When Hat Trick's gaze befell the Locus, at that terror of a variant that had single-handedly lain waste to an entire city on its own, and his time perception slowed to a brief crawl as his brain worked to its maximum, telling him that in those gleaming rainbow eyes poised so hatefully against him, there was foretold nothing but his death.
But how? This was Hat Trick's thought as he saw the Locus appear so suddenly. The Locus was supposed to be all the way out at the battle site. Why was it here?
The answer was simple. Teleportation. Well, it would have been a simple answer had Hat Trick actually bothered to check on the stream.
But instead, Aldrich bet that once Seismic had died, Hat Trick had probably just completely tuned out of anything Haven related because he thought the city was guaranteed to fall and thus had zero relevance to him.
This, Aldrich had confirmed with his questioning towards Hat Trick.
After all, what were a few hundred thousand lives to him but just more voices that needed to be silenced?
Hat Trick, befitting of the strength of an A class hero, reacted nigh instantaneously to Okeanos, throwing his fireball towards the Locus. The sphere of flame shot forth like a cannonball, impacting against Okeanos in a crackling explosion of fire that scattered outwards with enough range to easily engulf an entire house wholesale.
The shadow of Okeanos's figure darkened through the raging flames, and Okeanos burst outwards unharmed, flames catching on his shell but not doing any real damage.
"Sh*t!" Hat Trick fumbled with his hat, putting it on an extended finger to spin it for another trick to access another power. Probably one more suited to fighting in close combat.
But too late.
Okeanos used Burst, shrouding himself in an aura of crackling green bolts, and then moved so quickly he disappeared from sight.
"Behind me-," Hat Trick said as he whirled around ready to counter attack or evade. Instead, all Hat Trick saw was just empty air, and in the distance, Aldrich watching calmly with his arms crossed.
It was natural for Hat Trick to expect Okeanos to have made an attack at his blind spot like that.
That was the most common angle people with teleportation or powers that functioned similarly to it attacked through. Okeanos had actually attacked like that several times beforehand, always trying to get behind his enemies, but Aldrich had countered that, and now, Okeanos had learned.
Instead, Okeanos had manifested right underneath Hat Trick. Before Hat Trick could recover and react, Okeanos reached out and grabbed Hat Trick's ankle in a powerful grip.
"Wha-," managed Hat Trick before Okeanos slammed Hat Trick down to the ground with all his tremendous force.
After going through several evolutions, one of which had actively increased Okeanos's size and muscle mass, his physical strength had peaked through the roof.
Hat Trick shot downwards as a human projectile, a trail of shockwaves marking out his painful descent as he crashed into the ground below. He broke through the huge ad board, splitting it in half in a shower of severed, sparking wires and metal frame before gouging out a sizable crater into the concrete below.
Hat Trick coughed up spit and blood and air from getting his back shoved through several meters of solid concrete mass, but he was still an A rank hero. Hat Trick might not have been as tough as Seismic, but he could still easily survive a throw like that.
The attack had mostly just knocked the wind out of him, stunning him.
"Follow that up," said Aldrich. "Show me that punch of yours you were so proud of. Make it hurt."
Okeanos nodded, and as he fell towards Hat Trick, cocked back a fist, and the biomechanical piston structure in his forearms locked in, the twin bands of green and blue lined across the shell glowing halfway. It was a half-charged punch as Aldrich did not want Okeanos to completely obliterate his surroundings.
Still, when Okeanos let that punch loose right into Hat Trick's chest, the effect was as if an energy bomb had gone off.
Green tinted blue energy poured out of Okeanos's fist with an explosive sound effect. The outburst of ocean wave shaped energy spread all around Okeanos, quickly engulfing him and Hat Trick in an ever growing sphere that ate away at everything it came into contact with.
The sphere reached up to Aldrich, and he just casually took a few steps backwards as his perception stat along with Volantis's truesight let him know exactly how much energy was there.
When the energy from the punch died down, it revealed a deep molten, smoking crater with Okeanos standing at the center and Hat Trick lying down still, a fist shaped indent nailed into his chest.
At the very last moment, Hat Trick had managed activate his Diamond Body power, covering himself in hardy green crystals. However, though these crystals had saved Hat Trick from near death, they had not been enough to keep him from getting knocked out.
The crystals around Hat Trick's upper body were shattered, and his body was limp as his head fell to the side, completely severed from any motor control.
Had Hat Trick been completely prepared from the start, he might have put up a much better, much longer fight with Okeanos, but that would have entailed Hat Trick actually being careful and planning ahead, two things that Aldrich sincerely doubted Hat Trick did much of.
"Now, I know you can't hear me, but I do remember hearing that you were going to quit being a hero and turn to villainy, no?" said Aldrich. "How about I end that promising new career of yours before it even begins?"
"Should I kill?" Okeanos looked over to Aldrich with the eager eyes of a child looking for approval.
Before Aldrich could respond, Seismic put a hand on his shoulder.
'Don't think that's a good idea,' said Seismic. 'I understand killing him. I would too. But Hat Trick is technically still an A rank hero until the AA formally disavows him. Kill him now, and you'd be justified, but parties that stand against you might use this against you.'
'Parties that want to stand against me will stand against me regardless of what excuse they need,' said Aldrich. 'I understand the risks, but another A rank unit to add is too good to pass up. This guarantees that those powers of his won't be wasted like they have been up until now.'
'That's also a valid decision,' said Seismic.
'End him for me,' said Aldrich telepathically to Okeanos.
Okeanos raised his fist again, locking another energy punch in, but at that very moment, Hat Trick's hat, still in his hand, spontaneously disintegrated into blue flecks.
With that final trick, Hat Trick's whole body turned bright blue. Into pure energy.
Okeanos's antennae twitched in confusion as Hat Trick's body almost instantly disappeared, beaming away into the distance far, far away.
"Hm," said Aldrich. "A last resort safety. I didn't think him careful enough to have had one. And it activates even when he's unconscious, meaning most likely, he isn't choosing a specific location to beam himself to, but has a pre-determined safe space where he's programmed his power to send him to."
"Considering the fact that he's unconscious, if you searched hard enough, you might be able to find him," said Seismic. "He won't be moving anytime soon."
"There's no guarantee I would find him," said Aldrich. "And no guarantee on how long it would take either." He sighed. "As much as I hate to have loose ends, this very well may be one of my first ones. I have too much on hand to do here."
"You do?" said Seismic. "I imagine the variants are nearly all routed. Dead or pushed back to the water by now. There's no more fighting."
Aldrich confirmed Seismic's words by linking his sight with the Grave Wards that still had a bird's eye view of the battlefield. From there, he could see that Seismic was right: the fighting was recently finished. There were no more fishmen left on land.
Seismic's battle instincts were insanely sharp. The old hero might not have had any sense in how to really make good people connections or maintain a good image, but when it came to fighting, he truly was like a wild beast: it was like his entire mind and being was just crafted for it.
In that sense, Seismic was quite similar to Valera.
Notably, a good amount of fishmen had escaped back to the ocean, preventing Aldrich from reaching his level up, but that was not too important. He had plenty more chances to level up later.
"The fighting's over," said Aldrich. "But this is just the beginning. I have to deal with the world now."
The fighting was just a prelude to the plans that Aldrich envisioned for himself. And this next stage involved putting himself in in perhaps the greatest risk he had ever done so to date.
Aldrich put a hand to his ear, and Volantis activated his earpiece.
"Fisk. Spybird. Just confirming, but neither of you have heard any news about the AA or Panopticon sending forces here to question me or assess the city yet, right?" said Aldrich.
"Nah, not yet, but I'll tell you right now that the stream's views mega blew up towards the end. Like, millions on millions of views level. Damn, if we were monetized, we would've made a decent buck," said Fisk.
"Non hero sanctioned violent activity makes no money on stream, friend," said Spybird. "But dah, as for your question, no news. News, though, right now, is strangely quiet on you. I would think with all you do here, all the views on that stream, the news would have something by now."
"Silence is an answer of its own," said Aldrich. He knew that if there was nothing on the media about him even now, that meant that time was ticking… "Get Casimir on the line now."