My name is Jelena Aune. I am a Glasyan of the Third Circle; third out of Nine, with higher being better. In other words, I’m not very important.
But it was for that very reason that Noble Glasya liked to take me along to meetings. She waved it off to everyone else as me being her assistant (I did make very good tea), but I knew she valued my keen political ear far more than my beverages.
But still, I had to play the part, so I carefully placed a cup of tea on a saucer in front of our guest.
“Thank you, Honored Nightstalker,” the naked woman said graciously. She was a beautiful twenty-five year-old woman with flawless pale skin and very long brown hair pooled behind her. She carefully lifted the teacup and blew on it until it cooled, then took a sip. “Yes, thank you indeed.”
The Queen-Mother of Fevered Day, the Crone of Night’s Eastern Autumn, appeared mostly baseline, except for her marble-black nighteyes. But I knew better than to be fooled by her appearance; she’d be stronger and faster than me by an order of magnitude. Glasya would probably be able to keep up with her, but Fevered Day’s body was just an expendable homunculus, which gave her a large advantage.
Not that this would come down to a fight. Glasya wasn’t that stupid.
My warlord sat down in the chair opposite the fey very carefully, not making any sudden movements. She was a gray-skinned vampire with dusky black hair in a long braid, dressed in a cute ankle-length skirt and a truly marvelous corset. There was nothing really unique about her appearance; our culture favored internal toys.
“Forgive me, Honored Crone,” Glasya said after a few minutes of the fey just enjoying her tea. “But can we get down to business? It’s been a while since you requested a meeting.”
The naked woman smiled as she put her cup back on the saucer. “Oh, I just figured that it seemed like a good time to tell you about the side effects of the toy box.”
My warlord froze. I was able to resist doing the same and continue preparing more tea on the table behind her, but only barely.
Necessarius had built a few dozen toy boxes and used them each several times a day. If they had side effects, we were in serious trouble. Even if it was something minor, Butler would come down on our culture like an airstrike.
Glasya tried not to let her anxiety show, but she was having trouble. “You didn’t mention anything before.”
The crone grinned. “Now, where would be the fun in that?”
I heard the leather armrests of the chair squeak as Glasya gripped them, likely to keep herself from strangling her ally.
“In the future,” she said with admirable calm. “I would prefer to be given a full list of any and all side effects you know of before the transaction is finished.” She plastered on a fake smile. “Now, what is the problem in this case?”
The fey tapped her chin thoughtfully. “You know, ‘side effects’ might be the wrong phrase. The device itself works exactly as intended.” She waved her hand. “No, the problem is the security system.”
I raised an eyebrow. I had seen the blueprints, and while I was no engineer, I knew enough to be sure there hadn’t been anything like that. The ‘sarians definitely would have noticed guns or whatever when they were playing around with it.
But Glasya just forced a smile. “Please, continue.”
The Queen-Mother of Fevered Day leaned forward, her breasts jiggling distractedly, and smiled. “Did your tech-priests notice a filter when they were taking the device apart?”
“They’re not our engin—tech-priests. But I vaguely remember seeing something like that. Why?”
“It modifies the air passing through it,” the fey explained. “Uses a few control nodes to introduce an artificial pheromone, and pumps it back out.”
“To what purpose?”
The fey grinned. “Come now, Noble Glasya. Surely you can figure it out?”
The vampire warlord narrowed her marble-black eyes. “No, I can’t. What is it?”
The grin grew wider. “It plants a very specific desire in the mind of anyone who inhales it. An obsessive, illogical compulsion to keep the toy box safe at all costs.” She tapped her lip. “Of course, there is the slight side effect of dementia, eventually leading to the afflicted to decide everyone nearby is a threat who must be eliminated…”
I closed my eyes. That was…bad. But not as bad as it could be. The Necessarian version of the box didn’t have that device, because it was open-air and they hadn’t seen the need for what seemed like just an air filter. But the original was still a problem.
I wasn’t quite clear on who had it right now. According to the news, it was the aves, but they were a weak culture; it had probably already been stolen from them again. Especially if everyone nearby was compelled to keep it ‘safe.’
“There is other news,” the Crone admitted, and my eyes snapped open. “There is a very small segment of the population who are immune.”
She took a sip of tea.
“Who?” Glasya demanded, finally getting impatient.
The Crone smiled. “A small control group. One hundred randomly selected blocks were chosen. We then piped a…vaccine, of sorts, into their water supply, and watched what happened.” She frowned. “Two of the blocks were still affected, though. We’re not quite sure why.”
My boss brushed her hair back with a shaking hand. “I’m going to need a list of those blocks which are immune.”
The fey’s grin was back.
“You want something in return,” Glasya noted flatly. There was no denying it. We really should have expected this from the start. The fey don’t request meetings just to chat. Well, okay, sometimes they do, because they’re all as crazy as a bag of wet cats, but usually not.
“Nothing much,” Fevered Day assured us. “We’ll even return her to you, as sane as when we got her.” Her perpetual smile widened. “I swear it on the Zero Forge.”
This was always the case with the fey. It took a lot of haggling to even get them to accept money at all. Normally, they preferred people. Very specific people. Usually, they were never returned. Occasionally they escaped, with no memories of their previous lives, and became changelings.
My warlord rubbed her forehead. “Let me guess. The same as you wanted for the toy box: A dozen virgins, six male and six female, all eighteen.” She locked gazes with the naked creature in front of her. “The answer is still no.”
But the grin didn’t disappear. “Oh, Honored Nightstalker, this is why I love you. You never give up on your principles. But I just want one this time.”
“I’m still not going to give you some random—”
“Her,” the fey declared. It took me a second to look up and realize what was going on.
She was pointing at me.
“No,” Glasya said instantly. “No, no, no. No way in the blackest night.”
“You’ll get her back…”
“No!” the warlord was standing now, the chair flung back against the wall. Her rage was barely contained—at least she hadn’t actually attacked Fevered Day. “I refuse!”
The Crone sighed. “Really, dearest, one little girl is hardly anything in the grand scheme of things.”
“No, I refuse to sacrifice—”
“I’ll do it.”
Both women turned to stare at me. The shock on Glasya’s face was expected. But I was surprised to see, however briefly, a similar look on the fey’s. She hadn’t thought she’d get her way. But that didn’t make any sense. The fey were arrogant bastards who were convinced they would always win.
But the look was gone so fast I could almost convince myself I imagined it.
The naked woman stood, strode forward, and gripped my arm tightly. “Good choice, Honored Nightstalker. I’ll send the information back once we’ve reached my Court.” She turned to my warlord. “Three days, Noble Glasya. And then you’ll have her back.” She grinned again. “Wouldn’t want you running out of tea, now would we?”
As the Queen-Mother of Fevered Day dragged me out of the room, I glanced back to see one of the most powerful women in the city on her knees, sobbing.
She looked exactly as if she had just been told her best friend was dead.
Behind the Scenes (scene 60)
Important for a number of reasons, and not just Jelena’s capture.