Aldrich stood over Shrimp's kneeling figure, and like this, they looked like the perfect image of a loyal knight bowing down before his lord.
Raising Shrimp had been a resounding success. A heavily delayed success fraught with setbacks and sudden difficulties, but a success nonetheless.
Aldrich nodded to Shrimp. With the Locus under his very own control, he had a fighting force so powerful that he could command respect and attention from any major organization in the world.
Because no matter how fancy city skylines became, no matter how sleek and fast new supercars became, no matter many rules humanity dressed itself up with in the name of civilization and advancement, it still acted based off of very simple guiding principles.
Principles based on instinct. And the instinct to respect power was something that basically everyone understood.
Aldrich had enough power on his side that his power alone could force an audience with world organizations to try and vie for his allegiance because the alternative, that Aldrich could raise his power against them, was something they could not afford.
Especially not now in light of these variant attacks.
"A…name," said Shrimp.
"Hm?" Aldrich looked at Shrimp, and the creature looked up at Aldrich with expectant, glowing rainbow eyes.
"A name. Give me…a name. Mother died before she gave me one. I have none. But I want one. It feels important to have," said Shrimp.
"A name, is it?" Aldrich had actually thought about a name beforehand, and it was not going to be a bland one like 'Shrimp'. Valera had teased him about his bad naming sense already, and he was not about to let her down like that now, not after going through so much to raise Shrimp.
"Okeanos," said Aldrich. He was a sucker for old mythology because so many of his favorite games drew from them. Hence, his sign being 'Thanatos' for the Greek aspect of death.
So, it was only naturally fitting that Aldrich would name Shrimp 'Okeanos' for the primal titan of the oceans.
"Oke…anos," The Locus uttered this name out loud, breaking it up into two pieces to analyze it and commit it to his memory. He nodded. "Okeanos. My name. I like it. Thank you…master."
"If you want to thank me, show me your strength," said Aldrich. He linked his sight back with the Grave Ward floating above the battlefield where he saw the fishman army now in full retreat, fleeing back to the best of their abilities to the coastline.
The way back to the coastline, however, was long, just as long as the path of carnage they had carved out through the city. Long enough for Aldrich to farm most of them for experience in repayment for all the devastation they had caused.
"You want me to fight? Where?" said Okeanos.
"The rest of your kind are running, but I do believe that they aren't done paying back the damage they've caused," said Aldrich. "Get them to pay. Try not to leave a single one of them alive."
"I go now," said Okeanos with a nod.
In a burst of crackling green electricity, Okeanos disappeared, moving at high speed towards the battle site to join in on routing the fleeing fishmen.
As Aldrich saw Okeanos disappear into the distance, he saw messages pop in his vision.
increments, indicating that his army was slaughtering fishmen that provided little to no EXP. After about 30,000 fishmen kills, they would start giving out 1 EXP, and then at 50,000 kills, little to nothing.
[1x 'Crab' defeated]
[19,000x Fishmen defeated
[1x Boss: 'Shrimp' defeated]
[EXP Bar: 0/55,000 ] 136,000/55,000]
[Level 42 ] 43]
[EXP Bar: 81,000/60,000]
[Level 43 ] 44]
[EXP Bar: 21,000/65,000]
[10 stat points available to distribute]
Aldrich noted the double level up. He had not expected Shrimp to give him so much experience. But it did make sense, considering how much stronger the variant had become over time. Two levels was also within his expectations for what he would earn in this fight. If he killed off all the retreating fishmen, he would get to the edge of reaching level 45, but not quite there.
The experience limiters would kick in and make the fishmen essentially worthless for EXP farming.
But still worth it to squeeze out the fishmen for every little last drop of experience.
What was much more valuable than just levels, though, was Aldrich's quest rewards.
[Quest: Fell the Great Enemy completed]
[1x Trove of Dark Wisdom (30 Levels) obtained]
[1x Frosthallowed War Scythe obtained]
Aldrich felt both the Dark Wisdom and the Frosthallowed War Scythe manifest in his nearly emptied out inventory. Now, he felt a little less naked after Volantis had gobbled up all the armor and weapon pieces in his inventory as a sacrifice to be raised.
Notably, the Frosthallowed War Scythe's text was highlighted in bold purple, indicating that it was of the 'Epic+' tier that ranged from levels 40 to 60. With the + modifier on its rank, it also meant that the weapon occupied the higher end of the level range for its rank, so Aldrich would have no issues using it all the way up to level 60, even a little beyond that.
Good. That meant that any armor or weapons Aldrich picked up in his Trial Quests, he could hand down to his other units. Provided his Trial Quests were still the same. He had no idea to what degree the Death Lord had influenced his system, but he actually preferred this over what he had in the past.
His system before had no answers and little predictability to it. It provided him power, but for what purpose? Why did it have the goddess Amara and the god Sindri in such an unfinished state? What did it want from Aldrich?
All these, Aldrich had no answers to. But at the least with the Death Lord, he knew her intentions; she wanted him to usurp the title of Death Lord from her. And because he knew what she wanted, that made her somewhat predictable.
Emphasis on 'somewhat'. But at the very least, she had Aldrich's continued growth and life in her best interests.
Aldrich whistled, and the sound projected through his helmet with Volantis's aid. Crow swooped down, and Aldrich leaped up, getting on the variant's back. He briefly looked around to see that the amount of news drones from various media outlets had grown exponentially, all of them paying attention to his each and every move.
Aldrich did not like that feeling of being watched and followed like a celebrity, but he had been ready to accept it as a consequence of revealing himself to the world. Regardless, he wanted to shake them off for now.
Crow flapped his enormous wings down with powerful force, shooting straight up into the sky in an instant, leaving the drones awkwardly turning around to try and figure out where Aldrich had gone.
While this happened, Aldrich put a hand to his head and relayed commands. 'To the rest of my Legion, continue killing as many fishmen as you can. Try to leave no survivors. When you are done, regroup back into the Deildeghast line.'
When Crow was high enough in the air, he flapped his wings again to direct Aldrich towards Haven's Southside.
"That was a good fight."
Aldrich turned to see Seismic. The older hero clutched onto Crow's back tight with one hand and used the other to grasp at his stomach where the flesh had blackened from Crystallization.
"It took too long. And it raises too many questions," said Aldrich as he thought about the Voice and all the implications of its mere existence.
"You couldn't have predicted the Locus evolving like that. And the world will have just as many questions as you about it. And questions about you as well," said Seismic.
"I know," said Aldrich.
"You're prepared?" said Seismic.
"As much as I can be," said Aldrich.
Seismic nodded simply and looked down, towards the broken and damaged city. "A lot to do. Repairs. Mourning losses. The times ahead will be just as hard."
Before Aldrich could reply, he heard a muffled woman's voice struggling from behind him. He looked to see Valera's disembodied head biting down on one of Crow's feathers to hold on. The base of her neck was shrouded in shadowy mist, obscuring the blood and bone that should have shown.
Despite Valera's strength, it seemed that with how fast Crow was going, she was struggling with holding on with just her teeth.
Aldrich smiled under his helm, feeling relief. He had always believed she had survived the solar flare attack, but it was still good to confirm she was alive. Evidently, she had used the Dullahan's special racial ability to survive a fatal blow by basically ejecting from their bodies with their heads. This weakened her enough where Aldrich could not directly sense her life force, but Crow had seen her and secured her.
Aldrich picked her up in his arms.
"Oh, thank you master!" said Valera. "It feels wonderful to be held in your arms."
"Valera, why didn't you just have Seismic hold you?" said Aldrich. "I mean, he is right there."
"I did offer, but-," began Seismic.
"Bah! That gorilla of a man? Who is also a stranger to me? When my head is the most precious part of me? No chance!" said Valera as she glanced at Seismic. "Though I do appreciate your service and strength."
"…Noted," said Seismic.
"And master, you should know by now - I will only ever allow myself to be held by you," said Valera. She looked down at Aldrich's armored arms and snuggled her cheek into them with a blush
"I appreciate this gesture, but you and I are not at this level of intimacy, woman," said Volantis.
"You…what did I say about ruining moments?" Valera's eyebrow twitched in visible anger.
"This body of honed metal and collected bone of mine does seem to be unfeeling, but I have boundaries too, woman," said Volantis.
Valera just sighed at this point, defeated. "Just let me enjoy this, okay?"
"…I shall allow it… For the strength you have observed in tonight's battle," said Volantis as he grew quiet.