come on, HIT ME!"
Valera charged again with her shield, and the Geist roared as they engaged in another clash of blows.
Aldrich acted quickly. He had waited outside of the clearing, beyond the Geist's potential detection range, and now sprinted towards Dynamite Girl's corpse. He had planned all this from the start, and everything had gone according to what he had envisioned.
Bait the Geist into drawing Dynamite Girl out.
Use the Skeleton Rogue to cut off its tongue.
Place the Skeleton Archer in the trees to provide suppressive fire.
Have Valera charge in and distract the Geist so that it could not re-attach its tongue or reach Dynamite Girl.
Now, the most important phase of the plan -
Aldrich knelt by Dynamite Girl's limp body, ready to raise her as an undead.
Two Strikers, the Alpha Striker, and Adam and Elaine stood around Aldrich, acting as his bodyguards in the case that the Geist tried to dash past Valera.
However, Valera kept the Geist's attention quite well.
Aldrich inspected Dynamite Girl and did not see a grave marker floating above her. That was when he realized she was alive. Still breathing, though very shallowly.
Six entire months in the Geist's stomach and used as its puppet, and this whole time, she had been alive.
"Thank you for your service to Haven. Now, I will end your suffering," said Aldrich, saying her last rites. He took his staff and stabbed it straight through her neck, killing her.
He felt a small twinge of pity for her, but it was like a human seeing roadkill. A passing, cursory sense of pity that was not given a second thought.
He truly was not human anymore, and he did not mind. This mindset made him stronger, and as long as it did, he welcomed it.
Maybe, just maybe, someone could have saved her and healed her back in Haven.
But then what? Where was the guarantee her mind was still intact? And who was going to bring her back to the city?
Aldrich definitely was not going to - there was far too much risk involved bringing her into the city as he was now as a literal walking corpse with no fake identity.
He would have to deal with questioning and investigation from the AA, and that was the last thing he wanted.
At least like this, Dynamite Girl was guaranteed to be useful. Before he reanimated Dynamite Girl, Aldrich noted that a Soul floated above her body. He shook his head - taking the soul was not the right choice here.
He needed her powers now.
"Serve," said Aldrich as he put her hand gently on Dynamite Girl's forehead, infusing her corpse with green strands of energy.
[Mana: 79/84 ] 73/84]
Aldrich felt as another one of his Strikers rubbed its head into his hand. He patted the wolf's head gently.
"You did well. It's time for you to rest, too," said Aldrich.
With that, the Striker faded into dust, giving Aldrich space to add Dynamite Girl.
Dynamite Girl's corpse shook before standing up not as a zombie, but an undead.
[Undead (Dynamite Girl) Level 12 reanimated]
A Necromancer could not take a soul and also reanimate a corpse. Once a soul was taken, the corpse lost its capacity to be reanimated and crumbled away.
But if a corpse was reanimated with its soul intact, it became possible to resurrect higher tier undead.
Zombies might have been marginally stronger than their live counterparts, but they were slower, dumber, and lost all training that the original corpse might have had.
An undead, however, could develop individuality and retained any martial arts training they had when they were living. However, they lost all their active memories, turning them into amnesiacs that unfailingly served their new master.
If needed, a Necromancer could also just prevent any individuality from forming at all, essentialyl turning the raised undead into basically high functioning robots that retained combat training skills but no real free will.
Aldrich limited Dynamite Girl's individuality for now, wanting her to be as efficient a fighter as possible.
Dynamite Girl shakily stood up, her skin turning from tanned olive to pale white while her golden blonde hair turned platinum, almost silvery white. Her eyes were blank, though, with no real sense of thought in them.
The only thing she followed was Aldrich's killing intent, and her face turned into a scowl as she faced the Geist.
"No fair!" Valera grimaced as she saw the Geist regenerate a gaping slash in its stomach from her shield. They were half a dozen meters apart now, having blown each other mutually backwards from simultaneously hitting each other.
But where Valera nursed a few broken ribs, the Geist was as good as new, standing back up with almost no issue. Several necrotic arrows jutted out of its body, but there were not enough arrows to adequately neutralize the monster's healing.
"Valera, hold it down! Go all out!" Aldrich's voice rung out from outside the clearing.
"Yes, master!" Valera smiled widely under her helm, and if her face was visible, it would have shown her cheeks splitting apart as her smile grew impossibly, grotesquely wide - a trait of the Dullahan. Finally, she could let loose.
Valera heaved her cross shield back and then tossed it again.
The Geist dashed to the side, dodging the shield projectile. The shield smashed through the trunks of three trees, felling them.
Valera closed her fists as a bloody aura surged around her.
Because she had a warrior type class, she had both weapon specialties and combat specialties that granted her relevant skills in those areas. Her weapon specialty was in using a shield and her combat specialty was as a Shielder, allowing her to use defensive skills geared towards guarding allies.
But when she tossed away her shield, her combat specialty turned from Shielder into Berserker and her weapon specialty changed from shield to bare-handed.
This significantly increased her offensive capabilities, and truthfully, aside from defending her master, there was nothing she loved better than brutalizing flesh with her own two fists.
"ORAA!" Valera used [Dash] to appear in front of the Geist and unleashed a heavy right hook straight into its face.
"Gehhhh!" the Geist gurgled as its face caved in, its large human teeth shattering and flying as it surged backwards, slamming heavily into a tree trunk behind it.
The Geist fell to the ground and rubbed its face, a fist sized impression punched deep into it. The impression buffed out and began to heal, but not before Valera was upon it again, this time sending a kick into the side of its head.
The Geist dashed behind Valera, turning into a white blur.
Valera predicted this move and spun around with an elbow, smashing into the Geist's skull again.
"Gah!" the Geist's head whipped backwards from the blow.
Valera rushed forwards and then bear hugged the Geist, pinning its bulky white arms to its sides while she exerted crushing force.
The Alpha Striker and the one remaining normal Striker circled the Geist, growling and waiting to pounce if it broke free. Arrows rained from above from the skeleton archer, lodging into the Geist's head. The skeleton rogue appeared from stealth, slashing rapidly at the Geist's back.
Aldrich stood at the edge of the clearing, away from direct danger, with Adam and Elaine by his side. Dynamite Girl stood in front of him, growling, her eyes bright orange with energy as they had been back when she was alive.
She wanted to go. She wanted to tear that monster apart. Aldrich knew that when she was alive, Dynamite Girl was known for her loud mouth and ferocity. Maybe that had stayed with her even past death.
"Go. Give that monster what it deserves." Aldrich waved Dynamite Girl ahead.
She sprinted forwards and leaped in the air, slapping her arms onto the sides of the Geist's muscular neck.
Dynamite Girl roared as her hands started to crackle. Sparks and pops rippled from them like fireworks before two enormous, bright orange explosions erupted outwards. The explosion was so fierce that it not only blew back Dynamite Girl, but also Valera and very nearly killed the skeleton rogue, shattering many of its ribs and skull.
A cloud of smoke rose from the center of the clearing as did the smell of roasted flesh.
Aldrich linked his smell with the Alpha Striker's, and from this, he knew that the Geist was sitting completely still in the center of the smoke, the upper half of its body completely vaporized.
Its regeneration worked quickly, though.
Already, its upper spine started to reform, as did flesh and muscle mass.
Aldrich stopped this. He stuck his staff out and spammed [Chill Bolt].
Because it was a Cantrip, it had no real cooldown. Bolt after bolt of pale white energy slammed into the Geist, permeating frost energy deep into the Variant's half-destroyed body.
Like Necrotic energy, Frost type damage also negated regeneration, though only when the [Frozen] status was fully applied. [Chill Bolt] did not inflict too much frost buildup, but spammed like this on a stationary target, it was all too easy to turn the Geist into a dead block of frozen, destroyed cells, not a single one left whole to regenerate properly.
[Mana: 73/84 ] 13/84]
Aldrich waved his staff from side to side, batting away smoke as he stepped forwards, revealing the Geist's deeply frozen ice block of a lower half body.
Aldrich smiled at what he saw: a grave floated over the Geist, as did a Soul.
[EXP Bar: 245/250 ] 595/250]
[Level 6 ] 7]
[EXP Bar: 345/340]
[Level 7 ] 8]