Within the last few days, I had started to realize something unsettling about myself.
I am a murderer.
I’ve done things I’m not proud of before. Sometimes I was forced into them, usually not. One of the reasons I had gotten into anime in the first place was as an excuse to stay in the orphanage, to not have to deal with the mistakes I had made.
“Ling,” Akane said, elbowing me in the ribs. “Pay attention.”
“Sorry. Yesterday’s History class was a trap, right? The teacher tried to kill you?”
Derek managed a weak grin. “Yeah. The professor was a sleeper.” He shook his head. “Or one of those Blackguards. Or Lizzy herself, in a new body. I don’t know.”
“He sounded like he knew us pretty well,” Laura mused. “And he called me Highlander. I think it was the actual Composer.”
“Proof that it’s a body-jumper, then?” Adam asked. He was standing a few feet away, fingers drumming on one of Clarke’s lab stations. His nervousness was probably because he was feeling guilty over not being there to help.
The others all nodded at his assessment, but I shook my head. “Are you crazy? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Derek raised an eyebrow. “You seem pretty certain for someone who wasn’t there. Care to enlighten the rest of us?”
I sighed. It was so simple, how could they not see it? “In anime—” I swallowed my words as everyone stared daggers at me. I started again. “She’s a psychopath. MC said those bodies Derek found rotting in the sewer were killed by someone’s bare hands.”
“She got Zaphkiel,” Laura interjected. “He’d be strong enough to do that.”
I shook my head. They weren’t listening to me. “That’s not the point. The Hammer died the same way.”
Adam cocked his head. “The…Hammer?”
Ugh, right, he wasn’t a Dominite, he wouldn’t know. “Mjolnir. A very high-ranking Thor.”
Akane stared at me. “Wait, Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor, the man who single-handedly stopped the Battle of Hathsin, is dead? Musashi’s shattered tomb, when did that happen?”
“The night we found the Composer’s lair,” Laura explained, a frown creasing her features as she began to follow my logic. “Him and an entire bar. But that’s just a coincidence. I hardly think it means anything. The Hammer had lots of enemies.”
I rubbed my forehead as though I could knead out my growing headache. “Law of conservation of detail. They wouldn’t have been killed in the exact same way if it wasn’t the same person.”
“Are you even listening to yourself? You sound like a conspiracy theorist.” Derek sighed. “C’mon, Ling, there is such a thing as a coincidence.”
He waved his hand and rolled his eyes. “Fine. But she still could have had Zaphkiel do it.”
“Doubtful,” Laura admitted a little grudgingly. “An archsaint is the kind of thing that attracts attention.”
“You don’t say,” Derek snarked. “I would have thought a six foot tall angel—who might be glowing, I should add—would be stealthy.”
Laura acted like he hadn’t spoken. She turned to me. “But I’m not sure I see your point.”
“She killed those people. With her bare hands, when she apparently has swords and petrakinesis and who knows what else. She wanted to feel their blood on her hands.”
“Why would she?” Derek asked, with a single arched eyebrow. He clearly didn’t think my theory had much merit. “What purpose does it serve? Unless you’re confusing her with Elizabeth Bathory, I don’t see why anyone would do that.”
“She’s evil. She doesn’t need a purpose.”
Laura sighed again. “Ling…there is no such thing as evil.”
I didn’t bother arguing. This was not something you could argue about in Domina city. Here, killing wasn’t treated the same way as it was elsewhere. Here, it was a lot easier for people to empathize with serial killers and all other manner of nasties. Harder to just label them as evil and move on.
I understood that the outside world called Domina the ‘City of Murder,’ and with good reason. Every single person in the city has seen friends and family die. Every single person has killed something—maybe not another human being, but definitely something that can kill them back.
I know that. I’ve accepted that. Love and shadows, my first kill was when I was seven, and me and a few other orphans were sent to kill a wild boar for dinner.
But knowing I was a murderer was something else altogether.
The screamers were people. People suffering from a disease, which might be curable. Loga’ha’shanar proved that. Why didn’t I think of it then?
“Ling, stop daydreaming!”
I blinked to find Laura’s angry face inches from my own.
I shook my head. “Sorry, what?”
“I was just saying how there’s no such thing as a person who is pure evil.”
I gave Derek a wry look. “And what do you have to say about that?”
He shrugged. “Everyone has a little good in them. That doesn’t mean you should go around giving rapists and murderers hugs. But the point is that people have better motivations than because they’re evil.”
I sighed and leaned back on Clarke’s lab stool. Laura pulled back as well, straightening up and stepping backwards to Derek. “I don’t think you understand. It’s like…” I frowned, searching for the words. “You know how after a tough fight, you get a rush of endorphins from the kill? Imagine…being addicted to that.”
Derek met my gaze levelly. “You mean serial killers are like chem-heads, willing to do anything for their next fix?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly right.”
He rolled his eyes. “That’s the plot of Paranoia Agent!”
I blinked. “Wait, no—”
“Oh, I remember that one now,” Akane perked up. “And didn’t I see it on your shelf?”
I blushed furiously, wishing I could disappear. I hadn’t meant to do that, it had just come out.
“It-it doesn’t matter,” I stuttered awkwardly. “You understand the point—”
“That you watch too much anime?” Derek grinned.
“It doesn’t really matter how much she watches,” Laura put in. “Just that she keeps trying to find life lessons in them.”
I ground my teeth together, and stood up from the stool. “I don’t appreciate being mocked.” I might not be as bad as Akane, but nobody likes being treated like a little kid.
Derek, at least, looked contrite. “Hey now, we’re not mocking you—”
I stomped my foot on the concrete floor, barely noticing that it made the whole room shake. “Velvet hell, you’re not! I’ve been dealing with this crap my entire life, I think I know—”
“Ling,” Laura said soothingly, her hands outstretched to placate me. “Calm down.”
I narrowed my eyes. I wasn’t joking when I said I had taken abuse forever. Every time I tried to compare anime to real life, I got that…that look. The ‘Is she serious? She can’t be serious’ look. And eventually it would evolve into the ‘She’s doing it again, she needs to shut up‘ look.
The Paladins were no different.
Dress them up as pretty as you like, give them fancy toys and flowery titles, but human beings are still human. The kind of species that can make a city where murder is a fact of daily life.
Wiry warm arms, wrapped in soft silk, hugged me from behind.
And it was gone. Like someone had flipped a switch. The rage was…
No, not gone. But definitely quieted. Sleeping, for the moment, rocked gently to unconsciousness by the kind embrace.
“I’m not good at talking,” Akane whispered in my ear from behind. She squeezed me tighter. “So this is all I can do. Now look around you.”
I looked. I saw Laura, her expression colder than ice. I saw Derek, crying, just a little, but still only half a step away from a combat stance. Then Adam—
The bastard had his gun out! Just the pistol, and it wasn’t pointed at me, but the watchful look in his eyes told me exactly what he was prepared to do. The rage boiled over again—
“Ling,” Akane said firmly. “Look down.”
And I did, finally realizing what had everyone so worked up.
The concrete in a circle around my feet was roiling, dipping and peaking like the sea at storm.
As soon as I realized what I was doing, it quickly slowed and then stopped, leaving a good round chunk of the lab floor frozen into a non-uniform shape.
I realized my reservoir was nearly empty, but I was well aware that I could have done a lot of damage with what was left. As I took a few long, deep breaths, it started to fill again, and the process calmed me somewhat.
I patted Akane’s arm. “Thank you.” She withdrew slowly. I took another deep breath. “I just…” I couldn’t lie, not with Laura listening. But I didn’t want them to know about my past. Things that had been done to me, things I’d done…
Things I’d been.
“I’ve been weighed down with guilt over the screamers,” I said finally, going for a half-truth. “It just finally made me snap.”
“That’s understandable,” Laura agreed with a sad smile. Without looking away from me, she reached over and squeezed Derek’s shoulder. “Isn’t that right?”
He looked at her briefly—probably confused at her sudden contact—before turning to me and saying a little woodenly “Yeah, exactly.” Then he seemed to regain his composure. “I’d save every single one of them if I could. But that’s just not possible. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Adam chuckled. “I figured you more for a Kirk.”
The blond man raised an eyebrow. “Who?”
“Captain James Tiberius Kirk? You can’t tell me you don’t know—” He looked at all of us, horror growing on his face. “Dear God. None of you?” He shook his head. “This crazy city…”
Derek snorted. “This from the man who hasn’t seen Vampire Carmilla Saizou.”
“I’ve only been in this city for a month, and I’ve been a tad busy.”
“You’ve found time to bang Lily,” Laura noted. She was still looking at me, though. Why?
“Yeah, well I find spending time with her more important than watching a crappy anime.”
Derek was indignant. “It’s not crappy!”
“Yes it is,” Laura insisted with a roll of her eyes. “That’s what makes it good.”
I sighed. Weren’t we supposed to be having a strategy meeting?
Behind the Scenes (scene 128)
This did not go anywhere near where I intended.