"What's that shield?" Clint said, nudging his chin towards the energy construct strapped to Thanatos's forearm.
"A gift," said Thanatos, somber. "And a reminder of what I have to do."
Thanatos raised his arm into the air, the shield shining in its verdant splendor. He looked almost like Minuteman, standing stalwart with a symbol of protection high above to protect all life. But the way Thanatos was armored in bone parts and blackened metal and a cloak of wailing, stitched souls made it clear that he much more than a protector of life.
He was a dealer of death.
Both guardian and destroyer.
And this boundary, too, represented that dichotomy.
Thanatos crushed his hand into a fist. The shield separated from his arm and hovered high above his head. Its diadem structure, elongated on one side, looked almost like the hand of a clock. Here, the shield pointed upwards, towards where twelve would be if it was a timepiece.
From the shield, light exploded outwards in a blinding flash.
Within the eye-crushing light, time slowed to a crawl. Here, in this white space seemingly bereft of anything, Aldrich saw a man walking towards him. Aldrich was stripped of his armor, leaving him in his human form in his suit.
The other man - it was him. The him from the other world. More muscular with a brighter smile.
"Huh, so this is what you look like," said the Hero, looking Aldrich up and down. "Pretty damn grim. But I can't say I'm surprised. If things didn't go down the way they did with Minuteman saving my parents - our parents- I think I'd have gone down a similar path too."
"I thought I sensed you," said Aldrich. After he had returned from the other world, he had felt something awaken within himself. An instinctive understanding that his Boundary could activate.
All he had to do was unseal it with his willpower. He knew what it did, too, in a very general sense, like knowing where your arm was and how to move it even if you could not see it.
"When I awoke, I didn't just end that world. I…absorbed it. At least some part of it. It's how Chrysa turned out the way she did, merging with her other self.
It stands to reason the same would've happened to me."
"Perceptive, aren't you?" said the Hero.
"Which means to some degree, you were real. Everything was real. If you weren't, if that world was just an illusion, there would've been nothing to absorb."
"Right." The Hero shrugged. "But I have no clue how the details work, how your dream managed to create an entire world. And there's no point in me thinking about it either. I'm dead now, as is everything I ever knew."
"Don't be." The Hero shook his head. "You probably think you destroyed everything. No, you know it. You felt it because up until a little while ago, it was a life you were living.
But it was a life and a world that existed only because you dreamed it up. And a dream, no matter how nice it is, is always destined to end when the dreamer wakes up."
"That doesn't mean your loss means nothing-," began Aldrich, but the Hero cut him off by raising his gloved hand.
"Yeah, I know, but you felt everything I lost just as much as I did. That's punishment enough. No need to add onto the pile."
Aldrich nodded, and together, the Hero and the Necromancer stood together in silence for a few moments. Moments of shared recollection over what they had both lost together.
"What are you, anyway?" said Aldrich, breaking the silence.
"I didn't think you would be the one to break the silence, brooding look and all." The Hero smirked. "But to answer your question, I don't know exactly, but whatever I am, I won't last. Like you said, you merged with that world, specifically with me.
Probably because we're literally the same person. Same as how my daughter became your daughter. But it looks like her merging was much deeper. It changed her being at a core level.
Ours is much more surface level.
You've inherited a fragment of my power. And in that power, there's a fragment of myself - which is me right now."
"A fragment…" Aldrich rolled the word in his head. He remembered what the Hero said before. "A fragment that won't last?"
"Yeah. Well, the power you've absorbed from me is permanent, make no mistake about that. But me-," the Hero pointed a thumb at himself. "This guy that's talking to you. I'm not going to last.
This talk we're having is our first and, most likely, going to be our last."
Another silence that contemplated loss. In this case, the loss of a hero. A hero that Aldrich once wanted to be. Once was.
The Hero stepped closer to Aldrich, standing right in front of him. The Hero smiled.
"Let's not end this on a sulky note," said the Hero. "In the brief time we were merged, I got a little speedrun of your memories. I know that this world is a shitshow. In way worse of a state than my one was. People are nastier, too.
It's made you do things that I never had to do. Things that mom and dad never had to do."
"I know." Aldrich saw the Hero's smile was unbroken. "You don't have any judgments about that?"
"No. Because deep down, we're still the same person. We get things done, no matter what." The Hero put a fist to his heart." I could get things done in my own way." He put the fist to Aldrich's chest. "But you have your own way. The important thing is that once we choose our paths, we stay on them.
We don't back down no matter who stands in our way. No matter how much we stumble on the way to the finish line, we always get back up. No matter how much we hurt, we always keep running.
That's just who we are. What we are. Fighters."
"I know." Aldrich nodded. "Before, I was hesitant about seeing this path I took through to the end. This path of making the world right.
I didn't know what was at the end. I didn't know if it was the right thing to do.
But now I know from seeing you save the world. It isn't always about knowing what's ahead. It's about having the resolve to see it through, even if the road ahead is dark."
"That about sums it up. I made plenty of mistakes. There were multiple times I thought the world was going to end because of my mistakes. Mistakes that set me way back on my path. But I grit my teeth and trudged on and, eventually, I made it to the finish line.
I want that for you as well. I want you to make this world right. I want you to see the end. A good end. One you'll be satisfied with. No, screw that." The Hero put his fist out towards Aldrich. "I want you to promise me.
Promise me you'll reach the end of this path you've set on. It's the least I deserve for getting my whole world blown up."
Aldrich put his fist against the Hero's. "I promise."
"Good." The Hero smiled as he put his fist down. He began to flicker, his powerful figure turning fuzzy and dark. "Looks like my time's up." He looked up. There was nothing but white light, but he was not looking at that.
He was looking ahead. Far ahead. "Be joining you soon, Elaine. Everyone."
Aldrich stepped back, allowing the Hero to take his last moments in solace. The Hero, however, talked to him again.
"And Chrysa - our daughter - you'll raise her right, won't you? Make sure she doesn't get into trouble. Deal with dumbass dudes and the like.
The girl you knew was neat and innocent, and mine was too when she was that age, but, well, I'll just say you've inherited yourself a whole firecracker. She's just as much a fighter as us." The Hero laughed in remembrance. His smile was tinged now with sadness.
He looked to Aldrich with wet eyes. "Just…make sure she ends up happy, will you? I know that unlike me, you're willing to sacrifice practically everything to reach the end of your path, but make sure she's there by your side at the end, will you?"
Aldrich smiled. His was fainter. Less pronounced, less practiced because he had never had many opportunities to give one. But he smiled nonetheless. "I will."