She was sacrilege. There was no other term or explanation, nothing that encompassed her wicked and horrific actions. For the flesh to see the spirits was a rare gift, one that granted perspective and guide for those still encumbered in their living cages. His people had honored and respected those who were one step closer to what they saw as the ultimate form. But that was seeing into the spirit world, speaking with the more enlightened beings.
What she had done, to lay flesh up spirit with such impunity, and to sear him with terrible pain as well, it was wrong. It went against everything he knew, everything his people had sacrificed for. This woman… this abomination… she could not be allowed to enter the new world. For her flesh to be so corrupt that it could would even a spirit, her soul must had rotted away within its breathing shell.
That woman was beyond saving, beyond redemption. She could neither accept the freedom he was here to usher in, nor would he risk her taint spreading to others. It was his job to prepare the way, to open the gate and raise the curtain on a beautiful world that belonged to the greater beings, the dead. He would handle any obstacle necessary that threatened the inevitable destiny of his people.
She was sacrilege, and she had to be destroyed. He would rend the body first, then he would shred her soul to ribbons, ending the threat before it began. For a spirit to destroy another was usually impossible, but he was not bound by the limitations of his own power. Soon, he would have the backing of a god, and they played by different rules than mortals.
The Emissary drove his mortal vessel forward through the woods, all thoughts of fuel and food forgotten. There was no time for such diversions, pleasant as they might have been. He needed aid to stop the woman, and there was only one way to get it.
It wouldn’t be long now, and he would arrive at the site of the second ritual.
* * *
“Holy shit, did you see that? She just grabbed him. Just… fucking grabbed his arm and made him scream in pain. What is she?” Irwin was dumbfounded at the show he’d just taken in.
“Personally, I’m a bit more curious as to why that spirit in question had such strange lookin’ appendages to begin with. I ain’t ever seen another spirit that looks like pissed off darkness,” Art added.
Clinton gave a small shake of his head. “I don’t have any clue about either. Maybe if we’d been wandering around and talking to other spirits we might have heard about stuff like this, but I barely know more than when I died.”
The three ghosts were floating just over the tree-tops, watching Velt and Topher climb back to the main hall while also trying to keep some idea of Fake-Auggie’s location. After Art had spotted the body-thief he’d doubled back to watch the carnage from a hiding place with Clinton. Irwin had been hanging out by the cabins, it was only by dumb-luck he wasn’t noticed. When the battle ended, the three had gathered up to compare notes.
“Do you think there’s any way that crazy broad was right? That these old ghosts are going to make it so the dead rule over the living?” Irwin glanced down toward the lake, where the mass of half-formed spirits were milling about on the island. They’d have been an army if they seemed to possess any cohesion or independent thought. Instead, all they served as was a potential harbinger.
“I think we’re a trio of dead men who just watched a woman terrify the hell out of spirit doing things we’ve never imagined possible. Impossibility is an evolving spectrum for us,” Clinton replied. “I’m not saying I buy the story entirely, but it seems irresponsible to completely discount it.”
“Agreed. We gotta help run that sumnabitch down. Even if she’s full of it about getting us free or the end of the world, we can’t take the chance.”
“You know guys… it seems to me like we’re getting free no matter what happens.” Irwin spoke slowly, choosing each word with what he thought was cunning precision. “Think about it: if the ceremony succeeds then all these dead are going to break free of the camp. Why wouldn’t be able to leave to?”
“Right, and all our freedom would cost is the entire world of the living,” Clinton said.
“But we’re not living. Not anymore. I’m just saying we should think it through. This will be the only shot for dead like us to have a world for our kind.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Art said, putting a hand on his fellow ghosts shoulder. “If we’ve learned one thing from all this, it’s that there’s a shitload more to this life and death stuff than we ever imagined. There’s another side for us to get to, and that’s the world dedicated to us. We need to leave the land of the livin’ to those with time left.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Irwin said. “I guess I’m so desperate to get out of here I let myself get overwhelmed. We have to protect the rest of the world, even if we’re no longer a part of it.”
Irwin wasn’t quite as won over by the sentiment as he made himself pretend, but he understood the idea of going along with a crowd for safety. There was no strategic advantage to helping the other side… yet.
“Well said,” Clinton agreed. “Let’s head over to the cabin and see what Velt wants us to do next. I think I’ve at least got an idea of where that possessed body is heading.”
They three ghosts floated off, down toward the hall where two humans were just stepping in the front door.
* * *
Topher had largely recovered by the time they made it back to the cabin, though his ribs still groaned in annoyance with every jarring motion. Nothing short of time and some solid painkillers was going to fix that injury, so he did his best not to dwell on it. It was surprisingly easy, since there were already vastly more important things to occupy his attention.
“We lost him,” Topher announced as soon as he caught sight of Kay and Auggie. “The bastard was right there, and he got away. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. I know you did the best you could.” Auggie did know that too, these weren’t empty words meant to sooth his friend’s sense of guilt. Topher had plenty of failings, but he put everything he had into the things he undertook, especially when others were counting on him.
Kay noticed the slight wince on Topher’s face when he drew in a deep breath and walked over with an open bottle in hand. He accepted, taking a generous mouthful, then handed it back. The night called for keeping his wits about him, but he didn’t want to slow everyone else down because of a little pain. Besides, he was self-aware enough to know that his body was far more useful than his wits had ever been.
“So… we lost him,” Velt said. She dropped onto one of the benches and stretched, letting a series of pops echo from the bones in her back. The throw hadn’t done any serious damage to her, she’d long ago learned to go limp when falling or being tossed, but she was still going to be sore as hell come the morning. At least if she was hurting, she was alive, so that was sort of a silver-lining.
“I don’t suppose he showed up on any of the other cameras?”
Kay and Auggie both shook their heads.
“Of course not, that would have been too easy. Maybe the spirits I used as scouts will follow him, but I might be hoping for the moon with that one. No, he’s probably going to get to the second site and perform the rites before we can stop him. The odds of running over him in the forest are just too great.”
“Speaking of running over, a thought occurs to me,” Auggie interjected. “We do have means of superior transport. The SUV parked down the hill could easily be used to cover more ground.”
“That’s not a terrible idea, but it’s too dangerous. If you accidently hit The Emissary you might kill the body, setting it loose and with a hell of a grudge. Even if you just safely found it, you’d be stuck in a metal container that offered no protection from the kind of hurt that thing can deliver.”
“I feel as though you skimmed over the fact that hitting the body he has would also kill me permanently,” Auggie grumbled.
“What if we didn’t use it to go after Auggie’s body? What if we used it to widen out surveillance network instead.” Kay walked over to her table and pulled out a pair of remote cameras. “We had these leftover from our initial stakeout plan. If we plant them in key locations, we may just be able to get eyes on your big bad before he starts the next ceremony.”
“We can point you in the right direction,” Clinton said as he phased through the wall. Art and Irwin followed after him silently. Kay let out a yelp of surprise and Topher nearly stumbled over, but Clinton kept on going as if he hadn’t noticed. “Last we saw the evil-ghost-man was heading northwest through the forest. He wasn’t changing course much, so I think whatever he’s after is in that direction.”
“Look at you three, actually pulling your weight. It’s enough to restore my faith in humanity,” Velt said. “Okay, new plan. Kay and I grab the car, she drops me off at the edge of the woods, then heads out to set the other cameras while I hunt down The Emissary. You three are going to help me track him from the air, just like you did before. Topher and Auggie will stay here to man the cameras.”
“Why do I have to stay behind?” Topher asked.
“Because your friend isn’t nearly old or strong enough of a spirit to handle manipulating physical objects, and the whole point of a surveillance system is to have someone watching. As for why you can’t set-up the cameras… I don’t really get the sense that you’re the technical expert on this team.”
“I could figure it out.”
“Fine,” Velt said. “The other reason I’m benching you is because you didn’t follow orders. I get that you meant well, which is why I haven’t knocked any teeth out of your head, but you still did the exact thing I told you not to.” Velt turned to Kay, who did her best to put on an innocent smile. “Will you drop me off then get the hell out of danger?”
“See, that’s why she’s going.” Velt walked over to a table near the back and picked up the duffel bag she’d left earlier. “Get your cameras ready. We leave in the next three minutes. And you three spirits, why are you still here? You should be up in the air, finding my target and waiting on my arrival.”
As she spoke, Velt wished she had the luxury of being kinder to these people. They seemed like decent folks, and when she’d told them what a high-stakes game they were playing each had agreed to help out. They deserved to be treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, Velt only had time to care about results. She was the one who had to get the job done, no matter what it cost.
That was her eternal lot in life.
-Next scene will be on The Emissary finding the second site.
-Maybe use the car ride with Kay and Velt to develop each a bit further, fostering something of a friendship.
-Lay a bit more of Irwin’s discontent in his dialogue and actions.
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