Aldrich folded his wings back, and they absorbed into the metal of his armor. He free fell from high up, landing on shattered pavement with a heavy crash. The acrid smell of charred flesh filled his nose as he stared ahead at the corpse of Merman.
Aldrich walked over and looked down at Merman's burnt upper skeleton. There was not even a smidgeon of flesh left behind on it, and the bones themselves were so blackened he worried that a strong breeze might disintegrate them.
Thankfully, a Grave floated above this mangled corpse, shining in green visible only to him that let him know that there was enough corpse left to raise. This was cutting it quite close, though. Corpses generally became unreliable to raise when over half their bodies were destroyed.
Nevertheless, Aldrich would take the freebie. As he raised his hand towards Merman's corpse, a notification popped up in his vision.
It was an experience tally from all the units he had defeated tonight.
[21,000 miscellaneous units defeated]
[Low Level Unit EXP Buffer Applied]
[x1 'Shark' defeated]
[x1 'Merman' defeated]
[Total EXP Gain: +50,000]
[EXP Bar: 50,000/50,000]
[Level 41 ] 42]
[EXP Bar: 0/55,000]
[5 stat points available to distribute]
Aldrich nodded to himself. The fact that he received so little experience from defeating fishmen, a measly 2 for each one, was well within his expectations at this point. In the game, after a player hit thresholds of level 40 and 80, they faced a 'Low Level EXP Buffer]' that prevented them from gaining much experience at all from sufficiently low leveled units.
This was presumably to prevent a sufficiently dedicated and perhaps somewhat insane player from farming trash mobs over and over and over again to level themselves, and at a certain point, if one killed too much of the same mob, the EXP gains also underwent diminishing returns that could potentially reach down all the way to 0.
Aldrich knew this well. Because he had precisely been the type of dedicated and insane player to kill basic slimes and goblins over a hundred thousand times to see how much he could level.
Overall, though, if Aldrich killed all the variants here, even if they counted as low level mobs now, there were so many of them that he figured he could squeeze out one more level from them. The remaining level, then, would come from Shrimp.
Aldrich immediately distributed his stat points into Attunement.
[+5 Attunement, increased to +10 with stat affinity bonuses]
[Attunement: 211 ] 221]
[Inner Circle Limit: 47 ] 49]
[Outer Circle Limit: 235 ] 245]
Aldrich noted that his EXP bar's number value continued to rapidly tick up, though in extremely low increments, indicating that his army was slaughtering fishmen that provided little to no EXP. After about 30,000 fishmen kills, they would start giving out 1 EXP, and then at 50,000 kills, little to nothing.
It did not seem to matter that the fishmen had many different subspecies among them. They all fell under the same 'branch' of monster type, so the penalty applied equally among them all.
Aldrich filed away all these observations and focused back to Merman's corpse.
"Not much of you left, is there? Well, I'll change that soon. Serve." said Aldrich. Strands of green emerged from around his black metaled hand, wisping outwards and flowing into Merman's corpse.
Merman's charred skeleton levitated in the air, and Aldrich willed his [Mist of Undeath] out. The ghostly green mist traveled towards the skeleton and as it clouded the horribly damaged corpse, it reversed all the damage the corpse had suffered.
Charred flesh broke off to reveal new, pink flesh. Muscle built up. Bones regrew and fused back together.
The skeletal and muscular systems of Merman built up, making him look like an anatomy chart of exposed flesh before his slimy green scales covered his many arms and serpentine, slithering tail.
His eyes flashed red once more, and the blue crystalline organ at his chest glowed with life again.
Aldrich felt a faint blur hit the edges of his vision. His mana had dipped below 20%. He would have to go out and consume graves to restore it. This was why Legion Necromancers were so fiercesome in a battlefield.
When Graves became disposable resources that popped up everywhere, they not only became a source for minions, but also endless free health and mana.
"Gorok-gara-khos (I serve you, Ocean King)" Merman flared his gills open, exposing the frilly veins within them. A gesture of deep respect and loyalty.
"Interesting. Your kind has a language?" said Aldrich. He knew that smarter or more social variants could gather in tribes and packs, but an actual functioning language? That was something near completely unheard of.
But if ever there were variants out there that could defy common convention and research, then it was with deep sea variants who could evolve far out of sight and study of mankind.
Merman was about to respond when several heroes stumbled out of their cover and inched towards Aldrich with wonder in their eyes.
In response, Merman grew aggressive, his bright blue, crystalline spines flared out from his back, arms, head, and tail. He bared his sharp fangs as his arms channeled orbs of blue water.
"Stop," said Aldrich with commanding voice. "They are my allies."
"Gorok-Shel (I apologize)" replied Merman. His voice undulated in a strange, almost alien way, and his voice was distorted, making it almost impossible to actually parse out what he said. To the ordinary ear, whatever Merman said would have sounded like unintelligible snarls and grunts, and that was what they had sounded like to Aldrich beforehand too.
Aldrich could only clearly make out what Merman said now because of his master-summoner link with the variant. It was highly probable that whatever tongue Merman spoke was difficult to fully articulate on land as well.
"I heard on the comms that you could control variants, but I thought they were just sh*tting me. It's real. And it's not just that. You can…you can raise the dead?" said a hero as he stepped ahead of the others as their representative.
"I recognize that voice. You must be the one I was talking to over my earpiece," said Aldrich. He recognized the man because of his distinctive appearance. He was a mutant type Alter with moth traits, antennae sticking out of his forehead with carapaced skin that bore cracks practically everywhere. Four large grey moth wings lay folded on his back. "Mothman, is it?"
"You know me?" said Mothman, surprised.
"Of course. I kept tabs on every D ranker in line to be promoted to C rank in Haven," said Aldrich.
"…Can I ask why?" said Mothman.
"Because I hoped that one day, when I decided it would be time to stand out of the shadows, I would be able to work with all of you," said Aldrich as he extended out a hand, and Mothman shook it cordially, if with considerable amounts of awe.
Mothman looked up at Aldrich's menacing armored form with awe, then at Merman, then back at Aldrich.
Every single one of the other heroes did the same, staring at Aldrich and Merman with wide eyes and open mouths.
It was understandable. The man they had heard about, the man in strange armor who had brought an entire army with him, the man who had stepped down onto the battlefield and turned the tides of a desperate and hopeless stand in one single moment, was right here.
And all the stories that the flyers heard about him over comms, it seemed, were true.
Not only that, but here this man was, raising forth the very monstrous variant that had made their lives a living hell of dodging and taking projectiles just minutes beforehand.
Mothman was the first to snap out of this awed trance, showcasing a level headedness to him that made it very clear why Seismic had trusted him to lead all the flyers on a job like this.
"I have to thank you for saving all of us," said Mothman. "With you, we would still be getting our asses handed to us, hiding behind rocks, just waiting for one of those water spikes to shove through our brains."
"Don't thank me yet. The fight's still going on. I've completely secured the airspace here with my living storm, so all of you are free to retreat back to the firing line. There, patch yourselves up and take a rest.
All of you deserve it," said Aldrich. "Now go."
After Aldrich said this, the heroes did not move for several seconds, probably still in shock and awe that someone had actually saved them, and that they had been saved with such an overwhelming display of might.
"You heard him!" said Mothman, snapping the heroes out of their trance. "Get to the air! Get back to the firing line! I'll contact trauma teams to be ready for our arrival. All of you who can fly, take the grounded ones with you!"
With that, Mothman and the flyers started to file out, giving Aldrich some privacy.
"Now then," said Aldrich to Merman… "It's time for you to show me what you can do."