For days, I cajole and threaten and lure the ghosts away from the border wall. Skies only know what will happen if they break out.
They grow more frenzied by the hour, it seems, until I can barely hear myself think over their accursed caterwauling.
A fortnight after I’ve left Aubarit—and with no sense of how to move the ghosts any quicker or how to help the Fakira—I retire to Shaeva’s cottage for the night, desperately grateful for this, my only sanctuary.
The ghosts paw at me as I enter, wild as an Isle South typhoon.
She shouldn’t have—
My husband, is he here, tell me— Have you seen my lovey—
Usually, I feel guilty when I close the cottage door on the ghosts. Not today. I’m too exhausted, too angered by my failure, too disgusted by the relief I feel at the sudden, complete silence within Shaeva’s home.
Sleep in the cottage. They cannot hurt you there.
Somehow, Shaeva magicked the cottage to insulate it from the ghosts and jinn. That bit of sorcery didn’t die with her. She knew I would need a place where I could collect my thoughts, and I am grateful for it.
But my thankfulness doesn’t last long. After I’ve cleaned up and cooked a paltry meal that Shaeva would have scoffed at, I can’t bring myself to sleep. I pace in a circle, guilt gnawing at my gut. The Soul Catcher’s boots still sit by her bed. The arrows she was fletching lie untouched on her worktable. These small tokens from her life used to bring me comfort, especially in the days just after she died. Like the cottage itself, they reminded me that she believed I could be Soul Catcher.
But tonight, her memory plagues me. Why did you not listen to me, Elias? Why did you not learn? Skies, she would be so disappointed.
I kick at the door violently—a stupid decision, as now my foot aches. I wonder if my entire life will be a series of moments in which I realize I’m an idiot long after I can actually do anything about it. Will I ever feel like I know what I’m doing? Or will I be an old man, tottering about, flummoxed by whatever recent foolishness I’ve committed?
Don’t be pathetic. Strangely, Keris Veturia’s taut voice rises in my mind. You know the question: How do you move the ghosts faster? Now find the answer. Think.
I consider Aubarit’s words. You must move the spirits, and to do that you must remove yourself from the world. A variation on Shaeva’s advice. But I have removed myself from the world. I said farewell to Laia and Darin. I kept away all others who approached the Forest. I burgle my supplies quietly from villages instead of buying them from another human, the way I yearn to.
The Forest will show thee its sly memory. Were the Mysteries referring to Mauth? Or was there something more to the statement? Forest could be referring to something else entirely, Aubarit had said. The ghosts, perhaps? But they don’t spend enough time in the Waiting Place to know anything.
Though, now that I think of it, not all of the spirits move on swiftly.
The Wisp. I grab my scims—more out of habit than because I actually need them—and head out. Just before entering the cottage, I heard her voice. But she’s not here now.
Damn you, Elias, think. The Wisp used to avoid Shaeva. When the ghost speaks at all, it’s to me, and it’s always about her “lovey.” And, unlike the other shades, she likes water. She often lurks near a spring just south of the cottage.
The path to it is well-worn; when I moved into the cottage, Shaeva lost no time in passing all water-fetching chores to me. What’s the point of having muscles, she’d teased, if you can’t carry things for others?
I catch a glint of white as I draw closer and soon find the Wisp at the edge of the spring, staring down into it.
She turns her face toward me and flits backward—she’s in no mood to talk. But I can’t afford to let her get away.
“You’re looking for your lovey, right?”
The Wisp stops and appears before me so suddenly that I rock back on my heels.
“You know where she is?” Her thin voice is painfully happy, and guilt twists in my gut.
“Ah, not exactly,” I say. “But perhaps you could help me? And I could help you?”
The Wisp tilts her head, considering.
“I’m trying to learn about the magic of the Waiting Place,” I say before she disappears again. “About Mauth. You’ve been here a long
time. Can you tell me anything about the Forest having a . . . a memory?”
“Where is my lovey?”
I curse. I should’ve known better than to think a ghost—and one who refuses to move on—could help me.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’ll look for your lovey.” I turn back for the cottage. Perhaps I need sleep. Perhaps I’ll have a better idea in the morning. Or I could go back to Aubarit and see if she remembers anything else. Or find another Fakira . . .
“The memory is in the pain.”
I spin so fast it’s a miracle my head doesn’t fly off. “What—what did you say?”
“The memory is in the pain.” The Wisp circles me, and I spin as she does. I’m not letting her out of my sight. “The memory is where the greatest hurt lies, the greatest anger.”
“What in ten hells do you mean, ‘the greatest hurt’?”
“A hurt like mine. The memory is in the pain, little one. In their pain.
They burn with it, for they have lived with it much longer than I.”
“The jinn?” My stomach sinks. “You’re speaking of the jinn.”
But the Wisp is gone now, calling out to her lovey. I try to follow her, but I can’t keep up. Other ghosts, drawn by my voice, cluster near, flooding me with their suffering. I windwalk away from them, though I know it’s wrong to ignore their misery. Eventually, they’ll find me again and I’ll be forced to try to pass some on, simply so I don’t lose my mind at their badgering. But before they do, I need to sort this out. The longer I wait, the more the ghosts will amass.
Think quickly, Elias! Could the jinn help me? They’ve been imprisoned here for a thousand years, but they were free once, and they possessed the most powerful magic in the land. They are fey. Born of magic, like the efrits, the wraiths, the ghuls. Now that the idea is in my head, I’ve latched on to it like a dog to a bone. The jinn must have some deeper knowledge of the magic.
And I need to figure out a way to get it from them.