Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ghost (1987)

Fantasy Adventure
2,354 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1987. All rights reserved.

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Nog slowly crept up to the door and pressed his small ear to its rough surface. He stuck a stubby finger in his other ear and listened intently for any sound that might reveal itself.


Nog waved his hand furiously at Ignatius to get him to pipe down. Humans were like that. Always shouting and clanking their cumbersome armor. Nog was surprised there were so many humans like Ignatius around. An awful lot of them must get eaten by something whose nap was disturbed by their constant clamor.

Nog slinked back to the party. “I couldn’t hear a thing. The door may be too thick.”

Ignatius snorted. “I think it’s your head that’s too thick,” he said in a booming voice. “I’ve always said that dwarven heads are mostly bone.”

Nog looked up at the huge human in gleaming platemail. “Well, Iggy, if you wouldn’t talk so loud—”

“Enough,” Roystnof hissed. “With you two bickering all the time, it’s a miracle we’ve made it this far.”

Nog and Ignatius exchanged venomous looks.

“All right,” Ignatius grumbled. “Just tell that pint-sized twerp not to call me Iggy.”

Roystnof sighed and scratched his beard. “Nog,” he said. “Go open the door. I’ll follow you, and Ignatius will bring up the rear.”

Nog nodded and quietly walked back to the door. He and Ignatius had known each other for many years, but they never seemed able to agree on anything. He was glad Roystnof was along to keep things moving. The wizard always kept a cool head and could be counted on in times of crisis to do what was necessary. That’s why Nog usually did what Roystnof told him to do without question. It had kept the dwarf alive so far.

Nog put both hands on the doorknob and peered over his shoulder to see if the others were ready. Roystnof gave him a nod and he swung the door open.

The room beyond was large and dark, but some strange glowing vapors were swirling together in one of the far corners. The trio entered the room and spread out as Nog and Ignatius drew their swords.

The vapors suddenly coalesced into a bulky humanoid shape. The shape had limbs, a torso, and a head, but its features were smudged in the shine of its own shimmering light. A strange red gem on a golden chain began to materialize around the creature’s neck.

The monster became more defined as it slowly approached the party, floating silently in the gloomy room. It looked like a man. A man whose eyes were sparkling more intensely than the dazzling gem it wore around its neck.

Nog felt an overwhelming feeling of pure terror tremble through his body. The mere sight of this ghostly apparition filled the dwarf with the urge to turn and flee. To abandon his friends and find a place to hide from the horror now blazing before his eyes.

“Do not fear,” Roystnof said as the spirit drew closer. “The ghost exudes an evil aura that panics all living creatures. This fear can be overridden. Concentrate. Do not allow the fear to control you.”

Nog clung to the wizard’s words like a security blanket. He repeated them to himself again and again. Almost without him knowing it, the fear dropped away. It didn’t disappear. It still gnawed angrily in the pit of his stomach, but Nog had it under control.

The musky air suddenly crackled with the flash of a blue bolt of lightning that struck the ghost with full force. The monster was thrown back for a moment, and then it quickened its advance on the wizard who had wounded it.

Nog jumped in front of Roystnof to fend the creature off with his sword. He swung at the ghost in a sweeping arc, but there was no impact. The blade had passed through the body of the specter without damaging it.

The ghost slowly extended a thin, glowing arm and touched the dwarf delicately on the shoulder.
Nog felt a shock wave reverberate through his body and every one of his nerves pulsed with pain. He felt faint and his ears began to ring. The last thing he saw before he blacked out was the malignant smile on the cracked lips of the ghost.

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When Nog came to, he was not alone. Grimaldi was with him. It was as if Grimaldi had been with him from the beginning of their lives because Nog suddenly knew all that Grimaldi did and was. They were two fused into one. They shared the sum of their separate awarenesses, their separate memories, and their separate life forces. Both of them existed in a single body, and that body was the jewel that hung around the neck of the ghost.

With Grimaldi, Nog now knew exactly what had happened. Long ago—just how long ago Nog was unsure because Grimaldi had lost track of the passage of time—but at some point in the past a young thief named Grimaldi Darkblade and a small band of mercenaries had gone seeking their fortunes.

They had sought out a place, a castle, thought to be haunted and thought to hold treasures for anyone brave enough to face the undead spirits that guarded them. The group of mercenaries had gone into the castle and had fought their way past perils and pitfalls, slowly descending deeper and deeper into the catacombs beneath the abandoned castle.

Grimaldi and his comrades had eventually encountered a ghost, a malevolent monster of chaos. The phantom used its dark powers to capture Grimaldi’s life force and hold it prisoner in the crimson jewel it wore around its neck. The young thief could see out into the world of which he had once been part, and he watched as the ghost turned his body to attack his friends. The ghost was controlling Grimaldi’s body, and was using it to fight savagely against the group of mercenaries.

Grimaldi had watched helplessly as the others cut his body to pieces, defending themselves from the vicious onslaught of Grimaldi’s blade. The ghost frightened off the remaining mercenaries with its evil magic, or caused them to wither and die under its skeletal touch.

Grimaldi had been left stranded inside the gem, and there he had stayed, slowly slipping into the ethereal realm of the ghost.

And uncounted years later, another group of adventurers had come to the same castle for the same reasons. A member of this party was a dwarf named Nog, a stockily built warrior with years of experience in combat.

This group had stumbled upon the same ghost and, alas, Nog had fallen to the same fate as had Grimaldi. However, the life force of the thief was already possessed within the ghost’s jewel. The joining of the two life forces, Grimaldi and Nog, took place when Nog entered the jewel.

They were now one being with two legacies. They were merged by powerful black magic, and it would take equally powerful magic, white or black, to separate them again.

But now, Nog and Grimaldi watch. They watch from inside the gem to see what will become of the wizard Roystnof and the human warrior Ignatius. They watch to see if either will survive to free them from their prison.

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When Nog awoke he at first thought it had all been just a nightmare caused by another late night at the tavern. But he knew Grimaldi was with him. His thoughts were not his alone. They were being heard by the thief, just as Nog could hear Grimaldi’s thoughts in his head.

His head! He shouted with glee as he pounded his fists against his chest. He had his body back. Or, at least, he and Grimaldi had his body to share.

Nog felt as if he had known Grimaldi all his life. He knew all there was to know about the thief, because they shared the same mind. It was as if a lifetime of the deepest friendship had been compressed into half a second.

The door to the room opened and in walked Roystnof.

Grimaldi jerked their body in surprise and fear, but Nog reminded him quickly who the wizard was. A friend. A person to trust.

“It’s about time you got up,” Roystnof said with concern. “I was beginning to think the spell hadn’t worked.”

“The spell?” Grimaldi asked before Nog could stop him.

Roystnof recoiled. “What’s wrong with your voice? It sounds...different, somehow.”

Nog took control. “I—” he stopped short, suddenly realizing that he didn’t remember what had happened. Grimaldi wasn’t sure either. All they could remember was how Grimaldi had been captured by the ghost and the events up to the point when the monster had attacked Nog. “I’m not sure,” Nog said finally. “Tell me what happened after I passed out.”

The wizard just stared at the dwarf.

“I’m all right,” Nog said. “Just tell me.”

Roystnof cleared his throat. “I knew the ghost had captured your life force the moment it touched you. I’ve dealt with that kind of evil before, so I figured it would turn your body against us. Out of desperation, I cast a paralysis incantation on you, and your body fell helpless to the floor.”

“Then what happened?” Grimaldi asked, caught up in the excitement too much to restrain himself.

Roystnof gave the dwarf another strange look but continued the story. “Then, Ignatius stepped in and with his enchanted blade, he managed to defeat the apparition. That was your mistake. Unenchanted weapons cannot harm such mystical creatures. You shouldn’t have jumped into battle like you did.

“We then took the ghost’s crystal and your body and left the castle. I knew how to restore your life force to your body, but I couldn’t do it in the depths of that dungeon. I needed my books and talismans.

“The rest, was simple. We brought you here to my laboratory, I made the necessary preparations, and cast the spell. It took more energy than I expected, but that’s not unusual with these kinds of spells.”

The wizard made a mistake, Grimaldi told Nog with their thoughts. He didn’t realize there were two of us in the jewel. He doesn’t know I am present in your body.

There was a knock at the door and it opened to admit a solidly-built older man of great height. Nog noticed something familiar about the aged man but he couldn’t place him in either his or in Grimaldi’s memory. Nog was sure he had met this man somewhere before, however, and continued to search his head for some kind of clue. It wasn’t until he mentally removed the lines from the man’s face and changed his gray hair to black that the man’s identity became clear.

“Ignatius,” Nog whispered, astonished.

The lines grew deeper in Ignatius’ face as he smiled.

Roystnof spoke. “An effect of the battle with the ghost. The negative energy of such a creature dramatically accelerates the aging process of anyone it touches. If you’ll notice, you’ve aged about ten years yourself. But since dwarves can live as long as five hundred years, the change isn’t as apparent in you.”

Nog reflected and saw that it was true, His body—their body—was older. Grimaldi couldn’t tell the difference but the thief had only been in the body for an hour.

“Now,” Roystnof said, disturbing Nog and Grimaldi’s thoughts. “Do you mind telling me what’s going on?”

The duo told their story to the wizard and the warrior, both of whom listened intently. Grimaldi told how he had become a prisoner of the ghost, and Nog finished it by describing how they had fused together and were still merged inside Nog’s body.

When they had finished their tale, Roystnof leaned back in his chair and folded his hands on his lap. There was a long moment of silence in which everyone stared at the wizard. Nog was sure Roystnof would know what to do, and he and Grimaldi sat patiently, waiting for him to speak.

“Well,” Roystnof said eventually as he rose from the chair. “It appears that we must find Grimaldi a body of his own.”

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Toby was lost. He had decided that half an hour ago. He was hopelessly lost and he was going to die. Why did he ever leave his village? He was a fool to think he could survive in the untamed wilderness alone.

Toby had always dreamed of setting off on wild adventures, just like the legendary heroes. He wanted to become wealthy and powerful by his own hand, he wanted to forge his own destiny, he wanted his name whispered on the winds of antiquity.

And so, young sixteen-year-old Toby Toringale had left the security of his village, and with a pack full of food and his father’s sword, had walked off into the unknown.

Toby threw his empty pack against a tree and sat down on the forest floor. He hadn’t eaten in three days and was ready to give up. He shielded his eyes from the sunlight with his hand and he looked at the blue sky above the canopy of trees. He was thinking of how much he would give for some help when he saw the smoke.

Toby scrambled to his feet and ran off in the direction of the smoke. It was chimney smoke. Somewhere up ahead there was a cabin.

After an exhausting run, he stumbled into a clearing and saw the small cabin beckoning to him from across the soil. He dashed up to the door and rapped three times on the cut timber.

His stomach growled as he kicked at some stones in the dirt, waiting for an answer. Toby saw a black rock and gave it a swift kick just as the door opened. It flew into the cabin and hit the owner in the shin.

Roystnof grabbed his leg and gasped in pain.

“Hey, Mister,” Toby said with a relived sigh. “Do you believe in fate?”

Roystnof let a smirk escape him. “Indeed I do,” he said and invited the boy inside.

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