Updated: Nov 11, 2019
When one first entered my shop I could never be truly sure what such a visit would mean. I could never be entirely certain if that individual would be another nuisance, a proper client, or even an enemy. In one particular late afternoon, I was equally uncertain about the man who entered my shop. He was tall, slim, and elderly with silver hair and a thick moustache. His dress and grooming were completely flawless, although his countenance showed the tell-tale signs of fatigue. In a very professional manner, I asked, "Can I help you, Mr..." His voice was calm, authoritative and intelligent. "It's professor, actually. Professor Jen Ganger." His title piqued my curiosity, "Ah, a professor. Blackwatch University, I presume?" "That's right." "You must be a recent addition to the faculty. I don't recognise you." He nodded and took a seat, "Not so new that I haven't heard your story, Mr. Merriman. Teaching at university... an impressive feat for one so young, especially one of your upbringing." Strongly desiring to speak on any other subject I asked, "You had business to discuss..." He ignored my change in topic, "You were cursed, correct? And you broke that curse yourself?" I ceased my efforts to hide my annoyance, "Do you actually have need of a witch hunter, or were you merely desiring to meet someone about whom you've heard such wild tales?" "My apologies, of course, it's only that you were the one who broached that subject." "And now I regret doing so, and I'm changing the topic to our business." The man nodded sharply, "Yes I should've considered how unpleasant such a subject must be for you. As it stands, I do have need of your services. I am beset by ghosts." I answered with my typical scepticism, "Ghosts? Are you quite certain?" The man glared at me intently, "The restless spirits of the dead are very difficult to miss, Mr. Merriman." "You might think so, but my depth of experience says otherwise." "I am not the typical yokels you're used to dealing with. I am a man of superior intellect and breeding." I sighed, wishing he hadn't included "breeding" in that statement. I simply continued with my previous questioning, "Have you changed house recently?" "No." "Have you obtained any new possessions, particularly antiquities?" He shook his head, "If I knew the source of this haunting, I would've taken care of it myself." I simply moved on, ignoring his arrogant presumption for the sake of professionalism, "Very well, since we will be remaining in the city it will be twenty grams up front, ten grams every day I will be investigating, with the possibility of an additional thirty in hazard pay." "Could I perhaps persuade you to reduce that price?" I sighed once again. My reputation was so widespread that it had been some time since anyone had attempted haggling with me. I had forgotten how entirely tiresome it was. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid my prices are non-negotiable." "Everything is negotiable, Mr. Merriman." "My fee is not. It is a simple matter of acceptance or rejection." He growled in frustration, but placed a bag of coins on my counter, "You make it hard to argue, witch hunter. Where would we begin such a monumental investigation." "Where did you encounter the spirit in question, and when?" "It was more than one. They attacked me in my home three nights ago." I nodded, "They attacked you... curious. What did they look like? What were they wearing? How many were there?" "I'm glad you find it 'curious'," he responded with venomous hostility. "There were a dozen spirits that attacked me in my home. By their dress they were quite old... I'd say second or third century." I carefully considered what he had said, quite baffled. It seemed as though everything he was saying was completely contradictory. He was attacked a mere three days prior, and yet according to the specificity of the man's answer, it didn't seem as though he was mistaken in his assertion that the spirits were many centuries old. Without knowing what to do, I simply continued with my usual questions, "Do you know if your home has a history of spiritual activity?" "I have no knowledge of such things." "And how long have you lived there?" He looked distant, clearly trying to find the correct answer. After some thought, he answered, "Approximately seven years." "And you've never dealt with these attacks before?" "No. I haven't," he answered. "Just out of curiosity, how would one defeat something that is already dead?" "Simply put, one cannot. Those restless souls must move on of their own accord. For that to happen, I must find out what is anchoring them to the world of the living. Thus, the investigation." My newest client nodded, thoughtful, "So where do we begin?" "What is the address of your home?" "49 Royal Way." I nodded in confirmation, "I will begin by investigating the history of that address." When he tried to interrupt I continued speaking, even more forcefully, "You, however, will find accommodation elsewhere." "This is a life or death matter for me, in case you haven't noticed, Mr. Merriman. I'm coming with you." "No, you are not. I simply do not want you slowing me down. You're staying out of my way." "And if the ghosts find me?" "They shouldn't travel so far from their anchor, but if they do..." I opened a drawer behind the counter and handed it to him, "burn this. It'll ward them off." Professor Ganger looked positively baffled, "What is this? Are you sure it'll work?" "It's Andaverian Sage, and it's saved my life more times than I can count. Now, you've hired an expert so you can either listen to my professional expertise, or you can face those spectres yourself, it's your choice." I began guiding him out of my shop before he could even respond. "If you need to contact me, leave a note through my mail slot so I can find you." I walked him out the door, closed it behind him, and locked it. He made some retort, but muffled as it was by the door, I couldn't hear it. Thereafter, I waited for some time for my latest employer to leave and I waited a short while after that before going on my own way. Usually, walking around in my witch hunter garb attracted a great deal of attention, but in my neighbourhood of residence in Blackwatch I could pass very much without notice. I travelled down the familiar streets on my way to the Hall of Records once again. It was an austere, almost grim structure, as were all government buildings in the city. Inside, I navigated the bare, severe rooms and corridors almost as though they were a second home to me until I finally reached the almost remarkably nondescript door of the Office of City Planning. As was often the case, I was met by Telva, a heavyset, elderly woman with a very disinterested expression on her visage. Also as usual, that expression brightened considerably upon my entrance, "Mr. Merriman! Investigating some other address, are you?" "Of course, 49 Royal Way." She nodded and began rifling through her files. "What are you looking for? Haunting? Monster? Warlock?" "Are you asking for details on my case?" "Yeah, what of it? We'll be doing the research together, right?" I nodded at a point well made, "Perhaps. Very well, a haunting of a dozen spirits attacked the resident." "How dramatic!" she replied with a palpable, almost childlike enthusiasm. "Something like that would be hard to miss in the history of the place." She pulled out a conspicuously thin file and opened it. A frown crossed her face as she read, "How disappointing." "What did you find?" I asked, quite certain of the answer. "Nothing. No grisly murders, no strange beast attacks, no accusations of black magic. There's just a list of former owners, all perfectly mundane." "What about the land? A barrow site perhaps, or a cemetery?" Her frown widened as she shook her head, "No, nothing like that—not that I can see, anyway." "Then it seems my investigation has gotten somewhat more complicated." "I'm sorry I couldn't be any more help, Mr. Merriman." I answered sympathetically, knowing that the distinct lack of drama was a serious disappointment to the old woman. "It is quite alright, madam. Even the lack of results has provided some measure of assistance. I wish you a pleasant evening." "You too, Mr. Merriman. Good luck." "As always, I sincerely hope luck will not be required." I turned on my heel and left immediately after without waiting for a reply. With Blackwatch as my home, I naturally had more than a passing knowledge of its streets and locales. However, my familiarity wasn't nearly specific enough to find Professor Ganger's residence in a timely manner. In fact, it was well past night-time when I finally found it. It was a fine home, although no more so than the homes around it. In fact, it was a perfectly ordinary example of the other residences of that district. It was almost as if all those that lived there were announcing their wealth for all others to look upon and envy. I ignored such things as I always do and tried the door. I was quite surprized to find it locked. I briefly mused about whether the professor truly wanted to be free of those restless spirits as I picked the lock to admit myself. I lit a nearby gas lantern and started my investigation. A strange chill passed my spine as I looked about the place. It was by no means a definite sign of a spiritual visitation, but my instincts could not refuse the possibility. To that end, I left one panel on my lantern open and kept a bag of dried sage in my hand. If necessary, I was prepared to use that lantern as a makeshift censor to ward off hostile ghosts. Throughout my entire search, I found no such spectre. Failing such contact, I looked through every room checking every likely looking antique for any sign of spiritual energy, but I found no such thing. The apparent lack of a haunted item was a mixed blessing. I had thought that a hostile entity would likely manifest as a draugr under such circumstances, and I was far from equipped to deal with such a deadly creature. However, the lack of a source for the haunting left me no closer to fulfilling my contractual obligations. Failing that, the only thing I could fall back on was the usual process of my investigations. The next step for me was to find anything mundane that would lead one to believe they were beset by ghosts. I could find nothing, however, save that the house was exceedingly well-made and no strange drafts or source of noise could be found. I couldn't help but feel that the entire fruitless search was a waste of time, and it would've been all too easy to convince myself that the professor was simply mad or senile. However, my long years of studying the preternatural had taught me to trust my instincts, and my instincts were telling me that something more was afoot. The unfortunate truth was that however much I believed that chill down my spine, I could search no further in that home, so I had no other course but return to my shop and hope that Professor Ganger had sent word of where I might find him. I walked through the darkened, lonely streets and returned to my own home, only to find no note on the floor. I sat down in one of the chairs in my storefront, wearily considering my particular conundrum. I needed to speak to my client to advance my investigation, however I had no knowledge of his whereabouts. I had only just begun regretting shepherding that insufferably arrogant man out of my shop when serendipity solved my problem. My musings were interrupted by the panicked sounds of knocking at my door. The frantic voice of my client came from the other side, "Mr. Merriman! Mr. Merriman, are you there?!" When I opened the door, he rushed inside, very nearly bowling me over. The incredibly distinctive smell of burnt sage filled my nostrils instantly. I couldn't even speak before he said, "Close the door! Close the door, they're here!" I obliged and threw my sage into one of the lit lanterns. As the fragrant smoke filled the room, I turned to the frantic man backing away from the door. "What are you carrying?!" I asked, quite insistently. "You want to do this now?!" "If they're following you, you're carrying something to anchor them. What is it?" The air in the room grew suddenly cold, drawing the professor's gaze to the front of the storefront. "L-look..." My gaze followed his own until I witnessed a spectre of a woman in a ragged dress, her face warped and twisted by pain and rage. She said nothing, only glaring at Professor Ganger. Following behind her a dozen other spirits in a similar state of vengeful fury. The shade of the woman looked at the protective smoke with disdain and spoke in a strange language I didn't understand, "Varfor skyddar du den mannen? Vet du inte vad han har gjort?!" "I am sorry, spirit. I don't understand you. Perhaps if you calm yourself we can find the root of your grievances." No more words escaped her ethereal lips. Instead, her mouth opened further than is humanly possible and she let out a terrible screech. Before it was finished the door and windows swung open followed by a gust of cold wind that blew out the lantern that served as my only protection. Professor Ganger asked from my side with his voice tinged with fear, "So... what do we do now?" "We flee." I had only barely uttered the word "flee" when the man did exactly that. I managed to grab a few more bags of sage before following him. We managed to retreat through the first few rooms of my home and into the nearby alley. When outside, we ran down the abandoned streets in a mad flight. After we had gone some distance, my client doubled over with fatigue. "Where... where are we going?" "The university. It's built in a location that naturally suppresses spectral energy." "That explains a great deal." I was about to ask for details on that last statement when my priorities suddenly shifted. The air grew cold and the street lights blew out two by two. The raging spirits had just began manifesting when we fled once again. That particular retreat, we didn't stop until we made it to the university gates. While my client was fishing out his keys he asked, "Are you certain we'll be safe here?" "Not entirely certain, no." He stopped for a moment upon hearing my response, "What do you mean 'not entirely certain'?! I thought you were a professional!" I replied with the proper amount of frustration warranted by the urgency of the situation, "Open the gate, quickly!" As he started working through the keys I explained, "Ghosts are given power by their emotions. The stronger their emotions, the more 'real' they are in our world...' As the temperature of the air lowered again, I interrupted my explanation, "I would hurry..." The spectres were manifesting again when he finally managed to get the gate open. The two of us crossed the threshold when all of the ghosts were fully formed. The woman in front walked forward and stopped near the gate. She laughed bitterly and said, in her strange language, "Tror du verkligen att den patetiska barriaren kommer att stoppa mig?" Afterwards she screamed again and crossed onto the university grounds. "It seems we're not safe. Quickly, we need an interior room with no windows." My client had already begun his retreat and called back, "My office!" I followed him through the familiar, aged halls of Blackwatch University. Our frantic rush was stopped when two spirits in decrepit armour materialised in the corridor in front of us. Without thought, I snatched Professor Ganger by the collar and led him down another hallway. We took a few more turns to get back on our proper path with no incident, but more spectres blocked the path ahead of us. In response, my client and I ducked into a side door leading into a large lecture hall. We started moving down the isles, only to be surrounded by furiously homicidal ghosts. "Over the seats," I instructed before climbing the seats myself and working my way to office on the other side of the hall. I'd made it to the office door when I looked back to see that my elderly client wasn't having nearly as easy a time with the physicality as I did. When the spectres were closing in, I shouted, "You have to move, professor!" At my insistence, he did make the climb and unsteadily walked over the back of the chairs to where I was lighting two of the sage bags over by the other door. We quickly took shelter inside the office behind the protective barrier of fragrant smoke. The professor was breathing heavily and perspiring profusely. "We'll be safe here, right?" he asked hopefully. "I'm certain of it this time. Now that we are safe, I'll ask again: what do you have?!" "I'm not certain what you mean." I grabbed the man by the jacket and pushed him against a nearby wall, "If theses spectres are chasing you—especially here—you have something they want very badly." "I don't know why you're blaming me, I'm clearly the victim here!" "Truly? It doesn't seem quite so obvious from this office in which we are currently trapped! Something is anchoring these spirits, what is it?" "As I've stated previously, I don't know!" For a single instant, almost too brief to notice, he glanced at his desk. I let the man go and investigated. There was nothing on the desk that I wouldn't have expected for a professor of history. There were books and papers and inkwells, but no ancient trinkets or other things likely to be haunted. Even if that were the case, the university would be plagued by spectres, not the "good" professor. A cursory search of the drawers wasn't any more fruitful until I found that one of the larger ones was securely locked. "What's in here, I wonder?" I asked rhetorically. "Nothing you need concern yourself with, Mr. Merriman." "That only strengthens my desire to know all the more. If there truly is nothing of note, you wouldn't mind if I take a look." He started to take a few steps towards me before he pulled a knife from behind his jacket, "I'm afraid I have to insist." "You can't be serious," I replied as I pulled my revolver on him and cocked the hammer. "Drop the weapon." He complied. "You won't kill me, your client. It'll go against your principals." "You think you know me because enough people talk that I get a reputation? You don't know anything about me, 'professor'. Now, I presume you have a key?" He hesitantly pulled out his keys and worked through them until he picked the correct one. After a quick gesture, he tossed them to me. I used the indicated key to open the locked drawer. Right on top, in plain view there was a large book bound in black leather with a front cover that read "Mortuus Libro". "Ah, now it all makes sense," I said. "Tell me, what possessed a 'man of superior intellect and breeding' to practice necromancy?" Professor Ganger hesitated clearly unsure of himself. After a lengthy pause, he finally answered me, "Well...you see, the truth is that there is one great frustration in the study of history and that is that we can't truly know what happened in the past without having been there. I was considering that dilemma when an epiphany struck me." "You thought necromancy was the solution?!" Tears began streaming down the man's wrinkled face, "I was only trying to advance the study of academia. I would've thought a learned man such as yourself would understand." I tucked the book of magic under my arm and shook my head, then calmly walked around the desk and towards Professor Ganger, who backed a few steps away. "I don't suppose you considered what you were actually doing when you were tearing these people away from the Beyond and interrogating them." "I fail to see how that matters when I'm about to be killed! You should be helping me as you were hired to do." I sighed in exasperation, "It's to late, Professor Ganger. Magic is dangerous at the best of times, even for those who actually understand its ways. Furthermore, no magic in this world is more dangerous than necromancy. You see, you ended the binding ritual before banishing the spectres. "Imagine you have a dangerous animal, like a bear, in a cage. For days you just kept poking it with a sharp stick, then instead of putting out of its misery you just set it free. What would you expect it to do?" The old man grew more ever more frantic, now wringing his hands in anxiety, "Surely there's something you can do?" "You weren't listening: I can't harm those shades: they're already dead! The only way they can cross over now is if they kill you." "So that's it, you're just going to kill me." I shook my head, "You're still not listening, it would do no good for me to kill you." I took a few more steps forward, forcing a few more steps back. "They have to do it," I finished, nodding at the female spectre that was now standing next to him. With a screech she lifted him up by the throat and started choking the life from him, as her fellow trapped souls gathered around like a ghostly audience. The dying man looked at me with a look of betrayed sorrow on his face. In response, I said apologetically, "You left me no choice. I take no pleasure in this, truly." When the life left his eyes completely, his incorporeal killer dropped him on the floor. Now finished with her task, she looked me in the eye with a look of gratitude and faded away with the others fading one by one until they were all gone. Now free of danger, I holstered my firearm and left with the dangerous book still tucked under my arm. It had been a very long night.