Chapter 24:

Chapter 24


Through sand and soil, aching feet march on. The next leg of the journey, the adventure continues to the east. At the base of the mountains lies the Dragon Graveyard. While they were hunted to near extinction, the flying beasts can still be found congregating at the graveyard. Like some ancient, divine, or instinctual ritual. You can always find a dragon or two spending their final moments in the graveyard. It's like they can sense the end of their life. When that hourglass starts to run empty, they make their way over to the desolate land and wait for the last grain to fall. And now the heroes of Ethros must, too, make that hike. Gone was the colorful and vibrant beach. The cold, lifeless land of a scarred Ethros is where they return. The three were just about ready to collapse on the dirt road when they spotted in the distance-

"A house?" Elizabeth questioned. The others stopped and she pointed to an old cottage just off the path.

"I didn't think anyone settled out here." Isaac added.

"Well let's make a quick stop. My feet are killing me." Vera suggested. The others agreed and together they made their way to the house. At the doorstep, they peaked inside. The walls were rotted and busted, and the cabin was so small that you could see all the way through. There were no lights, no possessions, no nothing. The quiet little house was properly abandoned.

"It's better than sitting on the dirt, out in the open." Isaac reasoned. He pushed open the old door. It creaked and horrid screech. However, wonder soon turned to bewilderment as the heroes of Ethros stepped inside. The entire cottage had been transformed into a luxurious mansion. Flickering candles. A swinging chandelier. A grand staircase leading up to a completely impossible second floor. "What the..." Isaac whispered.

"It looks almost like Nosferatu's castle. Don't you think?" Elizabeth pointed out.

"Yeah but... how?" Isaac asked. Elizabeth shrugged.

"Magic, I guess." Vera answered. "Don't know exactly what spell though." She moved further into the mansion.

"Well that's very helpful."

"Maybe it has to do with this box here." Vera knelt down on the floor. Just in front of her was a small wooden box. It was very plain in appearance. A metal handle stuck out from the side. Dried red dye, paint or blood, lightly decorated each face. It didn't appear to have any way to open it. Vera carefully picked the box up. She inspected it, tilting it around on its sides. Eventually she started to turn the crank. A hauntingly out of tune melody faintly played from within.

"Yeah, maybe we shouldn't mess with the random haunted box sitting inside a mysterious mansion." Isaac warned. Suddenly an entity exploded out from the box. Vera dropped the box and jumped back as the ghost emerged. Pure white, shaped like a cartoonish noodle, with a single black void for a face. Specter had made his presence known.

"🕈︎♒︎□︎ ♎︎♓︎⬧︎⧫︎◆❒︎♌︎⬧︎ ❍︎⍓︎ ♏︎⧫︎♏︎❒︎■︎♋︎●︎ ⬧︎●︎◆❍︎♌︎♏︎❒︎✍︎" Specter spoke in an incomprehensible language.

"Did anyone catch that?" Vera and Elizabeth shook their heads.

"🕈︎♒︎□︎ ⬥︎♋︎■︎⧫︎🕯︎⬧︎ ⧫︎□︎ ◻︎●︎♋︎⍓︎ ♋︎ ●︎♓︎⧫︎⧫︎●︎♏︎ ♑︎♋︎❍︎♏︎✍︎" Specter snapped his ghastly claws. The energy in the room shifted. "☞︎♓︎■︎♎︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ♏︎⌧︎♓︎⧫︎ □︎❒︎ ⬧︎⧫︎♋︎❒︎❖︎♏︎📬︎ 💧︎♓︎❍︎◻︎●︎♏︎✏︎"

"Well! This has been fun, but I think I speak for all of us when I say that this is just too weird to indulge." Isaac promptly turned around. "So we'll be on our way and where's the door?" The girls turned as well. Sure enough, the entrance to the mansion was gone. All that remained was a wall with a faint rectangular outline where the door should've been. Specter laughed a demonic and child-like laugh. "Oh Lord."

"☝︎□︎□︎♎︎ ●︎◆♍︎🙵✏︎" Suddenly, gravity altered. Like a vacuum, the three heroes were sucked into a room across the hall. Kicking and screaming through the air, they were pulled through a door that slammed behind them. Picking themselves off the floor, they got familiar with their new surroundings. A small-ish room with about a dozen doors, some on the walls, some on the ceiling.

"So. What door should we pick?" Vera polled.

"I don't know, any of them." Isaac said, annoyed. "Can't get any weirder than now." He walked up to a door, opened it, and walked through. At the same time, a random door behind him opened on its own. And out from it came... Isaac. "Wait, w-what?!"

"Huh, it's a funhouse."

"I don't think Isaac is the type for those."

"Yeah, I can already feel his blood pressure rising."

"Isaac!" Elizabeth called out to Isaac who was continuously going through looping doorways. "Keep your blood pressure 120 over 80!"

"Great! I'll keep that in mind!" He called back, slamming another door.

"I don't think that helped."

"I know. I kinda just wanted to piss him off a bit more." A brief hesitation, Vera's eyes wide.

"There's a little devil in there." She pointed out.

"Could be."

"Wrapped up under all that innocence, professionalism, and fat."

"Watch it."

"Sorry, sorry." The two continued to watch Isaac repeatedly fail at finding an exit, walking into one door and being teleported to another. "Have you found it yet?"

"What do you think?!"

"You're right. That is pretty fun."

"You know, you two could help!" He shouted.

"Maybe the trick is being calm and confident."

"What the hell does that mean?!"

"You're too angry. And you're too unsure of yourself."

"Fine! Fine." He took a deep breath. "Calm and confident." Isacc put his hand on a doorknob. Turned it. Pushed open the door, and another dud. He then repeatedly slammed it shut and forced it open, over and over to vent his frustrations.

"Here! Let me show you."

"Oh, please. Go right ahead! Miss Arcane Prodigy." Vera strutted up to a door, and slipped through like there was no other option. And then she didn't reappear. "Are you serious? Was that it?" Until a few seconds later when a door on the ceiling opened up and Vera fell from it. She faceplanted onto floor with a hard thud. "So much for confidence."

"Shut it."

"☝︎□︎□︎♎︎ ●︎□︎❒︎♎︎📪︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎⬧︎♏︎ ♑︎◆⍓︎⬧︎ ♋︎❒︎♏︎ ♎︎⍓︎⬧︎♐︎◆■︎♍︎⧫︎♓︎□︎■︎♋︎●︎📬︎" Specter whispered, peaking in from the corner.

"Hey!" Isaac shouted. "It's the ghost freak!" He and Vera angrily charged at the apparition as it phased back through the wall. The two then spent the next few minutes yelling at an empty corner.

"What if we just go back the way we came?" Elizabeth suggested.

"Huh?" Vera and Isaac looked at her confused.

"Well maybe all these new doors are connected, but the one we came from isn't. We know you can at least enter this room from it, maybe you can simply exit from it too."

"I highly doubt the solution would be that simple."

"Yeah, Liz. You're smart and all but I think the answer is a bit more complex than that." Elizabeth scowled. She walked up to the door, grabbed its handle, and opened it, revealing the exit to the room, all without breaking eye contact.

"I... stand corrected..." The three walked back into the foyer, where they were greeted once again by Specter.

"👍︎□︎■︎♑︎❒︎♋︎♎︎◆●︎♋︎⧫︎♓︎□︎■︎⬧︎✏︎ ❄︎□︎□︎🙵 ♋︎ ♌︎♓︎⧫︎ ●︎□︎■︎♑︎♏︎❒︎ ⧫︎♒︎♋︎■︎ ♏︎⌧︎◻︎♏︎♍︎⧫︎♏︎♎︎ ♌︎◆⧫︎ ⍓︎□︎◆ ❍︎♋︎♎︎♏︎ ♓︎⧫︎✏︎"

"Can it, wraith!" Isaac began. He tried to grab Specter by the nonexistent neck, but his hand just phased through him. "I don't know what your deal is or what you're even saying but we beat your little game! We want out!"

"✌︎⬥︎✏︎ 👌︎◆⧫︎ ♓︎⧫︎ ⬥︎♋︎⬧︎ ⬧︎⧫︎♋︎❒︎⧫︎♓︎■︎♑︎ ⧫︎□︎ ♑︎♏︎⧫︎ ♐︎◆■︎✏︎ ✌︎❒︎♏︎ ⍓︎□︎◆ ⬧︎◆❒︎♏︎ ⍓︎□︎◆🕯︎❒︎♏︎ ♎︎□︎■︎♏︎✍︎ ☠︎□︎ ♒︎♋︎●︎●︎ □︎♐︎ ❍︎♓︎❒︎❒︎□︎❒︎⬧︎✍︎ ☠︎□︎ ⬧︎♒︎♓︎♐︎⧫︎♓︎■︎♑︎ ♐︎●︎□︎□︎❒︎⬧︎✍︎"

"Nope! Let us out!"

"He's quite the headstrong type, isn't he?" Vera whispered, face tinted red.

"☞︎♓︎■︎♏︎📬︎" Specter snapped his claws. The front door reappeared. "✡︎□︎◆ ♑︎◆⍓︎⬧︎ ♋︎❒︎♏︎ 🙵♓︎■︎♎︎ □︎♐︎ ♋︎ ◻︎♋︎♓︎■︎ ♓︎■︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ♋︎⬧︎⬧︎ ♋︎■︎⍓︎⬥︎♋︎⍓︎📬︎"

"Sweet." The three heroes made haste for the exit, but were swiftly interrupted by Specter once more.

"👌︎◆⧫︎ ♒︎♏︎♏︎♎︎ ❍︎⍓︎ ⬥︎□︎❒︎♎︎⬧︎ ♒︎♏︎❒︎□︎♏︎⬧︎ □︎♐︎ ☜︎⧫︎♒︎❒︎□︎⬧︎✏︎ ☝︎❒︎♓︎❍︎⬥︎♋︎●︎♎︎ ♓︎⬧︎ ■︎□︎⧫︎ ⬥︎♒︎□︎ ♒︎♏︎ ⬧︎♏︎♏︎❍︎⬧︎✏︎ ☜︎⌧︎♏︎❒︎♍︎♓︎⬧︎♏︎ ♍︎♋︎◆⧫︎♓︎□︎■︎📬︎ ☞︎□︎❒︎ ♒︎♏︎ ♓︎⬧︎ ■︎□︎ ❍︎♏︎❒︎♏︎ ❍︎□︎❒︎⧫︎♋︎●︎📬︎ ☟︎♏︎ ♓︎⬧︎ 🏱︎♏︎⬧︎⧫︎♓︎●︎♏︎■︎♍︎♏︎📪︎ ♒︎□︎❒︎⬧︎♏︎❍︎♋︎■︎ □︎♐︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ♋︎◻︎□︎♍︎♋︎●︎⍓︎◻︎⬧︎♏︎✏︎" Everyone paused.

"It sounds like you're trying to warn us about something, but yeah we cannot understand you. Bye!" And with that they left the house, continuing their journey towards the dragon graveyard.

"🕈︎♒︎♋︎⧫︎♏︎❖︎♏︎❒︎📬︎ ✡︎□︎◆🕯︎●︎●︎ ◆■︎♎︎♏︎❒︎⬧︎⧫︎♋︎■︎♎︎ ❍︎♏︎ □︎■︎♍︎♏︎ 🏱︎♏︎⬧︎⧫︎♓︎●︎♏︎■︎♍︎♏︎ ⧫︎◆❒︎■︎⬧︎ ⍓︎□︎◆ ♓︎■︎⧫︎□︎ ♑︎♒︎□︎⬧︎⧫︎⬧︎ ●︎♓︎🙵♏︎ ❍︎♏︎📬︎"