Elyana withdrew a lantern from her saddlebag and Arcil used a cantrip to light it. With the wizard holding the lamp aloft, she did her best to calm the horses, distracting them with grain and securing their lead lines to some rusting sconces so that the animals would not wander off.
"What do you think the ghost wants?" Mirelle asked. She had been remarkably quiet, given her youth and the horrors she had witnessed. But then, she had probably endured plenty of horror in the prisons of Galt, awaiting execution because her uncle had once served the wrong noble. "Do you think it wants to hurt us?"
Arcil shook his head. "That's unlikely. It need not have signaled us to safety at all. It was a near thing out there. Presumably, it wants to show us something. I'm concerned that if we do not accede to its demands, it may become much less amiable, and I'm not sure we have the strength to combat it."
"My sword arm is still good," Elyana said, though she was as tired as the rest of them.
"Well, my spells are nearly spent."
"So you have said. How many charges are left in your wand?"
"Four. But a tower is a poor place to wield a wall of flame."
"We will do what we have to do," Elyana said. "For now, let us assume that he is a lord who has invited us to his tower. At the least, we owe him our thanks for that. Spirit or no."
Arcil frowned, but said nothing more. Elyana took the lantern and started up.
The second floor was sagging and populated by great jagged gaps. There was no sign of the spirit there, so they kept moving upward, noting as they climbed that the third level was in even worse shape and was now largely open to the sky. The stairs continued on, spiraling up the tower's outer wall to a flat area the width of the staircase and perhaps twice as long. There were no merlons, only a solid, waist-high wall along the rim of what had once been a fine observation deck.
The ghost stood looking over the city as they approached. He appeared to be a young man, translucent and mildly luminescent, in a finely edged robe and boots. A cold wind blew out from over the trees but did not stir his garments. He turned to regard them with sad eyes.
"So has it been for centuries," he said. His voice was clear, cutting. The sound did not match the movement of his lips.
Arcil and Mirelle reached the parapet. The wizard advanced to Elyana's side, but the girl waited upon the top stair, her hand clasped to the knife hilt that projected from her belt. Elyana wondered what she planned to do with it.
"We thank you for your aid," Elyana said to the spirit, "and shelter."
"It is my pleasure," said the ghost, regarding them distantly, as if they were themselves transparent. "I wish you might have seen my city in its prime, for it was a lovely, well-watered land, blessed by the gods."
"What happened to it?" Arcil asked. "And by what name are you called?"
This may not have been the most tactful introduction, Elyana thought, but the apparition registered no offense.
"I am Lord Dolandryn," he answered, "son of Telsek, grandson of Nylesos." The ghost paused. "I see by your faces that you know them not."
"We are not of this land," Elyana replied.
"And you are not of my time. I have lost track of the centuries. How long has it been since I cursed this land, and my people, to everlasting death? Do you even track your years from the same point?" He turned away to gaze once more over the far-flung ruins.
"You did this?" Elyana could not keep the horror from her voice. She noted a few corpses still milling about at the foot of tower.
"The fault lies solely with me," the ghost intoned mournfully, keeping his gaze without, "But this was not my intent." He encompassed the whole of the valley with a sweep of his hand as he turned back to them. "I meant to preserve us."
"How did this happen?" Arcil repeated.
"Surely, you have seen the beauty of my valley—its soil is fertile and forgiving. It was a blessed place. A desirable place. Folk fought for it many times over the centuries. In my time we repulsed invaders again and again, but our numbers became depleted. I lost my only brother, and every one of my first cousins."
"We, too, have lost friend and loved ones," Elyana said. "We understand your sorrow."
"I thank you. I hope, then, that you might better understand my actions. My great uncle had many magical tomes locked away, and I threw myself into their study, thinking I might learn ways to better safeguard my people. I found one. It was my thought to use the remains of those who had attacked us as defense, but while the idea had merit, I could not long control those I called forth, nor command sufficient numbers to turn back invaders."
"And this is the result?" Elyana asked.
"Not entirely. I learned of a tool that I could craft. With it under my power, I thought to control hundreds upon hundreds of the dead so that nothing could harm our valley ever again."
The spirit's voice took on a harder, almost maniacal edge to which Elyana paid careful heed.
"In the midst of my experiments came the raiders of the Veldur clan sweeping in on their horses. I used my tool before it was ready. It worked, you see—worked well. I felt my mind touch the empty vessels of the dead, and knew that I could command them. But they were not enough, and I called upon more, knowing as I did so that I stretched my power to the limits. I felt the Veldur falling before me. They were dying, and I was raising the fallen to fight against their fellows... and then everything passed from me.
I know now that I had pushed myself too far. When I was... aware, once more, I found myself as you see me now. The town was long abandoned, weeds growing up between the cobblestones. The living are fled. But the dead—the dead still rise, ready to do battle with all who enter the valley. Those living who fall are added to their number. I have seen..." His voice faltered. "I have seen my own people among the dead, folk that lived when I lived, and I think that they were destroyed when I lost control, but I do not know. I cannot know."
"I am sorry," Elyana told him, and she was, though it seemed trite to tell him so.
"Now I wish only for release," the ghost continued. "For myself and for my land. But I cannot make it so. If I venture from the tower, I feel my mind fading, for the pull of the pendant I fashioned is too great. Yet I fear that if I return to it, it will consume me entirely, and perhaps extend the curse even farther."
"Now we come to it," Arcil said quietly, but Elyana ignored him. Sometimes his superior air was too much, even for her.
"Can you help me?" The ghost stepped forward, hands outstretched.
"How?" Elyana asked.
"It is the pendant that powers the sorcery. And I think it is the pendant that keeps me here. If it can be destroyed, then the dead will fall, forever. And I will finally be at peace."
Elyana ignored Arcil's knowing look and kept her eyes fixed on the ghost. "Where is the thing, and how can it be destroyed?"
The spirit turned from her and drifted over to the rim of the balcony, where it pointed back the way they had come.
"I can still sense it," he said in his cold, lonely voice. "You, wizard, might be able to feel its power if you extended yourself. It must lie where my body lies. Only a magical weapon can destroy the pendant, for I shielded the thing against harm."
Arcil glanced over to Elyana before speaking. "It does not seem... especially feasible, then, to seek the pendant now. Your dead will rip us limb from limb, and then we'd be keeping the valley safe with the rest of your... comrades."
The ghost nodded. "I think I may be able to offer you some small protections along the way.
"You say that Arcil will be able to sense it," Elyana said. "How?"
The ghost looked surprised. "In my day, any wizard would have such spells at his disposal. I have witnessed your friend's magics—he should feel the pendant's pull, though I suppose some might be more sensitive to it than others."
Elyana looked to Arcil for confirmation.
"There was a strange, unwelcome attraction to a certain area we passed through the ruins," he admitted. "But I was not inclined to investigate. To be honest, I was otherwise occupied."
"An 'unwelcome attraction,'" Elyana repeated. "And you say, Lord Dolandryn, that some might be more sensitive to its power than others. A necromancer, perhaps?"
Elyana frowned, and the moment she looked at Arcil she knew he was having the same thought. She saw his eyes narrow.
"We're done for now," Arcil said.
"We can't let the Galtans have that thing," Elyana said. "Do you know what they would do with its power?"
"How do you know their wizard is even alive?" Arcil asked.
"He's a necromancer," Elyana said. "And a powerful one. We saw his work. If we made it to safety, I'm sure he did. And if he finds the pendant, it's only a matter of time before he figures out its use."
Arcil sighed deeply. "Well-reasoned, unfortunately. I suppose we’ll have to find it before he does."
"It seems we need each other, Prince," Elyana agreed. "What assistance can you give?"
The ghost drifted back to them, considered them for just a moment, and began to speak.
Coming Next Week: Dread amulets and daring escapades in the final chapter of "The Walkers from the Crypt." This story is a standalone prequel to the new Pathfinder Tales novel Plague of Shadows, available now!
Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the newly released Pathfinder Tales novel Plague of Shadows. He's published one other novel, the new historical fantasy adventure The Desert of Souls, as well as edited eight collections of literary giant Harold Lamb's work, and currently serves as the Managing Editor for the iconic sword and sorcery magazine Black Gate. For more information, see his website at howardandrewjones.com.