The Thing About Investigations Is That They Can Easily Surprise You
“Okay,” said Cal, taking a breath as he looked up at the shady warehouse. “Let’s go, guys.”
Sully held out his hand, and though Cal didn’t see anything obvious, he nodded after a second, and they all moved forward, confident that the illusion he’d put up on the area was enough to keep them hidden from any passing guards or naval officers. They approached the building together, Lillian and Mick out front.
Cal hung back with the others, including Darby, who was scowling at the building. “Once the hole in the wards is open, I’ll pick the lock and get us inside. We don’t go in heavy unless there’s something that needs hitting.”
“There’s going to be,” Beatrice said, arms crossed. “There’s no way the only security they have is some magical woo-woo on the outside.”
“That’s what Carrie and Wes are for,” Cal said, watching Sully join Mick and Lillian. He didn’t pretend to fully understand what they were doing.
“And me,” Joey piped up. “And Darby.”
“Sure,” Cal said, glancing at Darby, who was staying more still than Cal had ever seen him. With Sully and Mick over there, there was nobody here who could talk to him. “Actually, do you think you can turn your hands into claws again? That would be useful if there was fighting.”
“I’ll try,” Joey said, looking down at his hands.
Cal nodded, glancing at Travis, who had Nathen’s sword on his back. That was only for if there was a really serious emergency. He would rather Wes was holding it, but if there was fighting, Wes wasn’t going to have time to unstrap a sword for him.
“Okay,” said Mick after a minute, waving them forward. “The wards are heavy, but not very creative. It wasn’t hard to make a hole in them.”
“It was pretty hard,” Lillian disagreed. “It just seemed easy because there are three of us here.”
“So the door’s safe?” Cal asked.
“Yeah, have at it.”
Cal did, letting Mick make a ball of light so he could see it. It was locked with a basic padlock, and he scowled. “That’s all?”
“Yeah, that’s a bit weak,” Beatrice agreed. “They really were relying on the wards, weren’t they?”
Cal nodded, waving Travis over. “Travis, come here, I’m going to teach you how to pick a lock.” He may as well. They weren’t likely to run into a better training lock than this.
He gave his picks to Travis and explained how pins and tumblers worked, walking him through the process. “Couldn’t you do this much faster?” Travis asked after a few minutes.
“Yes, but there’s no reason we can’t take the extra time. Better for you to learn on the job than in a bedroom where there are no stakes.” Though they’d have to find him a bedroom where there were stakes, just for added practice. Travis didn’t have even a tenth of the minimal shame Cal had had the common decency to have at his age, but Travis was afraid of naked girls, so the risk of one of those being in his vicinity if he screwed up should provide stakes enough for him. Cal leaned against the door as he spoke, the buzziness of the wards that Travis had mentioned present only in a small way since Mick and the others had moved them around. There was something in the building, though; even Cal could feel it.
“It’d be safer if you didn’t go in there,” Arky muttered, looking at the warehouse.
Cal nodded. But since safe wasn’t the same thing as interesting, he didn’t pay Arky much mind.
It took Travis just under ten minutes to get the lock open. “That was really good for your first try,” Cal told him. “Good work.”
“You probably did it faster your first time,” Travis muttered, handing the picks back.
“My first time, I got caught.” Cal put the picks away, and motioned Wes forward to open the door.
Nothing happened, and they followed him inside, to what was clearly an ordinary warehouse. There were barrels and rope and supply crates stacked around in neat piles. Cal narrowed his eyes.
“There’s nothing here after all that?” Travis asked.
“No,” said Cal. “There’s no way all this security was hiding crates of wood glue. Look around.” The hairs on his arms were standing on end. Something was here.
There was dust everywhere, Cal noted, walking ahead of the group. No footprints in them. They set about moving crates and looking in corners, but Cal went to the back of the warehouse, looking at the dust. “It’s got to be underground, right?” he asked Mick, who was behind him.
“Yeah, I don’t see where else it could be. There’s definitely magic here, and I don’t like it.”
Cal nodded, looking at the floor. “Arky, go through the floor and see what’s under there.”
Arky sighed like this was a difficult task. “Fine. But I’ll remind you I don’t get paid to be on this team.”
“You get to sit on the bedpost and watch us every night, don’t you?”
“Fair enough.” Arky gave a huff and leapt from Cal’s shoulder, disappearing.
“It looks like we’re the only living things to have been in here in months,” Mick said, sending the light a little higher. “The rumours that even the admiral doesn’t know about what’s here must be true.”
“Maybe,” Cal said. “Or maybe…there.” He pointed. Mick’s higher light had illuminated a spot on the back wall where the dust was disturbed in an arc, like from the swing of a door. “Secret door.”
“So someone’s been coming in the back.”
“And heading over there.” There were footprints, and Cal followed them until they stopped at another storage crate. “Help me move this.”
Between the two of them, they could not. “What the fuck?” Mick asked.
“It’s fixed to the floor.” Cal stood straight, and instead gave the lid a push. “Aha.” It slid off. Mick’s light revealed a ladder leading down. “Guys!”
Everyone came over, crowding around the ladder. Mick’s light shone down. “Well, that’s ominous as fuck,” Beatrice said.
Cal nodded, pulled a coin out of his pocket and dropped it down. It was a second or two before it pinged on stone, echoing up. “Sounds like a two-storey drop to me.”
“Hey,” Arky said, reappearing on Cal’s shoulder. “There’s a bigass room down there with another big seal in it.”
Cal nodded at him, and as he did, Sully put his hand on the side, vaulted right over it, and dropped down. “What the fuck?” Cal asked, and then he heard Sully hit the ground with an echoing curse.
A light lit up at the bottom of the ladder, showing Sully. “It’s a small room,” he reported, looking up. “Nothing else. There’s a door here. Should I head in?”
Cal thought about it for a second, then nodded. “Wait for Wes and Beatrice. Then go in.” To the rest of them, he said, “After them, Joey, then Lillian and Travis, then Darby and me, and Mick last. We’re going to have to leave Carrie up here, she won’t fit.”
Wes started climbing down the ladder, and Cal called down again. “Don’t touch anything until the rest of us get there. Arky says there’s something sealed down there and I don’t want to wake it up by accident.”
“I’m starting to think it’s a demon,” Lillian said, watching them climb down. Cal watched until Beatrice was halfway down, then motioned Joey to go. “The bad kind.”
Cal was starting to think that too. It would explain all the sorcerous wards around the place. “You think this could be something to do with the local sorcerer clan?”
“Clan Gjoil,” Lillian said. “And no. I don’t think so. Using a naval base is too unsubtle for them.”
“So someone else.” Cal sighed. “Hey, what clan are you from again?”
“Not Clan Gjoil.” Lillian took the ladder now, going down quickly. “I’ll see you down there.”
“There’s a huge room down here!” Joey called up, as she climbed down. “It’s got cages and all kinds of crazy stuff in it!”
“Cages?” Cal asked, wishing he’d gone down first.
“There are people in them.”
“Shit.” Cal watched Lillian, tapping Travis to go down, then waiting a few seconds, tapping Darby as well. Darby shook his head. Stay here, then. They didn’t have time for Darby’s nerves.
Darby didn’t stop looking worried, but he climbed down the ladder, way too reckless for the darkness, but it wasn’t like Cal could stop him. “Okay,” he said, hand on Mick’s for a second. “Carrie’s going to guard this, but maybe an alarm or something to let us know if we’re not alone?”
“Yeah,” Mick agreed, hand on the crate. “I’ll set something up. Get down there before you jump out of your skin.”
Cal smiled, gave him a kiss. “I’ll see you in a minute.”
He climbed down the ladder as fast as he could, hearing voices in the room. Just over halfway down he gave up climbing, pushed back and jumped the rest of the way, which his knee didn’t like, but whatever. Mick was climbing down, having done whatever magic he’d done. Cal was in a small space with a metal door, which he went through into the larger, open room behind.
It was another warehouse, and Joey had been right. On the left-hand wall was a bank of cages in which sat or stood several people. Beatrice was picking the lock on one of them, and as Cal watched, Sully slammed his knife onto another lock, making the whole exterior of the cage shimmer as a ward collapsed. The rest of the room had tables, trays, bookshelves, a writing desk. There was what looked even to Cal like a spell circle set up in the right-hand corner near the door.
The whole back of the room was taken up by a large curtain, which, which Cal looked at Lillian, got a nod. “It’s back there?”
“Yeah. We need to get these people out of here quickly, Cal.”
Cal nodded. “Travis,” he said, once Mick entered the room. “Once the cages are open, I need you and Joey to start getting those people up the ladder as quickly as you can.”
“There’s something wrong with the wards on that thing,” Lillian said suddenly, hand out.
As Cal asked that, shadows started to snake across the floor, and one grabbed his ankle and started to claw up his leg. “Fuck.” He kicked it off, drawing his sword, as the shadow formed into something corporeal. All around the room, shadows were rising, but not normal shadows. Absences given shape. Looking at them was painful.
Cal drew his sword. Everyone else had weapons out too. The shadows were advancing on them, albeit more slowly on the magic-users. “What’s wrong with the wards?” Cal asked Lillian.
“They’re not seals. It’s bound here, but it’s not sealed—it’s protecting this place.”
“That’s right,” said a voice that spoke quietly, and reverberated through the room like a bell falling from the sky. “Very clear orders here. Don’t let any trespassers come in and ruin all the little experiments. So hey there, trespassers. I’ve never presided over a mass funeral where the funerees booked the event, but I’m flexible. Let’s get this started, shall we?”
“Who knew demons talked so fucking much,” Cal growled, slashing at a shadow with his sword. The cages were open now, but the shadows were keeping everyone inside them. Hopefully they were safe. Cal didn’t have time to worry about them; the shadows were multiplying. He was moving closer to Travis as he fought. “Shit,” he said, tripping. Two of them leapt at him, and Cal really didn’t want to know what would happen if…
A grey flash flew over Cal, and the two shadows evaporated. The growling Darby shifted back onto two legs, taking his knife out of his mouth and slashing at another shadow with it in his hand. He was furrier than usual, Cal thought, at least half-lupine even if he wasn’t a wolf. His shirt was gone, but he still had on a necklace with a big tooth hanging from it, which just made him look more feral.
He had no time to pay attention to that. Cal just stood up, patting Darby’s shoulder as a thank you, took a quick look around. Wes and Beatrice were back to back. Joey had his claws out and was protecting Travis, who was holding a knife. Mick and Sully were blasting shadows away so Lillian could do something else, hands pointed towards the curtain. The shadows kept coming.
All the light in the room went out, and a scream went up, swallowed by the dark. Time distended, and shadows clawed at them, and Cal bumped into someone, and then, there was a crash.
Three balls of light stabbed sight back into the room. The curtain had collapsed, revealing that the room went on for several more feet. The floor was sky black, all of it emanating from a figure in the middle of the revealed space, which Cal wasn’t sure really existed. Distance seemed to warp around it, making the world a spiral with corners. It was human-shaped in the sense that it had two arms and legs and a head and torso, and not at all human-shaped in the sense that it looked like someone had drawn the opposite of what a soul was in an ink so white it was black.
It had no face, no distinguishing marks. It was just that horrible black all over. Looking at it straight-on was like looking at the sun’s evil twin, making Cal’s eyes want to swim backwards into his throat. It was looking back at him, and it smiled. Cal didn’t know how, but it smiled. “Well, look who it is.”
“Travis,” Cal said, holding out his hand. “Give me the sword.”
“Are we going to kill this thing?” Joey asked.
“You can’t kill a higher demon,” said Lillian. “You can only banish it.”
The demon chuckled, the sound of masonry rotting. “You can try. But I promise, the attempt won’t be worth your while.”
Travis handed Cal Nathen’s sword, the handle feeling whole in his grip. Lillian, Mick and Sully were preparing magic, he could feel it. A grey flash appeared in the corner of his vision.
Darby was no longer just a hairy boy. He was almost Mick’s height, ripped with muscle, fur all over, a wolf’s face, knife in his muzzle. He leapt through the air from four metres away, sailing towards the demon, which was focused on Cal. It saw him, and raised a hand to bat him aside.
Darby hit the wall with a howl, and Cal raced forward, sure he could do something, distract at least. “You’re a fool,” said the demon, as Cal drew near, sword in one hand.
And then Darby was back, flying at the demon’s head, knife abandoned, just teeth in his maw. His jaws clamped around the demon’s head just as Cal got in striking distance.
The demon screamed, taking all the sound in the room and making it its own, using all their mouths and orifices to keen a death knell that tasted like the ashes of burnt suns. And it evaporated, its body collapsing into nothing and becoming one with nothing, light returning to the room as space reoriented itself. Cal dropped Nathen’s sword, off-balance as something left the world.
“It’s…dead,” Lillian said, quiet.
“I thought that was impossible.”
Darby had changed back to his usual self and was sitting there on the floor, tail wagging. He looked pleased with himself. He didn’t seem to care that he’d just done something impossible.
“Who…” that was a woman’s voice, and Cal looked over. In the doorway of one of the cages was a tall lady in a torn white dress. She had cat ears and a tail, as did a few of the others in the cages. Cal also saw horns, wings, tails. And kids. There were kids in there. Darby’s age, younger, at least one was a baby. “Who are you?” the cat woman asked.
“It’s…” Cal didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t had any real expectations going into this, but if he’d been forced to say what he thought the secrets of this place might be, he sure wouldn’t have said this. “Well, it’s a bit of a long story, ma’am.”
12 thoughts on “Team, 73”
Is killing the unkillable a werewolf thing, or a Darby thing?
Very much a Darby thing, so we’ll definitely have to be looking into how he was able to that. 😉
More Spider experiments? Or is this Klaus specifically? Or was the higher demon doing this itself, for its own reasons?
Naturally I will not answer that, but we will find out soon enough! 😀
As an anime fan, I think I’m contractually obligated to be excited about catgirls and catboys making an appearance. As I have never actually understood the appeal, please just pretend this comment is full of incoherent squeeing.
Consider it assumed! I won’t lie, I used this particular storyline to intentionally introduce catboys/girls for fans of such things. 🙂 I’m sure someone else will do the squeeing for you, don’t worry!
Was the demon actually killed, or just forcibly ejected from this plane? Because if the former, that’s a bit of a game-changer. Especially if demons are normally impossible to kill even by each other. That’s the sort of thing that leads to an epic freakout on the part of demon-kind.
…Hopefully Darby didn’t just accidentally set off the apocalypse. It would be a shame if he wasted the “ohshit there’s something that can kill us KILLITWITHFIRE” reaction on one of the small fry.
The demon was definitively killed. They are able to kill each other, but it’s very, very rare for them to find anything in the conventional universe that can successfully kill them. So yeah, I can see a bit of a freakout happening. So hopefully the world’s not about to end thanks to Darby getting a little bitey. 😀
Oh, wow. I hope that wasn’t someone you liked, Scott.
“Meh, he kinda sucked if you ask me.”
Rest assured, Scott won’t be too sad at the lost of a countryman, though he might be a bit irked at the actual death of one of his kind, which is going to get Darby on a list…
I’m going to need Scott and all of his friends to back the fuck away from Darby now and for the rest of time
Well Darby may have just made it pretty sure that that’s not going to happen. 😀 But at the very least you won’t be alone on his protection squad! Thanks!