Chapter 63 Beating the Focal Core
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A connection formed between Van and Rudrick, a connection as if he knew who Rudrick was all this time. His memories, his personality, his thoughts, the how, the why. All this and more seeped into Van at an astonishing rate.

All it took was for Van to try and cut the connection that Molly had over Rudrick. And all it took was for Rudricks echo to touch Van’s soul realm, for it to all come crashing down.

It was too fast for Van to make sense of. It was like he was taking up two spaces, looking at himself and Rudrick looking at himself with each other’s eyes. Information flowed through this connection, knowledge, and even a little power.

Rudrick slowly faded away, his entire body becoming more and more transparent. Until he completely disappeared, leaving a very confused Van in his place.

Van felt supercharged, his mana core going through several small rank-ups. His knowledge on runemancy growing to absurd heights. He knew more runes than he had ever before, how to use them, what each one meant, how to make it efficient and powerful, how to use them with versatility and make them permanent or with conditions.

It was almost like learning some sort of computer program, but everything was reprogrammable, from a rock to reality itself…

Van just stood there as his mind tried to keep up with all this new information. The Echo of Rudrick slowly disappearing into his soul realm, absorbed completely. A massive headache soon followed this, leaving Van kneeling on the floor. He heard a whisper that sounded like Ren, and the headache soon vanished.

He didn’t know what happened. He still was a little confused, but one thing was for sure. After this, Ren had some explaining to do...

“What. The. Fuck. Happened…” Molly said, feeling completely at a loss as to how her connection with Rudrick just went up and vanished. Not disappeared, not dispersed but vanished.

“What The Hell Did You DO!” Molly shouted angry and confused, with a little fear creeping into her voice. She then went on a wild rant, yelling at Van, demanding answers, and making threats.

But it wasn’t just her who was confused. Both Lyn and Anna were in the dark as well. As they were both connected to Van on a spiritual and even deeper level, they felt the ripple and waves that shook Van’s soul realm. Now they just stood there, worried, hoping that he would soon snap out of what was happening to him.

And snap out of it he did, slowly at first, as if waking up from a long dream. His mind feeling slow but slowly picking up speed once more. He slowly came to, both of the remaining Annas holding him tightly on either side of him, helping him keep upright.

“Van… are you alright?” Lyn asked gently, kneeling on his shoulder and placing a small gentle hand on his cheek as if to comfort him as she looked worriedly into his now more aware eyes.

“Ya… I think I’m okay…” Van finally said after a moment of thought. “Just needed to get my head back on straight.”

Lyn nodded and moved in to give a loving kiss on Van’s lips. “If I… if We… had known that your own soul would have been in danger, we would have never allowed you to take this risk. We're sorry.”

Van was somewhat taken by surprise, but his heart was touched as similar words of agreement were also spoken by the Anna’s.

“Thank you… But I can take care of myself.” Van said kindly. “Next time, I will be stronger, and more prepared,” he said confidently, now more sure of himself than ever.

Lyn slowly shook her head, her voice taking a sudden more mature turn. “You don’t understand. Just as we are your women. You are our male. We have a duty, a responsibility to protect you. It doesn’t matter if you become stronger. We will protect you, whether or not you like us to, that is the pride of a woman.”

Gone was the childish and playful manner of the previous Lyn, the way she stood and talked, was as if she was an adult talking to a child. A sense of regality also making itself known in her tone of voice. Like a different person, her training to be a queen of her insect and fairy people, showing through.

Van looked confused at Lyn, then even a little affronted, angry even. Here he was, trying to prove to himself that he can be different, that he can change and be mature, that he can take care of himself. But Lyn of all people, was going to admonish him?

He wanted to say something, he didn’t have the words, but he wanted to talk back and defend himself, but Lyn already beat him to the punch.

“I know what you want to say,” she said, cutting him off. “And I completely understand. We share a deep connection with each other after all. And while it hurts that you still haven’t taken me to bed yet. I am still willing to do everything in my power to make you happy.” she said.

“But that doesn't mean allowing you to risk yourself. Even if we were all to die, so long as you had that amulet you were safe. we would be willing to die, so long as you're safe in general, no matter the threat. But whatever that was, affected your soul, and that’s the only thing we can’t protect you from. At least not yet. If we had known that there was such a chance, we would never have agreed to take this risk and instead had forced you out of here. No matter how much you would have protested. I’m sorry, but that's the final word on the matter.” Lyn finished with both Anna’s nodding in agreement.

For the first time ever, he felt betrayed by his girls. Like his trust in them was unfounded. He knew he shouldn’t feel like that, knew that they were literally willing to die for him. But it felt like they were ridiculing him for his desire to improve, to change. He understood them but felt like they didn’t understand him. Not truly at least.

He felt anger, and his mouth started to move before he had even thought to move it. Most likely going to say something he was going to regret later. But thankfully… at the last second… he was shouted out by Molly.

“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! I WILL NOT BE IGNORED FOR SOME SORT OF LOVERS SPAT! I DEMAND ANSWERS, AND YOU WILL GIVE THEM TO ME!” Molly shouted, her voice echoing throughout the now empty room.

She sounded hysterical, for whether she liked to admit it or not, her longtime companion, the one person she was always with and could talk to no matter what. Was gone. And now she was alone. Alone with no one but herself.

She didn’t want to admit it, and wouldn't even if it was pointed out. But the thought of going through a few thousands of years without Rudrick. Terrified her. There was no one to talk to in the entire mansion, no one but Rudrick, and while she was a bit of a bitch to him. Over the years together, they had mellowed out and found comfort in each other, as the only two people who could hold a conversion. Even if they mostly just argued.

Van turned to Molly, the floating orb on the pedestal. Glad for a distraction and an object on which he could unleash his newfound frustration on. He shrugged out of Anna’s grasp and walked slowly, menacingly towards Molly.

“Wait. What are you doing! Don’t get near me!” Molly began to panic, her mana leaking out in fear as her orb shook and trembled as Van’s hand drew close.

“Don’t worry… I’m just going to put you to sleep for a loooong time.” Van said, his eyes sharp and lacking any compassion.

“No! DON’T PLEASE!” she wailed as Van drew closer. “Please don't! Not like this! Not like this!” But Van drew closer anyway, hand at the ready and on its way to cast the spell that would put Molly to sleep for a long time.

“Please… just kill me,” she said softly, in a whimpering tone of voice. “I can’t continue like this anymore. Not if he’s not here.”

Van paused at that, A flash of memory that wasn’t his flaring up in his mind. Memories of staying centuries in the lonely dark, with no one but Molly to talk to. Memories of Molly, still being a total bitch, but mellowing out. Of the two of them just wanting to die, and hoping that one day, they would.

Van slowly dropped his hand. He didn’t know what to do. On one hand, he would very much like to kill Molly, he knew now more intimately what kind of person Molly was, what kind of horrible person she was thanks to these new memories. But something inside of himself asked him to take pity on her, for the process of becoming a focal orb was not perfect and she had suffered just as much as everyone else she had hurt.

Van didn’t care about that though. If anything, he could look at it from a third-party perspective and was not swayed by this newfound feeling of pity or memories. But. If he was to kill her, it would not only be an act of revenge on behalf of all those she hurt, but also an act of mercy. What do you do when both are true?

Besides, what would the necromancers guild say to one of their long-standing training areas being destroyed? Wouldn’t he get into a lot of trouble? Van hesitated, racked with indecision.

This is when Kassandra finally spoke up. “Van… I somewhat understand what you're thinking. And if you are stuck, then let me help you make up your mind.” she said, her voice strangely melancholic. “Please… kill her. For me. For Rudrick. And for all the other souls that have yet to be discovered or freed from this place. I… I can help you make it look like an accident… listen carefully to what I’m about to say.”

Van looked down at his lantern, feeling like confusion was a newfound state of being for his mind since he kept being surprised and a little lost when someone had something new to share or information to drop. He slowly drew the lantern to his ear and Kassandra whispered into it.

His eyes went wide, then they furrowed, then they arched, and then widened again. He looked at his lantern. “Would that really work?”

Kassandra’s light from the lantern glowed affirmatively. “Yes. If things go well, you can take a portion of the focal orb into yourself, making you stronger. Moreover, if done right, it could look like the focal orb imploded on its own. It will be dangerous, but not impossible. But you will have to try and draw Molly out with your lantern first. But with what I feel from your soul realm, that should be possible for you.”

Van nodded. “Okay.” then looked at the orb. “And you, are you okay with this?” not that he asked because he cared, but because he was curious.

“...yes. Please... ” Molly said, in a subdued manner, her focal orb, looking particularly dim.

“...alright then, let's do this,” Van said, and grabbed hold of the orb with his left hand, and brought up the lantern with the right. With great effort, but with newfound power flowing through him thanks in part to Rudrick, he started to pull Molly out of the orb as hard as he could.

The screams could be heard from even beyond the closed doors of the chamber as Molly let her pain be known to the whole world. The demiplane, the focal dimension, or whatever you want to call it. Shook and seemed to lose hold on itself, as if a bad old-timey television all of a sudden got static. Slowly, painfully, not only for Molly but even for Van, he pulled her out, leveraging his soul realm to make it happen.

“WHAT DID WE JUST SAY ABOUT TAKING RISKS!” Lyn yelled angrily. But couldn’t get close to Van, as power and energy started to flow outward from the orb dangerously and with great force.

As Molly was slowly pulled free, Kassandra partially came out of the lantern to help pull her the rest of the way out. Molly gasped. “You’re!” but whatever she was going to say, was drowned out as the focal orb was starting to go wild. Cracks appearing and pouring out power and energy like a firehose.

Lyn tried to fight against the current, trying to get to Van. “WE NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE!” she yelled, trying to get close so she could drag Van away from the soon-to-be exploding orb.

Van ignored her, he still had one last thing left to do. He held onto the orb with all his might and pulled the core essence out. Drawing it in, trying to gather the pieces of it that made a focal core a focal core. So that he could try and recreate something similar in his soul realm, or perhaps use the knowledge and power for other things.

Once done and coming dangerously close to frying his own hands, he pulled away, jumping several steps to clear as much distance between him and the orb as possible. Space was distorting around him, shrinking in and expanding back and forth, afterimages being superimposed onto each other.

Lyn and Anna rammed into Van and entered his soul realm where it was safe and yelled into his mind. (“THE AMULET!”)

Van wasted no time, making sure that the lantern was firmly clasped to him, and that he wasn’t missing anything else, he braced himself and pulled out the amulet. Focusing on it, he found a problem. The amulet was a bit fried, it seemed it tried to pull him out several times before, but couldn’t, and burnt itself out trying.

“Uh... we have a problem,” Van said, now very worriedly.

A light from the lantern glowed and Kassandra’s voice was heard. “It didn’t work before because, with your determination, you subconsciously used your soul realm to stay behind. Just focus on the amulet and use your soulrealm and make it work! Hurry!”

Van focused as hard as he could and with all his might. With great effort, he slowly forced the amulet to work once more, using the last of his mana, aura, and other reserves of energy to do so. Never before had he felt this drained. But the amulet slowly began to glow.

Soon, a feeling of flying, no falling, no moving without moving, followed with the world going black and white then exploding into color then a feeling of being shot out of a cannon. Landed them back in front of the entryway to the haunted mansion. Where he saw Lorenzo, a few teachers, and testers, the high judge himself, and a large mixed group of elite and master class spirit callers.

But none looked at him, all eyes were on the haunted mansion, slacked jawed and wide eyed. Turning, Van saw something he probably would never forget for the rest of his life.

The mansion had many images, copies of itself, on top of itself, onto the side of itself, at the bottom. Then it teleported to the air, into the ground, somehow wound up flooded, and erupted with a volcano spewing lava. It glitched out and mansions from what only could be from different timelines and dimensions took its place one by one in rapid fashion, hundreds in a second before changing into every color of the rainbow, then every color that ever existed, even the ones that the human eye could not see.

Then… It happened. The mansion exploded. No. imploded. No, went supernova. No sucked itself into a black hole. Reality got bent, then straightened, then twisted. And then… everything went blank.

Not everything went dark, not everything went white. No. It. Went. Blank.

And there was nothing he could say that would ever be able to describe what he meant. But that's what it felt like, and that's what he was going to go with until the day he died.

And then, the mansion was back to normal. It wasn’t haunted anymore, it lost that haunting look to it. It just went back to before it became a focal point.

And everything... was normal.

 

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