“Not bad.” Ren suddenly said right next to Van, startling him. “But you still have a long way to go…” he finished as he drank from his seemingly never-ending can of cola. “You now have an outer, middle, and inner layer. The new middle layer being the castle town around you. Also, all those slots turned to rooms inside your castle keep. And you have a lot of new empty space to fill.”
“And now that we don’t have to worry about a reality bomb going off anytime soon here.” he took another sip of his cola. “I can finally give you a piece of my mind.” turning to give a little glare at Van.
Van felt a little surprised at that, then a little affronted if anyone should be mad. Shouldn’t be him? After all, Ren had been hiding things from him. Like the fact that he had an echo. He was the one that came here to confront Ren, not the other way around.
“What could you possibly be mad at me for!? I mean ya sure, the focal core thing. But what about you? Hiding the fact that I have freaking echoes and stuff!” Van said snappishly.
“Oh, trust me. It’s more than just echo’s I have been hiding.” Ren said, taking another sip. “In fact, now that you know, I suppose I should tell you everything about that, and everything that that implies.”
“But that’s not what we're going to be talking about right now. I’m talking about you and your treatment of the women around you.” Ren said.
“...what?” Van asked, now confused as to where this conversation was going.
Ren rolled his eyes. “Think about it, Van. What did your dad say about why Luna was acting the way she did when she soul bonded with you? What did Lyn say before you fucked her? What about all the things you witnessed, experienced, and learned in the lovers guild? Are you seriously this dense?” he complained.
Van blushed hard. “Were… were you watching us?”
Ren sighed. “Of course not! I can just sense these things! And that's not what I'm talking about!”
“Look, in case I'm not making this clear enough. If a pretty woman asks if you want to fuck. FUCK HER!” Ren said a little testily, then drank from his can once more.
Van blinked“...what?” he said, now completely lost as to where the conversation was going.
Ren gave an even more exasperated sigh. “You really should have come to visit more often… At least then I could help you with your problem…”
“Alright. I want to come clean with you. I. Lied. to. You… When I said, completing your soul realm would get rid of your trauma. That wasn’t entirely true. What it did instead was just push it all down deep. You still have some of it, you just can’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind, and all that. Might as well be gone right?” Ren said.
“I thought that would be all it would take. But it seemed like your past lives, your memories. Memories you don’t even really remember, still affect how you act and think. And the trauma kinda made it worse.”
“I… I don’t understand.” Van said, his expression saying he was completely lost as to where this conversation was going.
Ren rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fingers, looking down for a moment before turning back to address Van. “the sex you had with Lyn. did it feel good?”
Van blushed hard. Taken aback by the sudden and personal question. “What!? What does that have to do with anything!”
“Just answer the god's damn question. Did. it. Feel. Good.” Ren asked once more.
Van hesitated but decided to see where this was going. So he slowly nodded with great embarrassment, his face going very red.
“That’s good. That’s how it should be.” Ren said, nodding.
“Okay, can you tell me what the fuck is going on now!?” Van asked.
“Do you really need me to answer that? You came pretty close to realizing the truth right before you fucked Lyn.” Ren said, taking another sip of his cola.
That made Van pause, as he tried to remember what he thought before the copulation session with Lyn and her friend. Saving how Ren knew what he thought for later. “That… as a good male, and husband I should give in and fuck them?” Van asked, confused.
Ren nodded. “Let me tell you something Van. your women have been very patient with you. They understand that you are going through a few things. And don’t want you to feel pressure. But the truth is, you're trying to pursue an idealized male form that does not exist in this world.”
“Remember? In this world. Women are the knights in shining armor. They take pride in dying for their husband, for their children. Women know that they probably will be sent out to die, never knowing the touch of a man. People die by the thousands in this world. And while it’s true that women here are a bit hornier, perhaps, that doesn’t change the fact that there are still people with wants and needs. Some women are literally born, knowing that they will be sent off to die. They know their duty, and they accept it.”
“You, on the other hand…” Ren said before sighing. “You need to realize that it’s okay to give in. you're trying to be something that has no place in this world. It's fine to have pride in yourself. It’s fine to be self-reliant, and not give in to bullying. And yes, some women abuse their power and you should defend yourself from them. But for fucks sake, those memories you have of what it means to be a man are all wrong!”
“Think about it. Really think about it. If you were a man in one of those past lives. You would be so happy about the fact there were so many women after you. But you? You ignore that in favor of that stoic male, or whatever else you think a true male should be.”
Ren then suddenly pulled Van by his collar and looked him in the eye. “So if you want to fuck a woman… Just FUCK HER!”
“It feels good right? And so long as it's on your terms it's fine. Right? You're not the only one that has it bad. The women in your life are also going through things.” he then let go of Van.
“You feel inadequate, weak. That's fine. It’s not a sin to be weak. And as for the women, they naturally grow stronger faster. But don’t worry, that doesn't mean you should give up on becoming strong. There's no stopping you from taking the ideal man that you think is the ideal man from your memories and combining it with the ideal man of this world. You can be both!”
“So take what life throws at you and just roll with it! Got it! It will make you happier, your women happier, and everyone becomes happier!”
Van was leaning a little away from Ren. feeling a little like when Lyn went off on him. “So… just… fuck?”
Ren sighed. “You don’t need to hold back… and you don’t need to give in to a woman's advances if you don’t want to. Like I said before. Just roll with whatever life throws at you on your terms. Okay? You don’t need to prove anything to anyone, you already came very far from where you were before. Even if it doesn't feel like it.”
“I’m sure you already realized where you are lacking, and you already promised yourself to grow in that regard. But please. Don’t let those past memories hold you back, and don’t let that bitch win. You can have the best of both worlds. So just… do it.”
Van was silent a little as he thought heavily about what Ren said. In truth, there were times where he felt like having sex with his loved ones but held back because he was afraid of being labeled a pervert. And there were times where he enjoyed the advances of his girls but turned them down because he was too embarrassed.
He was beginning to realize that many of his past lives were of timid people or natural loners. People who had a naturally hard time, opening up to others, or accepted that they couldn’t trust people or open up. People who resigned themselves to never being loved, and were afraid that being honest might end up getting them hurt instead.
Then there were the ads, the movies, the games, books. All those things showed how men should portray themselves as.
Van shook the thoughts from his head. “Why am I letting memories, past trauma, both from this life and lives I hardly remember affect me like this?”
“What do I do?” Van asked Ren.
“You just do what you can…” Ren said, “and don’t worry, I, and all your friends and loved ones will be here to help.”
After another hour or so of talking, and Van going through a lot of stuff he didn’t even realize was on his mind. The two went back to his core room so that Ren could explain a few things.
“Now that your soul realm has matured. It’s time for you to create a guardian. There will be times when someone who is a soul seer, or someone else who can affect your soul realm. Whether it be good or bad, will try to interfere with your soul.” he began.
“Creating a soul guardian is one of the first steps to defending yourself. Though not all people do this. Some instead make it so their soul realm becomes naturally more dangerous, or filled with traps, or even give a passive buff, whenever they are in their own soul realm, so as to give themselves an edge should intruders appear.”
“Do you remember when Lorenzo first showed you what your father’s soul realm looked like? He had dummies as his representation. Dummies that he could take out and use. But also used in his soul realm's defense.”
“Now please take your throne and get to creating a guardian. It doesn't have to be perfect. It could just be a placeholder for later.”
Van nodded and sat down on his throne. It felt good to know he had his own throne. Making the more childish side of him feel more powerful. He then opened up the menu and spent the next hour or so going through tabs and options. But gave up, there were too many options and he felt like he didn't have too much time to spare. So he went with a default angel with beautiful white wings.
Ren raised a brow. “An interesting choice.”
Van swiped the menu away and looked at Ren. “I had too many things on my mind, some things I have to say… some stuff I have to get off my chest. And many questions…”
Ren nodded, expecting such a thing.
Van sighed. “Let me get this off first.” He began. “Ren… suppose, there were a few things I… well… Look. I’m probably going to continue making mistakes. No matter what. But I will do my best from now on, to improve and… get a second opinion when I do. And not just what I think is the right answer to my problems.”
“Next.” Van began once more. “I need to ask. How are you aware of what goes on in my mind? And how are you out of the communion?”
Ren nodded once more. “You and I… are far more connected than you realize… I am the reason why you are not drowned out by the flood that is your past lives. It’s a great task that puts a greater toll on me. But one I’m willing to bear. It just so happens, that it comes with a few perks. And I will continue to have such perks, until such time you become strong enough to handle everything on your own and decide you don’t want me having such perks anymore.”
Van listened and slowly nodded. “Now… about what you’ve been teaching Lyn…”
Ren smiled at that. “I’m not sorry. And she makes a great 2nd player when we play games together. Seriously? How can anyone not want to have fun with her! She’s just a bundle of energy and joy!”
Van sighed and decided to let the matter drop. Most of his anger about it went away hours ago anyway.
But now… now was the time for the real questioning. He looked at Ren square on. His posture and presence taking on a more regal air, as he sat on his throne. “Ren, about Rudrick…”
For the first time ever. Ren looked like he himself was at a loss of how to go about what he wanted to say. “It’s… a little difficult to explain… but I suppose I'll leave understanding any of it up to you.”
“Well… as you know… you have many past lives, hundreds of thousands if not more. And some of those past lives might leave echoes of themselves that could take forever to return to their true soul…as you necromancers and spirit callers like to call it.” Ren said.
“And yes, this does mean you might have more than just Rudrick as an echo in this world. But if you have any more, I could not tell you. Even if I did know. There are… rules to such things… rules only a dead person can… feel…” Ren said, his eyes glazing over as if seeing something in the distance before he shook himself out of it.
“And I suppose you should know… you are not the only Van that… lives… shall we say…” Ren continued on.
Van leaned forward, his curiosity piqued his full attention on Ren.
“Van… you are not the only Van… There are other Vans. living in other realities… as we speak.” Ren said.
Van tried to wrap his mind around that. “But… I have a true soul… that should be impossible.”
Ren shook his head. “Nothing is impossible. And even what you call ‘true souls’ are only fragments of a bigger whole.”
Van sat back, trying to wrap his head around the fact there might be other hims running around.
“It's nothing to worry about,” Ren said. “The chances of you meeting another you are astronomically slim. How likely is it that another you has the power to bend reality to meet another you? Besides, what does it matter if there are others? Nothing will change right?”
Van thought about it, everything he learned in school being turned upside down. But he shook it off. He knew that Ren was still hiding something. “What else are you not telling me?”
Ren shook his head. “I can not tell you unless it becomes a problem. Just know that all the Van’s are connected, in one way or another. And that you have many echoes. But that’s not a bad thing. You should know. Don’t you have a better understanding of runecraft now?”
“What would happen if I did meet another me?” Van asked worriedly.
Ren shrugged. “Nothing. Unless you want something to happen. But honestly. Nothing.”
“Nothing to worry about?” Van asked.
“Nothing to worry about,” Ren replied.
Van leaned back further and sighed. For some strange reason. He knew that no matter how much he asked. Ren would not speak further on it. “So much for trusting you,” he muttered under his breath.
Ren looked genuinely hurt. “I know… I wish things were different. I do...but just like the goddess, there are things we did that we regret, things we can’t fix, rules we have to obey. And you, you weren't meant to be… something went wrong. Yet here we are. And the laws of creation… of everything… prevent me from helping you further. For that… you have my deepest apologies…” he said, looking far older and sadder than he usually let show.
Now Van was left with far more questions than he ever had before. But sighed and held in any resentment he had about it.
“Van…” Ren began to say. “I can’t do anything now… but if you were to grow stronger… then maybe… just maybe… you can learn more.” it was his form of an olive branch, he hoped Van understood.
Van looked at Ren, thinking deeply about what Ren just said, and slowly nodded. Accepting the olive branch for what it was.
There were so many things about this world, about his soul, about everything. But right now he didn’t want to bother with any of those questions. Right now, he wanted to sit back and relax.
So he got up and went to look for Lyn. she supposedly had a story to tell him after all. And he could use the distraction as he got his thoughts together.