Aldrich gathered all of the people coming with him on this mission to clear the Variant Nest. Valera, Dynamite Girl, Fler'Gan, and the Alloywing Eagle. He would have liked to take the Geist too, but he planned on driving down to the nest location and the Geist was simply too big to fit inside a car.
After comforting the Geist that no, it did not have to lose weight, Aldrich set off at three in the morning. He drove with Valera in the front seat and Fler'Gan, Dynamite Girl, and the eagle in the back.
"What…is this?" Fler'Gan marveled at the insides of the car as Aldrich drove. Fler'Gan looked around like a child in a candy shop. His three eyes all looked in different directions as he drew his face close up to the car seats, the windows, basically everything.
He in particular was mystified by a screen behind the middle console that showed GPS imagery of where the car was as well as some menus that indicated environmental information like the temperature and weather. The car could also connect to the Net, but Aldrich had Fisk disable that option on the car to prevent people from tracing it.
"Don't touch anything," said Aldrich as he looked through the rearview mirror, keeping an eye on Fler'Gan.
"I will contain myself, Elder," said Fler'Gan. "Yet I find it so very difficult to believe that this is all the creation of mere technology. Of metals and ores and materials created and woven together in such a way that these lights, these movements on this screen, all of this simply…happens."
"It is indeed a wonder," said Valera. "I doubted that man so weak and frail and mortal could ever stand without magic but look how far they have come. They do not need beasts of burden anymore; they simply ride these beasts of metal.
And look at how clearly they can capture images with their trinkets-,"
Valera proudly showed the picture of her and Aldrich standing side by side, covered in blood from killing the Odinsons, to Fler'Gan and Dynamite Girl.
"Uh huh, real nice, yeah," said Dynamite Girl, visibly uncomfortable.
"My, the quality of this image is superb." Fler'Gan inspected the picture intently. "I can discern that it is colors etched upon paper stiffened with some form of varnish. Yet, it is on par with the quality of an image imbued into a magic crystal or memory globe."
"And now I can gaze upon these captured memories with my master at any time I desire!" Valera took the picture back, looked at it, then hugged it to her breast like a baby.
Fler'Gan continued to look around. "What I would do to break apart all of this and study it from its base components up-,"
"Watch it, squidface, don't want you burnin' down this car," said Dynamite Girl.
"Is all that you can think about simple destruction?" scoffed Fler'Gan.
"Alright, let's stop this argument there," said Aldrich. "But you do bring up an interesting point. You were an academic and scholar, were you not?"
"I do not mean to be prideful, but I was a decreed member of the Arcanist Order," said Fler'Gan. "Before they cast me out for pursuing the dark arts."
Aldrich nodded in recognition.
The Arcanist Order was a society of scholars that stood as an independent research organization in Elden World. The scholars there came from every race and faction and did not discriminate across race or borders. All were united in not only the pursuit of knowledge, but the maintenance of history.
To be decreed in the Order meant one exhibited a superb level of dedication and intelligence. At the very minimum, Fler'Gan was well practiced across multiple magical fields. Some of these included alchemiy and even dwarven magitek, meaning very likely, Fler'Gan could pick up the scientific concepts of machine working and chemistry extremely well.
"You know, that doesn't sound like a bad idea," said Aldrich. "When we get back, talk to Fisk about this world's technology. He can introduce you to it."
"I am utterly honored to receive an opportunity to absorb such knowledge." Fler'Gan bowed his head.
Aldrich gave Fler'Gan another nod as the car drove out of the last stretch of the Variant forest. Outside of the forest was just a vast stretch of dry, cracked earth. Where before there was overwhelming green and life, there was now bleak oranges and reds without a single tree in sight.
This was a consequence of the Monstering. The creation of Titan-class Variants immediately following the Monstering caused enormous meteorological and environmental changes throughout the entire world, making the entire planet unstable, as if mother nature herself had decided to wage war against mankind.
Earthquakes and typhoons rocked every single continent. Water levels rose dramatically in some areas and dried down to nothing in others.
Large swathes of land became completely dead, unable to support any sort of life.
These stretches, Dead Zones as they were called, caused mass global instability through refugee crises, food shortages, water shortages, every damn type of shortage.
What Aldrich drove through now was a Dead Zone. Just a vast stretch of dried out and dead earth.
However, once the Titans were driven back to dormancy or destroyed, the planet stabilized. Granted, it stabilized in a damaged, utterly changed state nearly completely different than how it had been at the start of the twenty first century, but stability was stability.
It took an hour and a half of driving through the Dead Zone to make it to the Shatter Zone where Fisk had marked out the two Variant nests.
"That's a stunning view, gotta' say," said Dynamite Girl as she looked out the front window. There were canyons standing hundreds of meters tall carved out into the Dead Zone. This was the power of Vanguard, a man whose fists could change how maps were drawn.
Of course, it helped this whole landscaping project that Vanguard's opponent Megalodon had been a hundred-meter-tall behemoth who could create giant craters just by falling.
"This landscape was not carved by time, by winds and waters breaking apart rock little by little over thousands of years," said Fler'Gan. "It was carved by battle."
"This is what the strongest Alters can do," said Aldrich.
"Their power nears that of the gods themselves, then," said Valera, concerned. "Entire mountain ranges formed and felled. Destruction of this scale is possible only with a spell of the ninth or tenth circle."
"Yes, and we are far, far from that level right now," said Aldrich. "Take this as a reminder of what we need to work towards."
Aldrich got out of the car and looked down at his Eye-Phone. Specifically, Fisk's phone. Fisk had given it to Aldrich with all information about the two Variant Nests including not only their locations and appearances but also the type of Variants seen in them.
Aldrich stepped to the very edge of the canyon and looked down at a steep, hundred plus meter drop. He spied a large growth of twisted black branches and rock jutting out like a tumor about halfway down below.
That was the first of two Variant Nests. The other one should have been very close by, but Aldrich could not see it, even with a thorough AC scan and zoom ins using Fisk's visor. The last time information about these two nests had been updated on the AA database had been six months ago.
More than enough time for a nest to have faded away for any number of reasons. Sometimes Variants simply left their nests, sometimes an earthquake bust it apart, sometimes a storm washed it away, sometimes a lightning strike hit it, whatever.
At the very least, Aldrich did not feel particularly worried that one of two nests were gone. In fact, it just made it easier to decide which nest to take on.
Aldrich waved his hand and casted [Create Greater Undead]. He chose to create another Grave Ward.
[HP: 99/99 ] 89/99]
[Mana: 183/183 ] 173/183]
[Units Controlled: 18/22 ] 19/22]
When the three eye balled undead formed, Aldrich sent it down to scout the nest to make sure there were no surprises.
Aldrich snapped his fingers and the Alloywing Eagle by his side. He hopped on.
"Valera, get on. Neither of us can fly," said Aldrich. He pointed at Dynamite Girl and Fler'Gan. "And you two, fly down. Don't want to weigh the eagle down too much."
"Got it, captain," said Dynamite Girl.
"Understood, Elder." Fler'Gan began to float in the air for he knew the [Flight] spell.
Aldrich watched Fler'Gan fly and wondered whether it was possible for the Mind-Eater scholar to devise a way to teach Aldrich the useful spell. After all, it was said that in the game lore that scholars of the Arcanist Order recorded and created spell tomes.
Valera plopped on behind Aldrich on the eagle's back.
The eagle squawked in protest at the sudden weight increase, especially considering Valera's heavy full plate armor.
"Dear eagle, are you implying what I think you are implying?" Valera cocked her head and stared down at the eagle with a blood chilling smile.
The eagle shivered and put its head down. Seeing that, Valera nodded before nervously looking at Aldrich.
"What is it?" said Aldrich.
"M-m-may I hold you, master? To stay safe on this eagle, of course!" said Valera.
"It's a ten second flight down-," began Aldrich before he saw Valera looking at him with big pleading puppy eyes. "Alright."
Valera squealed in delight as she wrapped her arms around Aldrich, crushing his breath out of him.