* * *
Her first punch caught The Emissary right in his torso, or at least where his torso would be if he weren’t a being composed of soul and shadow. It sent him reeling, even as he managed to tear away to last bits of fire clinging to his head. For any normal spirit, such a burning would have had them halfway to dissipated, if not destroyed entirely. Wraiths, unfortunately, were made of tougher stuff. They were the oldest form of malevolent spirits, and they had the power to go with it. They weren’t invulnerable though.
Velt had already taken out two of these legendary monsters in the past year. Now seemed like a great time to go for the hat trick. She lunged forward, kicking her momentarily off-balance enemy right in what would have been his hip. It was always a strange feeling when her clothing phased through their spectral bodies, only to connect a moment later with the bare flesh waiting beneath. No amount of incorporeal ability could get through her. Velt was as real to the spirits she dealt with as fire or silver; she punched right through the barriers between their worlds.
The Emissary scrambled up, wounded, but far from incapacitated. His claws extended as the burning red coals of his eye grew brighter. This woman was strong, yes, but she was still only flesh. If he could bear the pain then all it would take was a single well-timed slice. Humans were so ludicrously fragile, after all. Her right arm was either useless or so close to it that the difference was trivial, which meant she would be ill-equipped to defend against a full-assault. No doubt she would get a few blows in with those nimble legs of hers; however, it was more than possible he could sink one of his claws into the soft skin of her throat.
With a burst of speed, The Emissary darted forward. It swung with both arms, each ending in a set of claws that would turn flesh and blood into nothing more than scatter gore. She blocked his attack with her left arm as he’d expected, then slid around on her back foot to try and dodge the other claw. The Emissayr had been waiting for this, and instead of being caught off-guard he pressed forward. She might land a kick, but he would take a chunk of her throat in exchange. Then, Velt did something The Emissary hadn’t expected.
She spit in his face.
He paused, first from sheer surprise, then from a sudden and intense burst of pain. It was so bad that he was momentarily stunned, unable to do more than wail. Velt, on the other hand, had no such issues with movement. She seized the opportunity to strike, grabbing The Emissary’s shoulder and driving several home several powerful knee-strikes to his torso. Just as the pain began to fade, she released her grip, hopped back, and let him have a full-on punter’s kick right in his center of mass.
It sent him literally flying backwards, leaving him ten feet away when he finally regained control.
“How… why did that hurt?”
“Old recipe,” Velt replied. “One part spit, one part bitten off cheek, swish to combine and you’ve got blood filled spit. And that was just an appetizer. I wish I could show you the main course.”
“Giving up already?”
“Nothing like that. It’s just that, as I recall reading, your little ceremony and rite bullshit has a clock on it.” Velt nodded upward, to the sky behind The Emissary’s dark form. “In case you haven’t noticed, the sky is getting light. I’d wager sunrise is only a few minutes away.”
The damn woman was right, the stars had faded completely and the rich black of the evening sky was abandoning them for a putrid grey. There was still time to complete the ceremony, but precious little of it. A quick glance to the portal showed that the car was, while still burning, at least down to a smolder now. It was doable… assuming he could get past the copper-haired woman barring his way.
Velt seemed the read his mind, holding up her good arm in a fist and flashing him a red-toothed grin, blood from her open cheek wound staining her teeth.
“One more round. All or nothing. You want a piece?”
The Emissary wanted more than a piece, it wanted her in shreds. Given the limitation of the looming deadline though, a piece would have to do. This time, he would aim for a piece of her heart, ideally still wet with blood.
With an angry snarl, he flew forward once more.
* * *
Topher leapt out of the boat as Clinton and Art shoved it onto the shore, Auggie’s still motionless body laid carefully across his shoulder. He scanned the sky again, trying to spot his friend in the growing light of day. There was just too much sky to search, and Auggie’s spirit was already partially see-through. In sheer desperation, Topher put his hands to mouth, and let out a mighty yell.
Topher jerked himself around to find himself face to face with Auggie’s spirit floating over from the direction of the dock.
“Why were you over there?”
“Well, I saw you get into the boat and assumed, as any rational person would, that you were taking it to the dock. I floated down to meet you,” Auggie explained.
“Sorry, I was just scared I wouldn’t be able to find you.” Topher delicately removed Auggie’s body from his broad shoulder and laid it onto the damp grass. “Velt says you need to get back in as soon as possible. You’ve been out for too long.”
“Even if that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t hear me arguing,” Auggie replied. “This brief foray into the afterlife has been more than enough for me. I’m ready to be flesh and blood once more.”
“It’s not all that bad once you get used to it,” Clinton said.
“Assumin’ you can go somewhere other than a summer camp,” Art added.
“Perhaps one day I will find out, but let’s not make it this day.” Auggie floated over to his body, hoping it was the last time he would see it from the outside. “I think it is time for me to come home.”
* * *
The Emissary let out a sound somewhere between a wail and a squeal as Velt’s arm, slick with blood from the gash he’d given her, wrapped around his head and squeezed. She released a moment later, lingering just long enough for the sticky blood to sear into him but not so long as to allow him time to counter attack. They each retreated a few steps, slowly circling one another.
This fight was maddening, because in other circumstances The Emissary knew he could win. She was still strong, still injuring him every time they clashed, but Velt was slowing down. The blood loss, injuries, and relentless physical exertion were all taking their toll on her body. If he just had more time… but no, once the sun rose the ritual would be ruined. Out of the corner of his eye, The Emissary spotted a cohesive spirit floating on the sidelines watching their battle.
It was Irwin, that useless lump of ectoplasm who was supposed to have killed this woman hours ago. An idea popped into The Emissary’s head, a way for Irwin to redeem himself. All he needed was one good blow, and the fight would be his, and for that what was required was a distraction. Behind his back, The Emissary crooked a finger at Irwin, getting his attention then motioning for him to circle around behind Velt. The lesser spirit took the cue, floating slowly into position.
“Decided to call it and go down peacefully?” Velt asked. “I don’t blame you, looks like the sun will be up any minute.”
“Don’t be absurd. I am here to save the world, to offer all those poor humans a better state of being.” Irwin was nearly there, just a few second longer and they could act. “I will never give up on my duty. You are the one damning these humans to things like pain, disease, fear, and suffering. I come to bring freedom and power, yet you want to keep them chained down by suffering. You are the monster here.”
“Maybe so. I don’t know if your world would be a better one or not. Maybe it would be a nicer, more peaceful place. Doesn’t really matter to me; my job is to stop you. All that other shit is just details.” Velt brought up her left hand and drew her right foot back, braced for battle. “Besides, there’s not much of a place for someone like me in a peaceful world.”
The Emissary said nothing more, instead it charged. At the same time, from Velt’s rear, Irwin did the same, rushing at Velt with his shoulder down. It wouldn’t be much of a blow, but it would knock her off balance. In that moment The Emissary would strike, carving her into tatters. It was likely too late to salvage the ritual, the sun’s light was nearly tangible, but if he had to fail then he at least wanted to drag this woman down with him.
The two spirits raced forward with the single human in between them. It was going to work; this woman was going to die. The Emissary reveled in the glow of satisfaction as its claws ached to be coated in her blood, even knowing it would hurt. They were mere feet away now, time for this fight to come to an end. The Emissary began his swing, ready to carve of swath of pain from this woman’s hide.
“Ole, mother fuckers!” Velt spun out of the way, ducking her head to avoid The Emissary’s claws, mere instants away from impact. Neither Irwin nor The Emissary could stop in time and two collided, tumbling through the air and landing inches from the dimly glowing portal.
“Give me a little credit here,” Velt taunted. “Awareness of the environment is part of fighting one-oh-one. Speaking of which, I hope you’re in the mood for a tan.”
The sun, the damndable cursed horrid sun, had crested the horizon. It was only a sliver, but it was enough for whatever cosmic force governed magic. The Emissary could feel the magic that had soaked into the air crackling, then beginning to flow toward the portal. It increased in power with every passing second and he could feel his spectral form being dragged toward the throbbing red circle that so recently had been a symbol of his triumph.
“What the hell!” Irwin yelped as the first of the quasi-formed spirits flew past him, sinking into the portal and vanishing.
“These guys were only here on a night pass,” Velt explained. “And it just expired.”
More and more of the horde spirits, or what remained of them after the fire, zipped through the air, vanishing in flashes of red light as they were pulled back to the plane they’d sent themselves to all those millennia ago. The Emissary tried to hang on as best he could, even though he knew it was futile. They had failed to free their god, and now he was calling them back to show his disappointment.
Irwin got up and began to float toward Velt, suddenly far less afraid of her than the glowing circle at his back, but his progress stopped as a firmed, clawed hand grabbed his leg.
“No, brother. I think you will come back with us. We have much to… discuss.” With that, The Emissary released his clawed hand that had dug into the ground, sending he and Irwin hurtling through the air. Just before they vanished, The Emissary met Velt’s eyes ones last time. He would find a way back to this plane, he would bear his god’s punishment and crawl back if needed, and when he did he would soak his hand in that woman’s cursed blood.
Then they were gone, and moments later the red circle on the ground vanished, leaving Velt alone on an island with several small fires and an obliterated Dodge Charger.
* * *
Auggie’s eyes opened slowly. It was strange to feel the weight of a body again, to move under the strain of gravity. Then the pain from his body’s cumulative wounds hit him, and Auggie wished gravity was the only thing he had to deal with.
“Are you okay?” Topher asked, staring down at his friend.
“I think so.” Auggie’s voice was rough and horse, clearly the being who stole it hadn’t been taking care to speak gently. “I feel like total shit, but at least that means I can feel.”
“Sounds like a win to me,” Topher agreed.
Auggie glanced around quickly, realizing they were two people short. “Where are Art and Clinton?”
“They started fading a few seconds ago, right after the sun rose and that portal thing got bright again. I guess the magic that let us see them is gone.”
“So, Velt did it? She stopped the apocalypse?”
“Seems that way,” Topher said.
“That is a relief.” Auggie’s sense of ease lasted roughly as long as it took him to stand, after which his default pragmatism set in. “Of course, that means now we have to deal a wreck rental car, damaged protpety we don’t own, getting back to town, plus where is… oh no.”
“What?” Topher tensed, eyes darting about for another rogue spirit to pop-up.
“Kay. Kay is going to have to hike all the down that cliff. She’s going to be in a terrible mood when she finally gets here.”
Topher sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth. “Did we have any of that alcohol left? It might calm her a little.”
“Let’s hope so. You check the main hall while I call someone to come get us.”
-Main story is wrapped, now all that remain is an Epilogue.
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