Chapter 317 A Reasonable Understanding
Medula rubbed her forehead, sighing. "Why should I take this deal? Can I simply not keep this body forever mine? There is nothing you can do about it."
"Like I said, I want us to be reasonable here," said Aldrich. "Because if we get unreasonable, that tends to teeter us to extremes, and I am very much in home with extremes."
"Is that so? Tell me, what is your idea of an extreme?" countered Medula.
"That body is a worldwide treasure in the Alter world. Even now, people are looking for it, among them, the most powerful beings on the planet. I could tip the world off and lead them to a Sign, join them all as my party members, and help them reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
This realm is powerful, yes, but against an attack from an entire world? The odds are questionable."
"You would dare to invade the Necropolis?" Medula narrowed her crimson eyes as they burned with infernal glint. "To ruin that which has given you so much already?"
"Y-you're going to attack us!?" squeaked Wai'ki.
"Not an attack. Just helping my world take back what's theirs," said Aldrich.
"As if you are not the one that sent this body to us for analysis in the first place…," said Medula.
"And now that we're done with it, I fully intend on returning it and burying it properly. That man used to be one of my heroes. I am not above finding value from his corpse - that is what necromancers do - but preferably, I would like to give him rest now that his usefulness is at an end."
The truth was, Aldrich would have raised Supermind as a zombie if he had to. He had done so with Adam and Elaine to survive when he first got his powers, after all, and they meant more to him than Supermind. But he was not in a situation of life or death at this point and he did not want to give that corpse to Medula.
This was, of course, quite a big bluff on Aldrich's part. Leading the heroes into the Sign was nothing short of disastrous for both Aldrich and the Necropolis, but it was the extreme of that disaster that gave weight to this bluff.
Because even if it was unlikely that Aldrich would see through on his bluff, even a 1% chance that he could was risk enough.
"A bluff," Medula aptly called out. "Too big to be realistic so as to be a threat to me."
"Oh, but it isn't a threat to just you, is it?" Aldrich eyed the Death Lord and Wai'ki and, by extension, the entirety of the Necropolis. All of them were going to be under threat, not just Medula.
This forced everyone here to weigh Medula's self-interest against the interest of the many.
Was she willing to compromise the safety of the entire Necropolis for her freedom?
And even before that, would the Death Lord allow it?
Would the rest of the Deathguard?
"I know there are things you are holding back from me," Aldrich said to the Death Lord. "Like how you lost your arm. I know it wasn't from a simple sparring session with Rella. But because of your generosity so far, I've held back on pressing on the matter.
But maybe I should start looking for answers."
"You would dare to threaten my realm?" The Death Lord's fangs bared, her canines lengthening into serpentine curves. She gripped the edge of the grey stone table and shattered a chunk off of it with ease. Her magical aura surged, raging out in a purple and green aura that looked cascaded far into the ceiling.
The entire library shook, cracks starting to etch their way across every large surface.
Wai'ki whimpered as she put her hands over her head and shut her eyes. Medula herself stood up in alarm, the white energy signature of dimensional magic rippling around her gloved hands.
Valera instantly stood up, utterly fearless in the might of a level 100 boss. She positioned herself right beside Aldrich, ready to manifest her shield.
But Aldrich remained calm, staring back at the Death Lord's gleaming lavender eyes without giving a single inch.
If he died, she died.
Not just her, but everyone around her.
And, Aldrich knew, she cared. She cared about the people under her. Otherwise, she would have had a mindless army. He knew that because he did just the same with his own Legion.
If he died, the entire realm collapsed - mass genocide.
The Death Lord laughed.
A deep, hearty laugh with her hands around her robed belly. She hunched over, the peals of her laughter echoing about, each ring of mirth lowering the intensity of her flaring aura bit by bit until, finally, when she was done laughing, the energy was gone.
"Oh, what entertainment." The Death Lord shook her head. "In my thousands of years of life, not a single being has challenged me so fearlessly as you, Usurper. Not even the gods I slew, no, they whimpered and begged and averted their rune-filled eyes the most.
The sheer audacity to suggest an invasion of my realm…it tickles my stone-covered heart so."
"So, what will it be?" said Aldrich.
"I would let you and Medula bicker more, but I cannot risk the Necropolis for it. And you, Usurper, may just be insane enough to follow through on that bluff of yours." The Death Lord spoke to Medula. "Take that deal, Medula."
"I do not need deals, I need-," began Medula.
"Take it." The Death Lord's voice was firm, extremely uncharacteristic of her usual laid back nature. It showed that underneath her veil of casualness, she was still very much the warlord conqueror that had slaughtered millions.
Which brought a question to Aldrich's mind: what exactly was she atoning for? What could hit her conscience so hard that she was willing to just…fade away? Without even trying to change her fate like Medula?
"And you need to make a contract with me before you can gallavant around my world freely," said Aldrich.
"More conditions…?" said Medula.
"Just a simple one," said Aldrich. "That being this: you will not disturb the balance of the world. You may travel and learn and defend yourself, but influencing the world directly? Killing a mass amount of people? Spreading your name to crowds or, to other realms - realms that could find my world? Raising acolytes?
You will not give your name. Your origins. Your magic. Or access to any of it all."
Gods, demons, and high ranking spirits could make contracts with others that they absolutely could not resist lest they suffer severe consequences.
Granted, it was possible to find ways to skirt around contract restrictions - that was what many demons did to trick mortals into making deals with them - but Medula, Aldrich determined, was too straightforward to work that way.
Most knowledge demons were.
They, like war demons, were surprisingly the most 'pure' in their pursuit of what they wanted. They wanted knowledge and to spread it among their chosen followers.
Granted, these followers usually ended up being zealous, questionably brainwashed cultists, but it was generally a better fate than making a contract with, say, a war demon who gave you power at the cost of unquenchable bloodthirst or a secret demon who would want nothing more than to see you fall into despair and destruction.
"Is that your perception of a 'simple' contract?" said Medula.
"Yes," was all Aldrich had to offer.
"I think it simple enough," said the Death Lord. "Simple enough for you to accept this deal, no?"
Though the Death Lord posed a question, the tone behind it was very much not questioning.
"…I suppose I did see something like this coming. You do hold the fate of this entire realm in your unlife. Only I have the tools to escape your grasp over us, this glorified prison, but I cannot ignore my comrades either." Medula glanced at Wai'ki before she sighed. "It was worth a try, I suppose. I will take the deal, Usurper, though note that it is very much under duress."
"I'm glad we came to an understanding," said Aldrich. "A reasonable one."