Edge of Enlightenment: Insights on the Arcane
Summary: Doctor Cyrus Pencroft combines magic and science to unravel the secrets of a hidden, supernatural side of our own world.
Wake of Life
The idea of an afterlife is present in many religions and cultures. From the Abrahamic Heaven and Hell to Buddhist reincarnation, humanity has speculated on what, if anything, occurs after death. Should they exist, the realms of the afterlife are the domain of speculative metaphysics rather than physics. However, there are reputable cases of paranormal activity correlating to death and recently deceased individuals.
The most common explanation for this is the soul of the individual in question cannot "pass on" to whatever afterlife exists. The "soul," so far as my research indicates, is not an immaterial entity, but an echo of consciousness upon nearby supernatural entities. The soul (the electromagnetic "signature" of our brains) is a source of information, such as skills, memories, and the like. When an individual dies, the soul is destroyed, informational entropy is increased. Certain supernatural creatures seem to feed upon that, sometimes gaining access to the nearly-destroyed information in the process. Likewise, the consumption of a soul entails a magic user or supernatural force creating a partial or full copy of the information in the brain. Essentially, supernatural forces create their version of a "connectome," a map of information in the brain. It may be possible to create a connectome without destroying the original, but most spells and entities that harvest souls typically do not care for the welfare of the individual they are targeting. Volunteers are hardly forthcoming as well.
Sometimes, traumatic events, strong emotions, or the like can create an echo or resonance of nearby minds. Many of these seem to involve death of some type, but there may be exceptions to the rule. This is hypothesized to be the origin of ghosts. Ghosts are incomplete echoes of the original mind (or minds) involved in the incident that created them. Some have the intelligence and personality to communicate, and will insist that they are the person or people in question. Insisting otherwise may result in the spirit becoming less cooperative. Typically, these spirits may be set to rest by either convincing them, fulfilling their objectives ("unfinished business"), or forcing them (by exorcism or enchanted weapons). Enchanted weapons can harm ghosts that manifest directly, but mundane weapons will hardly affect it. A ghost may possess or animate nearby objects to attack with, if driven to hostility. A particularly strong ghost may even hijack control of one's own motor functions from them, but ghosts are only able to maintain possession of a resisting individual for a short time. Several ghosts, however, lack the intelligence or capacity for communication.
Some ghosts are not merely the shards of a deceased person. Some are erratic torrents of magical forces, vengeful and hostile towards all unlucky enough to stumble across them. Unlike the fey, however, these entities are often incapable of bargaining. These entities are known as poltergeists, and they are to regular ghosts what rabid dogs are to the family pet. They disrupt everything they come across, sometimes drawn towards other paranormal entities to stir up chaos. Like regular ghosts, they are able to move physical objects and possess individuals, but they are able to do it for far longer. They may be dealt with using enchanted weapons, exorcism rituals, or managing to force one into submission. Unlike regular ghosts, talking or communicating with them is impossible. Poltergeists have more in common with a tornado than an intelligent being.
Any individual sensitive to spiritual entities may detect more signs of anger or distress if a poltergeist is present than a less malevolent spirit. Another sign of ghosts and rogue spirits is ectoplasm. While it may be unseen or ignored by those unused to the supernatural, it appears whenever a spirit has moved through a physical object. The most common form of ectoplasm is a translucent, cold, and sticky gel. It may clog machinery or disrupt electronics, but it appears to "evaporate" within a number of hours. The material and biochemical properties of ectoplasm are unknown, but it is hardly wise to consume it. A substance that jams machinery and electrical current has significant potential to harm the body. Should you desire to experiment on yourself, I bear no responsibility for your decision. That said, ectoplasm is often the most reliable indicator of hauntings and ghostly activities. Animated objects, strange noises, flickering lights, cold spots, and the like are secondary ones.
However, cold spots, electrical disruptions, and strange noises are indicators of heating, wiring, and air circulation problems far more often than ghostly activities. You would be surprised by how many "hauntings" were caused by a malfunctioning air conditioner. Despite this, ghosts and spirits can be fearsome foes. It is far better to engage with dialogue if possible, resorting to direct force only should that fail. Spirits have been convinced to "abandon" their objectives, often by convincing them that such grudges are not worth holding onto. Despite this tactic being successful with sapient ghosts, one must be prepared to fight with poltergeists. Therefore, it is best to conduct research beforehand. That is typically the difference between defeating a ghost and becoming one.