Elise quickly realized that people were more trusting of a woman with a baby than a woman with a sword, and she thought they were idiots for it. She was no less deadly while carrying either. She could have killed them all before they saw it coming and without waking her sleeping infant.
Regardless, she accepted the man’s offer for a ride into the next town.
Victoria remained unconscious the whole way. She seemed satisfied by the few drops she had vacuumed out of Elise with her tiny, desperate mouth, and now her arms were loose at her sides, lips parted as she wheezed in sleep.
The old woman—who said her name was Tina—held Victoria as she slept, occasionally cooing and petting the tufts of black hair on her forehead. Tina didn’t seem to mind that the baby’s bladder released tablespoons of urine every so often even though they still didn’t have diapers. Whenever Victoria pissed, Tina just laughed and shared another moronic anecdote about her own babies.
But Victoria was sleeping. That was all that mattered at the moment.
The baby didn’t look very much like her mother, although it was difficult to tell with those smashed features. Victoria was barely a day old. She was still vaguely egg-shaped and wrinkled. Still, Elise could almost imagine that if James had been soaked in a vat of lye for nine months while jammed into a too-small sarcophagus and fed through a tube in his navel, he might resemble the proto-human Tina held. There was something similar around the eyes.
Elise hoped that the baby’s eyes wouldn’t turn out to be blue.
While Tina held Victoria, Elise fitted her body into a borrowed outfit. She threaded her arms through three-quarters sleeves intended for a frail old woman rather than Elise’s well-developed biceps. She sucked in her loose stomach—which still looked almost three months pregnant—and tried to button khaki high waters over wide hips. The inseam strained at the musculature of her thighs.
Once dressed, Elise did a few squats and stretches in the tiny RV bathroom, stretching the cloth out enough to give her full mobility. And then she rapidly braided her thick curls over one shoulder, ensuring that it wouldn’t get in her eyes if she needed to fight again.
Elise studied herself in the mirror. She looked younger than she should have. That was most likely some side-effect of substantiating into human shape. James had helped guide their bodies, so he might have thought it would be a kindness to give her smooth skin more reminiscent of her former demon form than the rough, scar-pocked freckles that she’d had as a human the first time around. He certainly had influenced the size of her breasts. No matter how omnipotent he was, he was still a man.
But she basically looked like herself. A tired version of herself, with a weird figure from motherhood, but those were the same angry hazel eyes and hooked nose she used to have.
Human. So very human.
The baby started crying. The piercing shriek penetrated the thin walls of the RV.
“Where are you, James?” Elise asked her reflection, which swayed as the old man steered the RV around a curve in the road. The shadows tracked across Elise’s angular features. “You’re supposed to be here.”
Victoria was done crying by the time Elise emerged.
“I’ve got her,” the old woman said cheerfully, bouncing the baby against her shoulder, swaddled tightly in the blanket. “Babies like to be upright and close to our hearts. The sound is soothing. It reminds them of before they were born. What a wide and scary world to come into!”
Elise’s lips pinched into a frown. The baby might have temporarily silenced, but Elise’s breasts indicated with a painful tingling that they were ready to breastfeed again. Victoria had only eaten three hours earlier. How much could one tiny human consume?
“Where are we?” Elise asked. The view outside the RV was unfamiliar.
“Port Angeles,” said the driver.
The name didn’t sound familiar, nor did the rain-dampened trees look familiar. Elise wasn’t sure she’d ever been there before.
It wasn’t a big city, but it also wasn’t a particularly small town. There were stoplights. Hotels. It was populated.
There would be assassins.
“Keep driving,” she said.
“We’ll stop for gas and diapers,” he said. “Maybe a few little onesies for the baby!” He sounded gleeful at the idea.
Elise was not.
“We need gas anyway,” the old woman said kindly. “I’m sorry. We have no choice but to stop.”
There was little Elise could do to prevent them from halting at the Shell station. The man climbed out to get fuel. The woman indicated to Elise that she should come nearer.
“Let me show you something. You’ve seen those Baby Bjorn carriers, right? They’re so expensive, and they’re not necessary. You can use any cotton cloth to fashion a sling for your sweet little one and keep her near to your heart.” The woman quickly demonstrated using a sheet from the bed, wrapping it around her body and arms in a complicated, origami-like fashion. Then she nestled Victoria inside. “See how comfortable she looks?”
The baby started crying.
“Well, she’d be comfortable if she wasn’t hungry,” the woman said.
She handed Victoria to Elise, who held the baby awkwardly under the arms. The baby’s knees were curled to her chest, head slumped to the side, fists smashed against her mouth.
Elise attempted to hold the baby to her heart. That didn’t stop the crying. It just made Victoria start slobbering on her shirt.
Hungry. Time for more breastfeeding.
“Fuck me,” Elise said.
“I’m sure the gas station has diapers,” the old woman said. “I’ll see about formula, too.”
She stepped out, leaving Elise to take the passenger’s seat with the baby. It was difficult to pull her breasts out of the too-tight shirt, but she managed somehow, and with much clumsy maneuvering got the baby to eat.
That was probably why she didn’t see the demons coming.
Elise’s senses had always been so good, heightened by years on the run, that it never occurred to her that she might miss an incoming attack. Whether it was fatigue or hormones, she was too distracted by grimacing at Victoria to notice that Tina was yanked behind the gas station by disembodies hands, and she certainly didn’t hear the muffled scream.
She did, however, notice the blood splatter on the windshield of the RV.
Without releasing Victoria, she stood to look over the dashboard. The old man, Chris, was dead. It had been fast and messy. A demon stood among his entrails. Elise quickly catalogued the features of the demon: its slender limbs, its ashen skin, its bald pate. Some kind of evolved fiend.
It skittered away, sniffing at the ground. There was no doubt in her mind that it was searching for her.
Other fiends ripped open nearby cars, wrenching the doors off the hinges and dragging people out.
One by one, the bodies dropped.
“Of course,” Elise muttered.
She located a hunting rifle in a cabinet near the oven. Chris had put his gun in there before departing camp that morning. She broke the lock, loaded the ammunition, and prepared to fight the fiends.
She hesitated in the doorway.
A gun would be very loud near a baby’s ears, and Victoria had just fallen asleep.
Elise set the baby on the bottom bunk. Victoria didn’t appreciate being put down. She immediately started fussing.
“Wait here,” Elise said, as though there were any alternative.
Taking a moment to set her baby aside meant that the demons met her at the door to the RV.
She flew through the opening feet first, slamming Tina’s borrowed shoes into the jaw of a fiend.
By the time Elise landed on its supine body, she had raised the rifle. She aimed. She fired.
Guns had never been her preferred weapon, but she was still surprised when the first shot pulled high and to the left. She blew off a fiend’s cheek when she had intended to discharge it into the center mass.
Elise had the knowledge of a fighter, but not the muscle memory.
That would be a problem.
A fiend attempted to climb into the RV. She seized it by the throat and hurled it into another pair of fiends, bowling them over.
At least Elise had thought to give herself supernatural strength when making her human form.
Her speed was not quite what she expected, though. Strength could only make up for so much when the demons moved as quickly as the fiends did. In her previous life, when fighting fiends, they had been strong but slow, little muscle-packed tanks with leathery skin.
These ones were speedy.
They pulled at her hair. Shredded the too-tight shirt with stubby nails. Bit at her hands.
Elise set her jaw and worked through them one by one.
She shot until the rifle ran out of ammunition. Then she smashed the butt into the gut of an attacking fiend, collapsing several ribs. She whirled with it in both hands like a baseball bat and sent another fiend flying.
One at a time.
It was still the only way to fight.
Slow or not, Elise slaughtered them all. She left none to report her location back to their master. And there would be a master: fiends were stupid, mindless creatures who only executed the commands given to them.
When she was done, she stood in a pile of slick blood, puddled gasoline, and intestines.
She didn’t hear Victoria crying anymore.
Elise’s heart thudded in her throat. She flung the RV door open, jumped up the steps, and prepared to kill whatever had killed her baby.
But there were no demons in the RV. There was only Victoria resting on the bed in a haphazard bundle of blankets.
She was snoring very quietly.
Elise suspected that she should have left Victoria sleeping where she rested, but the momentary fear she’d felt for her offspring’s safety left an impression. She scooped the baby into her arms before searching for survivors of the fiend attack, whether human or demon.
It only took a minute to realize that everyone was dead.
The good people as well as the bad demons, unfortunately.
Tina had died by the trash cans. A fiend had taken several opportunistic bites out of her chest. Elise kneeled to thumb Tina’s eyes closed.
The baby flopped when Elise stooped in such a fashion, unable to support her head, though Victoria was making efforts that were impressive for such a newborn. She would be a strong baby eventually, but Elise had no clue how long it would take Victoria to stop being dead weight.
Carrying Victoria in arms was simply not going to be practical in the long term, especially if Elise needed to fight again.
She searched the gas station for supplies to help. There were diapers, which Elise stole, but nothing else.
Elise retrieved a blanket from the RV. It wasn’t easy to fashion a sling the way Tina had, but Elise managed through sheer stubbornness. She cinched it very tight and then slid the baby in, and Elise was satisfied to discover that Victoria couldn’t move very much.
Victoria fussed at being held so snugly. “Stop that,” Elise said. The baby rested her cheek against Elise’s heart and fell silent. She gazed at nothing in particular as Elise dragged the bodies into a pile in front of the gas station. Elise didn’t sort out human from demon. They would all end up ash in the end.
Police sirens were whining by the time she poured accelerant onto the pyre and lit it. For good measure, Elise tossed the hunting rifle into the pile to burn away her fingerprints.
She stood close enough to feel the heat singing her eyebrows.
Victoria was asleep. She had somehow gotten a tiny smudge of blood on her temple, which Elise wiped away with her thumb.
Elise found herself smiling. It was not a happy smile, but a satisfied smile.
She was gone before the police arrived.