“Did you hear? That VA who does Twilight Sparkle is the Composer.”
“Yeah, I heard, and it’s ridiculous. I’ve met Lizzy; she wouldn’t hurt a fly. My grandma is more likely to be the Composer.”
“Isn’t your grandma an assassin?”
“Yeah, and dead.”
It was Monday, the first of October. It had only been two days ago that we finally ascertained the identity of the Composer, after cornering her in her own lair. Necessarius told the press, and an announcement was made that very same night.
But still, no one believed it.
Part of the problem was probably that there were no eyewitnesses coming forward. The Paladins couldn’t come forward because we wanted to keep our identities hidden—though Derek and Laura were discussing that a bit—and the retinue hadn’t actually seen Lizzy. The aves had, during the attack on their lab, but they weren’t in a position where they were willing to help the ‘sarians.
I stayed out of it. I had only been in the city a little over a month; I was still new. Everyone kept going on about political crap I didn’t understand, citing this incident or that massacre I had never heard of as reasons why Butler would or wouldn’t flat-out lie to the public.
I turned, surprised someone recognized me. I was in chemistry, a class I hadn’t made many friends in. I was never that good in chemistry in the first place, and the professor planned his lessons assuming all his students had a rudimentary knowledge of how the toy maker functioned, so I was falling behind as I kept having to look up new terms that everyone else just understood. What the hell was the Reed-Osborne Procedure, and what did it have to do with cancer?
I shook my head, breaking out of my fugue. The woman speaking to me was about my age, with a long red braid of hair that went down to her waist, and matching crimson eyes. She was wearing a dark red jacket open at the front, over a long sleeved black shirt.
Before I came to Domina, I would have been surprised at anyone having such a ridiculous amount of red. Now, I was just glad she had decided to skip the red skin cosmo.
“I don’t think we’ve met,” I said.
She grinned, displaying pearly white teeth. “Right, sorry. I’m Robyn Joan Clarke. I’m a friend of Derek and Laura’s.”
I held out my hand; she seemed a bit surprised, but shook it. “Pleased to meet you, I’m Adam Anders. But then, you already knew that.”
She grimaced a little, acknowledging her mistake. “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
“No hard feelings.” I unzipped my backpack and started searching for the flash drive with my homework on it. It wasn’t ‘done’ so much as ‘filled out,’ but it was better than nothing. “Was there something you needed?”
“Yeah, actually. I want to talk to you about the Composer.”
“Why me, specifically?” I managed with what I thought was admirable calm.
She sat on my desk, cheerfully blocking my vision. “Because you’re a Paladin, silly.”
I avoided narrowing my eyes by an effort of will. Instead, I just reached slowly for the briefcase filled with my guns, which I kept next to my foot. “Now you’re being silly. I just came to the city for school. How could I be a Paladin?”
Derek or Akane, I could understand. They were the vanguard of every fight and were somewhat famous on their own, so someone had to recognize them eventually. But I was in the back with the retinue. The only ones who would know my identity would be the Composer and her minions.
Perhaps that theory floating around about possession and body jumping wasn’t so far-fetched after all.
Robyn sighed. “Anders, stop being so melodramatic. I can see you reaching for your guns—”
I didn’t hesitate. I had managed to get the case unlocked, but hadn’t opened it yet. I undid the latch, let the case fall open, and pulled out my Sica. 4.5 mm wasn’t much, but it should work perfectly well on a baseline. I kept the pistol hidden behind the girl’s body, careful not to let any of my classmates see. Luckily, I was in the back corner, and no one paid much attention to me anyway.
Robyn, however, noticed. I’m not sure what I expected her to do, but she just narrowed her eyes at my weapon.
“Careful with that. You could hurt someone.”
I flipped off the safety.
She just rolled her eyes. “Red dusk, I said stop being so melodramatic.”
“What do you want?”
“Exactly what I said. I want to talk to you about the Composer.” She glanced around. “But this is hardly the place for it. Let’s go outside.”
I ground my teeth. “I have class.”
She scooted off the table. “C’mon. You can even keep the gun pointed at me if it makes you feel better.”
I bit my lip as she sashayed away, then cursed under my breath, put the gun back in the case, and followed the girl outside. I made sure to grab my stuff, since I had a feeling I wouldn’t be coming back.
I also loosened one of the knives I kept in a wrist-sheath, hidden by the long sleeves of my sweatshirt.
I wasn’t going to run around with a gun in my hand, but I wasn’t stupid, either.
When I exited the classroom, Robyn didn’t say a word, just led me outside into the bright early morning sun. She took a sharp turn, stepping into a dark alley between the buildings, and I took a moment to pull out my Sica again, make sure the safety was on, and stuff it into the front of my pants.
To my surprise, when I followed her, I found two more people waiting for me. Well, no, I expected more people, since I was half-certain she was leading me into an ambush. What I didn’t expect was to recognize one of them.
“Simon?” I said to the lean demon with mottled purple skin. “What are you doing here?” I nodded to the vampire next to him—presumably, she was the reason we were meeting in the shade. She wasn’t wearing any daygoggles, though it was impossible to know if she had forgotten them, or if she just wanted to be able to see without obstruction. “And who’s this?”
“This is my sister, Seena,” he answered curtly, and the midnight-skinned woman extended her hand to shake. I took it, remembering vaguely that either Simon or Yolanda had mentioned he had a twin sister. They certainly didn’t look like twins now.
“I’m going to be blunt,” the demon started. “We’ve been hearing weird things.” He said it as though the rumors hadn’t already spread across the entire city. “Apparently the Paladins found the Composer?”
I glanced briefly at Robyn, and the slight shake of her head confirmed it: However she knew about our identities, she hadn’t shared it with the twins. Maybe she was somewhat trustworthy after all.
“I’ve heard…rumblings,” I admitted slowly, not quite certain what role I was supposed to be playing here. “And Lizzy is nowhere to be found. I can only assume the situation is exactly as Necessarius claims.”
The vampire spat on the ground with surprising vehemence. “Nine Hells! We need more than rumors!”
But I was a little distracted. Wasn’t ‘nine hells’ a demon curse? True, I wasn’t really sure how that all worked, but still…
When I noticed Simon giving me an odd stare, I recovered quickly. “I don’t know what else you want. But I know if I see Greene in a dark alley, I’m going to shoot first and ask questions later.”
“This isn’t about Lizzy,” Seena insisted. “It’s about—” She stopped suddenly, before she said too much.
I sighed. This damn city. Everyone had their own secrets. “Look, I don’t care. I just have to ask: Has Lizzy asked you for help?”
“What? No! The retinue—”
I waved off her explanation. “Don’t care. As long as you’re not dealing with her, I’m sure everything else will sort itself out.” I took a step back, leaving an open path for them to leave. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I would like to speak to Miss Clarke alone.”
The siblings looked at each other, shrugged, and walked out with a nod to Robyn. I had no idea if they had gotten what they wanted, and again, didn’t really care. It wasn’t until I was sure they were gone that I turned to the redhead.
“I don’t know what that was about. But I’m sure you haven’t failed to notice that we are in a dark alley.”
The red-eyed woman nodded serenely. “True, true. But I’m not Lizzy.”
“Are you working with her?”
God dammit, the one time Laura’s power would have been unambiguously useful… “How do I know I can trust you?”
She sighed. “Look Anders, I really did just want to ask you a few questions. I ran into the twins on the way here, and they’re freaking about Lizzy just as much as everyone else. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone, give them some independent corroboration for the ‘sarian story.”
I left my pistol in my waistband, but pulled my Saint George out of the case, enjoying the fleeting look of concern that passed over the woman’s face. I already had a god slayer loaded, so I just flipped off the safety and pointed it at her. “Ask your questions.”
She frowned. “Fine. Hard way it is.” She looked me square in the eye. “Is Elizabeth Greene the Composer?”
I don’t know what I expected—some kind of supernatural force, bending me to answer? But it didn’t feel any different than any other question, so I simply answered. “As far as I could tell, yes. Or rather, the Composer looked and acted an awful lot like Elizabeth Greene before Laura blew her head off.”
Her crimson eyes narrowed. “So the immortality part is true.”
I shrugged, careful to keep the dragon slayer pointed at her. “She can heal, that much is certain. But she ran away, so it can’t be perfect.”
The woman tapped her chin. “Yes, I’d imagine you’re right. She probably has a limited reservoir, wouldn’t want that running out at the wrong time.”
“Now it’s my turn.” I raised my gun a bit higher, pointing at her head. “Who are you, and how do you know so much?”
“I’m MC’s mysteriously competent scout,” she admitted distractedly.
I blinked. “What?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you didn’t notice? I’ve been doing scout work on the screamers since this whole mess started. I can get far closer than any of the ‘sarians, so I’m invaluable.”
I shook my head. “Wait, you can get close to the screamers? Why? How?”
Robyn Joan Clarke sighed. “Is it really not obvious? Next you’re going to tell me you haven’t figured out who my father is.”
“Uh…” I wracked my brain. Who did I know who was old enough?
She walked past me, brushing aside my shotgun dismissively. “If you can’t even answer that, then I don’t know why I’m still talking to you.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 121)
The lessons on gun safety Adam received from Laura and Derek were laughably incomplete. Other than telling him how to find the safety, they assumed he knew everything else. After all, they had been taught the basics—such as never pointing a gun at something you don’t intend to shoot—since they were five years old. The idea that someone wouldn’t understand such things implicitly is completely alien to them.
Which is why Adam doesn’t immediately realize why putting a firearm next to his reproductive organs is a horrible idea.