Seven more bodies in the old hotel’s lobby. None of them would do.
The Ghost glided up the dilapidated elevator shaft, the light from his solitary blue eye straining to pierce the dusty darkness, emitting a whisper-soft “Heeeere, Guardian, Guardian, Guardian….”
Three bodies on the second floor. None of them would do.
Between the constant Cosmodrome skirmishes and the SIVA fiasco, the Fallen on this planet were hard-pressed to keep up the fight. Their numbers were thinning around previously heavily-controlled areas. To most, this region was a footnote; the Vanguard had neither the Guardians nor the motive to assign patrols out here. They were too busy puzzling over burnt banners and expecting the worst.
Five bodies on the third floor. None of them would do.
The calm before the storm was an opportunity for a few, though. The brave. The foolish. The desperate. Like a Ghost who, after all this time, still hadn’t found his Guardian.
Two bodies on the fourth floor. None of them would do.
No bodies on the fifth floor.
No bodies on the sixth floor.
“I guess they were all rushing to get out,” the Ghost said to no one in particular, even as he ascended one more floor, to the seventh. No bodies. Well, maybe the eighth floor, just to be sure? His Guardian had to be here somewhere, after all!
Oh, who was he kidding.
He wavered in the air, high in the elevator shaft. Maybe he wasn’t going to find a Guardian. Maybe he was going to be stuck in some limbo of perpetually searching for something that’s always elsewhere, or doesn’t exist, or was destroyed a long time ago.
One body on the eighth floor. But instead of scanning it, the Ghost just stared. The ancient skeleton was sprawled out on the floor, near what might have been called a blanket, if one felt generous and loosened their definition of “blanket” quite a bit.
“Hey, you look pretty lonely.” The Ghost drifted closer to the old bones. “I bet you know a thing or two about loneliness. Up here, all alone, at the end of it all.”
Here he paused, glancing at the window; it was too dust-coated to see out of it. Then he looked up at the ceiling, noticing for the first time the massive hole and the dull gray clouds beyond. “You know what it’s like, don’t you?” The Ghost addressed the bones again, even as he looked skyward. “Being lonely. It wears you down slowly, like you’re a…a…a river stone.” He swiveled his eye around to look back at the bones, right at the skull. “Until you’re worn smooth, and everything just washes over you like a…a river.” Another pause. “…Or a Ghost who’s really bad at metaphors.”
The bones did not answer. How could they? Yet, the Ghost continued. “I’m a Ghost,” he said with a forced perkiness. “That means I was made from the Traveler’s Light, to find and help Guardians like you!” He held that upbeat demeanor for several seconds, before dipping a bit lower, all his points drooping downward. “…I’ve been practicing that for hundreds of years. It’s for when I find my Guardian. If I ever find my Guardian.”
There was only silence, dragging on and on, like the universe itself would only ever answer him in never-ending ellipses.
“…What am I doing?” The Ghost looked down at the floor. “I’m talking to a corpse. An actual, honest to goodness, dead, non-sapient corpse.” He turned to float away, but stopped himself. “…But just in case you can hear me somehow, thanks. For listening.”
He turned away again, but something kept him from leaving, nagging at the back of his mind. Shouldn’t he…scan this corpse?
He knew he’d only be disappointed. He could feel that creeping dread, the kind that came before every dead end he’d ever hit in his search. But if he just aired a bunch of feelings to this dead person, shouldn’t he at least know who he was talking to? Shouldn’t he at least grant the poor bones that one decency?
Mustering his will, he spun back around to face the bones, his eye flickering as he did a routine scan.
One body on the eighth floor. None of the results made sense.
He scanned a second time. A third time. He even went back down to the third floor–no, none of them would do, and yes, everything was working correctly.
Back to the eighth floor. Another scan. He felt like he’d been hit, shook, shocked. System damage? No, just hope.
And the end of the long, lonely search.