I would like to note that when we left the three passer assassins behind, I thought we knew what we were doing. I followed Seena as she ran through the halls, triggering traps left and right with a ball on a string so that they were expended before we reached them.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan. Find the bad guys, make them stop. Sure, the question of who exactly the bad guy was was getting a little wiggly, but still. It would be simple enough to figure out once we got them all in a room together.
When we reached the penthouse level—after running up nearly thirty flights of stairs, I might add—at first I thought our problems were solved. There were three vampires in the wide room, and they seemed to be talking amicably.
Emphasis on seemed, of course.
Besides the black-skinned Abigor, there were also two vampires, one with dark blue skin and the other deeply tanned. These, presumably, would be Bileth and Zepar, the other two warlords of the Mals.
I started to step forward, to announce our presence and maybe finally get to the bottom of everything, but Seena barred my way with an outstretched arm.
That’s when the generals exploded into motion.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not a fighter. The biggest fight I ever got in was when Seena and I killed a nest of rats—and after that little debacle, our patron knew better than to make us do something like that again.
I had certainly never seen warlords fight.
The amount of money a warlord spends on his body is truly ridiculous. The toy maker isn’t perfect; you start getting diminishing returns after a while, and side effects do crop up when you pile a hundred toys on top of each other. Eventually, you’re spending thousands of dollars every month just to keep a few steps ahead of the cancer and worse.
But seeing this, seeing these three men doing battle…
For the first time in my life, I wanted to be a warlord.
Abigor’s arm was suddenly a horizontal blur, and the air shrieked with the speed of his strike. The dark-skinned warlord I assumed to be Zepar was gone, in less time than it took to blink. At first I thought he had been smacked away, but on closer inspection he was on the opposite side of the room, crouched low in a fighting stance. He had dodged.
But then the blue-skinned Bileth was next to him, a white spike of bone jutting out from his wrist. In the brief moment I saw it, it was clear that it was a weapon that had been concealed in his wrist. An assassin’s blade, hidden in the Noble’s own body. It was probably poisoned as well.
He stabbed at Zepar with all the speed he could manage, but a forked tail I hadn’t noticed before wrapped around his arm and pulled off his aim. Then Zepar kicked his brother warlord in the chest, releasing his arm and using the tail to drag himself backwards, increasing the distance between them even more.
I expected Abigor to leap at the opportunity to finish off one or both of them while they were distracted, but he seemed to notice us out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly, I was on my back, the midnight warlord on top of me with his hands around my throat.
“I want you to understand,” the vampire said calmly, in a way that struck me as extremely odd considering the situation. “That this is not about you. It is about Mister Huntsman.”
Seena tried to club her boss in the back of the head with something large that I couldn’t identify. A chair, maybe? But Bileth showed up out of nowhere and threw her into the penthouse, out of my field of vision.
I found it a little difficult to care. My vision was swimming, and spots dancing before my eyes. I scratched at Abigor’s back with my fingernails, but I might as well have been politely asking him to stop for all the good it did.
“You see, Lady Greene does not like Mister Huntsman,” he continued. I realized he could have killed me at any time, but wanted me to hear this first. “But she cannot use her directors—those with powers—on him; he is too strong.”
I found myself wishing he would just skip to the killing. He had this sort of…screech to his voice that you didn’t notice right away, but was getting really annoying. As everything faded, that screech was the only thing that stayed strong.
Suddenly, the hands around my throat were gone, and I was gasping in great gulps of air.
I coughed, trying in vain to clear the swelling in my throat, and looked up to see Zepar, apparently uninjured, pinning Abigor to the wall.
Wait, if he wasn’t hurt, couldn’t he have saved me earlier? The dick was probably waiting for the most dramatic moment. Well, he was on our side for the moment, so I guess I had to forgive him. But we’d be having words later.
I cast my gaze around looking for my sister, but I couldn’t see much, since my night goggles had been knocked loose in the scuffle. There was a dim glow filtering in from somewhere, painting everything in faint silver dust, but it wasn’t enough to identify more than vague shapes.
Still, I had to move. Zepar seemed to have Abigor under control, judging by the grunts coming from that direction.
I dove deeper into the room, away from the writhing bodies in the entrance and listened intently for any signs of Seena or Bileth. I didn’t hear anything, which was something I really should have expected. They were assassins, after all. Hardly known for loud, boisterous fights.
But then I saw something. To my left, behind a round pillar. Just a flickering shadow. But then…
Then the shadow rushed forward like lightning, and I found myself on my back for the second time in as many minutes.
Normally, I thought, remembering the last time I’d seen Yolanda, I’d enjoy this more.
At least Bileth didn’t feel the need to rant at me. He just hissed, baring overlarge fangs dripping with slime, and bit down on my neck.
I howled with pain as his vice-like jaw clamped around my throat. Even the adrenaline in my system couldn’t mask the horrific pain of his teeth sliding through skin and muscle, grinding against bone.
And there was something else too, at the edge of my awareness. A slow burning sensation, spreading from the wound to the rest of my body, setting my nerves on fire in it’s wake.
Poison. Poison I recognized, actually. A nerve stimulant called ghoul rot. The Avernans had developed it, then sold it to Doresain, king of the ghouls.
Ghouls liked their prey to die screaming.
It wasn’t fatal, but it might as well have been. I was so busy screeching like a banshee, loud enough to make my vocal cords bleed, that I couldn’t defend myself other than by thrashing wildly.
My last thought, as Bileth nar-Baatezu, Noble of Maladomini, raised his wrist-spike to skewer me in the heart, managed to break through the pain. My last act, my dying moment, was to expend all the energy I had left, force myself to ignore the pain for one moment, stop screaming, and speak six words:
“Wouldn’t a knife have been easier?”
I only had the briefest moment to see a look of utter confusion on the vampire’s face before I passed out.
It was a pity. I was interested in his answer.
Behind the Scenes (scene 125)
I’m a little worried about how the pacing is going here, but I think it’s coming out alright.