The Nameless Grave
In the park, on what had once been part of the garden of the old house where the new house now stood, there was a grave. It was unmarked, and if anyone had once known who was buried there they’d long forgotten. Some didn’t think anyone was buried there at all, because they could sense no energy beneath it and no ghost laid claim to it.
Those that knew it usually avoided it.
Margo and Bale made their way through the brambles toward it.
They climbed through a gap in the fence behind a thorn bush, the barbs clawing at Margo’s clothes. She stopped, pushing them away, but she made it through. Later, she would regret not turning back then.
The park was overgrown. High grass tickled her legs and trees conspired together above her. It had once been part of the Bale estate, and although a fence now divided it, the dead still walked on both sides.
“You pick strange places for quests,” Margo said.
“I’m only here because I have to be.”
“What do you want with the bridge thingy?”
“I need it to keep us safe.”
“That was a very indirect answer to a very direct question.”
Bale smiled. “I’ve got some business there that the council probably wouldn’t like.”
“Evidently. So what I’m looking out for?”
“The Bridge looks like a grave.”
Margo frowned. “Odd design. So why, would-be grave robber, are we here?”
“I’m not grave robbing.” Bale playfully glared at her. “There’s no one buried there to rob,” said Bale, trying to push aside some branches, but just passing through them instead. “But there is something there.”
“Something you want.”
The trees opened out. Margo saw it. There was a slightly sunken part of the grass, tangled with ivy. At the head of it was a weathered rock that served as a tombstone. There was no name on it, nor had there ever been.
“For a place described as a bridge, it looks pretty non-bridgey.”
“No,” Bale said, setting down his satchel, “There’s a Bridge here.”
Margo watched him unpack his satchel. He laid things down beside the grave. She could see them through him. He was translucent, a man made of mist. But he was ghost enough to move the objects around, and he did quickly, and with great care. She couldn’t see what they were in the shadows – some of it looked like incense, others like chalk. But she did see that the satchel was empty now, and there was no knife.
“Where’s the knife?” she asked.
Bale scoffed – it was the sound of Victorian balls, the absence of global warming and a time when cocaine was perfectly legal.
“You can’t keep something like Erebos in a satchel.”
“Knives have names?”
“Knives like Erebos do.”
“So where is it?”
“It only comes when called,” Bale said. “Much like its former master.”
He held out his hand. Slowly, little wisps of something that was one part liquid, one part mist and one part light, began to draw together above Bale’s hand. They thickened, fused together, and began to form a shape.
But the answer came to her. The mist hardened into a knife.
Its edge was fine, almost not there, and it looked sharper than any blade had any right to be. Bale took it by its hilt, and crouched beside the grave.
“What do you need the knife for?” Margo said.
“To open the Bridge.”
“And where does the Bridge lead to?”
“Where the rest of my soul is.”
Margo watched him, waiting for a laugh or a smile. None came.
Bale examined the rock at the top of the grave. “Well, I’m not sure if it really is my soul. I’m not sure I have one. But it is a part of me. As you can see, I’m weak without it.”
Margo didn’t like a word of that. She glanced to the right, making sure she knew the path back through the thorns.
“I hope I’m not scaring you,” said Bale. “Sorry to sound so voodoo-ey. I want to help but I can’t if I’m just a cloud. You must think I’m quite pathetic.”
“No,” Margo said. “It’s ok.”
Bale smiled again – it was full of warmth. And a little fear.
“So I had to concoct a plan.”
He rolled the stone over. A fox cried in the distance.
“This knife can cut almost anything,” Bale said by way of explanation. “Including the seal that keeps the Bridge closed.”
Afterward, Margo would ask herself why she hadn’t asked why a part of Bridge was sealed shut. She would ask herself why she hadn’t run.
“With my spirit,” Bale said cheerily, “I’ll be a lot stronger. I’ve never really been heroic, Margo. But I want to change that.”
Bale placed the edge of the knife against the stone. It cut, and green light rippled out of it, accompanied by a low thrumming sound. The light filled the clearing, and made their shadows stretch and twist.
The ground around the grave began to tremble. Soil came loose.
“What’ll happen when you cut it free?” Margo asked.
“To put it simply, my dear,” said Bale, “I have no clue.”
But he continued to press the knife down nonetheless.
Until his hand gave way.
His fingers – almost transparent – had been wrapped around the hilt of the knife one moment, and the next they faded. He dropped the knife, the tip nicking his arm, and flinched.
“I’m getting weaker,” said Bale. The charm was gone from his voice. He reached for the knife, tried to pick it up again, but his hands passed through it. The light from the stone began to dim – Margo understood what it meant: the window of opportunity was rapidly closing.
Bale looked at her. “You have to do it.”
Margo didn’t move.
“I know it’s a lot to ask. But we don’t have much time.”
“Are you sure?” She asked, because she wasn’t.
“Take the knife.”
Hesitantly, she approached it. It was already disintegrating into mist, but when she touched it, it hardened into something not quite steel. It was very cold. She couldn’t tell if she liked the feel of it or hated it. But she did know that this knife hadn’t been made to cut stones. It was a weapon. As delicate as stardust, as lethal as nightshade, crueler than life.
She crouched beside the stone. The light was almost gone.
She placed the knife in the groove Bale had made, and pressed it down.
The knife did what it was made to do. It cut. And the pain hit Margo.
The world came back to her. Margo hadn’t realized she’d passed out. She scrambled onto her haunches, trying to make sense of where she was. She saw a green light from the corner of her eye, and when she looked at it dead on she froze. A huge mass of the misty substance loomed over the grave. It looked like the Northern lights. It was beautiful, but so unnatural, so impossible, that it made her want to run from it. And she saw things in the light. Things that shouldn’t be real, things that couldn’t be. For a second she thought she even saw…
Bale stood before the light, reaching out toward it. But he wasn’t looking at it. Something else had his attention.
She whipped her head round, looking into the darkness.
“Margo, get away from him.”
It wasn’t a voice she knew. But then why did it know her name?
Bale, however, knew the voice well. It was plain to see in the snarl that came across his face like a cloud over the sun. His smile vanished, and his face twisted into something inhuman.
Then the crossbow fired.
Words that described it: thunderbolt, apocalyptic, oh shit.
It looked like something off a heavy metal album cover. When it hit Bale, Bale bled. His life force spurted from the wound, white and ethereal.
After striking him, the crossbow bolt turned around like a homing missile and sped into the shadows. Someone stepped out of them.
“Move and, God help me, I’ll put another bolt in your spectral ass.”
Margo didn’t think she’d ever be relieved to see Dragomir, but there was something reassuring about a medieval weapon. He had the crossbow raised to his eye, aimed at Bale.
Bale smiled at Dragomir. It brought to mind barracudas and backstabbing.
“After this, not even Vapoursteel will be able to hurt me,” he said, and stepped into the light.
Dragomir fired at him, but the bolt struck nothing. He was gone.