Although Aisling and I had heard about the Abandoned Avenues, it was impossible to find out how that part of the city became infested with dangerous grey spirits. A state secret. That’s what everyone said.
Even Shinytop knew little except that some kind of bomb was detonated there twenty-two years ago.
Then, out of the blue, Ganhook handed us a confidential report, and said, ‘Some work for you.’
I was immediately suspicious. The only Top Secret reports we were ever shown dealt with really, really dodgy things.
Summarised report concerning The Grey Spirit Bomb
Bomb maker: Unknown. Suspected Spirit Storm involvement.
Detonation Site: City of Bones. Northern Inner City.
Suspected Target: Great Bones Compound.
Damage: Zero fatalities. One square kilometre of Bone City infected by grey spirits. This area has been evacuated and sealed off. It is currently known as the Abandoned Avenues.
Known details: After an exhaustive investigation involving all levels of upper government and security, the official report concludes:
Splinters of the bomb casing were identified as Maklet Timber, a rare hardwood tree known only to exist on the southern fringe of the Vellor Forest. Investigators were dispatched to this area where they discovered a deserted cave complex they identified as the bomb factory.
They concluded that unknown creatures were bred in underground cells, euthanised at adulthood, and had their spirits compacted, by unknown means, into an energy mass. This energy mass formed the bomb’s core.
Unknown attackers sneaked this bomb through the City if Bone’s air defences during an electrical storm, detonating it at a height of 120m. The resulting explosion showered a one kilometre zone with grey spirits. All contaminated buildings were summarily evacuated.
After intense pressure from construction and housing lobbyists, the City Council has now authorised a spirit-clearance program to reclaim the Abandoned Avenues and enable redevelopment.
The grey spirits are resisting this program with force.
‘Grey spirits? Unknown creatures?’ Aisling said to Ganhook. ‘What’s this got to do with us?’
‘The construction developers’ spirit extraction teams are having difficulty removing a particularly stubborn grey spirit that had taken up residence in the statue of Makleet Warrior. It’s a marble warrior on horseback that sits at the intersection of two once busy avenues.’
Briefly, I thought I’d heard him wrong. ‘A spirit in a statue?’
Ganhook nodded. ‘It’s an odd one. Grey spirits fight like devils. This one, though, never caused any trouble until they tried to remove it from the statue.’
‘So we’re supposed to extract this . . . thing?’ Aisling said.
‘No. No. No.’ Ganhook rubbed his hands together, the way he always did when he had a hundred things on his mind. ‘Go there. Observe. Report back to me, and I’ll find a solution.’
‘So this spirit isn’t dangerous?’ I asked.
Ganhook sighed. ‘Do I ever send you into danger, real danger?’
I felt like replying, ‘Yes, almost every day.’ But I said nothing. Unfortunately for us, what he considered dangerous was a gazillion worlds away from what we considered dangerous.
But there wasn’t much point in arguing that fact with him.
As usual, we had to hide in the back of a Grantac Delivery Cart on the way to the Abandoned Avenues.
I was getting tired of hiding in the back. I wanted to see out, get my bearings, feel I was at least in some way in control of things. When the cart rattled to a halt, and I heard soldiers asking for id papers outside, I couldn’t resist poking my head through the door connecting the cab to the rear of the carriage.
We’d stopped at a security gate. Beyond it, a mass of demolition and construction was underway. Half hidden in a cloud of demolition dust, old building were being knocked, new buildings erected, and the whole place swarmed with creature powered digging machines, wooden cranes, and an army of workmen.
Then Aisling yanked me back, and hissed, ‘We’re supposed to be incognito.’
‘I’m fed up travelling incognito,’ I replied. ‘I feel like a prisoner.’
‘But be patient. Things will change.’
Five minutes later, when we emerged from the cart and saw the group of soldiers, medical personnel, construction workers and people dressed in black velvet uniforms, all staring at a statue about fifty yards ahead, I’d have been quiet happy to remain incognito and slip away.
Like they were waiting for someone, they turned towards us, en masse.
Though the sun was up, the buildings beyond the statue looked cloaked in a permanent gloom. Some roofs had collapsed. Window were punched out. Doors hung lopsided off their hinges. The smell of rotten timber hung heavy in the air.
The grey spirits had done a good job making the place uninhabitable.
The statue really caught my eye. The sharp divide of colour between the warrior and horse reminded me of me of Two-Tone-Tam, the skeleton snagged in Ganhook’ compound protection spell. It was impossible to make out a face because the statue’s head had sagged into some other, unrecognisable thing.
‘Good. You’re here.’ A tall woman dressed in black velvet marched up to us. ‘I’m Inspector Shard. Spirit extraction team leader.’ She pointed at the statue. ‘The very devil is inside that thing,’ Inspector Shard said. ‘Sent five of my men to medical already this morning.’
‘We’re only here to observe,’ I said, though I was starting to suspect nobody had told Inspector Shard this.
She raised her eyebrows. ‘Observe?’
‘Ganhook’s orders,’ Aisling said.
Inspector Shard stared at us. ‘You’re here now. So you must help. My men are getting hurt.’
‘So you want us to get hurt instead?’ I asked.
Like she was taking aim at me, Inspector Shard stared along her pointy nose. ‘But you’re Ganhook’s people. You can’t get hurt.’
I felt like prodding my finger with a needle just to prove we bled like everyone else.
A stubby man slipped out from behind Inspector Shard, and said, ‘It’s Ganhook’s responsibility to fix this. He sent you, so get to work.’
Bristling, I said, ‘Who are you to tell us what . . .’
Before I got another word out, Aisling grabbed my arm and led me away towards the statue. Good thing too, before I told the little squirt what I thought about him.
‘What’s up?’ I said. ‘We’re only supposed to observe.’
‘That’s what we’re doing. But I have a suspicion I know what the problem is.’
‘You do?’ I said, hoping she’d share, but not asking more until the statue was looming over us. It was then that I noticed the statue’s face. Instead of a warrior’s face, it resembled some kind of animal, a furry faced animal that vaguely reminded me of a lion.
And parts of the body were in the process of changing too, though it was impossible to recognise what they were changing into.
It looked like the whole statue was being transformed, moulded or eroded into something else over time.
Instinct told me that the spirit was causing this. Logic, however, told me this was impossible.
When I told Aisling my thoughts, she said, ‘The spirit’s got an ego.’
‘An ego?’ I replied, confused.
‘Isn’t it obvious,’ she said, looking at me like I was a three-year-old. ‘It has set up home in the statue of an important City figure because it think’s it’s important. Now it’s taking things a step farther by modifying the statue to resemble itself.’
I stifled a laugh. As ludicrous as it sounded, there was a certain logic to her theory. I kept staring at the statue, half expecting the thing to come alive. ‘So, if this is true, what should Ganhook do about it?’
‘Nothing. The spirit doesn’t need to be removed from the statue, the statue needs to be removed from here. It only emerges angry when people interfere with it.’
Things started gelling in my head. Yes, the thing did have an ego. It had never intentionally harmed anyone who’d left it alone. ‘It needs to go someplace else, somewhere prominent where it can feel important. A park. A museum. Somewhere like that.’
I actually didn’t care where it went as long as we didn’t have anything more to do with it.
Aisling gestured towards Inspector Shard’s group. ‘Let’s go tell them our findings.’
Inspector Shard was sceptical at first. Yet, though the little man tried to convince her that we were only looking for excuses to avoid dealing with the spirit, she agreed to give it a go. The last we heard, she was arranging for some language experts to try to communicate with the spirit before they relocated the statue to the Museum of Storm Oddities.
Who knows, maybe we’ll go visit it there someday.