Adam and Elaine grunted at Aldrich because that was all their zombified vocal chords were capable of.
Light enveloped the group, blinding away the Nexus and teleporting Aldrich back to the forest. He checked his wristwatch.
Barely any time had passed.
Good. Aldrich needed some time to get ready.
He materialized the [Staff of Stilling Pollen] in his hands. It looked like a two-meter-long bamboo shoot that split off into three branches at the crown. A yellow, seed-like bulb the size of a baseball drooped from each branch, and the surface of each seed was scattered with tiny hairs and bright yellow pollen.
Each of these bulbs had a cast of [Pollen Cloud] embedded within them, making them noxious gas grenades that could be remotely detonated.
A near perfect tool for what Aldrich wanted to do -
"Stop me here," said Ghost from the comfortably cushioned backseat of a commercial hovercar. He was the only passenger in a car that had enough seating space to fit in six, and he abused the space as much as possible, putting his feet on the seat and sprawling out like he was in his own bed.
He had ordered an black tier express ride from Carrier, the best and most reliable taxi and rideshare service on the market, and he was damn well going to make the most of his purchase, especially now that he was getting jitters from coming off the high of X.
"Are you sure, sir? This is still quite a ways from the compound, and there may be Variants out and about," said the driver from the front seat. An opaque black plexiglass sheet separated passengers from the driver, but Ghost could still see the silhouette of the driver"s head cocked in confusion.
"Did you not fucking hear me?" said Ghost, annoyed. "I want out here."
"As you wish, sir," said the driver. He halted the sleek black, expensive hovercar to a smooth stop. Ghost"s passenger side door slid open, and he hobbled out, backpack slung over his shoulder.
"Next time, if there is one," said Ghost to the driver. "You don"t question me, got it? Two hundred credits a ride and you lecture me, a top tier Blackwater recruit, on safety? Fuck off."
"Have a nice day, sir," said the driver, obviously used to this kind of treatment.
"Yeah, whatever," said Ghost as he stumbled away on the paved road. He heard the hovercar door click shut behind him and the car zoom away. He waited until the car was completely gone before he went off the road and into the dirt of the forest.
Ghost grimaced. In class ranking, he was 20th - the very last of the A-class, and he was in dire danger of slipping into B-class. No, in the first place, he was B-class material. The only reason he was in the A-class was because Seth Solar was his friend and could pull string for him.
But even that had limits.
By training hard, Ghost could barely hold his own in the A-class, but these drugs, these fucking drugs - they screwed him up. They made him slow when he needed to be fast. They made his head go blank when he needed it to be sharp.
Ghost dug his fingers into his forearm and grit his teeth. But he could not quit. Fuck that Blackwater technician for introducing him to X. It was all his fault that he was in this downward spiral.
Regardless, Ghost needed to get rid of the syringes he had used. X was illegal enough that getting rid of them in Haven city was a risk because of cops finding them and tracing them with chemical dating. Granted, it was not a high risk, but any risk was too much for Ghost to handle.
Blackwater"s zero drug tolerance policy meant that if Ghost was caught with, no, even just associated with drugs, especially one like X, he was truly fucked. The best way he thought of getting rid of contraband was dumping them in the forest because nobody ever went there due to the danger of Variants.
Now, as a pretty strong Alter himself, Ghost could easily deal with low rank Variants like Strikers. But there was always the off chance that some stronger Variant was there. Even in that case, though, he could just use his ability and run away.
Ghost took the ten minute or so trek to his usual dumping spot. Meanwhile, he checked his Eye-Phone"s photo gallery, a smile forming at the ends of his lips as he went through his normal de-stressing routine.
He looked through pictures of bare-naked women he had snapped while they were passed out senseless from drugs he slipped them at a private room in the After-Dark, the biggest night club in Haven.
One of them was a complete smoke show, too. A solid nine out of ten who had just graduated from Haven High school, and her, he had gotten passed out and used all the way. He licked his lips, watching snippets of the videos he had taken of her.
Ghost reached the clearing where his dumping spot was and put down his bag. He unzipped it, taking out a small bundle of syringes and a few small empty plastic boxes that once had pills in them. He laid the contraband by his side and withdrew a hand shovel.
Shovel in hand, he started to dig away at the little pit that held his secrets. Until he hit something that cracked.
"What the fuck?" he whispered as he uncovered some dirt. He had hit a small, golden…seed? Its outer shell was lined with cracks from his shovel. No, not just one seed, there were two others too laying beside it.
Ghost registered confusion for a split seconds before he started to grow wary, and this single split second costed him.
All three seeds burst apart, releasing a concentrated gas of yellow dotted with glowing speckles of pollen. Ghost coughed violently before covering his mouth, his eyes watering, and he immediately activated Phase on his upper body, making his lungs and mouth intangible.
Too late, though.
One breath of that concentrated gas had buckled Ghost to his knees, his entire body growing numb and still, and he fell face first into the pile of seeds. He felt stabs of pain as used up needles in the dirt pile pierced his face.
Ghost made his lungs, mouth, throat, and nose intangible as long as he could, but he still needed to breathe. The gas stayed there for longer than he could hold his breath, and he was forced to gulp in another breath of it.
Ghost blinked and grimaced, his body frozen like a statue. His head, though, was not paralyzed, keeping him conscious.
Paralysis from the head down was a common trait of Moss Beast pollen poisoning. This, he knew from his training.
As he grimaced, staring down at the dirt, struggling not to have needles puncture too deeply into his cheeks, his mind raced.
Moss Beasts released their gas through tubes, not through seeds like this. And why had a Moss Beast planted these seeds in this specific hole of all things?
Nothing made sense.
Ghost felt his body kicked over, flipping him over face up. His pale red eyes widened near impossibly as he stared up at a pair of glowing green eyes looking down at him. Then, he recognized te face.
It was a face he thought he would never see again.
"W-what the fuck? You-you"re that Dud!?" whispered Ghost, finding it incredibly hard for his numbed lungs to draw breath.
"Aldrich. That"s my name. A name you never bothered to learn."
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