My name is Simon Lancaster, and I am a sibriex, a type of demon. Well, technically, anyway. The fact that my skills with the toy maker are essentially nonexistent make it difficult to advance in the flesh-warpers. I’ve got some nice horns and a decent job for my membership, but very little else.
My twin sister, Seena, sat next to me, though I could barely see her. She had a black skin cosmo—completely black, like a pool of ink. Combined with her naturally black hair, she was nearly invisible in the dim auditorium.
By comparison, I was…gaudy. Yes, that’s a neutral term. I had mottled purple skin and green hair; both very strange colors for most demons to be, but as a sibriex, it was downright bland. Nine hells, my horns weren’t even a weird shape, just sharp little nubs sprouting out of my forehead.
Seen kept adjusting the daygoggles covering her eyes nervously, so I elbowed her gently in the gut. “Stop fidgeting,” I muttered.
“I can’t help it,” she whispered back. “They itch.”
I sighed and gave up. She was always like this. When we were younger, she had been forced to get a pretty pricey buff to remove her acne, since she would not stop scratching, to the point that her face had been covered in scars.
It was nine in the morning, the first Monday of the school year. Normally, it would be a fun environment, as people were still enjoying meeting new people and seeing old friends.
But instead, the mood was tense and hushed. The lecture hall was divided into clumps of students, seated as close to their friends and as far from strangers as possible. Even the maintenance man installing speakers in the corner seemed subdued. Everyone was whispering, glancing around as if there was a bomb threat hanging over their heads.
There had been a screamer attack on Saturday.
Details were sparse, but there were nearly two hundred causalities. Worse yet, it had happened just outside the Springfield Wall. If the Paladins hadn’t gotten there in time, everyone in the school could have been killed.
But then, the Paladins had come. A small group had managed to annihilate an entire horde.
There were worse things coming, everyone knew that. But at least we had some sort of defense. I don’t know about everyone else, but it definitely made me feel better.
“This seat taken?”
I glanced up to see Derek grinning at me, hand on the seat next to me.
I blinked. “Derek? You—” I managed to get control of my tongue. “No, of course not. Go right ahead.”
He put his bag under the seat and sat down, Akane sliding into place next to him. “Where’s David?”
“Dead,” I replied, glancing at Seena. She was wide-eyed and a little pale in the face, but that wasn’t surprising when Derek was around. In her defense, I don’t think anyone expected him to be up this early. I turned back to the blond man. “Shootout with some vampires. Not sure what he did to piss them off.”
Derek winced. “Ooh. Tough luck.”
“Don’t you guys have a job or something at night?” I asked, turning the subject back to the pair.
I saw something in his eyes, a brief look of worry and guilt. It surprised me, but before I could figure out what it was, it had disappeared again. “Oh, right, the missions. Thought you meant something else.” He shrugged. “We decided to try and get some sane hours. Wake up at normal times, do work between classes.”
I grinned. “No more midnight strolls through Dying Jade territory, huh, Akane?” I patted her on the knee.
Suddenly she had my hand in an iron grip, with a knife poised to strike. I hadn’t even seen her move.
“Sorry,” she whispered after a moment. She let me go, blushing.
I frowned as I rubbed my hand. Was she still like that around me? I thought she had gotten over that when she rescued me from the Queen of Dying Jade’s hounds.
It was probably the touch that did it. It probably reminded her of our disastrous date. I could understand why that, at least, would make her…twitchy around me.
Derek coughed lightly. “So, ah, Seena…when did you get the nighteyes?”
My sister blushed, but when she spoke her voice was strong. “A few days ago. I joined the Mals. Was recruited by Abigor himself, actually.”
Akane frowned. “Baal’s general?”
Seena shook her head. “Not anymore. A Night-caste angel assassinated Baal about a week ago. Now Abigor, Bileth, and Zepar are in charge.”
“I’m going to be honest, those names mean little to me,” Derek admitted. “But I met Baal once. He was…” he searched for the right words. “Not charismatic. Present.”
I nodded. That was a good way to describe the Duke of Maladomini. I had met him three years ago, but I still remembered the crushing weight of his presence. It had been like an ant before an elephant. I had assumed he hadn’t noticed me, but apparently he made an impression, since one of the first things his generals did once he died was send an invitation to both myself and my sister to join. Obviously, I had declined.
“It’s always been a relatively small subculture,” Derek noted. “You think the it can survive without him?”
Seena shrugged. “That’s why they recruited people like me. They need fresh blood. Anyone, young, strong, and willing to learn will do.”
“First assignment?” Akane asked, just above a whisper.
“Not yet,” Seena admitted. She frowned. “It’s so frustrating! I’ve been doing missions for years, but none of that counts as far as they’re concerned.”
“Well,” I said slowly. “You have to admit they’re pretty different skillsets…”
She waved her hand impatiently. “Find the target, remove it. What’s the difference?”
“There’s are a number of important difference between slaying a dangerous monster and assassinating an individual,” Derek said calmly. But there was a fire in his eyes I didn’t want to test. “I hope you understand that.”
Seena looked like she had been slapped. “I…yes. Of course.”
The blond-haired man pulled his laptop out from his bag, still beneath his feet. “And I hope you understand the implications of a subculture founded by the Lord of Murder.”
Seena swallowed. “Ah…I know what Mals do…”
“Then hopefully Baal’s generals will be as wise in choosing their targets as he was,” Derek said in a tone of finality. He turned his attention to the laptop. The conversation was clearly over.
However, my sister looked like she wanted to cry. I had never been good at consoling her, but luckily Akane’s antipathy to me didn’t extend to my sister. She jumped over the seats to the row behind us, walked over to the newly made vampire, slipped into the seat next to her, and started whispering something I couldn’t hear.
I turned to ask what Derek thought about all this—he wasn’t the type to intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings—but I found I couldn’t speak. Stunned isn’t quite the right word. I was just…the words died in my mouth.
He was on Fundie, browsing the internet. Nothing strange about that.
However, of the dozen or so windows and tabs he had open, every single one of them related directly to the three generals of Maladomini.
I found myself desperately hoping they knew what they were doing.
Behind the Scene (scene 15)
I was originally going to call the Duke of Maladomini Baalzebul (after his Dungeons and Dragons counterpart), and his followers Zebulans. But it just didn’t work. Baal and Mals just sounds better.