For a long time, Nimbus stood outside the town hall. There were lights blazing in the windows, and he could see the silhouettes of dancers as the band played. There was laughter. Singing. A party for the living, in honour of the dead.
He clenched his fists. Clouds slowly drifted across the night sky, mapping dark patterns on the landscape.
‘You aren’t going in, are you?’ Cumulo said.
Nimbus shook his head.
‘It’s an important night, Nim. You will be expected.’
‘I can’t,’ Nimbus said. ‘Not now. Not yet. There’s somewhere else I have to be.’
He turned to leave, but Cumulo placed a huge claw in his way. ‘He won’t be there, Nim. You know that. Spirit Night is important to you... to those people in the hall. But the spirits don’t care either way.’
‘I just...’ Nimbus shook his head again. ‘This is the first time. Since all of this happened. Since magic came back. When I was little, my dad used to tell me the stories of Spirit Night. We used to always make sure we put a loaf of bread outside with some wine or something. But it was just stories. Traditions.’
‘But things are different now. You’re here. Magic is everywhere. Who knows what will happen? Maybe all the spirits in the afterlife will come back for one night. And if they do... I mean... If he does.’
‘If he does, what good will it achieve?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Well, if you insist on doing this, at least let me come with you. I do not think it is safe to be alone out here tonight.’
‘It never is, Cumulo. Not anymore.’
Nimbus hunched his shoulders and walked away. Cumulo watched him for a moment, then with a sniff, he strolled across to the entrance of the town hall, where he waited patiently. Surely it would only be a matter of time before someone thought to bring him out some pumpkin pie.
Nimbus sat on the beach, and drew his knees up to his chin. It was almost pitch black here, with only the faint light of the crescent moon picking out the edges of the surrounding rocks in silver. Apart from the gentle lapping of the waves on the sand, the world was silent.
He wiped his nose on his sleeve. It was getting colder. It would be winter soon, and who knew what that meant? Who knew what new creatures would fly in on the wings of the winter storms? What new horrors he would have to face, just so he could continue calling himself the Wing Warrior?
But that was a concern for the future. A battle for another day.
For now, everything was peaceful.
The world of the living was sleeping, dreaming of the dead.
‘So, here I am,’ he said.
The only response was the hush of the water retreating across the beach.
‘It’s Spirit Night,’ he went on. ‘The first one since the world went crazy. The first one since you... You know...’ He cleared his throat awkwardly. ‘I don’t know if you’re out there. If you can hear me. But I hope you can, because I need you to know something.’
The water gulped around his toes, and for a moment his thoughts were filled with that fateful day on Serpent’s Coil, when he had been cut by the Spirit Blade, and was almost devoured by the Vampyr. He repositioned himself on the beach, just out of reach of the waves.
‘I’m not too keen on the water these days,’ he said, laughing quietly. ‘Not since then. You said the ocean was dangerous, and you were right. Sometimes, it seems so peaceful. But it’s so strong, and there’s so much of it. It can break down cliffs, and it slowly eats away at the world. I think, one day, there will only be sea left. I guess that would make you happy. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ll never be happy.’
He chuckled to himself, shaking his head as if it might somehow rearrange his disjointed thoughts.
‘I’m rambling, putting off what I came here to say. It’s just, that last time we met... There was so much bad blood between us, and it got in the way. It blinded me. But now... Now I just miss my friend.’ He choked back a sob. ‘And I just wish that, in those last moments, you could have known how much I wanted things to be different.
‘If only you could have understood what being the Wing Warrior means. You could have been a part of it. You won’t believe what’s happening now. A group of men from Crystal Shine have captured a griffon. They’re training it as a mount. There’s going to be a whole battalion of them eventually, called the Griffon Guard. You could have been one. You would have had your own legendary creature to ride, rather than trying to take mine.’ He stopped himself, as he felt anger bubbling up from the deep well of his heart. He didn’t want to be angry anymore. This wasn’t about anger. ‘You would have been the best,’ he whispered.
Suddenly, there was the clatter of pebbles being dislodged among the rocks behind.
Nimbus turned, and for a moment he thought he saw a shrouded figure darting for cover. He jumped to his feet to give chase, but as he did, a cloud rolled across the moon, plunging the beach into utter darkness.
‘Wait!’ he shouted.
There were more sounds among the rocks, as stones were displaced; but by the time the moon reappeared, whatever had been there was gone.
As he stared up at the rocks, Nimbus wiped his mouth with one trembling hand. When he finally blinked, tears wetted his cheeks.
‘Tide?’ he said.
A figure emerged from the darkness: a girl in a white dress, with a shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders.
‘It’s only me,’ Sky said. ‘What are you doing out here all alone?’
Nimbus quickly brushed the tears from his eyes. ‘Oh. Nothing. I was just...’ He hesitated, and then he smiled. ‘I was just talking to an old friend.’
Sky looked at him seriously for a moment, and then she smiled too. ‘You should come to the party,’ she said.
‘Because otherwise your dragon is going to eat all the pumpkin pie.’
Nimbus laughed, and took Sky’s hand in his. ‘I guess we better go then,’ he said.
As they left the beach, he stopped only once, glancing back towards the rocks where he was sure he had seen a stooped figure, wrapped in a cloak of seaweed.
‘Do you think it might be true?’ he said.
‘You mean the stories about Spirit Night?’ Sky asked.
‘Yeah. I mean, we know ghosts are real. Captain Spectre and his men were proof of that. But do you think the other stuff is true too?’
‘The stories say the spirits come back to visit the ones they love. The ones they miss. Maybe we just want that to be true.’
Nimbus held Sky’s hand a little tighter. ‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘Maybe.’