Aldrich went over to the Chrysalis and knelt down by it. He picked the creature up. It was odd, staring at it. The Chrysalis was not much larger than a basketball. An entire dimensional space generated from something this tiny.
"It is exceptional that such a minute creature was capable of harboring such vast space." Fler'Gan voiced Aldrich's thoughts, thinking the exact same thing.
"Yeah. And I'm excited what this variant can do for me in undeath." Aldrich placed the Chrysalis down and chanted. "Serve."
Green energy flowed into the crystal centipede, and as it did so, the ruby red luster of the Chrysalis changed into a dark light emerald green.
[Mana: 163/183 ] 153/183]
[Units Controlled: 20/22 ] 21/22]
Aldrich intently waited, watching the Chrysalis to see how it would move. The Chrysalis uncurled from its ouroboric position with slow, lethargic movements. Its many legs moved for just a few seconds before they froze over and the Chrysalis once more curled back up, completely still.
"Hm." Aldrich put a hand to his chin. He sensed its intentions. "It wants energy. Without it, it can't move properly or do much of anything."
"Specifically, an Ether Deposit," said Stella as she came to Aldrich's side with Valera by her side. By now, the bloodspitter lizard had regenerated its head, and it strutted forwards beside Aldrich too.
"Ether deposit, is it?" Aldrich pondered this.
Ether was an odd type of energy that had manifested on Earth after the Altering. In its purest state, it appeared to be a glowing white light with an atomic structure that constantly fluxed, making it impossible to stabilize and study.
There were even theories that Ether seemed semi-sapient, oddly self-destructing when confined in laboratories.
On its own, Ether was worth little to nothing. It had zero reactivity nor malleability, so science and technology could not generate energy from Ether or change its form into something more useful.
But oddly, in the presence of Alter powers, specifically with Alter Organs and cells, Ether reacted. Or perhaps it was the other way round with the organs being capable of interfacing with Ether. Some people thought Ether created Alter powers, others thought Alter powers generated Ether - it was an endless debate akin to the question of whether the chicken or the egg came first.
Regardless, Ether and Alter powers were inextricably linked. All Alters generated trace energy signatures of Ether, especially when they used their powers. The Ether energy signature was what scanners used to detect powers.
The denser an Alter's cell count, the stronger the Ether signature they generated.
But Ether also occurred naturally in deposits all across the planet. Variant ecosystems bloomed around Ether deposits and Alterhumans competed with variants to vie for Ether for in the presence of Ether, Alter powers grew stronger. And, more importantly, higher tier techno Alters could fully harness Ether to fuel their sci-fi superweapons, processing the seemingly useless particle into a hyper-efficient, physics defying energy.
"From what I remember, Chrysales are created deep underground. Nobody knows exactly where, but they do know that wherever there are Ether deposits, Chrysales aren't far behind. They latch onto the deposits, drain them, and fuse with their environments," said Stella. "They attract variants usin' Ether and sorta farm em'. Variants come and breed and die inside their nests, and whatever dies turns into nutrients. Usin' those nutrients, they expand."
She stared down at the Chrysalis's stiff, unmoving form. "Guess this little guy's all outta' juice. And without another deposit to anchor onto, it ain't gonna' be movin', maybe not ever."
"Hmm. So I need to find an Ether deposit to even make this thing usable?" said Aldrich.
"I figure. And in most cases, it takes months to years for a Chrysalis to make a proper nest," said Stella.
Aldrich picked up the Chrysalis and wondered whether it was worth it to keep the creature. Ether deposits were not uncommon, but it was hard to find one that some mega corporation did not mine out or where variants gathered en masse.
"Energy, you say?" Fler'Gan clapped his hands together, but because his skin was soft and moist, it made a squelching sound. "May I propose, O Elder, a rather interesting potential solution?"
"What is it?" said Aldrich.
"Your Phylactery," said Fler'Gan. "It may not seem like it, but there is an incredible amount of energy hosted within it. Enough such that if fully unleashed, the arcane shockwave alone could flatten half a human city."
"Really now? I couldn't sense anything coming from it when I held it," said Aldrich.
"Because the energy is tightly sealed within. Otherwise, it would be far too easy to track the magical trail of the Phylactery, and that defeats the purpose of having a safe, undetectable place to house one's soul, no?" Fler'Gan stretched out an open hand to Aldrich, beckoning for the Phylactery.
Aldrich materialized the Phylactery and gave it to Fler'Gan, trusting the learned Mind Eater's decisions.
"But perhaps if I undo a few seals…," Fler'Gan hunched over the purple orb and traced his slimy fingers around the many lines of sigils inscribed upon it. They glowed blue, and he started to use the tip of one of his lengthy digits to rewrite the letterings.
"Watch it, old man. Make sure not to blow us all up," said Stella.
"You insult me, my dear," said Fler'Gan with a scoff. "I am more learned than you could ever be with that brash and impatient attitude of yours. Now stay in silence as I work."
Fler'Gan reordered multiples lines of sigils over a hundred times at rapid speed, obviously showcasing a level of familiarity with the Phylactery that stood as evidence of his decades of research building it.
"There." After one minute, Fler'Gan finished. The Phylactery clicked slightly, and a few crack-like seams opened across its surface. Beneath these cracks glowed bright green energy: the color of necromancy.
Aldrich saw in high interest as the Chrysalis in his hand started to twitch, coming back from dormancy as it sensed the Phylactery's energy. It was not Ether, it was mana, and yet, the Chrysalis still recognized it.
"I sense you are just as excited as I, O Elder," said Fler'Gan. "To witness whether this world and our world may mesh together."
Valera patted Stella on the back as she stood up on her own now, healed enough by Aldrich's passive [Anti-Life Shell].
"Master… are you sure about this?" Valera said. "That Phylactery - you need it to become a lich. Who knows what this crystal thing will do to it."
"I assure you, Phylacteries are not so fragile a construct," said Fler'Gan. "If indeed this creature requires months to years to siphon a deposit of this energy form known as 'Ether', then I sincerely doubt it can significantly drain the Phylactery's reserves before the Elder halts it or destroys it."
"I'm curious about this too," said Aldrich. "I understand your concern, Valera, but I'm alert. I've mentally commanded the Chrysalis not to harm the Phylactery at all, only to see if it can absorb the mana. If anything happens out of the ordinary, I won't hesitate to force the Chrysalis to stop or destroy it if needs be."
"Understood, master," said Valera.
Aldrich put the twitching Chrysalis down. It moved with surprising speed, immediately leaping and latching into the Phylactery. The Chrysalis circled all around the purple orb, curling back into its ouroboric position across the Phylactery's surface.
Aldrich waited tensely, seeing if the Chrysalis regained its energy. Instead, something unexpected happened.
The Chrysalis sunk into the Phylactery like it had fallen into water.
"Master!" said Valera.
Aldrich raised a hand to calm her. He could still sense the Chrysalis within, and it did not exhibit any sign of hostility or disobedience to him.
"The creature has fused into the Phylactery." Fler'Gan picked the orb up and began to navigate the many glowing lines of sigils on it again.
"Yeah, we can see that," said Stella. "But is that a good thing or not?"
"No, you do not understand. This fusion, it is remarkably complete. It is not merely that the creature has sunk within the Phylactery, it has become the Phylactery. They are now one and the same." Fler'Gan's three red eyes widened as he saw the cracks he had formed on the Phylactery sealing up on their own. "Marvelous! Look! This experiment has been a resounding success! Our world and this world, its fusion - a success!"
Fler'Gan held the orb out excitedly for everyone to watch. Within the glassy glowing purple orb, the dark silhouette of the curled-up Chrysalis could be seen.
"It's…adjusting," said Aldrich as he felt what the Chrysalis was going through and the intentions it projected. "It's taking in mana, but it isn't using it. It's getting used to it, trying to process it.
And to do that…it wants to be close to me. I'm the source of its life, and there's mana inside me, too. It wants to link with my body, to fuse with me as well so that it can analyze my mana first. My mana's more familiar, and once it's done processing that, it shouldn't have an issue getting used to the Phylactery."
Aldrich took the Phylactery from Fler'Gan's hand and gazed at it, feeling a distinct draw to it.
He knew what to do with this.
He dematerialized the gear on his upper body, leaving him bare naked from the waist up. His body had noticeably bulked up since the beginning of his undeath due to the stats he had pumped into it. He had always been physically fit from his training, but now he was even bigger.
Not overly big like a bodybuilder, but he still had a sizable amount of muscle that straddled a perfect balance between strength and speed.
Lean and strong. Ready to overpower and crush in one moment, then sprint and chase in the other.
"Oh, master, you do look so very ravishing," said Valera as she licked her lips, her fangs showing. She blushed in shyness but still panted and leaned forwards like a predator eyeing a prize they had hunted for days. And in her case, she had been on the hunt for years.
On top of this, her usual shyness as an upstanding knight melted away because she was still low health and craving blood. And for vampires, the act of craving and drawing blood was closely linked with sexual desire.
"This is a serious moment, you." Stella bonked Valera's helmetless head with a karate chop. "Keep that horniness in check."
Valera growled but stayed still, understanding that Stella was right.
Aldrich looked down at his body. In the center of all that muscle, right below his plate-like pectorals, there was the massive hole that Seth Solar had gouged out. He placed the Phylactery tentatively within it and then -
The Phylactery glowed before tendrils of pink flesh emerged out of it, latching onto Aldrich's insides. More and more of these tendrils appeared rapidly, soon quickly filling up the gaping hole left behind in Aldrich's chest.
There was now only the glowing purple surface of the Phylactery jutting from his chest, covered seamlessly in pale skin and regrown bone and muscle.
Aldrich went down into one knee as he saw complete and utter darkness.
Valera and Stella immediately rushed to Aldrich's help, but he waved them back.
"I'm fine," said Aldrich as he saw nothing but darkness. He realized this was what the Chrysalis saw. "There's nothing in the Phylactery. Just darkness."
"That is to be expected," said Fler'Gan. "After all, a Phylactery is ultimately a vessel to contain a soul. Once your soul transfers within, the darkness you see will be painted over by the color of your soul. It will become your very own inner world: a manifestation of the self.
And now with this creature nested in the Phylactery, you have an additional layer of defense if anyone attempts to target your Phylactery directly. Perhaps the creature may utilize its spatial manipulation to conjure portals that bend deadly attacks to your soul away. Perhaps it may even absorb them. Perhaps it may even learn magic and cast spells of its own.
The possibilities are simply endless, and to grasp them, we require further experimentation."
"Defense, is it?" Aldrich returned to his own vision as the Chrysalis became more and more used to its newfound energy source. He willed the Chrysalis to try and attack from within the Phylactery.
Aldrich tapped the Phylactery, and it crackled with arcs of red energy before turning a solid vantablack, almost like a black hole. This was a dimensional portal. A tiny one, granted, but a portal nonetheless: the Chrysalis was starting to use mana to fuel its warp powers.
Small tendrils of darkness stretched out from it, slithering slowly on the ground, picking up pebbles here and there before sinking back into the Phylactery.
"What the hell was that!?" Stella jumped back at the sudden emergence of surprise tentacles.
"The creature is learning at an exceptional rate," said Fler'Gan. "That darkness was some of the mana stored within the Phylactery. The creature has managed to control the mana, using it to create tendrils to interact with the world.
Yet, judging by the minute size and chaotic shape of those tendrils, it is unused to shaping mana."
Aldrich felt the Chrysalis protest within him. It cost a significant amount of energy to make it open a portal, even a portal that small, from the Phylactery and draw things in.
"Not just that," said Aldrich. "Like you said, by design, anything inside the Phylactery is completely sealed off from the outside to prevent energy leaks. That includes the dimension that the Chrysalis creates.
So anytime it wants to attack, it has to open a portal, and portals are costly. It's too small and weak, so its 'max mana pool' isn't large enough to do much more than open that tiny portal and spew out a few mana tendrils.
It needs time to rest, absorb, and grow like it did with an Ether deposit.
I know you want to experiment even more, but give the Chrysalis some time. We can start testing its limits as it grows."
"As you wish, O Elder," said Fler'Gan with a barely concealed sigh, disappointed he could not see and experiment more.
Aldrich, too, wanted to experiment, but he remained patient. He could only imagine how incredibly useful this Chrysalis-Phylactery fusion would be. One of the biggest issues he had was that he could not carry around his undead without attracting attention.
But with the Chrysalis, he could store and release them at will.
"Then what now?" said Stella.
Aldrich snapped his fingers and bid the alloywing eagle down to the cavern. "We head to Haven City."