Ghost of a chance
You are Jaden, hoping Clayton will wake up soon, because even you are getting bored
"I hope he wakes up soon," Rose says to you, "I'm getting bored." The hospital room you're in is on the base, and it looks like every other hospital room in existence, not that there are many with ESPers and Magic being rather common. It's more used to recover after cyborg surgery then anything else, but of course people like Clayton who have a lot of cybernetics and so can't be magically healed need a place to recover, so it's an adequate size. Some stupid daytime show is playing on TV, and the windows are open, letting a cool breeze into the room and causing the curtains to flutter a little.
"You don't have to stay," you reply. "But they did say he should wake up at any time, and it might be nice for him to see us right away."
"Yeah, I know. Can't you do something?" she asks Jake.
"I'm at the same penalty as you for doing ESPer stuff to him, so I doubt anything I can do would help. Besides, he's not injured, he was just knocked out and then put under to repair that damage to his arm, he'll wake up naturally soon."
Rose shakes her head. "What were they thinking, using the Telesummon spell without making sure he was stationary first?"
"Probably just trying desperately to get him back, they couldn't have known," you reply.
"Get who back?" asks Clayton quietly from his hospital bed, opening one eye and blearily looking around.
"Clayton, you're awake!" says Rose, flitting over to him. "We're all glad you're okay!"
"What happened? Am I in a hospital?"
She nods. "I'm afraid so. Clayton, there's- I don't know how to tell you this- there's some bad news."
Both Clayton's eyes open wide. "What? What happened?"
"Your left arm was damaged by electricity somehow, do you remember that?"
"Yeah, I was fighting some ESPer, it wasn't that bad though," he pretests.
"It was worse then you thought, they had to replace the whole arm."
"So? That happens all the time, it's cybernetic, that's the whole point."
"You don't understand. They were all out of left arms, so they had to improvise with a spare right arm they had, so you now have two right hands."
"What?!" shouts Clayton, bringing his arms out from under the covers and staring at them intently. "Wait, they look fine."
Rose busts out laughing, "I did it, I got through the whole thing, oh that was priceless!"
"She's just teasing you," you say, smiling a little yourself, "Nothing like that happened."
"Oh, I'll get you for that one," says Clayton, sinking down again. "How long have I been out?"
"Only a day. They kept you asleep to repair your arm and let you recover overnight. How do you feel?"
"Like I have to do something private. Be right back."
Clayton goes into the bathroom and returns a few moments later, settling into the bed again.
"But seriously," he continues, pretending such a thing had never occurred, "I feel fine. It could have been a lot worse."
"What could have?" asks Jake. "What exactly happened to you?"
"Well," he begins, "I got back to base and checked in, then went to write my report. When I opened my door I felt a wrenching and found myself someplace else."
"That was a spell trigger put on your door," says Rose. "We found them on all our rooms. When we got back you had already been retrieved, so we heard you had gone missing suddenly, and investigated. It was our coming back separately that saved us, similar spells were on all our doors."
"I see," Clayton says, grimly. "I used two cards to shoot at someone invisible in the room I was in, trying to injure but not kill them so we could get some answers. They were casting something which backfired, and then suddenly they were gone."
"That sounds familiar," you say.
"It's what happened to that little girl we rescued," Rose says to you.
"I'll tell you later. Continue."
"I fought off a couple of goons, and finally an ESPer who got me with electricity. Then the police showed up because of all the shooting I was doing, and then I woke up here."
"A couple of wizards here got together to try and get you back. They had to cast cooperatively to try and get past your cybernetics, and for awhile they were just blocked totally. Then suddenly it worked, but I guess you were in a car at the time. They feel really bad about it, naturally."
Clayton nods. "That area was weird, it was shielded in more ways then I thought, I guess."
"How do you mean?"
"I couldn't get a GPS or a cell signal, not even from the roof, so I figured there must be some heavy jamming equipment there, and I don't mean a drum set, keyboard, bass and lead guitar."
"Whoever this person is, they do an awful lot of planning to capture PCs, and they must have a lot of power or contacts. This facility got breached, after all! I don't like it," says Jake.
"You and me both. Now we have to check our doors all the time before we open them! Can we ever see this spell trigger thing?"
"Yes," answers Rose. "It appears as a small symbol so if you see anything like that, come get me or another wizard to disarm it. You can just scratch it out, but if there's a second, more hidden one, which reacts to the first one being scratched out..." she trails off.
"I get it," he says looking serious. "So, uh, how did your little side-quest go?"
"Great! We took care of the boat, which wasn't easy, I had to learn some new magic. It should come in handy for other things though, so that's fine. Luckily just about every problem has a magical solution, if you know the right spell!"
"So find out who's messing with us so we can take them down!"
Everyone looks around. "The problem there is, our opponent seems to be a wizard too, and a good one," says Rose.
"We're supposed to have a meeting about it when you're up. We'll go get the doctor so you can be released, and we'll head over to see Sargent Draughon and get briefed."
"After breakfast," complains Clayton. "I'm starving."
"Good to see you up and about," says Draughon as he walks into the meeting room and shakes Clayton's hand. "Guess you had some trouble."
"You could say that, sir."
"I'll be expecting your report soon. You owe me two now, actually. Three total, I want to hear about this boat incident that made the news, as I take it that was your doing Rose." She blushes. "Now, let's talk about this mystery assailant that's been making your lives interesting." He sits down and hands out a folder. "There have been a disturbing number of cases of PCs disappearing lately, and by lately I mean the last hundred years or so, which is as far as we went back. Of course PCs lead more dangerous lives on average, so it isn't that odd they will either hide away because they don't want any more adventures, or their adventures are over and they "retire" or they just get killed somehow. I had some people comb over the records though and there are some similarities over the years, and that's what we've now picked up on. From what we can tell, someone or some group has been in the business of physically abducting PCs, who are never heard from again. It's a similar operation, they get taken by surprise, are whisked away, and that's that. You four seem to be the only ones who have tangled with this person, messed them up, and lived to tell about it."
"Our reason for being chosen as PCs," Rose says excitedly, "Could this be it?"
"It's possible. A group is usually created to deal with something big, and this seems pretty big. As of now your mission is to track down this invisible foe and bring them in. Other missions are suspended, and you can have all the time you need to spend XP and make things."
"Wait," you protest. "If we don't have any missions but this one, how will we earn more XP? We haven't gotten that much, we aren't ready to take on a boss like character yet!"
"I think you're underestimating yourself," says Draughon, "But in my experience, you'll get a lead, investigate it, which will lead you closer and count as an adventure for XP purposes. It's just that NPC-PS isn't giving you missions until this matter is closed, you'll still get them, it's a natural hazard of being a PC."
"Oh," you say, understanding.
"Look this stuff over, and of course I'll want regular reports, but as of now you're on your own clock. We would like to see this matter resolved before any other PCs go missing though. Good luck."
You all look the information over, except for Rose, who softly hums while looking out a window, but there isn't much there you couldn't already guess. Just a bunch of files on PCs that have gone missing under similar circumstances over the years, and a big unsolved at the bottom. Great.
"We need to check that house for clues right away, right now it's our only lead," says Clayton. "Rose, you need to have seen someplace to open a gateway to it, right?"
"That's right," she shouts over her shoulder.
"And I don't even know where it was."
"Bet we could find out though," says Jake, snapping his fingers. "No doubt there was a police report filed about a shooting in some empty house someplace and a subsequent disappearing cyborg. Track down that report and we've got ourselves a winner!"
Jake and Clayton go to track down that lead, leaving you to decide what to do with yourself in the meantime. Rose suggests some things, but you want to start working on this case a little closer to home, so to speak, so you go and see the person in charge of magical objects.
"Why yes, we do have something that will let you see into the past," says the person behind the speaker grill. You've heard there are no doors into the section where the actual magical items are stored, it's been completely walled off. It was shown to a single person before construction was completed, and that person brought in their replacement, so no one else has seen it and can teleport in. Naturally there are all kind of anti-scrying magics around the place, plus some technological measures thrown in to make the non-wizards happy. "Would you like to take it out?"
"I would, please," you answer.
Some papers pop out of slot in the wall you didn't realize was there, and the voice says "sign these, please."
You do, then push them back into the slot, which disappears. A few minutes go by and an object appears at your feet, startling you. Rose nods appreciably. "Good security."
You must agree. The object appears to be a picture frame, and you carefully pick it up and wonder what you should do with it.
"Point it that way," says Rose. You do, and she touches it and says "Show me four minutes ago." You both peer through it, and watch in amazement as it shows both of you coming into this room and talking to the speaker on the wall!
"I guess it works," you say. "This is one powerful tool."
You head down to your room where you position yourself in front of your door, and hold the frame up to where you know the symbol was that would have teleported you away from here. You tell the frame to rewind time from the present at maximum speed, and figure you can go forward again more slowly once it happens.
"Once what happens?" asks Rose.
"We're looking for when the symbol appeared, that way we can check the hall for that time and see if we can get any clues. The person that did it is probably going to be invisible, but it's worth checking into."
"One problem, how do we know what time that was?"
"Oh." You ponder. "Okay, I'll just hold it there and open the door and look at the clock in the room. We'll know how many days back it is by the lights changing."
So you do that, and notice when the spell was cast, but sadly just as you thought, the person is invisible. Rose is still upbeat, she says it's more then you knew before, and now that they know the exact time, maybe the base records can be checked for anything else odd that went on at that time. You return the item to the armory and Clayton comes looking for you.
"We found out where the house is," he says.
"Great, can we get transport there?"
"We're leaving as soon as you're ready."
Your enthusiasm is short lived, after teleporting between branches of the NPC-PS (which are all connected magically, of course) to a nearer one and getting more conventional means of travel there, you all follow Clayton's GPS to the site. You pass an alarming number of fire trucks going the other way, and start to get worried, until you reach the address the police report specified. The house has totally been consumed in flame.
"Whoever it was didn't waste any time," you say disgustedly, kicking some wreckage.
"Actually they did," says Jake, looking around.
"What are you talking about?"
"This house just finished burning to the ground. Why not burn it a day ago, or just after Clayton fled? No, it's almost as if the fire was set just as Clayton woke up because someone knew we would soon come here to look it over. Like a massage, I wasn't worried about it until just now, that sort of thing."
"Diabolical," says Clayton.
"Could they be watching us somehow?"
"I don't see how," says Jake. "The NPC-PS building is pretty well proof against any spell or technology, at least so I thought."
"That was before someone snuck in and put traps on our doors."
"I suppose the place could have been bugged somehow at the same time. We'll have to look everything over carefully."
"So are we just heading back?"
"No, it's a long shot, but let's look around this neighborhood a little," answers Clayton. "I doubt anyone saw anything, but you never know."
"Around here?" you ask, looking around. Dilapidated buildings surround you, this doesn't look like a nice neighborhood. "You're just going to have two poor, defenseless girls wander around here?"
Clayton laughs. "Defenseless girls? Where? The martial arts master and the wizard?"
"Oh, I guess you're right."
You and Rose stick together and wander about aimlessly, unsure what you're even supposed to be looking for. You check in with the others every few minutes but they don't have much luck either. Rose conjures you both some food and water, and you sit on a step and munch fruit. Shady character types pass by, but Rose assures you she doesn't sense anyone with any hostile intent in the area, and besides, you are in uniform. Who in their right mind would mess with an NPC-PS agent? Sadly your uniform also works against you, no one wants to answer your questions either, so you get nowhere asking if anyone saw anything relating to the fire. You decide to move on, but Rose is complaining she's bored and just wants to go do something fun. That's when you both see the house.
It's on a street with a lot of abandoned houses, all of which have smashed windows and pealing paint, but this one is different. The yard is overgrown, the driveway totally uncared for, but the house itself seems intact, with all the windows and doors in place. To either side are houses that have been totally trashed, this one seems untouched. Why? You call Jake and Clayton, and give them the address, and tell them you found something odd and they should come have a look. While you're waiting you walk around the house and check the windows, and no one has been living here for some time, you're sure of that. A police vehicle stops and a woman in uniform gets out, your poking around has not gone unnoticed.
She does, however, notice your uniform, and you show her your badge, and she becomes much more cooperative then she might otherwise have been.
"You don't want to go in there," she says, shuddering.
"Rumor says it haunted. I'm not one much for superstation, I mean a thing exists or it doesn't. Like fairies here, or a dragon. They're real, I can go talk to dragon if I was feeling suicidal. A ghost though, I haven't seen much evidence for that. But people do stay away from this house, so take that as you will. If you want to go poking around inside, I can't stop you, as I suppose you outrank me, or something, but be careful, the floors could be rotted or something."
You thank her for the advice and she drives away.
"Let's not go in there," says Rose, fluttering backwards away from the house. "I'm not anxious to meet a ghost."
"Don't you have curiosity?"
"Oh, uh..." Rose gets out her character sheet.
"Oh, shoot, I do!" she puts it away again. "*ahem* WE MUST SEE IF THE STORIES ARE TRUE!"
"That's what I thought. Look, here come the others."
You brief them on what to expect and Rose casts Phase on you, allowing you to slip inside and open the door. The air is dusty and stale, smelling of mildew and rat poop, a potent combination.
"Cheerful," says Jake, coving his nose with his shirt. "I'm so glad to be here."
"Do we spilt up?" Clayton asks.
"Will a ghost even show up during the day?" asks Jake.
"Just look around," you say, exasperated. "It might be some kind of illusion to keep people out of here, courtesy of our invisible friend."
They both shrug and head off through the living room, and you hear Jake shout "I'll check upstairs."
You and Rose make your way through as well, coming to a set of stairs leading down, into a dark and damp basement.
"Any enemies down there?" you ask her. She shakes her head. You get a flashlight from your inventory and click it on, carefully making your way down the stairs.
"There, look, look!" says Rose, pointing, hey eyes wide. Over in the corner huddles a woman, which you can barely make out. She is wearing outdated clothes, and has a really old fashioned hair style, and you can see right through her. However, as soon as you look at her you feel the need to make a RESolve check, which you do, getting an eighteen, so you fight off the effects of fear this woman seems to be generating in you. Rose seems not to be as fortunate, and as the figure raises her head she darts behind you, hiding.
"Hello?" the figure says, hesitantly.
"It's a ghost," Rose says hysterically, "We've got to get out of here, come on Jaden, please!?"
"What's she going to do, talk us to death? If it is a ghost it can't touch us, right?"
"I don't know what powers a ghost has, I've never seen one! They're real, we have to leave."
Meanwhile the woman is looking sadly at you. "Go on, run away," she says, sounding resigned to her fate. "They all do."
"See, let's get out of here!"
"I probably won't be able to do anything for it but I want to talk to it. I'm not afraid. Go on, if you want."
Rose seems to struggle against her fear of this ghost and her loyalty to you. "I'll... I'll stay, just don't get too close."
"Why don't you go get Jake and Clayton, bring them down here."
"Good idea!" Rose takes off up the stairs.
"What's your name," you ask, turning back to the figure, "Are you really a ghost?"
"Tosha Nolder," says the figure, "You really aren't afraid of me?"
"I think I would have been, if I failed my RESolve check. What are you doing down here?"
"It's been so long since I actually talked to someone," she says, a little hope appearing in her eyes. Then she looks down again. "You may as well just leave, you can't help me."
"Probably not, but I'd like to at least hear your story. I might know someone that can help, I'm a member of NPC-PS, so I have some contacts."
"You mean it? You aren't just playing a trick on me?"
"I mean it."
"Well, okay. I'm cursed, I guess. A long time ago, I don't even know how long it's been, it seems like forever, I caught the eye of a powerful wizard. But he was haughty and cruel and I turned down his advances. In retaliation he did this to me. I've been stuck like this ever since."
"He turned you into a ghost?"
"It seems that way."
"That's some powerful magic."
Tosha nodded. "I've long despaired of anyone finding a way to fix me, and my life is long gone now, so now I just sit down here, alone. Most people run away from me like I'm the most terrifying thing they've ever seen, or they try to kill me which of course doesn't work. They've tried magic, bullets, explosions, it all got rather dull after awhile, so it's easier if I just stay away from people."
"That's horrible! No one should have to exist like that. We'll find a way to help you, I'm sure of it."
You hear Jake and Clayton clomping down the stairs, and turn to look at them.
"Rose said some kind of ghost is down here?" asks Clayton suspiciously. "We had to convince her to come down, is it really that scary?"
"No, of course not. It's just a girl with a curse, take a look for yourself."
Jake looked interestedly at Tosha, making his RESolve check, but Clayton got minimum on his, a six, and even adding his cybernetic bonus for resisting magic, he takes a step back.
"I see what you mean, Rose."
"I told you! It's a real ghost, we have to get away from it."
"Are you serious?" asks Jake, not believing his ears. "You can't be worried about that girl hurting you?"
"No, I'm just afraid of her, I can't say why."
Jake looks back at Tosha. "Can you believe this- what's wrong?"
Tosha looks like she's terrified of Clayton.
"What manner of man is this?" she asks, half phased through the wall.
"I'm a cyborg, where have you been?"
"What's that, some kind of magical construct?"
"No, I'm just part machine. How long have you been down here?"
"I know not."
"You've got some catching up to do."
"So it seems."
"She says she's cursed, and I don't know much about magic, just what I've picked up from listening to you study, so you can tell better then I can," you say.
"I can try," Rose says, hesitantly, making a Magic Sense check and getting a nine. Given the amount of magic currently on this girl, however, even that proves sufficient. "What the heck?"
"What?" Everyone turns to her.
"It's not just a curse, it's a bunch of different spells all working together. I'm sorry, I'm still afraid of her, can you move me a little closer? I'm going to close my eyes."
"Someone else do it!" says Clayton.
"Aw, is widdle baby Clayton afraid of the poor ghosty whosty?" asks Jake.
Suddenly Clayton has a gun out. "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that, what did you say?"
"I said it must be tough, being under the effect of a magical terror spell!"
Jake takes Rose in his hands and walks towards Tosha, and she does have her eyes closed and is concentrating.
"Okay," she said after awhile. "I think I've got it all. She has five spells on her right now. The first I'm well familiar with, that's Phase, making you seem like a ghost. Next is that odd transparency effect which must be some weird Neptune spell I've never seen, as Invisibility is a grade 3 so this must be like a grade 1 equivalent. Then of course the fear spell. As near as I can tell, your shirt has been turned into a sustenance spell so you don't have to eat or drink, so don't take it off or that will be broken. The biggest one is the immortality spell keeping her alive. That one takes 24 hours to cast, you must remember that, at least?"
"No," says Tosha, shaking her head, "I just woke up like this before him, and he told me he had cursed me and to walk the earth forever in despair."
"Probably some kind of memory altering spell done afterwords. What did you do to the poor guy that made him throw all of that at you?"
"Nothing! I only refused his advances, many times I admit, but for him to hate me so after that?"
"He did. A curse would have been much easier, but potentially easier to break, too. He really wanted you to suffer."
"You mean to tell me," says Clayton. "That some madman put spells on her like the reload spell on my gun? A whole bunch of them? Doesn't that cost, like big money and XP and time and whatever else?"
Rose nods. "This took some effort on his part, never doubt it."
"So this is to be my fate, then?"
Rose considered. "There are a couple of things you could do. Easiest is we bring someone back here that knows how to cast Destroy Magic, and they smash every spell at once off of you. You become mortal and tangible again. The fear spell goes away, all of it. Oh, and if you're a wizard, say goodbye to ever casting spells again."
"I'm not. So there is hope?" says Tosha, almost smiling.
Rose nods. "The other way is much tougher. I'm not even sure it would work, quite frankly, and that is to selectively negate the spells, one at a time, by making their reverses permanent on you as well. Destroy Magic might also work to negate them, one at a time, if you use the long form of the spell, which takes about an hour. I've never considered making permanent spells as a punishment, so I have no idea how to take one off at a time. I'll tell you what- I'm going back for a person who knows a lot of Pluto magic and he can cast a spell to negate your phasing for a little while. Then you can step through the gateway back to the NPC-PS building and have some research done into your problem. How would that be?"
"It is more then I dared to dream! How can I ever thank you?"
"Oh, I could think of one or two ways," Rose mutters. You stifle a laugh. "Be right back. I can't be in your fear field for this, I need to concentrate."
She flutters off and you hear her casting the teleportal spell upstairs, while Tosha has gotten up and looks happy.
"Truly, I can't thank you enough for what you've done, even if nothing comes of it, no one has ever tried to help me before, they have only run. But you all came, and now I have hope again that one day I can live a normal life!"
"We found you by accident, and we wouldn't just leave you down here for all eternity."
"When I am back to normal I will somehow repay you, I swear it."
"Hey," says Jake, holding a hand up. "We're NPC-PS, saving people is what we do. That's reward enough."
"Speak for yourself," says Clayton.
"I speak for all of us."
Soon two new people come down the stairs, peering at Tosha. "I see what you mean," says the one.
"What a fascinating case!" says the other.
"Let's get you out of here," says Rose. "They're going to stay away from you so they don't get caught in the fear spell, the negation of your Phase is anchored by the gate, so you can be solid when you step through it. Before you do though, he'll cast Calm on you and maintain it so you're not scaring everyone in the halls."
"It should be quite interesting to see how your various issues can be worked out, we can't wait to get started."
"Magical researchers..." says Rose, shaking her head. We all head up the stairs and watch as Tosha becomes solid again near the portal, not that there's any physical change, of course. The second man casts a spell, and Clayton reacts.
"Suddenly I'm not afraid of her any more!"
"Please, will one of you, it's been so long." she holds out her arms. You know what she needs- a hug.
You oblige her.
"It feels so good to touch again, I hadn't realized how much I missed it. Thank you all." Tears are streaming down her face, and you can't help but feel bad for her.
"Don't worry, they're good people, and they'll do what it takes to help you, I know they will."
She steps back and nods, smiling at each of you through her tears, and then steps through the portal.
"Will you be coming back with us this way?" asks the researcher that's left.
"We'll need to bring the car back to the local branch at the very least, and I'm not sure we're done here. We'll catch up later," replies Rose.
"I'll let you know how it goes," he says, and steps through himself, and the portal winks out.
"Hey, we did some good today!" says Rose, smiling.
"We did, but that girl is probably going to need some heavy counseling sessions, not to mention a crash course on "the future". Man, endless days and nights down here, for years and years, she could be two hundred years old!"
"I'm surprised she held together as well as she did," you say.
"There may have been more magic to keep her sane, after all, if she lost her mind she wouldn't suffer correctly, right?" asks Rose. "I may not have felt it all, there was a lot of magical interference inside her because of all the spells going on."
"I guess you're right. Let's wrap this up and head back. We didn't learn anything about our invisible friend, but we did do some good, and that's enough for one day. I have a feeling we'll be getting some XP for all this, and I'm in a hurry to spend it."
"And we have no other leads," grumps Clayton, "So we're back to square one."
"Guesswork and assumptions?" asks Jake.
"Hopes and Prayers?" you ask.
"Wishes and dreams?" asks Rose.
"Jack and Squat," answers Clayton. Of course he's right, but he doesn't have to be such a downer about it, right?