Chapter 352 A Sudden Intrusion
"So, the price I have to pay in order to fight is my soul, huh?" said Alan. He looked over at Adan's giant and menacing figure, and though scared at first, took in a deep breath and nodded. "It's a price I'm willing to pay."
"Good. You have resolve. You're ready to fight." Aldrich nodded to Adan. "Forge a pact with him, one that ensures that his life immediately ends when he's forced to reveal information he knows is secretive about me."
Adan grunted. He towered over Alan and raised his Spirithook in the air, letting it dangle as he clutched it by its spectral chains.
Like this, the hook looked less like a weapon and more like a pendant, a holy artifact that a monk would clutch to find security in their faith.
The hook glowed green, and an aura of a similar shade manifested around Alan.
"You have heard the terms of the pact. Do you accept?" growled Adan.
"I do," said Alan.
"Then your soul is mine." Adan lashed out with his hook, digging it into Alan's chest. Alan flinched back, but the hook did not pierce into his flesh, instead, it phased through, breaking into his body with a ripple effect like it was made of water.
Alan's heart became visible through his body, and around it, miniature green chains coiled around, placing Alan under the effects of the vow.
The moment Alan was forced to slip up and reveal any amount of information about Aldrich, those ethereal chains would crush his heart and impart an instant death effect on him.
His soul would then transfer over to Adan regardless of how far apart they were physically provided there were no magical obstructions.
Adan pulled his hook back with a jerk of his wrist, and the chains reeled the weapon back in until it was clutched tightly in his black furred hand once more.
Alan looked down at his hands in wonder, clenching and unclenching his fists. The aura of green seemed to shimmer around him permanently now. "I feel...stronger."
"In exchange for taking that pact, you're given enhanced physical stats," said Aldrich. "That should stop you from dying instantly against higher tier enemies. Consider it some level of compensation for taking this vow and showing resolve.
Now then, do you have anything else you want to bring up with me?"
Alan shook his head. "As long as I get the chance to fight, I'm fine. But they might want a word or two with you." He pointed behind Aldrich where a small crowd of Haven citizens were trying to surge forward, struggling against Spearhorns and Gilded Swallow personnel.
They wanted to reach Aldrich, the leader of this city.
Aldrich nodded. "You're free to leave and do what you want. Just try not to throw away your life too easily."
Alan smiled. "I won't. I promise. I fully intend on staying alive for my old man and Elaine."
"And about Randall's burial, I have a better suggestion for it than the park, though ultimately it's up to you," said Aldrich.
"What is it?"
"I'm going to clear the city center out and plant a tree. A tree that'll grow as high as the clouds. A symbol of this city and my rule. Randall should be buried under that tree. It would do his memory a great service.
After all, without his daughter, I wouldn't be here in the first place."
"Randall would've liked that. When the time comes, bury him there, but just let me know when since I want to be there when it happens."
"I will." The crowd started to press against the security with more force, calling out to Thanatos. "Now go. I have things to deal with."
"The downsides of being a ruler, huh?" Alan shrugged before heading off.
Aldrich stepped forward, getting closer to the crowd, Adan following from behind.
High Undead like Adan or the Mistknife could not easily be desummoned on account of the tremendous mana cost to initially summon them, and on top of that, Aldrich could only field ten at a time. They were essentially long term companion units, though they could be resummoned upon death.
The closer he got, the less the crowd resisted, and when he got close enough to talk to, they started to actively step back in a mixture of reverence and fear.
It was, after all, the image that Aldrich gave off. One of mystery and power. He seemed generous, but at the same time, threatening. It kept the citizens on edge.
"I understand that forcing all of you to evacuate so suddenly has been a difficult ordeal, especially in light of what you've suffered already," said Aldrich.
"Please, we just want to know if things will be alright," said a citizen, a woman with child clutching at her hand.
"None of you are in danger," said Aldrich. "All of you have been informed that this evacuation is for a necessary construction project, no?"
"We have, but that just sounds like bullshit!" exclaimed a ragged looking man. "Those guys from the Gilded Swallow told us almost nothing, just a bunch of vague PR words. The same type we were forced to swallow when the Locus Raids happened and they made us feel like we weren't in danger. All so that they could evacuate the important guys first!"
The crowd murmured in agreement.
'I see now,' though Aldrich. 'They aren't so much dissastisfied with being forced to leave as they are with being left in the dark. Casimir probably told them vague details to keep the Arstree project a secret, but these people are tired of officials trying to placate them with vagaries.
Then the only way to calm them, it seems, is with the truth.'
"The Gilded Swallow was only meant to give you preliminary details. But I'm here to fill you in on the rest," said Aldrich. The crowd grew quiet, listening intently. Many of them recorded Aldrich with their phones - a sight he was used to now.
Each and every one of his moves would be recorded.
"I am clearing this area for agriculture," said Aldrich. "I know that one of the top concerns all of you have had was food security. Without access to farmlands or Skyfields, this city is bound to run dry of food stores eventually.
But I am fixing that entirely.
With my powers, I will be cultivating a tree here, one that will spread life and green all around Haven. Haven will no longer be surrounded by dry Wastelands. Its name will no longer be an ironic mockery.
It will truly be a Haven. Not just for you, but for all that wish to settle within its boundaries.
For that, however, I need your support and cooperation. You will not go without a roof; I have new housing arranged for you already.
I asked nothing from you when I rose up to save this city. Now, I only ask that you give me trust and patience for a few days."
Aldrich ended his miniature speech there and observed the crowd. He hypothesized that being straightforward and truthful would make a far bigger impact than sugar coated, vague PR statements.
Not that Casimir was to blame here. He was probably used to operating like that, and most of the time, that worked.
But Aldrich needed to market himself differently if he wanted people that felt betrayed by normal governments to want to stay.
He saw the crowd start to put their phones away, but in an oddly synchronized manner. Too synchronized, in fact. Something was wrong here.
'Volantis, trace any energy signatures,' prompted Aldrich.
'Scanning...' said Volantis.
Aldrich looked around, trying to see if there was anything off. The crowd began to shuffle away. Not just the crowd, but the Spearhorns and Gilded Swallow personnel too.
'Mind control?' thought Aldrich.
'I have identified energy traces. Highlighting them.'
Aldrich saw red glows surrounding the heads of every living human involved. Red indicating Alter power. And judging by how they were targeted at the heads, this was, indeed, mind control.
'Valera, Chiros, Geist, to me,' said Aldrich, calling forth his strongest frontline combatants to aid him. 'Crow, patrol the area. Skeletal Assassins, comb my vicinity to find any intruders.'
Then, Aldrich put a hand to the ear of his helm and spoke to Casimir through his earpiece. "Casimir, notify Clint and Gerald that I want a lockdown. Riders around the city walls. Nobody gets in or gets out."
"Understood, Mr. Vane," said Casimir. "And by the way, in case you were worried, your speech was not streamed online. Net connectivity in your area was cut."
"I see." Aldrich's receiver based communication did use net connectivity to operate, but when that was gone, it switched to radio, giving it a failsafe against technos with blackout capabilities.
This seemed like a textbook coordinated attack. Blackout the area, take control of hostages, and then move in.
But something felt off about it. The mind controlled citizens were being moved away as if they were going about their daily lives, funneling into cars and transport vehicles meant for them.
They were not being held here as hostages, they were being sent away.
The reason why became very clear.
As the citizens and personnel moved away from the center of the city, a figure manifested within it, a dozen or so meters away from Aldrich. A woman with bright golden eyes and hair that he recognized.
It was Mel Morales, former rank 1 of Blackwater.