“Why weren’t we invited to the party?” George grumbled.
I adjusted my daygoggles a little angrily. “We were. I turned them down. We shouldn’t get that close to them.”
Jarasax rolled his eyes from his spot in the driver’s seat. “Kelly, you make it sound like we can’t even be friends with them. I understand going to the party would be a bad idea, but we can at least be cordial.”
“It’s not like I told her to go screw herself. I just explained that we were on duty, and didn’t have time for that kind of thing.”
I saw something out of the corner of my eye; I turned and caught the tail end of Kat’s fingers flashing in a complicated pattern.
“She’s right on that one,” Alex grunted. It had taken him about two hours to learn Kat’s weird hybrid of sign language and battle-cant. George was still stumbling along. “This is boring. It’s worse than a stakeout.”
“Well, we’re not going to the party,” I insisted. “Or doing another job,” I added as the ogre opened his mouth to speak. “Not after how the last one ended.”
“That’s not my fault,” he grumbled. “How was I supposed to know the client was into bestiality?”
Jarasax shivered. “Let’s not bring this up again. I’m still having nightmares as it is.”
Kat, at least, agreed, and whipped out a portable gaming device to play the game she had bought a few days ago.
That was about the right idea, as far as I could tell, but the rest of us didn’t have anything like that. Blood and shadow, we didn’t even have any books. We really weren’t prepared for this at all. Most of us were used to participating in direct military actions. In Domina, that meant a lot less sitting around waiting for nothing at all.
George, however, was looking at the fel with a thoughtful expression on his face.
“Kat, I have a question.”
She looked up, her ears angled towards him, and signed a quick affirmative. He looked confused at first, but he knew enough to understand that, at least.
“Right. It’s just…” the big ogre chewed his lip, displaying his fangs. “I’m wondering why you’re still mute. It should be easy for the toy maker to fix, right?”
Kat’s ears suddenly stopped moving.
I blinked in surprise and sat up in my seat. This looked like it might be interesting.
I had been wondering that myself. The toy maker had many limits, true, but vocal cords weren’t all that complicated. Even if she lacked them completely, it shouldn’t have been too hard to make new ones. And as an anthro, she obviously had the money for that kind of buff. Blood and shadow, whoever did her anthropomorphization would probably have thrown in the voice for free.
She looked like she was about to sign something…then thought better of it, and quickly signed a negative response.
“Fine,” I sighed. “We’ll stay out of it.” But the rest of the team didn’t seem to be listening to me; they just looked thoughtful. I reached over and pounded the horn, making them all jump. “Won’t we?”
Sax flinched. “Yeah, yeah, of course.” The other two muttered similar affirmatives.
“Of course,” George grunted, “now we’ve got even less to do.”
Alex grinned. “Well, if Kat doesn’t want to share her life story, I guess it’s your turn.”
He laughed. “No, we should hear the boss—”
“No,” I said instantly, in a tone that brooked no argument.
The ogre grimaced. “Fine. My turn it is.”
It took him a minute to get settled; the van would have been a little cramped for five people anyway, but a giant had a lot of difficulty finding even the slightest comfort. Eventually, he decided on sitting in the lotus position on the bare metal floor of the van.
“I was twenty-seven years old when I became an ogre. I had already had some toys installed, but nothing obvious. That was eight years ago, when all the angelic fear-mongering about the vampires was finally starting to lose steam. I wanted power to protect myself from overzealous daybreakers, not nightstalkers.” He nodded to Alex. “No offense.”
The Gabriel grinned. “No worries, brother.”
“I joined up with Lord Gronn, which went about as well as you might expect. I fought in the Battle of Blade’s Edge, barely survived. The Gordoks took me in, and the King took a personal interest in me.” He shrugged. “Not really as impressive as it sounds. Gordok’s tribe is a small one, though most people don’t know it. The King made sure to greet every new recruit, and I caught his eye.
“And when he pissed off Odin, well…Odin caught his eye. Tore it right out of his skull.
“I left after that little fiasco. Amicably, you understand. I had had enough of the Culture Wars. That was…five years ago. Yeah, it was right around the Battle of Shendilavri, so that’s about right. Didn’t actually fight in that one, though. Probably for the best.
“It wasn’t until Hathsin that I joined Necessarius. Alex knows this part—I saw him fighting off a vampire, so I joined in to help.
“I actually meant to help the Nosferatu, but the stupid ferret attacked me the second I pulled them apart, so I ended up snapping his neck. Harder than it should have been, too. He had some kind of spine enhancements—”
“George,” I admonished.
He waved a ham-sized hand. “Right, right. You don’t need the blow-by-blow. Well, after the battle, I joined up with the ‘sarians. Seemed like the thing to do, and they needed men after that.” He shrugged. “And here I am.”
Jarasax raised an eyebrow. “That’s it? I doubt Alex would have suggested you for this if that’s the extent of your achievements. What’d you do after you joined up?”
“A few battles, here and there. Alex will have to tell you why he asked me to sign up for this mission.”
The angel grinned. “I thought it was obvious. The whole thing with the Lolthspire.”
Jarasax and I groaned in unison. “Ugh,” I muttered. “Alex, tell me he’s not another of those.”
“What’s wrong?” George asked with a frown. “It wasn’t even a real fight. Our sniper shot one of the Maidens the Lolths were dealing with, and I let loose some covering fire on the thralls. I don’t think anyone even died. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is that our resident daybreaker has a thing against Lolths. Pretty much all of his suggestions for the retinue fought them at some time or another.” I shook my head. “I should have known you weren’t an exception.”
The giant turned to the angel. “While I appreciate the chance, what’s your beef with the Lolths? They thrall your brother or something?”
Alex rolled his eyes. “Why does everyone always ask that? No, they’ve never done anything to me personally. But they’re a bunch of misandrist thugs who need to be taken down a peg.”
“I don’t think anyone disagrees with you,” Sax reminded him. “You’re just a bit…zealous about it.”
The angel frowned. “That’s not fair. I’m not as bad as Kat.”
The fel’s head snapped up instantly, and she signed for him to shut up.
“No,” he said firmly. “I’m not covering for you. I’m not the one who stalks Lolth territory on my time off. I’m not the one who nearly started another war by shooting one of them against orders.”
George blinked. “Wait one second—that was you? You were at the Lolthspire?”
She ground her teeth together and signed quickly, turning her back on the rest of us.
“Oh come on, Kitty,” I admonished, and immediately regretted it. She hated that name. “I mean…you guys have some mutual history. Now’s the time to bond and share and stuff.”
She signed a negative response again. But before any of us could retort, she pointed out the window.
The Paladins were leaving the park.
They’d be fine, of course. It was a birthday party, not a monster hunt or anything. But we still had to keep an eye on them, if only so we were nearby if a screamer attack started again.
The fact that it gave Kat a way out of the conversation was just bad luck.
Behind the Scenes (scene 30)
I was a little leery on George’s exposition here. Just having characters explain what is going on is an easy trap to fall into. But as the newcomer to the group, he is the one most justified to just dump his backstory on everyone.
Of course, not everything in it was completely accurate. You’ll find out what parts later.
EDIT: Making a few changes to the site design over the next few days. Please be patient.