“Silver and gold, where are they?” I muttered, pacing in front of the dorm. The room had quickly proven too claustrophobic with eight people.
Derek leaned against the side of the building nonchalantly. “Calm down, Laura. They’ll be here soon enough. They’re only a few minutes late.”
The rest of the group was mostly clustered around Akane, chattering about how great her new earrings and necklace looked. She hadn’t removed them since she got them three hours ago. Lizzy was joking that she’d never take them off; I touched my own necklace, with the diamond ring hanging from it.
Some things you just want with you at all times.
“Happy birthday, Akane!”
And some things you want as far away as possible.
Derek jumped. “Mom! Dad! You’re early!”
Adam frowned. “I thought you said your dad was dead?”
Derek turned red as a beet and kept his mouth firmly closed.
“That’s my dad,” I explained. “Unfortunately.”
My father, Victor Medina, was only a few inches taller than me. Like me, he had a very strong European cast to his face—strong bones, pale skin, and jet-black hair, including a short goatee. But while I can barely even remember the last time I honestly smiled, he always had a goofy grin on his face, like nothing was wrong in the world.
“It’s okay,” he said, reaching forward and ruffling Derek’s hair. “I think it’s cute.”
Derek’s mother, Maria Huntsman, chuckled. The Italian woman didn’t look much like her son; she had brown hair and matching eyes, and where he had whip-thin muscles and a strong frame, she was round and full, like a cinnamon bun. Emphasis on the ‘full.’ My chest is about average, but anyone will feel inadequate next to Maria Huntsman.
“Don’t tease them,” she admonished, elbowing my father in the ribs. “This is Akane’s day.” She scuttled over to the girl in question, and handed her a squarish bag filled with tissue paper. “Here, this is for you.”
Akane seemed a little surprised, despite the fact that we had told her this was coming. She dug around for a moment, before pulling out a pair of large fabric bands, probably designed to be strapped on her upper arms. Each band had six knives held carefully in place with small buttons; they could likely be pulled off quickly and easily.
The knives themselves were double-bladed, making them dangerous to handle, and clearly balanced for throwing. These were no-nonsense weapons, with no ornamentation of any kind.
“Nice,” Akane whispered, gazing at the gift in wonder.
“Very nice,” Derek added. “How much did those cost?”
My father laughed. “Oh, not too much, just—” He stopped, frowning.
Derek’s mother frowned as well. “Uh…”
I closed my eyes. “Tell me you didn’t.”
Maria shifted on her feet. “Well, not on purpose…”
Derek sighed deeply.
Akane looked pained, but everyone else was confused. Flynn was the one who spoke up. “I’m sorry, what’s wrong?”
“Someone forgot to buy Akane’s gift,” I growled.
Adam blinked. “You mean you—”
“Silver moon and golden sun, this is not my fault,” my father insisted, his habitual grin finally gone for the moment. “I was carrying Derek’s present, not Akane’s.” Derek’s birthday was at the end of this month. Well, I guess he was getting weapons again, though that was hardly a shock.
“Did you at least pay for that one?” Derek asked patiently.
My father frowned again. “Well…”
I sighed again. This was hardly the first time they had done this. In fact, thirty years ago, it was the reason they had been sent to Domina in the first place. They ‘borrowed’ a truck, which happened to have several thousand dollars of merchandise in the back. The judge let them off lightly, mostly because they returned everything, but they still got a five-year sentence each. And, of course, prisons aren’t mixed-gender, so they weren’t able to see each other. So when the plans to build Domina were announced, they jumped at the opportunity.
The city was built on a great trash island on the Atlantic, and constructed solely by the cheap labor of white-collar criminals, with their sentences halved as a result. Some left when their terms were up, but many stayed, including our parents.
Of course, even white-collar criminals are still dangerous and unpredictable when left to their own devices, so the city devolved quickly into violent gang warfare. It wasn’t until Butler stepped in, about fifteen years ago, that things finally started to settle down.
But our stupid parents still stole anything that wasn’t nailed to the floor.
I flipped out my phone and dialed MC. “My parents stole something again,” I explained tiredly. “Can you debit their account?”
“Of course,” the fake MC replied smoothly. MC had written a few programs for dealing with shoplifters specifically because of these two idiots. “What store, and what were the items?”
“I’ll let them tell you,” I said as I handed the phone off to my father. He took it sheepishly and walked off to somewhere Derek wouldn’t be able to hear, to keep his present a surprise.
“Thank you for the gift, Miss Huntsman,” Akane said quietly, with a very small bow. “I’m sure they will be useful.”
Maria smiled. “Thank Victor. It was his idea.” She clapped her hands together. “Anyway, where’s this picnic spot we’re looking for?”
“It’s over by the south end of campus,” Derek said. “Where’s the blanket and food and everything?”
His mother bit her lip. “I forgot it. It’s at the car. Akane, would you be a dear—”
“Maria,” I interrupted, barely catching myself before calling her something more embarrassing. “It’s her birthday.”
She blinked. “Oh dear.” She patted Akane on the head, avoiding the little cardboard crown she was still wearing. “I’m so sorry about that. Just force of habit. One minute, I’ll be right back.”
I sighed. I really didn’t understand why Akane took orders from those two. Okay, I understood, but it was still a bad idea.
That was about when my father came back; he handed my phone to Akane. “It’s for you.”
She took it, frowning in confusion. “Hello? Wha—MC?”
Akane’s problem wasn’t that she let people take advantage of her; it was that she was completely closed-off except for two or three people. She had ‘too defensive’ and ‘too open,’ with very little in between.
“No, I mean, I’m surprised, but…thank you. Yes, honestly, this is just unexpected. What? Yeah, that was me. They jumped me in an alley. That a problem?”
I listened to Akane’s conversation with only half an ear. Mostly, I was keeping an eye on my father; he was walking towards me purposefully.
“Yes?” I said, trying not to sound too bored. I’ve known for fifteen years that I’m smarter than my father. It’s hard to take him seriously.
But sometimes, like now, he gets such an intense look on his face that I’m forced to remember that he is not completely useless. He was sent to Domina for being a terrible thief, sure, but he was an old friend of Butler for reasons he has never fully explained to me. And I refuse to inquire further.
He led me a little away from the rest of the group, out of their earshot, before turning to look me in the eye.
He didn’t waste any time. “Are you one of the Paladins?”
I tried not to quiver in fear. “Yes. How did you know?”
“Artemis told us,” he lied.
I frowned. My ability might not be very useful, but it could be helpful at times. “No he didn’t.”
He smiled slightly. “Truthtelling, huh? Useful.”
“Not really. How did you know I was one of the Paladins?”
He shrugged. “Artemis did hint that there was something about you we should know, and recommended asking. Given the timeline, this seemed logical.” He glanced at the rest of the birthday group. “I know Derek’s part of it, which means Akane as well. Who else?”
“Ling, Akane’s roommate. And Adam, Derek’s roommate. Adam doesn’t have a power, though. Lizzy has a power, but we’re keeping her out of the action.”
He frowned. “When did you receive these powers?”
“We’re not completely certain, but the morning of August 24th at the latest. Adam came to the city after that, so whatever empowered us did it before then.”
“Hm.” He scratched his beard. “Very interesting. If we can cross-reference that with some of MC’s data, maybe take another look at those DNA tests Isaac ran…”
I shook my head. “Good luck with that, Dad.” I walked back to the group.
Akane was hanging up the phone. “That was MC.”
“We gathered,” Ling said drily. “What’d she say?”
“She…was calling to wish me a happy birthday.”
“Well, that was nice of her.” I smiled. “Although I don’t think I’ve ever heard of her doing that before.”
Akane just nodded dumbly, a small frown on her face.
I quirked my head. “What’s wrong?”
She searched for the words. “I…have friends.”
I blinked. “Well, yeah. What’d you think?”
She just stood there, staring at my phone.
I didn’t really know what to make of that, but Maria came back with an armload of quilts and baskets, saving me from thinking too hard on it.
“Victor, help me out here,” she said with a grunt.
My father laughed. “No way. You need the exercise.”
I frowned. That was a lie? Normally sarcasm passed through my filter. What was going on?
She glared. “You aren’t exactly the picture of health either, beer-gut.”
“What??” he grabbed his belly through his shirt. There was a noticeable bulge. “No, this is just fake padding. I’m actually fit as a fiddle.”
Not a lie. Or at least, it didn’t register as one. Silver and gold, what was going on?
I was distracted by Ling turning and whispering in my ear. “Are they…related?” People always asked that. They fought like brother and sister.
I mentally shelved my questions for the moment and sighed. “No, just crazy.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 29)
I’ve been meaning to do a scene with Maria and Victor for a while, not least to get some of Domina’s backstory out. Laura is vastly simplifying the story, but it hits the key points. More will come later.