Dash X was all thumbs, so when he and Simon wound up partners on the cursed baking show, Dash’s job was stirring while Simon took care of everything else. It meant Simon had a lot to take care of, but they both knew they had to win and if Dash had to handle anything important it would be a disaster. And any disasters meant the death of Marshall Teller.
The consumption of his soul by hungry angry demons. Which, depending on who you asked might have been worse.
Simon had prepared for this with exhausting classes at Ms. McConnell’s house. Tod had been working with her for a few years but Simon had always enjoyed the imperfections of his own baking. But when they’d come for Marshall, for his soul, and set out their challenge, he’d known he had to do something drastic. Ms. McConnell hadn’t been sure they had enough time for him to learn properly, but Simon and Tod had come up with a curriculum for an intensive course that would at least give him a good grounding. Something to start from.
Dash had tried to con the demon spawn to get Marshall back, but that had worked about as well as Simon had expected: Dash had almost wound up cursed and they were no closer to saving Marshall on their own terms. So the baking competition it was.
S imon and Dash versus two of the demon spawn. Each group could only work with materials their species could eat . Which meant the demon spawn had an unfair advantage. It was easy to craft a realistically desiccated corpse when you were working with actual human remains. Doing so with sugar and icing was another feat entirely.
S imon did his best.
But as the judges – more demon spawn, which wasn’t entirely fair but none of them were in a position to argue – settled in to taste the treats, Simon couldn’t help but wonder if this entire thing was rigged. That probably should have occurred to him earlier, but it wasn’t like it would have changed anything. They still would have had to participate.
The judges dug into the demon spawn’s dish first, then demolished it in seconds, not even leaving the bones. Then they moved on to Simon and Dash’s concoction. It definitely looked like a rotting corpse, but it was an effect achieved with fondant, buttercream, and creative airbrushing, not actually rotting flesh. And demon spawn didn’t eat sugar.
Still, they were at least keeping up the pretense of fairness and each of them took a forkful of the corpse cake. As they chewed and swallowed, Simon realized something was wrong. Their bodies were going stiff and shivery. Then they fell from their stools in steaming heaps.
Simon turned to Dash.
“What did you do?”
“Added a special ingredient.”
“Was that special ingredient holy water?”
“It’s a secret.”
Simon groaned, grabbed Dash by the wrist and pulled him away from their opponents, who were catching up to what had happened and did not look happy about it. They had to pause at the cage that held Marshall long enough for Dash to pick the lock and release him. Simon stood guard, his own squirt gun of holy water at the ready as the demon spawn shed their mortal flesh and drew nearer as raging flame beasts.
“Hurry up,” Simon said, spraying a steady stream at the nearest demon. He heard a click and then a hand wrenched his shoulder back and the three of them sprinted for the exit: a glowing portal between this in between world and their own.
“Make sure we hit the right portal!” Marshall shouted as Dash leaped through the pulsating space. With a groan, Marshall followed him. Simon turned back long enough to spray their pursuers one more time before diving through himself. On the other side – which was, thankfully, Marshall’s backyard and not the depths of Hell – Marshall was standing ready to slam shut the book of incantations that had started this whole thing.
As soon as it was closed, the portal followed.
Simon collapsed to the ground and stared up at the sky, breathing hard. “Dash,” he said.
“Warn me next time.”
“I know, I know, don’t read books alone.”
Simon sighed. “Exactly.” He closed his eyes. He really should get up, go inside, not fall asleep on the ground. But it had been a long few days and today had been the longest. And there was no telling when the next crisis would arise. He had to rest while he could.
Besides, Marshall and Dash were already snoring.