Practically leaping out of the driver's seat as the car rolled to a stop, the driver ran around to open the passenger door for Dr. Brunner. Climbing out the doctor stalked across the vast space, completely ignoring the half dozen vans or the dozens of green or gray jump suited mortals rushing about with equipment or shouting directions to each other.
Pushing through a set of double doors into the Ghostbreaker's command center, filled with monitors manned by more of the green suited staff who were busily coordinating the various teams scattered about the city. Weaving among these stations Brunner made her way to a second set of doors and into the lab where all the Ghostbreaker's gear was created and maintained.
Officially run by Dr. Maureen Ramis, Brunner knew that the brilliant Ghostbreaker had not yet recovered from her team's repeated defeats in Gravenville. In truth the lab was managed by Dr. Misty Berlin, who was brilliant in her own way and certain to go far in Ramis's absence.
Brunner found the young scientist making adjustments to one of the scanners the Breaker's used to locate ghosts in the field. Ignoring Brunner's presence Misty continued working, spending several minutes replacing and rewiring pieces of the scanner. Finally she slotted a piece of plastic back over the exposed space and pressed a button on the machine's side, nodding in satisfaction as the thing beeped and lit up before falling silent, obviously not finding any spirits in the room.
As Misty set the device off to one side Brunner spoke up. "I was at the castle tonight, and while I was there I was able to watch as a bunch of ghosts invaded, destroying things and messing with the tourists."
"And was anyone hurt?" Misty asked.
"Well…Actually they were a group of ghost lovers so they had the time of their lives. That's beside the point though." Brunner replied, noticing the small smile Misty was trying to hide.
"No ghost should have been dumb enough to come back after what we did there. We captured so many spirits there it should have sent a strong message that the supernatural isn't welcome. Instead they were able to waltz in, roam the place and waltz right back out again. I thought you had installed alarms after we finished in case something like this happened?"
"I did, doesn't mean the ghosts couldn't have disabled them first though." Holding up a hand to stop Brunner's reply, she vanished out into the command center and returned a minute later, waving a piece of paper triumphantly in her hand. "Or they worked fine but nobody reported it." She said as she handed the paper over.
Eyes running over the paper Brunner saw that Misty was right. The alarms installed at the castle had gone off fine but apparently nobody had thought to report it. "Where did you find this?" She asked, determined to know who had screwed up.
"In the pile of reports we've had coming in from all over the city." Misty replied, smiling openly now. "It seems your idea of installing alarms at every major place we've been has backfired. We've got at least fifty individual alarms spread throughout the city that will alert us of even the slightest supernatural activity in addition to however many teams you've got out there now. All of them send in reports as well. Obviously we can't keep up anymore."
"Fine." Brunner said after a moment, willing to admit she had overextended her resources. "I'm sending out a team to check the castle though. When I get back we'll discuss taking some of the alarms offline."
"As you wish." Misty said, watching as the doctor left…
Monzel was surprised to discover upon returning to the Ghoul Room that Clarence was quite willing and happy to share everything he knew about his previous Ghost Master. Having been one of the original haunters assigned to Baugh, the Spook had been with him since the beginning of the failed Master's campaign.
Though much of the knowledge was less then helpful he was able to provide some information about the enemies operating within the city which she passed on to Zulban as well as a list of every haunter Baugh had commanded which she felt might prove useful if they met anymore of the trapped spirits.
After dismissing the young ghost, who zipped out of the room to practice his chain rattling skills, she slipped the list into her handbook and was just getting up to go and find Christie when the map spread over the table glowed briefly, and a small building rose from the paper.
Intrigued by how far from the city the building was Monzel stepped over to the table to touch the roof of the miniature structure. She stepped back as Balam's voice filled her head.
"Now that you have established yourself in Nightmare Hill, turn your attention to the small, abandoned town of Silent Valley. Ever since the original inhabitants were driven away by a group of powerful independent haunters we have been using it as a 'ghost town', the horrors of which supplied the local haunters with a steady flow of plasm."
"Recently though, the flow has stopped, as a group of mortal heroes have managed to seal the sources of power, effectively taking the town away from us. You must reawaken it's powers so we can put them to use. We have already made moves towards this goal. A small group of teenage filmmakers have been tricked into coming to town. Now it is your turn to trick them into breaking the seals. Once that is done show them the full power of the supernatural. Just make sure their tape gets out of town undamaged, it will lure new 'adventurers' to Silent Valley."
As Balam's voice faded Monzel sent Cuare out to find Christie while she considered the various problems before her…
The portal deposited them in the town square, right in front of the statue that served as one of the focus points they had come to restore. Around them the town spread, roughly a dozen buildings in various states of collapse.
Monzel turned her attention to the statue, and the dagger stabbed into the stone man's chest. Reaching up she wrapped her hand around the handle and instantly fell to her knees with a cry as pain surged through her body. As her vision cleared she saw her team gathered around her with worried looks.
"I'm ok." She said as she got shakily to her feet, though she was cursing herself silently. She should have known that the knife would be protected against spirits. Otherwise someone could have removed it before. Shaking her hand to get the last bit of pain out she walked off to find the other focus points…
As she walked among the broken buildings Monzel shivered at the dead feeling about the place, as if all the life had been sucked out of the area, though the plant life that slowly worked to claim the town was proof that this was wrong. Stopping suddenly, she realized that it was the power that was missing. She could barely feel any power around her at all. Apparently the mortals had been quite thorough when they sealed the focus points…
It took little time to locate the remaining foci, one turned out to be a book, in the attic of one of the houses, protected within a small ward while the other was a sealed well in the half flooded basement of another house. Neither was as obvious as the knife had been but Monzel recognized them soon enough.
Returning to her team she saw that the filmmakers had arrived and were already rolling as they explored the area at the far end of the square. Quickly giving orders she sent her team off to prepare…
"So why exactly are we here again?" Joanie Garrod asked, looking at the half collapsed shop before her.
"We got a tip that there was something supernatural about this place." Alvin Appleby replied as he kneeled down to examine a pile of scrap wood that had once been the storefront.
"Well something needs to happen soon." Jackie Quick said from behind the camera. "We're wasting film."
"I'm sure there is something here." Alvin said as he stood and moved into Jackie's shot. "This place has a weird feeling about it. And besides, this place was abandoned almost overnight for no obvious reason, seems rather mysterious to me."
"Um, hate to break up this fascinating conversation." Joanie said with a hint of sarcasm as she came to join them. "Has anyone seen Haley?"
"She said she was going to go look around a bit after Alvin got distracted going through rubble." Jackie said, laughing as Alvin threw her a glare. "She headed off that way." She continued, gesturing in the direction of the residential side of the town.
"Come on then." Alvin said with a sigh. "We'd better go look for her before she gets into trouble…"
Haley whirled around as an old, moss covered board finally gave up and snapped, clattering to the ground and briefly shattering the near silence of the town. She was surprised that the buildings in this part of town were more intact then those around the square. Several had gaping holes in their walls and floors but others looked almost livable.
Standing on her tiptoes to see over a tall fence the teen filmmaker saw what had obviously once been a beautiful yard, obviously much loved by whoever had lived in the house. Now though the grass was overgrown, the bushes and flowers dead and choked by weeds. A large doghouse stood in the far corner, under a vast oak tree, a thick chain leading from the doghouse to a rotted leather collar.
Haley was just turning to continue her exploration when she felt something tug at her mind and found herself instead going through the lopsided gate and across the yard to enter the house. The inside was nearly as bad as the yard, thick vines creeping across the floors and once nice furniture falling to pieces in every room.
The tugging drew her to the staircase across from the front door and as she ascended she saw that the second floor was in the same shape, though it was obvious to Haley even in her somewhat distracted state that only the passage of time had changed things. There were no signs that the house had been vacated without warning but the question of why the inhabitants would leave everything behind lingered in her mind as she reached the top of the stairs.
The attic was different from the rest of the house; the room gleamed as if it had been freshly scrubbed mere minutes before. The attic was mostly empty except for a thick, ornately bound book sitting on a podium near the window.
Whatever had been tugging at her seemed to fade as she approached the podium but by that point Haley was too intrigued to walk away. This was exactly the sort of strange thing they had come looking for after all.
She flinched slightly as she reached her fingers toward the book, expecting something to happen but when nothing did she became bolder and laid a hand on the cover, feeling the smooth leather against her skin. Taking a quick look around to make sure nothing was trying to sneak up on her, she flipped the cover open.
She began flipping excitedly through the pages, pausing briefly whenever a word or picture jumped out at her, increasingly amazed at the discovery she had made and knowing that her finding it first would drive Alvin crazy.
Her rapid page flipping stopped as she reached a page that was just line after line of words written in small letters in order to fit more on the page. The word Ziggurath jumped out at her as the only word written in a normal size. Grinning at the mistake in spelling Haley squinted her eyes and was able to make out a few words here and there. As near as she could figure the writer of the book had bound something at a ziggurat in order to protect the townspeople from the town.
She had never heard of any ziggurats in Nightmare Hill and with the suspicion that she was missing something she swung her pack off and shuffled some supplies around to make room for the book. As she turned her attention back to the still open book she took a step backwards.
The words were now bright, glowing from within as if on fire. Lines had begun to appear around several words including the misspelled ziggurat, slowly forming images that were far too small for the scared mortal to see.
The whole house shook as the book brightened to near blinding, sending Haley tumbling onto her side. She thought she heard someone whisper beside her ear just before her mind was bombarded by images, some she recognized from the book and others she did not. As the pictures flashed through her mind she began to understand, not just the words written in the book but also what had not been said.
One final image appeared in her mind's eye, two pictures placed side by side, showing the truth and the lie. The image vanished abruptly as if someone had cut the power. Refocusing her gaze on the book she saw the glowing of the pages was intensifying further. Thanks to the images she knew what was coming but could not make her legs move. She could only scream as the glow vanished all at once, the backlash of the raw power that had lay trapped for so many years sending her flying across the room…
Haley woke to the sound of voices around her and as her vision cleared she saw Alvin and Jackie standing off to the side talking. Joanie was watching her and let out a cry when she saw Haley's eyes open before rushing over to help her up.
"You ok?" Jackie asked as she came over, camera hanging at her side as she looked her friend over.
"I think so, just got knocked out I think." Haley replied.
"But how? There's almost nothing in here." Alvin asked, waving his arm at the room.
Haley grinned mischievously at him. "A backlash of power from an old book." She said, enjoying the look on Alvin's face at the news. "Couldn't read very much of it but it showed me things…before it sent me flying anyway."
"What did you see?" Jackie asked, switching the camera on to record her words.
"I'm not sure, there were a lot of images flashing through my mind, something about a ziggurat and some sort of powerful creature being bound there. Then right at the end a pair of images, those are still really clear but I don't know which is telling the truth, it seemed like the power ran out or overloaded or something because they just cut off before I got blasted." She explained, finding it strange how she recalled certain things so clearly while others were less clear.
"Do you have any ideas on what to do now?" Alvin asked as he picked up the book from its podium and slipped it into his pack to examine later.
"I don't know…There's something about one of the basements, sealed after a flood I think, I'm not sure what it means though." Haley answered, shaking her head as she tried to piece things together.
"Well it shouldn't be that hard to find a flooded basement. Can't be too many of those in what's left of this town." Joanie said. "We can probably find it with a bit of work."
"Besides we already searched a couple of houses while we were looking for you. They didn't have flooded basements though." Alvin added.
Having decided to search out the flooded basement and see what secrets it might hold, the group began planning the best way to do so while others watched…
"I'm glad the girl is alright." Monzel said as she and her small team watched the mortals talk. "I didn't expect the energy contained in that book to be so strong."
"Well she survived and from the sound of it she picked up a few things as well." Cuare said from her perch on the Ghost Master's arm. "And it seems they are going to track down the second focus point all by themselves." The owl said with a laugh.
"Yes, but there is still the matter of that knife to deal with, but at least we have some power now." Monzel replied having felt the slight change in the atmosphere of the town as the first foci was unsealed and power began to trickle forth once more.
"Indeed, I would advise holding back for now, let them search for themselves. If they fail we can guide them to the basement but I think we should keep our presence secret for the time being." Cuare suggested.
"I believe you're right and there is no harm in waiting and watching. The foci have been sealed for years; I don't think another hour or two will hurt." Monzel agreed as she and her owlish advisor returned their gaze to the young mortals…
The pair silently followed the group as they went from house to house, watching as they carefully searched every inch of the basements and finally, and with only a small nudge from Monzel they reached the correct basement. Dark water sloshed against the walls as the mortals bashed the doors in, the locks being far too stout to break.
As they moved carefully down the slick but intact stone stairs, Alvin in the lead with Haley and Joanie behind him and Jackie bringing up the rear with the camera, they could see a variety of water-loving plants had found a home here and apparently thrived.
"Well we found it." Alvin said, sweeping the walls with his flashlight.
"Any idea what we're supposed to do now?" Joanie asked, turning to Haley.
"I'm…not sure." The girl replied, still somewhat confused by all the images and information she had received. "I just know we were supposed to open the basement."
"Well look around." Alvin said. "Let's see if there is anything to be found in here."
Though their searching revealed nothing but water and plants they did notice the rippling of something rising from beneath the water. As the mortals gathered around the spot where the ripples were coming from Monzel moved close as well, her curiosity nearly making her forget to remain hidden.
All of them, mortal and ghost were surprised when a strange, winged, snake-like creature emerged from the water, flapping it's wings experimentally as it sat on the surface. The creature briefly glanced around before taking to the air, buzzing the mortals but carving a wide arc around Monzel, Jackie's camera following it as it flew, catching every moment on film until the winged serpent darted out of the open door.
"I'm not sure what that was." Jackie said, replaying the video. "But I think that qualifies as something supernatural."
Monzel who had watched the serpent with awe, realized that she could feel the flow of power more strongly and with a quick word to Cuare, sent the owl off to begin the final stage of the plan while also making a mental note to visit the Committee Library when she got back and do a little research…
As the quartet of mortals reentered the town square Monzel signaled Firetail and the square was abruptly surrounded by a wall of flames and as Jackie whipped the camera around and the others looked around for an escape the sound of pounding hooves echoed off the ground and a moment later a horse leapt through the flames, it's rider waving a sword as it charged towards the teens.
It was at that point that things went weird though. One of the mortals went for the knife embedded in the statue as planned but when Haley pulled it free of the stone the hole immediately vanished as a glow similar to the one that had come from the book coated the statue. Remembering her own experience with such a thing Haley shouted to her friends and together they jumped through the wall, which had burned low as Firetail was distracted by what had happened in the square.
Monzel was expecting a similar spectacle to what had happened with the book but as the glow became stronger, the power building up until she could feel it the Ghost Master realized that remaining might not be the best idea and turned to shout orders to her team…
It was too late though and she could only watch as the glow vanished and as before a wave of energy swept out from the statue, spreading over the town and slamming into the ghosts, scattering the team across the area as it spread further.
Monzel landed on the edge of town, rolling several times before being halted by a tree root, leaving the unconscious Ghost Master among the shadows of the forest…
Monzel woke with a groan, taking a few moments to remember what had happened before trying to get up. She was certainly startled when she felt a hand wrap around one arm and haul her to her feet, the speed of the ascent leaving her a bit light-headed.
"Next time you might want to try and avoid getting blasted across town. It doesn't seem like a good way to travel." A familiar voice said jokingly.
As her vision cleared and her head stopped spinning Monzel could see Christie standing in front of her, a small grin on her face. "What are you doing here?" She asked curiously.
"We felt that blast of power at the Ghoul Room and when the map changed and you didn't return we started to worry so I thought we should come give you some back up." The Storm Spirit explained, idly twirling a small chunk of cloud around her hand.
"It packed a bit more of a punch then I thought it would." Monzel replied, shaking her head at the understatement.
"Looks like it. You ok?" Christie asked, looking her battered friend over.
"I feel like I got hit by a couple trucks but I think I'll live." She replied.
"Let's hope it doesn't go that far." Christie said, smiling.
It took a moment for her tired mind to realize what she'd said but a moment later the pair were laughing at the unintentional joke.
Their laughter was trailing off when Cuare dropped from the sky to perch on the tree root.
"Good to see we survived this night in one piece." The owl said, though amusement was plain in her voice as well. "Let's just hope we don't have to do that again."
"Where's the rest of the team?" Monzel asked, once more focused on the priority of getting her team back home.
"They're already on their way back." Cuare reported. "Dragoon and Firetail were the worst hit, being right there with you but those two have already been through plenty with you, they'll recover in no time."
"Good, I think we could all use a bit of a break." Monzel replied, managing to muster the strength to open a portal back to the Ghoul Room for the three of them.
Meanwhile, the strange winged snake that had been flying around returned to the basement, sinking beneath the water and vanishing into the darkness…