Velt: Chapter 1

“I know this must seem crazy,” Lucille said, the tears of desperation she was keeping off her face leaking into her voice. “I’m just at my wit’s end. The noises were okay at first, then the lights turning on and off, but now my children are seeing things. Last week the knife drawer flew out and flung everything across the room.” The aged woman held up her right arm to show the dressed wound along the bicep. “I never believed in any of this, but now I just don’t know what else to do.”

The young lady sitting across from her kept a stoic face. Lucille was clearly in distress, and had Velt been better with people she would have undoubtedly reassured her with a gentle pat or kind words. Velt did neither of these things. Nobody called her because of her penchant for sweetness or her personality. They called Velt when business needed to be handled.

“I can help,” Velt said, her voice low but solid. “Adrienne explained things to you, right?”

Lucille nodded. “She said the ghost here was an angry one, and that she couldn’t put it at ease. That’s why she recommended you.”

Adrienne was a fellow medium. She wasn’t as skilled as Velt, nor did she possess Velt’s unique talent, but she had a knack for sussing out what a ghost needed to pass on. All of the mediums who referred work to Velt were quality, she didn’t associate with charlatans.

“What you have here is not a ghost, it’s a ghast,” Velt corrected.

“I’m sorry?”

“A ghast. There’s a core difference. All spirits are sustained by strong emotions. Ghosts are sustained by positive ones: love, dedication, protectiveness, things likes that. Ghasts are on the other end of the spectrum. Their fuel is hatred and anger.”

“I see,” Lucille said uncertainly. Though initially she’d been the one worried about not being taken seriously, she was finding it hard to trust that the copper haired woman in front of her was being entirely forthcoming. She didn’t look like the other woman had. Adrienne had smelled like jasmine and cinnamon, wearing a long flowing dress and several crystal pendants. Velt had her tarnished red hair cut almost mannishly short. She wore blue jeans, sneakers, and a tight tank top that left little to the imagination, not that there was a tremendous amount to showcase. She was not quite pretty, her face sharp and angular, but she might be if she would actually smile. Lucille wasn’t sure what to make of this woman, but at this point she had little choice.

“So it’s a ghast, not a ghost,” Lucille said. “Why does that matter?”

“Because ghosts can be put to rest with comfort and love,” Velt explained. “Ghasts usually require a sterner hand.”

Well, you’re the expert,” Lucille said, a polite smile tugging on the laugh lines etched across her face.

“That I am,” Velt replied, standing from the couch.

“What are you doing?”

“My job,” Velt said flatly. “You said the most events occurred in the kitchen?”

“Yes, but-”

“Good. Stay out of your kitchen until I come out,” Velt ordered her. “If you come in I can’t be responsible for your safety.”

Lucille swallowed hard and nodded her understanding.

Velt walked through the house and into the kitchen, her sneakers making no sounds against the soft carpet. She admired the cooking space, it was well decorated and had modern appliances. She’d been thinking about redoing her own kitchen for some time and briefly paused to wonder if Lucille had any of the design catalogs used for this place leftover.

Velt rested her hand against a granite countertop and examined her reflection. Something about spirits, they loved creeping on on people while they were looking in a reflection. Given that most people couldn’t see them, and only the sensitive ones could even feel them, Velt had never fathomed that penchant for the dramatic. Sure as honey covered salmon in a bear trap though, it brought them running. Velt let her gaze linger on her own visage for a bit longer before turning back to the room at large.

The ghast was a few feet behind her. He hadn’t been an attractive man, bald and overweight with pockmarks on his face. A faint red energy swirled about inside of him, indicating he was gathering strength to let his presence be known. If he’d been a smarter ghast he would have recognized her as a medium already, or have listened in to the living room conversation. That was fine though, Velt didn’t need him to know who she was. In fact it usually made her job easier when his kind didn’t.

The ghast’s red glow intensified. He wanted to make a strong first impression. That was the thing about spirits, the initial emotions that sustained them could only do so much. They needed to create more of those feelings in the people around them to get stronger. As they fed off a person’s emotions, that person also grew more vulnerable to the spirit. It was the reason ghasts worked incrementally, beginning with small displays and escalating as the humans grew more and more afraid. The inverse of this was that humans who weren’t scared were much harder for a ghast to physically assault.

“Boy, you were ugly in life,” Velt said offhandedly, not bothering to look at the ghast as she made the remark.

The ghast momentarily lost control, his gathered energy dispersing before he tightened his hold on it again.

“Another seer, like the bitch before,” he snarled.

“Hey now, she might be chatty but Adrienne is a sweet girl. If you’d let her she would have put your soul at rest,” Velt said.

“I’ll tell you what I told her, I’ll rest when these darkies get out of my fucking house!”

Velt tilted her head. “Really? In this day and age? You’re dead for less than a year, so don’t even try to blame the culture that raised you.”

The glow strengthened and began to spread across the ghast’s arms. He was preparing himself to attack her, and pretty poorly at that. All spirits were usually little more than sentient shaped ectoplasm. They couldn’t physically interact with the material plane unless they used their energy to force their will upon the living world.

Velt crossed the distance between them and stared into the dead man’s eyes. He was a few inches shorter than her, and she was positive that if he’d been alive her nostrils would have been assaulted by the sweating rot of his stench.

“This is the only warning I give. Leave this place, let go of whatever is keeping you here, and move on to the next world. Now.”

“Suck my cock,” the ghast spat at her.

Velt drove her knee into the ghast’s crotch lifting him up several inches as his eyes filled with shock. Before he could recover she slammed her fist into his head, then sent him sprawling with an elbow to the stomach.

“You can’t…I’m dead…,” the ghast gasped, something quite like pain shooting through him. The red energy was entirely dispersed now, his concentration annihilated. More than that, he felt weaker. Less substantial. He touched his chest where she had last struck him and noticed wisps of his form leaking out, like fog breaking in the morning sun.

“Yeah, that’s what they all say,” Velt replied as she strode across the crisp marble tile. She delivered a powerful kick upward shooting him into the air. With a mechanical reaction she snapped him into her left hand and began punching him rhythmically with her right. Each blow resulted in a billow of ectoplasm, leaving the ghast increasingly transparent.

“How…”

“Some people can see spirits, some can talk to them, some of us can kick their asses,” Velt replied. She threw a deft elbow into his head, knocking out a huge chunk of ectoplasm. “I don’t question why, I just accept that there are some things in life we’ll never understand.”

The ghast was completely see-through now, he was holding on by the barest of threads. Velt paused for a moment before completing her task.

“I’d like to tell you that you’ll be thankful I did this, but I honestly have no idea if what comes next for you will be better than this. So, good luck I guess.” Velt reared back and struck his chest with a powerful blow. The ghast’s entire shape blew apart quickly dispersing into nothingness. A few wisps lingered in the air, then they were gone and Velt was alone.

She paused on the way out to muss up a few areas and knock over the toaster. People never quite believed she could do her job without leaving an aftermath, so she’d found it was easier to oblige them. She kicked the trash can onto its side then walked out the door to collect her fee.

Velt Chapter 2

Velt pulled her coat tightly around her. It was bright purple and came down to her calves, made of heavy wool that seemed to get wet even without a drop of moisture in the air. It was impractical in nearly every sense of fashion and function. Naturally it was the one piece of clothing Velt truly adored. The weather was in a flip-flopping mode, dancing between winter and spring every other week, so Velt had taken to keeping her coat with her whenever she went out on a job. Today the gamble had paid off, as the cold had snuck upon her city once more, leaving her breath hanging in the air as she plowed through the crowded streets.

She drew a few looks, a striking girl will do that, let alone one in a garish coat, but the gaze she returned to them left no doubt in the viewer’s eyes where her foot would end up if they dared to make contact. Velt was not what most would refer to as a “people person.”

She walked into her apartment’s lobby and gave a curt nod to the doorman. He was quite adept at his job, having learned the names of every resident years ago. He also knew that Mr. Danfry liked cabs from a specific company, the Jenkins couple would tip well when asked about their children, and Velt appreciated quiet familiarity over small talk. Thus, he returned the nod with fleeting eye contact and went back to his work.

Velt quickly unlocked her own door and sauntered in. Most people in the city had several layers of protection on their doors and windows, Velt preferred an alternative security system to lifeless locks. Her nose was greeted with the smell of sweating onions and simmering tomato. Dylan was making pasta tonight.

“How’d it go?” called a male voice from her kitchen, the barest traces of an Irish accent fluttering through it.

“Same ole, same ole,” Velt replied, shrugging off her coat and hanging it on the rack by the door. The apartment wasn’t all that big, a simple one bedroom with a view of another building, but the design was nice and the maintenance team kept everything looking current. Plus they were willing to rent to a woman with unorthodox systems of income.

She headed down the short hallway and entered her own kitchen. It was far less modern than the one she had fought in today, but at the moment it was filled with a flurry of activity. There were three pans on the stove, all at different temperatures. A large pot occupied her fourth burner, struggling vainly to obtain the necessary boil for the impending pasta. A cutting board was littered with the scraps from a series of vegetables, and in the center of it all, directing like a maestro of chaos, was her roommate Dylan.

Dylan was a geist, a ghost who had been around long enough to obtain levels of control and energy that separated him from the generic spirit population. He could interact easily with the physical world, not needing the running start like the ghast today. Beyond that, he could travel freely and quickly, appear in any form that suited him, and even step into dreams. Mostly he just enjoyed cooking though. He’d had quite the flair back when he was alive, so now he honed his art by cooking for the living he associated with, which in recent years consisted only of Velt.

“So, no trouble?” Dylan asked as he stirred the sauce and shook in some pepper.

“Just an old asshole who went ghast,” Velt assured him. “He barely had the energy to throw a slap, let alone be a challenge.” Velt reached into the fridge and produced a bottle of red wine. She unscrewed the top and poured herself a glass. Dylan winced involuntarily. He’d explained to her many times that red wine was meant to kept at room temperature, or at least bought in varieties that didn’t come in jugs. His arguments had fallen on purposely deaf ears.

“It sounded like he was pulling out all the stops on tormenting his tenants,” Dylan said. “I didn’t want you to get taken off guard.”

“Please, that jerk would have dissipated on his own after a few years. No way he was making poltergeist.” Poltergeists were the ghast corollary to geists, spirits of hate that had existed long enough to marshal a new level of power. There were rumors of a level beyond poltergeist, one only reached by the most hatefully determined wandering souls. Velt had never lent much credence to hearsay though.

“Just be careful,” Dylan told her. “There are wolves in this world.”

“Wolves are easy. Good gun, good aim, good meal. Done.”

Dylan laughed. “Well we aren’t having wolf tonight.”

“That’s okay, I prefer penne anyway,” Velt said. “How long till the food is ready?”

“Another hour or so,” Dylan said, glancing at the clock. “The key to flavor is the simmer.”

“Uh huh. I’m going to go grab a shower then,” Velt said, polishing off her glass and pouring another. She began heading toward her bedroom, but her trip was interrupted by a thud from the door. Velt’s whole body tensed. It had been too muffled to be a knock and too loud to be from across the hall. That limited options, the top of her list being someone leaning against the door as they picked the lock. Dylan had done a good job of leaving any would be burglars with a pants-shitting level of terror when they entered the apartment, but there was always some dumb son-of-a-bitch in this city ready to learn the same lesson. Velt set her wine down on her tiny dining table and pulled a metal baseball bat from behind the chair. She kept weapons of the like stashed all over the apartment, ensuring she had a home field advantage if an altercation should ever occur.

Velt jerked open the door with bat at the ready, poised to deliver an aluminum lobotomy to the dumbass trying to break into her home. What greeted her instead was a billow of scarves and a flowing dress, frantically pacing around the hallway and seemingly oblivious to her.

“Adrienne?” Velt said uncertainly.

The whirlwind of fabric settled and revealed a pleasant looking woman a few years and kids past her prime.

“Velt!” Adrienne declared happily. “Thank goodness, I was trying to figure out how to knock on your door and I thought I had it for a moment but then my hand went right through and well I know I could have walked in but it seemed terribly rude so I was debating whether keep trying or step through but here you are! So, problem solved.”

Velt set her jaw. Adrienne was a caring, lovely woman, but she had a tendency to blather when upset. A tendency that led Velt to avoid her in such circumstances. All things considered though, Velt could hardly blame her for being a bit on edge at the moment.

“When did you die?”

“Oh this?” Adrienne gestured to her form, which was noticeably cloudy with the occasional swirl of blue energy. “Happened about half an hour ago. Traffic accident uptown. I always said those cabs would be the death of me.”

“I’m…sorry,” Velt said uncertainly. “You’re taking this pretty well.”

“Pish posh, those of us who dabble in the spirit world have no need to fret about such things as our mortality. After all, we’re some of the few privy to the certainty that something lies beyond the final sunset.”

“Right,” Velt said. Another apartment two doors down opened its door, reveal a large man in a puffy raincoat heading into the world. It was only now that Velt realized she was, as far as anyone else could see, having a conversation with an empty hallway. She hurriedly motioned Adrienne in, which she complied too, and shut the door behind her.

“Right,” Velt repeated. “So then, not to be crass, but why are you a ghost at all? Why didn’t you just move on?”

“I fully intend to dear, I just had a few minor matters to attend to. I’ll need to visit my oldest to give her our bank account information and tell her where the will is, she’s got the gift so that will be nice and easy. I’ll also want to go visit a few friends in the business and say goodbye. But as to the reason I am here, I need your help. You see, I was on my way to do a séance when my accident occurred. It’s a family home, recently lost a grandmother, sure they feel her presence and wanting to make certain she is at peace.

“Ohhhh no,” Velt said, understanding beginning to dawn. “No can do Adrienne. I’m don’t handle the fuzzy warm cases. That’s what you guys are great at. What about Carol, or Molly, or Shel?”

“All booked, it is a Saturday night after all. Aside from which, we were all so close, I daresay learning of my passing will render them unfit for work, at least for a couple of days,” Adrienne explained.

“You didn’t think maybe I’d be too upset to be productive?”

“To be honest, no. You’re a lovely girl, but you tend to be more… pragmatic with your emotions. You always put the job first. That’s why I knew I could ask you for help.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Velt said.

“Please dear, in all my years as a medium I never broke an appointment. I’d very much like to keep that record, especially if it has come down to my final job,” Adrienne pleaded. “Think of it as a friend’s dying wish.”

Velt sighed. “Damnit.” She walked back over to her table and tossed down the bat. She scooped up the wine, downed it in one gulp, and then headed back to the entrance. She snatched her coat and began buttoning its cumbersome front.

“Keep dinner warm,” she called to Dylan. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Take your time,” Dylan yelled back. “The longer it simmers, the better it tastes.”

Velt tried to take some comfort in that as she allowed herself to be guilted out the door.

Velt: Chapter 3

Velt was not insensitive by nature. She was, of course, sad to see the spirit of her friend, or someone who was close enough to one, bustling outside her door. As she rode the cab through town and watched the skyscrapers diminish while more suburban houses appeared, Velt reflected on the fact that Adrienne was really gone. No more frantic calls about a ghast who’s upset her, no more relentless monologues about her children, no more awkward lunches where she produced her own seasonings and powdered creamer from her over-sized purse, no more boxes of homemade cookies at Christmas or friendly calls to check in on her. Velt wasn’t particularly good with the living, which was a common trait among those who saw the dead. She was different than the other mediums too, though, and Adrienne was one of the few who had actively tried to include her in the community. So it was with determination that Velt slipped the cabbie some crumpled bills and buttoned her coat in front of the two story colonial home. Determination to do this séance , and to preserve her co-worker’s reputation.

She stared at the house in admiration, it might not have been huge but everything about it was high quality and well cared for. The lawn was clipped, the windows boxes were groomed, and the paint was fresh. These were people with regard for image. Velt watched her breath hang in the air for a moment as she tried to figure out how she was going to make these people believe she really had the goods. That she actually could she spirits wasn’t nearly as important as making them believe she could. People wanted a little showmanship with their dead relative interactions; they wanted to feel their spines shiver and their hair stand-up. It was why, despite the fact that Velt was a stronger medium, Adrienne and the others were better regarded. Still, Velt had faked it a few times before in her early years. She was confident she could at least throw something together.

She walked up the driveway, noting the decorated paving stones beneath her feet. Image mattered a lot to these people, she had a feeling the girl in the purple coat and jeans wasn’t going to sell well off the bat. There was nothing for it though, so Velt reared back and slammed a series of solid knocks to the thick oaken door before her.

It opened immediately, a tall man with dark hair and a form fitting suit appearing before her.

“You are the practitioner?”

“Uh, yeah,” Velt said uncertainly. “Well, sort of.”

The man merely raised an eyebrow in response.

“I’m here to do the séance, but I’m not Adrienne Willows,” Velt explained. “She was…in a car wreck, and asked me to come in her stead.” Velt didn’t want to explain what happened to her any more than Adrienne had liked using her real last name for this work, hence the idiotic pseudonym.

“I see,” the man said without inflection. “I’ll have to inform my employer of the change, he likes to be kept abreast of such things. You may wait in the prepared room while I find out his decision on how to proceed.” The man stepped aside and allowed Velt to enter the house.

She took in the sights as she walked through the door, noticing the polished marble under her sneakers and the various tapestries poised along the walls. The inside of this place matched the outside in both grandeur and elegance. Someone had decorated this home to purposely give its visitors the impression of money without overtly displaying it.

“So what’s the deal, Jeeves? Are you the butler?”

“I’m the executive assistant to my employer,” the man Velt had come to think of as Jeeves replied. “I help with all manner of matters.”

“Gotcha,” Velt said. “Just trying to get a sense of things.”

“Of course,” Jeeves said. “I’ll show you to the room where you will be working, should my employer approve of the alteration in plans.”

“Fine by me,” Velt agreed. Hopefully the spirit was paying enough attention to the situation to be there already, that way Velt could get some background info before things kicked off. It was hard for people to accuse you of cold reading when you came right out of the gates with things you couldn’t possibly know. It didn’t work as well for building up showmanship, but Velt was pretty much winging it any way that she could at this point.

Jeeves led her up past the stairs and down a winding hallway. This house was deceptive from the outside, Velt had been positive it didn’t go back this far. Still, the journey continued until they reached an open door showing a reasonable bedroom through its frame. The décor was older fashioned in here, and candles burned on the dresser and night table. Their flickering shadows fell across a variety of pictures, most of which featured the same woman in various stages of her life. Mediums had a knack for spotting key facial characteristics, since spirits occasionally shifted their appearance to different ages without warning. Some did it unconsciously; some did it out of vanity, but either way if you wanted to keep identities straight when dealing with multiple ghosts you learned to spot a particular chin or eyebrow ridge consistently.

“I will return shortly,” Jeeves said, shutting the door lightly behind her. There were no orders given nor was there any soft turn of a lock, however the message was conveyed all the same. Velt was to stay put until she heard otherwise. Normally she would have never stood for this shit, and in fact it took her several deep breaths to keep her cool. This wasn’t about her, this was about Adrienne. She was standing in for a friend, and how she acted would reflect back on her. Even as a dying wish Velt might not have been able to coerce herself into putting in this much effort, but there was more to it than that. Adrienne had a daughter with the gift, Abby, and she’d been getting groomed to take over the family business. With Adrienne gone, Abby was going to have to step up to plate, and some rich asshole trashing her mom’s reputation because Velt couldn’t sit still for a few minutes was the last thing she’d need.

So Velt waited, first walking around to inspect the room, then sitting on the bed, and then pacing about. The spirit of the old woman in the pictures was nowhere to be seen, which was a shame because after a half an hour even the normally anti-social puncher of ghasts was feeling hard up enough for distraction that a little small talk might have been nice. By the time her wait hit the forty-five minute mark Velt was well past annoyed and charging headlong into pissed off. She adjusted her coat in frustration, trying to keep warm.

That action finally penetrated her frustrated haze. Why the hell was she cold? This house was ridiculously fucking decadent, there was no way they couldn’t afford a good heating system. She looked at the candles that had burned down over halfway since she’d arrived. It didn’t take this long to tell anyone anything. It certainly didn’t take this long to walk to and from a room to convey a message. Something was wrong, and Velt was done waiting around to find out what.

She grabbed the glass door handle, half expecting it to be locked or resistant. It opened smoothly under her fingers though, the door gliding open almost effortlessly. It was a small relief that only served to sharply contrast against the shock of what greeted her on the door’s other side.

Velt: Chapter 4

To say the house had been wrecked was an understatement so gratuitous it bordered on negligence. The walls were black with mold and peeled paper, the wooden floors were rotting before one’s eyes, and the windows were all boarded up and sealed spaces with shards of broken glass beneath them. Father time and a lot of pests had come at this place like it owed them money. It was the kind of house people petitioned their city to condemn. The kind that children milled around the front gate of, eyes brimming with fear and excitement as they whispered in hushed tones telling…ghost stories.

Velt took a breath as those last two words crashed through the floor of her mind. The air stank of neglect and rotten flesh. A rat had once died in the floorboards of Velt’s apartment. She’d thought the stench had been horrific, but it had nothing on this. Somewhere in this place were dozens of rodent bodies, left where they lay by their scavenging brethren, soaking the air with the stink of their decomposition. It was the smell that drove it home, that horrifying taste careening down her throat sent the message home clearer than any of the visual stimuli possibly could have.

Velt had been tricked. The marble, the walls, the tapestries, Jeeves, none of it had been real. That in itself was a terrifying concept. Geists and Poltergeists were both capable of producing illusions that even mediums couldn’t penetrate, but nowhere had Velt ever encountered a spirit who could do it on such a large scale. To have hidden this many sensory cues, to have led her safely to the room and then left here there, it would have taken a tremendous amount of power. Velt stopped and looked behind her, realizing that this room, the one she’d been left in, looked the same. The burning candles, the pink wallpaper, the smiling photographs all remained. They weren’t part of the illusion, which meant they’d been physically prepared. This wasn’t just some poltergeist luring in an idiot traveler. Those candles had been burning when she arrived. This was a trap.

Velt would have cursed Adrienne under her breath, but it was too late for that to be any good. Right now she needed to focus less on how much she wanted to punch the woman who wore crystals and more on how to get the hell out of here. Velt had a few advantages at least: she was seeing through the illusion, she’d shaken off whatever mental fog had left her willing to sit complacent for nearly an hour, and of course she had her talent. Whatever this Poltergeist might be expecting, it wouldn’t be a girl who hit back. If she could move fast and make ground before it was ready she might be able to get out with minimal tussling. Velt wasn’t one to normally shy away from a fight, but going against something this strong with so little information was just plain stupid.

Velt took a delicate step forward, seeing the dust rise off the floor and hearing it protest loudly, but it held her weight, at least for the moment. Many people would have gone slowly, testing each board one by one before advancing. Velt knew the folly of that strategy, the more time spent on each board the greater chance of it giving way. She moved fast, like she was walking over hot coals, her steps light and continuous. Occasionally she would spot breaks in the board, each one treating her to a sight of the concrete basement floor several feet below. If she went through there it would hurt, no question of that. One might survive the tumble without breaking any bones, but that was an awfully big chance to take on a maybe. She kept moving steadily, eyes never wavering from the path before her. It was this singular focus that got her as far as she went, and it was also what allowed her to get ambushed.

She was stepping from one particularly treacherous board to the next when a scythe of shadow flashed out from the wall toward her head. She reacted without thinking, dropping to the ground in a forward roll then jumping back to her feet. The wood beneath her groaned angrily and a trickle of blood ran down from her forehead. She ducked most of the attack, but she’d gotten a deep slice near her hairline.

The weapon still hung in the air, a piece of true darkness in an area that was merely lacking in light. Velt blinked and realized she’d been mistaken on her first impression. It wasn’t a scythe that had struck her. It was a claw. The figure bubbling out from the wall had elongated fingers, each tapering off in a sharp point. It was all one inky mass of emptiness with a fluttering piece on its back, like a shadow that had dawned a cloak. Velt knew it was supposed to look like a nightmarish version of Death, and to nearly everyone else in her situation that’s precisely what they would have taken it for: A Grim Reaper, if not the true freer of souls from their earthly vessels then clearly one of his servants. It was a visage that told the viewer all hope was lost, there was no need to struggle, and it would all be all over soon.

Velt never wavered, stepping forward on her right foot and bringing the left around in a high kick. The shadow turned its hood, a smooth and empty spot where the face would be staring back at her. Even if she couldn’t see it, Velt could still feel it laughing at her. Laughing at the silly girl striking a being beyond the reach of mortals. Laughing at how helpless it knew she really was.

Velt laughed too, a sizable snicker as she drove her foot into where it’s spine would once of been, following through with all her might and sending it careening through the wall. A pool of darkness evaporated off her foot as she brought it back down onto the floor. She could the hear snapping and splintering of wood, but at this moment it was low on the priority totem pole. The thing would still be active, collisions with the wall and other matter being utterly irrelevant to it. The only thing that could hurt a spirit like that was Velt. She never knew why. It was never a thought she focused on. Something about her, about her skin, about her body, disrupted the energy spirits were made of. Velt didn’t know why, and days like this she didn’t care. She just wanted to disrupt this shadowy cocksucker until her fists were numb.

She didn’t have to wait long, five blade-like fingers swinging at her from the side wall. She shifted her weight and let them slide by her, snagging the hand by its wrist once the sharp side was past. Velt gave the bony wrist a hearty tug to pull her opponent free of his material shield. Even Poltergeists were made of mostly energy, which meant someone with mass could toss them around if they could get a solid grip. She might not have their illusions, incorporeality, or other talents, but so far as any spirit was concerned fighting her strength was like trying to stop a tank with a daisy.

That was how it always had been before, anyway. This time Velt could barely move the spirit, her full-bodied jerk scarcely freeing more than half its arm from the wall. The fingers rotated around, not bound by fleshly sockets to object, and flew at her once more. This time Velt had to sacrifice her footing and still came away with five identical slashes across her ribs as she tumbled along the floor. She drew up again near the other side of the highway, far enough away from both walls to at least have some reaction time for the next attack. She winced at the pain in her side and tried to wrap her mind around what was happening.

She’d fallen for an illusion, she suspected her mind had been fogged, and now she was fighting an evil spirit that was so powerful it was nearly as strong as a corporeal person. Her kick hadn’t done nearly the damage it should have, and while the act of touching her had to be hurting her opponent, it was still pressing forward relentlessly. Velt had fought many a ghast and poltergeist before, and the strongest ones couldn’t have pulled off half of this. There was another option though, albeit one she was loathe to face.

“Wraith,” Velt whispered as she put her hand against the wound gently weeping blood on her side. She pressed her right hand to her temple, smearing the rest of the swallow cut’s drippings away with her knuckles. Wraiths were the darkest of spirits, ones fueled not just by anger and hate, but by actual death. They evolved beyond poltergeists by capturing the terror of their victims in the moments of their own demise. Velt had never really believed their existence was possible; however, she wasn’t the kind of person to deny what was right before her. Either it was a wraith or it was a poltergeist so damned strong that the difference was academic. It didn’t change anything for her.

“Call me what you will mortal. I wear many names, but all mean the same.”

Its voice came from in front of her as it slid free of its last attack position. Velt briefly thought it sounded like snakes fucking in a burlap sack. She pressed her left hand hard against her rib wounds, cupping the hand so as not to spill too much blood on the floor.

“So you’re claiming to be Death?”

“For you. For all eventually.”

“Just one problem with that,” Velt said calmly. “I’m met the actual Death, and he is nothing like you. For one thing, he isn’t such a dick, and for another-” Velt whipped her left hand forward, spraying the accumulated red fluid in the air and across the wraith’s body. “-he’s not dumb enough to stand still and taunt.”

There were few hard and fast rules of magic and monsters a person could depend on, but one of them was the potency of blood. Blood was always vital, blood was always necessary, blood was always powerful. If Velt’s body was a hammer to spirits, then her blood was extra strength acid.

The wraith screamed a horrible hissing wail as the red droplets struck its body, each spot immediately bubbling and smoking as its essence was scorched away from the central form. Velt didn’t wait for it to recover, instead she charged forward and swung with everything she had, the blood on her knuckles shredding its outer shell as her fist drove deep into its chest. The wail intensified and Velt reared back for another blow. She never got the chance though, the wraith had already focused through the pain.

It snared her legs in its massive claws and lifted her easily into the air. Velt had a moment to appreciate the role reversal in her being the one tossed about effortlessly, before the wraith slammed her forcefully into the crumbling wooden floor. She passed painfully through it, her body continuing its descent until she finally came to a jarring stop and the world went black.

Velt: Chapter 5

Velt let out a soft groan as she swam through her mind and surfaced back into the waking world. Judging by the way splinters were still raining down around her like a wooden shower, she hadn’t been out for more than a few seconds. Carefully she tested her body for injury. She’d landed on her side, breaking her left arm and cracking what felt like about three ribs. Her spine and head were fine though, which was surprising given the length of the fall and the force with which she’d been flung. As Velt began to take in her surroundings the source of her miraculous survival became sickeningly clear.

Beneath Velt’s bruised form was a human body, its torso crushed from the impact of the copper-haired girl falling on top of it. The face was twisted in a mask of pure terror, eyes bulging and mouth wretched open in a never ending scream. All of this was disturbing, but none of it would have affected someone with Velt’s experience. No, the part that turned her stomach was something different entirely.

It was Adrienne’s body she had landed on. Adrienne’s face twisted in horror, Adrienne’s skin that strange symbols had been carved into. Velt was only alive now because no one had been there to stop her friend’s demise. She pulled herself slowly to her feet and looked beyond the body staring into the abyss, taking in the rest of the room.

The basement was concrete all around, bare save only for a cobwebs and dust. The only door out was opposite of Velt’s current location and hung slightly ajar from the frame. Around Adrienne’s corpse were candles that had burned down and a series of arcane marks that encircled her.

Velt took a ragged breath and felt her sternum protest. She mentally adjusted the injured rib count to four. The circle, the candles, and of course the fact that Adrienne’s ghost had appeared before her all pointed to this spirit, this wraith, being competent with magic. People often forgot that there was a reason corpses were blessed and stored on hallowed ground as quickly as possible. The physical shell and the soul were intertwined for so long that the wrong kind of person or thing could work all manner of mischief with access to a fresh body. Sometimes they were used as vessels for forging monsters. Other times the spirits themselves were subjugated.

Velt had only heard of such things. Never had she experienced it, though there had been all manner of rumors among the fellow mediums when her mentor died. She never put stock in it. Never believed any ghast or poltergeist could work such manner of wickedness on one as strong as him. This was different though. This was right in front of her eyes.

Velt crouched down and began wiping her blood across the marks carved into Adrienne’s face and hands. The wraith would need to recover after her assault, so she expected to manage a little bit of time. Probably not enough to get this job done, but that didn’t matter. Adrienne was a friend; Velt couldn’t leave her like this. Admittedly, she didn’t know much about magic, however it stood to reason whatever energies the wraith was using were still based in the spirit spectrum, so maybe her blood would disturb them. Or maybe it would do nothing. Velt was pretty much swinging blind.

After coating the marks in blood, Velt turned her attention to the floor. She kicked over the stubby little candles and dragged Adrienne’s corpse out of the circle of symbols. That done, she checked her friend’s mouth and eyes for any totems or items of power. She found a single hair on Adrienne’s tongue. Velt plucked it numbly and set it down across the room. Then she closed Adrienne’s eyes while her own stared at the shell of what was once a fellow medium.

“Sorry you got killed,” Velt said lamely, the sound of her own voice foreign when reflected off the thick walls surrounding her. “You were a nice person to me, and if you had to go I wish it had been more peaceful. I’ll help Abby where I can, but we both know Shel-”

There was a rippling across Adrienne’s form as her ghost emerged, hazy and unfocused at first, growing sharper as it ascended. It clawed its way forward, sparks of blue energy crackling off her fingers contacting the concrete. Adrienne stayed on all fours, hair dangling down and eyes facing the ground. Velt couldn’t even make out her face with the long spectral hair tumbling down around it. She could hear her though, hear the shredded voice that emerged with considerable effort.

“Abby,” Adrienne croaked. “Carol. Shel. Molly.”

“They’ll be okay,” Velt assured her. “I’ll get out of here and tell them you passed. I’ll soften the details too.”

Adrienne shook her head weakly, her hair dancing about as she did. “Sent…me…to…them.”

Velt’s skin felt like ice. She’d thought it was only her who was in danger, that she could get away and come back to fight this thing when she was better prepared. If the others were on their way though…well Velt’s options became more limited. Pragmatism overcame fear or sentiment, they always did with Velt, and she addressed the first issue at hand.

“How long until they get here?”

“Not long. You were…closest.” Adrienne’s form wavering as she struggled to keep focused.

“Can you tell me anything about this monster? Anything at all that might help?” Velt asked, her eyes sweeping the room. If she’d really managed to free Adrienne there was no way the wraith didn’t know. Sooner or later it would be coming down here. She needed to be ready.

“Old one. Knows magic. Wants…needs us. Mediums.”

“Why us? This thing has more than enough power to manifest and fuck up some mortals.”

Adrienne slowly lifted her head, allowing Velt to see her ghost’s face. Both eyes had been torn out and a sizable chunk of the cheek was missing. There were gouges taken out of her chest as well, along with a ragged chunk vacant on the side of her neck.

“Eats us. Eats souls. Says mediums are…the…the best.”

“Motherfucker,” Velt said, her hand balling up unconsciously. Killing someone was bad enough, binding their soul was an evil step above, but to destroy their spirit was something else altogether. It removed them from the cycle of life and death, stole away whatever came next. It ended them, in a way more permanent than any other sense. It was supposed to be nearly impossible to do. Even Velt’s destruction ability merely unformed their energy and forced them to move on.

“Save them,” Adrienne begged weakly. “My daughter…”

“Your daughter will never see this place. I am going to wreck this wraith and make sure the others never set foot in this house. I promise you.”

Adrienne gave a weak smile, a small bit of comfort on mutilated visage she currently wore. “So kind.”

“That’s your bag, I’m just doing my job,” Velt assured her. “On that note though, I should probably hurry. Anything else you want me to know?”

“Need…help.”

“Nah, I got this one. You rest.”

“No…I need help.”

“Oh,” Velt said. “Oh. Are you sure? You can hang around a bit, learn to change your looks, say some goodbyes…”

Adrienne shook her head, her hollow socket staring directly into Velt’s eyes. “Goodbye.”

Velt let out a sigh and winced in pain. She didn’t want to do this. She wanted to let the woman recover and take the path in her own time. Velt understood though, she’d have to go wraith hunting soon and leave Adrienne alone. There was nothing to stop it from circling back and coming after what remained of her. Adrienne didn’t want that any more than she wanted to see her daughter while in this state. She wanted to go with dignity and peace. She wanted it over. And this was what Velt did.

Velt crouched down carefully and lifted her right arm. Adrienne lowered her head once more, eyeless sockets now staring at the ground. Velt would be fast, one good blow to the head should do it if Adrienne wasn’t trying to hold together. She steadied herself and took careful aim.

“Thank...you...Charit-”

Velt’s fist smashed Adrienne’s form and dissipated it before her sentence could be completed. There was a quick swirl of loving white smoke and then nothing remained of the wispy woman. Velt carefully pulled herself to her feet and scanned the room to make sure the wraith hadn’t come for her yet.

“You know I hate that name,” Velt whispered to no one in particular. She walked back to Adrienne’s physical body and tore off strips of material from her long, flowery skirt. It was dangerous to take all this time, but not nearly as dangerous as fighting both a wraith and blood loss simultaneously, which is precisely what she would be doing if she didn’t bandage some of these cuts. Besides, she was beginning to suspect her opponent would wait until she emerged from the basement to attack. It was too open and spacious to accommodate surprise strikes like the wraith seemed to favor. With the gashes on her side bound (a process her ribs had bitched about every step of the way) Velt began going through Adrienne’s pockets. She found a few crystal pendants, some “sage dust” as Adrienne had called it, her wallet, a half-full fifth of vodka, a lighter, and a near empty pack of generic brand cigarettes. A bit more digging through a side pocket turned up what Velt had been hoping to find, a small satchel with various plastic baggies inside. She opened every one of them that held a white powder, tasting through two artificial sweeteners and one bag of real sugar before finally finding what needed. Velt took a swig of the vodka to help with the pain, then stuffed all of it into her own pants and began heading for the door, taking a mental inventory as she went.

Crystals, dust, smokes, spices, white powder, barely bandaged wounds, a worthless left arm, and an as of yet undetermined number of at least cracked ribs. Meanwhile Douchebag the Asshole Wraith had probably fully recovered from her assault and was gearing up for round two. Whichever way Velt turned the situation around in her head, the conclusion was always the same: she was fucked. If there was one thing that summarized Velt though, one core aspect of her personality that was as unwavering as the sunrise it was this:

If she was going to get killed, she was goddamned certainly going to go out swinging.

Velt: Chapter 6

Wraiths didn’t have senses in the same way as humans. No spirit did. They had sight, which was actually better without the common weaknesses of physical eyes, and they also had excellent hearing. Touch was limited, though it grew stronger as the spirit’s power strengthened. Smell was a rare gift among the departed, and taste was something different entirely. Only the purest or wickedest souls could still taste, and in neither case did that stimulation come from traditional food. For all their loss, they did gain the ability to sense others of their kind. It was a talent that made beasts like this one all the more dangerous.

The wraith had seen the gaping hole in its wooden floor and surmised the woman had gone into the basement. It had expected to see her corpse over the lip of the chasm, but instead it found the copper-haired woman bustling about. She had stolen the wraith’s prey, there was no sense of any energy still lingering in the fatter one’s corpse. It burned with anger at this slight, however anger was a constant anyway. It also tingled with anticipation. This one was strong, far stronger than any of the other souls it had feasted on. This one would be delicious. It retreated from the hole and waited. The woman had a strange skill, and her blood had been the first dose of pain the wraith had experienced in centuries. It hadn’t lived this long by being stupid. It would wait until she was back in its halls, where it could fight with the advantage.

She emerged from the basement sometime later, her eyes flickering about with caution. The door let out into a large room, and she avoided the walls. That was fine. There were many narrow halls she would have to cross before she would reach the exit. The wraith moved ahead, crouching in a room that shared a wall with the path she would have to take. This was the perfect spot for an ambush. It was at a tight turn in the hall and had rooms on any side of it. The wraith could pin her down, striking and moving back to cover before she could use her blood trick again. This was perfect. The wraith waited, listening for her footsteps.

Several disappointing minutes later it peeked a shadowy head out of its hiding place and looked down the hall. No sign of the girl. That could only mean she hadn’t left the room, this path and the basement were the only ways out. Perhaps her terror had overwhelmed her, rendering her unable to move. That would be disappointing. The wraith found they had more flavor when they died with hope. It flowed back to the room, at first taking the space to be empty. Then it noticed the flutter of purple fabric peeking out from the other side of a rotting wardrobe. The medium was trying to steal its tactic, lying in wait for an ambush. If the wraith could have laughed, it would have, though the sound would have left all who heard it with nightmares for the remainder of their days. Stupid girl forgot that waiting with her back to a wall only made sense against corporeal foes.

The wraith worked its way through the walls, eventually positioning itself directly behind where the girl would be standing. Its claws lengthened, their dark forms as sharp as a lover’s rejection. It would take her in one go this time. Their dance had been entertaining, but now it was time to feast. The wraith surged forward, slicing with its claws as it passed through the wall...and found itself tangled in a sprawl of thick purple fabric.

“Downside to not being alive when there was television is that the oldest tricks in the book are still new to you,” Velt quipped, jumping on top of the struggling figure and trying to keep it ensnared. Hanging her coat on a broken corner of the wardrobe had been easy, hiding herself under a nearby desk had been much more difficult. The spirit writhed beneath her, a distinctly unsettling feeling already and only growing worse as the blood on her coat worked its way across the wraith’s body.

“I’ll cut you slowly for this!” The sound was somewhat different when it was in pain, more like a whispered howl.

“Only if we both end up in hell.” Velt reached into her pocket and pulled out the vodka. It had turned milky as the white powder dissolved in it. She hurriedly twisted off the cap and dumped it as quickly as she could onto her jacket. The blood would lose its charge soon, and when it did the wraith would be able to pass through the fabric like any other matter. It didn’t take long to halfway empty the container, but she still received three more deep cuts in that short span. The wraith’s inky form was beginning to leak through the edges, it was now or never time. Velt wrapped her broken left arm, still numbly clutching the half-full vodka bottle, around the monster, pulled out the lighter with her right, flicked it on, and pressed it to the damp fabric.

There was a reason the gods doled out such a harsh punishment to Prometheus for bringing fire to man. It was not just he moved them beyond their intended capabilities, it was that he gave them a weapon more powerful than they were ever meant to handle. Fire is not just a means to cook food and see where one goes after the sun sets. Fire is heat, and warmth, and life. Fire beats back the darkness. Nearly every monster in every culture has a weakness to flames, and that is not a coincidence. Fire is real, for everyone person, animal, and thing in between.

Even for spirits.

The wraith roared as it was suddenly engulfed in an inferno, the jacket became a fireball as soon as Velt had kissed the small flame to its fabric. This was no accident or cheaply made material. The white powder had been non-dairy creamer which caused an explosive ignition, while the vodka kept the fire going with a slow burn once it was lit. Velt dropped off in a rolling motion, both because she wanted a speedy dismount and because she knew there was a good chance she was on fire as well. Rising back to her feet, she turned to face her flailing adversary. It was in hellish pain, no question about that, but it was still worming its way free from the coat. Velt found that unacceptable.

She squirted the rest of the mixture on the wraith itself. The liquid passed harmlessly through at first, however about midway into the wraith the heat caused it combust, creating a fire inside its shadow body. The roar of pain that it released caused the house’s already weakened structure to shudder and Velt to clutch her ears in agony. It would be weeks before her hearing would fully recover, and she was strangely okay with that. The wraith finally bucked from her coat, now more cinders than jacket, however it did little good since the wraith was now on fire as well. The remnants of jacket still had enough oomph to light the floor on fire as they crashed down, the dry wood catching as if it had been waiting all its life for such a moment.

Velt’s fist caught the wraith in its hooded head, sending it tumbling through the air. She smiled despite the slight burning sensation on her knuckles. It was noticeably lighter, the fire had stolen a tremendous amount of the wraith’s power. She rushed over and landed two more rapid blows, each causing a dark cloud of energy to dissipate from the shadowy figure. She briefly entertained the idea of holding on and punching it, however the odds of burning her hand clean off were far too high. Instead, a kick followed up her punches, purposely aiming her opponent to crash into a piece of the wall that was now burning with gusto. Another horrid wail sent dust swirling from overhead, and for the first time since the basement Velt paused to consider her situation.

The house was definitely on fire now, the jacket’s floor flames had engulfed two walls that she could see. Add in the home’s initial structural instability, and it became clear that this abode was living on very borrowed time. Taking one last look at the shrieking shadow trying to claw its way out of the flames, Velt turned and dashed down the hallway. The boards still creaked below her feet, but now she didn’t have the option of heeding her careful step strategy. Smoke was already filling the halls, it seemed the fire had spread more than she realized during her scuffle. Good. Velt had promised Adrienne no one else would get trapped here. Of course that didn’t mean she was obligated to go down with the house. She ran faster, her breathing growing shallow as smoke began to fill her lungs.

After ample cursing of the asshole who built this place so windingly, she at last found her way to the foyer. The door was there, barely visible through the acrid smoke, but there all the same. She was five steps from it when something grabbed her ankle and send her tumbling to the floor. Fortunately this part was not over the basement, so the shattering boards only gave her a multitude of splinters. Unfortunately, the thing that had pulled her down was the wraith, or what was left of it.

Gone was the billowing cloak of shadow, the formless figure who had stalked her. What remained looked like a charred skeleton, the fire having wicked it down to its literal bare bones. The flanges encircling her ankle were still strong enough to hold her though, and as the black skull stared at her with unadulterated hatred she understood that it had abandoned all exit strategies. It was a being of anger and malice. It would destroy itself merely to ensure she burned to death as well.

“Why won’t you die?”

“Family tradition,” Velt spat, her fist cracking against his head with all the strength she could manage. Adrenaline compensated for lack of oxygen, and the wraith was thrown a few feet back, its grip broken. The shadow skeleton recovered quickly, skittering back toward her like a spider made of bone. It was long enough for her to pull free one of her bandages though. As the wraith drew near she acted first, pouncing forward and grabbing its wrists. Before the wraith could have easily chunked her off, but now her corporeal advantage had returned. She pulled its arms behind its back and twisted the cloth around them twice. Jerking down she brought its wrists low, snatching his ankles and binding them with the cloth one by one. Her rib wounds had been soaking this cloth in blood for the better part of twenty minutes, so there was no risk of the magic running out before the fire did.

Velt left the wraith on the floor, it wouldn’t be able to phase away with something physical binding it. She staggered to the door, more groping her way than seeing it. She snatched the knob, twisting it vainly as the door refused to more. Velt smacked at the deadbolts, her vision now entirely gone in a mixture of burning tears and smoke. Behind her she heard a hissing chuckle and realized the monster was trying to laugh at her. She pawed at the door furiously, turning the locks again and again to find the right combination. Her head was swimming, her ribs ached, and all she wanted to do was lie down for just a few minutes. Her last effort failed as she pushed against the door futile. It was still locked, and she was out of energy to keep trying. She propped herself against the wooden barrier and closed her eyes. Dimly, she thought she heard a faint clicking sound.

The door came open and nearly fell off the hinges in the process. Velt stumbled out into the cool nighttime air, made it exactly six steps onto the damp grass, and collapsed.

Velt: Chapter 7

The funeral was held several days later. It was far from extravagant, mediums were hardly flush with cash unless they were charlatans, and the woman these people came to mourn was dedicated to her craft. Granted, she was a bit difficult to be around at times, but she held the respect of peers for her tireless dedication to aiding the wandering dead. Many people showed up, more than even she would have expected. People she had helped over the years, people who she would have thought had forgotten her. She would have been wrong. She’d left a lasting impact on the world, leaving it a better place than it was without her.

Velt was there too, so bandaged she felt like she was doing an awkward impersonation of a mummy, but she was there. She paid her respects to Adrienne’s grieving children, then kept her distance. This was a celebration of a life that had passed on. There was no need to get into the nitty gritty of just how that passing had occurred. Occasionally she would catch Shel or Carol casting uncertain glances at her. They’d arrived sometime after her escape, discovering her unconscious in front of what had because a full on inferno. There’d been almost nothing left to save by the time the firefighters got there. They’d brought EMTs with them, who hooked Velt up to an oxygen machine and told her she was lucky to be alive. Velt disagreed, she wasn’t one to attribute a person’s actions to random chance. Someone had pulled the door open. Someone had saved her. Which meant someone had known she was there in the first place.

The cemetery where Adrienne, or at least a coffin stuffed with some of her belongings, was interred was a very nice one. None of the mediums noticed a large amount of spirits, which was a good sign. It meant peaceful people with full lives had been set down here. Velt was glad, even knowing her friend’s spirit was gone and the body had been charred to ash, the graveyard was where her family would come to pay their respects and visit. That made it important.

She hung back as the coffin was being lowered into the ground. There was nothing to be said, and her presence only made some of the people uncomfortable. The story she’d spun about getting a distress call from her friend only to find her stuck in a house had kept Velt from jail, however it didn’t absolve her from the suspicions of their community. It seemed referrals were going to be a slim business in the time to come. Personally, she was just thankful to be alive and unincarcerated.

“All clear,” Dylan reported, floating over from a nearby mausoleum. Since her close call he’d barely let her go out alone at all. He kept saying in her weakened condition she was easy prey for a dark spirit, even though she’d rightly pointed out as long as she kept her head down no ghast could know what she was. Dylan had calmly listened to her arguments and then followed her anyway. It was annoying a lot of the time, however today she was thankful for it. The wraith had left her on edge, coming to a place with lots of spirits was a scary prospect. Having backup helped her nerves stay in check.

“Good. We can head back now.”

“Don’t you want to stay for the prayer?”

“I’ll pass. Adrienne was a good person. If there is something nice for people who deserve it, then that’s where she’s going. Nothing we say or chant down here will make a difference.”

“Cynical as always.”

“I stick with what works.”

The cab ride home was a silent affair, Velt couldn’t hold a conversation with Dylan without the driver thinking she was a nutter butter. Sometimes she kept a Bluetooth headset for when she wanted to talk with spirits in public and not get the crazy stares, today it rested forgotten on her mantle. A handful of cash to the driver, a quick ascension up some narrow stairs, and Velt was home. Thankfully the building was warm, the day’s chill had seeped into her bones. She wore a threadbare windbreaker to cut the cold, but it didn’t have the same stopping power as her purple jacket. Damn she missed that thing.

“Stop!” Dylan yelled as they reached her door, throwing up his hands and breaking Velt from her internal reverie. “Someone has been inside here.”

Velt froze, and it had nothing to do with her slowly rising temperature. She nodded to Dylan, who stepped through the door to scout. Her keys danced through her hands as she pretended to search for the right one. Her face wore a puzzled expression, masking the quickening terror rippling through her mind. What if the wraith had survived? What if it found her? What if it was devouring Dylan right now? That last one gave her nervous system a kick as she decided she’d waited long enough and advanced on the door. Before she had a chance to stick her key in the lock, it clicked open from the other side and Dylan pulled the door open.

“All clear?” Velt asked.

“No danger that I can see, but…I think you need to come see this for yourself.”

They walked through her hall, stopping only to close and lock the door, down past the kitchen and into the bedroom. For a moment she was uncertain what Dylan was talking about, then her brain registered what her eyes were already saying was wrong. When she’d left her twin size bed had been bare but for the tangled sheets and one over-fluffed pillow. Now something was spread out on top of it, something that couldn’t possibly be there.

Laid out as neatly as if it had been brought by a laundry service was Velt’s purple coat. She picked it up carefully, half-expecting it to explode at the slightest touch. This was her jacket alright. Same scent, same soy sauce stain on the sleeve, same shitty repair patch where the shoulder had been torn.

“There’s no spirit energy I can sense,” Dylan supplied helpfully.

Velt nodded without really listening. There was a yellow piece of paper tucked into the right breast pocket. She pulled it out carefully and unfolded it. On it were two words, written in immaculate cursive calligraphy, and nothing more.

“Good Job,” Velt read out loud, crinkling the page between her tightening fingers.

“What does it mean?”

“I think…I think it means that whole thing was a test,” Velt said slowly.

“That rather boggles the mind. How, and who, and why, and back to how again. I mean, to have organized all that would be no small feat.”

“No joke,” Velt agreed.

“So what do you want to do?”

She stripped her windbreaker off and donned her hideous purple coat, surprised at how much better she felt at its familiar weight across her body. “Honestly? I have no idea. This shit is way above my usual level. I guess the best strategy is to see what their next move is.”

“We just wait for them to pull you into another trap?”

“I didn’t say that. I said we wait to see what their move is. That doesn’t mean we’re going to do nothing though. I need to get better, I need to research the shit out of wraiths, and then I need to train. Because whatever this dickhead sends at me next, I’m going to tear it to fucking shreds.”

“Tell me what you need from me.”

Velt glanced at her see-though roommate and gave him a very rare smile.

“Coffee. Lots of coffee. It’s going to be a long night.”