Gray Line, part 4
“They’re scum. Maybe they’re some decent ones in it, but most of them just use their position to get what they can. Some of us think they become corrupt from dealing with demons so much.” Dianna watched Quinn’s face with an almost hungry intentness. “Would you have shot him? Would you have shot me for bringing him to you?”
"Yes." She hesitated, "To shooting him. Funny when he came into the station with his partner we assumed they were FBI, they never once corrected us they were not." She probably would have shot Dianna too, if she was capable of killing her husband, she figured she was capable of shooting anyone.
“So you would have shot him, just for finding you here?” Dianna’s eyes glittered a little in the light as she reached two steps below Quinn, close enough that she could feel the woman’s emotions. “How dark of you, Detective. What else are you capable of?”
"I never said I'd kill him, Theron. Just shoot him." She gave a ghost of a smile. "You know what they say about cops and criminals? It’s merely a uniform that makes the difference. Now come up here and play crutch so I can go lay down. My knee is killing me.”
For a long moment, the half-demon stared at her, lips twisting in a small smile. Unlike her own, Quinn’s hair was naturally red, she’d found that out the night before. It fit the energetic woman, as did her blue eyes and obvious Irish heritage. All that was missing was an Irish accent and Quinn could easily have come straight over from the isles.
“You’re too honorable to be a criminal, Detective.” Dianna stepped up, sliding a hand around the human’s waist to hold her upright. Her body was warm beneath the sheet but at least it didn’t feel feverish anymore. “Why do you dislike my bar?”
She slumped against Dianna not willing to admit to the pain. "I don't dislike your bar and I don't like it either." Kind of how she felt about Dianna, although if the woman kept acting like this things might change, and the detective wasn't comfortable with that. "I think you're the first person to see me naked and not ask about the marks." Honestly Dianna was the only other person than the nurses and doctors to see her naked since it happened.
“What’s to ask?” Dianna shrugged, uncomfortable with the entire subject for reasons she did not want Quinn to know. “Your husband was fucking a demon.” She was deliberately vulgar as she helped Quinn toward the room. “You sent the demon back to hell for what they did.” Best not to mention the son at all though; she wanted Quinn off-balance, not shooting her.
Quinn sighed. "You have such a way with words. His name was Thomas, we worked together, my father hated him, said he would never be good enough for me. He was a good man until in a shootout, a window next to his head was blown out. Glass got in his eyes and after that he was a desk jockey. That's when he changed." There was no emotion, just facts, again why she loved them. She didn't say any more, everyone knew how it ended, just not how it started. "I had people come up to me and want me to lay hands on them. They thought I was blessed. A single human to slay a beast from hell. Now you and I know that demoness wasn't killed, just sidetracked back to hell, but people would call me a warrior of God, or some other nonsense. Now, now I'm tainted." She gave a bitter smile.
Someday she'd be dead, she had no illusions if that demoness ever got back into the earthly realm that she'd come rip off her head and then piss down her neck stump.
She sighed in relief as Dianna helped her back onto the bed. "Do you have an icepack? Or a witch doctor?" She meant it as a joke but it showed how much pain she was in.
“Icepack yes, witch doctor no, although I could probably find you a healer of some type.” Dianna pulled some blankets up over the detective and went back downstairs for the ice, wondering who she knew that could heal that knee without charging Quinn for more than she had.
Trading her soul for healing the knee wasn’t really worth it, for example.
“Here.” The half-demon slid on to what was becoming her usual spot on the bedside and offered Quinn the ice pack from the freezer downstairs. She could feel the pain radiating off the other woman and however good it felt, Dianna didn’t think Quinn liked it. Judging by the grayness around her eyes and pale lips, she really didn’t like it.
“I could take the pain away.” Dianna found herself whispering, eyes hooded as she watched Quinn.
Quinn put the ice on her knee and then looked at Dianna. "Pain is part of being human. We don't heal with demonic healing or have demonic strength; we just keep pushing through the pain and somehow it makes us stronger." She only remembered the one time Dianna had taken the pain away, not both.
"What will it cost me to have that part of you help me?" She asked a knowing look on her face.
“There is always a price.” Dianna smile was slow and sensuous. “I’d feel your feelings more directly, it would be a bond between us.” She glanced down at the swollen and ugly-looking knee. “As always, it’s your choice.”
"Di . . . Theron. Why would you want a bond between us? You don't like me." For that matter why would she want a bond? She was mildly upset with the slip; she called Theron by her last name for a reason. She was already demon marked, but she wasn't certain another one was worth it just to have the pain taken away from her knee.
“Then aspirin it is.” The half-demon opened her palm, revealing the small white pills she’d brought up from downstairs with the ice. “I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t tempt you on occasion.” She smiled, offering them to Quinn.
Quinn couldn't help it, she actually laughed. She took the aspirin and leaned forward kissing Dianna's cheek with a chuckle. "We all have our burdens to bear in life, now go get a pen and paper." She quickly swallowed the pills.
“My burden is to be your secretary?” An eyebrow arched but Dianna leaned over, pulling pen and paper from the drawer in her night table. She sat back upright with a smile, having almost caught Quinn watching her ass as she bent over.
Quinn just quirked an eyebrow then started listing off things she would need. "I need clothes, a knee brace, probably a cane if not a new knee, a gun, bullets for said gun, and untraceable cell phone or at least a couple of disposable ones. Can you manage that?”
“Your service revolver is over there, do you need a second gun?” Dianna sniffed, ignoring the implication that she couldn’t manage to get the things that the human wanted. It was vaguely insulting.
"Yes, one that isn't linked to a police officer. Also, he knows Lauren and I are here or you would have had to fuck him to prevent him from coming in for a full look. You're an unknown, well and Lauren's ability to do that thing she does. He came in and found he couldn't handle you on his own. Lauren and I should go somewhere else before they come back." She hesitated. "Maybe you too. Could you say the bar is closed for a remodel?" It wouldn't be a lie.
Insult became outrage. “You want me to close down the bar?” She glared at Quinn. “I can’t just shut down the bar until it looks safe again. I have obligations.”
"Right. Sorry, I caught myself caring about your safety, forget I mentioned anything. Temporary insanity." Quinn said not even fazed by the outburst.
Which earned Quinn a sharp look from the bright-red haired woman. “Do you have a safe place you can take Lauren?” She still wasn’t sure where would be safe for the younger woman.
Quinn sighed. "Probably not." She should go, that would be less dead weight on Dianna, the half-demon wouldn't have to worry about taking care of both her and Lauren. Plus sooner or later she would wear out whatever goodwill the woman seemed to be feeling for her. "I could call my Da or my Grandda." There was a slight accent that came out with the pronouncing of those two words.
Dianna shook her head. “Best not to get family involved if you don’t want the D.A. people going after them too.” She grimaced. “I was telling Lauren that the Gray is really quiet about what happened with the demon attacking you, unusually quiet. I could try to find out more, someone out there knows what’s going on.”
"When it's quiet, doesn't it mean more dangerous?"
“Always.” Dianna rose up off the bed. “I know it’s not even noon yet, but you’re going to feel sleepy in a few minutes. I’ll bring you some food later.” Two of the pills she’d given Quinn had been aspirin, the third had not.
Quinn's face morphed into a scowl. "Dianna, what did you give me?" The sharp tone was cut off by a yawn.
“Nothing very illegal.” The grin widened into a smile and Dianna pulled the blankets up over the yawning human. “Sleepy time.”
"Nothing very . . . when I'm better . . ." She gave a large yawn and shook her head. "I'm going to shove my foot up your ass." She grumbled even as her eyes slid shut.
The demoness sat in the alter room, mediating. If one wanted to move into the earthly plain and take it over, it had to be done quietly, slowly, and without tipping the balances. She was nothing if not patient, so every night when the moon rose, she opened the portal and absorbed a little more of her power, six more months and she smiled. If a mortal had seen that smile, they would have fallen into gibbering madness.
The room was stone and metal, sleek darkness with only the faint light of the moon shining in, and everything was coated in the smell of blood. A faint drip as blood from tonight's sacrifice flowed from the slashing cuts down rendered flesh and on to the floor from the altar. She breathed out and in, absorbing more power from the small crack between this world and hers.
Were they nothing but cursed and tormented souls that had once been human. She didn't care. If they had been she didn't see that it mattered, it just meant they had been horrible humans not fit to mingle with the human race anyways. Besides, she'd never seen an angel despite what religion said.
She sighed and closed the crack, aware of a presence behind her. "Yes."
It was an anthropomorphic blob that oozed hesitantly into the room. It had dark hollows where its eyes should be and a slit where a mouth should be. It had formed an arm that held a folder. "Our pet has come across this information and brought it to our attention."
She didn't look at the minion, that would be beneath her. She merely held out a hand, and the creature delicately set the folder in her blood-smeared fingers.
She flipped through it, smiling as she came to a photo of Quinn. "Very resilient, isn't Ms. Quinn." Was her only comment. She frowned though as she looked at Dianna and Lauren. "Three? Three women. Fate do you think?"
The blob said nothing, knowing better.
"Three is not a good number; three is an unlucky number for demons."
"Um, the report says that Detective Quinn is assumed dead in a demon attack."
"Really, assumed is not confirmed." She hissed out eyes blazing like a forest fire. "Do you think the good detective would die so easily, if she already survived to send me to hell once?"
The Blob now sorely wished it had kept its mouth shut.
"I would know if Quinn was dead. I've marked her, her soul is mine when she dies just like yours was. I want her brought to me, alive; I have a special torture for her."
No, she could not have Maggie Quinn running around; Quinn would have to be brought to heel, like her husband had been.
"Leave me." She said quietly and went back to her meditation.
Lauren came down the stairs looking irritated as Dianna exited her rooms. "Why did your office just lock me inside of it for the better part of an hour?" She asked unhappily. That had been just a little on the scary side, but not as bad as other things that had happened,
It was, Dianna thought with a wince, going to be one of those days.
“Would you believe that things like that happen around here and just let it be at that?”
Lauren's eyes narrowed, but then she relaxed. "It wouldn't surprise me; my life has gotten really weird lately. I'll let it go for now, but if it happens more than three times you owe me an explanation. So what happened?" Something had to have happened.
The bar owner opened her mouth to try to explain and then paused, glancing at her wristwatch. “Listen, I’ll explain it to you, but you’ll have to help me do inventory so I know what we need to order tomorrow.”
"Okay. You should probably put a new window at the top of that list." Lauren said with a smile as she started down the stairs.
“My, my.” Dianna grinned following down the stairs after her. “Was that an actual smile? I think that’s the first I’ve seen out of you.”
Lauren blushed because she couldn't help it. "Maybe. How is your 'not friend', Quinn?" She'd given up on using the officer's first name because that was apparently not how she was called.
“Grumpy, in pain and I have to find a healer so that she can walk. She isn’t saying it, but I’m pretty sure she tore something in her knee, some ligament or whatever.” Dianna shrugged, leading the way out into the bar and the storage room where the kegs and bottles were kept. She handed over a clipboard to Lauren and started sorting things.
“How much do you know about the Demon Affairs agency?”
“Not much, just, you know whatever one learns in school. They were founded shortly after the Revolutionary War, where we fought to have sovereignty from the Church States of Europe. It was created to give the US population an agency that was not under the power of the church to combat demons. Plus they did checks on half-demons, but I think the half-demon thing has mostly fallen to local police.”
Dianna gave her an amused look. “Really.” She bent back over, counting kegs of beer. It would be a bad night if they ran out of the local microbrew. “They have full, and I mean complete, authorization to deal with any demon however they want. That includes half-demons or people who have… demonic tendencies.” She glanced at Lauren again. “One of their agents showed up looking for Quinn.”
"Maybe they could help against . . ." Against what she didn't really know. "We haven't done anything wrong. Not really . . . and . . ." She interpreted the look Dianna was giving her. "They're not going to be on our side are they?”
“Who do you think set Quinn up as a cop killer?” Dianna straightened. “Mark down five kegs of the pale beer and seven of the amber. I only have two Guinness left; we’ll have to get more of that.”
"Oh." Lauren said as she wrote down the numbers. "So what are we going to do? We are going to help her right?" Even though she realized it would be better and easier just to have Dianna turn the cop over to D.A.
“We should just turn her over.” Dianna cocked a hip up against a barrel, curious to see Lauren’s response. “It would buy you time to escape; somewhere they might not find you.”
"We should. It does seem like the easiest action, but then I’d still be running and nothing would be resolved. With Quinn, she at least knows how they think and how they do things. I think it's better to keep her around. But I know you two aren't friends." Which she thought odd because Dianna had put the officer in her bed.
“No, we aren’t.” Dianna said, as she again turned to continue inventory. “Tonight you and I are going out. We need to find a healer if she’s going to stay with us. Time for you to get used to moving through the Gray.”
Lauren swallowed. "The Gray?" She said nervously. All those demons and headaches and the seductive pull of it. "Sounds like fun." She finished bravely.
The half-demon snorted. “No, it’s not fun at all, but you have to learn to deal with it or you’ll be addicted to those little black vials forever. We won’t go into the heart of it; neither of us wants to go there.”
Dianna was once again perched on the edge of the chair in her own room, watching Quinn sleep. The human had been out of it for far longer than she'd expected, maybe she shouldn't have given her the entire pill. Next time maybe she'd try half.
"Quinn?" The bright red haired woman leaned closer, trying to wake the cop without touching her. "Quinn, you have to wake up."
Quinn groaned and rolled away from the annoying voice. The move only jarred her knee and she gave a cry of pain her eyes flying open. "Fuck." She hissed out.
Dianna's nostrils flared at the flash of pain and she reached out, lifting the sheet to peer at the woman's knee, if anything it was even more swollen and definitely an uglier color than before. "I had to wake you up." The half-breed offered as an apology.
"Make up your mind, Dianna." She snapped back. "First you drug, me now you want me awake."
"It's almost dark out." A flick of her wrist and the wheeled chamber flicked back into the old-fashioned service revolver, silently she laid it onto the nightstand next to Quinn's head. "You need to be awake while we're gone."
"Where are you going?" Quinn asked relieved once the gun had been set down.
"Into the Gray." The woman was dressed in tight-fitting leather, all black and high-heeled boots. "Aspirin and water are next to the bed."
"Just aspirin this time?" She said deliberately not looking at Dianna.
The bar owner chuckled. "Yes. Just aspirin. You needed the rest. Besides, how else would I have my way with you?"
Quinn rolled her eyes. "The truth to your sexual prowess comes out."
"My natural charms are enough for everyone but you, Detective." Dianna stood up, picking up her favorite leather coat from the back of the chair. It might have been too much leather, but sending a message was important in the Gray. If they were lucky, nothing would bother them.
"How much time should I give you before I start to worry you've mucked it up?" Quinn asked, teasing.
"You just want an excuse to tell me I made a mistake." Dianna leaned down over the cop, well aware that the tight leather showed off a good deal. "We'll be back." She smiled. "And then you're really going to owe me for the present we're going to bring."
Quinn groaned. The last thing she wanted was to owe anybody anything. "I didn't ask for a present, Theron."
"You want to go to the hospital?"
"Now would not be a good time for me to go to the hospital."
"Then you'll owe me." Dianna stood up; it was time to put distance between them. She could feel the pain throbbing in that knee. "We aren't back by tomorrow morning, Helga will find you."
"And what am I going to owe you, Theron?" It was unsettling and exciting, not that she would admit that to the half-demon.
The half-demon just grinned.
"Maybe in your dreams. Now get out of here. I'll be fine, but don't die on me." She didn't need anyone else to die on her.
"Shoot anything that isn't us and you should be fine." Dianna called over her shoulder, only half-joking as she left her room.
Hurrying down the stairs she called out. "Lauren, you ready?"
"Yep." The younger woman said from the kitchen where she was working on the crossword.
"Are you done not being friendly with the cop?" Lauren hadn't failed to notice, for not liking Quinn; Dianna spent a lot of time watching the cop sleep.
Pale eyes narrowed. "Implying something there?"
"No. No implying." Lauren said looking up from the paper.
"You saying something then?" Dianna stalked toward her.
"Yes, words were stated. That for someone you proclaim not to like you spend a lot of time looking after her."
"For someone who was a wall flower, you certainly seem to have a lot of opinions now." Dianna crossed her arms, looking down at the human, eyes amused.
"You're rubbing off on me." She said with a grin.
She was not dressed anywhere as intimidatingly as Dianna. She wore jeans, a T-shirt and a jacket. A college kid was what she looked like. "I feel under dressed."
"You should be scared." Dianna grinned back. "You don't need to look well dressed. You'll be with me."
"Of course, silly me." She grinned and stepped back from the counter. "I guess we're leaving?"
"Yup." She picked up the sawed-off shotgun, hanging it from the also illegal holster under the leather coat. "Time to go raise hell." She smiled. "Or at least wake it up a little."
"That was truly cheesy." Lauren said following behind Dianna. "So do I get a weapon?"
"You are a weapon." Dianna glanced over at her, teeth flashing in the darkness. "I rather like my one-liners." The back door was closed and locked behind them and they started out down the alley, heading deeper into the area known as the Gray Zone.
Lauren tensed as it slid over her, a headache blooming like a flower in the back of her skull. She swallowed and then took a deep breath and let it out. "I imagine this is what a siren's song feels like to sailors."
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Dianna shivered a little, it having nothing to do with the damp night air around them. "Can you feel the despair?"
"No, I feel all the demons. Every one of them, I feel an itch in my palms to snap their necks and burst their eyes under my thumbs. Too many living in a small patch of Gray."
"Huh." Dianna shrugged. "All right, not what I feel but we can work with that. Time for you to stop reacting to everything around you. You're going to be good and just follow me, and not kill anything unless it tries to kill us. Good?"
"Okay." Lauren's eyes were black but other than that she was holding it together. "I will do my best not to kill anything that doesn't attack us."
"No, not your best. You don't kill anything unless it attacks you. You break those rules and we're going to attract attention, which we do not want." Dianna shivered again, settling the jacket around her.
"Okay, okay." Lauren said sullenly, really wanting a kill.
They weren't alone, although the streets were quite dark. There were no functioning light posts here, no electricity for most of the buildings and no running water. This was the part of the city that humanity willed to simply go away. It wouldn't, of course, but it lay there in the center of the human city, a rotting blight.
"So what are we looking for?"
"An old, kind of, friend. She'll help, maybe, if the price is right." The dampness turned into drizzling rain and Dianna sighed. Figures they were going to be wet and uncomfortable. "We might have to persuade her."
"Do I want to know how were going to do that?" Lauren said with a frown as it started to drizzle.
"We're going to start out by attracting her with pain. She finds it as irresistible as the thought of killing demons seems to be with you." Dianna wasn't really looking forward to that part. "And then you grab her and keep her from killing me. It's a good plan, don't you think?"
"That's your plan. Who is this woman?"
"She can heal wounds." Dianna grinned to herself. "But she's a half-demon so you can't believe anything she says or does. It's kind of tricky to get her to heal people."
"Of course. So what is this pain that's going to attract her?" That was the part that had Lauren a little leery.
"Hope you don't faint at the sight of blood." The redhead walked faster, ignoring the dark shadows that lingered along the edges of the street. They stretched out dark fingers toward them, but otherwise they let them pass without doing anything.
"I don't. Not anymore." The last part was mumbled out. She quickened her pace to keep up with Dianna.
"That's good." The half-breed took a left, grabbing Lauren's elbow and pulling her across the street from the figures huddled over trash barrels with burning debris inside. "Malebogias. Best to just let them be." They looked like hobos, but their reputation for doing nasty things to humans was well deserved.
Like most of the Grey, they weren't what they looked like. "You doing all right?" Dianna glanced over at the younger woman, hopping they weren't about to have a scene.
Lauren just nodded, her large black eyes taking everything in. On occasion her nostrils would flare but she made no move from Dianna's side.
"I'm okay." Her voice had changed; it was lower, gravelly. She didn't know if that would still be the case if something attacked them.
"You have to control it." Dianna kept moving, it was never a good idea to become a stationary target here.
"I'm trying to stay absolutely focused on you. It seems to help. Tell me more about the Gray, how does it come into being? Why does it take over some areas and not others? Tell me about anything, how about the first time you met Quinn?" As long as she stayed focused on anything other than the Gray, she seemed to be good.
"Let's skip my first meeting with Quinn. It ended up with her shooting me." Dianna grimaced at the memory. "All a misunderstanding, of course." Well, mostly a misunderstanding.
"I assume they still teach about World War Two in history classes?" She flicked up her leather coat, shotgun pointing out at the thing in the shadows that was trying to stalk them. It paused, considered the two women and decided to squish off elsewhere. She neither knew, nor wanted to, what made that squishing sound.
"Yes, at least when I went through school they did. I did take World History in college."
"Demons have always been around, but they were only the ones who slipped through the cracks and got into the world by accident. The church did a great job of hunting those down, of course they burned a lot of regular people to do it, but hey witch hunts are fun, right?" Ahead of them a keening wail echoed through the empty streets and she abruptly changed directions. Dealing with a Banshee wasn't on her list of things to do.
"So then comes along the Nazis." Dianna checked over her shoulder, making sure they weren't being followed. "Hitler loved the occult, thought he could raise a demon army to fight the Allies for him. Used those concentration camps to fuel the hell gates." She blamed the shiver on the cool drizzle of rain. "But it didn't work like he wanted. Instead of opening gates where he wanted, they opened anywhere there was misery and despair. Like here." She grinned grimly over at Lauren. "By the time they closed there were too many demons out for the church to deal with alone."
Lauren's head cocked as she listened to the wail, but with an exhale of breath she turned and followed Dianna.
"They teach you about that in college?"
"Well, they blame the demon invasion on Hitler, but they never went into detail on the concentration camps. Probably because every world government participates in genocide of some sort. I bet I could link all the Gray Zones in the US, to Indian Reservations, sweat shops, and other things."
"This one's because of the asylum." Dianna licked her lips, looking toward the center of the Gray. "Which we are going nowhere close to. There's an old church not far from here, the healer sometimes uses it. Hopefully she'll be there, if not we'll attract her there."
Lauren nodded. She didn't remember anything about there being an insane asylum in the town, but they'd only studied local history in the fourth grade.
"Quick rule of thumb is the closer to the asylum you go, the worse the demons. It's the epicenter of the entire zone." Dianna paused at the corner, carefully studying the road ahead of them. The church wasn't far now, she could see its bell tower just two blocks away.
"Understood." She winced as her headache spiked. "Uh, there is something nearby that's really demony." Fuck was demony even a real word?
"Demony?" Dianna raised an eyebrow but looked harder. "Where?"
"I don't know. It’s not like this, whatever it is comes with a GPS, it’s just close. The stronger the demon the worse the headache. You aren't even a strained muscle on my demon radar." She winced at that. "Sorry."
The redhead turned at that. "I'm not even a strained muscle?" She asked, incredulously. That was kind of insulting and Dianna found herself a bit hurt as she turned back to studying the street.
"Probably because you’re a half-demon. I seem to only go berserk around full demons. You're very much a badass, I've been scared of you on several occasions, like now." Mostly because Dianna had a shotgun.
"Aww, you know just the right thing to say to a girl." Dianna gave her a wink. "Well, I don't see anything and the longer we stand here the longer we give something a chance to hunt us."
"Fair enough." Lauren said following as Dianna started moving again.
It was nerve-wracking walking down the empty streets, feeling like something was staring out at you from every broken window and busted-in door. There were a lot of those along the streets down here and Dianna found herself walking faster. Why had she thought this was a good idea in the first place? She was insane; they should have just dropped Quinn off at a hospital and been done with her.
"Next time I'll just call an ambulance." She grumbled, pale eyes constantly scanning the buildings and street around them. "Is it following us?"
Lauren actually lifted her head and scented the air. "I don't think so." But it was hard to tell in the Gray, she wasn't used to the sensory overload of the place.
"I don't suppose . . ." Dianna trailed off, catching movement on a roof. Something leapt from roof to roof and she gritted her teeth recognizing that shape. "Challa. He's persistent." She gripped the butt of the shotgun under her coat and sped up, jogging and then running.
"Wait . . ." Lauren said and then sighed realizing Dianna had sprinted off. "It could be a trap." She said to herself and then started running after the taller woman.
Lauren cursed herself for being such a bookworm. "Really, would a walk around the neighborhood have killed me once in a while, maybe using the gym on campus, it was free." She groused as she huffed after the bar owner.
"Challa!" Dianna yelled, chasing after the demon hound as he leapt from roof to roof. "I owe you, you little back-stabbing bitch!" She ran faster, really wanting to get him back for his betrayal.
Lauren heard Dianna shout something up ahead of her, somewhere. She didn't like this.
The demon hound leapt from the roof, clearing the entire width of the street to land on an abandoned building roof on the other side. Other shadows moved up there and suddenly Dianna realized how far ahead of Lauren she'd moved, and how quickly she'd gone. The redhead slowed, shotgun coming out from its holster as she felt a frisson of fear trail up her spine.
"Bitch?" Challa's voice hissed out and the demon hound, along with a good dozen of his friends, leapt down onto the street, surrounding her. "Who is the bitch now?" He laughed, long tongue flicking in the air. Dianna swallowed and raised the shotgun. Shots echoed in the air.
Lauren paused with a groan of pain as her skin bubbled and then smoothed out. Not the scales, she'd gone back to the first vial, the whole 'have wings' had weirded her out. This she was beginning to understand. The stone like quality she now had to her skin and the strength. She smiled, all the better to break demon necks with. She started running; faster and easier now that the change had come.
She recognized them; they'd attacked her in her temporary home at the University before Dianna had taken her in.
Demon something’s, Dianna had said. The first one was easy, taken unaware; she snapped its neck and smiled.
"There!" One of the demon hounds growled as it turned to spot Lauren. "The mistress wants her alive." It commanded as the other demon hounds turned and ran towards Lauren, long bounds covering dozens of feet at a time. Dianna looked up, clutching the leg that one of the demon hounds had gnawed on, fumbling with the shotgun to reload it.
"Lauren! Above you!"
Lauren sidestepped and crouched down low, becoming a bump in the road. With her center of gravity so low she became literally an unmovable object.
One of the demon hounds went bouncing off her, yelping in pain as it hit her with all of his momentum behind him.
"The mistress wants her." Challa growled at Dianna knocking aside her shotgun with a paw.
"What mistress?" Dianna demanded, grabbing the small knife from her boot and well aware how pathetic that looked compared to the demon hound.
Lauren stood up and ignored the one that had bounced off her and kept moving, trying to get to Dianna.
She did not have claws, but theirs scraped against her skin shredding cloth but left only black marks against her skin as they could not penetrate the stone her skin had become.
He lunged at her without answering and she got her right arm up to block him, his jaws crunching down on her arm instead of her face. Her scream was high-pitched as those jaws crunched down on bone, shattering them.
Lauren's hands caved in ribs, noses and broke necks.
Challa looked up just in time to see Lauren coming for him and he bounded away, a leap and he was up onto the nearest roof, growling down at her. The few of his kind that were still moving followed after him. "You belong to the mistress, human! She will have you," he growled.
Lauren wanted to follow, knew she could drive her hands into the brick walls and haul herself up after him, but Dianna needed help. She bared her teeth in a growl but turned to her friend. "Fuck, you look like shit." She said getting a good look at the bar owner.
She took off the ruined jacket and tied it around Dianna's useless arm. "I'm not remotely a doctor but that's not good."
The half-demon would have laughed except it came out as a whimper. "Good." She gasped, eyes tearing in pain. Her right arm hung at an unnatural angle and the leg was bleeding from the mauling. "The church, get me to the church." Dianna gasped as Lauren shifted her arm and bone crunched against bone. She was still in shock but that was going to pass soon and then she'd be in real pain.
Lauren could easily lift Dianna up now and started carrying her looking for the church. "Don't you dare pass out or die on me. I've had enough of people dying on me and being too slow to help."
Every step jarred the arm and Dianna tried not to cry out in pain too often. There were too many things that would come to finish them off. "No dying." Dianna shivered, Challa's poison spreading through the wounds. "Healer." She whispered, the pain rising up and swallowing her into blessed unconsciousness.
"Fuck." Lauren cursed again. Dianna hadn't really shared a lot about who they were looking for other than they were a healer.
She struggled with the church door her arms full of unconscious half-demon. "I'm sure I read this in one of my lesbian romance novels. Of course I'd be wearing all leather, I'd be taller, and more dashing.”
She blinked and looked around the church, it was empty. "Hello?" She said quietly. She cleared her throat and tried it again. "Hello?"
Crows took flight from the roof above, cawing as they erupted out into the night above. Parts of the roof had collapsed in and water dripped down into the main worship area. The church pews were still more or less in place, although many were covered in the plaster crumbling from the walls and ceiling. "Go away!" A voice yelled from deeper in the church.
"I can't." Lauren said miserably, she had no way to help Dianna or Quinn, and didn't know her way back to the bar.
"Of course you can girl! Turn around and walk out." The voice crackled, frayed around its edges as if it hadn't been used in a long time now. At the far end of the church a shape moved, little more than a pile of rags stitched together.
"Then I'd be cold, wet and miserable. In here I'm just miserable. Do you know where I can find a healer?"
"She's gone." The rags wobbled as the woman underneath them slowly got to her feet. She was little more than a dim outline in the darkened church. "Dead and gone. Leave and maybe your friend can die outside of the Gray." She coughed, hunched over.
"This was, is a church, all are welcome and none are turned away. That's why there are no locks on the doors." She eased Dianna on to the bench.
"There are no locks, girl, because they were foolish." The rags hobbled toward her. A weathered dark skinned face under the hood of rags peered out at Lauren. "Foolish and dead now." The old woman cackled, revealing yellow stained teeth.
"You're not a demon." Lauren said matter-of-factly kneeling next to Dianna checking the wounds. This was not good.
“Your friend isn't welcome here. Take her and leave.”
"She's not going anywhere. So either help or go away and be useless somewhere else." She snapped.
"Fire in your soul." Gnarled old fingers came out from under the rag cloak. "Show me your palm." The old woman demanded.
"What?" Lauren blinked but then held out her hand.
"Ahhhh . . ." The hag breathed, grabbing the hand in a surprisingly strong hold as she peered at it over Dianna's trembling body. The other hand came out and fingers swiped up some of the half-demon's blood, using it to trace a design on Lauren's palm. "The maiden, mother and crone." The woman let go of Lauren's hand abruptly, cackling. "Poor girl."
Lauren frowned and tried to jerk her hand back. "What are you talking about?"
"Poor little girl, lost and alone, blood all around you." The hag peered at her, dark eyes almost all pupils. "Do you enjoy it now, the blood and death, poor little chica?" She cackled.
Lauren tried not to answer but finally as if it was pulled out of her she shouted. "Yes!"
"Ahhh . . . " The hag dropped her hand, leaving Dianna's blood drawn upon it. "Thank you." She smiled that yellow-toothed smile. "Seldom do people tell me truths."
"What does it matter? I can't help her." And Lauren owed Dianna, owed her sanity to the half-demon. "What does any of it matter? It doesn't help; I'm always too slow to realize when to use it."
"It is nature to crawl before you walk, walk before you run and sing before you make love." The hag laughed at her own joke, looking down at the very pale looking Dianna. "Lies spill easily from your friend's lips. I have never heard truths from her."
"We all do what we must to survive. We all do what’s in our nature. But I tell you true, she's done nothing but help me so please if you can help her."
"And what would you pay me to help her?" The hag peered slyly up at Lauren.
"What do you want?"
"I want many things." The old woman cackled, looking down at the half-breed in front of her who was bleeding all over the floor. "A demon's heart. You will bring me a full demon's heart in exchange for healing."
Lauren swallowed. "I will get you the heart. Will a demon hound count?"
The black woman laughed. "No. A full demon, not a pet. Do we have a deal?"
She looked at Dianna and then nodded. The half-demon would not survive much longer without help.
"Yes we have a deal."
"Hold out your hand."
Lauren did as she was asked.
The hag grabbed onto her hand, using a dirty fingernail to cut the flesh just inside the thumb. A little dribble of blood came to the surface which she blotted with a surprisingly white and clean looking rag that disappeared back where it had come from. "Remember our deal, demon hunter, a demon's heart." The hag pointed a gnarled finger at Lauren.
Lauren stood outside in the drizzle and then looked around sniffing. She tried to memorize everything about this place so she could find it again. Then she started moving, eyes black as pitch as she looked for her demon heart.
Agent Green watched the bar from his car down the street. He was embarrassed about earlier, nearly falling into that half-breed bitch's trap for him. He knew better, he had graduated at the top of his class still he'd nearly fallen sway under her charms. Happily though he'd gone in by himself and no one was the wiser.
His cell phone vibrated at his hip and he unclipped it and flipped it open. "Green."
He unconsciously sat up straighter. "Uh, sir . . . I'm outside the bar owned by Theron now. I have made a visual confirmation of Susan Espinoza's little sister. I spotted her entering the Gray with Theron. I believe that Detective Quinn is inside the bar probably hurt. I was going to go investigate the premises more thoroughly; the bar is closed on Mondays. Uh, sir, is that wise?" He frowned, he really wanted to catch Quinn in bed with the demons, literally or figuratively. Dragging that holier than thou bitch down would make him all sorts of happy. She just fucking rubbed him the wrong way.
"I understand, that is why you are the Director and I am just a field agent. Uh, yes sir.. you are correct we have no concrete proof that Susan used the drugs on her sister. Right . . . yes . . ." He sunk further and further down in his seat. "But sir, I think Quinn is a viable threat to national security. I really feel . . ." He sighed. "Yes sir, I will continue to monitor the situation and report back on their movements. I will not interfere until you give me the okay. Yes sir, I know finding the missing drugs that Susan took are priority one . . . I just feel that they know . . . yes I will find proof before acting."
He hung up the cell phone and tossed it into the seat next to him and then beat on the steering wheel for a good two minutes. Fucking Quinn that woman was goddamn Teflon, already there were grumblings of another government smear campaign on the good detective. It didn't hurt that woman had lost her son and her father was a goddamn man of the cloth. The public loved that fucking woman.
If Quinn wasn't positive that something fairly important hadn't ripped in her knee, she would have left, as it was she didn't know why Agent Green hadn't busted his way inside the bar with a warrant and pack of other rabid DA agents bent on dragging her in. She knew he knew she was here. She didn't know what game the man was playing, but he had to be demon touched, the man screamed dirty.
Her stomach was flip-flopping and she was annoyed with Dianna for not getting her clothes. She had raided the woman's closet just so she didn't feel so vulnerable, they were roughly the same height but she was a stick were Dianna was all curves. She had struggled into some loose yoga pants and a button down pale blue shirt, an odd combination but it fit and she wasn't naked. Now she held the gun staring out the window with occasional glances to the door
Lauren returned, clothes soaked with rain and gore. Her lip was busted and her right eye was bruised and swollen nearly shut, but she still walked under her own power. She had seen things that defied human logic.
The Gray stayed the same, she had no idea how much time had passed in this place of eternal twilight.
Her hand was clenched around something. Demon hearts were surprisingly small.
In the twilight a figure was leaning up against the exterior wall of the ruined church, near the front doors, singing. Her voice was light and sweet in the darkness and she hummed as she rocked slowly back and forth, singing to herself. "Here's the church, and here's the steeple. Open the door and see none of the people. Here's the parson going upstairs, and here she is saying her prayers."
Lauren's steps slowed, there was no headache but still one could not be certain in the Gray.
The humming continued but the singing stopped as the stranger watched Lauren. The clothes she wore were little better than the rags of the hag inside, but she held herself with more pride than most homeless. Hair so blond it was nearly white was cut raggedly around her face, and blue eyes watched Lauren speculatively.
Perhaps just some poor insane soul lost in the Gray. The voice was pretty, soothing, but pretty things often had a sting.
She watched the figure out of the corner of her eye but slowly moved toward the front doors.
The singing started again as Lauren moved, the voice as light and sweet as before no matter how disturbing the lyrics. "It's like a lion at the door, and when the door begins to crack, it's like a stick across your back. And when your back begins to smart, it's like a penknife in your heart. And when your heart begins to bleed, you're dead, and dead, and dead indeed."
This was getting creepier and creepier. Lauren quickened her steps and scurried to the doors of the church. With her free hand she opened the door with a last look over her shoulder at the singer.
The singer raised a pale hand and waved.
Lauren hesitated and then waved back then was through the doors into the church. "I got . . . uh the things you wanted."
The hag looked up from the naked form stretched out on the floor where the altar once stood. Dianna was spread out on what looked like a pentagram sketched in blood. "A little heart." The hag cackled. "Well don't just stand there, come, come.”
"Um . . ." Words failed her, she blushed but moved forward. Maybe leaving Dianna alone with the hag hadn't been a good idea. "Why is my friend naked?" She swallowed and tried to focus on the hag.
"Would you rather she be dead?" The hag held out a hand. "The heart. Quickly now."
Lauren handed over the small black thing that looked kind of like a polished stone.
The hag promptly shoved into her mouth. Eyes rolling back she hummed in pleasure, sounding orgasmic. "Oh, so tasty. So much darkness in it. It wasn't an ancient one, but it was old, so many sins." The hag licked her lips, eyes wide and dark as she looked at Lauren. "So tasty."
"I got you a midnight snack?" Lauren was kind of frozen between being pissed off and shocked.
"And tasty it was." She cackled, looking back down at the half-breed. "Pretty isn't she? They always are, mixed breeds. Always remember she's part demon though, she'll tempt you if she can."
Lauren nodded, "I know. It's her nature." She'd put her time trapped in Dianna's study to good use earlier. "But she's been nothing but kind to me so far."
"Lies are her nature too." The hag chuckled, bending down. "You feel the darkness in her, don't you girl?"
She nodded. "Yes. I feel it in everything demon touched."
"That's in your nature too, now." The hag snickered at some private joke.
Lauren was getting annoyed. "Look I did my part of the bargain, now help her."
"I did." The old woman reached down and slapped Dianna across the face, hard.
The half-demon jerked, eyes flying open, in surprise gasping as she rolled sideways. "What? Where . . ." She slowed down, seeing Lauren and the old woman.
Lauren gave a tight-lipped smile. "We found your healer."
"Oh." Dianna grimaced, slowly standing up, not really caring if she was naked and made a face. "That explains the horrible taste in my mouth." The scars on her leg were just faint white dots were Challa and his friends had ripped into her thigh. The arm ached but it was whole once again.
"Yes, you found me." The hag growled. "And I should have left you to die, Dianna Theron."
Lauren sighed and went to sit down. She was tired and her face throbbed.
"This cranky bitch is going to help Quinn?" She snorted. "Quinn's just going to shoot her."
"You can't be still upset about your niece!" Dianna looked around for her clothes, which seemed to have gone missing.
Lauren was certain she didn't want to know what Dianna had done to, with or whatever with the Hag's niece.
The hag raised a finger at the redhead. "She is still smitten for you, despite what you did." Dianna snorted, ignoring the middle finger and finally spotted her rolled up clothes. They were a bloody mess now, but she started putting them on anyway.
"Well she has good taste." Dianna smiled, giving Lauren a wink as she finished buttoning the ruined shirt.
That seemed to infuriate the hag even more.
"Dianna, would you stay focused on helping Quinn. This doesn't seem to be helpful."
The redhead sighed, damn it, she'd almost forgotten. Her head was still fuzzy and the last moments were confusing. The hag's slap hadn't helped. She turned to the angry old woman and smiled. "I need a healing, for a human."
"Go fuck a demon." The hag spat.
"Now, now, no need to get so testy Melva." Dianna pronounced the old word carefully.
"She's telling the truth. It’s not a lie." Lauren broke in.
"I'll release your niece." Dianna said, quickly, before one or both of them got a curse put on them. "From my considerable charms." She fluttered her eyelashes at the old woman.
Lauren blinked at that, she wasn't certain she liked how that sounded.
"You will never again taste her emotions." The hag demanded. "And if you do I will curse you until the end of time, Theron!"
"Yes, fine. No need to get all worked up." Dianna smiled at the hag who was glaring at her. “If it makes any difference, the healing is for Detective Quinn.” Pale eyes glanced over at Lauren. “The one who dealt with Alvera.” She said with meaning and the Hag’s eyes sharpened.
Lauren looked between the two women something had changed with that. "Who is Alvera?" She asked quietly.
"One who is best left to rot in Hell." The Hag's lips curled. "What is the healing for?"
"A demoness." Dianna said almost at the same time, before answering the healer. "Her knee, I think a tendon snapped in it."
The hag nodded, moving toward the rear of the church to search for something. Lowering her voice, Dianna moved closer to Lauren. "Alvera had power over a lot of people in the Gray."
"That wasn't a good thing I take it." She said quietly.
"Too much power. She controlled everything." Dianna closed her mouth before she said something else. "There are many who are happy Quinn dealt with her." She said instead.
"Why . . ." She hesitated. "Why did you keep her niece in thrall?"
Dianna looked at her, eyes unreadable. "Because it was fun." She smiled slowly moving closer, until her lips could graze the other woman's ear. "Because she was lovely in bed. Because it's part of what I am, Lauren. You must know that by now." She pulled back a wicked smile on her face.
Goosebumps sprouted on Lauren's tan skin and she took a step back.
"I told you, darkness lives in that one." The Hag was at her side, darkened yellow teeth flashing as she sneered at Dianna. "You should have let her die."
"I've kind of guessed." She said shakily. Lauren's gaze switched from Dianna to the Hag. "It’s kind of being mad at a scorpion for stinging you, it's only doing what’s in its nature. Besides there's good in her or she wouldn't have saved me."
"She does nothing that does not help her." The hag ignored the sweet smile that Dianna sent her way. "Here." She held up a bottle of what looked like dark mud and handed it to Lauren. "The knee must be wrapped in this, and" she held out a small rusting lunchbox "Quinn must eat these."
Even Lauren knew that wasn't going to go over well.
"Um, do you have anything for a swollen eye.”? Lauren asked softly. She was still banged up from getting the demon heart.
"Ice." The hag snapped. "I'm not a pharmacist." She turned away as Dianna chuckled.
Lauren sighed and then glared at Dianna. "You're welcome."
"I know." The half-demon gave a mocking wave to the healer's back. "See you next time, old serpent."
"Come again to my church and you will not leave it, half-breed." The hag's voice echoed oddly about the ruined building as she faded into the shadows at the back.
Lauren peeked outside the doors to see if the strange singing woman was there.
"Looking for someone?" Dianna asked curiously as she held the lunchbox and peeked over the younger woman's shoulder out the doors.
"Um, yes, I mean no . . . I mean . . . well there was a strange woman singing rather morbid songs when I came back to the church with the demon heart."
"Strange things happen in the Gray." Dianna shrugged, stepping outside and looking around. "No one here now."
Lauren nodded and started after Dianna. "If our positions had been reversed would you have saved me?" She asked curious.
"Maybe." She answered honestly. "I like to think I would have tried. What did she want for healing me? You have to be careful, sometimes she asks for more than you can give."
"A demon heart. Which is why parts of my face look like marshmallow." She shrugged.
"It's healing." Dianna gave her a sly look. "Whose heart did you take?" She asked, eyes watching Lauren with avid interest.
Lauren shrugged again. "It had a bloated body with eyes just about everywhere. We didn't exactly exchange names."
"And you killed it just because you needed a demon heart?"
"You were dying. That's what she wanted. I was just going to go grab that demon hound's heart, but that didn't count."
Ignoring that they were in the Gray, something that was dangerous to do, Dianna stopped, grabbing Lauren's arm to stop her too. "And did you enjoy it? The killing?"
Lauren looked uncomfortable. "Why does everyone keep asking me that? Yes, okay, yes. Part of me liked it a lot, part of me is still horrified by it."
"Because your answer tells us how far you've gone." She lowered her voice. "You're a human Lauren, but you're becoming something else I think."
Lauren made a face. "I want to go back and have my family back and be a normal human girl but I can't. All I can do is try to stay me until I stop whatever this is."
"Every time you kill I think there might be less of you." Dianna brushed her fingers across Lauren's cheek, eyes worried.
"Can you stop this? Can you stop what's happening to me?" She watched Dianna's face. "Then stop worrying. Let's deal with the things we can fix, like Quinn's knee."
"Yes." Dianna shook her head, annoyed. She shouldn't be worried for a human. "Time to leave the Gray before we stumble on any other friends."
The singing woman wasn't so bad, Lauren thought.