I needed to deal with the ghost. She’d been in the spirit jar quite long enough and would hopefully be open to a little discussion on appropriate behaviour and how she found herself as a ghost in the first place.
I took the jar into the back larder and laid it in a ward ring I’d painted on the floor in there some time before. Something I would recommend if one has the space. It saves an incredible amount of time and means I’m not constantly scrambling for chalk or charcoal.
I activated the wards (I seem to be doing that an awful lot these days – largely because I’ve seen what happens if you don’t) and opened the jar.
She flowed out, looking sulky and subdued. I’m not sure how much was the confined space and how much was the discovery that she couldn’t eat the honey I’d put in there as bait.
“We’re going to start with a game of trial and error. The main aim of it is going to be finding the best method of communicating so you can say what you want to say, rather than me having to guess.”
Her face brightened a little at that. Literally brightened, got a little golden glow about it. Interesting.
“Let’s hope we can take the easy option with you. First question, can you move that jar at all?”
She eyed it suspiciously, then gave it a tentative push with her misty foot. Nothing. She glared at it and bent to push with her hand. Still nothing.
She straightened and shook her head, pouting.
“Ah well, the poltergeist capability is rare at best, let’s see what else I can come up with.”
I nipped out of the circle and pulled a rag doll from a shelf, along with a crystal ball and a set of wind chimes on a stand.
I set them up within the circle and explained. “The doll is to see if you can possess an object, the ball is to see if you can project your thoughts and the chimes should sound if you blow or pass through them.”
She went to those first. The sound was messy to say the least. We’d have to work out a code if that was the only one that worked, but it was going to be slow and tedious.
The doll was a failure, she slipped straight through it, time and again.
Finally, the ball, she touched a finger to it, then jumped back as it flared with light, looking at me in concern.
“Try it again, that’s a very good sign.”
She reached out again, flinched at the light but stayed this time and words appeared inside the globe. Will this work? I want to talk.
“It worked. Thank goodness. The wind chimes would have been beyond tedious.”
Again with a lit-up face. I needed to know more about this child.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “If I was to drop the barrier around you, would you continue to behave yourself?”
She nodded frantically and the ball lit up with a plethora of yeses.
“Good, I’m going to trust you but be warned, the consequences will be most unpleasant if you decide to go off and upset my bees or animals again.”
Can I upset people?
She smiled at my answer and agreed.
I dropped the protections and put the chimes and doll away, then picked up the ball and took it through to the front of the house. We would likely be having a long conversation and I’d rather be comfortable.
Besides I always think better when I’m knitting and I was hoping to finish a set of gloves for Ulfgar before the winter weather properly set in.
I put the ball on the table and left the ghost to wander the room, poking her insubstantial fingers into things and peering at my shelves.
“You should try and see if you can make the ball work without touching it.”
She frowned at it from across the room and faint words blurred below the surface. Can I make it work from here?
“You can, but it’s faint and fuzzy. You’ll need practice. Which you are now going to get because I want your story. Why are you here? How did you become a ghost? What do you want to do?”
You’re not going to send me on to the afterlife?
“Only if you want me to.”
She grinned as she pushed my earlier words back at me.
Then, she placed her hand fully against the ball and focused. No words this time; pictures, and Powers preserve me, sound. This child, when alive, had magic to burn.
It was not a pretty story. A story that ends with a child as a ghost never is. As it wound to an end, I knew two things.
One, this child had a home with me for as long as she wanted it.
Two, I needed to retrieve her body from its ugly hiding place and return it to her parents.
I outlined my plans to the girl, her name is Chloe incidentally. She shrank from returning to her death site, can’t blame her, so I told her to make herself comfortable in the house or garden but to not pester the animals.
She sighed. I suggested she pester the mole that kept digging out my flower beds. She grinned and I left her half submerged in my garden, looking for the tell-tale mounds.
Portalling is best done in company, so I paid Ulfgar a visit on my way up the mountain. He frowned at the start of my story, glared at the end of it, then pulled on his coat and led the way to the summit.
We arrived at the Sun God’s temple just in time for evening ritual. Sun was going to HATE this.
The two of us strode through the crowds, ignoring the stir we made. Some fools tried to step in our way, they found themselves removed from our path well before we reached them. The High Priest scurried to the top of the stairs and called on us to halt.
Ulgar looked up at the arrogant figure. “That the one?”
We kept walking. Up the stairs, rather than remove the loudly declaiming priest, I grabbed his arm and dragged him along with us.
We crossed the threshold of the inner sanctum and made for the altar. A beam of blinding light flashed down and Sun stood in front of us looking puzzled.
“Is something wrong?”
Ulfgar growled. “Very. Get all your priests up here now, I have some smiting to do.”
Sun looked at the man I held. I pushed him towards his god. “I don’t think this one’s involved, but he’s in charge and I’d like to know how things have come to this.”
The priests and priestesses poured into the sanctum, along with quite a few of the worshippers. Some people are drawn to trouble like iron to magnets.
Sun nodded. “That’s all of them.”
I sealed the exits, then turned to the altar. Walking around to the back, I found what I was looking for, a door.
Sun looked askance at his Head Priest. “We keep the ritual vestments and items in there Lord. It keeps them pure.”
I snorted and tried the handle. Locked.
The Head Priest frowned. “That’s not meant to happen, the means for worship should be available to all at all times.”
I pulled a skeleton key from my pocket. Trying magic in a holy place, even with the support of the Power in question, was tricky.
I opened the door and sighed. Ulfgar looked over. “She’s there?”
Sun vaulted the altar. “What?”
He bent to look, gasped, then reached in and brought out the body of a little girl. He cradled it in his arms, walking around to place her gently before the altar before standing, turning and roaring.
“WHO DEFILES MY TEMPLE.”
The whole place, people, building, and ground, shook. I scanned the crowd, then pointed at one figure trying to find a way out without being noticed.
“Bring that one here.”
Ulfgar was on him before he had time to squeak. An instant later, he was before me. “That’s him. There was another as well, not a priest.”
The man drew himself up. “Why are you listening to the rantings of this madwoman and allowing this churl to lay hands on a priest?”
Sun turned his gaze on the man. Then focused inward. When he wants to, the Sun can see all, you know.
His burning gaze glanced off his followers. “Find me Teacher Simpkins.”
I opened the doors.
Then his attention returned to the man Ulfgar held. “You killed this child. You hurt her, you killed her and you hid your vile crime in the most sacred space of my temple.”
The crowd drew in a breath. Sun turned to me. “How did you know of this?”
“The child’s spirit came to me.” No need to mention she was a cheeky little brat who tried to steal my honey.
Sun bowed. “My thanks to you and your companion. I will deal with this travesty. This altar will become a memorial and sanctuary for this child and all others made victims by others’ evil. I cannot think of a punishment sufficient for this monster and his accomplice. I beseech your advice.”
Ulfgar’s grin was more a snarl. “I’ll take them. I’ll take them both and make them both wish for death twenty times a day.”
Sun bowed his head and Ulfgar circled a hand over the raging priest’s head. There was a pop and Ulfgar reached down to grab a stunned-looking mouse. He tucked it into a deep pocket, then did the same to Teacher Simpkins when she was brought to him by a group of quavering accolytes.
Sun bowed to the two of us, and ascended. Leaving us with the mess.
The High Priest looked ready to cry. “How could this have happened? Who is the poor child and how can we settle her wandering soul?”
I replied without answering. “Her name is Chloe, and she was a student of Simpkins’ – one she identified as containing significant magical power. I believe they killed her in an attempt to transfer that power to themselves. At least, that was their excuse.”
I bent over the eerily preserved little body. “If you could find her parents, give them the chance to say goodbye, then lay her to rest in a more suitable place…”
I let him fill in the silence. The burial wouldn’t affect Chloe unless she wanted it to, but it would give the girl’s poor parents something and a method of atonement for the temple.
With that, we left, walking out the way we came in. This time no one stood in our way.
Once we portalled back to the mountain, I said to Ulfgar. “What are you going to do with those two?”
“They’ll start out with repairs on the tower, do something about the drafts and the roof tiles. Once that’s done, I’ll drop them down to The Pits and see what my daemons can come up with.”
He grinned. “Tell your little ghost she can come and gloat at them any time she wishes. Or not, she’ll have better things to do I’m sure.”
He got a kiss of thanks and thought himself very well rewarded and I headed home.
Chloe was sitting on the front step, smiling up at the sinking sun and I wondered if she’d had a visitor in my absence.
I told her what happened and gave her Ulfgar’s message, then left her to her thoughts and plans. She’d tell me what she wanted to do when she was ready, and I had more than earned my cup of tea.