I took out another singer with my Athena. Kelly and the rest of the retinue were busy keeping the screamers off Derek, but they’d overwhelm him soon. We were out of reach for the moment, on top of a short building, but that couldn’t last. The zombies were starting to notice us, and would start scaling the building pretty quickly.
I had tried shooting out the lights, but my aim wasn’t good enough, and the streetlights were only a small part of the problem anyway. Most of the glow—bright enough to illuminate the entire street as if it was day—came from inside the buildings.
At least we had found a way around the singers’ infection. We were all wearing big, bulky headphones that filtered through all the external noise, removed any hint of the song, and played it back for us. There was a lag of a few milliseconds, which was very dangerous in the middle of combat, but it was either that or stab out our own eardrums.
“Some Draculas will be here in about half an hour with an EMP,” MC said into my ear. “Can you hold out ’til then?”
I shot another singer in the chest. I wasn’t quite good enough to reliably get headshots. “Maybe. But Derek and the girls won’t, and if we try to protect them we’ll get swarmed too.”
There was a brief pause. “One sec, I think they’ve got an idea.”
I turned my gaze to Derek’s azure force field, flickering every time a laser struck it. The attacks were coming in faster, and it was clearly taxing him to keep up the shield. But then…
The street swallowed them.
The asphalt under their feet opened up, like a great big maw, and sealed itself up after they fell in. The screamers milled around in confusion for a few minutes, before they began to notice us again.
“MC,” I said as calmly as I could. “Are they all right?”
“Yeah. I mean, I can’t get a signal, so I’m not sure…”
I switched to my Caedes as the horde pressed closer. “But that was the plan, right?”
I could almost hear her nodding. “Yes, yes, that was the plan. In a few minutes, once their reservoirs are replenished, they’ll pop back up and sneak attack the horde.”
I frowned as I unleashed a barrage on some of the closer zombies. “But isn’t their only attack Ling? And she needs to conserve her strength.”
“Derek will flicker the shield long enough for Akane to run out and attack. I have stuff to do. Focus on the screamers in front of you.”
I nodded, slightly chastised. Derek knew what he was doing. I needed to stop asking questions. “Got it.”
“Oh, there is one more thing. Keep an eye out for Zaphkiel. We think he jumped the fence.”
I cursed under my breath. Wonderful. Now we had a crazy racist running around.
But I didn’t have time to worry about that. The screamers were scaling up the side of the building—though not all the structures in the area had handholds for easy climbing, enough did to make our lives annoying—and would be in laser range soon. We kept them at bay as best we could, but the angle was bad, and there were so many of them. It seemed like every angel in the district was turned.
We were forced away from the edge, where we put our back to a wall—the stairway down, to be exact. It wasn’t much protection, but at least we could flee inside if we had to.
Even though they were trying to kill us, I found the screamers’ attack interesting. It really did look like they grabbed rays of light and threw them at us, as if they were spears. Each laser caused a small, smoking explosion where it hit. The holes weren’t much bigger than those caused by a small-caliber firearm, but there were so many that they were dangerous enough.
“At least their aim sucks,” I muttered.
Surprisingly, it was George who answered. He hadn’t really spoken much since Kat was turned. “We need to fall back. Too many of them.”
Kelly hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “We can’t help Huntsman if we’re dead. Sax, the door.”
The Middle-Eastern changeling complied quickly, opening the roof access door and dodging inside. Alex was next, followed by Kelly and myself. George held the way for us, unleashing bursts of fire from his minigun to force the zombies back.
“George, now!” I called. He was the one who suggested running. Why wasn’t he running?
He ignored me, but as luck would have it, that was about the moment the screamers started to find their range. A laser struck him in the shoulder, throwing up a burst of acrid smoke and causing the ogre to bellow in pain. At the same time, a few more beams lanced forward, but the giant was already stumbling back into the dubious safety of the building.
I pulled the door shut behind him as fast as I could and sabotaged the lock, which should keep them from picking it. Yes, it sounds stupid to assume zombies can pick locks, but apparently everyone in the city can do it in their sleep, and it just took two seconds to jam it anyway. I stuck a bobby pin in and broke it off.
“Let’s secure the building,” Kelly said quickly, scratching that device on her left arm as she always did. “Or at least one floor.”
I glanced around as we came away from the stairs. It seemed as if the place was another office/apartment complex, which at least meant there would be lots of supplies to use to make the place defensible. Maybe even some ammo.
“We need to find…the manager’s office. He should have maps and floorplans…” I frowned when I realized what was bugging me about the place. “Why are there no signs?” There weren’t any names or numbers over the doors—or anywhere else, for that matter. I picked up a sheaf of paper off one of the cubicle desks. It seemed blank, but it had creases and other signs of use. There were a bunch of other similar papers scattered around.
Alex read over my shoulder. “’Staff meeting tomorrow at noon to discuss budgetary concerns.’” When she noticed me staring at her, she just shrugged. “Invisible ink. Also called angelscript. You need dayeyes to read it.”
“All right then. Lead on, Honored Daybreaker,” I said with a bow and a flourish.
She rolled her eyes, but led me to the manager’s office as requested.
It took a few minutes of scrambling through his drawers, but eventually we found a carefully-labeled floorplan. I couldn’t read it, of course, but Alex took a look at it.
“Exits are here, here, and here,” she said, pointing to them around the floor. “There’s a supply closet over here.”
“Kelly, you guys secure the exit,” I suggested. “We’ll look at the supplies.” The vampire waved us on, nursing a headache from the lights.
The odd thing about this building (not to mention most of the others in the area) was that there were lights everywhere. Every surface, including the floor, was covered in fluorescent light strips, usually shaped into aesthetic designs. It looked a lot like the patterns of an angel’s dayskin, actually.
Luckily, this place was built to accommodate people with baseline eyes as well, so while the lights were bright, they weren’t blinding. Alex said they were ‘angelic script,’ which was somehow distinct from angelscript, and used it to help us navigate.
“This is just a janitor’s closet,” she reminded me. “Don’t get your hopes up.” She started picking the lock, and after a few minutes it clicked open.
“Why does this city even bother with mechanical locks any more?” I muttered as she pulled open the door.
“There’s an electric sensor inside that’s much harder to defeat,” she explained. “It sets off a silent alarm. We don’t have to worry about it, but a real thief would have much more trouble trying to explain why he’s picking locks.”
I nodded and glanced around the closet. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like there was anything useful.
“Maybe the break room will have something,” I mused. Last time I was in this situation, I found a half-empty case of ammo in a break room. Just sitting there, next to some doughnuts. This city was pretty seriously messed up.
Alex laughed. “What? No, this is more than enough. Haven’t you spent enough time with Kelly to know by now?”
She handed me a bunch of cleaning supplies—bleach, windex, Comet…
I was having trouble holding it all. “Wait, hang on. What’s all this for?”
The androgynous angel grinned, picking up her own armful. “Kelly will mix it all together. Always remember: Belians are very good with chemistry.”
“I don’t think we need meth,” I complained as we walked back to the stairway, which the others had already blockaded pretty solidly.
She just smiled. “What you need is to have faith.”
Before I could retort, there was a knock on the barricade.
I glanced at Alex, and she nodded. She had heard it too.
The knock came again, a little louder this time. Something had come up the stairs and was trying to get in. Politely, too.
“Hello?” I called, putting down the chemicals and readying my shotgun just in case. “Who’s out there?”
There was a long pause, and for a moment I thought they had simply left.
Then the barricade exploded.
Wood from the tables flew everywhere in a blinding flurry. Something long and hard—probably one of the metal legs—clipped me in the shoulder, but I just shielded my face with my hand and stayed put, keeping my Saint George as steady as I could.
It only took a moment for the dust to clear.
And there was Zaphkiel, one of the highest angels in existence, standing there as if nothing was wrong.
He looked about the same as before, except his skin—all his skin—was softly glowing. His dayskin didn’t have any patterns, and for a moment, I was curious as to why.
But that question fled my mind when I noticed that he was screaming.
His jaw was open so wide it was practically unhinged, and his eyes tracked us with single-minded purpose. We couldn’t hear him; the headphones must have a glitch or something. They were filtering out that too. But he was definitely turned, there was no question about that.
I opened fire on him mostly out of reflex, hitting him full in the chest with a load of buckshot, but he didn’t so much as flinch. It didn’t even bruise his alabaster skin. Buckshot isn’t exactly designed for penetration, but it should have still had some effect.
Alex was uninjured from the explosion, but white as a sheet and trembling like a leaf. “A warlord…a warlord has been turned.”
Zaphkiel raised his hand in an aggressive gesture.
Without bothering to explain, I tackled Alex as fast as I could, throwing her out of the way and behind a desk just as the Saint’s laser exploded at the spot we had occupied moments before.
“We can’t kill him,” I muttered. “Angels will have our heads.” I glanced at Alex. “You got any ideas?”
But she was still trembling. “A warlord…”
I frowned. It would only be moments before the bigger angel realized where we had gone. At least he was as stupid as the others. “Alex, c’mon. How do we beat him?”
She swallowed visibly, and shook her head. “He…he’s a warlord. He stands a decent chance against armies.” She licked her lips, thinking. “Perhaps…perhaps Kelly…”
What the hell would she be able to do? Ah…the chemicals. But wherever the vampire was, it wasn’t here, and she probably wouldn’t be much use against someone built specifically to fight her kind anyway.
Looked like it was all up to me, as usual.
But I couldn’t kill him. Even if it was within my ability, he was probably the most important angel in the city. Laura’s little history lesson on the way over hadn’t been very detailed, but she had managed to get it into my head that Zaphkiel was the founder and leader of the culture. They would not take kindly to his death, however necessary it was.
My thoughts were interrupted as the floor next to me started burning.
It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t an attack. It looked like someone was writing with a pen that used fire for ink—in other words, a laser.
But that particular train of thought quickly screeched to a halt when I realized that the screamer was writing words.
I am the Composer, the scarred floor proclaimed. Join me.
I licked my lips nervously. I had to keep him talking. Unlikely as it might seem, Kelly and the others might be able to get us out of this. They’d be here soon enough.
“Join you?” I asked, trying to make it seem as though I was considering the offer. “And do what?”
Kill, the laser wrote.
I frowned. “Kill who?”
“Any chance I can change your mind on that? Maybe you should get interested in sports.”
No. Tried that. Kill everything.
I stared, convinced I was misreading. This guy had decided to go omnicidal because he sucked at sports?
“Look, just because you fail once—”
The laser wrote again, faster and angrier. No. Tried everything. Love. Power. Wealth. Knowledge. None of it is of any interest. There is only killing.
“There’s other stuff besides killing,” I insisted. I really doubted I’d be able to reason with him, but I was the only one in a position to try.
To my surprise, Zaphkiel laughed. Oh? The laser wrote. Tell me, Adam Anders, other than killing, what has caught your interest lately?
I froze. Not because he had made some deep, cutting remark that made me question my entire life—no. That wasn’t it.
He knew my name.
Apparently, he took my hesitation for something else entirely. Join me, and you can have the powers that were denied to you.
I answered before I could stop myself. “Wait, what? You can give me powers?” Then I realized my mistake, and I rolled my eyes. “Oh, yeah, like I want to spend the rest of my life as a zombie. No thanks.”
No. Not like this one. Like Derek, like Akane. Power, no strings attached. Just so long as you use it to kill.
I’d like to say that the offer wasn’t enticing. After all, a guy who made zombies was offering me vague promises of power; it was pretty clear where that ends.
I had meant what I said when we first discovered these powers. I hadn’t wanted one. We didn’t know anything about them. But as time wore on, it was becoming increasingly clear that there were no downsides—at least none that popped up too soon.
I would like to say to that I would have turned him down, preferably giving him my reply in the form of a god slayer to the face.
But I would have said yes. If out of curiosity, if nothing else. It was just too interesting an offer to refuse, too much power for the taking. This story would have ended very differently, in that case.
But then the Draculas detonated their EMP, and all the lights went out, leaving only the warlord, glowing like a nightlight.
So I ran.
The fact that the retinue got out as well was nothing but a lucky coincidence.
Behind the Scenes (scene 98)
Angelscript is slightly more advanced than traditional invisible ink, though it does still show up under the right kinds of UV light.
Oh, and angelic script is actually a simple code based on the Hebrew alphabet, specifically Rashi script, combined with English. Alex’s dayskin, for example, is the Hebrew letter “G” for Gabriel, then the letter “N” for Night (not the Hebrew word for night, the English one). The rest is a poem about his character and personality. It gets repeated three times: Once on the left side of his body, one on the right, and once on his back.