ROOK HAD NO idea how long he had been roaming the countryside. He had left his body to move more quickly to his destination. The villages along the river had reported strange disappearances in the surrounding forest. Avestine had sent him to discover and fix their problem, but Rook felt compelled to return as soon as he could. She was not in need of protection. In fact, she needed nothing from him, but that didn’t lessen his sense of dread at being away from her.
Distance was disorienting without his body. Was he near the villages or moving farther away? Distance didn’t matter in the world of the dead.
Rook roamed among shadows and shines that lived unseen among men, creatures he had no names for. And yet, some shapes slid into familiarity—what had once been a man or a woman or even a child. And more rare and more unwelcome were the remains of a creature he once knew. The one he saw most often was the thing that had once been Avestine’s father.
The Architect’s ghost appeared almost every time Rook entered the realm of the dead. Rook assumed the creature was somehow attached to him, an effort driven by an echo of passion—regret or pain or even rage. Rook was never sure what it wanted from him, but it shared a feeling of urgency. Speaking with the dead was not like the living imagined. In fact, it was the opposite of speaking. It was the opposite because it didn’t depend on words, effort, or intent. The dead didn’t have personality and they couldn’t lie. To speak with a ghost was to know. Just know.
Ghosts were the remains of life, after all, and life ceased to exist where lies began. No lies lived in this realm of pure existence, of what, simply, is. The creatures here had been purveyors of death in its purest form: the lie. Rook wondered where those who gave all of themselves to life were. Maybe those were the men of legend who never died. Maybe those were the immortals. Rook was musing on his idea when a coldness startled him.
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