"Well, I'll be damned, it was you all along," said Ace. He was the first to break the silence. He smirked as he floated towards Aldrich with his arms crossed.
Aldrich's eyes swiftly scanned from side to side, analyzing the general reaction to him. Overall, there was mostly shock. He could not sense direct aggression, and that did make sense.
One factor of his undead resurrection process seemed to be that any aggression towards him, the master, was turned down to minimal levels. This was consistent with Elden World lore that typecast those that stated that necromancers made their undead into loyal servants.
Aldrich assessed the worst case scenario.
There were definite cases of undead under liches being able to rebel against them. Rare, but possible. Usually, in Aldrich's experience, it was when strong willed individuals opposed a necromancer so strongly that they could resist the control.
Some resisted the control to such a degree they could even reject a necromancer's will to destroy their bodies and release their souls, thus turning them from a loyal unit into an uncontrollable enemy.
This was exceedingly rare, however. Undead control reached deep within the soul, easily being on par with the demonic soul binding that Volantis suffered under. No, in fact, demonic soul binding actually came from the Death Lord's original necromancy ritual, copying the spell's framework.
The mechanisms of undead control were rather sinister. A normal soul could reject foreign influence much like how a body used its immune system to fight off infection.
Undead control was a two step process.
First, it buried the past memories of the undead and locked them deeply away, though the original soul and the basic core personality traits associated with the soul remained.
Then, it basically hijacked the soul's immune system and reshaped it accordingly to serve the necromancer.
Undead control was thus much like a parasitic cancer. In rare cases, an undead could forcibly recover their sealed memories. However, the 'immune system' of their soul, now under the necromancer's control, would start to forcibly destroy these memories and thoughts as 'foreign influence'.
Deleting the memories of a soul directly was basically impossible. In addition, the memories of a soul formed its 'body'. Deleting them would basically kill the soul too.
Thus, undead control only sealed memories. That could be seen with Volantis as well. His old memories were still there, just sealed under many layers of control.
But if one tricked the soul into thinking its own memories were foreign, then it was possible to abuse its 'immune system' against itself to start cannibalizing itself.
The more an undead resisted its necromancer, the more they lost themselves. Thus, even if an undead resisted getting dispelled immediately, the length of time they could rebel was highly limited.
In summary, if Aldrich found himself encountering Blackwater students that resisted his control, he just had to wait things out. He doubted even one of these students had the willpower to resist him, and even if they did, he could control the others and subdue the odd one out.
"When did you get all this power?" said Ace, his white eyes crackling with energy.
"The fuck? Why's that the first thing on your mind, blockhead?" said Simon Wells, one of Seth Solar's past friends. "The better question is: how are you even alive?"
"Does it matter?" said Aldrich. "What matters is that you are alive solely because of me. At my will, I can have you turned back into the corpses you were when I found you."
"…" Simon paused, peering at Aldrich through his visor.
"Is there a problem?" said Aldrich.
"…Nah. I can't really find it in myself to feel like lasering you. Plus, you're right. I can kind of sense that if you die, I die, and I do like living," said Simon.
"Screw that!" shouted Evan Harker, another of Seth's posse. "He's just a freaking dud, lording over us like this because he got some power! You-you killed Ghost, and you killed Seth - I know it!"
"I did," said Aldrich simply. "But so what? You killed me, don't you remember? I only returned the favor. You should be thankful I even raised you again."
"I won't accept this!" shouted Evan. He stood up from his chair and shattered a beer bottle in his hand. "I-I-,"
Evan collapsed to a knee, putting his hand on his head in shock. His soul was starting to destroy itself, sensing insubordination.
"As you can see, there are consequences to going against me," said Aldrich. He walked up to Evan, and the Blackwater students shuffled back, clearing the way for Aldrich.
Aldrich put a hand on Evan's shoulder. "What's the emotion driving you to go against me like this? Hate? Hate's a strong motivator. I know that very well."
"Wh-what's happening to me?" said Evan as he looked up at Aldrich. "Who…who am I?"
"Nobody." Aldrich crushed Evan's shoulder, and the bones shattered under his grip. He then dispelled Evan completely, eliminating him from the pool of undead.
Evan's body crumbled into dust in an instant, and then that dust pile faded into nothingness.
"Shit! Why'd you do that!?" said Simon.
"It was a reminder," said Aldrich. He glared at Simon, and the Alter cowered under the threatening stare. "That all of you are on borrowed time. And I'm the bank."
"Well, what do you want from us?" said Eric Glass, the Alter who had healed Minuteman. His voice quiet and soft spoken but neutral. Among the A class, Eric was perhaps the most reasonable. He, unlike everyone else, was not a combatant and had trained solely to help with injuries.
"I can overlook the suffering you all caused me. Most of you aside from Seth Solar and his group just ignored me. And my friends. Why I keep you around then, is because all of you are useful. And all of you have potential," said Aldrich. "Otherwise, Blackwater would never have recruited you. You all would have gone into the Dark Six - the superpower of the criminal underworld.
I want to use that potential to build up a superpower of my own.
If you decide to stay with me, you can be part of that journey." Aldrich motioned to the telescreens and alcohol. "You've all seemed to be enjoying it so far.
Otherwise, I can lay you to rest. Returned to dust where you belong."
Or, the third option that Aldrich did not say out loud was that he could just all turn them mindless or completely seal their memories as he had done with Fisk.
However, the Blackwater students had so many valuable memories across a variety of criminal organizations that half their worth was their memories. Controlling them when they were mindless was also so much more of a hassle, he realized.
It required directly having to think about manipulating them, and though it did not matter as much when he had fewer undead to worry about, on the scale of hundreds, it was a formidable task.
If Aldrich was just going to mind wipe them, he was far more willing to just dispel the more useless ones and keep a core powerful few remaining.
But optimally, the strongest legion Aldrich could form was one that was loyal mostly of their own accord. Mindless units also lost the potential to experiment with their powers and grow stronger, and most of Blackwater's potential lay not in the current strength of their students, but their future.
And maybe he had gotten a little softer, influenced by his recent experiences in the Necropolis and experiences with Casimir's loyal subordinates.
"I have no real qualms with that," said Eric. "I'm here to heal. Who I happen to do that for doesn't concern me."
"For me, strength is all that matters," said Ace. "And you're strong as hell. Long as I, uh, make money and kick ass, I'm all good."
"I can't imagine credits will be an issue," said Aldrich. "Safety and security -these things I can guarantee."
These words resonated with the students.
Back when Aldrich was in Blackwater, he had done extensive research on the Blackwater students to figure out their weaknesses to devise contingencies against.
Part of that research involved uncovering their backgrounds. Elaine had done most of the heavy lifting on that side, but Aldrich remembered all the info she dredged up.
Most of the Blackwater students had no such thing as family or security. They were all basically tools groomed to be mercenaries, villains, assassins, and the like.
Most of them, like Ace, were orphans taken in by organizations or labs. Comparatively few were like Kat who were raised by parents already involved with the criminal underworld.
All of them lived in fear of their handler organizations. Most of them were treated as disposable tools, tossed away and killed if they could not meet expectations. Abuse was a common thing they dealt with.
One of the reasons why they did not already leave Aldrich was because they could instinctively tell that it was safer being with him than on their own.
Deep down, they were scared kids that wanted a place to feel safe. Aldrich could, in part, sympathize. It was a feeling he had shared as an orphaned child himself.
Aldrich would not hesitate to control them with fear as he had done by making an example of Evan, but that did not mean he could not accommodate them either.
Typical stick and carrot style diplomacy.
"Think it over," said Aldrich. "Most of you will live a life miles better than what you had before, if the empty beer cans and half full liquor bottles are any indication. And the alternative is dying."
Aldrich walked past the Blackwater students, leaving the main room and heading to the control center.