Ghost leads Jägerson toward the dark realms.
Jägerson was confused. Usually Jägerson didn’t do confused; not that there wasn’t a lot of confusing things in his life, but his usual reaction to them was somewhere between mocking and judgmental. When he had found the fey realms he had judged them “stupid” and “impossible”. When Ghost was relating detailed conversations with ivies he was more than happy to mock their audacity as inanimate vines instead of being confused by the fact that she really seemed to be talking to them. A laugh and a label could remove most of the stress of not knowing.
But now he was really, truly confused. Ghost—a lady who had made deals with demons and killed her own sire with the a blade that radiated meanness—Ghost was shaken and worried. And what had worried her? Standing in a small patch of nettles for a couple of minutes. It hadn’t just shaken her for a moment, the way a good jibe might; three days later she was still worried and withdrawn.
It didn’t end there. There was the matter of his new sword. The muscular short bald lady had handed him a sword the likes of which would be central display in a warlord’s museum if it wasn’t so very sharp and keen you’d want to use it all the time. There was gold wire embedded in a shiny chrome-laden steel with elegant script down the base of the blade, inlaid onyx on the crossguard and pommel, and a basketwork of delicate-looking but extremely tough black iron filigree. It was probably magical too, since when he swung it left a faint glowing trail in the air. A sword, in short, that he could sell for more than he would make during his entire life. Baldie had just tossed it to him in an off-handed way like it was some kind of wooden practice blade. Ghost said it was just a loan and had to be given back after the mission, but who would loan a stranger something worth a medium-sized fortune?
Then there was the matter of the trip they had been on during the past day and a half. The first few hours were simple enough, just walking down a road away from the city. But since then they had just been walking in circles. He was not certain the first day, but the second day they walked right past their campsite around 9am.
“Ghost,” he had said, breaking a long silence, “was that last night’s campsite we just passed?”
“Basically,” Ghost replied.
“Are we walking in circles?”
“We’re walking widdershins,” she replied. There was an air of annoyed finality to her words, and she rubbed her forearm as if it was bothering her.
“…which means counter-clockwise, right? In other words, in circles.”
“It’s not about clocks,” Ghost answered, “it’s the sun we are countering.”
There was something in her tone that suggested she was done talking. So they walked. They passed the site again around noon, and 3, and 5, and 7. The last two cycles were a but rushed, and Jägerson was relieved to see Ghost actually stop this time around.
This was their second night out, and the food they had brought with them was mostly gone. That was confusing too. Jägerson has suggested they bring more, but Ghost had said they couldn’t afford it. Silly people, Jägerson had thought to himself, buying expensive swords and loaning them to strangers instead of keeping more than a few days of food on hand. But that brought to mind the sword, which was confusing, so it didn’t help as much as usual.
But Jägerson was a hunter—a goblin hunter, but a hunter nonetheless. If he couldn’t get them food in this lush woodland… well, he had better be able to get them food. “I’m going to get us some food,” he told Ghost.
“Don’t,” she replied.
“But we have run out,” he protested. “We need food.”
Ghost looked at him wearily, then shifted to sit right next to him and placed her mouth very close to his ear. He started to move away, but a black blade appeared in her hand and made it clear that moving away was not a good plan.
“Look,” she said, so quietly he could barely hear, “we’re going to the dark realms the hard way, right? I mean, no one was giving us any leads, so what choice did we have?”
I had no choice, Jägerson thought, but then I haven’t had choice since I got here, have I? He decided vocalizing this was unwise.
“So we’ve gone widdershins eight times,” continued Ghost. “As in against the sun, the ‘wrong way’, and done it once more than a week. Eight might not be best, but it’s incomplete and that’s good. And we’re hungry, and haven’t been friendly to each other, and we ended up in the same camp as last night—basically, we want to look desperate. If you want to help, go out hunting but hurt yourself, lose something of some value, and come back grumpy.”
There was a pause. A long pause. Jägerson was certain Ghost was waiting for him to say something.
“When the bugganes come,” she continued at last, “when the night becomes permanent: then we can look for food and be nice. But be careful; a word out of turn there will trap your soul for eternity.”
There was another pause, after which Ghost moved away, removing the blade from Jägerson’s throat and thus giving him courage to speak.
“Why did I come on this journey with you?” he asked.
“Fingernails,” replied Ghost. “That and you don’t know how to get home without me.” The voice was mean, but there was a friendly sparkle in her eye.
“I don’t seem to be getting there with you either,” muttered Jägerson. He turned away and lay down to sleep. Before long he slipped into uneasy sleep plagued with dreams created by his subconscious trying to guess what a “buggane” was.