Bileth made a mistake. He assumed that, as a sibriex, my brother would have a powerful set of toys. He abandoned me after throwing me against a wall, going after the demon he assumed to be a greater threat.
I didn’t have any more actual combat experience than my idiot brother, but I did have some training under my belt. If I could take the Noble by surprise, I might have a shot. But my head was still ringing from when I got thrown into a wall, and I was having trouble seeing straight.
Which way had Bileth gone? Left? No…right. Nine Hells, I couldn’t—
A scream pierced through the fog in my mind like a knife.
It was louder than I had ever heard before, and with a wet gurgle, like the screamer had blood in his throat., but I still recognized it.
My brother was in trouble.
I’m not much of a fighter, but I’ll be damned if I let the last family I had left die at the hands of some brainwashed vampire.
Simon wasn’t far; just a few yards away, pinned to the floor by Bileth. The screaming stopped suddenly, and my brother went limp a moment later—probably passed out from the pain. Bileth hesitated, poised to stab him with a wrist spike. Was he having second thoughts?
I couldn’t risk it. Without making a sound, I tackled the warlord at a dead run, yanking him off the demon and rolling to a stop a few feet away.
Bileth snarled and elbowed me in the gut; it felt like getting hit by a freight train. I doubled over, trying to keep the contents of my stomach down, and he turned to take advantage of my weakness with those spikes of his.
Once again, Zepar managed to step in. Using his ridiculously strong tail, he grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the way, while at the same time backhanding the blue-skinned warlord in the face.
Our master of poisons was knocked off balance by the strike; Zepar had always been more physically powerful than him. But if he managed to get a hit in, his poisons would make short work of my ally.
I reacted as quickly as possible, but the warlords were still faster. While I was just starting another tackle, they were already ten feet away, with Zepar dodging Bileth’s lightning strikes one after another.
Fine, I could see I wouldn’t be much help there. Besides, there was someone else who could better benefit from my talents.
I ran over to my brother, lying on the floor in a puddle of his own blood. My heart was already hammering like a drum, as though it might break out of my chest at any second, and seeing him hurt—actually seeing it, rather than just understanding peripherally that he was in danger—only made it worse. A small whimper escaped my lips.
But before I could kneel down and check his pulse, I got hit in the face by a truck.
That’s what it felt like, anyway. Like when Bileth had thrown me into the wall earlier. There was enough force behind the blow to rattle my brain, and I tasted blood in my mouth—though whether I had bitten my tongue, lost a few teeth, or just swallowed some blood from the seething mass of pain that used to be my nose, I had no idea. All three, probably.
But where had it come from? Bileth and Zepar were still behind me, fighting, which left only Abigor. But where was he? I hadn’t seen him hit me, and I still didn’t see him anywhere. He was fast, but he wasn’t that fast.
I saw something…on the floor. Dust, suddenly moving out of the way, like…
Like invisible footsteps?
Another strike, this time to my gut. I doubled over, spewing out blood, and…
And there it was.
I could see, through bleary tear-stained eyes, my blood clinging to something invisible, to all appearances just hanging in the air.
That wasn’t something the toy maker could do.
Abigor was a Blackguard. A minion of the Composer.
A minion with a power.
The Noble suddenly faded back into the visual spectrum, fluttering hazily like a mirage working in reverse. There was a grim smile on his face—he knew I had figured it out, and wanted to show me his new trick.
“How do you like it?” he asked, sounding genuinely interested in my answer. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to figure it out on your own, but I wanted to show you my new trick.”
I blinked. Okay. He underestimated me. I was supposed to use that to my advantage and stuff, but mostly I was just insulted. I mean, how stupid did he think I was?
Stupid enough, apparently. He didn’t even bother turning invisible again before performing a massive round house kick to the side of my head, knocking me off my feet and sending me sprawling to the ground, my brain rattling too much for me to see straight.
Whether he was underestimating me or not really didn’t matter. He was still about a thousand times stronger and faster than me, and maybe a million more times more experienced at killing.
I didn’t have a chance here. I couldn’t kill Abigor if he stood still and let me. But Simon was in trouble. My little brother was dead or dying. I had to get up. But all I could taste was blood, and my head was ringing like a bell.
Distantly, as though from another room, I heard footfalls, coming towards me from behind. Abigor, then, ready to finish me off. I couldn’t bring myself to care about anything past the splitting pain in my skull, though I suppose it wouldn’t matter in a moment.
Something landed in front of me.
I blinked, trying to clear my blurry vision. Had…Abigor stepped in front of me? To try to taunt me one last time, or something?
But no, it wasn’t a leg. It was small, and thin, and white. Lying in a pool of dark liquid, with something clear dripping from the tip…
It was one of Bileth’s wrist-spikes.
In an instant, adrenaline flowed through my veins like fire. My vision cleared, or at least became somewhat less blurred, and I was able to confirm that it was one of the blue Noble’s spikes, broken off and lying in a small pool of blood. Bileth himself was nowhere to be found, for which I was grateful.
I literally could not hear a single thing other than my jackhammering heart, beating so loud I felt like I was sitting inside a drum. I was terrified it would pop at any second, and this miracle would turn out to be for naught.
So I didn’t hesitate.
I didn’t consider the possibility that the horrendously powerful poison in the spike might get into one of my many cuts and kill me in under a second.
I didn’t consider the possibility that the poison might become inert and non-lethal when left in the open air for too long.
I didn’t consider the possibility that Abigor the Bellows might have taken the precaution to immunize himself to his ally’s poisons.
And most of all, I didn’t consider that a Noble of the Mals could kill me before I took a single step in his direction.
That’s what adrenaline is for, really. It’s for suppressing your higher brain functions, because those functions slow you down and get you killed in a combat situation. No sane person would ever do what I was doing now, not if they had time to stop and consider everything.
But that is what adrenaline is for.
Because the poison didn’t get into one of my cuts and kill me.
Because the poison wasn’t inert.
Because Abigor had not immunized himself.
And most of all, because he was so arrogant that he didn’t try to stop me until it was far, far too late.
The white bone spike pierced the warlord’s midnight flesh with difficulty, like working with hard leather. I pushed as hard as I could, the ragged broken end nearly slicing open my own hand, in an effort to spear my renegade master’s dark heart.
I missed the heart by almost six inches. Didn’t hit a single vital organ.
But Bileth’s poisons were ever so effective.
The vampire who had first recruited me into the Mals gurgled, a surprised look on his face, and reached towards me with one hand.
His claws reached my face. He even managed to draw three long, shallow scratches in my cheek that bled lightly.
Blood dripped from his mouth.
Abigor the Bellows, first nightstalker recruited by the Noble Baal the Executioner, General of the Black Arm of Maladomini, and later one of the three Nobles who succeeded the Executioner, slid to the ground like a sack of flour. I tried to hold him up, but he was too heavy, and he slipped from my grasp to thud heavily on the floor.
After a second of just staring, I realized he wasn’t breathing. I checked his pulse hesitantly. There wasn’t one.
I barely managed to keep from puking on the corpse.
I missed by about four feet, and for the next few minutes didn’t care about anything except emptying my stomach of anything and everything.
My heart started to slow as the last dregs of vomit burned my throat. I took deep, shuddering breaths that burned my mouth and nose, too shocked to even be grateful for my survival.
I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound of the soft voice from behind me. I whipped around, Bileth’s broken spike still clutched in my fist, ready to fight.
But it was just Zepar, looking absolutely terrified. Terrified of…me? No, he was probably just freaking out that two of his closest friends turned out to be renegades. But still, I managed to unclamp my hand and let the spike clatter to the floor, hoping it would make him a little bit more relaxed.
“Sorry,” he apologized hurriedly. “It’s just…are you all right?”
This was our Noble now. The sole warlord of the Mals. When there were three of them, they had each been able to fill certain roles. Abigor had been the muscle, Bileth the poison, and Zepar the stealth. But now…now the assassins would have to follow this cringing, dusk-skinned vampire into the future.
We were dead.
“I’m fine,” I lied, as I wobbled to my feet. “Just need a second.”
“I just thought…you might want to know…your brother is calling for you.”
I rushed over to my brother’s side immediately, nearly tripping and breaking my neck in his blood. He was alive, I could hear him breathing…but for how long?
There was a bandage, already soaked through with blood, wrapped a bit crudely around his neck. Zepar’s work, no doubt. I started fussing with it, trying to tighten it up and move it to a more efficient position.
“Hey sis,” my brother muttered, without opening his eyes. “The guy with the tail killed the other two?”
I opened my mouth to correct him…then thought better of it. “Yes.”
“And…he hasn’t turned on us yet?”
I felt something hard grip my gut. Of course, it was always possible he would decide to finish us off now…he couldn’t be one of the Composer’s men, but there were still good reasons to kill witnesses. “I…yes. He hasn’t turned on us.”
“Good.” He let out a sigh. “I think I’m just going to lay here, okay?”
“Okay,” I said with a smile, patting him on a patch of his mottled purple skin that wasn’t completely wet with blood. “That’s fine. We’ll get you patched up soon enough.”
A phone rang.
Five simple beeps, then a pause, then five more beeps.
Turning, I saw Zepar blinking down at his phone’s small screen in confusion. “It’s…MC.” He looked at us. “Should…should I answer it?”
“No, I’m sure it will answer itself,” Simon managed to snark, albeit with a bit of a bloody gurgle. I put some more pressure on him with my hand, to remind him not to try and talk in his state.
My bloodied Noble brought the phone to his ear hesitantly, as though afraid it would bite him. “Hello?”
Turns out it was on speaker; the vampire winced and held the phone out in front of him as MC’s casual tones blared out.
“Zepar? That you? I can’t get a hold of Abigor or Bileth.”
“They’re…” his eyes twitched to the corpses of his fellow warlords. “…indisposed. What’s wrong?”
“Do you any teams near AU you can use for cleanup duty? I need someone there five minutes ago, and there are no ‘sarians or hellions in the area.”
Zepar looked like he was about to say something stupid, like ‘Then why didn’t you call five minutes ago?’ but thought better of it. “Yeah, a couple. What’s the issue?”
“The Composer converted an entire classroom to sleepers, and they’re running around killing people. Minimal deaths at the moment, but we need this contained now. We’ll pay double your standard rate.”
“Text me the address. I’ll send the order immediately.”
“Thanks, bye.” The connection cut off with a click.
My warlord closed his phone with a snap, and sighed.
“I’ll have medics up for your brother in a moment,” he promised, as he turned to leave. “I have to take care of this first.”
“Wait,” I called after him. “What about Abigor’s plan to assassinate the retinue?”
The vampire smiled thinly. “It was my plan, Lady Lancaster.” Before I could find words to answer, he shook his head. “But I will inform the men it is canceled. We have far more important things to worry about right now.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 127)
Plots and plots and plots.