Aldrich watched Shrimp inch towards him with arms trembling as they grasped forwards against a torrent of raging red blood fire. Blood streamed from every cut and open wound in spurts and squelches as the blood fire's devastating bleed effect and the cursed black flames ravaged it.
"What keeps you moving forward, I wonder?" said Aldrich as he casually kept his dragon head arm in front of him. Not that he had any other option. The biggest weakness of using the stitching of the [Bloodflame Dragon] was that once Aldrich used the dragon's breath fully, he had to remain nearly stationary. He could turn around and adjust his aim, but he was rooted in spot like a cannon.
However, in exchange, as shown from Shrimp's devastated body, the draconic breath had enormous offensive power that more than made up for the mobility loss.
"I thought variants were creatures that stayed true to their instincts," continued Aldrich. "If that were true, you would have known to choose flight instead of fight a while ago. Not that I would have let you, but still.
What is it that keeps you crawling towards me, towards your inevitable death?"
"The…the Voice," said Shrimp weakly, managing to hear Aldrich even with blood pouring out of its ears.
"The Voice?" Aldrich was surprised the creature spoke back to him. And what the Locus said was something he had no idea about. There were no accounts of a 'voice' driving variants to hunt humans.
Maybe it was like the instinct that Geist type variants harbored that made them target humans, but no, this was different than that.
Shrimp did not really show any real bloodlust to the average human, as evidenced by how nonchalant or even curious it was about Seismic and Mel, choosing to dodge their attacks and observe them instead of rushing at them from the very beginning.
It was only against Aldrich specifically that Shrimp's aggressiveness flared up to an unnaturally high degree, as if Aldrich's entire existence was something that the Locus needed to wipe out.
But why? Aldrich and Shrimp had no connection. And the rest of the fishmen, regardless of what type of variant they were, whether they were crab or merman, had no such strong drive to attack Aldrich.
Was it because Shrimp sensed Aldrich's threat level?
Maybe. But in that case, it should have been equally wary of Seismic and Valera, but against them, the Locus had fought but did not show reckless bloodlust.
Was it the nature of Aldrich's powers? Could it sense that Aldrich's powers were different in some capacity?
Highly unlikely. Aldrich's powers were not something that Shrimp or any Alter could make sense of. But there was the likelihood of exceptions, and it was not like Aldrich himself had a complete understanding of how his own powers came to be.
And the Voice, was it simple primal instinct? Or, perhaps, was it an entirely separate entity? Maybe the source of the separate energy signature that seemed to heal Shrimp during this fight and aid in its evolution?
The ramifications of an entity controlling Shrimp, perhaps even being the source of the Antaeic Factor that seemed to power other strong Loci, would send deep waves throughout the AA, completely shaking up fields of variant research.
At the end of the day, though, there were no clear answers.
Aldrich briefly pondered whether to entertain talking to Shrimp to get more insight. But he was in no mood to interrogate it. Shrimp was far too dangerous for that, and at any given moment, it might receive another powerboost and extend this fight.
It was far safer to end this fight and get answers from Shrimp when the creature became a loyal part of his Legion.
"Whatever it is that's making you step forward against me," said Aldrich. "It doesn't matter."
Aldrich placed his other hand on the base of the dragon head like he was stabilizing the recoil of a cannon shot.
"Volantis, it's time to end this," said Aldrich.
"I am in agreement, Armored. Let us free the precious bones from this creature's pained flesh prison," said Volantis.
With that, Aldrich and Volantis both pumped in a chunk of magical energy into the dragon head. Twin auras of green and red raged around Aldrich like fire, and debris around him scattered away from the pressure of his power.
In response, the dragon head's red eyes gleamed brighter and it loosed a deep roar, causing the its bloodfire breath wave to intensify and grow even larger and brighter red.
As Shrimp saw the next wave of even more devastating bloodletting flames approach him, he stopped reaching out for Aldrich and instead trembled as he his put bloody, broken arms over his eyes like a scared and lost child.
"M-mother…" Shrimp said. "I'm sorry."
With a crackling roar, the final torrent of flames washed over Shrimp, swirling and collecting into a pillar of blood red that surged upwards, lighting the night sky an ominous shade of crimson.
Aldrich raised his dragon head arm up, stopping the fire flow, and the dragon head shuddered before sinking into Volantis's armor. He watched as the bloodfire flames subsided around Shrimp, revealing the creature still kneeling on the ground, surrounded by red fire.
It did not appear dead, but another round of [Bleed] would kick in again, and with how grievous its injuries already were, this fight was finally over.
"You've struggled enough," said Aldrich solemnly. "Rest now."
With a final squelch, the largest veins in Shrimp's body, in its neck and its heart, all burst. Large cuts ripped apart its back and chest and neck as big chunks of its shell shattered and broke apart. From the cuts, torrents of blue blood exploded out in a final mass hemorrhage like a water balloon popping.
Shrimp fell flat onto the broken ground, splashing into a puddle of his own life blood as a rain of blue pattered against his lifeless body.
Aldrich maintained his distance from Shrimp's corpse. After all the sudden power ups on Shrimp's part, he did not want to drop his guard. The zombie giant from afar could still send out units towards Aldrich, and he still had more contingencies.
First, there was Shark's crystal corpse. If Shrimp moved forward, Aldrich would use a [Wall of Bone] and then have the giant toss the crystal corpse. It could be detonated to cause significant damage and infuse a deadly chunk of the Crystal Blood Venom from Chiros.
Second, Valera and Chiros himself were still on standby, watching to see if anything went wrong. Not to mention that Ace was still in the skies along with Seismic and Crow.
Third, Aldrich had the antlion now positioned beneath Shrimp's supposed corpse, ready to entrap it in the case that it suddenly gained renewed life and attempted to escape.
Aldrich had most of his bases covered. It was just a matter of whether Shrimp was dead or not. A tense silence hung in the air as Aldrich watched Shrimp's lifeless, blood drenched body.
In a few seconds, Aldrich sighed in relief. A floating green grave marker emerged above Shrimp's body, and beside that icon, there was a blue orb that indicated the creature's soul.
"Good work, Volantis," said Aldrich. "You're right. Your collection is something to be admired."
"To bond with an Armored that is as much a connoisseur of flesh and bone as I - it is my honor to serve," said Volantis.
"Master!" Valera appeared from above. She had leaped in the air to reach Aldrich. She jumped up with her arms spread out to hug Aldrich, but when she made eye contact with a camera drone above, she made an awkward roll in mid air and landed back on her feet in front of Aldrich because she realized she needed to be serious.
People were watching after all. She stood up, tried to pat dust off herself with a professional attitude, and coughed into her gauntleted fist before bowing to Aldrich. "That was excellent work, master. Your fight will surely inspire the rest of your Legion as it has inspired me."
"There's not much of a fight left to inspire. With the Locus gone, the variants are going to fall back to the ocean, if any of them even survive.
This battle is over.
Still, a part of me does think it was a shame it couldn't last longer," said Aldrich as he stared down at Shrimp's corpse, at the first being that had been able to really get Aldrich fighting and thinking in the 'zone'.
Then again, though, Aldrich knew that he would not lack for fights like this in the future. With this, he had revealed himself to the world, and he was prepared to accept the consequences for that. No, he thought, not consequences, but rewards.
Because if Aldrich played his hand right, he would gain all the power and influence he needed to establish himself. He knew that he would face questions and resistance, but he was prepared for it.
And speaking of rewards, the greatest one of them all was lying right before Aldrich.
Aldrich began to move towards Shrimp, ready to cast [Raise Undead].