Aldrich had barely a moment to turn around and perceive the towering wall of green and blue light of some sort of force wave. It had wavy patterns within it, making it seem like an ethereal tidal wave of raw energy that threatened to completely crash over and drown Aldrich and Valera.
Valera had her shield slammed down, ready to defend Aldrich at all costs. She did not give a single care about her own safety - she stood against that tide of energy with unbreakable determination.
A metallic white glimmer sparkled around her, indicating that she had buffed herself with the skill [Body of Steel] that allowed her to massively reduce the incoming damage of a single attack.
However, just from a simple glance, it was easy to tell that the sheer amount of power in that wave of energy was devastating.
So devastating that Aldrich realized that Valera might not be able to block all of it herself.
Knowing this, his [Death Essence Barrier] automatically triggered, shining visibly green around him.
Even then, it might not be enough.
This was bad. Perhaps the worst situation that Aldrich had been in so far.
Had he been careless? No, he did not think so. He had covered all his bases for this fight to make sure he was never under threat, or that if he was, he could always react to it.
He was realistic in his planning. He knew that he could never foresee every possibility ahead of him. There was no such thing as a perfect plan, after all.
But the point of planning was to give him room to react to sudden changes. So that even if he was taken off guard, he could always recover.
The largest threat he could think of was Shrimp.
Even now, in this brief moment of slowed perception, he could register that Shrimp's energy signature was static, still embedded deep underground.
If this was an attack, then it was from something he could not have reliably foreseen no matter what.
But that did not matter.
What mattered was whether he would survive this attack.
Valera could block a majority of the incoming damage, but if enough of it spilled through and broke through Aldrich's barrier, he only had 50% of his maximum health to tank the blow.
And judging from the staggering amount of power in this attack, that was a non-zero possibility.
For the very first time since his undeath, Aldrich recognized that his life was in palpable danger.
Valera, with all her battle experience, knew even better than Aldrich the strength of this attack. She knew that there was a chance she could not fend him fully, and she did not want to take that chance at all.
In the mere fraction of an instant before the energy wave crashed upon them, she reached her free arm through Aldrich's barrier and shoved him into the air with a powerful push, knocking him out of the way.
Time flowed normally again.
High up in the air, Aldrich righted himself with his draconic wings as he saw the tidal wave of energy crash over Valera, surging past her in a narrow wave that stretched out across a vast swathe of the entire battle site itself.
A roaring, crashing sound reminiscent of tides crashing against rock raged through the air as the energy wave flowed forward.
Anything caught in that wave of blinding bright green and blue instantly broke apart.
Thankfully, because the energy wave was relatively thin, it did not manage to target fully erase any of Aldrich's troops. It caught the Zombie Giant and Crab by surprise, blasting a hole straight through their legs, but beyond this, there were no casualties on Aldrich's side.
The fishmen, however, were not so lucky.
They were utterly eviscerated under the energy wave, and when it faded away, it revealed an enormous trail of molten, carved out earth from the sheer amount of heat energy stored within the attack.
And the one who had born the brunt of this attack -
"Valera!" said Aldrich as he looked down where she had been. A large smoke cloud of debris had dredged up from the attack, but Aldrich could sense that she was still alive.
"I'm alright, master!" shouted Valera as she swung her shield to the side, blowing away the dust clouds to make her and the aggressor of this all visible.
Valera's cross shield glowed red and white hot, and several molten white scorch marks lined her armor. The armor around her legs and shield glowed completely white hot, and the flesh underneath was horribly burned and damaged.
"…What?" Aldrich narrowed his eyes under his helm as he trained his sight on the aggressor.
It was Shrimp.
Shrimp stood before Valera with his fist thrust out in front of him. His body had changed. It had grown slightly more muscular compared to its rail thin body before, though its overall appearance remained much the same.
The biggest difference was in its arm structure. It had changed, covered over with thicker iridescent, rainbow-colored shell plating.
Across the plating of its forearm, two bright lines of blue and green respectively shone down to its knuckles. Its elbow joint had changed into a sort of piston structure, and when Shrimp withdrew his arm to his side, his forearm clicked as it jerked upwards, locking into its upper arm.
It reminded Aldrich of Frame suits that had piston powered punches.
'Volantis, I thought you were keeping a track of him. What happened?' said Aldrich. His mental voice did not possess any hint of judgement to it, for he knew better than to let emotions cloud his judgement and analysis.
No, anything that happened, anything that slipped by him, anything that he needed to react to out of the blue - he would deal with using calm analysis as he had always done.
'Forgive me, but my sight has been upon that beast, and I have not allowed myself to let it escape from my perception,' said Volantis.
Aldrich checked the corner of his vision. The white spot where Shrimp was supposed to be was still glowing.
"…" Aldrich observed Shrimp for another second, and based off of context clues, could rapidly piece together what had happened.
"I see." Aldrich could see that there were dull white chunks of shell falling from Shrimp's body. And those matched the energy signature deep within the earth.
Shrimp had molted while under the ground, and from that molting process, had emerged ever stronger. On top of that, the molted shell acted as a sort of energy insulator, hiding Shrimp's changing body and energy beneath it.
"That creature now possesses an energy aura far separated from that which it bore before. Almost as if it was an entirely new being," said Volantis. "Yet, it is unfathomable that it could have escaped my sight.
Its energy aura is still colossal - easily enough for me to track had it moved at any pace of speed, no matter how fast.
The only option I could conceive of is that it managed to cover great distances within a single instant.
In other words, teleportation."
"That's the conclusion I came to as well," said Aldrich. He took in a breath. He had not expected Shrimp to just spontaneously evolve new powers like that in the middle of combat.
No, if it was just developing an extra power, Aldrich would have understood.
There were cases of variants attacking with a set of powers, escaping, and then years later attacking again with an extra or changed power.
There were even some Alters that had developed additional powers through either genetic luck or a rarer process called Metamorphosis.
What was even more unpredictable, something so out of Aldrich's knowledge scope that he could not have foreseen it, was that Shrimp had developed a teleportation-based power.
Flux powers that manipulated space and time were thought to be entirely in the realm of Alters.
There had never once been a case of variants that could affect the fabric of space-time.
It was one of the reasons why Flux Alters were so valued: they were not only highly valuable for their utility, but they also represented power that belonged solely to the realm of humanity.
They were considered like the stars of mankind. Possessing powers of the cosmos far beyond, where only humans had ever touched, while the variants they fought were creatures that never left the boundaries of the earth.
The only possible exception were Chrysalis that could create their personal spaces, but these were considered less living variants and more mobile environments.
Yet, it looked like humanity had now lost that privilege.
On top of this, Aldrich's understanding of variants was limited to the bootleg research he could get on them as he was locked out from accessing the AA's proper variant database.
All this would change soon, however. He would make sure he had access to everything.
Every tool and privilege he could use to further his power and position, all that had been denied to him before because he was nothing but a lowly Dud - he would take now.
All he had to do was turn Shrimp into a corpse.
Specifically, his corpse.