Chapter 334 Ceasefire
"Master, prepare for battle!" Valera shouted, immediately taking stance in front of Aldrich. The shield she had dematerialized in her reversion bloodlust reappeared in her hand, and she stood with a wide, trained stance behind it, her prior animalistic savagery gone.
"Shiiit, not again," said Mollusk. "And there's like a hundred of them too."
"This time, I really do think we should just warp out, you know," said Refraction, golden sparks of energy fluttering at his trembling fingertips. "You, uh, don't need a hundred of these things, right? Just one is good, yeah?"
Chiros awaited with calm, for he believed panic, especially for a soldier, was nothing short of inelegant. His reverted crystalline form was gone, leaving him standing upright with his blade poised in ready position by his side.
"Wait," said Aldrich. The earth started to rumble as the sheer magnitude of movement from the giant trees and their upturning roots churned the ground.
Around the trees, their roots broke up from underground, coiling around each other to form thick legs. With a heave, the roots pushed their host trees aboveground with a deafening rumble of parting earth and crumbling rock debris.
Aldrich wanted to see if the entity would truly uphold its end of the ceasefire. It said it would move back all Locuses and Geists. If Arcadia was any indication, every single one of those trees was a monumental egg gestating a Geist, which meant that the entity was supposed to pull them back.
Attacking Aldrich right now would be a surefire way to break a ceasefire before it even really began. He did not believe the entity would do that.
So, he waited.
Valera was the first to catch on. Her [Danger Sense] skill was likely not triggering, unable to sense any hostile intent or bloodlust among the trees. She tentatively began to lower her shield.
Chiros, seeing his commander ease up, followed, lowering his blade.
"Are we all just, uh surrendering here?" said Refraction. "Turning into good old mulch for those nicely oversized trees?"
"Silent mystery is part of this dude's image," said Mollusk. "But self-destructive tendencies definitely aren't. So calm your ass down, Frac."
Refraction gulped and nodded.
The entire forest began to move on their legs of roots, but not towards Aldrich. As a whole, they marched away, deeper into the Wastelands, the earth rumbling with each of their synchronized, colossal steps.
The countless insect variants that nested atop their branches buzzed about in a panic, creating a cloud of bodies that could almost blot out the sun. For a moment, Aldrich wondered if they, as natural variants, would attack as the entity had said it would respect the right of natural variants to hunt.
But the insect variants simply followed the living forest back, not wanting to leave their home of nourishing fruits and sap and warm leaves for their eggs.
After a few minutes, when the forest was well and far into the distance, Aldrich nodded in confirmation. The entity had stayed true to its words.
The ceasefire was official.
That was good news, but at the same time, Aldrich knew it was foreboding. It was the start of a timer. An hourglass that, if Aldrich did not have all of humanity under him by the time its sands sifted all the way down, things would all end.
At the same time, upon thinking about it more, Aldrich knew that there was likely some leeway here. He could infer from the way the entity spoke about the Titans that releasing them took up a large part of its life force.
In essence, it was an absolute last resort akin to a suicide attack. The entity would not resort to it unless it was absolutely pushed to the limit.
And considering the fact that the entity had spent decades recovering after the Monstering and still had just a meager amount of life force, that indicated that Aldrich had time on the same scale of decades, if not over a century.
However, he could not get complacent.
He needed to outpace the entity's growth. And he had to use his power with more pressure.
The talk with the entity forced Aldrich to shift the balance of his approach.
Currently, he wanted to work with the world leaders, to listen to them and see what worked best for everyone. That was reasonable. But the entity had tilted Aldrich's scale of approach so that he valued control over cooperation.
Control was harsher. Crueler. But it was undeniably faster. So long as one had the power to enforce it.
"Arcadia, fly us back," said Aldrich. "Use your telepathy to get directions from me."
Arcadia clamped its pincers together in understanding and flew into the air, its huge butterfly wings sparkling like scintillating jewels under the sun. With just one flutter, Arcadia brought the group up high into the air, and from there, it was simply a matter of gliding back to Haven.
"Whew, at least we survived that," said Refraction, sighing deeply.
"You sound like you actually went and fought anything," said Mollusk.
"I may as well have, with all that mental pressure."
"To ease pressure after a battle, there is nothing that bests a talk, especially among fellow soldiers," said Chiros, sitting down with Mollusk and Chiros with a friendly smile. "So, tell me of your lives."
Aldrich left them to converse and headed up to Arcadia's skull where he looked ahead, thinking. He felt Valera's tender hand on his shoulder.
"Such a gentle touch. I do not like it when I am touched without warning, but for the sake of our warfather, I shall allow it," said Volantis.
"This again?" Valera smacked a spike off of Volantis's shoulder plate, taking care not to cause any real damage to Volantis or Aldrich.
"Come now, that was a tooth of a drake I slew!" complained Volantis.
"You can find another - look at how many creatures there are here!" countered Valera.
"All of them upset my stomach. Until the Mind Eater devises a way for me to devour them properly, I am bound to starve! I am unlike you bloodsuckers that have less than discriminating tastes."
Valera sighed and ignored Volantis. "Master, something has come over you. The way you stand, it is rigid. Stiff. Cold. It reminds me of how you were when I first saw you in this world.
Is something amiss?"