She didn't know what to do when the phantoms came. They were bright in the light of day. Though they clustered together at the city gates at first, soon their shyness melted away and they began to float onto the cobblestone.
The humans gave them a wide berth. Up on the watchtower, she stood silently as the market ladies lifted their baskets atop their heads and hurried into the alleyways. The merchant and his donkey stopped by the side of the road to let the phantoms pass. A circle of children broke up, playtime seemingly over, as they each went their separate ways.
She couldn’t blame them. Even though a peace treaty had been signed, part of her mind was still convinced she should treat them as enemies.
It wasn't long before she heard the sound.
It was a low, keening cry, which seemed out of place in the crowded city. She was surprised she could even hear it - momentarily, because she remembered all too well how the phantoms' calls worked. This one was a distress signal.
There was no one else to hear it but her, a knight left behind since the last battle, because she had broken her arm and was unable to wield a sword. She was supposed to be watching the phantoms for signs of violence. Were there battle songs being chanted, in the range where a normal human could not hear? Did the phantoms enter houses without permission?
But instead, the lonesome wail continued, making the stone wall under her hand tremble. It was a deeply sad sound. It reminded her of whale-song, from the times she spent stationed at the coast with the water mages.
Without her realising it, her feet had begun shuffling towards the staircase, intent on taking her to the source of that wail. Her chest ached, even as her mind told her not to follow.
The child phantom was behind the stables. It had a large, round head. Two equally round eyes gazed out of it, like holes cut in white fabric, as it swivelled its head left and right, calling out. By the way it was floating around the small clearing, it had gotten lost. That cry came again. It was in pain.
For a moment, the knight stood still. Her scarf covered most of her face, hiding the confusion in the scrunch of her brow. Why was she doing this? The commands had been only to watch for the trouble-makers, but this was only a wayward youngling.
Her good hand reached out towards a sconce on the wall. She went through the motions she remembered from the last diplomatic negotiations: pulling out the torch, waving the flame to catch its attention. The phantom gazed at her, shimmering slightly in the still air. After some hesitation, it began to drift quietly towards the building.
Without saying anything, the knight turned and began to walk towards the street. The child knew to float along behind her. Its crying had stopped. Now the only sound was the noise of the crowd as they hurried away from the phantoms.
The edge of the knight’s leather shoe stopped, right at the side of the road. A small noise rang in her head. It sounded like a question.
“Go on, now,” she told the phantom.
She watched as the child phantom swam into the line of pale-yellow glowing faces. The country’s former foes continued to trickle down the main street, uncertain, nervous. There was no riot brewing. Not today.
The knight lingered away from her post, a little longer than she had meant to. Much longer than she ever had before.