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“The ogres who guard the walls of this island. They discovered a gate some miles away and they frequent it together to gather food for themselves. Humans.”

“How do you know this?” I asked.

He smiled bitterly at me, and there was a trace of melancholy in his jaded eyes. “When you haunt an island for six hundred years, you know things like this.”

Six hundred years. He’s lived this way for six hundred years.

The thought threw me off, and it took my brain a few seconds to form my next question. “And, uh, do you know the names of the ogres I need to seek out?”

“Just look for Rufus,” he said. “They usually travel in his ship.”

“And do you know how often they go?”

“This is more than one question,” he said, a pained look on his face. “I don’t know how long that dream is going to last, or even that I’ll be able to walk in it again after you scared it off!”

“How often do the ogres go to the human realm?” I insisted, even though I felt bad for it. But I’d realized by now that I had the power to interrupt his pleasure, and unless he gave me what I wanted, there was no reason for me to go away.

“Usually twice a week,” he murmured. “At least.”

“Thank you,” I said. Finally I motioned to turn around, but something kept me rooted to the spot, staring down at the old man curled up on the floor. “May I have your name?”

“Ernest,” he growled. “Now, shoo!”

“Thank you, Ernest,” I replied.

He flicked a hand at me before clamping his eyes shut again. His face scrunched up in concentration, and then, after a few moments, relaxed. The lines in his face smoothed and his expression returned to one of deep peace. I guessed he’d managed to re-immerse himself in the same child’s fantasy. Or perhaps this night had been a lucky one, and he’d found two happy places to lose his aching soul in.

Chapter 7: Ben

Rufus the ogre. Ernest had said that he was one of the guards on the island. So, abandoning the guest house, I headed straight for the wall that surrounded The Tavern. I recalled the door that Julie had led me through. An ogre had been positioned there. I managed to find my way back to that same spot, where, no surprise, I found an ogre, though not the same one as before.

He was alone, however. Which meant that in order to find out anything about him, I had to hover near him, waiting for him to have an interaction with someone. Finally, a werewolf approached the door, requesting to be let outside onto the beach. He addressed the ogre as Hector. At least now I’d learned he wasn’t Rufus. Ogres, however, seemed to be in the minority on this island and I guessed that they would get together to eat. So I waited with Hector.

Once the sun peeked over the horizon, Hector left his post and headed out toward the beach. I soon caught sight of where he was heading—to a group of ogres sitting around a fire. As we approached, I learned that one of them—a particularly large and hideous-looking one—went by the name of Rufus. In that very conversation, they spoke of their last venture into the human realm. How they had managed to swipe a group of six humans from a mountain range—mountain climbers, I assumed. They were planning to go again in two days’ time.

So from then on, it became a waiting game. I stuck by Rufus’s side the whole time, even returning to his cave while he slept.

Finally, the evening arrived and Rufus gathered near the harbor with the other ogres. They boarded a large ship pulled by five giant grey sharks and set off. Hovering near the stern of the vessel, I watched The Tavern fading into the distance and eavesdropped on the ogres’ conversation. All of them were talking animatedly about what ghastly meal they would cook up once they’d gathered their humans, and were already arguing over what the main course should be served with. I was both amazed and sickened by just how long they were able to talk about the subject of food and the tiniest details they went into. As a ghost, I couldn’t seem to block out my hearing, and thus had no means of escape from their stomach-turning discussion of the butchery process.

I let out a deep sigh of relief when a small—apparently uninhabited—island came into view. It reminded me a little of the islet where Aisha had taken me to meet Arron for the first time after she had collected him from Aviary. I guessed that this one was probably in a similar area, because we had not been traveling long.

The excitement rising in the ogres was practically palpable as they trundled off the boat and began hurrying onto the island. They tramped through the undergrowth, bashing aside the occasional tree with their mighty elbows. I followed and hovered above them, trying to see exactly where they were headed. Eventually, I spotted it. Surrounded by slabs of rock was a wide black hole, the depths of which were speckled with sparkling stars.

I waited as, one by one, the ogres tumbled through—many of them letting out bellows as the vacuum consumed them.

After the last ogre had disappeared through the gate, I approached it. My last experience jumping through one of these had been as a vampire, and a suction had pulled me down. Now, I couldn’t feel any pull at all. It seemed that the vacuum had no effect on me. I entered the hole and had to travel down it by the force of my own will. For the first time, I was able to see the inside of this crater without being rushed down at eye watering speed. Although, frankly, there wasn’t a lot to see, apart from the strange, swirling blue smoke that formed the walls of the tunnel and the apparent night sky beyond it.

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