Ghost Hunter

"So this is where you've been hiding," Sarn surveyed the closet-sized office. The desk and both chairs were occupied by a large assortment of necromantic relics, while a heavily locked box labeled "Soul Prison" occupied the far corner. A bookshelf claimed most of the left wall, stuffed with molding genealogical records and dusty texts of local history, the paper yellowed with age. "Never figured you for a desk job."   "Not many grow old in our profession," Tara shrugged. "I wanted the chance to try."   Sarn snorted. "You're going soft. You used to be fearless."   "Still am." Tara gave him a stern look, her golden eyes still sparkling in the dim light of the office, before twisting her lips in amusement. "Been looking for an assistant. Could put your name in."   "You know that's not my style." Sarn picked up one of the reagents from the well stocked alchemical cabinet by the door, absent mindedly studying the viscous oil within. He glanced at the label. Fireflower. The cabinet was impeccably organized, a beacon of order in the otherwise haphazardly cluttered room. "I won't be your housekeeper."   "Suit yourself," Tara folded her arms across her chest. "But I still need you for this job."   "Going soft," Sarn teased. He had missed working with Tara. Tough as nails and as sharp as they came, the jobs where they teamed together had always been some of the best. When she got this job on retainer he'd been happy for her, but there was no way he was going to let her know that. He'd lost his favorite partner that day. "The Tara I knew never needed help. What ghost scared you enough to come running to me?"   "It's not fear." Tara's voice remained level, her stance unaltered. "This job's... different. I get the impression her violence was only for attention. She scared a lot of people, yeah. But she was careful not to hurt anyone, and she stopped as soon as I opened a dialog. That's not lost soul behavior."   Sarn's brow wrinkled. "Then why do you need my help? Seems a simple job to me. Grief Walker could probably take it from here, even." He gently returned the fireflower oil to the cabinet before retrieving a new vial, this one containing crushed greenleaf according to its label. He spun it in his hands, watching the dried leaves adjust and resettle.   "I offered. She refused. It's just... I'm not afraid of her, but maybe you should be." Tara's voice betrayed concern. "She asked for you specifically. Says you two have business to settle..." She leaned back, resting her weight on the edge of the desk. "Does the name 'Narik Tolliver' mean anything to you?"   Sarn felt the blood drain from his face, the alchemical vial slipping from his hands. He heard the glass shatter, shards and dried leaves scattering from the impact. Tara's concern echoed in his ears, a lifetime away.   He had never forgotten Narik, his first real job at a ghost hunter, and how terribly he had botched it. He had hoped to forget, but somehow he'd always known this day would come for him. Someday he knew he would have to pay for the sins of his arrogance, all those decades ago.   Today was not going to be a good day.
  Ghost hunters remain the last line of defense for the removal of ghosts, vengeful spirits, and other lost souls. They strive to encourage the departed to move on to their afterlife beyond the Veil, beginning with stronger variations of the skills used by Grief Walkers. In cases where the spirits will not leave willingly, or if a deceased individual is deemed too dangerous to allow through the Veil, hunters are forced to enact more extreme measures to trap the soul and defend the mortal planes.

Career

Qualifications

Some ghost hunters receive expert training in schools of Necromancy, others hunter-specific training in schools which may or may not provide legitimate training, but most begin as self-taught novices. The best training a hunter can receive comes from other hunters, especially experts with a large amount of experience in the field.   Regardless of the source of the knowledge, the most important skill a ghost hunter needs to master is an ability to learn and problem solve quickly, and frequently under pressure. A great many things can only be learned through practical applications, and no two hunts are ever identical. A successful hunter must therefore also be an expert at improvisation if they hope for sustained success and survival in their field.

Payment & Reimbursement

Freelance

Ghost hunting is grueling, dangerous work, and therefore expensive to hire. Most hunters work as mercenaries, typically in small close-knit teams of two to five people, traveling the world to work their trade. Expert hunters are expensive but highly effective.   Novice teams of hunters are a more common sight. Their services are cheaper but also less guaranteed to succeed. Most run solo, banding together as needed in fluid alliances of convenience, although some find trusted teams of their own. All experts began as novices, working to build a name and reputation for themselves in the hope of catching the attention of an expert team, but most novices don't live long enough to become expert hunters.  

Government Retained

Governments and other professional organizations have been known to hire ghost hunters to help maintain the peace within their jurisdiction. While smaller municipalities may simply hold a contract for periodic services from a hunter union, those who can afford it will hire their own dedicated team of ghost hunters. These comfortable positions are highly coveted in despite the lower psy as they are fully salaried even when not on active duty, the jobs are typically easier than freelance fieldwork, and if difficult cases arise they have the authority to hire a freelance team for assistance. They are also the only hunter positions with a chance of providing a retirement package. Freelance hunters tend to look down on these retained hunters as cowardly or lazy, even as many strive to obtain a similar position.   On the far extreme of employment are the ghost executioners. These are also government positions, but very few covet the role. These positions also offer retirement packages for those who are able to complete the terms of their contract. Most do not, instead becoming twisted by their own soul trapped victims until some day performing their own atrocities to join them.

Operations

Workplace

Aside from the ghost hunters employed in government positions, most ghost hunters do not maintain an office or fixed work location. To work as a ghost hunter is to live a life on the road. The best prepared teams do maintain a mobile office in the form of a well equipped vehicle or a fully stocked bottomless suitcase. Those with a long history in the business have also amassed a collection of contacts consisting of useful resources, fellow ghost hunters, and friendly former clients, who can be called upon as needed.

Provided Services

While most deceased pass on to their new life beyond the Veil with little trouble, and many of the remainder can be helped by Grief Walkers, some dead individuals remain bound to their old lives in some way. Over time even peaceful spirits can become violent, either due to frustration that the issue holding them back has not yet been resolved or due to the gradual loss of self that occurs as they continue to deny themselves the opportunity to pass beyond.   This is where the ghost hunters are called.  

Ghost Hunting

Experts in Necromancy, ghost hunters utilize their skills to first communicate with the dead in an effort to learn their needs or weaknesses, before developing a plan of action specifically tailored to each individual spirit.   In the best circumstances a hunter will convince the spirit to move on into the next phase of their afterlife. Sometimes this is simply a matter of listening to the lost soul, and performing duties that should have been fulfilled by a Grief Walker upon their death. Other times Necromantic Soul Magic is needed to sooth the departed's strongest emotions and worse inclinations. Sometimes a trap must be set to confront the individual with some sort of repercussion of their own actions and vengeance.   But sometimes none of these actions are enough. In cases of particularly stubborn and vengeful spirits they may be forced to perform an execution instead.  

Ghost Executions

While many governments across Fillimet have banned corporal punishment due to the possible repurcussions of vengeful ghosts, some still embrace the practice. Additionally, some individuals are simply too dangerous to allow them the chance of a life beyond the Veil.   Few ghost hunters enjoy performing soul executions. These prevent the souls of the departed from continuing into the afterlife, but additionally nothing known can actually destroy a soul. As a result a "ghost execution" is actually soul trapping , binding the soul of the individual within an object where they will hopefully no longer be able to cause harm to others.   In truth, this very often leads to cursed artifacts, items possessed by the soul of an individual deemed to dangerous to live an afterlife. Individuals intent to do harm to others rarely allow a soul trap to stop them forever, but no better solution has yet been found. At least according to most.   Some believe that a Soulsunder should be permitted for the most violent criminals, shattering their soul into pieces so they lose all semblance of themselves. Others point out that this is a permanent, eternal condition, claiming that no one on the mortal planes has a right to preside over anyone's eternal fate regardless of their mortal actions.   Soulsunder is still recognized officially as a barbaric and illegal practice, and all known records of the process are destroyed upon discovery or locked away in highly guarded archives such as the forbidden records section of the Great Library. An individual caught performing a Soulsunder is permanently banned from holding a license to practice Necromantic Soul Magic, and if the incident is proven intentional is usually subjected to additional more severe punishments depending upon the jurisdiction of the crime.
"So. You did come." Jyssa Tolliver's voice dripped with contempt. "I can smell the rot inside your soul."   Sarn couldn't see her, even as he scanned every spiritual frequency with his Necromancy, but he didn't need to. Her face was as familiar to him as her voice, seared into his memories all those many decades ago, replayed in his dreams every night.   "I came alone. There's no need to hurt anyone else." He stepped into the clearing, hands held purposely by his side in what he hoped was a non threatening stance. Tara had tried to accompany him, but he had convinced her to remain behind. He'd claimed he was worried Jyssa might become angry if he didn't meet her alone as she requested, but truth be told he didn't want to risk Tara getting hurt. She wanted to outlive this job and he was going to do everything he could to make that happen.   And that meant she couldn't be here tonight. She couldn't be here to try to stop him.   "I haven't hurt anyone yet." Jyssa's voice dripped icicles down his back. "You're the only monster here."   "I know an apology won't make things right. Nothing can undo what I did. I was arrogant. Stupid. Thought I knew everything." Sarn closed his eyes, reliving the moment again. "For what it's worth, not a day has gone by that I haven't regretted it."   "That won't bring him back to me." Jyssa was close now. His hairs stood on end as her voice drew close to his ear. "That won't give him the eternity he deserved."   "I know." Sarn's voice was a whisper. He felt Jyssa's touch tighten around his throat.   "My boy never hurt anyone." Her voice simmered, cracking.   "I was hunting an executed criminal. He'd somehow escaped the soul trap meant to catch him when he died, and... Everyone was looking for him. Hunter teams from across the continent. I thought it would be my big break. My chance to prove I had what it took."   "But you didn't find a criminal. You found my son. My beautiful Narik." The grip on his throat grew tighter.   "I didn't think. I was hunting for a ghost, and I saw a ghost, and I didn't think it could be anyone else." Sarn fell to his knees, tears carving tracks down his face, rough from the years and the nightmares. "And I cast my spell."   "But it wasn't a soul trap, was it?"   "No. No, it wasn't."   "You Soulsundered my innocent boy!" Jyssa released his neck, and suddenly he could feel her fury burn across every inch of his skin. "Taken from me too soon in life, and then you took him from me forever in death! You destroyed his chance of a real life beyond the Veil!" Her voice broke then, and he felt the touch of a thousand ghostly tears filling his mind. "And you took away any chance that I could ever see him whole again. My beautiful boy."   "I can't undo what I did." Sarn fought to retain his composure, to keep his eyes shut and his voice even. "I can't fix his soul. I can't put the pieces back together. I can't give him what I took away." He raised his head to look towards where he felt Jyssa's presence, opening his eyes to find her ghostly snarl directly in front of his face. "I wish I could."   "I don't care for your wishes." Her eyes bore into his own soul.   "I know. I can't give you what you want the most." His gaze faltered. "But I can give you the closure you need." He closed his eyes and inhaled, fisting his hands by his side before squaring his shoulders and once more meeting her gaze with his own. "As I see it, either I trap your soul for daring to want justice, adding more unforgivable sins to my nightmares... Or I let you do what you need to do to me so you can pass beyond the Veil."   Jyssa drew back in surprise. "You're not going to try to sunder my soul, too?"   Sarn shook his head. "I caused your family enough pain already. Just..." He swallowed. "Promise me you'll move on, after. There's nothing else to hold you here."   The response was immediate. "Deal."   Closing his eyes, Sarn carefully unclasped his protective tyrellium shielded cloak, lowered his Necromantic defenses, and accepted his eternal fate.


Cover image: Nature Forest Trees by jplenio

Comments

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4 Jan, 2021 00:09

Your prose here is haunting and beautiful. It took my breath away. Well done.

4 Jan, 2021 02:05

Thank you so much! I have been trying to write more stories into my articles, and am particularly proud of this one. So glad to hear you enjoyed it!

Author of Fillimet, bright fantasy land of possibilities, and Vazdimet, its darker spacefaring future.
5 Jan, 2021 14:26

The prose is beautiful and sad. ;_; I feel sorry for everyone.   Ghost hunter sounds like a really interesting profession.

Emy x   Welcome to Etrea!
5 Jan, 2021 15:20

Definitely story potential with ghost hunters. This story did turn out a lot more heart wrenching than I had originally intended.   I am going to have to make them their own alchemy tricks and such, too, for use later.

Author of Fillimet, bright fantasy land of possibilities, and Vazdimet, its darker spacefaring future.
6 Jan, 2021 14:36

Wow! Really haunting.

6 Jan, 2021 17:23

Thank you!

Author of Fillimet, bright fantasy land of possibilities, and Vazdimet, its darker spacefaring future.
9 Jan, 2021 10:08

God the prose.... I really do love it when you add these bits to your articles, and this one here is particularly haunting (padum tsch). But seriously, amazing article!

Author of Interarcanum and the Shakiraverse

Feel free to check out my latest work!
9 Jan, 2021 16:37

If you like the Prose then you are in luck, as one of my writing goals for the year is to write more of them. So glad to hear you enjoy!

Author of Fillimet, bright fantasy land of possibilities, and Vazdimet, its darker spacefaring future.
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