“This is a surprise. After all that skulking about, you come out of the woodwork now?”
Clement stood unmoving. He could feel the sweat beading down his skin beneath his armor. The battle hadn’t even started yet.
Demons never really frightened him. They were arrogant beings, the kind of monsters who thought themselves so above humanity that nothing short of an army could beat them in combat. When faced against a medieval knight and a lithe girl, most tended to laugh. If given the chance to monologue, which most took, they would gloat about how quickly the battle would be over.
Usually Gertrude would be at his side. Ever the impatient sort, she tended to interrupt them. Whether that be using her water magic to ice over their eyeballs or simply activating a prepared trap, rarely did a demon finish his monologue.
Though, Gertrude wasn’t at his side this time.
Clement opened his mouth only to find his throat drier than a desert in a drought. Licking his lips, he gave a slight cough to clear his throat before speaking.
“You didn’t bring along the other demons?” Unless something had changed recently, there should still be two demons inside the school building. A morail and a hellhound. The rest were still out at the prison.
The devil drew himself up, broadening his shoulders as he straightened his back. “I could kill them with a stray thought. If you’re truly strong enough to challenge me, they wouldn’t last longer than a few seconds.”
Clement blinked. He had been expecting some arrogant oh, you think I need help to fight you? Instead, this devil’s words carried a tone of respect for Clement. They recognized his strength.
Which was not a good thing. He needed to deal with the devil before the devil took him seriously.
Something that had not looked likely from the start.
As Clement looked on the devil, he could find no trace of the man he had spied upon since he had arrived in Brakket. Gone was the flirt that propositioned everyone in town. Male or female. Clement had caught him sweet talking a horse at one point, though given Clement’s certainty that the devil knew he was being watched, that could have been a show specifically for the purpose of messing with him.
No, before Clement stood a devil.
He didn’t look like one, for sure. He looked like a professor. A rather well-off professor. His suit was well pressed without a spot of dust on it. His dark hair was well styled, not too short to look military, but not long enough to look childish. Magnetic and debonair, Clement almost found himself dismissing the idea that this man was anything but a man.
But then there were the devil’s eyes. Bright golden eyes that almost glowed in the surrounding darkness.
Truly a monster.
Regardless of the outcome, perhaps there would be songs sung about this battle. There certainly were plenty of witnesses.
Clement looked around. The two Brakket dormitory buildings stood on either side of him, one to his left and the other to the right. There was a brick campus between the two, not designed for vehicles.
Lights were on in several rooms. The lights made it easy to see the silhouettes of students that hadn’t gone home for the summer. A number of the rooms were dark but still held people—Clement could see as much through his visor’s enchantments.
Unfortunately, it was doubtful that any great bards would take up the task of his song. More likely, some kid would record the whole thing before posting it on the internet. People would argue about it, some claiming it was mere special effects while others would insist that the video was more evidence of magic.
Then it would be forgotten as the next big thing came around.
Shaking his head, Clement looked back towards his opponent. “If we fight like this,” he said with a nod up to the lit windows. “They’ll know who–what you are.”
The devil shrugged his shoulders. “You care. You hunt demons. Demons are your life, your very reason for existence. A big bad demon invading a town of innocent students, why, it might just be the most important fight of your life.” Lifting his arm, he gestured towards one of the buildings. “To them, today is Tuesday.”
Clement tapped a finger against the armor over his thigh as he thought. Gertrude had set up a few traps before leaving for her own mission. Unfortunately, they were all back in the city itself. None on the campus plaza.
Turning his back… was not an option. He was certain that he would be struck down the moment he tried. As cordial as their conversation had sounded, he had no illusions that it actually was.
Leading him back through town during the fight might prove impossible. Surely the devil would see through what he was doing. Or he would avoid going too far from the academy building.
Clement grit his teeth and clenched his fist. He would just have to do this the old-fashioned way.
“Ah, finally ready?” the devil asked.
Clement didn’t get a chance to respond.
The devil’s outfit burst into flames. They cleared away just as quickly as they had come, leaving him baring his muscles for all the students to see.
Great black wings sprouted from his back. Feathered, rather than the bat-like wings most demons possessed. From his waist down, he was covered in a leathery fur that ended in heavy hooves. Fire and smoke sprouted from where the hooves touched the ground. Horns curled off his head—one of them a crumpled horn—each looking more evil every time Clement’s eyes passed over them.
Reaching behind his back, Clement curled his fingers around the emerald-studded hilt of his sword. He drew it without flourish or elegance. Every movement he made was purely utilitarian.
The devil’s golden eyes went wide. For just a bare moment, his smile disappeared as his mouth twisted to the shape of a ring.
“A Persian sword. Not many would use such a thing these days, though I suppose that there is no weapon more fitting for fighting demons. Not the original Zomorrodnegār. If you’ll forgive me for acting out of turn…”
The devil snapped forward with a burst of flames at his back, crossing half the distance between them in the blink of an eye.
Clement raised his sword, both hands gripping the hilt to better defend against powerful attacks.
But the devil didn’t continue on. He stopped moving five feet away.
The flames didn’t stop with him. They curled around the devil’s body, continuing forwards and wrapping around Clement. There was a mild heat accompanying the flames. Nothing that would be dangerous.
He stood his ground. Something that was becoming increasingly difficult as the bricks under his boots became brittle and cracked away under the heat. But he couldn’t afford to move. This was a test of some sort. Through his visor’s enchantments, he could see that the devil hadn’t moved after launching the flames.
There was a sensation in Clement’s gut that if he moved, he would lose his head.
After a moment of the flames wrapping around him, they dispersed into mere embers.
The devil was hazy. Heat waves trailed up from the glowing red bricks, distorting everything around Clement. Even some parts of his armor had a faint red glow to them.
“Yes,” the devil said, “definitely not the original. The original would have eaten those flames.”
With a shrug of the devil’s shoulders, the plaza returned to normal. The heat haze vanished as the bricks lost their glow.
The bricks that had cracked beneath Clement’s feet stayed glowing and cracked. The tips of his armor retained their red-hot temperature as well.
Already bright gold, the devil’s eyes lit up with a maddened delirium as he burst into laughter. “Excellent,” he said. “Marvelous! What is your name?”
Clement hesitated. He was not a mage. Nor had he much training apart from what to expect from demons and any other entities that Gertrude thought he should know about. He had heard that names had power. Where he had heard it, he couldn’t say. Books, perhaps. Fiction.
Except it was so difficult to tell what was fiction and what was a mage writing about personal experiences under the guise of fiction.
Never before had a demon asked his name. He had never had cause to ask Gertrude about names.
Then again, he didn’t use his real name. ‘Clement’ was a moniker given to him by Gertrude.
“Come now,” the devil said as he tapped a foot against the brick plaza. “We don’t have all night. I’m sure I have to go hunt down your girlfriend before morning.”
“Clement,” he said through grit teeth. Readying his sword, he shifted forwards.
This devil couldn’t be allowed to chase after Gertrude.
“Clement huh? I’ll remember that. For at least a day. You may call me Zagan, Great King of Hell.”
Clement didn’t acknowledge the devil. He charged forwards using his toes to activate the enchantments in his boots, and slashed down at the devil.
Zagan was, predictably, not in the path of his blade by the time it passed through the air.
Rather than follow through with a second slash or chase after him, Clement pulled back and brought one arm up to his eyeline.
Zagan’s open hand caught the gauntlet’s wrist. He started to twist Clement’s arm, eliciting a light groan from the armor as the metal protested the movement.
Bringing his sword around with his free hand was enough to send Zagan hopping backwards a few steps. Clement tried to hit him with the closed fist of his released hand, but struck nothing but air.
Before marching up to Brakket Academy, Clement had removed the fingers of his armor on his left hand. On one of those fingers, he wore the ring that Gertrude had given him.
So long as Zagan didn’t notice it, all he had to do was slip in a punch while the devil was distracted by the sword. At least, as long as Gertrude was right in her assumption that it would work. Clement had never known her to be wrong about much of anything.
Though, given how he was avoiding it, Clement hoped that his sword would work just as well.
They entered into a vicious cycle of back and forth attacks. As the devil circled around him, all Clement had to do to get him to back off was step forward and slash with the sword. He kept his slashes short and moved as fast as he could to prevent any long openings that might give Zagan another opportunity to grapple.
Not once since the earlier flames had the devil tried to use magic. He had named the sword, which likely meant that he knew its properties. Magic wouldn’t work well against the sword’s wielder. It was still disconcerting just how quickly he had figured that out.
Neither did he have any weapons, though no demon ever did. They always preferred to use their own natural talents and abilities over any kind of artificial enhancement. Which was good for Clement. It meant that Zagan had to get in close to actually attack.
Twisting around another attempted grapple, Clement reversed his grip on his sword and thrust it back and around his side.
Curved swords weren’t made for thrusting, but they still had a point.
And he felt that point dig into the devil’s flesh.
Clement put space between them with the enchantments in his boots. Turning, he found Zagan staring down at his arm.
A long streak of black liquid ran from his elbow down to his wrist. Every few seconds, the blood would vanish. It vanished completely and thoroughly, leaving no streaks or markings on the skin. Even the droplets that fell to the bricks disappeared.
No matter how many times the blood vanished, the wound always remained.
Zagan chuckled, throwing back his head. “Yes, Clement. This is perfect. When the pale horse comes for you, you must remind me to thank dear Martina. You can do that for me, yeah?”
Clement didn’t respond. All of his focus went towards dashing forwards and striking at Zagan a second time.
— — —
For perhaps the first time since she had taken over her office, Martina Turner had drawn back the curtains and pulled up the blinds. She never knew who might try to peek into her office from the outside or what might be going on inside when they tried. It was generally safer to simply keep them shut.
She didn’t mind. Her eyes were well accustomed to the dim lamps that she kept around the room. Her desk light lit up papers enough to work on. Natural lighting was overrated by leagues.
But tonight was different. Zagan was out fighting.
It was hard to tell. He was taking great pains to avoid a sword, resulting in him twisting and jumping all over the place. Every time he got close, the sword fighter found a way to make him back off.
Irritating, Martina thought with a glower. She tipped back a glass of her favored liquor, shaking her head as the drink warmed her blood. “Stop toying with him and kill him already,” she hissed out to no one in particular.
No one was around. Her newest morail was standing guard outside the room along with the hellhound. Zagan wouldn’t hear her from where he was. Even if he did hear her, he wouldn’t listen. His own amusement trumped everything else in his contract.
She was already regretting sending Catherine and the cambion off with Eva. Zagan should have been able to deal with any issues that arose. When she had sent her demons away, she hadn’t accounted for Zagan’s eccentricities.
Though, with the text she had sent, she had expected them back by now.
Unless they were dealing with the other demon hunter.
If that was the case, well, good luck to them.
Zagan took to the skies as Martina watched on. With a flap of his wings, he pulled a back flip. Four hooves cracked the ground as he landed in his full demon form. A fearsome winged bull with smoke streaming from his nostrils. He pawed the ground twice before charging.
His crumpled horn struck the armored hunter in the stomach. From her angle, Martina couldn’t tell whether or not it had pierced the armor, but it did some damage. The hunter paused, stunned for a moment.
A moment long enough for Zagan to twist his head and toss the knight.
The sword clipped Zagan on the shoulder as the knight sailed through the air. He crashed down through the wall of the Gillet dormitory building.
Martina blinked, staring at the dormitory’s crumbled walls for just a moment. “Ah. I forgot.”
Catherine was gone.
Martina moved away from the window back to her desk. Removing the phone from its cradle, she hit a few buttons to connect her to the public announcement systems in the two dormitories and the main school building.
“Attention all students and staff within the Brakket Academy campus,” Martina said into the phone. “There is currently a combative situation involving at least one intruder on campus. All students are to remain where they are so long as it appears safe in your location. Keep away from windows and walls that look out over the general plaza between the dormitories.”
Anything else? “The situation is well in hand. Do not interfere with any fighting. If you see anyone that does not appear to be a student or staff, avoid them.”
Martina placed the phone back down and moved back to the window. Luckily, school was out for the summer. Most teachers were gone. Most students were gone. New first years hadn’t even arrived yet. The only ones sticking around were those with no place else to go.
Of course, given how watched the city was since the sky issue, it wouldn’t surprise her to find out that some reporters were recording this somehow. Unfortunately, there was nothing that she could do about that at this point.
Martina was about to take another drink when she heard a loud cracking noise.
She turned towards the door just in time to see it split in two. Both halves flew across the room and turned to splinters as they hit the wall.
Silhouetted against the hallway light was a lithe woman, head tilted down so that her red hair hung down and obscured most of her face. Her hands up to her elbows were coated in black liquid. Viscous droplets hit the ground, staining it with each splash.
Behind the woman, two void portals swallowed up the remains of what could only be her guard demons.
The woman looked up, locking one green eye and one red eye with Martina’s eyes.
Martina took a casual sip of her drink as she looked over the woman. She held no obvious focus. No wand, no book, no gemstones. She had no rings on. Not a mage?
But she had just killed two demons. Granted, she may have ambushed them, but it looked like she had torn them apart with her bare hands. And with that eye…
“A half-demon? Or did you graft the eye?”
“Hellfire?” the woman said back. “You know that’s made by mortals who thought it would be a cool name? No relation to demons at all.”
Frowning, Martina brought the glass to her lips once again. Of course she knew that. She had become addicted to the taste long before she summoned her first demon.
And the hunter hadn’t answered her question.
“Here to talk?” Martina asked. That would be the best case scenario. Anything to delay until Zagan got off his ass and finished up with the armored hunter. Or even until Catherine returned. “Or here to fight?”
“Here to kill.”
The hunter dashed across the room without further preamble.
Martina dove to the side, dropping her glass as she moved. She forced her magic into the summoning circle in the center of the room, hidden beneath a large rug. There was no enticement set. She was opening the portal, a calling to any demon who might answer.
Frankly, she didn’t care what kind of demon she got. Though she was hoping for something marginally stronger than an imp. It was doubtful that such a pathetic being would even give the hunter pause.
There were no shackles around the circle either. A good thing in this case. So long as the demon went after the hunter and not her. Normally Zagan would be present. He was the best deterrent to any subterfuge, better than any set of shackles created by man, in any case.
The hunter jumped away from Martina, landing in the center of the circle. She clenched her fist and slammed it down into the floor.
Audible cracks ran through the floor.
Martina felt her magic backfire before she saw it. A sudden twist of her magic in a way that was not meant to be.
She cut off channeling her magic into the circle.
The damaged circle rumbled before exploding outwards, filling the air with dust and debris.
Martina flew back, hitting her hip against the edge of her desk. Groaning out, she breathed in a cloud of dust. She descended into sputtering hacks and coughs. Pulling up the edge of her shirt to cover her mouth, Martina tried to breathe in a lungful of filtered air as she looked around for her opponent.
The cloud of dust obscured everything more than a foot away. There were shadows around.
Martina used her rings to fire off a sickly green bolt of lightning.
“Summoning more demons? Tisk, tisk.”
She whipped her head around and immediately shot off another bolt into the corner of the room.
“I appreciate a fight as much as the next hunter, but I’d say that we have our work cut out for us with what is already around.”
A different corner, where the sound had come from, exploded from another lightning bolt. More dust and debris filled the air, sending Martina into a fresh set of coughs.
Her eyes burned. The shadow was moving around faster and faster, making Martina dizzy as she tried to follow it around her room.
“You kill me,” she coughed through her shirt, “and Zagan will be off his leash. You don’t know the destruction he will cause. He’ll kill everyone around. Innocent students, teachers, children.”
“Ah, I’m sure Clement will be broken-hearted to hear that. Unfortunately for you, you mistake me for someone who cares.”
Martina didn’t launch another lightning bolt. That tactic was obviously not working. She had to try something else.
Building up her magic, Martina tried for a teleport.
Only to collapse to her knees as she felt like she had run head first into a brick wall.
“Zagan,” she shouted, “help me–”
A cold hand pressed around her mouth, cutting her off.
“Calling for help? Is that all you can do? That is why you will die. One less summoner around will make our job much easier.”
Martina gripped the hand. The arm led somewhere behind her, but she couldn’t take the chance of missing again.
With the hand still around her mouth, Martina cast a sickly green lightning bolt straight at the arm.
Her body was wracked with pain, convulsing as the lightning tore through own flesh.
Still, she kept it going. More lightning, more and more. It was tearing through the hunter’s body just as much as it was hers.
Steam pouring off her body, Martina collapsed to the ground as her mind went blank.