It was an ordinary building. No, elaborate facades, fanciful decorations, or memorable features. Just a three-story, stone office building with a tarnished brass plaque by the front door. Just the sort of place you might walk past every day without a second thought.
“I suspect that is no accident,” said Detective Durand, who sipped her café.
“They have no flair, no style,’ added Nikita.
“Therefore, they are invisible.”
“But I can see the building, it’s right there.”
“Not literally. But it is so nondescript that no one would notice it unless they were looking for it.”
“Where did you see the symbol?”
“The way they did it, it’s very clever.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“Only someone who was just as clever, perhaps even more clever, would see it.”
“Please just tell me where the symbol is.”
“It’s on the roof, part of which is stained glass. It’s lit up at night but only dimly.”
“And you saw it when?”
“I was flying over the Arrondissement one evening, and I noticed it. It was odd, not the oddest thing I’d ever seen but it stuck with me.”
Durand contemplated pointing out that any number of flying creatures might’ve made the same discovery but it felt petty to her. It was a solid lead.
“Can you become unseen?”
“Sick of me already?”
“No, but I’d like to know what’s inside.”
“Can’t you just go in?”
“Can you become unseen?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Neither did you.”
“Yes, I can become unseen.”
“Wonderful. Please do so.”
“Why not just go in and show your insignia?”
“A visit from the Gendarmes tends to put people ill at ease.”
“So do ghosts.”
“Nikita, are you scared?”
The spirit avoided her eyes and said, “Why would I be?”
“If you are unseen, they will have no idea you are even there.”
“You have nothing to worry about.”
“But these are the people who, you know…”
She drew a finger across her throat.
“Why does that not make me feel any better?”
“I think the disappearance of ghosts is not a deliberate attack. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. No connections in history, location, or age. Other than being spirits, they are unrelated.”
“Are you saying I’ll be safe?”
“It’s highly unlikely if you stay unseen and are careful that anything will happen to you.”
“If you don’t wish to continue, I won’t force you. But being a Gendarme is a calling with risk. It’s not for everyone.”
“You’re a bit of a bastard.”
Durand shrugged and drank some café.
“Only in the name of justice.”
“Fine, I’ll go. But if I don’t come back in five minutes, come and get me.”
Fading away, Nikita glided across the street and through the dull, wooden doors of the building in question. A desk with a woman stationed behind it sat in the center of the lobby. The interior décor, if you could call it such, matched the outside in mood. Faded tiles covered the floor, the pattern long since worn down from footsteps. Metal stairways, painted in a drab, institutional green lead up three flights above.
As she floated further in, she saw that the lobby was an atrium that rose to the stained glass skylight, in which was the spider symbol. While it was a sunny day, the light that shone through the glass was somehow drained of brightness and warmth.
Moving to the stairway, she still had the impulse to use them despite her lack of legs when an unpleasant sensation occurred. Unease? Not quite, there was something else mixed in. It felt like…pain. She hadn’t felt that since before she died. What metal were the steps made of?
She floated for a moment, fighting the urge to flee. If she couldn’t go upstairs, maybe there was something in the basement. Moving to the center of the lobby, Nikita began to descend.
As she did, she was jerked upward as a pattern of tiles beneath her flicked into an intricate unbroken circle binding her to the spot. With frantic ambition, she threw herself against the barrier but it did not budge.
The woman behind the desk looked at the circle and was about to press a button when the front doors burst open.
“I am Detective Durand of the Fantôme Investigation Squad, and I am looking for a rogue spirit!”