Jarred, David, Sarah and Jessica arrived at the Queen Street entrance to the mall ready to venture into its dark, dangerous depths. Or in this case, heights. Another mission from the boss, chasing rumours of missing children and things that beat their wings in the night. If this were the case, they would have to start from the top and work their way down. So their first point was the cinema. At least their boss was paying handsomely. He’d have to be to throw them back into the mall again.
David had the climbing rope. Jessica had the bolt cutters. And Sarah had her healing spells. They had full mags of ammo with plenty of spares, they had knives and pistols, and they had torches with batteries checked. They were as prepared as they could be based on what little information they had.
At a nod from Jarred, Jessica snapped the lock on the service door within the roll-down gate and swung the door open. It was dark inside the mall, the whole building abandoned save for the goblins and similarly “denizen” creatures, and there were three levels to climb from this entrance. Torches on the group ascended the first of the escalators, power long since gone, and came up onto Level One.
“Level One: goblins, cultist mages, sporting goods,” David said. Jarred snickered. Then he fell silent.
“You hear that?” he said. “Goblins. That way.” He pointed towards the department store entrance. Goblins in the Myer store itself. If goblins weren’t torture-loving degenerate little monsters, it would be almost cute seeing them prancing about in dresses and rouge while wearing Chanel No 5. Almost.
“Move slow, keep to the shadows, lights off,” Jarred said. Their lights went out. “Sarah, bow up front.” Sarah moved into place, arrow nocked. She looked especially fearsome dressed in her patchy long coat, hood up with scarf and fingerless gloves wrapped around the bow and arrow she currently had in hand.
Sarah moved silently and gracefully around the detritus as best she could. Then she bumped a soft drink can. Then the goblins in the Myer store squealed.
“Run!” Jarred ordered. “Head upwards!”
Tesla Squad broke into a sprint, moving up the escalator and around the platform to the next escalators. Meanwhile, goblins armed with machetes and makeshift spears came pouring out of Myer’s after them. Jarred turned, and when David and Jessica had passed him, let loose a burst of bullets in the goblins’ direction. A few went down but more were coming.
He turned and ran after his team, up the curved white tile stairs, up to the cinema.
And the demons.
Flying around the top of the space, over nothing but the yawning shopping mall cavern, were easily twenty little demons, batlike humanoid things gliding and falling and rising again out in the middle of nothing. Moonlight streamed down through a gaping hole in the domed roof. Otherwise, it was dark in here, and there were demons flying around and goblins hot on the team’s heels.
“David!” Jarred shouted. David turned back the way they’d come. Jarred ran past him, and then the first of the goblins came up the stairs, waving its spear wildly. David’s shotgun took out several massive chunks of its chest. It fell down the stairs, oozing green blood. Another came up behind it but slipped on the blood and fell, impaling itself on its machete. The rest paused at the stairs. For a long, tense moment, nobody moved, save the flying demons.
“Who dares intrude upon my demense?” came a voice like crackling fire. Jarred turned. There, standing on one leg, was a demon straight out of the classics with a pointed tail and impressive wingspan, black fur with a triangle of red on its stomach, and horns on its head. Its eyes were red like fire and its teeth sharp like a tiger’s. In its right hand it gripped a sword on fire.
“Well,” Jarred said. “Guess the rumours were true.”
“I assume you refer to the rumours of flying things taking children in the night?” the demon, likely the boss, said.
“Those same ones,” Jarred said. “We’ve come to free those children.”
“Interesting,” the demon said. Its eyes blazed like the fires of the sun. As one, the other demons screeched and changed direction to fly straight for Tesla Squad. Jarred opened fire, and then everyone opened fire. Sarah let loose two arrows, both hitting their targets, before one knocked her off her feet and the two fell in a tangle of limbs. Her bow went skittering away and she drew her knife.
Jarred went to fire on the demon, but another one grabbed him, feet around his arms, and lifted. He suddenly felt himself jerked up into the air, and he lost his grip on his gun. It clattered to the floor. Jarred reached for his knife and slashed the demon across the feet, one after the other. It let go and he fell, crashing to the stairs and tumbling in a ball of limbs and coat. When he stopped he was dizzy, nauseous and in the thick of goblins.
Including one wearing a dress. It had rouge on its face, and it smelled of expensive perfume.
“Uh, hi,” he said. The goblin in the dress stabbed him in the stomach—or would have, if Jarred’s legendary reflexes hadn’t kicked in and he’d started dodging the moment he saw the muscles in its right arm prepare to attack. He batted the spear aside and delivered a straight-forward kick to the thing’s chest. It went sailing into the throng of goblins.
Then he ran.
Goblins chased him up the stairs and howled after his own blood. He reached the top, grabbed his gun, emptied the magazine into the goblin mass and ripped a new mag off its spot where it was Velcro-attached to his chest. He slid the mag in and fired into the goblin mass. They fled in fear, back the way they’d come.
Jarred turned back to the battle raging in the cinema lobby.
David was surrounded by demons in the air. Jessica was down and out cold—hopefully. Sarah, on the other hand, was being held in front of the boss-demon, its tail around her neck.
‘Strong tail,’ Jarred thought, and wondered if he could sever it with a well-placed bullet. He’d risk hitting Sarah, though. But she was a white mage, a healer. But she was also fairly fresh out of mage college. Could he take that risk? Could she handle the wound an M16 made?
“Lower your weapons and I’ll release the woman,” the demon hissed. Jarred considered going for the shot, but decided he better not. He lowered his weapon, and then dropped it. David did likewise.
The demon, good on its word, lowered Sarah and let her go. She gasped for air, doubled over, but she was alive.
Then something pierced Jarred’s neck and everything went black.
Through the fog of semi-consciousness Jarred had the sensation of being dragged along, on his back, head woozy, and being lifted off the ground by several sets of hands. He then felt himself moving upstairs before passing out again.
The next time he awoke, he was tied up and hanging upside down from the ceiling of a dark movie theatre. He saw David, Jessica and Sarah beside him.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Guys!” No response.
He tried wriggling free, but of course that did nothing. He felt around for his knife but found nothing. So he’d have to expend some of his power to get out.
Jarred tried to concentrate on forming a spark by his feet. It was harder to do, and he wasn’t sure if it was because he’d never fired lightning from his feet before or because he was upside down with blood pumping in his head, but he managed. He somehow got it to appear over his feet at the rope, and with a massive amount of concentration managed to slowly burn through the rope, the fibres blackening and loosening until all at once there was a mighty snap and he fell to the floor in a pile of limbs. Somehow he managed to get his hands under him, so that for a second he was doing a handstand, before he fell over onto the floor and just lay there for a moment to catch his breath.
“Well that was fun,” he said.
Jarred went to David, Jessica and Sarah and got them down from their rope-cocoons. He went straight to work on their ropes and lowered them gently before waking them.
“What the hell?” David asked.
“Demon venom, it knocked us all out,” Jarred said. “We’ll have to make sure we don’t get stung again.”
“What’s the plan?” Jess asked.
“Find the children, free them, get out,” Jarred answered. “Then we come back here and we torch this place. Burn the whole cinema—hell, the whole of the mall—to the ground.”
“I like your thinking,” Jess said.
“We just gotta make sure the children get out,” David added.
“Because somebody’s gotta think of the children.”
“Our first objective is to find our gear. I would bet either the manager’s office or the cleaners’ closet is our best shot. The children are probably tied up in theatres like we were. We can’t really be effective in rescuing them if we don’t have our equipment—I don’t need to remind you that our powers have limits. We find our equipment and then we get the kids out of here.”
“What if we run into demons before then?” Sarah asked.
“I take it you can’t exorcise them if they’re not spirits?”
“I’m not sure,” Sarah said.
“We won’t rely on that, then. So if we see any demons, well, we need to not be seen by them. Clear and simple.”
“So we go about this as stealthy as possible,” Sarah surmised. “I’ve got a spell for that.”
“Awesome,” Jarred said. “Let’s find these missing kids and get the hell out of here.”