Aldrich felt solid impact from his punch against Shrimp's jaw. Shrimp's jaw had healed, but not entirely, and there were still fault line cracks around the powerful shell armor from Valera's previous uppercut.
Once more, the shell plating shattered as the force of Aldrich's punch sent the Locus's head whipping to the side in a gust of wind. He did not, however, manage to fully break the variant's jaw with that hit, giving Aldrich an gauge on how strong he was at his peak.
With giant muscles stitched on and [Negative Surge], Aldrich estimated he reached the low to mid end of Valera's monstrous strength.
Not too bad considering Aldrich was specd almost entirely as a mage.
Shrimp's eyes widened from the impact as he spat out blood from his beneath his helmet of shell. His arms hung low at his sides, indicating that the hit had temporarily staggered the monster.
With Shrimp momentarily stunned, Aldrich took this opportunity to grab the creature's arm, turned around, and then performed an over the shoulder throw that slammed Shrimp down with a cratering impact.
A sound like an explosion cracked through the air from the full force throw.
"Gah!" Shrimp let out in pain as the air knocked out of his back in a spatter of blood surrounded by driven up rock chunks.
Aldrich did not let Shrimp recover at all. He kept a hold on Shrimp's arm and then used his foot to stomp on the creature's free hand, pinning both the Locus's limbs from guarding his face. Simultaneously, he fired spikes of bone from his skeletal halo, aiming to pierce straight through Shrimp's eyes and into his brain.
Aldrich did not know if Shrimp had a normal humanoid brain, but the fact that jaw strikes and head trauma rattled the being indicated that at the very least, some form of motor control lay in the head.
Now, like a surgeon on an operating table, Aldrich would excise it.
The bone shards, each individually almost half a meter long, flew down into Shrimp's eyes and skewered right through them. The disgusting squelching sound of soft, squishy ocular material shredding apart filled the air as bloody streams spurted out from two huge bone spikes embedded through Shrimp's eye sockets.
Shrimp loosed a bestial scream of pain as he writhed around with all his might, but Aldrich held on to the creature's arms firmly, all the while willing his bone spikes to drive in further and further, aiming to pierce out right through the other end of the beast's head.
Shrimp's scream, however, shook the ground with supernatural force, and all of a sudden, huge amounts of energy began to build up around Shrimp, forming into his signature bright green Burst aura.
There was something different about this energy buildup. The way it suddenly flared up, the chaotic patterns of the raging, crackling energy - it all signaled danger to Aldrich. Trusting his instincts, he immediately jumped away, and not a moment later, an enormous explosion of green energy rocked outwards.
Aldrich was barely caught at the end of the energy nova, and his [Death Essence Barrier] tanked all the damage. The shockwave, however, did send him flying backwards at high speeds. He flipped in the air to get back onto his feet and planted them into the ground, driving up rock as he skidded himself to a halt, smoky trails of high friction rising from under his black and red greaves.
Immediately, Volantis outlined Shrimp's presence underneath the smoke cloud generated from Shrimp's energy outburst.
Shrimp had evolved another power. No, to be more accurate, the Locus had learned how to use its Burst energy buildup and detonate it instead of simply using it to enhance its physical stats.
"Hurts…hurts…it hurts so much…," Shrimp muttered as he reached into his bloody blue eye sockets and took out the two bone spikes lodged in them.
"Pain should be the least of your worries," said Aldrich as he aimed his right hand towards Shrimp. "Volantis. It's time to test you out. Show me your worth."
'Understood. [Organ Stitching: Banshee's Scream]'
Aldrich right hand glowed purple before flesh emerged from it in rippling, pulsating grey polyps that morphed into the shape of an oversized owl's skull with distinctively black beak. In the place of feathers, there was a long, ragged mess of wiry white and grey hair, flowing down from the skull's head that looked like it belonged to an elderly woman.
Twin points of spectral purple light shone deep within the large voids of the owl skull's sockets.
Aldrich thrust the skull out towards Shrimp, and the skull's beak opened up and unleashed a shrill, haunting scream that pierced through the night. Waves of blurry sonic force radiated out from the open beak as a beam of sound energy shot outwards, crashing right into Shrimp.
Sound waves rippled by Shrimp, and as they did, they cracked and chipped at the creature's armor. The ground behind Shrimp, where the sound waves also struck, broke apart as if someone had taken a high-powered mech drill to it.
This was the [Banshee's Scream]. A powerful ranged attack that instantly killed weak units. However, even if it did not immediately cull a life, it was incredibly strong on its own merit to the point where the instant death effect was simply the cherry on top of a long list of perks.
The sonic beam, as long as it was channeled, stunned any unit that it hit, ensuring they took the full brunt of the attack. This also rapidly built up the [Curse] status effect that, when fully stacked, caused the afflicted unit to continually suffer damage over time as long as they kept taking damage.
Granted, [Curse] was far better suited to damage over time builds where Aldrich was mostly focused on burst, but he could work with it.
At this point, Valera jumped down by Chiros's side, having recovered from getting blown back by Shrimp's energy punch.
"Oh, my master! Look at how masterfully he fights! Look at how he dismantles this poor little creature!" Valera shuddered in equal parts pride and pleasure as she put her hands on her helmet with manic energy.
"We should assist him in this endeavor," said Chiros as he stepped forwards, saber gleaming with red energy beside him. "While the beast is stunned."
"Stop. Leave this fight be." Valera put a firm hand on Chiros's shoulder, stopping the crimson knight.
"You do not wish to aid your master, Exile?" said Chiros as he looked back at Valera. There was some hint of suspicion in his voice.
"Quiet, newcomer. I alone have been with my master from the very beginning and will continue to be with him until the very end," said Valera. "I know what he is feeling now.
Despite how calm he usually is, there is a side to him that craves the fight, the challenge. And I can see that very feeling painted all over his smile now.
Do not disturb him."
"Smile? I cannot see anything beneath that helm," said Chiros.
"You do not understand," said Valera. "I do not see his smile, his desires. I FEEL them. That is the difference between you and I, newcomer."
"Hm. You are right," said Chiros. He gave Valera a polite head bow. "And you are my senior, too. I should be deferring to your will. My apologies."
"You can take correction quite well for a noble," said Valera. "I would have thought you far more stuck up than this, especially with my reputation as the 'Exile'.
Now then, stand here and bear witness.
Witness to our master's true strength."
Valera's eyes gleamed bright bloody red under her canine helm, and though her smile did not show, it was wide, as wide as it usually was when she herself gorged in the carnage and blood of battle.
Because seeing her master shine got her just as excited as ripping and tearing with her own two hands. That was how very much she valued her master.
"Because he is just getting started."