Chapter 324 A New Challenger
"What was that?" said Mollusk, but even as he asked that question, everyone present - all battle hardened - got into defensive form.
Aldrich's magical energy swirled around him. Valera raised her shield up and stood in front of him. Chiros held his flaming saber up. Mollusk's arm tentacles wriggled around him, ready for action.
Refraction, now free to display his skills, got into a shoulder width stance with open hands held out in front of him. A martial arts stance. Some form of kung-fu, Aldrich recognized.
"I see," said Aldrich. When he looked to the direction where the sound came from, he saw that it emanated from one of the giant trees. The one that Mollusk smashed through.
The entire sixty meter tall tree was shaking, giant leaves and branches falling from above with its thrashing. Some insect variant eggs fell as well, splattering on the forest floor into goo.
"A tremendous surge of energy is leaking from that hole," said Volantis. "The bark, it seemed, served as a form of insulator, hiding the flow from my senses. But now, I see clearly. I will mark the flow for you, Armored."
Aldrich saw a see-through display of a huge pillar of green within the tree trunk that ran lengthwise through it. Something was in there. Something enormous.
Something that had awakened.
From above, at the treetops, he could see countless strands of energy funneling into the trunk. It clicked then, why there were so many carnivorous plants on the treetops. Why the habitat above devoured and nurtured insect variants.
The variants were food. Nourishment for what was within.
The earth began to shake. Cracks began to line the thick, durable bark of the tree. Loud impacts resonated throughout the forest as the trunk shook from something within banging against it.
Like a chrysalis splintering, the butterfly within struggling to emerge.
"Refraction, you've got a scanner in your helmet. Read that!" said Mollusk as he swatted away a huge branch from landing on his head.
"I'm on it." Refraction put a hand to the golden visor of his helmet. "Shit…that reading's astronomical. Variant AC ratings are always inflated, but this…this is disaster class.
At the very least, a B+ rank disaster, maybe A, maybe higher - whatever's in there hasn't broken out fully yet. The readings aren't completely accurate, but I don't like what I'm seeing!"
Refraction slammed his hands together. Aldrich noticed and mentally got Chrysa to stop her Warp-Lock.
'Thanks, father. Keeping that lock thingy up makes me really sleepy…but I have to stay up and watch this! More exciting stuff is happening!'
When Refraction pulled his hands apart, he generated two large, golden rectangular mirrors from his palms. He put one mirror on one side of the group, then another on the other side.
"We're getting out of here!" said Refraction, shouting to be heard over the din of shaking earth, crashing tree branches, and the buzzing of hundreds of flying insect variants roused by the sudden disturbance. "Once my mirrors collapse on each other, I can warp us far. I don't know where exactly, but definitely not here!"
Aldrich raised a hand. "Wait. Have your warp ready, but don't take us out of here completely."
"What do you mean, wait!?" said Refraction. "There's almost a hundred of these giant trees around. Imagine if all of them start unleashing what they're keeping holed up. Not to mention the variants in their branches!"
"Observe carefully," said Chiros, pointing his blade to the other colossal trunks in the distance. "None of them are moving. Only this one."
"And the insects are flying away. Not to us," said Valera, having a potent [Danger Sense] skill.
"They're flying away because this is dangerous!" said Refraction.
"I said wait," said Aldrich. "As a mercenary, you're naturally risk averse. You've always picked and chosen what's best for you. But you aren't a mercenary anymore. And if you defy me, I'm taking your free will.
If it helps you feel any better, I can regenerate you from almost any injury."
The tree trunk broke apart, the many shards of its bark, most as large as houses, falling to the ground with thudding impact. An iridescent shine emanated from where the tree was, localized around two pairs of butterfly wings crumpled up in sap.
Even then, condensed as they were, it was easy to tell just from their length that once those wings fanned out, they would dwarf entire city blocks under their majestic shadow.
The wings attached to a huge, thirty meter long segmented body colored dark brown like wood.
No, it was wood. The creature was made out of bark, gnarled patterns and tree rings running across its entire body.
Six giant, insectoid wooden legs started to spread out from its abdomen, now free from their tree trunk cocoon. Despite not having functional wings, the creature remained suspended in the air.
The butterfly monster's tail ended in a curved, sickle-like stinger encased in glowing green energy. Not the pale, deathly shade of green that Aldrich's magic had, but a deep, verdant green that brimmed with life.
The tail hovered right above the forest floor, and where the dark green light touched, life sprung wildly. Vines and plants and trees all sprouted up in a manner of seconds, twisting around each other in a frenzy of uncontrolled growth.
The creature's head was not insectoid. It was…surprisingly human in its general shape and structure.
Unlike its body of dark, almost black wood, the skull was an ashen grey with sunken in, empty eye sockets and eerily human teeth guarded by solid black pincers that curved from the sides of its jaws.
Its forehead split down the middle, and a large, dark green eye emerged with loud squelching, its dot-like white pupil lolling about before focusing on Aldrich and his group.
"What the hell…is that?" said Refraction, terrified at the ungodly fusion of human skull, butterfly body, and plant mass. "Mollusk, what is that!?"
"How should I know? I'm not a variant expert! Are you assuming I know just because I look like a variant!? What happened to being open-minded!?" said Mollusk.
"It's a Geist. You can tell from its humanoid physical traits, though this one is a lot more monstrous than most I've seen. A lot bigger, too," said Aldrich.
Mercenaries like Mollusk and Refraction were usually never hired to fight variants. Especially not ones in the Deep Wastelands like this. "But I don't know much more beyond that."
"Then we have to leave! Geists exist only to eat human guts!" said Refraction, his mirror portals still up and ready to go. "That thing could have any number of powers. And we're right in its territory!"
The Geist, or Boss Geist, as Aldrich now dubbed it, clicked its pincers and unleashed a haunting wail so loud it would have ruptured the eardrums of the average Alterhuman.
Hearing this, insect variants from the treetops fled en masse, darkening the sky with their panicked numbers.
The Boss Geist hovered towards Aldrich, its pincers open in aggression.
"No warping. Not now. Keep your distance. Focus on luring it out of the forest."
"What are you planning?" said Mollusk.
"My legion has been lacking a proper boss type monster, hasn't it, Valera? Something that really makes an impact when you land on a battlefield with it," said Aldrich.
Valera grinned like mad under her helm, anticipating great battle. "Yes, very much so, my master."