Award-winning Short Story: The War of the Incubi


Lucy Laats

The following is an award-winning short story by Vestal senior, Lucy Laats.  The story won the Scholastic  Silver Key in Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Wesley wasn’t used to doing this, so she had to be careful. Precise. If she messed this up, she’d have to start all over, and that would be a complete disaster. 

“Today’s a makeup day, huh?” Jack said as he suddenly swung into her room. To be fair, she’d left the door open, but it was still a force of will not to jump. 

“Jack, if you make me mess up this eyeliner, I will slaughter you.” Wesley pointed her brush at him. Jack grinned back at her. He was basically her younger brother, and as such, he knew her threats were empty. 

He did wisely stay silent as she struggled through the rest of her makeup, only speaking when he was sure she was done. “I’ll go get Frank and Morgan and tell them we’re gonna see Anna-Marie today. I think they’re both still asleep.” 

“What? How did you know that?” Wesley turned on her brother, surprised. “I didn’t tell you, did I?” 

“No, but you’re wearing makeup. You only do that when you’re gonna see her, and since you’re not entirely freaking out, it’s not a date. God, romance is weird,” he said, and left. 

Wesley was left standing in her room stammering. Jack, once again, shocked her with how smart he could be. It wasn’t that he was young. He was sixteen, only a year younger than her. But he had always been kind of…naive. And, if Wesley was being honest, childish too. There were moments, though, when Jack really shocked her and the rest of the group with an observation or a solution. This was one of those moments. 

Frank was pretty quick to get ready, once he was finished yelling at Jack for waking him up. But Morgan was sluggish. They always were, in the morning, although that quickly changed once they gulped down coffee in amounts Wesley was fairly certain would be lethal to anyone else. 

“Alright, alright, Jackie tells me we’re gonna meet up with ya lovebird today! Been a while huh?” Frank spoke through a mouthful of bagel. Wesley rolled her eyes, mostly at the term lovebird, but smiled. Frank could always be counted on to say something goofy and make her feel less stressed. And he was right, it had been a while since she’d seen Anna-Marie. She was glad for a chance to see her girlfriend, even if it wasn’t a proper date. 

“Frank, what the hell is a lovebird?” Morgan asked. The two devolved into friendly bickering, immune to Wesley’s attempts to hurry them faster. 

Finally, they started going. The way wasn’t long, but it did take them through a busy marketplace. Most people edged away from them. To be more accurate, they edged away from Frank, who was carrying his baseball bat over his shoulders and not smiling. This meant that he was absolutely terrifying if one didn’t know him. It didn’t help that he was the oldest, tallest, and biggest of the group and it showed. 

It would bother Wesley, but it did allow them to move pretty quickly, so they arrived at Anna-Marie’s workshop in no time.

Anna-Marie herself was sitting by a workbench, reading a book that was probably about poison. She jumped up when they entered. “Wesley, darling, I haven’t seen you in so long!” She hugged Wesley tightly before pulling back. “And you’re wearing makeup too! I’m flattered, honestly.” Wesley pulled her back into a hug and was only mildly surprised when she felt Anna-Marie undo her bun. 

“Can you two stop with the lovey-dovey?” Jack groaned, trying to pull them apart. Anna-Marie did not look sorry. Wesley tried to be sympathetic, and did pull away, but the two kept holding hands. 

“Alright, now that we’ve gotten that over with, what’ve you got for us?” Morgan asked. 

“First, Frank, I’ve got some upgrades for you.” Frank had been offered a sword and flatly refused it. Anna-Marie had long stopped trying to convert him. Instead, Frank mainly used a baseball bat reinforced with wire. 

Wesley knew that yes, theoretically, the battles could be waged quicker with guns than with swords and bats. But Incubi were fast bastards, and guns were so loud, and any wielder would probably be killed before taking out a significant number. Besides, anyone who wasn’t immune to them would be more of a danger with a gun. 

Her thoughts were interrupted by Anna-Marie pressing a sword into her arms. It was a little bigger than her usual rapier, but expertly balanced and designed. It would be easier to fight through a crowd of Incubi with this sword than the one she had now. 

Once everyone had fixed or upgraded their weapons, Anna-Marie sobered and looked more serious than Wesley had seen her in a while. “I’m glad you guys came today, because I have news. I discovered that there’s a nest of Incubi out in the country. What’s more, this nest seems to be a home base for all of the Incubi. If you can destroy it, you’ll basically end this war.” 

“We gotta do it! Oh, this will be fun! We haven’t had a big fight in ages! And, also, saving the world, I guess,” Morgan said. They were practically vibrating with excitement. 

“Well, at least someone’s enjoying the war. You need to be careful, though. These things want to kill you, and there’s more of them than you’ve ever faced. I want you to do this, but I also want all of you alive at the end. This is not more important than your lives. Okay? Wesley, keep them from being stupid. Frank, Morgan, and Jack, keep Wesley from being stupid. Got it?” 

“Yes ma’am,” Frank replied. Jack was loading his crossbow quivers with as many bolts as he could. 

Anna-Marie gave them directions. They did a final weapons check. Then they left.  

 Hours later, Wesley was fed up with trudging through the woods in circles. They had found the nest of Incubi, a tall thing that almost looked like the Tower of Pisa, but getting in without setting off every alarm in the place was the problem. Anna-Marie had been right—the place was crawling with Incubi. The ugly things were ranging all over the roof, the outer walkways, and Wesley could see movement inside. 

“This is the real tragedy of the Incubi Storm,” Morgan grumbled. “Having to walk in goddamn circles! For an hour!”

“People have died, Morgan. And it’s only been fifteen minutes,” Frank said, though his voice didn’t have the sharpness Wesley would have expected. 

“I know, but it’s so boring! They’re right there!” Morgan paused. “God, it’s a good thing I’m with y’all, because my impulsive ass would’ve gotten myself killed by now. Oh, there he is.” Jack had reappeared from where he had been scouting, and gestured them forward. 

He had found a hollow tree that opened. The group shuffled down, and into a long tunnel that was surprisingly large and open, with torches lining the walls. “Spooky,” muttered Frank. 

The torches made the tunnel wide and surprisingly light. “This must be their escape tunnel,” Wesley said. “Or at least one of them.” 

They reached the end of the tunnel and paused. They didn’t know where they would end up, once they climbed out, but it was entirely possible that they would wind up in the middle of the nest and be attacked by a bunch of Incubi. 

Morgan scrambled up and the rest of the team scrambled behind. They didn’t emerge right into a horde, which Morgan seemed slightly disappointed about. They were in a dormitory-like space, with beds everywhere. 

There were two Incubi. Both stood up slowly, eyes roving between the group. They were trying to seduce the group, trying to coerce them to drop their weapons. 

It wasn’t working. Wesley could see them become confused, glancing at each other and slowing their advance. “Nice try,” said Wesley, “But we’re immune to that shit.” She drove her sword into one Incubi’s heart. The other screeched before Morgan decapitated it. 

“Let’s get out of here before more Incubi respond to that scream,” Jack said, and they went out the door to discover a large number of Incubi charging down the hall towards them. They didn’t seem to be wasting time with seduction attempts. 

“Now this is more like it!” Morgan yelled. They charged forward, sword swinging. Jack shot a couple of Incubi and then left, vanishing to find a hiding place. Wesley and Frank followed Morgan into the fray.   

 Wesley let herself fall into familiar thought patterns, familiar movements. Dodge, block, swing, swing, avoid Frank, keep avoiding Frank, block, where’s Morgan? There they are, okay, block… 

Eventually the chaos died. Wesley looked around, at Frank and Morgan, searched for Jack and knew she wouldn’t find him. 

“That was fun! But where are the other bastards?” Morgan asked. They were right. The other Incubi should have been there. Wesley should have been drowning in Incubi. 

“Morgan, why are you always horny for murder?” Frank replied, then quieted as they began their hunt. 

Where were they? Wesley was nervous now. Incubi weren’t stupid, per se, but they weren’t strategizers. They didn’t hide in their own home. 

“Guys?” Jack’s voice floated down to them, before he himself appeared, poking over a hallway, at the top of the tower. “There’s a couple cop cars coming. Can’t hear them yet, but the Incubi must have seen the lights like I did. I think they’re in the woods to ambush.”   

“Shit,” Wesley cursed. 

“Fuck,” Frank spat, panicked. “They’re gonna die. We can’t save them from here! What are they even coming for?” 

“Calm down. You’re right, we can’t save them from here, but you’re forgetting that they’re coming towards us. They’re probably coming here, actually. So we’ll wait for them to stop, then ambush the Incubi as they ambush the cops,” Wesley said. 

“So our plan is to charge headfirst into battle with too many enemies to reasonably handle? Isn’t what I’m always getting yelled at for?” Morgan asked. 

“You got a better plan?” 

Morgan did not have a better plan. They could hear the sirens now. 

The car stopped in front of the nest. Wesley could see the cops inside, looking confused. She could also see the Incubi in the trees, waiting. 

The cops got out of the car. That was their first mistake. 

The Incubi burst out of the trees, at the same time Wesley and her squad burst out of the nest. 

The cops, who had been facing the nest, turned to see what they were charging at. That was their second mistake, and the much more serious one. 

Wesley didn’t know how the cops saw the Incubi, but she could hazard a guess. Beautiful men or women (or both), all enticing, all irresistible. Wesley just saw tall, slim humanoids with gray skin, sharp claws, and sharper teeth. 

Cop #1 was smart enough to turn away when she caught a glimpse of the Incubi. Cop #2, however, took just a little too long to follow her partner’s lead, and she dropped her gun, walking slowly into the crowd of Incubi. 

Morgan and Frank charged, and Wesley saw bolts fly through the air from Jack’s position. Wesley herself paused to tell Cop #1, “Get in your car and don’t look outside until I call you. My squad and I are gonna take care of this.”

The cop looked confused. “What about you?” 

“I’ll be fine. I’m immune to their seduction. Go!” She stayed long enough to make sure the cop did so, then started swinging. 

This time, she couldn’t just fall into a pattern. The Incubi were hungry, and angry, and there were so many of them. They tore at her hair and her clothes, and Wesley couldn’t pause for a second as she fought. Despite the need for vigilance, her mind went almost dull, and she lost her ability to gauge how much time had passed, lost her ability to think longer than a few seconds ahead.  

Slowly, she realized she could see between the Incubi now. The sun was lower in the sky now. The Incubi were still coming on strong, but now they were manageable. Wesley refused to think about how much time had passed. She could see Frank and Morgan, both looking tired, but both of them were swinging. Jack’s bolts were still coming, too. 

Finally, after God knew how much time passed, the last Incubi was dead. Cop #2 was alive, if badly shaken. Wesley called Cop #1 out of the car. 

“Do y’all have any firelighting stuff? I think we should burn this thing to the ground,” Morgan said, as if this was a normal thing to say. 

Both cops ignored them. “How did you do that? I couldn’t stop myself from going to them,” Cop #2, who had introduced herself as Suzy, asked.

“Best guess, the Incubi rely on sexual attraction to, well, attract their victims, and we don’t feel that. Hell if I know exactly why, though. What the hell were you guys doing here, anyway?” Frank said.

“We got a call for suspicious activity, someone must have seen this place. I wonder what makes you special?”

“Can we light this place on fire? If we don’t destroy it, more Incubi will come here and make it a nest again!” Morgan cut in, impatient. 

They didn’t have specific equipment, but after a brief search through the car, the nest was ablaze. 

They stayed long enough to ensure that they weren’t starting a forest fire, then left to get food and minor first-aid for battle injuries. 

It took a few days, but people noticed that Incubi attacks had gone down. They weren’t gone, probably would never actually end, but it was a marked difference. 

Wesley sat at home, on the couch next to Anna-Marie, watching some stupid movie and trying not to fall asleep. Jack, Morgan and Frank were in Frank’s room, playing a video game and occasionally yelling at each other. There hadn’t been a nearby Incubi attack in at least a week.

They could rest, for now.