A Book Infested with Ghosts

A Book Infested with Ghosts

We’ve done this prompt a little differently. My writing partner wrote the first half of the story and I have written the end. You can find the beginning here.

It had been a long time since she saw her familiar disturbed. A book of bound and tortured spirits delivered by a beleaguered king would do it. The artifact troubled her too.

She set the open book on a small stone pedestal that rested at waist height. Silver and black shapes twisted above the aged pages, writhing, trying to break free. The runes surrounding the ritual circle began to glow. Ethereal shapes surrounded it, pressing so close there were no longer gaps between them. Empty eye sockets stared at her.

The witch could see them best through the eyes of her familiar, though she had ways of detecting them on her own. Cats were uniquely tuned to the space between life and death. It wasn’t the pale spirits or the indications of their deaths that bothered her, though, it was the force that bound them. The force struggling to escape the pages which held it. But the curse could not manifest unless it was summoned.

She motioned her familiar onto the altar which stood at a height above the pedestal. A lithe golden form leapt up and paced gracefully to the center. Tail raised in the air, Crescent leaned forward as he peered down, ears flat against the back of his head.

Lifting a dagger from her belt, the witch held it sideways above the book, the blade facing her familiar, the flat reflecting the silver shapes dancing beneath. She spoke words of power which contained no translation in any mortal tongue. Dangerous words.

A sickly green glow permeated the pages of the book, like aged lime peels. The ancient paper danced and wriggled as if trying to escape its binding. From the center rose a black, skeletal hand.

Crescent hissed, the fur on his back standing on end, his tail puffed to three times its normal size. The witch reached across their link, stroking an invisible hand across his arched back.

Remember, precious, it is bound. But she didn’t expect that to reassure him.

She flipped the dagger blade down and raised it, chanting in the ancient tongue. A black, tar-like substance poured from the center of the book, forming a second black, skeletal arm. Bony fingers curved around the book’s outer cover and pulled. A ghastly skull emerged, darker than the sky at midnight. Darker than a room without candles. As dark as the void itself. The jaw hung crooked. Wide-spaced teeth formed a wicked grin.

Laugher sounded in the background. Infernal laughter from another place in a voice that made her skin crawl. As the tar-black arms levered the torso from the book, the upper body lunged, clawed finger bones seeking her flesh.

With a yowl that echoed through the night, her familiar raised one paw and swiped at the creature’s back. Claw marks formed across the rib cage. The cockeyed jaw shifted as if to express surprise.

A hint of amusement touched the witch’s lips. “Foolish creature, did you think I came unprotected?” Behind the cursed skeleton, her familiar’s outline glowed. Around him form a second figure, as pale and incorporeal as the spirits surrounding the clearing. The figure of a young man with unruly blond hair and slitted cat eyes. The claws on his transparent hands dripped with black liquid.

The spectral laughter turned to hisses, foul scratching sounds. Outside the circle of runes, the spirits stirred. Darkness poured from each death mark, deep blots against the night. Ghostly mouths opened and whimpers filled the air, the wordless dying screeches and pleas of the doomed spirits bound to the book. Lifting their weightless arms they surged forward.

The runes flared. Each figure slammed into a glowing golden shield that surrounded the grove in a dome. It flared brightly each time a spirit hit it, scratched it or tried to rend it. The witch’s will was strong.

She flipped the ritual blade so that it pointed toward the moon. Her voice rang like a bell through the night.

By the Maiden, filled with love,
By the Mother, who watches above,
By the Crone, who wisdom sends,
Through the moon, their silver lens,
By will of this witch, your power is bade,
Charge now the ritual blade.

Now, my darling, open the veil!

The figure surrounding her familiar grew more solid as power flowed between them. He lifted pale hands and drew them apart, as if drawing the curtains on a window open to the light. As soon as he finished the gesture, the witch brought her blade slicing through the opening. It left an echo of silver light in its wake as it sliced through both skeleton and book.

With a howl like a pack of wolves, the darkness lost form. It oozed from every page of the book, evaporating into the darkness. It seemed to go on a long time, but it probably only lasted a few seconds.

Outside the glowing shield, the doomed spirits fell still. Then, with something like a sigh, they each took a step backward.

The witch drew a deep breath and released it.

“It’s over, my love. The book is just a book.”

That thing consumed all these souls, her familiar murmured into her mind, more solemn than usual. While they were still alive.

“Yes. Once the curse took deep enough root in their flesh, it gained the power to kill them. The king would have been next, had he failed to bring the book to us.”

And now his nightmares will stop?

“One more time he will dream,” she murmured, glancing at the moon. “Then he will be free.” She lowered her eyes to the cat sitting on her altar. “Go, my precious. You must lead them.”

With a nod, Crescent leapt from the altar. He passed through the glowing barrier without difficulty. As he walked the circle, he paused beside each spirit to lay a paw on their foot. At the touch, each was suffused with a golden glow and, as they turned, they faded into the night.

While he worked, the witch retrieved the book from the pedestal. It was filled with nothing but inked pages now, but the words will still dangerous. She tore the pages one by one from the binding and tossed them onto her fire, leaving the leather binding for last. Only when the ashes had crumbled to dust did she dismiss her protections and return with her familiar to the house.

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Also check out the fabulous Beth Alvarez of Ithilear who has done the “we have something in common” prompt!

If you’d like to participate, leave a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week!

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