Tric jerks his head up when he hears Heppa scream. His cousin is stumbling backwards, scrambling to pull out her sword as she rapidly moves away from Glammur. A billowing cloaked entity comes at them from the opposite side, reaching toward the dwarf with skeletal fingers. Glammur jerks back away from the raking claws. The robes flutter, though there is no wind to speak of. “G-g-g-g-ghost!” Tric stutters out, frantically speeding up his efforts to get a fire going. “Frail and wispy… already dead!” Flames spring to life, and with the increased light he can see what looks like a skull within the dark hood. The creature is the height of an elf and billows above the ground with no feet visible.
“Stay back,” Glammur warns the elves. “These things are dangerous!” Although Glammur has never fought a ghost before, they are familiar with a wide range of stories concerning them. They tug free one of their hatchets and swing it at the ghost. The blows tear the fabric of the robes but do not seem to connect with anything solid underneath. The apparition floats away from the dwarf, backing towards the center of the keep where Tric is at the firepit. However, it does not turn away from its current target. Keeping eye sockets fixed on the dwarf, it wails piercingly, and Glammur cringes at the unearthly sound.
As the ghost floats toward him, Tric casts aside his fire-making equipment and frantically scrabbles for his bow. He lets fly a few quick arrows at its back. Most seem to just tear at cloth or pass through harmlessly, but one lucky shot connects with the back of the hood, cracking against the skull within. The sound of the wail alters from creepy to almost plaintive, and Tric can pick out words within the noise. “I have failed,” the ghost moans, and then whatever structure it has leaves it. The robe drifts to the ground, empty.
Hepalonia, finished with her own shrieking, asks, “Is it… dead?” She steps up and prods the fallen cloth with her sword, and it fades away, dissipating completely.
Although inwardly thrilled at his fabulous shot, Tric keeps his cool, acting as though he fights ghosts every day. He calmly puts his bow away and steps up to join his cousin at the empty patch of cracked and weed-ridden slate tiles. “That one sort of surprised me,” he says calmly. The arrow that struck true lies at his feet, with no sign of what it dispatched. He crouches down to pick it up, examines the dented tip, and then slides it back into his quiver.
“But what was it here to do?” Heppa asks.
“Guard the castle?” Tric suggests, standing back up. Then he adds, only half in jest, “I hope that wasn’t Kachen’s ghost.”
“Wait… Is that what happens to humans when they die?”
“In the wrong circumstances, anyone who dies can become a ghost,” Tric tells his cousin. “If you’re not put to rest properly, but you don’t have a body at all, this can happen.”
“What if it’s not alone?”
“Ghosts by nature are solitary creatures,” Tric assures his cousin. “Maybe it was a messenger?”
“I’m still going to look around. That thing was scary.” Heppa makes a circuit of the interior of the small keep, making sure nothing is moving. She directs her attention more upwards than she would have been inclined to previously, worried that another ghost might float down at them. She tries to make herself feel better by reframing what just happened. That? That was another experience.
Glammur steps up alongside Tric, hatchet and torch still at the ready. “It sounded tae me like it said it failed. What dae ye suppose it failed at? Did ye see these creatures when ye were at the swamp before?”
Tric shakes his head. “No, we saw walking corpses before. They certainly didn’t talk. This thing… maybe it haunts this castle. Maybe it was supposed to guard it. As for why we didn’t see it before, I don’t know. Maybe Kachen managed to ward against it. We should really try to find him.”
Glammur joins him in searching for tracks outside the keep. Tric provides a description of Kachen’s height and weight, as well as his style of boot. After an extensive circuit of the campsite, Tric has found no sign of the human. “If he left, he did a phenomenal job hiding his tracks. Really smart of him. Wait… is that…?” Tric moves swiftly to the edge of the light from Glammur’s torch. “It is! A lucky seven-leaf clover!” Then, in a particularly moist patch of dirt nearby, he sees a solitary mushroom. It has a white stalk, and similarly colored spots adorn its red cap. It looks just like what Mari-Elin gave Heppa to chew. Tric plucks it and places it in a pocket, alongside the clover. “There’s no sign of him at all,” Tric mutters, standing back up. “We should double check the castle.”
Meanwhile, inside the keep, Heppa has calmed down enough to remember the few things she has heard about ghosts from her father. The cloak and the skull, the wail and the groping skeletal hands: that creature was definitely a ghost. They often have missions, and not until they complete their mission can they be fully at rest. This ghost might come back since it failed, Heppa thinks. Her eyes drift to the spot on the floor where the ghost last was, and her hand tightens its grip on the sword she still has ready. From her vantage point standing near the firepit, facing the doorway, she sees Tric enter the keep warily, followed by Glammur. She also sees the ghost reform just off to their right. It swoops down from the same location as it did the first time.
Glammur notices the ghost, as well. More importantly, they notice that it does not appear until they themself have crossed the threshold. What will happen if I step back ootside? they wonder. Tric is an able archer and might even have magically infused arrows. He has a better chance at takin’ the ghost oot than dae I anyway. All that flashes quickly through Glammur’s thoughts, but what comes out is more urgent sounding. “I think I tripped something!” they say, as they quickly step back through the doorway, exiting the keep with a hatchet raised just in case.
The ghost continues its movement, drifting into place right at the doorway, back to the elves. From that position, it wails outward, causing Glammur more discomfort. Maybe its job is to keep dwarves out of the castle, Heppa thinks.
Tric is more on point, drawing his lucky arrow and lining up a shot at the back of the hood. “Pipe down and take a seat!” he orders, loosing the arrow. It flies true again, cracking against the skull.
The wailing coalesces into words. “Finally! I have successfully fulfilled a task and may rest. Thank you.” This time the cloak does not sink to the ground; the ghost just dissipates completely from its spot floating in the doorway.
“What was your task?” Tric calls into the empty air. “Scaring away dwarves? Being killed twice by an elf?”
“One time it succeeded, and one time it didn’t? What was the mission?!” Heppa demands.
“Now I’m curious too!” Tric agrees. “Almost nothing changed!” Heppa shakes her head in puzzlement and sheathes her sword now that the threat is totally gone. “What did it succeed at?” Tric mutters. Then he raises his voice, “Hey, Glammur! Do you want to come through one more time just to make sure?” He retrieves his arrow from the ground.
“Dae ye think that’s a good idea?”
“Now I just want to know. Clearly this is a ghost-slaying arrow,” he says, holding it up for the dwarf to see.
“Tric Manu seems good at dispatching the ghost,” Hepalonia agrees. “Though hopefully you won’t have to be doing this all night. Still, it is quite interesting!”
Glammur is a bit reluctant, so the cousins offer to finish searching the interior first. “Aye, that soonds wise. I’ll keep watch oot here, shall I?”
“Give a holler if you see anything,” Tric request, “but I ain’t afraid of no ghost.”
“I am,” Hepalonia mutters.