Ghosts weren’t one thing, but three quite different phenomena, though they all had to do with the memories of the dead.
Most spirit sightings were simply memories of events so traumatic they had left a psychic imprint on the world. Those played out the same scenes again and again, sometimes every night, sometimes on specific anniversaries, and the ghost participants were unaware of the world around them. Shades were spirits unable to leave the world because of attachments of guilt, sorrow or rage, or justice not done, or because they had been cursed to wander. Revenants were the vengeful souls, and those did active harm.
Zie only feared the revenants and Davitts had said nothing dangerous lurked in the old fortress, therefore there was nothing to fear. So he told himself repeatedly as he descended the stairs from their tower room where Davitts slept soundly. Zie had volunteered to take the second watch, the late hours of the night when ghosts were more likely to appear.
Though he hadn’t told Davitts that. Good thing no one was keeping a tally of the things he hadn’t told Davitts.
Knowledge of the island’s history would’ve been helpful, but it wasn’t crucial. He just needed to stay alert and piece the clues together. The alert part would be easy. The excitement of uncovering a ghost history had set his heart racing.
On bare, silent feet, he crept into the central courtyard and crouched near the rubble of the ruined main doors. This had to have been a site of battle. The memories would linger most strongly here, he was sure of it. Though Davitts had said it wasn’t always haunted, which could mean many things. The haunting might occur at a certain point in the moon cycle. Perhaps the attack came during a rainstorm and the weather would have to be right. Maybe it was only on the first day of the month.
A flaming arrow sailed over the wall and speared the dirt not three feet from him. Zie choked off a cry of alarm when the flames surrounding the shaft spread. Colorless, lit by a soft, eldritch glow, they were only the memory of flames. The ghost attack had begun.
A figure in old-fashioned scale armor appeared out of the gloom to stomp out the flames and shout toward the main keep, though he made no sound. Soldiers ran to assist and to form determined rows in front of the doors, which Zie saw clearly now, whole and standing, closed and barred against the enemy.
Archers on the wall returned fire as the doors shuddered—silently, all the frenetic activity rendered eerie in that silence. Something was dumped from the wall above the door, perhaps oil or pitch, and the doors stopped their rhythmic shivering, though only for a moment. Taur warriors joined the defenders in the courtyard now, four enormous soldiers armed with swords longer than Zie was tall, prepared to act as the first line of defense. A mixed force of humans, Taur and selak, Zie realized, so it was not one of those times in history or one of those places that had pitted race against race.
He wished he knew more about such things outside sylvas lands so he could pinpoint how long ago the battle had occurred, but it wasn’t a vital bit of information. A number of centuries ago judging by the state of the few remaining bones.
The doors shattered and the attackers poured in, taur matching taur with silent roars, warriors cut down on both sides under the arch of the sundered doors. No matter how many of the attacking force fell, more climbed over the debris and the dead to take their places. Badly outnumbered, the defenders were forced to give ground step by step. Perhaps they had been in the wrong. Perhaps the attackers were seeking justice. But Zie still found it sad to watch such a brave defense fail.
He would have made himself anxious and ill if he’d forced himself to watch the slaughter. But that wasn’t why he’d come. His gaze swept the edges of the haunting, searching for anything…not right.The haunting was an amalgamation of the memories of everyone who had died in that battle. The images blurred and juddered, sometimes flickering back to a particular action several times. One of the taur warriors fell, gored by the horns of an enemy taur, and behind him…
A figure stood in the doorway to one of the partially ruined towers, one hand stretched toward the battle, an ancient wind rippling the edges of their robes. They shone like moonlight through high clouds, their movements smooth and elegant. A shade. Another figure in armor ran toward them, shouting, gesticulating, the meaning obvious. Go back inside! Stay clear of the fighting!
The armored figure fell, pierced through the back with the thick-shafted arrow from an arbalest. At the door, the shade screamed a single, anguished word, perhaps the warrior’s name, before they vanished, only to reappear in a window halfway up the tower, a lantern in hand. They gazed out into the night as the ghostly memories of the long-ago battle gradually faded. When the last dying warrior had vanished, the shade remained in silent vigil.
That would be the place, then, if he wished to speak with them.
Zie turned to head back to the tower where Davitts slept, determined to try the next evening. Perhaps Davitts knew a little bit about the history of the area, and it would be best to go armed with some knowledge rather than none.
In the top room, he bent to check if Davitts had woken, but he remained peacefully asleep, and Zie moved to the window to watch the shoreline for the remainder of the night. While they had views of most of the lakeshore, there was no need to watch in all directions. The Shadows would come on his trail, following whatever senses they had.
The moonlight painted shadows along the shore, but these were harmless, everyday things. No summoned creatures of darkness stalked the banks. Not yet.
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.