Aldrich watched the battle progress with all the poise of a seasoned general, standing calmly with a hand touching his chin in contemplation. He did not divert much brain power to the left side of the battle because Valera managed it, and he trusted in her enough to keep her bloodlust down to command his troops.
Thus, he kept his attention mostly towards the right side that he was largely responsible for with his fifty fishmen.
So long as [Burning Agony] was active, the flaming undead fishmen were utterly untouchable, but when [Burning Agony] ended, leaving the fishmen into lower leveled skeletons, they became relatively defenseless.
Single strikes from tougher fishmen such as the green scaled brutes or the crabmen shattered his skeletal fishmen with ease.
To maximize their usefulness as skeletons, Aldrich clenched his fist and cast [Rite of Bone Binding]. The white bones of the skeletal fishmen layered over in a steely, metallic grey luster, massively increasing their durability while also moderately boosting their strength.
This let his skeletal fishmen fight for even longer, and they used that extra fighting time to the very last moment, fighting even as hordes of their brethren slowly broke apart their bodies with swipes and blows.
When finally, Aldrich's fifty skeletal fishmen fell, engulfed in the sheer numbers of their opposition, he simply pointed a finger up and chanted, "Serve."
His voice echoed out across the battlefield. Fifty more dead fishmen and crabmen reanimated, green glows shining in their eyes as they shuddered and rose up.
"[Burning Agony]" said Aldrich, and once more, the aquatic variants burst out into flames generated by the heat of their very own burning blood and organs as their bodies overworked to their maximum extents.
Like this, Aldrich was plenty capable of raising his host of fishmen over and over and over again, and the losses always favored him. His first fifty fishmen had killed a thousand of their brethren, most of that during their [Burning Agony] state where they could kill enemies just by ramming into them and engulfing them in organic fire in wide areas of effect.
That was until the Sea Anemones at the back of the variant army started up again. Aldrich could have taken them out from the start, but he wanted them to fire one more time so that he could stop it in front of the humans, cementing even further his power and reputation as a defender.
All of this would become useful for later. When Aldrich would negotiate with governments, the Alterhuman Agency, and the Panopticon for his position in this world.
"Hm?" Aldrich felt Seismic patting his shoulder. "What is it?"
Seismic was mindless, but he did have some basic instinctive control over himself and what Aldrich presumed to be general A.I. movement patterns from Elden World. That is, if someone aggroed Seismic, he would attack unless Aldrich commanded him to hold position.
In addition, if Seismic found any enemies or things of interest, he would notify Aldrich. In this case, Seismic held out his earpiece towards Aldrich. It buzzed in his hand, probably form people shouting through the other side.
"I see. You want me to hear what's going on." Aldrich took the earpiece and held it to the ear of his helmet. "Volantis, put this in my ear, will you?"
"As you wish," said Volantis. Metal strands opened up from the side of Aldrich's head and grasped the earpiece, pulling it into the helmet and nestling it in the curve of Aldrich's ear.
Immediately, Aldrich was assaulted by shouting.
"Seismic! There's less than half of us left! My wings, they've been clipped, and all I can do is report to you from behind cover. We can't hold the mermen back any longer - they've already started to operate an anemone - sh*t! It's firing towards you. Block it if you can, Seismic!" came the panicked voice.
Ah right, the flyers. Aldrich had kept them in the back of his head, not giving them too much importance because he believed they would just fly away when even a fourth of them died. But here they were, fighting even with over half of them gone.
It was respectable spirit. Aldrich would respect that by saving them himself. But first, the blast from the anemone:
"Volantis. Wings," said Aldrich. In response, his draconic wings morphed from his back, unfurling out as he jumped into the air. In the distance, he could perceive a flash of blue light from behind several dozen collapsed buildings that formed a natural fort behind which the anemones were entrenched.
Aldrich's [Grave Ward] kept an eye on the anemones, though, and he could tell exactly where the single active one was firing. It was aimed right at defensive firing line, probably towards the back where the tanks and walkers were.
A single blue hydroplasma beam spiraled outwards, traveling in an arcing trajectory aimed to crash down explosively among the tanks, confirming Aldrich's theory.
Aldrich immediately sped back towards the artillery line where the tanks and walkers were stationed. He moved as a black and red blur, fading from his spot at the front of the sinkhole to all the way to the artillery line, back almost to the walls themselves, in just a few seconds.
His movements caused gusts of wind to squall out beneath him, and several humans beneath him looked up in awe as the wind passed them roughly by.
Aldrich floated above a tank, his draconic wings stretched out to hold him in the air. He saw the beam of hydroplasma draw rapidly closer to him. What was at first a glimmer of blue in the horizon now became a huge mass of gleaming energy that nearly engulfed his whole vision.
Anyone seeing this sight, this devastating pillar of energy crashing towards them like the judgement of god, would have immediately fled, but all Aldrich did was hold out his arm. His [Death Essence Barrier] became visible, outlining him in a sphere of bright, see-through green.
The pillar of plasma smashed against Aldrich's [Death Essence Barrier] at breakneck speed.
His barrier flickered, registering damage as the plasma exploded into a nova of brilliant blue and white. A thunderous boom echoed from the impact, causing the tank beneath him to tremble from the shockwave of the explosion. The blast of the explosion soared into the air, lighting up the night with light borne from energy so hot that it could easily melt through Neo-steel.
The blast completely engulfed Aldrich's form, seemingly erasing him in its cascade of energy.
All of the policemen and heroes beneath Aldrich looked up at where he was, their guns down as they held their breaths, desperately hoping that their savior, their hero, was not gone.
Aldrich thrust his arm out, generating force to dissipate the light and smoke generated from the explosion. Blue flames crackled around his barrier before quickly dying, unable to catch anything it could burn.
"Is that it? Weaker than what I expected. Hm. Maybe I am still too cautious," said Aldrich to himself, putting a contemplative hand to his chin as he recalculated the amount of risk he could start taking. That was when he noticed everyone staring up at him with wide eyes.
The crew of the tank Aldrich saved had opened up its hatch, ready to jump out, probably thinking that they were going to die from the blast after it bore through Aldrich. Instead, they were left awkwardly staring at Aldrich's not-blown-up form looking down at them with some level of judgement.
"What are you doing?" said Aldrich. "This fight isn't over. Out of everyone here, all of you are the least in danger, considering you get to pilot a tank. Get back in there."
Aldrich's voice rang out with commanding presence.
"Yes sir!" The tank crew immediately hopped back into the tank, closing the hatch behind him.
"And the rest of you, continue firing," said Aldrich, addressing the humans beneath him that had stopped to stare at whether he would survive. "Don't stop to stare and gawk every time I save you. Like I said before, I will guarantee your lives to the best of my ability. But you have to make your lives worth saving.
"Yes sir!" The heroes and policemen beneath Aldrich immediately got back to loading their weapons and rushing out to the firing line to gun down more variants.
Aldrich then heard the same desperate voice crackle in his earpiece.
"We have to fall back! All flyer squads are too damaged to hold the line here! They're going to man all the anemones!" said the voice.
"Fall back," said Aldrich.
"Who…who are you?" came the confused reply.
"I don't have time to explain," said Aldrich. "But if you listen to me, you and your squads will survive. So fall back. Retreat behind the firing line. Your job here is done, and you've done it well enough already. There is no more need to lose more of your lives."
"I wish we could," came the reply. "But we're pinned down here! Mermen are raining hell down on us. We can find cover, but the moment we take to the air, we're going to get shot down, especially with most of our Barrier Creators downed."
"I see. If you're speaking into this earpiece, then I'm assuming you're the leader of the flyers," said Aldrich.
"Then tell the flyers to take as much cover as they can."
"We already are!" came the annoyed response.
"No, you don't understand. If the cover you have right now is the best you have, then fine. But if you can retreat back and find something better, something farther away from the anemones, then do that," said Aldrich.
"I know I shouldn't be wasting time asking questions in a situation like this…but why?"
Aldrich looked into the sky. Green clouds started to gather, crackling with ghostly teal arcs of energy… "Because a storm is coming."