Aldrich paused, his spiritual body watching unblinkingly at the bright white light. That light, though warm, though so very welcoming, felt odd to him. It felt strangely…alien. The coldness of his own soul, of the deathly energies that he harnessed, felt much more at home with his heart than this.
But the repulsed sensation within Aldrich quickly dimmed away as his spiritual eyes beheld the forms of his friends once again. They were whole, too. No longer was their flesh rotted and bloodied, it was unwounded and whole and warm.
Their eyes looked at Aldrich with focus, not with bleary dead blankness.
They did not wear the tattered remnants of their Blackwater uniforms. Adam dressed simply in jeans and a plain white shirt while Elaine had on a plaid skirt and jacket combo she was fond of. These were the types of outfits they wore in the rare occasions they had free time to go out to Haven. Outfits they wore when they wanted to have fun instead of worrying about the countless problems life threw their way.
They did not even have the many old scars on their bodies and faces that stood as proof of their harsh lives.
This was what they would have looked like in an ideal world. When they could just live their lives the way they wanted to. And in the world that Aldrich envisioned, many like them, many like Aldrich himself, would get to live these lives out.
Adam and Elaine smiled at Aldrich, and when he saw those smiles, his visions of a future under his control, all those far off plans fled him as he was sucked into the present, the here and now where he had just one final more precious moment to spend with the only two people he had ever called friends.
"Man, did you get even edgier since school?" said Adam.
"And not even heaven can make you look good, huh," said Aldrich.
"Heh, always got something to say back to me, huh? Come here-," Adam opened his arms wide for a hug, patting Aldrich firmly on the back. "Thanks for looking out for us. Even when we turned into zombies. It must've been a burden-,"
"Not at all." Aldrich pulled back from Adam and then hugged Elaine.
Elaine smiled as she rested her chin on Adam's shoulder. "Just make sure to take a break once in a while."
"No need. With undeath, my stamina is infinite," said Aldrich as he pulled back from Elaine.
"Yeah, we know that," said Adam. "Don't take it so literally. What she means is that sometimes, you just have to slow down, even when you don't think you need to. Helps with clearing the head."
"You ought to know a lot about that, huh," said Aldrich.
Adam smiled and sighed. "Come on, cut a dead guy some slack."
"Yeah, I know." Aldrich paused for a bit, eyeing Adam and Elaine before speaking his mind. "You two…about what I've done, all the people I've killed, the people I've made suffer, I just wanted you to know that it isn't because I've gone insane.
This is how I just am. How I always was. I just never got to show it to you two fully.
But everything I've done is for a reason."
"Don't worry about it, Aldy," said Adam as he shook his head. "You don't have to explain anything to us. This is your life, or rather, unlife, I guess, that you get to live, and it isn't our right to force anything onto you or judge you for anything.
Whether you kill or torture or whatever, that's all you, and it would be wrong for us to try and change how you are."
"Are you sure, Adam? Didn't you want to be a hero?" said Aldrich. "The whole capes and saving lives thing I thought might have clashed with this a little more."
"I wanted to be a hero to make money and be famous, hah, not because I had any strong ideals or anything." Adam shrugged. "I mean, I guess I would've liked to save people too, yeah, and me personally, I could never imagine doing what you do.
But as someone from the Wastelands, I also know what the harsh reality of this world is like.
There are people like you and people like me and at the end of the day, we aren't any better than the other, just different."
"And Aldrich," said Elaine. "I want you to know that we've always known who you are. We know what you're capable of. We know what you've been through and how much that's changed you.
Plus, you never really kept it a secret. You always did tell us about how your biggest dream was to get out of Blackwater and hunt down the people responsible for killing your parents.
We accepted you for who you were then, and that doesn't change now."
"Yeah, I know." Aldrich nodded. "It's still good to hear it from you two one more time though."
"Just don't get too crazy, though," said Adam with a laugh. "What was that quote again? Staring too long into the abyss is bad for your eyes?"
"No, you doofus," sighed Elaine. "Gaze too long into the abyss, and the abyss also gazes into you. That's what it is."
"Yeah, whatever. That quote. Just make sure doing all this sh*t, you don't get messed up too bad," said Adam.
"A little late for that," said Aldrich. "I've always been like this. Ever since my parents died."
"I know," said Adam. "But there's a really big difference between how you are now with a focused goal and legitimately being messed up. Like, birds spinning above the head real batsh*t crazy kind of deal."
"You honestly think I would turn out like that? Like any of the raving lunatics in Ark Asylum?" said Aldrich.
"Of course not. I don't know a single guy out there with a stronger will than you. I'm just saying, because of that strong will, you tend to really, really focus on something, and you don't let it go. It could take up too much of you." Adam patted Aldrich's shoulder. "What I'm saying is, when you're doing all this crazy stuff to try and change the world, make sure to take some time to breathe. To relax, you know."
"Relax?" questioned Aldrich. He shook his head. "My days of relaxing are over. They ended when you two died."
"That's just not true," said Adam. "You have a whole lot more people to live for now. You've even got someone that loves you out there, and it's hard to love someone back if you've got so many other things in your mind.
I guess if I try to boil down my rambling, it's this: if you start to look at the world too much as a problem to solve, I'm worried you'll start to only see what's wrong and not the good that's in it.
And believe me, I'm speaking from experience here, even though life can seem like a pile of steaming dog crap, you can always scoop out a nugget of good somehow."
"Did you seriously try to make a deep life quote using an analogy for picking apart dog poop? You really are a poet, aren't you," said Elaine.
"Hey now, you have to admit that it works, doesn't it?" said Adam.
"It does," said Aldrich. He looked at his friends and sighed. "I just wish…that maybe, somehow, I could bring you two back. I have so much that I need to do, so much I want to change now that I have power.
I took you two along as zombies because I wanted you two to see as much of what I did as possible, to try and make you two a part of that change I wanted to see-,"
"It's okay," said Elaine. "We had pretty awful deaths, but it doesn't change the fact that we're dead. Coming back, at least for me, isn't something that sounds too great. Plus, dying is, well, how to put it, strangely peaceful? It feels like a rest after a long day of work.
If…maybe, you weren't doing so well, if you didn't have anyone beside you, I think we might have had a stronger urge to come back, but all I can say is that I'm happy seeing how you are now."
"Yeah, have to agree with that," said Adam. "I don't feel too much like coming back, either, considering Mr. Edge over here has netted himself the hottest girl I've ever seen. Sorry, Aldy, but it looks like we're going to have to leave this whole changing the world thing to you."
"Lazy to the end, huh?" joked Aldrich.
"No, if there was ever anyone out there that I could trust to change this world, it would be you. All there is to it," said Adam.
Adam and Elaine's forms started to flicker, turning misty.
"Looks like our time is up," said Adam.
"There's just one more thing for me," said Elaine.
"What is it?" said Aldrich.
"My dad out in the Wastelands, I want you to give him some closure." Elaine looked down ruefully. "I was working on a project for him a while back. It isn't finished for obvious reasons, but it's something I wanted him to have before he passed away. If you log into my cloud, you'll find it pretty easily."
"I'll do my best to get it to him," said Aldrich. He knew Elaine's login information because the two routinely had collaborated in designing weapons, upgrades, and programs for the Frames back in Blackwater, though it was mostly Elaine doing the work and Aldrich providing user feedback.
"You better," said Adam.
"And you? You have any last requests?" said Aldrich.
"Yeah, I do. A pretty damn important one," said Adam seriously.
"What is it?" said Aldrich.
"For you to be happy, that's what," said Adam with a smile. "Me personally? Nothing. So quit wasting your time on dead spirits and get back out there."
"What he said," said Elaine.
"Thanks, you two," said Aldrich.
"And get rid of those zombies of us already. I look bad enough as is. Doesn't help when I'm a rotting corpse," complained Adam.
"Yeah, yeah, I will," said Aldrich. "Don't worry about that. Now that I've talked to you two again, I feel a lot better letting you two go."
"One last hug?" said Elaine.
"Of course! Bring it in, folks!" said Adam, and the three of them hugged together for a long, lingering moment.
Aldrich stayed in his friends' embrace until he felt their souls slowly fade away, their touch and warmth on his astral body growing colder and lighter until finally, it was all gone. The bright white light from their manifestation had disappeared, fading away into the gloomy dark and grey of the Necropolis.
Aldrich looked down at his open hand where a few faint sparkles of white light shimmered, though even those slowly flickered away.
[Objective: Sever all mortal bonds: COMPLETE]
"So? Did you find what you needed?" said the Death Lord. She breathed heavily though she hid it quite well behind a straight posture and calm smile. It was obvious that channeling the soul construction had taken a massive toll on her.
"Yeah. I got my closure," said Aldrich. He paused. "Thanks."
"My, it has been a very long time since anyone has thanked me for anything," said the Death Lord. Her smile then faded, her expression growing stern. "Now then, let us finalize the Ritual of Eternity."
"About time," said Aldrich.