Chapter 18 can be read below the cut.
The rain stopped two days later. Tjara led her most of her own squad on an actual hunt that day – her in front, Veitlen and Kallinu close behind her, and Ariana and Juno further behind. The demon seemingly hadn’t noticed them, and continued walking forward, occasionally stopping to look at something – rocks and plants, Veitlen assumed.
Tjara raised her hand and gave them the signal. Veitlen and Kallinu both ran forward and aimed at the demon – Kallinu with zer spirit weapon and Veitlen with his military-issued rifle. The demon finally noticed them and reached forward, only to fall on its front as their bullets hit it in the knees.
Juno and Ariana ran forward. “Come and face us!” Ariana yelled.
“You fucker! I bet you’ve eaten tons of people!” said Juno.
The point of their yelling was to distract the demon so that Kallinu and Veitlen could get behind it. The two of them lined up their shots and fired. It started to turn around, but Juno and Ariana were quicker. Both of them shoved their swords through the demon’s head.
“NEVER TAKE YOUR EYES OFF SOMEONE WHO’S IN FRONT OF YOU AND TRYING TO KILL YOU, FOOL!” Juno shouted triumphantly.
The demon slumped over, dead. Juno and Ariana cheered and high-fived. “We did it!” said Ariana.
“We did!” echoed Juno. It was probably the only time Veitlen had ever seen her smile legitimately and laugh giddily, and he didn’t think he trusted it.
“Hey! Don’t say we and forget to include us!” Kallinu protested.
“Yeah, Ari, what the fuck?” said Veitlen.
Tjara walked back into sight. “This is not the time to be fighting and acting like children,” she said in exasperation. “All of you worked together to kill this demon, so all of you have the responsibility to hold its funeral. You’d better get on that.”
“Is that the only demon we’re going to deal with today?” Ariana asked.
“There are a few more that we’re tracking,” said Tjara. “Professor Rhodynn is leading her team to kill another one. We’ll deal with the rest on other days.”
“Just one per day per team?” Ariana asked.
“It’s generally the safest way to do things,” said Tjara. “Now, you four have a demon to bury. Get on it.”
Veitlen had been attempting to dig a shallow grave for a couple of minutes. “This is too much work,” he said. He stabbed the shovel into the ground.
“Is shoveling too hard for you?” Juno asked.
“The ground’s still partially frozen,” said Veitlen. He rubbed his forehead with the back of his glove. “Why can’t we just make a funeral pyre? That would be so much easier.”
Juno gave him a disgusted look. “Because it would burn down the forest, obviously,” she said.
“She’s probably right,” said Ariana. “The trees are way too close together here.”
“One of you take over. I need a break,” said Veitlen. He left the shovel sticking in the ground and wandered a couple of feet closer to the tree line to sit down.
“Ye want me to do the rest?” Kallinu asked.
“If you can,” said Veitlen. He rubbed the back of his neck. It was still sore from him bending over for too long.
“This is difficult!” Kallinu complained a couple of minutes later.
“I told you so!” said Veitlen.
Something grabbed the back of Veitlen’s collar and yanked him backward. He reached toward whatever it was and found an arm – a demon’s arm, judging by the feeling of the skin. “DEMON!” he yelled immediately.
That got everyone to look toward him. Kallinu looked particularly baffled, standing there wide-eyed with the shovel still in zer hands. Ariana and Juno immediately summoned their spirit weapons and started running toward him.
The demon grabbed Veitlen’s shoulder and started dragging him along the ground, into the trees. “Ow! HEY! STOP THAT!” he said. He attempted to reach for his bayonet, but his hand hit a particularly sharp rock and he couldn’t stop himself from yanking his hand back toward his chest.
“Kallinu, whatever you do, don’t shoot at him! Just leave the demon killing to us!” said Ariana.
“I WASN’T GOING TO!” Kallinu shouted.
Veitlen finally grabbed his bayonet and jabbed it upward, trying to hit something. Just when he thought he’d break skin, the demon slammed him against the trunk of the nearest tree.
He’d definitely dropped his bayonet somewhere. Veitlen stared up at the treetops for a moment, dazed, then manifested his spirit weapon into his hand. That would be more effective.
The demon’s reaction was to look back at him, grab the back of his neck with its other hand, and slam him into another tree. Veitlen was vaguely aware that he dropped his sword, but his head hurt too much and his vision was swimming. There was nothing he could do about it.
“He’s not gonna be okay,” said Kallinu quietly.
“Don’t say that kind of shit,” Ariana hissed. “We’re going to get him back.”
A second demon ran out in front of them. “Shit, another one? There weren’t this many demons in the report,” said Juno.
“THAT’S NOT WHAT’S IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW!” shouted Ariana.
Kallinu ran forward and swung the shovel into the demon’s face. “ARI, JUNO, NOW’S YER CHANCE!”
Juno and Ariana both thrust their swords through the demon’s head. Ariana withdrew her sword and attempted to flick the blood away. “Did you see what way it went?” she asked.
“No, and I don’t hear Veitlen either,” said Juno. She crossed her arms, leaving her sabre in the demon’s head. “We need to go back and tell Professor Kyvenna what happened. And we need to do something about this fucking demon.”
Kallinu bent down to pick up Veitlen’s bayonet off the ground. Ze tucked it into zer belt and looked forward. There was something shining up ahead.
“It can wait!” Ariana snapped. “We need to tell Professor Kyvenna so she can radio the other soldiers in the area so we can get a search party-”
Kallinu dashed forward. “Hey, KALLINU? WHERE ARE YOU GOING!?” Ariana yelled after zem.
It was Veitlen’s spirit weapon that had been reflecting light. “Veitlen dropped his sword!” Kallinu yelled. Ze grabbed it and held it up. “He’s still alive! They haven’t killed him! Don’t demons usually eat people once they’re in a secluded place?”
“Yeah, but,” Juno started. She looked nervous. “Okay, we leave this demon here and go back to Professor Kyvenna and tell her everything that happened. Are you two capable of that right now? You both look like you’re going to fall over.”
“I’m fine,” Ariana stressed. “I’m not the one you should be worrying about.”
The demon had dug its claws into Veitlen’s shoulder and neck, and he had been trying to pry its hands off of him with no effect. Its grip on him finally loosened, and for a moment, he thought he was having some success. Then the demon threw him forward.
Veitlen landed on his front with his arms by his head. He attempted to jump to his feet but ended up falling back down to his knees. “What the fuck,” he said.
He was in a small clearing with dark magic piled everywhere. There were demons surrounding him, and every single one of them stared at him intently. “Um,” he said.
Some of the demons went back to their conversations, and some of them kept staring at him. Three of them appeared to finish talking, and one of them reached out and put its hand on Veitlen’s shoulder. He flinched. It didn’t dig its claws in – it just put enough weight on him that he couldn’t stand up.
Another demon stepped forward. It spoke with the one holding him down, then put a hand to its mouth as if it was thinking deeply. It was that sort of gesture that reminded Veitlen that these demons had been human in the past.
The two demons exchanged another couple of sentences, and then the demon let go of Veitlen’s shoulder. “YOU-” it started.
Veitlen grabbed his rifle and slammed the butt into that demon’s face. He spun around and aimed at the second demon, which was reaching out toward him. “Don’t make a move. I’ll shoot,” he hissed through gritted teeth.
He pulled the trigger and nothing happened, because he he’d left he safety on. Before he had time to be embarrassed, the demon grabbed the barrel of the rifle and yanked it out of his hands.
“No, I need that!” said Veitlen ineffectually.
Instead of throwing the rifle aside like Veitlen assumed it would do, the demon hit him in the face with it. He wasn’t sure if that had broken his nose or not, or what the demon had been trying to accomplish, but all it had succeeded in doing was making him incredibly angry.
Veitlen attempted to punch the demon, who grabbed his arm with its free hand and bit it. He froze immediately – it felt wrong, of course, but somehow worse than what he could have expected. He vaguely remembered reading that some demons were venomous, and wondered if that was what he was feeling.
The other demon tackled him to the ground. The one that had bit him leaned down so that it was face-to-face with him. “We are going to ask you some questions. Do you understand?” it said. Its voice was rough and scratchy, and it had some kind of odd accent.
“No!” Veitlen said immediately.
The demons talked among themselves, then one of them leaned down so that its mouth was right next to Veitlen’s ear. He gritted his teeth and attempted to pull away from it.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” said the demon.
“No, get off me!” said Veitlen.
“Why are you here? Where is the other?” the demon continued.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Veitlen snapped.
The demons started talking again. Veitlen had an absent thought – that he was going to die in the same way his parents did. He pushed it out of his mind and tried to shift to the side, but the demons kept holding him down.
The demons finished their conversation. The one at Veitlen’s back grabbed his hair and yanked his head up. “OW! STOP!” Veitlen yelled.
“It was a small female with a spear. Long hair. You were talking to it,” said the demon in front of him.
Veitlen frowned. “Lillin?” he whispered.
The demon leaned in closer. “So you admit you remember. Where is it?” it asked.
“Not here!” Veitlen exclaimed, trying to squirm away. “She’s far away! Really far! You can’t find her.” He frowned. “But why are we important?”
The demon at his back finally let go of his hair. “We are drawn to you, witch,” said the one in front of him.
Veitlen let his forehead lean against the ground. “This is happening because I’m a witch?” he muttered.
“Yes,” said the demon. “Why does it happen, witch?”
“I don’t know what you’re asking,” Veitlen said into the dirt.
“Why are we drawn to you, witch?” said the demon. “Answer us.” It put its hand back on the top of Veitlen’s head. He shut his eyes and gritted his teeth again.
He suddenly remembered Morgaine’s words. She’d told him that he could end up causing a lot of damage with his magic, especially since he was a witch. There was plenty of dark magic piled up all over the place here.
He imagined spikes of dark magic, like the ones he created every time he tried to manipulate it. There was much more magic here than there was in a petri dish, and the spikes ended up a lot longer and a lot sharper. One of them went straight through the face of the demon in front of him.
Veitlen curled up with his hands over his head as he let the magic continue to spike and stab into anything it could find. After a few moments, everything went quiet. He carefully sat up and looked around. All the demons were dead, lying on the ground with spears of dark magic in their bodies.
He slowly got to his feet. Most of his body hurt in some way, and he was definitely bleeding from multiple places. More importantly, he had no idea where he was. Veitlen fumbled in his pocket and took out his compass. Thankfully, it wasn’t damaged.
There was a major road running north-south to his east. If he headed in that direction, he’d get there in a couple of hours at the most. Veitlen started walking, trying not to wobble too much. His legs felt odd.
A demon suddenly jumped out of the trees and screamed. Veitlen stumbled backward, let out a startled squawk, and started running. The demon followed. He glanced around the area – there was plenty of magic here.
As he ran, Veitlen turned back and pointed at the demon. A spear of dark magic shot out of the ground and went through the demon’s head.
Veitlen continued running until he thought his legs would give up. He slowed down to a walk, panting hard, and attempted to brush his hair out of his face. He didn’t feel good, but had no idea what combination of the things that had just happened to him was causing the feeling.
He walked through the forest for about an hour until he got to the road. He stared at it for a moment, then looked north and south and listened for any sounds of traffic. There was a town to the south of the area they’d been hunting, so he decided to head in that direction.
At some point, he heard a noise from the road. Veitlen’s head was foggy, but he had enough sense left to look backward and saw some kind of delivery truck driving in his direction. He immediately ran in to the left lane and started waving. “Hey! HEY! HELP ME!” he shouted.
The truck braked suddenly, and the driver leaned out the window, staring at him with zer mouth agape. “What the fuck!” said the driver. “How are you even alive and walking right now, soldier?”
“I got separated from my squad when we were hunting demons. Do you think you can bring me back to them?” Veitlen asked.
The driver got out of the truck and grabbed the front of Veitlen’s clothes, then started dragging him around to the passenger side door. “Fuck no! You’re not going back to your squad. You’re going to a hospital,” ze said.
“But,” Veitlen started. His head was feeling fuzzier now. He took a step forward, and his vision blurred out as he fell to the side.