“Oh look, Eryk’s back,” Miss M says the moment my ghostly figure appears back in front of everyone.
“Yes, I am here,” I say. “Uh, what were we doing again?”
I look at my three companions from Mystix who I haven’t been able to meet for an entire day already. Oh, they are not looking in top shape whatsoever, I realize. Malia is filled with cuts and bruises all over her body, and her armor has dents in several precarious places. Rare’s domineering physique has faded and their signature long hair has been torn to shreds. Miss M looks better than the two, now nearly human-sized and sporting fiery red hair, but aside from her outward appearance, her eyes alone tell me how exhausted she is.
“We spent a day fending off the New Slayers outside. They’re just sitting out there waiting for us now,” Miss M says. “All I wanted was to get my cool suit and tie back so I could be a real demon queen, but so far it’s just this stupid hair.”
“Well, at least you’re okay,” I say.
“You have no damn clue how hard it’s been. You can’t even get hurt when you’re here! Why are we even protecting you?”
Rare puts a hand on her shoulder. “It is not Eryk’s ghost who we protect, Queen Mestopholees,” they say. “It is his body, which lies just inside this door.”
“Wait, I thought we entered the Tomb of Eryk Solbourne already,” I say. “I could have sworn it...”
“Yes, we entered the tomb,” Rare says, “but the tomb is much bigger than you may have thought. It has six subfloors and is guarded by an undiscerning patrol of stone golems. With the New Slayers pursuing us this far in already, we have to be even more careful that we do not reveal your body’s hidden location to them.”
“Six subfloors... all for me? Truly? That is quite odd. What in the world could ever make me so important? I am not even a C-Rank [Adventurer,] let alone someone worthy of a castle-sized tomb!”
Rare, Malia, and Miss M exchange glances. “We will explain that in time,” Rare says.
“When we reach the body, I hope,” I say. “Where is it, anyway?”
“Well, we... don’t know that. We, as much as anyone else, were left in the dark to the true location so that none of us could easily locate you. The tomb was buried deep underground, it’s patrolled by stone golems, and the tomb itself is laid out like a maze... These placeholders were put here for a very good reason. And one of those is because of me myself.”
“Because of you, Rare? Please, you must elaborate on something. I am failing to comprehend any of this, and none of you are ever telling me!”
Rare looks to their two companions and nods. They nod back and depart in opposite directions. “We are splitting up to better cover ground. If one of us figures out where your body may be, we will meet back here and regroup.”
“A dear friend of mine has said something very important to me,” I say, referring to Francis. “He says, ‘Never split the party.’ I tend to believe him in that regard.”
“I have not heard a phrase like that before,” Rare says, “but the real reason we have split is because I need to explain something to you. And I would prefer to do so gently.”
I actually cannot see very well at all, down here in the darkness. Rare has some sort of night light spell activated, so that their eyes shine like a cat’s and creates a glow around them, but it is still extremely difficult to see. I understand why finding my resting place would be such a task.
“Did you ever wonder what happened to me, Eryk?” Rare asks. “Where I went, and why?”
“Of course I did. Every day. But I know now that you went into that mysterious mountain to train your skills up without the use of a system.”
“Well, that’s not the full details. Let me explain.” Rare begins their speech. “The reason Vince died and I fled at the same time? It was no mere coincidence. It was not a simple fact of the Slayers War. It was a targeted assassination. Vince was not killed by friendly fire. Rather, it was far from friendly. Killers from all over Mystix had been hired and trained to eliminate the Solbourne family, one by one, until Eryk was all that remained.
“I was brought up from birth to be your protector, Eryk. Our fathers knew that, one day, you would become much more than you were ever capable of understanding. I do not know how they would discover such a thing before you even accepted the Destiny Deck System, but our fathers were a powerful group.
“My secret father, the one from whom I directly descend and whose name I am sworn not to reveal, ordered me into hiding after Vince was murdered. And so, in a twist of irony, in order to protect you with my life, I went into exile. I hid and trained for a hundred years to become the most powerful being on all of Mystix... aside from you, of course.
“I was never as far away as you may have thought, though. For my two companions Malia and Miss M kept you on a tight leash while you were a part of Team Fanghook. They made sure you would never stray too far from your comfortable path, and we made sure that your progression followed a natural path. That is... until the Slayers stepped in and sabotaged everything.”
“Wait, if I’m supposedly dead, here in this big tomb, then how did I become an [Adventurer?] What about Team Fanghook?”
“You were never ‘alive’ in the true sense for any of that,” they say. “You were always an astral projection given physical form. It takes an incredible amount of magic to conjure up such a being, which is why you are currently in a normal ghost form. It’s simply too much energy for your body here underground to keep up a physical form after all the damage you suffered from the carriage crash.”
“But... Malia and I...”
“I can confirm very much so that you were an astral projection,” Malia says as she phases right through me and appears beside Rare once more. “We had many great times together, Eryk. I know you just as well as you know yourself.” She turns to Rare and says, “We found him.”
“Excellent. Then we can go.”
We begin walking and following Malia to this supposed location. Rare casts a stealth spell so that the stone golems do not detect us.
“I was never alive, and yet I still died in a carriage crash anyway...”
“It was much more than a carriage crash,” Rare says. “It, too, was an assassination. The Slayers, or whoever else it could have been, figured out that you were not truly alive, and decided to kill off your astral form for the time being. Why they did this is beyond me, but I worry our coming here may only accelerate their plans. There is nothing else we can do, though...”
Miss M joins our party and we finally find a door that is absolutely, certainly the room where my body is located. My grave, within my tomb, within the catacombs, within my homeland, within my home world.
It is currently sealed. Very tightly sealed, with enough barriers in front of it that it takes the combined magical force of all three of them to get through. And then one more physical barrier, a gigantic rock that Rare pushes aside with one fist.
“You see, Eryk, whoever assassinated you did so because they want you for themselves. In truth, you are not some mild [Adventurer.] You are—”
The door opens.
[Total: 73 DP.]
We see an empty casket. Nothing else. Not a speck of dust.
“You are not in your grave?!”