I’ll never forget the winters we shared together, skating on the frozen lake down the road from her parent’s house. You always find that one place in a relationship that becomes something more than just a venue for dates, it becomes part of your relationship and it watches your love blossom and matures into something beautiful. In the cold winters, we would skate on the ice and laugh merrily as we cut patterns into the sheets beneath us but when summer came around we would soon leave the skates in my shed and instead set up a picnic by the lake and relax. I bet it sounds corny but I reckon the only people who call romance corny are the kind of people who can’t find love, or found it and lost it all.
“Lee, watch your back!” came Katakura’s cry as I narrowly dodged a bullet that flew over my shoulder and into the eye of an angry demon. I dashed over to stand beside Katakura, our backs to the wall. Katakura tossed aside his emptied pistol and switched to a long cane, a nifty weapon he made himself from an alloy the devil himself would kill to get his hands on. I readied my blade and as the blinded demon charged at us with his claws outstretched, we prepared a counter attack. A sweeping hand came in for us and we both dodged in two separate directions with me taking the left and Katakura taking the right. The demon seemed disorientated and as Katakura smacked it around the side of the head, causing it to flinch in the other direction, I stabbed the demon in its side and it howled in agony. I twisted my blade and it screamed, pulling away with a limp whilst it cursed at the two of us angrily.
“You bastards…” it hissed, panting and bleeding to the floor “I will not die so easily!”
A roar echoed through the air as the demon gathered all his strength into one final blow, his wounds healing and his body glowing with a fiery red aura as he hovered above the ground.
Bang. One moment, I remembered there being a demon that had just gone Dragon Ball Z style on our ass and the next, a dead body was on the ground and neither Katakura nor I had moved an inch. I looked up at the building behind us to see that stood atop of it was a weird hunched figure in long robes disassembling a sniper into a briefcase. I watched it with Katakura for a moment and it then dropped a tarot card to the ground as some sort of signature, the card in question depicting an axe-wielding knight stood before a golden sun. I snarled and crumpled the card in my hand.
“If it makes you feel any better, you got paid anyway Lee, why not just drop it?”
I paced back and forth angrily.
“That’s not the point,” I said “You’ve seen this guy, he took down the last three guys I was hired to deal with and just vanishes without a word to anybody… pisses me off. I mean, I didn’t even realise there WERE other demon-hunters, let alone show-stealing twats like our friend the sunny sniper!”
Katakura shrugged and offered me a mug of tea, which I took with a small grunt of acknowledgement. I watched as he strolled back over to his usual roosting place, a sofa opposite my desk, and he sighed whilst reclining into the furniture.
“Well then…” Katakura thought aloud “You have yourself a fan it seems, and he appears to be tracking our cases somehow so our best bet is to make our move fast and crack on with the next case. Who knows? He might show up!”
I had already left at this point.
Now I’ll be the first to admit I get off on hacking down demons into hell-spawn kibble and that the smell of blood is my second favourite smell in the entire world, second only to a mug of tea at my bedside, but that case was one I was really looking forward to. I don’t like most of humanity but children are an exception, their stupidity is a result of naivety and youth, not plain ignorance, and so if anyone hurts a child I think of them as lower beings than the demons I hunt. Well, I was now tracking down a demon posing as an ice-cream man who lingered outside schools and abducted children so you can imagine the level of scorn I held for this guy. Katakura had predicted his pattern of movement and so we found ourselves on stake-out, true seventies style completed to a T by the fact he drove a bloody 1974 Ford Galaxie 500. I laughed, feet up on the dashboard and a flask of tea in my hand, whereas Katakura was apparently taking a moment to have a sandwich.
“So how will we know when he shows up?” I said
“The loud musical jingle is a giveaway Lee…” said Katakura.
Smart-ass. Sure enough, the silence of the street was broken by a faint bell-ringing in the distance and as floods of small children poured out of a school to greet their mothers in the playground, I could hear the musical arrival of an ice-cream truck. I shivered at the sound; an eerie death eulogy in this context but quickly jumped up and out of the car. Katakura scrambled out after me, fumbling with the sandwich, cursing.
I walked up to the ice-cream truck, followed by Katakura, and the ice-cream man looked at me funny
“Bit old for ice cream aren’t we fellas?” he smirked
“Ah come on who doesn’t love ice cream?” I said
“The lactose intolerant…” I heard Katakura mumble. I turned on him for a moment and he shrugged. I looked back to the chump in the van and then continued as if not interested in Katakura
“Ok, so I’ll take one stolen child with sprinkles, a chocolate flake and your punk-ass head over the fireplace” I said. The ice-cream man took a step back in surprise and stuttered, lost for words
“You heard me wise guy, where are the kids? I’m not playing games here!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” he squeaked, squirming nervously. A queue of children formed behind me and Katakura started poking me in the shoulder as children began poking me in the back of the leg. I kept waving my hand to shoo them off with a grunt
“Lee…” Katakura whispered
“Not now bud,”
“The ice-cream truck is snarling at me…”
I would have dismissed this as the lunacy of a man who takes recreational drugs if it weren’t for the fact Katakura probably hasn’t even touched drugs in his life and that shortly after he said that the ice cream van ejected its driver out of the back door and seemed to stand up vertically. The tyres melted away and the metal twisted into something more organic, arms and legs sprouting from the bulky body and the front of the vehicle morphing into a hideous face. I looked over at Katakura
“The children!” I shouted. Katakura nodded and turned to the queue of children, ushering them away quickly and with the area cleared, I pulled out my extending sword and the blade shot out ready for battle.
“That’s it!” I laughed “Bring on the entertainment!”
A hand swept down at me and I rolled to the side, leaping forward almost immediately afterwards but the demon countered quickly with a kick and I hit the tarmac with a skid. I grunted, dusted myself off then got back up and thrust forward with my palm to shoot a small barrage of fireballs, the first two being deflected with ease by my opponent but the third hitting him in the gut. I kept on my toes and danced around the demon to confuse him, to which he replied with inaccurate lunges and wild swinging blows.
“Hold still!” he cried
“I don’t think you understand how dodging works…” was my reply. However, my arrogance cost me as a lucky shot knocked me flying once again, through the tall wooden fence around the playground and into the school grounds. The demon approached me as I lay amongst the remains of a crumpled Wendy House and laughed, reaching out to grab me
“Now then…” he began, but suddenly he was cut off by an arrow to the forehead. The demon recoiled and looked at his new facial horn but then it exploded and he flinched in pain. I quickly got up to my feet and turned to see stood atop the church was the cloaked figure from before, sporting a bow and arrow. The cloaked figure leapt down and stood a short distance from us both, shedding his cloak to reveal his true self. A gangly and awkward looking figure wearing some light-weight gold armour that was adorned with religious symbols, short cut ginger hair and a bright eyed childish face. Replacing his bow on his back, he pulled out an axe that was strapped to the back of belt and laughed loudly.
“Infidels!” he screamed in a theatrical fashion “You now face the demon-hunting paladin of order, soldier of our father above himself – the magnificent Obadiah! Repent now, for your sins will be your undoing and my axe will strike you down with divine judgment, beasts born of the devil whore!”
I looked at the demon. The demon looked at me. We both shrugged but this guy seemed serious and before I could even make a smart comment, he ran at me and swung his axe but I ducked and he embedded it in my friend’s stomach. I stood aside and the demon howled in pain, smacking Obadiah in the face so hard I could have sworn his skull rattled like a snake. Obadiah flew a good distance and I’m also sure that between us we had earned some frequent flyer miles. I shrugged and went back to work, turning my attention back to the big guy and hacking at him with my sword, exchanging blows as my blade struck odd ends with his large fists. A moment later, we were interrupted again as one of Obadiah’s arrows got me in the back
“Fuck! Ow!” I yelped. The demon laughed so before it could explode, I ripped it from my back and stuck it in his belly button.
“Son of a…”
BOOM! The big fella was on his last legs at this point, hunching over with a serious stomach wound and a low growl. I readied myself to finish him off.
“Well then ice-cream man, you’re about to get whi…”
Obadiah ran past me faster than I could think, leapt into the air and beheaded the demon with axe before landing behind the bulky body as it slid to the ground in a heap.
“But… but… wisecrack…” I whimpered. Obadiah turned and glared at me, raising his axe and pointing it to me.
“Foul spawn of hell, you will die by my hand!”
“That’s funny, because that other guy died by your axe…”
Obadiah swung for me from right to left, missed, then a vertical slash which I stepped aside to avoid. I kicked out at him and he took the blow with a slight stumble, following up by darting forward and bringing my knee up to his chest so that he fell down on all fours and dropped his axe. I held my sword to his neck and smirked.
“Nice try rookie, but leave it to a pro in future ok?”
Before anything else could happen, I was interrupted yet again.
A bolt of lightning scorched the ground next to me and I flinched, Obadiah jumping up in surprise and raising a defensive position instinctively. I was pretty pissed off by now and as a third party joined the fray, I did not look happy.
“Anyone else wanna show up? Special guest appearance by John Slattery perhaps?”
Before Obadiah and myself now stood a tall man, not as tall as Obadiah but he held himself much more gracefully and his face was concealed by a white mask. He was dressed from head to toe in dark purple robes that were laced with gold trim and in his hands he wielded a large scythe.
“My master has requested I be here to witness this moment on his behalf”
Obadiah stood there twitching, ready to attack at any moment, and I wasn’t far behind him as I tightened the grip I had on my sword. I looked at Obadiah and he nodded silently, the two of us charging at him together with a roaring battle cry, but as we did we passed through him and he shot us both in the back with two blasts of energy. Obadiah was knocked over the fence and vanished from the scene but I just fell to the floor and skidded, my chin grazing the floor to the point where it felt shaved. I got up and the intruder walked over to me slowly, lifting me up by my neck
“Take my words to heart, my patient friend. I am Azrael, agent of the contractor, and I am not your enemy but in fact your salvation. You will be tested twice more and once you have proven worthy, you will see me again”
I cocked my head but then he disappeared and I fell to the floor again. I coughed and spluttered as I tried to regain my breath, Obadiah running back onto the scene.
“Where is he?” he shouted, jigging on the spot with his axe. I coughed and shrugged. Obadiah put his axe away and sighed, kicking a rock and cursing under his breath. I got up slowly and looked at him and he stared at me for a moment.
“You’re a demon…” he said
“Yes” I said
“Who hunts demons?”
“Inherently, there is something odd about that…” he said, as if starting to say something, but then he changed his mind, “Yet… I’ll let this one go. I’m Obadiah”
“I heard. Name’s Patience, Lee Patience”
We shook hands and that was that, forming a bond of mutual respect as we acknowledged we had no real reason to quarrel, for though I was born of demon blood, I fought for his side.
Back at the office, Katakura and I were both sat with a cup of tea and whilst he was busy handling the payments and expenses, I was taking down the wall display of photographs.
“Well, that’s that settled. Mystery man is a paladin, new mystery man is a ghost sent to test me and the ice-cream van was the bad guy all along” I sighed. Katakura looked up at me in total confusion, still struggling to desensitise himself to the madness of our line of work. I laughed and pulled up a chair to sit opposite him as he figured out the last of the little sums needed to calculate our profit.
“So, money-wise, how’s it looking?” I said
“Well,” he began, already feeling as if I would regret asking “Damages weren’t so bad, just new playground equipment and some fence repairs. The ice-cream salesman wasn’t hurt, physically, but he will need extensive therapy and probably won’t be driving again anytime soon. Obadiah apparently wants nothing for the case so you profit… uhhh… £300”
“What? You’re serious? Including the deduction for my debt to you?”
“Of course. Your money, you earned it”
Katakura handed over a wad of twenties and I jumped with excitement, laughing merrily. A knock came at the door and I rushed to open it, beaming like a fool.
“Mr Huang?” I said. A small and disgruntled old man of Asian descent stood before me, a list in his hand and a scowl on his face
“You Reed Patience?” he snapped “You owe me lot of money! You buy egg fried rice, no pay tab! I very angry, your tab already 200! You pay money, you pay now!”
I would have protested but I had a wad of money in my hand, which he snatched and flicked through
“Oh this better,” he said, smiling “You ok now, this pay for a lot of rice!”
“But… that’s £300!”
“It for my troubles, you no pay tab in five months!”
With that, he left and I shut the door, collapsing instantly into a ball. Katakura sighed and smiled sadly
“Well, at least you’re not in debt to him any more…” he said. I said nothing. Katakura shrugged and approached me, patting my head.
“I’ll make you some more tea…”
I swear I could have cried.