After checking in on Ausesh and Perrsnile, I visited with the other ghosts for a while and took down some notes about a few things they needed or wanted. Stuff like some extra DVDs for various shows they couldn’t find on the streaming services that had already been set up for them. I also took a dozen of the ipads and electronic book readers that were lying around and updated them, downloaded some more materials, and adjusted the automatic-page turning systems so they could be turned on and off with a simple touch. That way, the ghosts would only have to use enough energy to start and stop the automatic turning, or adjust how fast it went, rather than having to do it every time they wanted to make it go to the next page. Finally, I set up a large touch screen monitor on the wall of one of the rooms with a paint program. They could stand there and brush their fingers over it to make pictures and then save them to be displayed on other screens throughout the mansion. I had set the sensitivity up pretty high so they didn’t have to use much energy to make it register the touch.
Several apologized repeatedly for even asking for stuff, but I made it clear that I wanted them to tell me when there was anything I could get for them. If I was stuck as a ghost like that, and had very limited options for entertainment, I would definitely want to be able to ask for new things to keep myself occupied. Especially if, as was the case for most of them, my previous Necromancer had been Fossor.
“You sure I can’t get anything for you?” I finally asked Grover while standing outside in the backyard. I’d expected him to be first in line to ask about new DVDs, but he hadn’t spoken up for any of it.
The small, yellowish-orange ghost boy with that ratty, ill-fitting patch-work suit shook his head while looking a bit pensive. If it wasn’t for the visible scales on his arms and wrists, and the curly horns that were visible sticking out from under that newsboy cap, I almost could have thought that he was a completely human kid, working up the nerve to say something.
Glancing over my shoulder to where Avalon was examining a statue on the far side of the yard, I paused before lowering my voice. “Grover, what’s wrong? I know you’ve got a list of old shows you want me to try to get. Are you okay?”
A moment of silence passed before he slowly looked up at me. His voice was quiet. It was nothing like the casual and confident ghost I’d known from the moment we met. “He’s here, right? Manakel.”
The question made me blink in surprise, giving the boy another look as I reassessed him. “Wait, you know Manakel? Hold on, was he the one who…”
“He didn’t kill me, no,” Grover informed me, but his voice still sounded off. “I had a friend for a while, a ghost friend. She was this dilly of a babe. You’d probably call her wicked cool. She uhh, she taught me everything about being a ghost. Protected me for a long time, showed me the ropes and helped me uhh… come to terms with everything. Would’ve been lost without her. Nihla, that was her name. I used to call her Wafer. You know, like those cookies, the Nilla Wafers.”
He was gazing off into the distance, clearly lost in memory for a moment. Then his expression clouded. “We were minding our own business last year when that Manakel guy paid a visit to the hotel. He was looking for something. Or maybe someone. Whatever, the point is, the guy summoned us up as soon as he felt us in that place. He wanted us to tell him about something or someone named Hajer. We didn’t know what he was talking about, and he ahh… he didn’t like that. He did something, some sort of banishment spell. It was supposed to destroy both of us, but Nihla shoved me out of the way, so I only got hit by a little bit of it. Just enough to scatter me for a few days until I could pull myself together. But Nihla… she was gone. He destroyed her.”
Oh boy. Taking all that in, I gave a long sigh before focusing on him. I pushed enough power into the boy to make him solid from it so I could put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m really sorry about that. I–I’m sorry.” Swallowing, I added, “That’s why you showed yourself to me as soon as I was there, isn’t it?”
“I recognized the… scent of your power, at least part of it,” Grover confirmed. “Poked my head out to see what the hell that monster was doing back there, so when I saw you instead… I was curious. Wanted to find out why you smelled like his power. You know, if you were his kid or something.”
Shuddering at that thought, I watched him for a moment. “Then you found out he was dead and I had his power.”
Grover gave a very short nod. “I found out you killed him. Semantics aside, you killed him. Or your body did. Whatever. You had his power. And you were a necromancer. I thought maybe… at some point when you were stronger…”
I realized suddenly what he was talking about, rocking back on my heels. “You were hoping I might be able to bring Nihla back. Since I have his power.”
He offered a weak shrug, clearly feeling embarrassed or ashamed of even bringing it up. “I know it’s probably impossible. If he destroyed her, there’s no coming back from that. But if there’s even the slightest chance that there might be some piece of her left, if anyone’s power could fix her, it’s that. And you were… not like him. I wasn’t even going to talk about it until you had a lot more training, until I did… until I did you enough favors that you might want to help.” Another pause came, before he gave a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry.”
Taking a moment to collect my thoughts, I finally exhaled before speaking up. “Okay, first of all, you don’t have anything to apologize for. Nothing. You’ve been helping a lot, and of course you want your friend back. I mean, if she hasn’t moved on or anything like that, obviously you’d want to help her reform. There’s nothing wrong with that, so don’t apologize again. And believe me, I know what it’s like to hate that guy. Remember, he spent most of last year trying very hard to kill Avalon.” I glanced toward the girl in question briefly before turning my attention back to him. “He was responsible for a lot of bad things.”
That said, I shook my head. “And I know hearing he’s not that person anymore doesn’t really help. I could spend the next week talking about how Tartarus affected him, about how the ghosts of the other Olympians who died helped twist him into what he was. I could talk about how he’s supposed to be different now, but I don’t think it would really help. He’s still the guy who hurt, or even destroyed, your friend. Semantics don’t really matter when it comes to that.”
Again, I hesitated, my eyes closing tightly as memories flashed through my head. “He killed my friend. He killed Rudolph, murdered him right in front of us. So yeah, I know that it’s not something you can just forget because he says he’s different now.”
My hand clenched tightly before I forced myself to continue. “But, he’s here now. And the truth is, I need his help. This power I have is really strong. It’s got so much potential, but I can only learn so much so fast from people like Brom Bones. Don’t get me wrong, that guy’s a really good teacher. And if I had years to learn what I needed to, he’d definitely be enough. But I have to learn as fast as possible if I’m going to use it the way I need to. With the Whispers out there, and Olympian ghosts like Kushiel… it’s too dangerous for me to take my time learning. I have to get better as fast as possible. And the best way for me to do that is to learn from the man himself.”
After letting that sit for a moment, I met the ghost boy’s gaze. “And he can teach me how to help your friend. I mean, if it’s at all possible. I could spend years, even decades, trying to understand how to fix what he did on my own, and still not get anywhere. I wouldn’t even know where to start. But if he’s right here, and he claims he wants to make up for all the terrible things he did, here’s his chance. I’ll tell him to help me find Nihla, if there’s anything… if it’s possible, and bring her back. I promise. As soon as we get things settled and all that, I’ll tell him that’s the first thing on the list. I’ll help get your friend back, Grover. If it’s at all possible, we’ll get her back.”
I could see the way he absorbed my words, clearly doing his best not to give too much of a reaction. He didn’t want to let himself actually hope. Even then, his eyes betrayed the impact of what he was feeling for a moment before the boy got himself under control. With a very slight nod, he spoke in a flat voice. “Just don’t trust him, huh? Whatever sort of sob story he’s got about how sorry he is and how that wasn’t him, you keep your eyes on him. Maybe he can help and maybe he can’t, but you make sure he doesn’t get one over on you.”
“Don’t worry,” I started to assure him before catching myself. “Well, do worry, but do it in moderation. We’ll both keep our eyes open, okay? Let me know if you see, or hear, anything hinky.”
With a slight snort despite himself, Grover echoed, “Hinky. Sounds funny when you say it.” He sobered then, staring at me before giving a somber nod. “He starts trying anything, we’ll let you know. Me and the other ghosts. You can count on us.”
“She can count on all of us,” Avalon announced while moving up on one side of me. Her attention was on him. “And like she said, if there’s any fragment of your friend out there, we’ll make him help bring her back.”
Glancing that way, I raised an eyebrow. “Pretty good hearing from the other side of the yard.”
In response, Avalon turned her head and brushed her hair back so I could see the almost invisible hearing aid-like buds in her ears. “Just testing a new invention. If I tune it to one person’s voice, it can pick up that plus anyone directly talking to them from as far away as a hundred yards. Including through walls.”
Grinning a bit despite myself, I poked her lightly. “Well, I do enjoy being your guinea pig.” At Grover’s exaggerated look, I rolled my eyes. “Yeah yeah, go on and get back to your thing. We’ll talk about the Manakel situation later, I promise. He’s gonna help.”
The boy gave a very brief, yet sincere smile before switching back to his usual casual expression as he started to go back into the house. Partway there, however, he spun back to me. “Oh, well, as long as you’re already taking down a list of new DVDs you should pick up, it’d be a waste if I didn’t make sure you get some actual decent ones.
“You might wanna get a pen and paper or something.”
Once that was done, Avalon and I made our way out of the haunted mansion. I’d barely reached the sidewalk before the sound of heavy metal running along the pavement drew my attention that way. Sure enough, Cerberus, in his, ahem, ‘small’ form, was charging toward me. All three of his heads were focused on the spot where I was standing, giving me wide puppy grins before they each barked in succession, one after the other.
Bracing myself, I caught the two side heads as the robot-dog skidded to a halt right at my feet. Rubbing the metal there as though scratching them (something they seemed to enjoy despite the fact that it really shouldn’t have done anything), I tilted my head back and let the middle head lick my face. “Heeey, who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy! Good boy!” His tail was thumping against the ground excitedly, as he shifted the middle head out of the way so the left one could get a few licks in, followed by the right.
Meanwhile, the ones that weren’t licking my face leaned toward Avalon, who gingerly reached out to pat them. Porthos, perched on her shoulder, gave a long and apparently quite detailed chittering lecture to them which I was pretty sure had something to do with explaining how Avalon was his partner and they should remember that.
“He was very excited to see you again, Felicity,” Persephone cheerfully announced while approaching. She was taking her time, walking right along the curb while carefully putting one foot directly in front of the other as she balanced on the edge. “And you, Avalon, of course. But mostly Felicity, because she was missing all day and he knew she was in trouble.” Focusing on me, she added, “We were all very sorry that we could not aid you while you were Sure Locking Homes.”
I blinked a couple times at that, before realizing. “… You mean Sherlock Holmes?”
Grinning brightly, she replied, “That’s what I said. I do not know why a phrase about ensuring homes are locked has become synonymous with solving mysteries, but I am assured ‘playing Sure Lock Homes’ is the correct term.”
Despite myself, I couldn’t help but smile a bit at that, shaking my head. “Come on, I’ll explain the whole Sherlock Holmes thing on the way.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, however, I hesitated. “I mean, if you’re sure you want to go see him right now?” There was no need to define exactly who I meant. She knew.
Meeting my gaze with a serious expression, the white-haired woman gave a single nod. “Yes, Felicity. I… I have had several long discussions with Miss Sariel, Captain Puriel, and others. And with you as well, all of which I am very grateful for. But I believe that it is my… it is Doctor Manakel to whom I must speak next. That is an opportunity I believed was lost to me once, and I would not like to lose it again, should anything else happen.”
She was being so careful to explain things, and I could tell she’d rehearsed what she was going to say, probably several times. Not that I could blame her at all. I knew how hard it was for her, often, to express her thoughts and feelings in ways that were clear to the rest of us. She was different, she thought differently, in many ways. She was an alien being permanently possessing another alien being, a dead alien being at that. That whole situation was… different, to say the least.
But really, what it came down to was that she deserved to see Manakel if she wanted to. So, I nodded, rubbed each of Cerberus’s heads once more, then started to walk. “Okay, let’s go see him then.
“And hope that Jerry Springer never finds out about the ghost of a Greek god alien guy meeting with his Revenant-possessed ex, the girl who helped kill him, and the girl he spent most of a year trying to murder. Or he might bring his show back, and I think we all know this world can’t survive that.”
By the time we got to the room where they were keeping Manakel for the moment, only Athena and a few people I didn’t recognize but was pretty sure were major spell-users were standing outside. I’d seen Wyatt working with at least one of them before, exchanging notes about security magic. So yeah, obviously they were pulling out the big guns to make sure he stayed where they wanted him.
It only took a minute to talk to Athena for her to agree to let us go inside. She came with, just in case, but promised to stay out of the way unless something happened.
So, there we were, standing just inside what turned out to be a fairly empty room at this point aside from an old-fashioned Earth clock radio, a painting of a ship on the ocean, and a bookshelf with an assortment of things on it. Athena said they would be moving some things in to help him keep himself busy while he was waiting to be useful, but this was it for the moment. Just those things… and Manakel himself.
The ghost figure was hovering near the back of the twenty-foot wide, fifteen foot long room. His gaze was focused away from us, but I knew he was aware of our presence. Still, no one said anything. Even Cerberus was quiet, sitting down on his haunches next to Percy while we all waited for something to happen.
Finally, the man turned slowly. I watched as his gaze passed over me first, then Cerberus, Avalon, and Persephone. With each new figure, he gave a very faint, almost entirely imperceptible flinch. It was basically only visible in his eyes. Or maybe because I could sense him so well. Either way, the strongest reaction came when he focused on Persephone. Ghosts didn’t breathe, of course, but his translucent form still seemed to inhale slowly, as though preparing himself. Then he spoke in a voice that was somehow simultaneously quiet, yet filled the room, like a very low rumble of distant thunder. “Good morning, ladies.
“I imagine it’s time to talk about a few things.”