My name is Delphie Murinae. I am a murid, a mouse kemo. We’re not exactly a very organized culture, but we do have one warlord.
Like me, she still looked baseline, with long brown hair tied up in an elegant bun. She was taller than me by a good foot, which put her a little above average, with the same chocolate-colored eyes as me. But unlike me, she always had an unflinchingly serious look on her face, as though she were doing the most important thing in the world.
She was dressed in furs and leathers—mouse furs, which are a lot harder to stitch together nicely than you’d think. Some people didn’t even realize it was clothing at first, she wore so much of it.
But that wasn’t what marked her as the Alpha of the Murids.
Sitting lazily in her lap was a lean and dangerous rat, six feet long with a tail of equal length. Panay was currently curled up in a ball, asleep, but I knew he would be awake in seconds if his mistress was in danger. Unlike his wild brethren, his fur was clean and groomed, but he was not pampered. He had to catch everything he ate; he was just well-trained enough not to overeat like most of his kind. Combined with his buffs, the result was a creature of whip-like muscles and unbreakable teeth that could kill a baseline bear without any difficulty.
Like me, my sister had internal pheromone buffs that let her control rats and lesser rodents. Unlike me, she used hers to recruit and train an army of animal companions.
The Queen-Mother of Fevered Day smiled at us from where she stood before my sister’s chair. “So why have you called me here, Plague?”
My sister had a real name, which I thought was quite beautiful, but she disagreed. She insisted on being called the Lady of the Plague, referencing her power base—dangerous, disease-carrying rodents. She didn’t seem to notice how pretentious it sounded.
She answered the fey instantly. “We need to get in touch with the Composer.”
My sister hadn’t gotten to be warlord by being polite and gentile.
To her credit, the fey just raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Interesting. May I ask why?”
“You should know. Weren’t the fey planning to join him?”
My sister stroked Panay behind the ears. “If that’s what you want to call it.”
“Well, unfortunately, we have had very little luck finding the Cumadóir. Whenever we think we might be zeroing in, it moves.” The naked woman shrugged. “I am sorry. We had a number of questions we wished to ask it as well.”
“I really thought you would already know. My spies tell me the burners were looking for Killing Sparrow.”
“They didn’t find her.” The fey did not elaborate.
My sister closed her eyes. “Please don’t be difficult. I don’t see a reason why we cannot work together towards a common goal here. We both want to meet the Composer. We can do that, if we work together.”
“I remember what happened last time we worked together,” the Crone noted with a giggle. “I put you in a toy box, stuffed you with enough buffs to become a warlord.” Her gaze, no longer friendly and happy, turned to me. “And in exchange, your sister took enough fertility drugs to let a corpse give birth.” She grinned cruelly. “Which reminds me…how are those triplets of yours doing, dearest?”
I bristled. “You know I’m staying out of their lives.”
The fey shrugged. “Understandable. Though you should know, little Melanie recently decided she wanted to be an Alpha when she grows up.” The grin came back, and her eyes flicked to my sister. “Interesting, don’t you think?”
I stalked forward, but my sister grabbed my arm before I could do anything too rash. It didn’t stop me from talking, though. “You stay away from them. If I hear you’ve so much as touched them—”
She rolled her eyes and waved her hand, dismissing my threats as empty air. “You don’t even know where they are. What are you going to do? Ask MC to search for every three-year-old in the city?”
“She can narrow it down by birthdate, and the fact that they’re triplets will make it easier too.”
The cruel grin returned. “Who said I put them in the system under their birthdates? Or kept them together, for that matter?”
I ground my teeth together. “You crazy—”
“Stop,” my sister said, and I did. “You gave them up. Deal with it.”
Chastised, I nodded. My situation was hardly normal, but I had made my choices. And teenage parents who put their babies in orphanages were common enough that I didn’t really have a right to complain in normal company.
However, when one of the people I was talking to was my sister, who had children nearly as old as I was, complaining was just plain stupid. She was a better mother than I could ever hope to pretend to be.
The fey’s gaze turned to the Alpha. “That reminds me. How are your little ones? Your son is…eight?”
“Ten,” Plague corrected. “Gwenyth is eight.”
Our naked guest nodded. “Right, right. Knew one of them was eight.”
My sister had never been one for small talk, and this was quickly straying into forbidden topics. “Is there a point to this, Crone? If you can’t help us find the Composer, I think this meeting is over.”
The long-haired woman shook her head. “So impatient…tell me, Dame Plague, why exactly do you want to find the creature who is stalking your streets?”
“I told you. We want powers.”
The Crone scoffed. “From an unknown, insane zombie lord? Please. You’re far too careful to trust your fate to anything you don’t understand.” She leaned forward. “So why don’t you tell me what you’re really after.”
The Lady of the Plague didn’t speak for a few minutes. Whether she was just choosing her words or honestly contemplating the fey’s accusation, I couldn’t tell.
“The toy maker,” she began finally. “Was the most important advancement the human race has ever made. Clarke and Butler leveraged it into essentially owning this city.” She narrowed her eyes. “And now we have superpowers running around.”
The Crone grinned. “You want to be the Cumadóir.”
“Whoever the Composer is, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. In his position, I would use and dole out these powers far more responsibly.”
“Somehow I doubt that, sweetness. I also doubt you’d have a chance against him. He’s eluded Necessarius for some time now, which speaks volumes. And I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors.”
The warlord of the murids rolled her eyes. “Yes, that he’s an immortal body-jumper from an ancient civilization that destroyed itself in its own hubris. I heard.” She waved her hand airily. “But if he was immortal, he wouldn’t be bothering with the whole show—he’d be fighting on the front lines.”
“And that last part is clearly a ripoff of the Atlantis myth,” I added.
My sister nodded. “That too. Memetic mutation is spinning his reputation out of control, but that’s nothing new. I’m sure you remember the rumors from right after Orcus died.”
The fey chuckled. “Oh, yes, those were entertaining. I especially liked the ones about him returning as an undead prince bent on vengeance.” She grinned. “There were some people who really got into it, too. Read anything under the name ‘Tenebrous’ and you’ll see what I mean. They’re very entertaining.”
“Back on topic,” Plague growled. “Can you help us or not?”
The Queen-Mother of Fevered Day grinned. “Not. And honestly, I wouldn’t even if I could. You have little to offer me.” She rose to go.
“Wait.” My sister looked pained, but she spoke without hesitation. “If you help us, I’ll give you Heather’s body.”
I think my heart stopped in my chest. She couldn’t actually be thinking…
The Crone’s grin seemed to split her face in half. “You’ll actually give me your daughter’s body? No strings attached?”
“Heather’s body,” she insisted. It’s not that she didn’t view the girl as her daughter or anything like that, but she had another daughter to worry about, and with the fey you had to be specific about that kind of thing. “Payment upon delivery of the information. Deal?”
The fey paused, thinking, then shook her head. “No. That could be months. She’s been dead for days already. Payment now or no deal.”
The Lady of the Plague ground her teeth. “Fine. She’s stored in the Warren of the Unforgotten. I’ll let the gravekeeper know you’re coming.” She reached for her phone in her pants pocket, but Panay squealed slightly in protest.
“No need to hurry,” our naked guest insisted as she rose. “I don’t quite have time right now anyway. Just make sure you call before the end of the day.” She brushed her hair carefully. “One of my other homunculi is escorting a package, and I need to keep my attention on that.” She winked at me slyly. “Thank you for the hospitality, girls. I’ll show myself out.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 61)
The kemo cultures vary considerably in size and influence. Many, such as the cherves (deer kemos), daes (squirrel kemos), hystrics (porcupine kemos), leapers (rabbit kemos), and visons (mink or ferret kemos) don’t have any organization at all; they’re just individuals who liked the way a cosmo looked. These “quasi-cultures” are the ones who get discriminated against the most, without numbers to lend them strength.
However, it is not uncommon for quasi-cultures to become full-fledged cultures through the influence of a charismatic warlord. This is what happened to the murids, with the Lady of the Plague, and the aves, with Soaring Eagle.