'More than I think?' Aldrich rolled Monk's cryptic words over in his head. At face value, they offered nothing. Promise never backed gratitude. It was the character of the man behind the gratitude that backed it.
The only issue here was that he knew very little about Monk's character. It was the level of secrecy that the Seven Swords operated on. They, unlike most mercenary groups, basically only did jobs for the Trident, limiting the amount of information available on their exploits. On top of that, they personally took very few jobs, moving only when they needed to.
And when they moved, they made sure there were no survivors. Their operations were tight. Clean. Efficient. Deadly.
At least it looked like they operated on some form of honor with how Shuten Doji was absolutely confident that the rest of the swords would never give up on him.
"You!" A deep voice echoed across the barren, sun-scorched plains.
Aldrich turned his head to see Clint hovering in the air, holding a giant cube construct of red energy atop his palm. Inside, Volantis projected the outlines of several humanoids. The lab team. Clint had successfully retrieved them by adapting some form of energy constructability.
Clint's eyes, normally dull red, now flashed with barely concealed anger. Anger directed not at the second or third swords, but straight at Monk, the first sword.
Right. There was a history between Clint and the swords. Deep, painful history. History that had gotten Clint's wife and infant son killed. History that had gotten two out of seven swords killed. A wife and a child for two swords a�" an equivalent exchange forged in blood.
The details, Aldrich had never probed. Nor would he have wanted to. It was Clint's personal history and he respected that.
"You're showin' yer face!? When ya know I'm here!? Forgot about me already!?" Clint roared. Rage flared against his usual calm, his usual levity. It was a stark contrast that Stella, Ace, and the rest of Aldrich's group were stunned to silence.
Clint's arm moved back a little, readying to toss the cube containing the lab members straight down. He was still high in the air, high enough that the drop would not be pleasant, to say the very least. They would not die considering they were undead, but there would be more than a few broken bones and crushed organs.
"No! Emi!" Shuten Doji shouted, his arms straining against his restraints. It was a testament to the fifth sword's natural strength that the null shackles actually creaked and cracked.
Diamondback immediately held a crystal-bladed arm to Shuten Doji's neck, stopping him. Alexis and Tox stood at attention. Alan aimed an arm rocket launcher at the sword. Falco blinked for a few seconds before stumbling into action to aim his laser gun.
Clint glanced at Shuten Doji, his eyes reflecting white for a moment as he read the fifth sword's mind. Memories of the man's daughter. He growled before hovering downwards to gently lay the cube onto the ground.
"You have learned respect, I see," Monk said, watching Clint's display of kindness.
That lit a fuse in Clint. That barely held-back anger a�" anger locked down by years of meditation and reflection a�" broke out like an unchained beast. He immediately adapted thrusters on his draconic wings that sputtered trails of blue flame exhaust, shooting him right at Monk like a human missile.
And a human missile he was. Clint had his fist outstretched, and it was encased in a bright red and orange glow charged with explosive energy.
Clint moved so fast that Aldrich had trouble reacting. Aldrich instinctively flew backward using his cloak. Ace did too, but Stella was a little slower in reacting, so Aldrich grabbed her by the shoulder to pull her back, out of harm's way.
By the time Aldrich was a few meters away from Monk, he noticed something. Yuki and Otakemaru did not react at all. Not because they could not a�" no, he could see in their eyes that they knew what was coming.
Whether they could fend against this attack or not was up in the air, but the fact that they did not move meant they were absolutely confident in their positions.
Aldrich saw what happened next. It was a slight, almost imperceptible movement on Monk's part. The old man simply straightened a palm in a half prayer. A small, almost invisible ripple distorted space around the Monk's cybernetic, metal hand.
In the next moment, Clint was split in half, vertically down from his collarbone to his navel. He seemed to expect this, though. His expression did not change, staying serious, staying angry even as one half of his body a�" the one with his head still on it a�" reached out to grab his other half and attached it back to himself.
The blood-tinged red line that separated Clint faded away as his body became whole again.
"Holy shit," Stella whispered under her breath. "Clint got gut like a fish. Just like that."
"...Should I try to call it back? That power?" said Ace as he clenched his fists, no doubt thinking back to the power of the blue ring. His fists began to shake in exertion. Being undead gave him infinite stamina, but that only extended to his physical abilities.
Just like how being undead did not stop Aldrich from running out of mana, it also did not stop undead Alters from running out of energy to fuel their abilities.
"Hold." Aldrich raised a hand when he saw that Clint had stopped, evidently taking getting split in half as a good enough deterrent to stay put for a bit. Monk and the other two swords did not make a move either, indicating that they did not want to engage in any wanton aggression.
"You seek vengeance, Clint?" said Monk.
"The hell do ya think?" Clint replied with venom. Tough, skin-colored plates began to cover him like armor, but the way he had been cut down - instantly, with no resistance - made it very clear that hard skin alone would not do the trick against Monk's power.
"I understand." Monk's accepting answer made Clint raise his head for a questioning moment. "You slew two of my swords, my children. I took two close to you. But the score, as you here say it, is not settled.
Two for two. No winner.
Now, after many years, you seek to win. To hold a point over me in this game. To that end, you have allied yourself with the shinigami. You seek to attack Blackwater where you will force us to its defense."
Clint glared at Monk. "So what?"
Monk nodded slowly. "Tell me, Clint, would you be satisfied killing me? Would that let you 'win?'"
Clint also nodded slowly. "Yeah, yeah I would be."
"As I thought." Monk put his hands together in a praying motion. For a tense moment, Aldrich prepared to defend himself, suspecting an attack. But it was just a motion, a solemn gesture. "Then hear me, Thanatos, Clint. Release my child, and I will ensure that none of my others will be at Blackwater."
"And you?" said Aldrich.
Monk held his prayer-touched hands out to Clint. He bowed his head. "Honor dictates that the swords defend those who draw us. Honor dictates that I and that man see this game of swapped lives end between us.
So, I alone shall be there."