The three of them fanned out immediately, forgetting that less than an hour before they’d been doing their best to kill one another. It didn’t take long to realize what had happened thought.
Laura’s car was gone.
It didn’t take long to figure out what must have happened.
The last any of them could remember having seen her was right after Maxwell had dropped his bombshell. Right after he’d revealed that their mother had been killed by some man named Percival–some man that Andi had adamantly insisted never left a certain train network no more than an hour to the south.
Of course, she must have left before they’d actually gotten to the part about him being a potential ghost. Before Andi and Jenny had told Maxwell that he was completely intangible–and thus almost certainly immune to the shotgun Laura had taken with her.
All together, that left Andi and Jenny with two options.
One option was that Maxwell was a master liar and had tricked his sister into working with him and vanishing right at the opportune moment.
The other was that Maxwell was right and Percy was the villain of the piece. In which case Andi and Jenny were in way over their head… Laura wouldn’t even have a chance.
They needed to go after her.
Maxwell sent them on ahead. He claimed that he had a faster way to get where they were going–but that he wouldn’t be able to take them with him. Andi was only too happy to see him go. Even if Andi was being completely honest, that didn’t mean she particularly liked him.
Jenny probably broke a dozen traffic laws on their way back into the city. She wasn’t talking. Andi wanted to pick her brain, to try to come up with something approaching strategy, but at the same time she really didn’t want to crash and die. So she kept quiet.
She did take stock though.
One demonic ring, fully enhanced with all that a few day’s experience of a sorcerer could bring to bear. Given all that she’d learned since, it was unimpressive to say the least. Still, it was hers. It had kept her through a number of fights, even if she hadn’t always won. It would do for one more.
Then there was the pocket watch. Once, it had been hers, but that moment was gone the moment they had decided to bind a demon to it. Now it was Jenny’s as much as the ring was hers. She thought she could deal with that.
Then there was the mirror. A pleasant surprise that, showing that it was entirely possible to mess up demonology and even get things that you didn’t plan for. But that wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world. In this case, it actually worked out for the best, granted the ability not only to walk through walls but to see what would be on the other side before you did. Crazy.
And what about Big Red? Andi still wasn’t sure what to think about that. Although it seemed that it wasn’t a particularly strange thing for a sorcerer to do–after all Maxwell had his own demon just like i–but that didn’t mean it still didn’t freak Andi out. Andi had to wonder exactly how much of that demon was based on Jenny’s putting it in and how much was somehow derived from the action figure on which it was based.
And finally, there was that last demon. For some reason, she kept forgetting about it even though it was there in the backseat of the car where it had sat basically forgotten since they’d last used it–the orange blanket that could be used to burn away just about anything.
Andi made a mental not to make sure that she wouldn’t forget it this time. Every little bit would help.
When they arrived at the northernmost train station, Jenny stopped the car and just stared straight ahead. For a long time, she didn’t say anything. They had a few minutes left at least. According to the sign by the tracks, the next train wouldn’t be arriving for about a quarter of an hour. Finally though, she couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Jenny turned. “Are we doing the right thing?”
Not the question that Andi had been hoping to hear–although not a particularly surprising one. She wasn’t sure how to respond.
“I mean, really. How can we believe either of them?”
Andi realized her mouth was hanging open. She’d been so caught up trying to weigh the options one against the other that she’d never even considered that.
But she wasn’t done. “What if they’re both lying? Even worse yet, what if they’re working together?”
Andi shook her head. “That one at least I can’t believe.”
“Do you really think that we’re a match for either one of them?”
knock knock knock
Andi spun. Maxwell stood right outside the door, grinning at them. There wasn’t another car for a half dozen spots. Not that it would have mattered anyways, he hadn’t had one when they’d left either. That would have been a nice trick to learn.
He seemed to be mouthing something. Andi should have been able to hear him at least a little even through the car window, but perhaps he didn’t want to chance being misunderstood. Rolling her eyes such that only Jenny could see, she rolled the window.
“Come on out,” he said, “time’s a wasting.”
She briefly considered resisting. What if Jenny were right? But if she were, he could take apart their car just as easily. So it wouldn’t make much of a difference either way.
It was time to force a confrontation.
The train arrived right on schedule. One of the conductors gave them all a funny look when the boarded–which was unusual in its own right–but they had been riding the train at odd times all along the entire route over the past few rights. It was possible that he would have recognized them, if unlikely. Still, he let them board without issue, not even checking for tickets.
Maxwell took the lead, heading up to the upper decker of the train car without so much as asking leave of the two women. They didn’t have much chance to do other than follow, although Andi at least did find it strange. She’d never seen Percy on the upper level of the train, he was always on the bottom. It couldn’t matter that much though.
They took seats right behind each other all on the same side on the top level. With the open divider leading down to the bottom, Andi didn’t want to take a chance that they’d be separated and apparently Maxwell felt the same way. He didn’t seem to mind either sitting in front of them. Either he was confident that they wouldn’t betray him… or he didn’t think it would be an issue.
Percy didn’t show up though.
It surprised her.
It shouldn’t have–he had to have some sort of life, didn’t he, outside of the train? Even if she’d been the one to suggest it, that didn’t mean that she necessarily really believed that he was a ghost!
Unfortunately though, with Percy not being her, she didn’t have anything in the way of closure. All she had was an awkward silence.
She realized then just how complete the silence was.
They had the car completely to themselves. She glanced around to confirm her suspicions, but there really was nothing. Just the three of them on the top floor and no one down below.
More strangely, there were no more conductors. That in itself was normal enough–they tended to move from car to car–but the fact that they’d seen one on the way in…
And the announcements. Normally, someone was on the intercom nearly continuously, announcing the next station.
Thinking back, Andi couldn’t really remember the last time she’d heard it. She was pretty sure she’d hear one when she’d gotten on… but after that, it was all sort of a blur.
It wasn’t completely silent thought. There were still the sounds of the train and the outside world passing them by. Just nothing inside.
“Do you notice that?” she said. Her voice almost seemed to echo in the emptiness.
Jenny looked over and Maxwell turned back in his seat. “What?” Jenny asked. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“Exactly,” Andi said.
She watched the expressions on Jenny’s face as she went through the same thought process that Andi herself had not long before. Gradually, she looked first surprised and then a bit worried. Something strange was going on.
Of course it was.
Something strange was always going on.
Percy appeared at the next stop.
It was the same as it had been the other times. One moment he wasn’t there, the next he was. This time, he appeared in the seat in front of Jenny, two in front of Andi. By some miracle, he didn’t seem to have even noticed Maxwell yet.
“And to what do I own…”
He was cut off midsentence by an inhuman roar from the opposite side of the car. In a blur of motion, Maxwell threw himself out of his seat and across the metal shelves that divided the two sections. Before Andi could react, he’d slid across right at Percy.
Of course, he slid right through him. No matter what else had changed, Percy was still as intangible as he had ever been.
For several long moments, everyone was still. Andi and Jenny stared at Maxwell and Percy, the latter sitting still calmly in his seat, looking down at the former who now lay head first almost completely upside down in the seat.
“Well,” Percy said, “that was unexpected.”
With a flowing, casual series of motions, he stood in the narrow aisle and reached down to the back of Maxwell’s neck. Andi nearly tried to stop him–of course it wouldn’t work, he couldn’t touch things–but then Percy latched on.
With apparently no more effort than it would have taken for Andi to life her cat, Percy hoisted Maxwell up off of the seat and as close to upright as could be managed in the relatively narrow standing room.
Then, without a moment’s pause, he tossed him through the window.
The world seemed to be coming apart at the seams as an unholy crashing sound ran up and down the entire car. It wasn’t only the window that Maxwell went through the exploded, but every single window on that side of the car, top and bottom. In between one breath and the next, hundreds of shards of glass took to the air, propelled by the wind whipping by the train as it continued on its merry way.
Most were propelled outward by the force of the impact, but some small percentage at least were blown inward instead. And a small percentage of a whole heck of a lot of glass shards… was still rather a lot of glass.
There was no time to do anything but stare at the thousands of projectiles careening towards her.
Time itself seemed to slow, those selfsame shards taking longer and longer to cover the distance between her.
“Come on,” Jenny hissed at her.
Andi shook herself. That wasn’t right. Shouldn’t she sound slower? Time wasn’t working quite right, but she still sounded perfectly normal.
“We have to get out of here,” she continued.
Andi looked around the seat in front of her at her friend. It was surprisingly easy. There was no drag at all, nothing to impeded her from moving, although the glass shards soaring through the air were moving as if through molasses. Now that she took a moment to look, the scenery outside the car was moving more slowly as well.
As was Maxwell.
She had to stop and stare at that one in particular. She had just seen intangible Percy, ghost Percy, Percy that shouldn’t have been able to touch anything, take poor Maxwell and heave him effortlessly through the window. Now, he just hung there. It seemed like gravity should have taken its hold by now–but the law of gravity appeared to have been repealed. He just hung there.
Andi felt a hand move on her arm and nearly shrieked. It was only turning to see her friend standing there, pocket watch in hand, that she calmed even slightly. It looked different than Andi remembered, a little more red rather than gold… and was that a whisp of smoke.
“Come on,” Jenny said. Her voice seemed strained somehow. “I don’t know how much longer we have.”
Andi looked from her friend’s face to the pocket watch–now definitely smoking. She didn’t know how her friend had done it, but somehow she’d extended the pocket watch’s range to include the both of them. While undoubtedly cool, Jenny had a point.
Andi shook her head. “I’m not going.”
“What?” Jenny said flatly.
“We’re here for a reason,” she said.
Jenny nodded. “Right. That reason just went right out the window.” She glanced out the window, but Andi didn’t need the hint.
“Right, and that’s pretty good evidence right there that Percy’s been lying to us.”
Jenny shook her head and shifted the watch from one hand to another. Andi followed worriedly with her gaze. Was it heating up?
“Right,” Jenny said, “but you saw what he just did. What are we supposed to do?”
“Fight back!” Andi didn’t have much detail beyond that, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Jenny had bent the rules–or at least the ones that Andi had thought she’d known–giving them the perfect opening.
“How?” Jenny said. Andi opened her mouth to reply, but Jenny forestalled her. “Perhaps you don’t remember, but we can’t actually touch him.”
“What if attacking Maxwell…”
Jenny shook her head. “We can’t chance it. Plus…” she waved her hand. Andi realized then that the glass hadn’t been stopped at all, it was still moving. Just much more slowly. But even now, it was starting to speed up. Either that… or the power of the pocket watch was starting to fade.
And when it failed entirely, they were going to have rather a lot of problems to attend to. Sharp ones at that. Perhaps retreating was the better plan after all.
She started to get up, to pull away from Jenny’s continued contact on her arm.
Jenny suddenly blinked. “Don’t. Do. That.” she breathed. She sounded out of breath. Like she’d just been punched in the gut.
Andi shook her head. “What?”
“Let. Go of me.” she continued. “It has to be direct contact.”
One of these days, Andi was really going to have to catch up on that book. That was definitely on the list of things that would have been really helpful to know. Perhaps they could use it to their advantage somehow?
Then Andi caught sight once again of the pocket watch. It was clearly smoking now, there was no question of it. Jenny could no longer even hold it directly in her hand. She had it by the chain, yet even with just that little bit of metal touching her skin, Andi thought she could hear a faint sizzling sound. That would be her imagination. It had to be her imagination.
“Together then,” she said, rising carefully, so as not to dislodge Jenny’s grasp on her arm.
It was awkward, navigating around the tight space, but they made it. Just in time too. About halfway down the stairs, it felt like the entire world suddenly lurched. Andi pitched forward, finally losing touch with Jenny completely, but it didn’t much matter. There was a tremendous clattering from above and Andi felt tiny pinpricks of something landing slowly on the back of her neck.
Luckily, between the various walls in the spiral stairway, the glass slowed down enough that it didn’t even break her skin.
It was loud though.
Andi turned at the bottom of the stairs, looking up the gap between the upper aisles. Percy was standing there with his back to him. The strange thing about him, the thing that she’d always found strange, was that he didn’t look particularly transparent. He looked just as solid as her or Jenny. But up until just a few moments ago, he hadn’t felt the same.
The breeze blowing in the broken windows was intense. They weren’t moving that quickly–far more slowly than a car would have been, although quicker at least than walking speed. The bigger problem was how the car was vibrating. It had never been designed to deal with one window blowing out but not the other, the balance between the two windows was causing issues.
Not as much trouble as Percy though.
He finally turned.
“You have no idea what you’ve done.”
He looked right at them. He didn’t even have to track. It was as if he’d known exactly where they were the entire time.
His voice was calm. Eerily so. For all that feat of sheer strength, he wasn’t even breathing hard.
Andi wanted to just ignore him, but that point was long past. Not with him staring at them like that.
“Why did you have to bring him here? You were supposed to kill him.”
For someone that hadn’t even sounded particularly sure that Maxwell was their target, he might at least have mentioned that fact. Of course, he probably knew them well enough for that at least. If he had explicitly told them to kill him, they wouldn’t have gone for it…
She was saved having to come up with a response by Jenny. “What is with you two.”
As if Maxwell hadn’t told them the entire story.
Percy shook his head, chuckling slightly. He still hadn’t moved from his original position on the second floor. “I’m sure he told you.” He seemed to be half talking to himself at this point. “What else could have convinced you? I should have seen that one coming. Next time. Next time…”
Next time? Andi thought. Was he really already moving on to planning ahead? What exactly was he planning on doing with the two of them then?
A thud against the side of the car cut off that train of thought. She spun towards the blown out windows, catching sight of something large and black, keeping up with the train.
She hadn’t noticed before–keeping track of Percy was doing that to her–but the train had slowed. It was slight enough that she hadn’t felt it, but they were almost stopped now.
That made it easy for the black tentacled beasty to keep pace with the car. Easy to give it enough time to bat against the train car with what would have passed for a shoulder. If it had shoulders. If it even had arms, rather than tentacles.
It was the same demon that had attacked the train before.
This couldn’t be a coincidence.
The biggest problem was that it still wasn’t enough evidence to condemn either Maxwell or Percy. One of the two of them had attacked them with the demon, but it could have been either.
Percy could have been telling the truth and Maxwell was after the book. He knew that Andi had it and was trying to take her out of the picture.
Just as easily though, it could have been Percy. The demon had shown up at the perfect time, right when Andi had needed convincing. He had fought it off, but what did that really mean? Andi had run, leaving Percy to fend off the demon. If he’d summoned it in the first place…
The demon hit the side of the train again. For a moment, it tilted up on two wheels completely losing touch with the ground. It slammed back down, tilting slightly back the other way with a terrible screech of metal on metal.
Perhaps who had summoned it wasn’t their biggest problem at the moment.
Finally the train came to a stop. Whether because it had been slowing down the entire time or if the demon had had something to do with it, Andi neither knew nor particularly needed to know.
Percy didn’t seem to be paying the demon any mind. He was still focused on the two women on the lower deck. That was damning evidence in itself, wasn’t it?
The demon hit the side of the car again, drawing Andi’s attention back down. At least it didn’t seem to have realized that there wasn’t a window to hold it back any more. It was large enough that it could never have fit through the gap, but those tentacles likely could have.
Now that she could see it up close, she could confirm a suspicion she’d had before, but couldn’t quite get out of her her head. It was the same type as the one that had dropped out of the sky at them, tentacles and all. It seemed bigger somehow, and hadn’t they dealt with that one? But it at least supported the idea that whoever had sent one of them had sent the other. Which really didn’t tell them anything…
Then it figured out who to get into the car. As it whipped through the air, Andi only had time to respond because she was facing the correct direction. Jenny, previously facing her, wasn’t so lucky. Andi didn’t even have time to warn her. Andi ducked down and Jenny was knocked over her head, colliding with her back in mid flight. She hit one of the corners of the doors out of the car and lay still.
Andi didn’t have time to worry, not with more tendrils seeking weaknesses in the broken window. One, two, four, half a dozen. Things were going to get ugly in her really quickly.
“StÃ¤rken.” She didn’t see anything obviously a weapon nearby, so without thinking about about how mad an idea it was, she reached down to one of the seat right beside her and yanked. It didn’t give at first, but pulling more and more strength from the ring, she finally wrenched it up. It came away, the metal itself tearing with a loud grinding noise.
Another tendril whipped passed and she beat it with the chair.
It wasn’t anything like the metal bars she was starting to get used to fighting with, but it worked well enough. The tendril paused, beaten back and slithered directly back out the window.
“Jenny,” Andi called out, not daring to look down at her friend to confirm her worst suspicions. She didn’t have time. If she looked down, she would be clobbered by one of the tendrils.
No response. Another tendril swung by. Andi ducked, hitting it as it passed her. It withdrew, but there were another three where that came from. She wasn’t doing any good right here.
As the next tendril whipped by, she dropped face down on the floor. She’d aimed so that she was facing Jenny. Her heart froze for a moment, until she noticed the faint rise and fall of her breathing. At least she hadn’t hit that hard. It still couldn’t be good if she didn’t seem to be rising yet. If there was one thing that the internet had taught her, it was that a head wound that kept you knocked out for any significant amount of time was far worse in real life than the movies.
“Jenny,” she shook her arm. That was another thing–you weren’t supped to move someone with potential head damage–but they had bigger problems now.
She shifted slightly, making a sound that could have been anything. At least she seemed close to conscious. That was something. “Come on, Jenny, wake up. We have to get out of here.”
Glancing up to make sure the tendrils were still whipping above her head and hadn’t decided to come down any closer yet, she started inching forward. Interesting, the ring actually made this a much more easy process than she would have expected. it took a lot of effort to crawl, but the ring let her scoot along almost as quickly as she could have walked. It helped her keep her balance so that even when she tgot a hand under Jenny’s cooler and started to pull her, it wasn’t impossible to get her to move along with her.
She whimpered slightly as she started to slide, her eyelids fluttering. Was that a good sign? A bad one?
There was a solid sounding thud–something organic hitting metal–right behind her. Definitely a bad sign.
She glanced over her shoulder.
Percy was standing there. His arms had elongated into blades. He looked like a fighting machine.
Moment of truth. Had he come to help them? Or to hunt them?
He didn’t say a word. A single swing of his blade-arm, cutting only inches from Andi’s leg, passing through the floor of the car like butter answered that question. It also meant that he was corporeal again.
“Crap.” She started to slide faster. It wasn’t going to be enough though.
Jenny was muttering something. Andi couldn’t quite make it out. She leaned closer, keenly aware that she was taking time they likely didn’t have. But if she were making the effort…
“Aw… gin…” It sounded like she was saying. That didn’t make terribly much sense though.
“Augen?” Andi repeated. She could have sworn that she saw Jenny smile.
Then, several things started happening very quickly, too quickly to completely distinguish between one another.
There was a crashing thud from the other direction, right behind her towards the door of the car. She didn’t even glance back, but she thought i might have been the doors to the car. Something big had just hit them.
At the same time, one of the tendrils whipped forward right towards Percy. With a smooth motion, he brought up one of his arms and neatly bisected it. One bit whipped back out, spraying a thunk, inky, black fluid as it went. The other smashed into one of the seats and started to wiggle all over of its own accord.
And finally, something made a deep growling sound from somewhere roughly beneath her. She felt it growing beneath her, whatever it was. Rolling out of the way–of whatever was behind her, or beneath her, or the bladed arm behind her she didn’t know.
A large dark form, already the size of a reasonably sized dog and growing rapidly appeared where she had been sitting. It took her a moment to recognize it. It was only when it spoke, that pleasant tenor voice belying the rapidly growing bulk, that she determined what in the world was going on.
“I appreciate your moving miss, but why have you summoned me and not the master?”
The master? Jenny was going to have a talking to, should they get out of this alive. either that or she was going to come back and haunt the woman.
“We need a distraction,” she said.
“From?” He was already larger than she was now and half laying on her arm. Thinking back to how large he was at full size, she began to wonder if perhaps this hadn’t been so great an idea. Not that she actually remembered the command word that was necessary to reduce him in size. She could have started spouting relevant phrases in German easily enough, but based on the one activation word that she knew, that wouldn’t do terribly much good.
She was saved having to answer by a blade flying through the air right to her face. She didn’t have time to react… but didn’t need to. Big Red had all the time he needed.
He threw up two big beefy arms–now nearly each as wide around as Andi–up, catching the blade in midair. Andi caught sight of Percy’s face behind the blade, a mask of rage disrupting the otherwise normal calm.
He didn’t seem at all happy to see an autonomous demon there like that.
It was just the distraction Andi needed though. At the very least, Big Red was now big enough that she wasn’t sure Percy even could get around her. So that at least would buy them some time.