A prohibition-era gangster stood in front of me, fedora and all. I wondered if he’d really been a ghost that long. Most spirits who attach themselves to necromancers are looking to resolve unfinished business before it’s too late. I could tell that the ghost had altered his appearance. The spirit plane doesn’t hold to the same rules as ours. A strong-willed soul could manipulate how they presented to those able to see them. More powerful ghosts could even influence the living world to a degree. I might see through his illusion if I pushed myself, but it didn’t feel worth the effort. He might be hiding signs of a violent death, or he might be projecting the visage of his younger self. The possibilities were only limited by his will and imagination. It didn’t matter much for my purposes.
“All right, ghosty, what do you want me to call you?” I asked.
“You can see me?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“I thought only necromancers could see ghosts.”
“Nope. Plenty of witches can. Most of us work to shield ourselves from your plane. I think it’s harder for necromancers to do, though,” I said. “Come on, walk and talk, ghosty.”
“My name is Cormac.”
“Nice to meet you. Since you’ve been following me, I assume you already know my name?”
“Casper, yeah. Where are we headed?” he asked.
“My place,” I said.
“With that witch and werewolf?”
“No, they’re friends of mine, but we don’t live together,” I told him.
“Just friends?” He gave me a knowing smirk.
“I thought Cal said he ordered you to stay out of bathrooms and bedrooms?” If Cal used his magic in a command, ghosts wouldn’t be able to go against it.
“He did, and I didn’t. I inferred from the cuddle talk in the living room,” he explained.
“Fair enough,” I said. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t have it in me to be mad at him or even Cal, really. Besides, yelling at a ghost wouldn’t do much other than make me look like a crazy person.
“So how does that work?” he asked.
“How does what work?”
“You and those two, what’s the deal there?”
“It’s private,” I said.
“Oh, right, sorry. I’ve been dead since the 1920s. This generation’s freedom with their desires fascinates me.”
“My life isn’t a museum exhibit or a documentary on modern life. You’ve got orders to keep an eye on me, I get that, but I’m not here to entertain you.”
“So what do you want to talk about, then? I’m guessing you didn’t open yourself up to the spirit plane to watch me watching you.” He didn’t dodge out of the way of garbage cans or lamp posts as we walked. They dissipated whatever body part hit them, which reformed on the other side as if nothing had happened.
“There are people who want to hurt me. They might be staking out my place. I need you to use your spectral spy skills to make sure everything’s clear,” I told him.
“How do I know you’re not trying to ditch me?” he asked.
“I need Cal’s help. I’m not willing to risk that just because I don’t want a second shadow everywhere I go,” I said.
“You could always find another necromancer,” he suggested.
“How many necromancers have you met?”
“A few,” he said defensively.
“And how many of them were stable?” I asked. He didn’t answer, but his uncomfortable look told me enough. “Cal might be a bit weird, but he’s not insane or malicious. I’ve got no guarantee that the next necromancer won’t be both.”
“Right, okay,” he agreed. “So, who am I spying on for you?”
“A witch named Holly. I never told her where I lived, but that’s not a guarantee. If you’re okay with it, I want to temporarily tether our consciousnesses so that I can see what you see and you know what she looks like,” I explained.
“All right,” he said, not bothering to hide the hesitance in his voice.
“It’s not dangerous,” I reassured him.
A few blocks from my apartment, I ducked into a fast food place. I wasn’t abandoning my body like I’d have to with astral projection. Still, I’d be distracted. Being in a public space would hopefully keep anyone from bothering me, while Cormac helped me check for Holly and her minions. I used some of the money I’d magically appropriated from various DPI agents to buy myself a large meal and found the most out of the way table I could.
I shivered as the spell linked me to Cormac. Eating didn’t require much attention, so I could focus on directing him. It was strange to be a voice in a ghost’s mind. The world as he saw it became more solid, and my surroundings faded to a ghostly translucence, like the spirit plane. While we walked the rest of the way to my apartment building, I noticed a couple of loopers. One crossed the street only to be run down by a phantom car and start over. The second slammed into the ground a block down from my building. I picked up on a pang of sympathy from Cormac as he saw them. What must it be like to see things like that everywhere he went?
“It gets easier,” he answered my unasked question. “I know they’re not like me, not conscious, and that helps. The people they used to be have moved on. Eventually, this psychic residue will do the same.”
“I’m sorry,” I thought. It might get easier, but that didn’t mean it still wasn’t hard to have these reminders of trauma wherever he went.
Cormac pulled my attention to a car parked across the street from my building. A man sat in the driver’s seat with his eyes trained on the front stoop. The woman next to him fiddled with a length of enchanted rope. I didn’t need any spells to know that it would shut down my magic so these two could take me to Holly. That meant she wasn’t here herself.
We circled the building to ensure there weren’t any others hiding nearby. I started considering ways to deal with the couple in the car while Cormac confirmed they didn’t have any backup. Fragments of my wards clung to the front door, tangled with threats of Holly’s magic. I’d need to replace them with stronger ones. The same broken bits of protective magic waited for us at my apartment door when we got upstairs. Holly’d trashed my place before leaving her two minions to watch the building.
I’d finished my meal by the time we were sure that no one else was waiting for me. Cormac agreed to stay outside my building and monitor the couple in the car while I caught up. I couldn’t slip by them in a magical disguise or invisibility spell. They were both wearing the enchanted glasses Holly’d made for her underlings. That meant a more direct approach. I needed to keep it subtle, though.
As I sneaked up on their car, I saw Cormac climb onto the roof and start stomping. The couple looked up in confusion, proving my ghostly companion had a fairly strong will. The man opened his door but didn’t have time to get out. I sent the last of the sand I’d taken from Peter’s apartment on the wind. The couple fell asleep as soon as the first grains hit them. I took their phones and closed them back in their cars to sleep the magic off.