Aldrich scanned the city from above. It was odd to see it so dark. From a helicopter or plane, Haven or any city, really, was always lit up, and in the dark, they looked like rivers of sparkling gold speckled with bright and bold dots of neon.
But Haven was dark. As dark as it could get. The only real visible lights came from Haven's Central District where the large forcefield encompassing its walls shone a faint blue, shimmering and flickering as it took occasional hits.
Where the light was, the fighting was. The bioluminescent forms of various aquatic variants formed an odd and eerie approaching ring around the forcefield. The variant army was slowly closing in. The rate of fire from the various wall turrets and artillery were slowing down, either running out of power for energy-based weapons or running out of ammunition.
Haven's Eastside, its shipping district, was completely dark and flooded over, likely hit by the initial wave of a small tsunami strong enough to smash through its flood barriers and engulf any land defenses before they could get activated.
That let the variant army intrude into the city at frightening speeds.
Westside, Haven's tech district, was thoroughly abandoned, its usual medley of colorful lights faded into darkness.
Northside, the manufacturing district, was also dark and abandoned. The main manufacturing zones themselves, however, were fine as they were located outside of Haven's walls. It was only the residential districts where workers and engineers working for the factories lived that faced the most damage as they were in Haven city proper.
Southside, too, was thoroughly dark.
This meant that all of Haven was either evacuated, dead, or holed up in the city center, behind the forcefield.
Aside from a few splinter groups of variants, most of the variants were also located around the city center in the form of a siege.
"What shall we do?" said Volantis.
"Clearing this storm should buy the defenders around the forcefield some time," said Aldrich.
"Yes, but in my battle experience borne from countless warzones, I can perceive that it is only a matter of time before those walls fall," said Volantis. "I am unfamiliar with the nature of weaponry or magic in this era, but those cannons and ballista stationed within the barrier fire with less and less vigor over time."
"Then we wait until then," said Aldrich. "I want the defenders to weaken that force as much as possible, at the very least until that forcefield gives out. And, if I arrive when the forcefields break down, at the height of hopelessness, I can make a much bigger impact.
"Ah, you intend to perform a timely entrance to raise morale," said Volantis.
"That, and I'll need as much good PR as I can get. If I can become this city's savior in the eyes of its people and heroes, then I have even more leverage against the AA and Panopticon that practically abandoned them all," said Aldrich. "So, until the forcefield falls, we wait."
"And the lives that may fall before then?" said Volantis. His voice had no hint of judgement to it.
After all, he was still a demon, even if he had been a human knight in his past life. His valuation of lives was low, subject to the same cold distance Aldrich felt against them as an undead.
Volantis only asked this question to gauge a sense of Aldrich's values, to better understand his wearer so that he could supplement Aldrich's decision making more efficiently.
"They will be men and women worthy of respect that died for their city. Heroes that sacrificed their lives for a greater good. I will honor them in my memory as best as I can. But they will still be sacrifices," said Aldrich flatly.
"Understood," said Volantis.
Southside Haven, near Panopticon Bunker C88
Over two hundred men, women, and children were packed together in the underground confines of Southside's single functioning Panopticon Bunker. As a C-class bunker, it was an earlier version that had limited whose construction had been phased out over fifty years ago, but it was all that Southside could get.
On dusty white tiled floor, this mass of people laid down what bare belongings they could get. Blankets, some food and water they could scrap together at the last minute, spare changes of clothes - the barest of necessities.
Despite how much society had progressed since the Altering with its hovering cars and smart phones and drones and towering buildings, when it came down to it, when desperation hit its peak, what people reached for to keep themselves alive were the same basic things they had reached out to for thousands of years.
And that was another thing that humanity knew deeply well throughout its history: desperation.
Minuteman could practically smell the desperation in the air as he saw the civilians wide eyed, clutching at what little they had, straining out drenched clothes, shivering and huddling together, and he tried to stay strong for them.
"Everyone!" shouted Minuteman, his commanding voice resonating through the underground bunker's sterile white floor and walls. "You're all doing great! Remember to pace your breathing and keep quiet! As a C class bunker, we only have limited oxygen! If we wait just a little while longer, we'll get help!"
"Help!? When!?" said a mother as her child clutched at her hand. She shouted with a voice made hoarse in terror. "It's been hours! Where's the help!?"
"We've been abandoned, I'm telling you!" shouted a man.
"All the rich fucks took off on their private hovercrafts and copters and jets! All we are is fish food! A distraction!"
"You heroes!" A teenager with a broken, twisted arm shambled forwards, pointing with his one good arm at the row of heroes behind Minuteman that had led this evacuation.
The young man's face was twisted in rage, his faced caked in dirt and tears streaming down his face. "You're all here to just watch us die, aren't you!? You led us down here, down into our own graves! All because we're Duds, isn't that right!? I bet you're enjoying watching us suffer!"
"Shut the fuck up!" roared Rockshaper, one of Haven's C-class heroes that had followed Minuteman tonight, mostly to tie themselves to a stronger hero to ensure their survival. "You're lucky we even wasted our damn time to make sure you useless fucks are safe!"
"See!? At the end of the day, of you heroes care!" shouted the teenager, and tension built in the room, nearing a boiling point that would descend into mass chaos.
Rockshaper's jaw set under his mask and he stepped forwards, raising a fist into the air. A jagged, spiked rock formed in front of his fist, hovering threateningly.
Minuteman gripped Rockshaper's shoulder tightly, and Rockshaper winced in pain. The jagged rock fell to the floor, breaking apart as Rockshaper lost his concentration.
"The fuck was that for?" said Rockshaper as he whirled around to face Minuteman.
Minuteman got aggressively close to Rockshaper, towering over the smaller hero. "If you have nothing productive to say, then don't talk. Do you understand me?"
Minuteman was a solid B rank hero who in terms of both rank and strength was Rockshaper's senior by far. There was nothing Rockshaper could do here, especially considering he was a Blaster category Alter versus Minuteman who was a classic example of an Augmenter specialized in close combat.
Rockshaper grimaced and nodded.