A strange feeling boiled up within Van, and he released it outward. Energy flowing out of him, taking the forms of fifteen beautiful young women. Some wore maid uniforms, others… barely anything. Some with swords and a few with spears, others with only their fists.
“Sorry Van, I didn’t bring much in the way of weapons and armor when we first entered your soul realm. I’ll fix that next time.” Anna said.
“I’m just glad you're here.” van said appreciatively. Glad to have his best friend and lover back with him again. It was a strange warm feeling he was having, just knowing she was here helped him feel more relaxed and prepared. Now he can focus on the anger he was feeling. And he had a great outlet for it in front of him…
“My. my…” Rudrick said, looking on with interest at what just happened in front of him. “I was definitely not expecting that… this might be more interesting than I first thought.”
Then Molly interjected as if something dawned on her. “So you were the pressure I was feeling… you must be… otherwise how could you store so many people within you? Rudrick! Don’t let them get away! I don’t care how, but capture him alive. I want his soul…”
Rudrick sighed and looked at Van sadly. “Would it be possible for you to use your amulet now and leave?”
Van shook his head and glared angrily. He knew it wasn’t entirely Rudricks fault, and that’s what he would be thinking when he was beating him down. But for now, now was the time to take action. And after Rudrick… That bitch Molly.
“A pity…” Rudrick said then with a wave of his hands, the horde of undead charged forward.
Van made his own motion, and the Annas charged. The two groups clashed against each other.
Van was once more amazed, just like Lyn and Azra, Anna had improved considerably. Even those who had no arms or armor gave a show of themselves. Grabbing nearby weapons and shields on the floor that were still mostly intact and using them against the undead. It was an amazing difference the girls made.
And it made Van feel a little inadequate.
He truly thought he had come a long way, and in many ways, he had. But clearly not enough. The girls around him seemed to have taken the time given them and progressed far more than he would ever expect them to. But that was probably because he didn’t have the drive they did. He also knew he shouldn’t compare himself to them, that they had some benefits and talent that helped them. But it was still a hard pill to swallow, that every girl he had been in contact with, eventually surpassed him. Perhaps that was his power? He jokingly thought to himself.
He watched from a distance, recovering some of his strength, as his Amazon-like girls battled ferociously against the tide of corpses. With grace and skill, and barely any wasted movement.
“After this… I’m totally going to reward them…” he thought, being slightly distracted by their looks and body, before quickly shaking his head and getting it back into the game.
He knew what he could do to help. Though he wasn’t very good at it yet, it still was something he enjoyed studying on his off time. As he studied and trained, Van slowly realized that he probably would never be a front-line fighter, perhaps not even a good heavy dealing back liner. “But if there’s one thing I know I can do… it’s support…”
Van then started to cast enhancement spells. Something he had been secretly studying and practicing in the hopes it would be something he could surprise people with later. Enchantment magic was a little difficult to master, but for a sorcerer like him, it was made easier.
Balls of energy were flung from his hand and zipped towards a few of the Anna’s striking them. This was followed by a slight glow of their bodies before disappearing. The girls felt a sense of euphoria rush throughout their bodies, and all of a sudden, their movements were quickened. It actually got in the way a little, before they got used to it and started cleaning up the undead.
But it still wasn’t enough, for even if they were faster, they were still outnumbered. Van tried his best by casting shields to cover an Anna before she was about to be hit, or quickness to make an Anna move faster to dodge and attack. But slowly they were still pushed back.
After about ten minutes, they had dealt with little more than half of the remaining undead. And It still wasn’t enough. For despite everything Van was trying to do, it still wasn’t enough to prevent a few Anna’s from dying. And each time they did, It felt like a gut punch to his soul. As the Annas being was reabsorbed into his soul realm to recover.
They went from fifteen to ten. But Anna was still fighting with everything she got, in fact, it didn’t look like she was tiring at all.
“If we can keep this up, then maybe, just maybe, we can clear out the rest of the corpses and focus on Rudrick and Molly.” Van thought.
“I'm impressed…” Rudrick said suddenly. “Being an enchanter is no small feat. Most people don’t realize the implications and the benefits that studying even rudimentary enchanting can provide.”
Van shrugged as his Annas fought and killed Rudricks' minions. Not that he seemed to care about their deaths. “I have slowly realized that I probably will never be the fighter I wish to be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help. Enchanting just seemed like the obvious conclusion if I wanted to be helpful.”
Rudrick smiled at this. “That kinda reminds me of myself. I also practiced enchanting, and slowly got into rune craft. Now I can enchant my minions to be stronger and better. It's a little work true, but it pays back with great dividends. I would love to teach you, sadly that may not be possible.” he lamented.
“Can’t you just break free? I may be just a novice, but you still seem powerful enough to at least contest the rulership of this focal point. You could be a dimensional master, or demiplane ruler, or… I don’t know... Dungeon master?” Van said.
Rudrick actually seemed to laugh at that. “Doesn’t that last one tickle the memory!?” he chuckled before it slowly died away. “No… sadly it won’t work… for the truth is… I have no true soul…”
That made Van gasp. He was sure that Rudrick had a true soul, he must have. It didn’t make sense, otherwise. The concept of a pseudo soul didn’t exist until centuries after the fall of the Nilfan empire. And it would take a lot of time and power for a pseudo soul to develop something near a true soul.
Rudrick seemed to have sensed Van’s confusion and with a sad expression said. “Child… I am an echo…”
That made almost Instant sense to Van. an echo was fairly common for ghosts and even a few other undead. Echoes being something like an afterimage or a copy, something with the memories of the deceased but not the true spark of a soul or even a soul realm.
Rudrick nodded when he saw it dawn on Van what he meant. “I, that is to say, my true soul… it moved on a long time ago… I am nothing more than a ghost of a ghost. Perhaps one day I will truly die… and whatever is left of me will return to my true self. But that day may be a long time coming.”
“Stop complaining!” Molly interjected. “And stop playing around! They’ve almost finished off the last of our soldiers!” she said angrily.
Rudrick rolled his eyes. “I’m just tiring them out,” he said, not very convincingly.
“YOU BETTER!” Molly said testily. “I want that kid's soul… you can’t refuse me… and if you fail… you know what will happen…” she finished menacingly.
Rudrick grunted, annoyed and now looking a little angry himself. But did not say anything and simply nodded.
“Good…” then she went silent once more.
“Sorry Van, but I’m going to have to get a little serious now. I hope you will forgive me.” Rudrick said.
“Don’t act like you’ve won just yet. We still have a lot of fight left in us.” Van said courageously. As he was sending healing spells to the Anna’s
“Damn straight,” Anna added, and Lyn nodded along, panting a little after her twentieth kill.
While they were talking, Van, Anna, and Lyn had taken care of most of the undead. Two more Anna’s had died, with one very wounded. But there were only about a dozen enemies left, which was far more manageable than when they first started.
“I admire your bravery… unfortunately, it won’t be enough.” Then Rudrick snapped his fingers and the runes on the corpses started to glow.
“Oh… fuck… not again!” Van barely had enough time to create a magical barrier to block out the explosion. Helped once more by Lyn who could really use a break right now.
Some of the Annas, though, were not fortunate enough to escape the blast. Mentally warned beforehand as they were, they did their best to kick away downed undead as they fought to make a corpse-free zone. But it still wasn’t enough, only six were able to make it in the barrier before their defeated foes exploded with a vengeance. Leaving two more gut punches for Van to take, something he was slowly wishing he wasn’t getting used to.
Nothing remained, not even the still dozen or so still active undead before the explosion. Nothing was left but burnt ground.
Van took the knee as his barrier faded and he started to pant from exhaustion. The explosion took more from him than he thought it would, as his body forcibly overdrew the energy the barrier needed from what little reserves he had.
“This is the end, Van…last chance to run,” Rudrick said, preparing a few spell matrixes from his hands and looking like he was ready for a fight.
“Good thing I put a few in reserve.” Van thought and then summoned the last four of the Anna’s. Now he was back up to ten, with four fresh and properly armored Anna’s. He then got up and stood defiantly.
Rudrick sighed. “Have it your way.” and then unleashed a barrage of spells at Van and his group. Wide-eyed, the Annas immediately went into blocking the attacks. But already two of the already weaker ones died, intentionally sacrificing their bodies to protect those behind them.
Wide-eyed himself, he ordered everyone to spread out and try to avoid the massive rain of magic missiles and mana lances that were flung out as if they were candy. Wave after wave of magical attacks with no sight of an end were flung at the group as they did their best to dodge and weave around them. Some exploded before they even got the chance, damaging them.
Van even took a missile to the shoulder and leg, giving him great pain. And forcing some of the Anna’s to go from dodging to blocking as they defended Van with all their might. Two more Anna’s went, and there still wasn't any signs of Rudrick letting up anytime soon.
Van then opened up what was essentially a telepathic group chat with the Annas and Lyn.
(“do you have a plane?”) one of the Annas asked.
(“I think so…”) Van thought a little unsure. (“but I need him distracted”)
(“that all?”) another Anna asked.
(“I also need to touch him…”) Van said.
(“are you crazy!”) Lyn shouted in the chat. (“you’ll kill yourself!”)
(“I don’t think he is serious about killing us… I think he will try to hold back a the very last moment.”) Just then, another Anna died.
(“yah… he’s not serious alright.”) Anna said sarcastically. (“just so you know, I also feel some of that pain…”)
Van grunted. (“he said he was an echo right? Well… I think I can do something about that. Perhaps I can use my… pressure… from my soul realm, alongside my spirit lantern and some of my spells. I could maybe break him free from the hold Molly has over him, and he will be free to go back to his true soul. Which means, without a boss, we can defeat Molly and win!”)
Anna grunted under Rudrick’s onslaught. Losing another one of her, leaving only four. (“we really don’t have any other better idea’s do we? Fine! But promise me this! If things are looking bad, you leave us behind and use the amulet. The worst that could happen to us is we die and are sent back into your soul realm. But it will all be over if you die or are captured. understand!”) one of the Annas turned to glare at Van.
Van nodded solemnly. (“I promise.”)
Anna stared into Van’s eyes, trying to see if he was serious, and slowly nodded once she was able to confirm he was.
(“but how are we going to distract him?”) Lyn asked.
Anna and Van looked at Lyn.
(“oh… you gotta be kidding me…”)
(“Lyn, can you do this?”) Van asked.
Lyn sighed and muttered under her breath out loud. “The things I do for love…” then straightening out her spine and said. “As a great philosopher once said... Yolo…” she then turned to face Rudrick and pointed her halberd at him. “For the Swarm!” and charged at him with great speed.
All of a sudden, she started to sing, and a strange feeling was gathering within Van. slowly, it burst out as a swarm of Zappers and regular bees exited from his soul realm, following Lyn’s lead.
“Da-da-da-da--na! Da-da-da-da---na! Da-Da-Da-Da-Da----na!! Da-da-da-da---!” Lyn sang as she moved in with her swarm. Taking a wide-eyed Rudrick much by surprise.
“Did you know she could do that?” Van asked one of the Anna’s, who simply shook her head in befuddlement.
Unfortunately for them, Rudrick quickly recovered from his shock and was now just blasting everywhere, killing swaths of zappers and bees. But they still slowly closed in on him until he set up a barrier to keep them out.
“What are you doing!” Molly shouted, “deal with them!”
“I'm a little busy right now,” Rudrick said with gritted teeth as they swarm over his barrier blocking some of his sights.
Lyn quickly zipped back to Van. “Move! Move! Move! They won’t last forever. He could easily kill them! Also, Should I have gone with the hoard? Or stuck with the swarm?”
Van didn’t need any more encouragement, escorted by his Anna’s, they made a mad dash across the room towards Rudrick who was slowly blasting holes in the swarm surrounding the barrier.
He was feeling a little sorry for the poor bugs, but their sacrifice will not go unavenged. Or so he promised.
“Enough is enough!” Rudrick then sent an all-around blast that took care of most of the insects plaguing him. “Hmm!?” he then looked shocked at how close Van and his group had gotten.
But for the first time ever, something was going Van’s way. The Anna’s took the silent cue and dashed leaving him behind to distract or better yet, hold him down, while Van made his move.
Rudrick sent a blast, but Van wasn’t going to have it, running on fumes as he was, he returned it with his own blast with everything he got as the Annas then started to attack Rudrick from either side.
Distracted, and not seeing any real threat from Van, he moved in and dealt with two of the remaining four Anna’s. Each one another punch in the metaphorical gut for Van, but now that pain pushed Van forward. And he charged with a yell as he ate up the last few steps towards Rudrick. He placed a hand on him and cast his spell, using his soul realm as leverage.
Neither of them could have ever expected the outcome that would come after. As they looked into each other’s eyes in shock!