by Than Pence
Demus, a de-man, hunts Cade through the Old West.
|Demus was wary while approaching the town that, according to the map, was Skelton’s Pocket. From afar, it looked like a ghost town. After traveling through the cool, desert night, he was at the edge of the settlement. There, he was certain that it was what it looked like. “Cade and his coins,” he muttered to himself, urging his horse forward.
The full moon was setting just behind a saloon. He tied up his worn horse and entered the saloon, intending to wait there until the next sunset. Inside was chaos: upturned tables and chairs, spilled liquor, busted down sections of the bar, and a blank space where a magnificent mirror would’ve been behind the bar. But there were no bodies. It looked like a losing battle had erupted and ended, suddenly. Demus stepped behind the bar and looked down at the broken mirror’s pieces. A handsome man stared back at him.
Being of both demon and human stock, Demus was disposed to wearing a mild-mannered reflection that betrayed his unsavory appearance. He was a hideous creature, or so he’d been told. As an adult, Demus himself had never seen what others could. Mirrors always lied.
He held up a shard and continued looking at himself and beyond. With his ears perked, he heard a scuffle of feet directly behind him, followed by a low growl. In the shard, he saw nothing, but he knew the deceptive nature of mirrors. He turned quickly, casting the shard forward to land inside the skull of the vampire behind him. The silver backing made the monster’s head smoke. The vampire, humbled, fell to his knees.
Demus smirked, leaped over the bar, and strode forward. He yanked the shard out and kicked the vampire down. He then stepped forward to stand on the monster’s upper arms while the vampire’s head jutted out under the swinging saloon doors. Demus knew he had to work quickly. He opened the doors and looked down. “Where’s Cade?”
The vampire spat and began to weakly kick at Demus. He drew his gun and masterfully shot off the vampire’s legs at the knee. The monster howled, a sound that Demus was familiar with, but still had no immunity against: it curdled his blood. He continued. “Where’s Cade headed?”
The vampire stopped howling and Demus looked down the street to see that the sun was set to peak over the horizon. “Not much time, blood-suck.”
Smiling wickedly, the vampire said “Not much time for you, de-man.”
Rays of sunlight struck the vampire and he instantly burst into flames. Demus jumped back to allow the creature a merciless, flaming death. The vampire ash floated in, landing on Demus’ black trench coat. He brushed it off with disgust. He looked outside and knew he was stuck for the day. “Might as well see if there’s a whore’s bed up top.”
* * *
Demus didn’t sleep easy. He never did. When dreams plagued him, his demonic half sometimes manifested them, turning people into hapless puppets. Even though he was alone, he didn’t want his inner demon having any control.
He finally awoke and was looking into the frightened brown eyes of someone dressed like they owned the bed he was in. Her hair was brown and lacked attentiveness. She held a knife to his throat. “Lady, what’re you doing?”
“Killing you, de-man. You’ve blighted the town, and now you will be dying.”
“Is that a gold blade?” He knew it wasn’t. “’Cause if not, you don’t have a chance.” He flexed.
She flinched, drawing the blade across his throat. It was a sour experience, bringing pain and a throaty yell, but it didn’t kill Demus. He grabbed her hand and pushed her away. Her face was filled with terror.
In seconds, his wound closed and he sat up. “Ma’am, I’m here to rest. I’m looking for the same man as you. His name is Cade.”
“Yes, Cade.” He paused as suspicion filled his mind. “Why are you still alive?”
“I hid in the room behind the bar. It is being a secret room.”
Demus frowned and realized that if she had been someone working for Cade, she’d have known to attack him with a gold blade. “Well, can you point me in the right direction?”
“The other de-man left yesterday, in a covered wagon.” She looked distant. “It was stained with blood.”
“Then I just missed him.”
“He was headed towards Buck Canyon.”
Demus stood. “Then that’s where I’m headed.” He turned to leave the room. She seemed alarmed. “You are leaving me?” Her brown eyes appeared to double in size.
“Those creatures can’t feed by day, if that’s what you’re worried about. I didn’t notice anymore on my way in, ‘cept the one I killed.” Demus shrugged. “You should leave as soon as possible. I’ve gotta find Cade and stop him.”
“What is it he is doing?”
He moved downstairs. She followed. Demus looked around on the floor as he’d noticed something the day before. He walked beside the bar and pointed down to a silver, ornate coin. “See that?”
The woman looked. “The de-man handed those out. It seemed to be pleasing to him.”
“That’s a Killing Coin. When invoked, it takes the possessor away, leaving only smoke. Cade uses them to collect souls, so he can fulfill his demon-dad’s legacy.”
“He’s trying to bring Hell on Earth. With enough souls backing him, he can do that.”
The woman looked distant, afraid. “Then you are needing help.”
“Madam, I need to reach Cade and stop him. Kill him.”
“My people can help.”
“I don’t need whores, madam.”
She slapped him quickly, stunning Demus. He was surprised she had touched his face with her bare hands. “I am not a whore.” She stared into his eyes and he felt a chill. “But I was a madam. Madam Nikki. And my people are the Dragon Riders of Colorado.” Demus felt the chill grow into shock. He didn’t want to know how a cunning rider had come to be a madam in a Texas town, but he guessed it wasn’t a pleasant story. “My dragon is in a cave to the south. Escort me there and I shall take you to find your Cade.”
Demus figured it was a sensible offer as dragons were faster than horses. “We’ll go at sunset.”
“Look, you need an escort, but I’m vulnerable in daylight.”
“Then move through shadows.”
He sighed as she led the way. “My name’s Demus, by the way.”
She looked at him, saying nothing. He followed and instantly felt his skin change, making him look and feel like a human. It was sometimes a refreshing experience, and sometimes a weary one. Nikki looked surprised.
“I told you I was weaker in sunlight.”
“Cade was not.”
“He usually wears shrouds in daylight.”
She grimaced as if trying to remember Cade’s wardrobe. “You still know how to shoot?” He nodded. “Then you aren’t weak. And vampires are limited, until nightfall. We move, quickly. To your horse.” She mounted his horse with ease and he got behind her, knowing he’d be the wary eyes that pointed out any harms.
* * *
In no time, they were at the cave and Demus heard a growl. Nikki wasn’t afraid. She dismounted and ran into the darkness. She pulled a large sundragon out. In the fading daylight, it magnified the rays that struck it, lighting up the area. Demus dismounted and Nikki gave the creature a command.
Suddenly, the dragon struck and grabbed the horse in its jaws. “What the hell, lady?!” Demus’ gun was already drawn as he smelled a double-cross.
“Julpa is needing food and you aren’t needing your horse, no?” Demus wasn't sure if that would've been the case. Now, he couldn't prove otherwise. “After she digests, we fly.” He nodded and they waited. Digestion took most of the night. Nikki claimed it was because the horse was so old. No vampires or other sundry creatures attacked.
A couple hours before dawn, they took flight. Demus had never flown and was nervous. Nikki assured him that it was safe. They flew towards Buck Canyon and, as the sun was rising, they spotted the covered wagon. It was stopped as Cade liked to sleep at night, like a man. After landing far away, Nikki suggested that Demus drive Cade over into the canyon.
“Hold him in the wagon, then jump at the very last moment. It will be daylight, and he’ll be weak when he tumbles over the edge.”
Demus admitted that it was a plan and Nikki promised to keep a watchful eye on matters, if it didn’t work. He slipped towards Cade’s horses and met no threats. He chalked this up to Cade’s foolishness. Gently climbing into the wagon, he was aware that it moved but Cade seemed to be a heavy sleeper.
He grabbed the reigns and the horses snorted. Demus shot a round into the air, spooking the horses. He haphazardly guided them towards the canyon when Cade reached from behind and pulled Demus in. The struggle was hard as they were both strong de-men. But Cade was groggy with sleep and Demus had the upper hand.
The wagon moved as the sun rose and the pair quickly came to a standstill. Demus was aware of the impending canyon and he couldn’t remember how close they had been to the edge.
Then, Cade spoke with a ragged breath. “Dad would be… proud of us, Demus.”
A heartbeat passed.
Cade looked momentarily crushed by such a truth, but he recovered and dealt Demus another punch. Demus took it, knowing that one of them, if not both, would be dead soon. If he could just keep Cade’s attention…
“You think I’m gonna let us go into the canyon?” he said while dipping his hand into his pocket. Demus, stunned, watched Cade throw coins out the front of the wagon. Sunlight glinted off the ornate tokens just before they struck the horses. Immediately, the horses vanished, leaving behind smoke that quickly filled the wagon. Demus felt his eyes water, but he also knew the wagon was slowing down without the power of the fillies.
Cade held up one more coin in his hand. “Last chance, brother. Join me and let’s finish what Dad started.” Demus stared at the coin through wet eyes and coughed. The wagon stopped and he knew that, one way or another, his life was about to end.
Suddenly, giant wings were heard and both de-mans flinched. The wagon’s cover was torn away, exposing them. Demus looked up to see the sundragon staring down at them. Madam Nikki had come. Demus looked back at his brother… and saw the handsome man he’d seen a hundred times, in the mirror.
He hadn’t seen this man in over a decade.
Cade was weakened by the sun’s disposition, having always avoided it with his shrouds. Demus saw that Cade was also surprised, and angry. He knew this was his only chance.
He punched Cade’s face, his knuckles cracking for the effort: he wasn’t as strong, now. Neither was Cade. He kicked at his brother’s ribs and punched his face again, more delicately. Cade fell to the floor of the wagon and Demus stood weakly, drawing his gun and it's gold-tipped bullets.
His shadow covered his brother and Demus saw the man for what he truly was, briefly, then his mortal beauty showed. Cade looked up, squinting. Blood was smeared around his mouth and ran from his perfect nose. “I would’ve spared you, brother. I never would’ve—”
He quickly shot him in the face before he let any more human-based emotions get the best of him. Demus then left the wagon. Nikki, who had dismounted and approached the wagon, was waiting for Demus. “He was saying something.”
“He wasn’t telling the truth.”
Nikki pursed her lips and looked him in the eyes. “How can you know?”
“We were identical. Mirrors lie."
Word Count: 1,995