This is a story about a demon hunter with a very important question. If you hate puns, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. Happy Halloween!

The demon’s confusion over having been summoned by one of the guardians of the realm slowly transformed into a smile. The hero forced herself not to look away from the too-many sharp teeth and the thin mouth stretched over angular bone.

She’d fought hundreds of lesser demons in her day, but this one…she knew the risk when summoning the Watcher of Souls, but her need to know was worth the risk.

She hoped.

“What would you like to know?” The demon’s voice was a clash between a lute and a dying cat.

The hero faltered.

The demon swayed within the summoning seal, testing the boundaries.

“For most people…” The hero chose her words carefully, gripping the dagger at her waist, ready to take action at the slightest sign that the seal had been broken.

“For most, the question is whether souls exist. But I’ve seen souls leave the body. I’ve even been to the afterlife, or one of them. I understand what happens when a person dies. And yet…”

The demon laughed, a slow rumble like the din of a roaring fire.

“You can’t die. You wonder if you too have a soul.”

It was embarrassing, to be laughed at by the demon held captive by her own ritual. She’d been taunted before, of course. Snarling, cackling, hysterical demons—she’d met every kind.

She was accustomed to ridicule and understood their laughter was all posturing. They knew she could (and would) strike them down. But this one was the Watcher, and the Watcher knew what she did not, the deepest question and anxiety that had plagued her for decades.

“I can’t die,” she confirmed.

“Hmm.” The demon’s laughter quieted. “That is quite the paradox. You possess what all mortals desire, and yet you envy their mortality.”

The hero sighed, unable to deny the demon’s words.

“It’s not that I want to die. I only want to know what might happen if I did. Would I cease to exist? Or…”

“Would you join your beloved brethren in the world beyond.” The demon sat cross-legged on the seal, admiring the intricate designs that bordered the circle, binding him in place.

“It’s quite good,” he mused. “Most casters lack the skill. They’ve gotten lazy these days…much easier to break through their circles of table salt and gobble them up.” He made a sickening slurp sound and snapped his jaws hungrily.

“You’re evading,” the hero warned.

Her embarrassment was turning into irritation—enhanced by the knowledge that she couldn’t kill the Watcher; if she banished him, she would never have her answer.

The demon scratched a talon across the invisible barrier before him and laughed delightedly at the sparks that erupted.

“You ask the wrong question,” he said at last. “I see a soul in you. But what good is a soul that cannot be separated from its husk?”

A fair point, though she was loathe to agree out loud.

“Then what should I be asking?”

The demon grinned and his golden eyes glowed bright in the shadowy candlelight.

“Not just a what, but a who. Seek out Death herself. She’ll answer the true question that haunts all demon hunters in the late hours of night.”

“And what is that?”

The demon winked a glowing eye and vanished in a swirl of putrid smoke. His voice echoed with his final words–

“How do you escape a dead-end job?”

Photo by Skyler Sawyer

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