Monthly Archives: May 2012

Scene 41 – Post Nocte

POST NOCTE

DEREK

“We ran into Laura earlier today,” Simon said. “And that little blond Asian girl. It was an ‘L’ name…Li?”

“Ling,” I corrected. I settled into the couch at the cafe a little gingerly. I was still pretty badly injured; my wounds had only barely stopped bleeding, and Laura would kill me if she found out I was running around this soon. I was supposed to be in bed. “Ling Yu. She’s Chinese, and in AU on a scholarship.” I grimaced, both from my wounds and from trying to remember. “…soccer? Yeah, soccer.” When she got cornered, she fought like a soccer player. Lots of kicking.

He pulled up a chair and sat down next to me. “Well, she seemed nice enough. Only saw her for a second, though.”

I chuckled. “Next time you see her, be prepared for a discussion about anime. She’s majoring in animation.”

“Fair enough. I know ever since I chose my major, I’ve started spewing toy maker technobabble given half the chance.”

“Oh, you decided on that after all? You had it narrowed down to that and…something else. Something political, right?”

“Culture studies. But my Power offered me a scholarship, if I majored in the toy maker.” He shrugged. “Made it easy.”

I leaned back, smiling. “I imagine it did. You know Akane and I almost chose ours at random? Thankfully, they started offering Monster Study this year.”

“They didn’t have that before?”

“Not as a major. Just one or two classes.”

The demon shook his head. “I don’t know why your mom is so insistent you go, anyway. You guys are making great money already.”

“She never got to go to college, so she’s insistent I take the opportunity.” I indicated my injured body. “Besides, monster slaying is dangerous, and if I’m incapacitated, suddenly I’m not making any money.”

“Yeah, I understand, it’s just…” he shrugged again. “Our matron was never quite so insistent.”

A waitress sidled up. “Can I get you boys anything?”

“Croak,” Simon said, naming a soda.

“Water for me,” I added. “In a plastic cup, if possible. I’m afraid I might drop it.”

The girl nodded and sashayed off.

“That reminds me, Derek…” Simon said slowly. “How exactly did you get those injuries, anyway? I don’t think you mentioned.”

“I didn’t?” I thought I had. Oh well. My head still wasn’t working quite right. “Got in a fight with some Nosferatu.” I grinned a little weakly. “You should see the other guy.”

He blinked. “Wait, you mean last night? With the bats?”

I shrugged awkwardly and tried to answer without actually lying. “That area.”

He rubbed his hair back, wincing as he nearly sliced his hand open on his horns. “Nine hells. I heard that was a bad one. They brought down a skyscraper, right?”

“That was the Paladins. Containing everything.” I hadn’t been conscious for that part, obviously, but the girls—mostly Laura—had filled in the blanks.

He nodded. “Should have known. True Necessarian style. Destroy a few things so you don’t have to destroy everything.”

“That’s a little harsh.”

“Harsh? That was a compliment. Without them, everything would have gone to hell years ago, even discounting the cultures.”

I rubbed my face with my hand, embarrassed. “Sorry for snapping. I lost another friend last night.” I paused, then realized there was no harm in telling him. “She got turned, actually.”

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry. A friend of mine got turned into a burner—do you remember Paul? But yeah, I know how that is. You know Clarke a little, right? They any closer to a cure?”

How did he know—oh right, he knew I was friends with Clarke’s daughter. “Not that I know of. I’m pretty sure they haven’t even figured out what’s causing it. It’s not viral or anything like that.”

“You just hear the song and turn into a bat?” The demon shook his head. “Seriously, the world is getting weirder by the day.”

“This from the man who is purple.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

The waitress came back with our drinks. As I had requested, she delivered mine in a soft-shelled water bottle. As I nodded my thanks to her, I noticed a maintenance man walking in, setting up a ladder in the corner to service the speaker there.

As the waitress walked away, I turned my attention back to Simon. “They might be getting closer, though. Last night, Necessarius caught about five hundred bats. Plus the hundred burners and ten or so biters, that’s a nice, big sample pool.”

“Five hundred? Hells…how many dead?”

I thought about the question for a second. “Not a lot. Fifty, I think. No, less than that. Two dozen or so.”

He set his soda down in surprise. “Seriously? The blogs have been making it sound worse.”

“Well, the turned ones are effectively dead, so yeah, its pretty bad.”

“Oh, I know, I know, just…” he shrugged. “A couple hundred people died at the Battle of Shendilavri. Almost a thousand at Hathsin. That’s what you think when someone says there’s been a major battle. Fifty sounds more like what happened at Androlynne, or Minauros.”

I frowned. “There was a fight at Minauros? When did that happen?”

“No, that was my point.”

“What, that no one cares about Mammon enough to pick a fight with him?”

Simon looked at me sideways. “Derek, Mammon’s been missing for almost a year. Doresain stole Minauros from the Mammonites a few months ago.”

I snorted some water up my nose on accident, but managed to recover quickly. “You’re kidding.”

“Wish I was. The ghouls have gotten bolder because of it.” Doresain Gravetouched was king of the ghouls, though of course not all of them followed him. Still, generally the violent ones were willing to pay attention to him, if nothing more.

“Huh.” That explained why bounties on ghouls had gone up the last few months. I hadn’t thought much of it. But then I grinned. “You gotta admit, its funny. The Thieves’ Guild got its fortress stolen?”

He rolled his eyes. “Yes, everyone has already heard all the jokes. You really need to pay more attention to politics.” The sibriex waved his hand dismissively. “Anyway, my point is that the screamers don’t really seem like a threat if we go by their actual kills.”

I took another sip of my water, contemplating. “Laura thinks the Composer has some master plan that makes this all make sense. Maybe one that doesn’t involve actually destroying the city.”

“What’s she basing that on?”

“Mostly? On the fact that the city is still here.”

He winced. “It’s really that bad?”

I wiggled my hand back and forth. “It’s…not good, by any means, but it could be much, much worse. Everything’s just so confusing.”

The demon leaned back in his chair. “And here I was hoping it was all fear-mongering and paranoia…” He frowned. “Where are you getting your info, anyway? You sure its legitimate?”

“Oh yes,” I assured him. “This is confirmed from high up in Necessarius. I’m absolutely certain its legitimate.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 41)

I really like how this one came out. Normally I have problems with pure dialogue scenes, but I think this one is perfect.

EDIT:  I just realized I had no link to the site’s RSS feed anywhere, so I added one on the right bar, under the “Blogroll” header.  Trying to find a more obvious place for it, but for now, there it is.

Scene 40 – Interulus

INTERULUS

LING

People looked at me a little funny as I rode the elevator back up, but wearing a towel over a wet swimsuit wasn’t really that big a deal. The only reason they were surprised at all was because I had been swimming at night. Generally, it was a good idea for non-vampires to avoid doing things like that.

It wasn’t that late, only a little after nine. I’ve just always enjoyed swimming in the dark, especially after practice. This was the perfect time: Vampires didn’t come out until later, and everyone else was already gone. There was no one around to bother me. Sure, normally I liked being…bothered, but everyone needs time to unwind.

But I was already done swimming. I hadn’t spent too much time doing laps, just enough to cool down from soccer practice. I wanted to save up my strength.

When I finally reached my floor, I didn’t go to my room. Instead, I looked at the door across from mine—Derek’s door—took a deep breath, and opened it. Derek always left the door unlocked when he was inside. Probably so that Akane could come and go as she pleased, I think.

“Oh, hey Ling,” Akane greeted me warmly. “Back from your swim?”

I blinked. Derek and Laura were sitting on his bed, Laura leaning against the pillows with her laptop across her knees. Derek was at the foot of the bed, closer to the door and not actually touching Laura at all. Akane was sitting on Adam’s bed, trying not to mess it up.

I dropped my towel.

Half was from surprise, but most of it was because that was my original plan. Of course, I hadn’t expected anyone besides Derek to be in the room, but my reflexes hadn’t quite caught up with my brain yet.

Laura looked up. “Nice. I’m not sure black is your color, but not bad.”

I blushed and scrambled for the towel. Derek finally registered my presence, and frowned. “Isn’t that a couple sizes too small?”

“That’s the style for bikinis these days,” Laura explained. “I believe the official line is ‘tight in all the right places.’”

Derek snorted derisively. “It looks like it could pop off at any second. How is that any good?”

Laura just shook her head and went back to her laptop, though I noticed she touched her necklace briefly, as if to remind herself it was still there.

I had to agree with her. Dear lord that man was stupid.

But aren’t they always? If the hero understands women at all, he always has a girlfriend. Because despite what men seem to believe, girls eventually get over their desire for ‘bad boys.’ And if the hero doesn’t have a girlfriend, it means he doesn’t understand women. Simple as that.

I finally managed to get the towel wrapped around my body and fled to my own room, locking the door behind me.

I had been prepared when I opened the door, but nothing like running into a couple love rivals to put a damper on that. Okay, Laura wasn’t really a love rival…not important. I had thought they would be gone.

I dressed quickly. I didn’t really spend as much time as I should have, so I ended up putting dry clothes over my wet body. At least they were dark colors, so I wouldn’t be giving anyone a view of my underwear, but they still clung to me uncomfortably. I headed back downstairs, virtually running.

Emily barely glanced at me when I passed her in the lobby (did that girl sleep there?), but I nearly crashed into Lily and Adam coming in.

“Hey Ling,” he said. “What’s up? Wasn’t there a study group or something?”

Right, that was why the girls were there. I had assumed they were going to do it without Derek. Well, I couldn’t go back now.

“Yeah,” I admitted. “But I can’t…” I shook my head. “Just tell Akane I’ll be back tomorrow morning at the latest, and not to worry.”

“Fair enough,” he said, although he looked concerned. “Have fun.”

I caught a light rail going to South Middle, and rode on it for about forty-five minutes. In an emergency the trains could go up to two hundred miles an hour, but generally they stuck to sixty. I got off only three blocks from my destination, took a deep breath, and started walking.

It was a relatively nice part of the city, as far as the residential areas went. Tall apartments lined a clean street. There were a few trees here and there along the sidewalk, but most of the greenery came from the hanging wall gardens lining the trellises. Nearly every wall was covered in plant life, vibrant and bountiful. This time of year, the fruits and vegetables would be out of season, but there were a few herbs and vines that sustained the area.

It didn’t take me long to find the place I was looking for. It had wider balconies than the other structures, since the building was rented as a whole rather than as individual apartments. I heard children laughing, and teenagers yelling at them to knock it off. There wasn’t anyone in the street, but it was getting late, so that made sense. Honestly, everyone should be in bed already, but no one had ever managed to enforce that rule.

I knocked on the door with as much confidence as I could muster, and waited for a response.

And waited.

And waited.

I knocked again and waited for another five minutes.

Eventually I gave up and just started pounded on the door as loudly as I could. “Open the door, you damn brats!”

I heard someone approaching loudly, and the door swung open. “Who the hell—Ling?”

The matron of my orphanage was a tall, plump woman of undetermined ethnicity. Well, she looked black, but she changed her skin color every year or so, so that didn’t mean much. She also looked about forty, but she’d looked like that for as long as I’d known her.

She blinked, then grinned broadly. “Ling! You didn’t say you were coming home. Come in, come in, its cold outside.” She ushered me in. I hadn’t even noticed the cold, despite my damp clothes. Was that part of the power package, or was I just distracted?

“Turgay called,” she chirped happily. “Said you and a friend stopped by his warehouse a few days ago.”

“Yeah, Adam needed some ammo.” I cursed under my breath.

In response, Matron cuffed me lightly on the back of the head. “No swearing.”

I rubbed the spot where she had hit me. “Sorry, I just remembered that I had wanted to get some body armor too, but I completely forgot.”

She sniffed. “That’s still no cause for swearing.”

She led me into the dining room, empty now. Dinner had probably ended hours ago; Matron liked to put the little ones to bed early. Of course, for the vampires it was an early breakfast, but who was counting?

“Why are you gearing up so much, anyway?” she asked, as she pulled out a chair and I sat. She then sat at the head of the table, kiddy-corner to me. “Sounds like you’re preparing for a war.”

I looked at her frowning. “Have you…been listening to the news at all?”

She waved her hand. “Angels killed Baal. Nosferatu having another civil war. Zombies running amok. Butler has everything in hand. You’re overreacting.” Well, things were getting worse every week, but I guess she didn’t need to know the full details. “But somehow I don’t think that’s why you’re here.” She gave me that long, level look she has, usually reserved for when someone has done something especially stupid. “It’s a boy, isn’t it?”

I flinched away from her gaze. “Well…yeah.”

She leaned back in her chair and sighed. “When are you going to learn? Even before your hormones kicked in, you used to sneak into the boys’ rooms whenever you got the chance.”

I shrugged, still not meeting her eyes, and picked at the table. The heavy wood was scarred in a thousand places, including one spot where I had tried to write my name in Chinese. That didn’t work out so well.

“This is different,” I insisted. “Derek’s something to work for.”

My Matron just raised an eyebrow. “That’s what you said about Tamaki, Kyouya, Hikaru and Kaoru…”

“Hey, I never said anything like that about the twins.”

She waved her hand. “Fine. Still. This is hardly new, my dear.”

I sighed. “You never understand.”

Before she had a chance to cuff me again, a half dozen kids, maybe ten or twelve years old, swarmed into the room.

“Ling!” a young vampire cried out, hugging my leg. She’d be the leader of this little gang; the rest had baseline eyes, and would need to go to bed soon. Her day was just starting. “Matron said you wouldn’t be coming back!”

The woman in question whacked the orphan lightly on the top of her head. “No, I said she wouldn’t be coming back to live here. She’s welcome to visit whenever she likes.”

“It’s been fun without you,” another of the kids chirped. “Mitchel’s been going crazy. It’s hilarious.” He changed his voice, imitating the surly boy one year my junior. “’Matron, why’d Ling have to leave? Matron, did Ling call?’” He snickered evilly.

I flicked him in the nose. “I don’t want to hear that from someone who still wets the bed.”

He flinched away from my finger. “I do not! You’re the one who got caught fuc—”

Matron whacked him hard this time. “That’s enough. Go to bed. Now.”

They ran off quickly, knowing better than to tempt her wrath.

She rolled her eyes. “Seriously, you kids fight more than a devilfish swarm.”

I bristled. “Hey, I haven’t been a kid for a long time now!”

“I know. I was there when your kids were born, remember?”

I felt my face flush crimson, and she laughed.

“I’m sorry, dear, I didn’t mean it like that. I know you’re off at college now, living without me watching over your shoulder.” She smiled. “Tell me about it. Let’s start with this Derek character. What’s he like?”

I warmed to the subject. “Kind, and strong. Everyone loves him. He’s a high-level monster slayer. He saves lives.”

“Wait, you mean Derek Huntsman?”

I turned to see a boy standing in the doorway, a toothbrush in his mouth. He was wearing simple flannel pajamas, of a red and green pattern.

He was seventeen, and tall, with the ruddy skin of a pacific islander, and garish green hair. That color looks bad in general; contrasted with his skin it looked horrific.

“Mitchel,” I said, frowning. “I thought you would be at the server farm.”

“It was in Triple I,” he explained.

Ah, yes, I remembered the ‘scraper in question. Derek and Laura had used it as a back door into the redoubt. It burned near the end of the fight, when the screamers made a final push.

“The company promised me another job at a new location,” he continued. “But that hasn’t gone through yet.”

I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. “Wait, back up a bit. You know Derek?”

He shrugged. “I read a lot of monster mags. Like you said, he’s pretty high-level. Just the other day, he killed a pair of oversized alley crawlers.”

I laughed genuinely. That’s pretty rare for me, at least around Mitchel. “I think ‘oversized’ is a bit of an understatement. They were two hundred feet long each.”

He raised a emerald eyebrow. “You were there?

“It sounded fun. Besides, we all thought there was going to be one, normal sized. It didn’t sound too risky.”

“You shouldn’t involve yourself with those kinds of things,” Matron insisted. “It’s too dangerous.”

I rolled my eyes. If only she knew. “I was fine. I can take care of myself, and like I said, Derek is reliable. If something had gone wrong, he would have protected me.”

“She’s right,” Mitchel pointed out, which surprised me. He had always been jealous of anyone I was interested in. “Huntsman is well-known for putting the survival of allies and bystanders above all else.” He shrugged. “It’s the only major criticism against him, actually. They say the only reason he ever fouls up a hunt is because he’s trying to rescue someone instead of getting the job done.”

I smiled. “Yeah, that’s him. He’s definitely got a bit of Chronic Hero Syndrome.”

“From the way you’re talking, I still can’t see why you’d run over here,” Matron noted. “He sounds like the understanding type.”

I wriggled in my seat uncomfortably. “He is. He’s just…a bit of an idiot when it comes to women.”

Mitchel sighed. “You tried to seduce him, didn’t you?”

Before I knew what was going on, I had thrown the chair aside and pinned him to the wall.

He hadn’t said…it. But I knew it was on the tip of his tongue. Even now, his back literally against the wall, his eyes were filled with anger rather than fear.

“Let me go,” he hissed. “Or I’ll tell Derek what you are.”

Used to be,” I snapped back.

The bastard grinned. “No. What you are.” He moved his face uncomfortably close to my own, until his toothbrush poked my cheek and I could smell his breath. At least it was fresh. “It takes more than a couple runs through a toy box to remove a strain like that, my dear. It’s like they say: You are who you are. The toy maker just lets you show it.” He shrugged. “Or hide it.”

The entire orphanage was made of reinforced titanium, as it was originally designed as a bomb shelter. The foundation was concrete, but a thick carpet separated my feet from the hard substance. Good thing, too.

If I had been touching any kind of stone at that moment, I would have used my powers to kill Mitchel St. John.

I’ve never killed anyone before. I’m not even good at killing animals; it makes me all fluttery inside. But…

I am not what I was.

And I would not let anyone say otherwise.

Who knows what would have happened, if we had been left to our own devices. But thankfully, Matron whacked me hard upside the head before anyone could do anything too stupid. I really should have seen that coming.

“That was uncalled for.” She pointed angrily at our uninvited guest as I released him sheepishly. “Mitchel, go make sure the kids are getting to bed.” He obeyed grudgingly, muttering the whole way.

“Sorry,” I said sincerely, once he was out of earshot. I didn’t mean it towards him. But starting fights in the orphanage was just…off-limits.

“He has a point, despite his rudeness,” Matron pointed out, apparently choosing to ignore my assault. Maybe she just didn’t realize how close I had come to murdering him. “You always choose the worst moment to jump a couple dozen steps ahead in the relationship. And it never ends well. I thought you were over this.”

“It’s different this time.”

“It always is.”

I stamped my foot in frustration. “Dammit, it is. Why is it so hard for you to believe that I might have actually found someone right this time?”

She smiled at me sadly. “Because you came running back here, sweetie.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 40)

This didn’t come out quite as well as I would have liked. I’ll have a better one with Ling later, maybe chatting with some of her other friends from the orphanage.

Also, you may have noticed the site has ads now. Please notify me if something goes wrong—if they’re getting in the way of the text, they disappear or reappear at random, stuff like that. Also, there shouldn’t be any that play sound automatically, so let me know if one of those pops up too.

Scene 39 – Vulnerum

VULNERUM

LAURA

I ripped the blood-soaked bandage off Derek’s stomach without warning.

“Ack! Careful, Laura! That stings!”

Careful?” I demanded. I grabbed a bottle of antiseptic and poured it directly onto the puncture wound, where it bubbled and hissed. He yelped in pain and nearly jumped off his bed. I pushed him back down, and he obeyed, more out of instinct than because I actually had the strength to force him.

You are the one who has re-opened his wounds ten times in as many hours, because you can’t stay out of fights.” I slapped a new bandage on his belly, where the antiseptic still sizzled, and taped it on briskly. “You are the one who attacked two Nosferatu Nobles while bleeding buckets from two separate wounds.” As I said this, I went to his neck bandage, also completely crimson, and repeated the process. “I think that if you die from my ministrations, its your own damn fault.”

He struggled, but had little success. He really had lost way too much blood. On the other hand, his wounds might have been the only reason the Nosferatu listened to him last night. One guy with a death glare is easy to ignore. One guy with a death glare despite being covered in his own blood is a little bit harder.

“I’m sorry,” Akane whispered, clutching her sheathed sword as if for comfort. She really should be resting too, but at least she wasn’t agitating her wounds. Her entire torso and her burned arm was wrapped in bandages that would accelerate the healing process. “I didn’t even notice he was wounded at first. I thought it was vampire blood.”

I sighed. “It’s not your fault. How’s Ling holding up?”

She nodded briskly. “Doctor Henry says she’s just got a few cracked ribs, plus the teeth. She’ll be perfectly fine tomorrow.”

The toy maker had so many wonderful uses. Vastly accelerating the body’s natural healing was one of them. And replacing a few shattered teeth was even easier.

Derek had refused to accept treatment, and it had taken me a while to figure out why. It wasn’t that he wanted scars—in fact, his skin was flawless, despite the many wounds he had surely accrued over the years; one of the other minor gifts of the toy maker. No, the reason was a bit simpler than that.

“You’ll have to get used to being a celebrity eventually,” I pointed out, while pressing on his chest, looking for fractures. The x-rays hadn’t shown anything, but it was best to be sure.

He snorted. “No thanks, I can live without being fawned over like royalty.” He sighed. “At least when I was just a monster slayer, I could request a doctor who didn’t care about that. All of Clarke’s techs know we’re Paladins, so that’s out.”

“Could always talk to Doctor Clarke directly,” Akane pointed out. “He still treats us the same.”

Derek smiled. “Yeah, and he won’t stop blabbering about his newest projects, either.” He waved his hand, wincing a little as he did. “Besides, he’s too busy to do grunt work.”

I glanced at the first aid kit Derek kept in his room. “Hm, you’re out of sutures. Akane, I have some more in my room, under my bed.” I tossed my keys to her and she headed out with a nod.

“I don’t need stitches,” he scoffed. “There’s some of that healspray stuff in the kit. It’ll keep me together long enough to find a doctor.”

“I agree,” I admitted, shaking the aerosol can, peeling up his bandages, and spraying it on the wounds. I probably should have done that before the bandages, but I had forgotten. It wouldn’t cause any harm, regardless. It wasn’t as good as stitches, but it would serve as temporary skin until he could get fixed. The biological equivalent of a bandage. “I just needed to get Akane out of the room for a minute. I need to talk to you in private.”

He raised an eyebrow. “What about? I can’t think of anything you’d need to talk about that she can’t hear.”

I chose my words carefully. “Tell me what you think about her.”

He blinked. “What?”

“Akane. And Ling, for that matter. Tell me how you feel about them.”

“Well…I mean…” he scratched his head. “They’re my friends, you know? Just like you and Adam. Sometimes they give me headaches, though.”

I put the spray aside and started feeling around his neck wound. He had mentioned it ached more than it should; he might have some internal injuries we couldn’t see, like a minor case of whiplash or something. Not to mention that the Nosferatu sometimes used poison, but that would have shown up in his bloodwork. “And what about when they throw themselves at you?”

He frowned. “Yeah, that’s where the headaches come in. I don’t know what’s up with them these days.”

I sighed and stepped back. His neck was fine, as was his chest. He had no injuries other than the obvious ones. His brain, however, might need fixing.

The reason Derek had re-opened his wounds so much—other than intervening in a fight between some kemos—was that Ling had tackled him. In fact, that was why she was getting treated right now. Her injuries had gone from ‘minor ache’ to ‘screaming pain.’ It was her own damn fault, but still.

Akane wasn’t much better. She hadn’t actually tackled him, but she had refused to let go of his arm, so he kept losing his balance. The reason I was treating him was because I was honestly worried about what would happen if I let her do it.

“Derek Huntsman,” I declared. “You are the stupidest man I have ever met.”

Before he could respond, Akane came back and handed me my own first aid kit. She glanced at the healspray can. “Couldn’t you just use that?”

“Yes, and I did. Sorry for making you waste your time.”

She shrugged, unconcerned. “There’s something you might want to hear,” she said, pulling out her phone and clicking a few buttons. She held it up, and I heard Eliza Cassan’s voice. I guess Akane had heard the news on my radio and found a recording.

“I’m here on the scene of the latest screamer attack, in the South-East Central district. Until last night, this was the site of a long-standing war between two of the largest Nosferatu bloodlines, the Guruhi and the Nictuku. The screamers attacked at 8 P.M., in the middle of a battle. The vampires largely chose to ignore this new enemy, in favor of continuing to kill each other.

“Necessarian forces did their best to contain the violence, but they were vastly outnumbered. It wasn’t until the Paladins arrived that the tide began to turn. The Necessarian angel host arrived soon after, and with their help the battle was won relatively quickly.

“Many of the survivors note that the leader of the Paladins single-handily managed to subdue the vampires, and many turned to aiding the beleaguered soldiers they had been fighting against just moments before. Those few who remained recalcitrant—including the Nobles of the two bloodlines—were declared ‘Honorless Bloodsoaked,’ and cast out.”

Akane closed her phone with a snap.

Derek sat up and reached for his shirt. “I feel like I’ve heard that term before…but I can’t place my finger on it.”

“You invented it,” she explained. “Last night. You called Halifax and Cinder ‘Honorless Bloodsoaked,’ and the Nosferatu heard you.”

“Oh yeah, I heard about that,” I put in. “It’s become the accepted insult. Sort of the opposite of the Honored. I think they already got names for all the cultures.” I chewed my lip, thinking. “Let’s see…angels are Fallen, demons fiends, giants goliaths…”

Derek held up a hand for me to stop. “Wait wait. All I did was insult a couple Nobles. And it turned into a full-blown meme?”

I shrugged. “All the message boards I frequent are using it.”

He stared at me. “It’s been less than twelve hours.”

I grinned. “Well, most of the Nosferatu spent that entire time in quarantine, so I guess they didn’t have much to do other than blog.” My smile softened as I finally realized why he was freaking out. “They just think it sounds like a good counter to the honorifics. It’s not because it was you who said it.”

He put his shirt on carefully, frowning. “I…yeah, I guess that makes sense. But still, all this attention…”

“Stop worrying,” I instructed. “I know you don’t like being put on a pedestal, but you’re running around, saving the city and everyone in it.” I shrugged. “You’re going to be looked up to. Just refuse to give autographs and you’ll be fine.”

He looked horrified, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“It isn’t funny!” he cried. “I don’t know how to deal with that!”

I patted his head. “Just deal with it the same way you deal with women, and you’ll be fine.”

He frowned. “What do you mean, how I deal with women?”

“Exactly.” I pulled out the scrunchie keeping my hair up, letting it fall again. I hadn’t wanted to worry about getting any hair in Derek’s wounds. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some shopping to do.”

He cocked his head, confused. “Didn’t you get all that done a few days ago with Lizzy?”

“I just need to order a few specialty items from the Emporium,” I explained, referring to the online marketplace. “It’s no big deal.”

I retrieved my first-aid kit from Akane and headed towards the door. I was planning to leave for the day, until I noticed the look on her face. She was waiting for me to leave with an anxious expression.

Dear lord, I couldn’t leave these two alone.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, to Akane’s obvious disappointment. “I just need to grab my laptop.”

I closed the door behind me…and nearly ran into Ling, silently opening the door to her own room.

She grinned, a little shakily. “Hey Laura.”

I frowned. “Aren’t you supposed to be getting healed over at NHQ?”

“South Central Outpost, actually,” she corrected. “Henry put me in one of the toy boxes. Fixed me up quick enough. He’d probably be willing to do the same for Derek, actually.”

I waved my hand. “Let him deal with it for now. He deserves the pain.”

She winced. “Right, and I meant to apologize about—”

“Straw that broke the camel’s back, Ling,” I said flatly. “Again, he deserves everything that has happened to him.” I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “Look, I have to go grab something from my room—”

“Oh, I’ll come with you,” she said as she locked the door again. “I left one of my gloves in there during Akane’s party.”

As I headed towards the elevators with the girl in tow, I struggled to remember. “The thin leather one?”

She nodded. “That’s it. You found it?”

“Yeah. It’s on my nightstand.”

We reached my room without incident; I collected my laptop, Ling got her glove, and I locked up again. Lizzy wasn’t there, but that wasn’t a big surprise. There was some voice actors’ convention going on—I didn’t know the details. But she was busy. Probably for the best; we didn’t need anyone else fawning over Derek.

Ling told me to go on ahead while she went to the bathroom, and I didn’t see a need to wait for her. When the elevator doors opened, however, it had picked up two passengers. Before I stepped on, the girl, a midnight-colored vampire, held the door open and eyed me.

“Laura?” she asked with surprise. “Is that you?”

I frowned, my hand involuntarily edging towards my Occisor. “Do I know you?”

“Nine hells,” her companion, a purple demon—a sibriex, almost certainly—muttered. “It really is her. She hasn’t changed a bit.”

I resisted the urge to grind my teeth. “I think you might have me mistaken for someone else.”

The vampire rolled her eyes. At least, I think she did. She was wearing daygoggles, so it was hard to tell. “It’s me, Laura. Seena!”

I blinked dumbly. “Wait—Seena Lancaster?” My hand finally came away from my gun, and I looked her up and down. I should have known at ‘nine hells.’ “When did you become a vampire?”

She grinned. “Just a week or so ago. I joined the Mals, and they footed the bill.”

But that just made me frown again. “The assassins? Why?”

She shrugged. “They asked.”

I sighed. “And what about you, Simon? Did you join the sibriex just for the hell of it?”

The demon laughed. “Of course not. You know I’ve always been interested in the toy maker.” His grin faded. “Unfortunately, I don’t really have the skills the sibriex are looking for, and I haven’t had a chance to experiment as much as I’d like…”

Thankfully, Ling came back before we could delve too deeply into depressing topics. “Oh, hi!” She glanced at me, then back at the twins. “Do you guys know each other?”

“Seena Lancaster,” the Mal explained, shaking Ling’s hand firmly while still holding the door open. “This is my brother, Simon.”

The little Chinese girl smiled and shook his hand as well. “Pleasure. I’m Ling Yu.” She glanced at me for a moment before turning her attention back to Seena. “So how do you know Laura, anyway?”

This hardly seemed the best time or place for this discussion, but the vampire didn’t care. “She moved to North Outer when we were all eleven. We got along famously until our orphanage got bombed by some Canians, and we moved here.” She scrunched up her face. “That was…three years ago, I think.”

“That’s right,” I put in with a sigh. “It was about a month after my fifteenth birthday, I remember.” She was exaggerating about the ‘got along famously’ part, of course. While I had spent more time with them than anyone else, that really wasn’t saying much.

Simon brushed his green hair back. “What are you doing here, anyway? Visiting your dad and friends?”

“Actually I’m going to AU for college.”

Really?” Seena exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell us? We could have made sure we had a few matching classes.”

“It’s been three years, Seena. I forgot.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, pouting a little. Ling and I hopped into the elevator before the doors closed, but Seena didn’t seem to notice. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to make up for lost time. When’s your last class? We can get lunch or dinner after that.”

I winced and touched my necklace. “I…don’t know I’ll be free. I have a job with really weird hours.” I heard a click as Ling pressed the button for our floor, and the elevator finally began to rise.

Simon quirked his head. “Weren’t you just consulting a little on the side? That’s not really an emergency.”

“Consulting for warlords, these days,” I lied smoothly. “Not the kind of people you want to disappoint.”

The demon laughed. “Combat consulting? I should have known. All those hours of Starcraft and Warhammer finally paid off, eh?”

I grinned honestly. “More than you know.”

The elevator dinged with our floor, and Ling quickly stepped out, using her hand to hold the door open.

“I’m sure we can all find time to do something,” she assured the twins. “I’d like to get to know you better, and I’m sure the others would like to meet you.”

“Call me,” Seena insisted, as I stepped out as well. “Promise?”

I smiled at her as the doors closed. “Promise.”

Ling smiled. “They seemed nice.”

“They are,” I admitted. “Too nice for the Mals, and maybe even too nice for the sibriex.” I shook my head. “But for now, we just need to make sure Akane hasn’t mounted Derek while we were gone.”

“I’m gonna go swimming, actually, to cool down after soccer. What were your plans for the night?”

She was going swimming at this hour? Whatever. “I was gonna do something with Akane. Not sure what yet, maybe watch a movie, do a study group. We’ll think of something.”

She grinned. “That’s good. When I get back, I kind of want some time without her hovering at my shoulder.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 39)

Perhaps a little too much exposition, but I still like how this turned out.

I made some slight changes to the page format, as you may have noticed.  Hopefully, this will make things less confusing.

Scene 38 – Praedo

PRAEDO

ALEX

My name is Alex Gabriel. I am a daybreaker of the Night caste, 1032nd in precedence in the Host of the Glorious Destruction. This particular Host currently only has forty-five members, which is pretty good for angels. We just don’t have the numbers of the other cultures. My number is so low because I’m listed below every washed-out glowling, not to mention all the dead martyrs and idiots recorded in the Book of Glory.

Joining Necessarius rarely meets with approval from the Saints.

I was worried about Kat and everything, so in order to take my mind off it, I had asked MC to inform me of the first job that became available. It turned out to be interviewing Ileana, the Nosferatu who had helped Derek talk to the Nosferatu. She wanted to join up with Necessarius.

She was pretty, in a pale sort of way, especially for a Nosferatu. She had retractable claws and only very small, albeit poisoned, fangs. She was a diplomat, trained to deal with other cultures, so she was less monstrous than most of her brethren. According to her toy receipt, she made up for it with a number of internal buffs, like muscle and bone enhancements.

I liked her, and unless she did something really stupid, was planning on recommending we accept her.

But that wasn’t why I was here. Right now, my job was to make her sweat, not be her friend. Max Archer more than Roy Clayton.

“It says here you participated in the Battle of Hathsin.”

She winced at my words. “Yes. That was a…mistake.”

“I’m sure it was.” I made a show of paging through the pad, letting her stew for a minute.

She shifted in her seat. “I understand why you wouldn’t want me—”

“We want everyone, Miss Ileana,” I interrupted tiredly. She only had the one name, but that wasn’t as odd in Domina as it was elsewhere. Changing your legal name was easier here. “We will take absolutely anyone we think won’t betray us.” I slid the pad to the side and locked gazes, forcing her to recognize my dayeyes. “Do you know why?”

She adjusted her goggles. “Uh…because its the only way to keep recruitment up?”

I made a show of breaking the gaze, and sighed. “Because it is necessary, Miss Ileana. That is the only reason Necessarius does anything.”

We sat there in silence for a moment, the young Nosferatu trying hard not to look me in the eyes. She had worked under Cinder for years. He was a heartless, selfish bastard, and those we managed to recruit away from him never believed our honest intentions. None of the gangs did, really. It broke my heart sometimes.

At least Cinder and Halifax wouldn’t be a problem any more. Derek had slapped them down twice, in front of their followers no less. And if that wasn’t enough, they’d probably be dead before the week was out. Killed by their ‘friends’ or their former victims, it didn’t really matter.

That reminded me. “I have one last question. Soaring Eagle is asking for those Nobles from last night. Says she wants to kill them herself. Any idea why?”

Ileana blinked. “Soaring Eagle? The ave Animal King?”

I waved my hand again. “Queen, but yes. Do you know her?”

She frowned. “No, and I didn’t think Cinder did either. I mean, him and Halifax have been at each others’ throats since back when Halifax still had a face. I can’t think of a reason…” she caught her breath. “Adânc de noapte,” she swore. I didn’t understand the curse, but I had been around enough vampires to recognize it as Romanian.

“What? What is it?”

She paused, clearly considering how honestly to answer.

I narrowed my eyes, impatient for real this time. “Miss Ileana…”

“The cause of the fight last night,” she said quickly. “A few nights ago, some of Halifax’s scouts managed to ambush and loot an ave truck. Cinder sent his men to steal the loot back. It was…a toy box.”

Toy boxes were basically a large-scale version of the toy maker. You could put an entire person inside it, make large-scale changes cheaply and easily. Their invention had jumpstarted the recent creation of the anthros.

Something like that could finally bring prosperity to the ave culture. They were one of the oldest cultures, but they had almost no members, since they didn’t have any worthwhile buffs to offer. If they got their hands on a toy box, they’d have a real chance.

There were only twenty-six toy boxes in existence, as far as I knew. One was in the hands of the fey, another was the one they sold to Necessarius, and the other twenty-four were Clarke’s reverse-engineered copies of the second.

I pulled out my phone as fast as I could and dialed MC. She picked up immediately, as always.

“Greetings, Alex Gabriel,” her fake voice said, cheerful as ever.

“I need to talk to the real MC,” I replied. “Immediately. It’s about the toy box.”

It only took a few moments for me to be connected with the real thing. “Hey, Alex? What’s this about a toy box?”

“Ileana says the Guruhi stole one from the Nictuku, who stole it from Soaring Eagle. Any chance she bought the damn thing legally?”

There was a pause, presumably as she checked her records. “No. It was stolen on the morning of the first. The first of September, I mean. Does that gel with the timeline?”

I held the phone away from my mouth and turned back to the Nosferatu. “What date was the ambush?”

She bit her lip, thinking. “It was…Saturday night. So that would be the first.”

“Day and dawn…yeah, that fits.”

“I’ll tell Butler,” she replied. “He’ll figure out where Cinder stashed it. Anything else?”

“No, that should be all. Bye.”

“Later.” She hung up.

I plunked the phone on the desk with a sigh. Ileana stared at me, as wide-eyed as she could be in the painful light from my desk lamp. I, on the other hand, could barely see out of the very small circle of light it provided. I really should have left this to Kelly, or anyone with nighteyes.

“Cinder and Halifax will be tortured for information soon,” I explained as calmly as I could. “There will be no mercy. Once Soaring Eagle is found, she will also be tortured, to see if she has any other plans against Necessarius. Then, she will also be killed, as will any of her co-conspirators.”

The Nosferatu gulped.

“Once the toy box is found, anyone guarding it will be tortured and killed, to determine if anyone managed to reverse-engineer it in the meantime, and to keep the secrets of its construction from getting out. Soaring Eagle has just killed several hundred people.”

Ileana shivered. “But…why? Why not just make her pay damages? Or help you retrieve it? Or both?”

I locked my gaze with hers. “Because,” I said slowly. “It is necessary.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 38)

Technically speaking, Necessarius starts with non-violent interrogation, so if everyone cooperates, its quite possible that absolutely no one has to die.

They never cooperate.

There was supposed to be an extra update on Wednesday, but unfortunately my computer is giving me difficulties. Might be an extra one next week, though. We’ll see.

Scene 37 – Luctus

LUCTUS

KELLY

“She’s not dead,” Jarasax reminded me sullenly.

I didn’t stop passing out the drinks. “Yes she is. The fact that her body is still running around is irrelevant.”

George accepted his mug with a nod. “The boss is right and you know it. We have to accept that she’s gone and move on. Nothing else for it.”

Alex held up his glass. “To Katherine. Best sniper I ever met. First to fall to the screamers.”

“To Kat,” everyone muttered, as we clinked our glasses together and drank.

You get used to death pretty quick in Domina. I was actually the fourth child my parents had, but all three of my brothers had died by the time I reached grade school. It only gets worse if you decide to join a subculture or Necessarius; Kat was hardly the first friend I had lost since deciding to follow Butler.

“Kelly?” Sax said gently. “You all right there?”

I shook my head to clear out the cobwebs. “Yeah, I’m just…did Kat have any family?”

“No,” Alex answered as he sipped his drink. “Orphan, and her matron is dead. Her file said she was always a loner, so I doubt we’re going to have anyone calling to reclaim her things.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Yeah…that sounds about right.” Sounded like pretty much every ‘sarian I had ever spoken to, actually. “She have an apartment or something?”

“Something like that,” the massive giant who was guarding the door three feet from our table grunted. A Thor, if the hammer tattooed on his bicep was any indicator. When we all just stared at him, he shrugged. “You’re talking about Kat Lisbon, the fel anthro, right? She had a room upstairs.”

I glanced sideways at Alex. “Is that why you picked this bar?”

He grinned as he took another sip, but didn’t say anything.

I sighed and turned back to the bouncer. “Could you take us there? She was involved in some sensitive things, and we need to make sure nothing, you know…gets out.” With our luck, she’d have a journal explaining in full detail everything she had done for Necessarius ever since she joined, and some smug Satanist or Nessian would find it.

He shrugged. “Sure. It’s a bit slow right now.” He turned to the bartender. “I’ll be right back.”

The pale-skinned giant led us upstairs without another word, and we had to scramble to catch up. He obviously wasn’t the type to wait around, but some warning would have been nice.

“Watch your step,” he muttered as we exited on the third floor. “There was a spill here earlier.” He gave the yellow ‘wet floor’ sign a wide berth, which the rest of us mimicked.

“Oh, yeah, sorry about that,” a sweet female voice called from down the corridor. “Dropped some raspberry juice.”

I turned to see Elizabeth Greene striding forward, her golden eyes nearly glowing in the dark, and her smile wide and guileless.

We hadn’t officially met, but we had glanced through her file when we found out she was a known associate of the Paladins. There wasn’t much information; she was a voice actress, and she had lots of friends. That was about it. No one really cared enough to write more.

“Miss Greene,” I said politely. “Hello there. I didn’t realize you would be here.”

She quirked her head. “I’m sorry, have we met?”

I held out my hand to shake. “My mistake. I’m a friend of Derek’s. He speaks quite highly of you, and he has a few pictures. I’m Kelly.”

The girl shook my hand with a surprisingly firm grip. “Well, Miss Kelly, don’t let me stop you from…” she waved her free hand. “Whatever it is you’re doing.” She turned to the giant escorting us. “Hammie, getur þú sagt mér hvenær Nabassu fær hér? Hann þarf að hjálpa mér við eitthvað.”

“Auðvitað, Lizzy,” he responded smoothly. “Ég hringi í þig.”

The bronze-skinned girl grinned. “Takk.” She released my hand and headed downstairs. “See you all later.”

Once she was gone, George shook his head. “That girl is too trusting for her own good.”

Our escort raised an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

The ogre barked out a laugh. “Well, she trusts you, for one.”

I ignored the giants. I’m sure there was some amusing story about how the two met, nearly killed each other, and became friends, but I was hardly in the mood for it. I just wanted to get this over with.

“This it?” I asked when I found the door that looked right. It had a two-dimensional kitten face carved from wood nailed under the peephole, so I figured it was a pretty good guess.

The bouncer nodded. “Yeah. Just give me a second.” He fumbled with a massive keychain at his belt, and eventually selected one labeled ‘303.’ It fit the keyhole easily, and the door swung open with the soft grind of mostly-oiled hinges.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Kat’s room turned out to be as Spartan as her sniper reputation would suggest. The room itself was pretty small, maybe ten by ten feet, including the big walled-off chunk to the right, behind a door which presumably hid the bathroom. In fact, the room seemed a bit bigger than most hotel rooms, likely because Kat had removed the bed and replaced it with a small bedroll in the corner, next to the sliding glass door to the balcony.

I brushed my hair back. “Alex, it’s your show.”

“Right,” the tracker said with some glee, clapping his hands together. “Normally, I’d put George to work on the beds, but we don’t seem to have to worry about that.” He pointed to a heavy-looking dresser, maybe four feet tall. It was probably where the TV usually went, but there wasn’t one. “Go through that, see what you find. Ignore the clothes. Sax, check the balcony and the bed area. Kelly, I think you and I should be in charge of the bathroom. We—”

“Alex,” Jarasax said warningly. “This isn’t a smash and grab, or a search. Just…take it slow.”

The angel held up his hands. “Sorry. Just…forgot for a second there. Be careful, everyone.”

I sighed and walked into the bathroom. It was only slightly more luxurious than the rest of the place, probably because Kat hadn’t figured out how to remove the small bathtub in the corner. But other than a single extra-large bottle of shampoo, there was nothing. No perfumes or bath salts or scented candles.

I really should have expected as much.

“Hey guys,” George called from the other room. “Take a look at this.”

I strode out of the bathroom, pushing past our escort still guarding the door to the apartment, to find that our ogre had flipped the dresser bottoms-up.

I sighed. “George, didn’t you hear Sax? Don’t treat this as a raid.”

“I’m not. But there’s writing and stuff too, and this was the easiest way to read it.”

I rubbed my forehead and stepped forward to take a closer look. He was right; there was some sort of strange writing in an alphabet I didn’t recognize carved directly into the thin wood making the bottom of the dresser.

“I found something too,” the changeling reported, holding up a small white letter envelope. “Under the cot.” I plucked it out of his hand and opened it.

It had a small single-use flash drive inside, the kind used to store viruses. Well, they had originally been designed to help protect copyright, letting customers download the data once before burning out, but it had taken all of thirty seconds for hackers to find a better use for it.

I held it up, frowning. It was unlabeled. “Sax, did Kat have anything to do with hacking? Better yet, did you give this to her?”

“No on both counts,” he confirmed. “She was on friendly terms with a few other Blood-Doused Hunters, but I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning her needing help with hacking.” He scratched his chin. “She did ask someone to fix her tablet one time, though.”

“Who helped her? Maybe they know what this is.”

“Nemeni, I think.”

Our escort choked. “Nemini? As in the warlord of the Blood-Doused Hunters?”

Jarasax ground his teeth. “We are not a culture, Thor. We don’t have warlords. Dame Nemini is our leader, but—”

The giant waved his hand. “Yes, yes, no one cares. What was the Paragon of the clan doing with a low-ranking traitor’s friend?”

Said low-ranking traitor spoke up. “Unlike the cultures, changelings are not kicked out if we join Necessarius. Nemini is actually very supportive—”

“Wait,” I said. “Paragon. What’s that?”

The Thor blinked. “Oh, sorry, I assumed you knew. It’s a new meme going around. The title for baseline warlords. Pretty much just Butler and the changelings, but I guess whoever is in charge of the Paladins would get called that too.” He scratched his chin. “Speaking of, ‘Honored Paladin’ is catching on for baselines in general.”

“Can we focus here?” George asked in exasperation, as if he hadn’t been the one to cause the derail. “I still don’t understand what’s written here.”

“The big guy is right,” Alex proclaimed, slapping the ogre on the back. “The burn drive is probably just a virus she bought for an emergency. Jarasax can ask Dame Nemini if anyone really cares.” He leaned forward, squeezing his head between me and George to get a better look at the bottom of the dresser. “What’s really interesting is all this.”

Jarasax looked at it a little sideways. “It’s Gaelic. I think.”

I nodded. “That makes sense.”

He chuckled. “Not really. No one uses it. Haven’t for…” he whistled. “Centuries, probably. Now, they just use a modified Latin alphabet just like everyone else.”

I brushed my hand through my hair. “Of course. So you can’t read it?”

“Well…” he leaned forward. “I can make out bits and pieces. But my Irish isn’t that good in the first place, and add in the Gaelic on top, it may as well be chickenscratch.” He straightened up and shook his head. “Gonna need a real translator for this.”

“Well, that’s easy enough,” our escort said from the door. I turned to see him grinning. “Lizzy!” he called. “Þú getur komið í núna.”

Next to the giant, the bronze-skinned Amazon looked like a skinny child. She glared at the bouncer. “Hvernig vissirðu að ég var þarna?”

“You breath loudly,” he explained, probably using English for the benefit of the rest of us. “So you hear everything?”

She brushed her hair back and managed to smile. “Of course. I’d be more than happy to help.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You can read Gaelic?”

“It’s not really that difficult,” she admonished. “The alphabet is mostly the same, just different shapes.”

Alex moved aside to let her in, and I did the same. “That can be said of every language, Miss Greene.”

She grinned at the angel. “And now you know why I’m so good with them.”

I adjusted my daygoggles. “Just…tell us what it says.”

“Well…” she leaned in to take a closer look. Then she frowned. “That’s interesting. It’s a poem.”

This was getting weird. “Why would she carve a Gaelic poem into the bottom of her dresser?”

But the brown-haired girl shook her head. “No, no…it’s a poem in English. Properly translated, it rhymes in a simple A-B-A-B sequence.” She tapped one of the words. “There are a few lines that don’t rhyme, but I can’t tell if that’s because she chose some weird translation, or if it was intentional.”

“It’s a code, then,” George noted.

Jarasax rolled his eyes. “Obviously. Probably for me or Kelly. What’s it say?”

Lizzy shrugged. “It starts with ‘Steel and snow—’”

“Stop,” I said suddenly. The solution had just come to me. “Stop. The poem is a red herring. It’s not important.”

Our translator raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know, this is a lot of effort to confuse whoever is trying to read this. Who would care?”

I waved my hand. “It doesn’t matter. The point is what Sax said—It’s for us, and we don’t speak Irish.” I tapped the very first word, in the top left corner. “What is this? In Irish, I mean?”

“Cruach,” she responded instantly. “Steel.”

“Okay, okay…spelled C-R, I assume? Good.” I pulled out my reading tablet, a cheap little thing only slightly bigger than my cell phone, and plugged Kat’s burn drive into it. As I expected, a book downloaded itself onto the device—Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. At least, that’s what the title page said. But even though I hadn’t read through the entire book, I had paged through enough of it to know that this wasn’t a standard translation.

“It’s a book code,” Sax muttered, looking over my shoulder. “A…triple nested book code? Maybe more?”

“That’s what I’m guessing.” I frowned. “The only question is whether its based on English or Irish…Greene, what number is the letter ‘C’ in Gaelic?”

“Third. Same as English. ‘R’ is fifteen, though.”

I tabbed through the book until I found page three, then counted to the fifteenth word. Exorbitant. Okay…probably not it. “What number is ‘R’ in English?”

“Eighteen.”

I moved three words over. The. That sounded more likely. “All right…give me the first two letters of the next line.”

“’S’ and ‘C.’ Nineteen and three.”

Page nineteen, third word…latrine.

Jarasax was still following my progress. “That doesn’t seem very likely.”

I kneaded my forehead. I was not built for code breaking. “Fine,” I said, handing him the reader. “You have a better idea?”

The middle-eastern man chewed his lip briefly. “I think…we should try doing it by letter. The first one is third page, eighteenth letter. That’s…G.” He tabbed back to page nineteen. “And then…A. Yeah, that sounds more likely. Miss Greene, what’s next?”

It took a while, but we eventually managed to pound out Kat’s code, letter by letter. Especially since it took a while for us to realize we were supposed to count spaces as letters. By the time we finished, I could see the sun dipping out of sight through the room’s sole window.

“’Fey scheming together,’” Sax read aloud. “’Investigating now. Tapped their comms before they switched, ask Little Sister zero zero nine nine eight two seven.’”

“I’ll just let myself out…” Lizzie said as she slinked away. The Thor bouncer had left hours ago. I barely noticed.

“LS0099827. That’s one of MC’s programs, right?”

Jarasax nodded. “Definitely. Not sure which one, of course, but we can figure it out. I’m more interested in why Kat didn’t just give the info to MC directly.”

Alex shrugged. “Paranoid, maybe? The fey are pretty good at rooting out spies. And if they’re working together now, its even worse.”

The fey courts had some…interesting relationships with each other. The seasons, directions, and Day/Night fought each other constantly, but at the same time they respected the boundaries they had created for themselves. Night’s Southern Autumn may as well not exist anywhere but the south of the city, and she disappeared completely during the non-fall months.

But if they were actually, actively working together, that meant…

Well, nothing, probably. The fey were crazy. They weren’t likely to toss fifteen years of paranoid psychosis to the side just at the drop of a hat. In fact, if they were trying to work together, the most likely result is that they’d end up killing each other.

I shook my head. “Whatever. We’ll see. I’ll take this to Clarke, see what he thinks.”

Sax raised an eyebrow. “Not MC?”

I shrugged. “Kat decided not to tell her, for whatever reason. We have to respect that until we know more. Clarke will have the expertise to check whatever data she dumped in the Little Sister. Then we’ll know more.”

Alex pulled out his phone. “I’ll call—” He frowned. “That’s weird. I missed a call from MC.” He moved the phone to his ear to listen to the message. After a moment, he cursed. “Dawn—I gotta go. A job came up.”

George grunted. “For just you?”

“Yeah…” the angel muttered. “I asked MC to call me the second anything came up. I didn’t think this would take so long…sorry guys, I really have to go.”

“It’s all right,” I promised. “We’ll be fine.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 37)

This almost went somewhere really weird. Weirder than it already is, I mean. Thankfully, I managed to stop myself before Kat’s message turned out to point them towards an ancient sect of druids that had lived in the city for centuries. Yes, the city is only thirty years old. That was my first clue I was doing something stupid.

Oh, and Lizzy and the Hammer are speaking Icelandic here.