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July 1, 2015

Barton's Antique Store

Comrade Frost pushed open the swinging glass doors of the antique store and walked inside, the bell jingling as he entered. He stood out in his blue parka, especially when you saw his pale white flesh and felt the chill in the air as he walked by. Over his shoulder was swung an axe, its handle an exotic dark wood and its head an unfamiliar red-grey metal. He was careful how he held it, keeping his gloved hands on the handle as he walked up to the front counter. "You!" he declared. "Antique dealer! What do you mean by selling cursed objects to civilians? STOLEN cursed objects no less!" His Russian accent was especially thick today; his red eyes flashing especially bright. 

"What? How dare you!" declared the antique dealer, shooting a nervous glance over at his customer. Throwing a rag down on the counter, he pointed at Frost, his bald head flushing red between a greying tonsure of receding hair. "I run a reputable shop, and I would never sell stolen goods! I got that from a very reputable supplier, you frost-faced goon!" 

"Oh-hoh!" declared Frost, dropping the ax on the counter significantly. "You just happen to have reputable supplier who sells you Ax of One Thousand Murders! What a country!" 

Meanwhile, the axe was audibly whispering, "Murder! Murder! Cut off his head, boss! Cut cut cut cut!"

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Isaac had just finished selling Barton a few odds and ends he'd found in a storage locker whose contents he had won in an aution. Nothing special, but the payday would feed him, keep the lights on, and cover the price of gas for a week. Best of all, it was cash. Which meant no trail. No by mundane standards anyway. He was tucking away the money when the Russian with the axe walked in.

The dark hair young man repressed a shiver that threatened to creep up his spine when the white haired man came over. Isaac looked at him leerily. Red eyes. Cold aura. Definitely empowered somehow. The fact he didn't bother to cover it up wasn't a good sign. People with powers generally tried to avoid drawing attention to their nature, if they were smart.

His eyes moved between Barton and the meta-human, then the axe. It was possible the axe was influencing one or both of them. Isaac didn't like drawing attention to himself. The siituation porbably needed to be defused though. Before Barton did something stupid, the cold man snapped, or the axe wound up influencing the outcome. Clearing his throat to get their attention Isaac raised a hand and waved.

"Hello. You should know, this wouldn't be the first time someone has come in trying to get money out of Bart with the 'you sold a cursed object' scam. If you're looking for some cash, I can take a look at that axe and give you a price. Otherwise, if it really is stolen, how about you give Bart a little more context and background on your situation. He might just help you out."

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"He's lying! Chop him up and bury him under the floorboards!" The ax was getting really enthusiastic about this conversation, for all that only Stormcrow seemed to be able to hear its voice. "Drink his bloooood!

"Feh, I do not sell Ax of One Thousand Murders to common street passerby!" said Frost, slapping a gloved hand against the ax's wooden handle. "Do you know provenance of this, boy? Wood is forged from hanging tree of colonial Massachusetts and metal was from headsman's ax of medieval England! Carries with it the souls of dead who are hungry for more murders! When ax is traced to original owner, I have it buried in holy ground." 

"Well it didn't come labeled like that," said Barton defensively. "The guy said it was a unique piece of 19th century American craftsmanship - and the workmanship held up! That thing is a one-of-a-kind variant of New England tool construction - probably from the Springfield works." 

"From the murder house behind the Springfield works, more like it." declared Frost. 

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While the pale Russian started to talk about the weapon Isaac studied the murderious blade with an eye towards the details of it's craftsmanship. Isaac didn't seem disappointed about not getting to buy the weapon. Though he would have done so to keep a malevelent item out of uninformed hands, this man at least treated it with the caution it deserved.

"Sounds like it has quite a story to tell. How did you get ahold of that ax to begin with?"

Isaac's eyes moved to the pale man's face and he listened, giving him a chance to share any details he felt inclined to. Then he looked to Barton and gestured behind the counter. As if Barton might have something to share with them that he hadn't considered. What with being bum rushed by an any man with an ax.

"Do you have a name or any paper work on the guy who sold you the ax? A description, video footage, some kind of lead for this fellow to follow up on."

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"From hands of a corpse! Mafiya hitman forgot to make sure he was bulletproof before he began with murders." He caught the two humans looking at him and said, "What! OK, maybe that was cold and heartless, but that is problem for me, what can I say?" He shrugged. "Killer becomes worse killer with ax in hand. Worse is when good man becomes bad man with ax in hand. Now where did you buy this thing?" This is going well, he thought. This young fellow here makes a fine good policeman to my bad policeman.

"I, uh, got it from a source I've used in the past," said Barton nervously, digging around beneath the register for his account book. Dropping the book on the counter, shooting a grateful look at Isaac, he said, "From a Mr. Lew Siffer of-" 

"What!?" demanded Frost. "Lew Siffer?" He turned to Isaac, obviously expecting support. "Lew Siffer! Totally reliable figure, I am sure!" 

"He said it was German!" 

"Oh, I am sure he did!" announced Frost triumphantly. "Where is this fellow?" A few minutes later, they had an address and Isaac had his purchase - at something of a discount from the harried shopkeeper. 

"Come, young fellow!" said Frost as he headed out of the shop. "You seem to know this business. Could use assistant." 

 

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At hearing how the Russian came into possession of the ax Isaac raised an eyebrow. There wasn't any judgment in his demeanor. The story, while short, was a curious one. Then again, it fit with the nature of the item involved, and Isaac isn't one to judge a thing poorly because it's nature was different than his own. Death, destruction, and yes even murder had it's place. It was the excess of these things that needed to be guarded against. Not the thing itself. Isaac's brief internal reflection ended when Barton gave the name of the man who sold him the ax. Slowly he shook his head, disappointed with the man behind the counter.

"That's just sad Barton. Real sad. Might need to follow up on some of the others things he sold you another time buddy."

Isaac rapped his knuckles on the counter top for emphasis. When the Russian made for the door he took a handkerchief from his pocket and used it as a barrier as he grasped hold of the ax murderous ax that had been left behind. He followed after the older man and offered up the weapon.

"I'm not the assistant type. Tell you what, let me take care of the ax when this is over and I'll see this through with you. It'll end up a lot safer than buried in the dirt some place where any weirdo could dig it back up."

Edited by Sakuro

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"Hmm. Very well." Frost eyed the young man, gloved hand on his chin, looking Isaac up and down carefully. "But you let me see where it is you put Ax of One Thousand Murders afterwards. If rest of Freedom League finds out I just hand over murder machine willy-nilly, then there will be lots of questions like "Frost! Why you hand over murder machine willy-nilly?!" He did a pretty good imitation of someone there. Hmm. I wonder if he is a superhero. It seems as though everyone in Freedom City has some superpower or another. "Saaay," he finally offered, "I am going to take walk around block, then I can go over to this Lew Siffer fellow. If there is some OTHER fellow here when I get back, I am sure he can give me your apologies and join me there? Eh? Eh?" He winked broadly, then turned and strolled away, the ax now distinctly calling to Isaac. 

"Don't listen to him! He's a CANNIBAL!"

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When Frost laid out his terms Isaac offered a slow understanding nod that suggested he expected the older man to say something along those lines.

"Deal. The name is Isaac by the way."

After the brief introduction he paused, and listened to Frost spell out his intent to take a walk around the block. It was obvious Frost suspected me might be one of the city's empowered personalities. Or was at least giving him an excuse to dawn some tights if he were one. Which told Isaac he might have let something of his true nature show. While he tried to figure out what that might have been he gave the Russian an odd look the suggested the other man's actions were being perceived as unusual.

"Okay ..."

He paused at the ax's warning of cannibalism and considered the earlier comment of blood drinking, then moved over to a black pick up truck parked in front of the antique shop. There he pulled out a black PDA and, after making sure Frost was out of sight, he looked to the device and spoke to it.

"Tell me you ran a scan on that guy and the ax."

No audible response came. Instead the screen flashed on. Thaumaturgical data rolled out over it and Isaac poured over the arcane readings NX-Infinite had gathered during their exposure to Frost and the Ax of One Thousand Murders. As he read through the information, using an index finger to scroll over it, he spoke on. 

"He mentioned working with the Freedom League. Shouldn't be too hard to get some information. Run a background check."

The techno-spider auto-qued some contacts and made inquiries for Isaac while he read. By the time he had finished reviewing the arcane scan NX-Infinite had it's dossier for Mr. Frost ready for him to skim through. When the Russian returned from his walk Isaac should be finished and the PDA out of sight. Frost would find him loitering near his truck, patiently waiting for the eccentric old Russian vampire. Lifting a hand he pointed at the vehicle over his shoulder with an extended thumb.

"If you're good to go we can take my ride."

Edited by Sakuro

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Welp, he must not have been super-person after all. Or maybe he's just eccentric - seems like everyone in Freedom City is. 

"Certainly," said Frost with equanimity. "But please do roll down the windows. American cars chill the blood!" It was an interesting ride; Frost's cold was a palpable thing inside the truck's cab, but he didn't seem interested in the air conditioning at all. Rather he was much more interested in the windows, basking in the summer heat of the cab like an old serpent. The ax, on his lap, kept muttering profanely violent suggestions to the two men, but seemed to lack the intelligence to do something like try and cause a car wreck by shouting. 

Eventually the address they found led them to a rural antique store near the edge of the old State Forest, which sure enough did have the sign "Lew Siffer's Antiques", complete with a faded wooden painting of a red, horned devil nearby, placed against a wooden porch dotted with various rustic antiques. "Well, this looks all-American," said Frost as they exited the truck. It didn't sound like a compliment. "Might as well go ring bell..." Ax still over his shoulder, he headed for the door. 

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Isaac wasn't much of a conversationalist, and didn't try to engage the old vampire in small talk during the drive. Though Isaac didn't seem to mind the cold overly much, when he noticed that Frost seemed to like the summer sun, he turned the truck's heater on. Partially to test a theory.

When they arrived at the rustic antique shop Isaac turned the engine off and unfastened his belt, but did not get out right away. Instead he inspected the scene. The structure, for some reason, brought up memories of an old Twlight Zone episode that took place during the civil war. In it an aging warlock gave a magical grimoure to a Confederate officer. A grimore that allowed him to turn the tide in the war at the price of his soul.

"An antique dealer selling to another antique dealer. That's unusual."

He had mused aloud. Hearing Frost open his door Isaac did the same, and joined the older man at the front of the truck. But he paused there a moment to confer with his temporary partner.

"Given we're dealing with somone handing out cursed objects, are you sure you want to just walk in? I could check out the perimater for anything unusual, then join you inside afterwards. Either way, you might not want to bring the ax. Especially if you think a fight might break out."

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"I could hit him with ax, I suppose," said Frost thoughtfully, "give him great surprise...but no, no reason to do murders with Ax of One Thousand Murders." He set the ax carefully down by the truck. "But no reason to leave ax here willy-nilly either!" He concentrated on the ax, gripping the handle tightly, and as Isaac watched an icy rime of frost crept up and down the wood and metal until the ax was completely encased in a thin layer of blue-white ice. The ax kept up a running commentary at this, mostly obscenities, as it was frozen solid by the ice vampire's touch. Dusting his hands off, Frost turned to Isaac. "There, should give fellows second thoughts if they aim to steal it. And may shatter in hands if they try!" 

Studying the building, he hmmed, gloved hand under his chin. "Well, why don't you tell me what you see, hmm?"

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Curious blue eyes watched Frost handle the talking ax. A thoughtful 'hm' came from him as he saw the ice creep over it and act as a detourant from future handling. Lifting his left hand he gave a thumbs up to nonverbally express hi approval for the tactic employed by the other man. Afterwards he looked at the antique shop. Part of him wanted Frost to go on ahead so he could speak with the ax. It might have had some useful information. Given Frost's recent act against it, he doubted the spirit would be cooperative.

"I see a building where there shouldn't be one ..."

Isaac's eyes moved away from the building and began taking in the rest of the scene. The ground around it. Plants. Animals. The entire environment could say something about what was going on here where the building itself may be a lie. While he made his inspection a digitalize feminine voice spoke to him. A voice only he should be able to hear.

"You should take a look at these readings."

In response Isaac reached into his pant pocket and pulled out a black PDA. His free hand poked at the screen mimicking rote acts while his eyes read over the data NX-Infinite was feeding him. Nothing. That could mean a couple things. Some manner of warding could be in place. There was also the possibility of an entropic phenomena. Neither was an appealing thought. But how best to convey such warnings to Frost without exposing himself? Appearing to have finished his fiddling with the PDA Isaac tucked it back into his pocket and turned his attention to the Russian.

"... and Google Maps shows nothing here. Google Maps shows everything. Even things like a toolshed built out in the middle of nowhere. If that's really a building, and not a fake out or the gates to hell, there's something afoot. But the first step to evading a trap is knowing it exists."

Edited by Sakuro

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"Bozhemoi!" exclaimed Frost as he stared at the PDA. "Do you know what this means? It means we are behind Americans in technology once again. Pfaugh!" He looked away disgustedly, staring at the building, then seemed to shrug. "Is quite a magical anomaly from what you describe. Good thing it is in hands of such fine fellows as us, eh?" He patted Isaac on the shoulder, his grip distinctly cold despite multiple layers between them. "Well, have fallen into gateways to magical hellholes before. Once spent two years in Hungry Hells! Such a time that was. Will give a shout if all is well inside. Perhaps we can purchase knick-knack paddywhacker if is real establishment."

As Stormcrow watched, Frost casually strolled up to the store, his feet squeaking on the wooden steps and ancient porch as if he was about to fall right through. But there were no other disturbances, magical or otherwise, and after a few moments of looking around Frost walked right through the swinging doors before sticking his head out and saying, "Might as well come in!" 

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He stared at Frost as the Russian exclaimed about the advanced American technology he had apparently just put on display. Wasn't inclined to comment and instead just looked Frost as he spoke, gauging and measuring him in the moment of silence. His observations were broken when he was forced to surpressed a shiver threatened by the icy vampire's touch. The youth nodded when Frost accented to go in ahead of him. While the other went ahead his eyes were everywhere but on Frost himself. Isaac waited at the front of the truck until Frost called to him, then he made way for the shop's entrance, and followed the Russian inside.

"Any sign of the proprietor?"

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"Yesss..." sad Frost carefully, "but you should be mindful of his ways." 

To the eye, ear, and nose, the interior of Lew Siffer's shop looked like any other antique shop. It was crowded with junk with a vaguely Luciferian theme - there were several rusting old road signs taken from the hamlet of Hell, Michigan along the wooden walls, while an original Sateen's Hammer pinball machine was tucked away in a corner. On the shelves stood cast-iron banks, some with their own themes taken from Old Scratch, and indeed the main room's other corner was taken up by an original Old Scratch brand wooden stove! 

But it was all false, as far as Isaac could tell; this room might as well have not existed to his magical senses. The only things real there were himself, Frost, and the being behind the counter - a being who was, by all appearances, perfectly human. With his black hair and eyes, short black beard, and black, dusty work clothes (which appeared to be an authentic shirt from Lucifer's Pins - A Hell of a Good Time), he looked like a slightly Gothier version of your typical young hipster antique owner. 

"Greetings, Dimitri, Isaac," he said jovially. "Welcome to my shop. I hope you've guessed my name," he added with a wink and a faint smell of sulfur. 

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Isaac looked off to the side at Frost when the shop owner greeted them by name. He wanted to gauge Frost's reaction to that. The young junk dealer seemed curious, for his part, but resisted the urge to get sidetracked by asking how Lew knew their names. After this initial paused Isaac meandered forwards, stopping ever so often to inspect some unreal antiquity. He poked, prod, and handled these items that caught his eye, would once again advance on the counter. As he went through this inspection process he spoke.

"We can skip introductions then. You recently sold an ax of colonial New England design at Barton's antiques. From whom did you acquire it?"

Edited by Sakuro

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"From the original craftsman. He's been a guest of mine for some time," said Lew Siffer, stroking his goatee thoughtfully. "His work really is excellent, don't you think? You just don't find that kind of craftsmanship these days." He ran his hands over the glass top of the display case where he stood, a look of bohemian regret on his face. "I had hoped it would be of use to someone up here, but I suppose there's no point in fighting it out now that the superheroes have arrived. If you just let me have it, I'll make sure it doesn't fall into mortal hands again." 

For his part, Frost was glaring at the shopkeeper, his eyes red beneath his parka'd hood. "Oh sure, we just give it to Devil! What a remarkable idea. Who summoned you to this plane?" he demanded, rolling up his sleeves as he talked. "What fool infernalist thought this a fine idea?" 

"Oh, you know how it is. Business is good these days - so I thought I'd come up and put a personal hand in things.."

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Isaac was more inclined to deal, negotiate with, or trick a malevolent entity from beyond. But he couldn't exactly do that with Frost present. The man had clear prejudices that Isaac didn't. There was also the risk of exposing too much of himself. As stifling as it may have been, Isaac wasn't without options. Taking the black PDA covered in silver web etchings from his pocket Isaac brought it up to eye level and drew a bead on both Frost and Lew, as if trying to fit them both into a camera's field of view.

"You're going to duke it out with Satan? You guys don't mind if I get this on video do you?"

As he did so he poked out a command on the PDA's screen. In response the spirit spider within the fetish PDA pulled at a spiritual thread that tapped into the digital world. The NX-Infinite followed the vibrations to the infernal Android in Lew's care and after harvesting information from it displayed the data on the PDA's screen for Isaac to scroll through. Isaac couldn't exactly share the information he'd found. It'd raise too many questions. But he could steer Frost towards a plausible means for him to acquire it. Looking up from the screen he glanced between the two men. 

"Frost, I'm picking up a wireless signal nearby. Why would the Devil need a cellphone? You should get that from him before he has a chance to delete his contact information. Be careful though. If he's handing out cursed objects the phone might be too."

Edited by Sakuro

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"No no," said Frost reassuringly to Isaac, turning away from the conversation with Lew Siffer. "Is not Christian Devil or any other such fellow, he is bound to Hell by icy lake as in Dante's Paradise Lost." 

Siffer sniffed the air pompously, but he reached down to cover the cellphone in his pocket - obviously Isaac's investigation had hit a nerve. "No, that was _Milton's_ Paradise Lost, Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, showing the grand infernal hiearchy of Hell and all that lays above. Don't you know anything, you damned kulak?" 

"Oh-hoh!" declared Frost, who looked unimpressed by the Soviet-era insult. Instead he continued with his stream of insults, the demon getting madder and madder at every word, eyes beginning to turn red and air of hipster superiority fading. "Porheps young fellow and I have penetrated your armor, little demon. You don't like that I can't remember name of every book about puny little fallen angels and sad little realm they live in, and he has found technofetish of yours. What does it have, your master's number? Are you just an imp who has had pump put in mouth and blown up like giant balloon?" 

"I'll...that's it, Frost! You and your little friend here are dead!" And with that, his eyes flaming and fire billowing from his nostrils. the demon leapt over the counter. 

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Once Frost started goading the demonic hipster Isaac readied himself. Muscles condition through years of misadventures primed for action. When Lew leaped over the counter to attack Isaac made his move. Having strategically positioned himself within reach of his target projectile the youth lowered his PDA while his right hand bolted to the side grabbing a vinyl record from it's shelf. The sleeve was discarded with a flurry of movement from his fingers and with a flick of his wrist he sent the disk flying at Lew's face like a frisbee. He didn't stick around to see what effect the distraction had, and it was only a distraction. Instead Isaac turned around, sprinted towards the door, and took cover around the corner.

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Frost grabbed the demon's arm, appreciative of his colleague's attempts to distract the demon. Hmm! Is he keeping a secret identity even now? Or have I gotten another civilian in danger? Ah, so many questions they will have for Frost..."Porheps icy cold of Nifleheim will chill your little rage, demon," sneered Frost, icy crystals rushing up the demon's arm. Frost dissolved into mist as Isaac watched, a white, icy mass that swarmed up the demon's body and engulfed him in a frozen cloud. From inside the cloud, Isaac could hear Frost adding, "Pathetic little demon, what do you have that could possibly - ah, suka, blyad..." As a flaming red cloud erupted from the half-visible demon's eyes, it wasn't hard to tell why Frost had started cursing! The ball of fire erupted over the two heroes, engulfing them both in a wash of flame! 

When Frost could see again, he was in the middle of the shop, or rather what was left of it. Luckily his grapple with the demon had sent most of the blast into the air; the room he and Isaac had been standing in was shattered and smoldering, but the fiery eruption had mostly destroyed the roof, blowing it entirely off the ramshackle antique store. Things are not going well! "Isaac, are you well?" he called, facing down the now-red-eyed demon, whose leathery black wings were beginning to unfold behind his crouching fiery form. 

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Isaac thought he'd have a moment's reprieve with Frost keeping the demon distracted and a wall between himself and the fight. But it was a wooden wall that separated them and wood wasn't the most resilient material. An explosion of fire erupted at his back  sending him into the air. Hitting the ground with a thud several meters away the young man was dazed and disorientated. Splinters from the wall behind him lodged in his back, the skyward pointing tips of a few still held a flame like some kind of twisted candle in a human birthday cake. The back of his clothes were damaged from the heat and explosive force. Under them his skin was badly burned. Immobile, no response came when Frost called out. Isaac was too busy fighting to remain conscious.

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The fight didn't last very long after that - the demon either not wanting to seriously face down the Russian ice controller or simply trying to flee the encounter entirely. It wasn't long before Lew Siffer rose up on his hind legs and flew out the hole he'd blown in the roof, the rapidly-ascending demon (who with his leathery wings and bright red skin looked almost like a pantomime's version of a demon) rising up and out quickly into the blue sky above. Normally Comrade Frost would have flown after him; after all, he could fly too on wings of frozen mist. But today he had a rather more serious problem. The flames the demon had been tossing around hadn't hurt him seriously - his costume was singed and his skin ached like one of the long-ago sunburns he'd once known, but he'd had far, far worse. The real issue was Isaac, the smart young fellow who'd tried to fight at his side and...where was he, anyway? He'd lost him in the struggle. 

Damn damn damn! So much trouble to be in! 

He cast his eyes around the burnt-out remains of the shop; his cold powers had kept the fire from spreading but it still looked as though a bomb had gone off inside it. "Isaac! Are you here? Speak to me!" he demanded. 

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"You let it go..."

Came Isaac's determined voice from outside. Determined, but strained from the pain he was in. He was looking skywards as he scolded Frost. His head tilted back to see the demon flying off, fleeing the scene of conflict where he was out numbered. Pushing his palms against the forest floor he grit his teeth and rose to one knee. Then with both hands and one foot he pushed himself up onto two legs, still looking skywards. His eyes following his target.

"... and made things more difficult."

Isaac gauged the distance between himself and the demon. It was flying too fast. In a matter of seconds Lew would be out of range of what he had planned to unleash on it. The young man's head leveled out and he looked to the truck in front of him. Isaac wasn't the best driver, and given his physical strain his performance wouldn't be improved. But there weren't many other options if they were going to catch the demon. Stiffly he stalked towards the truck, heading for the driver side door.

"Get in. Use the cigarette lighter to do your heat-sucking-healing-thing. We might be able to salvage this by following his cell signal from a distance. But I'm only going to do it if you intend to stay focused this time around and finish the fight."

Edited by Sakuro

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"Many more demons loose on Earth than humans traditionally realize," said Frost breezily as he entered the vehicle, only looking mildly concerned at the prospect of the demon's escape. Ah, was fine after all! Young people are so tough these days. "Will be fine as long as we can catch him - and we surely can. But let Frost drive, you are burned to crisp." And I could not trace cellphone signal with box marked 'how to trace cellphones', much less spell young fellow seems to have active, ha-ha-ha! They wound up tracing the demon along a rural access road at the edge of the city, bumping uncomfortably through indifferently repaired asphalt, in pursuit of an escaping demon who seemed to be taking his own sweet time to get where he was going.  

They caught up with the demon at the site of a rarely-used public beach, one whose rocky shores and high nearby hills made it unpopular with the locals - even at the height of summer, nobody seemed to be there. With their vehicle parked out of sight of the beach, where the demon's cellphone signal seemed to be resting, Frost parked and turned to his American guide for ideas. 

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