Chapter 315 Back to the Nexus
It was a terrible word, but at the same time, if could also promise strength. Because once you lost enough, once there was nothing more to lose, there was something fierce and savage, primal in its ruthlesness, that rose to fill the void.
Valera had experienced it when she was an Exile, after she had lost the princess she was sworn to protect.
Aldrich had experienced it when he had lost his parents and, later, Adam and Elaine.
But the thing about that power, borne from loss, was that it was unstable. The moment you started to fill that loss carved void in with something brighter was the moment you lost the savage rush of strength that came with its emptiness.
Even now, Aldrich was afraid of losing that strength. He had promised Valera he would try his best for her as a lover, but...it was hard. Just because he said he would did not mean he could undo a lifetime's worth of conditioning.
He was afraid that the moment he truly started reciprocating her feelings, seeing her as something more, something precious, a part of himself, that he would grow weak. That he could no longer command her to the throes of danger.
And he worried that such weakness could lead to his end.
Valera felt the same way. No, she was much further down the road to healing her loss than Aldrich was. She had filled her void with him, and at first, it had given her strength. There was nothing more she wanted to do than to defend and fight with him.
But now, fighting came with the risk of losing him, and that outweighed any rush she got from side-by-side fighting.
Aldrich did not care whether that made her weaker. He was not that heartless to hold it against her.
But...he could not let her waver now. Now when conflict was going to come soon. With Feather as a mind controlled puppet, Aldrich could send him as a spy for the Italian Prong.
Not only that, but if Feather managed to lure Desmond into capture, then Aldrich could gain a mass amount of intel into Trident operations.
Aldrich, right now, wanted to take over Blackwater. But he needed to strike at the right time.
According to Casimir, it was still operating normally as an academy to prevent government investigation, hence the newly recruited pure humans to make it seem like everything was just hunky-dory.
But Clint and Gerard had told Aldrich that their riders thought conflict was brewing. Each Prong of the Trident was starting to hire mercenaries and mobilize in-house villains towards Blackwater.
Conflict was brewing over the academy.
If Aldrich took it over too soon, he would face the full wrath of all three Trident Prongs. He could not handle that, not when he had to spread his forces thin to maintain Haven.
No, he had to strike after everyone else had moved in, precisely when they were all at their weakest fighting each other.
For that, Aldrich needed Desmond whose intel in the Trident would be invaluable.
For that, Aldrich needed his Legion's military strength to be top notch.
Especially Valera's, for she guaranteed Aldrich's safety.
"I know how you feel," began Aldrich.
"Truly?" Valera said. "Do you perhaps...feel the same?"
"..." Aldrich closed his eyes, a twinge of pain strumming at his cold, dead heartstrings. "But I still have more to do. I hope you can understand that."
Aldrich wanted Valera to be as strong as possible. To not hesitate. For that, he could not reflect her feelings back to her. Not yet.
Valera put a hand on Aldrich's chest, over his heart, as if she could sense the pain. "I do understand. Remember, my master, I am no frail maiden. I am still a Guardian Knight. Placing duty over my emotions is not new to me."
The elevator stopped with an abrupt jolt. The doors slid open, and cold, dry underground air rushed in.
"Looks like we're here," said Aldrich. He strode through the doors into the emergency bunker. It was a largely unfinished bunker - courtesy of Haven's tier 3 status not warranting much funding or effort - but that, in a way, seemed fitting.
The bunker was very much more cave than man-made structures, with uneven, rocky ground and ceiling full of rock formations and stalactites. Further in, the ground was carved flat and laid over with metal tiling. Atop the tiling was a miniature base of sorts. Originally, there had been an array of monitors at the end that could interface with the Control Tower to check on intruders, but Aldrich had torn that all out.
He wanted this place to be as low tech as possible to prevent infiltration. There were not even lights here since he could see in the dark.
Well, there was one light.
As Aldrich approached, a glowing green Sign welcomed him, carved into the air at the end of the room. He held out his arm, and Valera held it as he floated over to the Sign, his cape of souls billowing and softly wailing behind him.
The Sign glowed brighter in Aldrich's presence. He touched it, accessing the Nexus.
Aldrich and Valera sat around a table in Medula's study. Medula, the Death Lord, and Wai'ki sat with them. Above them, Supermind's body floated, tethered in place with ghostly blue string made from Wai'ki's staff of eerie blue flowers.
"I see," said Aldrich. "So that's how he knew I was 'Irregular'."
He looked down at the center of the table where one of Supermind's removed eyeballs stared back at him. The eyeball held Supermind's unique cross shaped black pupils, but around them, there was a ring of iridescent rainbow.
"The [All-Seeing Eye]" said Medula with a tentative nod. She sipped a cup of steaming tea. "It is said to be able to pierce the veil of realms and see that which does not belong. In particular, it is an impressive tool to uncover demons that wish to hide among natives, for the eye will reveal them no matter how well they possess a native body."
"It explains why the Stranger was willing to risk so much. Why he angered the entire world. He just wanted to kill Supermind," said Aldrich. "And he didn't care what it took to do it. Which leads me to believe that in my world, this was the only thing capable of identifying the Stranger."
"Fortunately, you took the body before it was destroyed," said Medula. She narrowed her crimson eyes, inspecting Supermind's body. "This specimen is quite magnificent in its own right. The amount of power that must have flowed through it when it was yet in its prime would have been considerable."
"Not enough to beat me, though," said the Death Lord, jade prosthetic hand on her cheek, bored.
"I would not be so sure." Medula clasped her gloved fingers together in thought. "I have but rough calculations and an even rougher grasp of this energy known as 'Ether', but if Ether and mana are roughly equal, this specimen had enough raw power to force you out of your armor, at the least."
"Is that so?" The Death Lord's pointed ears twitched. "That makes me ever more curious. Perhaps I myself will wander out and wreak havoc to see who can stop me.
But alas, I am trapped."
"A good thing, too. I don't want you making a mess of a world that's mine," said Aldrich.