<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->

The wraith moved down Broadway, a disturbing ripple in the atmosphere of Manhattan with death on its spiderspun mind. It slipped past pedestrians and vehicles with the elliptical flutters of a windborne leaf's breeze, slowly sliding downtown past Twelfth Street in the evening lightplay of streetlamps and signage. I almost lost it when the light changed and traffic swung from Twelfth across the avenue, but the heat-shimmer of its presence outlined the shape of a person in the warble of halogen headlights.

I didn't know what it was doing here, but I had a fairly good idea what it was here to do. Wraiths move slowly, patiently; they can be diverted by a crossbreeze, but they never stop. Not once. They're implacable, and they'll follow their designated culmination until they reach it and wrap their fields of eldritch energy about it in autonomic targeting ecstasy.

They wander until they kill. Human nervous systems can't handle the wraith's embrace, but they'll only enfold the one they've been attuned to.

The real problem is that I was fairly sure this wasn't just a wraith. It was moving wrong. It looked like one, that much I was sure of; but it just didn't slide right. I worried at the thought, a bit of skepticism caught in a tooth, as I had been the past two blocks. I'd seen it upon leaving the Bank Cafe and turned to follow it automatically. My reluctance to accept it as what it seemed wouldn't leave me, and I wouldn't leave it. It fluttered down towards Eleventh, huddling close to the building edges on the right side of the sidewalk, as I sauntered after it.

It took another few moments to settle in. The thing just wasn't fluttering enough. It was holding an almost purposeful path, something wraiths never do. It was slipping sideways once in a while, but always...

...always to avoid something. Something solid.

Which meant that even if that was a wraith, denizen of the air and servant of the aether, it wasn't alone. It was hiding something, or someone. I'd never heard of anything that could survive in the clutches of a wraith, and I didn't like the notion - the wraiths themselves came out only at night and only to kill.

It floated around the corner of Tenth, turning right. I shambled after it, leaning on the corner and lighting a cigar. It was still moving down the block to the west as I stared past my lighter's blue jet, eyes focused halfway on the moving discontinuity. I took my focus off it for just a second, to actually light the cigar, and naturally that's when it vanished.

I controlled my urge to leap after it and took a drag on the now-glowing stick. It couldn't have dissipated, unless it had killed, which would leave a corpse on the street. It had to still be there, somewhere. Putting my lighter into my inner trenchcoat pocket, I moved my hand from the pocket to the butt of the Beretta suspended vertically along my coat's inner side, and walked slowly Westward.

There was no traffic on Tenth, car or foot, at least as far as University. A few meters on, I caught a slice of blackness where the wraith had disappeared, and angled out towards the curb by reflex rather than walk close to the alley entrance. I lifted the Beretta from the hooks which held it and held it loosely in my right hand along my trouser leg. With my left I reached to my chest and found the familiar lump of the watch. As I drew even with the alley entrance, I pivoted to the right and pressed, willing a small wave of energy from the watch out into the alley.

My hand almost blew off.

A cone of something erupted from my bandolier, and every edge in the alley suddenly lit in glaring coruscance, a hellish line-drawing of urban oubliette. In my surprise, I moved my right hand up into line; as I did so, a sequence of lines bent and twisted, the shape they were forming in luminant outline moving away from the right-hand wall and towards me. The trigger pull was reflexive.

chooonnnk. chooonnnkACK.

There was a whiplash sound as the second shot of the double-tap, done by habit, overwhelmed the baffles of the suppressor and released propellant gases into the air. The lines of light in the alley all detached from their surfaces, rimes of ice flowing before the sun, and dripped upwards, fading as they went. The shape jerked, twice, and then fell in its rush to crumple at my feet.

I stepped back once and pulled the Mag-lite. Twisting its crown with my fingers, I played it on the figure.

It was gray, flowing, and almost human. As I stared at it, the Beretta still pointing at its middle, it began to rustle around the edges. A moment later it lost cohesion into a flood of gases which spread rapidly out around my heels and dissipated into the cold New York night.

I just stood there for a moment, unsure of what the hell had just happened, and then common sense took over. I turned left, hunched into my collar, and slipped the Beretta into my coat once more as I hurried towards University Place.

There had been something under the wraith, but I had no idea what it had been. It, apparently, had had its own ideas about being followed. I was so caught up in wondering what the hell I'd just shot when the surroundings rippled once, twice, and the sounds of the city trembled with a dissonance I'd never heard or hoped to hear. The wraith settled around me from above my head. I had just enough time to lift both my hands to my face before I felt an incredible flood of energy, energy manifested in the very fractures of space that were the wraith's form. It crackled into me with the hissing roar of air cannoned through a train tunnel, and before I could think or do anything, my awareness flickered and snuffed under its assault.

I have no memory of hitting the pavement.

<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->

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