“The ring appears to be cursed.”
Kirkwin Millstone looked up from the eyepiece of his apparatus: a box of mirrors, lenses, and ethereal refractions. He was a younger faculty wizard with a wispy mustache, trim red hair, and burgundy robes. He was gracious enough to invite Theodore and Oboe into his workshop and help them analyze the spell.
“What kind of curse? Let me see!” Oboe pushed past Kirkwin to peek into the eyepiece. “I don’t get it. It’s just a bunch of smoke and waves.”
“You’d need a doctorate in aura interpretation to understand the readings,” Kirkwin said.
“I don’t have time for that! We’re investigating a murder! Ugh!”
Theodore ushered Oboe back to her seat. “We’re very interested to hear your findings.”
“It is a ghast hex, definitely,” Kirkwin said. “If the ring is worn by a human then it cannot be removed until death. It allows the caster to sense the exact location of the victim and vice versa.”
“Then it’s a type of tracking spell?” Theodore imagined a ghast stalking its prey through the shadows. “But why make it work both ways…?”
Kirkwin opened the machine to wipe down the lenses. “When humans experience intense emotion, like fear or anxiety, our auras bleed energy. Ghasts feed on that energy. If the spell allows the victim to sense when the ghast is nearby, that means the ghast could create fear just by approaching. My hypothesis is that it’s a feeding tactic.”
Theodore could not imagine even sleeping with the knowledge that such a creature could find you any time. “Is there a way to determine who placed the curse on the ring?”
“If we had a skin or hair sample we could track them by aura.” The wizard pulled a thin glass plate from the machine. “Since we don’t, we’ll use the next best thing. Spells like this leave a fingerprint. Every aura form is unique to the soul.” He dipped the plate in a tray of solution and bright psychedelic splashes of color formed on the surface: Purples, blacks, and golds.
Theodore’s eyes lit up. “Yes. Yes! And the census archive here has a complete record of creature aura forms!”
Kirkwin led them down to the dustiest lower floor of the university’s library. Towering banks of filing cabinets filled the back wall. “This might take more time than we have. Everyone hates this system and it takes undergraduates YEARS to-“
Theodore wheeled a shelf-ladder into place before the wizard could finish. It was clear the files were sorted by primary print colors. He pulled open the correct cabinets and piled a stack of relevant folders onto a worktable. Each contained an aura film print. Kirkwin gawked while Theodore compared each print to the plate they created until he discovered a match.
“Here,” Theodore said, breathless. “Name: The Tall Man. Species: bogeyman. Lives in the Hollows. It even specifies a last known address.”
Kirkwin blinked. “…That was quick.”
“He’s into this sort of thing,” Oboe said.
“This is perfect.” Theodore was ecstatic. This was exactly the sort of lead they needed. Now all they needed was to prepare. “Who can I talk to about fighting a bogeyman?”
Kirkwin furrowed his brow. “Excuse me?”
“This creature will no doubt attack us,” Theodore said. “We’ll need a magic weapon or defensive tool to protect us. Who can I talk to?”
Kirkwin held up a hand. “Mr. Grayweather, let me stop you. What you’re asking for is illegal. The construction of anti-ghast tools was outlawed during the peace treaties centuries ago! Any wizard who’d agree to make that sort of thing would lose his credentials and be branded a witch.”
Theodore’s excitement melted into fright. The silver talisman tucked under his shirt suddenly felt very cold against his skin.
“I’m afraid, Deputy,” Kirkwin said, “That you will have to speak to this creature as you are.”