I still need to work out all the council members.
The demon blazed through him, burning his veins and the underside of his skin. It crawled into him, burrowing, ripping out a space. He would have screamed, but there was no air in his lungs, so he only croaked and fell to the floor on his side, fetal.
He sucked in air and released it, in a laugh. It was shaky and low, almost like a cry, but it was a laugh.
“Bryan, can you hear me?”
He opened his eyes. He hadn’t realized they were closed. He looked at the people before him, taking in their lifeglow.
He was so hungry.
He turned his head up slightly, so that he could see the one speaking. Hussein. He glowed deep green.
“Are you alright?” that green glow asked.
Bryan grinned. The action pulled at his skin, stretching the muscles. Contorting them. “Yes,” he said in a voice that didn’t sound like him. But then he wasn’t him. “Perfect.”
Hussein looked off over Bryan’s body. To Harper. Bryan didn’t see her reaction, but Hussein looked back to him. “What can you tell us about this gamma?”
Bryan chuckled. He looked down at the floor under his cheek and saw the lifeglow of a million little mites, the energy trapped in the linoleum and the steel underneath. He reached out a hand and passed it over the surface. He wanted to lick the floor.
“I can tell you anything,” he said.
Hussein threw another glance at Harper. “Why is this demon different from the others?”
“Age.” Bryan drew out the word, feeling it on his tongue.
“It’s older? That’s why it’s more powerful?”
“Younger? But…then how do the betas fit in?”
“Oh they’re older too. But the alphas, they’re the oldest.”
“How old is the gamma?”
“How could one keep track? Centuries. Many centuries.”
One of the Council suits spoke up suddenly, his voice jarring. “Then certainly they exist somewhere else prior to here.”
“Where do the demons come from?” Hussein asked.
Memories flitted through Bryan’s mind. Memories of death and hunger. All trace of smile left his lips. “The dead place.”
“Yes, but where is this dead place?”
Bryan sighed as if this were some longsuffering line of questioning. “Earth.”
“What does that mean?”
“Earth means Earth.”
“Don’t fuck with us,” Hussein snarled. “Explain.”
Bryan’s eyes narrowed at Hussein. He wanted to say Or what? He almost did say it, but he knew the answer. Those who served no purpose were locked away from human contact. From life contact. That couldn’t happen. Not now.
“The Earth next to this Earth,” he said. “Next door.”
“Another planet,” Cantrell said from the group of suits standing outside the circle. He was the oldest of the Chicago council, with gray hair and a stooped back. He was also the most vocal, usually to unfortunate results.
“No, you fool.” Bryan eyed him angrily. “I said Earth. I meant Earth.”
“Another universe?” said a voice from behind him. Harper.
Bryan searched his own mind and considered. “That’s a close approximation.”
The room went silent, though Bryan could hear and see them all breathing around him. They exchanged worried looks with each other. This had just gone beyond anything they might have suspected.
“Then how do the demons travel to here?” Hussein said. “Through gateways, like in the synagogue? Are there more of those?”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
“I haven’t counted them.”
“I just said,” Bryan growled. He was sick of looking at Hussein. He rolled over onto his other side, clumsily, not quite able to work his body.
“What are these gateways? How are they made?”
“They make them.” On his other side, he could see Harper, stonelike, expressionless. He started to grin at her but his eye caught Cam, off to the side. He looked horrified, his body tense. He kept looking from Bryan to Hussein back to Bryan again, as if something were going wrong here.
Was something going wrong here?
“Who?” Hussein demanded. “The demons?”
Bryan didn’t answer. He was looking at Cam, seeing him for him and not for his life. Cam noticed and stared back, shrinking within his frame. He looked as if he might whimper.
Bryan put his forehead to the floor in order to not see. He screwed his eyes shut and focused on the cool of the linoleum on his forehead. He didn’t feel like laughing anymore. He was starting to realize that he hurt everywhere. “Not the demons. They’re Possesseds, like us. But not like us. They’re Possesseds all the time. They’ve been Possesseds back before eternity.”
“What does that mean?” Cantrell asked.
“Shut up!” Hussein spat at him, then turned back to Bryan. “How do they make the gateways?”
“Don’t know.” Bryan was tired and he ached. He wanted this done with, except that he didn’t.
“You do know.”
“But I don’t!” He wanted to cry. The pain had become unbearable, but a part of him liked it and wanted it. But he wasn’t sure what was him anymore. He wasn’t sure who was talking. He balled his hands into fists and set them against the floor. “I don’t know. But the gates open more every night. They have to work at it.”
“We need to stop,” Harper announced.
“Not yet,” said Cantrell. “We haven’t gotten anything.”
Bryan opened his eyes and looked to Hussein, who was picking up the card box. He held it out to him before Cantrell grabbed for it.
“We’re not stopping,” Another suit said.
They were so close. They were bursting with life. And he was so hungry. Had been so hungry for so long. He reached out to them.
Hussein ripped the box from Cantrell’s grip and pushed him squarely in the chest, knocking him to the floor. “You always listen to the Spotter,” he growled. He opened the box and was about to hold it out when Harper spoke again.
“No. Stay away from him. Slide the card to him.”
Hussein glanced up at her briefly and slid the card across the floor. It stopped inches from Bryan and he looked at it as if not comprehending. He looked up at Hussein again and saw that life, how close it was. He could just pull himself a bit further. He reached out a hand and gripped the floor, pushed with his leg.
Harper stood behind him. “Sir!”
The others in the circle tensed.
Hussein didn’t move. He only spoke low, barely above a whisper, as he looked into Bryan’s eyes.
“You’re still alive.”
Bryan stopped. His mind separated a fog from itself, set it aside.
The card was beside him. He touched his palm to it and willed the demon into it. The demon went willingly, almost apologetically easily, even if it didn’t want to go.
Bryan didn’t want it to go.
The absence of pain rushed over him so that he cried out, and the loss of a part of himself, but this time not literal, this time the loss was the cutting of a tie.
When he came to, Hussein was over him, not a lifeforce but skin and hair and eyes. Everyone else still remained in the circle, not wanting to come close. Bryan felt more alone than ever before in his life.