Chapter 234 - Megaloptera
Aldrich sat in the passenger seat of Clint's car, watching endless stretches of cracked earth speed by. He crossed his arms not to look cool, but to save space because Clint in the driver's seat was so wide he crammed Aldrich into more or less half a seat.
Aldrich wanted to take his own car out, but Clint had insisted that 'real men bond by driving together', whatever that meant.
"…Have you ever thought about making this car bigger?" said Aldrich.
"Yeah, but I had this back when I was sixteen or somethin' and a whole lot skinnier. It was my first ride! Ain't gonna give up on it now." Clint smiled as he smashed his foot against the accelerator.
The car rumbled intensely as its oversized, over-modified engine worked to its limits. Flashes of exhaust and fire burst out from the back of the car, holding so much power behind them that they lifted the vehicle straight off the ground.
Every single time the car went off the ground to accelerate, it slammed back down, making the whole thing lurch and shake violently.
"I think I'm getting dizzy," said a green skinned girl with solid colored black eyes from the backseat. When the car rocked up and down, her whole body noticeably jiggled like she was made out of jelly.
This was Tox, a Blackwater student who had been rank 7 in the A class. Like Fletcher, she was classed as an Elemental Augmenter, meaning her entire body comprised of a specific substance. In her case, a corrosive slime.
Also like Fletcher, she was considered a 'true' Elemental who lacked a targetable nervous system.
Thus, to kill her required near complete annihilation of her body.
True Elementals were considered among the strongest category of Alter powers due to how difficult it was to put them down. In fact, a good chunk of S rank heroes across the world were True Elementals.
Dracul, one of the Sentinels that Gerard had implied was above Aldrich's league, was one of them, capable of turning into pure darkness.
The only reason Tox did not rank higher in Blackwater was because of a major weakness: the more she expelled slime, the more sluggish she got. This limited her destructive capability, though she was still insanely tough to kill.
"How are YOU getting dizzy? Do you even have an actual brain?" said Ace, also from the backseat.
"Says you, you big dummy!" said Tox. "If you were asked to take an IQ test, you'd probably wonder if it was something you could eat!"
"Calm down, kids, and keep your eyes on the road," said Stella. She was the last of the Alters Aldrich had taken with him for this variant hunt. Mostly to alleviate her boredom from sitting around.
"Tell that to horn head over there! Tox pointed a jiggling, accusing finger at Clint. "His driving is horrible!"
"This is how real men drive on the Wastes! None of that sissy traffic light shit from the cities!" roared Clint.
A voice crackled through speakers in the car. Gerard's voice.
"Me and my riders have tracked the variant. It's a Megaloptera with one wing downed. On the larger side, too. It's desperate and hungry, explaining why it's coming for us. I'll send the coordinates to your car.
It can't fly, but it has a swarm of its nymphs guarding it on land.
My estimation: we need about twenty of your boys. Or just you, if you have the time. Just make sure you don't get eaten right off the bat."
"Got all the time in the world!" said Clint.
Gerard sighed through the speakers. "I don't know where you young'uns get the energy. I'm off now."
With that, Aldrich saw the car's wide dashboard light up. A very rudimentary map at its right corner showed up, showcasing one big red dot where the variants were and one small yellow dot where the car was.
"We're not far off," noted Aldrich.
"Yeah, and considering it's got a mega in its name, we ought to see the big son of a bitch by now. There she is!" Clint excitedly pointed both hands in front of him, marking out an enormous, black plated dragonfly in the distance.
The car started to swerve out of control with Clint not controlling the wheel.
"Hands on the wheel! That's basic driving school stuff!" yelled Tox.
"Haha, we can all survive a car crash or two, can't we!?" said Clint. "Otherwise you all don't belong in my car!"
"I thought you cared about this car," commented Aldrich.
"Ain't no car of mine if it can't survive a crash or two either!" Clint said as he put his hands back on the wheel, taming the wildly veering vehicle into some semblance of a straight trajectory.
Aldrich just shook his head, but he still smiled. Maybe he got along with Clint's type better than he let on. The energy was infectious, he did have to admit.
As Clint's car rapidly approached the dragonfly, its size became ever more apparent. It was as big as a three story house, easily capable of crushing a fully grown man into paste under just one of its legs. On its lengthy belly was a sizable swarm of land based nymphs that had yet to grow their wings.
Each nymph was as large as a car, and when they sensed Clint's very loud, very obvious arrival, they detached from their mother and rushed forward with remarkably quick speed.
"Let er' rip!" Clint smashed a button on his dashboard, causing it to spark. Twin mounted cannons on either side of his car boomed with concussive impact, sending out shells that exploded into countless speeding shrapnel projectiles when they slammed against the nymphs.
The shells pulped the nymphs on impact, and the shrapnel riddled the surrounding nymphs with holes that bore right through their still soft, not yet fully developed carapaces.
Clint's car kept firing shell after shell, clearing a path to the dragonfly with good old lead and explosives. However, when the shells hit the dragonfly itself, all they managed to do was slightly dent and scorch its tough hide.
"Alright, time for the real deal!" Clint slammed down on the brakes, causing the car to violently flip over itself from having to slow down so abruptly.
After six or seven or eight flips, the car stopped, thoroughly beat up and now upside down.
"That's what I call a real man's stop!" Clint laughed as he punched his door open and rolled out.
"No, that's just a crash! A total failure of a stop! I'm never getting in a car with this nomad maniac again!" said Tox.
"Quit complaining. I'll fly you back out when this is over, said Ace.
"Y'know, this is actually kind of exciting," said Stella with a grin.
"The only other girl here, and she's crazy too," sighed Tox.
Ace also punched his way out the car and hovered out. Tox followed, squeezing her viscous, liquid body out. Stella rolled out with trained movement.
Aldrich did not want to damage the poor car anymore than it had already suffered, so he just crawled out of the door Clint had punched off.
"Aw yeah, look at that! Look at how big she is! Ain't she a beauty!?" Clint turned to everyone while pointing at the giant dragonfly behind him like a child pointing at a toy. His smile beamed with nothing but pure, unadulterated thrill.
"Watch out!" said Stella, but it was too late.
"Huh?" Clint looked down to see a spine skewered through his stomach.
The dragonfly had shot out a spine from its mouth at a speed so quick that even Aldrich had difficulty reacting properly.
Aldrich wondered what to do at this point. He could not let Clint just die like this as his current greatest supporter among the nomads.
'Well, good thing I can raise the dead,' thought Aldrich, but that thought turned out to be unnecessary.
"Damn, that actually hurt!" Clint pulled the spine out of his stomach, revealing a gaping, bloody hole. It very quickly closed up, and when it did, thick, scale like brown armor covered his skin. "But now it won't work on me anymore!"
Clint tossed the spine away and faced the dragonfly with an eager grin. "Show me what you all got! If it ain't much, then you ain't gettin' my support!"
Clint sprinted ahead with surprising speed for his behemoth of a body. There were still dozens of nymphs remaining, but everytime one of the jumped on him, aiming to stab him with their mandibles, he just punched holes through their guts.
"Show him what you can do," Aldrich said to his units. "I'll be watching from here.
Make sure you save that thing's head for me."
"Will do! That guy's got an energy I really like. Really suits mine!" Stella eagerly followed Clint, blasting off the cracked earth with an explosion at her feet.
"And the nymphs? They might get to you," said Ace.
Aldrich noted that Ace was a surprisingly considerate guy, even checking on Aldrich's own safety.
But then again, Aldrich was more than strong enough to protect himself.
Aldrich took off his cloak and suit jacket, laying both across Clint's upturned car. He unbuttoned three of the top buttons of his dress shirt for ease of moment and rolled up his sleeves. He cracked his knuckles, his arm muscles rippling visibly through the fabric. "I can take care of them."
"Hmm. I like what I'm seeing," said Tox, drooling corrosive slime that melted the ground below.
Ace waved his hand in front of Tox's stare. "Snap out of it and start moving! I'll fly you up."
"Oh, right." Tox held onto Ace's arm, and before she could say another word, they were off, Ace flying high into the air as he looked for an angle of attack.