I pinched my forehead in frustration. “You want to infiltrate Maladomini.”
Seena grinned shakily. “Well…yeah. It shouldn’t be that hard. I already have access and everything.”
“For yourself,” I noted. “Not anyone else.”
She shrugged. “You’re my brother, they’ll make an exception.”
“They won’t let me into the conference room,” I warned. “You’ll be on your own for the important parts.”
She shook her head. “Simon, you’re just backup. Hopefully, I can convince them to call off this attack without resorting to violence.”
I sighed. “Yeah, an assassination on the retinue. Have to stop it, I understand. If it’s even real.”
Now it was her turn to sigh. “Simon…”
“No,” I said firmly. “You’re not dodging this. A fey tells you to stop an assassination, and you don’t think twice about it?”
“Of course I did,” she snapped back. “I do learn from my mistakes, you know. What do you think I’ve been doing the past twenty days?”
I waved my hand in the general direction of AU, where we had met with Adam Anders. “Robyn didn’t know anything about it. Anders didn’t know anything about it.”
She shook her head. “It’s legitimate, that much is for sure. And tonight is when it happens. We have twelve hours to stop the mission.”
“Neither one of us is equipped to stop a Mal assassination team.”
“Physically, no. Which is why it’s us going in. Killing the team would just make the generals mad. We need to convince them to stop.”
I stepped out of the alley we were hiding in and peeked around the corner. I could see Maladomini from here. It was just a few blocks away, and looked no different from the ‘scrapers surrounding it. The vampiric assassins’ domain was not a secret, but they still didn’t like to advertise their presence.
“You got a plan for that?” I asked, turning back to my sister. “Because I really don’t think ‘a fey suggested it’s a bad idea’ will go over well.”
She grinned, her fangs gleaming. “Oh, I’ve got a plan.”
Somehow, that didn’t fill me with confidence.
But it’s not like I was going to let her go up alone, and she wasn’t willing to back down, so I was forced to follow her into Maladomini, sure that we would end the day with the entire culture out for our blood.
Getting inside the building was easy enough. Seena was a member, after all, and a pretty high-ranked one to boot. Getting around was significantly tougher, and not just because I had to use night-vision goggles to see.
We had to stop every five feet or so for Seena to disable traps. She promised they weren’t lethal, and that they were designed to be easy to avoid if you knew they were there, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Besides, I wasn’t exactly athletic. Just because a Mal could be expected to dodge it didn’t mean I had any chance.
“Move faster,” she admonished. “We don’t have time to wait.”
I gritted my teeth as I carefully ducked under a row of penny-sized holes in the wall that she had said would shoot out sleeper darts at the slightest provocation. “I’m sorry if I’m not willing to take unnecessary risks in this place.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. “And when the retinue gets killed, its on your head.”
“I’m not the one who put it off for a month.”
“And I’m not the one taking forever on traps designed for children.”
I finally got past the trap and glared at my sister through my bulky goggles. They were vampire-style night vision, so they worked by amplifying light rather than turning everything green. And since the entire place was built for vampires, I could see perfectly fine.
“Whatever. Just tell me your plan.”
“We’ll corner Abigor, make sure he knows it’s not an assassination. Then we talk him down. At least into delaying the mission long enough for a more permanent solution.”
That…actually wasn’t a horrible plan. Abigor had recruited Seena personally, so he’d be the most amenable to listening. We’d have a better idea of what to do once we knew why they wanted to do this in the first place. Assassinating a Necessarian squad didn’t make much sense, and targeting the Paladins’ support was even stranger. Hell, maybe they had already called it off, now that the Composer was outed.
Ugh. I didn’t want to think about all that. “How far are we from his rooms?”
My sister scrunched up her face as she struggled to remember. “Not far…I’m more worried that he won’t be there. We’ll be in trouble if we have to search for him.”
“Well, you’re half right,” a calm, cultured voice mused from behind us. We spun on our heels to see a black-skinned bald vampire smiling at us. “You don’t have to search for me…but you are in trouble.”
Seena swallowed, but still managed to bow stiffly, a gesture I mimicked with only some delay.
“Noble Abigor,” she whispered, confirming my suspicions. “I was hoping to speak to you.”
The warlord waved his hand airily. “Deep night Seena, please, I’ve told you. If you insist on using an honorific, I’d prefer you stick with ‘general.’ Feels like I’ve actually earned that one.”
She nodded. “Yes, General Abigor. Sorry, sir.”
He turned to me. “And who is this nice young demon? A…sibriex, if I’m not mistaken? Although I suppose you could be a tall goblin.”
“Sibriex, sir,” I confirmed curtly. He almost certainly knew me as Seena’s brother on sight. I wasn’t in the mood for this kind of game, but I didn’t have much choice. We needed to humor him.
But if I hadn’t known better, I would have assumed he was happy to see us. He grinned a smile that reached well into his eyes and revealed his shiny white teeth. Honestly, he looked just like our patron, when we returned to the orphanage unexpectedly for a visit.
Seena, however, might have been carved from stone. I already knew better than to let my guard down, and her reaction just confirmed it.
“Now,” the jovial warlord said as he leaned against the wall. “What can I help you with?”
“We need to stop the attack on the retinue, sir,” Seena said without preamble. “Please.”
He raised an eyebrow. “What attack?”
She grimaced. “Sir, we don’t have time for this.”
But he frowned right back. “Dearest, you know I wouldn’t lie to you. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Seena looked confused, so I jumped in. “There’s going to be an attack on the Paladins’ retinue, Lord Noble—I mean, General. We’re here to try and convince you to stop it.”
His frown deepened. “A Mal attack? That’s ridiculous. We have no desire to fight Butler.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Didn’t the culture start when Baalzebul assassinated a ‘sarian prisoner?”
The vampire’s gaze turned colder than ice, and I quickly remembered exactly what I was dealing with. Not the warlord of some tiny little bloodline no one had ever heard of, but the master of one of the deadliest subcultures in the city.
“That was to avert a war, not start one,” he snapped. “Learn your history, boy.”
“Apologies,” I said swiftly. “That was a little before my time.”
The general dismissed me by turning back to Seena. “Are you sure this isn’t just a rumor? What proof do you have?”
“I managed to find out who is being sent. Even talked to them. They didn’t seem to realize it was a secret. It was Frank, Laura Grand, and Serena.”
Abigor rubbed his forehead and sighed. “Those three…this might be bad. The only reason to send those three on a mission together is if you want someone who doesn’t ask too many questions. Did they say who gave the order?”
The noble closed his eyes. “Of course. He’s been talking about making more overt alliances with the ‘sarians for almost a month now.”
I held up my hand. “Wait one second—you think he’s trying to kill the retinue…because he likes Necessarius?”
To my surprise, he laughed. “Oh, I like you. You wouldn’t last three seconds here, but I still like you.” He patted me on the shoulder like an amused uncle. “He was trying to throw us off his trail, make it seem like he’s the last one who would want this, so he must be the target of a frame up.”
“But…if the people given the mission know—”
“Double bluff. It looks like someone was trying to frame him. After all, if he had really done this, he would have done a much better job of covering his tracks, right?”
My head hurt. This is why I prefer the sibriex. No politics, just play with the toy maker. Well, except for when I discovered a horrifying abomination in our server room…
“What now, general?” Seena asked. She didn’t seem to be having any trouble following all this, which wasn’t unexpected. She’s never had a great mind for politics, as evidenced by her dealings with the fey. She was probably dealing with this the same way she did everything else: Ignore it and let someone else handle the problem.
“Now, we need to talk to Bileth,” Abigor proclaimed. “Or, rather, I do. You two need to find those three morons before they kill something.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out something that looked like a signet. “This should convince them you’re speaking with my authority. At least, long enough for me to talk to them in person.”
Seena took it carefully and respectfully. “What if it doesn’t?”
Abigor seemed to assume she was planning something violent; I knew my twin better. It was an honest question. “Don’t try to kill them. They’re valued members of the culture, not to mention you’d be dead before you can blink. Just talk to the guards, get the exits barred and so on. That should slow them down, at least.”
“C’mon,” I said, grabbing my sister by the arm. “Let’s get this done.” I nodded to the warlord. “Thank you, general. Sorry if I was disrespectful.”
He grinned, baring his sharp fangs. “Oh, you’d know if I thought you were disrespectful.”
With those cheery parting words, we went down to meet the assassins.
Behind the Scenes (scene 122)
Imperfect, but it’s definitely designed to be part of a pair.