The house sat regally atop its hill, its walls full and clean, the glass in its windows whole. The roof was done in regular rows of slate tile, like the finer houses in the village below, and the fountain bubbled with water. Cat stopped at the gate, his feet still on the overgrown cobbles outside; inside, the path was clean and straight, the grass neatly trimmed. "Do you feel that?" he asked.
Beside him, Delissa said: "It was ruined, overgrown..." Then she straightened.
Mara was already nodding. "I see it, but... there's no substance. When I feel it, I feel the ruins." She stopped, staring. "I've never seen the ghost of a house before."
"There's someone inside, remembering it into this shape." Cat didn't want to be saying this, but he didn't have time to be indirect. There were children inside, and the townspeople were scared; that said enough for their relationship to the ruined house, and whatever might be here. "If the children aren't dead, then he's using them."
"For what?" asked Delissa. She had raised her spear; now she lowered it slightly, hesitating.
Cat shook his head. "I have no idea." Here, where two veins of the world's invisible life-blood crossed, there was plenty of energy: enough to restore the house in truth, not just in appearance.
"It's a circle," said Mara. "He didn't take all the children, only the ones with enough talent to contribute. Whoever he is, whatever he is, he's using them to raise more power."
Cat nodded as that piece fell into place. "Let me go in," he said Mara. "Let me try to talk to him."
Delissa said, "You can't talk to..." Then she fell silent.
Mara turned a curious look his way. "You think you can?"
Cat shrugged. "If we all go charging in there, he'll turn their energies against us... or he'll kill them. If I walk in alone... he might at least be curious."
Mara nodded. "What about us?"
Cat considered. "He's invested a lot of himself in this house. If I don't come out, take it apart. Scatter it, destroy it. Or attack, and try your hand at destroying him -- whoever and whatever he is." And however that might go.
Mara nodded again, more slowly this time. "Do it."
Expressionless, Cat stepped through the gate.