Behold! *thunderclap* Chapter 2, Part 1 of what I’ve come to refer to as SASS (Stupid-Ass Serial Story). The usual disclaimers apply:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
2. Almost no research was done for the writing of this story. To keep my momentum, my rule has been: if I can’t look it up in Google or Wikipedia in 2 minutes, I’m just going to make shit up.
3. Story not guaranteed to be good, readable, or even coherent. No professional editor has looked at it. Only a small circle of
awesome friends get to look at the draft before I post it. But hey! It’s FREE!
5. And now (I mean, fucking FINALLY) here’s the story!
Of all the days to leave the sword at home…
Kahiro gripped the gun in his hands, bracing himself against the tremors shaking the floor, palms sweating a little. Demons hated sunlight, but it wasn’t fatal to them. They were capable of showing up at high noon if they had to. This one apparently hadn’t been too bothered at the thought of gaining a bit of a tan.
Picturing the geyser of blood that had erupted from Ramzi’s body, Kahiro fought the urge to hunch his neck protectively.
The deep rumbling abruptly stopped. A soughing sound replaced it, like a massive beast breathing. Hot wind stirred against Kahiro’s neck and cheek. He relaxed his muscles as much as he could and unfocused his gaze just slightly, all his senses alert, looking into the Middle Distance the way Andreas the Greek had taught him so many years ago.
The slight distortion he caught from the corner of his eye warned him. He dove for the floor, rolled onto his back and fired off a few shots, aiming for the faint ripple above him. A deep-throated roar tore through the air, the demon’s rage and pain a palpable pressure in the room. The ripple retreated.
Kahiro scrambled back on his feet, dizzy with a potent combination of adrenaline and relief. His silver hollowpoint bullets filled with holy water worked on some demons, but not all; he was glad that this particular demon was susceptible.
He noticed a large puddle of dark brown fluid on the floor. Seemed like he’d done more than nick it. Good. The more it bled, the more effort it would take for it to remain invisible.
He glanced around, trying to keep his gaze relaxed while fully opening the hidden eye, the one that allowed him to see things that would drive normal people insane.
There, to the left.
He took a few more shots at the faint, warped shape. Some of them hit their mark, judging by the enraged howl, but he tried too hard to focus on it. It completely disappeared from his field of vision.
He looked around, forcing his gaze to unfocus again. He couldn’t see anything, though the sound of its breathing filled the room. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. He had to fight the urge to hunch his neck again.
A slight ripple appeared right next to him. He jumped away, but not quite in time. Something invisible and extremely sharp made a long, shallow slice along his torso.
Instinct made him chop down his left arm down while chanting an incantation of power. Warmth tingled in his palms as a burst of energy surged up through the soles of his feet and down his arms, and his forearm made jarring contact with something hard and burning hot. With an audible crack, the demon’s limb broke. The pain in his own arm hit him at about the same time a violent blow to his side sent him flying through the air and slamming into a pile of boxes stacked against the wall.
Kahiro lay on the floor, surrounded by crumpled cardboard and limp from the after-effects of the incantation. He tried to catch his breath, praying he hadn’t broken any bones. By some miracle, he’d managed to hold on to his gun.
Across the store, the air shivered violently, distorting his view.
It was moving towards him: a massive, half-coherent shape. Baleful red eyes appeared and disappeared one moment, a hint of silvery scales the next. Suggestions of strangely-jointed limbs snapped in and out of view. Its roaring was an unholy boom now, the vibrations shaking pottery, statues and fake papyrus scrolls off the shelves and onto the floor.
Forcing himself to scramble to his feet, Kahiro raised his gun and shot at the coalescing shape. It shifted and ducked, but its progress was steady. Blackish trickles of blood marked where Kahiro had hit it.
Then, for a brief second, its whole body manifested and came into clear focus. It towered about eight feet tall. Its heavy, jackal-like head had a mouth filled with rows of needle-sharp teeth. Its hide was covered in tough silver scales, and its hands were a nightmare forest of blades, though its right arm dangled uselessly by its side, a jagged piece of bone poking through the skin.
Kahiro took aim at its left eye and pulled the trigger.
And missed. Instead, the demon’s cheek and lower jaw exploded in a spray of blood, bone, flesh and gristle. The roaring abruptly stopped, and it fell backwards.
The next trigger pull yielded nothing but a hollow click. “Ah, shit,” he said, as he dropped the gun and ran. He’d have to find another way to put the demon’s eyes out; either that, or behead it. There were other ways to kill a demon, but Kahiro was no necromancer.
He looked around frantically for a weapon, any weapon. At this point, he’d even settle for a pair of nail scissors, but saw nothing except useless bric-a-brac. He could hear the demon moving behind him, pulling itself back on its feet. The bullets had taken their toll, and its movements were sluggish. But then, Kahiro wasn’t in top form, himself. He was quite sure he’d cracked some ribs because breathing and moving felt like holy hell. His whole front felt warm and wet; he was afraid to look down to see exactly how much blood he’d lost from the cut the demon had made. He could move his left arm, but the resulting sensation wasn’t exactly what one would consider pleasant.
He glanced behind, only to see a shredded face snarling at him, almost within arm’s reach.
With a yell compounded of terror and exhaustion, he set his shoulder against the nearest shelf and threw his weight against it. With a long-drawn creak, the shelf tipped and crashed down on the demon. It bellowed and flailed, but Kahiro had caught it by surprise. It went down.
He knew the flimsy shelves wouldn’t pin it for long, though. He ran, panting, heart racing, looking around for a weapon, any weapon…
Then he saw the sword.
It was a genuine antique, one of the very, very few displayed in the store proper. It was kept in a locked glass case against the wall and Ramzi had claimed it dated back to the time of the Prophet. Kahiro sincerely doubted it, but the sword’s pedigree hardly interested him now. Picking up a large stone carving of a fertility idol, he swung it against the case, praying Ramzi hadn’t invested in bulletproof glass.
He hadn’t, may the Gods bless his stingy old soul. Sweeping away the broken shards with his sleeve, Kahiro yanked it out of the case and clumsily pulled it free from the scabbard. Light and gracefully balanced, it had a long, thin, highly-polished blade, with just the slightest curve near the tip. Kahiro could have wept with gratitude. He just hoped its edge was as sharp as it looked.
He hefted the sword and turned around to find the demon only a few feet away. It was staggering a little as it walked, all efforts at maintaining its invisibility gone. Its body was torn and bleeding where the bullets had hit it, but even as Kahiro watched, the wounds were slowly, gradually healing. Shattered pieces of bone and fang gleamed white against the wine-dark meat on the ruined left side of its face. Its pupilless red eyes glared into Kahiro’s, and he felt an almost crushing pressure in his mind as the demon spoke.
“You’ll pay, maggot,” it said in the Old Tongue. Its words were slurred, but the power of its voice still reverberated within Kahiro’s very bones. “I will make you watch as I tear your flesh away, piece by piece.”
It had gathered itself and leapt into the air before the last words left its mouth.
Kahiro knew there was no way to avoid it. Calling out another incantation of power, he braced his legs, grabbed the sword with both hands despite the shrieking pain it caused his left arm and swung with all of his strength just as the demon came crashing down on him.
Being trapped under the demon felt not unlike being crushed by a blazing kilnâ€”if kilns had scales, teeth and razorblade fingers. The sword had bitten deeply into the demon’s neck, and Kahiro, energy from the incantation surging through his body, pain in his left arm temporarily gone, pushed and sawed his way through. Scalding, foul-smelling blood gushed down and made the sword grip slippery. The demon gurgled and snapped with what was left of its muzzle. Kahiro gasped and flinched as its hand flailed, then gripped his right arm. Through the euphoria of the incantation, he could feel the blades sinking into his bicep, trying to pull his arm away.
Fuck. This is going to hurt.
The brief surge of power the incantation produced was fading, bringing with it the unnatural exhaustion that almost always followed. Kahiro gritted his teeth and ripped his arm free, grunting at the pain of torn skin and muscle. With the last of his reserves, he pushed the blade all the way through, screaming with the effort.
The demon’s head thumped on the floor next to them, and Kahiro averted his face from the spray of blood. He kicked, pushed and wriggled out from under the monstrous body pinning him, but once freed, he had didn’t have enough energy to crawl more than a short distance away.
Blackness swallowed him.
Kahiro woke up slowly. He wasn’t quite sure where he was. He faced a dirty white wall, and he was laying on a multitude of lumpy objects. He registered that his head was buzzing, and that he hurt. Everywhere.
He tried to sit up and huffed in pain. His ribs. His right arm. And Gods, his left arm. He could barely move it. What had he done to it?
He turned around and saw the demon’s headless body. He stared at it for several seconds, feeling numb inside even as his body felt too much, and remembered the fight. He couldn’t have been unconscious for too long; the imps hadn’t arrived yet to collect the corpse.
He looked down at himself. His shirt and jacket were sliced open and black with blood, both his and the demon’s. Ramzi’s too, no doubt. His face was crusted with the stuff. He struggled to his feet, trying not to allow the darkness lingering in the periphery of his vision overtake him again.
Suddenly, the sound of wings and a noise not unlike chattering crows filled the store.
They fluttered down from the ceiling, poured down the walls, crawled over ruined shelves and strewn boxes. Dozens of them, none of them taller than his knee, most of them a good deal shorter. Pitch-black skin, narrow faces with hungry, hollow cheeks that were at odds with their squat, sturdy bodies, wide mouths filled with sharp little teeth, faceted eyes on swiveling stalks. Many of them had bat-like wings that allowed them to glide through the air and carried them for short distances.
The imps had arrived.
They flocked around the body of the dead demon, crying out to each other, poking and prodding, lifting parts of its body to test the weight. Two of them picked up its head and hefted it onto their shoulders, staggering under their burden.
The leader, distinguished by its unusually large set of wings, toddled up to Kahiro. Its eyes blinked slowly, stalks swiveling to take in the full sight of his battered body.
“You!” it said in the Old Tongue. Its voice was unusually deep for a creature so small. “I should have known you were the one to slay Bil’Azmul.”
“Greetings, Shum’Miznash,” he replied. “Did you perhaps think somebody else in Cairo was capable of killing it?”
“No, no,” Shum’Miznash said grudgingly. “And I’m sure Bil’Azmul did not expect to find you here when he was tasked with taking care of the short, old one.” It sighed gustily, and a very strong smell of rotten fish reached Kahiro’s nose. He was faintly shocked he could smell anything still, given the stink of the demon and its blood. For the first time since the whole mess started, his stomach roiled.
“Do you know who had set Bil’Azmul on this task?” he asked abruptly.
Shum’Miznash smiled, exposing yellowed fangs. “No, Demon Slayer. All I know is that he had been tasked to kill the old man if he talked to certain people. But even if I knew, I would not tell the likes of you.”
Kahiro shrugged. “Fair enough. I supposed you want your usual payment?”
“That would be nice, yes,” Shum’Miznash replied. It held out its four-fingered hand, small and delicate as a tulip. Paying the imps for their services was a courtesy that guaranteed they wouldn’t swarm the demon-killer. They weren’t hard to kill, but there were many of them, and they were fast, with retractable claws hidden in their deceptively fragile-looking fingers. Their bites were also legendary for their nastiness; falling dead from septicemia a few hours after an untreated imp bite was the rule, not the exception.
Kahiro dug around in his pocket, wincing in pain. He pulled out a gold coin and flipped it at the imp, who plucked it from the air with great dexterity. It tested it briefly with its teeth, then bowed in a mocking salaam. With a guttural cry to its underlings, it turned around and walked back towards the body., which a few dozen imps had hoisted onto their shoulders. When their leader reached them, they started trudging away, singing a piercing funeral dirge for the fallen demon. Kahiro watched as they brought the body and head towards the back of the store, where they disappeared through the wall, one by one. The imps who weren’t helping with the carrying scurried up the walls and disappeared through the ceiling.
Kahiro slumped against the wall and slid to the floor, drained by his brief conversation with the imp. He didn’t have it in him to move at the moment. His mind, however, was now re-living the events, jumping from point to point.
A demon attack in broad daylight was rare. Bil’Azmul must have been presented with strong inducement indeed to risk the agony of sunlight. It was difficult enough as it was to bend a demon to one’s will without throwing a daytime mission into the bargain.
That wasn’t the part that really disturbed Kahiro, though. What shook him most was how there had been no warning.
Ramzi was greedy, but he wasn’t stupid. Working in the business he was in, he had the shop and his house well warded against demons and spirits. Even if the demon had been powerful enough to breach the wards, its entry should have at least tripped one of the many alarms Ramzi had placed all over the store. It hadn’t.
Why hadn’t it? Somebody must have removed or deactivated the wards and alarms. Somebody human. Somebody who really knew what they were doing, because Ramzi had wards that prevented tampering with the demon wards as well.
The question was, who?
Then it hit him.
The strange Ingleezi whore.
The coincidence was just a little too neat. Minutes after she left the store, empty-handed and seemingly in a hurry, Ramzi was dead. Kahiro’s instincts were screaming at him again, and this time, he didn’t ignore them. She was the key. He still didn’t know what it was about her that bothered him, but now, it didn’t matter. He had to find her.
He dug through his pocket again and found his cell phone, a tiny, sleek black thing. It was completely undamaged despite the brawl—he’d made a point of buying a model that guaranteed itself as being virtually bomb-proof. He flicked it open and put it against his ear. “Power on,” he said, and heard two soft beeps as the voice recognition software registered that it truly was him and turned the phone on. “Andreas,” he said, and heard the phone dialing.
Andreas picked up almost immediately, his gravelly voice music to Kahiro’s ears. “What is it? Where are you? I’ve had a very, very bad feeling about you for the past hour.”
“I’m at Ramzi the Flea’s shop. I just got done with a fight.” Kahiro thumped his head back to the wall and closed his eyes. His head was starting to swim again.
“A fight?” Andreas’ voice sharpened considerably. “Who did you fight? Surely not Ramzi?”
“No, not Ramzi. He’s dead, by the way. Beheaded by a demon. An upper-echelon beast, but not an Elemental or an Angel. Shum’Miznash said its name was Bil’Azmul.”
Andreas sighed, then coughed. Emphysema could be such a bitch. “I’ve heard of it. Big, ugly, jackal-headed bastard. Can turn invisible at will. And you didn’t bring your sword, did you?”
Kahiro chuckled bitterly. “No. It’s broad daylight. Ramzi’s shop is warded. Or at least, it used to be warded. I thought I was safe, which was stupid of me. Something big is going on, Andreas. To send a demon like Bil’Azmul in broad daylight merely to kill a dried-up peddler like Ramzi…the person who has the book is obviously not taking any chances. And he’s afraid of something.”
Andreas sighed again. “What a fucking mess. You need help getting out?”
Kahiro laughed outright. “Yes, you can say that. Bring the car. I don’t think I can even walk right now. Oh, and Andreas?”
“There was a strange woman who was in the store right before me. Tall, Ingleezi, dressed like a whore from the House of Suffering. She seemed to be in the pistol-whipping discipline. Carried a big plastic gun. Very pale-skinned, probably a redhead. I need you to track her down for me. Talk to Edouard, he owes me a few favors, and he has more connections with the House of Suffering than most.”
Andreas cursed. “You know how many tall Ingleezi dominatrixes there are in Cairo?” he demanded.
“Yes, I have a good idea. This one is new, though. And young.”
“You know she might not even be a whore?” Andreas asked.
“It has occurred to me, yes. But she has the tattoo. Somebody in the House sanctioned that tattoo, even if it’s a fake. She wouldn’t have made it two steps in the quarter alive if it hadn’t been sanctioned. Either way, somebody in the House of Suffering knows who she is.
“And I intend to find out.”
Yeah, I’ve never tried to write a drawn-out action sequence before. COULD YOU TELL? Feel free to tell me how much this sucked in the comments. Anyway, stay tuned for the concluding part of Chapter 2, coming soon. Ish.