The house enfolded him, becoming more solid and real with every step he took towards it. The ruins were easily forgotten; Cat walked a clean cobblestone path through a well-maintained garden surrounded by low stone walls. He circled the stone fountain, now intact and flowing with clear water, and continued on. Three shallow steps led up to the doors, which stood open to the night. This was not a place of fear and tragedy, but someone's beloved home.
He stopped in front of the steps, and tightened his hands on the haft of his navic. It was a curious weapon; not quite a sword, but not quite a polearm, either. The blade was fit for a saber, but the handle was as long as the blade, and wrapped after the fashion of a sword. The house wanted him to be comfortable, to admire its cleanliness and splendor, but Cat remained indifferent. The blade in his hand was a potent reminder of why he was here.
He reached out, forcing himself to focus on the physical substance of the house, even as its ghost became more real to him. The stone steps were still cracked, the doorway still blackened by smoke and fire, though they insisted to him that they were whole and intact. He could feel something else, almost lost in the intersection of the vin-cha beneath the house, almost hidden by the house itself: someone had created a tracery that flowed through the whole structure.
Small wonder the house remembered the shape it once had. Small wonder it had awakened, and was trying to convince him that it still was what it once had been. Insanity was not unique to living men and women; the spirits could be just as mad, in their ways.
He realized then that he'd been wrong. He'd expected a single problem, that whoever had taken the children was also causing the change in the house. Standing at the doorway, he knew that the house was manifesting on its own. In the process, it was concealing whatever intelligence remained inside... but likely also interfering with whatever that one was trying to do.
Where are the children? he asked it, pushing the thought outward.
The house ignored him. It didn't care about the children. It cared about itself, and perhaps about the people who had once lived there... but as the women had said, the people from the village never came here. It wouldn't know them.
Still, someone had created a tracery, a rarified and invisible structure that ran through the house itself, tracing the shapes of the walls and floors, doors and ceilings. When the house was whole, it would have allowed anyone with the right sort of talent to extend themselves throughout the house, just as Cat extended his own energies through the navic. Now, though, with the spirit of the house awake and active...
Cat stepped through the door. For a moment, all he could see was the house as it once had been. Little things shifted, furniture changing places, pictures replacing each other on the walls, but the house remained itself. It took an effort to extend his senses back to the merely physical, to feel the rubble and ash and detritus, the ruined walls and the shattered windows.
Kneeling, he placed a hand against the floor and attempted to extend himself along the paths of the tracery. The house pushed back, trying to hold him out, and he decided not to force it. Hush, he whispered. You're beautiful. I only wish to see through you.
There was a momentary hesitation, and then agreement. His awareness flowed through the house, from the long, low attic -- destroyed now, but remembered strongly enough that it might still have supported his weight -- to the rough stone of the basement, carved from the stone of the hilltop. The other mind was there, of course, cold and dead and angry, gathering power through the young, bright lives arrayed around it.
It twisted away, but the children remained in their circle: still linked to each other, and to the dead thing that had gathered them from the village. Cat could feel the focus of the circle moving, rising, approaching.
He looked up, and found himself facing a ghost.