Five tons of purified nightmare fuel pulled itself out of the smoking hole and roared.
Every inch of it was enscribed with a harsh, masculine geography--muscle and sinew bundled together like steel cables. Its shoulder resembled a twisted iron girder; its chipped, yellow horns extended above it like a burning crown. Boney protrusions popped out of its spine, its fists, its arms, its chest--every inch of it bristled with something deadly and sharp.
It was a demon. A goddamn demon.
"Tell me you have some sort of spell to send that thing back," I said as I took a step backwards.
"I am sorry, Skull. I do not," Red replied. "In addition, I am currently paralyzed with terror."
It was nine feet tall and built like a semi. Charging it was probably the second worst thing I could do. The first? Waiting for it to charge us.
So I charged.
It belched out a plume of red-hot flame. A dozen warnings screeched across my viewscreen; I felt the heat penetrate the armor and my skin itch and blister. Something hit me in the chest--and I felt something else crack. I was flung backward, rolling across stone and concrete, the far edge of the roof looming in sight--
Red caught me with the edge of her glove, using the spell to lift me up into the air and bleed off the inertia. When we landed, we were about as far away as we could get.
Sumerset kicked the door to our left open and stepped out into the darkness. He took one look at the demon, one look at us, and then lifted the sonic inducers.
"Behind me," he said. "Cover your ears, Red. Cover the rest of her, Skull."
I threw Red to the ground and obeyed, shielding her with my body. Sumerset turned to the demon--who was starting to rear back into a charge.
Sumerset's exoskeleton shook beneath the volume of the sound. In the distance, I saw several windows popping. The screech was so deafening that it even penetrated my helmet--and I groaned, tightening my grip over Red. I couldn't hear her over the noise, but I could feel her squirming.
The demon stumbled back toward the building edge. It shrieked--the sound was high-pitched enough to carry over the whine of the sonic inducers. And then it tumbled over the building's edge and toward the streets below.
The sound stopped. Either inducer produced a soft 'pop', then started to smoke. I heard Sumerset cursing over the ringing in my ears.
Sumerset had dropped down to his knees. He was wheezing and clutching at his chest. "Son of a bitch," he said between hacking coughs. "Never tested it at that volume. Blew them both out."
Red gasped beneath me as I stood up. "That was--"
"Very loud," I agreed. "Sumerset? Are you alright?"
"Fine," he said, and then he started to cough again. He twisted something on his chest--the exoskeleton's arm-pieces gave a clink, their upper joints releasing. Piece by piece, he started shedding the machinery. "Blew the joints on the framework."
I frowned under my mask. Didn't like the way he was doubled over, or the way he was shivering. Sumerset shook his head as I moved toward him.
"I'm fine," he repeated. "That thing--it ain't dead. Not even close. Stunned it, maybe. There were more demons I saw on the way up--"
"Lurklings," I said. "Red said that Voodoo is using them to wipe out any trace of the Stix ever existing."
"People have always wished to forget that the Stix exists," Red explained. "Voodoo has used magic for the past few months to enhance it. He can only sacrifice castaways to the Gray. Which is why he has been using magic to draw them to the Stix--"
"So he can make the entire Stix a castaway," I said.
"If we kill him, do the demons go away?" Sumerset asked.
"I don't know," Red said.
"Alright. Skull, we're in over our heads. Send out the SOS," Sumerset said.
I nodded and touched the side of my helmet. "S-O-S," I said, enunciating each letter.
The command word we had pre-programmed into the communicator set off a series of events. Somewhere, I knew that Sumerset's laptops were clicking on--and sending out a general bulletin. In a few seconds, the helmet crackled with the sound of a man's voice.
"This is Channel 6 of the Society Emergency Response Team," he said. "I'm not picking up a registration ID from your signal. Please give me your ID number."
"Don't have one," I said. "This is the Skull. I'm here to report one hell of an emergency."
There was a moment of tense silence. Then: "This channel is reserved for registered cape--"
Sumerset reached for the headset in his communicator helm, switching it to on. He shared a channel with me. When he spoke, I heard him here and in the hiss of the signal through my ear. "Shove the bureaucracy up your ass--we have an imminent mystical class 2 threat. All Hell is breaking loose in the Stix, and I ain't talking metaphorically, son."
"Again, this channel is only for registered--"
"My ID is Seven Alfa Roger Mike Two Sierra," Sumerset said, his voice a barely contained snarl. "Now patch me the fuck through before I invent a way to kill you with radio waves."
There was another stretch of silence--followed by a click. "ID approved," the operator said. "I beg your pardon, sir. But this is just protocol, and--"
"People are dying. Patch me through. Now."
Another click. A woman's voice spoke, now: "Location and nature of emergency."
"Stix, Metro City. Demons," Sumerset said. "Lots and lots of fucking demons. One of them is at least a Class 2."
"I'm mobilizing a strike team to assess the situation and take action. ETA is forty five minutes."
"Forty five minutes ain't gonna cut it," Sumerset said. "Portal Blink in, or--"
"The Society's top-tier operatives are not currently available."
"They're never available, goddammit! So go make them available!"
"I'm sorry, sir. They're currently engaged elsewhere, and--"
Sumerset snapped his headset off. I soon followed.
"Alright," he said. "Forty five minutes." Beneath us, there was an explosion, followed by a roar--and distant screams. Sumerset grimaced--I shuddered.
"We can't just wait here," I said.
"No," Red agreed. "I do not know how long Voodoo Jones' spell will take, but--"
"Yeah. I know," Sumerset said. "And I get a feeling the Society ain't gonna send in enough firepower. Alright. We're going to Plan B."
"Plan B?" I asked.
"Yeah," Sumerset said. "Skull. I need you to..." He took a breath. "I need you to hold off the demon."
I stared at him. "The thing that breathes fire and just took a full sonic blast, fell off a building, and lived?"
"You don't need to beat him," he said. "Just--distract him."
"Long enough for what?"
"For reinforcements," he said.
"Forty-five minutes? I don't know if I can--"
"Calling in other reinforcements," he said. "Society ain't the only players in this game." He looked to Red. "And I need you to find Voodoo Jones. I need you to find him, and I need you to kill him. Can you do that?"
Red did not look particularly pleased with this, but she slowly nodded. "I understand. If it stops his spell, it will save many, many lives. I can do this."
"Alright," he said, and then he looked to me. "Skull--"
"I know. Stay alive," I said. "Can do. Red? Can you drop me off the street, half a block away from that thing?"
She nodded. Sumerset turned, limping toward the stairs.
We moved out.