Chapter 351 The Soulmonger
Aldrich spoke up. "Open door 40A and 35B."
In response, the helper A.I. for the control tower responded, sliding open a section of the thick, bullet and bombproof glass wall. It also opened another similar door on the 35th floor, where Volantis and Chrysa were.
'Volantis, come up to the fortieth floor,' said Aldrich. 'I have to make an outing.'
'Understood, Armored,' said Volantis. His voice trailed off as he talked to someone else. 'And remember, little one, breathing is key. Holding in a breath at the core of your being will make you strong. Keep that up, and you will best your father in no time!'
Volantis was Chrysa's babysitter, basically, when Aldrich and Valera had other matters to tend to, which ended up being quite often. Her combat trainer, too, as he taught her how to control her spatial affinity mana and create a Shaping style around it.
By this point, Chrysa saw Volantis so often she called him her uncle, a point of pride that Volantis cherished.
When Volantis was gone as well, Casimir or one of his top guards took care of her.
Wind billowed into the room from the open door. Aldrich walked out with zero hesitation, down the forty floor drop. He fell for about a second before Volantis popped out from the 35th floor, the living armor opening up and wrapping around Aldrich.
When in public, Aldrich made it a point to walk around with Volantis on at all times. This preserved a separation in identity between his Vane alter ego and Thanatos which was a useful asset to have just in general.
It gave Aldrich the freedom to move covertly when he wanted to, though at the cost of not wearing Volantis.
Aldrich's vision turned dark for a half second before Volantis fully merged with him, the interface of his helm and its many energy readings showing up in the periphery of his vision.
He used his cloak to direct his descent down, landing right behind Alan.
Alan whirled around, surprised, before losing his balance and falling on the grass. "Christ, man, you scared me!"
"What's going on here?" Aldrich saw one of Casimir's men and a Spearhorn nomad in front of Alan.
"This kid ain't movin'," said the spearhorn, a mutant with large claws and a thick hide of orange fur. "Even though we told him to scram!"
"We did not tell him to 'scram'," corrected Casimir's man. "We politely told him this area was undergoing evacuation, but he put up some resistance."
Aldrich nodded and waved the two men away. "I'll take it from here."
Alan dusted himself off as he saw them walk away. "Alright, I'll admit I was being stubborn, but coming to this spot's been my only point of peace for a while."
"Still looking?" said Aldrich.
Alan looked crestfallen, his eyes flickering down. "Yeah. Still looking. I think the park here is nice, old Randall always said he wanted to be buried somewhere green, tired as he was of seeing rocks and dry earth everywhere."
"You've changed." Aldrich inspected Alan. He had made noticeable upgrades to his cybernetic implants.
First off, his skin had faint segmented lines on them, indicating he had undergone a dermal plating procedure that synthesized skin with metal, plastics, and ceramics.
Second, he had added a neural port to the side of his temple. One of his eyes had gone from red to blue, flickering with light. Telltale signs of smartlink compatible cybernetics that allowed you to link your mind with weapons for expert aim and access to more combat data.
"I have to," said Alan. He looked up at Aldrich's towering, armored, imposing figure. "I'm not like you, man. I'm weak. Piss poor weak. I realized that more than ever when Randall died and I couldn't do anything. And when you knocked me out when I tried to fight.
At first, I resented you for that, because what right do you have to take my vengeance away from me, but when I thought about it, I knew you were right.
What's the point of me fighting if I can't make a dent anyway? If I'm just your average mechanic, I'll contribute nothing and end up dying for nothing."
"So your solution was to get stronger? To feel like you've earned your right to fight?"
"Isn't that obvious?" Alan extended his arm and chunks of it separated at the segments with mechanical clicks, revealing a scythe-like blade that ran across his forearm. "I've never liked making weapons. I was good at it, but I didn't like the idea of what I made hurting other people. Now, though, I'm ready to dish out some hurt."
Aldrich shook his head. "You're still too weak. And it's not even about that. It's about what Elaine and Randall would have wanted from you. Do you think they would have wanted you to keep fighting?"
"I know they wouldn't." Alan said this with surprising calm.
Aldrich thought that maybe Alan would have protested or gotten emotional, but he was deadly serious.
"But this isn't about them anymore," said Alan. "At first, I thought I wanted to fight to avenge them, but being alone with your thoughts really makes you reflect on yourself.
And I came to a realization: I'm not fighting for them as much as I am for myself. For my own closure. Until I've fought, I don't think I can call myself a man.
I don't think I could live with myself with the fact that all I've done in my life is repair and hide."
Alan retracted his armblade. "I hear from the Spearhorns that the Trident's at war with themselves. Their leader's been talking about making a raid against some of their outposts and supply depots while they're understaffed.
I'm thinking of joining."
"I see." Aldrich knew he could stop this instantly. He could tell Clint to ban Alan from joining any raid. He could quarantine Alan and keep him trapped.
If Alan had lashed out at Aldrich with emotion, he had no doubt in his mind that he would have put Alan under some kind of house arrest. He was not going to let Elaine's brother die from momentary rage.
But this was different. Alan was not speaking from a place of temporary hurt anymore. He was focused. Resolute. Like a soldier. Elaine had always said Alan was a sweet, soft man, but she had judged wrong.
Aldrich could tell Alan was a fighter at heart. In some ways, similar to himself.
And keeping a fighter caged would only cause them to lash out.
"Are you going to stop me?" said Alan. He looked away, at the trees.
"No. Go ahead and join those raids," said Aldrich.
Alan blinked. "I thought you'd put up more of a resistance than that."
"I was only trying to stop you from being reckless when you weren't being yourself, blinded by loss and fueled by anger," said Aldrich. "But this is you. And you are a fighter. I'm not going to control a fight you choose to take for yourself."
"I appreciate it," nodded Alan.
"But I do have a condition. You have valuable information about my two identities and my origins. I can't quite let you get captured, or if you do, not as you are now, susceptible to mind control."
"What are you suggesting?" said Alan. "Are you going to kill me and resurrect me?"
"I can do that," said Aldrich. "But I'm inclined to give you the right to live out the life you have right now. But you'll have to let one of my units accompany you."
Aldrich put his fist up, glowing with green energy. A large green magic circle appeared before him on the grass.
From there, a massive brute of a man emerged, though he clung low to the ground with a deeply hunched back, his hands dragging across the dirt. He was dressed in a coarse brown sackcloth - a monk's garb. His head was covered over by a large hood, and because of his hunch, his gaze never left the ground, making it impossible to see his face clearly.
He took deep, guttural breaths, bestial and deeply savage in its ragged, hungry rhythm.
In his right hand was a large, curved hook with ethereal green chains at its end wrapped around the length of his muscular, black furred forearm.
This was Adan, the Soulmonger, a powerful high undead that had the special ability of harvesting souls using his Spirithook. Adan could also use soul magic and force Alan into a pact where if he ever was in a situation where he was forced to divulge information about Aldrich, he would die.
In game, the ability to make pacts let Adan buff units in exchange for their health or sealing some of their abilities, but in the real world, it was a far more versatile ability.
"Adan here will accompany you at all times. Whether you want him to help fight with you is your choice.
Your life is your life.
If you choose to end it in battle, then that's your choice. However, if that happens, if you forfeit your life, I want you to know that your undeath will be mine. Adan will have your soul in his hands at all times.
That is the price I'm asking from you.
Will you accept?"