Ethan Lin

This is a short scene that was cut from my upcoming Spring Issue piece, featuring the main character from my Winter Issue piece. Enjoy. 

The Public Security soldiers release another hail of gunfire at the advancing terrorists. Bullets ricochet off car doors and traffic signs. Another explosion sends several insurgents flying, their bandanas and tactical gear doing little to protect them from the shockwaves. As rubble rains on the combatants, the troopers use the dusty fog of war as cover to retrieve their wounded. 

Hoisting a bleeding soldier to his feet, Olivia Marshall spots an old sedan swerving precariously through the wreckage. Before it screeches to a stop, a figure leaps through a passenger window, firing a grappling hook onto a nearby balcony, and zipping out with a holler. Olivia sets the wounded officer down behind a burnt-out truck and approaches the car that looks right at home among the destroyed vehicles. A woman with a scarf of bandages and bone-white hair steps out and hurries to the injured soldier. The driver adjusts his hat and leans his head out the window.

“Pleasure seeing you again, Officer.”

“About time you showed up, Armani. Who are these people and why didn’t you bring more?”

Luno Armani points his chin at the person walking upright along the side of a building. “Robin’s covering civilian evac.” The hand on the steering wheel points its index finger at the woman with the white hair. “Nia can take care of the wounded.” Olivia watches a vial of blood on Nia’s belt begin to glow. “As for that second question, there’s no one else available.” Luno’s fatigue-ringed eyes narrow, looking through the dense fog. “The Phoenix Vanguard is causing trouble all around the city.”

As the cloud of dust begins to settle, Olivia realizes with horror that the insurgents had been busy during the impasse. Through the smoke, she can see a wall of shields that extends along the length of the street. The impenetrable phalanx begins to advance again, bullets bouncing against their approaching frontline. 

“Looks like I’m up.” Luno opens the car door with a heave and pulls out a small pouch from his trenchcoat. From it, he plucks a zipper slider with white runes. The markings pulse violently, like a star on the verge of collapse. Luno raises the slider to his forehead. 

Olivia sucks in a short breath. “Everyone, take cover!” The Public Security soldiers stop firing, quickly ducking out of sight behind barricades and vehicles. She shoots Luno a dirty look. “You do know that I can have you arrested for this, right?”

Luno laughs dryly. “Desperate times.” He closes one eye, watching the advancing surge of terrorists. Tracing the slider in front of him, it leaves behind a white dash in the air. 

“Spectres that hunger for mortal forms, come forth and feast. Spectral Torrent.”

For a brief second, all that can be heard is the marching of the Phoenix Vanguard. Their boots crush shards of glass, the metal shields banging against each other with each step. The terrorists, their veins pumping with a passion only attainable through deep hatred, do not notice the ceasefire. The last thing most of them hear, however, is the sound of a dam bursting, releasing a flood of ghosts that scream with a hostility even stronger than the insurgents’.

The line drawn by Luno’s slider expands rapidly, becoming a wide, circular portal. From it, dozens of malevolent spirits surge forth, clawing to be the first to reach the mass of huddled human bodies. The vicious wave passes right through the formation’s ironclad defense. Luno quickly closes the portal before any more spectres can emerge. 

The phalanx halts its advance, the Phoenix Vanguard paralyzed for a moment. Then, one by one, the shields drop, clanging as they fall to the street. Now possessed by the malignant spectres, the front line of the phalanx turns to attack the nearest humans: the insurgents standing right behind them.

Nia looks away, trying to ignore the panicked screams and shouts. Tearing a length of gauze from her scarf, she begins to bandage the wounded soldier. Olivia notices that, despite the gaping hole in the trooper’s shoulder, he is no longer bleeding. Instead, a luminous sheen of bright red now covers the injury.

Luno drops the smoking zipper back into his pouch. “So what’s the compensation going to look like this time around?” 

The Public Security soldiers peer nervously out of their cover, watching the chaos spread amongst the insurgents’ ranks. The dust rises as the infighting continues, obscuring the battlefield. Suddenly, a bang goes off within the Phoenix Vanguard’s broken formation. The possessed insurgents hurtle through the air, slamming into buildings and light posts. The shockwave shifts the dust once again, revealing the man in the dark red suit, crackling with crimson energy. He glowers at the Public Security forces, gloved hand gripping a cane with a phoenix ornament atop it. The remaining insurgents stand, forming up around him, rifles raised.

Luno’s brown eyes narrow, jaw clenched. He sets his hat down on the roof of his car. “Looks like we’re not done here just yet. Your turn, Barry.” His eyes flash to a blazing blue, and he lunges forward, as both sides begin their volley of gunfire once again.