Annie silently slunk between the graves, her footpaws sinking into the soft, turned over dirt of a fresh grave. Gingerly, she stepped around it, not wanting to annoy any ghosts still new to the afterlife and seeking entertainment. She thought over her meeting with Raven, mulling over his advice.![|347x333]
She had been holding onto the key in her pocket with her free paw throughout the entire journey up to the abandoned chapel, the metal growing warm from the heat that radiating into the brass. Annabelle held it partially out of comfort, and partially to avoid the potential fumble she might have in her haste to bring it out. Knowing that the item carried the magical potential of both summoning and grounding the ghost she would have to deal with, she knew that as long as the item was in play the ghosts would come as close as she possibly could to solidifying in the mortal world.
Which was when Annabelle would strike.
She had enough information to understand which part of the ghost’s ethereal form she would have to strike at. The weakness of an apparition lay in what vices they carried with them during their time spent amongst the living. Those who spoke, lied, and tithed people over with their words must be struck at the head. Those who occupied their days wallowing in self pity and pleasures of the body had to be impaled through their abdomen, preferably as close to where their liver would be as possible.
The unholy priestess that had led the cult and so many to dedicate their lives to her had pulled the on the emotional of kings and peasants alike. She would have to be slashed through where her heat had used to beat.
The rat now stood outside of the chapel, her breath spiraling out of her nostrils as plumes of mist spinning in on itself and disappearing without a trace into the now much frostier air.
She could sense that this was no mere change in the weather. Annabelle was amongst the dead, in a place that got as close as any to the realm that comes after life. The paladin stood on the threshold where spirits did traverse the realms of both their own and those that still breathed the air of the sky and felt their pulse rise at the thought of the shadows they would become. Her grip firm on her glaive, she readied herself.
In the place where lights winked out of existence, she would cast out her holy glow.
Her body became ever so slightly luminescent, her holy aura shimmering and manifesting itself the glow crept into the outer rim of her irises. Her normally pleasant pink eyes became altered as they appeared to adopt a slight shimmer. Iridescent golden eyes gazed out from her mask, evident as the rising sun of the hallowed powers within. She leaned against the heavy oak door that stood between her in the interior of the chapel.
Stepping inside, she pushed it shut behind her and surveyed the rows of decayed pews facing what appeared to be a defaced granite statue. Headless and missing an arm, the effigy appeared to be holding a canine infant in its arms, held up to nurse at its breast. Clad in flowing robes, tail hidden underneath its long cloak, the lack of a head gave the impression of demonic intention. Whoever had defaced the statue must have had quite the bone to pick with whatever goddess it portrayed.
She had no time to waste. Annabelle raised her glaive upwards towards the sky. Through a hole in the roof, the moonlight shone through and caught the holy blade’s metallic glimmer and reflected outwards. Vectors of light streamed outwards and illuminated the ruins around her. She thrust her staff downwards, striking at the cobblestone floor with the hollow thump of wood striking stone.
From the point of impact, a wave of bright, shimmering air spread outwards in all directions. Up the walls it crept and onto the ceiling before disappearing through the many cracks in the wooden beams above.
She struck the stone again, repeating the cast spell as the wind began to howl its plaintive wail through the shattered remains of the stained glass windows lining the walls.
As if arising from the howling wind, the sound of moans began to emanate from below, as if deep within the recesses of the cold floor beneath the rat’s footpaws.
She struck for the fourth time, her gaze surveying the inside of the chapel, hoping to provoke whatever undead spirits who slept within it out into the open.
The moans had now turned into the sound of voices, murmuring and beginning to mumble resentfully at the source of the noise that disturbed their eternal slumber.
Annie could feel the temperature of the inside of the ruins continue to steadily decrease, her breaths now coming in large plumes, like transparent smoke elegantly spiraling out of her nose and mouth to slowly descend down onto the cobblestones as an icey layer of dust.
Relentlessly she pounded the butt of her staff, deliberately infuriating the dead spirits that haunted the premises to a challenge of domain.
A blood curdling scream rang out from the front of the chapel, causing Annabelle to want to drop her staff and cover up her ears from the intensity. Gritting her buck teeth, she stared on stubbornly towards the altar at the front of the chapel. A shimmer haze appeared to be surrounding the stature of the nursing patron. From the jutting stone where its neck used to be, a pair of cervid ears began to poke out.
Rising out of the stone much like a ghastly genie, the feminine form of an elk ghost emerged from the effigy. Garbed in the same flowing robes as the stature she came out of, Annabelle noted that her proportions appeared particularly plump. Wide hips, voluptuous breasts, and an arch to her neck which demonstrated that she held herself with great pride.
The steadily plummeting temperature rose a few centigrades, as the ghoulish din abated at the full appearance of the ghost. Annabelle held her breath, tightly gripping the key in her pocket as she pulled it out, and held it up until it caught the moonlight. She spoke, her eyes glowing with added intensity as she disturbed the frigid air with her voice.
“Apparition! I have come to sever your tie with the mortal realm! Do not resist, or I shall be inclined to end your ethereal days with the edge of my blade!”
The expression on the ghost’s face appeared neutral as she surveyed the paladin before her. She tilted her head to the side, her robes billowing around her as if in an invisible wind. She appeared to take a moment to consider the rat’s statement, raising a semi-transparent finger up to her lips in an expression of mock retrospection. Throwing back her head, her silvery white headfur adorning the top of her head mirroring the floating state of her robes.
You dare come into my domain claiming your righteous poppycock as if I should care what a tiny little infant like you has to say?
Continuing to laugh loudly, her myth echoing around the walls of the chapel causing an effect as if the laughter came from all sides around Annabelle. The lack of cohesive source of the sound unsettled the rat, as she stared back deviantly at the ghost. Not allowing the ghost to distract her, she assessed the situation with what expertise she could muster. The apparition did not appear to look very afraid of her, but she had been forced to reveal herself. The cleansing spell that Annabelle had repeatedly cast must have had some effect on her causing her to reveal herself. The elk’s eyes alighted on the brass object that Annie bravely clutched in her right paw.
The key? Raven tried that trick last as well!
The ghost moved her hooves to her sides, her palms open as her fingers bent themselves inward much like the claws of a particularly peeved mountain lion. Her hair, as if electrified by some invisible diode, stood on end and writhed behind her like so many thread-like snakes. From her throat, another barrage of screaming escaped her. The laughter shifted from unsettled to making Annabelle feel as if her blood had turned to lead.
Still, she did not lose her focus. The slight glow to her form appeared to pulsate as if it were connected to the beat of her own heart. Quickly returning the key back into her pocket, she grasped her glaive with both paws and pointed its shimmering edge towards the ghost.
Just in time as well, from the clawed fingers of the ghost shimmered and began to wiggle. Undulating as if filled with maggots desperate to emerge from the bloated carcass of a long-slain animal, Annabelle’s eyes widened as they appeared to fall off of her hand and drop down towards the ground. The rat could feel her heart gripped with horror, as the spectral carpals shifted and began to grow. From her fingers morphed several ghostly hands, each clutching a weapon one nastier than the other.
Knives, morning stars, flails, swords, clubs, iron knuckles, and even what appeared to be a floor board with a rusty nail sticking out of it shimmered in their diaphanous disposition. Annabelle knew that although they might appear as if they could pass through her without harm, the nature of such weapons held a far deadlier threat than a mere wound to the flesh.
The damage such weapons could deal would wound her spirit, if severe enough they would cripple her soul to the point of no return. She would turn into a ghost herself, permanently marred by the many stabbings and blunt trauma dealt by the ugly array of violent tools.
She readied herself, ready to fight.
All of a sudden, the hands dropped their weapons. Instead of clattering to the floor, they merely passed through the mossy cobblestones and disappeared without a sound. Annabelle frowned, straightening from her battle ready stance and tilting her head to the side with an inquisitive expression on her muzzle. She was unsure of what to say, she could still feel her heart in her chest pumping away as her blood pressure began to slowly abate.
Is this a trick?
She thought to herself, confused by the coy expression that had now become apparent on the ghost’s visage. One moment she was ready to attempt to kill her, and the next she had completely disarmed herself. Had Annabelle not been curious as to why the ghost was behaving so irrationally, she might have taken her chance there and then and attempted to slash at her unprotected chest.
The ghost spoke, her tone of voice now tinged with a hint of sadness as it no longer echoed loudly off of the walls.
Pitiful creature… You remind me so much of her…
Annabelle still did not know how to respond, still under the impression that the ghost was attempting to pull off some sort of sleight of hand, she faltered momentarily. The ghost continued to speak, the tinge of sadness now descending into a full lament.
They took her from me… Robbed me of my own child… The fates decided that her little body shouldn’t even learn how to wash her hands in the river… Or feel the grass tickle the bottoms of her feet… And you look so much like her…
Annabelle believed that she now better understood the meaning behind the small wolf pup nursing at the stone breast of the statue behind the ghost. The cult must have revolved around some sort of matriarchal deity, its leader manically obsessed with the idea of maternity and the sacrifices one must undertake as a mother.
That would explain the disappearance of children in the night at least… And the pacifier in Raven’s muzzle to be sure…
Still, the rat had expected a fight. She now stood awkwardly, unsure of whether she should continue to face her spectral foe head on or offer words of consolement. The decision was made for her, however, as without warning the hands rushed towards her, their palms open and grasping.
The paladin had let her guard down, several of the fingers alight on her arms and legs and wrapped themselves around her limbs. She cried out, whirling around as she swung the glaive around in an arc above her head and in a U-shape in front of her.
Two of the hands were struck, sliced cleanly into two bits and fading into the air as if they had never been there to begin with.
But there were many. The small army of hands descended upon her with a predator’s conviction. Grabbing her, holding her and pulling her in several directions they tugged at her clothes, pulled off her mask, and at last with a sinking feeling in her heart wrenched her glaive from her paws.
And all of a sudden, she was defenseless. Lifted up into the air, the hands carried her aloft suspended in the air. As if crowd surfing above so many invisible villagers, the hands floated her towards the elk until she hovered only a few feet in front of her. The ghost’s initial aggression appeared to have completely vanished, she now gazed down at the rat with a look of affection across her soft features.
Look at you, helpless as the day you were born. You’re far too young to be wearing clothes such as that, sweetheart. Let’s get you into something a little bit more appropriate, shall we?
Raising her two ghostly hooves, she clapped them together in quick succession. The ghost hands obeyed, and began to strip Annabelle of her clothes much to her apparent alarm.
“No! Get off me, how dare you! Oof!”
She was interrupted as her robes were pulling over her head, leaving her only clad in her armor and silken underpants. She blushed, the white fur of her face doing a poor job of concealing her embarrassment as she saw a single ghost hand approach perilously close to her underwear.
She squeaked, now beginning to panic in earnest as she felt the straps holding her armor in place behind her back loosen. With a clatter, the metal and obsidian fell to the floor as the hand in front of her crotch looped a finger underneath the waistband of her undies. The rat watched in dismay as he undies were teased off of her, leaving her fully naked and vulnerable in the frigid night air. She shivered, and would have rubbed her forearms had they not been held spread eagle to the side.
Shivering with an added intensity, Annabelle did her best to attempt to free herself from the hand’s grasp. She struggled, thrashing around and pulling against the surprisingly strong grip of the hands that held her captive.
No no no! This won’t do. We can’t have you falling out of the bassinet and hurting yourself! Beatrice, arise!
The whites of Annie’s golden eyes were very apparent, she glanced to her left where the ghost mother had motioned with her hoof. From between the cobblestones, the head of another ghost emerged. A pure white mouse, who did not appear too different from Annie herself save for the claw mark gashes that run across her abdomen, rose up from the ground, her nose pointed straight upwards.
She hovered for a second, a few inches above the ground, before settling down onto the floor and turning to gaze up at the ghost mother. Her eyes were a pure white, lacking any irises or coloration, although they appeared to be the most substantial part of spectral form.
Once once before do again, the help of your paws you must lend!
Pointing squarely at Annabelle, who now desperately wanted the attention to be directed anywhere other than at her, the ghostly mouse turned to fix her blank stare at the naked rat in front of her. Floating up once more, she twisted and twirled into the air. Arcing above Annie, she performed a singular forwards flip in mid air before plunging down to dive straight into the rat’s chest.
Annabelle gasped as she felt the ghost enter her body, the uncanny feeling of cold numbness that spread out from the center of the ghost’s entry point and throughout the rest of her body deeply unsettled her. The sensation spread until it reached the tips of her fingers and toes, settling over her like a thin layer of snow on a chilly winter’s morning. She could feel her nerves weakening, her mind becoming dull and uncertain as the ghost slowly took over her mortal form.
Annabelle let out a deep breath, feeling as if all of the air inside of her lungs was being ritualistically squeezed out by a python who knew no concept of mercy. She could feel her pulse at the ends of her arms, her delicate wrists feeling the viscera flowing through as the holy aura she had been channeling wrestled with the ghost. Sins of a life dedicated to a cult of unborn blood and sacrifice put up a bitter struggle against the purity that the rat venerated.
Her golden irises, a visible manifestation of the order she practiced within began to ebb, bleeding out towards the edges much as they had originally bled in. She could feel herself losing the struggle, the combination of the many ghostly hands draining the holy shield she was attempting to maintain and preventing her from being able to resist the possession with the full might of her power.
This… Can’t… I… won’t… It… Feels… So…
It was as if a piston had been switched on. The emotional turmoil that besieged
her mind vanished as quickly as the motherly ghost’s rage. She felt relieved, comfortable, even euphoric. Each of her limbs felt light and airy, weightless from the lack of any recollection of responsibility, duty, or desire. She let loose a giggle, the hands that had previously been holding her captive now relaxed, holding her aloft but allowing her left paw to wander up to the front of her muzzle.
Naked as the day she was born, the rat suckled on her thumb, gurgling softly as she looked up at the motherly ghost with round, pink irises. For a moment, her eyes fluttered and she opened her mouth slightly. As another shudder ran through her, she closed her eyes tightly and sneezed once, twice in quick succession. She blinked, appearing drowsy from the exposure to the elements.