Jeff paused for dramatic effect after delivering his ominous opening. After a second of silence, he finally continued, "The minute you walked into the woods, we knew you guys were different from most humans. It's hard to explain, but you had a different aura. Your life force was a slightly different structure. Also, those woods had a powerful human repellent enchantment. Any normal person would be physically and mentally unable to enter. You guys, for whatever reason, had no trouble. Slenderman was interested, so he sent us to investigate. We watched you do your little ritual. Which, by itself, would've been completely useless. I don't know what idiot came up with it, or where they came from in the first place, but rituals like that don't work. But really, where did you find that ritual?" He asked.

I shrugged, "I found it on DeviantART," I said.

Jeff nodded, "Ah, yes, DeviantART. The source of all evils," He said.

Sophia laughed, almost like the two somehow shared some kind of inside joke. Before I could even begin to wonder why or how this was possible, Jeff continued.

"Anyway, we came to see that you three, while resistant to our barrier, weren't immune to its negative effects on the human body. That especially applies to you, Sophia," He said.

She frowned, "Why me?" She asked.

"Because, while you can more easily detect supernatural presence, your weak point is resisting it. That's why you started acting strange. You unconsciously succumbed to the barrier's influence on your mind," He said.

"Wait, so she didn't get possessed by a demon?" I interrupted.

Jeff looked at me, then burst out laughing, "A demon?! Man, humans are even dumber than I thought. Kid, if even a low level demon tries to possess a human, their head will explode. Trust me, I've seen it. It's not pretty," he said.

"Really? Cool!" I said.

Sophia snorted, "No way, I don't believe you for a second."

"Really, it's true. Liquified brains are impossible to get out of a white hoodie," He said.

James finally found his voice, "How many of those have you gone through?" He asked.

"Let's see, E- Uh, BEN! How many people have I killed?" He asked, his expression seemingly flickering to sadness. It was so quick that I almost didn't notice. Sophia probably did. She also probably knew what "E" meant, and why it made Jeff so sad.

I snapped back to attention. I couldn't afford to space out here.

BEN rolled his eyes, ignoring Jeff's stutter, "If you replaced your hoodie every time you got blood on it, your alliance would've gone bankrupt a long time ago. But cleaning it every once in a while wouldn't kill you. Seriously Jeff, they're called washing machines," He said.

"Well, ExCUSE me if I'm not magic like Toby. Not everyone is able to keep their hoodie smelling like waffles and the forest. Little bastard," he added.

"U-um, thanks?" Toby said.

"You're welcome. What were we talking about again?" He asked.

"Demons Jeff, we were talking about demons," Sophia sighed.

"Right! About that, I have some news," He said, his expression became serious again.

"What is it?" Sophia asked, expression also darkening.

He took a deep breath, "After the woods, Slender ordered us to learn more about you guys. That's how we know where you live, where you keep your spare keys, where you all go to school, your date of birth, your blood types-" He rambled.

"We get it, Jeff, what's the news?" Sophia asked.

"It's relatively cold today, with partly cloudy skies-"
"JEFF!" Sophia screamed.

"Okay, okay, keep your hair on. You see, we also found out something about your ancestry that explained everything. You guys- You guys are the last remaining descendants of the lost demon race," He said.

A beat of silence dropped as we processed this information.

"What?" Sophia asked.

"How?" James asked.

"Cool!" I said.

Everyone in the room stared at me, "What? Do I have something on my face?" I asked, confused.

They all breathed a collective sigh and turned back to look at each other.

When Sophia managed to speak again, her voice was shaky, "Wh-what is the lost d-demon race?" She asked.

"A long time ago, before any other living creature existed, demons walked the earth. Back then, it was a lot harsher of a place. There were no plants, animals, or water yet. There was just fire, and rocks. While the demons existed, they created things like water, plants, and eventually animals. They were on the top of the food chain, every living creature obeyed their commands. They were the rulers of the planet for a few million years. Then, one day, they suddenly disappeared. No asteroid, no volcano, no nothing. They just were there one day and gone the next. Not even we know what happened to them. The only reason we know they exist is because our bosses are the descendants of their descendants, if you know what I mean. When we found traces of demon ancestry in your DNA, we figured you were related to an obscure modern race of demons. But when we looked further, we realized that the markers in your DNA, while similar, didn't match any known race of demon. I don't know how it's possible, but you guys are connected to a race that went extinct 3 and a half billion years ago," He finished.

"W-What does that mean for us? What the hell are we?!" Sophia demanded, sounding close to tears.

"If your power could be properly awakened, you have the potential to surpass Slenderman and even Zalgo in power. That's why we convinced Slenderman to not kill you. You could be the ones to destroy the evils of Zalgo and Slenderman once and for all," He said.

My head spun with the new information. There was too much of it coming at once, turning my excited attitude into pure confusion. How could we be descended from a race that went extinct a zillion years ago? That was like picking up a random lizard off the ground and saying that its Daddy was a T-rex. It just wasn't possible.

I meant to ask about all of that, but what came out of my mouth was, "How do we awaken our power?"

Jeff looked surprised, "That's… A fair question," he said.

Sophia started clapping, "Bravo, I didn't know you had it in you!" She said.

Instead of answering, I flipped her a rude gesture.

In response, she stuck her tongue out at me.

"Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for that. And even if we could figure out how, there's a pretty good chance that the strain might kill you," Jeff said.

"Why is everything trying to kill us lately? Seriously, it's getting annoying," Sophia said.

"Welcome to my world, sister," Jeff deadpanned.

I laughed, then felt guilty. All of this time I'd thought Jeff and the others lived in a mansion in the woods with Slenderman who was like a father figure. I thought that life sounded fun. Turns out, though it was still pretty awesome, their life wasn't all that great. Thinking back on it, I wondered what idiot came up with that idea in the first place.

"So, you were talking about us joining your alliance," James began, "How do we do that? Is there some kind of application, or-"

"Right, right, I almost forgot," Jeff cut him off, "I wish it was that easy. You see, we have a sort of initiation process-"

"I don't like where this is going," James interrupted.

"We call it Operation Cat and Mouse," He continued, ignoring James' outburst.

"I really don't like where this is going," James said again.

Sophia glared at him in exasperation, "Shut up!"

He shut up.

"Anyway, to give a brief synopsis, it's basically a ritual to prove yourselves worthy to work for Slenderman. You have to spend five nights in the woods while we try to chase and kill you," He explained.

"Why?" I asked, confused.

"Because, if you don't, you'll die," Jeff said.

"So we essentially have to choose between certain death or almost certain, maybe not quite death?" Sophia asked.

"So, we die either way?" James asked.

"Well, everyone dies eventually. But if you do what we say, you might die at the reasonable age of thirty," Jeff said.

"Man I would've killed to make it to thirty," Ben said wistfully.

"I don't personally expect to live past twenty," Toby said.

"I should've died a long time ago from the infection in my mouth wound, or my eyelids, or my many untreated burn wounds," Jeff continued, "Thinking back, my story wasn't the most logical thing in the world," Jeff finished.

"Alright, this is getting way too meta for my liking," Sophia said, "You were talking about a ritual, Jeff?"

"Ah yes, right. So, you have to pack all of your supplies tonight, because in the morning you'll be teleported into the woods. From there, you have to run from an unseen opponent, who in this case is one of us, and collect notes before sunrise. During the day, you sleep, at night you run, and by the end of the five nights you get initiated into our alliance," He explained.

"That… Sounds like a whole lotta nope right there," I said, starting to get a bad feeling about this.

"Yikes, if TJ's getting a bad feeling about this, then you know it's bad. Are you guys sure you want to go through with this?" Sophia asked, sharing a concerned glance with me.

There was a silence as we thought about it, but to our surprise, James broke the silence, "Guys, I don't like this any more than you do, but it doesn't seem like we have much of a choice. We're in too deep now, we have to see this thing through to the end," He said.

Sophia sighed, "Hate to admit it, but he's right. We started this, we have to finish it."

I nodded, "Okay, so what's the game plan?"