Aldrich braced himself before feeling the familiar sensation of his body warping to a different location. It was a brief moment of weightlessness that ended when his surroundings shifted in a blurred instant. No longer was he in the dilapidated underground study of Fler'Gan.
Now, Aldrich found himself in the midst of a throne room that somehow merged perfectly merged both royal grandeur and the decay of time. Dark and grey stone layered with dusty white ash stretched out everywhere, building up a massive hallway and twenty pairs of towering pillars.
Atop each pillar stood majestically carved statues of knights and mages, and by their spiked armor and skull patterned vestments, it was apparent that these were practitioners of the dark arts. Hanging from each pillar were dark green, nearly black banners etched with a coat of arms consisting of a skull attached to a bare spine.
The throne room was massive. Large enough that it could fit two football stadiums inside of it at the very least.
And at the very end, in the distance, was the throne. A throne of bones. Bones of every kind. Human, monster, dragon - if it was a creature that once lived, its bones were here, fused together to form a seat of honor for no less than the Death Lord itself.
"Master…is that it? The Lord of Death?" said Valera, and Aldrich nodded both in understanding and relief.
He could sense that all of his undead were with him, standing behind him. They had thankfully all been transported here with him.
"Yeah," said Aldrich. "But different. More dangerous."
Aldrich said this because the Death Lord seemed to be sentient as well. And if it could think for itself with all its immense power given to it not only by its level 100 status and the immense strength that the game lore said it possessed, then it was probably the most dangerous threat that Aldrich could think of.
Far more dangerous than Seth Solar.
No, forget that. Not even the Protectorate, the top 10 heroes across the entire world, were as much of a threat.
"More dangerous? Than that foul thing already was?" Valera weakly leaned against her shield, still heavily damaged. "We…we are not strong enough, master. We have barely triumphed over the first trial quest. And we are now to face the Death Lord? The final and twelfth trial?"
"To think we would face the Death Lord now -," Fler'Gan trembled before shaking his head. "O Elder, I will bring forth the greatest extent of mine strength, but know that it will be like bearing forth a single ember before a wildfire."
"Yeah, that armored monster's got me feelin' real small. Like I'm just an ant lookin' up at a massive steel-toed boot," said Dynamite Girl.
"W-when will this end already!?" said Fisk in a panic.
"Gehhh…" The Geist hid behind Valera and Dynamite Girl like a child, but because it was so massive and muscled, it looked ridiculous in its efforts.
Aldrich remained silent and wary, but he knew everyone was right.
The 12th Trial Quest for the Necromancer class was the final and hardest one. A Necromancer had to be level 100 to challenge it and even then, they had to fight it with a full party of eight fellow heroes. These heroes came from a list of A.I. companions the player could bring together, but every single hero was level 70 at the minimum.
And all of that to face just to face the Death Lord and its army.
Lore wise, the final trial quest was meant for the Necromancer player to defeat the Death Lord and usurp its vast power, taking away one of the evil gods supporting the Howling Dark. Defeating the Death Lord also destroyed all of the enslaved liches under its control, eliminating a sizable portion of the Howling Dark's final army.
In other words, Aldrich was horribly, horrendously outmatched.
"WELCOME TO MY ABODE, DEATH WALKER." The Death Lord's voice boomed through the entire hallway.
It stood up with the heavy clanking of metal.
It appeared to be a three-meter-tall hulking behemoth of an armored knight with dark grey, spiked armor and a menacingly horned helmet. The Death Lord's armor seemed to be hollow inside with a green glow of energy - the very same kind that adorned Aldrich - shining through gaps in the armor.
The armor's torso was shaped like a pair of metal ribs, and one could see through the gaps in those metal bones that inside was not a flesh body, but just an orb of pure green, flaming energy.
The Death Lord jumped and easily cleared the near entire length of the hallway in a single leap, standing right before Aldrich with a heavy crash.
"SO? DEATH WALKER? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO STAND BEFORE THE PRESENCE OF A TRUE MASTER OF DEATH?" said the Death Lord as it stared down at Aldrich.
"I wonder what you're still doing here alive," said Aldrich, not intimidated in the least. "Last I remember, I beat you and absorbed your soul."
"HAH! I REMEMBER THAT TOO," said the Death Lord. "BUT I AM BACK AGAIN! AS STRONG AS EVER BEFORE. AND YOU, MY LITTLE DEATH WALKER, ARE NOTHING COMPARED TO WHAT YOU WERE. AND YOUR FRIENDS? YOUR FELLOW HEROES? GONE.
AND YOUR UNDEAD LEGION?"
The Death Lord waved an arm towards Aldrich's undead. "WHAT HAS HAPPENED? THIS IS WHAT YOU BRING FORTH TO CHALLENGE ME? PATHETIC."
The Death Lord turned around dismissively and crossed its arms.
"You dare to call my master pathetic? You? A mere ghost that hides in this realm of yours!?" said Valera.
"OH, IT'S YOU AGAIN, THE 'LADY' KNIGHT WHO ONLY KNOWS HOW TO THROW A PUNCH!" the Death Lord turned to Valera and looked her up and down/
"What of it, you brute?" said Valera. "I hate your type - all you meat headed heavy armor muscle maniacs - the most."
"HM. I SUPPOSE YOU'VE ALREADY TAKEN THAT LOOK FOR YOURSELF." The Death Lord shrugged and gestured towards Valera's own bulky suit of armor.
"The Death Lord does have a point," said Fler'Gan.
Dynamite Girl smacked the tentacled monster on his head. "You forget whose side you're on!?"
"Argh!" Fler'Gan rubbed his lightly dented, soft purple head and glared at Dynamite Girl and Valera. "Gone are the days of proper, quiet, and gentle women, I suppose," he grumbled, thoroughly speaking like a disgruntled old man.
"Quiet," said Aldrich.
"YOU KNOW, I DON'T WANT TO USE A LOOK THAT THIS BOORISH DEATH KNIGHT HAS ALREADY TAKEN. PLUS, YOU'VE ALREADY SEEN AND FOUGHT ME LIKE THIS." The Death Lord took its gauntleted hand and tapped its breastplate.
With that, its huge metal body glowed bright green before dissolving away, leaving just the orb of glowing green energy housed within the armor.
The orb then turned into the silhouette of not an enormously muscled man, but a woman.
A woman of Aldrich's height, actually. She stood confidently with a hand on her hip clothed in flowing green robes, a majestic grey fur coat with a gleaming green fringe, and a long skirt adorned with bones with a slit that showed off pale, shapely long legs.
The Death Lord flipped flowing locks of long white hair behind her head and stared at Aldrich with a confident, sharp-toothed smile and gleaming green eyes with reptilian pupils. Draconic horns jutted from the sides of her head.
"So? How is it, gazing upon my true form? The last we met, the goddess Amara had weakened me so greatly I was confined only to my battle armor," said the Death Lord.
"Unexpected," said Aldrich with some level of confusion as he stared at the Death Lord. He knew the Death Lord's true form was hidden, and he knew that according to the lore, before the Death lord became a lich, it had been a dragon.
He had no idea of the Death Lord's gender, but he had always thought by default it was male.
"People expect a certain image from a 'Death Lord', hence, how you perceived me before. But to you, my dear, who wishes to become a lich just like me, I will not hide behind threatening armor. I will meet you in my true and proper form," said the Death Lord.
"Master…," Valera looked at Aldrich staring at the Death Lord and then she slammed her shield down, drawing the Death Lord's attention. "You! You wish to tempt my master, is it!? You think he will fall for the likes of you!? You snake!?"
"Quiet, muscle-head," said the Death Lord. She stretched her arms up, puffing out her sizable chest. "You are standing in the presence of a true lady here. Or lord, if you prefer that."
"So?" said Aldrich, unimpressed. "What is it? If you wanted to kill us, you could have."
"Oh, of course," said the Death Lord. "But that's not the point. This isn't like when we last met, when you fought me to kill me. No, you're reaching out to me this time for my power, are you not? You want to become a lich.
And for that, you need an Obelisk forged from my own essence."
"And? Are you going to give it or not?" said Aldrich.
"Oh my, so forward, asking for my essence just like that?" The Death Lord crossed her arms and smiled, licking her lips with a forked, snake-like tongue. "No. I welcome any and all who wish to become a lich. All I require is that you pass a trial of my own. Ah, and it looks like you have one of my rejects among you already."
The Death Lord waved a green clawed finger towards Fler'Gan. "He made quite the beautiful phylactery, that one, but like all empty-headed academics and mages, he might have had the brains, but he didn't have the stones to make it through my trial."
"He doesn't remember your trial," said Aldrich. "But I'm assuming it's impossibly difficult, is it?"
"Hmmmm." The Death Lord put a finger to her lips and cocked her head innocently. "I don't think so. I like to think I mete out rather fair trials. And why would I not? I would love to see more of my kind. Those too weak that end up becoming my slaves, well, that's that, they simply weren't worthy.
But you, Death Walker, you have already proven yourself worthy by defeating me before."
"And yet here I am getting the sense that you'll still be giving me a trial," said Aldrich.
"Well, I don't give out my power for free, even with our past together," The Death Lord nodded to herself. "Ah, I know what to do."
The Death Lord put a hand into her chest and it sunk into it like it sunk into a pool of water, rippling into some interdimensional inventory space. She withdrew a green Sign Stone and tossed it to Aldrich.
"You will start at the bottom of my great royal tower, my beloved Necropolis. Clear as many floors as you can. You go high enough, and you will receive my Obelisk. And I will be generous, too.
Any treasure you find, any monsters you raise as your own, any levels you extract, you keep.
Plus, you get three tries. Three lives. But you only get to keep the rewards from your best try.
Ah, and this, too. Last you faced me, you faced me with an entire party of heroes. If you can cough together your friends again, then I'll let them form a party with you again.
And that's all I'm giving you. Now go."
The Death Lord clapped her hands together, and Aldrich and his undead found himself teleported away again. This time, in the midst of a dark, spacious crypt packed with shattered tombstones.
A message flashed in his status screen.
[Necropolis: Floor 1]
Aldrich found himself fully healed with his mana restored, and the same happened with everyone else in his undead.
[New Quest: Ritual of Eternity obtained]
[Attempt 1 started]
Aldrich sighed as he heard groans and moans from zombies rising from the tombs around him. Everyone in his army tensed up, ready for battle.
"Here we go," said Aldrich as he cracked his neck.