In the next instant, I'm back in the halls. Not a moment has passed. The same hurried footsteps, the same clamoring bodies, and the same ominous shadows.
I see them everywhere. Shadows climbing the walls, hanging from the ceiling, walking behind the people. Everyone's oblivious to their movements, apathetic to their influence, ignorant of their existence.
But I know. They're definitely here.
“You can see them, too.”
I was so caught up in their actions, I didn't take the time to mind my own. I accidentally bump into a guy walking in my direction. “Sorry,” I say. It's more of a reflex: me looking up to address him, but I'm glad I do. My eyes widen as I see who it turns out to be. “You!”
“Yeah, me. Caleb,” he answers. The same shaggy haired, burgundy sweater wearing guy from earlier. He helped me get out of that shadow realm. “Nice to see you're alive, too...” He ends his sentence openly, and with a smile.
“Lynn,” I answer.
“Lynn,” he repeats. “You're a freshman, right?”
“Yeah, and I'm guessing you're a junior?”
“Oh, that's cool.”
He looks over at the scene behind me. I turn and look at it, too. It's a group of demons, all lined up in a row. They're motionless, standing in wait. I glance up and see the look of disgust on Caleb's face. “They just keep coming,” he says.
I can sense his frustration. His green aura starts to flare up around him. I tug at his arm. “We can't do this.”
“What are you talking about?”
“They're egging us on.”
“Of course they are, but we still need to do something about it.”
“And we will.” I pause for a moment.
The demons decide to make their move. The vibrant colors all around lose their saturation. Everything morphs into heavy and light shades of grey. The people walking and running about stop in their tracks. It's as if Caleb and I are standing in a motionless picture. In fact—save for the demons—he and I are the only ones unaffected.
For some reason, the only things playing through my head are Akka's words. Taking the time to think before acting. For some reason, it makes more sense in this setting. If Caleb and I were to lash out against these demons now, I'm sure we'd win. But we wouldn't really win, because there'd be more. It's been happening all day.
“Have you heard about Hellgates?” I ask.
“What?” He widens his eyes at the question.
About five demons strike at once. The first falling from the ceiling, the second two coming at us from behind, and the last two rushing us head on.
“It's where they come from,” I say. “Like a gate that separates them from our world. There's gotta be one close by. If we can get to it, I can close it.”
Their speed is incredible. I almost don't see them coming. Yet somehow, I'm quick to react. Caleb, too.
“That's great,” he says. “Where is it?”
My instincts and my reflexes move my body in just the right places at just the right times. It's as if a force is guiding me out of the way of the falling demon's plunge. That same force urges me into punching at the demon in front of me. I plow right through its hard, dense, corporeal body and watch as my magic causes it to explode.
“I don't know,” I answer. “Which is weird. I should be able to pick it out, but it's like there's too much going on right now for me to focus on it.”
Caleb's movements are just as fluid.
“Too much what?” he asks.
To the demons attacking us from behind, I watch Caleb leap up, spin his leg around, and kick through one. The other, he strikes with his rod that magically forms out of thin air.
“I don't know,” I answer with a spin to my right. The back of my foot finds its way slicing through another demon's carcass. “Just a few moments ago, they somehow managed to get in my head.”
Then the demons come in full force. An army of dark bodies, moving through the shadows. They use the frozen people as shields.
“Maybe they're still there,” I go on. “Blocking things out. Hiding things from me.”
They strike from every dark crevice in the hall. A wave of demons throw themselves at me. Mouths agape. Claws drawn. Fangs borne. With a wave of my hand, the four I see in front of me are destroyed.
“Your magic should be able to protect you from that,” Caleb says as he twirls his staff in the air. From it, sparks of green flames shoot from it in every direction. Each ember somehow magically finds only the demons to incinerate.
“I'm still getting used to all this.”
Caleb scoffs. “Well you seem pretty used to it now.”
I bite my lip, hoping he doesn't see the smile I'm trying to hide.
I see a group try to flee to the back. In the next instant, I'm right next to them, laying my hands on them. Light forms around me. Yellow, white, purple. The demons are visibly shaken by it. Their bodies start to lose their form from just being around it. In the next moment, they violently dissipate.
I look up and find Caleb in the air sending out waves of green light at the demons down overhead.
And I'm working the ground below. All throughout the halls, the demons try to rush, but I think I'm faster than them. I know I'm moving faster than I ever have before. I'm moving faster than I have time to form the thought. My eyes see, and my body acts. It's as if I'm teleporting to the exact spot where I need to be.
One by one. Two by two. Ten by ten. The demons fall. Their combined forces just aren't enough for me and Caleb. I've never felt so good about something in my life.
But the feeling is bittersweet. Yeah we're killing these demons. There's no coming back for any of them at all. But it's their sheer numbers. They seem to be endless. As long as there's a shadow, there's a demon lurking within it. It's like we're in the shadow realm all over again.
“How about this?” The next thing I know, Caleb's back is standing against mine. We're surrounded on all sides. “We break the problem down,” he says. “You and me focus on putting up—I don't know—some sort of protection spell. It could cover the school. The whole school. Everything in the building. We make it a safe zone. Block out any and all demons from leaving or showing up.”
The two of us fire off magical blasts of energy into the crowd. From my hands, purple lasers and yellow bolts of lightning. From his staff, a stream of green flames.
“We can do that?” I ask.
The demons do their best to avoid our aim, but where one blast misses, the other finds its mark. We react according to their reactions. Still keeping our backs against each other.
“Magic's a powerful force. Once the field's up, then we can focus on taking out the rest of the demons here.”
Then the color comes back. Time picks back up. The demons disappear. They're gone. Only they're not gone. They're back in the shadows. Worse, they're in the shadows of the people. These people. Everyone in the hall is possessed. I can see it. Their auras are all black. Every kids' eyes are now shining red, and as if the feeling wasn't enough, their actions definitely back up the notion.
Instead of picking up where they left off—rushing to class as they were—they stand eerily still. All their eyes are locked on Caleb and me.
“That doesn't look good,” Caleb says.
My body tenses up as I poise myself to attack. But just before I jump into the fray, I feel a tug on my arm. I look up to see Caleb gripping my shirt.
“What are doing?” he asks.
I tilt my head as I look at him with a raised brow. The question doesn't immediately make sense to me, so I answer, “I'm fighting these demons, like we were just doing.”
“You can do that without killing these people?”
“What? Yeah, I think so.”
“Are you sure? I mean, don't get me wrong. You're not lacking any firepower, but when they're like this—inside of people—it's pretty hard to affect one spirit and not the other.”
“I did it before.”
“Did you? If so, then that's amazing. In my experience, the host gets hit with some pretty powerful aftershocks. It may not even be immediate, but down the line –”
I think back to earlier, when I was in the classroom. I did manage to save them, right? Alexis is okay. She seemed fine. I think I did alright then. But then again, everyone did seem like they were more tired than usual. Was that normal? I know some demons tried to hide inside them, but I took care of them without hurting anyone right? Or did I? Was this what Akka was talking about. She was talking about so much. I really do need to take the time to listen.
“Let's stick with the plan,” Caleb continues. “We seal off the school, then find a way to deal with the rest of them.”
I nod my head in agreement. Then take one last look at these people. Some of them are my classmates. I've never had much love for them, but seeing them like this –
“Let's go,” Caleb says.
And in the next moment, we're gone. In a flash of light.