“Why in Musashi’s name did she kick us out of our rooms?” Akane muttered, pulling her jacket a little tighter. She had settled down a little after being rudely waken up by Laura pounding on our door, but she was still pissed.
I sighed. “She didn’t kick us out. She was right: We need to figure out if Turgay’s okay, and he isn’t answering his cell.” I felt wretched about that. I find out the girl I introduced him to is evil—or possessed or whatever—and don’t even bother to call and mention it? Tezuka, what was wrong with me?
“She could have gone herself.”
I looked at her a little sideways. “She’s never met Turgay.”
“Neither have I.”
“You’re my bodyguard, remember?” That wasn’t me being snarky; Laura had actually ordered Akane to escort me to Turgay’s secret lab.
And Akane had done it without a word of dissent. That made me curious. Well, okay, she was dissenting now, so maybe I was just giving this too much thought.
It had already been about an hour since we had left our room. Turgay’s lab was apparently outside the wall, at the southern docks. We had taken two light rails to get here, but had to walk the last couple blocks on foot.
Around us, the city was like a ghost town, even though it was early in the morning, when normally there were a good number of people around. Baselines, mostly, but lots of non-vampires and angels used this time to get work done.
Not today. The streets were completely deserted. What few people we saw were well-armed and traveling in groups. The cultures’ domains were sealed up like fortresses, with very few people entering or leaving. No one was taking any chances.
The news about the Composer’s identity had a lot of people scared. Before, it had just been this distant enemy, possibly fictional. Now that she had been outed, people were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Many people were confused too. As a moderately successful voice actress, Lizzy wasn’t anything like a household name, but she was definitely known among certain circles. She had a well-deserved reputation as a kind, if ditzy, young girl. Most people who knew her personally assumed it must be some kind of mistake.
I would have thought that too, if I hadn’t been there last night.
Whatever was riding around in that girl’s body was evil and dangerous, I had no illusions about that. But it was still difficult to believe. The girl I had been spending time with these past few weeks couldn’t be the Composer. Something had to be going on.
“This is really weird,” Akane muttered. “No one is eying me.”
I raised an eyebrow. She’s not hard on the eyes, by any means, but she isn’t the type to expect to turn heads as she walks down the street. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Normally people notice the way I walk,” she said quietly. “The bullies take confidence as a challenge, so they look me over to see if they can take me.” She shrugged. “If I’m in a bad mood, I let them think that they can.”
“Ooookay.” It took me a minute to work through that. “So you’re mad because no one wants to pick a fight?”
“Yeah.” She frowned, and shook her head. “It’s weird.”
Then I realized the implications. “Ah. Of course. You’re still upset over Lizzy.”
She didn’t say anything, and we walked in silence for another block or so.
“I’ve known her for eight years,” she said finally, as we passed a gun shop with three heavily-armed men guarding the entrance. The rest of the ‘scraper was probably pissed about the impact that was having on their sales. “I’ve never been exactly friends with her, but…” she shook her head. “This is all too much to swallow. Was the Composer always there, watching and pulling the strings? Or did she only drop by every once in a while, like to hypnotize Derek?”
“It’s impossible to know for sure,” I admitted. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” I brightened a little. “Though at least now that the hypnotism is gone, Derek’s finally started to notice us.” I grinned and elbowed her lightly in the ribs. “Wanna make a fight out of it?”
The swordswoman just glared at me. “One of our closest friends was brainwashed for…what? Over a decade? And you want to turn his affections into a game.”
My grin faded. I had to admit, teasing him had been more fun when I didn’t understand why he was refusing my advances.
I wasn’t going to stop, of course. That’s just not who I am. Especially now that I was pretty much the only one in the running. But I could be a little more tactful about it.
“Yeah,” I said slowly, covering my embarrassment with a cough. “Ah…sorry about that. I wasn’t thinking.”
After a few more minutes of silence, we reached the wall. Thankfully, we had told MC to expect our arrival, so we didn’t have to wait twenty minutes for the stupid gate to creak open. We just slipped through the small crack and out the other side without any trouble.
The docks of Domina were a bit weird. At each of the four compass points, there was a long, traditional dock right outside the gate, over a hundred yards long. It was solid concrete and rebar, supported from underneath by powerful concrete columns that reached all the way to the bottom of Whitecap Bay. This was where the rare visitors to the city docked, and where the barbecues were located. They were completely abandoned today, which was not unexpected.
The weird part was the Ring; a twenty-yard wide concrete belt circling the entire city. This was where most of the baseline fishermen lived and worked, in shacks and lean-to’s built right up against the wall. They were easy to miss if you didn’t know where to look, since they were the same dull gray color as the wall itself, and buried between stacks of abandoned shipping containers people used as restaurants and shops.
Although I said ‘baseline,’ most of the people here had a few toys to make it easier to live exposed to the elements. People who preferred a warm roof over their heads instead of a dingy little shelter that barely kept out the rain generally commuted.
I couldn’t see Turgay’s lab anywhere. I don’t know what I expected; it wouldn’t be outdoors, obviously, but there was really no idea where to start. I wish he had given me better directions.
I heard the squeaking sound of a metal door opening and turned to see a girl in a lab coat standing outside an open shipping container, set in a long row with a bunch of others. She waved us over, and we came with little hesitation.
Once we were closer, I saw feathers in her hair, and any doubts about whether or not this was the right place disappeared.
“I’m Jenna Strigi. You’re…Ling?”
I swallowed. I wasn’t very worried, but it was still a secret lab researching one of the most important objects in the city. I was allowed to be a little apprehensive.
“Ah…yeah. I’m Turgay’s orphan-mate,” I indicated Akane. “And this is—”
“Her bodyguard,” Akane finished. Her face was set in stone; if she was joking, I sure as Tezuka couldn’t tell. Was she really taking Laura’s suggestion that seriously?
Jenna, however didn’t seem to find anything in the least bit odd about that. “Of course. Come in.” We did, and she closed the door behind us with a loud clang.
It was nicer than I had expected; they had knocked down most of the walls of the containers to free up space, and used white-painted plywood when they needed privacy. I liked the design. It had a very comfortable, homey feel to it. But I knew from Turgay that most aves didn’t like confined spaces—after all, the reason they joined the subculture in the first place was usually because they wanted to fly. This probably wouldn’t be a very fun place to work for them.
“I’ll fetch the Director right away,” Jenna promised. “Stay here.” As she walked off deeper into the complex, the heavily-armed aves on either side of us drew meaningful mechanical noises from their guns. I could take a hint, and made sure not to look at them.
Akane, however, decided to take her sword out of her bag and holster it at her waist. It was a testament to the guards’ training that they managed to restrain themselves from shooting.
I grinned at them a little weakly.
“Ling?” I glanced up to see Turgay striding forward, a concerned look in his eyes. He was the only anthro around; he looked like practically royalty. Everyone else had only one or two toys, and looked like they were trying to mimic him.
“Ling, what are you doing here?” He hugged me fiercely, then glared at me sharply. “You weren’t supposed to come unless there was an emergency.”
After Lizzy went missing yesterday, Turgay had been forced to give the location of the lab to MC. While she hadn’t told me explicitly where it was until today, I had been able to guess pretty well based on the sewer entrance we had used when we were tracking Lizzy.
“It is,” I insisted. “Guy, is Lizzy here?”
He frowned. “No, of course not. I assumed you found her. She’s not still missing, is she?”
I rubbed my forehead. “It’s…complicated. Is there somewhere we can sit down?” Now it was my turn to frown. “Actually, Jenna said she was going to go fetch the Director, maybe we should wait…”
“No,” he assured me. “That’s me. I’m the Director.” He grinned at my shock. “Come on, I have seats in my office.
His ‘office,’ as I had expected, was just a slightly larger area deeper in the complex, cordoned off with plywood walls and a thick sheet for a curtain.
I sat down in a dinky little folding chair and glared at him. “You didn’t mention that you were in charge down here.”
He shrugged. “You didn’t ask.” As though that settled anything.
Whatever, not important. I needed to figure out a way to explain everything without…
You know what? Screw being sensitive. This guy was the leader of a secret, illegal project studying stolen technology that brainwashes anyone who spends too much time around it.
So, I just looked him straight in the eye and said “Lizzy is the Composer.”
He frowned and leaned back in his chair. “Yes, we heard about that during our last status update, but I can’t believe it. Are you sure?”
“Positive,” I said firmly. I waved my hand. “There might be demonic possession or some weird power involved, but the point is is that whatever is driving around in Lizzy’s body is unbelievably dangerous.”
“Immortal,” Akane noted.
I nodded. “That too. Laura shot her face off, and she just laughed.”
“Laura shot her own face off?”
“No, Lizzy’s.” I sighed. I could tell he didn’t believe me, even though I didn’t have all that much experience reading anthros. “Look, just…stay away from her, all right? Call Necessarius if you see her.” I stood to leave, and Akane rose as well.
Turgay shook his head. “Lizzy has given us quite a bit of help. I’m not going to just throw her out in the cold if she comes calling.”
“She could kill you all,” Akane said bluntly.
Before the anthro had a chance to answer, his plywood wall—the one facing the door—exploded inwards as the body of one of the warhawks was thrown through.
“No, I will kill them all.”
I knew what I’d see before I even turned.
And there she was, in all her glory. Elizabeth Greene. Still over six feet tall with skin like a bronze goddess. Still in the white dress from last night—now stained completely crimson, with darker patches underneath the still-wet blood, indicating older battles. She was barefoot, and stood with one foot in the shattered ribcage of a warhawk on the floor, laying unmoving in a puddle of ever-widening blood. Behind her, the other two guards were little more than red splashes against the walls.
In her hand she held Turgay’s assistant Jenna by the throat, as casually as if she weighed nothing more than a bag of groceries. But judging by the way the ave woman was struggling, there was nothing casual about the strength of her grip.
Everything about Lizzy was different, from the haughty way she stood to the cruel smile, to the natural way the blood of her enemies looked, splashed upon her skin. She looked like an entirely different person, pretending to be Elizabeth Greene.
The only things unchanged were her eyes. Still the same, unflinching gold, nearly glowing in the dim light of the illumination strips on the ceiling.
Her eyes were the same as always. But in the context of everything else…
They weren’t kind eyes anymore. These were the eyes of a hunting panther, watching her prey from the shadows.
“Hey, Ken. Ishi,” she said. The monster grinned, her pearly white teeth accentuating the blood splashed on her face even more. “Prepare to die.”
Behind the Scene (scene 115)
The “Ken” refers to Akane again (Sword), while the “Ishi” refers to Ling (Stone).