Alex ticked the names off on his fingers. “Barachiel, the Messenger. Domiel, the Mercy-Bringer. Erathoal the Seer, Pistis Sophia the Ascetic, Raziel the Crusader, and Sealtiel the Defender. And last is Zaphkiel, the Watcher.” He wiggled his fingers. “Those are the seven Arch-Saints. I’m not sure where you’re confused.”
George rubbed his forehead and lay back in the van. “Titan’s testes…I’m not an angel, and I’m not a vampire. Why would I care about your warlords?”
“Because it’s important?” The angel shook his head. “Look, not being to name all of them and their respective Heavens is understandable. But how could you ever mistake Lilith for one of them?”
“She doesn’t like being called that,” Sax noted absently from the driver’s seat.
I rolled my eyes. “She doesn’t like being called anything, it seems.”
“That’s not what I meant,” the giant insisted. “I thought she was a former angel. A fallen angel, you know? I wasn’t really paying attention back when everything was starting, so…” he shrugged. “I’m still a little behind the times.”
I frowned. “I thought you were at Bloody Thirteen.”
The giant shuddered, making the entire van tremble. “Don’t remind me of that, please.” He waved his hand. “But at the time, it seemed like just a new gang that was a bit crazier than usual. And besides, I wasn’t even with Necessarius back then. I was just a minor member of the Kongeegen party, working with the man who became Odin.”
Alex cocked his head to the side. “I thought you were more of an Iluvatar.”
“Sure, now. But the Kongs used to sound like a good idea.”
Well, this was getting interesting. “You know Odin?”
“Barely. Knew his sons a little better, but not by much. I never even talked to him after he became a giant. I got the package and everything, but I kinda went off on my own.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, nodding. “Gordok and all that, you mentioned…” I trailed off.
The van was surrounded by Belians.
How had we not seen them walk up?
It was high noon, but none of them were wearing daygoggles. They were all wincing at least a little, and were probably completely blinded by the sun. A normal vampire can adapt to even bright light over time, although they’ll still have headaches, but Belians had it worse. A lot of the drugs they took increased their light sensitivity.
Sax glanced around very carefully, trying not to move anything but his eyes. “I count six out front. Alex?”
“Six more in the back. We might be able to handle twelve blind chem-heads.”
“There will be six more, watching at a distance,” I said slowly, resisting the urge to scratch my fixer. “Probably armed with the remotes to the bombs these ones are carrying.”
“Titans…” George cursed. “They’re suicide bombers?”
“Depends on your definition. Suicide bombers usually know they have a bomb strapped to their chest. These guys probably didn’t even notice.” It was a popular tactic of the Belian warlords. Since their underlings were hooked on chems, that meant they were stupid and easily replaceable. Just kidnap some poor bastard off the street, give him a few chem-producing glands, and he’d be yours forever.
Alex glanced at me. We both knew what they wanted. Sax would too, but he still wouldn’t turn his head, in case it set them off.
“Once they’re distracted, drive off,” I ordered the changeling. “I’ll catch up.”
He grimaced. “No. They’ll—”
“They’ll do nothing.” I got out of the van and walked up to the first Belian.
She was a thin little slip of a girl, though I couldn’t tell if that was a side effect of the drugs or if it was something more natural. Other than the nighteyes and the fangs, she seemed normal. I did notice that blood stained her teeth, probably from biting her tongue or lips. Clearly, this was a newly-made vampire.
“Take me to your Noble,” I ordered, without showing any hesitation on my face.
The girl swayed a little, then nodded, and slowly turned around and headed away from the van. I was pleased to see the others following at a similar pace, freeing my friends.
I was still careful not to provoke the Belians. They might not be violent at the moment, but if I riled their blood, they’d tear me to pieces.
It only took a few minutes for them to lead me to our destination. It was an abandoned skyscraper, slated to be renovated tomorrow. Right now, however, it was completely empty, stripped down to the studs and concrete. I could see from one end to the other, since even the walls were gone. It looked like nothing so much as an empty parking garage.
A man sat in the very center of the first floor, far from any of the open windows, waiting patiently for his minions to bring me to him. He appeared as a white-haired middle-aged man, though it was impossible to determine his true age. He had blood-red skin, darkening to blue on his clawed hands, and wore loose black clothes with a high stand-up collar.
He smiled as I approached, standing to greet me. “Hello, hello…Kelly, is it?” His voice was smooth as silk, and only had the slightest trace of an accent.
I scowled. “No games, Chamo.”
He tutted softly and wagged a finger back and forth. “Don’t be so rude, my cel mic. You changed your name. I was just being polite.”
I hated his little pet names. My mother had been the only one allowed to call me cel mic. But I could endure his attentions for however long it took for the others to escape. “Let’s get down to the point. Why are you here?”
He sat down again with a sigh, wincing almost imperceptibly at the cheap folding chair he was using. “Noapte, you have no sense of decorum. Fine, right to the point.” He spread his hands wide. “Phlegethos is dying. With Belial dead, the Throne of Abriymoch is empty, and we cannot afford to have anyone fighting over it. Honored Naome is gone, suspected to be dead as well.”
I narrowed my eyes. “This has nothing to do with me, legate.”
He frowned. “Please, do not be obtuse. Your defection to Necessarius does not change who you are. We need every able fang we can find—and you are ever so able.”
“You don’t need me,” I insisted calmly. I indicated the Belians surrounding us. “You clearly have enough men. The court chemists are doing their job well enough.”
The vampire snorted in derision. “Men? These are not men, and you know it. They are sclavi, mindless slaves, nothing more. Zeabos and Zapan are…” he rubbed his forehead. “They are doing their best. But there is only one person who has ever been able to enjoy the benefits of both the physical chems and the mental ones at the same time.” His marble-black eyes met my own. “You.”
And things began to click into place once more. “You want a lab rat. I should have known.”
To my surprise, he waved his hand angrily. “Hardly, hardly. A list of your toys should be enough; we haven’t been able to find it at the domain, but at the very least the Nobles thought you might remember.”
“My mother had a copy. But—”
“Yes, it was likely destroyed in the Shendilavri Retaliation, I know. But all that is secondary.” He was starting to get a desperate look in his eyes, and it took a conscious effort of will to keep from taking a step back. “But even as a symbol…even as nothing more than a champion, you would be nepreţuit. Priceless, invaluable.”
“I’m not coming back. Period. Ask my mother if you want to know how she pulled off the trick. I sure as hell don’t know.”
Chamo narrowed his black eyes, but it would take more than that to intimidate me. I didn’t care if he commanded most of the subculture’s forces; I had never followed his orders.
He seemed to realize that at the same time I did, and instead of trying to cow me into submission, snapped his fingers.
His slaves strode forward, intent on capturing me, but I didn’t bother trying to flee.
I didn’t need to.
All twelve of the drug-addled men and women stopped instantly at my command. They stood patiently, awaiting new orders.
His underlings didn’t move. They stood still as statues, obeying my order to the letter.
Chamo was sweating now, I could smell it. He was doing a good job of keeping it off his face, but that didn’t mean much against a nose like mine.
Again, they obeyed without hesitation, forming a screen between me and the increasingly terrified legate.
I managed to resist grinning at him, but only barely. Instead, I just raised an eyebrow. “Look, I can understand why you’re still using my mother’s behavior modification protocols. But at the very least, you should have sprung for a good pheromone buff.” I probably still would have been able to wrest them from his control, but it would have been harder.
“I will keep that in mind for the future,” he said slowly. I could hear his teeth grinding as he managed to keep himself from saying something stupid. He wasn’t a complete moron—far from it. He was a military genius, he just wasn’t used to fighting someone like me. He would not make a mistake like this again.
“You are going to give the warlords a message,” I explained patiently. “You are going to tell Balan, Bathym, Gaziel, and Gazra that I am not coming back. You will remind Zaebos and Zapan of the dangers of working with people like them.”
He nodded, perhaps a little too quickly. “Of course, I’ll tell them.”
I smiled cruelly, baring my fangs. “You don’t understand, Honorless Bloodsoaked,” I said, trying out the new insult Huntsman had developed a while back. “You are going to give the warlords a message. That is all.”
The vampire blinked, then, as realization dawned, leapt out of his chair and ran for the far exit.
The sclavi bolted off as if shot from a gun, chasing after the fleeing nightstalker—ah, former nightstalker—with naked glee. He didn’t have the slightest chance of escaping them. Like most higher-ranked Belians, Chamo refused the physical-enhancing drugs and chems in favor of the mental-enhancing ones.
He tripped and stumbled, and the chem-heads were on him in a flash.
His screams echoed through the unfurbished building, bouncing off the concrete walls.
I didn’t have to stay. It would probably have been a good idea for me to run; the cries could attract attention.
But I stayed. I told myself it was because if you are going to murder someone, you should at least be willing to watch them die. But deep down, I knew the truth.
I suppose I was still a Belian after all.
Behind the Scenes (scene 91)
I think this came out pretty well. Maybe too much name-dropping all around, but still.