Aldrich saw the awed reactions around him, noting just how much influence a potential, not even legitimate Fortune of Council member could have. He capitalized on this moment.
"Thanatos and I hold far more influence than meets the eye," said Aldrich. "What you see is just the tip of the iceberg."
"Then it is true? The rumors?" said Gerard suspiciously, tugging at his ragged white beard. His extending monocle zoomed in on Aldrich.
"That Thanatos comes from a hidden organization. How else could he have managed to gather so much power? So many troops? All without anyone noticing? That armor of his alone means he has a high class Alter that nobody knows about making equipment for him." Gerard pointed at Aldrich. "You too then, have to be from one of these organizations.
I can't sense any AC count from you, but I've heard that Thanatos didn't show any either. Is that new tech too? Are you Thanatos's handler? What are your motives? Who are you?"
"Stop rambling, you geriatric fart," said the bull horned chief. "And let the man speak."
Aldrich saw that all the chiefs stared at him with expectation, and it was understandable. There was strong evidence out there that there were hidden organizations on par with established villain bodies like the Dark Six.
Strange ciphered codes that led to hidden recruitment centers, pieces of tech disappearing without a trace, traces of abandoned and demolished research facilities, and variants mysteriously slaughtered before they reached population centers - all of these made people wildly theorize there were hidden forces out there.
The fact that the Panopticon actively censored this information from circulating only fanned the flames of curiosity further.
Aldrich himself believed that it was a strong possibility, but he had no way of knowing for sure. Between denial and rabid conspiracy theorist, he placed himself in a healthy medium where he was open to investigating.
"A man needs to have some secrets, no?" said Aldrich. "Where I come from and who I am does not matter. Just now whatever power you think I have behind me, I stand at the very top of. That includes, of course, Thanatos."
This was, of course, a bluff. Aldrich did not have an unfathomably large organization behind him. Well, technically, he did if he counted the Necropolis, so he was not exactly lying.
"Interesting. Then Aarav Singh is in on this?" said the masked woman. She leaned back in her chair and crossed one leg over the author. Her body language seemed to ease up a little more, surprisingly.
"That's a reasonable assumption, isn't it?" said Aldrich.
"Don't be so coy, kid," said Gerard. "If you want my nomads working with you, you need to give us far better details than this."
"I'm in!" The bull horned chief declared with a booming voice. He slammed a fist down on the solid metal table, easily denting it.
"What!?" Gerard stared at the man. "Have you gone nuts, Clint? You barely know anything about this boy!"
"And that makes it even more exciting," said Clint with a broad grin. "When my pa was the leader of the Spearhorn nomads, he told me when Casimir showed up, he got the biggest laugh out of him.
Dressed all in rags with burns all over his face, but he still proudly wore a gold ring he probably stole and spoke that same smooth and confident silver tongue, like he just knew he was going to be at the top.
My pa had the time of his life with wild bets, and I've been itching to make one too. I ain't gonna let up this chance to go all in."
"What of your people? You willing to use them as chips for this bet of yours?" said the chief with dreadlocks.
"My people ain't like yours, Des," said Clint. "Spearhorns love risk. We left the cities cause they were too damn boring, too damn suffocating. You bet your ass they'd ride or die with me all the way to a burning grave so long as it got a good laugh outta us at the end.
And shit, secret organizations, Thanatos, beating the Dark Six? You fuckin' kiddin' me? I'm in."
"It's Desmond. I'm not your friend." Desmond sighed. "Well if that is your decision, then so be it. But if Mr. Vane over here is unwilling to reveal anything about his self and his potential organization, then I cannot risk the Spiders over him."
"Your pa would be disappointed, Des," said Clint. "He knew how to have a good time. Where'd that all go?"
"His 'good times' killed two hundred of us," said Desmond coldly. His demeanor immediately changed from being open to now shut off and cold. "No more." He looked at Aldrich with a polite shake of his head. "As things stand, I am afraid I cannot lend you my assistance, Mr. Vane. Maybe some other time."
"Are you sure, Desmond?" said Casimir. "It is foolhardy to bet on a stock when its prices are high. You capitalize on the profit when it is low and developing."
"That's another thing. Stocks and corps - my people are tired of it all. If Mr. Vane is going to affiliate himself with a fortune heir, I see no way I can convince them to help, even if I wanted to."
Desmond stood up, wrapping white cloak around himself. On its back was emblazoned a large black spider. "I am done with this negotiation. I wish you all the best of luck."
Everyone waited until Desmond left with four of his bodyguards.
"Did you have to do that?" the masked woman said to Clint.
Clint raised his hands up. "What do you mean? I'm innocent. Haven't done nothin'.
"Bring up his father like that? You practically forced him out of this meeting," said the woman.
Aldrich had to agree. The moment Desmond had his father brought up, his entire demeanor had changed, closing of from this whole deal.
Clint shrugged. "Heh, I don't like working with Des, slimly little shit he is. Pretends like he loves his people and their lives and how much he bitches and moans about the corps.
But he's the one that makes me the most backhanded deals outta all of us with the corps. All so he can pad his pockets and make sure his people don't get caught in any crossfires.
Y'all know this, don't you? Why everytime there's a fight, the Spiders magically ain't there no more? Just fuckin' gone like bugs under light?"
Aldrich sat back and observed quietly, analyzing the dynamic between the chiefs. From the muted silence that Clint's words generated, he could tell they were likely true.
But the fact that the chiefs allowed Desmond in as part of them still meant that Desmond had some value to them that made him indispensable.
"Enough about us," said Gerard. He looked to the two chiefs that had not spoken yet. "You two, Rock and Crone, what do you think?"
One was a mountain of a man who seemed to be a mutant with a body made entirely of rock. His head was shaped like a helmet, and underneath two glowing yellow dots - his eyes - shone through. On his cloak was the symbol of, rather fittingly, a rock.
The other was a hunched up, small old lady with disheveled white hair and a blue visor covering her eyes. On her cloak was the symbol of a red flower: a poppy.
"I don't mind working with the new guy, and I have no real opinions either way. I'll go with whatever's the majority. Discounting Desmond, of course," said Rock.
The rest awaited for Crone, but she remained silent.
"Is she…sleeping?" said Aldrich, noting the old lady's rhythmic breathing and unresponsiveness.
"She does that sometimes," said Gerard. "But it is no big deal. She'll remember everything that happened here and get back to us when she wakes up."
"I see," said Aldrich. He figured the sleeping must have been some condition to her power.
"How bout' you then, Z?" said Clint, nodding towards the masked woman.
Z looked to Aldrich with analytical purple eyes that made him instantly aware of how perceptive she was. They were eyes similar to his own. Trained. Sensitive. Sharp.
"I will help you halfway," said Z. "I handle the tech side of this joint endeavor, and I can help you with that. I already have, really, with that fake identity of yours."
"You're the one that created it?" said Aldrich.
"I am the one who invented the template for it," said Z. "And made it so easy to customize that even a third rate techno can fool up to a tier 2 city. But that CID of yours won't pass by higher level checks and tier 1 cities.
You'll need my help for that. Among other things. This, I can provide on the side. But my full support, I cannot promise until this whole feud between you and the Dark Six is settled in some way."
"That's the main thing holding me back too," said Gerard. "The risk of the Dark Six. And the lack of respect you youths have these days, but I'm used to that by now."
"Fuck the Dark Six," said Clint. "We'll make our own dark…somethin'. No need to listen to those villain goons no more."
"What I'm getting at, then, is the main thing holding you all back is the threat of the Dark Six. How much of it do you want me to neutralize? Do you expect me to topple their empire?" said Aldrich. "Or, would obtaining Haven as a sentinel state and driving the Dark Six out be enough?"
"Sentinel statehood would suffice for me. IF you can achieve it," said Z.
"I can stomach that," said Gerard. "But unlike Z, I can't aid you even a little bit until then. Too risky for me."
"And I'm ready to kick some fucking villain ass!" said Clint.