Chapter 339 The President 3
'Interesting. This guy is willing to hand over Vanguard's heir to me? Just like that?' Aldrich stared at Emrys in near disbelief.
This was a huge offer. Vanguard's heir, if said individual could actually be found, was invaluable. Not just in terms of sheer power, but in symbolic value as well.
Vanguard was the world's number one and a bright light in a swathe of dark times. The first real hero, or at the very least, the one to really popularize the hero movement, the idea being that he wanted to create a movement that provided symbols to look up to, symbols of hope when things seemed hard and hopeless.
Over time, that had twisted into a highly commercialized, gaudy industry where people like Hat Trick who only cared about credits and image showed up. But the original idea behind it was pure.
Vanguard was the sole reason humanity survived Zahak during the Altering. Then, he spearheaded the fight against the Titans in the Monstering.
If Vanguard had not been in either time, humanity would have been extinct by now.
He was a champion of the peoples. A cornerstone of human belief. Almost a messianic figure.
And the heir of a messianic figure was not be taken lightly. Vanguard's heir would have an instantaneous massive draw with the global public. Whoever the heir affiliated with would get a golden parachute into the hearts of the world.
At the very least, Aldrich would have expected Emrys to fight more for the heir. To maybe contest who got to manage the heir.
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But Emrys sounded like he was literally willing to serve the heir up to Aldrich as an undead. The implications of that by now were obvious as Aldrich's powers were widely broadcasted.
That meant killing someone who inevitably was going to be a worldwide darling.
Was Emrys trying to goad Aldrich into doing that to smear him? Even if that was the case, Aldrich was willing to do that if it meant getting the heir in his legion.
Vanguard's power was one of a kind, granting him the strength to win against any foe no matter what. Such a broken ability was invaluable and instrumental in making sure Aldrich had more leverage against the entity.
"I understand it may seem odd that I am willing to give up Vanguard's heir so easily," said Emrys, parsing Aldrich's thoughts. For a moment, Aldrich wondered if Emrys was reading his mind, but it seemed unlikely.
If Emrys could mine Aldrich for thoughts, he did not have to ask leading questions like this.
It was more likely that Emrys was just perceptive.
"But it is simply a matter of control," said Emrys. "Vanguard was unpredictable in his last years. We cannot afford that when humanity is now at the brink. If the heir is under your control, then that is still control.
As far as I am aware, you have humanity's benefit in your mind. Knowing that, I am willing to give you this hypothetical heir if only to ensure that their power is used for the greater good."
"Hypothetical? What's your intel on this heir? Is it even real?" said Aldrich, stamping out the faint possibility that Emrys was setting him on a wild goose chase.
"Supermind would not have devoted himself to a fruitless endeavor," said Emrys. "Whether you choose to believe it or not is up to you."
"I can believe that," said Aldrich, respecting Supermind. "But how close are you to finding the heir? You need to have something tangible to offer as you're requesting something quite tangible from me."
"That is true," said Emrys. "And I do not have a location for you. Not now."
"Supermind and I had good reason to believe that Vanguard's power is one that has a will of its own. A sort of energy made manifest, extraterrestrial in its origins to such a degree that attempting to predict it is difficult. What we do know is that it leaves the host's body and then chooses another when suitable.
However, the devil is in the details, and the devil, if anything, knows how to hide.
Tracking where the power is headed is difficult, impossible even with my eyes that are sensitive to every strata of energy, foreign or terrestrial.
But Vanguard left clues. His last decade of life was spent finding a worthy heir, knowing that his time with his strength was burning away. Supermind has pieces of a journal he kept that detail exactly when the power will decide to find a new heir.
And potential locations for the power to manifest."
"Pieces of a journal? Why not the full thing?" asked Aldrich. He went even more specific, his curiosity flaring. After all, this was about Vanguard, a hero that Aldrich had idolized so much in his youth. "What exactly happened to Vanguard in these past two decades? Why was he so inactive?"
"Vanguard's mind deteriorated as his power did. When he reached out to us for the first time in many years, he only gave us pieces.
As for the source of his inactivity and decline, we do not know.
Not for certain, though theories are abound," said Emrys. "It is likely that a human vessel is unable to contain the tremendous nature of Vanguard's power, doubly more so considering Vanguard was a pure human with a comparatively frail body unused to regulating high levels of energy."
Aldrich would have blinked if he could have. Vanguard had been a pure human. Just like Aldrich. That was not a detail that mattered to him tactically, but in a way, it comforted him.
That his once idol had been just like him. Powerless but given the strength to make change.
"Vanguard's deteriorating mental state led him into increasing isolation. He pushed away Valkyrie and Supermind, his closest friends, leaving him in solitude," said Emrys.
"No other family and friends?" Aldrich wondered. Vanguard was massively popular. He must have had some relation somewhere. A hidden child, maybe.
"Beneath he veneer of the cameras and lights, Vanguard was always a solitary man," said Emrys. "The world always needed him. Somewhere, something had to be done. And he knew that.
He knew the weight of the world was on his shoulders, and he wanted to keep as much of that weight on himself as possible.
He was always alone.
Especially after Valkyrie stopped fighting."
Aldrich knew what Emrys was talking about.
Valkyrie's decision to lay down her fists was a global tragedy, though it happened a while before he had been born.
It happened right at the end of the first Corpowar of 2077.
Held just seven years after the Monstering, when humanity was still unstable and disorganized, corporations monopolized the strongest of Alters and, left unchecked, began to realize they could carve up the world into their own territories, taking over nations that did not agree to 'deals' that sorely disadvantaged them for their resources.
This led to massive megacorporations fielding literal armies of mercenaries and hired military forces.
Beforehand, the Panopticon took a hands off approach to humanity, only making sure everyone had equal access to food, but the 2077 Corpowar forced them to intervene once they calculated the conflicts could escalate into an extinction level event.
Once the Panopticon stepped in, the war quickly ended within six months.
In total, the 2077 Corpowar consisted of three years of grueling battles, and the last one led to Valkyrie's retirement.
Ragnarok, one of the leading military companies of the time, launched a fission bomb from its space station at Destiny Star, a Neo-Beijing based mega corporation that had and still has a huge market share in the Alter costume industry.
Hou Yi, one of China's strongest Alters at the time, diverted the unstable bomb at the cost of his life, redirecting it to remote wastelands.
The bomb's detonation, however, generated a mass energy surge that a particularly powerful variant absorbed, turning it into an infinitely evolving threat.
That threat, code named Dragon for its serpentine appearance, quickly became a S ranked disaster capable of matching the power of Titans.
The Triune mobilized to stop Dragon, and though the details of what exactly happened were iffy, the Triune did stop Dragon after a long, drawn out fight.
Victory came at the cost of Valkyrie's husband, the restorer of their team who died from collateral damage.
Grief from that loss sent Valkyrie out of the public scene, and from that moment on, she refused to raise her fists ever again for the greater good.
Vanguard exhibited a rare show of force afterwards, forcing Ragnarok to collapse by destroying all of their valuable infrastructure.
The end of the first Corpowar led to the proper establishment of the Alterhuman Agency, taking away monopolized control of Alters from corporations to serve an organization that looked out for the greater good of humanity.
The Panopticon became more hands on as well, restructuring the global economy to a credit system that only it had the capacity to maintain. This forced corporations under the Panopticon, forcing them follow protocols that prevented them from waging large scale conflicts against each other ever again.
The world had been so broken back then. And now, it was looking like round 2 was coming up.
"When exactly did Vanguard die, then?" said Aldrich. "His official disappearance was stated to be 2100, but I have a feeling there's more to that than meets the eye."
"You are correct. Vanguard did not die in 2100. That was when he decided to sever all contact, entering into complete isolation.
His power at the time had faded so low that his days of saving lives were over, in any case," said Emrys. "He did, however, hold fragments of that power within him.
Every few years, he would burn a fragment, using it to travel or perhaps fend for himself.
Supermind and I tracked those flares of energy."
"You didn't send anything to try and reach out to him?"
"We did, at first. Vanguard destroyed any attempts to reach out to him or spy on him. Eventually, we decided that it was better to let Vanguard live than to force him to burn out his powers."
Aldrich asked the most important question. "Then when was the last energy signature?"
"October 30. 2117."