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.