Van and everyone else gathered just stared at the now very normal, perfectly normal, mansion. That was until Van heard a very quiet “pssst.” coming from his Lantern.
“Pssst. Van!” Kassandra whispered. “Quickly! Form a bond with me! Before it’s too late!”
Van looked down with suspicion towards his lantern. Half remembered memories, most that have already faded away, gave him a nostalgic feeling towards the ghost women. And it was because of this he hesitated. Kassandra was hiding something, she knew a lot more than what was going on in that mansion. So he wasn’t sure if he should trust her, but then again, if he didn’t, she would be taken away, and his answers with it. Finally was that nostalgic feeling, a feeling that he should trust her, protect her. It made him very indecisive.
“Van! Please! Hurry!” Kassandra said, now a little desperately.
Van hesitated one more time but decided to do so, for Rudrick’s sake. And as casually as possible, let his hand fall towards the lantern and formed a bond with Kassandra. The familiar feeling of connection formed, and soon Kassandra went from the lantern, and into his soul realm. And just in time to, as everyone was finally getting out of their stupor and wide-eyed amazement.
Lorenzo was the first to shake it off, as he looked widely from side to side in panic until his eyes laid on Van and palpable relief flowed through his body. He rushed up to Van and got a little handsy, bending down to check Van’s pulse and complexion. Making Van realize that he was actually on the ground and slowly got up with the help of Lorenzo.
“Are you okay! Are you hurt!” Lorenzo said, eyes filled with worry, then asked. “What in the hells happened in there!”
Van hesitated, worried if he should tell the truth, but decided to play it safe. “It. Ummm. The core… it exploded…” he said, not feeling like he could look into Lorenzo’s eyes and say it.
“Exploded!? That's impossible!” the head judge all of a sudden said, coming up to Lorenzo and Van. “we put every precaution available! And then some! Followed every rule and regulation. And still went beyond that to make sure all the seals were double-locked and triple-locked! It should be impossible for the focal core to explode!”
Just then, a wave of air hit them from the mansion, and everyone once more turned to see what else was in store for them with worry. But oddly, this time it was something very beautiful.
Souls, small balls of wisp-like substance, floated up from the mansion. Leaving trails of rainbow-like foggy light in their wake. They slowly moved up from their longtime prison and faded out of view, both from eyesight and from this world into the next. A feeling of relief, washing over all the bystanders and onlookers, a feeling they realized came from those poor lost souls as they moved on, and a feeling of thanks as well for their freedom. Another beautiful sight, that Van was probably never going to forget for the rest of his life.
Slowly, the head judge shook his head, turning to face Van once more. “Well what’s done is done, but we have a few questions we will have to ask you later. For now, please hand over your lantern.” Van did so somewhat reluctantly, feeling attached to his lantern. “Do not worry, your lantern will be returned to you at a later date.”
“What will happen to the souls I captured?” Van asked.
“They will be judged. And if proven innocent, allowed to pass on.” the head judge said as he took Van’s lantern and brought it up to eyes level. Once he did so he looked surprised as he seemed to peer into it. “My word… you have the focal cores conscious!” he said surprised and in disbelief.
“...what’s going to happen to her…” Van asked, curious.
“She will be sent to the black prison for interrogation, and won’t be allowed rights for a long, long time. Maybe even centuries.” the head judge said.
a voice from within Van’s mind spoke to him. (“She will be fine. Honestly, it’s probably preferable considering what could actually happen if she were to be released to the afterlife.”) Van wanted to question that but now was probably not the time.
As the head judge was about to put the lantern away, a voice from within spoke out loud, surprising everyone. “Wait!” everyone paused in shock, it was very rare for a ghost to be able to talk from within a lantern, something Van wasn’t aware of until he saw the expression on everyone's face.
“I just want to say, in hopes that a certain person, who might not be with us anymore might hear. That… if I was… reborn… giving a… second chance… that I would like to be reborn… as a better person… for his sake… if only a little…” Molly said. She said it like she was pulling out her own teeth like it was the most painful thing in the world for her to say. And yet she meant it.
Inside Van, a part of him heard her, and was touched by it, and gave a silent farewell.
Molly then went quiet, the light from the lantern dulling all of a sudden as if she finally got what she wanted to say off her chest. And now wholly accepted her fate.
The head judge looked at the lantern in disbelief but decided to just move on and save the issue for later, there were enough problems he had to deal with already. He turned back to Van to ask him a few questions when his eyes instead landed on something else that caught his eye.
His expression soured as that something else moved closer. “What in the Hells are those people doing here!” he said pointing at two women casually walking up to the group. Doing a complete one-eighty, face turning angry.
Two women, dressed in black, looking like some sort of government official or worker. With badges on their chest, but wearing something similar to leather armor walked up to the group. A very strange mishmash of modern-looking and medieval clothing.
If the head judge didn’t look exasperated before, he did now, and also very angry.
The two women walked up to the group and flashed what appeared to be badges and said in a loud and authoritative voice. “We are with the MPID and the MPRD. the monster and paranormal investigations department, and the monster and paranormal removal department. On behalf of our bureau, we would like you all to stay behind and answer a few of our questions.”
One of the dressed in black women then pulled out a strange sphere-like object hooked on a chain. With circles within circles moving about. “Our device here, which name we will not disclose, indicated large and unnatural fluctuations in reality. All personnel who are here will stay behind and comply with our investigations. Thank you for your cooperation.”
A vein popped up on the head judge's forehead and he looked like he was going to explode. “Now you see here! The bureau and your stupid departments have no authority here! How did you even get in here! You are not allowed within our compound! We made that clear enough to you many times already!”
“Let me remind you, head judge…” one of the women said somewhat testily, “that it is your guild, and your leader, that wishes for the necromancers guild to be fully recognized within the wider world. That means complying and obeying a few regulations and rules. Whether you like it or not.”
The head judge seemed inflamed by this. “No. Let me remind you! That if it wasn’t for our spirit callers, you would be facing a zombie and undead apocalypse every other Tuesday! The necromancers guild has done far more for the bureau and the many other nations that we have helped than we have received in turn! You wouldn’t even know half about focal points or dimensional gaps or worse if it weren't for us! Our knowledge of monsters and paranormal activity was what helped even make the bureau what it is today!” he said, with nods of approval from the many spirit callers and necromancers that were on standby to rush in and help save Van should they need to, now standing by their head judge in solidarity.
This seemed to have pissed off the two officials. “Well clearly, despite all your vaunted knowledge, you still couldn’t prevent a class four focal explosion from happening, could you? Perhaps you should let the professionals in and let us do our jobs, and you wouldn't have these problems and we wouldn’t have to ask you these questions?”
That seemed to be the final straw for the head judge and a few others as well. “We have been doing this job since before you were born! Since before your stupid bureau was even a thing! You would have been a lost cause if it weren't for our knowledge and expertise!”
Soon an argument broke out, and many people forgot about Van and why they were there originally. Slowly, and quietly, Lorenzo pulled Van away from the group to a nice safe distance as the argument turned into a shouting match. But if Van had, to be honest, he kinda wanted to hear more, his curiosity thoroughly piqued.
After they made enough distance, Lorenzo turned to look into his pupil's eyes. “Alright Van, now tell me honestly, what really happened in there,” he asked, not buying that the focal point simply exploded.
Van hesitated. He didn’t want to lie but wasn’t sure he should tell the whole truth either, so instead decided to get close to the truth. “Well… you know how I have a really big soul realm? Ya… well… it seemed that my soul realm was a little too big for the focal point…”
Lorenzo shook his head. “Van… I'm not a fool, no matter how big your soul realm is, even if you had a massive spiritual leakage, it shouldn’t be possible for your soul realm to affect the focal dimension the way it did.”
Van remembered that for all the tests Lorenzo did on him, Lorenzo had not actually seen his soul realm. So he couldn't know how big it really was. “... not even if it was bigger than the entire city?” Van said nervously.
Lorenzo blinked. “... is your soul realm really bigger than the city Van?”
It actually was several magnitudes bigger, its own little world in fact. But Van thought that might be a little too much for Lorenzo to wrap his head around, so just nodded instead. “If you don’t believe me, you can ask dad for yourself.
Lorenzo looked like he was deep in thought and began to mumble to himself under his breath while rubbing his chin. “I suppose it wouldn’t be. Im-possible… but what if… and…” then quickly shook his head. “We will talk about this later, but if what you said is true, we might have to develop some sort of soul restraint on you if you want to explore future focal points in the future.”
He then pulled Van into a hug. “Just know I'm so glad you're safe. When you didn’t come out at the expected time, I began to worry. When you started to spend most of the day there. I began to panic, and so did everyone else. We were about to send a party in after you.”
“Yes. well. You didn’t tell me I needed a rune, or that most novices are sent back within two hours or a bunch of other stuff.” Van said a little testily.
Lorenzo looked saddened at that. “I'm so sorry… we do this on purpose. It has been scientifically proven that when people enter a focal point for their first time without a rune of protection, they develop better natural mental and spiritual defense against the focal point's influence. We keep some information at a minimum because we are also testing your versatility and a few other factors. No one in all the centuries that we have been doing this, has a focal point exploded, or a novice stayed in there for far longer than the allotted time… with a rare few exceptions, and even then, not by much...”
Van sighed, he supposed he shouldn't be too angry with Lorenzo, he was a special case after all. “I'm sorry to… for worrying you,” he said.
Lorenzo smiled kindly and nodded. “Let's get out of here,” he said as the argument in the distance turned into a yelling match. “I’ll figure out an excuse as to why the focal point exploded. And by the gods, I hope I can come up with a good one. Owning even a small focal point like this one would cost a relatively wealthy barony like ours several years of our annual income. We will have to figure out a way to make sure that no one knows it was you that blew it up.”
That made Van nervous and the two snuck out of the compound and into a carriage as quietly as possible in hopes no one would notice their absence. Once in, Van asked Lorenzo if they could take the long way home. “I have to go into my soul realm, to check on a few things.”
Lorenzo nodded, thinking that, considering what Van had been through, it would be a good idea to check that everything was okay in the soul realm as well. “I’ll tell the driver to take it slow as well. And when you come back, perhaps you can tell me how you knew that you needed a rune and that most novices come out in two hours?”
Van nodded nervously and slowly closed his eyes as he focused inward.
Van was in his soul realm once more. The familiar sight, comforting. Everything looked okay and perfect as it should be. And there was even the person he wanted to talk to waiting right in front of him.
“Hello, Van…” Kassandra said, a kind yet melancholic expression on her face.
“Hello, Kassandra… or should I say, Emilia?” Van said accusatorily. As a few of Rudricks' memories flashed across his mind. But then shook his head, as some of those memories seemed to be off. “What happened to you… what are you?”
Kassandra, or Emilia, looked hurt, but she brushed it off and looked straight into Van’s eyes. “I… am both… for despite what you might have heard. I didn’t just drink Molly’s potion just willy nilly. The truth was… I found them and accidentally dropped a few. Which was how I became… this…” she said, waving her hand over her body.
“I had tried to stop Molly's experiments. Sabotage her like she tried to sabotage Rudrick. I was one of the few people, belonging to one of the few factions, that was against everything that my people. That is to say the Nilfan. Was doing...”
“But never in my wildest dreams would I think that accidentally spilling a potion would kill me… or at least turn me into some sort of new breed of ghost. I believe Molly must have been trying to figure out some sort of possession magic, for when she wanted her soul to enter the artificial focal core.”
“When I disappeared, everyone began to panic, but I could not communicate with anyone to tell them what happened. It was like I was invisible. That was when it was decided that Molly would marry Rudrick, and Kassandra was called in to… help… produce an heir. Since there was no love between him and her.”
“It was then that I found out Kassandra was a… bit of a ditz… airheaded you could say. Wonderful person! Smart in the… strangest of things… but… not smart enough to keep me out. At first, I just wanted to make myself known, to tell people about what happened to me! And Kassandra... she was just happy enough to have an ‘imaginary friend’... but when the explosion happened. Our souls become tangled!”
“We were confused, lost within each other! I did everything I could to look for a method to fix our predicament… that’s when Molly found us and trapped us in the painting. She didn’t realize what we were! That I was her sister!”
“Because we spent so long fused together. The fusion became complete! There was no more Emilia… and no more Kassandra… just… we...I…” Kassandra/Emilia slowly shook her head sadly. “But the one who lost the most out of everything. Was Kassandra. She was the weakest, so it was my personality that became dominant. So I use the name Kassandra now, as my form of… equivalent exchange.”
“And as you can also see. It wasn’t just our minds and souls that became one. But our bodies as well. The best of our minds become one, and so did our bodies. All the imperfections of one body and mind were replaced by the superior version of the another. That’s how I got this look, all the best parts, without any of the bad. It honestly was the only benefit I could find out of this exchange for the both of us.” she said with some strange amount of pride. “I even just found out I could switch between a physical body and non-physical body!” she proved it too, by taking a physical form.
Which Van could admit was a very nice body.
“And so that is the truth… that is what happened… now you know…” she finished, finally glad to get a huge burden off her chest.
“Okay… that is one question answered. But I didn’t agree to the bond just because of this. I agreed because there were questions that only you can answer. And one of the questions was for the real reason why you wanted to bond with me… if you don’t tell me. You're going to leave…” Van said stoically. Not budging an inch on the matter. He felt for her, but he also felt he had to at least appear tough on the matter.
A melancholic expression befell Kassandra as she floated towards Van. she gently cupped Van’s cheek with her hand and leaned in for a kiss. After their lips parted she looked Van lovingly and sadly into his eyes. “Is it so hard to believe I just wanted to make right a mistake made a long time ago?” unshed tears formed around the rim of her eyes. “I not only made a widow of you once… but twice… I couldn’t do that again…”
Van kept his stoic expression, though even he couldn’t hide the sadness that touched his eyes. He gently took her hand away from his cheek and clasped it between them. “That man died a long time ago… I am not him, even his memories, what little I have received, have already, mostly… gone away, and what little remains, will soon also disperse… leaving nothing.”
“Even so… It will not change that I love you… and will always do… until you are ready. I will be waiting...” Kassandra said sadly.