“Now, listen closely, Con. I need you to hold your hands outstretched towards the circle. You must focus on multiple thoughts. This may prove difficult, but I need help with the ritual.”

Con begrudgingly moves into his directed position.

“Alright, Branner. What the hell am I doing here?”

I am about to do something rather unscrupulous. My true purpose in recruiting Con was to have a partner to assist my cases. He’ll need to learn how to do some of my spells on his own. So let’s see if he can do this one without any real assistance from me.

“First, I will need you to concentrate on a specific feeling. An absolute truth. The thought in your mind must be something that cannot change, cannot be changed and is correct in all respects. Focus on this idea and let it become a part of you.”

Con closes his eyes and starts to think. I can only hope he’s thinking of the proper concept for this procedure. Maintaining the spell requires something of a hard emotion. A feeling so strong, it overpowers every other thought you have at that moment. Without it, the ritual will be all for naught. I want to make sure he has that idea first, before we move on to the incantation.

“Can you tell me what you’re focusing on?”

“No. Just tell me what to do next.”

“Now, I need to ensure that-”

Con turns his sharp eyes right toward me.

“Trust me. I got it.”

I was rather taken back by his sudden defensive reaction. I know he doesn’t approve of what we’re about to do to this spirit being, but then I suppose I’ve become too relaxed around him. I only just acquired his cooperation not too long ago and I’m already presuming his assistance is granted. This is a two way exchange. I don’t have to give him everything, but I can’t expect something from nothing.

“Well, then I’ll need you to repeat after me.” As I go through the intricate chant with Con, I begin to feel uneasy. As soon as we are done here, I will need to go look for Lance. Regardless of what is the truth, that boy is involved. A spirit wouldn’t point blame at a human without purpose. He either is behind it all, or is the key to figuring out whom is responsible.

I stretch out my arms in front of me to mime the spell.

“Are you ready, Con?”

“Yeah. Let’s get this over with.”

I observe as Con’s brow furrows into the scowl he had when I first met him. One can only assume he’s concentrating as deeply as possible. Of course, he could always be upset with me. He begins the chant and I do the same, but without the release of energy. The curtain of light surrounding the spirit turns a deep purple as Con’s energy pours into it. The binding spell shifts into the detection spell I taught him. Everything seems to be going just fine.

“All right, hold onto the spell, Con.”

I lower my hands and step around the circle. Con is containing the energy magnificently. I expected it to take several tries to get this right. Time to test exactly how well this is going.

“Mr. Welling, it is time for the test. Are you ready?”

The spirit had remained silent through all this. Likely, either preparing himself for the oncoming pain, or attempting to figure out how to fool the spell. I can only hope he isn’t trying for the latter.

“Yes, Mr. Branner. Proceed.”

“Thank you. And please, call me Branner.”

I turn to check on Con. He looks like he’s starting to have a bit of difficulty keeping the spell flowing, but he won’t have to for that much longer.

“Tell me your name, spirit.”

The wispy, young man straightens himself out. He prepares his words carefully. I am not sure if that is just his own mannerism, or an attempt at hiding the truth.

“My name is Marcellus Welling. I worked for Doctor Robert Maladar for five years.”

“That will do. Please try to only answer my questions. Nothing more.”

Con glares at me. He knows what’s coming next.

“Now, Marcellus, I will need you to lie on this next one. I should warn you to prepare yourself for the pain you are sure to experience immediately after.”

Mr. Welling closes his eyes.

“Please proceed.”

“Marcellus Welling, are you alive?”

“Yes.”

…Nothing? Nothing is happening? What in the devil is going on here?!

“You can’t be alive!” This should have been a detected lie. He should have been hit with a shot of crippling pain. He stood there, a rather confused look on his face. My shouting wasn’t helping.

“Con! Are you-?”

I turn to the boy and my heart sinks. His strength was low. He was barely keeping the spell going at this point. But from what I can tell, the spell is going. I stretch out my hand to feel the energy over, but nothing is wrong.

“Con… you can stop.”

He drops his hands and the connection closes immediately. All the color from the curtain of light fades and Con falls to his knees. Drops of sweat fall from his face down to the floor. I pushed him too hard. I should not have had him perform this spell alone. This whole endeavor is turning sour very quickly.

“Branner, what do you mean by all this? What is happening? Did your spell simply not work, or is there something more?” Marcellus was worried. And why shouldn’t he be. Here I am, the self-proclaimed professional, and I am losing my senses. Marcellus is not dead. Con is drained. And I have not come any closer to ending this mayhem. Wait… that last one might not be true…

“LANCE!” The name screams out of my lips before I can stop myself. He must know more about what is going on. “Con, stay here and gather your strength. Marcellus, my deepest apologies, but until I can verify just what you are, you will have to remain there. I must away.” I turn and bolt out of the room before either has a chance to express dissent. I can not deal with an argument from either of them. These demons couldn’t have bound whatever it is Marcellus had become to this place. It took too much time to summon low level demons and whatever energy they had saved was used to temporarily manifest on the physical plane. Which only means I still do not know who is behind this. But I would be willing to wager that Lance can point me to the right path.

The halls of the manor had become a labyrinth for me. I had forgotten that I was guided to the room by someone who knew the way much better than I. This will not do. Lance is my only lead. Every turn leaves me more and more perturbed. I cannot deal with this. I must find the boy. Ah! Finally, another soul. A young maid is just exiting that room up ahead. Let’s hope she can help.

“Excuse me! Miss! Might I ask your assistance?” I call up ahead to her, hoping she proves useful.

The girl sees me and her face lights up. “Oh, you’re Mister Branner. Of course. How might I help you?”

As I approach, I finally recognize her. This was one of the maids who had my bags brought to my room the night before. The night I made a rather large fool of myself. I think I will go ahead and forget about that.

“Yes, I was wondering if you knew where one Lance Welling is at the moment. I need to ask him a few questions.” Finally, things seem to be-

“I’m afraid I don’t know where he would be. His duties take him all over the estate.”

Damn. Wait. Where did he say he was going….?

“AH! Yes. I believe he said he was going to report my findings thus far to Doctor Maladar. Now his schedule should be something you know a bit better.”

“Oh of course! Right this way.” The young lady began to lead me back through the halls of the upper floor. It never ceased to amaze me how efficient the Doctor’s people were. As we walked back, my mind began to wander. I couldn’t help but notice the the intricate embroidered wallpaper flowing from hall to hall. Really, who could commission such a thing but the man who owns half the county?

“Ahem, Mr. Branner? May I ask you a question?”

The small voice nearly slips me, but does its job to bring my mind back to the task at hand.

“Yes, you may. And please, just call me Branner.”

“Thank you, Branner. I was just wondering, have you found a way to save Lady Maladar?”

The question strikes me as odd. I had forgotten that to most of the house, the goings on were a manifestation of the deceased lady. I had assumed the battle in the entry hall would have spread to the rest of the staff by now, and the idea that the fallen madam lurking about would be gone from their minds.

“Don’t you worry, child. Lady Maladar does not need any saving. I take it you’ve been preoccupied in the upstairs floors with your duties?”

“Oh, well, um, yes. I do suppose I hadn’t been around the manor much. Why do you ask?”

“It’s nothing. I would suggest asking someone downstairs about what’s happened this afternoon. After you take me to the Doctor, of course.” I realize all too late that my last statement sounded a bit too stern, so I try smiling at her.

She just giggles and continues down the hall. Why does this girl always see through me?