Somehow, they made it away from the train. They left just as the emergency crews were starting to arrive and cordon off the area. Anyone still there was being checked over by the medical crews first and then the cops after that. With how Andi looked–covered head to foot in a tarry, black paste even after some had begun to dissipate–she was sure they would have had all sorts of questions for her.
Worse yet, Officer Williams was one of the first cops on the scene. She didn’t think that she would ever see him again, not if she had anything to say about it. Not after he had stopped by and all but accused them of Ms. Morris’ death. It wouldn’t be good, not at all, for them to be here, now.
The entire area was just swarming with emergency vehicles. Traffic throughout the area was always a little chaotic. Sometimes it was possible to drive from end to end without a single problem, sometimes traffic would just slow to a crawl. Worse yet, it didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason regarding why it would suddenly change. Rush hour was a little bad, but it could be the middle of the day.
This was going to be one of those days.
Andi and Jenny stopped for a breather in an alleyway along the tracks perhaps half a dozen blocks from where the train had stopped. It was still close enough that they could see people rushing either towards or away from the scene, but hopefully far enough that they wouldn’t be found. At least not immediately.
“You know, if they look hard enough, they’re going to know I was on that train,” said Jenny.
“I paid for the ticket with a credit card.”
Andi sighed. She had a monthly pass, which meant that she didn’t actually have to tag onto the train more than once a month. But the credit trail might be an issue. What would the cops do when they couldn’t find her on the train?
Surely there people had gotten off the train though.
Or perhaps not. The problem was that for most of the fight, everyone else had been frozen by the same effect that had stopped any problems the first time the demon had attacked the train. She didn’t know if it was that demon itself or Percy that was actually maintaining the effect, but the mere fact that so many emergency vehicles were there now was evidence enough that the same was no longer working.
Had there been enough time to get away? Andi couldn’t say. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about that now.” She looked down at herself. “What we can do though, is get me somewhere with a shower.”
Jenny shook her head. “You don’t need a shower, you need a hose.”
She might have had a point there; not that it was any easier to procure. Particularly without a car, they were either going to have to walk a good chunk of the way back up the city or find some sort of other transportation that wouldn’t just take one look at Andi and turn the other way.
No, they needed to find something a little more local.
“What about one of these businesses here?” Andi asked.
Jenny looked up and down the alley they were standing in, slowly shaking her head the entire time. It wasn’t the sort of neighborhood that either of them would normally have taken the opportunity to frequent… but were they really in any position to be picky?
“Or what about a demon?” Andi continued. Jenny perked up slightly at that, but only for a moment. Then her face fell. “What?”
“Believe it or not, but I think I know of just the one.”
“So without the book, I can’t even begin to say what we’d need to summon it. Let alone how we would get hold of the ingredients.”
“Oh.” Well that wouldn’t work then.
They needed something though. Andi sat down on the curb to think. A moment later Jenny joined her. It was only when she looked over at her friend and caught site of her arm out of the corner of her eye that she realized something particularly strange was going on.
The problem was the demonic sludge. So black it seemed to soak up the light, it would stand out wherever they went. But she’d noticed that it was starting to vanish already back at the bigger pile. This was the first evidence that she’d seen in the smaller case of her own arms. Looking at her arms more closely, she realized that they were actually smoking slightly. The smoke was just thin enough that it was hard to see at any distance, but once you knew what you were looking for–a close cousin to heat waves–it was obvious.
“That’s so weird,” said Jenny. So she’d noticed as well. “So it’s just a matter of time?”
No more than ten minutes later, Andi was nearly clean. None of the emergency services had even come anywhere near to them yet and no one seemed to be paying them any attention. They had plenty to deal with down at the train. She really wanted to see what in the world they would say about it in the news. Something like that they couldn’t very well keep quiet, but how would they spin it?
Then there was the sound of a door banging open right behind them.
Someone yelled at them in a thick accent. “Hey. What are you doing? You aren’t supposed to be back here.”
Andi wasn’t sure exactly what the man’s problem was. They were in a sort of alley way between the tracks and a number of stores, it was true. But they weren’t doing anyone any harm.
She stood, intending to apologize to the man and move on. But as soon as she turned, she had just long enough to watch the man’s eyes go large and for him to back straight into the wall beside his still hanging open door. He backed into it twice more before recovering enough to shift the six inches necessary to actually make it in, slamming the door behind him.
Andi stared after him for a short while, before turning to her friend and asking, “what in the world was that about?”
Jenny looked to be fighting back a grin. She didn’t say anything, just pointed towards Andi’s hand.
She looked down. Right.
Andi felt the corners of her lips lifting as well.
She was still covered with just a thin layer now of what looked like oil, holding a three foot long sword in her hand. No wonder the man had backed away. Even for one of the stranger cities in the country, that was probably not what the man had been expecting to see out behind his shop. Poor guy.
At least that was one problem dealt with.
She looked back down at her hands, watching with interest as the last vestiges of demon guts finally faded away. In the last few moments, her skin faded from black, to gray, and finally all of the way back to its normal shade. She checked her legs and chest as well. All clear. It didn’t seem to matter particularly much how much she’d gotten on different parts of her–either that or she really had gotten most of it on her hands without realizing. But it was gone now.
Just in time to. Just as the demon blood was seeping away, there was a sudden blare of sirens. Andi and Jenny both spun to it, but it was too late. A cop car skidded to a stop down at the end of the alleyway, followed shortly by a second one.
The two women just looked at each other for a long moment. There just wasn’t any way to get out of it. Where could they do?
A moment later, a cop hopped out of each door of each car, those on the near side ducking down behind their doors, those on the far side behind the car itself. From each, a gun appeared, all four pointed right at them.
“Freeze,” one of the cops yelled. Andi rolled her eyes. As if they would go anywhere… “Drop the … sword and raise your hands above your heads.”
She couldn’t believe that she’d forgotten about the stupid sword. It had been awesome when she’d been fighting demons, but she should just have left it there. If not for the fact that she believed Maxwell was actually on their side now, then she would have. This way though, it felt better that she keep it on her person until she could figure out what in the world had happened to him and return it. At least that had been the idea.
Now that there were four cops right in front of her with guns trained in her general direction, she was beginning to rethink that particular line of thought.
Carefully, she bent over. She saw the nearer cops shifting to keep her in view, so she made sure to move slowly and as non-threateningly as she could. As she did, she noticed what she thought was a faint why mist accumulating on the ground between her and the end of the alleyway where the cops were. Fog wasn’t an unusual circumstance in the city, not by any means, but it was far later in the day than that normally would have been an issue. Not to mention how quickly it was growing.
The cops hadn’t seemed to notice yet thought, thus they were the bigger issue at the moment. Carefully, she laid the blade on the ground, point at a forty five degree angle to the two cops. She wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea.
The mist was growing even faster now, starting to curl around the very tip of the blade and starting to spread down the sides. It was moving oddly, not at all how she’d ever seen fog move before.
“Hey, stop that,” one of the cops yelled.
She paused. She’d been straightening back up, once again slowly, but that was all. She froze anyways, even though the position was an awkward one that she couldn’t hope to hold for terribly much longer.
The mist grew even thicker, starting to pile up six inches to a foot thick in places. It was dense enough that she was even having problems making out the ground at all in places, although around the edges it was still thankfully at least a little transparent.
“He said, ‘stop that’,” a different voice said. One of the other cops.
She had to chance it. “Stop what?” Hesitantly, she raised her gaze so that she could at least see the two nearer cops peering through the space between their doors and the interior of their cars. The fog had very nearly reached the further forward one now and she thought that she could make out the barrel of his gun shaking every so slightly even from this distance.
“The fog,” the second cop said. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but stop it.”
They think I’m doing this? She didn’t know how to take that. It was as strange to her as to them, but she couldn’t very well say that. They were probably just spooked by the damage to the train car. They wouldn’t have had time to go and inspect it themselves, but there’d likely have been radio chatter at least.
At least it wasn’t standing up that they objected to. Moving slowly once again, she continued to straighten. She didn’t yet respond to their allegations about the fog though. What in the world would she say?
A few seconds later, the mist itself saved her from having to come up with some way to explain it.
With a frightening suddenness, a patch of the mist along the top, slightly nearer to the cops than to Andi solidified. One moment it was rolling white fog, hugging to the ground about a foot she would estimate above the pavement. The next, it had solidified into a tendril, very nearly identical to the one that the black beast had been using to tear apart the train car earlier–only this time white.
Just as quickly as it had formed, the tendril whipped across the space away from Andi, slamming into the nearer of the two open doors on this side of a cop car. It went through the window as if it wasn’t even there, the grass shattering with a sharp clapping sound. In the blink of an eye, it had wrapped around the top of the door, right the window. A moment after that, the entire tendril seemed to flex.
Without the sword, Andi only had her ring’s reflexes to go on. That was only just barely fast enough to get her head down as the tendril ripped the door completely off the car and tossed it at her. She felt the breeze as it soared over her head. There was a solid sounding thunk from behind her, but she didn’t dare turn around.
The cop that had been standing behind the door had dropped his gun a foot or so. His eyes were darting around wildly, surely trying to figure out what in the world he was supposed to be shooting at.
He quickly settled back on Andi.
She saw the moment when he decided. The shaking gun steadied, aiming right at the center of her chest.
More tendrils were already forming. She did not have time to talk the cops down, if it were even possible. Making up her mind in a flash, Andi reached down for the sword directly in front of her.
Two things happened nearly simultaneously. The cop without a door fired and the the mists hovering over the gun abruptly coalesced into a pearlescent barrier. Her hand hit the barrier, feeling a strange sort of resistance. it was still mist, and thus most definitely not solid, but the more she pushed against it, the more it pushed back.
The gunshot missed, but only barely. He must have been thrown off by her sudden movement.
She pushed for a moment more, but the fog just wouldn’t let her through. It was a demon. It had to be. Which meant that she was in trouble–the cops doubly so.
In just the time since she’d tried to get to her sword, there were already half a dozen tendrils flaring bout. They didn’t seem to be particularly directed, especially compared to the malicious focus of the first one, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t still danger. One of them swiped the door of the other cop car–the one that still had a door–and Andi heard a crunch as it impacted the cop behind limit, sending him sprawling to the ground.
The two behind the cars still seemed fine though, at least for the moment. Shoe was a little surprised honestly that neither of them had opened fire yet. The way they were standing, she couldn’t quite make out either. But perhaps it was an issue that they just didn’t know where to shoot. Could the, would they shoot at Andi? At the mist?
Truth be told, she would have shot at herself. What exactly do you think a bullet would manage to do to a pile of mist? Then again, she knew what it was. They had to be having a rather abbreviated education right about now.
“I wish he’d told me how to use this thing.
Andi started. She’d completely forgotten that Jenny was standing there right behind her.
Jenny had a hand on her side and was looking down at it. Slowly, she brought it away. Her fingers dripped red.
It only took a moment to track back to what must have happened. “Jenny, you got shot!”
“Oh,” she said. “Is that what happened/” Her voice was faint and her skin was pale. It didn’t look like she’d lost much blood; Andi couldn’t even see any of it other than what was on her fingers. But she wasn’t sworried about what she could see, it was what she couldn’t that had her worried.
Jenny, you need to sit down. She heard a crumpling sound behind her, the grind of metal on metal. She ignored it. She wasn’t going to mess this up, not again. “Come on.”
She allowed Andi to put her arm around her and help her start moving towards the other end of the alleyway, away from the mists. She had one hand on her lower side, right where Andi presumed the pullet had gone on.
“Just keep pressure on it,” Andi said. That was the right thing to do, right? It wasn’t like she’ed ever been shot before.
Jenny nodded faintly. Andi couldn’t even be completely sure that it was a conscious effort and not just her head bobbing with the effort, but at the moment, and was going o have to take it as trash.
They made it halfway down the block before Jenny stumbled. Her foot just didn’t seem to take the next step when Andi did and hehe started to pitch forward. Andi caught her, but only just. It was all she could do to help her slowly to the ground and not drop her.
The voice was so deep and loud it seemed to rattle Andi’s very bones.
What was worse, she knew that voice.
“I AM NOT THROUGH WITH YOU”
She turned slowly.
He had survived.
It made a little sense, but only if you actually thought that he was a ghost.
Now though, he was a living bank of fog.
He still drifted a bit around the edges, but he’d formed most of the mists into a single body for himself. It was larger than he had been in life–or maybe afterlife–easily eight feet tall and proportionally larger all around. His bladed arms had been replaced with tendrils of fog, thick and muscular looking, gleaming faintly.
She caught sight behind him of the cop cars. For a second and only a second, she thought she would have allies this time along.
Then she saw the carnage.
One of the cop cars had been flattened. It was half the height it should have been, nearly the entire cab flattened level with the hood.
There was smoking rising from the hood of the other. A single dent had been lain in that one’s hood, from the center of the font back to the windshield. It bent down into a deep V, likely having been forced right into or maybe even through the engine block. That was something she had to give Percy at least. He didn’t go to half measures when it came to sheer physical strength.
Of the cops, she saw no sign. She hoped they’d taken the smart route and run. it wouldn’t help her out, but at this point, she didn’t think they could. Being beheaded by a shotgun blast hadn’t even been enough to stop him for more than a few minutes, what could those little popguns they were carrying hope to accomplish.
“SURRENDER. AND I WILL MAKE YOUR DEATH QUICK”
Someone really needed to have a talk with him about the definition of ‘surrender’, she thought. Aloud she said, “Nope. Don’t think so.”
Because she’d seen the upside of him taking a human form, even one made of out of mist.
When he’d been a cloud on the ground, he’d kept her from the sword. Upright, it was closer to her than it was to him.
He rushed forward at the same time, tendril arms swinging outwards. But this time, it wasn’t a matter of speed. He couldn’t have gone fast enough–at least not without something like their chronodemon pocket watch. She reached it a moment before he did, immediately ducking and rolling, swinging the sword into an arc over her head. One swift cut and both tendril arms were on the ground.
She continued the roll, coming to her feet well within his range, facing him with sword held high.
The look on his face was pure hatred. His skin was gleaming white, more mist than real flesh and blood. At least it actually looked like she should pass through him now, rather than when he appeared every bit as real as she had.
There was a faint sound from behind her. She glanced over her should and caught sight of Jenny still laying there. Right. She needed to end this. Quickly.
She turned back just in time to catch another tendril whipping towards her face.
I could have sworn he only had two, she half muttered to herself even as the sword came up and sliced without her even thinking about it. Another tendril. Another slice.
Even if he suddenly seemed to have a dozen arms all swinging for her at once, at least he wasn’t quite so physically strong as the black mass that she’d just fought. This time she could even fight forwards, step after step. Only a matter of time.
Another step and she was face to face with him.
She didn’t even think about it.
Right through his neck.
His head just seemed to float there. That wasn’t right. it was supped to fall down. That was how it had happened before, wasn’t it? But he just grinned at her, seemingly completely unconcerned about the inch and change now separating him from himself.
Then the tendrils began to form. Thin, much thinner than his arms, only a thread’s width across. But there were more of them. A dozen, two, a hundred or more. Within moments, his neck had reformed, pulling his head back down to where it really belonged. A moment after that, its as as if he’d never even lost it in the first place.
This was going to be a problem.
The grin on Percy’s face told her he knew exactly what she was thinking. He had just been waiting for the moment. She had the sneaking suspicion that he’d been toying with himself. Now he could begin the attack in earnest.
She cut the first tendril, but now she could see them reforming almost immediately in the same way that his head had. The second blow followed shortly after. Third. Fourth. Fifth.
It was all she could do to keep up. A couple of times, she was just in the nick of time, even catching a bit of the weight before she managed to cut it, turning it into mist for some time.
“YOU CANNOT HOPE TO WIN”
He didn’t even sound particularly angry any more. Lazy even. It was like he thought that there was no chance that she could possibly fight him off and that it was only a matter of time.
The problem was, she was becoming more and more sure that he was right. Even with her own ring and Maxwell’s sword, it was all she could do to keep up. She needed something else.
She needed something that could fight back the mists.
Her mind jumped ahead; a sudden flash of insight.
She had just the right thing, she just needed enough time to get it to work.
She started to back away, trying to put a bit of room between her and Percy. She would need a bit to get things out of her bag. With any luck, he would taunt her.
“AFRAID, LITTLE GIRL?”
Another step back. She even carefully began slowing her defenses, getting closer and closer to letting him actually strike her. Anything to goad him closer.
He obliged perfectly. She backed up, step by step. He followed, but slower and slower. He wasn’t pressing his advantage. He didn’t need to press his advantage. He knew that he had her exactly where he wanted her.
Finally, she made it far enough. It would have to be enough.
With a smooth motion, she drove the sword into the ground. It cut into the sidewalk easily, which actually caught her attention longer than it should have. She hadn’t been expecting that. She had thought that it would have taken more effort than that.
Twisting to the side, she pulled open her bag. It was a miracle that she’d managed to keep it through everything. That was what it was designed for, to stay on, but it was still impressive. Even better, what she was looking for was right on top.
She pulled the blanked out, whipping it out to full width. Bright orange and full of fire. Heat always seemed to burn away the mists in the morning. With any luck, it would work the same way on Percy.
She felt it grow warm in her hands. She wasn’t going to have long before it would start burning her. She tried to hold it away from her a little bit, ending up like a matador. She started to advance once again.
Percy just stared at her. He seemed confused. Andi realized after that she’d put the sword down. That must be what he was confused about. He didn’t never have to know that it was a demon spelled sword, to know that it was giving her a significant advantage. And now she’d abandoned it, in favor of a bright orange blanket.
Confusion didn’t last long though. If she wasn’t running, she must still be fighting. So he’d meet that challenge.
The first tendril whipped forward.
Moment of truth.
She tossed the blanked over the tendril. It held. Actually, it froze in place. It was as if he didn’t know quite how to deal with the oddly warm blanked now draped over his arm. For sure, he couldn’t have been expecting that to be her move.
She waited a moment. Two. Without warning, the blanket fell to the ground. The tendril sheered off as abruptly as if it had been cut with a knife–only this time it didn’t immediately begin to reform.
He just stared at his arm, disbelief clouding his features. Andi didn’t give him time to react. She bent over, grabbed the blanket and tossed it over Percy’s head. It started to slide too far, but just before she lost it entirely, she grabbed hold and held it in place.
He started to struggle, his tendril arm–apparently, there really had been two all along, only they kept reforming over and over again–whipped about, but it did so blindly, seeking for her but never quite managing to find her. The blanket burnt, growing hotter and hotter by the moment, making it increasingly hard for Andi to hold it. But she had to do it, she had to see this through to the conclusion.
She heard a sound, akin to bacon sizzling in the pan. A moment after that, the smell as well. It was only too late that she realized the sizzling was her hands, that se was literally cooking the flesh which held the blanket in place.
But she couldn’t stop.
And then it was over. The blanket collapsed into a pile on the ground. Andi immediately dropped it and whispered the word of command that would put it back out, but the damage was done. Her palms were streaked red and black. she couldn’t feel a thing, which if anything was worse.
She looked over, to make sure that he really was gone this time. For a few moments, the tendril that had once been a sword and before that been an arm held together, but then it to dissipated, fading first into a more ordinary looking smoke and then blowing away entirely.
And that was that.
He was gone.
She couldn’t only pray that this time, he would stay gone…