It was on fire.
In an instant, the smoke alarm was protesting. Yelling at me from above. Judging, like a tiny, angry, petty god. Screeching before I could fix my mistake. Refusing me a chance to right my wrong.
Waking my mentor.
Disheveled, he burst through the door—his bluish white hair all askew, and his beard half-smushed from sleep—his eyes going wide when he saw the scene before him. When he saw the flames, and smoke, and chagrined look on my face.
“Damnit Beatrice, I told you: no summoning fire-sprits! And definitely not in the house!”
“Yes sir,” I intoned, saddened as he grabbed the fire extinguisher.
And, with one blast of continuous white fog, he put the fire out.
Dispelling the spirit.
In the morning, he looked more grumpy than usual. Grumbling more than usual as he made his coffee and eggs.
When I sat, he turned from the stove. Eyes boring into me the most serious of looks.
I sighed, knowing what was in store.
I was in trouble.
“Fergus, look, I’m sorry—”
“No. No you’re not Beatty,” he replied, interrupting me with a cutting tone and a piercing glare. “This is the third time this month that you’ve disobeyed me. That you’ve summoned ghosts inside the house, in the middle of the night, without supervision or permission. And a fire-sprit, no less! I know—I know—that you know how dangerous it is. I’ve explained it to you several thousand times. But, it seems as if that’s not enough. Clearly, it’s not enough,” he lectured, tone hitting me. Biting into me like a whip.
I winced at the ensuing silence. Afraid of whatever would come next.
And for good reason.
“So… are you going to stop training me?” I asked, my voice small, cautious.
“You know they’ll overwhelm me if you do.”
He nearly growled at me.
“Tch, of course I won’t stop training you. Don’t be ridiculous. I know the consequences, I’m not a fool. I’m the teacher here, remember? You’d think I would know at least that much,” he griped, sour.
Pausing for a minute, he pushed a hand through his beard. Scratching at the inch-long hairs that protruded from his chin.
“Maybe that’s the problem,” he mused. “Maybe you just don’t trust that I know what I’m talking about. It’d explain a lot of your behaviors.”
I sat in silence, saying nothing.
This was one of those situations where, no matter what you said, you’d be in trouble. For whatever reason, there was nothing I could say in that moment to make things better. Nothing I could do. Nothing I could prove.
So I stayed quiet.
In the end Fergus nodded, as if deciding.
“After breakfast, I’m taking you up the mountain. I’ll show you what I’m talking about.”
I didn’t know what that meant, but I was almost certain that, no matter what it was, it wasn’t good.
I was not wrong.
Up on the mountain, we stood on a cliff. Overlooking the valley below.
“I can see the house from here,” I remarked.
Fergus nodded. “You can see everything from up here,” he replied. “That’s why we’re here.”
And then, his eyes went white. Ghosting over as he summoned something to him. Calling to the pieces of him that lingered in the spirit realm, that dabbled with the other side.
Sure enough, one came running to his call.
The one he needed, apparently.
“Show the girl was happened here,” he commanded. “Show her how you died.”
Which came as quite a shock because:
Ghosts don’t often share how they died. It’s a secret that they guard very carefully. A moment they hold very dear to them. Almost as if it were a private moment. It’s a very personal thing for most ghosts, and so, when you ask for them to explain or show their death to you—or anyone else for that matter—the answer is usually something akin to “hell no” or “buzz off”.
Not this ghost.
Immediately after Fergus commanded, my eyes glossed over. As if a film were being placed between the environment and my eyes. Like looking through a spyglass to see something specific, or like looking through a camera lens with a filter.
I saw a young man standing atop the mountain, and I immediately knew.
He was summoning spirits.
He was alone up here, on this mountain. Summoning in the middle of the night. Eager to use what he’d learned.
An unwise thing to do.
In the next few moments, I witnessed:
The student summoning…
He lost control.
In a bright flash, the fire-sprit took over. Eating away at the protection the boy made for himself. Eating it away with fiery passion. An angry desire. The fire-sprit leapt the moment the boy stumbled—struggling for control—and then, that was it.
The boy was swallowed whole.
Consumed in flames.
Through the memory, I hear his cry echo down the mountain. His agony shouted into the night sky.
I expected it to end then. For the vision to cease. After all, we’ve seen now how the ghost died, right?
The boy isn’t the spirit Fergus summoned.
Not at all.
The fire-sprit turned. As soon as the boy was engulfed in flames, the spirit turned.
And found the town below in the valley.
That’s where this spirit came from. That’s where the spirit Fergus summoned died.
The student killed, not only himself—
But the whole town as well.
My legs went hollow, and my arms felt numb as I watched the fire-sprit move through the valley. Laying waste to anything—everything—it could touch. And I didn’t have to watch the rest of the replay to know what happened.
Since I’ve come to the valley, there hasn’t been a village.
Fergus and I were the only ones who lived on this side of the mountain.
And, after that vision, I knew why.
When the lens disappeared, so did the spirit Fergus summoned. Leaving without any notice, without a trace. In the ensuing silence, I tried my best to steady my heart. To bring feeling back into my arms.
Not on my own.
After a moment of processing, Fergus spoke up. Explaining it to me once more.
“Spirits aren’t meant to be tamed Beatrice. They have a lot more hold over us than we do over them. We’re feeble creatures because of our bodies. Our mind is easily changed, and our hearts are easily unsettled, and our eyes are easily fooled. Without proper aid and proper training, a summoned spirit can eat you. Swallow you whole. Possess you, torment you. Evict your own soul from your body. Or, otherwise, destroy your body entirely. Most spirits are unkind. They look for holes—for weakness—in the summoner, so that they can take control of the situation. That’s why I keep telling you: don’t summon without me there. I can tell you where your weaknesses are. And, if you can’t overcome them, than I can make up for them. That’s why we summon together, understand?”
He didn’t wait for me to reply. Instead, he carried on.
“Arrogance and confidence are two different animals. They feel similar to one’s self, but, in practice, they’re entirely different. One will keep your stride steady, while the other will lead you straight to your doom,” he said, his tone very teacherly.
Then he leveled me with a look. A very steadying, very earnest look, before he finished his lesson.
“You are an excellent spirit summoner, Beatrice. It’s a gift you were clearly born with. But, just because it comes naturally doesn’t mean you have no growing to do. And just because you were born with it doesn’t mean no one else has any information to offer you. Understand?”
“Yes sir,” I replied, meaning it.
It seemed he felt my sincerity.
“Good. I’d hate to lose a good student to something as stupid as arrogance. It’d be a pain in my ass,” he joked, patting my head before leading the way back down the mountain.
But I didn’t follow immediately.
Instead, I took one more look at the valley. Seeing the scars now. There, off between the trees, was a line of burnt-out beams. Survivors from the folly of the student. From the foolish summoner and his fire-sprit.
The same fire-sprit that I’d summoned last night.
As I looked at the broken lines that was once a village, full of people, I lamented.
Fergus was right.
To devour a village so easily…
To torment people so readily…
To constantly push the boundaries like that…
Spirits are mostly evil.
Summoners were meant to find the good ones and use them. Keep the bad ones at bay.
I don’t think that’s enough.
Looking at the desolation, I couldn’t help but think:
It’s not enough.
Spirits that torment, that destroy, that kill.
They shouldn’t be allowed to exist.
And that’s why.
Why I’ll become the greatest summoner. Why I’ll learn everything I can. Why I’ll surpass Fergus one day. So that I can understand better. So I can know. So I can find their weakness, like they do us.
So I can destroy spirits.
One day, I’ll find their weakness. Find a way to kill them. And then, that’ll be it. It’ll be over for them.
One by one, I’ll destroy them all.
Starting with the fire-sprit.