Aldrich did not fly long. He moved about a kilometer away before landing in a flooded alleyway between a few crumbling southside buildings. There, Portal Girl stood on one of the roofs of the buildings, waving her arms towards Aldrich as he descended.
"How was Minuteman?" said Portal Girl.
"He'll be fine," said Aldrich as he landed beside her. "You were correct in judging how much your power improved. Exactly one kilometer of range. You've got a good grasp of your powers."
"Considering how much I've trained with them, it would be a shame if I didn't," said Portal Girl. She looked not towards the city center where occasional explosions and bursts of light flashed, but towards the dark Southside, where Minuteman was. "But if it hadn't been for men and women like Minuteman, people that you can really look up to, I don't think I would have ever made it here. I just wish I could have thanked him and Miles for saving me."
"I see." Aldrich looked up at the night sky, remembering the faces of his parents. People he had looked up to.
He remembered when he was a kid, he would have his parents make heroic poses in front of him, and he would smile and laugh and promise to be like them.
That had obviously not worked out. But he still remembered what it felt like back then. To hope and to look up. It was a good feeling, and he did not begrudge anyone from having it just because he could not.
"When all is said and done, when I've made my position in this world, people will know my powers. Or at the least, a general idea of them. At that point, you'll have your chance to thank Minuteman. Until then, though, we need to fight," said Aldrich.
"Fight." Portal Girl nodded more to herself, taking in a breath to psych herself up. She looked at her hand. It trembled. She balled it up.
"Are you nervous?" said Aldrich.
"Yes. I always am, especially before a fight," said Portal Girl. "But during the fight, it all goes away. I get swept up by what I need to do, the lives I need to save, the people I need to watch out for, and then it's all strangely calm."
"You have a natural talent for fighting, then. For war," said Aldrich. "There are plenty who never get past that initial nervousness. It simply isn't in their nature. But it is for you. Now, let's see how far we can cultivate this talent of yours."
Aldrich grasped Portal Girl around the waist and then flapped his wings, soaring into the air while carrying her.
"I-um, so, where are we going again?" stammered Portal Girl as she looked away from Aldrich, down to the cityscape below to hide a faint blush.
"Mega-complex nearby. Most of my forces are there. Once we get there and regroup, we will mobilize out, and there, you will play a key role in moving my legion," said Aldrich.
"A key role? You trust me with that much?" said Portal Girl. "I-I don't have an issue with it, it's just, since I literally just graduated from being a trainee, I've never really been in a big operation-,"
"There is no better teacher than pressure. And I can sense that you are the type that performs best under it," said Aldrich. He flew through the skies until he spotted the looming structure of the mega complex.
"Christ…" said Portal Girl as she looked down at the courtyard. There, the massive bone stakes from Aldrich's first entry remained, several fishmen impaled upon them.
"Does that sight bother you?" said Aldrich.
"I think it would have, before I changed. But now, no, I don't feel much if anything at all," said Portal Girl.
"Good. Because where we are headed, you will see far more of that." Aldrich noted that it seemed that all humans that became undead became far more resistant to the sight of gore and death.
It was very probable that they, like Aldrich and Valera, also began to see human lives as less significant, but he wondered whether that would change for people that valued lives strongly before turning into undead.
It was an experiment he would conduct at a later time.
Aldrich swooped into the balcony of the mega complex's top floor. There, his wing retracted into his armor as he landed. Valera and Casimir were at the balcony, and they moved aside to make way for his landing.
Aldrich put Portal Girl down.
"Ah, so this is the new addition you spoke of, hm?" said Valera as she eyed Portal Girl up and down, her slit pupiled red and black eyes narrowed in pure judgement. "She seems too fragile. Liable to snap in half under a strong breeze."
"We aren't using her for her physical strength. It's her utility with her portal powers," said Aldrich.
"A Flux Alter? Now that is a rarity indeed!" said Casimir. "It took me several long years to find Cubehead, a potent Flux Alter in his own right, and enter him into my service. No doubt, your talents will be very much appreciated here."
Casimir reached a gloved hand out. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance. My name is Casimir."
"Eileen," nodded Portal Girl as she shook Casimir's hand. She reached out her hand to Valera with a smile.
Valera crossed her arms and stared at Portal Girl with an intimidating expression that made her nearly flinch. "Portal creation is nothing too special. There are plenty of halfwit mages that can do it."
"…Mages?" A look of confusion struck on Portal Girl's face.
"A topic for later," said Aldrich. "For now, we need to get moving. The forcefield is already down: every second counts from now on. Casimir, I'm leaving behind Fler'Gan and your reanimated Red Circle staff. I'll be taking the rest of the forces stationed here, if you do not mind."
"With this rather macabre sight you've laid down there-," Casimir pointed to the staked up fishmen. "None of our fishy friends have dared to step foot in here. So, do not worry much for my safety. Carry on doing the big flashy explosive things you always do."
"You said everyone, right. So that means I'm going, yeah?" called out Fisk from inside the room.
"Do you want to face an army of variants that want to eat you limb from limb?" sad Aldrich.
"I'm fine right here, actually. Have a bit of back pain, I just remembered," said Fisk immediately.
"You won't be sitting here idle either. Fisk, you and Spybird have Net connectivity now. Spybird still has several of his drones here. Get them ready and set to broadcast. You two will be my media coverage," said Aldrich.
"Got it, boss!" said Fisk.
"See you soon on telescreen." Spybird raised his canteen of liquor up to Aldrich in a cheers before getting to work in front of a laptop screen.
"Our troops are ready to mobilize. At your command, they will move to the edges of the designated battlefield where they will lie in hiding. There, they will wait until your signal. At which point-," Valera turned to Portal Girl and leered at her. "You will use your powers to move our troops into the battlefield in one grand entrance.
I will say this now as the one closest to the master: I do not tolerate any amount of failure."
"I-I promise I won't fail! I'll try my best!" said Portal Girl with pep.
"Hmph. I do admire that will of yours. See to it that it is not empty bluster. Go downstairs and join the troops," said Valera.
"Roger that," Portal Girl nodded to Valera as she ran out the room.
"I could have flown her down," said Aldrich. "I doubt the elevator works anymore."
"Ah, but master, you will be busy flying me!" said Valera.
"Hm? I thought you were going to take Crow down to the battlefield," said Aldrich. "That way, I can make a solo entrance in front of the central district's walls."
"You can just take me halfway there," said Valera shyly. "I…I must save my stamina, you see! Plus, why does that little girl get to fly with you and not me?"
"I understand," said Aldrich. He boldly held Valera tight around her waist, and she looked up at him with a blush that stood out strongly against her pale skin. He looked down at her. "Feel comfortable?"
"Y-yes," Valera squeaked out.
"Then we're going now." Aldrich flew into the air with Valera held to his side, his draconic wings stretched out as they carried him to the center of the city.
Where the final battle would be.
"Ah, to fly with my master, there is nothing better in the world!" said Valera as she happily swayed her head from side to side while holding onto Aldrich with both her arms.
"Technically, it is I who am flying you," stated Volantis in a completely matter of fact voice.
"Quiet, scrap!" pouted Valera. "You are ruining the moment!"
Aldrich smiled beneath his helm at the argument between the two… It was a brief but appreciated moment of levity before the raging storm of the fight soon to come.