Puppy raps on the door in an odd little stuttering sequence, and it doesn't occur to me until much later that it might be a code. I'm a little pre-occupied trying to make sure Red doesn't die on me. How in the name of all that's holy is he managing to bleed this much? What did he get himself into upstairs? Why am I asking myself all these stupid questions?
We wait long seconds that feel like minutes to me, standing in putrid filth in a dark alley that smells so bad that I think even dying things would avoid it. I can't believe that Red's girlfriend seems so detached from all this, I would have thought that she'd at least seem a little more concerned. The alarm from City Hall continues to wail, and there's a hubbub slowly growing as people evacuate. We're going to be pretty close to it in this building if the bomb is real and it goes off. I still can't understand why Joel would do this.
"Unless it's not Joel!" I whisper to myself, shocked that I was so quick to blame him.
The door opens, finally, with a creak that wouldn't be out of place in a Hammer Horror film, and what was a shadowed doorway is now a lightless hole in the wall. Something moves within it, and a daemon steps forward.
"Laika?" says the daemon, pierced lips moving in a disturbingly sensual fashion. Bright eyes in a whorl of black and grey lines flicker from side to side and there's a sharp intake of breath. "You'd better come in."
Laika goes first, gracile as a deer, and I follow behind her lugging the dead weight that is a nearly-dead Red. I squelch unpleasantly as I step forward, and I realise that Red's blood has been pooling around my feet. We walk into a dark hallway, tight and narrow, barely wider across than my shoulders, and Red's body scrapes the wall, perversely becoming slightly easier to handle. There's a dim light towards the end, so that's where we go, following Laika, pursued behind by a daemon. The dim light proves to be the glow around a doorframe, and the room beyond is well-lit, a stone-floored kitchen with a large wooden table, a free-standing oven-and-stove and spaces where counters and cupboards have been ripped out. A squat, I think reflexively.
"Put him on the table," says the daemon behind me and I obey, glad to not be carrying him any more. He's lighter than I thought he would be, but he's no starving artist. "Laika, put the kettle on."
I turn and scream "This is no time for coffee! He's DYING!" I've no idea where it came from, and just shouting it exhausts me and I start sobbing. The daemon looks incredibly puzzled and half-raises an arm towards me, then let's it drop again.
"We'll need hot water to clean him up before I sew him back together," she murmurs.
I have a cup of coffee in front of me, and the last two salted caramels from a bag conjured out of a surviving cupboard behind me when I came in, and I'm a little calmer now. The daemon -- a woman with a heavily tattooed and pierced face -- has told me that her name is Dysnomia, and she is humming softly to herself while she stitches a vicious, jagged wound in Red's leg up. Laika has been tasked with mopping up drips of blood with paper towels, which she does after she's drawn something on each paper towel. I think it's significant to her somehow.
Dysnomia has seven piercings through her lips, little metal pins and bolts; too many piercings to count in her ears; pierced eyebrows; a piercing through the bridge of her nose; and little studs at her temples. Above her mouth, her face is tattooed with whorls in black, grey and dark-blue, which I think are some kind of tribal design. Her mouth and chin are untattooed, and her neck is hidden by a thick, heavy-looking silver collar. Her hands are tattooed as well, long curving lines stretching over the back of them, following the muscles beneath the skin. She used to be a nurse, she's told me.
"Dysnomia," I say, thoughtfully, and she looks up. "It means lawlessness doesn't it?"
She smiles, and I see that her teeth have been filed into points. I wonder if Red knows this woman as well. Maybe she's even been an earlier girlfriend of his. That's not important right now.
Dysnomia stands straight and snaps the thread she's been using; the sewing is done. Now we wait for Red to wake up.