I wasn’t going to do this alone.
“Ash!?” I called. The horde was so densely packed, it flooded out in every direction. Kendall’s mass rose above the crowd, his twisted body pulsating.
I couldn’t go back. The goal was across this room, and so was Ash. Driven apart, I couldn’t hear his gun anymore. There was no going around.
The demons were running ‘round me. While I panicked, unable to think a way through, they solidified my options, creeping along the walls and behind me. I swung my cleaver at the crowd, scaring them back. Demons were afraid of me. For a moment. They crazed, each one egging the others on. The crowd was brimming with rage, being held back for only a moment.
I kept swinging at the air, I cut down one that tried to break the line. Then another got brave, tried to run at me from behind. I slashed without looking, letting the body fall behind me.
The lights above flickered off and on, each time the crowd moving.
See it, you fucking moron. What do you see?!
My eyes narrowed, trying to see through the blur of blood streaming down my face. The crowd was moving in, seconds slowed as they closed the distance.
The horde approached, but it wasn’t growing.
He’s emptied his well.
The demons surged. I lashed out, but it didn’t matter. It was a dogpile and there was nothing I could do. I shielded my face, grabbing the blunt side of my cleaver and trying to hold the blade out. Their bodies crashed down on me, each one pressing down and failing to tear in, each one trying to go for my face. I screamed. Claws ripped my brow and cheeks, tried to slide into my eye sockets.
I worked my blade through the bodies as if they were air, only constrained by the motion of my arm. But it wasn’t enough. There wasn’t a plan for this. There wasn’t a way through. The crush was a feast held back only by my armor and my failing efforts to protect my face.
“Fire! Flame!” I cried desperately.
My weapon’s rusted metal turned white hot, erupting in sparks and vicious melting heat. Bubbling flesh sprinkled onto me, burning skin. My palm on the handle was immolated as the heat spread down. My suit melted into the skin. The pain was in every part of me as my bones ached and skin singed and bled. I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. I fought to my feet, tearing through with my sword and hand. I realized I was still screaming.
“Ash!?” I slurred. I heard gunshots.
“Is that all you’ve got?!” I heard him yell.
I focused on him. I could get to him. I needed him.
I could see. The crowd was growing thin, now, as I twisted and lunged to attack the demons surrounding me. Yes, I could finally see through to Ash.
He was using a stout machine gun in one hand and a knife in the other. His precision had kept him intact. Kendall was bashing at the floor, shouting for the demons to kill him.
I was in a daze, powering through what was left in my way. Ash saw me and grinned. Kendall tracked his line of sight, glancing back at me and spewing out dozens of more demons.
No. He was supposed to be out.
If he were, he’d return to normal. Think. He’s holding back the ones that give him strength. The most powerful are yet to come. Outnumbered, soon outmatched.
Then I can’t.
The new demons forced me back. All the way to the glass. Backing into it, I could finally hear rain again over the screeches, through the broken hole just to my side. The escape offered again. I’d made no progress. The horde replenished and approached. There was nowhere to go.
I wiped gore from my face. The blade I held had melted into my hand. Searing pain crawled up my arm. It wasn’t hot anymore, the fire had gone out. But the wound was still there.
Ash looked at me over the crowd as he stepped up onto the platform just before the elevator. He looked back to the open elevator doors, then to me again. He knew he couldn’t do it without me. He needed me. He was here for my purposes. In a flash on his face, a look of confliction, I knew he hated it.
He mowed down the demons in front of him, which were practically clambering over the bodies of those that had tried before. He raised his arms defiantly. “You never could get a single fucking thing done!” he mocked.
The remaining demons attacking Ash returned to Kendall, swept up in a cloud of darkness. He was left standing among the bodies. His own returned to normal. He swept hair from his eyes. “I’m going to kill you. I am going to kill you, Ash! You know it.”
I killed the faster demons that came for me. I almost fell over doing it. I caught my breath, trying to see and hear Ash’s reply.
I reflexively looked at my watch. Remembered it was broken. Time had run out.
From beyond Kendall, Ash met my eyes. He threw down his gun, grimaced.
Kendall started walking forward when it impacted the ground. “I’ll break you.”
Ash hung his head. Nodded slightly. When he looked up, he was grinning. “You never could before, faggot. You’re the weakest fucking mortal I know!”
“Look at me now, Ashmedai! Demons are nothing compared to me. Fodder.”
A hound jumped up, lunging for my face. I impaled it, but it nearly clamped down on my neck.
“You’re fucking gross, you know that?” Ash continued. “Seriously.”
A spike shot out from Kendall’s body as he deformed for a moment. It went into Ash’s chest. I craned over the horde to see. He looked down at it, still smiling. Pulling it out, casting it away. “You can’t kill me, but nice try,” he said. “Ya lil bitch! You can’t shut me up!”
“I can!” Kendall moved in and grew monstrous. He slapped Ash away before fixing his form. He looked like he was in pain, but he constrained it. He held up a finger at me, letting me know I had to wait for my turn if I survived.
Ash got up and spread his arms, unfazed. His eyes were on me the entire time. “You really can’t, boy! You always thought I was a demon of sin or some shit. I’m a worm! This body, it’s a fucking mask. You can’t touch me!” He cackled. An obviously fake laugh. Mocking.
I slipped to my knees, unable to stand anymore. Ash’s eyes were still locked with mine through a gap in the crowd. He was backed up against a pillar at the room’s edge.
“I’ve stopped you both,” Kendall declared.
The dozen or more demons remaining were only a few seconds away from me now. I didn’t have any fight left. I could only hold out the point of my sword.
“I always survive,” Ash said. “One way or another! I’ll go the long way around, boy. I’m like an STD. Probably like the one you gave Odessa. All those girls, too. There’s a lot more, right? Gotta get dat essence.”
He was thrown up against the pillar as Kendall sprinted in and hit him. He smacked the pillar and Kendall was there to pick him up again. Ash’s head was bashed against the concrete.
“You think you’re going to save the universe?!” Ash bellowed. He pointed over Kendall’s shoulder to me, not letting him see. “Do it then!” he ordered.
“I can!” Kendall bashed him harder. His eyes ruptured, his jaw broke. Kendall’s concentration wavered, some of the demons losing focus on me, watching him.
Still sound came out of Ash’s mangled head. “I’m a demon and you disgust me! How fucking hilarious is it!?”
“Shut up!” Kendall pounded a bloody crater into the pillar.
“You know me, faggot! It’s the thing I can’t do. The one thing!”
“I can make you, Ash!” Kendall’s body split open. A seam cracked along his face and down his chest, a maw unhinging. Every demon stopped in awe. Ash was pulled in, laughing hysterically. Swallowed into Kendall’s mass as I watched, his eyes never leaving mine.
Everything was silent.
I had to steady myself. My sword held out was violently shaking. A demon stood over me, staring down, but every ounce of its attention focused away. Red eyes gone glassy.
Kendall fixed his hair and tried to wipe a shaken look from his face. He looked to me from across the room. “It’s over,” he said. Then, to the demon, “kill him!”
My sword hand dropped. “Fuck you,” I forced the words out, spitting blood.
He laughed bitterly, long and hard. He tried to respond, but he kept laughing. He shook his head. The demon wasn’t attacking “Yes. You-” Kendall shook, fell to his hands and knees. “It’s funny,” he said. “Just how fucked you are.” A horrible laughter broke loose again and he had to cover his mouth. “What?” he asked. “What the fuck happened?”
I told him. “You took in an unbound demon, Kendall.”
“I…” He seized up in pain. His face contorted, every demon in the room instantly disintegrated. They returned to him in a cloud of darkness. He fell onto his side, every muscle in his body spasming.
I rolled up off my legs and barely stood. I walked the long distance towards the elevator. It felt like an eternity with every move hurting.
I stopped by Kendall’s side. He looked up to me, grinning, terror in his eyes. He couldn’t speak.
“You took in a demon you have no control over.” I knelt in front of him. “I’m not going to kill you for what you are. What you’ve done. It won’t matter. I just want… I want to thank both of you for seeing me this far. I’m sorry.”
After a second, he burst out laughing again. I found a weak smile of my own as Ash looked back at me through his eyes. “Damn you to hell,” he coughed.
I looked past him to the elevator doors, grimacing. I nodded.
I snapped my fingers and the elevator responded to me. When I entered, the doors rolled shut, slowly taking the sight of him laughing from me. It began to rise quickly into the storm. I slid down against the wall as inertia hit me, staring out through the windows as I ascended. As I came up out of the building’s protection the weather hit the glass box at full force. Thunder and lightning became distant, my gaze unfocused.