"Shit…one of the seven freaking swords?" said Tox. Her lavender skin rippled like jello, transferring her shock from head to toe. "All the swords are practically freaking legends in merctalk."
"And we aren't?" said Alexis, her arms crossed, confidence imbued in the straight way she carried herself. "Come on. We're Blackwater. We were meant to train and replace those legends."
"Key word is 'train'," said Tox. "Ace is the only one here who can put up a real fight against them."
"And I'm willing to fight," said Ace. He clenched his fists, a sheen of faint blue energy covering it. "I've always been ready. Meteor Labs has been calling my name for ten years now. All those experiments, the pain, the suffering – I'm going to pay them back for it, fifth sword or not."
"Ease up, son," said Diamondback. Unlike when he talked with Alan or especially Falco, his tone was not patronizing. It had more respect in it, perhaps in recognition of Ace's greater strength and training experience. "I get how you feel. Half this crew's got a grudge against the Trident in some way, shape or form.
I'm the same. The attack on the Spearhorns five years back took my brother from me. But move with vengeance in your body, it might give you a rush, a booster in your legs, but it'll cloud your eyes." He tapped his mind. "Your mind."
"Then what do you propose?" said Stella. "This heist's danger level just got notched up a hell of a lot. On that 1 to 5 rating scale of yours, I reckon it's a fat five by now."
"I would say a four," said Diamondback. "The fifth sword isn't at his best."
"I injured him," said Clint. "A serious injury, too. The Fifth Sword, Shuten Doji, he metabolizes alcohol and converts it into a variety of powers. I managed to introduce a virus that wrecked his liver. He got away with his life that day, but his powers aren't what they used to be, and with how amped up my evolutions were by then, that virus isn't anything that modern medicine can cure."
"Which is confirmed by his recent activity," said Diamondback. "Of which there is none."
"None until now," Tox said. "Injured or not, doesn't change the fact that a sword is in there."
"Doesn't change anything!" said Falco, grinning more nervously than anything else. "We can add 'taking down a sword' to our resumes."
"Dude, do you even have a resume?" Tox stared at Falco like she was saying 'are you serious right now?'. "This is like if some homeless crackhead decided to apply for CEO of a Fortune corp. Shit, at least the crackhead'll just get laughed at and rejected, you do this, you just fucking die."
"Ain't no treasure without danger," said Falco.
"Hey, that sounds like me," said Clint.
Falco nodded. "If I want to lead the Hawks, I need their respect. Just like how you put all the Spearhorns under your banner with the Bushido Break, I want to do something big just like that. Something that'll make everyone in my tribe look up at me."
"I don't know," said Alan, the other newbie here. "This is…risky. We only have around an hour before the storm's cover lifts, and if we aren't out by then, the chances of reinforcements coming shoots up high.
Won't be conventional personnel, but if Meteor Labs is that important to the Trident, I doubt they would hesitate sending tough flying supers our way.
If the fifth sword is there, the chances of this operation taking over an hour goes up exponentially. If reinforcements get here before we can reach the vaults and the Kryptic, things will get dicey quick."
"Willing to weigh risks. Now that's what I like to see on a newbie," said Diamondback.
"I want to make the Trident hurt, but if I die during it, then there's no point," said Alan. "I want to be alive at the end of it all. Standing over their rubble."
"Wisely put," said Diamondback. He addressed everyone broadly. "As it stands, Alan's risk assessment is correct. The fifth sword isn't an impossible obstacle to overcome, especially with Clint. But the issue is the time it'll take to deal with him."
"Dunno how much weaker he's gotten," said Clint. "But he had an impressive healin' factor last I fought him. It's a real slog wearin' him down."
"But the benefit to continuing with this heist have increased significantly as well," said Diamondback. "We now have the chance to take out one of the seven swords. More than a handful of swords will be present in Blackwater, and considering the fifth being here, it's likely he's going to be stationed there as well.
Breaking the fifth here will mean dealing with one less sword during the Blackwater attack."
"I'm of the mind to keep goin' with this," said Clint. "Score ain't settled with me yet. And, like DB said, takin' out a sword now saves us the trouble later. Plus, I'm confident I can kick this guy's ass properly this time around.
What about you folks?" He nodded over to Stella and the Blackwater students.
"Stella, I'm gonna defer this one to you," said Tox. "You're the one the boss put in charge of us, after all."
"Yeah," said Ace, and Alexis nodded in agreement.
"I'm going to try and reach out to Thanatos first," said Stella.
Clint nodded. "Try to contact Thanatos if you can. If he wants you to pull out, I'll pull out too."
"There's Geostorm based interference all around us," said Kris. "How are you going to manage that?"
"Uh, it just works," said Stella. She put a hand to the side of her head and closed her eyes, sending out a distress signal telepathically to Aldrich.
Ordinary units in the Legion barring boss category beings like Fler'Gan or Okeanos or Chosen like Valera could not freely communicate with Aldrich, but every unit could send distress signals, at which point Aldrich could manually open telepathic channels to engage in conversation.
"The hell…?" Stella's forehead wrinkled in concern. "He ain't picking up. This ain't like him. If any one of us sent a distress signal, he'd be right up in our heads in an instant."
"Does sound like what he'd do, OCD as he is," said Tox. "Though I do like the detail oriented guys…"
"This is kinda different, too. I can feel my signal reaching out, but it's not getting to him, as if he's somewhere our minds can't touch at all," said Stella.
"By now, Thanatos should be here in realspace," said Alexis. She and the others knew that every so often, Aldrich could disappear to a different dimension, but he usually told them decently accurate timeframes for his disappearance to make sure there was no confusion. "He had a dinner appointment, and he's not the type to flake on those."
"Good. I hate ghosters," said Tox.
"Did something happen to him?" said Ace.
"Well if it did, ain't no way to know," said Stella. She took in a deep breath. "Meaning the decision's entirely my own. Damn, I hate leading teams. Last time I led one, I got everyone killed."
"Not entirely reassuring here, sis," said Tox.
"Don't worry. I'm a helluva lot stronger now," said Stella, flexing her arm. She nodded. "Let's do this. This was an important mission, Thanatos made that clear to me. And he's trustin' us to see it through even without his input.
We need that Kryptic above anything else. Might as well treat the fifth sword as a bonus to slap on top of it."
"I better get paid a bonus worth it," said Tox. "Wouldn't mind a date either."
"Yeah, you try and get a date from that busy ass schedule of his. And from Val too," said Stella. "I'll make sure to think of something for your obituary."
"C'mon why keep reminding me? Let a girl dream..."
"Good. Then we're all of one mind," said Clint. He cracked his neck. "Let's get this shit started."