“Mortals. Free me.”
Juliana stared. It was a stare of pure disbelief. He couldn’t be serious.
She stared for another reason too. The demon before her was utterly and thoroughly ripped. Juliana had only seen one other with as awe-inspiring musculature. That, oddly enough, had also been a demon. Zagan, during his fight with the nuns, had offered a lifetime supply of eye-candy.
Looking closer–without actually entering the cell–Juliana decided that Zagan was better. He was well-defined. This demon was more bulgy than anything. Too inhuman.
Shaking her head, Juliana turned her focus to more important things than some random demon’s body. Namely, the fact that he wanted them to free him.
That wasn’t about to happen.
In her experience, regular demons were volatile enough. And that was with a properly set up shackle. The theater-demon had said it himself, they were basically required to try to kill their summoner.
But this guy was in prison. And not even a regular cell, some kind of fancy cell with a magical shield keeping him in and metal restraints keeping him chained to the wall. Whatever he did must have been something terrible.
Or, a traitorous thought slipped through Juliana’s mind, maybe he did something good–like not killing his summoner–that was seen as bad in demonic society.
No. Juliana shook her head. That’s silly.
“Come on Shalise.” Juliana took a step away from the cell. “Don’t talk to him, it will only encourage him.”
“You are making a mistake,” he growled. The chains rattled as he tugged one arm towards Juliana. “You will be lost in this place for eternity.”
That stopped Juliana in her tracks.
Shalise hissed in her ear. “You can’t be considering it. He’ll kill us. Or worse.”
“Of course I’m not,” Juliana said with a frown. Despite her words, she turned back to the captive demon. “How large is this place?”
“Beyond your comprehension.”
“You’re just saying that to get us to let you out. Give a more reasonable scale for this prison. Where’s the exit?”
He gave a loud, uproarious laugh that made Shalise shudder at Juliana’s side. “What would a mortal know of the Void? Demons cannot die and yet new ones are,” his face twisted into a sneer, “born. What do they do with the repeatedly unruly demons? This place has a constant influx of prisoners; it is ever-growing to accompany them.”
“And just what is considered ‘unruly’ among dem–”
Shalise grabbed Juliana’s shoulder. “You’re ignoring your own advice. Remember? Don’t talk because it encourages him?”
Juliana pressed her lips together. That was true. “But if he isn’t wrong,” Juliana whispered, “we could be stuck in here forever. Or at least until we starve.”
“He is going to convince you into letting him go if you keep talking.” Shalise took a step back, shaking her head. “You got us stuck here in the first place and now you’re going to get us killed.”
The demon chose that moment to speak up. “Oh, you wound me. Do not worry about that, I would not kill such useful little mortals.”
“Yeah?” Shalise shouted. She put one foot forward and glared right in the demon’s eye. With the height she had over Juliana, she actually looked somewhat imposing. “And how useful will we be after letting you out?”
Her voice was loud enough that Juliana had to move a few steps away. Juliana had never thought of Shalise as intimidating before. The other girl was taller, but Juliana held the advantage in strength, both physically and magically. Not to mention that Shalise tended to be somewhat introverted.
Fear and adrenaline must work wonders.
A quick glance around the prison revealed no other demons running after them because of Shalise’s outburst. In a cell on the opposite side of the hallway, a dog with flames on its tail started growling in their direction. Not too worrying, it was behind another transparent barrier and was also chained to the wall.
“I always liked mortals with a bit of a backbone,” the demon said with a chuckle.
“W-what?” Shalise glanced towards Juliana, going from a wide stance to bringing her arms together in front of her chest.
“To answer your question, your continued usefulness is entirely up to you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Juliana said. She extended out her hand, intending to activate her ferrokinesis. As expected, nothing happened. “We can’t use magic and it isn’t like your cell has a shutoff lever.”
“You are mortals. Why would you–ah, I understand.” His red lips spread into a very Arachne-like smile. “You are children, are you not? Inexperienced in diablery, and the rest of the ways of life.
“It is really quite simple. This barrier separating us? It will not stop you. This prison is not intended for mortals. There is a separate facility for your kind. I would question your presence here, but that would be like asking Chance for her favor.”
Against her better judgment, Juliana brushed her fingers across the red barrier. As the demon had said, nothing happened to her. The tips of her fingers sunk through the barrier without resistance.
“That seems like a security issue.”
“This is Hell. How many mortals do you think are running around this prison?” He chuckled again as his chains rattled. Two meaty fingers lifted up from one of his hands. “Preventing other races would weaken the barrier against the strongest demons.”
“Juliana,” Shalise said in a warning tone.
“I know.” Juliana shook her head. She’d learned plenty over the last few months. Especially not to trust the first demon she summoned, or in this case, the first demon they came across.
There were plenty of the barrier-type cells. So many that she couldn’t see the end of them.
Plenty of choices if they did need help.
Though Juliana wasn’t sure that they’d be able to get out without help. Worse, if she were designing the facility, the higher security cells would be in the back. Or the center. As far from any exit as was conceivably possible.
If that was true, they had been heading in the wrong direction. If they had been heading in the wrong direction, this demon’s cell would be the last one they saw of the barrier-type.
“We’re going to look around,” Juliana said as she took hold of Shalise’s hand and dragged her further into the barrier section of the prison.
“Of course you are, but you will be back.” The demon’s voice rumbled after them like a freight train chugging down the hallway. “Take your time. You will not find a more accommodating demon within this prison. Or one more sane than I. Try not to die.”
Juliana tried not to listen, but couldn’t help it. If they came across another crossroad without a clear indication of the way out, she had already decided to come back.
Scanning the cells as she walked was not reassuring. Aside from the first demon, none were both sentient and coherent. There were a good number of animal-like demons, like the dog. A hellhound was the most likely identification for that one, in retrospect. In one cell, a snake with mandibles had actually escaped the chains at the back, though the red barrier kept it out of reach.
The few more humanoid demons were disappointing. They tended towards frothing at the mouth or screaming as Juliana and Shalise passed by. In the case of one unfortunate imp, he broke down and started uncontrollably crying. The loud noise had both of them covering their ears.
That imp had been twenty cells ago and Juliana could still hear the wails.
After another thirty cells, Shalise wrenched her hand out of Juliana’s grip and moved a few feet away.
“We shouldn’t split up,” Juliana said. It wasn’t like they actually could. There were only two directions to go and one of those lead back the way they had come from.
Shalise did not respond save for a small humph.
Juliana sighed. “I understand if you’re upset, but we shouldn’t be fighting here. Yell at me all you want when we get back.”
“You’re still thinking about freeing that demon. Even now, you’re eying up all the ones we pass by to see if they would be better.” She let out a small sigh. “And they’re not.”
Juliana didn’t say anything. After a moment, Shalise harrumphed. Out of the corner of her eye, Juliana watched as Shalise skulked off another few feet. She kept moving in the direction they were headed, but her feet kicked and shuffled against the floor.
As long as she doesn’t run off…
They continued on in silence. If Shalise didn’t want to speak with her, Juliana wasn’t going to force the issue. Not now, at least.
What a disaster, Juliana thought as she passed a cell seemingly full of nothing but a thin layer of black tar. The worst part of everything was that she still could not recall what had happened. What she could have possibly been doing that would have led to their current situation.
The only thing she could imagine happening was her summoning a demon that dragged them into this prison. Somehow. But why? Why just leave them in that cell? If it wasn’t for that earthquake, they would have been stuck inside. Potentially forever.
And if the red demon was to be believed, this wasn’t a prison designed for humans. Nobody would have been around to feed them.
The thought of food brought a growl to Juliana’s stomach. How long had they been walking anyway? It must have been at least a couple of hours. Not nearly to the point of starvation, or even real hunger. Just enough to be uncomfortable. She could keep going easily, thanks in no small part to her mother and the mage-knight club, but she wasn’t so sure about her companion.
Juliana glanced at Shalise. There were a few beads of sweat on her forehead. Her pace wasn’t quite the speed it had been when they had first escaped their cell.
No. They would need rest before long. Even walking became tiring after several hours.
Eventually food as well.
Glancing into a cell brought a disturbing thought. They could pass through the barriers without resistance. The goat like demon inside was chained to a wall. Helpless as it was, it wouldn’t be difficult to kill and eat it, but…
Juliana shuddered. She’d have to be a lot hungrier before she continued that line of thought. Besides, the demon would be raw. Who knows what kind of diseases uncooked demon meat had, if it was even edible in the first place.
Then again, that dog demon back by the red demon had a flaming tail. Maybe cooking it wouldn’t be that difficult.
Nope. Juliana shook her head. Not thinking about that topic again for another few days.
Shelter for a rest was another matter, one that could be solved in a similar manner. Since the demons were chained to walls, they could go just inside the barrier and take turns napping. The chains would protect them from the demon in the cell–at least as long as the demon couldn’t spit acid or something similar–while the barrier protected them from anything that might be wandering out in the hallway.
As she glanced into another cell, Juliana frowned. Something that looked like a statue stood next to the barrier. She blinked, and the statue moved. Each blink was like a strobe light causing the statue to angle towards her.
That was another problem. Whatever that was had escaped the chains. As had a couple of the demons that they had passed. Obviously, they would choose a cell that had a still-chained demon inside. The biggest question was how many demons hadn’t escaped their chains because there was nowhere to go, but could.
She didn’t want to wake up eaten. Or worse.
Juliana sighed for what had to be the hundredth time since they got here. She wished Eva or Arachne were here. Or Ylva.
Juliana was the worthless one here. Less than worthless. It was her fault that they were here in the first place.
You? No. Not entirely.
Juliana froze and glanced to a wide-eyed Shalise.
“Did you say something?” “Did you hear that?”
Shalise cupped one hand to her ear and shut her eyes.
Juliana copied her.
“There it is again!”
“I didn’t hear anything that time,” Juliana said.
“It was a loud thud,” Shalise said without opening her eyes. “Again!”
Juliana frowned. “A thud? Not a voice–wait, is it that impaled demon?”
“No. More like a hammer,” Shalise said with a shake of her head. “It came from up ahead.” She took one step forwards before jerking to a stop. “Do we go towards the noise or away from it?”
“Might as well find out what it is.” Had that voice just been a trick of my imagination? “Carefully. If you see anything even remotely dangerous, start running.”
Shalise nodded. With some hesitation, she moved back next to Juliana.
It was only after two or three cells that Juliana could hear the noise as well. Thankfully, Shalise was right. It sounded like hammering. Lots of hammering. Three or four people perhaps, each with a hammer in each hand.
They crept through the corridor, their pace slowing as the hammering grew louder.
“Why we have to work?”
Shalise jumped at the voice. At some point, she moved around to hide behind Juliana’s back.
Under different circumstances, Juliana might have laughed at the taller girl huddling behind her rather unimpressive height.
As it was, Juliana gripped her hands into tight fists and wished her magic was working.
“Everyone else stuck in prison. We free.”
“Keeper find others. Stupids.”
There they were. Two little imps. Both similar to the one Juliana had summoned and accidentally let loose over the summer.
Each held a metal plate that might have been part of the wall at one point. They repeatedly bashed their plates into the wall around one of the red barriers. A good chunk of the wall was nothing but dust in the hallway.
“They’re breaking a demon out?” Shalise whispered in Juliana’s ear.
Juliana shushed her as quietly as she could.
“Keeper not notice us. Keeper stupids.”
“Silence!” A female voice interrupted the two bickering imps. “Something approaches.”
Both imps turned as one. Tiny, needle-like fangs twitched into smiles.
“Look like humans.”
Juliana took a step back, shoving Shalise back as she moved.
“Humans? Stupids. What humans doing here.”
“Die,” one imp said as he took a step forwards, “we assist.”
The feminine voice barked out at the two. “Kill them before they draw the Keeper back.”
“Anything for mistress.”
The closest demon jumped. His arms opened wide, spreading his sharp fingers as he flew through the air. The demon’s jaw opened far wider than should have been possible.
Juliana took half a step forward, swinging her arm around.
The imp’s pudgy face connected with her fist. It froze in mid-air for an instant before whatever laws of physics that governed the place reasserted control.
Juliana did not wait. The moment the imp flew backwards, she turned and ran, chasing after Shalise.
The other imp was hot on her heels. For having such tiny legs, it could sure move fast.
Too fast, Juliana realized with a glance over her shoulder.
She skidded to a stop, using her momentum to bring her leg around.
It connected, but the demon grabbed on. She could feel its tiny fingers digging through the metal coating her leg.
Juliana cried out, kicking her leg into the nearest red barrier.
There was a hiss and a crackle, followed by the pungent scent of a dead skunk and the demon’s own screams.
“Stop! It hurt!”
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Juliana shouted as she kicked it into the barrier again. She shook the demon off of her leg and started running again, ignoring the sharp pains where its claws had pierced her armor.
There was no time to worry about her leg. The first demon was still running after her.
“You die now,” it said.
Juliana stopped running and faced the demon. It was faster than her. Especially with her leg hurting with every step.
“Unless you want to end up like that guy,” she said, pointing over its shoulder at the still sizzling demon, “you’ll turn and leave.”
The demon tilted its head to one side. “Human stupid. Tzlip stupid too. Mistress hurt worse than that. Orgaz not afraid of human.”
It didn’t even finish speaking before it jumped into the air once again.
Juliana moved her feet into a more stable stance as she lifted both arms above her head.
Metal capped elbows slammed down on the demon’s skull.
It let out a squawk as its face met the floor.
That, Juliana thought as she wiped some sweat off of her forehead, is why mom always warned against jumping.
‘Once in the air,’ Genoa had said, ‘you commit to your attack unless you can fly. Make sure you’re going to overwhelm your enemy or keep your feet on the ground.’
Juliana used her good foot to kick the demon into a barrier. She turned and ran, leaving two smoking demons behind. They weren’t dead, but hopefully they would be down long enough for–
For what? There was nowhere to go.
“Shalise!” At the very least, she had to meet up with her companion. “Shalise!”
She couldn’t have gone far. Even if she had, she could only go in one direction. Given that Shalise had looked a lot more exhausted than Juliana felt, she probably wasn’t far at all.
Without Shalise around, the prison was far more claustrophobic. The demons in their cells leered more, or the walls were somehow narrower. The lights were darker and the occasional noises of the prison weighed down on her.
Even though Shalise had barely spoken to her, just the presence of another person was reassuring. Someone that wasn’t about to stab her in the back.
Fear not. None follow you.
Juliana jolted, spinning around behind her. There was nothing there. At least nothing that wasn’t behind one of the red barriers. Turning back the way she was originally going, Juliana shook her head. Like I’m going to trust a voice in my head.
Despite her thought, Juliana shouted out, “Shalise! The demons aren’t after us anymore.”
Juliana glanced over her shoulder again, just in case. There was nothing there.
Just a feeling.
Panting, she slowed her hobbling run to a brisk power walk. Juliana peeked into every cell just in case Shalise took shelter within. She didn’t expect it, but she checked anyway.
Juliana spent what had to be an hour wandering the prison corridor alone before she heard anything out of the usual. The quiet sobs could be the demon that had been in tears when they passed, but it wasn’t the ear-splitting wails it had been making.
The soft sobs cut off. Shalise sat between two cells on one side of the hallway with her head resting on her knees. She looked up. “Juliana? Are you alright?”
“Yeah. Kicked those demons’ asses.” Juliana put a fist to her palm for emphasis. She winced. A shock ran up her arm as she did so. “Might have hurt my arm punching out one of those demons.”
Shalise forced a smile before dropping her head back to her knees. “What are we going to do?”
Juliana took a deep breath. “Let’s go back to that red demon.”
“A-and let him go?”
Juliana could tell she was trying to sound angry. She wasn’t exactly successful. Defeated would be a better word.
“Think about it. We know plenty of demons. Ylva and Arachne, for instance. They would help us so why not him?”
“They aren’t in demon prison. What do you even have to do to get in demon prison?”
“Don’t know. We could ask.”
“And get lied to.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. More importantly, we need rest. I’m tired and you’re not even on your feet.”
Shalise pulled herself to her feet with the aid of the wall. “I can keep going.”
“Let’s go to the red demon’s cell. We don’t have to free him right away. You can sleep and I’ll take watch. We’ll switch in a few hours.”
Shalise sighed. She nodded despite her obvious reservations.
Once more in silence, they started walking through the prison’s corridors. Shalise was walking next to Juliana this time.
They weren’t walking as fast as they had been. By the time they reached the end of the barrier-type cells, Juliana was certain there were large blisters on her feet.
“Took you long enough.”
Juliana frowned as the demon rattled his chains. Her frown deepened as Shalise jumped half a step backwards.
“If you have finished dithering, free me.”
Juliana sighed again. She took Shalise by the hand and walked through the red barrier.
“I-I don’t know about this. Can’t we find an empty one?”
“It’ll be fine. If anything happens, I can push you outside the barrier. Besides, an empty one might just have an invisible demon in it.”
Juliana sat down right at the edge of the barrier. She pat her hands on her lap. There was some metal there, but it was better than resting on the hard floor.
Shalise hesitated. For a moment, Juliana thought she was going to run off. All at once, she dropped to the floor. With a little maneuvering, she got her head to sit on Juliana’s lap.
“What do you think you are doing, mortals?” The demon growled.
“She is going to take a nap,” Juliana said. “And then I am going to take a nap. And then, maybe, we will think about letting you go.”
He growled again, but did not speak.
Juliana leaned back, resting her head against the wall. In spite of the situation, Shalise’s breathing slowed to a far more restful pace. It was… hypnotic in a way. She barely moved save for the slow rise and fall of her chest.
Frowning, Juliana opened her eyes and glanced towards the red demon.
“If you’re supposed to be on lookout, you’re doing a terrible job.”
Juliana’s eyes widened. Her hair whipped around behind her head as she looked around the small cell.
Apart from herself, Shalise, and a chained up demon, there was nothing.
“Your jokes will not help your case when we decide whether or not to free you.”
“No joke, mortal. Being a lookout requires you to be awake. You’ve been asleep for a good fifteen minutes.”
“That’s…” Juliana shifted against the wall. Her movement caused a small stirring in Shalise. Juliana went still until Shalise went back to deeper sleep. “Thanks,” she said in a whisper. Juliana quickly tacked on, “I guess,” and looked out the barrier.
The flaming dog across the hall glared at them. Apart from that, nothing had changed. The corridor was as empty as it had been their first time through.
“Oh, don’t thank me. In the unlikely event that something does happen, I can’t have my tickets out of here getting themselves taken away or killed.”
“You’re so altruistic for a demon.”
That got a dark chuckle out of him.
“What’s your name?”
“So talkative now that your companion is asleep.”
“I need to talk or I’ll fall asleep.”
“Fair enough. Though unnecessary. Free me and I would watch over your slumber.”
“First, that sounds creepy. Second, no. We’ll decide together after our rest.”
The demon harrumphed, rattling his chains as he did so.
“You’re awfully confident that we’re going to free you.”
“Few mortals can resist my charms.”
Juliana snorted in spite of herself. He had very nice abs. Juliana was willing to admit that. Despite her earlier reservations, the rest of him wasn’t so bad either, though his hoofed feet and red skin disturbed her a little. Just something unsettling in an inhuman manner.
Nothing about him was irresistible though.
Maybe if she were older.
She stopped rolling her eyes mid-roll. Unless he wasn’t talking about his body. Continuing to talk to him suddenly felt like a bad decision.
“In any case,” he said without a prompt, “you may call me Prax.”
Juliana didn’t respond, opting instead to stare out the barrier.
This was going to be a long night.