Sarah had an excellent idea of just how much trouble she was in. As she huddled behind a flipped over car which was both on fire and screaming in metallic pain, she added up all of the assets they had available and weighed them against the challenges that were in plain view which they had to contend with. That was nowhere near a full accounting of the problems they needed to contend with in order to get home safely but it was enough to confirm her lowball estimate on how utterly and completely doomed they were.
“The next patrol is about five minutes away,” Connie said, passing a pair of night vision binoculars over to Val. They’d scavenged from the buildings on the military base with mixed results. The binoculars were unenchanted but still functional. Other pieces of hardware had been replicated as inert copies, or, in a few unfortunately exciting cases, had been crafted from more organic and living materials. Having an automatic weapon try to bite her hand off had convinced Sarah that relying on tools from hell to fight the creatures of hell might not be the safest of options.
“We can’t wait that long,” Val said. “The dancers are picking up their paces already.”
Above them, two dancing figures swirling around each other, spiraling atop an enormous web that stretched over the unnatural towers which rose from the town whose border they were camped out on. The dancers were unbound spirits whose rage had broken through the boundary between the Earth Sarah preferred to call home and a realm of self proclaimed demons. That wasn’t a good thing either for Earth or for the hell in question.
“Do we rush them then?” Connie asked.
“There are a number of downsides to that idea,” Sarah said. “The biggest one being that the moment we leave cover and move closer to the city, we’ll be stepping on the web the boss of this place has spun around his lair.”
“How sure are you that Mr. Demon Lord doesn’t already know that we’re here?” Val asked.
“Oh, the Demon Lord? He definitely knows we’re here,” Sarah said. “He’s not the problem though. It’s all his minions figuring out that we’re roaming about that’s going to get us drowned in demons.”
“How does that work?” Connie asked. “If their boss knows we’re here why wouldn’t he have just sent them up against us already?”
“He’s got bigger worries at the moment,” Sarah said. “Specifically those two.”
She pointed at the dancers, gesturing to where the giant’s steps were falling on the web. With each footfall, sparks flew free and a pulse of energy traveled out through the web and sank into the ground, leaving glowing trails in its wake.
“What are they doing?” Connie asked, entranced by the glowing lights.
“In broad terms? They’re pouring the rage from their kidnapping into the land,” Sarah said.
“This is a hell though, is anyone going to notice?” Val asked.
“Probably,” Sarah said. “For them to be dancing freely up there, they’ve got to have enough power that the denizens are afraid to challenge them. Pump that much new power into a place the walls around it will tend to crack.”
“So we’re going to have the things from this world pour out into ours?” Connie asked.
“If by ‘things’, you mean raw energy, and by ‘pour out’, you mean explosively detonate into, then yes, that’s exactly what’s going to happen,” Sarah said.
“How big of an apocalypse are we looking at?” Val asked and shook her head at having had to ask d question like that.
“For this place? Probably a complete one. If the dancers aren’t stopped they keep going until there’s nothing left to vent their anger on, which means nothing larger than a molecule. Earth wouldn’t have been affected except as we learned, the border between the two is really thin at the moment.”
“Which is why we need to stop them from dancing,” Val said.
“It might be easier to separate the two worlds,” Sarah said.
“How hard would that be?” Connie asked.
“At this point? Impossible,” Sarah said. “But still easier than stopping those two.”
“How do we make it easier then,” Connie asked.
“We don’t,” Sarah said. “We’re cut off here. No allies, no home field advantage, and no means of escape.”
“Wait, if their boss is distracted, does that mean you can use magic freely now?” Val asked.
“Sort of yes, and sort of no,” Sarah said. “Yes, I can cast without attracting his attention. As long as the dancers are busy destroying his realm, the Demon Lord isn’t going to care what I do with the magical equivalent of pocket change that I can work with.”
“There’s a ‘but’ coming,” Val said.
“But, using the ambient magic in any hell is kind of fraught,” Sarah said. “A little can get a lot done, but some of it always stays with you. Use too much and the magic doesn’t just twist the caster, it twists the effect the caster was going for.”
“Ok, don’t push it too far then,” Val said. “Priority one is making it back home safely. Priority two is stopping those dancers.”
“What about rescuing the people who are lost here?” Connie asked.
“We don’t know what the story is with them,” Val said. “They might just need to know where to go, they might have been transformed into gorillas. Once stuff gets this weird, all possibilities are on the table. So no plans for what we do with them yet. We can evaluate our options once we find them.”
“I’m not sure our options are going to be much better then, or that we’ll be able to find them in time,” Sarah said.
“You said stepping on the web will bring the minions in right?” Val asked.
“I did, and I’m sorry we’re in this boat,” Sarah said. “I thought this was going to be a fairly simple pilfering operation. Getting stuck in hell while the world explodes was pretty far down my list of likely scenarios to worry about.
“I’m sorry too,” Val said.
“For what?” Sarah asked.
“This,” Val said and jumped over the car to long on the exposed webbing line on the other side.
The skittering and rattling in the near vicinity went silent for a bar fraction of an instant and then amplified loud enough that Sarah had to shout to be heard over it.
“Why did you do that?” she screamed.
“We need guides who know where the people are gathered,” Val said.
“How is getting swarmed by demons going to accomplish that?” Sarah asked.
“Simple,” Val said. “We’re not going to get swarmed. Connie, you’re with me. Sarah, watch our backs and make sure nothing comes at us from the military base.”
“Ok, I can do that,” Sarah said. It wasn’t going to be enough, but she was certain she could manage it.
Connie jumped onto and over the car as well and Sarah watched as several dozen creatures that looked like a mad science experiment in bonding together sea life with discarded human body parts came scrambling over the ground and hopping from the sides of buildings at them.
Sarah expected a brief but ultimately pointless battle to follow but instead, Val and Connie simply raised their arms, not in surrender but with their palms facing up, like a dog trainer teaching a puppy to stay.
“What are you doing?” Sarah asked.
They didn’t answer, but she noticed that the demon creatures had stopped as well. All the skittering, all the rattling, all the strange and unearthly noises had faded to a quiet broken only by the distant screams that formed the natural background of the hell.
Listening closer, Sarah could hear both Val and Connie speaking in low whispers.
“Buddhist sutras?” she said, straining to hear the words.
“Good little ones,” Connie whispered in Chinese.
“Gentle now, we’re not here to hurt you,” Val whispered, also in Chinese.
Each repeated the others words, moving slowly and carefully forward as they did.
The demons went from fearful of the strange behavior, to worried at what their own responses should be, and on to simply perplexed and confused.
“Take us to the humans,” Val urged gently.
The demons scuttled away from her, their multitudinous eyes turned in every direction except for straight at her.
“”We know your need to capture us, it’s ok, just take us where you need to take us,” Connie said.
There were sounds that could have been growls, or could have been food stuck in a creatures throat, but none of the demons advanced on the two women.
“Just show us where to go,” Val said. “That’s a good little one.”
A few of the demons started to trot off in a similar direction to one another, the leaders turning to look behind and see if anyone was following.
“I think we’re good to go,” Val said. “Come on Sarah.”
She joined the other two as the rest of the demons closed ranks around them forming both a picket that would be difficult to escape from and also the weird pack Sarah had ever imagined walking with.
“How did you do that?” she asked. “You didn’t use any magic there but they’re not eating us.”
“Tam gave me a crash course awhile back on dealing with extra-dimensional creatures after she and Anna wound up in Sunken Atlantis for a while,” Val said. “If they didn’t respond to polite requests in their native tongue, then the runestone’s we’re carrying would have given us enough of an edge to fight this wave off and we’d have a clear shot to the center of the town.”
“But they’re demons,” Sarah said. “They’re not supposed to respond to polite requests.”
“They probably wouldn’t have under normal circumstances, but we’re doing what they wanted us to do in the first place and with their boss offline for the time being they were probably looking for some kind of orders that made sense.”
“What do we do when we get to the people though?” Sarah asked. “Even if we can find them, we don’t have any options for stopping the dancers up there.”
“Yeah, that what makes this easier,” Val said. “The dancers are a great big problem that we can’t do anything about, so we get to take a pass on worrying about it, at least until we’ve dealt with the problem that we can do something about.”
“But finding the people is going to be meaningless when the dancers detonate this place and our home world,” Sarah said.
“Yep, it will be, assuming that no other options show up for stopping the dancers or preventing the apocalypse in some other way,” Val said.
“So this is just something to do for the sake of doing something then?” Sarah asked, able to see the value in a good distraction, but unable to focus on it properly thanks to her brain’s efficiency at calculating and recalculating the destructive force the dancers were likely to unleash.
It wasn’t absolutely certain that the explosion they’d generate would be capable of destroying the planet. The physical structure of the Earth was remarkably sturdy. The blast wouldn’t have to blown the planet to space dust in order to eradicate all life on it though, and it wouldn’t have to turn the planet into a scorched ball of carbon in order to damage it enough to make the distinction between Earth and hell largely irrelevant.
Sarah cursed how much more she knew about what was going on in terms of the powers that were being gathered than her compatriots did. They could still function where she was simply melting down.
“No, this isn’t about killing time before the end of everything,” Val said. “And it’s not about avoiding our fears. To be honest, I’m terrified of things like this. Those giants up there, and the things that laid this web? Those are not things I can fix by punching them, and sometimes I think that’s all I really bring to the team.”
Connie tried to speak, but Val held up a hand.
“Those times are when I’m at my low points though,” she said. “And times like this demand more than that. When things get hard, all we can do is look for what we can do to make them better. There’s almost always something, even if it’s something little, even if it doesn’t seem to matter. If we make the world better for someone else, buy them a second chance they might not have had? That’s when amazing things can happen, because nothing is completely isolated. Whatever we can do, whatever good we can create, it all adds up, because we’re not in this alone. Even cut off like this, I know the others have our back.”