A Ghost's Story
By Willow Taylor
Over two hundred years ago, I was a young man. I was well on my way to Mastery of my chosen magics, so I suppose you could say I was a journeyman, although mostly I journeyed to the next town for food, or out into the woods to fetch components for my master's spells. So when he needed graveyard dirt, I wasn't surprised that it was "Alex, go get some."
So I started to go, and he explained this time it was different. He needed graveyard dirt gathered under the new moon, at night. I politely informed him he was out of his mind. The nearest graveyard was the necropolis of Highgate, which was overrun with vampires. There was no way I could get in and out without getting caught. He told me there was, and I was going to do it, damn it.
I kind of miss the old discussions we used to have, although, for the life of me, I can't remember his name.
He won. He almost always did.
Which was how I found myself in Highgate, near midnight, back pressed against a tomb, hoping no one would notice. The little bag on his belt was full, now, I just had to get out.
"Now what do we have here?" came a voice.
"Eep." A cold hand closed around my arm. Maven was quite pretty in those days, her eyes had just changed to glowing red, but other than that, she looked nearly human.
"You must be a fool."
"Yeah," I whimpered. "I think I must be."
"You know, I could use a mortal lover. To keep me warm."
"Uh..." I reached into my pocket with my free hand. I'd learned a trick to impress girls, being sixteen, that was very important, and I kept my pocket full of rose petals, which I could transform into living roses. I presented it to her, and she smiled with pleasant adoration. Kept pulling my arm away, and made it flash with brilliant light.
She screamed and I ran. Past countless faces, and one young man with bright blue eyes. My master's cabin wasn't too far away, and he said it was warded against vampires.
I stopped being sneaky and ran, leaping gravestones and scrabbling till I was over the wall. Then it was running through the forest, and I figured I was safe. But Maven and her friends were still after me. And close behind like it was some sort of game. Every now and then they'd pop out from behind a tree and scare the living daylights out of me. Finally, less than a hundred yards from the cabin, though still deep in the woods, Maven tackled me herself.
"You hurt my face," she snarled in my ear. "I'm going to watch you die just to enjoy the last gasp." I clawed at her face again, and kicked out violently, trying to get away. I managed to slip away, and run a few more yards, before she caught me again. She buried her hand in my hair, and placed a cold blade against my throat. "Thinking you're so clever, Alexander Barret..." she hissed. "You're going to die, and no one will ever know or care. You'll die forgotten, and the old man over there is the only one who knows you exist. And he won't live long." There wasn't really any pain, just a jolt, a wave of warmth, and a feeling of lessening. I looked up at her, and mouthed a curse, but I couldn't seem to get a breath. I might not be trained but I was still a mage, and she would pay for it with my death curse. And I wanted to see it. But... it was so hard to keep my arms stiff. It was hard to breathe, and it was so dark... I closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, it was daytime. I briefly wondered how I lived through having my throat cut like that, then I saw my body lying in the dying leaves, and realized I hadn't. I closed my eyes again, and curled into a mere cold spot in the air. When I woke up again, a tree had fallen over me, bringing a rise of dirt over the desecrated bones and cloth. I was buried, and the tree was already rotting to mulch. I wandered towards the cabin I'd worked so hard to reach. My master was gone, instead a pale, blue eyed Shadowdancer lived there. Rahnnah. He'd fled his sister. Over a hundred years had passed since my death. I watched his pain as he discovered he was rotting away, but I could only watch. I didn't have the strength to do anything else. I closed my eyes again. The next time I awoke, something was stirring my bones.
Two men with kind faces looked at my bones.
"How long do you suppose they've been here?" asked one of them, tossing aside a tree. He wore red leather boots, and had thick, curly blond hair. I later learned this was Frances Taylor, a vampire hunter, with a degree in irony.
"A long time I'd say. Whew. Chilly," said the darker man, pushing silver frosted hair out of his eyes. His name was Silver Richards, and that faint sensitivity would build to something else that would change me forever. "What do you think we should do?"
"Well we can't build a house on top of them," the blond man said with a smile. "We'll put them in a proper grave." Kindness to unknown dead. They bundled my remains into a wrap of white cloth and set them aside. The next day they buried me, and each said a blessing over the grave. There was even a woman who left me a white rose. Vivian. She said that everyone should have flowers at their funerals, no matter how late they were. I felt stronger for the first time in ages, different, more alive. I followed this strange party back to where I had died, where what looked to be an Adenan mage was preparing a spell. She smiled at them, and nodded, before beginning it. At the first stirrings I realized something was going to happen to me. The Adenan mage was using magic to build a house. I grabbed a hold of a piece of the spell and wrapped it around me. I'd use it to make a safe place in the house for myself, a place like my old bedroom under the eaves as I was growing up. Then the magic stopped, and I was looking down over a large palatial house, and hearing a bright cheer go up. I was standing in a small, round room with a sloping ceiling, with bookshelves full of all the leather bound books I'd read, and a small bed, covered with a patchwork quilt made of brightly dyed furs. Almost identical to my childhood home. I threw myself down on them and cried, and could almost feel the furs beneath my arms. It was the first thing I had even come that close to touching in years. It only made me cry more.
I didn't go back into the deep sleep then, because of the bustle of the place now known as Hunter's Haven. There was a sense of deep urgency, and a feeling of pervasive life, that kept me aware, even if they weren't any more aware of me then a cold spot in the room. Then Alastare came. He could almost hear me if I spoke to him, and kept glancing out of the corner of his eyes nervously if I entered the room. I was a regular haunting. It made me feel more connected to the world around me. When I felt melancholy I'd retreat to the cupola that was my space, or move things slowly from one place to another in half hearted amusement. Sometimes I would ruffle through the spell books of the resident mage, Aspen, and see how magic had changed while I slept. And he kept wondering why they wouldn't stay on the shelves. Then one day something happened. A birth. I instantly felt something special. Four little shining lives, but one shone with a bright, clear light, that illuminated the misty world I saw.
I could see her, and watched her grow in sudden bursts like a young animal. A little baby, to a small girl, to a youth of about twelve, and legs and eyes. She reached that by the time she was one year old. Perhaps it was because her mother was a kitsune, and her father a werewolf. But in the happy life she grew quickly, almost too quickly.
She was the same age as I still felt in the time it took me to draw a breath. And the sight of her like that, took my breath away. Two years in age, sixteen or seventeen by willowy frame, and full to the top of shimmering necromantic power. Just being near her brought me closer to myself. Closer to the person I once was. From one world to the next, I created a white rose, and left it on her pillow. Her confusion at the gift was both touching and sad, as she tried her best to discover who had left a blossom on her third birthday, when all of her mother's rosebushes were bloomed out. She could not sense me any further than her father. If she was to ever help me, her power had to awaken. And that was almost as dangerous as the spell I had found in my search - a spell that might - if cast soon - bring me back to flesh. But it was near the limit. If two hundred years - to the day - passed, as well as the all important Walpurgis night, which fell on the same, damned date, I would be a spirit forever, and fade slowly away as I had before, only never to return. So she must awaken to her power, accept it, and be willing to risk so much to call a young man she had never met back from the darkness.
But it was my only chance.
I spent all my time around her now, touching her faintly, trying to get her to hear me. Sometimes, she'd tilt her head, as if she caught the edges of my voice, but more often, she would shiver faintly. But was it because she felt my presence, or a draft that ran through the house from the snowy world outside.
"Please," I begged her. "Please, Angela, hear me."
She turned in her sleep and pursed her lips as if to reply to my plea, but didn't make a noise more then a sigh.
She knew there was a ghost now, if not who I was. It was a start. I watched her as she trailed through the library, and at last took down a heavy tome. As she set it down, the pages rifled, and I saw most of them were blank. Why was she reading a blank book, I wondered. Then she turned to the frontispiece, and I read the words "Hunterıs Haven; A History." She turned a page, to a thick leaf entitled "Before Haven." She skimmed over a bit about the kindred, then stopped - someone, somehow, had found the story of the bones!
"The poor man," Angela murmured. "Alexander... Alex..."
The sound of her saying my name filled me with a sudden strength, and I realized something shocking - more than just needing her to bring me back - somehow, some way, I had fallen in love with her. It was a terrible feeling, and wonderful all at the same time. I could almost cry, I stuffed my hands into my pockets and screwed up my face. I had no idea if I could cry. A rose petal fell from my pocket and fluttered from insubstantial to substantial, from dried to fresh, landing on the page in front of her. She picked it up and rubbed it between her fingers.
"Alex?" she asked, raising her head, shocked, looking all around the room. "It's you, isn't it?"
"Yes," I said, but she didn't seem to hear me.
"Why are you following me?" she asked, closing her eyes, obviously concentrating.
"I need your help. Please hear me. I need... a friend."
Like the first petal opening on a rosebud, there was a trembling of power, and I could feel the necromantic ability within her stirring.
"Almost..." she breathed. "I almost..."
"Damn it!" I drew my power about me, every once of energy I could muster, and whipped up a wind that whipped the pages of the book, blowing her tendrils of hair around and around, and shook the window-dressings. Her eyes opened in shock, as I shot out of the library, hoping she would follow me. From the sound of the boot heels, she did, but I had to keep my momentum or all of the power I gathered would be lost. I whipped up the stairs, rattling paintings and blowing over a vase I hoped was replaceable, judging from the crash, and around the corner, into Aspen's room, where I had found the book. It took the last of my strength to tip it onto the carpet, before I faded away. It would take me days to recover any strength. I retreated to the cupola, not even knowing if she knew what I meant.
It was still snowy when I had enough strength to float up, and look out, so I hadn't lost too much time. I still felt weak, but I dropped down, into the room I knew was Angela's. She slept, hair carelessly tossed across cream-colored sheets, and tucked under thick green wool blankets. I reached out, forgetting the coolness of my touch, and trailed fingers across her forehead. I could almost feel her dream. She reached her hand up to her own head in her sleep, exhaling cold steam, and rested her hand in the same place as mine. It felt like I was holding her hand, but wearing thick gloves. I pulled away, and went back to the cupola.
I kept looking in on her as the winter passed. She was reading the book I had tipped out, brow furrowed, and tiny oval lenses perched on the end of her nose, trying to figure out what I wanted. After all it was full of spells for ghosts and the dead. But somehow, as if she could feel that I had been there, she always rested on the page where the spell to call a ghost back to life was.
But on the opposite page was a second spell, one to banish a ghost, and send it on into the afterlife. It felt a little strange, for someone who had lived as a chill for so long, to feel a chill down my own spine. Would she... would she send me on instead of calling me back. I could see she was worried about what was going on.
"I don't even know if it is the ghost of the man who died here," she said to her reflection, as she brushed her hair.
"Then what are you going to do?" she answered herself.
"I just don't know. He's trapped here. As much as I am." She looked at her reflection, and sighed. "I just wish I knew what to do." I left.
Come spring, she asked Aspen for his help, in understanding the spells. I hung about wondering what he would say.
"You're not actually thinking of doing anything are you?"
"Necromancy is a very dangerous art..."
"Are you worried for me, or worried because I could learn to control undead?" she asked, arching an eyebrow and crossing her arms across her chest. The young vampire mage blushed, and scratched his head.
"Anyhow, I don't think you should do it, just based on a feeling..."
"Well you don't even know what he wants."
The book was lying open on a table next to them. I made it snap shut. They both turned and looked at it, and the rose I'd left between the pages of spells. I hoped Angela at least could tell which one I wanted.
"Fine!" said Aspen, throwing his hands into the air. "Cast the spell. But I'm going to be there in case something goes wrong."
"Whatever," Angela said, running the petals of the fresh white rose between her fingers, eyes glancing back and forth from one page to the other.
Time passed so quickly. Not like when I was "asleep" but more in that way that time passes when something you dread is approaching.
The night before Walpurgis night, I sat beside Angela's bed, and touched her again as she slept, and then, I closed my eyes and fell into her dream. It was a strange sight the world in her dream. Nothing really was solid, except her, but there seemed to be a great deal of roses. The ground was covered in a thick carpet of petals. Her mind was trying to come to a decision even in sleep, because she was smoothly picking a black rose apart in her hand. Every time she pulled a petal, the color changed, from black, to white, and back again. As I approached her through the world made of roses, the rose shattered into a shower of petals and they floated towards me.
"Drat!" Angela was grumbling to herself. "By the time I decide, it will be a case of, 'too late, I did'." She looked up, eyes such a deep gold, they were almost brown. She inhaled, as if to say something. The world shattered. I think she saw me.
As I opened my eyes I saw her blink and start to awaken. It was almost dawn, already. I took myself away, leaving her a rose on her pillow. I stood half in half out of the cupola, looking out over the roof of Hunterıs Haven, and decided that no matter what she chose, I'd accept it. Whether I moved out of the half world towards her, or away from her, at least I wouldn't be stuck looking at her from a distance.
I watched with detached interest as Angela set up the spell. Both spells called for the same ingredients, and the same words, except for one different phrase at the end. I felt odd, floaty, and detached from the world even more than ever. The night approached and she looked over at Aspen, who gave her a calm look. Obviously this was her last chance to back out. Like an ancient golden idol, she stepped forward and raised her hands, beginning the chant. The wind picked up, like it had when I had tried so hard to reach her, like icy fingers tearing at everyone in the clearing where they were casting - the clearing where I realized, on that long ago night, I was going to die, midway between Haven and Highgate. The wind picked up further, and I could feel it moving me, drawing me into the circle, as the clearing filled with silvery mist. Angela stared deeply into it, in my direction. Then suddenly her eyes widened, as if seeing something. Me. I stared back at her, not really believing, after all this time, that this was happening. I could see her lips move, but the wind was too loud to hear her chanting. I tried to remember what I looked like. I recalled cinnamon brown skin, auburn-ish brown hair coming down over my shoulders, and leaf green eyes. I remembered that I had died wearing blue and black. I remembered dying. And put my hand up to my throat, feeling a thin wound across it. I looked at Angela again, and heard Aspen shout.
"Angela! The spell's coming apart; you can't hold it anymore! You've got to decide! Go or Come?"
Instants can't last forever, but this one tried its best. Angela clenched her teeth as if in some unbearable agony, she clasped her hands over her ears, trying to block out the wind, and Aspen's frantic cries. The winds felt like they were tearing me apart. Aspen was right, the spell wouldn't last much longer, and without a decision it would tear me asunder, leaving nothing of the spirit I was. Angela howled in furious indecision, and I felt her powers burst into full bloom. She slashed her hand and wrist open with a furious movement of her clawed fingertips. The blood glowed as it splattered across the circle. Angela began to chant again, words I had never heard before, syllables of pure emotion. She walked towards me, a short trip across the circle, dripping blood with every step. She spoke again, in plain English.
"By this force, I bind you, one summer more of this." She flung blood into my face and I recoiled, despite the fact it never touched me.
Then she collapsed, breaching the circle, the mist dissolved and the wind dissipated. I fell to my knees, feeling a strange power moving towards me, as Aspen rushed forward, and cast a small magic to heal her wound. I didn't understand, the spell was to save me, but she hadn't... she hadn't finished it. Why was I still there? Barely sparing me a glance, Aspen picked her up and rushed through the woods back to Hunter's Haven. I followed, drifting through trees and bushes. I was still a ghost, but now, visible. I sighed, and let the visibility slip away. Somehow, I was more there then before. I followed silently, and watched as they administered care to her unconscious form. But she didn't awaken. The night drifted towards dawn, and as her watchers dozed, I moved closer. It was odd, I was more aware of my body, and the dim mists of death were fainter, further away, making colors brighter. Dawn approached, and Angela spasmed.
Suddenly she was standing beside me. Her golden eyes blinked at me in shock, then looked back at the body on the bed.
"Sweet Goddess," she whispered. "It's me!" Eyes wild like a frightened animal she turned back to me, as a thin cord of silver that connected her body and the spirit beside me whirled through the air, and thinned. "I..."
"NO!" I said, grabbing her spirit. "I won't let this happen!" I shoved her back into her body, and prayed, winding magic around us both, binding her closely to her body again. She had to live. I closed my eyes, and did not expect to wake again.
To my surprise I did.
"Wakey wakey little ghostie," came a soft voice. "You have some explaining to do." I opened my eyes to see her looking down at me. She was no longer in danger, but still a mere astral form. We floated a few feet away from her body, my head was lying in her lap. "Are you Alexander?" she asked.
"Yes. I am Alex. A very dead mage." I raised a hand to my throat and felt a gory necklace of tendrils of blood. "And I suppose you don't have to guess how I died, necromancer."
"Necromancer?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"Yes. Only a necromancer could have done what you did. Though I'm not sure what it was. Why didn't you cast the spell? Why didn't you call me here or send me hence?"
"I couldn't, Alex," she said, in quiet embarrassment. "I couldn't judge someone I'd never met. I'm sorry." We stood and watched, as someone walked through us without notice, to look over Angela.
"You should return to your body. They're worrying."
"Will I be able to talk to you? See you?" she asked, turning to face me, hair a golden cloud around her face. She was even brighter like this than in her own body. Angela was still holding my hand.
"If you want to," I answered. She gave me a smile, and returned to her body and the happy embraces of her family. And amidst all of that, she looked right at me, smiled and winked.
Once a flower has bloomed, it never returns to the same bud. So it was that a necromancer, once tasting power, will never settle down again.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
A Ghost's Story © 2001 by Willow Taylor
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