Day 20

*              *              *

                The airborne sprits were helpful, but Velt was starting to wonder if they would be enough. She’d been combing the woods carefully, using them guidance and directions to sweep as much area as possible, but with each passing minute the changes of The Emissary completing the second ritual increased. Not even she knew what would happen when he finished, and she was really hoping not to find out. Every step that brought the worlds of the living and the dead closer together made her job that much harder.

                  She hurried across the brush, coat pulled tightly as she worked to ignore the growing ache in her left leg. Something had probably gotten sprained when she went through the wall, an injury hidden amidst the adrenaline of the situation. Stomping about was almost certainly making it worse, but she didn’t have the luxury of worrying about such things. There would be time to recover afterward... hopefully.

                Velt had just started down a promising path with smashed bushes and other signs of recent use, when Irwin floated out from between the trees.

                “Dead end.”

                Velt winced involuntarily at the implied pun. Though she doubted this one was the type to make such jokes, spending any length of time around spirits meant dealing with the occasional ghost who coped with his afterlife through awful word-play.

                “Are you sure? I’ve been all over the areas nearby, and this looks like someone tore through it recently.” She gestured to the cracked twigs and scattered leaves as evident to her point.

                “Trust me, unless you want to go see a bunch of foxes eating a rabbit carcass, that’s not a productive path.” Irwin glanced down at the signs she was pointing it. “I guess the little guy went down with a fight. Good for him. All I got to do was choke helplessly.”

                It took great effort for Velt to keep from rolling her eyes. The maudlin mood swings were the sort of thing one had to tolerate with the recently dead, but it rapidly ate up any patience or sympathy she might have had. Usually the best course fo action was to change the subject.

                “Well, do you have any idea of where I should go?”

                “Um… maybe,” Iriwn said, shuffling slightly. He stuck his hand forward, single finger gesturing toward the west. “I did see something over there earlier, some weird red light. I thought it was you at the time, but your flashlight doesn’t seem that color now that I’m close. Is there any chance that might something?”

                Velt barely resisted punching this idiot in the face, only holding herself back because he was so fresh one blow would probably knock him to the other side and then she’d be down a helper. “Yes, I think the mysterious red light in the middle of the woods at night might just be a fucking useful clue! Do you remember where it was?”

                “I’m pretty sure-”

                “Get real sure, real fast.” Velt turned around, shining her light in the direction Irwin was pointing. “We’re going there now, and may the gods help you if we don’t make it in time.”

                Because both her light and eyes were pointed away, Velt didn’t see the self-satisfied smirk that oozed across Irwin’s face. If she had, the night have turned out very differently. At the very least, she would beaten the truth from Irwin’s cowardly lips. But, due to an ill-timed turn, she remained unaware of the treachery he was committing, and the two started off down a different trail.

                One leading directly away from the ritual she was trying so hard to stop.

*              *              *

                Auggie’s whole form was tingling, itching with a strange sensation that it was impossible to scratch. This one was taking longer than the first, escalating in slow, maddening, build. Topher could stare helplessly as his friend grew more and more agitated, eventually to the point where even basic conversation became impossible.

                The pace began to pick up, and Auggie felt the sensation bore deeper into him. It was no longer as if he were feeling on the surface of his incorporeal body, now it was boring down into him. Every piece of him could feel it, like a cold fire or a million ant that dragged their pincers across his skin while refusing to bite. At the wrost part of it, for a very real and terrifying moment, Auggie feared he would lose his mind entirely; that the feeling was so horrid that he would run away from all coherent thought just to escape it.

                Then, without any slowing or warning, the sensation vanished all at once. Had he been inside his body, Auggie would have let out a long breath and wiped away the tears that had inevitably formed in his eyes. Instead, he jerked forward, nearly stumbling to the ground until he remembered gravity no longer held sway on his actions, and made a sound that was halfway between a sob and a sigh of relief.

                “Is it over?” Topher asked. He looked aghast, worse than Auggie had ever seen him. As terrible as it had been to experience that, Auggie imagined it probably wasn’t a picnic to watch either. Especially not to a friend.

                “I don’t really know. Feels like it is, but there’s no way to be sure. Maybe he finished the ceremony, or maybe Velt interrupted him and it will start up again sometime soon. I’ll just have to wait it out.”

                “Do you feel any different though? Last time he did one of these things, it made you visible. If it’s over, shouldn’t you have new abilities?”

                “That does make sense,” Auggie agreed. “Perhaps I gained the capacity to interact with physical objects. It would be a logical progression.”

                Topher carefully raised his right hand and spread his fingers. “High five?”

                “May as well.”

                The two took a carefully swing at one another, aiming to connect palms in mid-air. They got it just right, and Auggie’s hand sailed through Topher’s perfectly as they tried to collide.

                “No to the touching thing,” Auggie sighed. “Pity, it would have been useful.”

                “I’m actually glad it didn’t work out that way,” Topher said. “Velt and Kay are both out there, and there’s all kinds of ghosts in the forest, not to mention that mass of jerks on the island.”

                “That’s a good point. Velt seems capable of handling herself, but if ghosts suddenly gained the power of touch it might put Kay in very serious trouble. I mean, more trouble that the fact that she’s currently behind the wheel of an SUV with no license and at least some alcohol in her veins.”

                “When you put it like that, it seems like it was a bad idea to let her be the wheel-woman.”

                “I thought that was obvious,” Auggie said.

                “Then why did you stop us?”

                “Because, to be frank, that Velt woman somewhat terrifies me,” Auggie admitted. “And besides, it would have come down to you stopping her anyway. In case you;ve forgotton, I have no effect on the physical realm. If I’d tried to grab the keys, we both know what would have happened.” Auggie illustrated this point by reach out and grabbing a camera battery from the nearby table. He fully expected his hand to go straight through it, which made it all the more shocking when he felt the weight of battery in his hand as he lifted it up.

                Auggie stared at it in shock, while Topher nearly leapt out of his shoes.

                “What the hell?”

                “I don’t know! I can touch it for some reason.” Auggie dropped the battery and tried to grab one of Topher’s protein bars. It felt firm and solid in his spectral hand. He turned back to Topher and tried to grab his friend’s forearm, but his hand went right through like with the high five.

                “It’s only non-living things,” Auggie surmised, putting the pieces together in his mind. “I still can’t interact with the living, but objects appear to be fair game.”

                Topher stood still for only a moment, then he leapt into action, darting over to the monitor hub and rapidly flipping switches.

                “What are you doing?”

                “What do you think I’m doing? The game just changed and I’m betting Kay and Velt don’t have any idea about it. We’ve got to warn them over their ear pieces.”

                Auggie nodded, thankful they’d taken the time to outfit Velt with a rudimentary bit of communications equipment before she left. It would only go one way since they didn’t have any spare microphones, but at least it would allow them to give her a warning. Not that she needed it as much as Kay.

                Both men hoped with everything they had that their third crew member was almost done with her work and heading back to the main hall.

                -Kay’s scene is next, remember to incapacitate the SUV during the altercation.

                -When she’s done, get the crew back together for one last round-up and team meeting.


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