I glanced down at the hole in the drywall. I felt a sign coming.
"They say they saw it before it burrowed into the wall," Maria told me. "Could it get far?"
The residents of the apartment complex had called for us after the third kid had gone missing. This particular block had an old history with demons. The United States Multiversal Survey only had five people devoted to this sort of thing. Maria and I were the only ones on this side of Rockies able to respond.
"I'm just glad the Deb redirected it to us." I rubbed my face. "The last thing we need is some local law enforcement to get involved."
"Henri, are you sure this is a demon?" Maria's voice shook a bit.
"What do you think?"
"There is plenty that points in that direction. But I've seen too many fake calls. This could just be a raccoon or something."
"It melted the drywall, Maria." I paused. "You trained with the Witch. This is demon larva. It has to be."
"Sporelings don't have to be near humans to grow. The Larva has to take in larger amounts of what they need to grow." Maria recounted. I could sense part of the disgust in her voice.
Maria thought all Demons were monsters. They disgusted her. It meant she wouldn't stop in hunting them if they were dangerous. But it meant I had to always keep some stuff from her. Things she couldn't understand.
"Larva have some intelligence. They can observe and make plans. This place... It has long had a bad contamination of spores in it. Larva appears once every few months."
"Few months?" Maria gagged. "We have to come here that often?"
I rolled my eyes. "Most larva can't survive that long, Maria. Or what they need isn't necessarily something related to humans. Some get away with cats or dogs. Others, find old appliances. I remember one that collected baby toys."
"Mostly the kind that hurt or poisoned the kid." I tapped the wall, looking for more evidence of hollowing. "The essence of the sin, that they feed on."
"So we go and kill this thing then. I've never seen a slaying."
"Maybe," I said.
"Maybe?" Maria sounded confused.
"Well, it depends on how dangerous it is. And whether or not we can kill it. And it could be self-aware. Intelligent. Humanly so. Other locals might already have acclimated to it."
Maria held up a sledgehammer.
"And formed a host?"
I took the sledgehammer from her. My tattooed hands clenched tight to it.
"Yep. Or a local host added it. In which case, I don't want to be around. A pack of demons isn't something we can handle."
"We'd have to call the entire service together." Maria agreed.
"Or have the director bring in a contractor." I sighed. Cutbacks. They kept underfunding the USMS. Things like demon removal seemed like polite fictions to Congress.
A few swings later, we broke through the drywall. Something slimy hung in the crawlspace through it. A small child stuck to an inner wall, shaking. Black slime hung it up. Maria took the child away.
I knelt next to the thing shivering in fear at us. The size of a large dog, the demon looked like a horribly mutated octopus. Its head had four mouths. Five canine eyes poured out tears.
"Scared." I sighed. "You didn't know you did, did you?"
Old memories came back to me. A childhood friend. Old demons I'd had known. Maria would think it crazy, but I didn't like this part of our job. Demons weren't evil. They were a symptom. But ones like this, they had to be put down. They were too dangerous to leave for others.
"Ysssstyki!" It mumbled at me.
"Yep." I shook my head. Then I slew the demon. The sledgehammer ended it quick. After that, I took off my hat. I took a long swing from my flask. It kept me from vomiting.
Then I pulled out my phone to call it in.
"Henrietta Hope calling in a Slaying. Yes." Pause. "Of course, I can wait for the scan."
A few moments later, I ended the call.