Something jabbed Shalise’s side between her ribs and her hips.
Shalise jumped to her feet. That didn’t last long. She teetered and wobbled at the sudden lack of blood in her head.
She let out a light groan as she moved a hand to her forehead.
“Sorry,” said Juliana. “You weren’t waking up.”
Shalise looked around as soon as the spots cleared from her eyes.
The big winged demon still sat in his chains against the wall. Juliana sat against one wall. She looked like she was holding on to wakefulness by a thread. Her eyes were somewhat droopy. The red barrier still separated them from the rest of the prison.
“Oh,” sighed Shalise, “we’re still here.”
She had wanted nothing more than for the entire previous day to be a nightmare and nothing else. Waking up back in her warm dorm bed…
Shalise turned one cheek away from Juliana and gave it a subtle pinch. Just to be certain.
At least the demon was still chained up. Juliana hadn’t let it go while she slept. That was one worry unfounded.
“How long was I asleep.”
“No clue. Not exactly any clocks around. Any longer and I might have fallen asleep as well, so I had to wake you up.”
Shalise nodded and slapped her cheeks. She didn’t feel well rested, but it would have to do for now. “My turn to take watch, right? Do you want my lap?”
“Nope. I think I would have gone insane if I didn’t have the metal armor on my legs. As it was, my feet were falling asleep.” Juliana stretched out, arching her back. After a brief yawn, she removed her shirt and wrapped it in a ball.
Without the cloth, the metal armor she wore was plainly visible. It wasn’t shiny. It wasn’t even silver-colored. Sort of a bronze-ish color instead.
The knight in dull armor lay down, placing the balled shirt behind her head.
“How is it comfortable to wear that?”
“I have a little bit of padding, and I picked up a few books on actual armor design. Of course, I’d prefer to sleep outside of it, but it isn’t designed to be removed without ferrokinesis. A problem that I will definitely be correcting as soon as possible.
“Now time to sleep. Wake me if anything happens. Oh,” Juliana’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “careful talking to Prax. He might be able to influence us through words.”
“Wh–” Shalise narrowed her eyes as she glanced off to the side.
The winged demon gave a four-fingered wave–he didn’t have any more fingers–rattling the chains as he did so.
“That said, I had to talk a little or I would have fallen asleep a lot sooner.”
Shalise frowned. Not talking to him would have been too much to ask for. What was Juliana thinking?
Now and back then.
Shalise’s memories were fuzzy, but she definitely remembered Juliana drawing out a summoning circle.
It was betrayal, of a sort. Not necessarily towards Shalise, but to Eva. Stealing a book had been mentioned, but that was second to all the sneaking around behind Eva’s back.
Of course she had to go and drag Shalise into it after she had promised Sister Cross that she would keep her distance from the demon things. Not that Juliana knew that little detail. Still, it was the principle of the matter.
“Are we actually letting him out?”
“Talk after I wake up. I have a headache and can’t think properly.”
With that said, Juliana flopped over and nuzzled into her shirt.
She was snoring less than a minute later.
Shalise stayed on her feet, too worried she might fall asleep again if she sat down.
Alright, on watch. I can do this.
The winged demon was chained to the wall. Grinning at her.
She poked her head out of the barrier and glanced left, right, up, and down–not that there was anything down other than the floor. Aside from the demons in their own cells, the hallway was otherwise empty.
Crossing her arms, Shalise frowned. There had to be more to being on watch than that.
But there was nothing to do. Nothing aside from getting lost in her own thoughts and worries.
Shaking her head, Shalise looked over the original occupant of the cell.
His neck, both wrists, both ankles, and his waist all had massive manacles holding him against the wall. Both the chains and the clasps were made from the same pitch black metal that seemed to adorn everything in the prison. A metal very similar in appearance to the stuff Eva’s dagger was made from.
None of the restraints had any seams that Shalise could see, though she couldn’t see on the back of his neck. She wasn’t feeling up to going too close to the demon, even if he seemed secure.
And it was quite secure looking. Only an inch or two of slack chain gave him any room for movement.
For such a large cell, he sure made use of very little space. Even prisoners on death row had some room to move. It was a pitiful state to be in.
Shalise narrowed her eyes. That just meant he did something to deserve it.
“Like what you see?”
The demon’s gravely voice jolted Shalise out of her thoughts. It jolted her enough that she jumped back. Her shock sent him into a fit of laughter. Not the roaring, rumbling laughs or dark chuckles that he used when they first met. They were quiet and honest laughs.
Consideration for Juliana? Shalise thought with a frown. Her blond companion hadn’t even stirred at the noise.
“Waking her up would delay my freedom,” he said, apparently reading her mind. “I have been in here for who knows how many thousands of years. Before I got here, I would never have considered myself the patient sort. In a way, I still do not. Watching you two grates on my nerves.”
The binding chains went taut as he strained and pulled. “I just want to–” His words descended into a growl.
Shalise didn’t move at all. If it were that easy to escape, he would have done so already. She knew that she wouldn’t have given up trying to escape after thousands of years of being chained to the wall.
The demon–Prax, Juliana had called him–closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, they blazed bright with unrestrained fury. The light died as rest of him slumped in his chains.
Crossing her arms, Shalise gave him a glare. He was clearly trying to manipulate her. She wasn’t going to fall for such a simple trick. Since his pitiful state came just after an implied threat, that made it all the more important to keep a clear head.
She could only hope that the sleeping blond would take that same care when she awoke.
The worst part was that Juliana was right, as far as Shalise could see. They had walked for hours upon hours. There was a chance it was all in the wrong direction.
And then there were the demons.
Not the locked up ones. Shalise wasn’t too concerned about those demons. If Prax was to be believed, he had been stuck in one spot for at least a thousand years.
It was the loose ones that sent chills up her spine, along with the possibility of another earthquake setting even more loose.
Then there were those imps. They couldn’t be the only ones trying to break other demons out of jail.
You should not have run from the imps. Such weakness will not go unpunished.
Shalise spun around.
There was no one there.
Juliana slept on. Prax remained chained against the wall. The hallway was devoid of life.
“What was I supposed to do?” she muttered under her breath.
Her wand was gone. Her lightning gloves were gone. The ring Juliana had given her did not work.
Juliana had fought the demons. With her fists, if ‘punching out’ one of the imps was to be taken literally.
Shalise wasn’t strong. Just walking as much as she had was tiring. Professor Kines’ club toughened her up enough for that, but not for brawling.
Even if he had no magic or couldn’t use his magic, Prax at least had an excess of muscle.
Abandoning your friend to the mercies of demons? She came out lucky.
Shalise closed her eyes and counted backwards from ten.
Not as lucky as you might think.
Shalise took three steps towards Prax. “Are you doing this?” she shouted. “It isn’t funny. And it isn’t going to make me let you go.”
Prax had the audacity to look surprised. The surprise shifted to a glare. “In case you have yet to notice,” he struggled against his restraints, “I cannot do much of anything.”
“You’re talking to me. Inside my head.”
“I am no–”
His eyes went wide and, for the first time since she had seen him, he created more slack in his chains as he pressed up against the wall.
Shalise took a step back at his reaction. “W-what is it?”
“Figures. Hell isn’t often host to mortals, at least not outside those screaming their heads off in the abattoir. Of course Void would take note of you.”
“What do you mean? Is that some demon?”
Prax stared. He slowly shook his head, as much as he was able to. “You are not a very good diabolist, are you? Some warlock’s new apprentice, right?”
“I’m not any kind of diabolist! I’m only–We are only here because someone doesn’t know not to mess with things she doesn’t understand.”
His eyes flicked down towards Juliana before returning to Shalise. More and more sharp teeth revealed themselves as a smile split across his face. “I see.
“No matter. That voice may speak lies or truths. Whatever is most advantageous to Him at any particular moment. If He tries to turn you against me, remember that I am your only hope for escaping this place.”
Careful, Praxtihr, or your new friends will think you’re desperate.
“You!” Prax roared.
Shalise pressed her back against the wall in the furthest corner of the room from the demon.
“I did nothing worthy of imprisonment save being born to that ovgpu! And yet after ten thousand years, you finally speak to this mortal?” Prax pulled against his chains like he never had before, at least not in Shalise’s presence.
The chains held. There wasn’t even the slightest hint of them giving way. No creaks, no bending links.
“Release me and I may see your pet mortals through this nightmare.”
Prax’s eyes darted around the room, never-resting on any one thing for more than a moment. After a short eternity, the demon yelled out. Nothing that came from his mouth formed words; just pure rage given voice.
The chains went slack. Anger spent, Prax’s muscles lost all tension. He collapsed in place, held up only by the restraints.
“Mortals once had gods, did they not?” he said so quietly that Shalise had to move closer to catch the last few words. “How nice it must be to be free of them.”
Shalise said nothing. What did someone even say to something like that?
Instead, she turned away, giving the demon some privacy. She wasn’t about to forget that he was a demon that could be acting out a script for sympathy, but it seemed genuine enough. And Juliana did have a point; they knew two demons, plus Eva, that were not all bad.
Two of those had even saved her life once.
The hallway was as barren as it had been the last time she checked. Even after Prax’s outburst, Juliana slept on. It was somewhat amazing, but then it was possible that Shalise had slept through as much or worse.
She rubbed her side where Juliana had poked her. It tingled, though that may have been nothing more than a phantom feeling.
Shalise turned back to the demon, intending to distract herself. “Why are you here?”
“Same reason anyone is here. We broke the rules.” He flared his large nostrils in a snort. Under his breath, he added, “you participate in one revolution…”
“Once upon a time, demons tried to conquer the mortal realm. Multiple times, really, but I was only a participant once.”
“And humans beat you back?”
“Hah! As if mortals could stand against the might of demons. Your kind was just learning to harvest seeds they themselves had sown.
“It was the elves.”
Shalise frowned, but nodded. There were stories about elves being great warriors. They were supposedly dying out now–the elves hadn’t fought anything in forever according to Professor Twillie–but the stories had to come from somewhere.
“Long story short, we lost. When we clawed ourselves out of the void, Keeper was there to collect us and toss us into these cells.”
“What, it was against the ‘rules’ to attack Earth?”
Prax let out a loud laugh. “Oh no. No one would care about that. The specific rule we broke was against helping one another to the mortal plane. Some of us got it in their heads that using their own beacons to bring more with them was a good idea.”
“It is against the rules to help each other?”
“Have you ever thought about why–no.” He shook his head. “You are no diabolist.”
Shalise’s ears popped. A rumbling noise rattled her teeth as it crescendoed into an explosion. She stumbled forward, falling to her hands and knees in front of Prax.
“Another earthquake?” Shalise spoke without thinking and bit part of her tongue for her efforts. She clamped her jaw shut.
Whatever it was, it was much stronger than the earthquake that had broken the door on their cell. It was doing its best to shake her arms out from under her.
The tremor died down. Shalise used the wall to help herself back to her feet.
“Prisoners out of confinement. Keeper notified. Dolls dispatched. Return to your cells at once or prepare for a journey to the abattoir.”
Prax’s restraints still held, Shalise was happy to note. He pulled and thrashed around as much as he was able while shouting what had to be obscenities in that language he had slipped into earlier.
Shalise turned back towards the cell’s entrance and froze.
There were demons outside.
Most were running past the cell without glancing in once.
One did not. Shalise met the eyes of a demon similar in appearance to Prax save for his deep indigo skin color. He stopped in front of the cell and just stared.
“J-Juliana!” Shalise edged towards the still sleeping girl, not taking her eyes off the indigo demon.
Despite the red barrier still separating them, Shalise wasn’t about to look away.
At least not until she put a hand on Juliana.
Shalise wrenched back her hand.
The blond was burning up. A thin film of sweat covered her face. Probably even more beneath her armor.
Shaking her did nothing except elicit a few groans. Shalise couldn’t try poking her in the side thanks to the metal covering her body.
She couldn’t even take off the armor to help cool her down. It was sealed up unless Juliana took it off with ferrokinesis.
“Juliana, you can’t do this to me. Please wake up.”
In a low throaty tone, Prax chuckled.
Shalise put her back to the cell wall where she could keep an eye on both the red demon and the indigo demon. It had started pacing in front of the cell while Shalise was looking over Juliana.
“You did this,” Shalise said while shooting a glare at Prax.
“You are so quick to assume everything is my fault. As I said earlier, I am stuck here.” He made a show of rattling his chains before sighing. “Even after that quake, I am no closer to being free than I was a thousand years ago.”
“Then why is she…” Shalise frowned, looking down at Juliana, “sick?”
“Look down at her leg.”
After a last look at both demons, Shalise knelt down next to her friend.
Six little holes had been torn in her pants.
No, not just her pants. Moving her pant leg up showed dents and punctures in the metal itself. A small amount of blood had dried onto her skin where the metal armor ended.
“Poison? Or an infection?”
Shalise tried lightly slapping Juliana’s cheeks.
“W-what do I do?” Shalise mumbled to herself when Juliana failed to respond.
“We can save your mortal friend. You are going to free me.”
Shalise did not move. She continued to stare down at Juliana. “What’s to stop you from running off or… or worse?”
“Even if you somehow managed to get me out of these chains, I couldn’t cross that barrier. At least, not on my own.” The smile was audible in his voice. “Inside you is an entirely different story.”
“W-what?” Shalise stood up, taking a step away from Prax as she moved.
“Nothing to be surprised about. A bonded familiar. I will be inside you while you walk past the barrier. We can break the bond later.
“Of course,” he said with a sneer, “you are welcome to stay in my humble cell. That incubus will either leave of his own accord or will be taken away whenever the guards get around to it. Then you can run away on your own. Find help or simply flee.
“Who knows how well the other mortal will be by then…”
Shalise bit her lip. The indigo demon leered through the barrier at her. The red demon calmly smiled. And Juliana…
Juliana lay in her own sweat at Shalise’s feet.
“W-what do I have to do?”
Prax’s smile widened. His middle finger pressed into his palm on one hand, digging his sharp nail into the red skin.
“Dip your finger in my blood. Draw three open circles in a triangular formation with a fourth in the center. It does not matter where. The back of your hand will work. Your stomach is larger and flatter, if you are worried about space.”
Shalise took a few slow steps towards Prax. She felt like she was walking to a funeral. Her own funeral. And she was being given the shovel to dig her own grave. By her murderer.
“Isn’t there another way? There were some imps breaking down the wall around one of the cells…”
Prax snorted. “Unless you no longer care about that mortal, we are on a time limit.”
Sighing, Shalise pulled up her shirt and started following his directions.
“Connect all the circles with a line. Then draw an omega symbol, a star, and a symbol for infinity in the three outer circles. Put a crescent with a cross coming off the bottom in the center circle.”
“What is all this for?”
Prax growled. His growl cut off part way through as he tilted his head. “Omega is the end, a star is birth, infinity is… self-explanatory. The crescent and cross is the symbol of a progenitor.”
“And it all lets you live in-inside me?”
“Of sorts. Make yourself useful enough and I may just teach you to be a proper diabolist. Cannot have my servants being ignorant.”
“I don’t want to be a diabolist,” Shalise said. “Or a servant.”
“Are you finished, servant?”
Shalise had half a mind to shout ‘no’ in his face. She glared at his overeager face instead.
“Give me your hand.”
Shalise took a step back. “Give you–”
“Put your hand against my hand,” Prax said. His chains shook as he waved his bloody hand.
Her hand shook as it inched closer.
His hand jumped forward and clasped around hers, pulling the chains as tight as they would go. Sharp fingers dug into the back of her hand.
There was a burning on her stomach.
And everything went dark.