Velt led the charge, with Topher several steps behind her and the native ghosts spread out in the air, scanning for Auggie’s body. The big blue-haired man was doing a surprisingly good job keeping up, and that was with the fact that Velt was actively trying to shake him. She didn’t need a human getting mixed up in this. If she were facing a normal ghast, some low-level spirit feeding on negative emotion, then she wouldn’t have sweat a tag-a-long. Even if it were a poltergeist, the big bad brother of the ghast, things might have been okay. Unfortunately, her opponent was neither of those things. It was a wraith: an evil spirit so powerful and rare that she’d spent most of her career believe them to be pure myth. If Topher made a wrong move, there was a very real possibility he’d end up floating alongside Auggie, only there wouldn’t be any way to reverse his condition.
At least she’d convinced Kay and Auggie to stay back and man the hub. Having eyes on their target made things much easier, plus it kept those two out of harm’s way. If she’d had more time, she’d have talked Topher into staying as well, but there was no telling how long The Emissary would stay put. It was possible he was there getting ready to activate the second site, which was all the more reason to hurry. Once that one was started up, her job got a whole lot harder.
“What’s the plan?” Topher asked. His breathing was heavy, but not as labored as it should be for how much muscle he was hauling around. Velt revised her assessment of his physique; evidently he did work in some cardio.
“We find The Emissary and I kick his ass.” She leapt over a small root cluster with practices grace. Topher mimicked her motion, refusing to fall behind.
“That’s what I’m wondering about. How do you beat up a ghost? And more importantly, how are you getting it out of my friend’s body?”
“Same method for both: lots of punching and maybe some kicks.”
“You’re going to attack Auggie?” Topher quickened his pace, narrowing the gap between he and the woman who was casually talking about assaulting his best friend.
“Nothing permanent.” She glanced back and noticed the expression of doubt on Topher’s face. Biting back a sigh of exasperation, she tried to explain. “Look, right now the best thing we have going for us is that the spirit driving Auggie’s body around hasn’t been corporeal in millennia. I’m hoping it forgot what pain feels like and the shock will drive it out.”
“Please tell me there’s a Plan B.”
“Plan B is kick the shit out of your friend until The Emissary realizes it can’t win. They it will abandon the body to take me on with all its spirit abilities.”
Topher’s eyes widened in shock, not that Velt could see it from her position. “Your plan is to mercilessly beat my friend and hope that knocks out an evil spirit. Then, if it does somehow work, you’re stuck facing down a ghost that apparently has abilities and you can’t touch. And people think I’m dumb.”
“I’m not as helpless as you’d think. Just stay back when we find it, the last thing I need is it jumping over and grabbing your body instead. Then I’d have disembodied idiots to deal with.”
“Neither of us is-”
Topher stopped talking as Velt came to an abrupt stop and held up her hand. For a moment, he couldn’t see what had given her pause, then Topher noticed one of the ghosts from the broom closet floating about twenty feet high in the air, trying to look like he was casually passing by as he frantically pointed down at one of the cabins. Velt met the ghost’s eye and gave him a nod of acknowledgement. That was clearly all it needed; her head had barely stopped moving before the ghost picked up speed, doing its best to get clear of the area.
“Stay here,” Velt whispered. “Maybe stay a little further back, actually. No matter what you hear, or think you hear, do not approach until I physically walk about and wave you over. Wraiths are tricky bastards, especially when they access to a living vessel.”
“How will I know it didn’t take over your body?”
Velt let out an odd sound, some curious combination of a snort and a laugh. “It’s not an issue, I promise. Now stay put, Camera-Boy. I’m going to go try and beat your friend’s back into his possession.”
With that, she was gone, darting off toward a half-collapsed cabin that would have made any safety inspector shit a chicken at the idea of a human entering. Topher watched her go, unsure if he was intrigued by her mystery, annoyed by her attitude, or blinded by the looks of this very strange woman.
In truth it was, of course, all three.
* * *
Auggie’s body had wandered into and out of shot periodically since they first caught sight of it. The camera was set up at the top of a small hill over-looking the majority of the cabins, so as the man who both was and wasn’t Auggie went through the various dilapidated structures Kay and Auggie’s spirit were able to watch his movements.
“This is surreal. I mean, that’s me. That’s me walking around out there, combing through those cabins. I’m watching myself do things with utter disconnection.”
“Welcome to the joys of internet video and blackout drinking,” Kay replied. “At least you’re not trying to ride a mechanical bull with the top half of your ass sticking out of your low-rider jeans.”
“True, but the night is still young. Who knows what my body will do before its back in my rightful possession.”
Kay swiveled around, looking up at the floating form of her coworker. “August Parrish, did you just make a joke?”
“You could try to act a little less surprised. I’m only the surly professional when we’re working. In my off-time, I’m as carefree and fun as anyone.”
“Last weekend I did shots of 151 while illegally base-jumping off a downtown bank building.”
“Okay fine, anyone normal,” Auggie amended.
“Maybe one day I’ll actually get to see that. You say you’re fun when we’re off, but honestly Auggie when are you ever not working? I’ve been with you two since the end of season one and I can’t think of a single time when you weren’t talking about, worrying about, or dealing with the show.”
“One of us has too,” Auggie said. “Topher has the passion but none of the logistical know-how, and while you are admittedly excellent with everything film related, that still leaves a tremendous amount of technical work on my shoulders. If I don’t do the work, it doesn’t get done.”
“Auggie, I’ve seen our profits. You could easily afford someone to lessen your work load,” Kay told him. “You know what I think?”
“Heaven save me from such knowledge.”
“Cute. I think you like having the weight of the show on your shoulders. Because Topher is the one wooing the audience and driving up the ratings, you want to feel like his equal, so you make sure that every other aspect of the show depends on you. Otherwise, you might just feel like a friend Topher was bringing along on his train to success.”
Auggie stared at the woman hard, then let out a small sigh. “I don’t think it’s possible for me to be insecure about that, given that I made peace with it decades ago. Topher has always been a force of nature. His gregariousness, enthusiasm, and social acumen are all appealing to those around him. I’m objectively smarter than he is, yet his capability of making people like him has constantly opened impossible doors for him. Of course, my own skillset afforded me different opportunities; academic intelligence and social intelligence each have their own rewards. Individually, we each could have found success in the worlds geared toward our talents, but working together we can do something utterly different: we’ve been able to make a place in the world that’s all our own. I’m quite happy with that achievement, even if Topher is in the flashier, more prestigious role.”
“That was surprisingly poetic, and you didn’t even get huffy once,” Kay said. She glanced at the monitor and started in surprise. “Speaking of Topher, he and Velt just arrived at the cabins. It looks like they’re talking.”
“Hopefully discussing a strategic and meticulous plan to retrieve my body.”
“Velt really didn’t strike me as that kind of gal.”
“Nor I. That was a weak attempt at humor to alleviate my anxiety.” Auggie leaned forward to watch the feed. “It looks as though she’s going into the cabin with my body. Why is Topher staying put?”
“No clue, but he’s got a mic and an earpiece. Want me to ask?”
“I suppose we should give them a moment,” Auggie replied.
He and Kay kept their eyes trained on the monitor waiting for the slightest sign that something was happening. For several minutes, there was nothing aside from Topher standing about looking increasingly concerned. Just as Kay was about to ask Topher for an update, something finally happened.
Specifically, Velt burst through the half-crumbled remains of the eastern wall, flying through the air and landing hard on a grassy hill. When she landed, she lay there, unmoving save for a slight stirring as she breathed. Unfortunately, Auggie’s body did not share her embargo on action, as it emerged from the cabin’s remains with a murderous expression unlike anything the real Auggie would have ever worn.
“Any chance that was part of the plan?” Kay asked.
Auggie merely shook his head, eyes on the monitor. He dearly hoped his body wasn’t about to commit murder, but with every step it took closer to a downed Velt, the likelihood diminished significantly.
-Shift perspective back to Topher and Velt. Topher will need to step in while Velt is downing, giving a chance to show how dangerous the spirit inside Auggie is.
-Keep the confrontation short. Once Velt wounds him, the wraith will retreat, perhaps using Topher as a shield or distraction. This scene needs to inform on the challenges they’re facing, not be an anti-climatic chapter long struggle.
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