An introduction for Roan Gatling-Green, and a demonstration of why it is so foolish to disturb a whisperer in their haunt. The children of harvested souls tend to be rather jealous of their privacy.
The building had been reduced to a charred husk around him, groaning beneath its own weight and every passing touch of wind. Floors reduced to open hollows, treacherous holes where corridors had once stretched resplendent. Jagged about the edges, as though bordered by splintered charcoal teeth.
Most of its windows gaped open in sullen acceptance of the night, breathing the temperate air through reeking, ash-filled rooms. Something shifted within its walls, rattling to a rest with the metallic clink of a loosened nail or migrating, undersized construct. His legs lay supported against the source of the sound, soles of heavy boots pointed toward the ghoulish black stains that dominated the ceiling. Back pressed to the wooden floor, which creaked in surly protest of his weight and presence.
His hair mingled with the swirls of ash, one hand raised to support the burden that lay balanced against his chest. Its wooden construction lay polished and cold beneath his fingers, shuddering with each turn of the crank that he clasped in the other hand. Goaded into producing its long, wheezing notes, a song that seemed to drift without end through every crack and new, gaping passage that it encountered.
That ash was sifting more quickly, sweeping more abruptly across floorboards that had not felt a footstep in weeks. New smudges traced what was left of the glass that had guarded the windows, and rusted hinges wailed in accord as his tune reached the far corners of the devastated structure.
Laying indolent, he could hear their gathering, confusion, the renewal of their discontent. Seeping through splintered floors and rattling the few locks that had held, migrating together toward the melody that he offered. Nothing to be seen of them aside from the small changes that they were able to cause in the world at hand, blowing a stray breath of dust from the tips of a chandelier or thumping insistently against the wall at his back.
Like an irritable neighbour trying to quiet his performance so that sleep could be reclaimed. The thought split a wry grin beneath the paint that dominated most of his face, black and white in ghastly, skeletal arrangement over cheeks and forehead. Soon, their attention would be drawn to something they'd dislike far more than his presence in that place.
He could hear it already, the whole of the gutted structure shifting against an attempt to enter it from the front. Someone wrenching free the boards that had guarded its great double doors, violating wood and metal in a determined effort to achieve ingress.
More than a single someone – angry voices were volleying back and forth beyond the windows, and those boards would have taken more than two hands to pull free. When the creak and snap of broken nails ceased to sound, it was replaced by the intrusive thump of a boot brought against those locked doors. Twice, thrice, that thump replaced by a splintering crack on the fourth.
They would be swarming the remains of the grand lobby below, weapons clasped in preparation. An assumption confirmed by the overlapping echoes of their voices, calling his name with all the eager ferocity of those who believed they had no chance of losing.
Slowly, the hand he'd closed around that silver crank came to a halt, and the tune vanished along with it. Those soothing, upsetting notes bled from the air, and in the ensuing silence, it became electric with outrage.
Intruders, it seemed to chant in a language beyond the reception of ears. Defilers, disturbers, unwelcome. Rushing from where he had gathered them so close, bleeding their ethereal essence through walls and floors in order to reach the true interlopers with greater speed.
Oh, and it could be heard so clearly. The moment when their voices, raised in the clamour of the search, shook free of the confidence that they had so boldly wielded. Several seconds passed in confusion, questions cast between them and observations too quiet for him to make out most of their words.
Though he could guess. A sudden chill in the air, the rattling of that which had been stationary only moments before. The sense of being touched where no one was present to do so, followed a moment later by...
There it was. The instant in which confusion transmuted into terror, voices stretched and torn by the anguish of the screams that they were forced to carry. Feet pounding heavy against blackened floors, their staccato rhythm interrupted by the tumbling and cursing of those who had failed to reach the door.
The sounds became lower, wetter over the course of the next minute that passed. The last of fearful cries devolved into inhuman gurgling, choking beneath the sheer weight of supernatural fury, and all was silent in their wake.
For a matter of seconds, at least. Then the heel of his hand was braced against that silver crank again, and the mournful, meandering song picked up where it had been halted before. The wind breathed a sigh of relief through broken windows, and the ghosts who occupied that gutted structure began to migrate in his direction again.