Aldrich stood over the unconscious body of, what was his name again? He checked his Eye-phone at the villain profiles that Casimir had sent over. Ah, right, Slasher. An incredibly unoriginal name, especially considering his ski mask getup.
"Make this guy wake up," said Aldrich to Fler'Gan.
The Mind Eater was over one of his alchemical tables, specifically the dissection table where the other villain known as the Lasher was tied down to. The Lasher's brain was thoroughly turned to mush from Fler'Gan's [Brainwash] racial skill.
The Slasher, though, Aldrich had told Fler'Gan to keep relatively sane. Still numb below the head, though, to make sure he did not try anything stupid like running.
Fler'Gan slithered over to Aldrich and waved his purple fingers over the Slasher's face. A faint mauve light cast over the Slasher, and he forcibly awakened.
"Hello again," said Aldrich. "You can go now, Fler'Gan."
Fler'Gan nodded and slithered away.
"You-you again!?" said Slasher. "How did you beat me? Without any powers? Did you use some kind of tech?"
"Is that really the first thing that should be on your mind right now?" said Aldrich. He looked down at his phone and read out multiple 'accolades' about the Slasher on his profile.
"The Slasher. D-rank villain. Eight confirmed kills, mostly prostitutes that nobody would care if they went missing. One confirmed cop kill. Spent ten years in Metro-City class 5 jail before escaping through a prison break. Now a low-ranking villain doing odd jobs," said Aldrich.
"Yeah, that's me, the fuck you want, huh?" said Slasher.
"You are a stain on society. But even you can be useful. Useful to me," said Aldrich. He materialized the Death Lord's green Sign Stone in his palm and held it towards Slasher's face. Slasher stared at the diadem shaped green stone.
"The hell is that?" said Slasher warily.
"Nothing that will hurt you." Once Aldrich made sure the light from the stone cast over Slasher, he asked, "Do you want to join my party?"
In response to Aldrich's words, he saw a screen manifest in his vision.
[Quest party count: 0]
"What the fuck do you mean?" said Slasher, thoroughly confused.
Aldrich called out to Fler'Gan. "Make him say yes."
Fler'Gan waved his hand, and Slasher's eyes glazed over as he fell under Fler'Gan's control. "I will join your party"
Aldrich waited for the quest party counter to go up from 0 to 1. In the game, getting NPCs to join a quest to form a party involved talking with them, getting in their good graces through missions or favors, and then throwing out the question: Do you want to join my party?
Aldrich assumed the same would hold here.
But the party counter did not go up.
"I see. Looks like an answer made under mind control doesn't count," said Aldrich. "That'll be it, Fler'Gan. I won't bother your dissection any longer. I just want you to make sure this guy can still feel everything."
"His sensations are untouched," said Fler'Gan as he deftly wielded a small, sharp blade and started to carefully dig it into the Lasher's head, incising around his protruding head spikes.
"Good, good." Aldrich saw Slasher's eyes regain color and control. "Now, I want you to say yes. Do you want to join my party?"
"Fuck you," said Slasher.
"Wrong answer." Aldrich clapped his hands, and Valera came to his side in her full black and grey armor. The spikes, bones, and skulls on her armor made it very obvious that she was no paladin of justice. "It looks like he need some convincing done."
Valera smiled under her helmet and licked her lips, hungering for pain. She stomped on Slasher's hand, grinding the bones and flesh under her greaves. Bones crunched and cracked as a bloody puddle of torn flesh, muscle, and bone shards formed under her foot.
Slasher screamed, but the moment he did, Aldrich gagged him with a balled-up piece of ragtag cloth.
Slasher's chest heaved up and down as he convulsed in pain. Once he settled down a little, Aldrich took the gag out. "Now, answer my question properly. Do you want to join my party?"
"F-f-fuck!" said Slasher.
"Is that the only thing you know how to say?" Aldrich shook his head and gagged Slasher again. "Valera, you said you knew how to make people hurt. Care to give me a demonstration?"
"Of course, master~" Valera hovered her hand over Slasher's face. Her gauntlet glowed in an outline of red. Aldrich recognized this as the [Blood Hold] skill that involved channeling a root against another unit by controlling their blood. In exchange, the caster was rooted too.
"A root? I'm curious what this does for pain," said Aldrich.
"Oh, on a moving, resisting target, it is merely a hold, yes," said Valera. "But on an unresisting piece of meat like this? I can control the flow of blood I am holding." She hovered her glowing red hand over Slasher's face as his eyes grew wide in abject fear. "In humans, I remember there is a nerve behind their eyes and nose. Hm, it was…right around here."
Valera clenched her fist, and Slasher immediately started to convulse and scream against his gag, spittle foaming at his mouth as his eyes bulged in pain. His skin grew pale as sweat poured from his forehead, intense pain assaulting him.
"Ah, I remember now," said Aldrich. "The trigeminal nerve. It's said that pressure against that nerve is known as one of the most painful sensations a human can ever experience."
"See? Look how he flails," said Valera as she kept up pressure and pain against the nerve.
Slasher started to choke against his gag as his eyes turned bloodshot, tears drooling from them. The smell of ammonia filled the air as he wet his pants.
"That's enough, Valera. We can't kill him yet. You did very well."
"Ehehe. Thank you, master." Valera bowed her head and withdrew.
"Now then." Aldrich ripped away the gag from Slasher's mouth. "Will you join my party?"
"Yes! Yes! I'll join your party!" shouted Slasher, his voice utterly wracked with desperation.
"Good," said Aldrich. He watched as the sign stone glowed brighter. A small green sigil in the shape of formed on Slasher's wrist
[Quest party members: 0 ] 1]
[Party Cap: NONE]
"Isn't this a pleasant surprise…" Aldrich noted that unlike in the game, there was no limit on the amount of party members he could add.
The Death Lord had been very, very generous.
Or perhaps, come to think of it, maybe she had expected Aldrich to think of this.
In the end, it did not really matter.
Aldrich spoke to Fisk who gamed at the other edge of the clearing. Adam and Elaine looked at Fisk gaming. "Fisk! Tell Casimir I want to talk to him about setting up a closed invitation event this Saturday. Try to get him on call, if you can."
"C-Casimir!? He set us up!?" said Slasher in utter shock.
"Oh, right, you're still alive. Unfortunately, you're simply too weak to reanimate. About level 12, perhaps?" said Aldrich. "At my current level, a simple created undead is probably about as strong as you are."
"H-huh? What are you talking about!?"
Aldrich ignored the desperate man and called out to Fler'Gan. "Fler'Gan, do you need him alive?"
"Preferably, O Elder," said Fler'Gan. The Mind-Eater had carefully incised out several head spikes from the Lasher, placing them in a metal vat, and now moved on to creating an incision down into his stomach.
"Do you need him conscious? I'd rather not hear screams and whimpers. They annoy me, especially when they come from trash like him. The type who always enjoys the cries of others but end up crying the hardest when their turn comes around."
"No, I will heavily sedate him until he is fully dissected and analyzed," said Fler'Gan.
"Good." Aldrich nodded.
"Wait! Wait! Dissection!? What are going to do to me-," began Slasher before his eyes became blank and lifeless as Fler'Gan put him under a brainwashed coma.
Aldrich heaved up Slasher's corpse and carried it over to Fler'Gan.
"Over there, O Elder." Fler'Gan pointed with a long, spindly finger to the side of the table. "Prop that specimen against the dissection table. I can only fit one sample at a time."
Aldrich did as the Mind Eater asked and then asked, "So, what are you doing here?"
"You have stated before that the base body of these 'Alterhumans' are indistinguishable from that of a normal human.
Yet, through 'Alter Organs' and 'Alter Cells', they may manifest mutations.
By severing mutations such as these ossified head protrusions, analyzing them, and comparing them to knowledge I have of the base human body, I am better able to understand the method by which these mutations occur.
This is also why I did not favor experimenting with variant subjects. I have no knowledge of a base creature that matches them as well as humans to Alterhumans.
In addition, I will attempt extraction of the Alter Organ to investigate it directly, though I have been made aware by you and Stella that Alter Organs, when excised from the body, suffer from rapid deterioration.
Thus, I will do my utmost best to keep the subjects alive until then."
"And what would your final goals be?" said Aldrich.
"I cannot say for certain. I set my expectations accordingly with the results of my investigations. But optimally, the replication and modification of Alter Organs, allowing for not only the introduction of magic in these specimens, but also the creation alchemical solutions that may freely suppress, change, or enhance powers," said Fler'Gan.
"That does sound incredibly useful. I will leave you to your work, then," said Aldrich.
"Again, O Elder, these are optimal goals. It may be that I cannot reach them."
"I understand, and don't worry about any expectations on my end. Anything you produce, even if it isn't useful per say, I'll appreciate and try to use to the best of my ability," said Aldrich. "Work freely. Let your innovation and knowledge flow without restriction."
"Much appreciation, Elder," said Fler'Gan.
Aldrich left Fler'Gan and went back to Fisk.
"It's time to finalize my plan," said Aldrich as he sat down by the fallen tree trunk that Fisk used to game on.
Fisk immediately tabbed out of an anime scene he was watching where a woman's clothes were torn by an attack.
"I swear, scenes like this are the only ones that pop up when other people come to watch," said Fisk. "Would you believe me if I told you that was like, a normal action show?"
"Yeah, a lot of action," said Aldrich sarcastically. He noted that Adam and Elaine were behind Fisk, watching. Adam was nodding while Elaine shoved Adam lightly. He smiled. They would have interacted just like that had they been alive.
Aldrich closed his eyes, letting the dark calm him, to take him away from how Adam and Elaine had been, and then geared back into business.
"In any case, I need you to get to work," said Aldrich.
"I'm on it, boss," said Fisk as he jacked into the via cable to the side of his head.
"Is Casimir ready for the call?"
"Yeah, he's up and ready and waiting. It's gonna take me a couple minutes to establish a secure line on the Darknet, especially with a smaller rig like this, but I'm on it."
Aldrich waited for a few minutes as Fisk worked his tech magic. Aldrich himself could actually navigate the Darknet with a fairly strong level of tech-savviness, but he fell far short of Elaine and far, far shorter than technos like Fisk who could literally navigate technology with their minds.
After thirty minutes, Fisk turned his laptop screen to Aldrich as it connected to a video chat with Casimir.
"Mr. Vane! A pleasure to see you again so soon!" said Casimir.
"It's four in the morning, Casimir. I thought you'd be asleep by now," said Aldrich.
"Ah, my line of business operates most at night, so I am quite used to this." Casimir seemed to be in his office, seated in a plush, luxurious velvet chair as he leaned forwards on his desk in welcoming poise. "How were the two villains I sent you?
They are not the cream of the crop, certainly, but I hope they did not inconvenience you any."
"They're doing just fine," said Aldrich. "Look, Casimir, sorry to do this on short notice, but I want you to set up a special event on Saturday.
Could you rent out the entire first floor of the Red Circle for an invitation only dance?
Make it as appealing as you can with the finest alcohol, foods, and service you can muster up."
Casimir thought about his for a moment. "Hm, that could be arranged. I only had a normal opening scheduled for that night, but I have all the supplies and logistics set to whip up quite the impressive dance in short order.
I must say, Mr. Vane, that though setting up this dance is possible, establishing an extensive guest list with a mere three days of advance notice may be difficult," said Casimir.
"What kind of crowd do you think you can draw?" said Aldrich. "Provided the invites you sent out were primarily for villains?"
"It will be difficult for the villains of the higher organizations to make time for this. Their schedules are often busy and inflexible.
However, if I have my team focus on marketing and invitations on the lower and middle tier organizations, I believe I could conjure up a solid crowd between forty and seventy," said Casimir. "Some of these lower-class villains would absolutely die for the chance to make themselves known in the Red Circle."
"Then let's go with that," said Aldrich. "I want to emphasize, though, that I truly want to hold this event mostly for the Butcher and Seth Solar."
"Done and done," said Casimir. "The Butcher has already agreed to meet you, and it will not be too difficult to have this meeting occur at this event.
As for Seth Solar, that fine, promising student, well, he has been a devout weekly regular, and he is due to urgently meet me that day for an early access sample of Boost.
Knowing him, I doubt he and his friends will bypass a chance to join an exclusive event, especially when fine alcohol is involved."
"Good, good," said Aldrich. He took a deep breath, feeling excitement growing within his heart.
He was now in the final phase of his quest for vengeance.
"Mr. Vane, I do have to inquire," said Casimir.
"What is it?"
"What is the ultimate goal of this dance? Is it a meet and greet among villains? Or perhaps a means to advertise your own name?"
"Advertise my own name? You could say that." Aldrich smiled ever so slightly. "Market it as a meet and greet or whatever brings out the most numbers. And you don't have to worry about the purpose behind it.
Just set it up, and I can guarantee you, Casimir, that even if you lose your current connections, you will not regret having me backing you."
"Mystery, is it? I do like that. Well, Mr. Vane, it is not my style to pry into my clients' intentions, especially with a high profile one such as yourself. I will arrange this dance shortly and according to your specifications," said Casimir. "And I will be in touch with your assistant about any further details."
"Wonderful. I look forward to seeing your handiwork, Casimir," said Aldrich.
"It is always my pleasure." Casimir bowed in his seat before his video feed blinked off.