Monthly Archives: December 2012

Scene 78 – Auxilius Necessarium

AUXILIUS NECESSARIUM

LAURA

I slathered some more healing paste on the hamburger that used to be Derek’s chest. I was surprised they had even managed to get him back to lab in that state. Ah, there was some premature healing, probably from a stimpack or two. That explained it. Still, I frowned at their story. “She shot three gargants?”

Derek nodded, though it clearly pained him. “With darts loaded with that calciophage stuff you and Clarke cooked up, yes.”

I rolled my eyes. “That stupid…I didn’t have anything to do with that. It’s a horrible invention. Too dangerous to use effectively. Akane, hand me that gauze, would you? Thanks.”

“It seemed to work against the gargants,” Adam pointed out.

I snorted. “And if you had been dealing with iron-heart gargants, they wouldn’t have even noticed. But that’s not what I mean. It gets into the air, then into your lungs, and kills everyone in the area.”

Adam blanched and covered his mouth. Akane giggled, and even Derek managed to crack a smile.

“Ah…but you don’t have to worry,” I assured him. “You’d be dead by now if you had gotten any in you.”

He lowered his hand sheepishly. “Of…course.” He looked around, desperately seeking to change the subject. “Where’s that red girl? Robyn, right?”

“She left a while ago,” I explained, as I added a few more bandages to Derek. “Said she felt useless.” I heard the click of heels. “Speaking of useless…”

Lizzy walked into the room.

She was wearing black. Lots of black. Black heels with straps that went up to her thigh, black shorts that reached down to the straps, and a marvelous black corset, with a dark shawl wrapped around it all.

I practically had to use my full weight to keep Derek on the table. I don’t know what the idiot was planning to do—hug her, probably—but he was hardly in any shape to do it.

“Hello,” I greeted her neutrally. “Didn’t you say you were bringing Ling with you?”

Lizzy cocked her head in confusion (and I felt Derek’s heart rate speed up), before nodding. “Ah, right. Yes, but she wanted to spend time with her ave friend. Make sure he’s doing all right, I suppose.”

“Fair enough,” I said slowly, searching for the proper words. An awkward silence fell as my hands worked.

After a very long few minutes, I finished bandaging Derek, and I had no good reason to remain silent. I made sure to fix her with a steely gaze first, though. I may not be as intimidating as Derek, but it’s not something you want to be on the receiving end of. “Did you rescue these three morons from gargants earlier?”

She blinked, her jaw working silently for a moment before speaking. “You…know about that?”

I frowned. “Where’d you get the calciophage, Lizzy?”

She shrugged a little helplessly. “Well, you know…Clarke is not always good at keeping track of things…”

I sighed. That idiot. He had to be doing it on purpose. No one could be that stupid. “Of course. But that stuff is dangerous. Don’t use it again.”

This could mean serious trouble, and not just because of the calciophage. Lizzy was not a killer, not a fighter, and not even an athlete. If she tried to get in the middle of this mess with the Composer, she would be destroyed, in more ways than one. We needed to make sure nothing came of this. I made a mental note to speak to the others about it once Lizzy left the room.

Before the uncomfortable silence could fall again, Adam spoke. “Well, I for one am thankful for the rescue.”

“Yeah,” Akane agreed. “Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita.”

Derek couldn’t say much (I had bandaged him a little too tight), but grunted in agreement.

Lizzy just smiled with those perfect teeth of hers, her golden eyes glittering. “This…is too much. You have nothing to thank me for.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 78)

Shooort. But this wasn’t really all that important, just shows Derek healing, and explains why Lizzy isn’t suddenly going to join the Paladins.

Oops, spoiler.

Extra update Wednesday.

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Scene 77 – Furor

FUROR

ODIN

My name is Odin. I suppose it would be appropriate to list all the titles that go with that name, but I really don’t feel like I deserve them. I took the name because I lead the Aesir, and it was expected of me. Not because I wanted it.

I’m Norwegian. Most Aesir are, actually, or at least one of the Nordic races. I was one of the many immigrants from those countries who got caught in the political crossfire in one of America’s stupid wars, and jumped at the chance to go to Domina when the city was being built. Many of my friends and family came with me, but few of us had any real skills, so we ended up as more unskilled labor, laying the foundation of the city on the trash island. Life was hard, but we survived.

Then, fifteen years later, Clarke invented the toy maker. It was a miracle, in a thousand ways and more, but the first thing I became interested in was the Bigger package, a set of buffs that increased size and strength over about six months. I was one of the first to try it.

It worked beautifully. I went from a short and compact man to a tall Adonis, able to lift cars and push buses. With effort, true, but this was not a comic book. Super strength was impossible, enhanced strength more than enough.

That proved useful at my construction job, you can be sure, and many of my coworkers bought the package as well. A lot of them were my Nordic friends and family, but others were other races. These were in the days before skin cosmos came out, when race still meant something. The Norwegians and Icelanders and Greenlanders were having enough trouble getting along; throwing Mexicans and Brazilians into that mix would have been lighting a powder keg.

So, I formed a gang. It wasn’t really a gang, at first. Just a small group to keep my friends out of trouble. Sure, it grew quickly, until we had almost a hundred members, but that was still barely a gang.

It wasn’t until the vampires started attacking us that we really started viewing ourselves as a group. I don’t know which subculture it was; again, that was the early days, so these were just kids with black eyes and bad attitudes. It’s easy to assume they were all Nessians or daevas, but reality rarely puts all the good guys and bad guys in clear groups.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Strong or not, most of us weren’t fighters, and with our clumsy new bodies, we couldn’t defend ourselves.

So we learned.

We bought guns, learned how to use them. The more patient of us learned martial arts, while the rest just fought each other for practice. We killed the vampires when they came. They came back with more guns, killed some of us. A vicious cycle with no end in sight.

Then Butler walked into our HQ one day.

Everyone had taken to calling it Asgard, but it wasn’t really a big deal. Just another ‘scraper, originally intended to be a hotel. The plan got scrapped when we were about ninety percent done—everything except the carpets, pretty much. There isn’t really much demand for high-class hotels in Domina City.

I managed to buy it off the owner for about a hundredth of what it was worth, and converted it into our lair. Like I said, it wasn’t much, but it was ours, and it was home. Fortified the first few floors, put water in the pools, and it was a place worth living. The vampires came pretty often, but we repulsed them, like I said.

Then Butler walked into our HQ one day.

We had heard of him, of course. Even before the toy maker, people were already beginning to whisper about Artemis Butler. No one knew what he had done to get sent to prison in the first place, but he wasn’t someone you wanted to screw with. They said he killed anyone who stood in his way, that his gang was supplied by the military, and that he was dying of an incurable disease, but held himself together with sheer will.

That was before the toy maker, mind. After that, the rumors got stranger, and aren’t really worth mentioning.

I had always assumed the rumors to be propaganda spread by the ‘sarians themselves. I had met Butler once, on the boat over to the island, and it seemed like something he would do. Simple. Effective. Small risk of danger. I didn’t want to cross him, but I figured if he started a fight, we could finish it.

But he walked through my fortifications like they weren’t even there. Walked into the elevator, up to my penthouse, and stood before me, leaning heavily on his cane, as if it was the easiest thing in the world.

I looked at the cameras, and it seemed like he had brought his entire gang with him, and it was bigger than I thought. Every single giant in the building had three guns in his face, and there were enough ‘sarians left to guard the entrances. That was nearly a thousand of the bastards. I still don’t know if that was all of them, but I very much doubt it.

No shots had been fired. Not a one.

Butler hadn’t brought a single man with him to my penthouse. Between me, my wife, my son, and our half-dozen bodyguards, we had twelve guns and nearly three thousand pounds of muscle to fight with. Butler was big and muscular, but he was baseline, and we were giants. Any one of us could have killed him with one hand. One finger.

But we didn’t.

Because Artemis Butler was the tallest one in that room. He is always the tallest person in the room.

He stared us all down without even the slightest trace of fear. He wasn’t smug. Smug implies that they’re arrogant, lording their successes over you. Butler was not smug.

“My name is Artemis Butler,” he said slowly, as if any of us didn’t know. “I have come to make a deal.”

I remember, even to this day, swallowing a lump in my throat that felt like an apple. “What deal?”

“Don’t cause trouble,” he said, looking me right in the eye. “Don’t start protection rackets. Don’t extort money or blackmail or murder. Don’t start wars.”

I ground my teeth. “The vampires—”

“Will be dealt with,” he interrupted. “In short order. And if they attack you, you may of course defend yourselves. You may even retaliate.” He fixed me with those crimson eyes. “If civilians get caught in the crossfire, however, there will be…problems.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then you will become my enemy.”

His eyes, his pale red eyes, made his intention perfectly clear. You do not want to become an enemy of Artemis Butler.

So I nodded, once, after only a few moments hesitation.

“Good,” he said, smiling. “I will have a more detailed list of laws sent to you shortly.”

Laws?” my wife virtually screeched. “You have laws for us?”

Butler raised an eyebrow. “Of course, Lady Frigga. A set of written laws is the best for everyone.” He smiled. “Unless you would rather simply be subject to my whim? I can be quite fickle.”

Everyone in the room knew that was a lie. This man was no more fickle than a mountain. He was eternal, unmovable. God himself could not force Artemis Butler to bend.

So when you take all that into account, I think, when it comes right down to it, it was obvious I was trying to commit suicide.

That was the only logical explanation I could come up with for my actions fifteen years later, a day after some of my best Thors were killed in that disastrous screamer attack at Bombed Alley. I was old, and tired, and wanted to die. My wife would be a good Colossus for a time, and when she stepped down, my son would have his turn.

I burst into NHQ, throwing ‘sarians left and right, roaring my anger and shouting Butler’s name, daring him to face me. I called him names, disparaging and unimaginative things like ‘redeye’ and ‘paleface.’ Hardly my best moment, by any account. Honestly, I expected to get a bullet to the brain and feel the final dark embrace any minute.

Instead, he came out.

He walked forward calm as you please, as though he was still in complete control of the situation. Which he was, of course. I had no power he didn’t wish for me to have.

“Senator Odin,” he called warmly, once he was within ten feet of me. He had to look up to meet my eyes, but as usual, he somehow managed to intimidate me. “To what do we owe this pleasure?”

“Don’t try to charm your way out of this one, Artemis,” I growled. “I lost over a hundred of my men at that ridiculous attack of yours.”

“As did the hellions,” he assured me. “The Composer revealed a weapon we did not anticipate, and we suffered for it. We are taking precautions now, but we can’t change the past.”

I stalked forward, ignoring the guns trained on me as best as I could. “Yes, I read your little newsletter. But the cultures are in turmoil. You can’t expect us to stand for this.”

He sighed, very deeply, and for the first time in a long time I remembered that this was a man with enough incurable diseases that he should have died when he was ten years old. Not only had he survived, but he had taken the weight of an entire city on his shoulders.

“I need your help with this, old friend,” he whispered. “This fighting—it’s exactly what the Composer wants.”

I sniffed, a little chastised, but determined to plow on. Or maybe determined to get myself killed. “Open war still hasn’t broken out, and it probably won’t. Everyone is mistrustful, but they’re not stupid. They’re just falling back and fortifying their domains.”

Butler shook his head. “Fortifying against a creature that can turn a thousand people into mindless zombies over the radio—and everyone is putting themselves in nice, compact boxes. Perfect for what the Composer has in mind.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And what would that be?”

Butler shrugged. “Who knows? That’s my point. Falling back gives the enemy too many options, and takes away too many of ours. We need to integrate, not segregate.”

I growled. “If you want us to deal with the hellions again—”

“Right now, I just want you to keep your men in check. Keep them from getting too violent. Once we find a way to identify these sleeper agents, everything will fall into place.”

He was being reasonable. He was always reasonable.

I sighed. “Fine. Butler, you win again. I’ll hold back my men. And I’ll shout down that vote of no-confidence some of the politicians are trying to push through.” I turned to go. “It’s the least I can do.”

Behind the Scenes (77)

Maybe a bit too much exposition here, but I liked how this turned out.

Scene 76 – Servator

SERVATOR

KELLY

I put the binoculars down and pulled my daygoggles back on. “Did anyone else see that?”

Jarasax lowered his own binoculars. “Damn right I did. Flying screamers? That’s not gonna be fun.”

George leaned forward. “Flying what? What’s going on?”

“Something just flew away from the square where the Paladins were hunting those gargants,” I explained quickly. “Sax, get us as close as you can. George, Alex, get ready.”

Our changeling driver moved quickly, starting up the engine and parking next to the mouth of the alley, the door of the van facing the opening. George wasted no time in sliding open the door and jumping out, pistol at the ready. We didn’t have time for him to lug around the minigun, not when the Paladins might be hurt, but a TK002 ‘Titan’s Knife’ would more than suffice.

Both the ogre and the angel dodged out of sight around the corner in seconds, but Jarasax and I didn’t follow. Instead, we both silently started loading up our guns; me with my Necessarian Saint Euphemia 4.5 mm rifle, and him with his Hellion 93-090 Auto. The latter was a 5.5 mm machine gun. Maybe a bit overkill against normal monsters, but he’d have to get lucky to use it successfully against gargants.

Not that it mattered. By the time we were ready to go, they were already running back with Akane and Adam in tow, and Derek in George’s arms.

“I can walk, man. Seriously, just put me down.”

“Maybe you can walk, but you shouldn’t,” the giant advised. “If not for yourself, then do it for us. Medina would kill us all if you got hurt.”

The injured monster slayer frowned. “What are you talking about? She wouldn’t care.”

George rolled his eyes as he set him down carefully in the back of the van. “He always this stupid?”

“Always,” Akane confirmed, jumping in and sitting at his side. “Remind me to tell you about the time he found a naked girl in his bed and thought she was screwing with him.”

Alex chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure there was very little screwing involved.”

Derek chose to ignore the back and forth, which was probably for the best. “What are you guys doing here, anyway? I thought you were busy.”

“We were,” I lied, glad Laura wasn’t around. “We finished early and decided to come check up on you. Which reminds me—have you called in the screamer yet?”

Adam frowned as he clambered into the van behind George and Alex. “Screamer?”

Derek coughed, spitting up a little bit of blood in the process. “That wasn’t a screamer. It was another Paladin.” He waved his hand weakly. “Not a Paladin, of course…”

“A speaker,” Jarasax put in. “That’s the general term for people like you.”

“Right, sure…” he coughed again, and blood dribbled out of the corner of his mouth.

Akane didn’t say a word. She just placed her hand on his chest and glared at him. He got the message and stopped trying to talk.

Adam took up the slack. “We’re pretty sure we know who it is. We just need to confirm it.”

I looked into those dull eyes of his, and knew he was telling the truth. Some sociopaths have the ability to lie perfectly, as part of their inherent…inhumanity. Adam wasn’t one of those. I could see through him like he was made of glass. He had simply never learned guile.

“Good. Sax, let’s go.” The changeling nodded and we sped off as Alex slid closed the door. “You don’t need to tell me who this flier is. But I need to know if you suspect they’re a threat.”

Akane snorted in derision. Adam glared at her briefly, but answered quickly anyway. “Hardly. She’s no more of a threat than Lily. I doubt she’d be very helpful either, but still.”

“That’s all we need,” I assured him. “I understand if you want to keep secrets. As long as it doesn’t interfere with anything else, I don’t really care. Take a right here, it’s faster.”

Jarasax followed my suggestion with a frown. “I thought we were taking them to their dorm?”

“The lab is closer. Besides, it has better equipment.”

He nodded. “Not to mention it’s on the way to our next errand.”

I almost asked him what he meant until I realized it was a bluff for the benefit of our charges. We both knew we needed to keep direct contact to a minimum. This way, we could drop them at the lab, peel off, and park a good distance away.

We weren’t hiding from the Paladins, not really. It was just the fewer people who knew that we were always just around the corner, the better. Maybe the Composer would think he could easily assassinate them or something, and we’d be able to catch him.

“Wait, errand?” George asked. “I don’t remember anything about that.”

I sighed. Moron. Well, he was a good fighter and made a mean chupaqueso, so I guess we could forgive a few mistakes here and there.

“We have to report to Butler for an assignment. I’ll brief you later.”

“Just get us there,” Adam said calmly. I turned to see him staring at me with those same dispassionate eyes as before. “After that, whatever happens is your business.”

Ah. Perhaps he had some understanding of guile after all.

Behind the Scenes (scene 76)

Yow, short. This wasn’t a very important scene, but I still wanted it anyway.

Extra update Wednesday.  Think of it as a Christmas present.

Scene 75 – Ossis

OSSIS

ADAM

Derek and Akane were waiting for me when I got out of class. They both looked somber, which was surprising. All things considered, I had always found it interesting how well they handled their responsibilities.

“Who died?” I asked jokingly, and immediately regretted it. In this city, that was a very real possibility.

But Derek smiled a little. “Nobody. It’s just…” he hesitated. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

Wonderful. Now they were keeping secrets.

Well, I wasn’t really concerned. They’d tell me or they wouldn’t, and nothing I said would change their minds.

“You ready to go?” I asked. I already had my guns with me, so I didn’t need anything else.

He nodded. “Yeah, we are. And the gargant is just a block south of school, so we can walk.”

We started in the direction he indicated. “Is anyone else coming?”

He shook his head. “The retinue is a little busy, and I don’t really want to deal with Ling right now. Besides, it’s a brick-plated gargant. They’re tough, but slow and not very dangerous.”

I adjusted my backpack over my shoulder. “I thought you said all gargants were dangerous.”

“Not very dangerous for a gargant,” he amended. “Keep your guard up and we’ll be fine.”

I shrugged. Seemed simple enough.

We caught the creature’s trail pretty quickly. Derek was right; it wasn’t really doing very much damage. A lot of smashed shop windows, a few pummeled cars, but no bodies. People knew to stay out of the way, and that was enough to keep them safe. Of course, property damage isn’t cheap, which is why somebody had hired Derek for this job in the first place.

This was giant territory, if I remembered right, but it was only barely within their domain. We could probably get help if we called, but Derek didn’t think we needed it. Besides, we’d lose most of the bounty that way. There wasn’t anyone around, anyway, and it would be too much of a hassle to find someone who hadn’t run for their lives. No, we had to do this ourselves, and that was that.

We followed the trail through a couple a alleys that reminded me uncomfortably of the crawler gargants (without the slime, thankfully), eventually coming out in a small square with a fountain and four small trees at the corners. Although the place looked nice, it had probably been abandoned even before monsters moved in. The surrounding buildings were too tall and blocked most of the sunlight, while at the same time letting enough in that vampires would find it uncomfortable.

The gargants, however, seemed to love the place. They were happily slurping up water from the fountain, and a couple of the trees were missing branches, presumably where the monsters had taken a nibble.

And it was monsters, plural. Only three, sure, but that’s still two more than we were expecting, and with gargants that’s something to be worried about. I was beginning to wonder if the stupid mission briefing was ever right.

Brick-plated gargants, as the name implied, were covered in chunks of brick and stone, which made them look like mobile, poorly constructed buildings. They secreted some weird chemical from their skin that acted as glue, but only for porous, brick-like materials.

Unlike the steel-plated gargant of last week, these were a more sane size, more like very large dogs or wolves than the monstrosities I had been expecting. They were broader than dogs, but other than that the comparison was an apt one. They even panted, their mouths open and their tongues rolling slobber over the bricks of their heads. Speaking of which, I didn’t see any eye holes. Did they operate solely by sound, or something else?

Still, even with their stout forms and blindness, these things were almost taller than me and about half that wide, so they could be dangerous if by nothing other than pure luck. We’d need to be careful. I started loading up the armor-piercing slugs Turgay had sold me for my Saint George as quietly as I could.

Derek glanced at me sideways. “Those that god slayer I’ve been hearing so much about?”

“No, just teflon,” I assured him. “Wasn’t there only supposed to be one gargant?”

Akane answered with a shrug. “Poster only saw one. It happens.”

“We’ll get paid appropriately,” Derek promised.

I raised an eyebrow. “With or without threatening our employer?”

He smiled a little. “Without, hopefully.”

I shrugged. “More’s the pity.” I finished loading my shotgun with a mechanical click. “You two ready? We can go grab some giants if we need help.”

“This is Thor territory,” Derek muttered, a frustrated look on his face. “They don’t really feel like playing nice right now.”

None of the cultures were feeling particularly sociable after the debacle at Bombed Alley, but the hellions and Aesir were definitely the worst. If the rumors on the internet were anything to go by—and Laura assured me they were—all the gangs were falling back to their homes and fortifying their defenses. Hopefully that would be useful against screamers, but that’s not the reason they were doing it.

They smelled a war coming.

Back to the gargants. They hadn’t noticed us yet, or didn’t care. Derek indicated I should head left, while Akane took the right flank and he came right up the middle.

The beasts grunted, sniffing the air, and we all froze. They edged in our direction a little, perhaps noticing the change in the wind, but soon returned to the fountain and continued drinking.

I glanced at Derek. What should we do? But he was frowning, indecisive. From what I had seen of his fighting style, I knew he normally waited for the opponent to strike, and then took advantage of any openings in their defense. He didn’t like attacking first.

If the gargants knew we were there, they definitely didn’t care. Because they stopped drinking and started mating.

I’m being unnecessarily crude. It was actually pathetic to watch. These things were never designed to mate with each other. Their sex organs (if they even still had them) weren’t anywhere they could use them; they were buried underneath the bricks.

Not that it would have mattered if they had been able to manage it. Laura had explained that each gargant was unique, handcrafted by the fey. There were set patterns, of course, but each beast was different. Some of those changes were genetic, but not many. Even if one gargant managed to get another pregnant, at best the resulting baby would just be a mildly altered animal.

Still, it didn’t really seem like a good idea to intrude. Animals get angry when interrupted, and we’d have enough trouble even if they were relatively docile.

Derek seemed to feel otherwise. “Silver and gold, we don’t have time for this. Akane.”

She nodded and blurred forward. The gargant she was aiming at turned curiously, ignoring its mate, but wasn’t able to stop her as she bounded atop its head and plunged her sword into the brick at the top of its skull.

The beast howled in pain (confirming my suspicions that they were originally some kind of dog) and thrashed, trying to shake the swordswoman loose. But Akane’s blade appeared to be stuck, and she wasn’t in any mood to let go.

The other two monsters would make that decision for her soon enough. Alerted by their companion’s violent motions, they broke off their futile attempts to mate and barreled forward.

Derek had been waiting for this. Before they could get close enough to Akane to be dangerous, he ran straight up to the leading gargant, grabbed its lolling tongue, and ripped it to the side.

I half expected the thing to get completely torn out, but Derek isn’t that strong. Besides, that wasn’t his goal. The tongue is a vulnerable muscle, and if something grabs it, you pretty much have to go where they want.

So Derek was able to crash both brick-plated gargants into each other very easily.

They collided with a sound like…well, like a bag of bricks tumbling to the ground. They howled in pain, wrestling with each other, and we were able to turn our attentions back to Akane’s beast.

It tried to slam her into the ground, but couldn’t turn its head enough to manage it. She did finally get her sword free, though, and backflipped off as if it was the easiest thing in the world.

That stupid power package. Made them look ridiculously perfect.

Whatever. We needed to be quick, before it recovered. I already had my shotgun ready, so I took careful aim at it’s brick-plated skull and fired.

The tungsten slugs didn’t have the same ridiculous power as the god slayer, but they were hardly something to sneeze at. In fact, the real issue with them was overpenetration. On most targets, they’d just go straight through without dealing major damage.

A gargant is not like most targets. It is a massive lump of flesh and bone, with little chance of the bullet overpenetrating. As long as it’s a direct hit and breaches the armor, any weapon will mess up the insides quite a bit. The first problem is breaching the armor, but I had that covered.

The second problem was that it was a massive lump of flesh and bone. No matter what I hit it with, it was going to take more than one shot to take it down.

The beast screamed in pain as my slug buried itself right between its eyes. It was badly injured, no question, and I might have even hit the brain, but it was still very dangerous. It shook itself, bellowed its rage, and charged forward, its maw open to take as big a bite out of me as it could.

I dodged to the left at the last second and the gargant slammed into the skyscraper behind me, sending up a massive cloud of vaporized sheetrock. The creature moaned in pain, and I nearly felt sorry for it.

“Derek!” I heard Akane call.

I turned back just in time to see one of the other two beasts slam into Derek full force, grinding him down into the concrete of the small square. I was surprised he hadn’t used his powers, until I saw the reason: The other gargant was harassing Akane, and he was projecting a glowing blue barrier around her, rather than himself. Heroic to the end.

As the beast bellowed again and ground its bricks against my friend, I assumed the shield would flicker and die. It didn’t. It stayed strong, as though this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Not having a power myself, I wasn’t really sure how hard that actually was, but it certainly looked impressive.

No time for lollygagging. I had to save Derek.

I raised my shotgun again, but I heard a sound behind me as my gargant shook itself out of the building it had crashed into. I wheeled around and fired, but I only hit its flank. It didn’t charge, just eyed me warily, but it would if I let my guard down.

I backed up until I was close enough that I could see Derek while keeping one eye on my foe. He was actually doing surprisingly well, considering most of his blood was on the concrete instead of inside him. The gargant was trying to bite him, but he had its jaws clamped tightly shut, as if in a vise. Jaws are harder to open than to close, but it was still impressive. Not to mention he still had his barrier going. Why wasn’t Akane doing anything?

When I glanced over at her, I noticed her blur out from behind the shield for a moment, strike at the gargant’s leg, and then blur back before it could retaliate.

Well, at least she wasn’t just sitting there, but we still had a serious problem on our hands. I was beginning to wish I had brought a couple god slayers after all.

Right when I decided to risk taking a couple shots at the beast pinning Derek to the ground, the gargant watching me began to…crumple.

It was a horrifying sight really, as the beast folded inward like a wet paper bag. I couldn’t hear the sounds of popping bones and tearing muscles over the bricks clattering together, but I could imagine them well enough.

Akane noticed what was going on and got as far away from the gargants as she could, blurring back to the alley we had come from, about ten feet from me. Derek, seeing this, dropped the shield that had been protecting her and remade it around himself.

Just in time, too, as the creature that had been harassing him began crumpling just like mine. Only it was closer this time, and I could hear the sound of bones turning to mush, like the sound of boots squishing through a swamp. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the same thing happening to the third beast.

It only took a few minutes, but they moaned dejectedly the entire time. Eventually, the weight of their bodies—not to mention the bricks—crushed the brick-plated gargants to death.

Eventually.

It was a terrible way to die.

I waited until I was absolutely sure they were dead before swallowing and speaking. “What…was that?”

Derek stepped forward and gingerly nudged the corpse with his toe, peeling back a few bricks with his shoe. “I think that was a calciophage.”

I frowned. “Calcium eater?”

He nodded. “A new poison Clarke’s been cooking up. See there?” He pointed to a patch of goo that had once been the creature’s flank. A small feathered dart was poking out of it. “Someone shot them with a calciophage, and it ate their skeletons.”

I shivered a little, imagining what that would feel like. “Who would do that?”

“Save us or use something like that?” Derek asked with a smile.

I grinned back at his small joke. “Mostly, who would know we were here.”

He frowned. “I’m not sure. And I’m not sure we can get the bounty now, either. I need to find whoever—”

“Derek,” Akane said in a firm tone.

We turned to see that she wasn’t looking at us, but at one of the nearby rooftops. We followed her gaze and saw…a silhouette, standing on the edge.

It was impossible to tell exactly who it was, but it was clearly a woman, with long hair that flowed in the wind and caught the light majestically. The woman nodded once, then stepped off the ledge and…

Flew away.

She didn’t sprout wings, or reveal ones she already had. She didn’t use a jetpack or a wingpack or another of a dozen devices I could think of that might be able to pull that off.

She just flew, apparently completely under her own power, into the sun and out of sight.

A power user. One clearly still in control of her faculties. There was only one girl like that I knew of. I turned to Derek. Judging from the shocked look on his face, he had come to the same conclusion, but the next word out of his mouth confirmed it.

“Lizzy?”

Behind the Scenes (scene 75)

I tried to write out more detail for the gargants’ mating ritual, but I just couldn’t do it. That’s probably for the best.

Scene 74 – Mathematica

MATHEMATICA

DEREK

Wednesday morning, the day after the disastrous screamer attack, was not proving to be very productive. Akane and I were in math class, and the professor was droning on about Pythagoras.

Akane hadn’t said anything about Ling, but I knew she approved. She tended to have a sharp and simple approach to problem solving, but that worried me. I don’t like violence, and I absolutely hate it against my friends. The fact that I’m good at it is beside the point.

We were both bored, but she was handling it better than me. It took me a few minutes to realize that her doodles were something a little bit more substantial.

I frowned and whispered “Is that a schedule?”

She nodded and whispered back. “Uh-huh. I got Flynn’s from Guland. We’re going to try and get him into a trainer position at Necessarius, teaching the kids swordsmanship. That should keep him out of trouble.”

I smiled. “You’re worried about him.”

She just glared. “Am not.”

I smiled a little wider.

She huffed and turned back to her work.

“Don’t forget we have that gargant hunt later,” I reminded her. “Though your boyfriend won’t be there.”

She scowled at the implication, but noted the important detail. “Right after class?”

“Not quite. Adam said he wants to come, and he doesn’t get off until an hour later.”

She didn’t say anything; I guess she didn’t have anything else to add.

But I got to thinking about schedules. More specifically, the screamer schedule. There was a pattern to everything, even if we couldn’t always see it, and surely this was no different. I got out my pad. I wasn’t some sort of math whiz, but I had enough simple programs on the device to draw some conclusions.

The first attack was the 24th, a Friday night. The next was the very next morning, twelve hours later. Then two days later, Monday, in the middle of history. The bats were almost exactly a week later, also interrupting history. The bleeders were three days after that, at one in the morning. And finally, five days after that the skins appeared, also in the morning.

It was helpful to have it all laid out, but it didn’t really tell me much I didn’t already know. The Composer avoided the middle of the day for some reason, but otherwise the attacks were completely random.

Maybe that said something about the Composer. Maybe he was a vampire, or even just a night owl. If he was asleep during the day, it would explain a lot. I’m not sure quite how that gelled with the theory about body jumping, but it was something to think about.

There were just too many questions. Why was there only one attack at a time? Did that mean he couldn’t do more, or did he just not want to for some other reason? Where did the powers come from in the first place? We still didn’t have the slightest idea how they worked.

Ugh. It was all so very tiring. The captured screamers were making it hard to sleep, and the random schedule was hardly helping. Waking up in the middle of the night, or even just getting pulled out of class, was hardly healthy.

Something about that bugged me.

Maybe if I did a more detailed comparison, calculating the actual hours or minutes, I’d have more luck. I didn’t quite have enough data for that, so I sent a text to Laura. She had advanced math with Lizzy right now, but she’d be able to shoot it over to me.

Something…what was it?

As expected, I got the info within a minute. I started plotting the times, but it didn’t seem any more clear.

But something was teasing at my brain…

The only consistent thing was that the attacks were getting more and more damaging. Did that mean that he was learning, or that he was stepping up his game? We didn’t know anything about this guy, other than he existed (probably), and he was inactive during the day.

During the day…

What was that? What was it my subconscious was trying to tell me?

I glanced over at Akane, but she was still absorbed in Flynn’s schedule. It was adorable how she tried to pretend she didn’t like him when it was so obvious. But that wasn’t helping me any, so I turned to the teacher.

She was still droning about the Pythagorean cult and everything. It didn’t seem like that was what my brain had latched onto, but you never know. What was I missing? The Composer didn’t attack during the day. Was there some deeper meaning there I couldn’t figure out?

Then it came to me.

It wasn’t that he was attacking during the day. That was just a side effect.

No, it was that he was attacking during the night. And during classes. Our classes. When we were tired, or busy, or asleep. He was intentionally interrupting our schedules.

He knew who we were.

More importantly, he was someone close.

Behind the Scenes (74)

I think a lot of people already came to this same conclusion, but its a good idea to have the characters reach it too.

Extra update Wednesday.

Scene 73 – Stultitia

STULTITIA

SEENA

“Seena Amethyst Lancaster.”

I blinked, craning my neck to try and catch a look at the woman calling to me from a dark corner of the alley. It was still day, so I had my goggles on, otherwise I wouldn’t have had any trouble seeing in the shadows. With them on, my vision was a little worse than someone with normal eyes.

Then she stepped out of the shadows, and I wished I had ran screaming in the other direction the second I heard her voice.

She was a naked Caucasian woman with long, waist-length brown hair and a large chest—a fey, most likely of the Autumn Court, though sometimes I had trouble keeping them straight. You could tell by their hair colors, but it was hard to remember. Spring was yellow, Summer red, Autumn brown, and Winter black, right?

“I need your help, Honored Nightstalker.”

No time for contemplation. I had dealt with the fey before, and while I put up a brave face to my friends, I was well aware of how stupid it had been. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.

So I turned and ran.

I didn’t get far. Standing at the other end of the alley, blocking my path, was another fey. No, wait—it was the same fey. An exact clone of the one who had spoken before, right down to the freckles above her groin.

This was…bad. Probably. The fey rarely bothered to pilot multiple homunculi at once; it strained them unnecessarily. Something was up.

“Please, Honored Nightstalker,” the second one said pleadingly. “Don’t be afraid.”

I glanced around for an exit. There was no way—no, wait. The alley walls were constructed with kemos in mind, with cunningly-disguised handholds in easy reach. I didn’t have claws, but I should still be able to make use of them.

I rushed the nearest wall as fast as I could, fully expecting the fey to try and stop me. She didn’t, she just gave me a bit of a disappointed look.

I scrambled up about a dozen floors in barely restrained panic. By the time I pulled myself up onto the roof, my hands were scraped and bleeding. They stung horribly, but I ignored the pain and just lay on my back, staring up at the sky, too exhausted to do much else. Thankfully, I had a few buffs that would make my blood clot a bit faster.

Then a pale woman stepped into my field of vision, looking down at me with a critical eye. “Are you quite done, Honored Nightstalker?”

I swore and spun away, leaving bloody handprints on the roof as I scrambled into a fighting crouch. The naked woman wasn’t making any moves, but you could never trust a fey.

She sighed. “As I am sure you are aware, if I wanted you dead, you would be dead. Instead, I would prefer to have an intelligent conversation. Is that so much to ask?”

I narrowed my eyes. She was right, and I didn’t really have much choice, anyway. “Who are you, exactly? An Autumn Crone, I’m guessing?”

The long-haired fey nodded. “Correct.” She bowed deeply. “I am the Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow, the Crone of Night’s Southern Autumn.”

That was really weird; normally the Night Court fey only came out at night, and were equipped with nighteyes. This one was braving the day, and her eyes were baseline to boot. What was going on?

Whatever. I hadn’t met any of Killing Sparrow before, but it didn’t matter. All fey were the same. Giggling little monsters with no regard for how their actions would affect others. To them, everything was just a game. And…

Wait.

The Queen-Mother wasn’t giggling. Or smiling, or bouncing around like a girl in a candy store. She was…serious. I don’t think I had ever seen that before.

I slowly rose from my crouch, wary but willing to listen. “Fine. What do you want, Honored Crone?”

A smile split her face briefly—very briefly. “I need your help with something. You aren’t going to like it, but you are the only one I can ask.”

My suspicious were returning. “What, exactly?”

“Your warlords have recently come to a very stupid decision,” she began without further preamble. “They have decided it would be in the best interests of everyone to kill the Paladins’ retinue.”

I frowned. I hadn’t heard anything about this, but that wasn’t all that surprising. I was a babysitter; I hardly knew anything about missions even after they had been completed. “Why would they do that? The Generals are as against the Composer as anyone else.”

“Three reasons, actually. First, one of the retinue is a changeling, and they are convinced he is a spy for me.” She shook her head and sighed. “Just because he doesn’t shoot me on sight…regardless, that one is my fault, and I would feel bad if young Jarasax was killed for my mistake.”

Feel bad? A fey feeling guilt? Was…was this a joke? Was this just a couple of random naked twins hired to play a prank on me?

“Second, another member of the retinue is an angel. Completely cut off from the Saints, but your masters are still suspicious. Killing him—and the giant, for that matter—is really just being thorough.”

“And the third reason?” I prompted. Joke or not, the fastest way out of this was to get answers. I couldn’t think of anything more damning than an angel—with Baal’s murder still fresh in everyone’s minds, that would probably have been enough.

“The third reason is because the leader of the retinue is a Belian,” the fey said flatly. “An exceptionally dangerous one, at that. She’s renounced her culture and is on the fixer, but…” she shrugged. “You know how these things are.”

This didn’t make any sense. Belians were the enemies of pretty much everyone, true—they were strung-out chem-heads, they couldn’t really help but antagonize everyone around them. And yes, ex-Belians who lost their fixers tended to relapse within hours, if not minutes. But still, to kill her for no other reason than that…

I narrowed my eyes. “There’s something you’re not telling me. What’s the real reason they want to kill the chem-head?”

“Exactly what I said,” the fey insisted calmly. “Drakela Sanguinas is a ridiculously dangerous Belian, in more ways than one. However, the exact details are not mine to share. Suffice it to say that she has no desire to relapse, and that her death would rob Domina City of an important asset.”

I scowled. “That’s not good enough. I’m supposed to trust the word of a fey?”

I expected her to be offended, or maybe lapse into giggling—that was their normal response to insults. Instead, she just rolled her eyes.

“I swear, you are the stupidest person I have ever met. You insist on trusting when you should act suspicious, and you act suspicious when you should trust.” She rubbed her forehead. “Fine, we’ll do this the old-fashioned way.”

The rooftop access door opened, and another of her homunculi walked out, dragging behind her—

My heart stopped in my chest. “Jelena?”

The Glasyan looked around, seeking my voice. “Seena?” She kept her eyes firmly shut; she didn’t have any daygoggles, so it was either that or get a splitting headache. “That you?”

“Yeah, I’m right here,” I assured her. “What happened? How did you get captured?”

There was a long pause.

“Well, you see…”

“She sold herself to Fevered Day,” the homunculus with the firm grip on Jelena’s arm explained bluntly. “In exchange for a bit of information her subculture needed to stay competitive.”

I stared. “You what?

“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” the vampire insisted. “It was only for three days. And…today’s the last day.”

Well. That explained where she had been the last few days. I had assumed she was just busy with the Glasyans, but I hadn’t really had time to confirm that. But… “Wait, then what are you doing with Killing Sparrow?”

“I bought her,” the first homunculus explained. “I traded a very nice gargant for her.” She glared at the vampire girl, who still had her eyes closed. “I hope you realize that I overpaid.”

“But its the last day of her debt, right?” I asked a little nervously. “That means you have to let her go.”

The fey gave me a dangerous look. “I don’t have to do anything, Honored Nightstalker. I bought the girl, not her debt. That means it is on Fevered Day to return her, not me.” She grinned cruelly. “And if Fevered Day can’t find her, well, that’s not her fault, now is it?”

I swallowed. I had never heard of a fey not honoring a deal, but they liked loopholes, and they could get away with it for the simple reason that no one could stop them. Not only were they individually powerful, but they commanded legions of monsters, were masters of the toy maker, and no one knew where their real bodies were.

My path was obvious.

“Tell me what to do.”

The homunculus holding Jelena smiled. “I knew you’d see reason. Here,” she shoved my friend forward, into my surprised arms. “A gesture of good faith.”

“You’re releasing her?” I asked dumbly. “Before I do your job?”

“As I said, a gesture of good faith.” The smile widened into a cruel grin. “Besides, if you cross me…”

“Fine,” I snapped. “You still own me. Got it. What exactly do you want? You still haven’t said.”

“Isn’t it obvious? You need to foil the assassination plot.” She shrugged. “I don’t particularly care how.”

I frowned. “That’s all? That seems like something you could do yourself.”

“Killing the assassins won’t work, and warning the retinue will only delay the inevitable,” she explained. “If it were that simple, yes, I could do it. But your warlords are the kind of people who consider setbacks personal insults. You have to convince them to stop, however you can.”

“Wait,” Jelena interjected. She had her hand shading her eyes, and was squinting in the fey’s direction. I noted absently that the other homunculus, the one I had first seen on the roof, had disappeared. “Are you telling her to kill three warlords?”

“That’s certainly one solution,” the naked woman noted. “That wouldn’t be my first choice, for a number of reasons, but the warlords are worth less than the retinue at this point, so yes, that is on the table.” She shrugged. “It’s up to you. But the assassination is scheduled for October 1st. You have twenty days. The assassins will spend that time gathering intelligence—I suggest you do the same. Inform me when you have results to discuss.”

“Wait,” I called as she turned to leave. “How do I contact you?”

She grinned. “How do you think?” Then she left, slipping through the door and down the stairs as silent as a whisper.

Jelena looked at me, confused. “What does that mean? How do we contact her?”

I winced. I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

She had been the fey’s prisoner for three days. She didn’t have any obvious modifications, and her mind was still intact. But they wouldn’t have left her untouched. Killing Sparrow’s parting words only confirmed my suspicions.

Jelena Aune was now an unwitting spy for the fey.

Behind the Scenes (scene 73)

I’ve gotten quite a few questions about the fey naming conventions, and I think this is as good a time to bring it up as any. Let’s take the fey that appears in this scene as an example: The Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow, Crone of Night’s Southern Autumn. “Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow” is her name, “Crone of Night’s Southern Autumn” is her title. Therefore, if you want to be polite (which is always a good idea with these people), you’d refer to her as “Honored Crone.” You wouldn’t say “Honored Queen-Mother,” any more than you’d say “Honored Derek.” “Lady Queen-Mother” (the equivalent of “Knight Derek”) would also work, as would “Honored Lady” (mirroring “Honored Paragon”).

A few characters have gotten this wrong several times already, which is intentional. The fey’s naming conventions are confusing even in-universe, and most people just try to stay away from them rather than worrying about it. If someone makes the mistake in front of a fey, the fey will usually correct them, unless they’re distracted by something.

Scene 72 – Mutare

MUTARE

JARASAX

I am called Jarasax of the Blood-Doused Hunters. That’s not my name, of course. I don’t remember my name. When the Queen of Harvest Black kidnapped me, she shaped me and molded me so much that my memories were lost in the transformation. Like all changelings, my name is simply something I chose. And as is traditional, I chose an outlandish name to further identify myself from the fey’s apathetic cruelty.

Unlike most of my kithmates, my first memory is not a particularly unhappy one. I awoke in a human form, serving as a living chair for guests visiting the Court. That might sound horrible and demeaning, but there are much, much worse fates available at the hands of the fey.

By the time I escaped, the Queen had taken a bit of an interest in me. I didn’t look even the least bit human by the time I reached a ‘sarian compound. The only reason I survived was because of the thick armor plating I had been given; the soldiers shot on sight.

But, thankfully, they thought it was odd that I refused to fight back, so they took me to Clarke’s lab, where the lovely Mary Christina (the lab tech, not the one who runs the city now) realized that I was actually human underneath all the toys.

They rebuilt me over a few months, but there was only so much they could do. No one—including myself—knew who I was, and toys aren’t things you can just unplug. They had no idea what I was supposed to look like. So, they were forced to use my DNA as a map. It said I was male, average height, and of Middle-Eastern descent, so that’s what I ended up looking like. I had no idea if any of that was true, and in all honesty, I’m sure there are at least a few details that are very wrong.

“Jarasax,” my companion snapped. “Pay attention.”

I instantly straightened. “Apologies, Honored Mother. I let my mind wander. It won’t happen again.”

The First Monster sighed. “Honestly, you’re almost certainly older than I am. How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?”

“At least once more, Honored Mother,” I responded without a hint of sarcasm.

She rubbed her forehead. “Fine. Why don’t we talk about the fey?”

I blinked. “My lady?”

“That is what you were thinking about, right?” she asked, eying me carefully. “I can always tell when you’re thinking about them. You get a…look.” She shrugged. “We need to clear out your mental cobwebs. What’s the problem?”

“I…” I cleared my throat. “Nothing, Honored Mother. Don’t worry about it.”

She glared at me for a moment, then rolled her eyes. “It’s about the Courts, isn’t it? How organized they are?”

I tried not to let my reaction show on my face. Instead, I shook my head. “Please forgive me, my lady. But…I would really prefer to talk about something else.”

She eyed me carefully, then nodded. “Fine. Consider it tabled. Let’s get back to the matter at hand. How are the screamers?”

“As well as can be expected.” I shrugged. “There’s not really much Clarke can do to study them without invasive procedures.”

The Mother Monster raised an eyebrow. “Are my strictures really that confining?”

I shook my head again swiftly. “No, not at all.” Then I paused. “Well…yes.” I shrugged a little helplessly. “But to be honest, most of the people involved don’t think there’s really anything they can learn from the screamers. Dissecting dead ones hasn’t found anything different from normal humans, why would doing it on live ones be any different?”

“I’m not here to give you a cost/benefit analysis on vivisection,” she noted drily. “I just want to make sure no one is being hurt.”

I shrugged a little helplessly. “Well…they’re not. I mean, sometimes they bash themselves against the cages, but there’s only so much the lab techs can do to stop that.”

“They’re doing their best,” a cool female voice noted. “More than enough to satisfy your strictures, little one.”

Like I said, I don’t have the same blind hatred towards the fey as most changelings. Honestly, I like my current life, with Necessarius and the retinue and everything else, and I’m a little bit grateful towards them for giving it to me.

But the second I saw the Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow standing there as though nothing was out of the ordinary, I had my gun out and aimed at her face.

Grateful or not, the fey were ridiculously dangerous. If nothing else, their homunculi cheapened their feelings towards death and made them more likely to use lethal force.

My employer glared at me. “Put that down.” I obeyed grudgingly, and she turned her gaze on the fey. “You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?”

For all appearances, the woman in front of us was an exact clone of the Princess of Killing Sparrow I had met earlier, during the burners incident. But while the Maiden had short-cropped brown hair, the Crone’s was long, reaching past her naked rear end. It was a distinct enough hair style that it was generally called a crone’s cut in Domina.

The nude woman grinned. “Of course I’m not going to do anything, Honored Mother. What ever gave you that idea?”

My employer sighed. “What do you want, Crone? You didn’t sneak past ‘sarian security on a lark.”

Killing Sparrow giggled, making sure to get her chest to bounce around as much as possible. “You sure about that?”

Crone.”

The fey settled down a little. “Ah, but yes, I did have something I wished to speak to you about.” She smiled devilishly. “Politics.”

“Politics,” my employer repeated dully, making no effort to hide her feelings on the matter.

“The Courts are in disarray, Honored Mother. My sisters, my nieces and grand-nieces…” she shook her head. “It looks like war between the séasúir will be inevitable.”

Fifteen years ago, when the toy maker was first introduced, the owner of a sanitarium went crazy and started torturing and experimenting on all his patients. There were ninety-six survivors, who split themselves into thirty-two Courts. First were the four seasons (the séasúir), then the four primary compass directions (treo), then night and day (éadrom). Each Court consisted of three women, a Maiden (the Princess), a Matron (the Queen), and a Crone (the Queen-Mother). Then they used the toy maker on people and animals and whatever else they damn well pleased.

That was the official line from the fey. Well, the short version. If you did meet one, one of the easiest ways to distract them was to ask about the Courts. They’d spend hours ranting about the politics, all while dropping bad Irish at strange moments.

But it didn’t quite sit right with me, and a lot of other people as well. The fey were completely chaotic and insane—and yet all ninety-six of them agreed to pretend to be Celtic fairies? It didn’t help that their homunculi made an actual headcount impossible.

The prevailing theory among the changelings was that the Nameless One (the only way the fey would refer to their former psychiatrist) had used Celtic mythology as part of his tortures, imprinting it on the survivors. The fey always laughed at this suggestion, though.

But actual war between the Seasons…that was rare. Virtually unheard of. Yes, they were chaotic, yes, they were as likely to smile at someone as kill them. But that was part of what kept them at peace. When you don’t care about anything, you don’t take offense to getting attacked by monsters every once in a while. The functional immortality probably helped too.

The Honored Mother just raised an eyebrow. “What’s this war about, exactly?”

In response, the Queen-Mother grinned. “The Cumadóir, of course.”

I knew a smattering of Irish, and I had to restrain myself from spitting in disgust. “The Composer. You’re going to ally with him.”

“Well…maybe.” The Crone shrugged. “That’s what the war’s about. Spring and Summer think the song is interesting, and think we should all become amhránaithe. Autumn and Winter are not convinced.” She grinned. “So we shall go to war. Isn’t that the best way to solve problems?”

Worried, I pulled my employer to the side. “Honored Mother, a war between the fey is—”

“Nowhere near as devastating as it sounds,” she muttered tiredly. “Don’t fret. Their contest will not spill into the streets.”

I frowned. “But—”

“Jarasax,” she said calmly. “I know what I am doing.” She turned back to the Queen-Mother. “Crone. What are the rules of the war?”

“Homunculi only,” the Crone replied with a grin. “And we’ll keep it underground.”

The Honored Mother blinked as realization dawned. “You’re asking permission.”

Our uninvited guest shrugged. “Take it as you like. I just want to make sure the cainteoirí don’t interfere.”

My employer frowned. “Cain…” she turned to me. “Jarasax?”

“Well, uh…it means ‘speakers,’ but I’m not sure in this context…”

The fey cocked her head. “Your champions, Honored Mother. The ones fighting the curfá.”

‘Curfá’ was Irish for ‘chorus,’ and was the fey name for the screamers.

The Honored Mother narrowed her eyes. “You’re talking about the Paladins.”

“Of course I am,” the naked woman said with a sigh. “Really, dearest, do you have to make this so difficult? I’ll speak plainly.”

Suddenly, something was different. The way she stood, the way she held herself. The fey’s childish exuberance and enthusiasm was suddenly gone.

“The fey are going to be busy soon,” the Queen-Mother said flatly. “There will still be monsters, but very few new ones. Just lots of old designs. Once we come back, we’ll have decided whether to help the Cumadóir or your cainteoirí. If you interfere, it will greatly increase the chances of us siding with your enemies. Thuiscint?”

My employer nodded slowly. “I understand.”

“Good,” the Crone said, her grin quickly returning. “Have fun, dearest. But not too much.” She began to fade back into the shadows. “You remember what happened last time.”

 

Behind the Scenes (scene 72)

This one took me a while. I needed a scene with more detail on both the fey and the Mother Monster, but I couldn’t find a good way to deal with both at the same time. Except for making it from one of their perspectives, which I didn’t want to do yet. Then I was reminded where precisely Jarasax’s allegiances lay, and suddenly it all fell into place.

 

Also, it’s annoying to write dialogue between more than two people when only one of them has a name. Okay, technically both of the women have names…and technically Jarasax doesn’t…but still. Not being able to use simple labels is frustrating.