The Soldiering Life
I awoke sometime later, my head spinning and my body a wet rock that refused to move. “Are you alright commander?” I heard a voice ask. I felt groggy and lethargic “What? Who are you?” I asked. I looked up at the strange man. There was a translucency to him that I tried and failed to chalk up to the light shining in my eyes. It was like he was only real in sporadic moments, and the parts of him that weren’t concrete and physical were just playing along. He looked sad and out of sorts as he talked to me “No. You look different. I should have expected you would be somebody else by now.”
“What the hell are you talking about? And how did you get here?” I said. I briefly looked about to see I was still in the forest now splayed in front of that damn tree.
“Why are you asking, when you know the answer is magic?” the ghost said in a matter-of-fact way.
“Yeah, fine. Magic. Get out of my face now, okay?” I said pushing him away. It wasn’t far-fetched. Most magic these days was carefully researched and licensed, mostly to prevent things like this from happening, but there were still plenty of unpleasant surprises left over from the days before regulation. In the older, wilder places of the world, it wasn’t unusual to find talking rocks, or colonies of winged snakes that spelled out complex mathematical formula with their bodies, or clouds that screamed like they were burning to death, thanks to centuries of haphazard spell-slinging. Even in the suburbs of Liberdam, you could still find small strangeness. Like men trapped in trees.
An unexpected wave of vertigo washed over me. Whatever had hit me when the containment spell on the tree unraveled was suddenly dead set on making the inside of my skull feel like a hangover wrapped in a bag of hammers. I cradled my head in my hands, trying to fight back the swelling pain.
The ghost commented examining himself “If I am correct, I seem to be some kind of spirit.”
I muttered annoyed “…big woop.”
The ghost replied “big…woop?”
I gritted my teeth. The spirit was not helping with my headache. “Yeah. I’ve seen ghosts before.” I said. They had been trying to kill me at the time, but that was mostly because I was also trying to break into their tomb and fence their stuff. That had been back when I was employed. “You can do all the usual, right?” I asked.
“I can phase through solid objects, and I have this feeling like I might be able to possess a person…” I cut him off “Enter me and I will kill you all over again.” I said dangerously pointing a finger at him. “O-okay….” he said shocked at my violent response.
I smiled as I continued to talk “And you’d better get used to living out here. They don’t like your kind much in the cities.” Despite their occasional harmlessness, ghosts were still listed in the Official Manual of Beasts. This meant they were fair game.
Out of necessity, the Republic of Rafhelt had kept certain provisions in its legal code that made it acceptable to kill any creature that had an entry in the Monster Manual. This tradition dated back to when we were still just a kingdom, scrabbling for territory with the monsters that dwelt in the wilderness. Over the years, certain entries had been added, removed, or clarified, but ghosts were still official. For anyone with the means and the desire to kill a spirit, no court in Rafhelt would convict them.
“What if I can pass for human? Watch.” He said. I gave him a doubtful look. The particles that made up his body seemed to draw closer together. Suddenly, he looked much more real. “It’s kind of like holding your breath, only you never run out of air.” He explained.
“Speaking of which, it’s not very convincing if you don’t breathe.” I pointed out. He looked sheepish. Moments later, his chest began to rise and fall with a steady rhythm. He looked at me for approval.
“Still creepy” I replied. He frowned saying “I’ll work on it.” He still looked ghastly pale emphasized by his long fair hair and blue eyes.
My headache had begun to subside, but at the same time an awkward silence bloomed between us. What the hell did you say in this kind of situation, anyway? I thought to myself.
“So, uh, you were stuck in a tree?” I asked.
“Yeah” he said looking away then back to me. “Um, how was it?” I asked hoping to fill the silence. The ghost looked off as he spoke “Dark. Dark, and you could feel everything growing around you. Have you ever listened to sap rushing by your feet and known that it must be springtime?” I shook my head and he continued “I have. It was the highlight of last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.”
“So, you’ve been in there a while.”
I hear him whisper beside me “Lifetimes.” I frowned asking “Why?” He laughed shaking his head “I’m not sure I really know anymore.” He sighed, looking at me as if I had all the answers. I wasn’t sure what to make of him.
On the one hand, the masked man had told me to break the seal on the tree. Maybe this spirit was supposed to be connected with my revenge. On the other, I had just jailbroken an undead creature out of an oak, and I knew literally nothing about him.
“What’s your name?” I asked. He replied simply with “John. John Alabaster.” That name sounded off to me so I asked “…is that your given name?” John gave me an impassive look “It’s the name I was given.” I sighed in frustration “Is that a yes or a no?” He turned his head away from me looking of in the distance through the forest ignoring my question completely. “And how shall I address you?” he asked.
“…I’m Roy. Roy Puliveivari. What was it you used to do before…you know?” I said trying to glean more information from this centuries old ghost. “I was a soldier.” I felt a little bit of hope come to life in my soul, like a fire tentatively catching on the first few twigs. “Who did you fight for?” I asked. He looked on edge “Everyone.” He said quietly with a sharp edge. Then I asked the most important question “You’ve killed, then?” I could read it in his eyes. He had. So had I, of course, but only non-humans. Anyone with an adventurer’s license could rack up as many goblin scalps and Wight claws and Mudboa tusks as they pleased, provided there was a spot in the manual for each creature. Killing a human was another matter. As was killing any of the other species we had come to grudgingly accept as citizens of the republic.
“How many?” I asked. He pulled away from me “More than I would like.” He said in an audible whisper. That settled it. The masked man had been helping me. A practiced murderer—especially one who could pass through closed doors—was the perfect means for retribution.
“So, what do you plan on doing now that you’re free?” I asked. “If you let me, I would like to travel with you again.” John asked. Again? I thought to myself. The stranger bowed his head respectfully. I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I took a wild guess. “Do I look like this commander of yours?” I questioned. He nodded slowly. I sighed. It would take him some time to adjust to everything else, but I was sure he would get over this pretty quickly. I was not a military man. Nothing in my stance, my behavior—even the way I carried myself—went as far as to suggest pressed uniforms and epaulets. I was a thieves guild alumni, and I looked it.
“Okay. If my wife asks how I know you, we’re old friends.” I said, John looked shocked. “You can pass as human, and you need somewhere to stay. I can put you up at my place. Don’t worry. If it’ll help your conscience, there’s a little matter you can help me with in return.” John stopped me “I don’t understand. Why are you trusting me?” he questioned me. I laughed “You don’t trust me?” I smiled, turning on the charm. I always got my way. John had that sheepish look again “It’s just, you shouldn’t…” he said. I patted him on the shoulder “Come now. You seem like a pretty stand-up guy.” I said reassuring him. “You don’t even know me. I’m hardly even wearing clothes.” He commented looking down at himself. I shrugged “We’ll stop by a store on the way home.” I continued ahead of him when I felt the whisper of John’s voice in my head it didn’t make sense what he said but it had to mean something, right? You never change, do you, Alexandria?