Aldrich planned on lying low until Saturday night, staying in the forest while corresponding with Casimir via Darknet texts about specifications on his event. He kept his undead from hunting further so as to absolutely minimize attention. He did not want to compromise any chance of his plan working when he was so close now.
Throughout the entire day of Thursday, Aldrich commanded his variants to lay low. The variants mostly rested or played or mock fought among themselves in the perimeter they patrolled.
Valera, Stella, and the Geist trained together.
More specifically, the Geist trained itself under Valera and Stella. The Geist had never actually trained before, so all of its powers were undeveloped. Plus, it had no martial training to use its brawn.
Valera taught the Geist hand to hand combat while Stella taught it how to train its powers.
Training Alter powers was like training muscles. Just like how muscles grew stronger from wear and tear, Alter powers grew from constant exertion and recovery. There was also training to increase fine control over one's power for innovative new attacks or to cover for weaknesses.
The Geist was an exceptionally quick learner. Within twelve hours, it mastered basic footwork and stance work. This gave Aldrich the idea to give the Geist the [Cursed Rock Axe] that the troll chieftain once used.
As for its powers, the Geist learned how to apply its super regeneration to temporarily increase its body mass like a balloon, giving it greater surface area to protect others as a living shield.
It learned how to use its incredibly powerful muscles to flex them in specific spots, creating durable body parts to guard against attacks with. It also learned greater control in emitting its neurotoxins, specifically in targeting the gas so that it minimized collateral damage.
Stella trained in her own way by rapidly flowing blood around her body. She would try to keep this accelerated flow up for as much as possible until she reached nearly to heart failure. By doing this, she gained greater control and output on her explosions.
[Geist Level 17 ] 18]
[Dynamite Girl Level 14 ] 15]
While everyone trained, Aldrich accompanied Fler'Gan in his experimentations, curious of the Mind-Eater's results. He watched as Fler'Gan went about performing ghastly experiments that most humans would be horrified at.
He removed all of the Lasher's head spikes, leaving the top of the villain's skull completely flayed and raw. The spikes, Fler'Gan put into a vat heated by magical blue flame. He poured in a dissolving solution that slowly turned the spikes into liquid mush.
Then, Fler'Gan hooked up the Lasher to a series of large flasks, inserting barbed needles attached to transparent, plastic-like chords that funneled blood into the flasks.
Fler'Gan dissected the Lasher further, taking basically one of everything. One eye, one arm, one leg, one ear, and even parts of internal organs. Fler'Gan incised into the Lasher's skull, taking out pieces of the brain that the villain did not need to stay alive. He also took out a kidney and scraped flesh samples off of other organs.
All throughout, Fler'Gan kept the Lasher alive through pastes and sprays that prevented excessive bleeding.
As for the Slasher, Fler'Gan severed one of his arms for testing purposes.
All the dismembered body parts were either broken down into liquid form or suspended off of spikes where Fler'Gan would do further delicate dissections, analyzing individual muscle fibers, vein structures, bone placement, and so on.
It was interesting to see Fler'Gan work. Aldrich did not feel anything from seeing these men broken down into component pieces. He only admired Fler'Gan's swift, precise skill in disassembling the human body, like admiring an artist in their craft.
"Any results?" Aldrich said at the end of the day approaching midnight. Fler'Gan had worked constantly for nearly twenty hours now.
"Not as much as I would have hoped," said Fler'Gan. He used a self-cleaning magical rag to wipe large stains of blood off his body.
By now, the two villains were nearly unrecognizable. They were reduced to flayed torsos with their internal organs exposed by a cut down their middle. Not a single patch of skin remained on them, and indeed, patches of muscle had been cut out too for analysis.
Miraculously, they were still alive, their exposed lungs still drawing air. The tubes that Fler'Gan hooked them up to not only drew their blood but could also transfuse them with a healing agent that kept their bodies functioning.
The presence of a minor barrier around the laboratory also kept the work station sterile and clean to prevent infections.
"I have made great breakthroughs in understanding the Alterhuman body," said Fler'Gan. "The placement of these seed shaped growths known as Alter Organs seem to differ from human to human. In this one that could transmute his arms into blades, the organ is nestled at the base of his spine. In this one that can manifest chains from his arms, it is located behind the eye.
From these growths, alter cells manifested and circulate through the body.
This, I am sure you already know.
But what I have discerned is that the energy signature that this organ and its cells produce is not significantly distinct from that of mana."
"Is that so?" Aldrich perked up, highly interested.
"No. They are both pure and formless sources of energy. They have no discerned structure or behavior, instead, they mold themselves to fit their vessels," said Fler'Gan. "Take mana, for example. Mages across many different fields all utilize this very same energy.
Yet, when processed through different spells, mana takes upon wildly different forms.
Thus, mana can be used to fuel a vast variety of effects ranging from a fireball to a lightning strike or dark magic to raise the dead.
The energy that these Alter organs produce - Ether as you call it - is extremely similar. It changes to suit its vessel, hence why Stella is capable of using this energy to infuse her blood with explosive properties while these two can generate spontaneous growths of metal."
"If they are similar, then merging mana and Ether should be possible, no?" said Aldrich.
"That is the difficulty," said Fler'Gan. "In our world, mages enter into a specific path of magic, a 'class' as some call it, through a Mystic Baptism.
By undergoing the baptism, a mage fundamentally alters how they process mana. They commit to specializing their mana towards the specific spells in the field they are baptized in.
I am baptized in Pyromancy, and you in the Dark Arts.
Certainly, we can shape our mana into spells from other fields, but we will be far less efficient than those properly baptized in said classes.
There is something in this world that takes the place of these baptisms.
These organs seem to be akin to a baptism. They direct how Ether produced in Alterhuman bodies are shaped, manifesting into unique powers.
But it seems that these organs are 'locked in' to processing Ether only a single way. And they are only capable of processing Ether.
When I attempted to introduce mana into the organs, they rejected the energy source."
"How about the other way around? Can you use Ether?" said Aldrich.
"I have been able to absorb Ether into mana, though the rate at which I can do this is highly inefficient. I estimate I am losing 90% of the Ether's energy in the conversion, for though the two are similar in function, they are still different.
I believe over time, I can theoretically begin to produce efficient mana crystals using Ether," said Fler'Gan.
"Progress is progress," said Aldrich. "And how about changing or affecting Alter powers?"
"I believe it is certainly possible. However, it is difficult to analyze Alter organs and cells for they reject any magical attempt to analyze them thoroughly.
All blood divinations or alchemical analyses return with no information," said Fler'Gan. " There is something within these organs and cells that rejects foreign attempts to pry into them.
For comparison's sake, it is as if I am some common rogue attempting to pick the lock of a royal dwarven vault.
I lack the experience and tools to 'unlock' access to the organs."
"I see." Aldrich put a hand to his chin before he waved forward an idea. "There are Alters whose powers fall under the category of 'Editors'. They can manipulate or change the powers of others in some way. Would a sample-,"
"Yes! Yes! That would most certainly work!" said Fler'Gan excitedly. "That would be what I require to breakthrough this hurdle. You must obtain this sample for me!" Fler'Gan calmed down. "Or, ehem, I request such a sample, O Elder."
"I'll have one to you in two days, if things go right," said Aldrich.
"Hey boss, you might want to see this!" shouted Fisk from the other end of the clearing. There was distinct urgency in his voice.
Aldrich gave Fler'Gan an appreciative nod before he rushed over to Fisk.
"What is it?" said Fisk.
"Look at this." Fisk turned his laptop screen to Aldrich and showcased panicked live news broadcasts. A variant was attacking Haven city.
It appeared to be an enormous manta ray that flied in the air, casting a bright blue gleam from spines across its back and tail that rained down bolts of destructive lightning that reduced buildings to smoldering rubble.
Two heroes fought the manta in the air. One dressed like a Roman gladiator that flew about and slashed with a gladius. The other hero flied around with a bulky mechsuit that fired barrages of explosive missiles.
Despite the two heroes' best efforts, the manta shrugged them off.
In the midst of this carnage was a panicked reporter on the ground that spoke into his headset while an antenna atop his head sensed danger, letting him dodge rubble.
"Reporting to you live from Haven city where a B disaster variant has struck! AA authorities report that the monster came westward from the Atlantic Ocean, evading Panopticon detection nets with some form of concealment!
Haven's walls have further been disabled by a powerful electromagnetic pulse, leaving the city reliant on its heroes!
On the ground, we have heroes helping in evacuation and as Haven's two favorite heroes, the B-rankers Gladiator and Rocket Man, hold it back. But it isn't looking good! But once Haven's heroes finish evacuating, they should be able to help the fight-,"
The reporter's antenna twitched.
The manta let loose a ghostly, shrill, siren-like scream that mixed with the already blaring disaster sirens that signaled everyone to evacuate.
From its huge gills, large gooey droplets fell, and when they hit the ground, they morphed into living masses of acidic goo that attacked humans indiscriminately.
The lower ranked C, D, and E heroes that evacuated people from broken down buildings and helped with evacuation now found themselves completely occupied fighting an ever-growing, continuously self-multiplying legion of slimes.
"W-what!?" The reporter ran into an alleyway as he avoided several slimes from reaching out and sucking him into their acidic bodies. "Incoming report - the variant's threat ranking has gone up to A-.
The AA will be sending in additional reinforcements and the Panopticon has deployed a class 5 drone response-,"
At that moment, the reporter's antenna twitched again before his eyes widened. The screen turned blue - the same color of the manta's spawned slimes - before the feed cut off.
A B class disaster variant.
A minus when considering that it could spawn self-replicating slimes for larger scale destruction.
Disaster Variants still fell into Natural or Geist categories, but the difference was that they were strong enough that they required entire groups of heroes to defeat.
Generally, a disaster variant required at the minimum ten heroes of its own threat ranking to reliably take down.
They were essentially what raid bosses were in MMOs.
If Aldrich remembered correctly, in Haven there were 255 heroes ranked E to D, 50 C rank heroes, and just 2 B rank heroes. There was a huge difference between the C and B rank to the point where one B rank hero was probably worth more than ten C rankers.
And this variant needed ten B rankers to beat reliably.
Haven was entirely unequipped to deal with a B ranked disaster variant. If the manta did not create slimes, then the combined population of C ranked heroes with its two B rankers could easily beat the variant, but the slimes would keep all the lower ranked heroes busy to minimize population casualties.
Aldrich could not do nothing.
If Haven suffered any more damage than it did now, then the Red Circle event this Saturday would be impossible to set up.
It would take about one hour for AA reinforcements to arrive unless one of the S-rankers decided to be generous and help.
Thirty minutes for a Panopticon drone fleet to arrive, but a class 5 drone fleet would take quite some time to kill a variant of this size and scale.
It would also take Aldrich thirty to forty minutes to fly out on his eagle.
And he did not want to reveal himself to the public.
But in just thirty minutes, that variant could do massive amounts of damage, and if it reached the Red Circle, Aldrich's plans were all over or at the very least severely delayed.
Aldrich formulated an idea on how to approach this.
"Get Casimir on the line," said Aldrich.
"Got it, boss."
Casimir responded almost instantly.
"Mr. Vane! How do you do?" said Casimir casually as sirens blared in the background. "I am quite sorry for the noise, there is-,"
"A variant attack. I know."
"Ah, of course. Do not mind my safety for the Red Circle is quite well guarded and nestled deep in the Southside, quite far from the eastside harbor districts that are taking the brunt of this untimely attack." Casimir shook his head. "I must say, what truly is the Alterhuman Agency and Panopticon doing?
A creature of this size escapes all detection? And an entire hour for reinforcements to arrive? Are these heroes on sabbatical? Utter nonsense."
Casimir sighed. "Mr. Vane, I am quite disappointed to say this, but I may have to cancel this Saturday dance-,"
"Not happening," said Aldrich. "Call up Seth Solar. Tell him unless he gets his ass out there to take care of that thing, he isn't getting any Boost…"
"An excellent solution, Mr. Vane, " said Casimir. "I will do exactly as you say."