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Haunting
by Becky
October 1997

Sebastes stretched and yawned, shifting his long staff to the other shoulder before resettling himself against the wall. Under half-closed eyelids, he glanced over at Kennet, his fellow guard on duty for the night shift. Kennet was younger than him by a good fifteen years, only barely 20 years of age. He had only been shipped out here for duty last month. Sebastes, on the other hand, had been here since the beginning, six years ago now. And he had been with the soldiers during the war itself that started a year before that. Proudly, he considered himself quite the veteran.

No matter what we're told, these Rillandans aren't pushovers. Weeks before we could even get into the capital and then two days' straight fighting before we finally battered down their resistance enough to take over. He grinned. But now we got them beat, like rag dolls and puppies, they do whatever we tell them to. Just like it should be, like Norseth said it would be.

Kennet jumped at a noise, gripping his staff harder, eyes shifting around in the semi-gloom. The hallway was only lit by a few torches. Seth liked it dark for some reason -- he liked it dark everywhere in the palace -- but especially in the halls that led to the throne room, of which this was one. None of his soldiers were about to contradict him about this odd aberration -- this was Seth, you just didn't do that and expect to still be in his army the next day.

Kennet stammered out, "What was that?"

Sebastes chuckled. "Just the walls, boy, nothing to worry about. This place creaks all the time. What you worried about? Ghosts?"

Kennet swallowed hard. "Ghosts? You think there might be g-g-ghosts here? Ghosts of the royalty, maybe?"

The older guard snorted. "Hogwash. Ghosts aren't nothing but child's tales. You scared of child's tales, Kennet? Maybe we could find you something easier to do, maybe in the sunlight, eh?"

Kennet flushed a deep red, straightening. "No, sir, no, I'm not scared." All the same, his eyes didn't stop rolling around to make sure nothing was wafting toward him. Sebastes just shook his head and smiled. Too young to be here. Should be at home with his mommie still.

Truth was, he'd heard tales of odd happenings from other guards. Sometimes stuff would disappear and appear somewhere else. And not small stuff either. Stuff like swords, bows, quivers of arrows, and the occasional spear. When they'd reappear, the swords and spears would be dulled, sometimes broken. The bowstrings would be snapped and the arrows either broken in half or the tip removed. And just month, a guard was found dead in one of the front hallways, near the throne room. No one knew how he'd got there or how he'd died. Well, that wasn't exactly true. There was a knife in his chest. But it was his own knife. And he wasn't the first guard to end up dead. Over the years, there had a been a handful that had shown up dead. A few disappeared and never showed up again.

However, Sebastes wasn't about to tell any of this to Kennet. He'd find out soon enough on his own. Sebastes put it down to sabotage from the Rillandans. No doubt, they were a sneaky, shifty little bunch of people, not to be trusted. But nothing was ever proved. No one could figure out how any of them could have gotten into the palace. It was heavily guarded. How do they ...?

An eerie moan rolled through the hallway, sending a shiver down his spine. What was that?

Kennet echoed his thoughts in a small nervous voice. "What was that? Did you hear that?"

Sebastes nodded, shifting his staff into his hands as he looked up and down the hallway. "Yeah, I heard it. Just stay calm."

Another moan -- from the other direction this time. And another. And another. Kennet pressed himself to the wall, sweat gleaming on his forehead. "They're everywhere! All around us! Who are they? What do they want?"

Sebastes pulled at his collar. Something felt wrong about this. He hadn't heard anything about hauntings before. He would know. He would have heard -- he had friends on the other shifts around the palace. Someone would have said something.

The moans built in volume, becoming longer and sounding closer, then stopped. The silence was almost as bad. It felt like something was about to happen. And it did. A voice, low, sorrowful, pitying spoke into the void as a strong wind blew through the corridor, dousing the torches' fire.

"Yyyyyooooouuuuu mmmmmuuuuuusssstttttt leeeeeeaaaaavvvvvvve. Now."

Kennet shrieked. His staff fell to the ground with a clatter, then he took off down the hall toward wherever the next pool of light would be. Sebastes hesitated a moment, long enough for the moans to start up again, this time sounding malevolent and more high-pitched, like the wails of banshees. Finally, he ran, the screaming moans following him until he disappeared around the distant corner.

******************************

Several minutes later, quiet giggles echoed softly in the now deserted corridor. A panel in the wall shifted and slid to one side. Three female faces appeared. The oldest was a young woman maybe in her mid-twenties, dark blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, her face smudged with dirt. She grinned evilly, her blue eyes glinting with amused pleasure. Her accomplices were two girls of nine and seven, both blonde and blue-eyed as well, smothering their quiet giggles with their hands.

The young woman patted the older girl on the shoulder. "Good work, Kinsey, Jessilyn. That ought to keep them talking for awhile. Too bad we can't thank them for the idea. Ghosts." She snorted. "Don't they know there are no such things as ghosts."

Jessilyn grinned. "Guess not, Camella."

Kinsey spoke up as Camella began to pull the panel shut. "I liked the talking bit, Camella. I didn't know you could sound so echoey."

Camella paused a moment, looking down at her charges, orphaned girls, sisters, she'd taken in after the war, in which their parents had been killed. The talking bit? But I thought .... She looked up through the nearly shut panel, and, for a moment, she thought she saw light shimmer on the far wall. The torches were still out and her own light was on the wall inside the hidden tunnel several feet away. She blinked and it was gone. She shook her head. You're imagining things, Camella. She secured the door, then strode on after Kinsey and Jessilyn, pushing away what her eyes thought they had seen.

A figure. An image. In the shape of someone she once knew. An older man of silver hair holding a lute, smiling at her and nodding in approval.

Could it have been...?

Her eyes went back involuntarily to the closed hallway entrance, then shook her head again as she continued forward to follow the girls down the hidden route toward the exit. No. It wasn't. I don't believe in ghosts.

Do I?

- The End -


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