* * *
Kay had just finished placing the last camera when she a surge of light come from the forest across the lake and felt a cold shiver run down her spine. Given the context of the situation, it didn’t take her much of a leap to guess that something had gone wrong. She hopped in the SUV, through it into drive, and began speeding away from the patch of forest she’d been working in. As she drove, she noticed more of the translucent orbs emerging from the trees. She’d spotted a few of them on the way up, but they seemed to be growing more numerous by the second.
She was halfway back to the main hall when her earpiece crackled to life.
“Kay, can you hear me?”
“I hear you Topher.” The mic clipped to the top of her shirt was thankfully still working, transmitting her words across the distance to the monitor Topher was observing.
“Thank God. Kay, you need to get back here quickly. The second ritual was completed, and it lets the ghosts touch inanimate objects. Get clear of the woods before you run into something bad.”
“Relax, I’m almost out,” she told him. “What about Velt?”
“We relayed the message, but she doesn’t have a microphone to talk back through. She should be fine; she’s already able to fight ghosts.”
Kay accelerated, jumping the SUV over a small rut in the road, then eased to a stop. There were two paths in front on her: one would get her back to the main hall, while the other would swing around through the camp and get her back to where she’d dropped off Velt. She hesitated for only a moment, then jerked the wheel and slammed on the gas.
“Fuck that. Tell her to meet me where I dropped her off.”
“Kay, you don’t need to-”
“If the second ritual is complete then that means she’s probably in the wrong spot now. Auggie’s body will go to the next site, which we’ll be watching for. Assuming we spot him on camera, then we’ll need to move Velt as fast as possible. I’m picking her up because wasting time with her walking back to camp is time we don’t have.”
There was silence from the radio for a long moment. “Are you sure about this?”
“Topher, I’m making up all this shit as I go along; it just seems a good plan to me.” Truthfully, a newly-familiar dread was creeping into her gut, but Kay ignored it willfully. Whether she had the actual gift or she was just turning into a worrier, it didn’t matter. This needed to be done, and she was the one at the wheel.
“I’ll pass along the message, but we’ll have no way of knowing if she’ll hear it, or agree to it.”
“Don’t worry so much. If I show up and Velt isn’t there, I’ll just have to signal her.” Kay’s eyes darted quickly to the liquor bottle and lighter tucked securely between the seats. She’d never been much of a firebug, but there always time to pick up a new hobby.
“Though, for the sake of the local flora, you might want to really try and get her to be there.”
* * *
Velt had been able to feel when the second ritual completed, the burst of magical energy nearly made her grind her teeth. Even if she hadn’t been keyed into the energy’s flow, Irwin’s fit as the power swept over him would have been more than clue enough. There was no way the first one had been that strong, even back at the main hall she would have felt it. Her eyes darted around immediately, searching for any sign that might put her on The Emissary’s trail. All she caught was a fading glow in the direct opposite end of the forest. An end that, had she ignored Irwin, she would have been much closer to.
The spirit was watching her carefully, waiting for some sort of reaction. She was tempted, very tempted in fact, to whirl around on him and see what confrontation would yield. It was only through tremendous self-control that she bit back that impulse. There was always the chance it was an honest mistake, and if that wasn’t the case then she had no reason to tip her hand and let him know she was onto him. Thankfully, Topher’s voice soon came over the earpiece, giving her the distraction she needed to avoid talking with Irwin and letting her anger slip.
“Velt, this is Topher. Not sure if you can hear me, but Auggie and I just figured out what the second ritual did. He can touch inanimate object. Nothing living, though. I’m going to warn Kay as well. Good luck.”
“What did he say?” Irwin asked. Thoguh he was able to make out the electric crackle of the earpiece’s activation, fine details had escaped his eavesdropping.
“He just confirmed that the second ritual was completed,” Velt told him. “Apparently you lot can touch things now.”
Irwin looked at her doubtfully, then carefully bent down and plucked a pine cone from the ground. He nearly doubled over in shock when his hand made contact with it, the rough texture scraping against his fingers. It was uncomfortable, but Irwin was brought to the brink of joyful tears by the sensation. How long had it been since he touched something?
“Useful for you guys, sort of a pain for us,” Velt summed up. “Also, just a word of caution: don’t try to touch me. Not even a hug or a fist-bump. Even if I’m not attacking, physical contact with a spirit causes can cause a lot of pain for them.”
“I appreciate the warning,” Irwin said, letting the pinecone fall from his grip. “What’s our next move, now that the second ritual is done? Try and track him to the third?”
“About the only thing we can do,” Velt lied. “Hopefully your friends have caught sight of him. Why don’t you go over the trees and get a status report?”
“Will I still be able to phase through the branches? I mean, since I can touch things now…”
“Hell if I know, this shit is all new to me. Just give it a shot. Even if you can’t, they won’t be able to hurt you.”
Irwin nodded, then floated upward. Velt watched him go, eager to see if he was now bound by some level of corporeality. It turned out to be not the case, as Irwin was able to move through the branches with seemingly minimal effort. It was too bad, she’d have loved it if the spirits had to play by the same rules as her. That would have made fighting The Emissary much easier.
Her earpiece crackled again, nearly causing her to jump.
“Velt, Kay is en route with the SUV to pick you up. She says to be at the spot where she dropped you off at. I’m not exactly sure what, but she seems to have a back-up plan for getting your attention in case you can’t hear this. Please go meet her, Auggie has gone through enough tonight. I don’t want to find out what Kay’s idea is, and I’m positive Auggie doesn’t want to deal with the fallout from it.”
He hadn’t needed to push so hard, this actually worked perfectly with what Velt had planned. Chasing The Emissary was proving to be a bust, and now she had a possible traitor to worry about. It was time to shift tactics before they ran out of time entirely. Screw running around in the dark, Velt had never been much for cat and mouse games. She liked a good ole-fashioned bloody showdown.
She moved as quickly as she could, hustling through the brush at top speed. Irwin’s guidance, whether a mistake or intentional, had taken her away from the site of the actual ritual, but it had also left her closer to the edge of the forest. It was a pretty shitty consolation prize compared with stopping The Emissary, but she wasn’t in a position to be turning away any stroke of luck she could get.
* * *
Despite what he’d said, Irwin made no attempt to find Clinton and Art floating over the treetops. Instead, he hung below the canopy and zipped across the forest as quickly as he could, easily locating the remains of the site. From there, it only took a moment or two of searching to track down The Emissary as he skulked through the woods. Auggie floated down, coming to rest several feet away from the spirit in the stolen body. Even though he’d done as he was told, it still terrified him to be so close to this being.
“She’ll never catch up to you,” Irwin said. “I left her halfway back to the camp.”
“Well done.” The Emissary eyed the spirit carefully. Irwin was all but glowing with satisfaction, a combination of finally being able to touch things along with having properly carried out his orders. Had he been nervous, twitchy, or even the slightest bit suspicious, The Emissary would have assumed betrayal and torn Irwin to shreds. His emotions seemed genuine though, and Irwin certainly didn’t come off as smart or charming enough to manage a lie. “And you returned for more instructions, I take it?”
“Oh… sure,” Irwin’s joy began to evaporate as he realized he’d opened the door on more, possibly dangerous, work. “Anything I can do to help out the cause.”
The Emissary nodded Auggie’s head. “The woman. Where is she now?”
“She was across the forest, when I left her. I’m supposed to be talking to the others and finding out if they saw you.”
“Then your next job is a simple one: stop her. What we seek to do is too important to risk her interference. Whether you cripple the woman or kill her outright is of no concern, just make sure she is no longer in any shape to try and stop the remaining rituals. The third will be the longest to perform, and is some distance from here. I need the space to work without the worry of her interruption hanging over head.”
“Wait… you want me to attack her? How? She said her touch injured spirits.”
“And she spoke the truth,” The Emissary said, the memory of her attack still fresh in its mind. “But there are plenty of ways to injure someone without touching them. Especially in a place as dangerous as a forest.” The shadow-talons emerged from the tips of Auggie’s hands, and The Emissary raked them down a nearby tree-trunk leaving long gashed where he struck. “Be creative, be inspired, just be successful no matter what. When out new world is born, I will not forget the names of those who helped usher it in. Nor will I forget to whisper those names in the ear of our god.”
The Emissary turned away and continued off into the woods, clearly intent on reaching the next site as soon as possible. Behind him, Irwin wrung his hands as he tried to think of way to stop Velt without putting himself at risk.
In truth, The Emissary did not expect Irwin to succeed. The woman, evil as she was, possessed the spirit of a warrior. No conviction-less coward obeying orders would ever triumph over one such as she. Still, his futile attempt would at least slow her down a bit. If that cost Irwin his grip on this plane, such was an acceptable loss.
-Changed the planned plot at this point. Originally, Kay was going to get attacked by spirits in the woods and crash the SUV on her way back to the main hall, however in efforts to keep this novel around 50k, I needed to get her and Velt back in position for the regroup.
-Next scene will be the last of the chapter, Kay picking up Velt and getting attacked by Irwin.
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