Buffalo Bayou, near the burned out ruins of Harrisburg, Texas
“I don’t think this is a good idea, John,” Quinn said.
“Of course it is, my good man. Sam Houston is the toast of Texas. A town named after him can’t help but succeed. Especially if I can get my fellow representatives in the Congress to make it the capital of the Republic of Texas – indeed, we’ve already started construction on the capitol building! The Texas government is clamoring for settlers, who will, of course, need a place to live. If we dig out this stagnant old stream, we’ve got the makings of a grand port,” John Allen replied. He gestured to the sluggish bayou in front of them, moving just fast enough to keep the mud churned up in the water and scent the air. A perch glinted silver at the surface as it grabbed a water strider that had ventured too far away from the bank, then disappeared into the murk.
Quinn looked at a pair of yellow eyes floating just above the surface of the opaque water and shrugged. His companion thought it was a basking alligator, a common enough beast in the Gulf Coast swamps, but he knew better.
“Isn’t the capital already set up in Galveston? And there’s already a major port there, too. Why would any ships come all the way up here?”
“Galveston is the interim capital. We are going to make Houston the permanent one. As for ships coming this far, that’s easy. Rail, my good man. This spot is fifty miles closer to existing railways than Galveston. They don’t even have a causeway to the island to run a rail line.”
“But there isn’t any rail here,” Quinn said. The yellow eyes in the murky water at his feet stared balefully up at him.
“Not yet. But it will come. The plans are already in the works.” John slapped at a swarm of mosquitoes buzzing around his ears.
“You’ve taken leave of your senses, John, you and Augustus both.”
John laughed loudly, and a snowy egret fled the water for the safety of the trees. “No one thought General Houston could beat Santa Anna, now did they? After the massacres at Goliad and the Alamo, and being outnumbered almost two to one at San Jacinto, only a fool would have bet on Sam Houston. Ha! It’s Manifest Destiny, my friend, the will of the Almighty.”
Quinn frowned. John Allen squeezed his shoulder. “I’ve business in Nacogdoches that I must attend to. You won’t go wrong buying a parcel of land here, I can assure you. My brother will be most delighted to assist you with the deed while I am away.” With that, he mounted his horse and trotted off, crashing noisily through the underbrush.
When the commotion of his passing had quieted, and the twitter of birds and occasional grunting snarls of alligators resumed, the eyes that had been fixed on Quinn rose out of the bayou water. The creature that belonged to the yellow orbs stood upright. Her skin was so dark green as to appear black, unless the sun struck it a certain way, and it was marked by small, vaguely square striations. She was a sobek, and while the ancient Egyptians had painted her kind as alligator-headed people, Quinn knew that modern humans had long ago lost the skill of discernment – they would see nothing but a reptile when they looked at her.
“They must not stay here,” she growled, water dripping from her large, re-curved teeth.
“I’m trying to discourage them,” Quinn replied.
“Try harder,” she answered.
“If you think this is so easy, why don’t you have a go?” Quinn snapped.
“Swamp fever has kept humans away for many years with– it was a gift they gave us themselves when they brought others of their kind here in chains to labor in their fields. The fever arrived with them. They come, many die, the survivors leave. So it has been, but I fear that not enough of these invaders will perish if they come in great numbers.”
“Perhaps not,” Quinn replied.
He was in two minds about humans. His mother had never forgiven them for killing his father, and yet, he’d had a human foundling child named Virginia who was as kind as she was beautiful. He did not know, however, if she was the exception or the norm. His work often brought him into contact with people. Although, they were typically involved with demons, so they were perhaps not the best representatives of their species. Still, he couldn’t help but like John Allen.
“It was my understanding that you were here to provide assistance,” the sobek woman said.
“I am. I’m just not sure I can accomplish your request.”
The alligator fay snarled at him before she slipped back under the murky water of the bayou.
Quinn didn’t appreciate being dismissed so harshly, but he didn’t fancy going in after her – no telling how many others of her kind were lurking in the muddy water. Besides, the rest of his Mundane Intervention Team – Siobhan, Eoin, Aleksei, and Malik – were waiting for him in Galveston. They had arrived to broker an agreement between the burgeoning human population and the merfolk, who had used the island since it was little more than a sandbar. He shook his head. He hated diplomatic missions, and here he was on not one, but two concurrent ones.
He shifted into the form of a great black horse, and galloped along the waterway. If the bayou was deeper, it would have been faster for him to take his natural kelpie form and swim down to Galveston Bay. Even so, this was not the place to dive in – water fae were notoriously territorial, and the last thing he wanted to do was cause an incident, especially since he was on his own.
Moonlight made the waves shimmer like cut glass, and glinted off the breakers that foamed white before they rolled up onto the beach. The fresh sea breeze was a welcome relief from stifling heat that had oppressed them during the day. Quinn and his team, with the addition of one human in the personage of a Montreal transplant named Michel Branamour Menard, waited at the furthest point on Galveston Island from the busy port, hoping the representative of the West End Sea Tribes Union would arrive soon. She was already late.
Quinn looked at Menard, then at his MIT. Except for Eoin, they could all assume human form, and no one was the wiser. Eoin had his own tricks, however. It would seem that the urisk, who looked human from the waist up, but goatlike from the waist down, would garner a fair amount of attention from panicked humans. But they could stand in front of him and never notice he was there. Unless he desired it. Aleksei, the blue-skinned Lesovik, is what people see when they catch movement out of the corners of their eyes and feel they are being watched in the woods. Unless they look straight at him, in which case he appears to them as a large bush. Even if sighted, recollection of him is slippery, and slides out of the pool of memory like silk over skin. Malik was a djinn, and could take any shape, including none at all, and often did for the sole purpose of amusing himself with pranks against humans. Siobhan could not be readily be distinguished by mortal eyes from a comely young lady of the homo sapiens species. The tips of her ears were perhaps a little more pointed, and her eyes were slightly larger than the typical human.
On the beach, the tide had risen substantially, and warm water encroached on their gathering.
Quinn looked around and shook his head. “It would seem the merfolk have changed their minds. It is half an hour past the designated time, and their representative has not arrived.”
“What does this mean?” snapped Menard.
“It could mean several—” Quinn was cut off by an exquisite and ethereal singing.
Somehow, they had completely missed the approach of the mermaid, because now she sat on the beach not twenty yards away. Her long hair skimmed the sand, and was the same golden brown as the sargassum seaweed that blanketed the beaches in spring. She did not glow, as such, yet even Menard could see her plainly in the dark.
Quinn’s team was immune to her song’s spell, but they could still appreciate the aching beauty of it while they waited for her to finish. Mr. Menard, on the other hand, was utterly mesmerized.
“Greetings,” said Quinn, after the song had stopped.
“Felicitations. Are you the ones that have come to chaffer with me?”
“Indeed,” Quinn replied. “And we have brought with us one Michel Menard, who has ambitions of founding a city on your island.”
He shook Menard’s shoulder, which pulled him out of his trance, then pushed him toward the mermaid. Siobhan rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“B-b-bon soir, m-m-madame,” the man stammered.
“I am called Zara,” the mermaid said, casting her silver eyes up and down the quivering human in front of her. “We have no quarrel, in general, with humans. The Karankawa people lived here for many years in peace.” When she spoke, her sharp teeth flashed in the moonlight.
“B-b-but there are no Indians here now,” Menard said.
“Do you know why that is?” Zara asked.
Menard shook his head. Quinn was unable to determine whether Menard was fearful of Zara, or just dumbfounded by her bare breasts.
“Have you heard tales of the criminal Jean Lafitte?” Zara asked.
“Lafitte and his band of miscreants took over the island. They had been here some years when they captured one of our people. She was, of course, reported by the humans to be a Karankawa woman. But when our friends, the tribesmen, tried to free the captive mermaid, they were massacred by the pirates. My people raised the storm that obliterated all of the human habitations and drove them from the island.”
Menard took a step back. “Mon dieu! You claim to call storms?” His voice had lost its nervous stutter and now contained an edge of skepticism.
“You doubt our abilities? Do not force me to disabuse you of your misapprehensions, sir. As long as your people do not harry or harass my people and do not take more than your fair share of fish, we will not be in conflict. It would be ill-considered for you to do otherwise, Mr. Menard.” One of Zara’s eyebrows arched as she spoke. “We are fond of this island, and do not wish to damage it, but we will not be mistreated.”
“Equinoxes cause the big storms, that is common knowledge – that is why they are called ‘equinoctial storms,’ after all,” Menard said, crossing his arms over his amply-padded chest, as if he had suddenly been injected with a massive dose of courage.
“Is that so, Mr. Menard?”
Suddenly a great howling, as of wind screaming around the corners of a building, rose from the sea and swirled around them. Quinn saw the faces of dozens of merfolk bobbing in the surrounding waters. Aleksei and Eoin chattered nervously together, probably making a contingency plan, given that Aleksei couldn’t swim.
Clouds scudded in and smothered the moon. Lightning flashed in the distance. A few fat drops of rain splashed lazily on the group standing on the beach.
“Is it the equinox, Mr. Menard?” Zara asked. Her voice was not loud, but it could clearly be heard over the keening of her people and the howling of the wind.
“Oui. Perhaps. The autumnal equinox is in two weeks.”
The howling increased. The wind got stronger. Menard’s pomaded hair flapped wildly in the squall, and he squinted against the blowing sand. Water ran up the beach and poured over his feet. A clap of thunder boomed above Menard, nearly knocking him to the ground. The force of its rage rippled through the sand. Rain began to torrent down, blown nearly horizontal by the wind.
“Arrêter!” Menard shouted. He dropped to his knees and covered his face. “Please stop. I believe you,” he whimpered.
The howling ceased and the wind went dead calm. The downpour became a sprinkle, and the lightning stopped flickering across the horizon.
“Do we have an agreement?” Zara asked.
“That my people will leave your people alone, and not overfish? Is that all?”
“That is enough. Break this contract at your peril, Mr. Menard.”
With a flick of her tail, Zara pushed herself off of the beach and into the surf.
“That was easy enough,” Quinn said. “Now, what are we going to do about the Allen brothers?”
The Mundane Intervention Team had opted to stay in Mrs. Reynaud’s boarding house for the few days they’d be in Galveston.
“Bon matín, mes amis!” the widow sang at them as they filed into the dining room for breakfast. The smell of fresh-baked bread made Quinn’s stomach protest having to wait another moment for food.
“Good morning,” they all responded, but far from in unison.
Mrs. Reynaud disappeared into the kitchen, and moments later, she returned with plates of food. A young lady of African descent helped serve. Quinn could not help but notice that about half of her left ear was missing. When she noticed him looking, she looked away and turned her head. He felt a twinge of guilt for staring at her.
The MIT was famished, the baguettes were hot, and the cheese was delicious. Their hostess even flaunted tradition and provided a jar of fig preserves, probably from the immense fig tree that shaded her front porch, and a large portion of her yard.
A loud banging on the front door interrupted their meal. Mrs. Reynaud’s assistant fled, bumping into Siobhan in her haste.
“Open up, Miss Rayno. I believe you got some property of mine,” called a loud voice.
“Monsieur, I have no property in this house that does not belong to me.”
Quinn could see the shadows of three men on the front porch against the lacy curtains.
“Now, Miss Rayno, we don’t want to have to break down your door, but we know you got a colored girl in there. She’s a runaway slave. Did you not know that, ma’am?”
“I do not know what you are speaking about. Go away. You are disturbing my guests.”
Quinn looked around at his team, and his lip twitched into the ghost of a smile. “Invite them in,” he said.
“Je ne comprends pas. This makes no sense.” Mrs. Reynaud replied, shaking her head. Her expression implied that death was both preferable and likely if she complied.
“Your secret is safe with us.” Quinn gestured toward the door. “Invite them in.”
Cautiously, Mrs. Reynaud opened the door. Three heavily armed men pushed their way inside.
“Jim Bowie, God rest him, always said you were gonna be trouble,” the man who had done the shouting at the door said. “Now, if you will kindly turn over our property, we’ll be on our way.”
“What property is that?” Quinn asked.
One of the men knocked over a porcelain vase filled with flowers. It smashed on the hardwood floor, scattering water, blossoms and fragments of delicate delft blue floral tracery. It was difficult to tell whether the act was deliberate or accidental. He grinned like an oaf either way.
“Colored girl, ’bout so tall…” He raised his hand, palm down, to his chin.
“What color is she?” Siohbhan asked. “Blue? Orange? Green?”
The three men looked at each other, perplexed. “She’s the same color as your tea, ma’am,” replied the one who had shattered the vase.
“What would you want with her? If such a girl was even here?” Siobhan answered.
The spokesman took a step forward. “Women ought to know their place.”
Quinn glanced at Malik. A grin spread over the djinn’s face, and his eyes glowed metallic green. A breeze blew across the room, and swirled, faster and faster around the three men. They seemed to be frozen, then disappeared for a few seconds. When they re-appeared, they were not at all themselves.
Instead of three armed white men, there stood three black men, shackled and chained together by iron collars. They started to talk to each other, and discovered, to their obvious horror, that they could only speak Swahili.
Aleksei laughed out loud. “There are three slaves who now look like men that were here, yes?”
“I would suggest, Mrs. Reynaud, that you quickly get these three to the auction house. Eoin and Aleksei will help you.”
“Non. I would not wish that on even these men. Would you set them free? I’d rather to turn them loose, and let them make their own way.”
Malik nodded, and the chains disappeared.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Siobhan said.
Mrs. Reynaud smiled. “Moi aussi. Me, too.”
The clock struck eight.
“We must be on our way,” Quinn said.
Once outside the boarding house, they strolled to the back of the building, away from prying eyes. Six feet pounded by on the sidewalk as the three slavers-cum-slaves fled Mrs. Reynaud’s boarding house. Malik waved his hand over the MIT. In an instant, they stood just outside of the building site that was quickly turning into the City of Houston.
“I don’t think there’s any way to stop the Allen brothers,” Quinn said.
“Agreed,” replied Eoin.
“You could always eat them,” said Malik.
“I’m assuming that was sarcasm,” Quinn said. Malik knew full well that, although he was quite capable of dining on humans, they gave Quinn terrible indigestion.
Malik shrugged. “People flow to this place like sand through an hour glass. One grain, more or less makes no difference.”
“But what about the sobeks in the bayou?” Siobhan asked.
“Would they consent to being relocated?” Eoin asked.
“Probably not,” Quinn replied.
A man came around the corner, spitting and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. He clutched an empty tin cup in one hand and a roll of papers in his other.
“Are you alright?” Siobhan asked.
“Fine, fine. This milk has gone off. Doesn’t last long at all in this heat.” He wiped his hand on his pants and extended his hand to Quinn, who was nearest to him. “Gail Borden, surveyor. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“I believe we’ve met,” Quinn said. “John Allen is an acquaintance of mine, and I call upon him from time to time.”
“Ah! So we have. You’re that fellow he’s been taking around town, aren’t you?”
“Yes. These are my associates.” He gestured to the rest of his team, but did not go to the trouble of introducing them to Mr. Borden.
Malik pulled a glass bottle from a pocket in his roomy pants and removed the wax seal from the stopper. “Perhaps you should cook it first,” he said, taking a drink from the bottle.
“Cook it?…Oh, yes the milk! Grand idea, that. Yes. I shall have to look into it. Now, were you looking for Mr. John Allen?”
“I believe he’s gone to Nacogdoches,” Quinn replied.
“Augustus is about, somewhere.”
“We will locate him, should we require his presence. Thank you.”
Borden carried on with his perambulation, and the MIT continued down to the bayou. They had to walk some distance to be out of sight of the construction operations. After calling to the sobeks for nearly an hour and getting no response, Quinn returned his team to the Mundane Activity Monitoring and Intervention Center (MAMIC) in Blackthorne, in the realm of Faery.
MAMIC authorized Quinn to buy a number of plots immediately along Buffalo Bayou to help delay the inevitable conflict between the sobeks and swelling population of the new capital of the Republic of Texas.
August 14, 1838
Quinn found himself back in Houston two years later, at the sweltering apex of summer.
“You know, my good fellow,” John Allen said to him, as they walked along the water front, “Those plots you bought are highly coveted. Shall we build on them for you? I’m sure you could put a fine house and a business or two on them. Even with no improvements, they’d still sell for a pretty penny.”
“I don’t wish to sell them right now,” Quinn replied.
“I see.” Allen leaned in and lowered his voice. “Confidentially, I’ve had a change of heart. I have told no one yet. But instead of a port, I believe that the bayou should be filled in.”
“Why is that?”
“We had one steamboat come upstream last year. One. And the bayou is so shallow and choked with weeds, that it was a slow and miserable trip. No, I think it will take too much work to make it of any use. Best to fill it in and rid ourselves of these cursed mosquitoes.” John slapped one of the offending insects on his arm, and it left a bloody smudge on his arm.
Quinn caught a glimpse of yellow eyes in the murky water, but they were gone so fast he wasn’t sure he’d even seen them.
“They seem to be especially bad this summer,” John continued.
Quinn noted small red welts, some scratched bloody, on the man’s bare forearms. He also noted that John looked thinner and paler than the last time they’d met.
“Well, here we are,” John said.
They had arrived at a makeshift tavern, which fit right in with the mostly shanty-town section of city.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Quinn said.
“Having a drink? Surely not.”
“No. Filling in the bayou. Are you alright?”
John Allen had crossed his arms over his chest and was rubbing his upper arms as if they were cold.
“I’m, fine,” he replied, perhaps with too much emphasis the last word. “Just a little fever. It comes and goes.”
As they entered the saloon, John’s knees buckled, and Quinn only just caught him before he hit the floor. Quinn laid him out on one of the rickety tables, and the town doctor was called. His office was only next door, and he arrived within minutes, black bag in hand.
The doctor reeked of cheap whiskey, and Quinn wasn’t particularly confident in his abilities. But his diagnosis fit.
“Congestive fever,” he said, nodding his head. “This is the third round of it. Every two days he gets a fever, and he’s sicker each time.”
John Allen, mumbling in his delirium, was carried to his house, but he never woke up.
He died the next day.
Quinn stayed for the funeral. John was only twenty-eight, and had no wife to mourn him. He was laid out in his own parlor, and his mother sat beside the open casket, veiled and dressed in black from head to toe. Quinn shuddered inwardly as he approached to pay his respects – Mrs. Allen wore a large locket with some of John’s hair fixed in a basket weave pattern inside. It was a morbidly peculiar habit, these humans had, he thought.
A tall woman, face disguised by a heavy black veil, stood near the back of the room.
“One Allen down, one to go,” she said as Quinn got near her. He recognized her as the female sobek from the bayou, although none of the humans seemed to notice her.
“I don’t think you’ll be able to stop the humans from coming. There are already too many of them, and more arrive every day. For your own safety, I’d like to help relocate your people.”
There was little point in arguing. He sighed softly. “As you wish.”
December 22, 1857
“I’m very sorry about your mother,” Quinn told the young sobek. He had not yet lost the blotchy cream stripes of a juvenile, and leadership had been thrust upon him by his mother’s untimely and fatal interaction with a steamboat.
“Thank you. She never gave up on trying to reclaim our territory from the humans.” He looked down and sighed. “Even though many in our tribe had long believed it was a lost cause.”
“I understand.” Quinn said. Miles of rail lines linking Houston to parts north, west and east were already in operation, and grew longer every day, snuffing out any flicker of hope the sobeks might have had about eradicating the human interlopers from their ancestral home. “A place has been cleared for you, about thirty miles to the southwest of here. There was a human river landing built there, but it has been removed. The Brazos River is slowed by many bends in this area, so it should meet your habitat requirements.”
The young sobek nodded slightly and opened the door to what human eyes would perceive as a garden variety stagecoach. It was actually a spatial bubble, which would expand to fit as many as necessary on the inside, but remain the same on the outside.
Quinn held the carriage door open, and the young leader stood opposite him, calling to his people in the croaking, booming language of the sobeks. In small family groups, they rose from the bayou and made their way to the carriage. Heads down, defeated, they walked slowly, and it took longer than Quinn had anticipated to collect them all. When the tear-stained face of the last one disappeared into the inside of the coach, their young leader took one final, sorrowful look around, and climbed in, pulling the door closed behind him.
Quinn climbed into the shotgun seat, and the driver shook the reins and clucked to the horses. Actually, they only looked like horses. In reality, they were a hitch of kelpies – one was even Quinn’s cousin – who could do twice the work of a mortal horse in half the time.
It was late afternoon when the coach arrived at its destination, and twilight was already creeping in on this shortest day of the year. The driver pulled up under an immense, Spanish moss-draped live oak tree on the banks of an oxbow lake, formed by a looping bend in the Brazos River. Tall clumps of Texas giant cane shaded the opposite banks and waded partway into the lake. Sabal palms were sprinkled among the oak, hackberry, and pecan trees. A bull alligator, sunning himself just out of the water, looked up cautiously at them.
Quinn opened the stage coach door, and the young leader was the first to emerge.
“It’s beautiful!” he exclaimed. “It certainly seems a natural park.”
September 8, 1900
“We’ve got a live one,” Quinn said to his team.
They sat around an oaken table in a conference room at the MAMIC headquarters.
“What is it?” Aleksei asked.
“There’s a demon, possibly two, who’ve helped some humans capture a mermaid. We’ve got to free her, acquire the demons, and neutralize the human witnesses. The method depends on how much they know.”
“Where are we off to, then?” Eoin asked.
“Texas. Again,” Quinn answered.
“Seems to be a lot going on down there,” Siobhan added.
It was still dark when Quinn, Siobhan, Aleksei, Eoin and Malik stepped through the portal onto Galveston Island. Again, they were in the far west section of it.
“It’s about time,” Zara growled.
“I’m sorry for the delay,” Quinn said. “We have been advised that one or more demons is holding one of your tribe captive. Can you apprise us of the situation?”
Anger flashed in Zara’s eyes. “Enough talk. You will do something, and do it now, or I will!”
“I understand that you’re upset. We will do everything we can to rescue the mermaid. But we’ve got to contain the demon. Or is it demons? If we don’t, this will just recur.”
“There are two of them. They’ve shown some of the humans our abode. But our sister. They’ve put her on display at the docks.”
Quinn and Siobhan exchanged looks. “That complicates things. How many of the towns people have seen her?”
“Most. Perhaps all.”
Aleksei swore in Ukranian.
“Do what you will, but know this: a storm has already been called. It is on its way, and is far too big to be stopped,” Zara said. “And we would not do so, even if it were possible. These human vermin have been infesting our island for too long. We have been too patient. No more. They have broken the pact, and they will suffer the consequences.”
“How long do we have before the storm arrives?” Quinn asked.
“It will arrive this afternoon. The sooner, the better.”
“Eoin – I need you to relay this information to Dame Rowan at MAMIC. Aleksei, you’re with him. Guard the portal. Go now.”
The urisk and the Lesovik headed back to the portal, leaving little goat tracks and odd two-toed footprints in the damp sand.
“Take us to where they are holding your sister,” Quinn said to Zara.
The docks heaved with people waiting to pay a nickel each to see the captured mermaid, who was being held in one of the warehouses.
Quinn shook his head. “This makes it much more difficult,” he said, surveying the crush of people.
He, Siobhan, and Malik stood at the edge of the crowd. Quinn spotted the first demon right away – it was the one collecting money from the people waiting in line to gawk at the poor captive. Humans, of course, couldn’t see that he was a demon – he looked like any other bow-tied salesman to them. But Quinn and company could see its bulging yellow eyes, with their vertical slits, and its grass-colored scales. It hadn’t locked onto them yet, but it did pause and wrinkle its nose as if it smelled something offensive.
“Malik, you’ll be the hardest for them to detect. Go through the line to check on the mermaid and see if you can find the other demon. If there is an unobtrusive way to free her, do it, but do not call attention to yourself.”
“And take this trap with you.”
Quinn handed over a clear quartz pyramid, the base of which was a little larger than the palm of his hand. Malik tucked it into his voluminous pocket and joined the queue.
“Shall we move to the exit? I think this fellow’s a bit suspicious of us,” Siobhan said.
They strolled around to the other side of the warehouse to wait for Malik. When he finally emerged, his face was grim.
“She looks very unwell,” he said. “Her skin is quite grey, and she is gaunt, as if she has not been eating. I doubt she will survive the night if she’s not released.”
“What’s the layout of the place? How is the mermaid being held?” Quinn asked.
“There is a warehouse with a trap door in the bottom so a barge bearing cargo can pull underneath it and offload the freight directly into storage. The mermaid is secured in a fishing net which dangles through the trap door, half out of the water, so she can be observed. There are other offices and storage areas throughout the building. I tried to slip the rope holding the net and at least lower her into the water, but it is fixed in place with a spell. “
Quinn scowled. “Any sign of the second demon?”
Malik grinned and retrieved the crystal pyramid. A red liquid swirled furiously around inside of it.
“Outstanding,” Quinn said. “Take that back to MAMIC for safekeeping, then return here.”
Quinn wished the circumstances were different. It was perfect beach weather, warm and sunny. It would have been nice to stroll around with Siobhan and enjoy the day. The breeze had started to pick up, and the water was a little choppy. Although the seagulls were conspicuous by their absence, there was no other hint of what was coming. Something grabbed Quinn’s shoulder, hard, and he winced.
Apparently, there was a third demon.
Siobhan pulled a crystal trap out of her handbag, but before she could activate it, the demon whirled around, Quinn still in its deadly grip, and kicked it out of her hand. It landed in the water with a plop and a splash, then sank out of sight.
“Run!” Quinn yelled.
He shifted just enough that his eyes turned black from edge to edge and his teeth went from flat human to sharp kelpie. He spun under the demon’s grip and bit down hard on its arm. The beast yowled and let go of Quinn’s shoulder. Quinn wiped the demon’s black blood off of his face as he fled, following Siobhan.
Demons are not fast runners, and Quinn and Siobhan quickly outpaced it. However, what demons lack in speed, they make up for in stamina. It would hunt relentlessly until it found them.
“Back to the portal. Need reinforcements,” Quinn panted as he leaned against the side of a dilapidated wooden house. He brushed against a large rosemary bush, thick trunk gnarled and twisted, and it released its resinous aroma profusely.
“Where is it from here?” Siobhan asked.
“Hello? Who’s there?” called a female voice, cracked with age.
Quinn and Siobhan rounded the corner and discovered an elderly woman with coffee-colored skin and white hair sitting on a porch swing. She wore a pearl earring in her right earlobe, but most of her left ear was missing.
“Sorry ma’am, didn’t mean to disturb you,” Quinn said. “We’ll be on our way now.”
“Wait,” the woman said. She tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “I know you. It’s been a very long time. You look…exactly the same. How can that be?”
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Siobhan answered.
“Yes. We have. I’m sure of it.”
“I don’t think so,” Quinn replied, although there was something vaguely familiar about her. He could hear the slap-slap-slap of the demon’s leather boots on the boardwalk, and it would be on them any second now. “We really have to go.”
The woman stood up and hobbled the few steps to her front door. “Come inside. Please.”
Siobhan nodded to Quinn, and they both ducked into the house. The woman entered behind them and closed the door. She raised her gnarled index finger to her lips, commanding silence. The demon’s footsteps were loud now, outside the house. They could hear it snuffling around, trying to catch their scent. Frustrated, it ran on.
“I hate those things,” the woman said.
“What things?” Siobhan asked.
“Lizard men. Nasty creatures. That’s why I have all the rosemary outside – they hate the smell, and it keeps them away.”
Quinn nodded. “Most people can’t see them. Odd that you can.” Only happens to humans who have been touched by fae. “Thank you for saving us,” Quinn said. “But I don’t believe I know you.” He was only half convinced now that this was true.
“I’ve waited over sixty years to pay back this debt. I was in Ms. Reynaud’s house when the slavers came for me. You stopped them. Both of you.”
“You…were the girl?” Siobhan asked.
“Yes. Lucy is my name.”
“Lucy, it is so good to meet you again. There isn’t much time. You have to gather any friends and family that you care about, and get off the island. Today. Now. There’s a storm coming, and it’s going to be a bad one. We have to go. So do you,” Quinn said.
Lucy nodded. “I guess Dr. Cline was right about his hurricane warning, then.”
By the time that Quinn and Siobhan made their way to the portal and rendezvoused with Eoin, Aleksei and Malik, the afternoon shadows were just beginning to lengthen. The wind had kicked up and the tide was high, higher than normal. To the east and south, the sky was black with rain. Away from the town, they could hear the wrothful howling of the merfolk, calling the storm, making it stronger, pouring their rage into it. They were almost out of time to capture the remaining two demons.
With a blink of his eye, Malik took them back to the docks. The earlier crowds had dispersed, no doubt battening down their hatches, for all the good it would do them, against the approaching storm. Cautiously, expecting a trap, they neared the warehouse. What they heard was someone crying, wailing in grief. Inside the warehouse, they found Zara underneath the dock, clinging to the netting that held the captured mermaid. The captive lay limply on the bottom of the net, arms and hair drifting in the current. The rising water had floated the corpse nearly up into the trap door, and the high swells occasionally pushed her partially through it.
Zara’s head jerked up as they entered. “They have killed her! They will pay for this. They. Will. Pay.” She turned and dove into the water, splashing them with a contemptuous flick of her tail.
A door slammed behind them, in the depths of the warehouse. They all ducked behind wooden crates or bales of cotton, whichever was closest to each.
“Talco?” a demon’s gravelly voice called.
Malik eased a quartz demon trap out of his pocket and handed it to Eoin, who silently twisted the top half of it open.
The demon never knew what hit him as he came through the door. By the time he realized he’d been ambushed, it was too late, and he was locked inside the crystal. Malik tucked the pyramid away.
“Nooo!” screeched a deep, raspy voice.
The demon that had been collecting money to see the mermaid came roaring up at them.
Malik tried stunning it with a spell, but the demon swiped his magic to the side. Aleksei put his head down and drove his shoulder into the demon’s midsection with enough force to knock the wind out of him. As he staggered back, Eoin grabbed one of his arms, while Aleksei wrapped his own arms around the demon’s opposite leg. Demon claws raked Aleksei’s back and head, and deep blue blood oozed from the scratches. Malik grabbed at the flailing claws as the demon lifted Eoin off his feet with the arm that the urisk was attempting to control. The demon would not be laid down on the floor, so Quinn grabbed his foot. He was rewarded with a kick in the face hard enough to bloody his lip, but he and Aleksei were able to yank its feet out from under it. Taking Eoin and Malik with him, the demon thudded to the floor with a loud “Ooof!” Finally, they pinned him to the floor, barely.
Rain pounded the windows, increasing in fury. Wind moaned across the roof, pelting the building with small, forsaken items. Surging water splashed through the open trap door, pushing the cargo net with the dead mermaid onto the warehouse floor.
“We’ve got to get out of here. Who has a trap?” Quinn asked, wiping blood from his mouth.
No one, it turned out.
“I really hate doing this,” Siobhan said, She pulled a golden dagger from her belt. The demon fought – it knew what was coming. “I’m so sorry. If there was any other way…” she said. Then she raised her hand and drove the dagger deep into its heart. The demon bellowed, then exploded in a cloud of noisome ash.
“Go, go, go! We have to get to the portal, now,” Quinn called.
The five fae raced out of the warehouse. The furious wind ripped shingles from the roof, and planks from the walls, and hurled them after the MIT with a vengeance.
Behind them, in the collapsing warehouse, a boy began to wail for the father whose slaughter he had just witnessed through a crack in cargo area door.
“Shhh, Balcones. If you want to live long enough for revenge, we have to go,” his scaly mother called to him.
The seeds of vengeance took root then, in what passes for a demon’s heart, and demanded to be watered with the blood of his enemies. Pain and anger fused into incandescent rage, burning him from the inside out, just like malaria that had consumed John Allen.
“Yes, Mother,” he answered, his yellow eyes fever-bright.