There was a sudden blur and a quick sound, something like the sound a whip might make.
Another blur and this time a thin red line appeared across the demon’s ink black flesh.
What in the world?
This time the blur slowed just after the sound. Only for a fraction of a second, but it was at least long enough for Andi to recognize what was going on.
She looked over to the side of the elevator where she’d been flung against the button. Of course, she wasn’t sitting there any more. At some point in those few seconds while Andi had been staring at the beast, she had activated her ring.
Andi wasn’t sure what she was hitting the demon with, but at least she was giving her something of an edge. She fully intended to take advantage of it.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall; as the old saying goes.
Well the old saying was crap.
The demon was certainly big. She would give it that.
But getting it to fall was another thing entirely.
The room they were in was wide open and almost completely featureless. The tops of the walls curved away a little bit so that there really wasn’t much in the way of upper corners. They glowed a faint white, making the entire structure look impressively modern.
Other than that, there were three doors, spaced evenly across and to either side of the elevator doors. She couldn’t really be sure without stopping to think about it, but she would have been willing to bet that they lined up perfectly with the points of a compass rose.
Unfortunately, there was nothing she could use as a weapon.
Nothing but her fists.
Punching the demon was like hitting a brick wall. Even with the ring absorbing the brunt of the blows, it still hurt like hell. Basically breaking her hand on the top of the elevator car probably didn’t hurt.
The only thing that was really keeping her alive though was Jenny. Zipping around as she was, the demon couldn’t quite get a hand on her. Andi knew that it would only take once–at the speed she was running, there was no way that would end well–but so far he hadn’t managed to connect. Jenny, on the other hand, had left a dozen or so seeping red lines all over the demon’s hide. It didn’t seem to be slowing it down in any sort of permanent manner, but at least it was distracting.
The biggest problem was that they weren’t making any progress. Andi was feeling the strain, and she was sure Jenny would be as well. The demon didn’t seem to be tiring at all.
They needed a solution.
“Cover me!” Andi called out. Hopefully Jenny could hear her at the speeds she was going. She could only hope.
Time to run.
Picking completely at random, she took off towards the right door.
The demon’s head followed her and it took a step after her, but just then Jenny landed another blow, leaving a long bloody strip down one the demon’s leg. Letting loose another of those terrifying bellows, the demon turned back and swung its gigantic hammer in a huge arc.
She was going to have to get back sooner rather than later.
The doorway leading out of the room was slightly curved towards along the top, just like the ceiling. It was a little strange, but now wasn’t the time for admiring the scenery.
With a heave that likely would have taken a more typical door off of its hinges, Andi swung the door open.
Andi didn’t even think when she hear Jenny’s voice. She ducked.
Not a moment too soon. There was a whooshing sound just over her head and then a terrifying clang as the demon’s hammer impacted the door right above her, followed by a continuous crash as the door shattered into a thousand pieces, the same as the elevator had before.
She had a moment, lying there on the floor as she was, to wonder what in the world that material even was. Some sort of glass? Ceramic perchance? It didn’t really matter, but there was a part of her brain that just wouldn’t shut up about it.
Not something she wanted with the demon’s hammer swinging right above her head.
In a burst of either brilliance or utter stupidity, she reached up and grabbed the hammer.
One part of her was trusting that her demon enhanced strength would be enough to keep hold of the demon. However, the demon’s demon enhanced strength was more than enough to disabuse her of that notion.
It yanked her off the floor and she held on her for her very life. Danging in the air as the demon held her there, two things become abruptly apparent.
Maxwell did in fact seem to be a sorcerer.
Andi and Jenny were way out of their league.
With that thought, the demon flung her across the room.
She hit the edge of the very same door that the demon had destroyed earlier. On the edge like that, she hit and spun, circling a full three times down the hallway she’d only had a glimpse of earlier before coming to a sliding halt on the floor.
Slowing from a blur, Jenny appeared right in front of her. She had had hands on her knees and was breathing hard. Andi was surprised to see that at first, but she must have booking it even within the sped up time of the pocket watch just to stay in front of the demon.
“We need to get out of here,” she said, very nearly panting between words.
“Agreed.” Andi was having problems breathing as well, but because of the impact when she’d hit the door rather than pure physical exertion.
“Run for it?”
Andi nodded. Something had been bothering her though. “What about Laura?”
Jenny looked down.
“She’s not…” Andi couldn’t quite bring herself to say it. She was Maxwell’s brother. Didn’t that mean anything?
Jenny shook her head. “No, no… Well, I don’t think so. I lost track of her.”
“Hey, you try watching and innocent and a demon at the same time.”
Of course the demon choose right then to remind them of its presence–as if they could have forgotten. It was trying to force its way into the hallway they’d gone down, but finally its size was working against it. It couldn’t fit anything more than its head down the hall.
Unfortunately, that also mean that its head between them and their way out.
Andi turned the other way, trying to figure out where they were going. The hallway went on for a bit then immediately T’ed so that they couldn’t see around the corners. There was enough light–the same soft white lighting was inlayed into the ceiling here as it was out in the main room.
Andi looked back at Jenny only to catch her watching her in turn. “Back or further in?” Andi asked.
Jenny looked down the hallway and shrugged. She looked like she was really struggling. She turned back to Andi and her eyes went wide. Without saying a word, she shoved Andi’s shoulder towards the floor.
Out of habit, Andi fought the motion, but only for a moment before she fell to the floor. So rather than hitting her head on, the gigantic silver hammer only clipped the top of her head as it whizzed through the air down the hallways.
She heard a massive clang at the end of the hall and her vision filled with brilliant lights. She didn’t think the two were directly related, but her thoughts weren’t quite following their usual progression.
She felt hands on her shoulders pushing her against the wall. There was another sound of something loud moving through the air. She thought it must have been the hammer returning to its master, although her eyes still weren’t quite behaving.
She felt rather than saw something pulling at her hands. It took her a moment to realize… Her ring. Someone was trying to steal her ring.
She swung out, using the power of the ring to augment her blow and felt a glancing blow. She could barely make out shadows and light right in front of her roughly in the shape of a person, but she couldn’t make out anything in the way of details.
She tried to swing again, but the shadowy figure caught her hand and yanked off the ring. Immediately, she felt the strength flowing from her. It was only then that she realized just how much damage she’d done to herself in this most recent fight. The ring had taken most of the blow and suppressed the rest while she was wearing it, but not that it was gone…
The world was an odd mix of whites and blacks, appearing almost staticy to her field of vision. A part of her knew that wasn’t at all good, but the larger part of her just couldn’t be made to care.
With that ringing in her ears and static in her vision, she collapsed against the wall.
Her last conscious thought was incongruously of rising. She had just enough time left to thing what in the world before she lost it entirely.
She came to sitting in the passenger seat of Jenny’s car. Jenny was sitting in the driver’s seat, but they didn’t appear to be moving. Andi looked around.
So far as she could tell, they were sitting in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. She didn’t recognize the area, but then again she didn’t often head out to the north of the city. What she didn’t know though was why they were there.
She looked back over at Jenny and realized that she wasn’t awake. Andi freaked for a moment, worrying that something terrible had happened, until her more rational mind caught up and realized that she had to have been in at least good enough shape to get them this far. She was probably just exhausted.
She had to believe that she was just exhausted.
“I’ll get us some food.” She realized that she was talking to herself, but at the moment it didn’t much matter. It wasn’t like there was anyone that was listening to her anyways.
When she got back with a nice collection of sandwiches–probably a few too many too be honest–Jenny was awake. She still seemed a bit out of it, but she didn’t mention any problems in particular, so Andi didn’t ask. She just pulled out a pair of sandwiches and handed the rest of the bag to Jenny. Jenny nodded her thanks and the two of them dug in in silence.
“We have to go back.”
Andi paused, burger halfway to her mouth.
“We can’t just leave Laura down there.”
She put the burger back down. She’d considered that, but it just wasn’t that easy.
“She should be fine.”
Jenny stared. “How can you say that?”
Jenny waved her comment away. “Sure, but you saw that demon. Do you want to absolutely count on family being enough?”
Andi didn’t say anything. There wasn’t over much that she could say.
“It was hard enough to get you out,” Jenny half muttered.
Andi hadn’t asked, mostly because she was already pretty sure that she’d figured out the answer.
“Thank you for that, by the way.” She really did mean it.
Jenny smiled slightly. “Any time.”
It went a long way to earning back the trust that Andi never should have lost. How could have been so stupid? They’d been friends for years. She knew her friend better than that. Of course she wouldn’t go bad. At least not over something so simple as crazy amounts of power.
Okay, so she still wasn’t completely sure.
But it helped.
“What would we even do?” Andi asked, after a short while. “We barely got out of there the first time. If Maxwell really is holding his sister for some reason…”
“I know…” The frustration was clear in the edge of her words. “But we have to do something.”
“We could go back, see if she got out on her own.”
Jenny shook her head. “What would that prove? Either she’s there–and it’s almost certainly a trap of some kind–or she’s not.”
Andi rolled her eyes, although she had to admit that her friend had a point. “We could call the cops.”
It was Jenny’s turn to roll her eyes. “And what exactly would we tell them? That someone we barely met has been kidnapped by her own brother and is being held in his vast underground bunker.”
Andi opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out.
“We need help.”
Andi nodded. Yes, that was exactly what they’d been talking about. But it didn’t help if neither of them could come up with a way that they could get said help.
Andi should have known though that Jenny had an idea, right from that first faint grin. “How do you feel about taking a train ride?”
Percy appeared before their second stop. Andi itched to ask him how he did that. He had always been there when she’d needed him and shortly as well. Did he just live on the trains?
He didn’t seem overly surprised that Maxwell had turned out to be a sorcerer, particularly one of ill repute. He’d sent them after him in the first place.
On the other hand, he didn’t seem particularly perturbed to hear that they’d lost Laura down in his underground. Honestly, he seemed far more interested in the demon that they’d thought.
He seemed to be of the opinion that there had been two demons. For some reason, he seemed to be convinced that the way the demon had thrown the hammer meant that they had to be distinct entities.
Jenny had nodded along with him. Andi just didn’t overmuch care. One demon or two, they still had a rogue sorcerer to deal with and a charge to rescue.
The worst part though was that he didn’t have anything to offer them. They already seemed to know everything that he knew.
Sometimes the book choose badly–particularly if you were trying to force the matter.
Sometimes you got second hand sorcerers, trained by others without actually having direct instruction.
Andi had finally relented and passed this information along to Jenny. She thought it certain that she would figure her right out, that she would know that Andi had thought she was one of the two.
But Jenny didn’t say anything. Either she didn’t think of herself in those terms, or she just didn’t care.
Maxwell, on the other hand was purely in the first category. Percy seemed to know more than he was letting on, but the fact that the book had previously belonged to Maxwell was never in question. They seemed to have even more history than that, but whenever Andi asked, Percy would just say that it wasn’t relevant to the current situation. If they needed to know, he promised that he would tell them.
“So what should we do?” Jenny finally asked.
That was something that Andi wanted to know as well, but she wasn’t quite into asking so directly.
Percy was silent for several long seconds. “I… don’t know.” Lovely“Personally… I would not worry about this Laura.”
He’d expressed much the same sentiment earlier. Andi wasn’t sure if he really thought that she would be fine or if he just didn’t care.
“Let’s assume for the moment that that’s not an option.” Jenny said.
Percy bowed his head. “In which case, it appears that you have no choice at all. You must attack.”
“We can’t,” Andi said. “We barely made it out with our lives last time.” Each time she really thought through the implications of that, she thanked Jenny again–up until she explicitly told her to stop it.
Still, she thought the point was a solid one. Going back was all well and good… but they needed something more to go on. They couldn’t just go back in and get theirs butts handed to them once again. What would that prove? What would that accomplish?
“We could use Big Red,” Andi said.
Both Jenny and Percy turned to look at her, the former thoughtful and the latter just a bit confused.
“Do you think it would work?” Jenny said, followed shortly by Percy with, “Big Red?”
“Well, isn’t that what you made him for?” Andi asked, for the moment ignoring Percy. Let him feel what it felt like to figure out everything through nothing more than context clues for a little while. “For that matter, why didn’t you let him loose the first time?”
Jenny lowered her eyes.
“I don’t know.”
“You had him with you, didn’t you?”
“I don’t actually know what abilities you gave him, but couldn’t that have evened the odds a bit?”
She nodded slowly. “I guess so. I just…”
“You just what?”
“I thought that we could take it.”
Andi wasn’t quite sure how to react to that one.
“I thought it would be fine. We have all sorts of demons. We’ve killed several of them.” Her voice dropped. “I thought we could handle it.”
Percy finally spoke up them, his voice carefully level. “That’s not ever an assumption you should ever make.” Both women turned towards him. “There’s always someone worse.”
There really wasn’t much you could say to that…
They ended up riding the train all of the way to the end of the line and back again, talking all of the while. Percy, it seemed, had some sort of influence over the ticket checkers.
This time around, neither Andi nor Jenny had to leave at the end of the line, they just waited until they could head back. Better yet, even when the conductors came around looking for tickets, their eyes seemed to glaze over and they went right by the three of them.
Surely it wasn’t the most ethical of situations, but for the moment, Andi was willing to ignore that. It would have been prohibitively expensive to actually pay for two full runs across all of the zones and it wasn’t actually busy enough that they were taking up anyone else’s seat. Perhaps another day she would worry more about it, but for the moment there were larger problems to deal with.
It turned out that Percy had a surprising depth of knowledge considering the intricacies of summoning combat demons. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising.
He wasn’t particularly forthcoming when it came to revealing more about his own nature; after Andi had lost the time when he claimed to have first explained it. It wasn’t that he specifically refused to answer, just that he always seemed to have a more important topic to change to.
Still, he had significantly more experience with demons than Andi or Jenny did. That much was sure.
So far as equipping themselves for war, he had a few suggestions.
Brute force was not the way to go. Once he pointed it out, Andi had to agree–Maxwell’s demon was approaching the limits of what one could easily do with a physical fighter. Instead, they needed to fight smart. They needed to outsmart the demon.
The problem thought with outsmarting a demon was that they were–by definition–beings of pure Mind. It was almost trivial to put in a demon the sum of martial arts knowledge of all of humanity; all you needed was some way to get hold of said information. But that came back to fighting them.
Instead, you had to trick them. It seemed so stereotypical–making demons seem more like machines than living beings–but the one great advantages humans had over most demons was the spark of creativity. The ability to do something so off the wall impossible that a rational thinking Mind wouldn’t considered it… But that might just work.
When they got going, Andi and Jenny had all sorts of mad ideas. Percy wasn’t quite so giving, but he did act as a good filter for the ideas that wouldn’t possibly work and those that might just be made enough to work.
Their last question though, just before returning to the northernmost station and their car, was perhaps the most interesting of all.
That was right when Jenny asked, “so why don’t you come with us?”
Andi just stared at her. When she actually thought, she couldn’t exactly put a finger on why, but she’d never actually considered asking.
Percy considered for a while. At first, Andi thought that once again he wouldn’t answer. Just when she was giving up hope though, he took a deep breath.
“You can’t or you won’t?” Jenny countered, a bit more sharply than Andi likely would have.
“Can’t. As I’ve said before, I’m not human.” As if that was even possible to forget, what with the seeming complete lack of an ability to interact with anything other than that demon the second time Andi had met him. “What I am… has rules.”
“What sort of rules.”
“Suffice it to say, I cannot leave this train.”
Andi thought back. That couldn’t be right. “But I’ve seen you on different trains.”
“Have you now?” he said. He sounded amused.
Andi thought back. She definitely had. She had to have. What was the chance that the half dozen or so times she’d seen him so far that she’d always gotten onto the same train. It just didn’t make sense.
Then again, neither did demons.
Just then, the announcer came on to tell them they were at the end of the line. Andi could have sworn they weren’t so far.
Had Percy done something?
Had she lost time again?
But it didn’t matter.
The train was stopping. This time the conductors were looking at her. Whatever magic had kept her unnoticed was gone. She only had a matter of moments until she had to get off.
She turned back to Percy… But he had vanished.
“You know, that’s really annoying…” Jenny said.
“You too?” Andi replied. It was pretty impressive that he had managed to get the both of them to look away at the same time. Perhaps they hadn’t. Perhaps he had disappeared from one’s view and then the others. Perhaps someone was messing with their perceptions of time yet again.
Really, it didn’t much matter. The point was he was gone. They were on their own again. They had a basic idea for what needed to be done, but they’d already burnt enough time. If they were going to have any chance to save Laura–and it might already be too late–then they had to go now.
They made it back to the winery only a few hours after they had left. That shouldn’t have been possible–a full trip from north to south and back took longer than that–but Andi had given up on trying to figure out exactly what was possible and what was not any more.
During the drive over, they discussed the vast majority of the plans that they’d come up with Percy. One by one, they shot them down. Either they weren’t sure that they could pull them off or they were just flat out to risky. Perhaps they would get there in the end, but not just yet.
And then they got to the winery.
Jenny froze mid sentence. Andi followed her gaze, and was struck dumb herself.
Laura was standing on the road right outside the winery, waving at them as if she expected them.
Andi and Jenny turned to look at one another.
“Trap?” Jenny said.
Exactly what Andi had been thinking. “Probably. But do we have a choice?”
Jenny considered for a moment and then shook her head. In their discussion with Percy, they’d considered traps, but not seriously. And never had they thought that the trap would be sitting there waiting for them up top, they’d thought it would be back down in Maxwell’s hidey hole.
“What do we do?” Jenny asked.
She was already pulling into the parking at the winery. There was still no one else there. Andi hadn’t previously considered it, but that was another on the long list of the strange. Shouldn’t a winery by busier than this? Particularly on a weekend?
That was another problem for another day though. They were stopped now and Laura had come up to Andi’s window on the passenger side.
Before the car had even stopped, Andi opened the door and stepped out. Laura looked a little surprised, but if this was a trap Andi wanted to get as much of an edge as she could.
“Hey, welcome back,” Laura said.
She certainly didn’t sound like someone who’s world had been turned upside down. Nor like the focus of a trap. Andi’s reply was hesitant. “Hello.”
“So, all ready?”
Andi glanced back at Jenny; she was out of the car now. “Ready?”
Laura smiled. She sounded almost creepily cheerful. “Ready to break into my brother’s lair. What else?”