As the pale light of the full moon shined down on the ancient walls of Nightmare Hill Castle the night was split by terrible screams. Flashes of white light that rivaled that of the moon illuminated the stones in brief bursts, revealing the trio of strange figures moving along the wall between two towers.
As they neared a low point, where the masonry had crumbled and partially collapsed over the years and which had not been fully covered by the wards that had enclosed the castle another flash lit up the night and as one they threw themselves towards freedom, the first two sliding over the edge and out of sight while the third was hit by the beam. The unfortunate soul cried out as the light wrapped around him, dragging him backwards even as he fought and struggled. There was just enough time for him to shout an angry curse at the pair he could see fleeing into the night before he was dragged off the wall and down into the castle courtyard…
As they reached the narrow band of forest that separated the castle from the Western side of Nightmare Hill the fleeing figures stopped to look back at the castle.
"This disaster is on your head Struva." Tarmid said angrily as he gestured in the castle's direction. "I warned you that the castle was too much for us but you insisted on going through with this mad plan anyway!"
"Silence." Struva replied as he gazed intently at the now dark building. "You have no right to question my decisions, I am Ghost Master here, not you."
"Much to the dismay of everyone it would seem." Tarmid said softly, though Struva still heard.
"This is merely a setback Tarmid, we will have it set right in mere days." Struva replied confidently.
"How?" He yelled, rounding on the Ghost Master. "This ambush cost you what remained of your team! Every single one of your haunters has either been captured by those cursed Ghostbreakers or deserted to avoid that fate."
"Then the Committee will simply have to send us reinforcements." Struva answered. "Better haunters then the rabble they sent us here with."
"No Struva. I remained silent despite my growing doubts, even as your poor choices cost you haunter after haunter. I will not stay quiet now though; will not allow your incompetence to trap even more ghosts." Tarmid said quietly as he turned away from the Ghost Master and floated off towards the lights of the town.
"You will pay for this treachery." Struva muttered under his breath as the scout vanished from sight. Still muttering to himself the defeated Ghost Master floated off in the opposite direction…watched the whole time by the large man who had lurked in the shadows during the conversation and now slowly moved to follow Struva.
The chambers of the Haunter Committee were filled with voices as the members talked among themselves, all wondering what had happened in the mortal world to warrant an emergency meeting. The conversation drifted into silence as the large double doors at the end of the hall opened to admit Balam, the head of the Committee, who hurried to take his place at the head of the long table.
"Thank you for gathering on such short notice everyone." Balam said as he took his seat. "I'm afraid that we have a bit of a crisis on our hands. Nightmare Hill has been lost."
"What do you mean Balam?" An air spirit asked from down the table.
"Ghost Master Struva's team has been wiped out. His scout returned here and reported on Struva's disastrous campaign." Balam replied, glancing down at the report Tarmid had provided him. "From the sound of it, he completely ignored Tarmid's advice on planning their hauntings, instead choosing to strike where he chose. This led to a large portion of his team being trapped or captured by the mortals. The remainder deserted him and we don't know what has become of them."
"What about Struva?" A large white cat mewed from her seat.
"He has not returned and Tarmid could not tell us where he may have gone. Perhaps he chose to exile himself rather than face his defeat or perhaps he is lurking somewhere and plotting." Balam answered.
"I should have seen this coming." Rakarth said from his seat on Balam's left. "Struva showed great promise during his training but I was worried even then that his attitude wasn't right for a Ghost Master, too arrogant and sure that his way was best. This is as much my fault as his."
"No Rakarth." Balam said, putting a comforting hand on the old ghost's shoulder. "You can only teach a ghost the art of haunting, how they choose to use it is up to them. Struva made his decision and now he is dealing with the consequences."
"We do still need to decide what can be done about the town though." Drycha reminded them from her seat on Balam's other side. "That town was already filled to bursting with hostile mortals and I fear that Struva's defeat is only going to make them more determined."
"We need to assign a new Ghost Master as soon as possible!" Another council member screamed from down the table, setting off a tidal wave of questions and loud discussions which stopped as quickly as it began when Rakarth banged his staff against the floor of the chamber, the sound amplified to booming levels by his power.
"Thank you Rakarth." Balam said as order was restored to the chamber. "Now, we agree that we must assign someone else to the town quickly but the question is, who do we send? Drycha, who is in the area at the moment?"
Summoning a sheet of paper from her office with a thought the nature spirit's eyes skimmed over the page, picking out pertinent information. "We have three Ghost Masters currently on assignment in towns close to Nightmare Hill. Soulscreech, Azrael and The Nightmare Chef." She replied though from the frown on her face Balam could tell she was not done.
"Unfortunately, we can't reassign them anywhere. Soulscreech has reported that a group of mediums have been giving her ghosts trouble and infiltrating their defenses has proven difficult. The chef, as you know, prefers to work with a small but experienced team instead of the larger, more varied forces the other Master's use. He simply does not have the numbers needed for an undertaking of this magnitude." She reported, pausing for a moment to summon another paper before continuing.
"As for Azrael, he has just ended a siege of a Ghostbreaker base, that while a success, has left his team battered and in need of time to recover their strength. He reported that they were utilizing some new technology that really did a number on his haunters."
"We'll have to decide who to pull." Balam said with a resigned sigh. "The situation in Nightmare Hill won't wait."
"Not yet." Drycha cut in before anyone else could speak. "Just because there isn't anyone close doesn't mean there isn't someone farther afield we could reassign." Reaching down beside her chair she brought up a large leather-bound book, pulled a loose page out and spread it over the table before her.
Color bled into the page as the Committee waited, forming roads and natural features while clusters of buildings rose up to mark the mortal towns and cities. A tiny flock of bats materialized and began circling Nightmare Hill.
The other committee members were respectfully silent as they watched Drycha manipulate the map to look at different areas and check things in her book. They could see that it was not going well though by the increasingly concerned expression on her face. Several members jumped in surprise when she suddenly let out a cry of victory.
"Gravenville." Drycha said as she turned her gaze on Balam and Rakarth.
"Monzel" Rakarth murmured to himself as Balam addressed Drycha.
"Are you sure? Monzel is still a very new Ghost Master, despite her astounding victories. Do you really think she could pull this off?" He asked, a tiny shred of doubt evident in his voice.
"I think she can." Rakarth interrupted. "As you said, Monzel has pulled off some impressive victories and I feel that we need someone like her on this assignment."
"Plus, Gravenville can spare it's Ghost Master. The latest reports from Zulban have stated that the town is quiet, our enemies seem to be focusing their attention in other places these days." Drycha reported.
"Very well then. Monzel it is." Balam decided. "Anyone opposed?" He asked, staring down the table. When nobody spoke up he returned his attention to Rakarth. "Go and tell her the news Rakarth"