“Why don’t you give up and go home?” his new ghost friend asked. “I hardly think that they would think any less of you now, after all, you have accomplished. Trust me when I say, for a novice, you have come very far.”
Van frowned. “What do you mean by that? And how do you know I am a novice?”
“By your lantern dear. It’s clearly a novice one, not even an apprentice lantern. I know because I’ve been trapped here for so long. I have seen many spirit callers in training pass through.”
“How come you never talked to them?” Van asked, and could literally feel the shrug she gave in return from the lantern.
“It was very rare for a spirit caller to come by my hallway, not to mention, I was trapped in that painting, alongside a spell that prevented me from talking. Until you came along and I was able to break it. Odd that really… but better late than never.”
“Odd that they never sent a master spirit caller to gather all the true souls left in here…” Van said thoughtfully out loud.
“Oh they did, but even master spirit callers would have a hard time tracking down all those still trapped here. Molly’s influence extends far and wide, and also deep. It would not be surprising that they could not detect all of the true souls, as you call them, due to them being masked by her influence. Not to mention… I think there's something special about you…”
“What do you mean by that?”
She shrugged once more “I don’t know… just a feeling… like you are exerting a pressure of some sort all around you. It makes it even weirder when you're walking around without a rune on your head like it's no big deal, and I’m pretty sure you're not an experienced delver. With the way you act, this is definitely your first time in a focal point.”
Van was now a little confused. “Rune?”
If Van could see his ghost friend right now, he would see her with the widest eyes imaginable. “Are you saying you don’t even know that!?”
Now it was Van’s turn to shrug. “They didn’t explain much before throwing me in.”
“Oh… dear… they must be so worried right now…” she said fearfully. “Most newbies are sent back within the first two hours of entering a focal point, usually because they are forced to and their amulets activate. Usually, because they were almost killed by Thomas.”
“Staying too long in a focal point slowly puts a strain on a person's mind. Only people who have gotten used to it over the years can stay within focal points for more than a few days. Those without that experience, tend to go a little… crazy…”
“That’s why a special set of runes was made. Temporarily etched on the forehead before entering, they help prevent the effects of the focal point on a person's mind, allowing the delver to stay for far longer than they normally would. But you are still here, without a rune… and as far as I can tell, this is your first time. This is highly unprecedented. I suggest you use your amulet and leave right now before it’s too late.” the ghost said.
“Hold on.” Van began “I know the effects you're talking about, I was warned beforehand about them. But when I entered, they said I wouldn’t need it and set me off anyway. And I know they meant well because Lorenzo wouldn’t have let me in without being properly prepared for it.”
“I don’t know who this Lorenzo is, but as I said before, most are teleported out within the first two hours. Either because they were almost killed, or because the amulet detected their minds being unduly affected by the focal points' influence and activating automatically.”
This was a new bit of information that Van didn’t know about before. “They’ll automatically send you back if they detect your mind being too affected by the focal points' influence?” he then grabbed and took a look at the amulet that he had around his neck. As far as he could see, there was nothing wrong with it.
“Let me take a look at it.” the ghost asked. Van lifted the lantern until it was at eye level with the amulet.
“Hmm… it still works perfectly… which means you are somehow not affected by the focal points' influence… NO! Wait!” she suddenly yelled, making Van jump a little.
Then as if taking a closer look she said. “It seems you are being affected, the gauge shows how much power it has left, alongside your body’s and mind’s overall health…”
“You can see that?” Van asked, surprised, not even aware that the amulet had such a function.
“Yes. and as far as I can see. You are just above the safe threshold, any lower and you would be forced out. What’s really surprising is how far you’ve come and how much you’ve accomplished, and more importantly, how little you are affected by the focal points' influence. Even a master spirit caller couldn't simply take Thomas’s true soul like you did, not with it being a part of this focal point's domain. And yet you did, which means your influence, must be somehow contending with the focal points' influence… but that’s impossible… you would have to have greater power than the focal point. Or a truly massive and powerful soul realm. But what are the odds of that?”
“Ya… what are the odds…” Van said somewhat nervously.
“Hmm… so if… and maybe… no, must be… but Shul’s theory dictates…” the ghost then went and started to mumble to herself. Trying to wrap her mind around the oddity of what was happening.
Getting up and dusting himself off, Van decided he had enough of a rest. So he chugged some potions. Which he was starting to run low on. And prepared himself to continue this journey to its end.
“Even if what she said is true. No. I actually believe it is true… I still plan to finish this, or at least go as far as I can. I have come too far to turn back now… even if the people outside are probably worried sick and freaking out about how a novice spirit caller hasn’t come out for most of the day… oh shit…” Van's eyes widened a little with worry. So much so he broke the ghost from her ramblings to ask her advice on the matter.
“Hmm? Oh… yes… that is something to be worried about, but time flows a little differently in focal points. Ten minutes in here is like one minute out there. In some focal points, it's even greater. But if you are planning to still see this through, then you don’t have to worry about them forcefully pulling you back or sending a rescue team anytime soon. They have rules for that after all.”
Van wanted to ask about those rules. But figured he wasted enough time as is. At least he knew now that he didn’t have to worry about them doing anything anytime soon. Though he did feel a little sorry for them.
“Right… let's go,” Van said, walking to the door, tension filling his body as he took the two swords from the fallen golem and trying to slot them in. And trying some more. And some more. And more…
“Why isn’t this working!? They don’t fit! But these are the only two swords left…” Van was now starting to feel dejected. All that hyping himself up, only for him to be stuck at a door.
“Hmm… have you tried using the spear?” the ghost asked.
Van blinked, turned and grabbed the spear, and slotted it in. with a click the door opened. He could only stare at the now open passageway. “...mother fucker…” he said, feeling betrayed.
The ghost giggled. “Rudrick always did like to subvert expectations. He also thought that spears were underrated.”
With a sigh, Van prepared to plunge into new unknown depths and horror. With the wolf out first of course. And made his way down the large spiraling stairway down.
As they descended it got darker, forcing Van to cast a light in order to brighten the place up. But all that seemed to do is make the shadows lengthen and put things in a more haunting light. Progressing further only yielded them darker, and damper, scenery. With mildew, moss, crack stonework, and a chilly air that followed them the more they made progress.
What was supposed to be the vault, was definitely not one anymore. More a catacomb, with large iron cages and prisons that held a massive amount of corpses whose rot made Van want to gag and forced him to cast another spell to keep the foul odor away. If only he could keep the sight from his eyes.
“This is definitely nightmare fuel, no doubt about it…”
“Oh… dear…” the ghost said. “This… is horrible… all those poor people…”
Van was more worried that those poor people might jump them. Corpses lay everywhere, one couldn’t just simply walk without bumping into one. “Perhaps I really should use the amulet and go home?”
The thought was very tempting, but so was the glowing light that showed through a crack in the doors on the other side of the room. A feeling of energy and power seemed to pervade out of it.
Slowly, and delicately, he made his way across the room, only to be shouted by the ghost.
Van looked up and jumped back as what could only be a slime made out of corpses fell from the ceiling and crashed into the shadow wolf in front of him, killing it instantly.
“What the hell! How did I not notice it! And this makes the second time Now!” He then heightened his already strained senses from all the nerves he got just from walking through a veritable sea of corpses and found that the slime seemed to have been in some sort of hibernation. Not only that but seemed to have adapted to tune itself to the energy that seeped out of the crack, using it to mask itself, making it act like part of the scenery so that all he would sense was the energy from the door and not from anywhere else.
Van forced himself to calm down, using his aura to give himself more time to think and take another jump backwards. “Even if I had the amulet and it would teleport me out, that thing would have done a huge amount of damage, I probably wouldn't be able to move from my bed for weeks… something Luna probably would enjoy.” he tried to joke with himself. Only to be reminded that knowing her, she would nag his ear off about taking unnecessary risks, if his mother didn’t do it first.
But he did not have any more time to think, he noticed immediately that the corpse slime was growing bigger. Far bigger than he could imagine, devouring the nearby corpses and somehow grabbing butcher's knives and other sharpened objects as it slowly made its way to him.
He realized immediately that letting a battle drag on with this thing, with all its food surrounding it, would be impossible to win. He had to finish it off before it became too big to handle. So with that in mind, he opened up the lantern and took out a small flame. Fed it some of his mana to make it grow, and fired it flamethrower style at the gross blob of corpses. Hoping the unique nature of the fire would deal a great amount of damage.
The thing looked like it was in pain, but somehow was able to take the attack, it shrunk a little under the assault, but after Van tired himself out, it slowly continued to move forward again, regaining some of its lost mass as it did so.
Van switched tactics and this time did a regular flamethrower. It shrunk again, with the smell of burning flesh tickling his nose through the film of wind he set up before. But again the blob continued forward. But this time it flattened itself on the ground, and in one sudden motion, as if winding itself up, it jumped towards him at sudden speed.
Van was thankful for having his aura on, as he jumped back, and used the opportunity given to strike at it with his sword, coated with his aura and spiritual energy. It sliced through the slime, but only for it to slowly heal once more. Forcing him to jump back further.
“Shit! If it was a little smaller, I could have torn it to shreds. But since it’s so big, only killing its core would end it. But where the hell am I supposed to find it?” He tried to pierce the thing with his senses, trying to pinpoint the flow of energy from the creature. But couldn’t find a core anywhere in it.
“What!? Where the hell is it!? Where’s its Core!” The slime attacked once more, now grabbing nearby objects and throwing them at him with surprising speed and strength. He dodged and blocked whatever he could, jumping back further to create more space for him to think.
He looked around. No chandeliers this time. nor anything else that might help him. “I could do a temporary raise spell on the corpses… but that won’t help me against something that eats corpses. I don’t have anything else to summon unless I summon my familiars…” tempted as he was, he wanted to save that one for last. But as he was thinking he realized something the more he watched the slime.
The flow of energy of the slime also extended outside its body. “Could it be a decentralized core? How is that possible?” but looking around, Van realized the flow of energy seemed to be flowing through both a few select corpses and a few objects. That’s when a plane slowly formed in his mind.
Van had to get to the other side of the room, he had to close the door to prevent the energy from flowing into the room. Cutting the slim off from its power source and method of scrambling his senses. Then he had to find the corpses and objects that the slime seemed to divide its power into and destroy them. And finally, its core should reveal itself for him to destroy. Now all he had to do is do it without getting himself killed.
Van put his aura into his body, pumping him up further, the feeling of his energy surging through him. Then, in one fluid motion, he moved, jumping off tables and walls, avoiding the slime’s attacks. Thankful for how slow it was.
Upon reaching the other side with the crack door, he made to close it but found it stuck. desperately he tried to force the door, but it would not budge. He swore under his breath and tried harder as the slime slowly ate up the distance, growing bigger. After another minute he realized that it was useless and gave up. The door simply wouldn’t budge. But that didn’t mean that he was finished. Instead, he wasted a massive amount of his mana to create a mana shield around the door, in such a way as to prevent the energy from beyond to leak out.
Turning he found that the slime did not like that action at all, and somehow, even with its new size, sped up to reach him. But he ignored it, as five points of energy now showed in his mind’s eye. And he jumped around to reach them. Destroying them at point-blank range with a fireball. A corpse there, another corpse, a torch, a sword, and finally, a mana orb that was hiding under the table.
All the while Van was dodging and weaving through the attacks from the now enraged slime. Its core now finally revealing itself to him. “There you are…”
Using his heightened sense, he could now see where its core was, the only problem left, was the size the slime grew as he ignored it to find its little Horcruxes. The thing was four times as big when he first saw it. It would be impossible to reach its core with his sword. And he didn’t have a lot of mana to waste trying to shrink it with fire.
Worse, the thing was getting ever closer. “Come on, think! How the hell am I supposed to destroy that thing!” He tried to think of everything he learned in class. But nothing came to mind on how to fight this. The thing wasn’t exactly undead, that much he could feel, which meant an exorcism wouldn’t work. Meaning he had only brute force to work with.
“...What would dad do?” He then remembered how his father killed a giant lizard in one strike.
An Idea came to him. It was crazy, but he had the amulet, if it didn’t work, he would use it to get out. With that in mind, he took out a spear from his soul realm. He wasn’t that good with them, but he didn’t need to do anything fancy with it.
Charging up his body further with his aura, he slowly coated the tip of his spear with mana, concentrating all that he had left into it. As the slime moved ever closer, he prepared himself to strike.
Finally, once it got close enough, Van gave one massive leap, and jumped towards the slime, aiming for its core. He risked getting close, as he drove the spear into the blob of corpses and as close to its core as possible. Jumping back, he waited, just out of reach.
The tip of the spear exploded, taking out the core of the slime and a small chunk of it. Leaving limbs and slime all over the place and its main body flattening out onto the ground unmoving.
Again he had won, but again it was only by exhausting himself, each time, he had to use more and more of his reserves and energy to win. Which begged the question. Was he ready for what was beyond that door?