Aldrich looked up. Hidden under the sun's shining form were three individuals. The three swords.
'Adjusting vision to compensate for blinding,' stated Volantis, and Aldrich's red tinted helm sight darkened, filtering out the sunlight to make the three swords clearer than just blurry sun-speckled dots.
One was a huge brute of a man, bigger even than Shuten Doji. His size was enough to make it hard to tell if he was a Mutant or not, right at the cusp between having an Alter power made to make you big or just having Alter cell blessed height genetics. He showed off his building lifitng physique with a tight fitting white tanktop and black military trousers, though both were probably Alterweave clothes specifically fitted to his powers and durability.
There was a bit of a wild mountain lion style about him with a mane of ragged black hair that reached down to his mid-back in a clumpy, untamed curtain. He looked human aside from his eyes which were just two shining white points, eerie in their lack of pupil-formed expression.
Another was a woman who radiated an aura of ice both literally and stylistically. Her skin was porcelain pale, covered in a white haori slightly tinged with frosty blue.
The loose fitting, robe-like fabric swayed like they were being carried by a gentle breeze, though there was no breeze to talk about in this arid desert biome. Her hair was snow white and side swept, falling below her shoulders like a curtain of fallen winter. Her pupils flashed a crystalline blue in the shape of snowflakes.
She wielded a naginata made of what looked like pure ice, beautiful in its artistry like a sculpture. A scultpture-esque beauty that embodied her, too.
Between them was a much more unassuming figure. A short man with a back slightly hunched by age. It was hard to tell his build as he was garbed in what looked like a Buddhist monk's robes, though instead of the traditional orange and red it was black and white.
No matter what, though, he could not have been a physical specimen like the bulked up shirtless sword next to him. A necklace of wooden beads lay wreathed around his neck, granting him an air of ancient wisdom accentuated by the fact that he kept his face hidden under a red mask depicting an expressive, angry demon with a long, red nose - a tengu.
Two black cybernetic wings jutted out from his shoulders, letting him hover with what was probably anti-gravity technology.
Aldrich could identify each of them. Everyone in the Underworld worth their weight knew. The old man was Monk, the First Sword. The giant was Otakemaru, second sword. And finally, the woman was Yuki, the third sword.
Together, they formed the triple core of the Seven Swords. Legends whose names were whispered in fear and awe. Mercenaries that not even the average S ranker would want to mess around with.
"They're alone," noted Aldrich. He scrutinized them further and understood. "I see. There's small spatial distortions behind them. They warped in here. And judging by the looks of it, they've decided all they needed was themselves."
"Why are they here?" Stella shoved her elbow against Shuten Doji's chest. She barely reached up to his collarbone, so he looked down at her with a dismissive stare.
"Why not? We Swords have honor. We never leave any of us behind. Of course they would come for me," said Shuten Doji.
"Are you here for a fight?" Aldrich said, his voice projecting outwards in powerful peals. He did not have his army of undead with him, but he did have his bell. In there, there were still five hundred souls he could materialize as temporary undead.
The three swords hovered down, stopping when they were level with Aldrich.
"So you are the shinigami," said Monk, looking Aldrich up and down. His voice was filtered through his mask with a mechanical rasp, but it was still easy to tell it belonged to an old man.
From what Aldrich knew with his limited research, Monk was also one of the very few Alters that had been active all the way from the Altering. A man over a hundred and twenty years old who had survived through multiple world changing catastrophes.
"Answer my question." Aldrich did not look at either Yuki or Otakemaru. He kept his dot eye fixed on Monk. Monk was the leader. And, despite having a lower total energy level than the second and third swords due to his age, he still radiated the most dangerous aura.
"You have destroyed the laboratory. There was much research in there of great worth."
"The Trident has put a multi-million credit bounty on one of my most trusted partners. I took that as a casus belli severe enough to warrant a response."
"That is reasonable." Monk nodded stiffly. "And we care little of these labs. They are the Italian Prong's property. What we care for is him"
Monk pointed at Shuten Doji. His hand unfurled from his lengthy sleeve, showing that it was entirely cybernetic, all metal and wiring.
"My prisoner." Aldrich emphasized the word 'my'.
"Your prisoner," repeated Monk, calm. Unperturbed.
Like Z, 22, and Emrys, Monk was one of few individuals that Aldrich could read little to nothing about from their mannerisms. Monk's face was covered, but his body language and voice were also controlled to give away nothing, honed to a stillness reminiscent of a great mountain that withstood eons of pressure from winds and waves.
Ace and Stella flew up, standing behind Aldrich on either side of him. Ace faced Otakemaru. Stella faced Yuki.
Yuki narrowed her eyes at Stella before tilting her head away, as if to say that Stella was not worth her time.
Otakemaru looked at Ace with his dead white eyes, breathing deep with a bestial rumble that sounded like a powerful engine. There did not seem to be much thought in the man. He looked and felt more like a leashed beast than a thinking man.
"It is our principle to never leave a Sword behind," said Monk, breaking the tense silence. "Whether that principle will lead to violence is a decision that is yours to make, Shinigami."
Shinigami. Was that what the people in Japan were calling Aldrich? A reaper of souls. It was fitting, at least.
"But does your Sword want to leave?" said Aldrich. He projected his voice downwards, toward Shuten Doji. "Your Swords have come for you. Honorably. But are you willing to leave something of yours behind for your freedom?"
"I will stay," said Shuten Doji with zero hesitation. With that, Aldrich knew that Shuten Doji's daughter meant the world to him. She could be used as leverage.
"No, you will not," said Monk. "You will come with us. That much is decided."
"They have my daughter!" shouted Shuten Doji. "I must stay to protect her!"
"You will come with us," repeated Monk, and that was all he said.
"Or else. I see. It looks like conflict will be inevitable." Aldrich materialized his [Frosthallowed War Scythe], holding it one of his hands. Yuki raised a brow at his scythe in interest.
"Not inevitable. Never inevitable." Monk motioned to Shuten Doji. "We will take him. That act does not have to include violence."
"You're asking us to just give him up for free?" said Stella. "One of your best damn soldiers?"
"I am asking you to consider your options carefully."
"What will we get in return?" said Aldrich.
"My goodwill," said Monk.
"And is that worth anything?"
"More than you believe."