Chapter 273 Immortal Advice
"Liking my wares, are we?" The Death Lord materialized behind Aldrich, and he immediately whirled around, the blade of solid sunlight in his hands. The tip of the golden sword hovered just an inch away from the Death Lord's pale, dainty neck.
The Death Lord's serpentine tongue slithered out, curling around the blade tip in quite the suggestive manner before she smirked and drew it back in. "Always ready for a fight. Admirable."
"It's just you." Aldrich sighed and lowered the blade. The weight felt nice in his hands, perfectly tailored to his preferences. He had some knowledge of how to use swords because vibroblades, monofilament whip-blades, and heatrend swords were pretty commonplace.
Guns were nice and all, but against heavily armored mutants or Alters with skin that could bounce missiles off? Techblades were the way to go.
"Just me? How rude." The Death Lord pouted.
"And Chrysa?" Aldrich asked about what was most important to him at the moment.
The Death Lord nodded and waved forward. A black armored death knight gently carried Chrysa in its arms. She slept peacefully now, without any hint of spatial disturbance bothering her.
Aldrich had overseen the Death Lord's treatment and saw nothing off about it. She simply cast a healing spell and broke Chrysa out of her nightmare, granting her instead pleasant dreams.
And since the soul link flowed in two ways, Aldrich could sense that Chrysa's mind was at peace.
The Death Lord eyed Aldrich's cape. Or, more specifically, her own cape. "How do you like it? That priceless piece of fashion you don cost me five hundred years to stitch together, cobbling together the souls of the finest warriors known throughout the realms."
"I'm more than happy with it," Aldrich admitted.
"Once you complete your quest, that shall be yours. But beyond that, that bell of yours will serve you to even greater degree."
Aldrich raised a brow. "Will it now?"
The Death Lord nodded with confidence. "It is modeled after the great bell that sits atop the Necropolis. Once, that bell was small much like yours, a thing to be held snug in a hand more for comfort than any real use.
It was gifted to me by one quite dear to me, and it rang whenever it sensed a friend. A kindred soul.
That allowed me to build up my legions like a true commander, full of those I trust."
"I did wonder about that." Aldrich dematerialized his longsword. "Every other necromancer I faced, at least to my knowledge, barely ever kept their units capable of thinking.
To me, it made sense. Otherwise, what's the difference between a necromancer and an ordinary commander if you have to worry about your units rebelling?"
"Yet you seem to allow liberal freedom to your undead now."
Aldrich nodded. "I do. I realized if I kept expanding my pool of undead, I couldn't focus on all of them with the same amount of attention, no matter how good my micro was.
I knew that from the very moment I started fielding undead. I started off with next to mana - leagues below what you probably had. And my mind was still human.
No matter how fast I could think, there was always going to be a limit to how far I could spread my consciousness. Probably much lower of a threshold than, again, what you could naturally put out.
If I wanted my units to always be at top capability, then I needed them to know how to think and fend for themselves.
Of course, that presents risks like them making errors of their own or potentially harboring rebellious thoughts, but I've made efforts to minimize those confounding variables."
"Then you understand why I too built my legion the way I did," said the Death Lord. "At first, when I was new to the dark arts, I did as you surmised. I commanded vast armies of undead with my insurmountable draconic mana pool, and I kept them all mindless.
But the greater my ambitions grew, the more I had to spread my undead, and the more and more defeats I faced. It even led to my first sealing under the champions of that sunlit wench's father."
"Right." Aldrich knew that in the lore, the Death Lord had been sealed throughout most of the game's history by an enigmatic light blessed champion known only as the Shining One who was, as the Death Lord said, powered by the goddess Amara's father, the high god of light and life known as Eos.
"My forces fell and scattered. When at times holy magics severed my connection from them, many of them chose to end their own undead lives or actively fight against me," recounted the Death Lord. "And now, I have learned from my mistakes.
Most of my undead willingly serve me."
The Death Lord shrugged. "You cannot please everyone. Some I render mindless if they are too valuable to let go."
Aldrich looked at Chrysa.
"Are you considering that fate for her?" the Death Lord looked surprised.
"No. Well, in a way, yes." Aldrich paused, taking a moment to word this in a way that it did not sound an awful lot like enslaving a child. "I'm still wondering if I can't just control her manually during stressful situations. It would give her less of an emotional burden and let me operate efficiently too."
"You two share a Boundary." The Death Lord put her hand to her chest, where her heart sat under considerable amounts of padding. "Both of you are responsible for growing it. If you control her, you may be able to wield her powers as they are now, but she will never grow, and if she never grows, she will never be able to add to your Boundary.
True, you need power, stable power, now, but again, you have an eternity. Think to the future, Death Walker. The little one most grow for you to achieve your greatest strength.
That is the point of this quest."
"I get it." Aldrich walked up to the Death Knight and took Chrysa from its armored skeletal hands. He looked down at her sleeping face.
"Fatherâ€¦" she whispered, nuzzling into Aldrich, still asleep.
"I still want to shield her," Aldrich admitted. "From hurt and struggle. I know she will have to see fights in her future. It's inevitable just from being with me.
But it's still difficult. In a way, when I look at her, at the innocence there that I want to protect, I still feel warmth in myself, and I don't want to let it fade away."
When you see her, you feel your humanity," said the Death Lord. "Or the vestiges of it that you harbor. I see now. Your desire to protect innocence - this is the single greatest anchor there is upon your soul."
"Is it a bad thing?" Aldrich asked.
"It is a matter of perspective and moderation." The Death Lord turned away, focusing on something else, some other time in her life. "I was always immortal, so I do not understand as well. But I do know that the longer lived you are, the more you must harbor strong goals, strong desires.
These are what will propel you forward. To prevent your mind and soul from rotting stagnant. Immortalic Rot sets in faster than you think, especially with an immortal's perception of time, and once it sets in, the apathy, the hopelessness, you become nothing more than a void that sucks in the hopes of others.
Some undead find their spiritual anchors in little flames of humanity they still hold alight in their hearts. Others in ambitious, far ranging goals. Others in simple duty. Others in love, others in hate - so many anchors across so many eternal lives that bloomed from death.
Keep that flame of humanity of yours if it anchors your soul. But do not let it burn you when you must reach beyond it.
You must be willing to make sacrifices when you have to. You must not let it become a weakness."
"That, I've already resolved myself to do," said Aldrich.
"Indeed. I could read that in your soul from the moment I met you." The Death Lord turned to Aldrich and looked deeply into his eyes. "You were firm in your willingness to sacrifice.
And to no surprise. Your entire life in this new realm was walked upon the road of sacrifice and loss.
If that road grants you strength, then do not stray from it."
The Death Lord pointed to Chrysa. "And let her walk it also. She is born of your soul. The road that granted you strength will grant her strength too.
Through trial by fire, you were tempered and forged. She will mold under the same conditions.
Protect her, you may, but do not rob her of her choice, for choice is where she learns resolve, and resolve is where she builds strength."
Aldrich nodded. "You can be surprisingly poetic at times."
"It comes with the years," said the Death Lord. She smiled up at the air, to something that no longer was. "Or perhaps, in a different life, if things were different, I would have liked to be one."
The Death Lord turned around and began to leave, her hands behind her back like some kind of old sage. Her draconic emerald scaled tail swished behind her. "I will take my leave. The little one is in light sleep. Awaken her when you desire and enter the trial quest when you can."
"One thing," said Aldrich.
The Death Lord stopped. "Hm?"
"There's a corpse of a frozen old human I brought here. I'd like you to investigate it and see if you can find anything odd about it. Whatever killed him purged his soul, preventing me from raising him as an undead," said Aldrich.
The Death Lord cocked her head. "Truly? Odd. I will see to it that Medula and I thoroughly break it apart."
"No breaking it apart. I need it for burial," said Aldrich.
"Fine. I will try my best now to rend it asunder, even if it will be difficult with how fragile the humans of the new realm are," said the Death Lord. She walked away for a few steps before she faded away, teleporting.
Aldrich was left looking down at Chrysa. He stroked her hair, pulling a few moonlight white strands from her closed eyes. She looked so very peaceful - the embodiment of the peace that Aldrich wanted for her and all others like her - but the Death Lord was right.
If Chrysa wanted to walk Aldrich's path of struggle with him, he had to give her that choice. He carried her all the way over to his incomplete throne of emerald crystal and sat down upon it. He closed his eyes and focused on his Boundary, and like that, he and Chrysa both faded, leaving behind just the purple orb that formed Aldrich's phylactery.