Van packed up and left the secret room, but not before setting it on fire and absorbing the spiritual essence of the golem with his vespera bangle and the lantern. The lantern was also the way spirit callers gathered spiritual energy, or for that matter, the souls of the departed, and kept it in safety until it was time to properly realize them. The flame in its center, growing a little brighter as he did so.
Leaving the flaming room, he wasn’t sure if everything would reset once he left the focal point, but even if it did, it was the principle of the matter that he at least did this much.
Fully energized and ready, he walked through the old dusty hallways that were as silent as the grave. The feeling of being watched still never left him, but at least he had his wolves fanned out and surrounding him for protection.
Taking the stairs, he was not surprised to see that the zombies and ghosts he dealt with before, returned and were milling about as if waiting for him. Deciding to stay on high ground, he sent his wolves down in his stead to take care of them.
Sounding his lantern every so often to help his wolves, they made slow but decent progress killing off the undead below him. That was until his senses went crazy and he nearly dodged a grab from behind.
The wraith from before was right behind him and had been trying to sneak up on him like before, but this time Van was more cautious and was ready for any attack. Thought not so soon, as his wolves were still downstairs.
In one smooth motion without losing sight of the wraith, Van instead of running away, leaped onto the railing and jumped down into the open area that his wolves were making. So he could have more space to work with, in dealing with the deadly apparition.
But what he was not expecting was for him to fly through the air for some time and fall backwards into another hallway! Van knew that the space of this place was distorted and that some hallways lead nowhere and some even went back into themselves. But what kind of trick house made a man that was planning to leap from the second floor to the first send him flying into another hallway!?
Fortunately, he still felt the connection of his wolves, though distant. Unfortunately, the wraith did not seem to care about obstacles, because it was soon flying through the walls to chase after him.
It seemed more determined than ever to get him. Claws extended, eyes filled with fury, chanting something guttural and barely comprehensive as a magical formation appeared in front of it and shot out a wave of sharpened ice his way.
Not even needing to think, Van activated his aura, feeling time slow down and his body speed up. Dodging and weaving around the spears of ice, his heart racing and as he jumped around and even off the walls of the corridor to dodge the deadly icicles.
Pulling out his sword, he coated it in spiritual and magical energy so as to cut things like the ghost in front of him. More than that, he opened the lantern and pulled out a small ounce of the flame, then grew it by feeding it his mana.
The wraith hissed at the growing ghostly fire, taking a more defensive stance and deciding to take advantage of the narrow hallway to attack with its icy spells.
The ghostly flame was a great way to deal with ghosts and undead. If the spirit caller wished it to, it could feed on the spiritual energy of its victims, making it a powerful arsenal for anyone who fought against the undead.
Not that it would do him much good right now, the wraith seemed now more comfortable hanging back and shooting spells at him then getting close enough where Van could throw the fire at it, and these narrow halls could only allow him to dodge so much. Turning, he prepared to run down the hallway until he could find a more open area to fight in. only to smack himself on the door.
Blinking in confusion, he now found himself on the other end of the hallway, far away from the wraith who was now looking bewildered, trying to see where its prey disappeared to right in front of it.
“Seriously! This is more of a trick house than a haunted mansion!” remembering the times that Van got lost, both on the first and second floor. Not that he was complaining right at this moment, it gave him time and put a great amount of distance between him and the wraith. Not that the wraith would care, once it figured out where Van was, as it could just fly through the walls.
Just then Van felt a connection with one of his wolves almost go dark as it got close to destruction, snapping him out of his thoughts. Not daring to turn, he felt around with his hands to open the door so that he could get back into the main hall where his wolves were dealing with the small horde of undead that should be thinned out by now.
Entering it, he found that he was right and that most of the undead were now taken care of, much to his relief. Not to his relief, the wraith heard him open the door and leave and now was making a beeline right for him with a hissing shriek.
It was at this moment, Van knew what he had to do. Was it childish? Completely. Stupid? Most assuredly. Was he going to do it anyway? Well… as his past lives would like to put it. Yolo.
Van closed the door and put his back against the wall next to it, doing his best to dampen his spiritual and magical signature, as well as anything else that could give him away. Standing next to the door, making sure that he wasn't standing too close, he prepared his ghostly fire. Feeding it even more of his energy and making it truly big. Once that was done he waited.
And he didn’t have to wait long. The wraith charged through the door, not even bothering to knock, or for that matter, even use it as it passed through the solid object.
This was what Van had been waiting for, he noticed as he was being chased by the wraith, that when this creature tried to pass through solid objects, it took it a little more time than its normal movement speed. So when the wraith was trying to phase through the door, Van waited only a few seconds more so that most of it was out before unleashing a massive torrent of ghostly bluish fire on its ass.
The thing shrieked in pain and agony. Flaying its arms around as if trying to put itself out.
Van didn’t give it any time to recover. He wasn’t worried about his own ghostly flames, so using his sword, he hacked into the wraith as much and as fast as he could. Piercing it and cutting it up.
Over and over he cut into the wraith mindlessly. Completely in the zone of trying to kill this already dead ghost as it tried to fend off his attacks and do something about the ghostly fire that was trying to eat it. But no matter how much it struggled, it was getting weaker and weaker. Which is why it did the unexpected.
It turned and tried to flee.
“Oh no you don’t!” “Get over here!” Van shouted in anger at having the wraith that had been chasing him all over the place try to run away from its consequences. Balling up a swirling mass of shadow, he sent it out like a harpoon, piercing the wraith through. He then tried to reel the wraith back in. and like an angry fish, the wraith struggled, trying to break free. But it was too late.
Van’s wolves have taken care of most of the undead, and now most were able to be of some help to him. So as he held the flaming wraith down, he ordered his wolves to attack the helpless ghost. Watching as they tore and flung globes of transparent ghostly pieces about.
Flaming, being cut up and pierced and now being torn to pieces by wolves, the wraith had had enough. With one last act of defiance, it gathered as much of its reserve energies as possible and set itself to blow.
Van only had a few moments to act as his eyes went wide, feeling the energy of the wraith coalesce into a single point as it seemed to give up on the fight. Quickly ordering his wolves away, he erected a barrier between him and the wraith, jumping back as far as he could while doing so.
Van was blasted several feet away from an explosion that was far bigger than what he was expecting. The barrier doing its job and protecting him from most of the damage. Getting up, he saw the remains of what was his enemy, now a charred imprint on the ground.
Two of his wolves went with it, leaving him with only three. With great annoyance he ordered one of the wolves to sacrifice itself for the two stronger ones, healing and repairing them.
Now down to two wolves, and exhausted once more. Van began to worry if he had enough supplies to last this mission. Looking around, he lifted his lantern into the air and opened one of the glass panes. Allowing the spiritual essence of all the ghosts, undead, and the wraith to slowly flow into it.
Once that was done, he sat on the floor, too tired to move anywhere else, and rested as his two remaining wolves walked up to him and tried to snuggle up and comfort him.
Feeling surprisingly thankful to the wolves, Van relaxed a little and decided a small rest couldn’t hurt. He didn’t feel any immediate danger from the house, at least not yet. The killing of the wraith had seemed to set it back some, and it probably didn’t have any means at the moment to get back at him anytime soon.
So for the next two hours, Van rested and had a small meal. This was taking far longer than what he expected. But then again, now that he thought about it, the people who set up this test probably didn’t expect the students to actually finish it. Perhaps they tested on how far you could get, and not actually completing the mansion or finishing the task given. Not to mention, time didn’t always work like it did on the outside, so as far as he knew, what felt like several hours was probably only one.
This made Van wonder if he should use the amulet and get out. Gods know how tired he was. The thoughts of his bed back home were starting to feel like a distant but wonderful memory. One that he would greatly enjoy reliving.
Sighing with exhaustion, Van got up and started to look around the mansion once more. Sending his wolves out, one in front and one behind, and generally looking down all the corridors, hallways and opening all the doors he could. In hopes of finding the stairway that leads down to the training room, and the secret dungeon that lay beyond.
But no matter how much he looked around, he could not find any evidence of any room, door, or hallway that led to any stair that went downward. Hours went by, and the only thing he found was a few straggling undead and ghosts.
That was until after walking for his second hour down the hallway, he found a seriously pissed-off haunted painting, who mouthed off to him. At first, simply thinking of blasting the rude painting, he instead decided on a whim too, in an act of compassion, fix its crooked portrait. Which seemed to go a long way in fixing the painting's mood.
“Oh thank you so much darling!” the woman in the painting said in an overly sweet voice. She was a buxom woman with a slender figure wearing a long floral black and red dress and flowing long golden hair with a ribbon on top. “You have no idea what it’s like to be stuck for centuries crooked. It's the worst hell imaginable! Sorry for all those things I said…”
“It's… fine…” Van replied, trying his best to hide his hurt. The painting was surprisingly effective at hurting his feelings, knowing so little about him. It also felt a little weird that he was talking casually to one of the denizens of this focal point without it trying to kill him.
“It’s not fine! Do tell me what I can do to make it up to you.” the painting replied, her demeanor completely different than what it was before.
“Well… I have been trying to get to the basement…” Van admitted, seeing how far he could go with this.
The painting gasped! “Why in the world would you want to go there! It’s so dangerous and honestly unsightly! All those barbaric weapons and armor! I would have thought that centuries later, we would have done without the need for war. But if you are asking, then I suppose the world has taken a turn for the worst!”
“Well… not exactly…” he then tried to explain his task and why he was here.
“I see… a spirit caller was it? Hmm… well, I suppose I can help. It’s the least I could do since you helped me after all. But there is one more thing I want you to do for me.” the painting asked.
“What’s that?” Van asked cautiously
The image of the women leaned in, or at least tried to. “You need to get me out of here!” she said in a loud whisper. “I can’t take it anymore! Seeing the same hallway, day in and day out, or for that matter, whatever a day is in this crazy place! I want out! OUT I SAY!”
“Shhh!” Van desperately whispered. “Okay! Okay! Calm down. I’ll get you out of here.”
The painting seemed to relax. “Oh thank the gods! But I don’t know how much help I can be. This place has turned all topsy turvy! But… if I remember correctly…” She thought about it for some time before answering. “If you can somehow take me with you, I can show you around and use what little I remember to help you out. What do you say?”
Van thought about it but realized she was probably his best bet to find what he was looking for, and he didn’t sense and malic either. So he agreed and casted a spell on the women in the painting. One doing so, he realized that she had a true soul and that this woman was clearly a victim of whatever happened here, all those thousands of years ago. Or perhaps was one of the few people who had investigated this focal point, and died here, having their soul trapped by the haunted mansion.
The spell protected her core spiritual essence. And with the opening of his lantern, she was gently sucked out of the painting and into it.
“Oh my!? What a strange experience!” she said, somewhat confused. Then once settling in said. “...it's strangely cozy in here…”
After that, Van looked curiously into the ghostly flame as it moved about this way and that. He was getting this very strange impression that the woman was moving about furniture and cleaning up dust and organizing her things and settling into a small house. As crazy as that sounded.
“Did you know you have a few others in here?” the woman asked
“Others?” Van asked back in confusion.
“Well… pieces of others at the least… but there's actually a whole group of people that seemed tied up to each other! The poor things…”
Van thought about that. The pieces of others were probably the echoes of the spiritual essence that was used to create the undead. Unlike the ones modern necromancers use, which are cleaned and purified. As for the tied-up group, that probably was the bone golem. Or at least the skeletons that comprised the bone golem.
“Hmm…” Van thought deeply about this. “It could be that there are some places that previous spirit callers have not been able to access, or simply have not found. So that could be the reason as to why some true souls are still lying around. Even if they kept this place as is to be a lesson of the horrors of unsanctioned necromancy could bring. I don’t see them allowing those tortured souls to continue being tortured unless they are either a core part of this focal point or if they are not the victims but actually the perpetrators…”
Van was now a little worried that this woman may not be the innocent victim that he first thought she might be. But decided to follow her lead anyway. He honestly had no better options left. Besides, he could be wrong, he didn’t feel any negative aura from the women after all. So decided to trust her, at least for now, and hand her over to the proper authorities once this was over and let them deal with all the souls he unintentionally gathered.
But now with some help, he was starting to make good time. The ghostly woman recounting some of her experiences in the mansion. And leading him on a merry chase down memory lane until he reminded her of the task he was set out to do.
Once that was taken care of, they went back to work looking for the basement. After much confusion on both their parts on why a door would lead into itself. Or for that matter, a hallway leading to the attic, they were finally able to get some ground rules on how this mansion worked, and figure out a method on how to get to the basement.
Finally, after what felt like hours, they found the door that they were looking for. With a heavy heart, Van pushed the door open and sighed with relief when he saw a stairway leading down.
Finally. After this long day… he could finish this task… or at least get one step closer to finishing it. With sleepy steps, he slowly walked down the stairs and into whatever was waiting for him down below… hopefully, something nice… and easy…