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.”