Van downed the last of his potions, at least the potions that would recover his health, stamina, and mana. He did have some flame bottles, but they were made by an amateur, ie him when he was studying with Lorenzo on alchemy.
It only occurred to him now, that for everything he has learned, he never really utilized what he was taught. Never made more potions that could have been helpful, never made more summons than what he thought was necessary, never used the spells he used in class except for the ones that allowed him to brute force his way through. No, he just went the easy route, more interested in studying, but never using what he read.
Fighting that wolf gave him a glimpse, the snake, like a small splash of cold water. But this? He was constantly exhausting himself just to survive, and the feeling of being constantly drained was finally driving the sense of power he always felt surge through his body away. Clearing his mind far more than it had ever been before.
He was beginning to realize that though he had spent most of his life studying and reading up on this world, it never had truly clicked. Even when he had those heart to hearts with his father, it didn’t truly sink in.
But after seeing all the souls being tortured, seeing the true horror that the world had to offer, all the corpses, all the death, and the now slow realization that this could happen to him. It was finally becoming the wake-up call he probably needed to have…
And he did not like it. Now more than ever, he wanted to use the amulet and go home. The only thing keeping him from doing so was fear… not fear of what was behind the door. No. That was a different type of fear. What he was afraid of, was what would happen if he didn’t. If he ended it now before his mind had a chance to truly wake up.
If he used the amulet now. Would he remember the lessons he learned for what they are? Or would he go back to who he was before, content with what he had and no real drive other than to do what he was told?
But if he was to go through that door. What could he do? As he progressed, it became clearer and clearer that just brute force wasn’t enough. Or at least he wasn’t at the level that he could just brute force his way through. He had no more recovery potions, he couldn’t prepare ahead of time as he did with the golem, and the slime was more a fight of attrition. Whatever lies beyond that door, would probably blow every monster he fought before out of the water.
Was he ready to face true danger?
“Are you okay dear? You’re staring into space…” the ghost asked gently.
“Huh? Oh… yeah… well… I’m just trying to think of what to do next. I’m not sure if I'm ready for what’s else beyond that door. But at the same time, I don’t just want to leave either… it's… something I feel I have to do. You know what I mean?” Van said, his voice sounding unsure.
“Why do you feel like you need to continue? I don’t mind, of course, I want to give that bitch a good verbal thrashing and a piece of my mind! But you? You have come extraordinarily far for a novice spirit caller. If you go back now, well… with everything you accomplished, you might come back a hero! You saved so many true souls! And probably broke a few records.” She then went somewhat silent. “But that’s not what you care about now is it?” as if trying to figure Van out.
Hesitantly he slowly confessed what was on his mind and heart. The worries he was having.
“Hmm… I suppose I understand somewhat. But is that really the only reason? I’m pretty sure you could figure out a better method later, a safer method too, for that matter. If I had to make a suggestion, It would be to turn back. It’s dangerous after all. But if you're determined, then let nothing deter you. If you say you need this, and if you believe you can at least give yourself a good showing, then go for it!... Just don’t die… I wouldn’t want to wound up in that bitches hands after all.” she mischievously joked, though a hint of nervousness still carried through
“No pressure.” Van joked sarcastically back. But he was kinda thankful for her honesty.
This helped make up his mind. He was going to go through with this. “I held myself back before… but there's no reason to do so now… I’ll call upon my familiers, and if necessary, the Annas too. I just need to win, or survive at the least, what happens after that happens.”
And for the first time, he called his familiars to war.
First was Lyn, who popped out of him with great fanfare. “You may take our lives! But you can never take OUR FREEDOM!” then blinked owlishly when she realized she wasn’t in the soul realm anymore. “Awww. it was just getting to the good part too…”
“Were you playing with Ren? How did you even get access to that part of my soul realm?” He asked, confused as to what she was referencing but pretty sure It had something to do with Ren.
“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” was all she said, not looking him in the eye.
“Nevermind. I need your help.” Van said, not wanting to waste any more time.
“Yesss!” Lyn pumped her arm up and down then straightened out her back and put her hand into a military salute. “I am glad to help!” Then looking around and noticing the blood-coated walls, the corpses broken and contorted into horrific visages with their faces stuck in terror and agony. Organs and rotten flesh laying everywhere. Looked back at him straight in the eye and said. “I am not glad to help! Send me back!”
“What happened to wanting freedom?”
“I prefer my gilded cage of popcorn, movies, and reeves, thank you very much! He is so breathtaking… NO, YOU ARE BREATHTAKING!” she then giggled to herself uncontrollably.
“Perhaps I should have a talk with Ren to restrict your access to these… movies…” Van said.
“Nevermind! I’m glad to help again!” Lyn said with forced cheerfulness.
Then the ghost started to giggle a little. “M-my wh-what a color-full ch-character. And she is so cute!”
Lyn jumped a little and looked around in panic. “Who’s there! I’m warning you! I have…” she quickly racked her brain. “Holy water! And I’m not afraid to use it!”
“Where did you get holy water?” Van asked, confused. “And which god is it even from for that matter?” as he tried to think which god that dealt with the undead that could possibly live in the Vampire lands.
“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” was all Lyn replied with, her eyes darting about.
Van’s eyes narrowed, thinking back to how she treated him in front of her friends. “It’s my sweat or something like that, Isn't it…” his eyes now turning accusatory.
Lyn's eyes looked away. Something she regretted a little considering there wasn’t much she would like to see. A flashback about how she gathered the fluid after one of Van’s and Luna’s intense sessions coming to mind. “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Lyn was sweating, wondering if she should tell the truth.
“You know I’m not a god Lyn.” Van said, in an admonishing tone of voice.
“...Not yet at least,” Lyn muttered rebelliously under her breath
“What was that?”
Van just rolled his eyes and sighed, deciding to lecture her about it later. Now it was time to bring out his next familiar, Azra.
Slowly, darkness seeped from Van, pooling together in front of him until it took the image of a cat. It looked around at its new setting, then looked up to him with two big blue eyes, and meowed affronted, with clear intention in its voice.
Getting the message, Van went and picked up the cat and cradled it in his arms, away from the blood and gore of the floor. Once properly settled, it began to purr with contentment.
“Now that I have both of them, what am I supposed to do with them?” Van had never used them in a fight before. He had used Azra to help make his first shadow wolf, but that was it. He did not know their fighting capabilities, in fact, he was wondering what help they could possibly give him against whatever is waiting for them beyond that door.
But fretting won’t help him, so he decided to give both his familiar’s a closer look and see if any ideas came to him. Which he was glad he did because he just noticed that Lyn was a whole four inches taller than she was before!
She had grown not only taller, but her body was more mature as well. With full breasts, long smooth legs, longer hair, and nice hips. She was wearing far better clothing than what she usually wore, and for all her childish deposition, she carried herself with some grace, befitting someone with a high station.
Now looking at Azra, he also noticed that she was a tad bigger than before, her ears and tail fluffier, and her body taking a more feminine and elegant form.
“Did you two grow stronger in my soul realm?” Van asked, confused.
Lyn nodded proudly and pulled out a beautiful yet wicked-looking halberd. She then charged herself with electricity, letting it crackle off her body as a show of force. “I am a queen after all!” she said, puffing out her chest. “I trained really hard with my advisers and warriors!”
Van then looked at his cat, who looked up at him with sleepy eyes and gave the barest movement of its shoulder blades in what he could only surmise was a shrug.
“Well… this is some good news at least, but will they still be useful in a battle?” but he shook his head at such thoughts. The more he procrastinated, the more tired he felt, and the less he felt like fighting, and the more he felt like going home.
He then decided to explain everything that has happened so far to help catch them up, in the hopes they might have something to offer. It was a long and winding tale, filled with horror, confusion, and exhaustion. By the time he ended it, Lyn was hugging his head and patting it and Azra was purring louder while trying to snuggle him.
“Girls… thank you… but I’m fine, really.” Van said, trying to soothe them of their worry.
“No, you're not!” Lyn said angrily, “you should have gone home a long time ago! You don’t need to prove yourself! You're our master! We, your family, care for you! What you are doing is reckless! And-” she continued on admonishing Van for the next few minutes.
After exhausting herself berating Van, she then floated down to the lantern. “Thank you so much for keeping Van company miss ghost, and for making sure he was taking care of himself.”
Van felt a little affronted at that, he was taking care of himself just fine and would have taken care of himself just fine even without the ghost. But decided to say nothing.
“Darling, you give me too much credit, I hardly did anything worth mentioning.” the ghost kindly replied.
Lyn nodded serenely. “May I know your name.”
Which made Van realize with embarrassment that he never asked the ghost for her name.
“...it's Kassandra,” Kassandra said, acting like she had to think about it before answering.
“Thank you anyway, Kassandra,” Lyn said. “For everything.” Even Azra meowed in agreement.
“Now then!” Lyn moved until she was at eye level with Van. “Are you sure you are ready for this fight! Ready to put everything you have to win! Because if you are… then no more hesitation! Let’s go in there, and show them what we are made of!” she then turned and made her way to the door
“W-wait! Without a plan!?” Van yelled after her.
Lyn turned her head. “What plan could we possibly make when you're still trying to hold back? What plan could we possibly make when we are going underprepared? What plan could we possibly make! When we never fought together before! Now is not the time to think and let doubt creep in! Now is the time to ACT! And let our courage lead us… To Victory!” she said with great charisma.
Van was beginning to understand how she was able to lead an army of insects to do her bidding.
Lyn then charged at the door and tried to pull it open by force of will. Her body tensing and contorting with the magnitude of the challenge before her. And she continued to try to pull it open. And continued… and continued…
Two minutes later, a very exhausted Lyn turned back and floated back to Van. she then straightened her back, and with an angry fling of her arm, pointed at the heavy iron door.
Van tried not to smile as he got the message and walked up to the door to open. With some grunting, he was able to get the heavy iron door to slowly open up. Bathing the room behind him in a strange glowing light.
Walking in, he found himself in a wide circular chamber. With a floating core hanging above a pedestal of some sort. A man, with his skin, so pulled tight on his bones that it made him look like he had starved for centuries, with robes that were so old that they looked wispy, stood before it. Bones and dried-up corpses lay at the edges of the chamber, weapons flung everywhere haphazardly.
Once entering, Lyn and Azra joined him, Azra now walking on the ground since it was clean and he had to put her down so that he could open the door.
When they fully entered the room, the door closed behind them with an audible lock of the door.
The robed figure slowly turned, his face stuck in a rictus image of pain and sadness. Long lines like canyons made from rivers from centuries of wear and tear, ran down from each of its eyes. Its eyes themselves look like two pools of pure misery and sorrow. As if seeing too much, and doing even more, of the things that brought this creature pain.
It groaned, words so wispy that you could hardly hear them as if they were carried on a dead wind. “Leave… turn… back… before she awakes fully…”
“Rudrick…” Kassandra silently whispered under her breath.
Van got goosebumps from the exchange. This man, this was a man whose entire being had been warped by misery and pain. Just by looking in its eyes, he could tell that it did things it wished it didn’t do. And what’s worse, Van felt the energy flowing from it in waves.
Van had always the edge when it came to power. He had a larger mana pool than most. Maybe not yet Lorenzo, but still, a very large mana pool. But this thing was twice as large as Lorenzo’s. And the way it flowed from its body, showed that it had great control over it.
Van was beginning to fear… this thing in front of him was far stronger than anything he faced. Not only far more powerful but intelligent, unlike all the other monsters he had fought.
The things head whipped to Van’s lantern as if hearing the silent whisper. “...Kassandra?” the lich asked, then muttered gently under his breath. “No… it can’t be… you sound like…”
Van, with some hesitation, slowly moved and closed the distance between him and what he now knew was Rudrick. Once he felt he moved far enough, he lifted the lantern, almost like a shield between him and the lich in front of him. Hoping that maybe somehow, he could get lucky and finish his task without fighting.
“It's been so long, Rudrick… How are you doing? Are you okay?” Kassandra asked gently.
If Rudrick could cry, he would have, but all the tears he had were shed a long time ago. “Oh… Kassandra...I’m so sorry…” he became choked up as a familiar voice once more caressed his ear.
“Hush… no need for that… I'm here now… and we can be together again… Rudrick… can you help us?” Kassandra said kindly.
For the first time ever, Rudrick looked like he was going to smile. But just as he was about to answer, another voice interrupted.
“I think that’s enough of that. Your sappy love play can continue. Never.” a cold and heartless voice said as if reverberating from the air itself. Until you realized it was from the orb. “Hello, Kassandra. It's been a while.”