by Trevor Hopkins

A sudden thought caused me to look up. Against the scudding grey clouds I could make out a faint dome overhead, outlined in silver and blue fairy-lights. It was a spell I didn't recognise, but I could guess its function. It was also one which was still active, but so subtle in its effect that I hadn't noticed it on our previous visit. My guess - I have some track record at this kind of guess - was that the dome would extend underground too, and it kept the magical senses of the Old Ones at bay. That was why the Old Ones needed my assistance: a residual magic glamour would only work inside the dome, and the Old Ones were rather too conspicuous on the surface to risk travelling here in person.

As quickly as it had appeared, the magic faded, and the little cardboard box that had contained it crumbled into dust. A standard security measure for illegal glamours. Goblin magic can be used only once and the more cautious vendors left no lingering traces behind to inform cops and competitors. Gaur was a professional and took no chances.

The last of the magic to linger were crimson markers on the ground: worrying streaks and splashes. Now that it had been pointed out, I could detect even with merely mundane senses that there were splashes of blood on the ground, mingling with the rainwater, where something - somebody, unfortunately - had died messily. Using magic to kill is quite possible, of course, but also quite rare these days. It's just so expensive to do so; if you want to harm somebody, it's generally much cheaper to use non-magical weapons like guns or knives. Somebody around here had too much money, or too much magic, and wasn't afraid to use it in a heavy-handed - not to mention fatal - fashion. Either way, a dangerous combination.

Gumshoe pointed to the spot where the circle of red light had once been.

"That kinda looked familiar," he said, his eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"Too right. I guess the Old Ones will be interested to learn what's been going on here. But there's something else we need to take a look at."

I peered over the stone wall we had been leaning on earlier at the building beyond. I could sense bright lights and faint sounds emerging from within. Up to a few moments ago, I would have sworn that it was inhabited - by humans - and that the instincts of millennia would cause me to give it a wide berth. Gumshoe joined me, his height allowing him to see over the wall without effort while I was forced to stand on tip-toe.

"Let's take a closer look at this place," I said softly.

"Okay," he replied, unholstering his automatic. I didn't bother with my gun. I was pretty certain I knew what we would find.

We scrambled over the wall and made our way cautiously to the house. We peered through windows and cracks in curtains then, in a whisper, I asked Gumshoe to open the back door. He shrugged and produced a set of lock picks wrapped in an oiled leather cloth. Two minutes of muffled swearing and the scrape of metal on metal was enough to get us inside. Within, the television and lights were turned on, and the sounds of movement were all around us: doors closing, creaking floorboards and childish feet on the stairs. But there was nobody actually in residence; the house was entirely empty.

"Is this place haunted?" Gumshoe asked after we had searched every room for a second time.

"Sorta," I replied, "It's a glamour - a subtle one. You know how you can always tell whether a house is empty or not? This glamour gives the subconscious impression that a place is occupied. Very clever. And leaves us with an important question: who owns this property? And why is it empty?"

Part 83 Part 85