Demons had incredible powers. They could turn metals into gold, levitate church pulpits and throw them at your head and cast life-like illusions. They did however take great pains not to violate the Silence – a sort of inter-celestial agreement not to let the mundanes become aware of the supernatural. It was for that reason the man at the front-door was firing a gun, the bullets of which punching holes into the sofa, Joachim had lifted and was now holding up in front of him as a shield.
He had taken care of the Kukomu illusion first. He had hit it against the head with all the force of sledgehammer and instead of its head bursting, it had evaporated into black smoke and dissipated.
People were screaming, scrambling everywhere. Somebody was chasing after them with an axe.
“Do the honorable thing,” the man at the door shouted. “Or I will kill every last person in the building.”
Joachim tossed the sofa at the man and charged, only to find the gun clattering to the floor and another cloud of black smoke rising up. The man with the axe was murdering a woman, her arms pointlessly held up in defense. She was screaming. Another man – her husband? – was trying to tackle the axe-murderer and got an axe to the skull as a reward.
Joachim picked up the gun and aimed.
“Drop the weapon!” he shouted.
He had never fired a gun before. Also, he had never left his fingerprints on a murder weapon before. Also, the man wasn’t holding a weapon at that point, but it still seemed like a good thing to yell.
“Drop the weapon, or I swear to God-”
The axe-murder grinned at him, his face covered with blood spatter. He placed one foot on the man’s skull, and pulled the axe free.
Joachim fired. The stupid thing was loud. It also kicked like a donkey. Still Joachim was sure he had hit the guy, even if it didn’t stop that bastard from standing there and grinning, as black smoke leaked out of several holes.
Did he want to charge the man with the axe?
That was the question he asked himself, as he charged. The grinning man did swing, but he was far too slow. Joachim had given him a super-powered slap to the face that made the killer go partly cloudy with a chance of axe clanking on the floor.
The other people just stared at him. There were shots being fired above. Joachim could hear them. Did he have a snowball’s chance in Hell to even find Faust? There were enough people running away from the chaos. For all Joachim knew, ‘Helga’ had already left.
She would be a woman. An old woman. Changing bodies means dealing with the Fleshcrafter’s Guild. Nobody does this if it isn’t strictly necessary.
Joachim ran towards the stairs.
He couldn’t cover all the exits.
Think. When you were a demon with a fragile body, where would you hide.
Joachim stopped, at the bottom of the stairs.
There will be decoys. It’s the old woman who is hiding in plain sight that you are looking for, not the one in the penthouse, living large.
Joachim pushed himself off the wall and half-flew towards the front desk computer. Every nerve inside his body was compelling him to run towards his prey. To not let Faust get away.
The hotel database was still open on the screen. Joachim typed faster than he had ever typed in his life.
He was looking for any older women who didn’t check in alone. Who had probably checked in around the same time that somebody checked into the penthouse. How long had Kukomu worked here?
God bless the data kraken habits of major corporations, they actually – illegally – had ID copies on file. There was only one old woman on file and she had checked in with… a doppelganger of Carina. That was original.
It was on the ground level, too. Joachim could have figured that one out. Why sacrifice easy exits for a view if you could just stash one of your illusions in the penthouse and look through their eyes?
Joachim ran. His super-powered legs made sprinting feel like flying over the floor. He didn’t bother to stop and open the doors in his path. Instead, he burst through them like a cannon ball, announcing his position for the remaining murderers still around, who would hopefully focus on him, rather than the civilians.
The door to room 043 was no more obstacle to him than a silk curtain.
It was a suite. Large balcony windows formed the wall towards the Isar. Antique furniture was arranged around a coffee table. A comfortable-looking bed was visible through a half-opened door. Joachim walked towards it, when a noise behind him made him spin around.
There were four of them. They wore coats of medieval armor. Their heads and feet ware almost completely translucent, but they got ever more opaque and real-looking towards the hands that held gleaming longswords.
With a few steps each, they formed a semicircle around Joachim.
Joachim had trained a little. More accurately, he had watched Youtube videos about martial arts and had tried to copy their moves a little bit two or three times a week. Most of that had been about dealing with unarmed assailants – blocking punches, standing correctly while delivering them. Unarmed against four swords was bad. Really bad. Especially if Faust had any kind of practice with this.
Was Faust here right now? Could she see him? Was she hiding in the closet or under the bed.
Joachim spun around and punched a surprised fifth assailant straight into his supposedly armored face. He dissipated in black smoke. Then Joachim cannonballed towards the wall behind the bed, ignoring the knights and tackling, punching and ripping a hole through the thin hotel wall. He ended up in a supply closet, his pursuers clanking behind him. The supply closet door had been locked from the outside. It went wherever the spirits of doors ended up when their earthly shells were blown to bits.
Joachim could feel a burning pain inside his right hand and realized it was wet with his blood. There was no time to deal with that now. There was no hope of capture anymore. He needed to get out of here.
He ran. This time away from the room and towards the back exit.
The hotels intercom crackled to life.
“Running is pointless,” said Kukomu’s voice through about a dozen speakers in that hallway. “I am everywhere.”
A door opened on the other end of the hallway, right in front of the fire exit. A man with a shotgun stepped out and blocked the way. He was too far away for Joachim to punch him before he could pull that trigger.
Joachim eagle-dived towards the door to his left instead, headbutting it open, as a shotgun blast ripped through the air.
So much for her not wanting to kill her only lead, thought Joachim.
He crawled across the floor, leaving a trail of bloody fist imprints.
The windows on the wall were tempting, but if Joachim was Faust, he would have somebody on the outside. Joachim needed to do something unexpected.
Gritting his teeth, letting out a shout, he punched the floor, with everything he had.
Everything he had was a lot. It did make a crater, but one punch didn’t get him through. His entire arm hurt now.
Joachim heard metallic footsteps coming down the hallway. He punched the floor again and again and again as they closed in on him.
Finally he had created a hole, large enough for him, only to find it blocked by thin copper pipes.
With one of the knights already looming inside the doorway, his sword at the ready, Joachim ripped the pipes out and jumped down.
The basement had absurdly high ceilings and Joachim did not land all that well, letting out a hearty curse as his foot damn-near snapped off.
Pain shot through his leg and he nearly blacked out from it. Probably would have if it hadn’t been for the adrenaline. He looked around frantically.
It was dark down here. Several boilers stood down here, large and looming. A single metal door led further into the basement. Concrete walls all around.
He didn’t really have time to lose. He tried to open the door, only to find it locked. He tried to open the locked door, only to end up with the door handle inside his hand. Gritting his teeth, he walked towards the other end of the room, and, yelling Spartaaaaa he ran towards it, through the pain, through the fear and tackled the damn thing, bending it in the middle.
It hadn’t really given in, but he managed to pry it open now. Joachim did not have the time to think what the had just done to his shoulder. Or his spine. Or his sanity.
He ran down a dark concrete hallway, and found a set of stairs leading to the other side of the hotel.
The next part was a bit hazy.
He remembered opening a door and ending up in the hotel parking lot. He remembered the noise of the knights behind him, still in pursuit. He remembered a sense of heat and flames and a noise louder than anything he had ever heard. He remembered being pushed towards the parking lot and rolling around there.
With ringing inside his ears, he looked at the flames inside the ground level and the large black clouds of smoke steaming upwards out of the blown-out windows.