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A Gate, Once Opened

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“How’s the weather?”

Al lowered her telescope and handed it to her brother.

“Storm’s coming. Thirty miles east or so.”

Glen looked through the scope at the dark, churning funnel near the horizon. Another gate. It had opened earlier than expected. Terry had been tracking the patterns for years, had calculated the most probable locations for the next ones to open and usually he was accurate within five miles. But the timing needed some work. They’d been expecting this one, but not for another week.

“We ready?”

“Artillery’s at about sixty percent of what I want it to be,” Al said, blowing a strand of hair away from her eyes. “I’ll need to borrow some people.”

“Do it. Defense is our top priority.” Glen handed the telescope back to her and headed for the roof door.

“Terry still at it?” Al asked.

Glen paused, hand on the door. “Yeah, he’s been in there for the last five hours. Won’t take a break. Think I’m gonna have to force the issue.”

“If he hasn’t gotten anything by now...” Al let her words trail off as she turned back to the horizon.

“Yeah. I know.”

#

Angus was exactly where Glen had left him: standing guard outside the operating room Terry had commandeered for the day. Angus was over thirty years old, but he didn’t look a day over ten. He’d died when they’d opened the gate, but he’d come back. Not just alive, but invulnerable, from what they could tell, which made for a damn good guard dog.

Even the demons were afraid of him. He could sense them coming, better than Al, Glen and even Terry.

All of them had a connection with the demons—different for each of them. Like an early warning device. Al could hear them from miles away. The scar on Glen’s hand ached whenever a new gate opened, no matter how far away, and when a demon lord came through, the scar burned, and his mind showed him a glimpse of where the demon lord was. Terry went into a trance when the gates were first breached, the names of the escaping lesser demons spilling from his tongue whether he wanted them to or not. He’d learned to use that to their advantage. Because names could be used in summonings and bindings.

He’d learned to use their magic against them. Figured out how to get them to talk.

Glen leaned against the door, ear pressed to the wood, listening to the unearthly howls of pain from inside. Carefully he opened the door.

Terry’s back was turned to him, shoulders tense, hair even more of an unruly mess than usual. He’d been at it all morning.

The demons he’d captured were bound, forced together into a humanoid mass, the only way they could be compelled to talk.

Terry either didn’t notice or didn’t care that Glen had come in. His attention was still focused wholly on the task at hand.

“Tell me the name of your lord,” Terry said, as he held his canteen over the demon’s head.

“Ar tefch!” The demon spat out. Glen had heard the expression often enough to know it’s meaning: the demonic equivalent of “fuck you.”

Terry tilted the canteen and began to pour its contents—holy water—onto the demon’s head. Its skin smoked where the water hit, and it howled in agony.

Terry pulled the canteen away, and waited for the demon’s screams to die down. “Tell me the name of your lord.”

The demon’s eyes burned red with anger and it hissed, fangs bared.

Terry brought the canteen close to its head again and the demon jerked away, or tried to—the chains holding it didn’t allow it much room to move. It cried out, but not a curse this time—an entirely new string of sounds, a demon lord’s name. Glen could feel it resonate with the unholy wound in his hand.

Terry turned to him, questioning.

“It’s real,” Glen said.

“Finally,” Terry said, a smile flickering across his lips briefly before he drew the dagger from his sheath and brought it straight down into the demon-constructs skull.

#

It didn’t take them long to pinpoint the demon lord’s location. With the help of some of their new recruits, and their own link with the demons, they’d developed a technique—a combination of scrying and coordinate triangulation—that showed them, within yards, where the demon was.

The hanging pendulum came to a stop, defying physics, pointing at a sixty degree angle towards a spot on the map of the U.S. Terry stopped chanting, marking the spot with a circle.

“Pasadena,” Glen said. “We can make it before nightfall.”

“Get Al,” Terry said, folding the map. “Jenkins, you’re in charge until we get back.”

Jenkins gave them a salute as they left the operating room and headed for the stairwell.

Al heard them coming. “Well?”

“Pasadena,” Glen said. “You ready?”

Al grinned. “You know I am.” She grabbed one of her artillery bags. “Been wanting to test this bad boy out.”

#

The sun sat red and low in the sky by the time they got to the breach-site. Demon lords only broke through after three waves of minions. And if they timed things right, they could keep the last, largest group of minions contained, and stop the lord from ever getting out.

As it was, the breach-site had cracked open enough for the early scouts, but the cross-dimensional portal wasn’t fully active yet. The problem was that the minions weren’t dependent on those anymore. They’d learned to use the seemingly endless tunnels beneath the realms to go from one gate to the next.

But Glen and Terry had the tunnels under constant surveillance. That's how they'd captured the scouts Terry had questioned earlier.

The minions weren’t much of a threat physically—diminutive homunculi that could do little more than leave a nasty bite, but in groups they could wage all kinds of psychic warfare. Their favorite tactic by far was to torment people by taking on the form of the dead. The more of them there were, the stronger they were, and there were hordes of them.

And based on the insistent pulse in Glen’s hand, one of those hordes was on the way.

“Get ready. Third wave is coming,” he said.

Al and Terry were already busy setting up the auto-launcher. For the minions, all they needed were a few flash-bangs to disorient them long enough for Terry to rattle off a banishing spell. They got into position with practiced ease and waited. Through trial and error they'd learned that they were better off letting the minions break through. If they fired into the tunnels, the little buggers usually just found another exit point, and worst case, the demon lord did too. The two dimensions didn't exactly line up in terms of distance, so a conveniently close alternative for the demon lord could be on a whole different continent on Earth.

They didn't have to wait long. Glen held up his fist, signaling the others as the earth cracked open and the minions started to crawl through. Al counted under her breath, aiming the flash-bang, and waited until two dozen were out in the open. She set the fuse and moments late the rocket flew, striking the center of their group. They shrieked, staggering aimlessly and then fell silent as Terry started to chant.

The ritual wouldn't work on the demon lord, but it'd send the minions back—not just to the tunnels, but to their own dimension.

It had felt like an exercise in futility to Glen, at first, until they realized that the minions all died when their lord did. That was the same reason that killing them outright didn't usually work that great. They'd melt, turn into goo or mist, get out of harm’s way and re-form. They were essentially indestructible. But the lords weren't. They could only exist on Earth if they manifested in a purely physical form, and those forms—though enormous and dangerous, were also mortal.

Glen squinted up at the darkening sky above, the last sign before a demon lord's coming. They needed it dark—the sun's rays alone would kill them. In cities where they'd risen, the cloud cover had grown thick enough to cast the land beneath it in a semi-permanent state of night. Glen's hand exploded in pain as the demon lord neared the breach. He winced, and signaled Al.

With a roar that set the ground trembling around them, the demon lord broke through, its serpentine body rising up higher and higher. It stood a good thirty feet tall, and peered down at Glen with the same recognition all of them did. They knew he'd opened the first gate. Maybe they saw him as a herald, or worse, a servant. Didn't much matter to Glen. He wasn't on their side, and he never would be. But if they thought he was, it gave him an advantage he'd use to the fullest every time.

Al's newest creation—the 'Shatterstar'—whistled as it flew through the air. It struck the demon lord straight in the chest, plunging through its skin. The lord bellowed in pain as the rocket exploded, decimating its body. Chunks of demon flesh showered down around them, missing Glen's head by an inch, at most.

Al whooped a cheer and Terry set to closing off the gate for good. Now that the demon lord was gone, they could close this one. From what they'd been able to pull from the texts, there were sixty-six demon lords altogether. They'd killed twenty-nine over the years. Not even half of them. But it was doable. If they kept this up, if they kept fighting back, and teaching others how to survive the invasion, they'd defeat all of them. Then they could sever the passage between the dimensions once and for all.

They could win. And looking at the grin on Al's face, and the satisfaction on Terry's when he shut his book, Glen knew that someday they would.