My name is Derek Huntsman. I’ve lived in Domina City my entire life, with only my mom for company. I don’t have many friends—it’s not that I’m shy, I’m just…okay, maybe I’m a little shy, but I’m trying to change. Mostly the problem is that I spend all my time on rooftops I’m not supposed to be able to get to. Great views, but not very much company. When I come down, its for jobs.
Adam…he seemed to be a step in the right direction. As my roommate, I would be pretty much forced to socialize with him. If I could get him to make friends in turn, then we’d prop each other up. Which made me feel even worse for lying to him.
His friend, the one he was meant to room with, was dead. At best, he was lying mortally wounded in a hospital. I didn’t have any concrete details, but North Outer had a few big shootouts around the time Adam said he lost contact. I just didn’t have the heart to voice my suspicions.
He—Adam, I mean—was hard to place. More than anything else, he looked average. Average height, average build. A simple John Smith. But something about him seemed…I’m not sure. It was hard to place my finger on. Perhaps I was just imagining things.
He didn’t act special, that was for sure. As we walked through MC’s tour, every word she spoke seemed to surprise him more.
“Wait, wait, this is a job board? Like…”
“A place you pick up jobs. Yes.” He really did seem like a good guy, but seriously, how sheltered was he? “People post things they need done, with a reward and a hard end date. See, this one here.” I walked up to the board, a simple digital screen with a very heavy plastic layer for protection. I tapped the job I was looking at. It took a few seconds for the board to recognize the input, but it quickly brought the relevant details up. “Some guy needs a rat from the area for an experiment. Alive, of course.”
Adam stared. “He needs a…what?”
“A rat. You know—”
“I know what a rat is. I mean, why would he need one for an experiment?”
“Let’s find out.” I flipped out my phone. “MC? I want to accept job 45768 from the South Central job board.”
“Done,” MC’s fake voice responded smoothly, as the entry on the job board disappeared. “This job has an end date of noon tomorrow, and requires any live rat from the South Central district be delivered to Duke Ratko in the same district. He will arrange a meeting when you have completed the job.”
“Ratko?” I asked, incredulous. “Is this a prank?”
“Ratko is Slavic, and means approximately war, or battle. It is a perfectly normal Serbian name.”
“Right, right, sorry. I shouldn’t make fun. Just tell me where the nearest trap shop is.”
“Around the corner to your right.”
“Thank you, MC.” I hung up and turned to Adam. “C’mon, it’s right over here.”
“What is? The rat we’re supposed to catch?”
“No, no, you’ll see.” As MC said, there was a shop around the corner specializing in traps. It wasn’t much bigger than the cell phone store we had gone into earlier. But in this case, the shelves were lined with cages of varying sizes.
The clerk looked up; it was a girl I knew, Lily. Well, everyone knew Lily. Short little girl, just over five feet, with sand colored skin. She kept her black hair cut short and out of her face, where it framed her red eyes like a picture. As we walked in, she scratched her horns; short red devil horns, poking out from her hair. She smiled at us—she smiled at everyone, its just who she was—making her sharp fangs prominent.
“Hey there, Derek. You come by to say hi?” She nodded to Adam. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Adam Anders, my new roommate.” He immediately stepped forward and shook her hand. “We need a rat trap. Non-lethal, please. I’m showing him how the job board works.”
“Ooh,” she grinned. “Sounds fun.” She clicked through her phone. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any actual traps of the size you’re looking for. Just cages.” She looked at me with no hint of mischief in her eyes. “You’re going to have to wrestle it in by hand.”
I just smiled. “Sounds like a perfect first job. We’ll take it.”
She shrugged and went to retrieve a cage from the shelf. “Fine by me, just go to the hospital after. Don’t want you two starting a plague.” She checked her phone again. “That’ll be twenty bucks. Half back if you bring back the cage.”
I pulled a twenty from my wallet and handed it over. “I’ll pay this time,” I assured Adam. “But just so you know, generally we’d split it.”
He reached for his wallet. “Well I can—”
I waved my hand. “No, this is a freebie. I’m not going to make you pay for something that wasn’t your idea.” Lily handed me the receipt, and I picked up the cage. “Let’s go catch a rat.”
Adam nodded a goodbye to our clerk. “Have fun at your party.”
I stopped and stared; Lily blinked.
“Uh…” Adam seemed unsure of himself now. “The…costume party. I assume that’s why you’re dressed like that?”
Lily blinked again, then laughed out loud. “Oh, Derek, you didn’t tell me he was brand new.”
“Well, uh…” I scratched the back of my head, embarrassed. “I didn’t know he was that new…” I frowned. “Didn’t your friend tell you anything?”
Adam looked first at her, then at me. “What am I missing?”
Lily came around the counter and stood right in front of him. He wasn’t tall, but he may as well have been a giant next to her. “It’s all real, sweetie.” She bent her horns forward. “See? Touch ’em.”
He gingerly did as she bid, reaching out to touch her horns. He parted the hair where the horns connected to her skull, and jumped back about five feet.
“Real, yes.” Lily stepped forward and smiled even wider, making her teeth even more obvious. I had enough experience with her to know she meant it to look cute, but it probably looked terrifying to poor Adam.
“Lily, maybe you should…”
“What?” She touched his cheek lightly…with her tail. “I like this one, Derek. He’s adorable.”
I frowned. “When did you get a tail?” She definitely hadn’t had that the last time I saw her. Adam seemed completely frozen.
“Hm? Oh, about two months ago. They’re a new one.” She cocked her head quizzically. “I thought I’ve seen you since then.”
“I thought so too.” I wanted to inquire more, but any longer and Adam would cause a scene. “I think we need to go, though.” I grabbed my roommate by the arm and headed out. “I’ll see you later, Lily.”
“I’ll be around,” she promised. “And make sure to bring your friend. I mean it.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 2)
Lily is one of my favorite characters, and will be an important supporting character throughout the entire series. She knows more about what’s going on in Domina than most people, so she’ll be serving as exposition a lot of the time.