Chapter 203: The Stash
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After Dodd’s provocative DDR session, the arcade machine malfunctioned. But the whole case was unusual, wasn’t it? Dodd had known Nyx to dance all night. And no matter how hard her lord sweated, that sweat had never lured as many electric sparks out of the machine as Dodd’s session had. Not once had there been an electric fire down here. Yet the thing was smoking now?

She knew it wasn’t karma, since imps didn’t exactly have a cultural concept of karma. And it couldn’t have been her, despite her guilt suggesting so. Maybe the machine was just old and busted, then. It couldn’t have been older than two years, but then again, single-copy designer demon tech was experimental by nature. Perhaps the nearby air hockey table had the same shelf life.

Or maybe it was fixable...and maybe it was related to some other outer cause.

Dodd pushed the machine away from the wall to get a better look at the smoke. It was coming out so thick that she couldn’t peer inside—but even if she could, would she be able to understand a mess of wiring anyway?

No, she focused on the patch of wall it’d been concealing.

Huh. She thought Nyx’s snack-hatch was around the foosball table, not this machine. And she thought they’d sworn never to use it again...primarily for sanitary reasons, since hadn’t it been overrun with spiders and insects not too long ago?

Dodd pried it open. Prying took a lot of effort and groaning to circumvent the wrinkled layers of Shadow Salve and rubber cement, but soon it was done. She dropped the wood cover and peered inside, expecting a demon...someone fiery and mischievous.

The only living things she found were a couple of roly-polies, which immediately scooted out onto the floor. Dodd winced. She’d crush them later.

But the rest of the really was a new hiding place. Only instead of keeping snacks, it held miscellaneous crap. An improvised shiv that was actually a combination of five twist ties. A strange coin unbeknownst to Dodd, a nickel from the human world). Some dust bunnies. Not dust that just happened to be there, but dense, actively collected balls of bust. The last one truly made Dodd’s body contort in secondhand shame.

She eyed the hatch cover. Why had she and Felicity assumed that coating this hatch with salve and cement on the edges was enough? Shadow users could just phase through the center! As a matter of fact, she reasoned that whatever hexes Nyx had set on the castle had better be good—wood walls with anti-shadow stuff on them were, for obvious reasons, not a supreme defense.

She eyed the hole. Couldn’t leave it open, after all.

Running upstairs and hurrying back down with rubber cement, Shadow Salve, and a paint roller, Dodd set to work with a frantic heart. The arcade machine behind her had stopped, smoking, but was still conspicuously ruined, so as soon as she finished this—

Dodd stopped mid-roll. Someone was very close behind her.

She could see him from the corner of her vision, his head hovering infuriatingly close to her shoulder. Saying in all but words, “Caught you.”

Dodd stepped away and came face-to-face with the hugely smiling Agi.

“I suppose even demons should relax sometimes, each in their own way, but this is clearly overzealous,” he rattled off, “and anyway, why were you opening the Nightfall secret stash?” He gestured to the arcade machine. “Now, of all times!?”

“Who honestly cares about that?” said Dodd, keeping her voice mellow while inside she seared with indignation. “The machine was forsaken by Lord Nyx themself. Although I would prefer not to see it malfunction like this, it’s just demon tech.”

Agi squinted hard at her. “You have no idea what’s in demon tech, do you?”

Dodd put a finger to her mouth thoughtfully.

“This stash is yours, isn’t it?”

He could not tell a lie. Not to Lord Nyx’s servants, as per the contract. “Yes,” he said instantaneously. His face fell.

“Phew,” said Dodd, some faith in Nyx restored, all faith in Agi gone at last.

“AAH!” she yelled moments later as Agi split the arcade machine in two, one clawed hand on each half of the cabinet, tearing loud sparking wires like entrails.

The front half he let topple onto the ground, exposing nothing more than wriggling snake-wires and the ripped-up screen scroll. It was the back that held the real mystery. Dodd would have gulped with fear if only fire imps had saliva. Nonetheless, she peered cautiously inside.

It was exactly what one would imagine, if by “one” you mean a four-year-old child. Treadmills and hamster wheels fit for finger-sized individuals stood before comparatively towering batteries. Operating the equipment were finger-sized gremlins, burning bright as the noontime sun, their outlines a constant haze of quivering electricity. If their faces had been easier to see in the blur of their collective blazing light, Dodd and Agi would’ve observed stunned, wide-eyed faces.

Agi pounced in. With claws immersed in shadow, he abruptly swiped all the gremlins he could reach—killing those he met on contact. A handful screeched and fell to the floor in quivering heaps, soon to burst into hellsmoke. The rest jumped away. Just like sparks, the escapees seemed to dissolve in midair.

He’d cleaned out the cabinet. Still, just to make sure, he kept poking around the equipment, pushing batteries and dynamos apart like bushes, turning over punch cards.

Dodd glared. “What was the...why would you...”

“The malfunction wasn’t you,” said Agi, his disdain implying that in a just world it should’ve been. “It was the gremlins. Why Nyx was keeping live gremlins within castle walls, I have no idea. It was a liability from the start.”

“Well,” Dodd reasoned, “the, uh, electric gremlins that have been with us all this time, they must have been employees of the castle just as we are, contract and everything.”

“One would hope,” said Agi. “One would like to assume that every single gremlin in this device had suffered a binding ritual as strong as I had. But more likely they are like you: technically free to disobey. Making every one of them a potential double agent.”

Dodd was getting more irritated. “Not until just now. You just freed them!”

“On the contrary!” Agi happily explained. “A betrayal has already happened, as evidenced by that burning in an otherwise good machine. I have used reasonable logic to destroy a threat to our highness’s kingdom, and if I hadn’t—as per contract—I would be writhing in pain on the ground. Do you see me writhing on the ground?”

“No, Agi,” said Dodd.

“Would you like to start writhing on the ground?”

“You shouldn’t threaten the master’s coworkers,” she mumbled.

“I was merely asking a question. Now,” said Agi, pushing away the buckets and paint roller, “what say we defend this castle for real?”