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?”
“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.
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.