Aldrich found the environment around him changed from forest to the dull grey stone and gothic architecture of the Nexus. He felt his HP and Mana restore to max, and the first thing he did was go up to the Wellspring of Life and restore the charges on his flask.
"Huh, where's this, boss?" said Fisk as he looked around in pure wonder, staring first at the imposing gargoyle crowned pillars surrounding the Nexus and then at the ceiling full of golden and blue crystals. "Looks like a place straight out of a game. All this cool glowing crystal ceiling stuff and dark fantasy temple aesthetic - I totally dig it. Reminds me of that game, y'know the one with rollin' and dodgin' and dyin'? Dark Sins?"
"I know it," said Aldrich.
"Yeah, I agree," said Dynamite Girl as she looked around with crossed arms.
"Huh, you play games?" said Fisk. "Never thought you the type."
"J-just a little. Make no mistake, though: I ain't a complete nerd like you," said Dynamite Girl.
"You two remember playing games?" said Aldrich. He did not know exactly to what extent an undead risen with their souls knew of their past lives. He knew that according to game lore, they lost all memories, but that did not seem entirely to be the case.
"Yeah, don't remember which games, exactly, but some," said Dynamite Girl. "I was stressed and angry a lot. Helped cool down sometimes."
"Geh," said the Geist.
"What? I'm still stressed and angry all the time!? Huh!?" Dynamite Girl balled her hands into fists and leered at the Geist. "Keep that up and I'll show you stressed for real!"
"Alright, calm down," said Aldrich. "I just have a question: how much of your past life do you remember?"
"Nothing much at all, really," said Dynamite Girl. "My name, mostly. Stella. Though I remember being called Dynamite Girl as well. Everything else is kind of a haze, almost like a fever dream."
"Haven city. Does this name ring any bells to you?" said Aldrich.
Dynamite Girl nodded. "Yeah. Think I used to live there or something. Nice and tidy city center, ugly-ass streets everywhere else. Don't know much of anything else. Though I kinda get the sense if you like, uh, told me or prompted me, I might remember a thing or two."
"Hm." Aldrich realized that fully arisen undead had not wiped their memories. They retained them but they were deeply 'locked' so to speak and would not emerge unless specifically prompted.
This made some practical sense. If the arisen undead had zero memories at all, then they would just be like helpless, clueless infants that had zero idea how to function.
This gave Aldrich worries about whether triggering memory returns would cause a risen undead to rebel, but at the same time, Aldrich could at any given moment just turn their individuality off.
For now, he let everyone have their individuality. If anything, retaining memories might be especially useful, especially in the case of people like Dynamite Girl who had the potential to hold valuable information by being a hero.
"Quite talkative to the master, aren't we?" said Valera as she stepped past Dynamite Girl and shoved her aside. She put a hand to her breastplate and raised her shield up. "I am ready for battle, my master. I will prove to you through this Trial Quest that I alone am truly worthy to be by your side."
"Yeah? Who was it that torched those bugs, huh?" said Dynamite Girl.
Valera turned around to glare at her.
"Let's stop with the arguments. Any more and I'm turning off your free will," said Aldrich.
"Got it, captain," said Dynamite Girl. She sighed. "I can be a little rough around the edges. Speak my mind out a lot. But trust me, when it comes down to the fightin', you can always count on me to have your back."
"Hmph. You will have to prove yourself to me beyond words," said Valera.
"Didn't we already fight together? Well, whatever, looks like we're gonna be fightin' soon, ain't we?" Dynamite Girl looked to Aldrich.
"Yes." Aldrich stepped over to the first pillar of twelve that supported the walls of the Nexus.
The first Trial Quest.
The pillar was shrouded with green light, indicating that it was active. The gargoyle above it had its empty eye sockets filled with green as it gazed down at Aldrich, inviting him forwards. The massive twin double doors of stone carved into the pillar were open, showing a swirling portal of azure blue, almost like a whirlpool on the surface of water, leading into the quest.
Aldrich looked at his tab.
Trial Quest 1: The Search
By reaching level 10, you have shown great strides into mastering the dark art of necromancy. But now, it is time to truly test yourself, to truly prove that the power over the dead that you wield is worthy.
This trial will be a test of how well you are capable of controlling the dead that you have bound to yourself. You will prove that these souls whose undeath you bind to yourself serve a truly capable master.
In the accursed Rotted Greatwoods where precious few living souls dare to tread, you must find the lost Eye of Azoth. None know exactly where it has fallen in these cold and foul woods.
It may be within the twisted woods itself. It may be lost in the depths of the murky swamp that festers within. Or perhaps it is within the belly of some mighty beast.
It is up to you, O Necromancer, to wade through the dark and the cold and the rot - elements you are well accustomed to - and find the long lost eye.
Time Limit: 1 Hour
-Find the Eye of Azoth
-1x Eye of Azoth
-3x Restorative Flask charges
-1x Sign Stone
-Passive: [Corpse Barrier]
-Passive: [Death Sense]
-Spell: [Grave Consumption]
-Tome of Dark Arts Rank 3
Aldrich analyzed the quest. It read the exact same as it had in Elden World. If everything was the exact same, then this Trial Quest would be an easy breeze to deal with.
"Once we go in, we don't waste any time. You do as I say and you work efficiently. Understand?" said Aldrich.
"Yes, master," said Valera.
"Roger, captain," said Dynamite Girl.
"Sure thing, boss," said Fisk.
"Geh." The Geist nodded.
"Good. The place we are teleporting to will very much be like a game. A game set in a high fantasy setting, if that gives you any hints about what types of challenges and enemies you'll face. But just listen to me, and you shouldn't face any real difficulties." Aldrich nodded and then stepped through the portal
Aldrich found himself now in the Rotted Greatwoods. He stood at the edge of a great forest full of rotted, leafless trees. Despite lacking leaves, the trees had curled their bare branches around each other in twisted contortions and knots forming a massive canopy of tied up branches that made trying to look down through the trees from above impossible.
Behind Aldrich were massive, towering mountains that functioned as impassable terrain in the game. In front of the mountains was a moat of foggy, pale water that, just as they did in the game, generated a 'forcefield' that made them impassable.
The skies above were dark and cloudy with a pale, full moon shining down whenever it could through its veil of clouds.
[To aid in your Trial, your control over your Legion has improved]
[Call of the Legion Rank 1 obtained]
[+5 to units controlled]
[Units Controlled: 13/13 ] 13/18]
At the start of every successive Trial Quest, the [Call of the Legion] passive skill would rank up to a total of rank 10, with each rank granting +5 units. By the 10th Trial Quest, that was 50 bonus units to work with.
"Totally cool," said Fisk as he adjusted his visor and looked around. "So, there's like monsters and sh*t here? Dragons and stuff?"
"A dragon would incinerate you with a mere look," said Valera dismissively.
"Oh, but there ARE dragons? Damn, that's awesome," said Fisk. He rolled his shoulders. "VR games never did it for me, but for this, I'm willin' to get off my computer for once and kick some monster ass.
What're we beatin' up, boss?
"In your case, nothing. You, Adam, Elaine, and the Ghast will stay here," said Aldrich.
"Huh?" said Fisk. He looked at Adam and Elaine. "I mean, I appreciate the company, boss, but-"
"None of you are strong enough to keep up with us," said Aldrich. "In the case of the Ghast, it will be here to protect you. Don't step outside of its [Spirit Boundary]."
"Damn, I can't even use my damn phone in this," said Fisk as he stared down sadly at his turned off phone.
The Ghast looked at the phone and shook its head, chattering its teeth and disapproving of the recording device.
"We're going to separate," said Aldrich. "The gist of what we have to do is simple. We have one hour to find an object called the 'Eye of Azoth.' If things are how I think they are, I know exactly where this eye is and what type of enemies you should expect to face.
However, I get bonuses for clearing some hidden objectives, and that requires me to split this group up."
Aldrich began to strategize. The Eye of Azoth was located at the very end of the forest, and it was not that hard to get to. You just needed to take a straight path ahead through the forest which would lead out to a cave, and there, you had to fight a Giant Slime holding the Eye of Azoth.
Upon death, the Giant Slime would also drop the head piece of the [Grave Reaper] item set.
Overall, a very simple quest that took at most 30 minutes.
But then why was the time limit an hour long?
That was due to hidden objectives and loot that one could search for.
However, Aldrich knew exactly where everything was.
First, there was a sizable camp of trolls on the western side of the forest. They guarded two treasure chests containing the body and waist pieces of the [Grave Reaper] item set. Then, to the east was a swamp filled with dormant giant mud crabs. They guarded chests containing the arm and leg pieces of the [Grave Reaper] set.
"Valera and Dynamite Girl, you two pair up and go straight. Just straight ahead. You'll find a cave at the end of this forest. There-,"
"We will face the great slime!" said Valera. "But master, without your frost magic to make the slime's body brittle, I have no means of destroying it."
"Slimes are even weaker to flame than they are to frost. Dynamite Girl can handle it," said Aldrich.
"Like I said, when it comes down to fightin', I got your back," said Dynamite Girl.
"I suppose this is an apt way to prove your resolve." Valera started off into the forest. "Come on then. Now will also be an excellent time to have a conversation about exactly where you stand in your relationship with master.
Just because he trusts your abilities does not mean he feels anything for you…"
Valera continued on her warning rant with Dynamite Girl sighing as the two of them disappeared into the forest.
"Now all of you will assault the troll encampment," Aldrich waved his hand over and mentally commanded the appropriate units to gather in front of him.
This group was comprised of all the zombies made from Natural Variants plus the Skeleton Rogue. Now that the rogue was level 10, it obtained a bonus active skill called [Rotting Stab] that infused a blow with a concentration of necrotic energy that negated regeneration.
Particularly useful for countering troll regeneration.
"There are five trolls and one troll chieftain. Once you get there, surround the encampment but do not engage. I will direct combat after I am done with my own things. Go."
The veritable zoo of zombie Variants and the skeleton rogue moved northeastwards, disappearing quickly into the thick of the forest.
Aldrich left the Alloy-wing Eagle behind and got on its back and made it hover in the air.
"Now, that leaves you with me," said Aldrich as he looked over at the Geist.
"Geh? (Just us?)"
"I'm taking you for dirty work at the swamp. Now get on." Aldrich got the eagle to hold out its talons, and the Geist reached out and grabbed them.
The eagle squawked as it flew in the air with heavy flaps of its wings, obviously straining a bit with the Geist's muscular weight, but the eagle adjusted, and soon, they were soaring high through the air.
Soon enough, Aldrich flew over the surface of the murky, muddy green and brown swamp. He could see large brown circles - patches that looked strikingly like small islands of dirt to rest on - but he knew that these were in reality dormant giant mud crabs.
At the center of the swamp where a particularly thick ring of six crabs gathered was a patch of glowing water. This was where the treasure chest was. But anyone that tried to get that chest was bound to get viciously assaulted by six giant crabs.
"I'm dropping you down there," said Aldrich.
"Gehgeh…(Do you have to? I'll be all alone, too)" said the Geist.
"You have super regeneration to survive an initial mauling, and the crabs are weak to poison. Your neurotoxic gas will disable them quickly. I chose you to do this for a reason: you were the best suited for it," said Aldrich.
"Alright then, off you go." Aldrich tapped the eagle's back and it squawked before dropping the Geist.
"Geh!" the Geist sped downwards and curled up into a cannonball as it crashed into the muddy swamp, right in the throng of mud crabs.