Aldrich and Valera followed the Death Lord down the hallway outside their rooms. The Chrysalis walked between them, cautiously sneaking wary glances at the Death Lord.
"Apologies for the rather rough state of this floor." The Death Lord looked around at the bare, undecorated rocky floor and ceiling that made up the first floor. "But I do not have enough power to make things pretty. Sustaining this place is tiring as is."
"I would have thought it unwise to get yourself into life threatening sparring sessions if that were the case," said Aldrich as he stared at the Death Lord's new prosthetic emerald arm. "But it looks like you're slowly restoring yourself."
"Indeed." The Death Lord put her emerald arm in front of her, admiring the prosthetic arm. The arm moved around a ball joint at the elbow, and yet with remarkable fluidity easily rivaling that of a natural arm.
No, as the Death Lord showed by rotating her arms in unnatural angles, the range of motion even outstripped a regular flesh and bone arm. "Pretty, is it not? Functional, too, but function without form is simply crude. The patterns of lilies engraved upon this gemstone emerald do catch my eye – I must give Bel my thanks again."
"Bel?" said Aldrich.
"My personal giant blacksmith," said the Death Lord.
"How many do you have?"
"My, when did this become an interrogation? Are you assessing the strength I have?" The Death Lord laughed to herself. "I have five giant smiths. Four in my command now that Bors is under yours. Rest assured, Death Walker, even one giant smith is generosity enough, I cannot grant you more as they are quite busy maintaining this realm's structures."
Aldrich nodded. "Your troops: can you bring them out of this realm?"
"If you could do that, then we could add to our war power tremendously," noted Valera.
"No," said the Death Lord. She thought about this for another second and then shrugged. "Technically only I am absolutely bound here, for if I leave, it all collapses. But it is possible, I suppose, to lend you troops by temporary shifting their ownership to you. Through you, they could leave.
But I must dash your hopes right now: unless you take full ownership of my troops, they will still be tethered to me. The cost to maintain even a single skeleton outside in your realm would be enormous. At best, they can manifest under your partial ownership for, hm, thirty seconds?
And I am quite unwilling to part with my dear troops unless you earn them."
"Earn them, is it?" Valera smiled coyly at the Death Lord. "We will have your troops under us before that ancient body of yours even knows what has happened."
"I look forward to seeing it, little lady." The Death Lord returned the coy smile. "And you would do well to bear the passing years as a badge of honor. The fact that I have lived long enough to become millennial dragon is one I am proud of."
"Got it." Aldrich spoke to himself, mostly, ignoring the two women getting into a miniature staredown. He filed down all the information. It might not have seemed valuable, but it started to give him ideas.
"Ah, here we are." The Death Lord reached a dead end in the hallway. Before her, there was a slightly upraised platform of rock studded with a smoothed-out mana crystal at the center. "Hop on. I will have Medula warp us to her study.
There, the Chrysalis will learn warp magic from Medula.
You two may go down to the crypts where your throne is. Reconvene with your troops and challenge the Trials. Volantis will be there as well, and I hear he has been missing your absence."
"Did you give Wai'ki my thanks?" said Aldrich. Before the whole sleep rest incident, Aldrich had made sure he had gotten ownership of the illusion that Wai'ki made of Volantis. He had then sent it out of the Nexus to the real world so it could serve as a convincing decoy.
Aldrich had even interrogated the illusion to make sure it did not seem too suspicious, and it was surprisingly functional. It did not mimic Volantis, but instead Aldrich based on Volantis's memories of him.
The result was a slightly exaggerated version of Aldrich that seemed much 'cooler' with grander one liners, and he wondered whether that was because Volantis's perception of him was skewed.
Anyways, it worked enough where Aldrich figured that it would take a high level interrogator to know something was off, and they would also need to have known Aldrich originally as a reference. So far, nobody knew who Aldrich was, so there was no worry of that.
"I did," said the Death Lord. "She appreciated it greatly. Looking to woo her heart, too, hm? Eyeing such a pure and frail girl – you are quite fierce some, are you not?"
"He-he is doing no such thing!" protested Valera. "Who do you think my master is? Some sort of predator?"
"Perhaps. He has hungry eyes. Always looking forward. Always wanting." The Death Lord licked her lips with her forked tongue. "Men with eyes like that may hunger only for their ambition, but mark my words, little lady, once he tastes a woman, he will turn that same hunger upon you." The Death Lord eyed Valera up and down. "A good body, but inexperienced.
How will that inexperienced body of yours manage such hunger, I wonder?"
"W-what?" Valera turned away from the Death Lord's intrusive gaze but then nodded in realization when she looked up at Aldrich. "No, she's right. When you pulled me into you so strongly, without hesitation too, and you merely said it 'felt right'. Master…do you truly wish to consume me like that? If-if so, I promise you I will try not to disappoint!"
"I'm confused. Everyone talk about things I don't know." The Chrysalis pouted. "I feel dumb. I don't like feeling dumb."
"You're not dumb, some people just like to talk about pointless things they shouldn't be talking about in the first place." Aldrich patted the Chrysalis's head and gave an accusing glance to the Death Lord and Valera.
The Death Lord simply ignored Aldrich's gaze and looked down at the Chrysalis with eager eyes. "Come, child, you will learn warp magic soon. No longer will you be dumb!
You should be thankful – there are few masters of the magic as accomplished as Medula. She may be a harsh teacher, but soon, you will learn and if you are even half as capable as your father, you will reach tremendous heights!"
"Father…?" The Chrysalis looked up at Aldrich.
"I…guess that's what I am?" said Aldrich.
"Can I call you that?" said the Chrysalis. She looked up at him with eager green eyes.
The Chrysalis then hid behind Aldrich's leg and pointed at the Death Lord. "Father – I don't want to go with her. Scary lady."
"I'll go with you, if it helps. Make sure she doesn't do anything bad or say anything dumb," said Aldrich.
"…Dumb? Me? How?" The Death Lord put a hand to her chin in thought, wondering what she said was dumb. She just shrugged, not understanding parent-child behaviors. Or, Aldrich figured, it was probably very different for dragons.
Dragons were left to fend for themselves when they were young, and most dragons largely forgot about their early infancy – their first century of living or so – anyway.
"Okay, if father comes, I'll go," said the Chrysalis with a confident nod.
Aldrich then spoke to Valera. "Can you check on the troops for me? Organize them until I get back. You remember our Trial Quests as well, don't you?"
"Yes," said Valera.
"Then organize the units into several groups according to specifications I give you. The second and third quests shouldn't be an issue for us to clear, so I want to run a little experiment with both of them," said Aldrich.
"Understood, master." Valera recognized Aldrich's serious tone of voice and matched it instantly, materializing her full suit of armor. She stepped atop the platform. "Take care this snake does not whisper strange obscenities in your ear."
"I only speak truths, my dear." The Death Lord smiled as she snapped her fingers, causing the platform to light up. Valera faded away in the burst of light, transporting down to the crypts, or, more accurately, Aldrich's throne room.
"Now then, on we go to Medula." The Death Lord stepped on the platform, and Aldrich followed with the Chrysalis.
The Death Lord snapped her fingers again, and light engulfed them.
Immediately, the scenery shifted into a massive library. Dozen meter tall bookshelf after bookshelf of ebony wood stood in nearly ordered rows like soldiers standing at attention. They were packed with books and tomes of all kinds, and it seemed they were strictly organized according to their size and what color of light they glowed with.
Aside from the glow of magical tomes, the library was utterly dark, granting it a rather eerie feeling had not everyone possessed darkvision, including the Chrysalis.
From the distance, Medula flew in with her hands clasped behind her back.
"You're here. Slightly late, but what else should I have expected?" said Medula.
"So you'll be teaching the Chrysalis warp magic?" said Aldrich.
Medula eyed the Chrysalis with cold and calculating eyes, causing the Chrysalis to hide behind Aldrich's leg.
"I will assess her potential and guide her to its maximum capacity," said Medula. "But do not harbor any delusions. If that maximum capacity is low, then I will make it clearly known, and will not have anything further to do with her.
What I do not recall is being tasked to accommodate you, Usurper."
"I'm here to watch over the lesson to see that it goes well," said Aldrich.
"Mm. A concerned parent, are you? The worst bother for any teacher." Medula shook her head.
"Father isn't a bother!" protested the Chrysalis.
"Is that so?" Medula gazed at the Chrysalis with her tired and unfeeling eyes. Surprisingly, she acquiesced. "I will allow your presence for this first lesson only. Now then, is there any other request you have that takes me even more from my precious research?"
"Yes," said Aldrich. He stared right at Medula's infernal orange eyes with a piercing gaze. "I want you under my service."