Chapter 7


It was the inhuman shrieking from the backroom that made Alan finally admit that Quinn was right and that some danger was coming to Solace. He had ignored the increased chiming of the soul bottles--he couldn’t understand them anyway and Quinn wasn’t about to explain.

The idea that Quinn could sense something he couldn’t irked him. After all, he was the one who had taught Quinn all the tricks he knew, and even if the demon had extrasensory powers unique to his species, Alan had still been alive longer and had more experience. So he had put Quinn’s warning out of his mind, partly out of irritation and partly because it was easier on his psyche to be convinced that there was nothing to worry about.

The shrieking shattered that illusion. Rabbit, who had come to discuss something-or-other that the Oracle had told him, nearly fell off of his stool at the counter. Alan was on his feet in an instant and burst through the curtain into the backroom in time to see Quinn collapse on the floor. As he hesitated, Rabbit joined him and the two stood frozen and staring for several moments.

A long-fingered hand was clawing its way out of a rent in Quinn’s chest, prying the hole wider so that a broad-shouldered, many-limbed figure could force its way out. There was no blood, just a thick accompanying darkness that pooled out around the new creature like smoke. It stood, taller than Quinn, and stretched wings, tentacles, tails out to their fullest extent before turning his eyes toward the two humans in the doorway.

Alan didn’t know how to react at first. He had never claimed to be an expert on the physiognomy of demons; for all he knew, Quinn was like a reptile and had just shed his old skin. Maybe this new, terrifying creature was Quinn and the body on the floor was just a husk. He took a step forward only to be jerked back by Rabbit, whose hand was clamped around his arm tightly enough to leave bruises.

The demon licked its lips with a long, thick tongue and made a noise like purring in its throat.

“Delicious. Unfiltered fear is delicious. I could get used to this.”

This couldn’t be Quinn. Its voice was an affront to nature. To hear that voice forming human syllables sent Alan’s mind reeling on the edge of a madness he strove very hard to control. Rabbit’s vice-like grip on his arm helped to anchor him.

The creature stooped, wrapped a long-fingered hand around Quinn’s throat, and hefted him up like a rag doll. The sight of his son hanging limp and lifeless made Alan move forward again, but again Rabbit yanked him back.

Then the creature burst into flames, and Alan watched as Quinn’s eyes opened to slits. Alan felt a brief burst of pride before the flames turned an eerie shade of blue and the thing laughed.

“I believe I’ve explained to you that I have more than enough power to deal with you,” it said, the tentacles on its back lashing in amusement. “However, I have more interesting things planned. Join me, blood of my blood.”

Quinn’s eyes opened wider and his mouth twisted in a smirk that showed his fangs. His answer was to burst into flames himself, and while Alan wouldn’t have given his son marks for originality, he was proud of his determination. The flames were an obvious ploy to startle the creature into dropping him, and in apparent defiance of this it held onto him for a moment more before tossing him aside.

Rabbit hissed through his teeth. Alan felt the same way; the strength necessary to send a body the size of Quinn’s flying was formidable. They were in a bad situation, and as many techniques as he had for getting out of bad situations, he was aware that this opponent was out of his league.

There was a thud, and he took his eyes off of the creature to see that Quinn had twisted in the air so that he hit the wall on all fours. Alan winced as his clawed hands and feet sank into the plaster--that would be a pain in the ass to repair. Quinn seemed to hang suspended for a moment, then he coiled his muscles and sprang away from the wall, gouging out even bigger holes in the plaster. He landed in front of Alan and Rabbit, crouched in a protective stance with his back arched like a cat’s and his tail lashing behind him.

“You can’t stop us, Quinn,” the thing said, beefy arms crossed over its chest. “Do you really want to be counted among our enemies?”

Alan looked at his son, putting things together in his mind; Quinn’s bad dreams, his warning that something was coming, the fact that this thing knew his name. It all pointed to the same conclusion, but in his shock Alan couldn’t quite keep up.

“I’ll protect what’s mine,” Quinn said, snarling. “Everything else can rot.”

“So you claim these two?”

Quinn’s tail snapped like a whip, and it occurred to Alan for perhaps the first time that what had seemed like a pointless appendage was probably in fact rather deadly.

“I do,” Quinn said. “You can have the rest.”

Alan assumed by “the rest” Quinn meant the rest of the humans in Solace. He knew he should care about that, but he was too busy being stunned and pleased at his own apparent safety to feel much compassion.

“If they wander and die, we won’t be blamed,” the thing said, dark eyes pinning Alan and Rabbit in place.

Quinn seemed to relax at the admission, but his tail continued to thrash. “I’ve played my part. Go now.”

The thing smiled, showing rows of teeth like razors, and made its way toward the doorway. It had to duck and draw in its appendages to get through, and Alan had the distinct impression that if it wanted to, it could just plow through the wall with no effort whatsoever. The fact that it didn’t was more a sardonic gesture than one of self-control.

“Well done, Quinn,” it said over his shoulder and then disappeared through the shop and out onto the street.

The three of them stood in silence for several moments. Rabbit finally pried his fingers off of Alan’s arm and followed the thing silently, locking the door behind it, pulling the dark drapes closed and shutting off the lights in the front of the store. It was a meaningless procedure under the circumstances, but it gave Rabbit something to occupy him for the moment and Alan knew from experience that an occupied Rabbit was better than a Rabbit in the midst of a panic attack, dry heaving and shaking on the floor.

He turned to look at Quinn. The demon was looking elsewhere, but his ears twitched in the direction of the street, as though listening for a hint of betrayal.

“...Quinn?” Alan asked after a moment. “You okay?”

Quinn uncoiled himself, standing upright, and shrugged.

“Okay, daddy’s freaking out,” Alan said, reminding his son unnecessarily of the different emotional responses they had. Quinn needed no reminders; he could sense Alan’s fear. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”

It was a moment before Quinn answered. He stood still with his head cocked in contemplation. At length he said, “My existence thins the walls between worlds.”

“And that thing just used you as a portal to get to this one?”

Quinn nodded and looked at him as Rabbit rejoined them. Alan was caught between being impressed and terrified. He had known of the existence of demons other than his son, but he had never given any thought to the relationship between them and Quinn. There was apparently a lot about his son that he still didn’t know.

“It’s just the one, right?” Alan pressed. “Nothing else is going to pop out of you, right?”

Quinn shook his head. “He’s the only one with a connection to me. He must have another way.”

“So he’s going to try to bring more of them here?”

“I don’t think he’s going to try.” Quinn bared his teeth, but his tail had relaxed. Only the tip twitched lazily on the floor.

Alan felt the blood drain from his face. “How many?”

Quinn shrugged, his muscles rippling under his skin. Alan marveled; as strong as he knew Quinn was, those other things were much stronger, if the one they had just met was any indication.

“A lot,” Quinn said. “Not all like him, but they are many.”

“Right.” Alan ran his hands through his hair, gathering himself. “Right, let’s pack up.”

Quinn shook his head. “It’s too late. We have to wait them out.”

“How do we wait those things out?” Alan demanded. “I mean, fuck Quinn, I thought you were huge and terrifying but holy shit, that thing practically defies the laws of physics.”

“They’ll be calm after a few days,” Quinn said.

Alan nodded and turned to Rabbit, who was listening to them in silence. “Guess you’re sleeping over. Even you aren’t crazy enough to think you’re leaving now.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Rabbit said without much force. “I just hope you have enough food.”

“Like you have to eat anyway.” Alan turned away, watching as Quinn paced back to the shelves that stored his soul bottles. They had been silent for some time, but a few were beginning to show signs of activity again. “So big ugly is your dad, huh, Quinn?”

“He calls himself that,” Quinn said. He settled down on his haunches in front of the shelves.

“Is he?” Alan followed Quinn over to the shelves and stood beside him. He could be close to the bottles as long as they were quiet.

“Not in a biological sense.” Quinn tapped at one of the bottles with a clawed finger, as though trying to wake it up. “He thinks of me as the next generation. You don’t need to worry.”

Alan snaked his fingers through Quinn’s hair, petting him. Now that their safety was more or less ensured, he was able to feel relieved; he had thought that thing was killing his son.

“I’m here,” Quinn added, his voice quiet as he cocked his ears to listen.

Alan was glad.