Each member of the party was spat out of the Spirit Battleground and smacked into the stone wall of the cabin’s basement. Weapons clattered against the ground, followed by the bodies of those wielding them.
An incoherent murmur of complaints mingled with sighs of relief echoed throughout the basement. James clambered to his feet, his hands probing the side of his head where it collided with the wall. There was some blood, but his health bar confirmed his suspicion that the wound was small.
“My soul…” James whispered, remembering what happened after they defeated the Lich Vessel. Having his soul ripped from his body was the single most terrifying experience of his life. James was able to relax slightly when he noticed the debuff was no longer affecting him. Somehow he must have received his soul back. He wondered if it was the light with the feminine voice that got it back for him. He shuddered at the memory. Even if he ended up getting his soul back, it was a memory he would rather forget. Yet, he somehow knew that he would never be able to.
James previously commended the game designers for their ingenuity in creating a game that allowed the players to feel pain, but now he wasn’t so sure it was an admirable feat. Whether it was or not, they had certainly mastered and evolved the technology into an abomination. What he felt when his soul was ripped from his body wasn’t exactly pain, it was something much more intolerable. He would rather be tortured for an eternity than experience the longing, desperation, and eternal damnation not having a soul for a single second caused. James violently shook the thought away, causing his head wound to throb.
A small ray of sunlight shone through the rickety wooden door of the basement, partially illuminating James’s party in dusty light. Everyone was silent, perfectly content with gathering themselves and quietly finding a place to sleep. James looked around; half hoping that at least Patrick had a victorious smile on his face. When he realized everyone looked glum, James cleared his throat, intending to cheer them up with a speech. Everyone reluctantly turned to hear what he had to say. James snickered as he watched Lilly, whose tiredness was evident in the fact that she took eight small steps just to turn enough to face him. When everyone’s face was visible, he realized there was someone else in the basement with them.
James met his brother’s eyes from across the basement. He had no idea what Michael was capable of now, or what he was apt to do in that moment, so James reached for his short sword just in case. James’s eyes widened in alarm as his hands patted against his empty sheath. His sword must have been knocked from his hand when he was ejected from the Spirit Battleground. James quickly decided he would instead speak to his brother, and felt a tinge of guilt that that wasn’t his first reaction. The guilt quickly faded as James watched his brother’s eyes fall to the Martyr skinning knife that lay on the ground between them, bathed in the light coming from the door. The two brothers met with a hesitant gaze before diving for the short sword.
Michael, who was now bigger and stronger than his older brother, won the scramble and in turn, won the short sword. He stood back and threateningly pointed the blade in the direction of the party. James got to his feet and realized Michael no longer wore his heavy plate armor from the Spirit Battleground. He looked more like how James remembered him, more human. Memories of their childhood flooded James and he couldn’t help but feel hopeful. Hopeful that no matter what Michael had gone through since he had been in the game, they would be okay. They made it through life even after their parents died when they were young, and they would do the same now.
“What is this trickery?” Michael snarled.
James gave his best attempt at a welcoming smile, which was difficult due to the sword pointed at him, “This isn’t a trick. I really am your brother.”
Michael lowered his eyelids and studied each member of the party individually, “No. Not again,” he whispered.
“Do you remember that ti-” James’s words were cut off as Michael charged. Luckily, every member of James’s party was out of patience and already preparing to subdue Michael so they could go to sleep. They caught Michael before he could even take a step.
“Be careful with him!” James shouted as his party disarmed and subdued his brother.
‘James...’ A voice whispered, causing James to stir from within his fur pile. ‘James.’
James looked around the cabin, but everyone was asleep in fur piles of their own. The only person he knew that could speak to him telepathically while outside of the spirit battleground was the spirit herself.
‘We won your battle. What do you want now?’ he asked, still exhausted.
‘I want to rest now, James.’
‘Yeah, well so do I.’ James scoffed at the spirit inside his head. Talking telepathically to a spirit felt natural to James now, but he knew it was anything but. He wondered if this would be his new normal. Frode would eventually heal the psychosis debuff that afflicted his brother and that was all James really cared about right now. He certainly wanted to know what happened in the real world, but it was more of just a curiosity now. If he was being truthful with himself, he had no desire to go back to the real world. Between his party members and the Martyrs he felt like he had more family and friends here than he ever did on Earth. Now that he finally found his brother, the only thing he really wanted to do was protect what he had in this world.
‘I know,’ the spirit said with her feminine voice, ‘and I thank you for freeing me from the Spirit Battle, but there are some things you must know, and some things you must do before I can finally leave this world.’
James sighed. For once, he wasn’t in the mood to get answers, but he knew he shouldn’t dismiss the opportunity when they were so easily offered, ‘What happened after we destroyed the Lich vessel? Where you the one that saved my soul and my brother from the Lich?’
‘Yes,’ the spirit whispered. ‘When you destroyed the Lich Vessel, the Spirit Battleground no longer had a purpose. We were thrown from that plane of existence, and my mission to fend off the Lich was completed. Under normal circumstances, you would have been rewarded and I would have finally been able to leave this world. Except the Lich tried to keep your brother...’
James nodded as he sat upright in his fur pile and waited for the spirit to continue. He could easily have lay back down, but his nerves didn't allow it.
‘I regained some of my memories when the Lich vessel was destroyed, but even I do not know why or how your kind has entered this world. What I do know, is that you all have an important part to play here. That is why I saved your brother.’
James tensed at the spirit’s ability to recognize that he wasn’t from this world. ‘What are you?’
‘I am the spirit of a Mystic, James. It is as simple and as complicated as that. Long ago, ten of the world's strongest Mystics sacrificed their lives to lock away the evil in this world. We couldn’t defeat the evil outright, so we created the Spirit Battlegrounds. Ten enemy factions and ten Mystic spirits locked away in a spell that you call the Spirit Battleground.’
‘So, there are 9 more spirit vessels and spirit battlegrounds? What will become of them?’
‘Yes. The other spirit vessels will fail if given enough time. They were never meant to be a permanent solution.’
James’s face took on a pained expression, ‘So you need me to enter the other 9 Spirit Battlegrounds and defeat the enemies within?’
‘No, sweet thing.’ The spirit chuckled. It was the most humanity James had seen from the spirit other than when she saved his soul from the Lich, ‘I just needed to make sure the story of the Mystics’ sacrifice is not forgotten. However, I do suspect that this will not be the last time you will hear of the spirit vessels. I cannot ask you to seek them out and destroy them, but the evil contained within the vessels will eventually be unleashed on the world.’
James nodded solemnly. The only thing he wanted to be responsible for was protecting what he had here. His party and the Martyrs made up his new family. He didn’t want to lose that, and if the evil locked away in the Spirit Vessels threatened that, he would have to deal with them eventually. The only problem James had was that he wasn’t in the position to search for the vessels yet. He needed to secure the town and make sure the Martyrs were protected. James might have been immortal, but not everyone in his newly adopted family was.
‘Why will the other spirit vessels fail?’ he asked.
‘Over a long enough period of time, the Mystic Spirits will lose their battles. We spent the majority of our power creating the battlegrounds. This means that the majority of us are less powerful than the evil we fight. The only thing keeping evil from escaping any vessel immediately are our time slowing spells.’
‘How much time do you think that will take?’ James asked, even though he had already decided he was going to invest whatever time was necessary to build up his defenses.
‘It is hard to say. I thought we would have another century or so, but things are more complicated now. Do you remember when I was jarred from my vessel?’
‘Yes,’ James replied solemnly. ‘It was the day the dead rose, and Lilly lost her family and her town.’
‘It is possible that that will happen to other Spirit Vessels.’
‘How?’ James asked. ‘I mean, how would that even happen? I’m not even really sure how you were knocked out.’
The spirit paused for a while, so James looked around the cabin to see if anyone was awake. He couldn’t see everyone in the darkness, but the few he did manage to see from the meager light emanating from the embers in the fireplace were completely knocked out. Torunn had slept in the cabin and was spread across his fur pile, looking rather uncomfortable as usual. Even though he was here because Frey kicked him out, James was still happy to have him close by. James would like it even more if Michael was here as well, but it was clear his brother would be safest with the Martyrs. Frode would attempt to heal him, and if Michael ever managed to attack he wouldn't be able to do much damage to the adult Martyrs.
‘I am not entirely sure how I was knocked from my vessel, James. When I was alive my strongest mastery was that of water. When you arrived, it rained for the first time in this world. I suspect that I sensed the nearby water and was drawn to it. It is entirely possible that the same thing will happen to other vessels. Each Mystic was a master of a different element. If it does happen, the evil will be able to escape much sooner than a century.’
James thought on that. It was probably lucky his party was around this specific water vessel. If anyone else was around, the Lich's undead forces would have been able to slowly enter the game world. James shuddered at the thought. Still though, if the only way for something like that to happen again was if a spirit vessel just happened to come in contact with the preferred element of the spirit inside it, that meant the chances were low. If one of the ten mystics Salmaana had been discussing had a high mastery of fire, it was unlikely that that mystic’s vessel would be engulfed in fire. It was possible, but still less likely than rain. This all meant that James probably had some time to build up his village before he had to worry about another spirit vessel, unless of course, one of the element masteries of this world was earth or dirt or something. If that was the case then it was highly likely the corresponding spirit would be drawn to that essence and leave the vessel, allowing the evil contained within to escape. James asked if that was possible, but was shut down by the spirit, who merely replied that she didn't have enough time to explain the vast mysteries of magic.
‘Okay then. I will build my defenses and keep an eye out for any vessels in my eventual travels. What else do you require of me?’ James asked before immediately remembering the mention of a reward. ‘You mentioned a reward?’
‘Yes, you will be rewarded with my remaining power as I am sent off to slumber. However, I am afraid it may not be much. Saving your brother from the Lich King was not easy for me. It required much of my souls to summon that much power.’
‘Wait…’ James said confused. ‘What do you mean your souls? And the Lich is still alive?’
‘Yes, and yes. You will find out more about your rewards after I am released from this plane. I also mentioned that you needed to do something before I could be released. We Mystics were powerful, but even we could not erase evil from this world entirely. For me to be released, you must place a portal to the Lich King’s realm.’
James blinked. ‘What’s the point of that? That makes everything we accomplished pointless!’
‘No, James. Your accomplishments were still a huge win. The magic we used was complicated and risky, but we had no choice but to do what we did. The Lich King will not be able to enter this world through the portal, but anyone on this side will be able to enter his realm through it. The magic does not allow for us to sever his connection to this world entirely. I have done my duty and I need to rest now. You need to build the portal to release me.’
‘But why? What spell did you use? Can I learn it?’
‘That is a question you can ask another spirit if you come across one.’ The feminine voice paused for a moment. ‘It is time. I must go. Use your Town Builder interface to construct the portal. Release me… James…’