Moments in the past, but not many…
"Roland, wake up! Come on, wake up!"
Cindy and Lukas dragged the boy between them, and the others followed.
"We shouldn’t have left Helios," growled Kov.
"What, were you going to go tell that monster to let you pass? Did you miss the part where he killed Karl and nearly killed us?"
He scowled, but Camila’s gaze was like iron.
"It went back out into the water," said Chad as he paused.
"Fuck it. You guys get him somewhere safe. I’m going back for-"
And then a scream rang through the hall.
An ogre loomed before a girl who dropped her phone. She opened her mouth to scream again, but before she could utter a sound the beast’s hand closed around her head with a sickening crunch. It bellowed in triumph, and turned towards the group.
"Fuck, she opened a contract!"
It charged forward, and Camila raced ahead to meet it, Kov at her heels.
"We need to warn other peo-"
A similar shout echoed from further down the hallway, and everyone exchanged looks of horror.
"And so it begins," whispered Lukas.
"I’ll take Roland to the main atrium," said Cindy. "The rest of you split up and stop people from making more contracts."
Lukas and Chad nodded grimly, and raced away after the others.
Cindy hoisted Roland back over her shoulder, his weight suddenly seeming that much more ponderous.
"When you wake up, we’re talking about slimfast," she grumbled.
When she arrived, the hall was mercifully empty. It didn’t remain so, however.
A fairly steady stream of people slowly joined her vigil, having been sent down by the others after being rescued. A fair number were injured, though thankfully none were in as poor shape as Roland. Cindy organized the healthiest of the bunch and sent them to the infirmary, armed with folding chairs in the event they encountered any more demons.
They returned only moments before her friends.
At the forefront strode Helios, trousers awash with blood.
"You’re really starting to look the heroic part, there," she said quietly as he crouched by Roland.
"How is he?"
"Not a damned peep. We haven’t been able to do anything other than lay him down."
He stood and brushed ineffectually at his pants. “How many made it down?”
Cindy shrugged. “You’re looking at them. No one’s been willing to leave except the guys passing out bandages. None of the staff have turned up, either- even the bartender we saw just a couple hours ago is missing. Far as I can see, this is literally everyone.”
He grimaced. “So we’ve got maybe thirty people, half of which are hurt. This just gets better and better.”
Turning back to the others, he looked for answers no one had.
"I think we can assume everyone’s gotten the app, then," said Chad. "I suppose we ought to bring down my gear and at least give them a fighting chance when the next meteors come down, or when the next wave rolls out of the riverside."
Camila opened her mouth to comment, but Kov cut her off.
"You sure that’s wise? Some of them are in shock. Maybe we should protect them instead."
"Or we could try opening contracts again," the girl said after pushing him aside. "With the whole gang here, we’ve got enough firepower to press-gang some allies."
"Maybe we should do with more diplomacy," suggested Lukas. "It’s not like it didn’t work with my demon. Better a friend than an ally, right?"
They all looked to Helios, who recoiled.
"You guys have got to stop expecting me to decide. I’m not in charge."
"Statements like that are the rea-"
"Cindy I swear to god I will punch you right in the mouth."
The first clues that something had gone terribly wrong were the bodies.
Slumped against various benches and pillars, at least four people had been killed. There was an awful lot of blood all over the room, and a few smashed phones.
"Demons," said Karl grimly.
"Guess that proves the contract issue," replied Helios.
He drew out his swords, and they continued inwards.
As they approached a stairwell, sounds of fighting gave them pause. Echoes boomed down from above, and he remembered the thrown demon.
"They’re probably fighting their way through the hotel," he said. "Holy shit, my friends are metal."
"We should hurry to help," admonished the cat.
They bolted up the stairs.
At the fourth floor, they found evidence of fighting. Thankfully, there weren’t any bodies- but there was blood.
Sprinting down the hallway, Helios nearly ran face-first into a gout of flame.
The flame had burst from an odd flying pot, from which a pale blue face popped. Seeing him, it shrieked and vanished, another blaze erupting out at him again.
He dodged, bringing around a sword as he did, and cracked the pot open. The little demon inside screamed and vaporized, and a small shower of grist flowed out.
"Helios! You’re alive!"
Lukas ran down the hallway toward him, spiking a phone to the ground as he closed.
"What happened?" demanded Helios.
"A lot of people found the contract app, I think. There haven’t been many survivors, and demons were everywhere. Come on, the others should still be on this floor."
He turned to run, and Helios followed.
"Have we lost anyone else?"
"Roland’s down for the count, but Cindy’s with him in the atrium. All the survivors have headed down that way. Aside from that I don’t think anyone’s dead."
"You seem pretty calm with all these monsters running around."
"We have to stay focused. If another big one shows up, we’re fucked. No time to panic."
Another demon swooped along ahead of them, knocking on the walls.
"Don’t attack that one!" said Lukas hurriedly as Helios started to charge at it. "He’s mine!"
On cue, it noticed them and sped up.
"Master Lukas, the others have moved on to the fifth floor! A terrible Knight has appeared and is doing battle with Ogres! We must make haste!"
"Ignore how he talks," Lukas said as an aside, "I don’t think he can help it."
"Let’s keep moving."
The fifth floor, Helios discovered, did not have rooms like the others did. Instead, it had several large rooms, presumably for conferences or large meetings. These were in turn being used as battlegrounds.
True to what Lukas’ partner had said, the others were engaged in combat with enormous, ugly giants. These must have been demons Rio had faced, and Helios suddenly envied the man his department’s firearms.
At the forefront of the battle stood Camila with a blonde knight, both whirling dervishes of blades. Smaller demons crowded around, fearful of engaging the pair, while other demons faced off with Chad and Kov.
"Let’s go!" said Lukas, and they joined the fray.
Helios crashed into the smaller demons, cutting a bloody swath toward Camila and her unknown companion.
"Need a hand?" he yelled to her, distracting an ogre just in time for her to disembowel it.
"Fucking took you long enough! Tam, to me!"
The knight turned, cracking a foe across the jaw with his spear in the process.
"Take out the trash! We’ll get the big ones!"
The knight- Helios recognized now that it must be a contracted demon- vaulted over an ogre and began bloodily dismembering the smaller imps.
Helios nodded to Karl, who followed the knight with bolts of flame, and turned back to the giants.
The brutes were big, and strong, but very stupid. What few remained quickly became piles of grist under Camila’s frantic slashes and Helios’ crushing smites.
"You’re holding up pretty well," he said conversationally, driving a blade through one’s eye socket.
"There’s a lot of them, but for each we take down we get stronger. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know."
The brutes felled, they turned to what few demons remained.
Finally, there was silence.
"Is that the last of them?"
Kov stamped down on a phone. “Yeah. No more morons with phones. Or alive, for that matter. A lot of people are dead.”
Chad made a face. “This got really bad, really fast.”
"How long was I out?"
Lukas shrugged. “Maybe half of an hour? I don’t know, it’s been a running fire all along the hotel ever since we came back.”
"But you came through in the end, I guess, so it doesn’t matter now."
Helios shook his head. “I see you guys made some contracts on the way,” he said, gesturing to the knight.
"That’s Tam Lin," said Camila. "I summoned him by accident, but thankfully he just wanted to help."
The knight nodded. “Even amongst demons, there is nobility and dissension. Others of my kind seek to aid your people in this time of need.”
Helios offered him a hand. “We’re glad to have you, and we’re in your debt.”
It waved his gratitude away, but took his hand.
"Let’s go find Cindy," suggested Chad. "Hopefully Roland will pull through."
"What happened to him?"
"When that demon that sent us ass over teakettle, he got the worst of it. Cindy thinks he’s got a concussion."
He winced. “Well. Let’s go catch up with him and see.”
> Be Cindy.
Once more, there was only darkness.
A strange rustling, like feathers brushing against stone, filled the senses. It wasn’t a sound, nor was it a sensation. It was as if something brushed against the very soul.
He became dimly aware of himself, again. It seemed so deeply alien, as though his ability to sense an outside by design constrained him to an inside, robbing him of some otherwise greater reach.
Even as his sense returned, as he compacted downwards, his tenuous feeling of loss itself dwindled, leaving only a vague whisper of potential, like…
Like the rustling of feathers, so faint now that he couldn’t even feel it.
> There is still much for you to do.
Helios jolted awake with a gasp.
He lay on the beach, in the shadow of the meteor, accompanied only by the gentle lapping of the waves.
A pile of the demon rocks- grist, he remembered, it was called- lay in a small crater not but yards away from him. Karl.
Helios pushed himself up onto his knees, wincing at the pain. Whatever that demon had been, it was strong. Even a glancing blow had thrown him hard enough to stun.
Thankfully, there was no sign of a battle beyond what he’d seen. His friends must have escaped after he went down.
He limped over to the crater, and the grist swarmed into his phone. Pulling it out, he found Karl’s name and race still listed in his sylladex, and more out of curiousity than anything he tapped the name.
'SUMMON?' asked the program.
He pressed yes. The least he could do was bury the…
"I see you survived as well, Master!"
He recoiled sharply.
"You’re alive," he whispered.
The cat cocked its head to the side. “Of course I am. Contracted demons can be defeated and banished, but outright killing them is exceptionally difficult on Terra itself.”
It was quite surprised when Helios scooped it up and hugged it, but to its credit it didn’t flail too much.
"We should leave this beach. The water is Pachacamac’s domain."
"The demon that nearly killed us. It’s a fish god, so as long as we stay away from the water it might go away."
At that moment, a window on the fourth floor burst and a flailing figure flew out. It exploded into grist upon hitting the ground, and another figure peered out after it. Seeing Helios, it waved.
"Helios! Good to see you’re up, but get inside and help!"
It vanished back inside.
"Looks like we’ve got other things to worry about, too."
The cat nodded. “We should go.”
They ran inside.
> Find the others
"So let me get this straight. We’re just going to waltz back into the meteor, have Karl turn it off, and then just wait for the next ones?"
Helios shrugged. “We might as well. I don’t know that we can really do anything to stop them from coming, so our goal should be just to stay alive until we figure something out.”
Cindy nodded, setting down her glass. “The best we can do for now is minimize the number of demons we’ll face. Once the meteor’s out of commission, we can see about forming some contracts of our own. Maybe we can get another smart one like Karl.”
The cat purred, enjoying the praise. “I’m hardly a genius. There are many demons that will know far more than I.”
"I dunno, we could use some more muscle, too. They’ve only been getting stronger throughout the day- what will tomorrow bring?"
Chad glared back as several sets of eyes focused on him. “What?! Let’s be realistic! This is a global invasion! Of course they’re only going to get worse!”
"He’s right, you know," said Karl with an unhappy expression. "My former allies were only testing the waters."
This led to an unhappy silence, which Helios broke as he stood.
In retrospect, thought Helios, they should have expected it.
They had only left the building when the waves began crashing against the shore, driving past the sand and across the road.
Far out in the water, a vaguely fishlike streak swept along the surface, kicking up a vast wake and causing the unprecedented tides.
"That doesn’t look like a demon we’ve seen before," commented Roland, only seconds before Karl let out a terrified wail.
"We need to run! That’s no ordinary demon, that’s way out of your league!" He hissed and spat, trying to force his way back inside.
"Whoa, little buddy. Calm down and explain what you mean."
Lukas tried to pet him, but got a hand full of claw for his troubles.
"That’s a Vile demon. It could shred this building without breaking a sweat."
Helios perked an eyebrow, though staring at the fish as he was no one could see it. “You used a weird emphasis on that word. What’s Vile mean?”
The little cat mewled, realizing that they were too stubborn to flee outright.
"There are different sorts of demons, which are made from different… elements, I suppose, would be the word. As a Kabuso, I am a Beast. I’m only a normal demon. That… thing, out there, is like a god."
"Oh, well that should be simple. Let’s just pray him away."
Camila smacked Kov. “Shut up.”
"Well, whatever it is, it seems to be ignoring us for now. Let’s just turn off the meteor and hope he goes away."
The group made its way slowly across the plaza, the waves lapping occasionally at their heels.
When the meteor was just before them, Cindy stopped them.
"Hey, guys? What happened to the waves?"
A cold horror slipped down Helios’ spine as the realization hit, but the others responded blithely.
"I suppose it went away," said Chad.
"Good riddance. The water was starting to piss me-"
And then Roland, Camila, and Lukas were thrown clear across the plaza.
Helios looked up, his fears confirmed. The Vile demon perched atop the meteor, watching them as a cat would watch a laser point.
"Scatter!" he shouted, diving towards the meteor just as whatever horrendous force it had used on his friends impacted the sand where his feet had been. The sheer force of displaced air threw him into the meteor itself, and his friends were blown head over heels in various directions.
And then Karl threw a fireball at it.
Before the cat could shout something noble, before it could even blink, another blast flattened it. He exploded into the same dust his fellow cats had, and was no more.
By this point, the others had begun to flee.
Helios, dazed, simply lay at the meteor, unable to process this.
Darkness rushed in, and he passed out.
The monster, apparently bored, simply turned and rocketed back out across the waters.