“Ghouls!” Aisha’s voice echoed around the chamber from above.
I glided to the surface and poked my head out to see five ghouls had just entered the chamber. They stopped short, shock flashing across their gaunt faces. Aisha and the jinn barely gave them a second’s warning. All five ghouls went slamming back against the wall, pinned there by the jinn’s magic. Then Aisha rushed over, her blade bared, and dismembered them one by one. As she turned to survey the rest of us, casually brushing aside a strand of hair from her face, she looked like she belonged in a video game.
“Nothing to worry about,” she said to me, her tone almost chirpy. “We’ll keep watch.”
Lucas, Marcilla and I sank into the pool again and I realized that some of the ghosts had also risen to the surface to watch the incident. Now that they had seen one of my companions slaughter those ghouls, it became a much easier task to win their trust and persuade them to come with us.
Soon we had emptied the whole pool and lined them up in a huddle, surrounded by jinn for protection. I caught sight of Nolan and Chantel emerging from the pool next to us, followed by their own crowd of nervous ghosts. I looked toward our jinn. There seemed to be plenty with us to keep watch—especially with Aisha on the patrol—and we needed more help in gathering the ghosts. I picked out several from the crowd, and slowly but surely, we emptied every single pool.
Safi, who had led the jinn who’d parted ways with us to destroy the net, had returned by now, confirming that the net was successfully removed and the ghoul guards all slain.
“Take these ghosts,” I said to her. “Escort them through the exit, then return to us for the next batch. And hurry.”
Safi nodded before beginning to work with her group to herd the ghosts away.
We, too, needed to hurry.
More ghouls ventured in to disturb us as we continued to move from chamber to chamber, hauling out as many ghosts as we could. But the jinn made sure they didn’t come near the ghosts, allowing us to focus on our task of gathering them. Our greatest resistance came from the ghosts themselves. We were moving so slowly due to our efforts to convince even the most stubborn ghosts we were here to help them that I feared we might not even be finished by the time the rest of the ghouls returned. We had to speed up, which—regrettably—meant that those who required persuasion and hesitated at risks started getting left behind.
After emptying the upper levels, we began moving further down. These ghosts, as was to be expected, were ten times more difficult to get through to. Of all the pools, we only managed to salvage twelve ghosts. This number only dwindled further the lower we sank until we were plunged into black. I was sure we had reached the very bottom floor. The jinn had to spark up fires in their palms to give us light.
“Would be a miracle if we rescued a single person from here,” Lucas murmured. His face looked strained as his eyes roamed the deathly-still ponds.
As I looked at my uncle, I took a moment to appreciate the fact that he’d been willing to come down here to help us. After all those years of hell, he shouldn’t have wanted to come within a thousand miles of here.
Then, as the jinn began to mutter about our job being done, a thought struck me. “Where is The Necropolis?”
Lucas’s eyes widened. “Uh… further down still, I guess.”
“You have never seen the place.”
Lucas shook his head, shuddering slightly.
“How do we know it even exists?” I asked.
“It exists,” Marcilla spoke up, half scoffing. “Where else would the ghouls throw out the motionless ghosts?”
I paused, running my tongue over my lower lip.
“What are you thinking?” Aisha asked, scrutinizing my face as she leaned on her bloodied sword.
“I’m thinking that we’re here now, and will likely—and hopefully—never be here again… I would like to see The Necropolis for myself.” If not now, I’d wonder for the rest of my life what it really was.
“Are you serious?” Chantel gasped.
I nodded grimly.
“I’ll come with you,” Aisha offered.
“I’ll come, too,” Horatio blurted, a little too quickly after Aisha. They slanted glances at each other at the same time, before meeting each other’s gaze and averting their attention awkwardly.
“And I… will not come with you this time,” Lucas said, grimacing. I certainly could not blame him for having drawn the line here.
To my surprise, Nolan did put himself forward, much to his wife’s chagrin.
When we had no more offers after his, I cleared my throat. “All right… Let’s do this.”
We sank through the floor—deeper than we’d ever sunk before—and passed through dozens of feet of solid rock. When we finally emerged on the other side, a faint moaning sound met my ears, like high wind against a loose window. Sprawling beneath us was a most bizarre sight. I had been expecting perhaps another chamber—an enormous one to house all the faded ghosts. Instead what I saw was a sea of graves spread out over rolling hills. Strangely, the ground was soil rather than the stone I’d been accustomed to in this place, and gaping dirt holes had been dug in front of each gravestone, none of them covered over. The ceiling was jagged with rocks, and now that I looked up at it, I realized the source of the pale blue light cast down over the landscape. Hordes of swarming glow worms. At least, I assumed they were glow worms. They were some type of insect and their bodies were luminous.