Garbol stepped out of his RV and wove past a few cairns onto a promontory of Klopp island, one of several in the Mooten chain, and the next to be attacked if the phantom ships progressed as before. They would have to pass by this point to reach Bodder’s Town, about a mile behind him. The wind blew his hair and whipped his yellow rain slicker. The rain spatter on his face. Pool cue in hand, he watched the dark, foggy horizon and waited.
The fog seemed to shape itself, but Garbol realized it was an illusion caused by the phantom ships emerging from it. Five of them, breathtaking ships in full sail, approaching fast. The lack of bow waves gave them an unnatural potency far more sinister than the ghostly aspect.
The only way to meet phantoms head-on was to draw from the ethereal powers, beholden to the laws of their own sphere, not to those of physics. Garbol held his arms and staff high, reached for their world and hit a wall. He reached again, but could not pass the barrier to their world.
A deep, gravelly laughter echoed across the water.
They were gatekeepers. The wizard could only defeat them by reaching into their existential plane, but he would not be able to reach into the plane without defeating them first.
Garbol grasped for ideas. He summoned ghostly powers from haunted depths of the cairns around him and spun the power into gigantic nets that flew into the sky and landed over each ship, but, as he knew they would, they drifted through the vessels to float on the water behind as they sailed on. Phantoms are not ghosts, and their worlds hardly intersect.
They do have minds, though, and if Garbol could conger something they feared….
Garbol jammed his cue stick into the earth, the harmony of his wizard’s staff uniting his senses with the sea, current, wave, fish and barnacle. He bellowed with effort turning his staff and projecting the movement into the ocean.
The water started to chop and turn, deepening in the center until it eddied into a full-blown whirlpool.
The ships slowed. Few seamen, phantom or not, could look upon a whirlpool without fear freezing their hearts.
Phantoms crowded the island side of the ships, glaring across the water at Garbol, their grim faces angry and determined.
The gravelly voice hummed with disapproval. “What do you want, wizard?”
Garbol picked out the captain on the lead ship and kept his gaze upon him. “Why do you terrorize the islanders?”
“The reason is always the same.”
“Speak it,” said Garbol.
“Honor. Justice. Truth.”
Garbol scoffed. “Could you be more specific?”
“How are they supposed to atone if they don’t know?”
The voice turned into a threatening rasp. “Are you their judge?”
The ships started to move.
There was no good answer. “If you behave like ghosts, they will treat you like ghosts.”
The captain roared. “It is not our place to cure their ignorance.”
The ships sailed into the whirlpool and floated over the middle of it on toward Bodder’s Town.