She jerked her head up.
Maxwell stood there, towards the doors on one side–the side without the demon banging at the door. She How had he gotten over there? Hadn’t he been thrown out of the train on the opposite side just a little big before? For that matter, hadn’t he been thrown out a window? He looked absolutely none the worse for the wear. He could have just stepped onto the car, a normal passenger.
Well, normal given the odd sorts that you tended to already see in the city. That much jewelry was a bit unusual even so.
“Should be enough to keep him off our backs for a bit. Your demon’s a heck of a fighter for how new you are at all this.”
Andi didn’t quite know how to take that. Was he trying to complement her or reinforce the fact that he had a lot more practice than they did.
“Thank you.” Andi jerked again. Eventually she was going to have to stop doing that. This time it was Jenny’s voice. Weak, but very much conscious once again.
“Ah, one of yours then,” Maxwell said. He nodded down to her. “Very nice. Unfortunately, i have a feeling that you’re about to need another.”
“What?” Andi said.
A sickening meaty sound followed by a wet thud from behind answered the question for him. Andi turned yet again, finding herself face to face with… well, Big Red’s face. The rest of him still stood, still wedged into place between the seats. He wasn’t going to be a distraction for much longer though. Not without a head.
“We should probably get out in the open,” Maxwell said.
Andi nodded. It made sense. There was no good way to fight more than one on one in the goth confines of the car and in that situation Percy had all of the advantages. They couldn’t even bring Maxwell’s demon to bear, not without an even worse reaction than they’d had with Big Red.
There was one potential problem though. “You okay?” she asked Jenny.
She nodded. She seemed to be moving well enough. No obvious signs of a concussion or anything worse. Then again, some of the worse wounds might only show up far too late.
That was just a risk they were going to haves to take.
Maxwell had a hand extended to either of them. Andi considered ignoring it, but what would that gain them?
She reached out. Took his hand.
A feeling like electricity ran up her arm. It was faint, but definitely there. In fact, she could remember only one time she she’d felt something quite like that. Back when she’d first touched the book. That had been closer to falling, but at the very least the two feelings were close cousins.
Then he had lifted her to her feet. He must have had som sort of strength boosting demon of his own, to lift her straight up off the ground like that. It could have been any one of those rings or necklaces.
To her side, he lifted Jenny as well, with apparently just as little effort. There was barely enough room for the three of them and that only because they were standing in the car entrance. The door was still open where Maxwell must have hit it. One of the doors was hanging at a slight angle, the other wasn’t even attached any more at all.
Yup. Definitely a strength boosting demon.
Without another word, he led them out of the car.
They had to jump down to the ground. This was the second time that Andi had gotten off of the train not at a station–the second time because of the dssame demon fro that matter–but it still felt strange. Like she was breaking the rules. Her intuition told her to stop it, to go back on the train, to follow the rules. Luckily, a stronger part of her knew that was an absolutely terrible idea.
A massive thud sounded from the train behind her and she pitched forward off the last step. She barely caught herself as the wild screech of the train settling back onto both sides of wheels sounded behind her. Apparently the tendrilled demon had gotten tired of being cut apart within the car and thought it more amusing to try and knock it over again.
Either that or Percy had commanded it to. She could only imagine the damage that would do if a train car were to land on her….
Luckily, it didn’t seem quite strong enough.
Not yet at least.
“So,” Maxwell said. “What do you have?”
He sounded too calm. Not at all like someone that had rescued two women from a demonic attack–not that they had needed rescuing, Andi was quick to think.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Demon-wise. What sort of firepower do you have?”
Had Jenny been bluffing after all? Was there really no way to tell what was a demon and what wasn’t? Or perhaps it was only sensitive enough to detect if something was a demon or not. Not what we could do.
“Mirror,” Jenny said, “let’s us walk through walls.”
Andi continued for her, holding up her hand. “My ring. General fighting skills. Strength, speeds, the works.”
It couldn’t hurt to make them sound at least a little better, now could it?
He nodded. “And?”
Andi thought wildly. The pocket watch? No. Jenny had dropped it when it had burned out back on the train. She’d seen it lying on the floor back in there melted and reformed, nearly a third of it closer to puddle than watch. She doubted the demon could have survived that.
Big Red? Not so much. Even a demon couldn’t survive a beheading. At least not one in a humanoid form like that. Along with the strengths of a body came the weaknesses, as the book seemed fond of saying.
The fire blanket? She’d folded it up in her bag, but what in the world was she going to do with that? That was really better at getting rid of evidence, it took too long for anything approaching a target that was fighting back.
Maxwell shook his head. “I know you have more than that. There’s the big guy, sure. But what about the time dilation? That’s one nice chronodemons.”
Chronodemon? Was that really a thing? Andi shook her head. “Burnt out.”
He eyed them for a moment. “Burnt out?”
Wait, was that not something she was supposed to have said? It couldn’t be that uncommon to push a demon that hard. He’d been at this years longer than they had, surely he must have done it before.
Maxwell was looking from one of them to the other now though. “That’s it?” He shook his head. “Heck, now I wish I were the bad guy.”
Not the sort of thing Andi had been hoping to hear.
“Here,” he said. Reaching up to one of his necklaces without looking, he broke the band, pulling it off from around his neck. Seemingly out of nowhere, a sword appeared in his hand. An honest to God sword. The blade was thicker than Andi would have expected and nearly two feet long. There had to have been some real trickery to hide that thing away, in a necklace no less.
He tossed it to Andi. She was so surprised, she nearly didn’t catch it. Barely getting one hand around it though, she steadied it.
He said something then in a language Andi couldn’t hope to identify. The syllables were too liquid yet somehow too sharp. They didn’t sound quite like something that should have been possible to come from a human mouth, but he managed. Somehow, he managed.
The sword grew lighter in her hand. Experimentally, she twirled it. She couldn’t say what had gotten into her; she didn’t have the slightest idea how to do that… But it worked. The blade moved naturally, curving in a wide arc forward, down, then back up. It was like the sword knew what it wanted and gave her whatever she needed to pull it off. The power of combining that with her own ring was intoxicating.
“Don’t get carried away,” Maxwell said. She realized that she’d continued to swing the blade in ever increasingly fast arcs. Swish, swish, swish, it cut through the air. “It’s not as good as it thinks it is.” The blade stopped dead. She would have said that she’d stopped the blade dead in the air, but that wasn’t quite right. The blade moved with her, but it wasn’t strictly speaking moved by her.
He turned to Jenny. “Unfortunately, chronodemons aren’t my speciality. Perhaps some armor plating?” He reached up to another necklace, this one a silvery star hung on a pure black band. Andi wondered what in the world he could have made it out of, it didn’t shine at all, but rather seemed to be soaking in the light. “It’ll make you heavier as well. Almost impossible for someone to move you, although you’ll be able to move just fine.”
Jenny smiled slightly, moving her neck as if stretching. “That would be nice.” To keep from getting tossed about again, Andi thought. Nice. “Going to need some firepower too though.”
“Picky picky,” Maxwell said. He started to reach up around his neck to pull down yet another necklace. Just then, a massive black form dropped from the sky, directly on top of him.
Andi was blown backwards from the force of the explosion. She caught sight of Jenny careening in the opposite direction–if only he’d actually activated the thing–then she hit the side of the car and all thought fled.
For a moment, stars danced in front of her eyes and the corners of her vision seemed to retreat. She didn’t lose consciousness, but it was a near thing. She watched, half stunned, as the black mass of tendrils expanded outwards, returning to full form.
How in the world did you get something like that up in the air? she had time to think. Then a whole mess of said tendrils were coming right for her.
She ducked, avoiding the first pair. The next came in low and she had to jump over them. She’d long ago lost her chair, but the sword Maxwell had given her swung down with a mind of her own as she jumped, slicing a tendril off at what would otherwise have been the shoulder.
Black blood–too thick to be blood, but what else to call it–sprayed. She landed on a sheet of the stuff, almost losing her balance. It was as slick as ice and didn’t give a bit. Only the extra balance afforded her by her ring allowed her to keep her feet, but even that was a near thing.
She took a moment to assess the situation.
There was a demon right in front of her. Somewhere under that mass of demon was Maxwell. She could only hope that he was till alive. There wasn’t time to look.
And on the other side, Jenny. With an armored demon to her name, but no way to activate it. Not without Maxwell.
That left her with the only firepower.
She was going to have to go on the offensive.
She charged forwards, a wordless roar tearing from her throat. It hadn’t been a conscious effort, but it just felt so right. She swung the blade lightly back and forth, around and around. When she hit the demon, it just kept swinging.
Through thick, rubbery black flesh, it kept swinging.
Through a spray of black blood that clung to her and itself with a tenacity not unlike glue, it kept swinging.
Even when the beast turned silently towards her, focusing all of its attention on the annoying gnat that was biting it, it kept swinging.
The thing didn’t make a sound as it reacted. That made her think more of the second demon of this form that had attacked them then the first, that hadn’t made a sound either. It was creepier that way. She expected the thing to be like a wild beast, roaring and grunting with effort, but it was cunningly efficient. The only sounds that came from it were the almost whistling blur of the tendrils whipping towards and then whipping away, often inches before she cut them off with her blade.
It was hard to get an accurate measure of just how many tendrils the thing had. She could count half a dozen or so at a time, but they kept whipping about. She thought they might be merging or forming as she fought, but she couldn’t quite catch it doing it. There were a few that hadn’t healed either, which seemed to indicate at least that it wasn’t healing them.
Still, half a dozen fresh tendrils all at once were a force to be reckoned with.
She kept swinging.
After a while, she lost count. There were just too many to deal with. It all started to take on a sort of rhythm. Swing. Miss. Doge. Swing. Hit. Slice. Spray.
“Um Andi, I think it’s dead.”
She turned, breathing hard.
Jenny stood there, a strange expression on her face.
Andi ignored her. She had to keep the demon busy. She was the only one with the ability to…
For the first time in while, she actually looked at what she was doing.
She was standing in front of a pile of what could only be described as black good. There was nothing left of the demon that she’d been fighting, at least nothing that was moving any longer.
The pile was smaller than it seemed like it should have been, barely up past her knees. There was perhaps one or two tendrils that she could still see roughly maintaining their shapes, but neither was moving. The rest had been sliced and diced, mixed with that slick yet somehow gluey blood until they resembled black paste.
It was dead. And had quite obviously been for some time.
“Oh,” she said. “Right.”
She lowered the sword to one side. A part of her wanted to drop it. Right then and now. The thing had taken her over. It wanted nothing but blood, and it had gotten that in spades. But another part of her knew that that had been exactly what she’d needed at that particular moment. Without the sword, she couldn’t have handled the demon.
Then she remembered one of the reasons she’d given in to the demon sword quite so completely in the first place. Why it had been so important to take down the demon, rather than just running to live and fight another day.
With a wordless cry, she dove forward into the black sticky mass.
She found Maxwell a few moments later. It took a bit longer to dig him out. The remains of the demon had the consistency of tar, thick and sticky, but it was next to impossible to really get a grip on, sliding out of her hand no matter how she tried to hold onto it.
When she finally got his face clear, she saw that he wasn’t breathing. She must have known that would be what she would find–even as she’d diced it, the thing had never moved from its initial position on top of him. But she didn’t want to believe it.
She knew what had to be done. She had seen the scene in movies often enough and had even taken the CPR training, although that had been years ago. The only thing holding her back was the black bits of demon that still refused to let loose his face. Well, that and the idea of putting her mouth to another’s who until recently she’d been sure had been trying to kill her. She still wasn’t entirely sure that wasn’t the case.
It had to be done though. She at least had to make an effort.
She leaned in…
And jumped away in pain. She wasn’t sure what it was, but it almost felt as if one of the necklaces had bit her. Of course that was impossible.
She looked down at them. Nothing looked particularly out of the ordinary. Except…
One of them was glowing faintly. It was close to a cross, but slightly wrong. Rather than a straight line at the top, it was a loop. She thought it looked familiar, but she couldn’t place where she had seen it before.
A whoosh and a thud behind her caught her attention. A deep bass voice sounding out tore it away completely.
“So,” the voice said, “it is done.”
Of course it was Percy.
He was standing there, elongated into that inhuman form he favored, almost a living weapon.
“You know, I really wish it didn’t have to be this way,” he said.
Andi shook her head. “What way?” He wasn’t about to…
“If only you had just killed him like you were supposed to. We could have been great, you know.”
Andi rolled her lines. She couldn’t even think of a less stereotypical line than that. “Let me guess, we could have take over the world together. I could have ruled at your side, queen and king.”
He smiled. “Of course not. What do you take me for?” He really didn’t want her to answer that question. “No. My hopes for you were much more mundane.”
Without any hint for what he was about to do, he swung one of his bladed arms right at Andi’s head.
The sword in her hands leaped up before Andi even realized what was happening. It should have been enough to stop the blow… But his arm went right through her sword. She blinked and it went right through her head as well.
“As you can see,” he said. “I have bigger problems than ruling the world.”
Now she was just confused. Was he toying with her? She’d seen him toss Maxwell through the window.
She turned back to him. If Percy wasn’t going to kill her–or couldn’t kill her–then he was a problem that could be put off until later. Maxwell was the more pressing issue.
But he had vanished.
She stared at the spot where he had been.
It wasn’t like she didn’t have evidence–there was a Maxwell shaped indentation right there as obvious as could be. He just wasn’t in it any more.
She shook her head. Impossible. Stupid word that. It just didn’t have quite the same effect when time and time again she kept coming right up against things that shouldn’t be.
“What is it?”
She turned back to Percy. He actually had a slightly puzzled expression on his face and was craning his neck to look around Andi towards the pile of demon that had sat behind her. Had he not actually known that Maxwell had been under there? Perhaps Andi could use that.
“Nothing,” she said.
“See, I know you’re lying.”
She shook her head. “Really, it’s nothing. I was just making sure it was dead.”
The corners of his mouth turned up a bit at that. “Oh yes? I wouldn’t think that was actually an issue.” He gestured from side to side, taking in the entire black mass on the ground. “I’d say you were pretty thorough.”
Andi felt sick. It and been a demon, true, but that didn’t mean she liked being reminded about having slaughtered it so wantonly. Trying to turn the topic back, she said, “Regardless. What were you saying about me?”
“Right,” he said, raising his blade arms again. “I was saying that it’s over.”
And with that he charged.
Andi almost didn’t even bother to block. After all, he’d shown a moment ago that he was essentially impotent. Luckily, Maxwell’s sword had other ideas.
Just in time, it jerked her arms upwards, blocking a blow aimed right for her neck.
The impact slid her back nearly six inches. Her breath exploded out in a gasp. “What the hell…” It just wan’t fair for her to keep changing the rules on her like that…
“Not quite,” Percy said, “but close enough.”
Then his attack began in earnest.
It was all Andi could do to keep him off of her. If he would have been able to control his corporeality any better, to switch back and forth, she would have been dead. There was no doubt about it. But for the moment at least, he seemed as solid as her. Even more real than that, truth be told. Those bladed arms had a terrible sort of weight to them, beating her back impact after impact.
She managed to keep her footing even as he forced her across the black remains of her previous conquest, but it was a close thing. He, on the other hand, barely even seemed to notice. He just continued forward, step after step, inexorably towards her.
As he forced her back, she realized that this just wasn’t going to work. She had to try something else.
“Why?” she said. It was easier than she was expecting. Shouldn’t she be out of breath or something? Or at least distracted? But the sword seemed to be doing that for her as well. It was fighting–she was just along for the ride.
Percy raised an eyebrow at her, as if to say ‘why what?’ He remained silent though, forcing her ever back.
“What did you really want from me?” There was little question now that he had been the one trying to kill her all along, but then why in the world had he even come to her in the first place. Why couldn’t he just have left her alone…
He growled. She didn’t believe it at first, even in his most vicious, weapon like stance, he had always seemed to civilized to make a sound such as that. But there was no mistaking it. His tone still rough, he said, “you were supposed to save me.”
Andi missed a step and very nearly paid for it with her life. Her sword jerked her arms upwards even as she ducked down, pulling it out of the way. The blow echoed through the sword, shocking her hands to the core.
She couldn’t get his words out of her head though. “What? Save you? From what?”
“From myself,” he said. His attack didn’t slow though. If anything, he redoubled his efforts. “From death.”
Andi almost missed another attack. She couldn’t keep letting him surprised her like that.
“How do you figure?” She managed, taking advantage of the monetary distraction her words afforded her to push an attack. He still blocked her easily, but it was a momentary breather where to not be pushed back constantly.
“I can’t do it myself,” he said. “Not as I am. I need another sorcerer.”
She shook her head. “And this was the best you could come up with? Attacking me? That’s a terrible way to get me over to your point of view.”
A part of her wanted him to deny it, even now. It was strange, but even now, even after everything, a part of her still trusted him.
He shook his head. “It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.” He shifted in a way that Andi hadn’t been expected and landed a scoring blow along her the side of her ribs. She didn’t feel it all for a moment, but then she felt a warmth flowing on her side. That couldn’t be good–but she couldn’t even spare a moment to look down.
“So you admit it?” she said.
Moment of truth.
“Of course I did it. And you know what? I regret nothing. You’re not who I thought you would be.”
That hurt, more than it should have. “I’m not good enough?”
He actually stumbled. It surprised Andi as much as it did him, but he caught himself quickly enough. He was back on his guard before she could press his advantage. “What? Is that what you think? Nah, you’d be a fine sorcerer. The problem is that you’re just too good.”
It was Andi’s turn to be surprised. Too good? Wasn’t that what his whole charade had been enough? That only someone good enough would make a good sorcerer? That everyone else would give in to the power? It seemed though that that was what he’d really wanted all along after all.
It was turning her whole world upside down. Everything she thought she’d known…
Percy wasn’t quite done yet though. “Your friend on the other hand. Hmmm, she might just be what I’m looking for. She might just be malleable enough…”
A deafening boom sounded from right behind Percy and his head essentially disintegrated right in Andi’s eyes. There wasn’t any blood or gore, for which Andi was eternally grateful–that might just have driver her right over the edge–just a faint puff of gray smoke.
The body stood there for a few seconds, completely still, before finally sinking to its knees and the slumping forward. Even as it fell it was growing increasingly fuzzy around the edges. When it actually hit the ground, there was a much larger puff of the same gray smoke and he was gone.
Just like that. Walking, talking, fighting… whatever he was, to dust on the wind in five seconds flat.
Andi looked behind him to see Jenny standing on the steps of the train car, a familiar looking shotgun held in both hands. The barrels were smoking slightly, leaving no doubt in mind at all just who had ended Percy.
“Thanks,” Andi said.
She smiled. “Don’t mention it.” She hoisted the shotgun up onto one shoulder. “We should probably bail though.”
Andi cocked her head.
“Can’t you hear that?”
Not until she’d mentioned it, she hadn’t. Now it was all she could hear. Sirens. All sorts of sirens, coming from every direction at once.
“No kidding. I for one don’t want to be the one to have to explain … " She gestured vaguely towards Andi. It took her a moment to even remember that she was standing in a massive bile of black, tarry demon guts.
“Right. You found Laura?”
Jenny nodded. “Yeah, she’s up a few cars. Percy must have gotten to her before we did.”
Andi’s stomach fell out. “You don’t mean…”
“No, no, of course not. She’s fine. I think he cast some sort of mojo on her that knocked her out–she was sleeping when I last saw her–but she’s fine.”
Andi nodded slowly. Some sort of mojo didn’t sound particularly good. Not if they’d just dusted the only one that might know for sure how to undo it.
“What about Maxwell?” Jenny said.
Andi spun. She knew there had been something that she’d needed to check back on.
He was still gone though. She could barely even make out the indentation where she’d dug him out of the muck any more. It seemed to flow like tar–slow, but inexorable. Just the brief time they’d had for the fight must have been enough to cover their tracks completely.
Now that she was looking, she noticed something even more strange. The remains were shrinking. She couldn’t be sure of it at first–it wasn’t like they were dissipating instantly–but there was definitely less now than there had been before. Perhaps it was soaking into the ground? Or just vanishing? She decided it didn’t really matter either way. Just so long as it wasn’t there any more when the cops arrived…
“I’m sure he’s fine,” was all the response she had for Jenny though. “Let’s get out of here.”