ERIS Snapshot #3 – Excerpt from Garkon

Joss found Leslie at her desk, watching The Exorcist on Netflix. “Where’s Brice?”

She paused, removed her headphones. “What’s got your panties in a bunch?”

“My computer’s not doing anything.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“The screen is black, the keyboard and mouse don’t do anything.”

“Power light?”

“Also not working. You don’t know about these things. I need Brice.”

“He’s in your dad’s office.”

“Huh.”

Leslie slipped her headphones on and clicked play.

“What are they talking about?”

Leslie paused and removed her headphones. “Probably how annoying you can be.”

“I swear, I thought his dvd drive was a toaster oven.”

The intercom crackled. “I need all available hunters in my office, at once,” Mr. Huntsman said.

Leslie activated her screensaver, a rotating display of spreadsheets and reports.

Brock started from his desk when Joss snapped fingers, gesturing. Brock sighed, then fetched his communication board.

Mr. Huntsman was at his desk, while Brice stood by a white screen, gesturing at the chairs in front of the projector.

“What’s up?” Joss asked his father.

“Take a seat. Brice has a mission for all of you.”

“Somebody’s stepping up in the world,” Leslie said, pulling one of the chairs back to the wall.

Brock almost said something, looked at his board, then sat. When Joss sat next to him, Brock scooted his chair a few inches away.

“This better be good, bro,” Joss said.

“I’ve got important work to do,” Leslie said.

“Everyone, settle down,” Mr. Huntsman said. “This is important. If Brice is right—”

“The Brice is Right.” Joss chuckled.

“If Brice is correct, there could be a good deal of bounty money to be made from this mission. You will give him your undivided attention.”

“Thank you, sir. Leslie, if you could kill the light, please.”

She reached above her shoulder and flipped the switch, leaving Brice illuminated by the projector. Something white, small, and wet immediately struck him in the cheek, causing him to flinch.

“Wha—”

He was struck twice more, in quick succession.

“Lights!” Brice shouted, just as he was struck again.

Leslie flicked the switch. A lake of crumbs surrounded her chair, having fallen from the bag of popcorn on her lap, and there was a noticeable smear of butter on the light switch.

“Where did that come from?” Mr. Huntsman asked, scowling.

“My pocket.”

“You just carry that around?”

“I carry a sausage around in my pocket,” Joss said. “Anybody want to—”

“No!” Brice and Brock shouted together.

“I’d need my reading glasses,” Leslie said.

“What if it’s a braille sausage?” Joss asked.

Brice retrieved a straw and a strip of torn paper from beneath Joss’ chair, holding up the evidence for everyone to see.

“How did that get there?” Joss asked.

“Let’s just leave the light on, shall we,” Mr. Huntsman said. “Continue, Brice.”

Brice glared at Joss as he wiped his cheek with a handkerchief, then activated the first slide, projecting a hand drawn map onto the wall.

“Are we going to France?” Leslie asked, hopeful.

“Garkon,” Brice said dramatically.

“Gesundheit,” Joss said.

Brice ignored him. “Most of you are aware that I belong to a fantasy gaming organization called Garkon, a—”

“Gesundheit.”

“A world within our world. Garkon—”

“Gesundheit.”

“—Intelligence has determined a host of demons have infiltrated the annual Gathering of the Kingdoms in Mystic Park.”

“Big park.” Leslie crammed popcorn into her mouth as if feeding a wood chipper, crumbs falling steadily on both sides of her chair.

“Small for our needs, really. We suspect the worshipers of Rathgar are behind this, intending to use the blood of the victims to locate the second of five pieces of Rathgar’s apocalyptic weapon. More specifically, we believe that the demons are targeting the Sorceress Queen Francine Quintella of Garkon’s—”

“Gesundheit.”

Brice took a deep breath. “—Largest kingdom, Penlaninaninon.”

“That’s a mouthful,” Joss said.

Brice stared daggers. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?”

“I have medication. I just choose not to take it.”

“She’s not really a queen, though,” Leslie said. “Why would the demons target her?”

“Maybe they’re stupid demons,” Joss said.

“We don’t know why she is targeted, but we can’t afford to find out.”

“I assume you have scientific evidence to back up your claims.”

A click of the remote and the slide changed to a graph of a single red line, climbing steeply. “As you can see, the rumors have increased dramatically over the last few weeks.”

“Makes sense.”

Joss nodded.

“Plan?” Brock asked.

“The demons are obviously disguised, so we’ll need boots on the ground, in-game, to identify them. One of you will need to guard the queen while the other two work to identify the demons.”

“How long is this going to take?” Leslie asked.

“The Gathering of the Kingdoms runs through the weekend.”

“Can’t do it. I’ve got obligations.”

“The potential bounties should more than compensate for your time.”

“How much are we talking about here?”

Brice changed to a slide of a large dollar symbol. When Leslie remained skeptical, he clicked to next slide, which displayed two dollar symbols.

“Oh,” she said, placated.

“Cool,” Joss said.

Brock looked at his watch.

“One of you will infiltrate a camp of barbarians known as the Krokahn, allies of the queen who camp and raid from her lands. Their king, Chokto, has brought in a large number of new recruits to help him unite the tribes under the wicker throne. Another will infiltrate the pirates of the Red Wine Sea, an entirely new group petitioning Garkon—”

“Gesundheit.”

“Damnit. Petitioning the kingdom for membership. Almost nothing is known about the pirates.”

“How do we identify the demons?” Leslie asked.

“Nothing new there. Sugar should do it.”

Brock snorted derisively.

“Or piss them off enough they’ll shed their disguise. Lastly, one of you,” Brice looked to Joss, “will guard the queen.”

“I want to be a pirate,” Joss said.

Brice clicked the remote, revealing a photo of a young woman in the dress of a medieval queen, her bleached blond hair dangling just low enough to rest on her ample cleavage.

“Dibs,” Joss said.

“I’ll take the barbarians,” Leslie said, bored. She shifted in the chair, spilling her bag of popcorn onto the floor. “Oops.”

Mr. Huntsman sighed.

“Guess you’re going to be a pirate, bro.” Joss slapped Brock on the shoulder.

“Brock, no.” Brock folded his arms across his chest.

“I don’t understand, Brock,” Mr. Huntsman said. “Is there something you don’t like about the plan? Use your picture words. That’s why you have them, you know.”

Brock looked down at his board, sighed. “Brock…” he tapped a pair of dark clouds, then a thermometer.

“I think Brock is saying he’s too sick to join us,” Leslie said.

“Could be a big bounty, bro. You’ll miss out.”

Brock shrugged.

“Tell you what, you can guard the queen and I’ll be a pirate,” Joss said. Brice frowned and clicked to the next slide, a close up of the queen’s cleavage. “Dibs.”

“You can stay if you want to, Brock,” Mr. Huntsman said.

Brock nodded, satisfied.

“Someone needs to clean the toilets. Perhaps a little humility—”

“Brock pirate. Brock pirate.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, bro, you don’t sound sure,” Joss said. “Perhaps you can elaborate.”

Brock tapped the board until Joss read aloud, “Cake.”

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>!”