I found Red lying face-up on the street outside her apartment complex, surrounded by shadows and flame.
The asphalt around her smoldered; when I got close, a violet spark of electricity arced through her hair and crawled its way toward my foot.
For a moment, I felt a surge of panic. The city was burning--and she wasn't moving. She was covered in bruises and burns, and I could hear--see--things shifting in the shadows around us.
The panic eclipsed me. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to respond. I was sinking into an ocean of desperation and I did not have the slightest idea how to swim. But then something calm and deliberate overcame me. My mother had taught me first aid--and Sumerset had given me a refresher course.
The air around her was burning. Waves of heat rolled off Red, rippling with distortion in the air. As soon as I stepped close to her, I could feel my skin itching with the heat--when I dropped down to my knees, it scorched my face.
I tried to check her pulse, but the gauntlets made that impossible. I could tell she wasn't breathing, and that was enough. I started administering CPR.
Sumerset had gone over this with me several times. The amount of pressure was critical when you had enough strength to flip a car. It was a fine line between forcing the blood to pump through the heart and just crushing it. I pressed my palms down to her sternum and firmly but gently pushed, counting each compression. When I reached thirty, I pulled her head back, pinched her nostrils shut, and brought my mouth down to hers.
Electricity sparked between us. The heat burned--charred my lips and jaw. I pushed through the pain and breathed into her.
After the second breath, I went back to compressions. It gave my mouth and cheeks a chance to heal. When I brought my mouth down to hers for the second time, her eyes fluttered open and she let loose with a hacking cough.
"Thank God," I said, and then I slumped back.
She stared up at me, dazed and weak. And then, in a tiny voice, she spoke.
"Call me Sue," I said. "We should probably, uh, have a talk about that at some point. I mean--"
The front of the apartment exploded somewhere behind us. Something emerged--like one of the Lurklings from before, but worse. It was larger, more beastial, with claws bristling out of every inch of it. Its eyes were a brilliant yellow, narrow and smoldering with hate.
"Jones," Red whispered beneath me. "He--he has fallen to the Gray. He is a Lurkling, now..."
I stood up and placed myself between him and Red.
"BOY," he roared.
"Yeah, uh, actually that would be a no," I said, and then I cracked my knuckles.
That's when I noticed the growing whirlwind over our heads.
An old woman's voice boomed from high above. "Kali's bloated teats, I'm missing my Judge Judy marathon for this horse-shit?"
A wrinkled crone floated at the center of a swirling typhoon of wind and dust. She descended down to the street in a funnel that narrowed somewhere in front of me. For a moment, what was left of Voodoo Jones seemed to recoil with fear. But then--
"DIE," he shrieked, and he sprang toward her.
The lightning bolt that descended from above was approximately the width of a bus and hit twice as hard. It slammed into Jones in a streak of brilliant emerald-green; there was a terrible, ear-numbing thunderclap followed by the scent of burnt ozone. When the smoke and flame evaporated, nothing was left of Voodoo Jones save a smudge mark on the concrete.
"Holy shit," I said.
Just as I feel the torso giving, I hear someone shriek a battle-cry over my head.
Bonesaw has sprouted a set of serrated horns; she uses them to head-butt the demon. They struggle for a moment, with her serrated horns digging into meat--when he twists and pulls away, the boney extensions snap out of her temple.
"Get the fuck out of my town," Bonesaw roars. Slender dagger-like blades of bone fire from between her knuckles, burying their tips in the demon's torso.
I try to get up but the exoskeleton has been warped--I feel parts grinding against other parts in all the wrong ways. The more advanced models were designed to accomodate for this, but I built this one in my garage.
Bonesaw won't be able to hold that son of a bitch back for long, and by the warning signs scrolling over the lower half of my suit's screen, I'm pretty close to being inoperable. Which means we might be in pretty deep shit, unless--
A figure descends from high above, landing between the demon and Bonesaw.
She is tall. Taller than any woman I've ever seen. Seven feet and change. And yet, somehow, she carries that height with effortless grace. She is fierce and terrible and with her sword, she could kill us all.
Even the goddamn Sovereign.
The demon falters. It's not every day you see a 7 foot tall woman span the distance between Asia and Metro City in a single leap, after all. That sword of hers flashes in the light of the fire as she observes... and then, like it wasn't a damn thing at all, she sheathes it--and turns to me.
She's got the sort of voice that punches through my armor and grabs me by the balls.
"Sumerset," she says. "Speak."
"Demon," I tell her in-between gasps. "Kill it and you will no longer owe the Skull."
"Hey," Bonesaw says, clearly pissed. "Who the hell is--"
"Kid, shut the fuck up," I tell her, praying to God she'll listen. I turn my attention back to Jin. "I speak for the Skull. Kill the demon and the debt will be considered repaid."
Jin stares at me for a moment. It's a long one. The demon uses the opportunity to charge.
She then turns, and--with all the calm dignity one might use to close a door--she shoves her bare arm into the charging demon's stomach, spears it upward into his chest, seizes his heart, and pulls it free.
There is a loud, moist sound as she removes the organ, her arm slick with the demon's fluids. She then holds it up for the stunned demon to see--and with a flex of her blood-soaked fingers, she squeezes.
It bursts with a wet splurch.
The demon stumbles back, produces an awful, dreadful gurgle, and falls to the ground.
She turns to me and gives me one of those looks. It's the sort I recognize--the sort you get a lot in this business. One of those 'Don't-Call-Me-Again' ones.
And then she turns and, with a flutter of her robes, leaps back home.
"Wow," Bonesaw whispers.
"Yeah," I respond, grunting for breath. "She's, uh, kind of hard-core."