Alex’s heels click on the concrete as she walks back toward campus. Another frustrating night following that damn janitor around. She reaches the corner and looks down the long dimly lit road. A car breezes by.
Madison was supposed to be here. She’d gotten weird and distant these last few months, especially after that surprise scholarship landed in her lap. Alex pulls out her phone and searches for her uber app.
A black van glides in behind her. It stops for a moment, the side door sliding open. Gloved hands reach out and pull Alexandra in before she can call out.
Hours later Alex opens her eyes. A single light shines down on the wet concrete.
She tries to sit up. Metal chains bind her arms to the steel post behind her.
Something large moves in the darkness, its joints squealing like rusted iron.
“Tell me,” a metallic voice booms. “Tell me about the man who killed the Lion Tamer. Tell me about Joseph Mutsinzi.”
In the weeks following Sabek’s demise, Shaun Wykes’s dreams become sporadic and disjointed. His psychiatrist begins to focus more on his memory gaps and refers him to a Dr. Trevor Sorenson, a specialist familiar with such cases.
As for Accabish, she begins to notice strange people watching her: A man with plastic pink skin and shocking white hair and a brown woman with bright red hair. Near as she can tell they are not demons or angels.
About two weeks after cutting her way into Liles Barber’s storage container, she finds herself heading through the Slog’s parking garage late in the evening. A bald man with shaved eyebrows stops her. In the corner of her eye she spies the woman with red hair moving in with a stun gun.
Accabish twists the laws of reality for a moment, risking the attention of the God-Machine. Time slows to a crawl.
She turns to the woman as the pair freeze in place. As she pulls the stun gun from her would be assailant’s hand, she notices a third figure. The glow of arcing electricity illuminates the man’s plastic pink skin. Well behind him a large inhuman shadow looms out from behind a corner.
Accabish decides to put some distance between herself and whatever it is. She jogs to the edge of the parking garage, leaps over the concrete barrier and crouches down behind it before time restarts.
As she balances on the ledge three stories above the street, she hears her attackers express their surprise. Then moments later the screams begin.
Wet meaty sounds mix with the crackle of electricity. Something hits concrete with a crack and thump. Then the screams stop.
As something makes chewing and cracking noises, the journalist raises her phone over the edge and snaps a picture.
She creeps along the edge of the structure until she finds a wider space. Cupping the phone, she sees the huge gray beast she captured. Only a row of spines covers the hairless monster as it slurps up blood and gore.
Accabish draws on her demonic strength and swings down a level. She finds her car and races off.
The next day she gets the police report. Dismembered bodies, no blood, surgical steel. Something weird is going on.
As the semester ends, Daemon works late every night. Not on school work but on the many vulnerabilities he discovered. Someone very skilled hacked his systems. Folders misplaced. Subtle trojans inserted into critical files. After many hours of work, he mostly convinces himself that his systems are secured. Mostly.
The other aggravation has been the jockeying and infighting within his guild. Several raids failed epically as if someone tipped off the opposition. Bob at least remains lost on a wild owlbear chase.
Joseph asks how Yves got to America. The former child soldier explains that it was a long road. He spend time as a soldier for the new regime after the genocide. Mostly he worked border security. From there he moved to North Africa before hopping a boat to Italy. Eventually he emigrated to the United States. Now he runs an import export business dealing with Africa, using his various connections over the years to help grease the wheels of commerce.
As Yves completes his tale, three men on motorbikes ride up. The men pull guns on them. Joseph upends the table and pushes his friend to the ground.
The demon notes that one of them has a silvery raygun that wouldn’t look out of place in a 50s science fiction movie. He decides to bend reality slightly to make their shots go wide.
As their bullets dig into the earth, walls and other objects around them, Joseph asks Yves, “Do you know them?”
“No. Do you?”
Bolts of gold light and bullets tear up the storefront as customers run this way and that unharmed.
“Let’s get inside,” Joseph urges.
Yves nods and they race into the restaurant. Outside the three shooters drive away.
Joseph watches them leave. Their colors suggest that they belong to the Valley Hood Piru gang, though they are well outside their territory.
He turns to his friend. “You sure no one wants you dead? What do you ship?”
Yves shrugs. “I sometimes move medical supplies. Maybe they were after drugs.”
Joseph considers it. But the raygun nags at him. He texts the ring.
I ran into some trouble. There was an unusual device. Let’s meet tonight to discuss it.
Don’t tell me about your sex life, Nat sends back.
Across town, the Weaver leads the library craft class in building bird houses.
“Sure,” she says, glancing at Jenny as she and her other child, Jacob, paint a birdhouse. “What’s is the problem?”
“My mommy and daddy don’t talk to each other anymore. Daddy moved away,” the little girl babbles. “He’s staying with a strange lady and she’s a witch.”
The Weaver asks how the four year old knows that.
Jane says bluntly that she just knows what people are good at. Jackie, her dad’s girlfriend, is good at magic. Jean is good at listening. Mr. Carter, she points at a older man in the class, is good at driving. Plus, Jane explains, Jackie has weird tattoos on her back and healed from a cut overnight.
The Weaver senses something strange about this child but convinces Jane that there is nothing to worry about.
Then Jean and Jenny’s phones vibrate. Hunter’s text reaches them.
Elsewhere Daemon groggily looks at his phone as well. Last night another raid failed. Someone is leaking their plans and he spent all night identifying the possible suspects.
One of them, EbonKing accused another, xxxsonyxxx, of being a spy.
EbonKing blocks his camera and scrubs his digital tracks. The lack of information troubles Daemon. Even so the demon knows where he lives.
But xxxsonyxxx left the demon a false trail. The savvy netizen worries him more. He alerts his lieutenants to both of them and tells them to string the potential double agents along for now.
Later that day, the Weaver pays a visit to its bolt hole for solitude.
The extradimensional space is empty.
The gadgets, both the rod and the goggles, are missing. A quick search finds some fingerprints but nothing else. Thinking quickly, the demon realizes the surveillance camera footage of the street might reveal more promising leads. It heads to the bar to meet Daemon and the rest of the ring.
“Let’s get to the point,” says the Weaver, hoping to address its own problems.
That out of the way, the Weaver explains how it was robbed. Daemon seems reluctant to help at first but the Weaver makes it clear that real resources are at stake. He says he’ll look at the footage for clues.
Later that evening, after Daemon’s cult sifts through a day’s worth of video footage, he sends the Weaver pictures of the four individuals who spent an inordinate amount of time near the alley. Two are clearly homeless and the demon recognizes another as working in the building next door.
The fourth however it clearly recalls: the girl in the pink headscarf who was poking around a few months ago.
They forward the photo to the rest of the ring. Nat recognizes Cymbeline Hand. He owns a pact for her, or rather her father’s connection to her.
The demon tells the others it will take care of this issue.
The young woman hikes through a forest of thick old trees. The demon can’t tell where or what she seeks there. But it spies the goggles around her neck.
Nat drives to the suburbs where she and her father live. Donning a generic facade, it rings the doorbell. Muhammed Hand answers the door.
Nat explains he has a deal with him. The heavily sweating man lets him in. The interior is new and freshly furnished. A quick search of the house finds no signs of unusual activity, just new money and a stash of drugs. He takes Muhammed’s phone and sends the number for Cymbeline to Daemon.
The demon ends its search at her door and waits.
Weaver parks Jean’s car as far into the woods as possible. Then the demons move forward on foot.
The old growth forest closes in on them. Thick green foliage replaces the sky and giant trees twist the path this way and that.
Their quarry’s footprints in the moist earth lead them through a hollow trunk.
Instantly they became aware of a strangeness in the woods. The distant birdsong ends. The greenery gives way to autumn reds and yellows.
Hunter notices an eye open up on a strangely humanoid trunk. Before in a blink, it vanishes.
Weaver meanwhile watches a patch of flowers open and close, revealing tooth-like petals and flickering tongues.
The demons slow their progress.
An inhuman scream up ahead breaks the silence.
They rush forward toward a clearing surrounded by trees made more of flesh than wood.
As they break through the ring, they spot Cymbeline, her back to them, doing something to a thrashing pink tree.
Hunter and Weaver head to her, skirting a pool of milky white liquid in the center of the clearing. A metal pipe thrusts out of the earth nearby, spilling more of the waste into the pool. The scent of Aether is thick in the air.
Cymbeline carves into the tree with swiss army knife. Blood and gore cover her arms as she excitedly tells them, “It’s here! It’s here! The Heart Full of Flies!”
Before they can stop her, she pulls it out. A glass object, stained with blood and filled some sort of buzzing creatures.
Weaver asks why she came here. Cymbeline mutters about following her dreams, that they were all true, and that she must complete her destiny.
As they try to question her further, the trees fall silent. The demons look to see red leafed branches swinging down at them.
Weaver pulls the young woman to the relative safety of the pool. Hunter follows. As the trees wave their limbs ineffectually at the trio, Hunter decides to power through. Circuitry crisscrosses his skin as his demonic powers rise to the surface. He picks up both Weaver and Cymbeline in his arms and rushes past the trees.
The path twists under his feet as the demon runs for the hollow tree. The flesh grove looms ahead of him.
Dodging another attack, Hunter runs back and finally reaches the gateway. Once through the sound of birds and the green filtered light returns.
Once back in the sunlight, Hunter puts the women down. Cymbeline mumbles her thanks before the stress overwhelms her. She collapses into Weaver’s arms.
The demons carry her back to the car.
Weaver lets Hunter drive while she looks at the artifact Cymbeline unearthed. Under the blood, the gadget is clearly a glass heart filled with what look like flies. Moreover, this device was crafted the same Cxaxa Queraphis who forged the goggles. The heart, her heart, allows one to assume the form of a swarm of insects.
As they reach the city limits, Cymbeline lifts her head up. As she comes to her senses, she asks for the heart and goggles back.
Hunter comments they were not hers to take. Cymbeline insists saying she needs them and something in Bainbridge to complete her destiny. The demons question her and she mentions that she has been dreaming about this for years: the heart, the goggles, Bainbridge. She needs to find something called the cloak of the first demon.
They take her to her home and explain she can talk to their colleague about it.
As her house, she finds Nat at the door to her room. The demon explains it owns the rights to her, that it can make her its daughter. Creeped out if convinced, she asks what the demon wants. They make a deal: Nat’s help in exchange to an agreement to listen to it when they find the cloak.
Elsewhere Hunter decides that the time has come to give up his identity as Joseph Mutsinzi. Before claiming his soul pact with David Schmidt, the demon decides to enact some blatant vigilante justice.
Talking to the right people points him in the direction of his three would-be assassins. It seems the thugs have been showing off their fancy raygun.
He locates them on a street corner chatting with a fourth man. Manifesting his demonic strength, he walks up behind them, grabs the leader’s arm, and twists.
As the man collapses to the ground in pain, the others flee. He lets the stranger escape but corners the other two.
As he grins horribly, they sputter that a mobster named Todd hired them. They tell him where to find him.
Then he kills them with his bare hands.
He goes back to the crippled leader. He takes the raygun and then stomps him to death.
Sirens in the air, he walks off.
That evening the ring gathers at their usual bar. A despondent Joseph tells them that his attackers were hired through a cutout, a gangster killed yesterday with a single bullet to the head. He slides the raygun over to the Weaver.
Accabish meanwhile shows them a photo from her phone. The Weaver looks up from the weapon and says the gray beast is a Chupacabra. Then she lets Hunter know that the gun was made by and from a demon who calls herself Clare Smith. She is better known as the Mutilationist.
Nat recognizes the name. The gadget crafter sells her wares through a demon known as the Pentacle. That demon is known to be a little paranoid, even for one of their kind. But it knows where the Pentacle will be. The demon invites Accabish to help talk to him.
A sandy haired man wearing a red bandana opens the truck. Stacks of lighters, weapons, and stranger paraphernalia decorate the interior.
Nat introduces itself to the Pentacle. The other demon welcomes them and begins rambling about his goods, the God-Machine and how there are sleeper agents everywhere.
“We are all sleeper agents,” he explains. “You, me, her. Mortals definitely. Even our kids.”
As the temptor interrupts a spiel about a lighters that set off fire alarms to ask about the raygun.
The Pentacle calls it the farscape gun. “Since it shoot those yellow bolts.” He explains sadly that he can’t recall who he sold it to.
It seems that in an effort to break the programming of the God-Machine, he shattered his cipher with a fifth embed. It drove him a little crazy and now he suffers from fugue states.
”I recall something though. They paid in cash. That was odd. Mostly people pay in pacts or gadgets. Aether sometimes. Anyway it was in cash. 1 million dollars. Won’t have to worry about the rent for a while.”
As he babbles on, Accabish dons her sunglasses. Her eyes take on a copper hue as she scans his mind. Digging deep, she retrieves the memory they need from his damaged brain. An African man in a black armored car visited him. He had bodyguards. He needed a weapon.
She signals Nat.
Nat haggles for a gadget lighter in exchange for a month long facade. As they shake on it, Accabish texts the description and license plate number to the others.
Hunter checks his phone as he waits by the elevator.
The description matches his old friend Yves.
He considers his next step as the police man exits the elevator. The brown skinned officer asks him who he is.
“I’m here to collect,” he tells David Schmidt. The demon takes his hand and assumes his new life.