When Seth Solar passed through the foggy green portal into the tenth floor, he snarled almost animalistically as he stared with gleaming gold eyes at yet another host of enemies.
There were no skeletons here.
Instead, a legion of large, bulky knights wearing spiked black armor with faces of dried, pale flesh and sunken in, gleaming green eyes stood at guard with halberds and shields.
Behind this legion of twenty knights, one knight in crimson red armor and pale white, unblemished skin stood tall and proud.
"Strike them down!" said the crimson knight.
"You can talk!?" Seth smiled. "Good. I'll beat some answers out of you!"
Seth flew forwards at such velocity that he pierced through the line of shield bearing knights with utter ease, generating a shockwave of force that blew them backwards. He slammed into the crimson knight and drove the knight into the ground, dragging the knight several dozen meters.
Metal screamed and sparks flew as the knight's back armor scraped against the rocky floor.
"Tell me how to get out of here!" roared Seth as he held down the crimson knight with one hand while cocking back the other in a ready fist to smash through the knight's face.
The knight's eyes gleamed red as he gave out a command that echoed through the dull grey hallway.
"Do not care for me, my knights! Defeat the rest of the intruders!"
"Wrong. Answer." Seth slammed his hand around the crimson knight's helmet and applied crushing force. His insane strength let his fingers dent into the helmet, and he ripped it off, revealing a pale face with red eyes and large, bloodsucking fangs.
"Some kind of fucking vampire…?" said Seth in wonder. So far, everything he and the villains had seen so far in this place had been out of some kind of horror movie. Zombies and skeletons and now vampires?
What was this?
The only explanation he could think of was that this was an Alter power that could manipulate and warp reality to create what the user's mind wanted.
The vampire knight hissed as he swiped with his gauntlets, throwing out a scything blade of crimson energy from his fingertips.
Seth took the hit straight in his chest and flew back a few meters from the force of impact. A clean cut stretched across the chest of his green suit, but the invincible skin underneath was utterly unharmed. His eyes glowed gold as he shot down a beam of solar energy, aiming it at the vampire's legs.
The vampire screamed in agony as the sunlight turned his legs into dust.
"Weak to sunlight just like the movies. Doesn't that make this easy?" said Seth. He floated down and planted a triumphant foot on the vampire's chest. "Now, tell me how to get out of here, or else the rest of you crumbles to dust."
"Y-you intruders will find no answer from me. For there is no escape," said the knight, smiling. "There is no glorious victory for you. All of you…all of you are destined to die. To be sacrifices in the Ritual of Eternity."
"No escape? Ritual? Stop bullsh*tting me and give me real answers." Seth applied pressure on the vampire knight's breastplate with his foot, caving it in slowly and painfully.
The vampire knight only smiled as his ribs and spine shattered.
Seth stomped his foot straight through the vampire knight's chest. He knew that the vampire had no intention of telling him anything. It was in the knight's eyes. Resolute, almost fanatic determination. For good measure, he lasered the vampire into dust before flying back.
When Seth turned around to see the rest of the A class still fighting the knights, he muttered to himself. "Weaklings…"
He flew back, showering solar beams on knights, disintegrating them near instantly. With precision shots, he eliminated the knights with quick efficiency.
"Seth! Here!" called out Simon.
Seth floated down by Simon where their gang gathered around Evan Harker's limp body. Several gaping halberd wounds in his stomach showed the cause of obvious death.
"Alexis! Where was your barrier!?" snarled Seth.
Alexis turned pale as she stepped back. "I-I tried, but their weapons had this dark energy around them, it made them phase right through!"
"It's true," said Simon. "Just sh*t luck that Evan happened to be the slowest out of us to dodge it."
"He was dead weight anyway," said Zayn. "Without his drones, he would have dragged us down at some point."
Seth looked down at Evan's lifeless, bleeding body, and he just shrugged. "Zayn's right. He was going to be useless at some point here." He turned to Valus and the Butcher angrily. "You two, you're Trident, right? If you aren't working for Bruce Vane, then tell me, shouldn't the Trident be storming the Red Circle by now?
Tearing that fucking place down brick by brick?"
"Yes," said Valus. "The Trident does not take attacks on them lightly, and they would have noticed my disappearance. An attack on a Connector, the diplomat and news bearer of the criminal underworld, is a serious offense met only with force.
We do not have the strongest presence in Haven, but over two hours have passed. By now, Trident forces from surrounding cities and bases should have reduced the entire place to rubble."
"Yeah?" Seth Solar's eyes glowed as he stared menacingly at Valus. "Then why haven't they caught the guy generating this dimension, huh? Why are we still here?"
"I told you, I do not know!" said Valus, panicked. His Dematerialization Field could most forms of solid matter into dust, but it could not deal with pure energy attacks like Seth's heat beams.
"I say we kill him and move on," said Zayn.
"Yeah," said Seth Solar.
"If you kill me, the Butcher will go on a rampage, and by now, he has feasted on so many corpses that even you will not put him down lightly!" said Valus as he hid behind the Butcher's enormous, stitch-covered bulk.
"Don't hurt him!" said the Butcher.
"And think about this, why would we risk our lives for this!? We were set up, I'm telling you, set up just like all of you!" continued Valus.
"Won't do good to waste energy fighting among ourselves," agreed Simon. "And they can still be useful."
"Then you two, stay in front. Any threat we face from now on, you two take first," said Seth. His eyes flashed with threat. "Otherwise, both of you die. You think I can't kill this fat fuck on my own? I have more than enough solar energy left in me to turn him into a pile of ash. Think he can regenerate from that?"
"We will do as you say!" said Valus. He tapped the Butcher, and together, they moved at the head of the group.
The eleventh floor comprised of a narrow labyrinth of traps and puzzles. If a step was made on the wrong trigger plate, flaming arrows would fire or perhaps a boulder would roll down to crush individuals or a trapdoor would open to reveal hideous tentacled monstrosities. If a puzzle at certain indestructible doors was not solved properly, then more traps like toxic gas or spikes or animated golems of flesh and bone would emerge.
"Fuck!" Seth Solar smashed his fist into another indestructible puzzle door after he failed yet again to solve it. It involved answering a riddle. "Fuck that Evan! He knew all this puzzle and riddle bullsh*t! He was our brains! Our analyst! He would have solved all this so easily! And he had to die like that on us!"
"He died because you left us to fend for ourselves back there," said a Blackwater A-class student. Some kid called Jonas. Rank 14. Could fire rays of adjustable gravity from his hands.
Seth Solar whirled around and lasered Jonas in the face, melting his head away into molten, gooey flesh. His decapitated body knelt on the ground, limp and lifeless.
"Anyone else want to question me?" said Seth as he looked out at the terrified A class. Only Zayn remained unfazed, staying at Seth's side with confidence.
"That's what I thought," said Seth.
Aldrich trailed Seth's group from two floors behind, constantly keeping watch. He watched as their numbers thinned floor by floor. On the twelfth floor, they had to face a zombie giant who smashed Alexis's barrier with a skill called [Bastion Break] meant for breaking through shields, flattening several Blackwater A class students who thought they were safe under it.
This also killed Simon Wells, one of Seth Solar's gang. Now there were just two left.
Seth Solar and Zayn Soldata. The two strongest of them all.
The Butcher also survived due to the nature of his ability granting him exceptional resilience and regenerative power. Valus also managed to hold onto his life with his disintegrating barrier and the Butcher's protection.
But slowly, floor by floor, their numbers were thinning out.
One by one, Aldrich saw the lives of those who had wronged him snuff out under undead might, and he felt nothing but satisfaction. The only way he could have made this better was if he had been there to personally kill them, but in life, there was always compromise.
So long as he got to kill the Butcher and Seth Solar personally, he had no qualms about how things had gone, especially according to his original expectations.
He had expected his 'party' to reach the fifteenth floor, but not without significant losses.
It seemed that the enemies of the floors from 1-10 were all around the same level threshold of 1-10 with some strong individual units nearing level 20, but after floor 10, almost all the enemies leveled up to the 20-30 range.
At the level 20-30 range, death knights could reliably beat D class villains and fight evenly with C class villains.
The majority of Blackwater's A class had the potential to be high B or A rank villains based on Alter Cell count alone, but the key word was potential.
They were still young and untrained, not to mention the fact that their Alter powers had not matured with age. Alter Cell count only showed a rough estimate of an Alter's max potential. Actually training the body and powers to reach that potential took years and years of biological growth and personal effort.
Overall, most of the Blackwater A class were at the mid to high C rank level in terms of combat prowess. As a result, Aldrich fully expected most of the A class to lose their lives from floors 10 onwards unless Seth Solar, who was most definitely an A ranked threat, helped them out generously.
Granted, Seth had surprised Aldrich by being considerably more tactical than expected, rallying the A class and having them protect each other with tactical defenses and offenses, but Seth's selfish nature showed itself as he increasingly began to leave behind his fellow A class students when they became more and more of a drag.
By the time they reached the fifteenth floor, the group had been culled down only to a few remaining powerhouses that stood head and shoulder above the rest.
Valus, the Butcher, Seth Solar, and Zayn Soldata.
Zayn was interesting. It seemed he had been hiding his power in Blackwater, sandbagging at rank 8 when in reality he could sacrifice more and more of his human form to become increasingly monstrous and stronger until it was clear that he could keep up with even Seth Solar.
And now, as Aldrich saw them pass through the portal to the fifteenth floor, the floor requirement for Aldrich to complete his Ritual of Eternity, he could see everything he wanted, his vengeance, his power, so close to him, close enough to seize and make his own if he waited just a little bit longer.
Yet when the group of villains entered the fifteenth floor, Aldrich felt distinct surprise -