His flashlight tried its best to light the way, but even the light was afraid to go beyond its reach. Rocks had crumbled around the sides, the crushed remains of human bodies barely seen beneath. It was the first time he had seen any actual bodies in the mansion since his arrival, other than the small tombstones he had seen all throughout the mansion grounds.
James felt as if the dark itself was preying upon his scales, gently creeping along his flesh, scale by scale, wispy tendrils snaking across his skull. But he knew it was merely his paranoia, trying to strengthen his resolve as he headed down a small flight of steps, descending a little deeper into the cavern. Soon he saw a dead end. An impassable wall of rubble.
There was no way for him to squeeze through any of the small crevices it contained, even though it did show enough for him to peer through. Boona was reluctant to go through the wall himself, feeling a strange shiver run through his very core. James noticed this.
"What is it?"
"S-s-something...beyond here. ...it's...ancient. F-filled with...hatred...vile...h-hatred."
The ghost shivered the same way James had done upon first seeing his own ghostly form. He gently petted the Boo, trying to calm him down.
"N-n-no it's not okay! Th-they never said tha...that something like THIS would be here!"
"Something like what?"
"S-something so evil! So f-filled with hate and fury that it scares me! L-l-let's get outta here James, th-this place is dangerous fer both of us, we gotta go!"
"There's gotta be something here I need, why else did it make me do all this!? ...wait...there it is."
At the foot of the crumbled blockade, he saw another page of the notebook, but written in someone else's hand, along with yet another gold key. This one had an apple inscribed upon its handle.
The mask shall never stop hunting you
Until you defeat it in turn
So now two roads lie open for you
In order to face its gaze
The easy road and the hard road
The hard road is arduous and painful, but it costs nothing and will only strengthen you further should you succeed
The easy road is swift but simple, and requires nothing more except a piece of your heart
Only a demon can destroy masks
But there are other ways to deal with such things
If you desire the easy road, go to the shrine in the forest
If you desire the hard road, go to the grave at the edge of the lake
The key is for later, after whichever path you choose
"Only a demon?" thought James aloud. "Is...is this about that mask? ...or the one that Poe had?"
"Who?" asked Boona.
"N-never mind, I'm trying to figure this out."
"W-well can ya figure it out somewhere else, I don' wanna be here any longer!"
Was it that...Scissoraptor who defeated the Poe? ...he broke that mask didn't he? He had to, nobody else but me was there. ...is this demon inside me powerful enough to kill that...other mask? But...I don't want to use him. I can't use him, no way! There has to be another way! ...maybe if I go to this grave they mention instead...
He felt he understood the message, and decided that as difficult as the hard path sounded, it sounded he would more likely avoid the risk of the demon inside him trying to possess him again. That and he knew well from Sarah and Glenn's teachings that the easy path was never worth it in the end, unless incredibly lucky. As he made his decision with hesitation, he heard someone start to sing.
A strange broken-sounding female voice, wet with tears as misery caused its voice to quiver. He would have asked Boona, but he was already staring through a crack in the wall, encouraging James to do the same to see whoever was singing. A small creature, perhaps 3 foot tall, was walking along the rest of the cavernous path, tapping some sort of large stick upon boulders around it.
Each verse it sung, it would tap the loosened stones solemnly, as if reciting a mantra unto itself.
"Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are...up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky..."
"What's she doing?" whispered James.
"When the blazing sun is gone, when the nothing shines upon..."
He quieted down immediately upon seeing the creature turn towards them as it continued to sing plaintively. The tunnel was too dark to tell what it was, but James could barely see its head reflecting pure white in the dimmest of moonlight. It turned back after sensing nothing from the other side of the wall, tapping the boulders gently as it stopped its song briefly, while Boona whispered frantically to James.
"S-she appeared in this mansion before we did, we met her a few times when out spooking. Sh-she beat us up really hard when we tried to do anything, screamed at us, terrified us with her fury a-and...y-you don't wanna mess with her. The way she was with us, she'd KILL you."
"When the blazing sun is gone, when the nothing shines upon...though I know not what you are, twinkle twinkle little staaaaaar..."
Soon she stopped, turning towards the end of the hall where a larger cavern seemed to be. They could barely make it out, but they could see something just beyond their view. A face. A face that soon appeared right in front of them, inches from their gaze, staring straight through the wall with wide hollow eyes.
James screamed with Boona at the sudden sight of the unmistakeable eyes, as he ran back along the way, panicking, desperate to escape the mask that slowly slipped through the crumbled wall before chasing both of them. The darkness of its ancient influence descended upon them without notice, thick crackling grey and screams of an unknown memory creeping at the edges of their vision. Boona was not as quick, whimpering hard as he tried to float back and forth in a panic to gain speed. But the Mask was soon upon him, slowly pressing up against him. The moment its red-white carapace touched the Boo, he screamed of a vile agony. James turned to scream back.
The Boo shivered as he felt the mask push against his back, a deepening cold anguish shuddering through his very core without mercy. He couldn't even scream for help, so trapped he became within a terrifying screech of pain and torment, that all he could register was the feeling of his very essence being slowly absorbed by the Mask's eternal smile. It was feeding on him, slowly, relishing each sliver of essence the Boo had slowly sliding into its mouth.
James could see a part of Boona start to disappear, frantically trying to think of something, anything to help him. Rustling around in his satchel, he felt something shiny.
"HEY! OVER HERE!"
The mask ceased its feast upon a soul to see his other prey taunting him, wielding something in his hand. A key. A shiny gold key.
"LOOK WHAT I GOT! I HAVE A SHINY! LOOK LOOK!"
The demon mask shivered with delight from its unmoving grin, casting Boona aside as it chased after James in turn. The raptor ran, desperate to beat the mask to the ladders, knowing he would have to climb up faster than he ever had in his life if he wanted to survive. He only hoped that Boona was okay without him.
Soon as he saw the ladder, he scrabbled up the first one hard within three leaps, panting with rising panic as he ascended the second before running into the wooden hall. He could feel the hungry lipless smile bear down upon him, the raptor whimpering as he dashed through doors and stormed across wooden walkways. He only had one chance, one thing he could do to distract the creature.
He ran to the lake behind the cherry atrium, shivering with exhaustion at using every ounce of muscle he had in his legs, his shoulder hurting from having to slam through a few doors. The backyard abyss welcomed him with its eternal fog blanketing the lake. He hoped to God his plan would work as he turned to see the horrifying mask float closer towards him. It was intelligent. It knew his prey was now trapped with nowhere to go, biding its time to make him panic all the more.
James shook with rising fear, fists tightly clenched, struggling to control himself as he dug into his satchel desperately to find what he wanted. He held up the key with the apple upon the handle, gripped tightly in his fist, shining bright.
"You want this?! Huh?! You wannit?! Then go GET IT!"
He turned and threw out his hand, sending out a shining light high above the water before it plunged into the deep lake. The mask flew straight for it, ignoring James, obsessed completely with its new prize to guard forevermore from thieves. The raptor waited until it was far gone into the waters with its treasure, before he opened his other fist. The key glinted quietly, as if it had been part of the plan all along as it was returned back to the satchel.
So much for being so fucking smart, thought James privately, couldn't even tell what was a key and what wasn't. ...hope I didn't need that alien monitoring thingy anytime soon.
With a sigh of both relief and acceptance at having lost yet another part of his small but interesting collection of shinies, he looked out towards the lake once more, seeing a small mound of stones upon a small platform.
At first he thought he would have problems reaching what he now knew was a grave, but then he saw the bridge had been repaired. He was certain it had been broken, even finding the first note from the traveller underneath the stone top of a garden lantern once again. But he did not question it, merely walking out along the old sturdy bridge towards the stones. A small series of platforms connected by bridges was his way onwards, the raptor wondering why they were made in the first place if not for the grave. Soon he reached the small burial site, and found a small leather pouch the size of a mouse sitting upon it, alongside a note. It was the same handwriting of the note from before about the two roads.
You have chosen the arduous path
And for that I commend you
Open this bag and breathe in deep
I shall meet you soon
He would have been suspicious had he not already found the writer of this note to be more trustworthy than anybody else in this mansion, alive or dead. He immediately worried for Boona, but knew he could not return without doing this task first. He opened the pouch, finding a small mixture of green sand. Or what he thought was sand, but it could well have been spice or so.
"...well...guess I better."
He breathed in the smell of the strange substance, finding it to smell wonderfully like fresh morning grass and flowers. It was immensely soothing, making him sigh with a wondrous bliss. Without even knowing it, his eyes turned heavy, and his body began to feel like it was made of lead. He didn't even fight it, not even able to, as he went onto his knees and collapsed simply against the stone mound. His eyes had closed before he hit the ground.
As he woke up, he found the lake to be far different than before, at least in colour. The entire area was now thick with a dark purple mist, the water beneath it turned black as the night sky above. The horizon blended the two with a frightening sense of vastness that unnerved James terribly, the mansion itself even disappearing from the darkness that cloaked it. All he could see was the lake itself, as well as the shore with its waterwheel now still. Motionless. A voice soon came to him, but not one he could hear.
I've been waiting for you.
He unsheathed his scissors as he searched the shoreline for the voice. A dark female voice, sleek and powerful, loud and clear within his own mind.
Do not be afraid, I have no intention of harming you.
"Wh-where are you?!"
Do you not see me? I'm all around you.
All he could see was the mist and the black lake, keeping his guard up nevertheless as she continued.
I am here to help you.
"Help me? ...are you behind all this?"
No. But I have been guiding you, little by little. You'll have found my notes surely.
"Huh...so you're the one who told me about the mask huh? And the roads?"
Indeed. I am glad to see you chose the better path.
"What would have happened if I took the easy route?"
Then the demon inside you would have been most thankful for your weaker choice.
The raptor smiled on the inside, happy that his instincts had proven themselves right.
"So...what do you want?"
I want to help you defeat the ancient evil that now resides within this mansion.
"That mask thing?"
That, and the one your ghost friend spoke of.
"Oh...w-wait, Boona?! Where is he?!"
Calm yourself, he is well I assure you.
"...how can I trust you?"
If I wanted to harm you, I would not lead you on such a chase for others to claim you now would I?
"...guess...not. So Boona's okay?"
Yes. Your selfless act allowed him to recuperate after I spirited him away to a safer place.
"Y-you did? ...wow...thanks, stranger."
Not a problem...now I must test you to face against the dreaded Mask.
James was taken aback, faltering slightly as he said:
"W-wait, what?! You want me to fight that thing?!"
Is that not what the FinalGamer is known for?
"Ohhhhh don't pull that shit on me, come on."
Hmhmhm, very well.
The voice was having fun teasing him, a strange mirth in her voice making the raptor roll his eyes.
But you will have to face it nevertheless. But do not fear, for I shall assist you, hence why I brought you into this dreamstate.
"Dreamstate? ...am I...asleep?"
More or less, I have sent you into a deeper sleep through the use of some sleep spores. You will awaken after you have defeated the Mask.
"And how the hell do I do that when asleep?!"
Have you ever heard of astral projection?
"No, but it sounds new-agey as hell."
Well, it will work perfectly well here. Go to the mansion. Do not be afraid. We are in a plane of existence that no other spirit shall see us in. Only you, I and the Mask lie here.
"Uh...okay...which way do I go?"
To the room where you first met his gaze. Go.
With anxiety churning in his heart, combined with curiosity for the strange otherworldly feel that Himuro Mansion now had even moreso, James did as he was asked. The purple mist had covered the entire mansion, which was now far emptier than he ever would imagine it to be. Not a single ghost, wisp, or apparition was met along his way, all while the place was wrapped within dark violet fog.
He had to wonder if such a colour meant an ally he could trust, whoever was able to communicate to him. He tried to speak once more.
"Uh hello? Spirit?"
"Oh, hey, you around?"
I am always around you when in this state. Do you wish to ask me something?
"Yeah...who are you? You never answered me that."
You will soon meet me, do not worry.
"...are you the mother?"
The odd pause and tone of the voice's answer made him suspicious with doubt.
"So, you're not her, but...there's something about her?"
We will discuss her after we have dealt with the Mask. Do not let your mind wander.
He allowed her the benefit of the doubt as he finally reached the small room where he had first met the giant mask. The thick purple mist was now stronger in the small corridors, wreathing smoothly around his feet like dying vines as he passed through without harm. The room itself was still the same as ever, even the giant mask had returned to its original resting spot, apart from one thing that was just ever so slightly off. He looked around, trying to figure out what, looking all around him at the candles that surrounded him in their glow. Then he noticed.
The candlelight did not move. Every single flame was still, motionless in mid-flicker.
Trying to think how such a thing was possible, he soon heard the voice in his mind once more, feeling closer than before.
Are you ready?
Good. I will summon the Mask now.
"Uh, he's right there."
That is merely the body, the shell as it were. You cannot defeat it in its corporeal form. We are here to defeat the spirit.
"W-wait, that thing was...like, you could touch it?"
It is possessed, like you.
"...damn. Alright, bring him here, what do I do?"
His spirit form will be weak, especially when time itself has been stopped in this plane of existence.
You will understand after this. Now...fight it with all of your strength. Let me see the true power of the FinalGamer.
"Wait, how the hell do you know that name?!"
The room soon rumbled all around them, the flames trapped in stasis forevermore as he readied his scissors for the upcoming battle, gripping hard with both hands. He tried not to be afraid, knowing he was in a far better situation than before to be afraid of now. He tried to put his faith in the mysterious voice as she cried out:
He's coming, watch out!
Without an answer, he soon saw the demon mask appear once again, this time from its own mask. At first it appeared to be a double image of one mask over another, until he realised it was literally the monster's soul, or whatever it had in place for one. It was just as terrifying as its physical form, perhaps even moreso. A sinister aura glowered from its eyes, which reddened with a flash of blood. The raptor somehow felt the room turn larger all around him, large enough to be a battlefield which it would soon become.
The mask stared at the raptor, twitching slightly with surprise at seeing him here, and so ready to fight. Then they heard the voice.
Your tyranny ends here. And so shall your master follow.
From James' right immediate right, a strange gaseous cloud began to rise from the ether. Dark purple flames soon burned around a black sphere. James could feel it somehow turn to "look" at him.
Follow my lead, we shall defeat him together.
He did not question it, knowing this mysterious being knew far more than he ever would as he fired up his scissors with a burning flame, ready to incinerate the demon mask. The mask charged towards them, both raptor and spirit dodging separate ways to attack with a pincer movement. James sweeped an arc of fire straight for the thin side of the terror of souls, whereas his spirit friend started with a dark fist-like projection, punching the mask across its eye.
it did not take the hit lightly, shivering with fury as it flew towards the spirit and readily slamming into it with a bull charge. It was far more damaging than the raptor expected it to be judging by the shriek of his ally, as he rushed in to defend her with a double-strike of flaming fury. The mask shivered once more, spinning around swiftly to slam into James. It did more than that however, when suddenly its face started to stab at the raptor with piercing growths jabbing violently fast from its form, as if the demon from within was trying to stab its way out of the mask, trying to attack James.
He managed to deflect several of the sudden jabs, but caught a few in his arms and face, crying out as he fell back to guard himself. He was not too lucky when it came closer and readily tried to harness his spirit, crying out as he finally felt what Boona had felt. It was as if his flesh were being ripped from his very body, slowly stretched and flensed from his limbs and skull as he cried out, struggling to resist. But it was hard to focus with such a deep agony, his very soul being torn from his body. However, he felt something pull against the mask's power.
Something inside him pulled his essence back inside his body. He could feel it, thickened claw-like appendages clasping around his soul as his eyes flickered between light and dark. He shivered and struggled, afraid but confused, fighting with his spirit and whatever had decided to engage in a duel over who earned the right to his soul. Thankfully however he would not have to suffer this agonising limbo for long. The purple spirit had charged up her power, blasting out a strange purple light straight towards the phantom mask. The mask looked as if it suffered a seizure, wordlessly shuddering with a newfound agony as it decided to continue attacking James. It could sense his weakening spirit, but as shaky as he was, James steeled his nerves with fury.
He kept his guard up with occasional flaming strikes and blasting shots of ice inbetween. He was desperately trying to think of other moves he could wield against this demon, not holding back as he readied himself for a dangerous attack. Summoning a great wind around his body, he made himself spin into the air before slashing vertically several times like a swinging blade, a ring of fire scarring the evil mask several times.
It was enough to push the thing away, straight towards his ally who punched it once again with a mysterious but furious fist of darkened flames. Not even the shadows moved around them, the candles remaining silent and still in the battle. The mask finally had enough of the purple spirit and launched towards her, bashing and striking with its violent stabs stretching out from its skin. When it had weakened its foe enough, it started to try and absorb her essence, the thickening purple ether slowly flowing into its frozen grin.
Despite taking some of the damage and shrieking with frustration, the spirit did not relent as it suddenly created a thick swirling light of yellow and purple, diffusing into the demon's eyes. The mask seemed to stop attacking, looking rather confused as it flitted around desperately trying to attack something. James now had his opportunity in the midst of its confusion.
Charging forwards, he swiftly dodged it in the midst of it attacking the air, and spun in a half-circle without need of wind to build momentum, striking with a violent smash as his blades scraped deep burning scars straight into the creature's form. A powerful shudder ran deep within it, as James upped his attack even more with another idea he hoped would work. Seeing the idea of the scar, he summoned both water and wind into his scissors, watching the air pass over and trap the life-giving liquid tightly to his blade as he charged with a mighty roar. The powerful slash had a strange effect, creating a tracing line of a faint rainbow from behind James as he striked deep into the weakening scar of the mask. But he wasn't done yet, when he swiftly turned and blasted both fire and ice straight into the growing wound, one after the other. The ice froze the water powerfully fast inside the aching wound to send a freezing burn, and the fire heated up the water into an actual violent burn.
It was certainly enough to weaken the mask terribly so in its spiritual form. His ghostly ally sensed their foe was weak, and sent out the final blow with a proclamation.
Back to where you came from, demon!
One more powerful blast of purple light directed straight at the demon eyes and it was over. The vile phantom mask was soon shuddering and jittering with a violent agony permeating through its form. It never made a single sound throughout all the time James had known it. Not even in the death of its evil ageless spirit did it cry, as its face continued to smile forevermore. Even when its soul simply shattered into the air, fading with the foul wind the mansion breathed.
Sighing with exhaustion turning strong in his mind, feeling as if he hadn't slept in more than a day, the raptor looked up a little weakly towards his ally.
"Is it...is it dead?"
For now. We have sent the demon back to whence it came, where it shall harm us no more. And with that, you have done so much more.
Upon hearing this, the mansion itself shook with a powerful rumble, as if an earthquake were ready to tear the whole place asunder. James panicked and nearly collapsed from loss of balance, though the weakness of his mind was not helping.
"Wh-wh-what the hell's going on?!"
As if to answer his question, there came a deep psychotic roar from the very bowels of the mansion. He could hear its terrible tremor, a monstrous sound that he imagined only existed in nightmares. He saw the ghost beside him was starting to shake with an unknown fear.
That...th-that is your answer. You have broken the second seal.
"S-s-second?! ...wait...YOU were the one who-"
There is no time, I must return you back to your body quickly!
The spirit started to wrap James within a dark smouldering of flames, harmless to the raptor but slowly starting to take over his senses. He panicked and tried to flail, but found his arms no longer able to move of their own will. He heard the rumbling come near, vibrating the very walls around him with an ancient presence that weighed down upon his very soul.
"Wh-what hey, wait! What are these seals about?!"
You have one guardian left! Find the mother, that is all I can tell you!
"M-mother?! Dammit, just wait! WAIT!"
The next moment, he woke up. His eyes suddenly opened as the past five seconds swiftly faded from his vision, seeing the empty abyss of the lake once more. His head had been lying against the gravestone mound, making him groan in his confusion. He rubbed his head gently, feeling his mind was now fully refreshed, but still confused all the more. The purple mist had also disappeared, the sky no longer darker than darkness itself.
"Wh...what the fuck? Who was that?"
He slowly got up, grunting as he stretched his arms from his apparent sleep.
"Was that a dream? ...no way, can't be. I could feel myself fighting and everything, that was way too vivid. ...what the hell are these seals about then? ...Hhhhh...this better be worth it. Alright, she told me to find the mother. Maybe if I head back down to those caves..."
With no other option for him to go, he headed back to the lakeshore and into the mansion once more, making his way towards the mouth of the underground cave. His head was slightly fuzzy with awakening, and his visions were clear as day for the entire battle that had occurred. Yet he was still unsure if he had been dreaming or not. He could only hope that the spirit who aided him would contact him once again.
He also couldn't help but worry about Boona.