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.