It didn't take me long to reach the demon.
He wasn't paying much attention to me. Instead, he was lumbering down the street and leaving smoking craters in the asphalt behind him. Anything that got in his way was batted aside with one of those boney, clawed hands--cars, mail-boxes, street-lights.
"Hey," I said.
The demon did not stop.
The hell with etiquette. I snapped out both cattle-prods from my backpack, amped them up to full, and went for him. When I got close enough, I sprang up and stabbed both cattle-prods directly into his shoulders.
There was a dull crackle and sizzle. Wisps of smoke swelled up from where the prods had made contact.
The demon swatted me away with his hand.
More warnings crawled over my viewscreen as I tumbled across the street and smashed into the side of an apartment building. Wood and concrete gave way behind me--a sharp ache penetrated the armor and spread over my spine.
I drew myself up only to find that the demon had turned to face me.
"Begone," he said in a voice that rumbled like thunder.
All that time leaping and cavorting around the obstacle course paid off--the demon shifted to take a swing at me just as I sprang into the air. His fist missed me by a good foot as I soared over his head and landed behind him. I twisted around and threw a punch straight for the center of his spine.
I'd say it was like punching a brick wall, except I'm pretty sure a brick wall would have cracked. He didn't.
The punch knocked him forward a little; I felt a flash of pain lance up my arm. This time, when the demon swung for me, he hit. His immense fist palmed my helmet like it was a pebble--and he started to squeeze.
More warnings flared across the screen. I gripped his fingers, trying to pry them away. I heard the material creaking beneath the strain.
"Son of a bitch," I muttered as I snapped the helmet's release lever.
My head slid free just as it cracked and crumpled. When I landed, I was in a crouch--and I went straight for his stomach. Blow after blow hit muscle and bone, denting the flesh inward. More spikes of pain flared up my arms.
This time, the demon crumpled in response. He grunted before stepping back; he threw the helmet aside and swatted me again.
I had to work on my dodges--the next hit sent me crashing through a storefront window. I managed to roll with it and let the suit take most of the damage, but when I landed in a crouch, I could feel blood on my forehead.
"Go home, little girl," he said. "Before I cut you and make you ugly."
"The hell is wrong with ugly?!" someone snarled behind him.
Bonesaw descended from behind with a set of sharpened claws. She buried them both into his shoulders, angled down toward his neck. The demon roared before he bucked backward and sent Bonesaw tumbling to the street.
I leapt out and clenched my toes. Two sets of foot-long spikes slammed their way into asphalt, anchoring my feet to the ground. I turned back and fired the splat-gun at a car in the distance, then twisted my arm and activated the crank.
Bonesaw had moved out of the demon's range; she was already sprouting more armor--an assortment of ivory blades was emerging from her body, shredding her clothes. The demon was moving toward her, preparing to breathe fire.
My whole body tensed up as I pulled the car to me. It came down to a simple equation: Which would give first? The car? The splat rope? Or my torso?
"Hey, Beelze-bubba," I shouted. "You like classics?"
The demon turned. Fire swelled and rushed straight at me; I lifted my arm to my face and twisted my head away. Tongues of flame licked at my cheek and chin; more heat penetrated the seams of my armor. My flesh was blistering.
Somewhere behind me, I felt the car's tires scraping across concrete as it picked up speed.
"Try a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro."
I cut the cord with the thumb-blade a moment before the car reached me; when I felt it hit my gauntlet, I sank my fingers into the passenger side doorway and started to spin. The momentum generated by the splat-gun was transferred into my throw--giving me just enough force to launch the car straight at the demon's face.
It hit with a satisfying *crunch*. Metal buckled and crumpled as the demon was slammed into a brick wall.
Bonesaw landed next to me and stared. "...Bruiser?"
"Long story," I said, and then: "Voodoo Jones is evil. Demon is his. You on our side?"
"Nevermind. Let's kill the demon first. Then we'll figure out which side you're on."
The demon lurched to its feet and threw the car away. Now he looked really pissed.
No sooner had Wytch set foot in the Stix than did she realize it had become a whirlwind of spells and obfuscation.
The old woman stepped out of the shadows that had brought her here and narrowed her eyes. The place was brimming with magic--magic of the worst sort. It occurred to her only then that this was among the few places that she had not searched for her loved one.
She closed her eyes and extended her mind into the Stix, feeling the city's pulse. Along the flow and eddy of its streets, she felt something familiar--something troubled--something in danger.
Her eyes opened and burned.
"Granddaughter. You are here," she said, and with a flash of lightning, she took to the skies.
The young street thug ran. Behind him, something dark and hungry followed.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god, ohgodohgod," he said as he darted down the alley. First, there had been the old man--the one with the fancy car who had thrown him and his friend across the street. And now, there were demons everywhere--hunting people down, pinning them, devouring them while they screamed.
And now one of the damn things was after him.
He started a prayer on his lips. Get me out of this, oh Lord, and I swear I'll go to Church and pray every Sunday, just like my mom told me, I swear on the holy Bible--
There was a streak of red and gold--and then there was a fat, short Latina woman in front of him. She was wearing a loose t-shirt, denim slacks, and a big, cheerful grin. In her arms she was holding what looked like... several boxes of freshly baked doughnuts?
"Buenas noches, Metro City!" she said.
"Lady, just shut the hell up and ru--" he started to say, but then there was another streak of color, and then--
--and then he was standing inside of a church, surrounded by at least twenty other bewildered people. Coffee was set and ready, along with the doughnuts--placed out with two signs propped up besides them. One sign was in English, the other in Spanish--the English one read:
'¡HOLA! HELP YOURSELF, BUT PLEASE TAKE ONLY ONE.
PS: ALSO, STAY HERE UNTIL I GET BACK!
The car came to a screeching halt somewhere on the corner of the Stix. The door opened, and a man in a wool gray coat and matching trilby hat stepped out.
"Well," he said as he cracked his knuckles, "aren't you a big one?"
Several of the Lurklings had bonded together--their forms molding into a single, monstrous shadow. Every inch of it was covered in mouths--and every mouth had a set of wickedly sharp teeth. As it lumbered forward, it caught sight of the detective--and all the mouths shrieked.
"Right," Detective Widget said, and he held his hand out. "Plasma Cannon Go!"
There was a moment of daunting silence.
The detective sighed. "Oh, right. I don't have one of those."
The Lurkling shrieked again and charged.
"Listen up," Sumerset's voice spoke through the radio channel. "Here's the situation."
Somewhere in the Stix, an old Indian woman floated above the chaos of the streets. She was clad in nothing but flip-flops and a cyan-blue nightgown--lightning crackled along her fingers and weaved its way through her writhing crown of hair.
"Shit has met fan and the Society ain't gonna show up for another thirty minutes. Which means that for thirty minutes, we're the only thing standing between these people and the legions of Hell."
Sue Daysdale and Bonesaw crashed through yet another store-front window, slamming simultaneously against the far back wall. They both grunted in unison, stood up--and paused a moment to watch the other's wounds heal up. They both grinned, shook their heads, and charged back into the fray.
"So here's what we're going to do: For the next thirty minutes, we're going to make the Stix the safest fucking place on the planet. People won't so much as get a paper-cut on our watch. You following me? We're going to do this old-school. For the next thirty minutes, no one dies."
A family ran through the Stix's streets. Long and toothsome shadows pursued--and as they did, one of the little girls tripped and stumbled. Her backpack fell open and her math homework spilled out. The howling Lurklings descended, and--
--there was a blur of red and gold. The family was left confused and blinking--they were now safely locked up inside of a church with several other of the Stix's residents. The girl's math homework sat in her lap--corrected, covered in friendly stickers, and with "¡BUENO TRABAJO!" written on top.
"I know not all of you like me--hell, some of you wouldn't spare the skin off your knuckles to save me from a grease fire. But you ain't here for my sake. You're here for the Skull's."
A dozen or more Lurklings had bonded together into a single towering entity--a multi-toothed monster that lumbered down the city streets. Tangled amidst its dozen or more limbs was a man in a gray wool coat and trilby hat. One of his arms had been replaced with an automatic shotgun--the other was extended out like a mechanical snake, chainsaw in hand.
"Because that's the one thing we all got in common. One way or another, that skull-wearing fucker has pulled all our sorry asses out of the fire. So it's time we paid our due."
High above the Pacific ocean, a lone figure soared. Her legs were crouched beneath her robes, her black hair streaming in an arc that extended over a dozen yards behind her--a slender straight-edged sword held in her left hand.
"All Hell is breaking loose. So let's give some of it back. Sumerset out."