Aldrich and his undead made their way back up to the top of the cliff they got started on. He got Fler'Gan, Stella, and the eagle to get into the backseats of their armored car.
Now, carrying the bloodspitter lizard and antlion was difficult because of how big they were, and Aldrich unfortunately had to tear off their body parts until they could fit into the trunk.
Good thing was, as zombies, they did not really feel pain, so no harm really done.
"I'll be back to drive in a bit," said Aldrich to Stella through the rolled down backseat window. "I need to talk to Valera."
He glanced over at Valera. She was some distance away, shuddering and in withdrawal for blood due to her low health and constant exposure to combat. He needed to deal with that, probably heal her for a bit longer with his [Anti-Life Shell].
"Got it, captain," said Stella. "Have fun."
She whistled casually and rolled up the window, though occasionally she would sneak back glances to see what Aldrich and Valera were up to.
Aldrich walked up to Valera. She had dematerialized her armor, leaving her in basic black leather leggings and a form fitting, short sleeved white tunic. There were still deep, visible wounds on her body. Large streaks of torn flesh on her arms from the bone shattering and piercing through.
"Are you alright? Here, let me heal you. This should make you feel better." Aldrich started to release the green mist of his [Anti-Life Shell], but Valera turned and shook her head, putting a tight hand on his shoulder.
"No, I don't want that." Valera looked at Aldrich longingly, her fangs protruding from her bright red lips. Her lower lip trembled as she spoke. "Master, may I…may I feed on you?"
"Are you sure? I remember you saying undead blood didn't suit you," said Aldrich.
"Yes. I hate, hate the taste of undead blood. It tastes rotten and cold and, worst of all, it makes me feel sleepy."
"Then-," began Aldrich, but Valera put a pale finger to his lips as she drew closer, placing a hand on his chest. She stared with hunger in her eyes at him, but her lips formed into a smile that was surprisingly warm and gentle.
Vampires were seductive by nature. Valera kept her instincts under control through strict knightly training that prevented her from having any real experience with men, but beneath all that, her instincts still made her know exactly how to tempt.
"But if it's you, I don't mind. When a vampire devotes themselves to someone. Devotes themselves truly, body and mind and soul, then that blood becomes the sweetest of all. Nothing else ever compares to it. Not even the blood of those I rip limb from limb."
Aldrich blinked, remembering lore about vampires. In Elden World, vampires, though known as seductive creatures that drew blood through charm just as much as they did through force, were strictly monogamous.
When they coupled with an individual, they did so for life, hence why strict vampiric royal lineages existed.
"I know that you do not like taking damage, you never have across all our many battles," continued Valera. "That is why here, in this world, I have never asked to draw your blood. Even now, I feel bad asking-,"
"Go ahead," said Aldrich. "It's the least I can do to thank you."
A switch flipped on in Valera when Aldrich gave the okay, and any sense of reason she had just faded. She wrapped herself around him as much as she could. Her arms wrapped around his neck in a tight hug while she leaned against him, raising and pressing her leg tightly against his.
Her heavy, hot breathing landed on his neck, and she licked the cold, undead skin gently before she sunk her teeth in.
Normally, a human would find themselves completely numb, charmed, and in ecstatic pleasure from a vampire sinking their fangs into them. But as Aldrich was undead, he was immune to all those status effects.
And because of his arisen purpose, he did not feel drawn to Valera. He appreciated her, he truly did, but love and desire were not emotions he felt strongly now. Not until his purpose was fulfilled. He put a hand on Valera's bare upper back, comforting her as he saw his health drain and her health go up.
Surprisingly, Aldrich noted that Valera's health increased at breakneck speeds. She was still at around fifty percent health, but within five seconds of draining Aldrich's blood, she was back to full, the huge web work of scars around her arms fading away.
Valera drew back when she was full health. Aldrich had lost a quarter of his health. A near 2:1 health exchange ratio.
Aldrich felt slightly bad thinking about the usefulness of this, especially when Valera considered it something to special to her, but he could not help it. He had always been goal oriented, and as an undead, his goal of vengeance permeated every single aspect of his decision making and life.
Valera drew back when she was full health and swayed and staggered, her eyelids heavy. Gone was that brief flash of seductive confidence, replaced with incoming drowsiness.
"Ah, I drank too much," said Valera. "I'm sorry, master."
"It's fine." Aldrich held Valera as she leaned into him putting her head on his shoulder and smiling as she drifted off.
"Master?" Valera whispered into Aldrich's ear, but judging by the sleepy tenor of her voice, it was hard to tell whether she was sleep talking or conscious.
"Do you know that I want to be with you? Now and forever and ever?"
"I know." Aldrich paused awkwardly. At the end of the day, he also had no experience with women. It came with being a permanent social outcast looked down in society as an unevolved waste of air. "Thanks," he managed out stiffly.
Valera smiled and grew quiet, breathing in an even pattern that made it obvious she had fallen asleep. Aldrich supported her to the car where he placed her in the front passenger seat and got ready to drive. Valera instinctively leaned to her side, resting her head snugly on his shoulder.
"Sooo, what happened back there, huh?" said Stella.
"Once my alchemical laboratory has formed, O Elder, I am quite capable of creating a concoction that significantly increases your performance. Many an elderly mage in the Arcanist's Order has asked for my-,"
"Nothing happened," said Aldrich with a shake of his head, though he did slightly smile at the banter.
"Sure," said Stella with a raised brow of disbelief.
"Talk all you want. I'll just be driving," said Aldrich as he started the car.
Aldrich first regrouped in the variant forest.
"Boss! Thought you were a goner!" Fisk put his laptop down as he saw Aldrich appear in their clearing. Fler'Gan, Stella, and the now woken up but still groggy Valera walked behind him.
The Geist was hanging out with the two mud crabs. The mud crabs raised their large pincers in the air and waved them side to side in a small 'dance' they did with fellow crabs, and the Geist mimicked them, waving its arms in the air.
When the Geist saw Aldrich, it stopped and stood at attention, clapping its hands excitedly.
"Can't you sense whether I'm alive or not?" said Aldrich.
"Well, yeah, but that don't mean I don't worry, y'know," said Fisk. "Plus, alive doesn't mean unhurt."
"Geh (He's right)," said the Geist.
"I appreciate all the concern. How have things been on this end?" said Aldrich.
Fisk shrugged. "Nothing much has happened. These two have kept me company, though." He pointed to Adam and Elaine sitting beside him on a fallen tree trunk. "I booted up Dark Sins, and they totally admire my gaming skills!
When I was doing a no damage boss rush, they had their eyes glued on my screen, I tell ya!"
"Really now?" Aldrich looked at Adam and Elaine with hope, at their rotted, lifeless faces and eyes, trying to see if something was there.
"Lesser undead may have some remnant behaviors from their past lives, but they are not like arisen undead. There are no memories, no true thought, no true being. And even if they were arisen, they would no longer truly be the same," said Fler'Gan.
"Hey, don't rain on his parade now, those were his friends," said Stella as she bumped an elbow into Fler'Gan's side.
Fler'Gan glared at Stella as he rubbed his side painfully. "It is better that the Elder knows this for certain."
"I know," said Aldrich. "I've always known. Hm. I never thought I was the hopeful type. But I've known enough disappointment not to trust in hope in any case."
Aldrich waved Fler'Gan forwards. "About what we discussed-,"
"Of course." Fler'Gan moved to the center of the clearing and closed his eyes while raising his hands. In front of his palms, two blue magic circles formed.
Throughout the car ride back to the forest, Aldrich and Fler'Gan had talked about setting up his alchemical laboratory. Soon enough, the Chrysalis would grow eventually grow to a point that the pocket dimension it created could house the lab.
At which point, Aldrich could move Fler'Gan and the lab into the Phylactery, taking them in and out when needed. Like this, Fler'Gan could experiment at minimal risk as what was more secure than an entirely separate dimension?
But until then, Aldrich needed Fler'Gan alchemy. Especially for tonight at the Red Circle.
"Crazy cool, all this magic stuff," said Fisk as he watched.
"Yeah," said Stella.
Valera came to Aldrich's side, and he rested her on the tree trunk, sitting beside her.
"Master…I did not do anything embarrassing, did I?" said Valera as she blushed furiously. "I remember wanting to draw your blood, then nothing, I-,"
"No," said Aldrich simply. "Nothing you would regret, at least."
Valera sighed in relief. "Thank the many gods."
She tentatively reached out and squeezed Aldrich's hand. Aldrich did the same.
Fler'Gan chanted. "[Create Base]"
In front of Fler'Gan, blue outlines, almost like they were drawn, of tables, beakers, tubes, forceps, knives, forceps, and dozens of other alchemical tools emerged. The outlines then filled in, turning into solid matter.
The end result was three worktables. One table filled with beakers and tubes and pots for chemical reactions. One table containing several glass chambers within which reactions could be safely carried out. And the last table that was the most ominous, holding restraints and sharp, cutting tools for dissections and, as Fler'Gan called it, 'live experimentations.'
"To see my laboratory once more, and to think of all the new specimens I may dissect and dissolve! Ah, how this elderly heart beats!" Fler'Gan raised his hands in the air like a mad scientist.
"Boss, I really appreciate the guy's passion, but should we be, uh, worried that we'll be a part of his experiments?" said Fisk.
"Tell me about it," said Stella.
"Not for now," said Aldrich.
"…For now?" said Fisk, but Aldrich ignored him and went up to Fler'Gan to talk business.
By now, Aldrich's Grave Ward had snuck into the Red Circle and gotten a look at Casimir, the manager, as well. There were several places in the Red Circle that were impossible to sneak into, guarded by forcefields, but Casimir's main office was not.
And judging by how Casimir carried himself with four guards at the minimum, he was a careful man. He would underestimate Aldrich and Valera because they had no AC count, but Aldrich could not rely completely on that.
"You know what I requested, right?" said Aldrich.
"You desire a potion that can control the minds of up to ten able bodied men. The potion must also be as tasteless as possible." Fler'Gan nodded. He went to his chemical table and retrieved a vat filled with liquid. His stomach then heaved as he vomited in three purple, finger length worms. The worm's heads were comprised of wriggling, spiked tentacles.
These were Pupae. Mind Eaters reproduced by capturing live beings and forcing them to ingest pupae. Pupae would then travel to their host's brain and latch on, creating a cascading effect that would brainwash them and also turn them into Mind Eaters.
Fler'Gan wiped off slime from his mouth tendrils as he looked at the pupae swimming inside, inspecting their quality. "I can only produce three pupae a month at this old age, and they are a little withered, but this will be enough. I will be done processing my pupae into potion form in five hours."
Aldrich checked his watch. It was now barely noon.
"What time is the meeting with Casimir?" said Aldrich.
"Uh-," Fisk scrambled to his laptop, utterly distracted by Fler'Gan's simultaneously gross yet interesting display. "It's eleven tonight."
"Good," said Aldrich. "More than enough time."
The first real steps to initiating Aldrich's vengeance against Seth Solar now began.