*Thanks, Fler'Gan. Your potion worked perfectly. I owe you one,* said Aldrich.
*I require no thanks, great Elder, but if you are willing, perhaps a live sample? Of a human that is known as an 'Alter'?*
Aldrich thought about this for a moment. *Alright.*
Walters stared at Aldrich as he loomed over the table, his suspicions evidently still not eased.
"Walters, please, you are inconveniencing our guest. This is quite unlike you," said Casimir.
All Aldrich did was smile at Walters. Walters stared at Aldrich for a few more seconds before he surrendered and walked away with a grunt.
"My apologies, Mr. Vane. Walters is normally such a lovely waiter, but tonight, he is a little off his game," said Casimir.
"It's quite alright. Everyone has their off days and their on days," said Aldrich.
Aldrich was not an idiot. He had not made Fler'Gan's mind control potion ridiculously obvious. He had given Fler'Gan further specifications on the potion he wanted made.
Most importantly, it had to be tasteless. Then, it had to be condensed down to as little liquid volume as possible so it did not increase the weight of the wine. The potion's effects finally had to be subtle as possible.
Aldrich did not want to make Casimir a brainwashed, doddering fool who drooled at the mouth and only responded to his commands. Not only would that guarantee an immediate and powerful backlash attack from Casimir's guards, it would also completely ruin the Red Circle, and Aldrich wanted the Red Circle to keep running for the foreseeable future.
Or, more accurately, Aldrich would now run the Red Circle in the shadows.
Thus, he wanted Casimir to be high-functioning enough to the point where the club manager seemed almost completely normal.
Fler'Gan's mind control potion worked so that if Casimir read, heard, or saw any requests, orders, or suggestions from Aldrich or 'Bruce Vane', he would be highly positively disposed to them.
"Let's enjoy the rest of this absolutely wonderful meal and wrap this meeting up. My wife and I have an event to go to later tonight, actually," said Aldrich.
"Ah, an after-midnight party, is it? Well, you two certainly are dressed for it. The lady, especially, my oh my. It must be quite difficult to keep prying eyes off of her, no?" said Casimir.
Aldrich distinctly remembered the Odinsons and how much disgusting animal desire he had seen in their eyes for Valera.
"My husband is more than capable of keeping prying eyes off of me. As am I," smiled Valera.
"There is nothing more beautiful in this world than a strong couple. I can attest to that," said Casimir. He sliced another chunk of steak. "Now, let's go ahead and enjoy this meal."
Aldrich shook hands with Casimir outside of the Red Circle. His armored car was there in the front, keys in the engine and ready to be driven.
"That was an incredible dinner. And I mean it," said Aldrich honestly. He had literally never tasted anything as good as that. As a Dud, he probably would have been shot on sight if he went to a restaurant that served that.
That was an exaggeration, but it really did feel like it sometimes.
"Oh, that was nothing. You should come here in the weekends when the club is properly open. I can treat you to the finest VIP table service you can even dream of." Casimir bowed slightly. "I would dare to say that my services can match even the most prestigious of Neo-York nightlife."
"I'll be in touch with you about any additional requests," said Aldrich.
"And I will do my best to accommodate you, Mr. Vane."
Aldrich and Valera drove off promptly, returning back to the variant forest, with Valera humming in happiness through the whole ride back as she savored the act of being Aldrich's wife.
Aldrich's mind raced through the drive, however, as he now had all the pieces for his vengeance to finalize.
When it turned midnight, a status message popped in his vision.
[Ring of Avarice gift received]
[Coin: 20 ] 170]
Every three days, the Ring of Avarice would grant Aldrich 150 coins, and this number would go up depending on Aldrich's level. Hopefully, this would help Aldrich's coin problem out, but in the case it did not, he knew that Liches and their higher evolutions could actually reach into the Nether and bind more than one chosen undead to themselves.
In that case, he would not be beyond considering binding Hadar, the in-game joke option that heavily increased coin generation.
Hadar had passives that made him incredibly lucky when related to money according to the lore, winning in gambling almost all the time.
In the game, that luck manifested in just a bonus rate of coins dropped, but Aldrich theorized that it would truly manifest as luck here, something that would draw wealth and fortune to Hadar like a magnet.
In a world dominated by the credit sign, Hadar could be an invaluable asset, more so than any warmongering fighter.
[Miscellaneous units defeated]
[EXP Bar: 1600/1800 ] 2200/1800]
[Level: 13 ] 14]
[EXP Bar: 400/2000]
[5 stat points available to distribute]
[+5 to Strength]
[Strength: 15 ] 20]
Looked like Aldrich's undead in the forest had hunted plenty themselves. He briefly looked through the list of slaughtered variants and found nothing worthy of raising. He commanded his units to stop for now as he did not want to risk drawing any further attention to the forest.
He was at a crucial juncture where everything needed to go right for Aldrich to finally enact vengeance upon those that had wronged him on Saturday.
A mere three days from now
In the forest, Aldrich got to work with Fisk and Fler'Gan.
Fler'Gan would continue his alchemical experimentations. The Mind-Eater requested live Alterhuman samples, but if Aldrich could not obtain them, the freshly slaughtered corpses of variants would do.
Fler'Gan would also continue experimentation into teaching the Geist magic as a long term project.
Fler'Gan specifically said that the Geist seemed to have a natural curiosity that made it more suited towards learning magic than any of the other arisen undead, pointing out further to Stella's disgruntlement that she was far too impatient to learn anything.
While Fler'Gan did that, Aldrich worked with Fisk to continually communicate with Casimir. Now that Casimir was under Aldrich's thrall, the club manager would do anything Aldrich wanted within reason.
Aldrich first received all the information he could about Casimir regarding the rooms in the Red Circle that were blocked off by forcefields.
Those rooms contained highly valuable contraband ranging from experimental techno weapons to potent combat drugs to blackmail on multiple important political figures and AA executives.
Among them, Casimir stated that the most valuable was a newly developed drug called Boost. It was developed in secret through a collaboration between Imugi, the corporate leader in cutting edge military technology, and Bio-Force, a corporate leader in combat enhancing biotech.
Once injected, Boost would affect the Alter Organ and cause the body's cell count to rapidly swell, significantly enhancing the power of the affected Alter.
This was not exactly a new type of drug.
There were many combat drugs out there that enhanced Alter powers, but all of them led to massive side effects that invariably spiraled down to death, not to mention severe mania and self-destructive behavior that made them wholly unviable for combat.
Boost was innovative because it was the safest, though even it was dangerous enough that using it more than once over an entire two-week period could lead to devastating side effects, not to mention that continual long-term usage apparently caused irreparable damage to the Alter Organ.
This was the contraband that the Odinson gang had stolen from an Imugi transport.
It was also what Seth Solar desperately wanted from Casimir, likely to enhance his power to beat Mel and take number 1 spot to soothe his ego.
Seth Solar's meeting on Saturday was not just a party night out, it was also a venture to obtain an early access sample of Boost.
Aldrich noted this down for later. The Boost would become useful later.
He had a near perfect plan set up to take down Seth Solar on Saturday, but he needed to get some specifics confirmed first.
Aldrich asked Casimir to bring down two D-ranked villains to the variant forest on a 'security mission'. He emphasized to Casimir that the villains be as disposable as possible so that nobody would miss them.
The villains would head out this very night.
Aldrich waited and began his own experimentation.
Jack Rondell drove out of Haven with his hand gripped tight around his steering wheel, his rearview mirror reflecting an expression of pure annoyance on his face. If there was one word to describe him, it would be rough.
Rough hair, rough beard, rough features - someone that bordered on the brink of looking homeless.
But Jack, or rather, the Slasher as he was known by his villain name, had to admit he looked a hell of a lot better than the guy in the passenger seat beside him.
A pale, bald guy with deeply sunken in dark eyes, thin lips, and various spikes of various lengths jutting out of his head. That was his current partner for tonight's security mission. Another guy from the Red Circle known as the Lasher.
Sometimes, Jack wondered what shadowy garbage pits of society the Red Circle dragged some of these guys out from, but then he realized that he, as a former drug addict turned serial killer, did not have much high ground to stand on.
Anyways, Jack always disliked the guy. Not only because Lasher sounded way too similar to Slasher, but because he was a total antisocial freak.
"Fuckin' Casimir. He treats us well, but a sudden call like this? Man, and I was just about to fuck this absolute bombshell of a whore, too. Maybe it was a good thing I got called out, I don't know how much self control I would've needed to stop myself from fucking her and then slicing her in pieces" said Jack, making small talk.
He glanced at Lasher.
Lasher only stared straight ahead, completely still like a corpse, his hands clasped together as if in prayer. Lasher was a member of a Neo-Cult called the Path of Pain.
Neo Cults were odd religions that popped up past the Altering and Monstering when rapidly changing views of what it meant to be human, bleak post-modernism, and existential crises drew people to increasingly extreme views.
Around the Lasher's leather covered arms were spiked chains that grew out of his skin.
Those in the Path of Pain believed that everything in the world was false except pain.
"Not that you would know anything about that," said Jack with a laugh.
After a few seconds, Jack tried to make conversation again. "But you know, with all those chains and a villain name like 'Lasher', I thought you'd be a whole lot freakier."
The Lasher did not even blink as he kept staring straight ahead.
"Fuck it. Whatever." Jack sighed and just kept driving. The walls of Haven faded behind him as the forests in the distance drew closer and closer.
After a forty-minute drive, Jack parked his car off road, hidden in a thicket of trees at the edge of the variant forest.
"Alright, get your mask on. We're meeting the client up ahead. Says he's got a couple of sorry sh*ts he needs squealing in pain before he gets rid of them. That's totally up your ally, right? Pain inflicting chains and all, yeah?" said Jack.
"Pain is truth. Pain reveals all." The Lasher solemnly said while closing his eyes in prayer. He then exited the car while retrieving his mask - a gimp mask - from his black robes.
"The only thing I can do is turn my arms into knives. Why the fuck am I here?" Jack complained as he got out and put on his mask, a typical ski-mask you would see in a bad Slasher flick.
Hence, why Jack called himself the Slasher.
Jack was not creative, sure, but if being creative meant becoming a freakshow like the Lasher, then Jack was happy enough not to be left-brained or whatever the fuck it was that made people creative and deranged.
Like this, the Slasher and the Lasher duo went ahead into the forest.