"A ghost?...Umm...What's a ghost?"
Aika's panicked expression quickly dropped into one of exasperation. Fina saw Vyse stifle a good natured chuckle—whether at her ignorance or Aika's reaction, she wasn't quite sure.
"Heh, it's been a while since you said something like that," the redhead muttered. She then screwed up her face as she struggled for an adequate definition, but the very thought of ghosts seemed to scramble her reasoning with a rush of fear. "A ghost is, umm, how should I explain this? Well, it's something very scary, that's for sure."
Fina glanced between Aika and Vyse. None of what Aika said had made anything clear, but she supposed that the terror in her friend's eyes was telling enough. "Really?" she said, furrowing her brow in worry. "Well if you're this scared, Aika, this 'ghost' must be something scary indeed."
"The two things I hate most right now are dirty old men and ghosts..." Aika grumbled.
Fina barely heard Vyse's attempts to calm Aika as an air of contemplation settled over her. In between black pirates, the armada, and the gigas, there was much to fear in the Skies. Even the vastness of the world itself gave her a chill of anxiety to accompany the wonder and freedom she felt. Without her friends, that vastness would be a mouth ready to swallow her up.
Home had always been close and small—a metal box in black space. For the first few years of her life, silence reigned over sounds of life. Like the open Skies, she was sometimes unsure if she found it to be a comfort. Sometimes, when she awoke in her glassy room at night, she would hear sounds that weren't there, couldn't be there: voices, thumps, scratches-noises that made her small heart pound loudly in her skull. When she told Elder Prime, he explained that the alien sounds were a side effect of living alone, that the human brain could stand silence only for so long before it began to make up things—noises, so it wouldn't break from loneliness.
"What happens if nothing breaks the silence?" Fina had asked.
"Bad things. Things you're too young to know. The mind is a powerful thing, Fina, and sometimes it can turn on you. If anything, know this."
He then advised her to have Cupil hum her to sleep, even though the bad things shouldn't ever happen to her. Wouldn't ever happen to her. But to whom did they happen so that the Elder would know? Whose voices did her brain try to imagine breaking the silence?
Once, she told Cupil to stop humming, and simply listened.
They came as the shuffling of feet, and then quiet mumblings, incoherent but melancholy, then desperate. They built into a low buzz, men and women, it seemed, murmuring, sighing, sobbing. Something scratched at the walls with their nails, the metallic rasps like desperate whimpers. Then it struck her: why were there so few in the Shrine? Why was it so quiet? What made it quiet when it looked as though it had once housed many? The airless mass of space seemed to press its weight against her window. Her people came from the Skies. Humans weren't meant to live alone in the darkness. How many found themselves lost to the bad things that came with the silence? How many followed the voices that weren't there?
Fina drew herself out of her reverie to find herself shaking, and pulled herself together before her friends noticed. She now understood Aika's fear of the man in the mists of such an empty, quiet place made dead by tragedy. That's what ghosts were, she supposed: sound where there should be silence.