Ghost reacts to bad news.
If Ghost had been the kind of person to think things through she might have anticipated the potential for a certain amount of disappointment if Autumn Glow didn’t have good news. Ghost was not that kind of person. She was totally unprepared for how hopelessly lost she felt now.
Ghost had thought ahead just enough to postulate (correctly) that a blade of shadow could not be ignored as easily as an ugly tree in a distant realm, and that thus her case would receive actual attention this time. The attention it received could well have been fatal had not the queen told her guards “she’s just some goblin’s plaything, not worth killing.” That turned out to be the nicest, most hope-inspiring thing the queen said.
After being ushered out of the palace, Ghost stood for some time in a numb stupor. The deepening autumn twilight seemed to her an unmitigated harbinger of the eternal winter ahead. There was no hope. She was a goblin’s plaything. She was welded to shadow more surely than she ever had been to wood. Weak death in pretty trappings, too valueless even to fear.
Finally the chill evening air and incessant prattle of a gleeful populous roused Ghost from her spot. She did not belong here. She picked the road with the least happy chatter and started to work her way toward the city wall. To get away was her only objective. Away from the merry throng, away from Autumn Glow’s verdict, away from the ambiguous unpleasantness that now beset her.
It is hard to guess how long Ghost would have continued to run, left to her own devices. Quite likely until cold and hunger rendered further running impossible. But she was not left to her own devices.
Ghost was not the first person to find herself crushed by a failed appeal to Autumn Glow. She was not the first to choose the quieter northern road in an effort to escape the incongruous happiness of the city. And she was not the first to have her egress halted by a curious building a few dozen paces inside the northern gate.
Everyone who passed noticed this building. You couldn’t not notice it. In a city where even the massive curtain wall looked like a piece of art this building stood alone. It wasn’t an eye-sore or anything; in fact, Ghost didn’t even registered it was there at first. But then her subconscious processed the details of what she had seen and she found herself almost staring. Everyone did.
Each detail of this building spoke of caution, of preparation, of having more important things to do than keeping the window dressings current. The open door had a heavy functional look to it and two sizable locks. The windows weren’t barred, exactly, but the muntins were unusually heavy and the depth of the jambs revealed very thick walls. The siding looked like it could take (and may have taken) a beating and the roof was heavily shingled, not thatched. If you wanted to hide a fortress in a peaceful neighborhood, you’d make it look like this.
Ghost’s attention was drawn to this house. It exuded practicality, a kind of no-nonsense attitude that washed over her soul like a healing balm. She slowed as she neared it. A wooden sign hung over the door but the paint was too faded to read. Still, you don’t hang signs over private residences, and the door was open, and it was getting cold as night fell…. What did she have to lose?
Ghost mounted the three steps leading up to the door and stepped inside.