In the months since arriving in Grimglass I had discovered two things, the first being that despite having been mostly abandoned for who knew how long it had a fairly sizable and decent library, and the second was that whoever had been responsible for it before had clearly had only the loosest grasp of the concept of organization. The books were scattered haphazardly throughout the library and indeed the entire lighthouse.
I was still working to catalogue them, which was slow work when half the time I found myself getting distracted by their contents. I was flipping through a mildew speckled treaties when Mildmay wandered in, dust smeared and holding a new stack of books. He had taken it upon himself to explore and repair the lighthouse tower and occasionally stumbled upon abandoned volumes.
Sliding the book I had been skimming though back onto its shelf I remarked, “I wish you would find something better to do with your time. You’re going to fall down those stairs and break your neck.”
Inwardly I winced at the harsh words. I had been making an effort to be pleasant since our arrival here and for the most part I had succeeded. Perhaps I could have phrased it better but it was an argument we had long since worn out. I remained convinced the steep, twisting staircase of the lighthouse and his limp were a terrible combination and he had chosen this issue to exercise his considerable stubbornness on.
The look he gave me at the snippy comment was pure annoyance, as if he could not even be bothered to deal with it anymore. It was going to be one of those days, then. As the only two residents of the lighthouse arguments tended to hang in the air for days afterwards and there was no avoiding them.
“I’m fine.” He said, harsh and closed off and visibly irritated.
“I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to prove here, darling,” I replied with my harshest, brightest smile, the diamond one I had perfected for court. “But either way I’m not terribly impressed.”
I could see him bite back a retort, the way he did when he knew the argument was going to end badly for him, and instead turned and back out without a word.
With a sigh, I started filing again.
See, thing is, I actually liked Grimglass. I mean, I ain’t exactly an expert on lighthouses so I can’t really compare but as far as they go I figure it’s gotta be a nice one. The stairs were a bitchkitty but once you got past that bit and made it to the top it was all ocean and air as far as you could see. Kind of like being back in the lower city, on top of one of them cathedrals or some of the taller tenements, only without the buildings or the noise or the crowds or any of that. Seems like the two don’t got much in common and maybe you shouldn’t be able to compare them but its more about the feeling than the details, if that makes any sense. Like you got a moment to catch your breath from life before you gotta dive back into it.
The tower was hardly worth mentioning when we first got here. Hell the whole place hadn’t been cleaned in who knew how long, with most of the gears to make it run all jammed up and the light near impossible to see. Felix hadn’t much noticed, on account of how there was a library in one of the rooms downstairs and that was all he needed to see of the place to decide he liked it. He spent most of his time down there now, studying or organizing the place or whatever else he felt like doing on a given day. Sometimes I dropped by and he didn’t mind, not the way he would have once. It was nice and all, but some days it just felt too much like the Mirador, all stuffy and dark and quiet.
So I’d started working on the lighthouse. Not that I really know how they run or nothin’, at least not at first, but I guess its something even me could figure out, and most of it was just cleaning or getting gears unstuck. I’d started at the bottom and sort of worked my way up, ‘cause that seemed like the thing to do, cleaning out the little rooms stuck here and there off the windy staircase leading up to the top. Mostly I’d found old books or papers and Felix always got real excited for that so I figured it was okay. Most of the time out here we almost got along. ‘Cept for the times we didn’t, of course.
And yeah, in case you were wondering it pissed me the hell off the way he didn’t think I could get around the place ‘cause, yeah alright, I might be a crip but he didn’t need to go pointing it out or nothing and we both knew that. Didn’t matter how true any of it was.
I mentioned I didn’t like the stairs, right? They were steep and slick and it felt like it got colder with each one, and my leg wasn’t liking that none. The dark and gloom seemed to pick up, too, in a way that had me working real hard to convince myself wasn’t mikkery. The rooms were scattered out randomly off the steps like someone had just tossed half of them onto the building and called it a day and it felt like miles to the latest one on my cleaning list.
The floor of the room was covered with about an inch of dust and mostly empty, just some busted up furniture and a ragged looking book abandoned on the floor. Well shit this was going to be fun. Worst part was I really didn’t have anything better to do with my time.
I figured I’d start by investigating the book, in case there was something in it Felix could make heads or tails of, so I limped over towards it, my feet kicking up dust. Then out of nowhere a chill ran up my whole body as my foot hit the floor, like it’d turned to ice and I’d gone right through. I just had time to glance down and spot the edge of some old faded red circle traced on the floor and suddenly visible through the dust before that same chill slammed through the rest of me. I had time to think, aw fuck me sideways, before it was all cold blackness.
At first I did not notice Mildmay was missing. Maybe that should have made me feel like a terrible person but the simple truth of it was the building was a maze and he was exceptionally good at not being found when he put his mind to it. In a way it was a relief; I had no intention of apologizing for my concern and any meeting would have just been awkward and angry until something happened to distract us from it. In any case I usually lost track of time among the books. It was not until the next afternoon that it even occurred to me to miss him, and it was several more hours before I began to wonder if something besides sulking was keeping him away.
I had mostly avoided the lighthouse tower. It held no real interest for me and despite my constant worrying about his leg Mildmay did seem to enjoy it there, and I did not want to intrude on that.
Scaling the stairs I was struck for the first time by the darkness of the place. It was not noticeable at first but with each floor the mikkary of the place seemed to grow. Near the top it grew almost unbearable until I passed a room indistinguishable from the others I had seen except for the feeling of gloom that surrounded it. I could imagine the darkness seeping under the wooden door and tumbling down the stairs like a waterfall, washing endlessly across the rest of the tower. If nothing else it might explain the fights that had kept us constantly on edge here.
Fighting back a shiver and telling myself Mildmay would have known better than to go in there I carried on towards the top. I could deal with it once I had found my brother.
He stood on the walkway at the top, a black shadow silhouetted against the evening sky. He did not move as I stepped to join him. But for the wind tugging at his hair he could have been carved from stone and just as cold.
“Alright, I’ll admit the stairs are not that bad.” I said as I leaned against the railing, staring out at the gray waves. I would never be truly comfortable around water but the ocean was a far cry from the Sim. Most days I did not even mind it. There had been a bad storm not long after our arrival that had flooded me with half remembered images of shipwrecks and drowning. Now though, smooth and hidden by the gathering night with the smell of salt and the hiss of small waves on the sand below it was almost pleasant. For the first time I began to get a picture of why Mildmay liked it up here.
He still had not replied, or even moved. He was usually quick to forgive me after our fights; he always had been. I glanced sideways at his shuttered face then turned my gaze back out to the water, trying to decide what to do next. I did not do apologies well.
“I found a book you might like.” That was sure to get me some sort of response. He loved any chance to read, loved that he could, and I took secret delight in the way he almost smiled when he got a hold of one. I had started setting some aside for him as a result, stories and histories mostly, since those were the sort of things he particularly enjoyed. Some he read himself, others he saved to share with Kay Brightmore on the occasional visits we made to him. Either way my comment was bound to get a response.
Only it did not.
Starting to get irritated I turned to face him again and, for the first time, got a good look at his eyes.
It was like watching myself from a million miles away, like I really was some clockwork bear. I was stuffed way down in some tiny pocket inside myself, hanging on to me because I’m stubborn like that I guess. But damn if it wasn’t hard.
It wasn’t even just a voice in my head, the way Felix had said that fantôme he’d tussled with had been. Sort of the other way around, to be honest. Like I was the little voice and it was doing a hell of a job ignoring me, and the more it did that the more I started to fade away.
Most of my mind was all pissed off vengeance which I guess is kind of the point with fantômes. Somewhere someone was talking but it was a distraction, something that didn’t matter or mean anything or even apply to me because at the moment I was too busy holding on for dear life to care.
It was obvious where to start, of course. The room on the stairs oozed evil. It felt like moving through a fog to cross it, carefully avoiding the familiar faded circle on the floor. The contents of the chamber had been left untouched, probably from the day the fantôme had been summoned. It would have had little use for spell books or furniture.
Anyone who was not a wizard might not have noticed the faint sheen across Mildmay’s icy green eyes but they certainly would have picked up on the cold, disconnected expression on his face, like a porcelain doll or discarded puppet. I’d had nothing to do with getting rid of the fantôme at Hermione and had relied on a titan clock to dispatch of the second one I had encountered. This was different, this was not me gambling with my own life or a group of trained wizards, this was just Mildmay, who could face down a threat without blinking, provided it was physical. Something like this was entirely different. I hated leaving him where he was but arguing with the spirit was useless and in the end it could only manipulate him, not force him to harm himself as long as he had enough strength and control.
I had expected frantic research, desperate searching for the counter spell I only vaguely remembered from Hermione but in the end it was almost irritatingly simple. A few minutes flipping through the same discarded book that had been used to summon the thing and left behind, forgotten, after it’s arrival on the floor of the room. It took me far longer to grasp the concept behind the thing, mentally work my way through the steps of what I would have to do, and the complexities of the conjuring.
I was nearly done when the figure that should have been familiar but was not glided through the door, scarred face staring emptily at me. He was not limping, like a puppet on strings, disconnected from reality and no matter how familiar his face was it was not him.
“What art thou doing?” The harsh, slurred vowels were gone, too, and I shivered at the voice, so similar to the one I remembered from my own fantôme. For all the time I spent nagging him about his terrilbe grammar I found myself instantly missing it.
There was not time to finish analyzing the book. I circled the red line on the floor as I began reading, working to keep it between myself and the fantôme. It knew what I was doing the instant I began speaking, but also knew better than to cross over that line and risk being trapped. I stumbled slightly over my own feet, concentration torn between unfamiliar words and the need to stay out of reach. Then, with a muffled silence that would have been an explosion had it not been soundless and still, my brother’s body crumpled to the floor.
“There was this hocus here once, long time ago, and he’d been pissed ‘bout getting stuck in this lighthouse, way off in the middle of nowhere alone.” I explained, sitting in one of the library chairs wrapped in a blanket I’d only let Felix drape around me to get him to quit fussing. “Truth is I don’t think he was all that good at any of it. The rest of them assigned him to this place just to get him out of the way, and he knew it.”
I hadn’t much looked at Felix during all this. I don’t know, I guess I was still a little shaky, and I never much liked him seeing that. Yeah we got issues why do you ask?
“So he sat out here all alone night after night blaming them for it and gettin’ madder about it all the time.” I continued. I’d picked up most of the details from the thing in my head, the fantôme, and shit wasn’t that a pleasant thought it being here all this time without us knowing? Might explain the arguing, why Felix spent so much time getting on my case for nothing and I was so quick to snap back.
“So one day he finds this spell and I guess he’s just bitter and stupid enough to try it and hey presto, next thing you know he’s got a fantôme on his hands. I think it killed a lot of the hocuses he blamed for everything. And then he lived here until he was an old man with a fantôme in his heart and perfectly happy about it. When he died it stuck around until I found it.”
“Charming.” Felix said in that tone that meant it really wasn’t. If I could have smiled I would have.
Instead I settled for the best I could do, finally looking up and meeting his mismatched eyes. “Thanks.”
He shrugged a little awkwardly because neither of us were good at this sort of thing even when we meant it. “That’s what brothers are for, or some sentiment like that. Although you realize none of this would have happened if you’d listened to me in the first place.”
“Oh fuck me sideways,” I muttered, catching the smile he hid under that holier-than-thou look on his face. It was the same argument all over again, ‘cause hey, some things ain’t never gonna change, right?