Aldrich watched as the sonic beam from the banshee head on his arm continued to bear down on Shrimp. Remarkably, Shrimp withstood this attack and ever so slowly stepped against the force of the soundwaves, moving forwards almost like he was in slow motion.
There were cracks all over the Locus's shell armor, but none too deep. The injuries came from Shrimp's orifices. His gouged-out eyes squirted blood, as did his nose and his open cuts where the sonic waves hit the hardest.
And yet despite all that, Shrimp continued not backwards, not sideways to try and evade the beam, but forwards.
Forwards to try and hunt down Aldrich.
In response to this aggression from the strongest foe that Aldrich had ever faced, all Aldrich did was…smile.
Aldrich smiled under his helm of dark metal and bone and blood, so nobody could see that uncharacteristic expression. He was never an expressive person, but whenever he got into what he called the 'zone', he could not help but feel pure thrill.
Any hardcore gamer knew what this feeling was. They felt it during those moments where it was now or never. Do or die. Win or lose.
That special zone of what felt like contradictions. Of both intensity and calm. Focus and excitement.
Where your eyes were glued to the screen in unblinking vigil while your heart raced a million miles a minute. Where your hands could shake at the controls but still perform at their absolute best.
What often pushed Aldrich into the zone were intense fights, usually boss fights. Not the clean fights where he could plan everything out beforehand with research and dismantle the enemy with easy precision.
That had its own satisfaction to it, granted, but often times, there was not enough of a challenge there to really move Aldrich into the zone.
No, what pushed Aldrich into the zone was unpredictability.
Because as much as Aldrich hated chaos, he felt no greater rush than to triumph over it.
And here, standing against a boss level monster with an unpredictable moveset, with the goal of landing a killing blow on it himself, Aldrich stepped into that special zone for the first time.
Shrimp stopped abruptly as spat out a burst of blood from its mouth as the Curse status effect manifested on it. He dropped to a knee weakly as the sonic scream started to taper off, the banshee head reaching the end of its channeling time.
A spiked black debuff circle appeared around Shrimp followed by eerie dark flames that danced all around its body, dealing damage directly to its life force. As long as Aldrich kept putting direct damage on Shrimp, the flames would continue burning.
It would have been nice for Aldrich's [Mist of Undeath] to proc Curse as well, but unfortunately, only direct damage counted for the flames. And on top of that, his [Mist of Undeath] only worked to a 60% health max health threshold for strong enemies.
"Volantis, switch stitchings," said Aldrich. "Switch to your strongest. And don't hold back."
"Shall I switch to the Profane Hand?" said Volantis.
The Hand of the Blood God. Volantis's strongest stitching that guaranteed insane damage or a flat out instant kill if it made contact. Aldrich, however, did not want to use that now. He wanted to save a few trump cards for later, and the Hand of the Blood God was one of them.
This was not to mention that the Hand of the Blood God was a risky move in of itself. Volantis normally had it when he was level 80, not level 40 like now. There was no telling how severe the drawbacks would be for using such a powerful stitching.
"No. Just a step below that," said Aldrich.
"Your will is mine, yet I must tell you that I cannot switch immediately," said Volantis. "Not after wielding a stitching of high caliber like the head of the banshee."
"I know your cooldowns. Just be prepared," said Aldrich as he kept his eyes focused on Shrimp. Volantis meanwhile continued feeding Aldrich information about Shrimp via his helmet.
In his vision, he could see fluctuations of energy that Volantis marked around Shrimp that could give Aldrich a heads up whenever the creature built up power for one of its abilities. Not to mention that Volantis also had full vision around himself and a capable mind of his own: the feeling was very much like wearing a combat suit with a high class A.I.
"What of the beast now?" questioned Volantis. You are stuck with this banshee's head until I am ready to switch this form of mine, and with its scream used, it is little more than excess weight.
If the creature seeks to strike now, you will lack the sturdiness and might to repel it."
As if to prove Volantis's point, Shrimp immediately started to recover from the sonic beating he had suffered. He got up from its knee and shakily stood up, his twin glowing antennae twitching as they located Aldrich as the creature's eyes were completely obliterated at this point.
"There you are - this time, I'll win. Hunt you down like the Voice wants me to. Make you hurt for hurting me!" Shrimp began to make a mad dash towards Aldrich only to be thwarted by five enormous bodies suddenly crashing into it.
"Right on time," said Aldrich. He had commanded the zombie giant to toss his Zombeasts over around the end of the channel time for his [Banshee's Scream], seamlessly transitioning the stun from the scream into extra distractions.
The Zombeasts, huge monstrosities that could easily rip a man in half with their jaws, began to savagely roar and growl as they used all their chimeric body parts to maul Shrimp. A shark's jaw bit down on Shrimp's arm. A scorpion's stinger beat against his neck, trying to pierce through the shell. Thick serpentine coils rolled around Shrimp's torso, trying to crush it with force. Lion claws screeched against the Locus's face.
It was as if the entire animal kingdom had risen up against Shrimp.
But what use were mere beasts against a monster?
"…Weak," said Shrimp as he flexed his arms out, immediately breaking out of the python hold while flinging the shark headed zombeast away from his arm.
To be expected. The zombeasts were level 15, and Shrimp could go toe to toe with a level 45 Valera in brute force. The beasts stood no chance here.
"Then how about this?" Aldrich snapped his fingers and chanted. "[Burning Agony]."
The zombeasts all spontaneously combusted into flame as their blood forcibly ripped out their bodies into clouds that ignited. They howled, roared, growled, and clicked mandibles in sheer aggression as they redoubled their efforts to attack Shrimp.
This time, they were much, much stronger.
The shark-headed, lion bodied zombeast swiped at Shrimp, and this time, the blow was heavy enough to send Shrimp skidding backwards in surprise. A bear bodied, scorpion headed and tailed zombeast slammed its blood flame wrapped stinger onto Shrimp's head like a wrecking ball.
Shrimp put his arms up and caught the stinger.
"Gh! How…how do you all get stronger? I can't see how. I can't see the energy; the flow I see with everyone else-," began Shrimp before the snake bodied and headed zombeast with insectoid legs surged forward with a hiss, aiming to clamp down its massive, fanged jaws.
Flames from ignited blood wrapped around Shrimp from the stinger, and those interacted with the Curse flames to keep damaging him.
"Hurts!" yelled Shrimp. "But still too weak! Out of my way!"
Shrimp pushed upwards strongly, sending the stinger flying with the zombeast wielding it. He then grabbed the incoming snake zombeast's jaws with his hands, preventing the beast from closing its maw.
It was here that Shrimp showed just how insanely strong he was.
Shrimp ripped apart the snake zombeast from the jaws like tearing a piece of paper in half. Red blood poured out, drenching Shrimp's green and blue hues in fresh red. The shark headed zombeast roared as it tried to bite down on the Locus with the remaining two other zombeasts.
Shrimp cocked back his fist, the twin energy bars of blue and green on its forearms charging halfway before it unleashed an energy punch that blew apart the three zombeasts like a bomb, scattering their blood, bone, and flesh outwards in a rain of miscellaneous body parts.
"Now for you!" Shrimp roared as he turned towards Aldrich, his antennae twitching as they located him.
"Thank you for your service, my zombeasts,"said Aldrich. "You've bought me enough time to test this out. And this is one thing that I have been very excited to see in action."
"Indeed, it is among the finest in my collection," said Volantis with pride. "It is heartening to know that my Armored is one that holds such refined tastes as myself."
This time, when Aldrich pointed his arm towards Shrimp, there was not the head of an owl wrapped around it, but the majestic, red-scaled, horned head of a dragon.