Chapter 318 The Forest
Aldrich flew through the air with Volantis fully armored around him. Beforehand, the living armor had been playing with Chrysa in the Control Tower, or rather, training with her, giving her light sparring sessions with a live enemy.
Draconic wings stretched out to Aldrich's sides, generating their magical flight field to keep him soaring through the skies. It was dark, as dark as it got, to keep cover.
Inside his Boundary were Chrysa, Valera, Chiros, and Feather. He made sure to bring all Elden World units for this mission to avoid as much tech-based surveillance as possible. Even flying was a little risky as satellite surveillance could detect fast flying, human sized objects. Courtesy of there being so many of them around now post-Altering.
But in the Wastelands, where Aldrich currently flew, satellites had less coverage, especially in airspace that geo-storms passed by. The energy trail they left created a sort of 'glare' that prevented even the best satellites from really picking up on what was going on there. Flying Alters could therefore reliably fly in 'stealth' by mapping out paths where geo-storms had passed through within the past seven days.
The glare was invisible to the naked eye, but to anything lens and tech based, it was astoundingly disruptive. Some people speculated that geo-storms, like variants, could adapt to technology as they were both parts of nature. Others thought that was terrible logic and reaching.
Regardless, it helped Aldrich stay low and out of sight. The path he followed was one that Gerard and his Eagle riders mapped out for him, and if word around the nomad community was true, Gerard was the absolute best at pathing through the Wastelands undetected.
Courtesy of his age and experience.
ACD (Alter Cell Detection) satellites were just about the only things that worked out here, being capable of tracking dense alter cell energy signatures through even storm-glare, but because Aldrich used 100% Elden World power sources, he was, functionally speaking, completely invisible.
The only thing that could catch Aldrich right now something like radar, but he doubted any flying vehicle was around him. Not here in the Wastelands.
"How is the new eye, Volantis?" said Aldrich.
"It is quite something," said Volantis. Supermind's [All-Seeing Eye] opened up on the forehead of Aldrich's face plate via a slit that popped through the metal. The eye goggled around lazily, the rainbow ringed pupil unable to focus. "I can stitch it to my form, but I require a day to reliably make it mine."
"A day? Not bad at all. How did Chrysa do today?" Chrysa slept right now, all tuckered out and tired from fighting all day. Valera kept watch over her, putting her to bed by recounting glorious tales of her many battles as an exile.
Surprisingly, Chrysa loved them, even with the rather questionably gory descriptions that Valera loved to put in. Looking at them through his mind, Aldrich could see a proper bond forming. Valera, at heart, was a good caretaker.
Loss had made her cold and unforgiving, but when she let someone get close to her, they became her everything. At first, that was just Aldrich, but she eagerly welcomed Chrysa too, probably because she was technically Aldrich's child.
Born through some strange spirit-based self reproduction, yes, but a child nonetheless.
"She is talented in the art of battle," said Volantis. "Eager to learn. Eager to fight. Were she an orc, she would have done mighty well!"
"How's her magic? Better?"
"Quite so. It still drains her considerably - such is the nature of magic that manipulates the fabric of space - but as it is her natural affinity, her mastery and efficiency with it grows by the day.
I have taught her how to Shape it, to let it mimic and give strength to her physical movements, and she has taken to the art like a bird to the sky." Volantis laughed. "An affinity of Space - it is one of pure legend. In time, I am sure she will also be like legend, worthy of standing side by side with my warmother of old, Thel."
Thel. The orc warmother who had led Volantis when he was still flesh and bone. Indisputably the strongest recorded orc as well, sitting at level 85, very close to the realm of the gods themselves. One of few known godslayers as well.
"I'm curious, Volantis, do you still have any loyalty to Thel?" asked Aldrich.
"I am grateful to her. She accepted me in spite of my grave sins, but loyalty? No. She is gone, far gone, and I have chosen to bind you as my Armored.
That is not a decision lightly made. And it is not a decision lightly broken."
"I see." Aldrich looked down. The Wastelands had changed considerably here. Instead of endless swathes of dry, cracked earth, he beheld quite the odd forest. It was comprised of just a small gathering of giant trees, many as tall as sixty meters and incredibly wide to boot.
A wild network of vines connected the treetops together, creating a thick net of biomass where strange car-sized flowers and plants grew, most of them with great big maws like oversized venus flytraps, devouring insect variants that happened upon them.
According to rudimentary data, the predominant type of variant here were flying insects, but there was not much more information than that.
Not even the AA scouted reliably this far deep into the Wastelands.
This, remarkably, was where Feather had his bunker. According to Feather, most of the variants were insect types that lived on and nest in the treetops and vine network.
They did not bother with anything on the forest floor.
However, because even a cursory AC scan would identify thousands of variants mingling in the trees, nobody dared to step into it.
Aldrich lowered altitude, floating into the thick of the giant forest low to the ground to prevent attention from any of the bugs above. None of them were really big threats, averaging at the D rank, but it would still be annoying to get swarmed by thousands of them at once.
On the forest floor, Aldrich felt a distinct sense of emptiness. Everything was quiet. Eerily so. The treetops where the insect variants lived were so high up that any noise they made did not carry down.
"Strange," said Aldrich as he meandered about, looking for the bunker. Apparently, it was not even underground - that was how confident Feather was that nobody would look for him here. "One would think that with a lush forest like this, you would find life at the bottom, too."
"It is indeed an oddity. I am still getting used to the novelty of this new realm," said Volantis. "These towering trees, in particular, are quite odd. Energy signatures within their bark grow quite dim.
Perhaps there is something hidden within?"
"Let's not mess around with anything just yet. Not until I get what I need out of this bunker. Speaking of-," Aldrich found the bunker. It was quite literally just a mobile home, parked beside a tree trunk that utterly dwarfed it.
He tapped his Phylactery, willing Chrysa awake. She groggily replied, 'Yes, father?'
"Can you bring our new guest out?" said Aldrich.
'Okay...' Chrysa yawned audibly.
A white silhouette crackled in front of Aldrich, filling in with color to reveal Feather, dressed up in a proper suit and tie to look presentable. He had sunglasses with a douchey slick-back haircut more grease than anything else.
"Is this it?" Aldrich pointed to the bunker.
"Yeah, this is it." Feather nodded at the mobile home. He was more in control of himself as it had been half a day of flying, which meant several hours outside of the Learning Room.
But the brainwashing was still potent enough that Feather would listen to everything Aldrich said for another few days at least. Feather just got to show more of his personality while he did so.
"Doesn't look convincing a a good bunker spot, yeah, I know, and yeah, I also know that technically, that ain't actually a bunker, but I guaran-fucking-tee this is safer than a nun's twat," said Feather.
"How did you even find out about this place?"
"Eh, a villain referred me. S-ranker called Leshen. Complete oddball, that one, said he loved to unwind here where nobody would find him cause' the voices he heard soothed him. Dude was nuts, but he treated me good enough.
Probably because I was about one of a couple people that didn't straight up drop dead from his poison gas. Hard to make friends when you got no choice but to kill everybody within twelve steps of you," said Feather.
Feather's power was plain old regeneration, though as a B rank Alter, it was good enough to let him grow back an arm in a few seconds. He could also move his consciousness around, letting him survive as a tiny little nugget of flesh and come back whole again. "Shame Valkyrie had to lock him up. Whenever he did security detail for me, I felt like the safest guy in the world."
"And you're sure the variants won't attack you?" said Aldrich.
"They're way the hell up there." Feather craned his neck and looked up high to the treetops. "And I haven't ever seen em' get down here. They don't even crawl down the trunks, just stay above the branches."
Aldrich remembered that incident. It was maybe ten years ago that Leshen, already known for being mentally unstable, went absolutely berserk guarding a Dark Six lab. He grew an entire forest of toxic and carnivorous plants, destroying the lab and everyone in it.
The flesh eating forest would have spread uncontrollably had Valkyrie, a S-class hero who also used plant based powers, not subdued Leshen.
Now, Leshen was probably rotting in some hidden Null cell.
"Alright then. Your friend Desmond is going to be coming here soon. So let's get started making you presentable." Aldrich stepped up to Feather, dwarfing the average sized man.
"What are you-," began Feather, but he was cut off when Aldrich slammed his fist into the man's stomach, goring through the flesh.