The One-Two Punch
If this were any other weeknight, Ethan would not have minded driving a katana through a Wraith’s forehead.
The general public didn’t know where these man-eating demonic Wraiths had come from. All they knew was that anyone could be one of them; a creature that twisted and deformed to consume their unsuspecting prey.
Ethan was aware that they needed to be slain, but if he could be doing anything else right now, he would not be on a night patrol. All he could think about was studying for the Economics test he had the next morning.
“Wish I wasn’t here,” he muttered too loudly.
Someone on his earpiece heard him. “Keep the coms clear!” hissed his field leader. “Don’t make me tell you again, Ethan!”
“Sorry, ma’am,” Ethan replied as politely as possible, despite his antsy mood.
Ethan sat perched at his post, almost begging for something to happen. He kept his sights on the narrow alley below him. His job was simple: wait for a Wraith to show itself.
At least these patrols were more tolerable when conducted with his teammates, but he was specifically instructed to stake out here solo, not in the warm patrol car with the others. He pressed a finger against his earpiece. No response. The radio clipped to his ballistic vest remained silent.
I have a goddamn Econ test to study for tomorrow, Ethan begrudgingly ruminated in the safe part of his brain. That’s going to be fun.
“Where are they?” his field leader inquired.
“Intel says we have a herd on Main Street,” said a deep man’s voice. That was the second-in-command of his team. “Ethan? Where are you?”
Ethan flipped the switch back on his radio. He pressed the piece in closer to his ear. A katana, the curved steel blade Japanese samurai used, was ready in his other hand.
“I’m in position. Watching from above an alley.”
“Let’s go,” his field leader replied. Echoing over the radio was the distinct roar of an engine revving at full gear.
Ethan remained in position atop the roof with his eyes to the ground. His jet black hair was cut short and gelled back. He wore the gray/blue uniform all EU trainees had to wear and a Kevlar vest with the label A.X.E.L. painted on his back. The NYPD patch was pinned to his chest, just to show he was one of the good guys-in-training.
They’re almost here, he thought.
Ethan took a sharp breath. He really didn’t want to fight tonight, but he might have to in a minute. His orders were to keep watch while his supervisors engaged first. Typical. They wouldn’t want the kid swinging his sword yet.
“How many are we looking at?”
“Pack of three,” his field leader replied.
A single star and moon dangled in the otherwise vacant sky above the city. This was the best time to track down Wraiths because they would emerge from the woodwork to try finding prey. He was ready.
“You’re clear,” said Ethan.
Tires screeched. Their engine revved up to maximum speed. While he couldn’t see it, Ethan knew a chase was underway. A low rumble shook the ground like the march of large animals rushing away from danger.
“I see ‘em!”
Bang! The sound of thunder shot through the night. Gunshots in the distance. Ethan kept his eyes on the area where he knew the car was driving.
“We have a straggler coming your way,” the woman yelled over her roaring car. She was in charge but put plenty of trust in Ethan.
The alley below Ethan’s nesting spot was open except for a dumpster. Ethan kept his eyes to the street where the Wraith might come from. If the straggler was coming, this was a good place for it to hide.
Plenty of shadows covered this alley. Anything could slither between the cracks and into the pale moonlight. Ethan could feel it before he saw the creature. Something lurked in the cover of night like a predator waiting for its morsel.
Ethan spotted it coming his way. “I see it.”
The Wraith was on ground level. Ethan forced himself to scan every scaly detail of the Wraith’s body. That ungodly creature had hidden as a human before, but now its extra scorpion appendages protruded like cancerous new limbs.
There was no mistaking a beast, born of human flesh and sin, hiding in human skin. The torso remained “human,” but this Scorpion Wraith grew new claws and a barbed tail to become the ugliest variety of scorpion on Earth. And it looked hungry.
Ethan braced himself, readying his katana so he could do away with the monster.
The Scorpion Wraith clicked its teeth together to find prey. It sniffed the ground and turned its eyes to a dumpster across the alley.
Ethan peered over the roof to look at the Wraith. He could ambush it from his position. Ethan reached for the tsuka, or hilt, of his katana. He glanced away from the monster to check his landing spot, but then he saw someone who wasn’t there before.
There was a woman hiding behind a dumpster. She was caught outside during the citywide curfew. From the looks of it she was rushing home after an emergency run to the pharmacy. A plastic bag of medicine was in her hands.
The Wraith was right across the alley from her. She wouldn’t make it.
Ethan took a deep breath before wrapping his hands around the handle of his blade. He unsheathed his sword and closed his eyes. Reaching into the deepest part of his mind, he summoned his inner spirit. His Sol.
A biting chill took over Ethan’s body, but this was the price to pay for summoning his Sol. He quickly condensed the water in the air to freeze a needle projectile.
THWACK. A shard of ice formed at Ethan’s eye level and shot out like a bullet. The new projectile planted itself close to the Scorpion Wraith’s face.
This was a warning shot. The Scorpion Wraith looked up.
Ethan rose and stood above the Wraith. Behind him was Gabriel, his guardian spirit, ready to fight alongside its host.
Gabriel was clad in metal armor and a full chrome helmet. Blue streaks of energy lined Gabriel’s body. Black rime stuck to his face and breastplate like ash from a bonfire. Gabriel mimicked Ethan’s pose and brandished a straight sword that thirsted for fresh blood.
“Looking for someone?” asked Ethan.
The Scorpion Wraith shrieked. It used its barbed feet to scurry up the side of the building to attack Ethan. Ethan conjured more magic projectiles, and Gabriel obeyed. Shards of ice materialized and fired at the Wraith. Some hit their mark, while the rest either bounced off the hard shell or missed their mark. But the Wraith closed the gap rapidly.
The Wraith reached the top of the roof and swung for Ethan’s legs. Ethan darted back and countered with his sword. Gabriel whipped out his own short sword and they attacked in unison. If the Wraith stabbed at Gabriel, Ethan attacked, and vice versa.
But the monster wised up and made a wide swipe to hit both. Ethan tripped over the rigid appendage and hit the ground with a thud. The Wraith raised its barbed tail and brought it down.
Gabriel used his free hand to form a barrier of ice around Ethan. The Wraith’s tail was caught in the new formation.
Ethan rolled back onto his feet. He vaulted over the protective wall and brought his blade down on the Wraith. The Scorpion Wraith shrieked even louder, but it was too late.
Ethan pulled out a small piece of paper from his pocket. On it was an exorcism rune with archaic etchings burned onto its surface. He brought it down on the Wraith’s forehead.
A flash of light filled the entire rooftop. Ethan looked away. The light faded as holy fire burned the wicked creature away from the inside out.
He had won.
All that remained of the Wraith was its host, a man with his sleeves and trousers destroyed by transforming into such a horrid creature. His body had returned to its natural state, but a vacant, glassy-eyed expression remained on his face.
Was the man still alive?
Ethan checked for a pulse. Nothing. That was the tragedy of Wraith possession: the hosts most likely died if not exorcised in time.
“Did you get it?” his field leader demanded.
Ethan dismissed Gabriel, and it faded into dust. “Yeah, he’s down,” he replied bluntly. He rubbed his hands together to put some heat back into his fingers.
“The rest of the herd has been dealt with. I’m afraid we lost two hosts.”
Ethan took a look at the Wraith victim’s face. He opened the eyelids. Both eyeballs rolled back into their sockets and showed no sign of rolling back into position.
“The Wraith ate this host too,” Ethan replied.
“Three hosts,” the woman muttered. “But it could’ve been worse. Now get some rest. You have a game tomorrow, don’t you?”
Ethan slid his sword back in its sheath and checked down the alleyway. The woman who was hiding before was gone, evidently running from the monster that chased him.
It wasn’t exactly Ethan’s priority to find her, but at least she wasn’t dead.