Ghosts, Spirits and Shades:
Thousands of years ago, the daedra lords created the Nine Hells as a kind of vast power-generator, situated between the Material Plane and the unknowable realm of the true afterlife. Souls leaving Earth would pass into the Hells and come to rest in the one that best fit their deeds in life and the state of their hearts: the noblest and most virtuous would find peace and rest in Nocturna's First Hell, while the most depraved found unspeakable torment in Prince Ba'al's Ninth Hell. Souls would shed spiritual energy as long as they persisted in the Hells, and eventually -- after centuries or millennia -- they would fall out of the Hells' grip and continue on toward whatever fate awaited them.
The entire system of the Hells was designed to be passive and automatic, as straightforward as tapping a waterfall for hydroelectric power. In practice, however, the metaphysical machinery involved was complex and subject to occasional breakdowns. The lesser daedra expended a considerable amount of time and effort in making sure that the Nine Hells continued to process souls smoothly and without errors.
After the Great Fall, when the Starchild emptied the outer planes of their inhabitants, the machinery of the Nine Hells continued to operate, processing souls on their way from Earth to the true afterlife. Without the daedra to monitor them, however, errors began to creep into the system. As a result, some souls were caught in between Earth and the Hells -- unable to move on, but no longer truly alive. For the first time in the MK-world's history, ghosts and other disembodied spirits became a reality.
Legends and myths of spirits haunting the living had been a part of human culture since the dawn of human history, but the Lothanasi dismissed them as pure fantasy or the actions of inhuman creatures such as wraiths. It took years after the Great Fall for the first credible reports of ghosts and hauntings to begin coming in, and years more before the phenomenon was verified as legitimate. Terrified at the possible response if the general public were ever to learn that the afterlife was malfunctioning, the Lightbringers buried the knowledge and began a clandestine effort to correct these errors without commoners finding out about them. The cover-up was largely successful, and even today many people do not seriously believe that ghosts actually exist. Even among those who do believe, few suspect that the reason for their existence is something as serious as a glitch in the machinery of the afterlife.
The term "human spirit" will be used throughout the rest of this article to describe disembodied spirits that previously inhabited a mortal, corporeal body. This body need not necessarily have been human -- Silvaan, Breed, Plane-touched and lutins have all been known to generate spirits -- but because human spirits are the kind most often encountered, that is the kind that will be discussed here. (Interestingly, Elves never produce ghosts or hauntings; it is thought that this is because the daedra were never able to design the Nine Hells in such a way as to effectively trap Elven souls, and thus it is impossible for them to become "stuck" in the metaphysical gears.)
The paranormal occurrences that are typically associated with ghosts are referred to collectively as psychospiritual phenomena (PSPs). These occurrences can have a variety of causes, which are discussed below.
Causes of Psychospiritual Phenomena
Haunting is a generic term used to describe a paranormal phenomenon that is focused on a particular object, person or place. There might be an actual human spirit involved, a psychic impression left by human activity, a living psi, or an inhuman creature such as a Fallen, a wraith, or a monster from the Dreamlands. Whenever the Lothanasi encounter a haunting, the first order of business is to determine what type of haunting is involved, as this will determine the appropriate response.
A spirit is the disembodied soul of someone who has died, but remains trapped on the material plane. A spirit may be bound to any particular person, object or place, or it may be able to move about on the material plane as it chooses; thus, the presence of a spirit does not necessarily indicate a haunting.
Spirits usually result from a person dying under especially traumatic, violent or emotional circumstances; it is thought that the energy associated with strong emotions "jams the gears" of the Nine Hells and makes it more difficult for the soul to be correctly processed.
A ghost is a spirit that has become bound to a particular object, person or place, which is referred to as a tether. Usually the tether is something that the ghost had a strong attachment to in life -- a loved one, a favored possession, or the place where he or she died.
Ghosts are conscious of their surroundings but tend to be focused on a particular objective, ignoring stimuli that are not related to that objective. The fact that the person died while some important matter was left unresolved prevents the ghost from processing its emotions and coming to peace with its situation; thus, the emotions remain raw and the Nine Hells remain unable to allow the soul's passage. The actual importance of the ghost's objective, in the grand scheme of things, is irrelevant, and may be world-shaking or trivial; what matters is that it was deeply important to that person at the time he or she died. Common objectives for ghosts include revenge or justice against their killer, ensuring the safety of a loved one, or completing a mission or task that the person had been working on when he or she died.
A ghost may or may not be aware that it is dead, and will usually attempt to use any resources at its disposal to complete its objective. It may become frustrated at its inability to manipulate physical objects the way it wishes to. Most mortals are unable to see or hear ghosts, unless they are very strong, but the ghost may not realize this and believe that people are ignoring it. This can cause further frustration and anger, which increases the spirit's power and makes it easier for it to manifest its presence. Many ghosts take years or decades to build up enough frustration over their condition to be able to manifest themselves in any meaningful way.
A revenant is a spirit that is not bound to a tether, but still has an overriding objective that it is attempting to fulfill. It takes a very strong and focused mind to produce a revenant, and these spirits are often able to manifest themselves much more strongly and much more quickly than ghosts. They also tend to be much more violent than the average ghost.
A shade is not a true spirit at all -- it is the impression left on the psychic landscape where a person used to be. It results when a person dies under highly emotional circumstances but the soul is still successfully processed. While the spirit is no longer present, the force of the emotions surrounding the death creates a kind of psychic echo, a residue that is a reflection of the person's state of mind at the time of death.
Most shades are very weak and can only be detected by telepaths and espers. It is possible to "communicate" with them telepathically, but it is difficult -- the shade only retains memories that were fresh on the person's mind when he or she died, and its responses to questioning are often disjointed and confused. Because there is no true consciousness present, a shade cannot draw new conclusions from observed data and cannot retain the memory of any event that happened in that place after its death. In the absence of telepathic inquiry, they usually act out their last few moments of life, over and over again, like a video recording set on an endless loop.
Occasionally a shade, or group of shades, is strong enough that it can be seen or heard by non-psis; this is often called a residual haunting. This usually happens if the people die in a site with high mana levels -- some of the mana gets caught up in the creation of the shades and converted into psychic energy, which makes it easier for mortals to detect them. It is still impossible to communicate with the shades without telepathy, however, so these phenomena are usually only perceived as a "recording" that manifests itself whenever mana levels are high enough -- which may be as seldom as once a year or as often as every evening at midnight. The overall rise in mana levels around the world over the last 150 years has led to an increase in the occurrence of residual hauntings; the Lothanasi investigate thousands of such cases every year, most of them in high-mana regions like the Metamor Valley.
Some hauntings have nothing to do with death at all; they are the manifestations of psionic powers coming from living individuals. For example, an apparition might be the result of an esper performing an astral projection, while poltergeists may the work of a nearby telekinetic. Jumpers who teleport in their sleep might also be confused for apparitions, while telepaths speaking into the minds of others may be mistaken for disembodied voices.
Such hauntings are usually not the result of deliberate mischief by the psi in question. Many psis have difficulty controlling their abilities, especially when they first begin to develop them. Psis may manifest their powers subconsciously in response to strong emotions, be they positive or negative; many also manifest their abilities while asleep. Depending on the strength of the psi's powers, these manifestations may only occur in her immediate vicinity, or they may reach as far as a city block. Usually the psi is not even aware that she is causing the phenomena to occur, especially if she doesn't know she is a psi.
Psychic hauntings can be quickly identified by other psis, of course, but for Lothanasi investigators it is often more difficult to narrow down the cause. If the haunting doesn't seem to fit neatly into any of the Libs' other categories, they usually start questioning the locals and looking for other signs that a psi is living in the area.
Some hauntings are not the work of human spirits or living psis, but are caused by other types of supernatural creatures that were never mortal to begin with.
Certain kinds of daedra, especially wraiths and whispers, are particularly skilled at mimicking the phenomena associated with human hauntings. Their reasons for doing so are varied but usually malignant -- these creatures seldom have the interests of mortals at heart. Fortunately, they are easily identified by Lothanasi agents and can be dealt with fairly directly, though confronting a wraith is always a dangerous proposition.
More frightening are the hauntings caused by Fallen, true demonic spirits that rebelled against Iluvatar and were cast out of His presence. Rates of Fallen activity have declined with the increased prominence of the Follower religions, whose adherents can exercise power over them in Yahshua's name. However, Fallen can be drawn to an area by mortal activities, including sacrifices to the Adversary and certain types of ritual magic. When Fallen are involved in a haunting, their actions tend to be subtle, deliberately designed to mislead investigators into thinking another type of haunting is involved. Lothanasi who suspect that a Fallen is present at a haunting will usually withdraw immediately and seek the assistance of an exorcist from one of the Follower faiths.
Hauntings can also be caused by a variety of creatures from the Dreamlands, which sometimes wander through portals and end up stuck in the mortal realm. Because of the stunning variety of creatures that exist in the Dream-realm, these hauntings defy generalizations; they are usually dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and may require the help of outside specialists to determine the cause of the problem.
Types of Psychospiritual Phenomena
Most paranormal phenomena that accompany hauntings or revenants can be classified into a few broad categories. All of these are called PSPs or manifestations.
An apparition is a visible manifestation that resembles a living being, though it is often shadowy or translucent. Apparitions may or may not make sounds.
A poltergeist is an instance in which physical objects move with no apparent cause. Doors may open or shut on their own, windows may rattle with no wind, chairs may rock or shift around, or any number of other strange events may happen. More violent poltergeists may throw objects at high speeds, shatter mirrors and vases, or even push or throw investigators around.
Ectoplasm is a slimy, translucent substance that sometimes manifests in association with hauntings. It may seep from the walls, appear around objects being thrown by a poltergeist, or follow in the wake of an apparition. It may also appear as a mist or vapor that moves around the room, forming floating orbs or wispy streaks that are faintly visible in darkness. The exact cause and nature of ectoplasm have never been determined, as it disappears too quickly to be collected; some theorize that it is a pseudo-material substance formed from ambient mana when a spirit attempts to influence objects on the material plane.
Electronic voice phenomena (EVPs) are sounds that cannot be heard by most mortal ears but are successfully captured by electronic devices, such as tape recorders and digital audio recorders. These voices often come out quite clearly and distinctly during playback, even if the investigators heard nothing at the time of recording; sometimes they are found below the human range of hearing, and the recording must be sped up in order to be understood. It is unclear why EVPs occur; perhaps it is easier for spirits to leave impressions on magnetic media than to actually speak audibly, or perhaps some spirits simply do not have enough energy to produce sound waves in the range that humans can hear. Having a source of white noise in the vicinity, such as radio static or a running faucet, often results in stronger EVPs, perhaps because it gives the spirits a source of sound that can then be manipulated to produce speech.
Audible phenomena are, simply, sounds that mortal ears can hear. These may be abstract creaks and moans, actual speech, or any of a wide variety of other sounds.
Psychic phenomena are detectable only by psis, usually telepaths or espers. They may resemble apparitions, audible phenomena, or both, but they can only be perceived psychically.
Possession is the rarest and most frightening type of PSP, in which the body of a mortal is temporarily taken over by an outside force and compelled to say or do things he or she normally wouldn't. It requires a lot of energy for a spirit to pull this off; in most cases it's the work of a Fallen, but revenants and some of the stronger ghosts are sometimes capable of it if sufficiently motivated. A possession-like event may also result from a telepath implanting psychic compusions in the person's mind.
In most cases, a haunting is being investigated because someone wants it to go away -- either the people being haunted, the Lothanasi, or both. Most hauntings are immune to simple magical dispelling, though, and specialized techniques are often required depending on the type of haunting that is present.
With ghosts and revenants, the usual solution is to help complete the spirit's objective. Once this is done, the spirit's emotional trauma can be resolved and the spirit can pass on into the Hells.
Sometimes, however, the spirit's goals are evil (such as a serial killer who becomes a revenant that seeks to continue his work) or impossible to fulfill (such as seeking reconciliation with a person who died centuries ago and did not leave a spirit behind). In these cases, psychic confrontation by a telepath is often the only viable solution. A properly-trained teep can make contact with the spirit and drain off its excessive emotions, weakening its hold on the material plane and making it possible for the Nine Hells to snatch it up and process it into the afterlife. This can often be difficult or traumatic for the telepath involved, however, and the Psi Collective charges a high price for such services.
In the case of a residual haunting, caused by a shade, there is little that the Lothanasi can do; there is no spirit present to assist. Mages can sometimes redirect the flow of mana away from the area, but this only makes it less likely that the shade will manifest -- it doesn't do anything to dispel the haunting. Again, the most effective solution is to use telepaths: a teep can drain away the residual emotion that created the shade, breaking it apart. This is far less stressful than attacking the emotions of an actual spirit, but it is still often unpleasant, and most teeps will avoid dispelling shades unless they have been specifically paid to do so.
Psychic hauntings are handled discreetly by the Lothanasi, who recognize that most people do not want to be singled out in front of their neighbors as being psis. Usually the investigators will tip off a contact within the Psi Collective, who will then make sure that the person is trained in the use of his or her powers. Of course, sometimes the Collective finds these individuals all on its own, in which case the haunting may simply disappear before the investigators ever determine the cause.
Inhuman hauntings are dealt with by confronting the creature responsible. Fallen are dealt with, as mentioned above, by bringing in one or more well-trained Followers to exorcise them; the objects or places they were attracted to are then destroyed or consecrated to remove any lingering demonic taint. Daedra and creatures from the Dreamlands are negotiated with, banished or killed, depending upon their motivations and intentions.
Maintaining the Cover-Up
Most of those who are aware of the existence of ghosts, and the reason for their existence, understand how important it is that they keep the general public from finding out either the nature or the extent of the problem. Because of this, certain precautions are taken to avoid causing a general panic.
Keep it low-key. Most hauntings are investigated covertly, with as little fanfare as possible. If the Lothanasi are specifically asked for help by someone who is being haunted, they will handle the request confidentially and ask that the person keep the matter to himself, ostensibly to avoid attracting paranormal thrill-seekers. Most people don't want a lot of crackpots and fringe journalists on their doorstep, anyway, and comply quite willingly with this request.
Find a scapegoat. Whenever possible, investigators will blame a haunting on something other than an actual human spirit. Wraiths and Fallen are particularly popular as scapegoats, since they are intelligent, malicious, and capable of producing most types of PSPs. Residual hauntings are reported for what they are, since no actual spirit is present. Psychic hauntings are usually dealt with in the same way as spirits, being blamed on whatever sort of monster sounds plausible for the phenomena observed -- most Lothanasi agents are sensitive to the psis' need for confidentiality.
Make it look good. It is common practice for the Lothanasi to call in a Follower priest to bless and consecrate an area after dispelling a haunting, even if a Fallen was not involved; this helps maintain the appearance that the spirit was demonic rather than human.
Downplay the issue. The Lothanasi generally present hauntings as being a rare occurrence, a relatively minor part of their overall mission. Case records are sealed for confidentiality after being closed, so there is little hope of anyone on the outside examining them and seeing the true extent of the problem. In reality, the Lightbringers expend almost a third of their resources and budget in tracking down and eliminating hauntings and revenants, dealing with tens of thousands of cases every year ... and lately, that number has been growing.
Avoid the "spooky" angle. The Lightbringers are also reluctant to admit how often they must resort to hiring telepaths to solve their haunting problems. Psis are listed in case records as independent consultants, "experts" in whatever field of knowledge is considered important to resolving the case. The nature of the assistance they provide is not discussed with those outside the Lothanasi. For its part, the Psi Collective has been very professional and courteous in its dealings with the Lightbringers: its agents work covertly, avoid leaving evidence behind that would point to their involvement, and resolve most hauntings quickly, either by direct confrontation or by determining what is necessary to put the spirits to rest. The Collective charges exorbitant fees for its agents' services, however, so the Lothanasi prefer to resolve hauntings on their own whenever possible.