Aldrich felt a strange feeling looking down at Ghost like this. The whole concept of looking down: this was entirely new to him.
But he could not deny that it felt right. No, it was right.
It was just.
Yes, this was justice.
Justice with consequences that this world lacked. Justice backed by actions, not idealism. Justice that Aldrich would make real.
Justice he would rain down on all those deserving with vengeance.
This was the first drop of that rain. That storm of vengeance and righteous purpose that Aldrich could now make real with his powers.
As he looked down at Ghost, a screen flashed in front of him.
[New quest: VENGEANCE obtained]
The tab of his interface flashed with an indicator, and he mentally tabbed over to it. He raised a brow slightly, noting that the way the quest looked was…different. The words detailing it were colored in bright, bloody red, and their font looked like disheveled scratches. Distinctively sinister in appearance.
Hunt down Seth Solar and his crew. Enact vengeance. Enact judgement.
-Death of Ghost: 200 EXP, 200 Coin
-Death of Evan Harker: 50 EXP, 50 Coin
-Death of Simon Wells: 100 EXP, 100 Coin
-Death of Zayn Soldata: 250 EXP, 200 Coin
-Death of Seth Solar: 1000 EXP, 800 Coin
-Bonus EXP gained from absorbing Negative Energy from each individual
Aldrich cracked his neck. He did not exactly know how or why this quest appeared, but he did not complain. He was going to make sure Seth Solar and his gang were all going to die anyway. If he was going to get rewarded while doing so, then all the better.
The bonus EXP from absorbing negative energy was something Aldrich had not seen before, but it made sense.
Undead creatures lived off of absorbing negative energy. It healed and nourished them. And recalling game lore, Aldrich knew that where positive, healing energy was associated with emotions like love, happiness, and hope, negative energy emanated from emotions like hate, fear, and despair.
It was obvious how Aldrich would get negative energy Ghost.
"You still have a hole in your chest. I can see right through you. How in the hell are you alive!?" said Ghost.
"That doesn't matter, does it? What matters to a selfish piece of trash like you is whether you'll be alive, no?" said Aldrich. He took his staff and shoved the butt end of it into Ghost's chest.
As expected, Ghost used Phase, making the staff go right through him.
Ghost's head was still not paralyzed, so he could will his power to work.
"You stupid, stupid fuck," said Ghost. He smiled, his lip and cheeks twitching and bleeding from a mixture of paralyzing agent and needle punctures. "You must have gone through a Blooming and awakened some kind of power that lets you live like this.
How you processed Moss Beast pollen - I don't know.
But what I do know is that you were a dumbass for using Moss Beast poison. It paralyzes from the head down, and as long as I can think, I can use my power.
You will never, ever get to touch me, and when I can start moving again, you better be ready, because I'll finish off what Seth started. I'll fucking rip your head off your neck and use it to decorate my dorm."
"A Blooming, is it? I guess that's what everyone will think is what happened to me," said Aldrich. A Blooming was the term to describe when an individual awakened their powers. It also applied to those who awakened their powers unexpectedly after puberty.
Of course, even in those cases, it was Alters with dormant Alter Organs that Bloomed past puberty.
Duds like Aldrich who had no such organ had no hope for even that.
Still, this was interesting information.
If people found out about Aldrich's powers, they would think he had developed an Alter power, and those were limited to a select category of powers.
For example, Augmenters usually had powerful bodies while Blasters had ranged capability. Very rarely was there a Blaster that was also physically tough and an Augmenter that had ranged powers.
People would try to cram Aldrich into specific power categories and underestimate him.
Let them underestimate. He would surprise and crush any opposition against him.
"You're lucky you Bloomed to a power like that to save your ass, but you know what? You're still a useless fucking Dud at heart. Eventually, someone will find me, and when they do, I'll make sure you're hunted down to the ends of the goddamn earth," said Ghost.
"Don't worry, Ghost," said Aldrich. "Nobody will find you. Nobody but them."
Aldrich withdrew his staff from Ghost's chest and snapped his fingers.
Load groaning rattled through the air while low, bestial growls hummed like the whir of deep engines.
"Wh-what the fuck is that!?" said Ghost. He tried to look around, but he could not move his head properly as his neck was paralyzed. All he could do was look up at Aldrich looking down at him.
"You'll see," said Aldrich.
Adam, Elaine, and the three Strikers emerged from the edge of the clearing. Aldrich had hidden Adam and Elaine and had the Strikers rove around the area in a tight perimeter, tracking down Ghost as soon as he got within two hundred meters of this dumping site with their incredible scent-based tracking.
As a result, Aldrich was alerted of Ghost's presence and also knew exactly when to detonate the pollen seeds.
Adam and Elaine came by Aldrich's side and stared down hungrily at ghost, spittle foaming at their bloody mouths as they shuddered, ready to feast on flesh.
"Look who it is. Our old friend Ghost," said Aldrich.
Adam and Elaine snarled, with Elaine even reaching down to swipe at Ghost's face. Ghost made himself intangible, letting the swipe pass through him.
The Strikers circled around Ghost like hungry sharks, occasionally snapping close to his face, their putrid, toxic breath and spit spattering against his face.
"Z-zombies!?" said Ghost. "Is-is that also your power? Making zombies?"
Aldrich put his staff over Ghost's mouth. "Shh. That isn't important. What is important is that you make a fine meal for my friends. Then at least you'll have done one good thing for them."
Aldrich stepped back and let Adam, Elaine, and the three Strikers start mauling at Ghost. Ghost, predictably, turned intangible, and they kept swiping and biting and clawing through him.
"I'm fucking invincible, you idiot!" said Ghost, though he was visibly panicked, unable to move. "This is pointless! Let me go!"
"Let's not be impatient," said Aldrich. He raised a hand, making his undead stop their attack so that Ghost could hear him. "It's quite rude to leave so soon after such a touching reunion, no? Plus, with how much paralyzing pollen you've breathed in, you won't be moving for hm, let's see, three hours?"
Aldrich smiled and sat on a rock, watching as Ghost could only helplessly lie there and look up at the undead, rotting faces that drooled for his flesh. Finally, there was fear in his face. Abject, utter fear as he came to increasingly realize that his power was not invincible.
[Negative energy harvested: +10 EXP]
[EXP Bar: 45 ] 55/120]
"I've analyzed your power. All of its weaknesses. I've been analyzing them and all the powers of your group ever since I got to Blackwater because one day, I figured I could make a contingency plan against you scum," continued Aldrich. "But let's be real. Back then, that was just a dream. I had no power to abuse your weaknesses even if I knew them.
But now? Different story.
Your phasing has some safeties in it. For example, theoretically speaking, if you were wholly intangible matter, you would just fall through the ground and pop out the end of the Earth. But you don't.
But then you have limitations.
You can phase through inorganic matter and destroy it, but you can't do it to organic matter.
And the biggest limit you have: you can make yourself intangible, but it stops your bodily functions.
If you make your chest intangible, for example, you can't breathe. I assume if you make your head intangible, you're also blind.
You can't speak while they attack you, can you? Because you're holding your breath. Because you know that if you spend the time to draw even a single breath, your face will be torn apart into a hundred different pieces.
So, let's see it. Let's see how long you can hold your breath, A-class student. Let's see how long you want to suffer."
Aldrich clapped his hands together, and all five of his Undead swarmed on Ghost, constantly tearing and biting and clawing at his body while he made himself intangible.
Aldrich set a timer on his wristwatch, seeing how long Ghost could hold his breath.
Ghost sucked in a breath, and the moment he did, Adam and Elaine bit into his shoulders while the Strikers gored into his sides with their tusks.
Aldrich raised a hand, making the Undead stop and letting Ghost catch his breath.
Aldrich walked over to Ghost and stood over him. Ghost's face was bloody. His chest heaved up and down as he took in desperate breaths. His eyes were wide with fear.
Blood pooled from his sides where holes indicated where the Strikers had jabbed him.
Deep teeth marks on either of his shoulders showed where Adam and Elaine had bit him.
The flesh around those open wounds started to blacken and rot, and Ghost yelled in pain as his nerves strained to the maximum extent of agony before rotting away from suffering Necrotic damage he had no resistances to.
"Wow. Five whole minutes," said Aldrich as he tapped at his wristwatch, causing the timer to stop. "The average unenhanced, untrained person can hold their breath for 30 to 90 seconds. You, by virtue of having Alter Cells that enhance your body can hold your breath for five entire minutes without even training for it."
"F-Fuck you," said Ghost, still defiant despite fear obvious in his face.
[Negative energy harvested]
[EXP Bar: 55/120 ] 75/120]
"But you know what? Five minutes is nothing. I can hold my breath for ten minutes from all my training. I heard back before Alters were a thing, the record was twenty-four minutes.
Can you imagine? A person with no powers, a person you would look down on as a Dud, doing that?" Aldrich scoffed at Ghost. "I'm sure you could do even better if you actually trained, too.
If you ever felt the need to work hard to even be fucking recognized as being allowed to live. If you weren't addicted to X and causing suffering instead of working on yourself."
Aldrich stepped away and waved the Undead on again. They swarmed over Ghost, savagely tearing at him while he held his breath and made himself intangible. The ground beneath him was utterly torn up at this point, all the grass ripped off and the dirt gouged out with deep claw marks.
Aldrich sat on his rock and waited, setting his timer again.
This time, Ghost only lasted 3 minutes.
Again, he yelled as he suffered a new round of cuts and bites.
Again, Aldrich raised his hand up and stopped the Undead. He strolled over to Ghost.
Ghost breathed deeply sucking in as much breath as he could. One of his eyes had been clawed out, blood streaming from the empty socket while the flesh around it rotted.
"Ah," said Aldrich as he saw Ghost's red pupiled eyeball lying on the dirt. He picked it up and tossed it to Elaine. "There you go, Elaine. Hope vengeance tastes good. You'll get a lot more of it soon."
Elaine swallowed down the eyeball whole and licked her bloody lips.
"A-Aldrich-listen to me!" said Ghost.
"Oh, now you remember my name?" said Aldrich. "What happened to 'Dud'?"
"I can help you," stammered Ghost. "You want Seth, right? You want his friends, right? I-I can lead them out here!"
Aldrich looked down at Ghost begging for his life and felt absolutely nothing. It was not just that Aldrich was numb to suffering, especially suffering from those that deserved it. It was something else, too. Becoming an Undead had made his mind…colder.
He felt less.
When he saw Ghost begging, it did not feel like a human being was pleading with him. It felt like a cockroach was twitching its legs, begging to be stomped and ended.
It was disgusting.
Ghost saw the complete disgust in Aldrich's eyes and started to beg harder.
"I can tell you Seth Solar's weakness! The weakness of his whole family!" said Ghost.
"Oh? What is it?" said Aldrich.
"It's-it's Kryptic!" said Ghost. "Kryptic drains the Solar family's powers!"
Aldrich recalled what Kryptic was. It was a highly radioactive ore found in the Midnight Trench, a massive nest of Variants located over the Pacific Ocean so called because a vantablack dome covered it, leaving it a black spot of complete darkness.
Kryptic was a dark, crystalline material that was extremely rare on account of how dangerous it was to obtain. It was mostly used for poisonings, with even a gram of it powdered and put into liquid or sublimated into gas form capable of killing basically anyone without incredible durability.
As it was also untraceable, breaking down completely in the body, it was a favored tool by the highest end assassins of the world.
"Interesting," said Aldrich. He had no means of obtaining Kryptic for now, but it was still useful information to have.
"N-now let me go, Aldrich!" said Ghost. "I-I've told you so much already! If Seth Solar finds out, he'll kill me, I'm sure of it. No, the entire Solar family will be out to kill me. Please, man, just let me go - I'll run far from here, you'll never seem me again, I'll hide out somewhere and live quietly and you won't ever even hear from me!"
"You don't have to worry about Seth Solar or anyone else finding you," said Aldrich.
For a moment, Ghost's face lightened, finding some hope.
"Because you die here," said Aldrich. He turned away and waved the Undead forwards.
This time, Aldrich did not set a timer. He let his zombies tear at Ghost without pause. Ghost screamed again after a few minutes, then held his breath again. A minute later, he screamed again and sucked in another quick breath.
On and on like this, Ghost lost pieces of himself slowly, bit by bit, breath by breath, and Aldrich watched as he continued to farm Negative energy from him.
Until finally - it was over.
And the rewards flowed in.
[Negative energy harvested. Total energy harvested: +70 EXP]
[Quest: VENGEANCE objective completed]
[-Death of Ghost completed]
[+200 EXP, +200 Coin]
[EXP Bar: 75/120 ] 345/120]
[Level: 4 ] 5]
[EXP Bar: 225/200]
[EXP Bar: 25/250]
[Level 5 ] 6]
[10 Stat points available to distribute]
[x1 Tome of the Dark Arts Rank 2 obtained]
[x1 Nether Binding Amulet obtained]