Kelly raised her sword to intercept the glowing blade of the hooded figure. Maybe the figure wasn’t very skilled, or maybe she got lucky, but the two blades crashed together. She hadn’t been sure what to expect from the sound of hellfire crashing with holy light. Maybe something like steel on steel, or a hissing sound like oil on a pan.
What she got was a resounding silence, a cancellation of all other noises. Like the chiming of an anti-bell, everything around them fell silent for just an instant, including Clifford’s panicked yelling.
Kelly moved. She’d never held a sword in her life, and her knowledge of using one was from TV shows and movies. But she had worked out every day since high school and had been on varsity volleyball, so she was fast and quick and could hack and slash. Which she did, with the wild strikes of a desperate novice.
The figure was unprepared for the fury of her uncoordinated onslaught. Although its glowing blade came up to intercept each of her strikes, Kelly didn’t give it time to attempt to respond in kind. Each time their blades met that odd silence un-echoed through the air, cutting Clifford’s sentences to pieces.
“Kelly! It / falling back / need to lan / hit, try / angling your / ade.” She translated the missing parts in her head as best she could. “Kelly, it’s falling back. You need to land a hit, try angling your blade.”
Kelly remembered that Clifford had, back in high school, bought a sword against their parent’s objections. He’d played with it some, but mostly had just read about swordplay and how to use it, on top of posting a few shameful pictures to facebook of himself holding it and about how he’d “studied the blade.” He’d literally been more dangerous to himself than to others, something he’d proven when he’d cut his thigh and stopped the swordfighting forever.
The figure had found its footing and lunged at Kelly’s face. She fell to the ground to avoid having her skull split in two.
Despite his failures, Clifford still knew more about sword fighting than her. When the figure’s blade came down, she held her sword up to intercept the blow, but instead of holding it parallel to herself, angled it with the point facing the ground. This time, instead of the figures’ sword of light rebounding off her hellfire, the sword slid along the length of her weapon until it sliced into the ground.
She didn’t need to be told what happened next. Before the figure could bring its sword back around, she lashed upwards with her, slicing its hands. The light sword vanished, and the figure let out another shriek, this one of agony instead of anger. A cloud of smoke erupted from its back like dark cloud wings, and with a flap, it retreated into the air.
Kelly panted, watching the figure retreat into the sky, before letting go of her sword. It vanished, and she slowly got back to her feet.
Clifford was staring at her, his eyes wide and his mouth gaping in a comical O of surprise. “Wuh…what?”
Kelly sighed, rubbing her temples. She didn’t want to explain this to her brother, but she couldn’t leave him in the dark. Not after he had seen that. “So maybe there was a bit more more to the style changes then I let on. Want to grab our coffee to go?”
He stared at her, and slowly nodded. “But what about…” he pointed to the homeless man at the end of the alley.
Kelly blinked. She’d forgotten about him completely, and walked over. The man was unconscious but breathing low, hitching breaths. “Call 911. We’ll wait for the ambulance, then get fresh coffee, then we’ll go.”
Clifford reached for his phone, not taking his eyes off of her.
“So let me get this straight.” They’d moved on to her balcony so they both could smoke. The coffee had been finished long ago. Kelly had switched over to wine, Clifford was sticking to water for now. “You made a deal with the devil to be the personal trainer for literal, actual, for real demons. A side effect of that has you slowly turning into a demon. Which means you’re getting new demon powers every couple of days. By the grace of…uh, by something other than the grace of God, you today have the power to conjure hellfire swords.”
Kelly took a long drag of her cigarette. She’d kicked off her shoes and socks, and her feet made a distinctive clopping sound when she hit them on the wood of the balcony. Definitely turning into hooves. As she exhaled the smoke, to prove her point, she pushed the breath even harder to let him see the cinders. “That last part is a theory. It could be that I can do that all the time, just never tried.” She put out the cigarette on her arm, watching Clifford wince as she did. It was becoming a habit, but she enjoyed the show of it. “I don’t burn, too. I dunno what my heat tolerance is, but I don’t burn.”
Clifford took a deep breath. “You do realize that thing in the alley was probably an actual angel there. Like, holy being, sent by God, etc?”
“Yeah, maybe. On the other hand, that didn’t look particularly holy.” she took another sip of wine. “You were there, Cliff. You saw that thing. Anything about what happened there look holy to you? That guy was almost dead!”
“I mean, no,” Clifford frowned. “On the other hand, in the bible, whenever angels appear they always say ‘be not afraid.’ Maybe because they look like that?”
“I doubt it. Or do you recall a bible passage where the angels showed up and said ‘krsheeeeeee’ before trying to suck someone’s soul out.” Clifford shuddered at the imitation of the sound the figure had made.
“I guess not. Jesus. Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t…like, does saying his name hurt you?”
“Jesus. Christ. Christo. Yahweh. Jehovah.” Kelly sampled each word carefully. “Nope, no problem.”
“You forgot the Holy Spirit.” Clifford studied her face.
Kelly shrugged irritably. Her ears itched. She pushed it aside. “That’s two English words. I’ll try if we have an actual name, okay? Anyway, nothing to worry about.”
Clifford nearly choked on his water. “Nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about.” He gave her a wide-eyed stare, before shaking his head like she’d just announced the sky was purple and tasted of raspberries. “Kelly, you’re…you’re turning into a demon, and just did battle with a hellfire sword in an alley. You teach exercise to out of shape demons. What part of that isn’t wroth worrying about?”
Kelly rubbed her temples again. “I thought you’d be excited about this. All that shit in your fantasy books and your Worlds of Warcrafts or whatever – it’s real.”
“Okay, first of all, you played a paladin to level seventy back during Burning Crusade when you were dating Jimmy. You were offtank for Black Temple. Don’t pretend you weren’t as big a nerd as me back in the day, I hate it when you pull that shit. And second of all, that’s fantasy. This is real life, biblical shit. I mean, what if you’re going to give birth to the antichrist now? Or you are the antichrist?”
“The antichrist is a dude, I think. And then I won’t get knocked up.” The headache was getting worse, and Kelly realized she’d extened the claws on the hand holding the wine glass.
“Kelly, you have hooves. How are you not freaking out?” Clifford almost shouted the last six words.
It was too much. Kelly threw the wineglass at the wall behind him, causing him to jump as the glass shattered against the wall. “Because I can’t do anything about it. What the hell do you want me to do, Cliff? Tell Chemosh to take his bargain and shove it up his asshole sideways? Tell the small horde of demons that will be in my studio tomorrow that they can be a bunch of fat fucks for all I care, I’m done? How do you think that ends for me! So I’m stuck, and I might as well enjoy it until it’s over.”
Clifford had shrunk back into his chair, hands gripping the sides so tightly his knuckles were white. The look he gave her was one of pure, unadulterated fear, but he wasn’t staring at her face, he was staring at her hand. At the fully extended talons on them.
“Jesus,” she said, getting the anger back under control. She flexed her fingers to pull the blades back into their sheathes. “Cliff, I’m sorry. It’s just…it’s happening, there’s nothing I can do about it, you know? But don’t think I’m not freaking out underneath it all. I’m just focused on what I can control, and right now that pretty much amounts to my attitude about it.”
“Okay, fair.” Clifford rubbed his arms for a moment, taking a deep breath as he did. “You just…I’m worried.”
“Me too,” Kelly lied. “But it’ll be okay. Let’s go inside, it’s getting cold.”
“Yeah, sure.” Clifford gave her a forced smile, trying to match her mood. “Hey, hellfire sword is pretty badass. Maybe you can be like Ghost Rider or Spawn, use hell powers for the side of good?”
She smiled and gave him a hug. “Thanks. It feels good to be able to talk about it it. C’mon. I’ve got toffee, mom’s recipe.”
They headed inside, and Kelly let out a relieved breath that the conversation was over.
The truth was, she wasn’t scared. She was angry, she was frustrated, and she needed some goddamn answers, but the fight in the alley – like everything she’d done so far – was more exhilarating than anything else. A rush like nothing she’d felt, not since she got clean. And it’s even better than that.
She was nearing the beginning of the final week, and more and more found herself wondering what she would do when her contract was up.