Detective Shadowvalt curled his tail up beneath him and pulled the hood of his jacket forward, covering his horns. He didn’t like to leave his trenchcoat behind, but at least he could still smoke while undercover. Lighting a cigarette, he enjoyed the smooth, sulphurous taste. He was sure the cigarettes tasted better in Hell.
Shoulders hunched, he stayed with the dozen lost souls walking through the barbed gates of the warehouse, past the watch demons guarding the place. Even before they crossed the yard, he could tell by the smell that this was it, the centre of the supposed people smuggling ring. There was an acrid tinge in the air, the smell of fallen spirits being consumed for others’ purposes.
Still following the damned, he walked through the double doors of the warehouse proper. At the far end a yellow demon with six tentacles stood by a stone gate. The air in the portal glowed blue with arcane power as a soul stepped in and vanished.
Seeing what was really happening made this all the more sickening. There were scores of mortals here, and they probably all thought they’d bought a way to freedom.
That was it. Probable cause to raid the place. He needed to fetch backup.
Shadowvalt turned and bumped into one of the watch demons.
“Not this way.” The demon blinked six of its eyes. Others emerged on writhing stalks, peering under Shadowvalt’s hood. “Hey, you’re not a mortal. You’re a-”
Shadowvalt flicked his cigarette into the demon’s face. It yelped and jumped back as he flung back his hood and pulled out his badge. “Police. Nobody move.”
The watch demon grabbed at Shadowvalt. He punched it in its sensitive, eye-covered head, sending it slumping to the ground in shock and pain.
“You want out of here?” the yellow demon bellowed, gesturing toward the portal. “Kill him!”
The lost souls, still bearing the marks of their deaths as well as their eternal torments, looked at each other in confusion. They’d probably never been told to attack a demon before. But they were desperate, and Shadowvalt new all too well what desperation could achieve.
They advanced toward him, fists clenched, eyes wide.
“Stop!” he bellowed. “You’ve been tricked. That’s not a portal out of Hell. It’s a construct to turn souls into power. They’re going to kill you.”
“Why should we believe you?” The soul who spoke had burns across half her face.
“Because this is a battery factory.” Shadowvalt pointed to the wires leading away from the portal, ending in a charger against the far wall. “What do you think we use down here, Duracell?”
They looked back toward the yellow demon. Clearly a specialist in technical arcana rather than convincing lies, it hesitated too long. Some of the souls sank to the floor in despair, while others rushed at the demon in rage.
They’d never win the fight, but it was enough. With everybody distracted, Shadowvalt stepped outside and over to the gates. He waved down the road, toward the abandoned building where his backup was waiting. Uniformed constables poured down the street toward him, horn tips gleaming, as the burned woman came up beside him.
“It’s not fair.” She spat the words. “All we wanted was to escape torment.”
“If you’d acted fairly you wouldn’t be here.” Shadowvalt lit a cigarette. After a moment’s hesitation he offered her one. “Just be glad I didn’t leave you to walk through the portal. I’d say justice has been served.”
* * *
You can read two more of demon detective Shadowvalt’s cases in my fantasy anthology By Sword, Stave or Stylus, which is free as an ebook on Amazon until Tuesday. You can also read another flash story about him here.
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