Chapter 330 Boundary
"I want to make sure there isn't anything hidden between us," said Aldrich. "Are you sure you're okay?"
He asked while he put his hand over the gleaming green soul, casting [Raise Undead]. Since this was a boss grade monster, his health and mana began to funnel into the soul in a helix of green and blue.
Though, since this geist was weaker than Okeanos, Aldrich doubted he would run out of health or mana before raising it.
Chiros, Refraction, and Mollusk were above, standing atop a mirror platform. Aldrich had wanted to keep them there for privacy's sake.
His chosen bond with Valera allowed him to synchronize his feelings with her, but when there was emotional turmoil or conflict within, it got harder.
Right now, it was hard to reach Valera with the bond, like trying to swim upstream against a fierce current.
"This much is fine, master!" said Valera, wriggling her newly grown arms and legs. "I took this much damage routinely in our more serious battles. Even in this realm, I was reduced to a mere head against Okeanos."
"I don't mean that. Your physical injuries, I don't worry about. You're tough. I mean here." Aldrich tapped his chest, at his heart. "I'll ask again: are you okay?"
Valera stared at Aldrich with her mouth slightly agape, her fangs glinting. She wanted to answer him truthfully, but the truth of it was, she herself did not know what she was going through.
It was something she had never been through. The feeling of having her rage so suddenly quenched, like a pail of icy water had been dumped all over the flame that fueled her wrath.
Cold, cold fear.
But she knew before her own feelings that her master's goals came first. It was her duty as his guardian to ensure that.
To that end, she could not fail. She could not show weakness, not now, not ever.
"I am fine," said Valera resolutely. "A simple slip up, that is all. I assure you it will not happen again."
Aldrich nodded. He could tell things were not 100% okay, but he was not going to pressure Valera.
He wanted to give her time to think things through on her own first.
He knew that what he had said back in the elevator, about wanting her to put aside her feelings and fears until things were over, was a lot to ask for.
He had always thought that, when it came to emotions, he was better at reacting than reaching out. Or, maybe, that was just what he thought to cope with the fact that he did knot really know how to reach out to others.
Not in the same way that normal people did. He remembered when Seismic comforted the men and women in Haven during the attack.
Seismic managed to connect with the personal lives of each human there to make them feel listened to.
Aldrich had copied that well enough, enough to gain the trust of the citizens, but at the core of it all, it was still just that: a copy.
It was because, frankly, he did not care about the Haven citizens too much. Rather, he cared as much as a lich could.
But it was difficult for him to care beyond a certain threshold.
Things were different with Valera, though. She was his chosen undead. He cared more. She deserved just as much for all she had done.
But that was there things got difficult. Difficult enough where Aldrich figured that the best thing to do here was let her know she was heard and supported, to give her an open channel in case she needed it.
"Just know that I'm always available to talk things through." He turned to the soul and focused on raising the geist.
After several seconds of draining his health and mana, the process was complete.
Aldrich felt a connection tether to the boss geist as their relationship as undead and master stabilized. There was something he was deeply curious about.
Variants, for the most part, lacked souls.
Now, that did not mean they lacked sentience. It simply meant they lacked a spiritual marker that would enter the soul stream upon their deaths.
There were plenty of creatures that had sentience but no souls, if Elden World was to be believed.
Sufficiently advanced golems, for example, could think and feel but had no soul. Many monsters had sentience, but not all had souls.
Though in many cases, the more intelligent and emotionally developed a sentient being was, the higher the chance that they could, over time, develop a soul from scratch.
It just required time to accumulate to 'solidify' the personality and memories and emotions to create a distinct soul.
Variants seemed to follow a similar pattern. Regular animal-like variants lacked a soul. But there were a few exceptions like Okeanos, the Geist and, now, this Boss Geist.
What exactly was it about the Geists and Okeanos that set them apart? Aldrich's Geist in particular seemed quite odd. It had only started to really think for itself after becoming an undead, and when questioned, remembered very little of its past life before Aldrich.
Then how did it have a soul when all the other variants lacked one?
But perhaps this Boss Geist was different? Perhaps it would remember?
The Boss Geist's splattered eye began to reform, the flesh regenerating on its own. The skull began to reform as well, the bark growing back in strips.
"Let's go," said Aldrich. He jumped out of the skull, and Valera followed close behind.
In front of the boss geist's giant skull-face, Aldrich waited. Its singular forehead eye popped back out on its forehead, staring down at Aldrich in recognition.
"Can you speak?" said Aldrich.
'You...you are my new master?' a voice rang in Aldrich's head.
This was telepathy, but not the kind inherent in the undead-master bond. It was the Boss Geist's own ability.
"I am," said Aldrich. "And new master? Who did you serve beforehand? Do you remember?"
'I...' began the Boss Geist, but it paused.
Aldrich was about to press the variant further, but it was then that he felt a bright white light flash in his mind, blinding his vision and headspace.
In the next instant, Aldrich found himself standing in what looked like a circular chamber of rock.
The chamber was enormous, probably easily the size of an entire city, and in the distance, at its center, he spied a floating white orb of pure energy.
That orb served as the only light source.
And a faltering one at that. Compared to the vast, dark expanse around it, the orb was small, its light, though bright, dwarfed by the encroaching darkness around it.
Darkness that did not seem natural. It was too thick, too powerful, as if shade and shadow had layered atop each other in a condensation of all things black meant to choke out whatever light it could get its tendrils on.
"What is this place?" Aldrich asked Volantis, requesting the living armor do a scan, but he realized that he was not wearing any armor.
All he had on was his soulweave suit.
Aldrich's Death Knell started to ring by his hip with a clear, crisp jingle. It was the [Kindred Resonance] that played when there was a soul nearby that was similar to his own. This was the very first time the bell had ever played that resonance.
"Welcome to my Boundary, Kindred."
Aldrich recognized this tone. Distinctively coded female, and yet, utterly neutral in its inflection, almost robotic. This was the Voice. The entity that once controlled Okeanos.
He turned around to the source of the sound and beheld someone that should have been dead for sixty years.
A tall, hunched over figure dressed in an odd patchwork of robes.
There were robes of fur.
There were robes of leathery skin.
Robes of scaled skin.
Robes of slimy flesh that looked like it would have belonged to Mollusk, to many sorts of deep sea creatures.
The were even robes layered in sheets of glinting metal and crystal.
All of many different colors, the bright and dull shades shimmering and shifting in constant, dizzying flux to create an amalgamate pattern of hues that seemed oddly maddening.
No, it was maddening.
[Undead mental immunity triggered]
The robes hid its wearer's body, but Aldrich could tell it was vaguely humanoid and large, easily four meters tall, tall enough that he had to look up at its hooded face.
A face with no discernible features. Just a bright white spiral pattern surrounded by a void of starry black that formed its 'face', if it could even be called that.
It looked like if Aldrich reached into the hood, his hand would pass right through, into a void.
This utterly bizzare being was someone that Aldrich recognized.
Someone that practically every single person in the world who gave a single damn about history would recognize.
One of the two most influential figures in the Post-Altering Era. The one whose death had been ground zero for the Monstering itself.
This... was Zahak, the greatest villain of all time.