At this thought, his eyes flew open. No, that isn’t true, he told himself. I am needed here. Susan needs me.

Fall, a voice rasped. Here you have no place. Here you are not needed.

“No!” exclaimed Yorik. He became aware of something on his shoulder, whispering into his ear. He swatted with one hand, and for the barest instant saw something there, or nothing, an emptiness crouching and muttering —and then it was gone.

The emptiness was gone, and the stars were back in their proper place above him. He leapt up, his feet pressing lightly on the earth below.

Yorik reached for his weapons—his bow, his sling, his knife—before remembering they were no longer there, and would be useless if they were. He turned in a careful circle. Somewhere in the darkness beyond the starlit garden, he felt that something, more than one thing, was watching him silently, no longer whispering but waiting.

Bells and candles, demon-hounds, dark voices that came from voids—the night was fraught with danger for a mere ghost. Yorik wished that, like the stars, he were back in his proper place. He wished he were back in the cold cabin with his sister. But he was not, and he had much to report to the Princess. He hurried for the aviary glade, staying to the open paths of the Wooded Walk, one eye fixed on the shadows.

On the way, he crossed the carriage path. As he did, Lord Ravenby’s great carriage loomed out of the dark and pounded past, clattering and banging. The overworked horses, coated in foaming sweat, rolled their eyes and then were gone, off toward the carriage house. Yorik wondered why the carriage was out so late, and why the horses—normally so well cared for by the stable hands—were being pushed to dangerous limits. There must be a terrible emergency of some kind. Could a Family member be ill? He hastened on, wondering.

Back in the glade, the glow of gossamer and silver soon led him to the Princess and Erde.

“You’re back!” exulted the Princess. She was busily waving her twig about, weaving spells. Unseasonable blooms were popping out all over. A gray cat, hunting birds, wandered into the glade. The Princess made an emphatic flourish, and the cat shrieked, pawed the air wildly, and raced away. “Look, Erde, the ghost-boy has returned! Well, did you frighten them to pieces?”

Yorik hesitated. “No, not exactly.”

“No?” said the Princess. “Well, it’s not necessary. Tell me everything you learned, ghost!”

“I learned a lot, Your Highness,” said Yorik eagerly. “I couldn’t get into the Manor, but—”

“What?” said the Princess. “What Manor?”

“Ravenby Manor,” said Yorik. “It’s the center of the Estate … I mean, of the lands of my human masters.”

The Princess frowned, and her twig made a shower of sparks. “The center?” she said. “Why couldn’t you get in?”

Yorik felt less eager. “I couldn’t get past the hounds. They—”

“What hounds?” said the Princess. “Why should a few silly hounds matter to a ghost? Scare them off!”

“These aren’t normal hounds, Your Majesty. They’re guarding the Manor, they—”

“Guarding it? Why?”

“I don’t know,” said Yorik. “But perhaps if one of you could tell me how to get past them—”

“How should I know?” The Princess shrugged. “That’s servants’ work. You’re supposed to know these things! You’re supposed to be terrifying. Dogs should be scared of you, not the other way around.”

Yorik looked desperately at Erde. She was crawling about in the dirt. It took him a moment to realize that she was following ants. She shrugged too. “Ghosts haunt,” she croaked.

“But these hounds have a demon form. And their master drove me off with a bell and candle. I—”

“Enough excuses,” interrupted the Princess.

“This is your job and you have to do it right! I ordered you to go out and spy for me, and you come back and tell me you can’t, because of what? Bells? Candles?”

“Your Majesty, even if I can’t get into the Manor, there’s lots more of the Estate to explore. I could—”

“Oh no,” said the Princess in a most withering tone. “There might be more candles out there. I never knew having a ghost-servant would be this much trouble. I should have left you all broken.” She pointed her twig at Yorik. “You might frighten a dog that way.”

Yorik backed away hastily. “Your Highness, the hounds are for hunting. They normally stay in their kennels at night. But for some reason they were out patrolling the grounds. The Kennelmaster said something about Dark Ones.”

“Dark Ones?” The Princess sniffed irritably, lowering her twig. “Never heard of them. Humans have a pack of stupid beliefs, don’t they?”

“Yglhfm,” rumbled Erde suddenly. Yorik and the Princess looked at her. She was staring at them, her huge, soulful eyes brimming with muddy tears.

“Oh,” said the Princess quietly. Her face fell, and her burning silver glow faded to a soft smolder. “Them.”

“What?” said Yorik. “Who are y … gl …?” He tried the word but couldn’t say it.

The Princess straightened. “They’re nothing for servants to be concerned about.” To Erde she said, “Don’t you worry. If any of them come around my glade, they’ll be caterpillars.”

Yorik did not get the sense that Erde was completely reassured. She turned back to her ants and began weaving her skeletal fingers into complicated patterns. The whole line organized itself and began marching off to the north.

“See how far I’ve fallen, Erde!” the Princess fumed. “Begging good-for-nothing ghost-boys to spy for me. Me! All because I can’t see a thing outside this glade.”

Erde crawled to the Princess and took her hand. Mud drops plopped from her eyes.

“I only wanted to help you,” said the Princess. “Curse beastly Father!”

Erde grunted sympathetically.

“Your Majesty,” said Yorik. “Please, I can help. Tell me more about the Yg … the Dark Ones.”

“Yglhfm.” The Princess gave a dark laugh. “You can’t even say the name. I told you, they’re not your concern. They involve powers you humans cannot grasp.”

“Not a human,” grumbled Erde.

“Close enough,” snapped the Princess. “These mysteries would blast its mind into a million fragments!” She peered at Yorik. “You don’t want your mind blasted into a million fragments, do you?”

“No,” said Yorik.

“No, you don’t,” continued the Princess. “Because it’s very unpleasant. So stop asking!”

Erde released the Princess’s hand and went back to giving orders to the ants.

The Princess raged on. “This is all beastly Father’s fault! Now I’m stuck with a useless ghost who’s scared of a couple of dogs. Dogs! I could turn them all into caterpillars if only I could leave this stupid, horrible glade.” Her leafy twig sparked and sputtered.

“Your Highness,” said Yorik, “why does Erde need your help?”

“Just look at her!” the Princess said, pointing her twig. “They’re killing her! Can’t you see?”

Yorik looked with worry at small brown Erde. No one seemed to be killing her at the moment. He took a different approach. “Why can’t you leave?

Why did beastly Fa—I mean, why did your father trap you here?”

Everything in the glade went silent. The birds stopped chirping. The frogs stopped croaking. Storm clouds gathered on the Princess’s face. Only Erde continued communing with the ants as though nothing were wrong.

Yorik felt that he had asked the wrong question. “My apologies, Your Majesty,” he said quickly. “I—”

“You know,” said the Princess ominously. “Having a servant ghost-boy has not worked out as well as I’d hoped. First you run away from a bell, and then you ask a lot of rude questions.”

“I’m sorry,” said Yorik.

“Perhaps you should go,” replied the Princess coldly. “Yglhfm are my enemy, and

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