Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Category: The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator Page 1 of 3

Archibald Branner story

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 21

Thousands of questions flashed through my mind, the foremost being a question of where this boy learned such a dark art. But I must delay that, and learn exactly what was his pact.

“Lance, this is important. What was promised to the beast in return for his false loyalty?”

He turned to the other two in the room, looking to them as if he sought a way to escape through them.

“I said, this is important. Please, answer the question.”

The boy sighs, head drops in shame.

“I never wanted these horrible events to happen. I thought I could fix this and get him out before anything happened.”

“Lance, I need to know, what was your pact?”

I give him some time as he builds up the courage to speak.

“I promised him my innocence.”

…This must be a joke.

“Lance, how does it expect you to give such a non-substantial thing?”

“I didn’t think I would. But I’ve noticed over the course of this horrendous event, I’ve experienced such things that I cannot imagine I’d have gone through otherwise.”

He walks a little bit away. I keep watch, ensuring he doesn’t try to edge closer to the door.

“Innocence isn’t something so non-substantial. To demons, it can provide untapped power. I was a fool. By enacting the ritual, I started down the path of guilt. My wonder was replaced with a dark reality. And it culminated in the death of my brother, Mars.”

I am finding myself more and more perplexed. My studies were more on the material reality of demonic beings. To think they could draw power from a concept is baffling to me. Is it a trick? Is it a lie?

Nothing to do but trust it if it’s the truth, and play along until I can figure it out if it isn’t.

“How do we keep him from taking it then? I can’t save us if we have a fully powered demonic entity destroying everything.”

Con offers his two cents. And he had a valid point.

“Then why don’t we get to the part of this where we stop that from happening? Who brought the other big bad beastie here?”

“Yes. Additionally, Lance why would you think to summon a second demon? Where did you learn of such a technique?”

That question perks the boy’s interest.

“An old book. I had found it a long while back buried among the dusty shelves of the library.”

As Lance recounted his story, I looked around. Something is off-putting. Dusty shelves?

He continues.

“I didn’t think much of it, until I tried one of the spells is listed. Turned a yellow flower bright blue. But it wasn’t until much later, I thought of its true use. I learned that someone was summoning a demon. And… it… was…”

What is Lance doing? Something is wrong. Why can I not see it? What is interrupting my thought process?

“Who was it?”

What was Lance doing?
“I-I can’t remember…”
Lance is struggling as much as I am. This should be an important fact. Something he could easily remember. He brought forth a deadly monster because of this fact, and yet he doesn’t remember who did this?
“Con, break the circle.”

“What?”

“Con, Break. The. Circle.”

My cohort looked over at the spirit of Marcellus. The chalk circle encompassing it.

“But Branner, you said the circle holds him together. Won’t he dissipate?”

“He’s being held together by the spell, yes, but there’s something else with him. I do not believe the delay in the initial curse breaking was a coincidence. There’s something worse in play here. Break the circle!”

Con finally responds and runs to the circle. He hesitates for a moment, but succeeds in wiping part of my chalk away, breaking my spells.

The light is blinding. The power that was poured into maintaining the spells now shines to every corner of the room and smothers all sound.

As it dies down and dissipates, I’m greeted by an astounding sight. Marcellus still stands in his translucent humanoid form. Con and Lance are staring at the rest of the room open mouthed. And I can’t really blame them.

Before us lay the library. The whole library.

It was hidden by a spell, tucked in with the spirit of Marcellus. While my brain is still foggy, there is something cleared. The pieces put together in my mind.

The double doors that led into a smaller room than expected. A lack of windows when this room is on the edge of a building. The pause before my spell enacting, bouncing off the powerful illusion. Everything finally made sense.

And good lord, was it terrifying.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 20

In a flash, the transformation takes shape. The cook’s legs straighten not unlike stiff boards. His hands shoot down at his sides, unmoving from the side of his thighs. His entire body becomes rigid.

“Blah! What is going on?!”

Just as he yells, he loses his balance and falls on his face. At some point I should start trying to catch the people I trap like this.

I take a step forward, placing my foot upon his back.

“I do not have time for games. I have done nothing since my arrival, except put my energies toward stopping this evil. Your own master has tried such tactics as you and conceded to me.

“I do not wish to argue. I do not wish to fight. But if you do not tell me what I need to know to save everyone in this building, you will learn of what I am capable.”

I get in close, almost whispering in his ear for what I am about to say.

“The things I can do would drive even a strong man like you to the worst kind of nightmarish lunacy. So, please, where is Lance Welling?”

The man beneath my foot shook. I didn’t think I was terribly terrifying.

“You surprise me, detective.”

Detective? Interesting word.

“Surprising? I worried you thought me terrifying.”

“You win. I will tell you where the boy is. But I’m not sure you will like what you hear.”

Terrifying to terrified. A rather quick transition on my end.

“The boy went to fix his mistake. He seemed worried about failing the master, but I told him things can always be made right.”

I lift my foot off the cook. The energy binding him releases as the gem in my hand loses its glow.

He went back to room after that foolish undercook told him the best way to stay out of trouble is to hide his tracks. Now, the cook didn’t know what he was referring to, but curse it all if he didn’t give that child the most dangerous plan possible.

I turn and run back through the mansion, not even stopping to have the maid guide me back. Despite the maze of a building trying its best to trap me, this is too important, and I strain my mind to remember the way back.

As I sprint, I’m trying my best to dodge every piece of furniture and hired help in my way. The labyrinth-like upper halls stalled me longer than I’d have hoped.

But I find it.

Those double doors to the study where I left Con with the spirit. The creator only knows what I’ll find behind it. Time for action. I push open the doors with all my might, the force causes them to swing and bang against the walls.

“CON! Are you-” I’m stopped in the middle of my exclamations by the sight in front of me.

Con was standing, holding Lance Welling by the back of his shirt. Lance was slumped, either unconscious or just defeated, being held up solely by the will of my young apprentice. The spirit in the middle of the room looked horrified. I haven’t the slightest idea what transpired here.

“Hey, Branner. He tried to rush me.” Con was very calm. And I suppose he answered my question. Well, let’s see if I can speak.

“…Well done, Con. Yes, it seems Lance is hiding something. I don’t know if the spirit is truthful in his earlier tale, but Lance certainly knows something. What did you do to him?”

Con looked a little proud of his achievement.

“Just socked him in the face. He was a bit loony. Tried saying sorry right before attacking me.”

He finally set the unconscious boy on the floor.

Now, what will I do? He’s merely a boy. One whose brother has been killed. He could be the one to have done it. He could also be falsely accused, and more painful prodding would be unwarranted. I must tread lightly.

I cross the room to my bag I’d left in the room, reach in and pull out some smelling salts, to wake Lance from his trauma induced state.

“Con, bring him over here and prop him against the wall.” I point to the far end of the room, away from the spirit.

Con grabs the boy under his arms and does as I instructed. While he does so, I reach into my pocket and grab the jade gem. I might be relying upon it too much. It is bound to reach its limit soon. And yet I cannot think of a quicker, safer way to incapacitate the boy if necessary.

I crack the vial, releasing the smell into the air. I quickly place it under the nose of our stunned friend. As he regains his sense, I do my best to put him at ease.

“Lance, are you feeling well? I want to make sure you’re all right.” I speak slowly, and with care. I watch as he goes quickly from unconscious, to groggy, to alert in mere moments.

He looks back and forth from Con to myself, and back again. I can only assume he is frightened. Con defended himself, and in doing so, injured the boy. I can’t imagine it is a very pleasant feeling.

“Branner! I-I have to leave. At once. Please let me-”

He tries to stand, but I put a firm hand on his chest.

“I’m afraid I cannot. You’re involved in this mess, aren’t you?”

The boy stares at me with a look of absolute horror. His thoughts must be racing. Deciding how much trouble he is in. Or thinking of a route to escape.

“Lance?” It came from Marcellus. The person Lance might have been considering.

“…Mars?” Lance was emotional, the reunion with his brother bringing tears to his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Mars. It wasn’t my fault. I-I was trying to stop it. I just wanted it to end! I’m so sorry!” I stand back letting the boy stand up. He slowly shuffles over to the ghost.

“What happened? Why did you attack me?” The spirit implored.

Lance could barely hold himself together.

“I didn’t! It wasn’t m-me! I told him to not let you leave the room! I was so close t-to ending this. Please you have to understand, I was only trying to help…”

…No. No that boy didn’t do it. He couldn’t have.

I speak up. “Lance, did you summon the second demon?”

He quickly turns, as if the thought I was in the room had crossed his mind for the first time.

“…I did.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 19

There is something about Doctor Maladar’s workers that seems to both unnerve and astound me at the same time. They are loyal, well trained, and highly efficient. And yet, I feel like there’s more beneath the surface. These people are so much more than effective servants. Each of them possesses some quality that I find astounding. And the loyalty, beyond compare. How he can get such prowess and effort from his help is outside my comprehension.

“Do try to keep up, Branner. We will be heading outside now. I wouldn’t like if you were to lose your way.” I really must learn how to walk while lost in mine own thoughts. It would truly be of use.

I had been out in the gardens earlier in the day, but part of me was now in a more relaxed state since I no longer had to worry about attacks out here. If the demons’ were bound to the house then they were prevented from leaving the estate, and I’m sure they want to focus on completing their contracts so they might be free.

With such fears at ease, I could enjoy the view of such stunning plants the Doctor had accumulated in this place. He must have some particular love of the botanical sciences, as the various flora were arranged by their genus.

“You wished to see me, Branner?” We had arrived, and it would appear, The Doctor had not completely cooled from his earlier row with me.

“Not quite. I was looking for your man, Lance Welling. He was going to report my findings to you, last I saw him. Has he yet found you?” I keep things as amicable as possible.

The Doctor looks me over, like he’s sizing up how best to answer me. Any other time, I’d argue about time being of most importance, but it will get me nowhere. And I must keep as much goodwill as I have left.

“Mr. Welling did report to me a short time ago. I asked him to rest and return to his quarters. I figured it best considering the circumstances.”

“Wonderful. Could you by chance tell me where the servants’ quarters is located?”

“Branner, what do you intend to do when you reach Mr. Welling?” His gaze is very unnerving. I can not stress that enough. But he speaks as if he already knows what I need him for.

“Doctor, I have seen far too much today.” My words must reach him. I’m not normally a person so accustomed to the feelings of others, but he must know my urgency.

“As many things as I have done in my life, few can match the plethora of low level demons I killed, the young boy I discovered with his unique talents, facing a partially corporeal demon, summoning and trapping a ghost only to discover it is not a ghost, all the while, trying not to die while exorcising two demons possessing such a large estate.” I suppose when I say it all like that, my day certainly seems much more amazing than I ever really considered.

“This case must be closed and soon, if we’re to save not only your people, but potentially the entire county.” My pacing must seem more agitated than calm, for The Doctor is letting a nervous look through.

“I tell you this so that you may understand me when I say, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do when I find Mr. Welling. I would like to think that my initial judgment of the poor boy was correct, and this is all a misunderstanding,” I say, as I cross behind him. I emphasize my last few words to ensure he gets my meaning, “but I cannot rule out the possibility that he is at the center of this whole nasty business.”

“Branner… these things you are insinuating…..” The Doctor spoke slowly, his every word perfectly enunciated. “These are grievous charges to bring on someone who has experienced such recent tragedy. Before I tell you where he went, are you certain of this?”

“Not at all.” I wish I were… “Lance Welling is an incredibly talented young man, and has weathered much in his short life, and I would hate if my actions would unnecessarily hurt him. But evidence has lead me to the conclusion that I must at least question him, if not outright interrogate.”

The Doctor turned and looked me over. With all the brash things I’ve done today, I have to wonder how long his patience will hold.

“Why do you see fit to balance out all the incredible, and reassuring spectacles you perform with such insanity? You slay blood-born demons of which I knew nothing. Then proceed to run about my home, peering through an odd glass. You hire on an urchin, known to thieve from my premises, in the middle of your investigation! Yet, you successfully fought and repelled a much larger, unseen beast, moving about this building.”

He looked at me with an odd, inquisitive face. I wasn’t really sure how to answer. I had done what was needed. What I felt was needed. I suppose I did take some permissions for granted.

“You want this house cleansed, from what is infecting it. I can tell you right now, it’s two demons. And while one alone is complicated, two is a messy war. Everything I’ve done has been working toward this goal. Not a one of your previous hires has done things the way I do, and look where you are. It seems I am to fight you as much as these dark spirits, through this endeavor, and I shouldn’t. After all the things I’ve shown you, I absolutely shouldn’t.”

I only hope this is the last time I must do this.
“I shouldn’t have to keep doing this.”

The Doctor was somber. His authority and pride must be withering with all my intrusions.

“Branner, I must apologize.”

…How many times today will I be so surprised.

“I have been just as inconsistent with you, as you have been with me. You proved fairly quickly upon your arrival that this house and my people can be saved. I agreed you’d have full permissions to the grounds and manor, and every time since then, I’ve done nothing but question you. You who only wish to help. And for that, I am sorry.”

I’m stunned. This may be the third time today I’ve gotten into such a discussion with Doctor Maladar, but it is by far the one I least expected. I should just be gracious, and move on to Lance.

“I thank you, Doctor. Now, if you please, to continue with my investigation, I must know, where is Mr. Welling?”

“He went to the kitchen for some food. I excused him from the rest of his duties for the day.”

The Doctor wouldn’t do that under standard circumstances. Then he must know what Lance learned in the study.

“Doctor, I should tell you-”

“I don’t want to hear it, Branner. I don’t want to know any more than I already do. Please, finish this investigation. And do it quickly.”

His fist was shaking, his head drooped at my words. The memory must be painful. This man cares so much for his staff, and yet he gave me Lance’s location. This entire ordeal is putting him through the some of the worst pain imaginable.

I turn to the young maid I had escort me here, whom I seem to have forgotten. She looked very uncomfortable in all our talk.

I can’t help it. I must give him one last thing.
I don’t turn around.
“He doesn’t blame you.”

The maid quietly leads me back into the house, my conversation with the doctor likely keeping her from articulating any thoughts. This building was gorgeous, and yet actually looking at it, I can see the signs of previous attacks. Panels with scratches, immediately adjacent to new ones. Rooms the staff seems to avoid. And they all look to me, hoping for salvation. It is for this reason, that I force myself to push against my compassion. Lance may know more about this affair than initially believed, and if I am to free us, I will need to know what he knows.

The kitchen is massive. Such a large estate requires much in the way of hired help, and a lot of people require much food. The head chef wouldn’t be bothered to cook for the staff, so an under-cook or apprentice would be serving Lance. I felt like I was in a children’s game, constantly chasing a moving target. Normally when I do so, I’m in a much greater sense of exhilaration. Running after magi through dark ruins, or fighting off a pack of crocotta. Intense situations lead me to use my mind more effectively. I piece together these puzzles amidst the chaos. Here, while I have endured plenty of turmoil, it has been interspersed with long lulls of politeness. Social situations that require a much more refined personality to wade through such murky waters.

“Mr. Branner? Are you feeling all right, sir?”

I am snapped back to my senses.

“Yes! Right. Where’s the cook?”

“Um, he’s standing right in front of you…” The maid sheepishly gestured to the man standing clearly in front of me, his brow furrowed.

I clear my throat.

“Of course. My good man, have you seen young Lance Welling, recently?”

The cook was a larger man, who seemed annoyed at my presence. Why? I could not say.

“You’re taking me away from my duties, to inquire about one lowly servant?”

Well, I suppose that could be why.

“His whereabouts are imperative to my investigation. If you could please tell me where he is, I will be on my way.”

The chef looked me over, placing a hand to his chin. I didn’t like this feeling.

“Or, here is another thing I could do. I could go back to preparing supper, not tell you where that poor boy is, and let you go take care of our problem without the harassment of someone who recently lost his brother.” He turned around and started to walk away.

“Why must everyone throw everything they can in my path?” These people seem determined that I must fight against them in addition to the demons. I must show I am not to be taken lightly.

I reach into my pocket for my jade gem. “Restringo.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 18

“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?

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 17

The transparent form of a young man lies on the floor before me. I was not sure what I expected. I knew there was some sort of illusion spell in here, but I expected it to break and reveal something wrong with the room. But then, my guess on the spirit was right. It was not a ghost. So what is it?

“Why ain’t he all there?” Con’s curiosity never ceases to instill both a sense of joy and a certain exasperation in having to explain every little thing.

At least, that is what I tell myself. It is more that I have no clue what is going on here and he’s looking to me to explain it. How does this happen? I can only assume that what lies in front of us is a spirit, but what kind and what it can do are all speculation at this point.

Oh dear. It seems the young man is coming around. He pushes himself off the ground and climbs to his feet. Standing up, he looks to be even taller than I am. His hair is neatly combed into a part on top of his head. The resemblance to Lance is uncanny, though. It really could be his brother. Or potentially some kind of shape shifter. Too many options. We’ll just have to wait and see.

“Where am I?” He puts his hand to his head, looking like he has a spell of vertigo. Not sure how a spirit could have vertigo, but I can’t think about it. I ready the gem on my arm, in case he decides he doesn’t want to be in the thrall of me and my esteemed assistant and tries to escape.

“You are currently being held within a wall of light, designed to keep something such as yourself contained. I would suggest against touching it. I’ve heard it hurts.” I could not come up with a better lie to save my life. Which this just might.

“I, uh… I guess that answers my question. But who are you? And what is going on?” He squints, like he can’t quite see me. Though I suppose he can not. The curtain of light is a bit obtrusive.

“My name is Archibald Branner. This is my young cohort, Con. We are investigators, of sorts.” Con stood up proud at the mention of his name.

“Investigators? I’m sorry, I just- I’m not quite sure what’s going on. The last I remember… Wait…” He stepped back and looked down. “Wait, I remember…” He snaps up and looks right at me, eyes wide with fear. “I remember! I died!”

“Well, this is odd. Tell me, how did you die?” I refuse to relax my hand. I signal for Con, to head around the back of the spirit. I can’t take the chance that this is the demon, using some form of magic I’m not familiar with.

“I was in the master’s study. The arrangement of the furniture was frustrating him. Then the sounds started. There had been some incidents of howls and whispers. I thought it might have been some unseen hole in the wall, or maybe an unwanted rodent. But I remember the clanging. The fear in my workers’ eyes. After that, it gets hazy, but I distinctly recall seeing the blade protruding from my torso. Blood ran down my stomach. And each second, the terror in my mind overwhelmed more of my senses…” He drifts off, lost in the horrifying memory. I don’t know what to say. If he’s telling falsehoods, he’s rather fantastic at it.

“Tell me, what is your name?” I had a feeling it would be the same as before, but just to check.

“My name is Marcellus. Marcellus Welling. I am the lead footman for Doctor Maladar. Or rather… I was the lead footman.” He seems so depressed. Though I suppose it’s only natural for someone who knows they are deceased.

“Before I broke the alteration illusion placed upon you, the form you had resembled more of a normal ghost. A whispy, smoke-like appearance. Do have any clue why that is? Do you know who cast a spell on you?”

His fear and sadness did not fade, but rather grew at my question.

“Yes. After I was killed, my mind was filled with fog and memories didn’t come easy. But I found I could see new things. My soul could wander the halls, but it was the new way I perceived this place that astounded me. I could see trails of light, leading from object to object. And over time, I came to understand, that these were the remnants of something spiritual. Something magic.”

“And from there you could know what made you so different?”

“He knew I knew. The sword didn’t pierce me because of the spirits haunting this place. He cast the spell. Made it move. I was getting stronger. I could have told someone soon…”

“Who was it!?” I was getting anxious. His terror, and sorrow pointed to someone he knew. Someone he trusted.

“It was my own brother. Lance.”

“…Excuse me?”

No. That can’t be right.

“Lance was the one to change my form. My own brother was practicing such dark methods. I had confronted him in one of the side rooms. I knew there had to be an explanation for everything I found.”

“Lance was hording various odd items and I only knew what he was doing because I finally witnessed it with my own eyes. I told him that I saw him talking to the spirit haunting this house. Giving it orders. He threatened it with a small stone before the spirit went on its way. He tried to tell me otherwise. That he was only trying to help. That is when I would hear no more.”

The boy fell to his knees from the thought.

“I decided to notify the doctor… and Lance decided to stop me the only way he could.”

“So you had known since your death that your brother was your killer.” The fact I was talking to a ghost paled in comparison to the news I had just learned.

Lance was the culprit. He killed his own brother to cover up his demonic summoning. But why? To what end would he do such a dangerous thing? I don’t believe he’s the type to seek power, but as I’ve just been shown several times over, I can be fooled. Actually, this could still be a deception on behalf of the spirit considering I’ve never heard of a ghost able to have a conversation before.

“Tell me, Marcellus, how did you come across this form? Do you remember the process after you died.”

“I- I am not sure. I remember hearing Lance say something. Something about how I don’t have to leave. After that, my memories jump to wandering around the halls, unable to be seen or heard. It had felt like I had been in this form all my life.”

Interesting. Is it possible Lance saved his brother’s soul? Or potentially damned it?

“I got stronger. I could feel myself closer to the material world. And the strands of magic helped my memory. Soon, I would be able to speak to someone and expose his actions. But then he found me, and cast a new spell. And my world became dark once again.”

“Mr. Welling, I am unsure what to do with you, or your information, for, you see, you aren’t a ghost. Or at least not a typical ghost. Because I can’t be certain of what you are just yet, your information just leads me to more questions. So for me to figure out whether or not I should go confront your brother, I have to verify your information. Do you understand?”

The spirit looked confused. He likely understood my message but was just confused as I spelled out my thoughts as I did.

“I do, but what do you mean by all this?”

“Well, I’ll need to cast a few spells on you and make sure some runes I have will actually affect whatever you are. And in order to test their ability to function on you, we’ll need to make sure that the… side-effects of these spells actually do what they need to do when you do something wrong.”

Very long and round about way of saying it, but I think that should do it.

“It’s going to hurt, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely.”

The spirit’s face turned to fear.

“I would ask why you can not just take my word as my bond and do what needs to be done, but you have already made it abundantly clear.”

“I’m sorry.”

Con was getting angry. I can only assume he was angry at me.

“Yes, Con?”

He turned his head away from me in a huff.

“This ain’t right.”

I took the chalk out of my pocket and began drawing some symbols on the ground.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, my friend. But it is necessary. If this is some sort of trick or illusion being played upon us by the demonic creatures or even the one who summoned them himself, we could at the very least, be wasting precious time and at worst, condemning an innocent man. As we get closer to providing a solution to this enigma, the more precautions we’re going to have to take.”

I stand up and inspect the runes I inscribed around the room. Con sits, cross-legged, just outside the circle.

“Don’t mean I have to like it…”

“It’s necessary. Now move over to the other side of the circle. I will require assistance with this endeavor.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 16

I’m pacing around the trap in the center of the room. Although I had instructed Con not to ask it anymore questions, I couldn’t help but wonder what else it can tell us.

“Con, I need to ask you a favor.”

The boy stopped staring at the light, shining from the string. He turned to me, looking a little more than confused.

“Uh, sure, Branner. What do ya need?”

“You are allowed to talk to the spirit again.”

I need to figure out what it is. And sitting here with it, doing nothing is getting me nowhere.

Quietly, I explain what he is to do.

“Talk with him about anything. His life. Your life. Just don’t mention anything about the demons, or Doctor Maladar.”

“Sure thing I guess, but what is this supposed to do?”

“Buy me some time. Maybe get us a little information on it. Just see let me know everything it says.”

I’m a little strained on what I’m doing, but I think my original plan might still work. I go back to the book from my bag, studying the process to de-spell this room. This spirit, ghost or not, is likely an anchor for whatever is manipulating the spiritual pressure in this room.

Before my plan was to banish the ghost and the spell would have gone with it, revealing what was wrong with this room. But now… If I were to try that, and it really wasn’t a ghost, the repercussions could prove disastrous. But there’s more than one way to break a spell.

While I read, Con moved ahead with his part.

“Mr. Ghost, where were you born?”

The low rumbling immediately after told me the spirit was responding. I do need to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any rituals I perform.

Now, this is likely an illusion spell. Something to keep me from seeing what’s wrong. Ah, this counter should work. It won’t dispel the illusion entirely, but so long as its runes are inscribed in the ground, the spell will be put on hold.

I wait for the low rumbling to stop before I grab my chalk. The runes require a very specific pattern to counter the spell and the slightly shaking room might ruin it. Wonderful, it has stopped. I must work quickly while I have the time.

“Wow… Hey, Branner, he says he was born in this house.”

“Yes, yes, Con. That’s lovely. Just keep it…” He was born in this house? No… Could he really be the brother of Lance? “Spirit, how did you die?”

The low rumble returns. It was fairly short. I look to Con waiting for the answer.

“…betrayal?” Con’s face had a mix of confusion and horror.

“Betrayal… Con, hold off on more questions. I need to finish this.”

What betrayed him? If it was really the demons in this house when he was stabbed by the family heirloom… then was he the one who summoned the beasts?

I finish the chalk drawings going in a circle around the room, runic stones placed in key locations. Now for the hard part. I’m not well versed on my slavic so I might need a bit to make sure I remember how to pronounce all of this. I don’t know what will happen, or what will be revealed in this room. Here I go.

The chant begins, each runic symbol lighting up as I call its name. The spiral of symbols sends out wave after wave of my own energy, holding back another magical force. I finish the spell, as the energy returns and converges on the trap in the center of the room.

The smoke-like spirit within the trap cries out. He falls and settles in the middle, losing his wispy form and gaining a new translucent one. He looks like a young man, with combed dark hair, and the same style of suit the other servants were wearing.

I fear I may have been wrong and this is Marcellus Welling.

Lance, forgive me.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 15

“What now? Do we just talk to it?” Con was pacing around the trap containing a ghost. The curtain of light shined with a flickering luminescence, enrapturing his attention.

“Not quite. See, ghosts such as this aren’t whole, and don’t have all their mind to aid them in communicating. They’re more of a flurry of different emotions, bound to a spirit with unfulfilled purpose. And depending on the how long such a storm is allowed to wander, it can intensify, becoming something else entirely.” I reached for a small book I keep in my bag, hoping it held the spell I needed.

“Oh. So, how do you know how old it is?”

“Well, the methods vary and usually involve something of a-”

“HEY! GHOST! HOW OLD ARE YA?!” Con yelled at the ethereal being in the light. I didn’t quite know how to react.

“Now Con, uh, that’s not…”

A low moan rumbled throughout the room, shaking the bookshelves around me. I could hear a bit of shuffling against the floor behind me. It was Lance, attempting to get as far into that corner of the room as possible. Poor chap. Likely afraid of the vision before him.

“The spirit can’t understand you. All you’re doing is-”I began to speak, but was cut off.

“He says he’s 23, Branner!”

“I- Well- What?” Did he just talk to a ghost?

Con excitedly moved closer to the curtain.

“What should we ask it next?” Can this boy really speak with ghosts? Demons have no particular affinity for our dearly departed. Why would he be able to do that? He could always be fooling around. Of course. He must be. I regain my composure.

“Con, could you please not agitate the-”

“HEY! WHAT’S YOUR NAME, BUD?!” Con yelled again.

This was getting frustrating. I’ll have to find some way to explain to him that there’s no time for games, but it seems his whole demeanor is different now that he’s my assistant as well as a guest. He’ll… Wait. The spirit is moaning again. No. No, this can’t be. Can it? Coincidence, right? Ghosts aren’t conscious of their actions or even the world around them, necessarily. They only respond to other emotions, and even then, it’s a very primitive form of communication.

“Marcellus? Well, nice ta meet ya, Marcellus.” Oh my goodness. Con was talking to a ghost.

“Wait, what did you say?” Lance had finally found his courage again. He approached us from the safety of his corner as he spoke. “Did you just tell me that the spirit is 23, and is named Marcellus?”

Con looked over at the young man helping the two of us. “Naw, Mr. Ghost here told me that. Try to keep up.” He gave a wry smile to reinforce his sarcastic remark.

“Well, it’s just… I think that’s my brother…” Lanced seemed to have lost his breath. He was on the verge of tears.

Oh dear. This was bad.

“Lance, I need you to calm down. Step outside if you need to, but don’t do anything rash. This spirit isn’t your brother anymore, do you understand?” I tried to calmly walk toward the boy. People tend to do outrageous things in a hysterical state. If he did something to disrupt the ring of light around the spirit we could lose it and all that effort would be lost.

“Mist-…er, I mean, Branner, sir, do you think it’s possible this is all true?” His hands were shaking, his eyes never left the spectacle in the center of the room.

No use lying to him. The truth might even reassure him.

“I’m not sure. It’s possible this is your brother, but it is very unlikely. This estate has had many come through and pass on.

“If Con is indeed talking to the ghost in some manner escaping my understanding, it could also be that the spirit is lying.

“Now, I must ask you to leave, Lance. You are excused. Leave us and return to your normal duties. I’m certain this isn’t your brother.” Alright, that last sentence was a lie.

“Of-of course. Should I report to The Doctor your current progress?” Lance was quickly fighting his fear and attachment. Talented young man. Not sure how I would do in such a situation.

“Yes, that would be prudent. I just need you to not be here anymore.” A very blunt way to put it, but I am sure he understands.

Lance bows out and walks to the door. As he leaves, I can see the fear return to his face.

Now that the most pressing issue is resolved, what in the name of the creator is going on with Con?!

The boy seems to be communicating with the ghost. I’m not sure how that’s even possible, if it’s true. All my understandings of ghosts points to a being of nigh-pure emotion, their sense of mind having long abandoned them with their body.

Even if you could speak the same language, their consciousness no longer consists of reason or logic. They shouldn’t be able to answer in kind to your questions. And yet, I don’t think Con is lying to me.

This leaves me with three options. First, my knowledge of ghosts is lacking, and I just haven’t encountered one with the power to think. Nor have I had someone along who can talk back to the spirit. Fairly unlikely. Second, we got extremely lucky, in that the being is still emotional, and the things it has fixated upon sound like answers to the questions Con has asked. This option is the least likely. No, what I believe the answer to be is my third thought.

This isn’t a ghost.

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 14

The study was a bit small. Not truly a proper library, like I assumed from the double doors, but I do suppose it provides a cozy environment in which to perform his research. All the walls were covered in bookshelves, there was a somewhat modest desk for this house over in the corner and no windows… Something is off.

“This is the room you requested, Master Branner. Do you require any further assistance?” Lance was looking rather uncomfortable in this room. It wasn’t the one his brother was killed in, but it did have one of the more memorable events occur. Still, I require his help. He hasn’t been here long enough to have been the one who summoned demon, and has the motivation to see to it I complete my task. I’ll just have to make him tough it out.

“Yes I do. If you would, please tell me what you know about the incident that took place here.” If I keep him talking, it should also keep him distracted. Might not take his mind off the unpleasant feelings, but it will give him something to do.

“Of course… *Ahem* After escalating events relating to the paranormal activity in the estate, Mr. Patrik…”

While he tells his story, it’s time to see what we can see. I look to Con. He had this incredibly odd look on his face. If I had to describe it, I would say ecstatic. I can’t imagine he’s had much time around books. A whole new world for him to explore lies in every wall surrounding him. Of course, he can’t quite access them yet.

He picks up a book, flips it open and frowns. He just figured it out, too. I walk over to him, thinking about why I really need him here. Lance is continuing his explanation behind me. He’s gesturing around the room and not paying attention to me. Thankfully.

I quietly whisper to Con, “I’ll teach you to read some other time. Start seeing what kinds of feelings you can sense.” I cross back around the room to examine the desk. Lance’s story was coming to a quick close.

“…making a full recovery and resuming his normal duties. The room has not been declared off limits, but no one wishes to explore it after the incident.”

“Hmm, yes of course.”

What is wrong with this desk? It’s been calling to me since I first entered. Screaming out that something is wrong, yet I can’t hear it.

“Con! What do you notice about this piece of furniture?”

“Uh, it looks kinda nice, I guess?”

“…That was wonderfully helpful. Thank you.” Shouldn’t act so sarcastic. Bound to hurt his feelings. “Lance, do you see anything wrong with it?”

“No sir. Seems the same as ever.”

“But it’s not. There is something wrong with it. Something wrong with this room.”

I set my bag down and pull out a few things. Some twine, chalk, a ruby colored gem, and most importantly, an apple. I place the twine in a large circle in the center of the room. Using the chalk, I draw perpendicular, intersecting lines. I set the gem down where they cross. I stand to examine my work.

“What are you doing, Master Branner?”

“Just call me Branner. And I’m trying to see if I can detect what’s wrong in this room. Assuming there’s some kind of spirit in here, this gem will light up.”

“I see. And what is the apple for, sir?”

“Oh this?” I hold the apple up. “I’m just hungry.” I take a bite and go back to ensuring the circle isn’t off. Chalk lines are straight. Gem should still have some energy in it. Time to start.

I begin the chant, enticing the energy in the gem to show me what made this room feel so odd. I could sense some presence manipulating the flow of spiritual pressure around me, but what it was, what it was doing, and why this room was so special, I couldn’t tell. The gem hums, not glowing just yet. Wind whips up around me, as I feel my body become weary. The spell was doing its job, draining me of some energy to complete its work. Everything was building to a boiling point. Soon it would-

“What?!” The sensation cut out. No more drain. No more wind. The gem just sat there, like the shiny rock it now was. I believe I used up what was left in it for nothing.

“…what’s supposed to happen, Branner?” I turn and see Con on all fours, staring at the now lifeless jewel in the middle of the room. I didn’t know what to say to him. Well, I suppose I could answer his very simple question.

“Assuming there was a spirit in here, the gem would light up with energy. From there, I could have summoned the being here, and bound it in the circle. But something went wrong…”

“There was no spirit here.” This time Lance pipes up. He said that like he knew.

“So there wasn’t. Care to chime in as to why, Mr. Welling?” He turns a beet-red. What is he hiding?

“I- Well, it’s just- There are patterns to the occurrences. They transfer slowly from room to room. Since the last thing to happen was in the entrance hall, I would say by tomorrow something would happen in the grand hall…” His voice slowly trailed off until his last words were barely a whisper. He’s looking at me, and I can guess why. My eyes are wide with surprise. Lance was declaring a pattern that most anyone else should have seen, and more importantly, told me about.

“How do you know this? You’ve only been working here three days. Not enough time to be so sure of a pattern. Not to mention, we injured the demon occupying the entrance. He’ll likely be out of commission for a while.”

Lance resumed his servantly demeanor. He spoke with as much calm as he could gather, which wasn’t much.

“I would wander all around here when my brother still worked for the Maladars. That is why I know the layout of the estate so well. How I came to notice these patterns with the attacks. It’s the reason, I think, that Doctor Maladar agreed to giving me a job. I already knew how much of the house operated.”

“Right, right, but that’s not the point. You noticed a pattern. A very simple one at that, but you noticed it, nonetheless. Why didn’t anyone else? Why didn’t you tell them? Why didn’t you tell me until now?”

The boy was getting nervous. He’s still hiding something. What else could he be-

“Branner, ya may wanna turn around…” Con was entranced with the gem, which now shone with a brilliant light. And it was getting brighter.

No time to think.

“Stand back, boys. You’re about to see something rather… interesting.”

I close my eyes and focus on a realm of pure ethereal. My thoughts leave my body, and I channel some spirit to do the work I need done.

“Anima continet… uinculis alligandum…”

The words poured out of my mouth, but I was not saying them. I barely heard the first two lines before I lost my connection with the physical world.

Instead, I was floating in a place of color with no form. The air around me seemed to twist with a whimsical nature, an attempt to make me lose focus. To lose your mind here is to lose yourself. You can’t go back. And I can’t let that happen.

That should have been enough time. I push my will outward and reach out for my own body again. The world around me reacts, changing from the soothing formless color, to a malevolent emotion, trying to engulf me. I touch the back of my own head and pull myself in. Such harrowing experiences should really be reserved for an occasion where I can plan for death, but I’ve yet to memorize the spell for this situation.

I return to my body to find myself on my knees, my arms, lazily collapsed at my sides. The spirit must have just jumped ship when it felt my return. It won’t cause any trouble and will be pulled back to the other side when necessary. Time to wander the earth is the payment for its services. I start to open my eyes, ready to-

My cheek stings with a rather sharp pain that shudders throughout my whole face.

“BRANNER! ARE YOU IN THERE?!” Con was shouting in my ear. It would appear he’s a bit worried about me.

“Yes, I’m fine Con. The slap was unnecessary. The yell was annoying. Anything else you’d like to do?” I give him a quick glare. He jumps back to his feet with a huge grin on his face. He turns and addresses Lance.

“See! Told ya he was okay!”

I pull myself to my feet and examine my work. The string on the ground was shining a curtain of light upwards, entrapping a spirit within. The smoke-like being inside let out some low moans, likely lamenting its current predicament.

“So, Master Branner, what is this?”

“This, Mr. Welling, is a ghost. And I told you before, just call me Branner.”

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 13

“What is that boy?”

Oh no.

I turn to the doorway and see the doctor’s head looking around it, staring at Con. How much did he see?

“Doctor, you have to understand, I have only the safety of-“

“Safety!?” he asks.

He steps through the door and walks toward me, rage barely contained in his being.

“You’d have me believe you’re thinking about our safety? This boy just survived what no man could. He injured what you have been having trouble trying to even locate. He vanished from one side of the room like a magician!”

“But this,” he gestures to Con, “thing is supposed to keep us safe?”

“Yes!” I nearly scream.

“Wouldn’t you say with all these abilities he is better equipped to protect your people? That he is strong enough to help with this situation? And if you saw all that, you must know he has thrown his life on the line to protect you!”

The doctor’s eyes break from mine. An opening.

I continue.

“Wouldn’t you say all of that is worth the benefit of a doubt?”

The doctor’s hand is shaking slightly. He holds onto that anger so tightly. I will admit, if any of his workers were in the room, I wouldn’t dare be so audacious. But if they were here, I doubt an appeasement would have helped my case anyway.

“You said you trust me, Dr. Maladar. You gave me permissions to search everywhere on your property. That means something from a man such as you. I cannot explain what this boy is, or how he came under my employ, other than he is who we need.”

He looks as if he is about to interrupt me, when I quickly finish my speech.

“If you do not allow him to remain, I will cease my investigation. Abandon you and your people to the horrors that ravage your home and not think twice.”

His mouth dropped open in surprise. A man raised in all that wealth and authority, and he’s never had someone speak to him this way.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t truly abandon him. These demons are too dangerous to leave alone. Even so, Maladar has no clue how to react to anything I’ve said.

The look of surprise fades quickly. He resumes a controlled and collected demeanor.

“Go into the main house, Branner. One of my servants will escort you upstairs. The study was your next destination, correct?”

“Indeed it was,” I reply, a sense of dread lifted from my thoughts.

“Go. Before I change my mind, Branner”

I turn to Con and give him a nod. We gather my things and leave the hall for the main house. As we exit, I hear the front door open, as the doctor exits.

He must be truly upset to open that door himself. My words were harsh, but not wrong. I do not think we can solve this without the help of Con.

Though I’m not to be trusted either. Yes, I need Con’s help, but I also believe him to be something more than the half-demon he appears to be. Even when released, he has full control of his demonic blood. I need to study him more after this investigation.

“Branner! We gonna move or what?”

“What? Yes! What?”

“You’ve been standin’ down there for a while now. Ya got something you wanna share with us?”

I clear my throat and start stepping up the stairs.

“No, no. I do believe I’m ready to continue.”

“Great. Then come on! I wanna see the upstairs when I’m not tryin’ to run for my life.”

The boy excitedly runs up the stairs. It’s a mean trick, but I did promise Maladar to keep him contained. I focus on the ring. The energy seeps out and into the band on his finger. He trips.

“Grah! What did ya do that for?! This stupid friggin, frappin…”

“Come now, Con. Such language should not be used in public. How are you feeling?”

“…grrr…hate you…” He stands up and shakes his head.

“It seems you’re getting used to the transformations. Soon you might be able to go back and forth with no problem.”

“Yeah. That’s a real shiny thought.” He cracks his neck. I notice some of the maids passing through become startled. I suppose he’ll take a bit of refining before he can become my official aide, but then, one could say something similar about me.

I flag down one of the passing servants, a young looking man who looked a bit nervous, and ask him to lead us to the study. We continue up the stairs, Con wobbling just a little bit.

“So, what is your name?”

“Con. Ya already knew that.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, though I do know that can’t be your real name. I was referring to the young man helping us.”

“Oh! Uh, my name is Lance Welling, sir.”

“Don’t look so timid. We’re not going to hurt you. Is this your first day?”

“Third, sir. I hope my inexperience isn’t-“

“Don’t worry about it, son. It’s why I picked you.” Someone summoned these creatures long before Lance started here. Actually…

“Why did you take up the position here? Surely you know of the dangers in the house.”

“I do sir. All too well, actually. See, my older brother worked for the Maladars before me. He provided for us. When we lost him…”

I understand.

“Your brother worked as a cleaner.”

“Yes, sir. I suppose Doctor Maladar told you about the incident.”

“He offered you money. He felt responsible. But you refused the flat out charity.”

“Indeed. Instead I agreed to work for him. To earn my money.”

I can’t keep being this cruel.

“Mr. Welling, if you would prefer to return to your normal duties, to keep away from these instances, I would understand. It would earn you no disrespect in my eyes.”

“I am fine, Master Branner. If I’m to be working here, I must be able to do all that is asked of me. Ahem, this way.”

He turns and directs us down another hall. These upper levels are like a labyrinth. And Lance has already worked through and memorized the layout.

I do seem to have a knack for selecting proper help, now don’t I?

The 19th Century Paranormal Investigator: Chapter 12

At that moment the doors to the main house opened. An infuriated Dr. Maladar burst into the hall followed by a few servants.

“Mr. Branner! Do you mind explaining what this street rat is doing in my house?!”

I see I touched a nerve. Seems to be a good moment to put on my own facade. Let’s see if the doctor can pierce it this time.

“I told you to just call me Branner. And if you could explain the issue using a more civilized tone, I would appreciate it.”

My posture straight, my gaze fighting the owner of the house, I stand defiantly in front of the doctor. He was understandably upset, but I needed this boy’s help.

Mister Branner, this young man has been more than a nuisance to my estate.” He came to a stop a few paces from where I stood with my new assistant.

“He has forced his way onto the premises without permission, stolen my property, caused untold destruction in the area and from what I’ve been told, directly assaulted your persons! How can you expect me to let such a boy free reign in my home?”

“That’s simple. I don’t.”

Con looks uneasy during all this. More than uneasy. This poor child. I’ve had to take away his strength, put him through the awkward position of walking among the people he has become so used to seeing as enemies, and now he must endure the rage of Doctor Maladar himself. This will not stand.

“Doctor, this boy can provide valuable insight into this investigation. He has many talents like the ones which enabled him to evade capture by your men for so long. And regardless of his past, he has been officially hired on as my assistant. If you wish to keep my services, you will accept that he will come along.”

“Yeah! Accept that!” Well, Con was looking a bit less sheepish. Funny boy.

“You are trying my patience, Branner. What gives you the right to talk to me in such a tone while you are a guest in my house?” His steely gaze was still in full force, but I have a hunch there isn’t much backing it up. Time for a gamble.

“Simple. You mentioned yourself that there have been plenty to try their hand at solving your particularly dangerous quandary. I am the first to prove there’s more to my words than just air. I am the expert on these types of events. You called for me. And while you’ve done much to hide your own feelings on the matter, you truly believe I am the first person you’ve brought here with a chance of helping you. So let me help you.”

I don’t believe it. The doctor backed down. His stare broke and he glanced sideways momentarily. Alright, I have the edge now. Time to bring it back. I turn to Con, who is looking ecstatic.

“But, as I said, I don’t expect you to trust him. Measures have been taken to ensure he won’t step out of line. In addition, he will only go where I go, sleep in my room and if you do find him away from me, you may feel free to escort him off the premises, never to be allowed back.”

The boy’s face went from joy to horror in an instant.

“Branner! That ain’t fair!”

“Oh really now? And what did you plan on doing that would take you away from my side, Con?” I glare at him. He should know better than to complain. True, I don’t like the idea of holding this boy’s own sense of normalcy over his head, but I have no choice.

Making peace between warring parties is always more difficult than starting the war. Sometimes it takes peace offerings. Sometimes it takes threats. And sometimes it completely fails and you’re forced to run from an angry tribe while they burn your formerly favorite coat.

Con just looked a bit upset. I will make it up to him. Someway. I really do feel bad about this, but I’m afraid I don’t have the luxury of playing nice in this situation. I turn my attention back to the doctor. His eyes have the similar sense of betrayal that Con’s had. Stay strong. I can’t let their emotions jeopardize the safety of everyone else. Show of force.

“Now, Doctor Maladar, if you’re quite through, I will need to examine your library. The room where Mr. Patrik was held. The one with the flying books.” I shoot a glance over at Con. His eyes light up. Now he knows what I meant.

“Branner, if you really expect me to-“

The doctor is interrupted by the sound of rushing wind and the whole hall goes dim for a mere second. It appeared as if a large shadow passed by, outside the windows. Everyone in the area is struck with silence. We all turn and looked where it came from, but whatever is was, it is gone.

“AHHHHHHHHHHH!” a housemaid screams out.

Well, that didn’t last long.

One of the men at the doctor’s side went to go comfort her. I look around. The beasts were gaining in strength, but they still can’t leave the house. That shadow wasn’t coming from outside, blocking the sun. They are creatures of darkness, possibly lacking a full physical form.

But their power radiates that darkness, like a reverse light. So the being must be on the other-

“Branner, now’s not a good time be in here.”

I turn back to Con. His eyes are filled with absolute fear. He is staring at the ceiling on the opposite wall where the shadow was only moments before. One of the demons was in the room with us. I now knew where it was. Everyone in the house was counting on me to do something.

I just wish I knew what.

Doctor Maladar turns and sees me looking the opposite way.

“Branner… what are you-“

“Doctor, I need you to get everyone out of here right now.”

“Of course, but-“

“NOW!”

I turn behind me.

“Con, tell me if it moves.”

“Oh it’s movin’ Branner. Right for the door!”

No time. I need to react. I reach into my pocket and grab the octagonal talisman from before. Pointing it at the door, I begin the chant.

“The darkness prevails.

Exposed to the-“

“Look out, Branner!” Con screams. I hesitate.

The unseen creature knocked me down. The talisman flies out of my hand. Curses. At least the demon is out of the way.

“Now, Doctor! Get them out!”

“Above you!” I quickly roll to the side just in time to see a huge crack appear in the floor. Con is proving helpful.

I look to the door to see the last of Maladar’s people leave. The demon tried to crush me. He’s favoring physical attacks. The conjuring magic he used before must take time. And to affect the physical world without being fully summoned takes concentration. Those are my only saving graces.

At the very least, this limits the damage he does. Well, to an extent. I need a distrac-

“BRANNER! Would ya unseal my power already?”

Oh right. Con. At least this doesn’t require a chant. I extend my hand and focus on the ring. I feel it click and a rush of smoke flows from the ring over the boy’s body. As it settles, Con falls to his knees. He looks up, a sparkle in those violet eyes of his. A grin comes across his face. He stands up and tosses his wild hair behind him.

“Hey there, ugly! Ya mind taking a break to let me whoop yer ass?” He jumps and catches on to the invisible beast.

He starts flailing around as the demon tries to shake him off. Now’s my chance. I run and grab the talisman off the floor. I point it up at the monster, trying to aim without hitting Con. With his half-demon physiology, the blast would be painful. And assuming it hits only him, that would leave me alone to face an opponent I can’t see.

“Con! Try to hold him in one spot!”

The boy is thrown from the beast. He goes flying against a wall and is left embedded in it.

“…sure thing… just let me try askin’ nicely…”

“Do what you can. Tell me when he’s between me and you.”

I point the disc at the wall and restart my chant.

“The darkness prevails.

Exposed to the light

falls before the veil

and bends…”

As I prepare my spell, Con pries himself out of the wall and falls to the ground. He looks up, sees something and jumps out of the way. A loud crash is heard as the windows around the wall shatter. The boy disappears as he turns into that energy form from earlier. He reappears on other side of his opponent and changes back and climbs up the side of the creature.

Con starts flailing back and forth through mid-air again.

“Alright Branner! In about two seconds here, you’re gonna get your shot. Better make it count.”

I aim for Con and try to keep the energy in the talisman held back. Con is trying to hit something on top of the demon. I can’t tell what, but-

Con’s hand squishes into the creature’s head, yellow liquid squirting out.

Oh. He was aiming for an eye. The creature roars in agony as he throws Con off again. The wound gives me something to aim for.

“Now, Branner!”

Right.

“…its MIGHT!”

I release the pent-up energy right at the floating wound. The beam slams into the invisible beast. The hit sends a shudder of energy throughout the creature, outlining it. The demon is a half humanoid, half serpent. The upper body has four arms and the head and back are covered in spikes. He’s a large beast, easily taking up most of the height of this massive entry hall.

Our opponent lets out another massive roar and vanishes. I can only guess he changed into a similar wisp form as Con. He’ll go somewhere secluded to lick his wounds. Meanwhile, we need to do the same. More importantly, we need to find the altar where the summoning ritual was performed.

“Con, are you alright?”
“Yeah, I think. Is the room spinning for you too?”

“Let’s say yes. I’ll have someone bring you water. When you’re ready, we need to investigate those flying books. As a matter of fact, we need to look into most of the occurrences that happened upstairs. I think they were caused by the other demon.”
“Going from one to the next? You want I should fight the next one blind-folded?”

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