Series: SLAY: Book 2
By Kim Curran
The prettiest girl in the world
“Don’t let her get away!”
Neon lights flashed and pachinko machines rang as Slay raced past game arcades and dive bars, closing in on their prey. They’d left the bright lights and bustle of Shinjuku at the last turn and were now weaving their way deeper into the dark heart of Tokyo. Milly was loving every second of it. The twins, Zek and Niv, were behind her, swords sheathed but ready. She heard a thump from above and glanced up to see Connor jump across the small gap between the rooftops, his sai blades glinting in the moonlight. Up ahead, taking the lead, was JD. All of them were dressed in black combats and half-masks, disguising their identities. Milly’s mask was grey, with the jagged mouth of a shark painted on one side. The whole disguise not only hid her identity, but her gender too. When she’d agreed to join Slay, the world’s hottest boy band, there had been one small problem: she wasn’t a boy. However, thanks to clever styling and a tight-fitting sports bra, Milly had become Milo – Slay’s shy new pianist.
As soon as she’d pulled on the heavy black boots, picked up the compound bow and slipped a quiver of arrows over her back, she’d felt a change. Not just in how she felt but in how the others treated her. They were still protective of her, but only as much as they would be of any of the other boys. They still looked out for Milly, but now they also expected her to look out for them.
“Take the next left.” Tom’s soft voice came over the headsets. Tom had been Slay’s pianist, but after a terrible incident in Mexico he’d needed to take some time out – from performing and hunting. So now, he was back at base, guiding them every step of the way. “Left, now.”
JD skidded mid-run and slammed into a wall on his left, bouncing off it and vanishing down the alley. “A little more notice next time, Tom,” he panted.
Milly heard Tom chuckle over the line. “Keeping you on your toes, JD.”
She followed JD around the corner and came face-to-face with a three-metre-high brick wall. It was covered in graffiti of a panda with flames coming from its eyes.
“Bu—?” she managed to say before JD jumped, zigzagging from one corner of the wall to the next, grabbing hold of the top and vaulting over. Niv and Zek streaked past her. Niv crouched down and boosted his brother up and over, then leaped as Zek grabbed his hand and pulled him up in one fluid, practised move. Connor skipped over from the rooftops, putting in an unnecessary but undeniably cool flip as he too disappeared behind the wall.
That just left Milly.
“Come on, Mills, you got this,” Tom said in her earpiece, gentle and encouraging.
This was exactly the kind of thing she’d been training for over the last month. Scan the environment, find your advantage. She spotted her way over. “The wires!” she said.
“That’s my girl,” Tom said. “I mean, not my girl. I meant, like, the girl.”
She heard Zek chuckle at Tom over the headsets. “Smooth, Wills. Smooth.”
Milly smiled under her half-mask and rubbed her hands against the rough material of her combats. She jumped and grabbed the bundle of wires running from satellite dishes and air-conditioning units, placing her feet either side, and scooted her way up till she was level with the top of wall. She placed her weight on her left side and swung, grabbing the top of the wall and pulling herself up. Her muscles strained, and she knew she’d feel it in the morning, but for now, the adrenaline of the chase was blocking out any pain. She paused at the top of the wall to take a steadying breath, then jumped. As soon as she hit the ground, she dropped into a forward roll, protecting her ankles, and she was up again and on her feet. She glanced back at the wall and grinned. She’d made it over. And without falling too far behind. JD and the others were just up ahead. She put on a burst of speed and caught up with them.
“Wait,” Tom said.
Milly crashed into Zek’s back, and they all came to a sudden halt.
“You should be right on top of her.”
“There’s nothing here,” JD said, drawing his sword.
“Unless she’s transformed into that freaking enormous rat,” Zek said, pointing at a beady-eyed creature scuttling behind a bin. “In which case, I am very much out of here.”
“The tracker shows her right there in front of you.”
Slay had come to Japan nearly a month ago, under the pretence of a publicity tour that would help them break into the country. But the real reason they’d come had nothing to do with sales figures or juicy deals, and everything to do with a nasty demon that had been terrorizing Tokyo. Gail, the band’s manager – a tall, elegant woman who was just as fierce with contracts as she was demon-hunting – had got a call from a Japanese friend asking for help. And just like always, Slay went wherever they were needed.
They’d spent their first weeks in Japan researching: poring over old books, hacking police records, interviewing witnesses, finding out everything they could about the demon. How to track it, how to take it down. And while Milly believed Gail and the others when they said this was all a part of the job, she also wondered if it hadn’t also been about giving Milly time to train.
And train she had. Every day, for seven hours a day, she’d practised fighting, evading, shooting with her bow. The rest of the hours had been spent sleeping, eating and learning how to play all Slay’s hit songs on the piano.
Then tonight, in the middle of Connor showing Milly how to do a one-handed chin-up, an alarm had gone off. One of Niv’s rooftop traps had been triggered – the demon had been found.
Gail had winked at Milly, her one good eye flashing as brightly as her diamond-encrusted eyepatch, and said it – the phrase Milly had been desperate to hear for weeks. “Playtime is over, boys. It’s slay time.”
And now here she was, standing in a dark alleyway, her heart pounding, hunting demons with four boys who just so happened to be the biggest pop stars in the world.
“We’re not seeing anything, Tom,” Milly said, agreeing with the others. Apart from vermin, the alley was empty. Maybe the tracker had stopped working. “Unless…”
As one, JD and Milly looked up.
Milly just had time to see a cape of black hair and a swirling yellow trench coat as the demon leaped down at them. She reached for an arrow from the quiver on her back, but wasn’t fast enough. The demon landed on top of Milly, knocking her to the floor and straddling her. Its face, partially obscured by a surgical mask, pressed itself into Milly’s.
“Am I pretty?” A high, scratching voice hissed through the mask, making Milly think of nails on bones.
“I…” What Milly could see of the demon’s face was pretty. Beautiful even. She opened her mouth to answer, then she saw JD standing over them. His sword flashed, slicing across the demon’s back. It screeched and spun to its feet, disappearing in a swirl of yellow coat and dark hair, flying away as if carried on the wind.
JD reached out a hand and pulled Milly to her feet, before giving her a sturdy push forward. Back into the fight.
“Milly!” Tom gasped. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, willing her legs to keep pumping as she ran.
“Are you sure? You don’t have to—”
“She’s fine,” JD said. “Stay focused.”
Milly couldn’t help but smile at JD defending her. She knew she’d just nearly messed up, but as JD had told her before: we all make mistakes. The important thing was not to make the same mistake twice. And there was no way Milly was going to. She pulled out an arrow and lay it across the string of her bow. That demon wasn’t going to get a second chance.
“There!” Connor pointed overhead.
A shadow passed over the large Tokyo moon. Milly levelled the bow, drew back the string, took aim and let her arrow fly. This demon was known as Kuchisake-onna – the slit-mouthed woman. A demon of legend who had been summoned by a man stupid enough to think he could control her. After dispatching him, the demon had begun stalking the backstreets of Tokyo – approaching people in dark alleys, her face covered by a surgical mask, to ask them a simple question: Am I pretty? If they said no, she would kill them. If they said yes, she would lift her mask to reveal her beautiful face, which had been sliced from the corners of her mouth to her ears, then give her victim the same, gruesome smile. The only way to survive unscathed was not to answer.
The demon woman looked back over her shoulder as she flew through the air, black eyes widening as Milly’s arrow headed straight for her forehead. With a soft thunk, it embedded itself between two delicate eyebrows.
“Am I pretty?” the demon said, for the last time, before falling to the floor with a heavy, wet thud.
They all raced to the landing spot. Connor hooked up a shred of what had been the demon’s bright yellow trench coat with the tip of his sai. A white surgical mask rolled out onto the floor. Both were covered in thick, black blood.
“Must have possessed that body for centuries,” Connor said, “to disintegrate like that.”
“Urgh,” Zek said, stepping away from the growing pool of black ooze. “My boots.”
“At least we won’t have to bag-and-frag the body,” JD said.
Milly smiled. She’d done it. She’d taken down her first black-eyed scumbag. She looked from boy to boy, drinking in their approval. Connor gave her a high five that shook her bones, Zek winked and gave her a smile and Niv held up two thumbs.
There were no smiles or high fives from JD. Just a cool look of admiration. “Good shot,” he said.
“Did you get her?” Tom’s tense voice came over the headsets. Milly could imagine him back at the base, his cup of green tea gone cold as he fretted about them all.
“Milly did!” Connor said.
“Milly!” Tom said. “Have I told you just how amazing you are?”
Zek rolled his eyes. “Oh, maybe once.”
“Or twice,” Connor added.
Niv slashed his thumb through the air, the sign for a thousand.
“Shut up, all of you,” Milly said, but she was glad her mask hid her grin. Suddenly she was itching to get back
to base. To pull her mask and goggles off and see Tom. But they had more business tonight.
“We’d better shift,” JD said. “We have to be on air in thirty minutes.”
Demon-slaying done. Now it was time to step back into the spotlight.
You have 0 of these in your Basket.
SLAY are BACK...and this time they're headed to Tokyo to track down another hellraising demon. When they're invited on tour with a super-cool band of holographic girls, SLAY find themselves whisked off around Japan - until strange things start happening on their tour train. Suddenly it seems it's not just SLAY's fans following their every move...
Kim Curran is an author and creative director based in London. Specializing in youth marketing she’s worked on some of the world’s largest brands and charities, from EA to UNICEF.