“Lizzy? That you?”
I shook my head to clear it and smiled at the bouncer for the bar. “Yes. Sorry. I have a really bad headache.”
The giant nodded. “You look like hell ran you over. What happened?”
I frowned, bit my lip, and shook my head. “I’m…not sure. It’s all very…fuzzy.”
“You need coffee,” he declared. “Ronnie!” he called to the bartender. “Get some caffeine for the lady. On me.”
I smiled at him again. “I can’t thank you enough.”
He grinned toothily. “No problem, little one.”
The big Thor was one of the few people who could get away with calling me that. Not just because he was bigger than me, but because he didn’t mean it as an insult. He was a good man, although everyone said he was hard to approach.
While he was distracted, one of the patrons tried to sneak past the torches marking the exit of the bar; Mjolnir noticed immediately.
“Hey!” He stomped over and grabbed the man by the collar, pulling him back inside. “Settle your tab first, Greg.”
The man grumbled, but slinked over to the bar, likely hoping he’d have better luck convincing Ronnie to let him off easy.
“Busy night?” I asked, glancing around the room. Thor’s Rest wasn’t exactly huge, but it was decent sized, and over half the tables were taken. I spent a lot of time here, so I was well aware that there were usually less people. Maybe the residents from the rooms upstairs were down for dinner. The patrons were a pretty even mix of cultures. With someone like that as the bouncer, you learn pretty quick to leave racism at the door.
Mjolnir shrugged. “Not too bad. Enough to keep us working, not so much that we’re overwhelmed. Just about perfect.” He grinned. “It was a good night before you got here. Now it’s a great night.”
“Your coffee, Lizzy,” Ronnie called, carefully placing a steaming mug on the tabletop. “You can wash some of that dirt off in the back, if you like.”
I grimaced. “I’m sorry. I must look terrible.”
The bartending vampire waved my complaint away. “Nonsense. You look as beautiful as ever. Why, if I weren’t married, I’d be trying to drag you back to my room.”
“I think I’ll stick with the coffee for now.”
He laughed. “See, that’s why I like you, Lizzy. You have a good sense of humor.”
I drained the mug as slowly as I could, nursing it over the course of about fifteen minutes. Six men and three women tried to shoulder past Mjolnir during that time, but he made sure they all stayed inside, where they decided that arguing with Ronnie was a better idea than having the Hammer of Thor after them.
One of them, Greg I think, was the one who noticed the broadcast. “Hey, they interrupted the game.”
I looked up at the nearest television to see that female reporter sitting at a news desk, ready to speak. The line at the bottom of the screen proclaimed ‘SPECIAL REPORT.’
“Hello,” the woman began. “I’m Eliza Cassan, reporting live. Moments ago, I was given a memo from Butler himself, regarding the ongoing search for the source of the screamers. In a daring raid, the Paladins have finally managed to ascertain the identity of the Composer.”
The entire bar murmured with apprehension, but Mjolnir just grinned. “About damn time. Maybe we can actually fight back now.”
Then my face appeared on the screen, in a window off to the side. All sound in the bar ceased, except that coming from the television. A glass shattered when Ronnie dropped it to the floor. No one reacted.
“This woman, Elizabeth Greene, is the Composer,” the newswoman proclaimed in that same dry tone she used for everything else. “She is to be considered extremely dangerous, and should not be approached under any circumstances. If you find her, contact MC and leave the area immediately. That is all.”
Eliza and the newsroom blacked out, but my picture grew to fill the whole screen. It was a very nice picture, cropped from one of the group photos we took on Akane’s birthday. You could see Laura’s black hair at the edge.
Greg got off his stool very slowly. Everyone else around me did the same. They were all the ones who had tried to get out without paying. Did they think they’d get some sort of bounty?
“Now, don’t make any sudden moves and nobody gets hurt,” he advised me, as he slowly drew his gun. I could hear the other delinquents doing the same around me.
Mjolnir stomped up with a scowl. “Put those away, you morons. There’s been a mistake.” The men stepped away from the giant, but didn’t lower their weapons. The bouncer just rolled his eyes. “This girl is an old friend. She wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“And she’s been sitting here the past quarter hour,” Ronnie pointed out. “The Composer was found out a few minutes ago. It can’t be her.”
I favored him with my best smile. “Thank you for your vote of confidence.” I slid off the stool, careful not to make any sudden movements, and raised my hands to show everyone I was unarmed. “As long as no one gets violent, I don’t see any reason this can’t end peacefully.”
“See?” Mjolnir said, punching Greg lightly on the shoulder. The smaller man had to struggle to keep his feet. “If she were the Composer, you think she’d let you point guns at her?”
The men slowly, grudgingly lowered their weapons.
I smiled at them each in turn as they holstered their guns. “He’s right, of course. If I were the Composer, I would do this.”
Then I formed my hand into a point, stabbed Mjolnir in the back, and ripped out his heart.
The giant gurgled, blood bubbling out of his mouth, and fell to the ground with enough force to shake the entire room, gore splashing up from the gaping hole in his back.
I dropped his heart next to him and squished it beneath my foot. Blood spurted.
One of the patrons made a dash for the entrance the bouncer had been guarding. I waved my bloody hand, and the fires jumped out of their braziers, creating a wall of flame, preventing anyone from escaping.
There was a reason I had come to this bar, specifically.
I licked my fingers carefully, making sure to savor every drop. Once I was done, I turned my eyes to the patrons of the bar, staring back at me in terror.
I grinned, revealing perfect white teeth, now stained crimson.
“If I were the Composer, this is exactly what I would do.”
END BOOK ONE