This is the fourth part of an adventure series where YOU determine the next step in the story. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. If this is your first time joining the VYA, welcome! You can jump in and vote at any time so please vote! Voting ends on Saturday night.
In Part 3, the vote was almost a landslide to stand and fight the demon. Good luck, Gang!
You decide to run for the workbench. On your way, you grab Tankwald by the collar and drag him with you. Still paralyzed by fear, he stumbles backward, his eyes locked on the demon taking up the entire doorway. You grab one of the black gauge-and-needle contraptions from the bench and sling the strap over your shoulder. As you’re reaching for one of the silver rings hanging on the pegboard, a memory from your short time in basic training flitters through your mind: words have power.
You grab a small black book from the tall stack, flip it open, and shove it into Tankwald’s hands.
“Read,” you hiss.
He blinks and stares up at you stupidly. His mouth opens and closes like a fish. No sounds come out.
The demon enters the room. It doesn’t walk, but it doesn’t glide either. It simply comes forth. Even now, though it’s been years since the initial invasion, you have no words to describe how they move. Supernatural beings defy the laws of this world, even when they take physical form.
Tankwald takes a step back. His knees start to give way.
You grab him again, hauling him to his feet. “Read, damn you!”
Your words galvanize him into action. He blinks and looks at the book in his hands as if noticing it for the first time. His words are robotic. He stumbles through the ancient text printed on the pages.
“T- t- tene tene isene ereth! Vron erebekk bet!”
The demon stops moving, as if barred from coming closer. You place your hand on the back of Tankwald’s neck and push him forward.
“Keep going,” you order.
The demon’s black, soulless eyes bore into you. You think the creature is moving backward. It’s hard to say. You know it isn’t moving forward, and that’s at least better than the situation was five seconds ago.
Tankwald wipes his brow with the back of his hand and continues. You have no idea what he’s saying. From the look on his face, he isn’t entirely sure either. He reads another line and you shove him forward another step. Behind the demon, you can see the box it was kept in. The thick metal walls have strange symbols and foreign writing engraved in the steel. The walls are so thick, you’re sure it comprises a few layers, each one bearing similar symbols to keep the creature contained.
A low rumbling fills the room that causes the hair on the back of your neck to rise. Tankwald reads faster. Louder.
The demon braces itself, standing to full height, stretching its arms stiffly at its sides. Its fingers elongate into razor-sharp tips. Its mouth opens. A cloud of brown and green fumes billows forth from the fanged hole, smelling of bile and feces. The feeling of terror returns, raw and real. Your muscles clench so hard they hurt. Moving is damn near impossible. You can’t help but marvel at how effective demons are at manipulating your mind. Like many others, you suspect that this, not physical force, is Hell’s greatest weapon.
You concentrate on Tankwald’s voice—the thin, shaky words barely heard beneath the growing hellish hum—and you shuffle to the side. The demon’s eyes flicker to you, then back at Tankwald. You take another step and the black gadget hanging on your arm slips down to your elbow. Its swinging motion sparks an idea. You grab the strap and force yourself to take a step closer.
The demon looks conflicted. It moves forward, then back. It sees you trying to sneak around and it moves toward you, but Tankwald’s girlish screaming sends it back. The hum gets louder. As you move closer to the door, you hear the soldiers shouting outside.
“No! Hold your ground, dammit!”
You glance at the metal box in the doorway then back at the demon. If you had a gun you could end this. But you don’t, so you improvise.
You wrap the black gadget’s thick strap around your hand and swing. The metal contraption sails through the air and slams into the back of the demon’s head. Black ichor splatters from the wound. Leathery wings sprout from the demon’s back, expanding like onyx sails as the demon crashes sideways to the floor. The humming stops. You’re pretty sure the demon isn’t dead, but you don’t stop to check—nor do you wait for the damned thing to get up. You grab Tankwald by his lab coat, scramble around the demon, and run for the metal box.
You shove Tankwald inside. He tumbles forward and smacks against the back wall. His sloppy landing pushes the box away from the door frame, reminding you that it’s sitting atop a rolling cart.
Tankwald’s scream increases and his eyes bulge at something behind you. The sound of rustling wings fills the room and a tremor ripples beneath your feet. The same fear that gripped you moments ago comes flooding back.
The demon’s up and it’s pissed.
You put your hands on the sides of the metal box and push. You don’t know where you’re going and you really don’t care. You let out a primal scream and give the cart a strong shove. The wheels move. Adrenaline kicks in and you turn the cart right, into the soldiers.
Tankwald continues screaming. “It’s coming! It’s looooooooooose!”
You join him, hoping your combined panic will divert their attention. “We’re all going to diiiiiiiiiie!”
Around you, soldiers are barking orders, some shouting to retreat, others shouting not to retreat. A single bullet slams into the metal and ricochets off into the wall. Chaos and panic erupt.
You push the cart into the soldiers. You meet resistance as you slam into someone and knock them down. Soldiers flatten themselves against the wall, trying to squeeze around the metal box. Someone grabs you from behind and tries jerking you back. A human voice screams in your ear to surrender. But you don’t stop pushing and you don’t look back. You know what’s coming.
And in a single breath, a dreadful, tangible silence descends upon the hall. Within seconds it’s broken by a roar of ancient words. The front of Tankwald’s pants darkens.
Soldiers run past you, no longer concerned with you or the scientist fleeing the scene. After thirty feet of pushing you slam into the wall at the end of the hall and flop headfirst into the box.
You scramble back out and toss a glance over your shoulder, just in time to see a torso flying through the air.
No limbs, no head. Just a torso.
The demon towers over the soldiers. It’s staring at you.
An alarm goes off. You hear an official voice over a loudspeaker, calling for reinforcements and a lockdown. The overhead lights flicker and turn red. To your left, you see armor-plated barriers lowering from the ceiling.
If you don’t move, you’re going to be trapped.
You roll the box down the left hall, trying to get past the dropping barrier, but you don’t make it in time. The barrier clamps down and pins the box in place. The lowering mechanism makes a horrible grinding noise, but the box is too strong to collapse. You put your whole body into it, but you can’t push it loose. The mechanism gives up and the emergency lights start flashing in a new area. Somewhere up ahead, you hear a backup barrier coming down.
A familiar deep hum fills the air and you glance back over your shoulder at the corner you just came around. Bullets tear into the wall and you catch a glimpse of a black, leathery wing.
You drag Tankwald from the metal box, squeeze around it, and run. You soon find yourself at another crossroad with a barrier closing on each side. On the left, the hall slopes downward into darkness. At the edge of the light, you think you see a stairwell heading down into pitch black. To the right, the walls have been painted orange with the word “Quarantine” in bold black.
You turn to ask Tankwald which way to go when a deafening slam fills the air. More gunfire. Screams. Another slam, and a metallic screech that curls your toes.
The barriers are lowering and the demon is trying to get past its box. It hasn’t forgotten about you. You have only a moment to decide which way to go.
What do you do?
A. Run left, down into darkness.
B. Run right, into a quarantine zone.
Vote in the comments or on Twitter. Voting ends Saturday night, September 21st. The highest vote will be the next step in the story, posted in two weeks.
Steel Barrier photo courtesy of Anjan Chatterjee.