Chapter 303 – Apparition


Lady Chiara, as she had demonstrated back at Taihimel’s small world, was not a bad cook. The pantry and the larder were well stocked, and she had managed to produce a decent dinner. But…

“There doesn’t seem to be any bread, I’m afraid,” she apologized, as she presented rice noodles instead. “I suppose that’s to be expected. People around here eat rice with their meals. But Dorians sometimes serve dishes on noodles, and I can cook noodles.”

“There’s rice here?” Ryuu asked, perking up.

“I don’t know how to cook it, Ryuu,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve heard you can burn it badly if you mess up.”

“I’ll teach you how to cook rice,” Dilorè told her, with a sidelong smirk at the visibly disappointed hero. “It looks like somebody here would like very much to eat it. We’ll do it for breakfast.”

I guess Dilorè had noticed the little love affair too.

Actually, having our meal that way was similar to having rice vermicelli at a Vietnamese restaurant, so she had nothing to be ashamed of.

After dinner, we discussed our respective investigations over a pot of tea. Or more accurately, Chiara and I had tea, while Dilorè and Ryuu split a bottle of sake.

Ryuu had just been acting as a bodyguard, since thinking wasn’t his strong suit. The investigator of the mortal team had been Chiara. She had one observation that really stood out.

“There was definitely no mass exodus. The livery stables and hackney stables still have all their horses and vehicles. The soldiers say they even found some horses left in harness when they arrived. There’s also a small flying boat in the viscount’s back yard. It’s in need of a mana recharge, but it had enough mana for a flight to Narses. Surely the viscount would have at least used it to evacuate his family if they had been home. I asked the Major, but he confirmed their whereabouts are also unknown.”

“So something or somebody took them away,” I theorized. “And didn’t use any of the available transportation to do it.”

Chiara shook her head. “I don’t know how, My Lady. There’s no sign of any sort of struggle or panic.”

I glanced at Dilorè. “Fascination magic?”

She shook her head. “Perhaps, but it’s very difficult to cast on that many people at once.”

“I dismissed the ghost stories earlier,” Chiara said, “But I’ve been thinking they were too prevalent, My Lady. I do wonder if something more than just pixie mischief is afoot.”

“Was there any particular pattern to the stories?” Dilorè wondered.

“The biggest thing is, except for some bumps in the night and vases moving, they are all apparitions,” she answered. “For example, one fellow told me that, where his squad was quartered, soldiers kept spotting a woman heading into a room that had a cradle in it. Whenever anyone followed, there was nobody in the room, just the empty cradle. Repetitious apparitions are usually real disembodied souls.”

One difference between this world and Earth for investigators is that the supernatural phenomena often have actual supernatural causes. Thus, our education included training for such things.

While I was looking toward Chiara, my cup was refilled. Chiara had been minding the pot, and it was odd for Dilorè, who was drinking sake, to be the one doing it, but I paid it no mind.

“Such things show up from time to time, though,” I noted. “I’m not sure what the procedure is in Dorian lands, but in Ostish regions, one would simply ask the nearest temple to send a priest.”

“Right,” she nodded. “It’s rare, and no big deal. But that’s my point, My Lady.”

“What’s your point?” I asked, puzzled.

“”It’s rare,”” Chiara and Dilorè said, almost in unison as I took a sip of my refilled tea.

“And we heard apparition tales from half the soldiers we spoke to,” Chiara added. “Which is entirely too many.”

I was now doubly puzzled, because we had been drinking black tea, but I was tasting green tea.

“My Lady, did you brew another pot?” I asked.

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I looked down at my cup and found, to my surprise, that I had somehow finished the cup. It was empty.

Nobody answered. Everyone was silent and staring at a spot to one side of me. I looked over my shoulder, and discovered with a chill a Dorian maid standing there, dutifully waiting with a teapot. She had the handle in her right hand and supported the pot with her towel-covered left hand as she waited patiently.

As I stared, she became translucent, then faded completely away.

Since coming to Huade, I had become accustomed to always knowing when people were behind me, of having a three-hundred-sixty-degree awareness of the room. It was very rare that any entity had good enough stealth to sneak up on me and my powerful fairy sense. Yet I had perceived no presence from her.

I poured out the Darkness mana that would give me vampire sense and still detected nothing. Only we four sat in this room or any other in this house.

Chiara said, “I guess… that was one of them?”

“I could taste the tea she poured,” I marveled. “It was an excellent green tea, and very well-brewed.”

After a long pause, Dilorè noted, “This is clearly an affluent family’s house. I’m sure their servant would be excellent.”

I nodded, glanced down at the empty cup again, then called out, “Thank you! It was delicious!”

Chiara gestured for the cup. I handed it across and she saw it was empty. From her look of disappointment, I suspected she had hoped some remained.

“I had one sip from what seemed like a full cup,” I explained. “But when I looked down, the cup was empty.”

She shrugged, then set the cup down and refilled it for me.

“The timing was pretty remarkable,” she commented as she poured. “Do you suppose she showed up because we were on the topic?”

“Perhaps she wanted to show us the stories were true?” Dilorè asked with a small smile.

“Why not just tell us?” Ryuu asked.

“Remnant spirits can only demonstrate their presence by repeating acts from life,” Dilorè stated. “Only if they develop into more powerful forms like vengeful spirits or gidim will they start exhibiting deliberate behavior. If she did want to tell us she was here, her only choice was to reenact a moment from her life. Since we were drinking tea and she was a maid, she made the obvious choice, an act she had performed hundreds of times while living.”

Ryuu’s eyebrows bunched up. “She could turn into a gidim?”

“If her memories held sufficient pains or regrets, they could grow dark and cause her to mutate, yes. That’s why such spirits are rare. Priests conduct last rites and monks conduct blessings in order to insure that the souls move on, so that they don’t turn evil.”

She looked at me. “You have healing powers. Have you learned how to [Release] souls?”

“No…” I shook my head. “Is that even a healing power?”

My cousin nodded. “It is, but healers from this kingdom rarely know it. Ostish priests and Dorian monks both regard it as their territory to conduct last rites and exorcisms, and frown on lay people getting involved. It’s the ones who have healing powers who perform death rituals.”

I shook my head. “That’s foolish.”

She shook her head. “The bright side of the policy is, since people become quite religious when a loved one dies, the rituals always get done.”

“So if that poor girl shows up again, we can’t do anything for her?” Chiara noted sadly.

“Eventually, your mother will have to send a troop of monks through this place to take care of it,” Dilorè told me. “Make sure to tell her about it.”

“Is it really that vital?” Ryuu wondered. “If they’re not harming anyone?”

“Once a necromancer gets wind of this place, they’ll be here in an instant,” Dilorè declared. “How many souls are floating around here, just begging to be enslaved?”

Ryuu’s and Chiara’s expressions grew dark. Chiara asked, “Is that… how it works?”

“Disembodied souls can be captured, tortured into becoming gidim and then pressed into service,” Dilorè stated. “That’s the reason mortal clerics assumed the job of sending them off in the first place. Sending souls off before necromancers enslave them is considered one of the most virtuous acts they can perform.”

I thought about what she was saying, then a realization hit me. “There must be an awful lot of them for half the soldiers these two interviewed to have seen them, when they only arrived yesterday. But there’s no way the local monks would have left so many souls unattended, right?”

Dilorè’s eyes narrowed, and she nodded. “Right. Especially considering the great majority of mortals successfully pass over without the help of death rites. It’s only a few souls that actually need the assist.”

“If that’s true, then how come there are so many?” Ryuu asked.

“They all died at the same time, all at once,” I said. “And there was nobody left in this town to send off the ones who didn’t pass over on their own.”

Chiara’s face drained white, and Ryuu looked a little pale as well. Dilorè sipped her sake, then noted, “I rather thought that was already obvious. I understand the population here was about three thousand. Increased by who knows how many people that fled to this location from the surrounding farms. There’s no sign of them leaving town, after all.”

Ryuu knocked back his sake. Wordlessly, Dilorè tipped the bottle to refill it for him.

“But where are the bodies?” Chiara demanded. “And if everyone was dying, why no sign of panic, or struggle…”

“That’s now our mystery,” Dilorè stated.

“No, that’s only one of them,” I stated, shaking my head. “The others are, ‘why’? and ‘who’?”

“I think we know ‘who’,” Dilorè countered with a wry smile. “Or a least, we know she’s involved in some way.”

“Who?” Chiara immediately demanded.

I described the events of the afternoon for the non-mortal team, leaving out the state that I found Dilorè in. She was just held captive in the version I gave.

Only allowed on

“I got Dilorè away from her, but I’m not sure that any of us can face her,” I concluded. “I’m not sure that I could, if she were able to actually see me. It might have only been the fact that my stealth worked on her that saved me.”

“But why do you think she’s part of this?” Ryuu wondered. “She sounds dangerous, sure, but you stumbled across her while flying through her territory. It’s not like you followed her there from the town.”

Dilorè answered, “She knew who Her Highness was, and she knew we were seeking to know what happened to her Mother’s citizens. Which means she knew what happened here.”

I nodded. “And she believed our inquiry would cause us to get involved with something there.”

“She said that we might ‘hinder the lesser evil, allowing the greater to be unleashed,” my cousin noted, then delivered her conclusion. “When she captured me, she did it to stop our investigation. She had planned to capture Her Highness as well.”

“So what do we do?” Ryuu asked.

“Tonight, I sleep on it,” I declared. “I’m facing a difficult choice.”

“I can’t really see any choice,” he said, raising his chin a bit, just like the old Ryuu. “If that woman is responsible for three thousand or more deaths, there’s no choice at all.”

I stared at him, then sighed. “I suppose that’s one of the two options. But my mother is Princess Deharè. I can also decide that we’re in over our head, and tell her she needs to come deal with this one, herself.”

- my thoughts:

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I first envisioned the scene with the maid pouring tea ages ago, when I first began to imagine details for this arc. I've been waiting a year to write that scene.

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