“So,” I said bluntly. “Heaven has fallen.”
“Just the one,” Pam grunted.
“And it will be back up soon,” Yolanda added insistently. “It’s only been…six hours? Six hours or so, and they’ve already started rebuilding. The Draculas and the ‘sarians were able to take care of everything.”
Pam chuckled darkly. “Vampires helping rebuild a Heaven. Never thought I’d see the day.”
I scratched behind the ears of the mouse cradled in my lap. “Well, I’m sorry that I think one-seventh of the angels being dead or screaming is worth worrying about. Clearly I’m just overreacting.”
“It’s not that bad,” Zusa cut in. “I mean, most of the Chronians got away, right?”
Seena snorted. “Does it matter?”
Simon rubbed his forehead, between the horns. “Nine Hells sis, not you too…”
The Mal threw up her hands. “What? They assassinated my boss, and I’m not allowed to be a little pissed at them?”
“He wasn’t your boss yet,” I noted absently. I really didn’t want to get dragged into another rehash of the Twilight War. At least there weren’t any angels around, so it probably wouldn’t get physically violent.
“He was one of the better men in the city, and he got killed for no better reason than because he’s nocturnal.”
Veda quirked her head. “He was also the warlord of the Mals. He was an assassin, dearest. Maybe a moral one, but he definitely wasn’t innocent.”
Seena sipped her coffee. “Yeah, yeah. That’s what everyone says.”
“Probably ’cause it’s true.”
“Shove off, Headlights,” Jelena muttered. “A lot of people at this table have lost friends to angels.”
Zusa frowned. “That doesn’t mean we have to perpetuate the cycle of hatred. People are dead. Can’t we just call it a tragedy and ignore everything else?”
“Maybe once vamps stop getting killed in the street.” She shook her head. “Seriously, I think if I saw the Composer today I’d give him a medal.”
Yolanda glanced between the two, concerned. “You guys usually don’t get involved. What up?”
“There was an attack when I was still being held by the fey,” Jelena explained. “Mostly hit the Belians, but also the daevas and the ghouls.” She took another swig of coffee. “The cute Akoman I had my eye on got killed by some glowling you hadn’t even earned his knives.”
Pam spoke up. “You were gonna date a daeva?”
“Maybe,” the Glasyan muttered. “Never gonna know now.”
Something tugged at my subconscious, and I sniffed, trusting my enhanced olfactory senses to explain the situation. They didn’t disappoint.
I reached forward—careful not to dislodge the mouse in my lap—grabbed Jelena’s ‘coffee’ and sniffed it. “Fur and fang, what the hell is this?” It was clearly alcohol, but not of a kind I had ever seen.
Jelena snatched it back, spilling a little in the process. I swear the table started to sizzle where the liquid hit. “It’s just rum, Mom. No big deal.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’ve smelled rum before, and—”
Seena hiccuped. “Seaweed rum. Got some as a thank-you gift from that Dagonite we rescued last week. Eric.”
I shivered. Just remembering the events of seven days ago made my heart race, and not in the good way. Caught between two gargants was not the way I expected to go.
Of course, thinking about my friends drinking seaweed rum wasn’t really helping my nerves any. “Ah…tell me you guys at least watered that down with something.”
Seena nodded sagely. “Yes. Rum.”
“Whelp, I guess I know what I’m getting you for Christmas,” Simon said bitterly. “I’ll pay to repair your alcohol-induced blindness.”
His sister winced, but still took another swig. “It’s not that bad…”
The sibriex fixed her with an icy glare. “Yes, it is.”
Yolanda stared at her boyfriend. “…am I missing something here?”
Seena adjusted her daygoggles, annoyed at having to explain. “Our mother was an alcoholic.” She shrugged. “Also, we were born blind. I’m pretty sure that’s unrelated, but I dunno.”
The little blonde demon bit her lip. “So you were blind for the first…” She squinted as she did some quick math in her head. “Three years of your lives?”
“Seven,” Simon corrected. “Toys like that weren’t available right off the bat, you know.”
She blushed. “I-I’m sorry! I didn’t—”
Zusa patted her hand in a friendly manner. “Most of us didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on when we were kids. I’m sure Simon understands.”
The sibriex didn’t say anything.
“I said I’m sure Simon understands.”
He suddenly winced and grabbed his leg under the table. “Ow! Why’d you kick me?”
The Nosferatu just smiled innocently. “Oh, no reason. You’re just being an ass again.”
“What—hey, I was just thinking.” He rubbed his leg, or more specifically his ankle. “This whole thing just reminded me of Jacob.”
“That would be…” I tapped my finger on the table. “I can’t remember. Was he one of the ones in the shootout at the beginning of the semester?”
Simon shook his head. “No, that was David. Jacob died years ago. I don’t think you ever met him.”
“Hm. Who else died in that one? The shootout, I mean? It was in vamp territory, so…”
“Orbek,” Seena noted, sipping at her drink again. Simon frowned and snatched it away from her. She grimaced, but didn’t protest. “I think you remember him. Young orc with fighting claws? Some Levisans snipped them off with bolt cutters. David killed most of them, but…” She shrugged. “All he had was a pistol. He got killed pretty quickly.”
Simon sniffed the drink and winced. “Ugh, Nine Hells, how can you—nevermind. I thought you didn’t know how David died.”
His sister shrugged. “Malach told me.”
Pam blinked. “That’s an angel name.”
It was also a name I recognized. “He’s still sweet on you?”
The vampire assassin shrugged and slumped against the tabletop. Her answer was muffled by her arms. “I guess. He didn’t try and kill me, anyways. He just thought I might want to know how a friend of mine kickstarted the Twilight War.”
“Again,” Jelena deadpanned.
“Again,” Seena corrected, with a small pained smile. “Though the war kinda lost steam with the Composer and everything.”
“I wonder if that was the point?” Pam mused, leaning back in her chair and staring up at the sky. “Everyone’s been wondering about the Composer. None of his actions make sense.” She shrugged. “Maybe he’s trying to be an enemy for us to fight, to unite against.”
“Spare us the Social Darwinism,” Seena grunted. “Over three thousand people are dead. Plus Chronias.”
Pam leaned forward again and shook her head. “No, that’s exactly my point. Only a few hundred people are dead. Three thousand are screaming—and if there’s a cure out there, then suddenly the deaths are barely a blip on the radar.”
Simon closed his eyes. “Pam, you…” he shook his head. “I’ve heard that argument before, but I just don’t buy it. There’s too much chaos and destruction.”
The plain baseline shrugged. “Well, yeah. It wouldn’t be much of a threat if he didn’t do any damage at all. But it’s still less than the angels and vampires would do if they had a chance.”
Yolanda gripped her boyfriend’s arm to get his attention. “You know…my uncle did say they were worried that the next Twilight War would drag the whole city into it. Maybe that’s related?”
“I think you’re all thinking about this too short-term,” Veda said slowly, not looking up from her phone. “Zaphkiel sponsored a lot of orphanages, and he made sure the kids were raised right. No brainwashing them with angelic propaganda, just letting them grow up. Who knows what will happen now, with him out of the picture?”
The mouse in my lap perked his head up, probably hearing something I couldn’t, and leapt off my lap. I ignored it, in favor of pondering the implications of the cherve’s statement. “So you think maybe this had something to do with toppling the Watcher from his position as leader?”
“Erathoal is in charge of education,” Jelena muttered. I was surprised she had been paying attention. “Maybe he wants more propaganda?”
It was a sign of how drunk the vampire was that I had to explain politics to her. “The Arch-Saints don’t fight amongst each other, you know that.” The angels in general were pretty good about keeping out of civil wars, but they weren’t perfect. The Hebdomad, however, were close friends, and had founded the culture together. I couldn’t imagine them turning on each other.
Simon leaned back in his chair, as if exhausted. “Nine Hells, its obvious. Why didn’t I think of it before?”
Other than the drunk girls, we all stared at him skeptically. Think of what?
He shook his head. “Don’t you see? This isn’t about politics or propaganda or whatever. Remember the bats? They spread the fastest, because it was a vampire domain.”
Pam frowned. “Yeah, so?”
“So?” the demon shook his head again. “So this attack was to weaken the angels, the natural enemy of the vampires, and the ones most capable of fighting them. So that when the Composer starts sending them to infect the city, there’s less resistance.” He gripped Yolanda’s hand gently.
I closed my eyes as I figured it out. “He’s preparing for his end game.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 101)
This…could have gone better.
Oh, and the Dagonite just delivered the rum to Seena and Jelena today. It took him a while to find them.