Chapter 235 - Megaloptera 2
Aldrich watched the fight unfold. He did not want to fight directly because he wanted to keep up his facade of being a separate entity from Thanatos, and that involved limiting his powers to basically just his physical strength.
By having two separate identities, Aldrich had more leeway to trick or manipulate others. It also increased the 'mystique' of Thanatos. There was something strangely magnetizing about a mysterious, faceless being of power that Aldrich wanted to capitalize on.
For how long Aldrich wanted to keep this separation of identity, he did not know. Whenever he got a more stable position, maybe. All things to think about later.
Right now, Aldrich observed how much his units had grown.
"Take this, you bug bastard!" Stella yelled as she pointed her palms towards the oversized dragonfly from above. Her hand lit up bright orange before a shower of sparks crackled out from them, causing a detonation that fired a ball of orange energy.
"Impressive," said Aldrich as he put a hand to his chin.
Stella had improved dramatically. To recap, her power worked by accelerating her blood flow and making her blood turn into permeable gas that passed through her skin in the form of glowing orange particles. This gas then violently detonated with the air, creating a highly reactive explosion.
This meant that Stella could not fight well at range because her blood could not travel far before it blew up, grounding her strictly as a short or mid range fighter.
But now, she had found a way to prevent her gas form blood from exploding immediately. She could thus create projectiles that detonated only when they hit a target.
The ball of orange energy hit the dragonfly's black carapace and then wobbled chaotically before exploding in a burst of white light reminiscent of a flashbang. The air rippled as a loud explosion rocked through it.
"Damn, you're one tough bastard!" grimaced Stella as she noted that the explosive ball had not managed to pass through the carapace. It left a nasty, cracked crater oozing with cauterizing yellow blood, but it did not have enough power to punch completely through.
In response, the dragonfly started to shiver. Countless sharp black spines across its back stood up like the quills on a porcupine. Several rotated towards Stella and then fired and speeds that easily surpassed sound.
Stella reacted before the spines fired, dodging preemptively by blasting herself to the side. Still not enough. One of the spines had passed through her belly, gouging out a sizable hole.
In response, she just smiled.
Aldrich noted her incredible pain tolerance. Undeath prevented vital organs from being one hit kills, but it did not negate pain. At least, not with creatures that had functioning nervous systems like Stella.
The fact that Stella could just grin at a hole in her stomach meant she could easily ignore the pain. And it was no wonder, either. From what Aldrich could tell, she was quite literally giving herself consistent heart attacks with her powers.
That was how she trained herself.
The further an Alter pushed themselves, pushed their powers and its weaknesses to the absolute max, the stronger they reached their potential.
The downside was that overtraining was a very real issue with significant drawbacks. In Stella's case, literal heart attacks. These costs made it difficult for Alters to consistently really push themselves.
Only in life or death scenarios could they exert themselves to the extent that Stella did routinely.
It was a known phenomenon among Alters that in situations of extreme physical and emotional stress where they engaged their power beyond limits, they got noticeably stronger when they recovered.
Stella had repeated that process countless times, giving herself heart failure after heart failure.
Now, Stella was leagues beyond how she was back when Aldrich first raised her. He appraised her level.
[Unit Stella's Level: 33]
An incredibly impressive amount of growth considering Stella had not even cracked level 20 at first.
Watching Stella grow, Aldrich began to also get a better assessment of how levels determined power. It followed Elden World convention with a soft and hard cap system.
Early levels from 1-40 provided considerable amounts of power. After 40, there seemed to be a 'soft cap' where each level granted less overall strength than before.
There was another soft cap at level 60, and then a 'hard cap' at level 80 where power differences came mostly from equipment and unique spells and skills rather than stat differences.
"Then how about this!" Stella propelled her way closer to the dragonfly before unleashing twin beams of highly condensed orange energy from her hands. The beams were thin, shaped almost like needles, and they spiraled as they crashed into the variant's carapace.
Upon impact, the condensed, explosive energy detonated, creating twin eruptions that pushed out twin shockwaves that had enough power to carry a wall of dust and debris crashing all the way to Aldrich.
Aldrich made a cutting motion with his hand, his powerful strength creating a gust that blew the dust cloud away. This revealed several nymphs gaining on him, their many segmented legs crawling at a speed rivaling that of a car.
"What a nuisance." Aldrich sighed as he cracked his knuckles. "I wanted to spend some more time paying attention to my units. But I suppose I do have time to deal with you all as well."
"Let's raise some hell!" Clint roared as he shoulder tackled the last two nymphs standing in his way. They knocked over like bowling pins as he bullrushed past them. He finally got to the megaloptera. He put a surprisingly gentle palm on the black carapace and took in a deep breath. "Thank you kindly."
Clint opened his eyes with a thrill infused grin. "For the ass kickin' opportunity you've given me!"
He then started to unleash punch after powerful punch against the dragonfly. Each punch caused huge cracks to spiderweb out from the point of impact, drilling in deeper even than Stella's explosions.
Right then, Clint narrowed his eyes as a shockwave rippled past him, making his lengthy, wild brown fur-like hair wave wildly. He looked up to see the explosion girl wreaking havoc with a twin bomb way bigger and better than that weak lil' orange ball she had started out with.
"Now that's the spirit!" Clint shouted. "More explosions, more violence, let's go!"
"Speak for yourself!" Stella yelled back. "The hell are those pansy ass punches, huh? Can't even crack the shell!"
"Yeah? You want to see real power?" Clint shook his head and took in a deep breath, psyching himself up.
I need power, he thought to himself. I need strength.
As he thought that, his muscles began to swell in size. His bones broke and stretched out, making him taller. Very rapidly, he reached an inhuman height of three and a half meters.
He exhaled, and his breath steamed out in twin streams through his nostrils.
"Rah!" Clint roared, his voice deepening with a rumble that sounded more beast than man. He punched again, and this time, his fist smashed right through the megaloptera's carapace like it was just fragile glass. His arm was shoulder deep in the thing's guts.
The megaloptera released a shrill cry of pain in response. It's giant legs moved in a series of rapid motions that swung it around in a circle, violently slamming into everything around it.
Clint, with his arm stuck inside the variant already and slowed down by newly grown muscle, could only brace for impact as the megaloptera's movement ragdolled him around before finally punting him away like a field goal.
At the same time, the megaloptera unleashed a mass volley of six spines towards Stella, dealing with the aerial threat bothering it.
'Damn…that's too many!' Stella put her hands together, aiming to blow up as many in front of her as possible, but she knew even if she did, the spines moved so fast that they could pierce her before her explosions could disintegrate them.
At best, Stella could try and knock them off course, but they might still tear off a limb or two.
That was until Ace flew in front of Stella, puffing his chest out confidently. The spines clanged against Ace and bounced off like they had hit an impenetrable wall. They did not even scratch Ace past his body's barrier.
"Thanks, kid," said Stella with a relieved sigh.
Ace smiled with the confidence an ultra durable body gave him. "Hah! Taking that hit is child's play to me!"
"Where's slime girl?" Stella saw that Ace did not carry Tox around anymore.
"I dropped her off around…there." Ace pointed down to where Clint had been.
"Well, I'll be damned. With how much she complained, I thought she was squeamish. Guess not, if she's going in there like that." Stella watched as Tox used her liquid slime body to push her way into the arm sized hole Clint had made in the megaloptera.
Tox oozed herself through the megaloptera's innards.
"Ugh, gross!" said Tox as she squirmed around in the hole, but then she thought about her training.
About a single word.
"Steam," Tox whispered to herself, and her black eyes glazed over. Her disgust, her hesitance, all of that faded away as her trigger forced all distractions away and left nothing but pure, efficient killing intent.
Tox drove herself deep into the variant. The flesh around her sizzled and melted as her corrosive body made contact with it. Soon enough, she would get into the variant's gut, its vitals, and then she could complete her mission.