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?”
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>!”