The thick tuft of mist lazily drifted onto the lone isle amidst Lake Serên’s calm waters, its white fog rolling onto the stone banks and breaking apart against them. He planted a sandal clad foot on the rock and stepped ashore, releasing his magical shroud of cold in the process.
He moved among the broken bones of the building, guided by his sense of magical flows and by the sounds of restless spirits. Passing through a doorway he came upon a small courtyard in which death hung heavy and the stench of burnt flesh assaulted his nostrils.
He crouched by a husk sitting nearby and looked it straight in the sockets. “Yes, this one will do nicely.” His voice a sharp whisper, it seemed to call to attention the entire group around him.
Slowly he undid his greatcoat, his pale skin less in contrast with the bone white of the buttons than with the dark gray of the cloth. Setting it aside, he rolled up the sleeves of his stiff shirt and examined the state of the remains before him. The charred stains on the stone wall behind the burnt skull suggested the blast had come from its left, near the ground.
Around his left arm was loosely wrapped a slender chain of silver. He now pulled out one of its ends and draped a length over the shoulders sagging in front of him. He could feel the others hovering nearby, trying in vain to get his attention. In the distance he could hear someone screaming in anger.
He mumbled the words of the ancient prayer, speaking quietly though perhaps not softly, his gaze locked intently on the husk before him. The silver chain began its ethereal glow as the magic took hold. The light soon spread to envelop what remained of the head and then began spreading down the corpse’s chest and along its limbs.
He yanked the chain off the corpse, watching the glow fade away.
Something was wrong; something was empowering his spell. He had felt the energy in the air even before he set foot upon the island, but it had been so faint and weak. A lingering presence as one would expect to find years after the sealing of a Gate, and certainly not something which would interfere with his magic.
He stood up and looked around, eyeing the debris littering the small yard by the secret dock. This castle had been dead for decades, the decay evident in its every stone, but the husks were fresh. The cellar doors lay in pieces scattered on the ground and though the rot was apparent in the wood, the destruction was no doubt from the same blast as had killed the one before him.
He closed his eyes and watched the souls in the area. They were watching him closely, their journey interrupted by his failed spell. He could feel it more strongly here, that aura of fading magic. It was growing stronger, no doubt the result of his interference, and the source lay underground.
“Fine,” he muttered, throwing the slender chain clean across the battlefield while holding fast to one end. The souls needed guidance, lest they wander here for eternity. It was his sacred duty, and solemn pledge, to see to it that the dead found their peace. He had hoped to question them first, but that would not be an option while this leak was warping his magic.
The Gate here supposedly no longer held enough power to interfere with the Call on its own, and thus should not be chaining souls to this place as it once had. His brethren had never truly figured out why; all they knew was that a century past something had changed. His predecessor’s notes in the Archives were quite thorough for most of the parish, yet spoke little of the isle beyond recognizing its past and noting the Gate’s dwindling influence.
Stewardship of her parish had fallen to him after her passing some decades ago and this had required him to visit all sites of interest within. A most fortunate tradition, as it seemed to him now that the scenario portrayed in the Archives was not quite as likely as had been previously believed.
Something was evidently wrong, for whatever seal held the Gate shut was leaking. The most likely explanation being a failed attempt to open the Gate anew. He would need to enter the cellars and seek out the nexus, then find a temporary solution until something more permanent could be arranged.
He concluded his rites and sent the souls on their way without any complications. The leaking nexus seemed to bolster his spells rather than take control of them, which meant that handled correctly he should be able to work with it to benefit his efforts to patch the seal. The intermittent yelling would prove a minor distraction, though if it started up at the wrong time it might throw his prayers off. Before any of that, however, he needed to find the exact location of the Black Gate.