Chronicles of the Court Rogue: Ghost Town
There was some sort of law of the universe, Mareian decided, that stated that when the roads were the most mucky, muddy, and difficult to travel, that was the time for leaders to send their underlings out to traverse them to the most remote parts of the country. Case in point, her being sent to some village she'd never heard of before because there was something “odd” reported about it. There was also the unsaid but very much implied order of bringing back anything of value she could get her hands on.
The pirate Lupess was still trying to figure out how a town that wasn't even connected to the ocean could be named “Port Lynn” anyways. Mareian was aware that she didn't exactly have the largest of vocabularies, but she was pretty sure that “port” meant some sort of connection to the sea. She was, however, willing to concede that there could be uses for the word that she wasn't aware of.
Slogging though the thick mud of the road, Mareian sighed in relief as she viewed the tops of buildings coming into view. It looked like her destination was just on the other side of this hill – all she had to do was survive the trip over it. “Trip” being the important word the pirate Lupess decided as she slipped. Normally she'd have moved off the road and walked on the grass beside it, but the wet grass and mud combination managed to be even more slick than the road itself.
Carefully edging her way down the hill, Mareian frowned as she approached the town. It was quiet. Way too quiet for the middle of the afternoon. Neither hide nor hair of anyone in sight, in fact. Looking around, Mareian couldn't see any example for why the town would be abandoned. The buildings looked to be sound enough to live in, and the fields she'd passed on the way seemed to be sprouting crops of some sort, not that Mareian, the city girl that she was, could name the plants. Mareian frowned; this was more than “odd.”
Opting for the side of caution, Mareian settled down on a large rock under a tree to watch the town for a while. There were no petpets as far as she could see. Usually in an area that had been abandoned for awhile, you'd see some kind of wild petpet scurrying about. Even if the town had just been abandoned, there was bound to be some sort of forgotten petpet left behind. But here, there wasn't even a Crokabek lurking in the sky. Mareian shuddered; it was downright creepy. Sitting here didn't seem to be telling her anything, though; maybe there would be something farther in the town that would tell her where everyone went.
Mareian was just stirring from her rocky perch when the door of one of the “abandoned” houses swung open, and a small dress came running out. The pirate Lupess stared. It was a bright red child's dress, floating across the mud. It was a perfectly normal dress, except that it was going out to play all by itself. A ghost?
No, Mareian corrected herself, ghosts were transparent, but you could still see them. “Invisible,” the Pirate Lupess breathed. She'd heard rumors of invisible people. Such people weren't born; they were changed to be that way. It was possible to change your color other than dying your fur, but it was exorbitantly expensive and involved a great deal of magic. It was rumored that the same process could turn you invisible, though Mareian had never seen much of a point in it. You couldn't be truly invisible because your clothing would give you away – just like this red dress. From what the Pirate Lupess had heard, it was usually reserved for spies, and the like. Mareian had always wondered if they had to wear special clothes to infiltrate or not. The “or not” option sounded a bit cold. But why on earth would someone want to make a child invisible?
Mareian shrugged, there was only one way to find out, she supposed. Hopping off her rock, the pirate Lupess meandered down to where the red dress was now swinging on a swing hung from a large tree.
“Hello,” she greeted the dress. “I don't suppose you can help me with some directions? I'm looking for a town called Port Lynn.”
The red dress jumped off the swing with a squeak and started to dart away.
“Aww, please don't run,” Mareian groaned. “I had to slog all the way though the mud to get here and I really don't feel up to a game of chase.”
The dress halted. “Daddy says I'm not supposed to let anyone see me,” a young girl's voice stuttered. There was a pause, and then the voice continued in a pleading tone, “Please don't tell him that you saw me.”
Mareian grinned. “I can honestly say I haven't seen you at all – just your dress. I'm Mareian by the way.”
There was a girlish giggle. “I'm Ellie.”
The pirate Lupess cocked her head to the side. “I don't suppose you know why you're invisible, Ellie?”
“No,” the girl admitted. “We all just woke up this way a couple weeks ago. We've been hiding and doing our chores at night so no one sees us. The adults are scared that someone will think we're cursed and force us to leave home. I'm not sure of much more than that.” There was a pause, and then the small girl continued, “Maybe I should take you to Daddy; he can explain it all better than me.”
Ellie's father proved to be just as invisible as his daughter, though his clothing said he was much larger. He also had an idea of why everyone in his town as invisible, that he was happy to explain over tea.
“It's not just the people,” he explained, “it's all the petpets too. Somewhere around here I have a herd of Babaa that are due to be clipped. Not that I have the slightest idea of how I'm going to shear an invisible Babaa with invisible wool.”
“I can see how that would be a problem,” Mareian agreed with a wince. She'd never sheared a Babaa herself, but she'd seen it done; it would be hard to clip a wiggly petpet that you couldn't even see.
“I'd bet my whole herd that this has something to do with that Brightvalian sorcerer who moved into the empty manor not far from town. He's some professor from their University; he was moving out here to do experiments where he wouldn't have to worry about rivals stealing his ideas.”
“Has anyone gone to talk to him about this?”
There was a snort. “Several times, unfortunately he seems to have disappeared. Maybe whatever experiment he did that turned us all invisible killed him, or maybe he ran away, or maybe he was there but it was a bunch of invisible people trying to find each other.”
Mareian leaned forward and set her teacup down. “Where's this manor?”
The sorcerer's manor was actually a pretty impressive house, Mareian realized as she approached it. She had the suspicion that it had been designed to be a nobleman's country home; it was bedecked with high arching doorways, and large stained glass windows, and had large gardens full of flowers and shrubbery trimmed in shapes that had never been found in nature. There were no nearby fields to raise food in either, which seemed to be the norm from what Mareian had seen of country homes.
She used that bit of information to guess what this sorcerer might be like. He was obviously rich, educated, probably had power back in Brightvale, and he messed with magic. The pirate Lupess made a face; that wasn't much to go on. Biting her lip, she knocked on the front door.
As she had expected, there wasn't an answer. Trying the handle, she found the door to be firmly locked. Like that had ever stopped anyone from getting into a house before. She didn't feel any magic radiating from the lock, so it wasn't magicked against anyone picking the lock. Mareian snorted, and reached for her lock picks. “Seriously,” she muttered as she poked the tumblers, “if you're not going to do something right, why bother at all?”
The door clicked softly as the tumblers fell into place. With a slight push, Mareian opened the now unlocked door and stepped into the house. It was just as rich looking on the inside, with polished floors and tapestries hanging on the walls. Mareian made a wry face; if she couldn't find the sorcerer, she'd at least be able to get a nice haul off the house to make her trip out here worth it. Mareian doubted the villagers would mind her lifting some small trinkets from the man who had caused them so much grief.
“Hello?” Mareian called down the hallway. The pirate Lupess debated what to call out – she couldn't remember if the villager had told her the sorcerer's name or not. Either way, she didn't know it now. “Mister...” Sorcerer person was probably a little rude, she decided. “Mister Scholar person?”
“Go away!” a voice snarled.
Mareian grinned. The sorcerer was here after all. On the other hand, she thought with a sigh, that meant she couldn't prowl though the house looking for good loot. “Can we talk?” she asked, trying to sound as innocent as possible. “My name is Mareian.”
“I don't see what you'd want to talk about,” the voice snapped, sounding like it was coming nearer. “It's not like there's anything to.... oh, but you're visible!”
Mareian turned around, but still couldn't see anyone. She frowned; the sorcerer could obviously see her, so why couldn't she see any floating clothing to give him away? There was a sound of someone settling themselves into a leather chair by the window; Mareian turned towards the chair and looked at the back of it, making a guess at where the head of the sitter would be.
“Oh, but you are the clever one, aren't you?” the voice continued in a more friendly tone. “Rather pretty too, so I'm guessing you aren't from the village near by – I'd remember you if you were. Have a seat.”
Unable to tell if the unseen speaker was motioning at a particular chair, Mareian sat in on a cloth couch that she was was fairly sure didn't contain any invisible people. “You're right, I'm not from around here. I'm from Meridell City,” she admitted.
“Come to investigate the village of ghosts, have you?” he asked in a mischievous tone. “I'm Oster Mais, by the way. I should probably explain what happened.
“I'm a scholar, and I've been studying optical camouflage for years. My main concern has been defense and security – turning steel invisible for break-proof windows and the like. King Hagan and his cronies in the University Board thought I should study something more “scholarly” and something less like a parlor trick. They cut my university funds, so I moved out here where I could work in private and use my own funds to pay for my research. I've been earning a living by taking orders for some nobles – they can see the advantage in having things that others can't see.”
Mareian nodded. Being a thief, she could think of all sort of useful things that would be even more useful invisible.
“That's kind of what got me into this mess; I have an order from a Brightvalian Count who wanted a chest to be invisible, and unbreakable. I got the unbreakable part down, but when I cast the optical camouflage charm, it reacted with the other spell and magnified itself 100 times larger in both magnitude and area. Also, instead of just affecting wood, it targeted anything that breathes.”
Mareian blinked. She had a tenuous grasp on what he just said, but it was still kind of hard to take in. “You turned everyone invisible, by charming a chest?”
He made a disgusted snort. “I forgot that I had used Quilin hair in my invincibility charm. It reacts with anything that has ever been alive or is alive. It works just fine on wood, but not on the metal latches, so I also added Tomamu feathers to secure the metal. When the Yolkalia essence from the invisibility charm hit them, it warped the invisibility spell.”
Mareian decided to just take his word for that. “And how long ago was that?”
The pirate Lupess whistled; that was a long time to be invisible.
“I know,” he said dryly. “And I bet you're wondering how I got around Quislin's 8th law of invisibility. The truth is, I didn't. The chest was supposed to be invisible for ten years, but with everything magnified by a hundred...” his voice trailed off. “Of course I could have made an error in my calculations, math never was my strong point, but a thousand years is an awful long time to not see yourself.”
“There isn't a way to reverse it?”
“Of course there is! I've tried making it a dozen times already, but since I can't see myself, it's impossible for me to make it correctly. I've even tried wearing gloves, but they make my fingers too clumsy.”
“I could make it,” Mareian offered. “If you tell me how, that is.”
“You could, couldn't you?” Oster said, sounding surprised. “It's not that hard, just the right measurements of the ingredients, and your hands certainly look dexterous enough. Here, follow me to my lab.”
There was the sound of him rising from the couch. Mareian cocked an eyebrow and coughed.
“I forgot,” he said sheepishly. “You can't see me anymore than I can see myself. You can't even follow my clothing – my clothes floating around midair creeped me out so I'm wearing one of the outfits I made invisible in an experiment a couple years back.” A book floated out of the bookshelf and hovered in mid-air. “Follow the book then.”
Mareian held up the sickly greenish yellow colored liquid to the fire. “Is this what it's supposed to look like?”
“That's perfect!” Oster exclaimed. “Now all we need to do is add the activating ingredient. The resulting reaction should cover the entire area and make anything that was invisible, visible again. Over in that red silk bag, hanging on the wall above the table. One heaping spoonful using one of the silver spoons.”
“Ohh, pretty,” Mareian breathed as she opened the red bag. Inside a golden powder glittered at her, looking very much like powdered gold. “What is it?”
“A very long time ago, the Faeries used to have a city on the ground, before Faerieland was raised to the sky. This is some of the powdered remains from the old Faerie Queen's castle. Be careful when you add it, you need to add it slowly and stir it in as evenly as you can.”
Scooping a large spoonful up, Mareian added it while stirring the mixture with a stirring stick, pouring as slowly as she could. The sickly green mixture shimmered into liquid gold.
“Any second now...”
As Oster spoke, the mixture began to glow, becoming brighter and brighter. The pirate Lupess had to drop the now empty silver spoon to cover her eyes as the mixture became as bright as the sun. Taking a careful peek after a few seconds, she uncovered her eyes as the mixture's light began to fade.
“It's working!” Oster's delighted voice crowed. Mareian grinned as the faint outline of a Ruki appeared, slowly becoming more colorful as the invisibility spell wore off. A red Ruki beamed at her. “Miss Mareian, if you aren't an alchemist then you missed your calling.” His grin wore off, replaced by a more sober expression. “I suppose I should go down to the village and explain to them what happened.”
“I was told they had come up here before,” Mareian admitted, “but they said they couldn't find you.”
“I hid,” Oster admitted. “I was afraid that they would hurt me or something.” He shook his head. “Confrontations were never my forte.”
“Tell you what,” Mareian offered. “I'll walk down with you and help you talk to them.” With a smile, the pirate Lupess took the Ruki's hand.
Much thanks to Schefflera and Reasonably_Crazy for the editing help!