Whoops, been a while. I got a bit distracted with another, more pony-centric story I'm writing. It's about Derpy Hooves, you should check it out.
Anyway, some quick answers to some questions:
FrostShadowStar - Worry not. As I said before, I'll be throwing references and nods to all kinds of stuff, regardless of how canon they are to this story.
Annnnd, turns out that was the only real question (more of a suggestion, really) anyone asked (made, rather). In other news, this site apparently can't handle pagebreaks anymore. So, on that note, enjoy.
She pulled her heavy cloak tighter around herself as the wind kicked back up, sending ice shards disguised as snowflakes whipping about. It was blizzard season, it was always blizzard season here, and a storm was brewing, and brewing quickly. Looking up, she could see that getting to shelter before the worst of the wind and snow hit wouldn't be a problem, though she wasn't sure about getting out once her business was concluded.
A particularly strong gust arose, and she quickly slammed her pick into the stone and ice in front of her before she could be blown off course. Just a few feet to either the left or right would find her with nothing beneath her but open air and a long, decidedly deadly drop. This high up, these gusts were common, and only growing more so as the weather worsened.
Just a little further... slow and steady...
She should have brought someone with her. A guide, or hired hand, or even a young con-artist in a yellow track-suit would have been better than taking this path alone. Eddie would call it in if she didn't make it back to the plane, but it would be far too late by then if she fell. Then again, she didn't really have too many options; she hadn't heard from the kid for years and none of the locals would venture to the castle for any price. And Eddie could be counted on to fly, but nothing beyond that.
Careful there, girl... Wouldn't want to need a visit to Daisy...
She inched forward carefully, making sure the ground was solid under her foot before shifting her weight to it; the last thing she needed was to step into a hidden pitfall or a crumbly patch of stone. It was just a few more yards now, and she'd be at the gate. If she could make it that far, she'd be safe - at least from the elements.
She looked up at the castle looming in front of her. Despite its massive size, she could barely make out the grey of the stone and mortar against the white of the snow around her. It seemed so much bigger than she remembered, and she wondered how she was possibly going to find what she was looking for before she missed her deadline to return.
Well, with any luck, what she was looking for would find her.
She trudged forwards and upwards, and nearly fell on her face as the wind she was pushing against abruptly cut off. With a surprised blink, she realized that she'd made it into the boulder-lined alcove before the gate. The air here was almost unnaturally still, at total odds with the slicing frenzy of ice and air just feet away. No snow piled here, the paved rock bare and pristine. Even the ice that she shook from her cloak and hood evaporated quickly as it lay on the ground, not even leaving puddles behind.
The ancient arch of the gate didn't look as such, standing as strong and imposing as the day it had been built, whenever that had been. The iron portcullis was raised and the thick wooden gate itself was raised along with it, just high enough for someone of her height to pass through without ducking. It was a touch of irony that the sudden, unshakable feeling that she was being welcomed... wasn't inviting.
Still, it was better than the alternative: A closed, immovable gate and no choice but to return to the stirring Tibetan blizzard. As she stepped through the gate, the howling wind dropped to a whispering breeze. Looking back, she could see the snow being driven with a fury beyond the boulders. From somewhere deep within the castle, she heard a great, monstrous groan that reverberated off and around the stone, sinking into her chest and shaking her bones.
Maybe the blizzard wasn't such a bad choice after all...
The gate slid closed behind her, the portcullis rattling down with it.
Or she could stay inside and keep looking around, that worked too.
She reached up and pulled her hood back to improve her vision; without the wind, she hardly needed it up anyway. The castle was truly a castle in the classic function, its walls stretching around far more than the main fortress. In fact, the village at the base of the mountain could have easily fit within the walls, even with all the structures already there. Finding anything would be a lot easier if she had a Great Dane with her to sniff out some clues.
She counted at least seven stone houses, with possibly more out of her sight, a large well, two separate stables, what appeared to be a blacksmith's shop (if the anvil was anything to go by), an assortment of bare vendor stalls, what looked like a small playing field or training area, and a dozen other things that, with the lack of people, made the whole place seem lifeless. More like a crypt than a town.
She held in a shriek as a white and brown mottled owl landed not three feet from her, perching on a long-dead torch that was planted into the ground. It regarded her for a moment with its yellow eyes, head cocked to the side, before raising its foot and picking at one of the claws.
She didn't know very much about owls, but it seemed odd to her that one should land so close to a person and not seem even slightly on edge. Then again, she wasn't an expert on reading owls' emotions, either. What she did know, however, was that this owl was the only living thing she'd seen since she'd left the village, which made it quite curious.
"Just what are you doing out here?" She asked the bird. It gave her a look that very plainly called her crazy for talking to owls and ruffled up its feathers, hooting once. That done, it silently lifted from its perch and rose into the air, flapping just enough to carry itself to the top of the nearest building, whereupon it perched and stared down at her. Raising an eyebrow, she followed after it, coming to a stop at the base of the building.
It rose and flew to the next building down, turning to watch her once more. She waited for a moment, not quite sure if she was merely spooking the bird. It hooted at her again and flew back to the building she stood by, then turned around and went to the next building again, looking at her expectantly. She followed.
It wasn't exactly a Great Dane, but it would do.
Despite Shaggy's protests, Velma was up and about. Or, up, at least. Moving around was proving to be a challenge with the way her head was trying to implode. Though, honestly, that she had managed to throw herself through a second-story window and avoided breaking anything was nothing short of a miracle and, in light of that, she wasn't going to be complaining about a little headache.
"Auugh, my heaaaaaad..." Much. She'd entertained hopes that Miss Grimwood would be able to magic up some kind of aspirin spell, but, apparently, healing had never been the Headmistress's forte.
"Why not just lay back down and rest, huh?" Shaggy urged her gently, steadying her with one hand as she started to lean too far forward. "Give the 'ol noodle a chance to, like, warm up." A look of distraction ghosted across his face for a moment as he thought about noodles, but the concern returned as Velma waved his hand away.
"Last year, I fell into a rock quarry and broke my leg and I had to drag myself out and back to town." She said flatly. "I can handle a little bump on the head." Bravado aside, she moved as little as she could possibly manage.
"I really must agree with Shaggy." Miss Grimwood added. "The school is no quarry and you are not on your own. You should at least allow me to have someone who knows a thing or two about the workings of the human body look over you, in case you have injuries that I missed." Velma couldn't really fight the logic in that, much as she wanted to.
Really, Velma felt that this whole experience had gone wrong from the start. She'd spent four years chasing after real ghouls and ghosts, while the rest of the gang had gone into the mundane. She'd rather entertained ideas that she would be the worldly one in the group now. That she'd waltz in, snap her fingers, and reveal whatever had Shaggy so upset to be little more than a wily old man with too much time on his hands. But, no. Of course not.
Not only had it turned out that Shaggy now had more experience with monsters and the supernatural in his little finger than she did in her whole body, but she'd discovered that she was horrible at dealing with said monsters. It felt completely unfair to her that she should be blacking out and having panic attacks while Shaggy, of all people, rubbed elbows with werewolves and vampires and ghosts and who knows what else without so much as blinking.
Still, that was no excuse for being stupid with her health.
"Yeah, ok." Velma let herself lean back against the headboard of the bed. "I'll wait to get up until the school nurse or whoever signs off on it." A thought suddenly occurred to her. "Uh, you do have some sort of nurse or doctor here, don't you?"
"Of some sort, yes." Miss Grimwood instantaneously reverted to her usual pomp. "No official training, but she certainly knows more than enough about what makes a human tick to act as your nurse for today, I'm sure." She turned to the door, raising her voice. "Since you are all listening at the door anyway, could you come in here please, Elsa?" This was met with some muffled, embarrassed-sounding tittering.
The door swung open, revealing not only Winnie, Phantasma, and Sibella, but also what appeared to be an Egyptian mummy. Velma did not notice them, however, as her attention was caught by what walked into the room: a woman who looked to be around Sibella's age, but built entirely differently. Where Sibella was curvy and busty, this woman was over six and a half feet of solid muscle, with no chest to speak of. Her face was square, with large, blocky features that were set apart from each other in such a way as to give her the look of an old-fashioned doll. Her clothes were strictly functional, a form-fitting shirt and slacks that were ripped in several places to allow her bulging biceps and calves free movement, and her hair was a wild tangle of black and white that stood almost entirely straight up, making her taller than even Shaggy.
Also, she seemed to be made from the pieces of dozens of stitched together corpses, with a huge steel bolt protruding from either side of her neck. A vampire, a werewolf, a ghost (or phantom, if there was a major difference), and now one of Frankenstein's monsters. Apparently, the school was attempting to collect the whole set.
"There's a pun here," Velma muttered to herself, a touch proud that she felt nothing but a weary sense of vague annoyance at Elsa's appearance. "But I really hope no one figures it out."
"Ah, very good." The Headmistress waved the golem over. "Velma, this is Elsa Frankenteen, daughter of the famous Frankenteen Sr. Elsa, this is Velma Dinkley, a dear friend of Coach Shaggy. She seems to have come through her fall without any serious injury, but could you check her over to be sure, dear?"
"No problem!" Velma flinched instinctively; Elsa did not have a voice that inspired confidence in her intelligence. Quite the opposite, really.
"Uh, I'm not so sure about this..." The bespectacled woman leaned away as Elsa cracked her knuckles loudly.
"Like, don't worry, Velma." Shaggy smiled reassuringly. "Elsa's patched me up, like, more than once. She knows what she's doing." He blinked, a flash of discomfort crossing his face. "Uh, mostly." Velma did not find this comforting.
"You're in very capable hands." Miss Grimwood agreed. "Now, Shaggy and I shall step out so you might have a bit of privacy, hm?" Velma was suddenly sorely tempted to grab Shaggy's arm so he wouldn't leave her alone with her 'nurse', but she forced down the urge as he and the Headmistress made themselves scarce.
"Nice to meet you." Elsa boomed, which did nothing good for Velma's headache.
"L-likewise..." The bespectacled woman did her best to be friendly, but her voice was strained with pain and annoyance. There was a brief stretch of silence as they stared at each other. "So..."
"So, let's get started." Else sat herself by the bed, in the chair Shaggy had vacated. "Fish, waffle, Monday."
"Er, what?" Velma blinked.
"Just remember those." Elsa gabbed her wrist, feeling for her pulse. "Any chronic health problems I should know about?" Velma felt herself relax slightly; this, at least, sounded like a proper medical examination.
"I had asthma when I was younger, but I grew out of it years ago."
"Any recent injuries?" Elsa hummed and nodded, letting go of Velma's wrist. "Pulse is good, steady."
"Just the usual scrapes and abrasions from outdooring. Broke my leg last year, but it wasn't a bad break and it's been fully healed for about three months."
"And how do you feel now?" Elsa peered down at her. Velma was surprised by how intricate the stitches running across the golem's forehead were. Rather than repulsive, they were actually a little pretty, not incredibly removed from an Indian henna.
"Well, my shoulder's felt better," Velma admitted. "And my head is killing me. Got anything for that?"
"Let me have a look." Elsa lightly gripped Velma's arm and raised it slightly. "Any pain?" She asked, slowly rotating the limb this way and that.
"Only a little."
"How about now?" The muscular woman lifted her arm higher, and Velma felt a click in her shoulder.
"Whoa, tingly. That's not right." Elsa immediately lowered her arm again.
"Wiggle your fingers." Velma did so, though it was slightly difficult and the tingling remained, which she told her nurse. "Probably a pinched nerve." Elsa concluded. "How bad is your head?"
"Like a grenade went off in my brain." Velma did her best not to flinch as Elsa's gigantic hands placed themselves on either side of her face.
"Look up." Velma did, and the giant hands spread their equally giant fingers to feel the sides of her neck. "And left. And right. Now back to center and down. Left. Right."
"Ah!" Velma hissed at the sudden spike of pain shooting between her left shoulder and her neck.
"Yeah, pinched nerve." Elsa's hands wrapped around Velma's neck, feeling carefully along the contours of her spine. This made Velma very nervous. "Feels like your upper vertebrae are in still where they should be, no slipped discs. Little bit of inflammation, though." She took her hands back. "You probably jarred your spine when you fell, and the inflammation is putting pressure on one or more of your nerves. A little bit of ice and you should be feel a whole lot better."
"Oh." Velma reached up to feel the back of her neck. "Huh. So, it's safe for me to move around?"
"Uh-uh." Elsa nodded. "Just take it easy for a while. By the way, what were those three words I told you to remember?"
"Uh..." Velma thought for a moment. "Fish, Monday, and waffle."
"Probably no concussion, then." Elsa nodded.
"Awesome." Velma pulled back the covers and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. "This place is way too intriguing to waste my time in a bed." She paused, looking down. "...Where are my shorts?"
After sorting out her state of undress (which, she supposed, was only prudent. They'd needed to make sure she wasn't injured, after all.), Velma followed Elsa to the kitchen in a quest for ice. Much like the rest of the school, it was covered in cobwebs and dust and smelled slightly of disused decay. Hardly ideal conditions for preparing food. The ice was ok, though, so Velma wrapped some in a dusty towel and held it against her neck. She was almost surprised by the incongruity of a building without any sort of phone-lines or apparent electricity having a running fridge, but she recalled that Shaggy had indeed been living there. He always found a way.
Where everyone else had gotten to, Velma didn't know. She could barely make out Phantasma's shrieking laughter in some other part of the mansion, but there was no indication beyond that to even hint that there was anyone else in the building. Velma was just fine with that, as her headache would not welcome much company, no matter how fascinating. Besides, she had a walking, talking animated amalgamation of corpses right there with her; more than enough for her inner researcher to feast upon.
"So, how'd you get so good at medicine?" She asked, sitting on a stool by the counter. "There doesn't seem to be an abundance of humans around to practice on." Really, Velma was only mildly curious about this, but it felt rude to just ask something like 'What's it like to be a living corpse?'
"Comes with the territory." Elsa shrugged. "A body like this takes a lot of upkeep." Velma absorbed that thought for a moment, marveling at how easily the topic turned exactly where she wanted it to.
"So, your, uh, parts don't grow?" She'd always wondered that about Frankenstein's monster.
"Most of them do," Elsa explained. "But bits and pieces die off every once in a while, or don't grow right, so I gotta know how to replace 'em. Plus, I need to know this stuff if I ever wanna make kids of my own someday." Velma decided she should change the subject. While all this was very interesting, the implication was that Elsa wasn't... functional down there, and Velma felt uncomfortable asking about such a personal matter. (Apparently, asking about the growth of one's undead flesh wasn't personal.)
"What's it like here at the school, then?" It was almost refreshing to Velma, reminding herself of her complete lack of social grace. "It's year-round, right?"
"Yeah." Elsa leaned against the counter, somehow managing to keep her legs and hips completely straight. "It's great here! We're all really good friends and Miss Grimwood and Coach Shaggy teach us everything we'll need to know for when we go out and join our dadas." Velma did her best not to laugh at the idea of Shaggy teaching anyone anything other than eating and running. (Also: the fact that the woman who just diagnosed her pinched nerve still called her father 'dada'.)
"Shaggy was never much of a teacher back when we ran around in the Mystery Machine." Perhaps it was just the warmth of nostalgia, but Velma felt that her headache was already starting to recede. "He could cook, run, eat, and watch bad movies." (Well, that and make bad puns, but Velma really didn't want to bring those up again if she could help it.)
"He still does all those." Elsa laughed. "He even drives us into town once a month to see a midnight movie at the theater." For some reason, Velma found the idea of Shaggy in a movie theater with four (well, five if you counted the mummy) schoolgirls in the middle of the night to be less humorous. Not that she doubted his intentions, of course...
"How's Shaggy adjusted to all this, anyway?" She asked. "The idea that he's managed to spend the last four years in a house of monsters, ah, no offense, is pretty hard to take." Elsa laughed again.
"He took a couple weeks to adjust the first time he taught us, but he got used to things pretty fast." The large woman explained. "He left and went back to you guys, but when he came back it was like fitting a piece into a puzzle. I think the Coach needs us as much as we need him."
"Huh, I never would have guessed..." Velma felt a tiny sting of wistful sadness at Shaggy's apparent personal growth, though she supposed feeling such a thing was selfish. She couldn't really have expected her friend to hold himself in a stasis until she came back into his life, but she wished she hadn't missed out on seeing the changes happen herself. She hoped that Daphne and Freddie hadn't undergone such drastic changes without her as well.
"Well, he's not exactly a 'normal' person," Elsa cut into Velma's thoughts. "Even to us ghouls. I think that's one of the reasons we all got so attached to him so fast." The bespectacled woman had to smile.
"Yeah, he's always had a certain off-the-wall, goofy charm." She agreed. It was actually quite nice, talking with Elsa. Fascination with the undead aside, Velma had been playing lone wolf for most of the last four years, and had only just realized how much she missed the near-constant chatter of the Gang. "Speaking of Mr. Charming, where did he sneak off to, anyway? For that matter, where's everyone snuck off to?"Elsa took a moment to think about it.
"Miss Grimwood probably had everyone go to their rooms to give you some space," She said. "Which means Phantasma and Sibella are gossiping in the crypt, Winnie is probably running around outside, and Tanis is in her room."
"I believe," Miss Grimwood suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Tanis requested that he help her with something. I trust the fact that you are out of your room means you are feeling much better, dear?"
"Getting there." Velma nodded, shifting the towel of ice for a moment so the Headmistress could see it. "Elsa's just been telling me a bit about how things work around here."
"Wonderful." Miss Grimwood smiled, walking to the fridge. "Perhaps we could continue that conversation over a late lunch, if you're up to it? In all the excitement, it seems all of us neglected to eat." It was then that Velma's stomach decided to remember that it both existed and was very empty.
"That sounds like a good plan." Velma nodded. She wondered if Sibella, Phantasma, and the mummy (Tanis, she assumed) would be joining them for the meal. Her experience and common sense told her that ghosts and mummies didn't eat, and that vampires lived off of blood, but she didn't want to make any more assumptions about the workings of monsters at this point.
"Alright, then." Miss Grimwood turned to Elsa. "Go round up Sibella and Phantasma and see if the three of you can't find Matches so we can get the food from lunch reheated. Velma, would you be so kind as to fetch Shaggy and Tanis?" She pointed to a small door off to the side that Velma hadn't noticed before. "Just go down and you can't miss Tanis's room."
"Uh, sure." Velma put the ice down, glad to find that the pain in her shoulder and head was down to manageable levels.
The door, as it turned out, opened to a small stairwell, leading down. The wooden steps were lit by old, hanging lanterns every few yards, leaving small patches of darkness between them. At least there was a handrail. Velma gripped it and carefully descended.
After about forty full seconds of walking downwards, Velma began to wonder just how far the steps went. There was a slight curve to the stairwell that kept her from seeing more than two or three lanterns ahead, which also meant she had no idea when she would reach the end. She had to be at least as far down as the house was tall, on the outside, that is.
Pondering this, and getting just the slightest bit unnerved with the sound of her shoes clacking against the wood, Velma realized that she could suddenly smell smoke. In the same instant, the handrail abruptly ended, which momentarily threatened to throw her off balance. She took a moment to regain her bearings, placing her hand on the wall for support, and realized that the walls were not the wooden walls of the school, but a rough, cold stone. She turned to look back up the staircase to see if she could spot where the change had occurred, but all the lanterns she had passed were now out, leaving nothing for her to see but pitch-black darkness.
"The house is just messing with me now, isn't it?" She muttered to herself in a slightly cross manner. "Whatever. Nowhere to go but down." She turned and continued following the stairs, noting, but not acknowledging, that the steps too had gone from wood to stone. The next lantern that appeared was not a lantern, but a torch set into the wall (which explained why she was smelling smoke, at least.)
Velma was quite grateful when the stairs finally ended, leading to a small landing made of the same rough stone blocks as the walls and stairs. Her headache was starting to get worse again, and her shoulder was feeling sensitive from the constant motion on the stairs. Feeling a bit annoyed at Miss Grimwood for sending her down here, she too a deep,slow breath and pressed on.
The landing ended in a small stone arch, which led to a stone corridor, which led to a larger arch. Velma was getting a distinct impression that the whole thing was a Mobius strip, but was proven wrong as she continued on.
"Huh." She was torn between exasperation and fascination as she found herself standing in an ancient Egyptian tomb. The room was huge, lit by torches and braziers, and filled with large statues of the Egyptian gods Set, Neith, and Sobek and stone tablets covered in hieroglyphics. From her brief studies in ancient Egyptian culture, Velma was able to identify the many jars that littered the area as being made for storing organs. She rather didn't want to find out if they were fulfilling their purpose. Piles of gold and and trinkets were spread around the room, mixed liberally with the omnipresent sand. Velma wondered to herself whether or not, should she break through a wall and dig straight up, she would find herself in Egypt or Louisiana.
In the center of the room, there sat a huge sarcophagus atop a stone dais. Velma wasn't an expert on hieroglyphics, but the illustrations adorning the casket seemed to depict a scholar, or priest, maybe, under the sway of a Pharaoh whose face was obscured by a black cloud. She was unsure what the next few pictures meant, but the priest/scholar seemed to become ill or unstable somehow, ending in his death. The next images depicted a room that was obviously the very tomb Velma was standing in, being filled with the dead scholar/priest, his possessions, and a young girl, presumably his daughter (or wife, Velma thought. The Egyptians didn't really mind young brides, what with the shorter life span back then.) Something about the whole thing struck her as odd, and her eyes went back to the black Pharaoh. She felt a niggling in the back of her mind as she looked at it, making her headache spike.
"Umph!" Velma was snapped out of her impromptu researching by a small, high-pitched grunt. It sounded as though it had come from the other side of the sarcophagus. "Give me a little more..." It sounded like a teenage girl. Cautiously, as well as suspiciously, Velma began to silently round the casket.
"Like, I don't think I can!" Came Shaggy's voice, strained with exertion. "It's way too, urrgh, tight! Any more and I might, like, hurt you." Velma very nearly froze in scandalized horror, but forced herself to keep creeping.
"I can, auugh, take it, Coach!" The girl's voice (presumably Tanis) whimpered. "Just give me everything you can..." The bespectacled woman had to bite her knuckle to keep from giving away her presence.
Velma surreptitiously peeked around the corner, cheeks blazing red and eyes narrowed. Tanis stood just in front of her, eyes closed. Judging from her size and general body shape, Velma guessed she couldn't be more than fourteen (or would that be two-thousand and fourteen?) She was covered from head to toe in white wrappings, except for the strip around her eyes, with a space on either side of her head allowing short, straight black hair to spill out. Despite the fact that she was totally covered, her wrappings extended around the top of her legs in a sort of miniskirt (but, after the werewolf in jogging shorts, Velma wasn't going to question a mummy in a wrapping miniskirt.)
Shaggy stood beside Tanis, pulling mightily on a strip of wrapping.
"Like, how's, hmmph, this?" He handed the taut cloth to Tanis, who sucked in a breath and pulled it around her stomach.
"Nnng... Got it!" The mummy relaxed, letting go of the now-connected wrapping. "Thanks, Coach!" She quickly turned and gave Shaggy a hug.
"Like, don't mention it." The tall man laughed, returning the embrace. "Just maybe, like, ask your mummy to send you some extra wrapping. You're growing way too fast to, like, keep wearing what you have."
"I know!" Tanis agreed. "It's so embarrassing wearing these old rags. If the other girls found out I can't hardly fit in these anymore, I'd just die!"
Velma, having managed to regain her composure, quickly retreated to the front of the sarcophagus before she could be seen.
"Hello?" She called. "Anyone in here?"
"Like, that you, Velma?" Shaggy came around the dais. "Guess that means Elsa gave you a clean bill of health, huh?"
"Yep. Miss Grimwood sent me down here to tell you and Tanis that it's time for lunch."
"Groovy! I'm, like, starving!" Shaggy placed a hand on his stomach. "I haven't eaten since my pre-lunch snack!"
"Nice to know you're still a bottomless pit on legs." Velma snarked lightheartedly. She then noticed Tanis shyly peeking from around the sarcophagus. "Hey there, you must be Tanis." Tanis ducked back out of sight for a moment, before shuffling timidly out into view.
"Hi..." She mumbled. Velma smiled; the kid was certainly adorable for a thousands of years old corpse.
"Hi." She returned. "I'm Velma. Nice to meet you." Tanis just nodded in response, shifting slightly behind Shaggy. "Ok, then..." Bashful, this mummy. Perhaps she was embarrassed by almost being caught unwrapped, so to speak. "Let's go eat." Velma spun on her heel and marched away from the awkwardness, into the corridor.
It was then she remembered the stairs.
Oh, she was not looking forward to the coming climb...
She huffed tiredly at the top of the stairs, leaning against the wall. Of course, of course the owl would lead her up the very tallest tower in the castle. Catching her breath, she stepped into the room.
Dusty, cold, dark. A long-dead fireplace was nestled in the corner. The bookshelf was completely in order. Aside from the perch upon which the owl now sat, nothing in this place had seen life for quite some time.
And yet, the cauldron was bubbling.
She approached it slowly. The liquid inside was a sickly green, thick and smelling of decay. The air around it seemed to shimmer, like a soap-bubble barrier. She reached out and popped it.
The liquid reacted instantly, quivering furiously and rising. It pulled itself into the air, twisting and bubbling as it defied gravity. The owl gave a startled hoot and flew out the window. She took a step back as a shape began to form.
There before her, floating above the cauldron, was the green, transparent head of Vincent Van Ghoul.
"Hello again, Ms. Blake." He said. "If you are speaking with this sending, it may already be too late."