“You won’t touch her again if you know what’s good for you!” He yelled, holding the woman behind her. The woman in question groaned and tried to pull her boyfriend back into the pub.
“Come on Sam, don’t start” Sam shrugged her off and stared me down.
“I didn’t touch anyone!” I shot back, and she nodded.
“He didn’t do anything. Let’s go” he was still ignoring her, the alcohol making him unreasonable.
“Bullshit.” and he grabbed my shoulder, bunching my jumper in his fist. I panicked as he led me towards the traffic.
“Hey what are you doing?” I yelled as his girlfriend caught on and ran to stop him.
“Teaching you a lesson.” she was too slow.
And he threw me into the road, sending me into the stream of lights and horns. There was a smash and a scream and my vision was stained red. Then everything went black.
“Good evening Riley.” I shot up from where I lay on the ground. And then I caught sight of a blurry figure. Ah, shit my glasses. They must have gone missing after- I couldn’t remember. I focused on the now rather than panic over my apparent amnesia.
“Where am I?” I asked the blur.
“Level One” he replied. I was guessing it was a he from the baritone but it could have been some humanoid slime monster for all I could tell.
“Of what?” he sighed.
“Hell of course.” Oh. Wait, that would mean…
“You were thrown into the traffic”
“A simple yes would have done”
“My apologies” Whoever, or whatever, he was he was polite at least. I squinted, trying to see if I could will my eyes to work, when he coughed and pressed something into my hand.
“I believe you require these?” My glasses.
“Ah thank you” and what looked like the inside of a rocky volcano came into view. I looked up at the man standing above me and my mouth fell open slightly. His shoulder length white hair was slicked back, showing off two grey horns on his head, contrasting against his dark purple skin flecked with darker scales and two black eyes. He leaned down and helped me up and I was surprised by the lack of height difference between the two of us. Whenever I had read about demons, they were always looming creatures. So I was expecting him to be over seven feet tall. I wasn’t a tall guy so he could have only been around six foot. A pretty average height. He raised an eyebrow.
“Did you expect me to tower?”.
“Kinda?” Could he mind read or something?
“This is only Level One. That sort of intimidation is left for Level Five and above.” he explained.
“Oh. So you’re not as scary?” I cringed at how childish the question sounded. He merely quirked a slight smile,
“No. I’m not supposed to be ‘scary’”
“Then what do you do?”
“Many things. But today I’m here to meet you”
“Is this like Limbo?” The demon winced and rubbed his eyes. When he realised I was honestly asking, he sighed and scratched the base of a horn.
“To be honest, Limbo is a good guess. Demons just tend not to like the term”
“Sorry” he waved my apology away and continued to explain.
“This is the place where ‘normal’ people go. Not bad but not squeaky clean either. Just normal.” I breathed in relief,
“I can take normal”
“It’s also where we send people that we have a use for” that made me pause,
“So which am I? And what kind of use?” I queried. His mouth quirked upwards again,
“You are both normal and useful. We collect debts”
“Huh?” I probably looked as dumb as I sounded.
“Some people make deals with demons from time to time. And some never let us collect”
“Collect what? Money? Souls?” He looked at me confused,
“Why would we collect souls?” he looked slightly disgusted at the thought. I shrugged,
“Popular human literature?”
“No we don’t collect souls” then he muttered something that sounded like ‘humans are weird’,
“Then what do you collect?”
“Demons. Namely wayward ones”
“Demons?” I looked at him perplexed. Why would they have to collect the demons?
“Some fail to tell their summoner to send them home. So they never return. Level One residents are tasked with bringing them back to Hell” he explained and I had to suppress a snort of laughter at the image of a giant demon being dragged home by a tiny Level One demon, or a human. That was even funnier.
“I’m guessing these are runaways then?” I summerised. He nodded,
“Why run away though?” He chuckled,
“There’s a lot of chaos in your human world. High tier demons practically live off it. They love it”
“I guess that makes sense”
“So will you help?”
“Round up runaway demons?”
“Yes” I thought about it and looked up at him,
“Would you be coming with me?” I’d become quite attached to my demon companion. He nodded in affirmation. I quickly made up my mind.
“Then okay.” And I felt proud at the small smile of relief my answer gave him.
“Thank you Riley” Ah, that reminded me,
“What’s your name? You do have a name right?”
“Arkenfall” An interesting, yet pleasant, name. I liked it.
“Then you’re welcome Arkenfall”.
After walking me through demon capturing and the gear, he took me to a large swirl in the ground and I summerised that it was a portal of some kind. Arkenfall confirmed my suspicions.
“If you’re ready, then we will go”
“Where are we going?”
“Manchester” I looked over in surprise.
“That’s where I’m from” he nodded,
“This is why I asked you”
“Indeed. Let’s go”
“Right” And we stepped through the swirl and right into the human world.
I winced as my vision flooded with Mancunian sunshine. I stared as a familiar bus hurtled down Oxford Street and shivered. This was the last place I remembered; it must have been where I died. Arkenfall did say I was pushed into traffic. I looked up at the demon who had switched to a more average hornless appearance of blonde hair and tan skin, though his eyes were still black.
“Where do we need to go?” My brain was already whirring back into gear, routes and street names returning to me. He checked his communication stone, a palm sized thing covered in runes.
“Ooh he’s a fancy demon” Arkenfall looked at me utterly perplexed and I revelled in knowing more then him. I spent the rest of the journey there explaining the different zones of Manchester to him and the stereotypes that came with each one.
“So this is the ‘businessman’ zone?” he raised a confused eyebrow as he looked up at the looming Emporio Armani store. I nodded, happy that he had in fact been paying attention to my mini lecture. He smiled at my enthusiasm.
“This place isn’t as packed as other zones so it shouldn’t be too hard to find them” I added. He suddenly spun towards me and held my shoulders, looking me in the eyes,
“If you see them, or anything you think could be a demon, alert me. They can be incredibly dangerous” Oh he was serious. I nodded,
“Roger” He blinked, “It’s a human expression. It means I understand” I translated. He paused, almost as if to add it to his mental dictionary. He lent back, letting go of my shoulders.
We began to weave our way through the restaurants and streets within Spinningfields on the lookout for anything Hellish. We had practically looked around the entirety of the area. It wasn’t a very big place and I was soon running out of patience.
“Calm down Riley”
“But why can’t we find them?” I whined.
“Demons are slippery creatures, Riley. Especially when they don’t want to be found”.
The phrasing sparked an idea in my head and I rushed towards the river, Arkenfall close behind. Finally reaching the edge, I began my search with renewed gusto. Arkenfall watched me with amusement before joining me in the hunt. He suddenly paused and sniffed the air. I caught the movement and looked over,
“What is it?” he held a finger to my lips and beckoned,
He began snaking down the side of the river and managed to somehow convince a man to lend us their boat. I suspected magic but stayed quiet. Anything that made our job easier was welcomed. We rowed out to the middle of the river when Arkenfall gestured for me to stop.
“Can you swim?” he asked once I put down my oars. I looked across at him, surprised by the question.
“You don’t need to breathe” was all he said as he shoved me overboard. With an indignant shout I fell into the water. I soon got my bearings, impressed that my glasses had stayed on, and he followed soon after. But I found his statement to be true – I didn’t need to breathe. I put it down to me being dead and let my eyes adjust to the murky water.
We moved through the water, raking up and down the riverbed for signs of something out of the ordinary. Arkenfall stopped suddenly and pointed past me. I turned to spot a shape in the water. Fish tail, horns and covered in deep blue scales, the demon lurked in the corner of the basin. I moved back slowly as I took in their size; they must have been well over eight feet tall. They bared their teeth and growled. Arkenfall shifted into his original form and I saw a flash of purple as he sped past me to engage the runaway. Claws were bared and blood stained the water as the fight escalated. I winced every time a claw would meet its mark and I was reminded of the stark size difference between the two demons as Arkenfall dodged a claw almost the size of his head. I looked up as the fight disturbed the water and prayed that nobody noticed the amount of waves we would be making. I tucked myself by the boat as the demon thrashed around.
“Throw the chains!” I heard Arkenfall’s voice clearly in my mind. After a beat of shock, I pulled the bronzed chain from my backpack and hurtled it through the water into his outstretched hand. He grasped it and, within the tussle, managed to wrap it around the demon. Though it wouldn’t hold them for too long. I grabbed the Hell Teleporter from my pocket and twisted the orb open . The response was instant. A rush of heat flooded through the river as the portal opened. With a bubbled yell, Arkenfall propelled the runaway towards the fires protruding from the swirl. As the final scale of fin passed through the portal I twisted the lock back into place, sealing him away.
We both took a moment to allow the water to cool before slowly floating to the surface and paddling towards the boat. Leaping on board gracefully, Arkenfall replaced his human disguise and helped me up. We both lay down, panting slightly.
“Fast reflexes there for a human”
“You fight good”
We shared a tired chuckle at our weary compliments and sat up. We slowly made our way back to the riverside, giving the boat back before heading back into town. Arkenfall’s communication stone flashed and he fished it out of his pocket. He read the runes and turned to me,
“Would you be up for another job?”. I answered instantly,
“I’d love to.” I caught sight of a poster and smiled, “do we have to leave right away?” He raised an eyebrow,
“Not at all. What did you have in mind?” I nodded at the poster and he smirked,
“Lead the way” And that was how I introduced a demon from Level One of Hell to the tactical shooting game of Laser Quest.