The chanting reached a crescendo, echoing against the limestone cavern, as we burst in. These guys had gone old school in their fashion choices, as well as location — robes and hoods on all five members at strategic points around chalked sigil (not a pentagram, thank you). Chanting in Latin, bowl of blood in the leader's hands, probably from the goat carcass at his feet. Eight more folks in robes created an outer circle. Like I said, very old-school. Unfortunately, as I could taste in the air, they were also effective.
Jones and Rodriguez on either side of me raised their guns, ready to shoot the leader. I quickly motioned ‘no’ at them. “Shoot now, we're going to have backlash rebounding and magnifying in here. Probably bring the whole cave complex down around our ears. Safer to let them finish.”
Rodriguez shot me a betrayed look. Drake, at my back, shifted forward, eyes snapping over from watching the chanters to keeping an eye on Rodriguez and his gun.
“They aren't summoning what they think they are, I swear,” I murmured, hoping I was right about what they were.
Jones shrugged and turned back to start directing the local cops. Everyone robed was much too focused on the chant to react to FBI agents and local laws enforcement taking positions behind them. Once the chant was done, there was going to be some rude awakenings.
I walked over towards the leader and waited about 5 feet to the left and behind. I recognized the voice; Barnes never was all that good at enunciation. Or research. The magic levels in the cavern finally popped, something like your eardrums once the airplane reaches cruising altitude.
He spun around, blood sloshing over the side of the bowl, as the last syllable hung in the air. “You’re too late Amanda! Now you shall see exactly what I am capable of!” Oh great, monologuing. Bastard can't even get my name right either. It’s Jessica to assholes like him, Jessie to my friends. And Drake. “I have done what those fools swore I never could and summoned a great beast! Devourer her, minion!”
I raised an eyebrow and waited. A tiny wail rang out, the rocks around us reverberating. A dull ache took hold of my bones as I felt them vibrate in sympathy. Looked like the rest of my team weren’t feeling that, thank Ishtar. Barnes spun back around, bowl clattering to the ground. He was starting at the circle, a look of utter devastation on his face as I handcuffed him and handed him off to Jones.
“Don't walk him out yet, I may need him in a minute.”
“What for?” Jones asked, also staring at the huddled form in the middle of the chalked sigil. It was a rusty red color, darkening to a ruddy black at the hooves. I saw the tip of its tail peeking out from under its butt, most of that ropy muscle getting pinched between the limestone floor and whatever Barnes had summoned’s ass. The hands were a pale orange and balled in tiny fists. The head was overlarge compared to the neck and couldn't yet be lifted. Little nubs on the forehead showed where horns would one day grow in. The face relaxed, eyes unclenched, and coal-black pits for eyes opened. They got one look at me and promptly opened their mouth of pointedly sharp teeth and wailed again.
All in all, an example of a health demonic baby.
“Well, Mom, Dad, or Other are probably going to want to know that we caught the kidnapper,” I said, wincing as the little guy (or gal) started working their way up the audible range. “So just stay outside the circle and keep Barnes—”
My jaw dropped as the demon’s wail cut off. Rodriguez had stepped into the circle and scooped them up. Their head was resting on Rodriguez's shoulder and the strap to his holster was stuffed in their mouth.
“Gods damn it Rodriguez,” Jones muttered to my side as he jerked Barnes away from the circle.
“Don't… You can't leave that circle until I finish.”
Rodriguez bounced the demon against his shoulder a bit. It cooed. “All right.”
“No matter what else is in there.”
Rodriguez looked me dead in the eyes. “I got it.”
If he didn't, this was going to be hell to document such that his wife would get his pension. Shit. I swear I’ve gone over this with all of the team before. Multiple times. Gods damn it.
“Hey Barnes. You should watch this.” I took the bag of salt Drake offered me, stepped up to the edge of the circle, planted my toes at the edge, and tossed a pinch of salt on the ground. Sending my magic into the ground, I spoke a single word in a language not intended to be spoken with human vocal cords or jaws and waited.
Black smoke curled up from the edges of the circle Barnes had used. It swirled inwards, surrounding Rodriguez. He moved to the side as the smoke condensed. Then it imploded and out stepped… well, take a human, scale them up to ten or eleven feet, turn their skin bright red, make their feet cloven hooves, and add jet black ram’s horns, curling three times over themselves. They caught scent of Rodriguez and let out a bellowing scream that shook the cavern. Rodriguez took half a step back involuntarily.
“Hey Uzzoth,” Drake said quietly.
The head swung toward Drake and their nostrils flared like they were trying to sniff out Drake's location.
“Hey Uzzoth, it's Jessie, I'm here too.”
Uzzoth’s eyes dilated out and back down to slits. Their tongue darted out like a snake's as their nostrils flared again. “This circle is extremely sloppy,” they whined. Barnes made an indignant noise behind me and got an elbow to the ribs from Jones for his trouble. “I can barely send this projection and I do not have time. Someone has stolen my child.”
“Thank you for answering my call anyway. We found them. We'd like to get your child home. With you.”
Uzzoth sniff the air again. “Why then are they not in the circle? I could have been gone already. What favor are you hold my child hostage for?”
Shit, shit, shit. If he survived this, I was going to kill Rodriguez.
“Your child is in the circle Uzzoth. Two feet towards me and then three-quarters of a foot to your right.”
“I only smell a human there,” Uzzoth growled, staring straight at Rodriguez. “What idiot is in the circle with my child?”
“He was crying!” Rodriguez burst out. “You just wanted me to leave a kid screaming on the hard ground?”
“You picked them up?!” Uzzoth roared, teeth bared. “You showed compassion?! You stealer of—”
“Uzzoth, quit wasting time and tell me how to send your child home before I can't.”
They refocused on me again, then reached out the outline of their arm and rested a hand against the barrier of the circle. The circle sparked, then glowed where they touched. I reached up and splayed my hand against the barrier opposite their hand.
I was starting up at the ceiling of the cave, head in Drake's lap, arms splayed like I'd been crucified. The stone under my ass was leeching warmth out of me. A mahogany thread sat heavy in my mind.
I moved to sit up and collapsed back into Drake's lap. Tilting my head up, I got an upside down view of a worried boyfriend. “Sit me up, please.”
Drake looked like he wanted to hold me there for as long as possible, but he levered me up to sitting position and helped me lean forward to touch the circle. I pushed the thread through the murder hole (so to speak) in the circle, tossed a loop over the child, passed the thread into Uzzoth’s smoke form, and ground it down into the stone.
“Rodriguez, put the kid down and step out. Now.”
He looked mutinous again. “Now, probie,” Jones snapped. Rodriguez complied. As soon as he was clear, I shot as much magic as I could stand through the circle and thread. Uzzoth’s form collapsed and when the smoke dissipated, the child was gone as well.
“Well,” said Jones brightly, shoving Barnes forward towards the entrance. “That went better than the last time someone was stupid enough to ignore the expert.”
Rodriguez was helping Drake get me back on my feet and drape my arms over their shoulders to walk me out.
Drake shot Jones a look as he frog marched Barnes out of the cave. “Don't think I've heard this story, Jones. What happened?”
“Oh, I spent a subjective month enjoying Ballel’s hospitality before Jessie pulled me back.”
“Could have been worse.” I was slurring my words pretty badly. “Rodriguez here almost had to explain to his wife why their new kid had horns!”