All my senses came screaming back to me in a disorienting flood of color and noise. I felt dizzy and nauseous, and I was grateful to be laying on the ground. My skin crawled as if it was experiencing the feel of air for the very first time. There was a strange pressure on the back of my neck, and I realized the Shadow still had me in its grasp. I belatedly realized that we were no longer in the theater. Hard, cold concrete had replaced the warm carpeting, and the artificial dark now bore the red-orange glow of flickering firelight. The smell of blown-out matches and fresh paint hung in the air.
The Shadow and I had somehow been transported to a dungeon. Or a basement.
“Ah. Good,” said a muffled female voice. With my head still spinning from the ride through nothingness, I couldn’t discern her identity. But I had the distinct and dreadful feeling there was something familiar about the tone. “The guest of honor has finally arrived. Thank you, Bal’zaroth, for Jumping her here.”
At least now I knew how I got here from the theater. The demon—I guess Bal’zaroth was its name—had a teleportation ability like Morgan’s Light Jump. Now I just had to figure out where the heck ‘here’ was so I could leave.
The Shadow snarled something vicious that might have been its language and released its hold on me. I slowly pushed myself to my knees, glanced at my surroundings. The demon had brought me to a concrete box of a room. Metal shelves stacked to capacity with Roughneck tubs and Tupperware containers had been haphazardly shoved against the walls leaving an irregular walkway down the middle of the room. Barely noticeable behind the shelves was a trio of windows that had been smothered by what I guessed to be paint. An oval table, veiled in ebony cloth, filled the space at the opposite end of the room from me. A halo of black candles rested upon its surface, casting a dancing orange glow over the hooded shape who stood before it.
The shape appeared to be humanoid. Concealed as she was, I could only make out a head and shoulders and legs... Legs that ended in vaguely familiar high heels. My eyes ached when I tried to see her face; There was just too much light behind her.
And yet, I felt a familiarity to her presence.
“Guest of honor?” I asked as I rose to my feet. That was when I noticed the nearly perfect ring of metal laid into the floor, and I was standing in the middle of it. To make matters worse, my bow and quiver were gone; probably left behind in the theater when the Shadow Jumped me. The light pressure around my ankle told me I still had the water gun, but that proved to be only a small relief.
“Pardon the metaphor,” said the unknown woman. I recognized it immediately and now knew why those heels were so familiar. I think I even knew where this dungeon-wanna-be of a basement—or sub-basement as the case may be—was buried.
“I love what you’ve done to the place, Anjie,” I said, pretended like I didn’t hear the sharp intake of breath she took. “Tell me, did you black out the windows at your house too? Or do you just confine your Shadow friend down here?” I looked at the demon glowering at me from less than five feet away. “If I were you, I’d demand better room service.”
It snorted, unamused.
“Such impudence,” uttered a coarse whisper.
The depth of the darkness in the space to my immediate left intensified, and a second Shadow demon stalked into the fetid dimness. This one looked slightly larger than the other, and it had a length of heavy, black chain in its grasp. The other end had been shackled around a young girl’s neck.
The Shadow yanked the chain forward, and Aiden crashed to her knees with a cry of terror and pain. Watching the girl be subjected to such treatment immediately had me seeing red. I rushed forward, ready to pound the demon with my bare hands, only to find the air as solid as steel. I pushed against the invisible wall, again and again, to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.
“You’re not going anywhere, whelp,” said Bal’zaroth, the smaller Shadow. “That circle is your prison.”
I frowned down at the metallic ring in the floor.
Wait a minute! That weird book I found had mentioned something about circles. This must be what it was talking about. All I had to do was remember what the heck it said. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the page with the plain circle drawn on it. Scrawled beside that circle had been a short list—the very list I needed to remember right now. I focused my mind’s eye on it, and I could almost hear the tip of the pen scratching against the paper.
Used to contain…
… Something about silver…
… Empowered by gemstones…
My eyes flew open.
Break to release!
That’s it! I had to somehow break the circle to get out. I knew I had no way to smash up a metallic ring sunk into the concrete. And I had serious doubts that these Shadows were stupid enough to fall for a trick and rush into the circle with me. Anjie sure as hell wouldn’t. Aiden might have done it if she wasn’t so terrified.
That left me with a single option: I’d have to Jump out.
The demon that dragged me here had done it, so I know it can be done. However, it was going to be particularly difficult since I had never actually done it before. It also meant I’d have to surrender myself to the demonic side, and the very thought of that terrified me. I mean, who willingly lets a demon take complete control over their body? And, as if all of that wasn’t bad enough, I’d first have to figure out how convince my inner demon to give me its powers.
I was so involved with my problem that I hadn’t been paying attention to what was going on. Aiden had completely ignored the chains that kept her bound and went straight up to Anjie to chew her out.
“Don’t you see?” Anjie snapped, shoving her little sister away. “It had to be done!”
Aiden leveled a glare at Anjie. “If you think killing in mama’s name is going to make her happy, you’re an even bigger dumbass than your ugly pets!”
In that instant, realization came out of nowhere to oh so nicely kick my head in. At long last, the puzzle made sense.
My little ‘ah ha!’ moment was interrupted by Anjie’s exploding rage. Suddenly, the air around her seemed to shimmer like waves of heat from an open oven. With just a simple flick of a finger and a word, Aiden was thrown sideways as if she had been hit by a bus. She slammed into one of the shelving units. It wobbled, tipped, then finally crashed into the one behind it. A cacophony of noise erupted as the storage bins and their contents rained down.
Aiden melted down onto the floor with a groan.
Anjelah hissed at her to shut-up.
“Anjie,” I said, my voice dripping scorn as I glared at her. She returned the look with an acrimonious scowl. “When I get out of here—and make no mistake, I will get out of here—I am going to kick. Your. Ass.”
Anjie gave me a haughty, little smirk. “Oh, please,” she scoffed, half-turning to grab something from the table. “Bal’zaroth already told me that you were stupid enough to stop using your demon powers.”
I refused to let myself show any reaction to her words. There are things you just don’t let an enemy see. Fear, for instance. Fear works like an aphrodisiac to predators—for that’s what Anjelah and the Shadows were: predators. They zero in on your terror and wait, drawing out the tension until you make a fatal mistake. Until you run.
So I couldn’t afford to let them know how my courage unraveled like a cheap sweater at her words. Still, I pondered over them. Unless other demons can sense that sort of thing, the Shadows couldn’t have known that I had told my inner demon to get lost.
Alright, I thought, crossing my arms. Time to get some answers. “Color me curious, but how did you get stuck working with monsters?”
Anjie took the bait with a cocky little smile, and launched into some monologue I didn’t give a crap about. With her occupied, I was free to once again dive into the prison of my inner demon.