“What did he look like?”
Lady Edna shrugged.
“Short, with beard, balding and old… slouching. Had some grey hair on the sides of his shiny egg. Showing off his nonexistent brains, that idiot.”
Well, he did have enough foresight to protect the river. Which didn’t help the rest of the island, clearly. But Joseph was relieved to know that it wasn’t the Jack he was familiar with. His friend was tall, with slightly tanned skin and black hair. Their looks were very similar - Joseph was thinner, taller and paler, while Jack had broader shoulders. Everything else was almost identical. Their preferred haircuts were also different - Joseph had a basic widow’s peak and short hair, while Jack was a fan of a ponytail.
He briefly wondered - what even happened to his coworkers that day? Maybe they are in the same place as him, somewhere in the Threshold? Or died, since they were right at the epicenter of it all?
He ran the hand across his face, pushing these thoughts out. He had no evidence, no clues, nothing. No point to hang onto it for now.
Irfan and Pat were still there, but the sounds of stuff blowing up were further and further apart. He joined his crew, leaving Lady Edna on the chair. She sent him annoyed look.
“How’re we doing?”
“They are coming rarer and rarer. Looks like their juices - or whatever the void they are made out of - are running out. Look, only couple of them are on the other side of the fence.”
Joseph pulled out his watch.
“It is three of night. Should we just sleep right here and each of us takes a turn to guard?”
“Out of all of us, only Irfan is capable of firing this bow. We can only throw torches, remember.”
“Wrong." Hunter shook his head. "Anybody can fire that bow. But making it…”
“I doubt I have enough strength to pull it off.”
“You wish for a helping hand?”
All three of them turned their heads around. Lady Fox was standing right behind them.
“I have thought some things over, and I must admit, I do not feel easy about letting people die under my watch. But was it selfish of me to ask you not to break my estate apart?”
They exchanged glances and shook their heads in unison.
“Then I will help you. You two can go and take a nap, and me with the doctor here will watch over the house.”
Pat did not even have time to answer, as both Irfan and Joe left the room and went straight to the second floor to grab some mattresses, pillows and sheets from the guards’ rooms. Irfan decided to ignore the nest of gold and black, but Joseph was really thinking hard about it.
They came back fast enough to see how Lady Edna was shooting outside, screaming like a berserk, while Pat was standing nearby and shacking, while lighting up the arrows.
“Hey, don’t waste all the ammo. We need to keep some for the next night, remember?”
“Like you, hoodlums, wouldn’t break my house apart for your own lives. Doesn’t matter, I am over it. Let me get some target practice, I’ve never felt so alive in my entire life!”
Joseph chuckled. Irfan walked over to the window to give some pointers and tips for new up-and-coming archery champion.
Joe put of all three mattresses down on the floor, put some sheets on them to make them softer and placed pillows on top.
Looking at his composition made him yawn. He looked over to the window.
“A bit further to the left. Like that. Fire!”
They seemed like they were having fun. Joseph wouldn’t mind to get some too, but the sleep would be the best reward for all the questing he had today. He practically fell into his improvised bed, and was happily drifting away into the reality of a dream Deity.
When he woke up, sun was already third of the way across the sky.
Pat and Irfan were snoring right beside him.
Joe got up and stretched. He thought for a couple seconds, and chose to do some light exercises for a warm-up.
When he was done, he decided to go straight to the kitchen to wash his face. He turned around and saw the dead owner of the house, who was looking intently at him.
“Good Morning, Lady Edna.”
She slightly lowered her head.
“Good Morning, Sir Joseph. Seems like you can keep your manners with you even at such dangerous times. Not a quality young people would learn those days.”
“You don’t look that old yourself, Lady Edna. How was the night?”
“The night was fire!” That was a very unexpected and loud response. “I have never used a bow in my life! Feeling those arrows puncture through those shades, summoning the fire dance among them, all under the ever mysterious moonlight! Ah, that was so romantic… Ah, I wish I was still alive…”
She hid her face in her hands. Joseph scratched his nose.
“If you enjoy these things even now, what’s the problem? You can’t die, more time to experience all sorts of stuff.”
She shook her head.
“I wish. I can’t leave my mansion, Joseph. The walls still keep me in, and I couldn’t walk through a front door. Such a shame, I can’t even visit my garden… what’s left of it, anyway.”
He glanced at sleeping doctor.
“When we get an opportunity, we should talk with Pat about that. His master on the ship, he was versed in some death related stuff. Maybe he knows something? He told me there were ways to remove a Wraith, maybe he knows about Ghosts as well?”
“You think so? I should do just that, then.”
“By the way, what about those shades? Still out there?”
“Gone with the very first rays of sunlight. Didn’t even wait for the sun itself - just left, and never came back.”
That was very reassuring to know. The beings were afraid of the sun. Joseph mentally laughed, as he realised that their situation was more and more reminding him of a weird siege horror game, where at the night they had to fight back the invaders, and gather resources during the day. The only inconsistency was the Archrhyder, who was still somewhere out there, lurking…
“I’m going down to the kitchen. Maybe I’ll get something going in a meanwhile.”
Lady Edna answered with acknowledging nod and he went to do his first quest of the day.
“Simple, but I like it. To be honest, even an uncooked bread would feel like a bloody dessert right now, but this soup is not bad either.”
Joseph was appreciating all the kind words Pat had for him. He wasn’t going to experiment with the unfamiliar colorful weeds and eldritch looking spices, so instead he went for a simple approach. Some meat, potatoes, pepper and salt, carrots and cabbages. Fortunately, this world and this mansion had enough common and familiar ingredients to make something edible on a short notice.
Irfan turned to the poor Lady, who was watching their feast with badly hidden jealousy.
“Why don’t you try? Maybe you can taste it too.”
She hesitantly reached for a spoon and a bowl. They were lying in her hands just fine. Lady Edna filled the spoon with soup and tried to taste it.
The soup fell through her. Doctor frowned.
“Argh, that’s a disappointment. I thought if Ghosts can touch physical items, they can taste a soup. Erm… Lady?”
She was frozen in place. Joseph snapped fingers to awake her.
“I can taste it…” She had tears on her eyes. “I can taste it!”
All three of them cheered. She happily laughed, and sat down on the floor, filling her bowl from a pot.
“But wait a second. Food falls on the floor, right? We don’t want to waste Joseph’s efforts, so… Irfan, give me that stool. I’m sorry, Lady, but can you put a bowl on this chair and sit on it?”
Ghost was dumbfounded for a second, then she tilted her head and released a short laugh. Her hand pulled the construction inside her. It was looking pretty ridiculous, but Lady Edna paid no mind.
They kept eating, trading some jokes and banter back and forth. Edna recalled a story when her husband fell off the balcony of her house onto a grass carpet in front of her house. She went quiet for moment with her eyes lowering down. Then she shook her head, and joined the laughter.
“Oh, I just remembered. Doctor Pat, you are familiar with a deathmage, right? Sir Joseph told me this morning.”
Pat shot a glance at Joe, who ignored it altogether. Doctor sighed.
“I am indeed. You have some questions regarding your… condition, I assume?”
“If you would be so kind, Sir Pat.”
Doctor furrowed his brows and put a hand of a head.
“Oh, this will be a hard one. Roth was telling me that some time ago, so some details might escape from my memory. Well… Ghosts are essentially Memories, that are stuck in this world, while their Soul goes on to Reincarnate. When the person dies, Memories are left behind by the Soul, but they don’t become Ghosts - or Wraiths - all the time. For discarded Memory to become one, this person need something of an anchor… An item, or number of items, or another person, or anything that they have a very strong attachment to. Usually it’s something they think about very often. Roth was calling it… hold on… I think it was a Dead Weight.”
“I know, right? That’s how I remember it. If Ghost wants to return back to being a fleeting Memory, Dead Weight has to be neutralized. Usually destroyed, if experienced deathmage isn’t around, and since we don’t have one…”
Doctor shrugged. The unsaid part was clear enough.
“With that said… Lady Edna, are you sure you wish to leave this world again?”
Lady was hesitant. She was looking around her, not trying to keep her sight on anything in particular.
“I… No. There is a lot of doubt in my mind. On one hand, living again feels fantastic. On the other… this island is one enormous graveyard. There is nothing left. Nothing for me to enjoy. Trees are dried husks, animals are dead and gone... If only I could leave this estate, then maybe…”
She closed her eyes.
“...But that’s never going to happen… will it?”
None of them had a heart to answer.
Joseph turned to Pat.
“Doc, you think Roth knows how to identify and, maybe, change Dead Weight?”
Doctor tilted his head.
“No idea. No idea if he knows, no idea if he agrees. We can try… but we have to reach Morning Star first, and that would not be easy.”
Lady Edna was watching them carefully.
“Do tell me, gentlemen… in what kind of work you participate?”
They exchanged worried glances. Nobody wanted to be the one to admit the truth, or lie trough his teeth.
“Well, gentlemen? I am still waiting.”
Her tone wasn’t promising anything good. Joseph internally inhaled.
Better to start taking responsibility now, huh?…
“We are pirates.”
He expected any kind of reaction. Except for the one that he actually got. Lady Edna simply sighed and closed her eyes.
“Of course. I suspected as such from the very beginning. At least you are man enough to say it straight. You were trying to rob my place, weren’t you?”
“Not at all.” Pat interjected. “Everything Joseph told you was complete truth. We stumbled our way here on a complete accident, after our ship got caught in Tearing. Our group went to gather some flora samples, because black forest in not something we have ever seen.”
“We also wanted to hunt and get some water,” added Irfan.
She eyed them with suspicion for a bit.
“I don’t particularly care about guest rooms, since all that gold and marble was giving me a headache each time I ever went there… But at the very least, you could be honest with me since the moment we met. I don’t like being led around by a nose.”
“What gave it away?”
Lady Edna smiled.
“Your attitude, your equipment and your own words just now. If I am being completely honest, your doctor was rubbing me the wrong way. Your companion is very dismissive, rude and willing to throw you into a danger. Personality fitting to a mercenary, not a life worker. Then I’ve heard your story, and while I thought it was true, I felt like you were not telling the most important parts. I also noticed you have way too many weapons on you - a sword, a dagger, two pistols, a rifle and large number of bombs. If you were a soldier, your commander would never let you use that much equipment - imagine the paperwork! So, either a mercenary, Threshold hunter, or a pirate. And well, of course, the final piece of the puzzle - your own confession.”