Yohwen has finally reached the pinnacle of her art. She is the Master Haunt and during the festival week, she wakes the dead for their friends and families for one night only.
The next day she is invited to help the Citadel on a world where the entire population died without a whimper. They were Ysheer, the same species as Yohwen. She can talk to them and let them talk to others in a way that no other being can manage. When her assistant asks to go, there is no choice. She has to go.
Scorcher Orkill was not expecting the lovely creature to agree, but when she did, his heart raced and his body heated in a way he was only used to when his talent was in overdrive.
She is here to do a job, and he is here to help, but once the work is over he has every intention of pursuing her. Unfortunately, something goes horribly wrong.
The final gong rang, and Yohwen started to walk. The first step on the smooth sand tingled through her and she made herself a conduit between the energy of the dead and their living relations. As she slowly paced, paused and paced again, she kept herself focused on letting the dead speak and move through her. The moment she drew even with the first burial site, the glowing figures solidified and were ceremonially embraced by their relatives. She felt a surge of relief and pride that she would not disgrace her temporary title.
The light sprang up around her, and she heard murmurs of surprise as she continued her slow and deliberate pace. Her mind joined the song that the dead brought from the stars. She gave herself up to them, pulling power from the ground beneath her to offer them visible form. Yoh heard chattering, excited sobs, and she kept moving on the sand path laid out just for her.
There was one moment, a few hours in, when an excited child stumbled into her and the light dimmed at the contact with the living. She turned her head, and the child stared up at her in shock before her dead grandmother came up to her and shepherded her back to the family with apologies to the Haunt.
She silently wished the young girl a peaceful transition into activity.
Bemused at the contact with a Haunt in her young stage, it took Yoh a bit of effort to get back into the pacing trance that continued for three more hours.
Niisa was waiting for her at the end with a stool, her shoes, and a soft brush to remove the sand. Yoh sat and let her assistant take care of her. She got to her feet and looked over the largest cemetery in the world. Lights of souls were still there, still active.
“Let them go, Yoh. You have done more than enough.”
“When you miss the ones you love, there is never time enough.” She smiled sadly, and as the dawn began to rise, she let the ghosts fade. The souls returned to the stars, and those left behind smiled with watery eyes.
The conclusion and dissipation of the souls was marked with another gong, and Yohwen was free to return to her quarters, change and get the hell out of the capital city.
On their way back to her staging room, she leaned on her friend. “That was tiring.”
“I can imagine. You lit up far more sites than expected.”
Niisa laughed softly. “I am thinking…all of them. As people started noticing, they called everyone nearby into the city so that they could all participate. You might be getting a bonus for this.”
“Does the bonus take the form of a nap?”
Her friend giggled. “No, I don’t think it does.”
“Then, I am not interested. Back to the room, change of clothing and out of this makeup. I don’t want anyone to recognize me by sight when we leave.”
“Fine. You start scrubbing, I will get the chisel.”
Yohwen is this year’s Master Haunt for her planet’s major celebration. She is happy with her life and working with her best friend. So when the Citadel comes asking for help she has no desire to leave her world but Orkill’s plea and her best friend’s desires lead her to agree to help. Orkill has been told his destiny lies with the Master Haunt. So when he sees her during the opening ceremony of her planet’s holiday, he is less than impressed. But when Yohwen’s life is endangered, will Orkill lose his opportunity at forever?
Walking Haunt by Viola Grace is twenty-fourth in the Tales of the Citadel. I was a little confused by this story. Yohwen and Orkill didn’t seem to fit together. I found myself more fascinated by the connections between Yohwen and her best friend and Orkill and his friend then by the relationship between Yohwen and Orkill. Both characters were a bit standoffish and I didn’t believe the chemistry between them.
I thought this was a technically well-written story. And while I enjoyed interactions between the friends, I wished Ms. Grace had focused more the on the romance between the main characters.
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