A month ago, Fish had approached Kiran at the fire, the encroaching wave of trees lingering behind them. She had touched her shoulder, attempted her best to sway the lost girl from the path she was on, one filled with horrors lurking in the shadows, powers seething beyond comprehension. Tree branches rustled. The girl turned her gaze toward Fish’s and then disappeared.
It had only been a moment, but Fish was fairly certain the girl had come alone, no devil, no deity, not even a minor demon hitching a ride. It did not appear that she was pulled back into reality, ensnared in some sort of misleading contract with a lich that sucked humanity out of her if she strayed too far. Fish was fairly certain that she herself hadn’t accidentally flung the girl out of this reality into some unknown corner of the world. It was as if, impossible as it was, that the girl had managed to do it by herself.
When she was young, some of the students who did not have a connection or contract yet would stay up late, competing with one another to will themselves to perform strange feats. Every so often one would claim to have bent a spoon, forced some light objects to levitate, or conjured a fire out of thin air. Of course when a simple request to repeat such a groundbreaking accomplishment, none were able to.
But there had always been rumors and whispers that such a thing were possible, scribbles of ancient notes in magical and demonic texts. Fish had never paid them much heed then and now sorely wished she had. If she truly were close to the mansion, and no one had somehow managed to ransack the place of all of its esoteric knowledge, she would find out soon enough.
She rose and turned to look down the dark road stretched out before her but she was too late. The forest had crept up on her while she was distracted, their cold breath slowly extinguishing the fire until the once roaring flames were mere coals.
“Shit!” she yelled, closing her eyes before they could grab ahold of her vision. “Green! Home, now!”
The air around her skin warmed as she flew back into her body. She gasped for breath and opened her eyes. The sun peeked through the blankets she had hung as makeshift shades. It was later than she expected. She groaned and dragged herself off of the matted carpet.
“I really ought to learn how to do that without falling off of the couch,” she muttered to the room. “No thanks to you!” she added. The lighting in the atmosphere flickered.
She warily stretched her legs and arms, not entirely certain how long it had been since she had used them properly. Her stomach growled loudly. She groaned louder remembering the only food she had left was a stale box of sharp edged cereal. She swept up the box and gobbled the dry cereal down by the handful, like chewing glass. She paced the room to regain feeling in her left foot.
There was something about the girl, something that felt imperceivable to Fish, something hanging behind or around the edges of her person, but she couldn’t tell what or where. If the girl did somehow manage to astral project without a connection, then surely someone beside her had noticed. Something like that doesn’t stay hidden for very long and the chance to spring at untold power would spread like a lecherous, murderous fire. It was better if Fish could find her before the girl found herself dangling by her Achilles tendons in an abandoned hell dimension.
She shifted her feet in the carpet uncomfortably and with a tinge of reluctance politely asked to be transported to the nearest underground bar. The room cackled and then was absorbed into nothing.
Really? She thought. You brought me to a demon bar? Really?
Fish sat in a corner, her back to the wall. Even with Green there were a few entities lurking that she could not quite perceive, an electricity that hung suspended in the hazy light. Bright drinks were being clinked and teeth were being bared, tails wagging back and forth like snakes ready to pounce. She could sense their glare.
What are there not any vampires in this godforsaken city? Hell, I’d take an imp or goblin hangout at this point.
“We can hear you,” the server hissed. “Keep it down before I eat you myself.”
Fish flinched and then cast her gaze aside, attempting her best to conceal her power, “Sorry, sorry I didn’t mean to…”
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” red eyes glowered. “Well, the kitchen’s closed, though I’m not sure we serve anything you’d eat. Drink?”
Fish waved her hands in the air and feigned ignorance, “Do you have… I don’t know, beer?”
The room erupted in howls and shrieks and variegated eyes swung toward her.
The server slunk down to her height. “Maybe you should move along, human.”
“Oh just leave her alone and give her some goddamn Nightmare. I know you have it,” Jack spurted as he slid into the booth next to her. “You’ll love it, the succubi literally leach nightmares out of people and somehow transform it into alcohol.” The server stared nervously. Jack snapped his fingers, “Today please.”
The server shrank and retreated to the bar.
The color flushed out of Fish’s face. The dominion had lost control, but Jack was not without power. Not direct, of course, but probably getting some synthesized shit off the street, demon infused nanomachines, the power of an incubi minced and dried into a fine powder. She couldn’t decide if she should run or teleport.
Jack brushed the hair out of his face. “I see you two are getting along,” he gestured at her generally. “Listen, I know you probably think that I’m mad at you or something, like you ripped the one thing that made me feel alive away from me, and you’d be right, I was mad about that…”
The server plopped their drinks down at the table. Hers swirled translucent; his was a deep purple that clung to the side of the glass as it sloshed of its own accord.
“...but in a way you kind of saved me. That kind of power was so, so…” He paused and took a large swig before slamming it onto the table, “...beneath me! That’s the word. Beneath me. I’m looking for bigger, better things, Fish, things that would let me really effect change, you know?”
Fish wrapped her fingers around her glass. It was warm. She brought it to her mouth and threw it back in one shot. Anxiety and fear washed over her as it traversed the back of her throat. As soon as it slunk to her stomach, her body radiated warmth and peace like she had never known before.
“See? See?” Jack was beaming. “Isn’t that fun? Now what the hell are you doing here?”
Fish sighed. “I was hoping to get some intel, was hoping to not run into him and ran into you instead. I’m not sure which is worse to be honest.”
Jack howled with laughter, “Oh that’s real nice. You think I’d last a day if I ran into your old tool. Dude’s scary and not just because of how he looks.” Jack lowered his voice. “So what kind of information are you looking for? I might know a thing or two.”
Fish rolled her eyes. “What’s in it for you?”
“What’s in it for me?” Jack sputtered, “really Fish I’m hurt. I just want to help an old friend who tried to help me.”
Fish thought of the girl at the fire, thought about how much power could be coursing through her right now, unchecked, how naive she seemed, how easily someone like Jack could snap her up and break her.
Jack’s grin practically touched his ears. “Fish, you really ought to try the drugs these days. They do wonderful things, wonderful things to you. It’s no substitute for the real thing, of course, but minor telekinesis, short distance teleportation, and if you can get something pure enough, a bit of telepathy.” He tapped the side of his head, “Thanks.”
Fish swore but before she could grab him he vanished.
by Dan Diehn