Aldrich reached out his metallic black hand towards Zayn, his palm open wide.
Zayn managed out only a rumbling growl, his vocal chords now too mutated to speak anything resembling a human language, as he hopped forwards on his huge talons, bending his head down.
When Aldrich made contact with Zayn's steely, feathered head, he tried to sense for any of Zayn's memories and thoughts within. After all, Aldrich had risen Zayn with his soul intact, so there should still be the man's thoughts and will within.
Nothing. Or at the very least, there was nothing that could remotely be considered human. It was odd. Aldrich had never heard of a case where a mutant category Alter could completely shift themselves into a variant. Even mutants whose physical appearances were permanently altered were still human at heart.
But this was different.
Functionally speaking, the individual, the human known as Zayn, was utterly gone, leaving behind only a monster. There was a soul yes, but everything that made up the individual, the memories, the emotions, the feelings, all of that was wiped away.
This might as well have been a completely new existence.
"It feels odd to address you by a name you don't even recognize. Not to mention you are not even human any longer. At the same time, I don't consider myself the most creative type, so, how about I rename you as 'Crow'?" said Aldrich.
The giant avian beast growled in assent, and that was that. Crow it was.
In terms of raw size, Crow was comparable to a fighter jet or small aircraft. Easily more than large enough to fully seat Aldrich. He leaped atop Crow's back, and Crow stood up tall, his wings outstretched.
Aldrich looked down at his knights and Blackwater's A class. "Go. Wipe the variants out."
"As you command," said Chiros. He stood to attention, his white cape fluttering as he unsheathed a red tinted saber from his hip. "Knights, dedicate your blades to our new lord!"
The death knights stood at attention just like Chiros, unsheathing their weapons and holding them in the air in a salute as Crow flapped his great wings once, sending Aldrich hovering in the air. Aldrich nodded down at them before looking into the distance, towards the top of the abandoned mega complex where Valera and the rest of the undead were holed up.
Aldrich mentally commanded Crow to move, and Crow growled before flapping his wings, sending a squall of wind raging down below, forcing rainfall and water to part from sheer air pressure alone. Crow shot forth like a shooting star of midnight black, soaring into the air with extreme acceleration that very quickly made all those on street level tiny like dots.
In the air, Aldrich faced immediate attention from various flying aquatic variants. Sea serpent and flying fish types, mostly. There were a few large sea horse type variants with fishmen riding upon them. They all aimed their natural weapons at Aldrich.
The serpents fired streams of venom or bolts of energy from their mouths. The flying fish shot spines from their fins. The sea horses generated pressurized cutting streams of water.
All the projectiles hit Crow's armored feather exterior and dealt no damage at all. Crow's response was brutal and quick. He swiped his wing towards them, and a hail storm of giant black feathers, each large enough to impale through a man wholesale, shot out like a giant shotgun spray, reducing all the variants into chunks of severed meat.
"Had you always been in this form, you would definitely have been the strongest in the A class. Barring anomalies like Seth Solar, of course," said Aldrich. "Or Mel Morales. Hm, I wonder whether she's protecting this city or whether she's fled. In either case, I suppose it really doesn't matter to what I do."
With that, Aldrich willed Crow to make his way towards the mega complex. While en route, Aldrich tapped his metallic forehead with his index finger, establishing a mental link with Valera.
Valera stood with her hands clasped behind her back on the balcony of the mega complex's highest floor. Beside her, Casimir also stood, matching her downward gaze below where they oversaw their forces fighting against an unending wave of monsters known as 'variants'.
It was primarily the Geist and the undead fighting. A purple haze hung low over the courtyard and parking lot leading into the mega complex, and within it, fishmen dropped like flies, completely overdosed on the Geist's neurotoxic gas.
Fishmen with green scales were immune to the poison, however, and these, the undead faced off against. The grizzly, striker, troll chieftain, crabs, and all other monster type variants fought savagely against the fishmen. Individually, the fishmen were no weaklings either, and Valera estimated their combat capacity to be roughly equivalent to a level 10 or so warrior.
Each fishman was weaker than any given undead, but there were far more of them, and their numbers only increased over time. Thankfully, so far, it seemed that these fishmen were an advance force, not backed by much stronger creatures nor any significant air support.
They were weak enough to the point where the heavier hitting undead consisting of Fler'Gan, the Geist, and Dynamite Girl could easily dispatch them. Inside the complex itself, Casimir's Red Circle staff were armed and ready to deal with intruders if they made it past the neurotoxic gas field littered with hostile undead.
"It has been two and a half hours since Mr. Vane's expedition," said Casimir. "I place my faith in him, but at the end of the day, I am still but a man, and it is in man's nature to worry."
"I would wring your neck for you even suggesting incompetence of his part, but I also understand it is, as you say, also natural for weak creatures like yourself to worry," said Valera. "But have faith and hold this position. When he returns, all will be made right."
"I have never considered myself a man of faith," said Casimir. "But perhaps there is a first time for everything."
He turned to the insides of the apartment where Spybird, a short, stocky man wearing goggles that Valera had first mistakenly identified as a dwarf, and Fisk worked together, hooking up an emergency generator and signal generator to their array of laptop screens.
"Have we established Net connection?" said Casimir.
"Is difficult," said Spybird, his accent thickly Russian. He thumbed his nose with a cracked, dirty nail. "Whole city under interference. I sense it comes from above. In the sky. To establish connection, I would have to fly away from city or go very high. But far too dangerous, even if I get support from Hirondelle."
"Hm. At the very least, we HAVE backed up all the blackmail, yes?" said Casimir.
"Oh that? Of course." Spybird nodded. "But what good is blackmail when we all die, ya?"
"We ain't gonna die, little man," said Fisk.
"Even third-rate Nomad techno call me little, eh?" Spybird shook his head. "World is going to sh*t."
"Third rate? I'll have you know; I actually went to a techno school. I just kinda got bored and dropped out," said Fisk.
Spybrid just grunted and continued working. "Before communications went down, AA said this attack was A rank disaster. But don't see A rank heroes out there. Lazy sons of whores."
"It has been precisely one hour since this attack," said Casimir as he looked down at his gem studded luxury watch. "And I was made aware that there were two A rankers stationed in Haven. That they have not taken this under control by now indicates that they are either dead or require reinforcements.
Blanca, my dear, you DO have my updated will, yes?"
Blanca stood at attention with sleek laptop under her arm. "Signed and saved."
"Thank you, my dear," said Casimir.
"Why do you worry? You used that power of yours," said Valera. "It said you would not face harm this night."
"Minimal harm," corrected Casimir. "And that is the issue with my power. It has many gaps. What if I endure a small but thoroughly poisoned cut? I would die in days, and yet, it would still technically be true that I suffered but minimal harm in the timeframe my power encompasses.
Also, I am not worrying. I am simply securing the future of my assets."
As Casimir finished his sentence, Valera thrust out her arm in front of him. She manifested her cross shield, blocking several flying fish spines.
"Airborne monsters," growled Valera. She saw two flying fishes in the distance and shoved Casimir back. She then cocked her arm back, then threw her shield out using the [Shield Toss] skill. The cross shaped shield spun rapidly through the air like an oversized shuriken before smashing into one fish, then the other, before returning to Valera's arm.
The two struck fish fell to the ground, their bones shattered thoroughly.
"Marvelous!" Casimir clapped his hands in wonder. "So this is your power? Manifesting and manipulating the trajectory of this shield?"
"One power," said Valera, but she did not elaborate further.
Her mind was on her master.