“You would be the Highlander?”
Silver and gold, that stupid nickname. “Laura. And I’m busy.” I was trying to fix the hypnotism machine so that it didn’t kill people, but I wasn’t having much luck. Engineering is barely a hobby of mine. All I did the first time was fiddle with the settings.
“Ah…so this is the machine that killed my chamberlain.”
That got my attention. I abandoned the machine and turned to see a short and squat vampire, wearing what appeared to be a very weathered yellow fire fighter’s jacket over a black shirt and jeans. He had thick daygoggles, small fangs, and the dust-colored skin of a vampire who wasn’t white, but still didn’t spend enough time in the sun.
He smelled like smoke. Not just cigarettes, either. Even my weak baseline nose could detect a variety of different flavors. Woodsmoke, gunpowder, gasoline, and the mouth-watering scent of the barbeque.
“Mephistopheles,” I said, meeting his eyes as best I could, considering the goggles. “Noble of Cania. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect to see you.”
“I wanted to come pick up Adonides’ body personally.” He pulled out a cigarette and placed it in his mouth, but didn’t light it. “He—his corpse, that is—is it still here?”
“Yes, Noble Mephistopheles.”
“Bah,” he grunted, waving his hand. “Burning darkness, Highlander, don’t bother with that stupid title. Meph will do fine.”
“Then I expect you to extend me the same courtesy.”
“My name is Laura.”
“Oh, yes, sorry.” He bobbed his head excitedly. “Just Laura. Got it.”
I sighed. “I’m sorry for your loss, Noble—Meph. I’ll admit I don’t know all that much about Canian culture, but I assume you plan to cremate him?”
The vampire nodded. “Feed him to the flames, yes. It is our way.”
“Any chance I can convince you to let me do an autopsy first? I was hoping I might be able to get some insight into the sleepers if I could get a closer look at his brain chemistry.”
The warlord quirked his head. “Honestly, I figured you had already done all that.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Ah…yes. When can I expect you to be done?”
“Tomorrow. The first of October.”
“Hm.” He frowned. “Well, that’s a Monday, so we might have trouble…” he shook his head. “No, it will be fine. Guland, if no one else, will be able to find time.”
“I’ll have MC send you a message when he’s ready,” I promised. “And I’ll be sure to be as respectful as possible.”
“That’s all I can ask, Highlander.”
I bit my tongue from snapping back, and simply smiled instead.
When he left, I assumed I’d be able to spend much of the rest of the day working on Adonides. But that wasn’t meant to be.
“Laura?” MC’s chocolate voice drifted out of the speakers. “Can you come to the West Training Room? It’s urgent.”
“Uh…okay.” That was where I had left Derek to discuss tactics with Flynn, under the assumption that the swordsman would be able to keep him mostly out of trouble. Had they injured each other during practice? Probably not; MC would have been more clear if it was an emergency.
I found the room again quickly enough. It was a large empty room with the walls and floor padded with red mats, and a hamper full of towels in the corner.
When I had left them, the boys were alone. This was the kids’ training room, and no one was letting their children out of their sight today. But Akane and Ling had shown up at some point, and seemed to be arguing with the boys. Akane was wearing Flynn’s earrings, which was surprising. I thought she had locked them away.
“Are you completely insane?”
Ling winced. Derek wasn’t yelling, but he didn’t need to. That disapproving look on his face was enough. “I didn’t mean—”
“I know you didn’t,” he interrupted. “No one ever means to do things like this.” He sighed and brushed his hair back. “But silver and gold, didn’t you stop and consider the implications?”
“I was helping a friend.”
“Which is noble, I’ll admit. But you should have called one of us. You didn’t have to shoulder this burden alone.”
The blonde delinquent sighed. “Derek, what would you have done if I had told you?”
He opened his mouth briefly, then closed it again.
“Told Butler,” Ling answered for him. “You would have told him without a second thought. I don’t know exactly what would have happened, but I wasn’t willing to take any risks with my friend’s life.”
Derek rubbed his forehead. “I…” he looked up at me. “Laura, help me out here.”
Everyone turned to me; our blond leader was the first one who had noticed me. I blinked a little at the sudden attention, but managed to shrug. “I’m not sure what to say. This is about the toy box, I take it?”
“Yeah, she—” He blinked in confusion. “Wait. How’d you know?”
“MC told me, after Lizzy went missing. We kept you out of the loop because we knew what you’d do.”
He plopped down on the mat with a sigh. “Am I the only one who didn’t know about this?”
“I didn’t know,” Flynn muttered. Akane elbowed him in the ribs.
“Okay,” Derek muttered. “Fine. I still think you should have told me but…fine. Soaring Eagle has the toy box, and is probably going to start a war with Necessarius the second they think they have a chance. We’ll deal with that when it comes. What I need to know is how the hell Lizzy knew about it.”
Ling winced again. “Right…that was me. I needed help hiding Turgay, and I knew she had contacts—”
“Silver and—yeah, she has contacts, she probably hypnotizes them all.”
I nodded. “You know, that would explain it. I have noticed a bit of obsessiveness in her hires, but I hadn’t met enough to really think it was odd.”
Akane frowned. “A demon in a nice suit?”
“Nabassu? Yeah, he’s her butler. So to speak, I guess. Why?”
“Saw him earlier, along with another demon and a Jotuun. They all had powers.”
I sputtered. “She’s giving people powers? Intentionally?” My hand twitched towards my necklace. It had always been a possibility, of course, but since we hadn’t seen any more like ourselves, we had just assumed…
Akane nodded. “She also made it clear she was the source of our powers.”
I regained my composure quickly. “Right now, we just need the basics. What exactly could they do?”
The samurai took a deep breath to steel herself. “Right. Nabassu was a shifter, like the bats, but he could only make wings. The Jotuun flew under his own power. And there was a fat demon with super strength. At least, that’s what it looked like.”
“Wait, the big fat, red one?” Ling asked. Akane nodded. “Well, no worries there, then. Adam killed him after you left.” She shivered a little. “He’s very, very dead.”
That was a problem I understood. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Derek. I’m worried Adam’s sociopathy could cause problems.”
Derek just quirked his head. “What are you talking about?”
It actually made me feel better, in a way. Although I hadn’t really admitted it to myself, I had been worried he’d undergo a drastic personality shift now that Lizzy’s hypnotism was lifted. Good to know he was the same soft-hearted fool as ever.
“He’s killing people without the slightest signs of remorse,” I pointed out.
“But…screamers aren’t people,” Ling said with a confused look on her face. I didn’t bother correcting her. We had enough problems right now.
“Killing is an unfortunate necessity in life—”
I cut Derek off with a wave of my hand. “I know that. I made my first kill when we were six, remember?” Although I hadn’t killed a human until I was fifteen, and even that had been indirectly. “But Adam’s not a Dominite. This isn’t normal for him.”
Flynn blinked. “Wait, he’s not?”
“Came for AU,” Akane explained.
The swordsman snorted. “Well then yeah, Adam’s crazy. Didn’t you say he killed like a dozen ferrets at the bat thing?”
“Probably more,” I admitted. “That’s what made Kelly bring it to my attention, actually. And then the other day, he didn’t think twice about letting Adonides get killed.”
Flynn perked up. “Right, about that, Guland wanted to know—”
“I just came from a meeting with Mephistopheles. I think he’ll send your roommate over some time tomorrow.”
“Okay, yeah. That’s good. He’s been worried about it.”
“I’m still not convinced,” Derek insisted, bringing us back on topic. “Akane and I—silver and gold, even you, Laura—can seal off those feelings without any trouble, and you’re not calling us sociopaths.”
I sighed. “You’re missing the point. It’s exactly that: We seal them away. We’ve just had years of practice, so we don’t even have to think about it. Adam has not had years of practice. On his first day in the city, he killed a woman, without any apparent trauma. That’s not normal.”
“Is that what Butler meant?” Ling chipped in. “When he called him a ‘natural-born killer?’”
I had forgotten about that. “Probably.”
Derek struggled up from the floor. “Well, it’s not like we can do anything about it. We need him. We’ll keep an eye on him, and if he starts going crazy, I’ll try to talk him down.”
“Lily would be a better choice,” I noted.
He shrugged. “Sure, but she probably won’t be around.” He turned to Akane. “I’m not that confident I’ll be able to convince him of anything, though. So Akane, you’ll need to be ready if he decides to turn on us.”
The swordswoman didn’t seem to think anything odd about this; she just nodded and gripped the hilt of her sword. Well, everyone had to deal with betrayal eventually. Since I wasn’t exactly dangerous physically, I usually made sure I had blackmail material on any troublesome employers or allies—or just worked alone. Apparently Derek and Akane went the more traditional route.
“Just make sure Lily doesn’t find out about this,” MC’s voice warned from the speakers in the ceiling. “She’s convinced she can redeem him.”
I blinked at the implications. “Wait, she knew?”
“Of course. Why do you think she’s dating him? She thinks she can socialize him. And honestly, she seems to be right.”
“It’s Lily,” Derek said, grinning at my surprise. “She doesn’t do anything without some goal in mind.”
To deflect attention from my embarrassment, I changed the subject. “I think we’re done for the day. I’ll find Adam and get a debriefing from him later. Derek, were you still planning on doing that mission later?”
He groaned. “I completely forgot…but yeah. It’s just a couple night dogs; Akane, Flynn and I can handle it.”
Ling perked up. “I can help too.”
“Oh no,” Derek replied instantly, his face like stone. “You’re not coming on any missions unless screamers or those…uh…”
“Blackguards,” Akane supplied.
“Right. Unless Lizzy’s Blackguards show up.”
The little Chinese delinquent opened her mouth silently, then closed it, then opened it again. “You’re grounding me?”
Derek didn’t blink. “Yes.”
“Tezuka’s name, what right—”
Suddenly Derek closed the distance between the two of them, until their faces were millimeters apart. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he still had eight or ten inches on the tiny girl. She gulped and took a step back, but she still had to look almost straight up.
“You endangered quite a few people,” he hissed quietly. “In hiding the toy box you were forced to abandon us when the skins attacked, you got the aves at the lab killed, and you may have started a war between the arachs and the aves against Necessarius.”
He leaned down to Ling’s level until their eyes were inches apart.
“I have the right, Ling Yu, to act in the safety of this city. Grounding you from missions is less than a slap on the wrist. If this went public, you’d be fed to the ghouls. And if you were lucky, they might kill you first.”
He turned around and stomped out of the training room, Akane following him quickly, and Flynn a bit more hesitantly.
Ling fell to her knees.
I just left in the opposite direction, only noticing when I got back to the lab Clarke had given me that I was clutching the diamond ring on my necklace hard enough to slice open my palm.
Behind the Scenes (scene 120)
I was a little leery about bringing in Mephistopheles here, especially so soon after Soaring Eagle, but he was necessary for illustrating the fate of Adonides.