ERIS Snapshot #2 – The Arcade

In the wee hours, the usually bustling city streets were eerily quiet, except for a small, lit storefront.

BWEEP! DUB! DUB! BWEEEEP!

Joss fished the vibrating phone from his pocket, tucking it between his chin and shoulder so he could work the game controls with both hands—clicking the button with one, while slamming the joystick with the other. “I’m busy. What’s up, bro?”

“I got my demon,” Leslie said. “Cut off its head in one clean slice.”

“Enchanted blades do that,” Joss said absently.

Leslie grunted. “You get its partner?”

“Lost him in a retro arcade. He had a key, if you can believe it.”

“Are you playing video games?”

“No,” Joss said, defensively. “Have you ever played Joust?

“Joss, arcades are for children. Where—”

“I’d like to see a child beat the Shadowlord,” Joss scoffed.

“We have a job to do. Just because you’re the boss’s son—”

“I’m not playing. I’m… One sec.”

DWEEB! DUB! DUB! BWOOP!

“What was that?” Leslie asked.

“Research.”

Leslie sighed on the other end. “I sent Brice a picture of my demon. He says it’s a Lontak.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Worth two-K in government bounty.”

Still working the controls, Joss turned towards the humanoid demon playing the secondary controls beside him. The demon’s elegant, dual horns atop his head turned outward, causing his already floppy ears to droop further. His purple eyes blinked, flicking from Joss to the short, enchanted blue blade laid across the seam between the screen and the control console.

“What about my demon?” Joss asked, preparing himself for action.

“Probably a Tensul.”

“Yeah?”

“Five bucks, if you’re lucky.”

“Balls.”

Taking advantage of Joss’ distraction, the Tensul demon cranked down on his joystick while slapping frantically at his button. Joss heard the descending FWUP-FWUP-FWOOOOP sound before he realized his character had been killed. The demon laughed.

“Meet me at the corner where we split,” Joss said to Leslie. Glaring at the demon, he slid the phone into his pocket.

“Gu-clack ti go, crista crenko,” the demon said, chuckling nervously.

“Yep, that’s two out of three,” Joss agreed. “You’re a free…” he looked the demon up and down, “whatever.”

The demon gave a quick nod, then turned to leave.

“One thing, before you go,” Joss said.

A few minutes later, he found Leslie waiting at a nearby street corner with a large black trash bag. “You found it after all,” she said as Joss tossed her the Tensul demon’s head. Leslie caught it by a squishy horn, bagged it, then followed Joss to the ERIS van parked around the corner. “Surprised you’d even break a sweat for five bucks,” she said.

“He cheated,” Joss said.

“At what?”

“I mean, I’m a professional demon hunter, Leslie.”

“Wait.” She pulled Joss’ arm, stopping him. “You get his key?”

“To what?”

“The retro arcade.”

“Arcades are for children,” Joss said, meeting her blank gaze. She blinked. After a moment, he blinked back.

“Do they have Dig Dug?” she asked. He showed her the key, twirling the chain ring around his finger. Without a word, they quietly stowed the black bag in the van and walked back to the arcade.

ERIS Snapshot #1 – Introduction to ERIS

Amid the stale scent of children long absent, the demon followed a fresh trail through the abandoned school. In the center of a cavernous gymnasium, it found what seemed to be a small figure, sobbing, the shuddering evident beneath a pink blanket decorated with red and white hearts. On all fours the demon crept closer, jaw dipped low, rending teeth extending, dripping saliva. The final few steps, the demon extended its claws, CLICK, CLICK, CLICKing on the gym floor until it was close enough to kill. Slowly, savoring the child’s oblivion, the demon reached out with a massive paw to—

Leslie abandoned the ruse in one deft motion, shrugging the blanket from her shoulders as she rose to her feet, turning and burying a double-bladed battle axe into the demon’s neck. The blade caught on an inner layer of scales so that the axe was yanked from Leslie’s grip as the demon thrashed away, the axe still stuck in its neck. While the demon rallied, Joss emerged from behind the bleachers in his trademark blue suit, swinging a two-handed sword that sliced across the demon’s ribs. Furious, the beast thrashed at Joss, then Leslie, keeping them at bay.

“Carlos!” Leslie shouted, throwing a glance at the empty balcony atop the bleachers.

“Haven’t seen him,” Joss said.

He feinted at the demon, backing away from the counter swipe of razor-sharp claws. Looking for an opening, he feinted again, and again, each time with the same results.

“You going to kill this thing, or what?” Leslie demanded.

“You’re the one with the axe.”

“Hello?” Leslie gestured to the axe protruding from the demon’s neck. “You’re the one who wanted a big sword.”

Joss parried a short lunge, sending the demon scurrying backward into a wall, howling at a severed claw. “It matches my feet.”

“Carlos!” Leslie shouted. No answer. Joss swung in earnest, creating the distraction for Leslie to jump into the fray, yanking her axe from the demon’s neck. Desperate to escape, the demon charged, slamming Leslie to the floor on its way to the exit. Before it could escape, a magic bolt from the balcony struck it in the ribs, freezing the demon in mid-stride.

“About time,” Leslie snapped at the white-lab-coated technician with the wand in one hand and a small metal box in the other.

Carlos pocketed the wand.

As Joss hacked uselessly at the demon’s thick neck, Leslie picked up her axe, strode to the beast, and, striking the previous wound, cut through the layer of inner scales to sever the head in a single blow. Her partner looked to the head, then to his sword. “I loosened it for you.”

“Uh-huh. Carlos, where were you?”

“Rigging explosives,” he said, holding up the small metal box. “In case of failure.”

Leslie scowled. “Seriously?”

“Bro,” Joss said, “you were going to blow up the gymnasium?”

“Oh, no.” Carlos chuckled nervously. “I rigged the entire school.”

“You would’ve killed us all,” Leslie said.

“Well,” Carlos stammered, “you said to prevent the demon’s escape at all cost.”

“Great. How long is it going to take to pack all that up?”

“Hours.”

Leslie grunted, irritated.

Joss raised his eyebrows. “Or, we could not.”

A few minutes later, from across the street, they watched the abandoned elementary school explode into a mushrooming ball of fire, setting off car alarms throughout the suburban neighborhood. Leslie took in a deep, satisfied breath. “Time to get back to ERIS,” she said. “Turn in that demon head and collect our bounty. Joss?”

“You grabbed it,” he answered.

“No, you grabbed the head,” Leslie insisted.

After eyeing each other, they turned to Carlos, who answered nervously, “I just brought the explosives.”

Leslie frowned. “Well, <BLEEP>!”