“Blood and shadows, Anders, are you all right?”
The bland little sociopath glared at me from his seat on the sidewalk, where he was clutching his foot. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just need a minute.”
There was something next to him, a paper-wrapped irregular shape that smelled of ice and blood. “What’s that?” I asked conversationally, really hoping it wasn’t a person.
He grunted. “The boar meat Derek asked me to get. I dropped it on my foot.”
I sighed. Well, I should have expected that. Better than the alternative. “Don’t just sit there moping. C’mon.” I grabbed the meat and tucked it under an arm. “Get up and get going. Where were you headed?”
He eyed me a little warily, but climbed to his feet slowly. “Back to the dorms. It’s about three blocks north, I think.”
“We’ll walk, then.” I had been planning to call Sax, but it would be faster on foot.
After a minute or two of limping slowly along. “What do you think about the Composer?”
“Other than the fact that we should shoot her in the face the next time we see her? Not much.”
“But…you know it’s Lizzy.”
I looked at him sideways. “Well, yeah. Obviously. You guys were the ones who told us. You sure you’re feeling all right? Did you hit your head or something?”
“What? No, I’m fine. It’s just…” he shrugged. “Everyone seems to be thinking Lizzy can’t possibly be the Composer.”
“Well, I’m sure there could be a reasonable explanation. Possession or whatever. But better safe than sorry, right? Kill her and be done with it.”
“That’s what I was saying. But it seems like everyone else is worried about the moral implications of killing an innocent.”
I snorted. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. This is Domina City. At Shendilavri, Necessarius bombed a building filled with innocent captives. Not to mention that most of the enemy were brainwashed. At the Second Battle of the Ginnungagap, Mjolnir himself gave the order to kill everyone, rather than sort out who were spies and who were not. Blood and shadows, back at the beginning, before the toy maker, Eden was burned down in the riots.”
Although Adam’s knowledge of local history was probably worse than the average five-year-old’s, he didn’t seemed surprised by any of this. “So why make the distinction now, when it matters the least?”
“Exactly. One innocent life against the possibility of getting rid of the Composer for good? Cheap. Even bleeding hearts like Senator McDowell should agree.”
“You know…I haven’t really been paying attention to any of that. What are Congress and all of them saying?”
“Oh, just dithering around, as usual. This isn’t really their jurisdiction, so its just a few individuals here and there issuing statements.”
“Well…what are their statements?”
I shrugged. “Who cares? They’re just puffing themselves and acting indignant to get voters on their side. They don’t really matter.”
He was silent for a few moments. I guess he was mulling over what I said, I don’t really know. The government isn’t as important in Domina as it is elsewhere. Maybe he hadn’t realized that before.
“Kelly…” he said slowly. “Remember before, when it looked like the fey were trying to ally with the Composer?”
“Back in August?” He nodded. “Yeah, I remember. The burners were looking for the Princess of…” I bit my lip. “…Killing Sparrow, I think. Why?”
“Didn’t you say Kat had found out they were more organized than expected?”
What was he talking about? It took me a second before I remembered. “Oh right, that sound file. Yeah, that’s what it sounded like, but they haven’t done anything since, so that’s clearly just a false alarm.”
“Yeah, but what if it wasn’t? Now they know who she is. If the fey join the Composer—”
“They won’t. Seriously.” I chuckled. “You might as well ask whether the rats are going to join her. The fey aren’t really people, not anymore. They don’t think like that.”
“Okay, fine. What about everyone else?”
I switched the boar meat to my other arm. It wasn’t that it was getting too heavy, it was just that the cold was finally getting to me. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve seen those guys with powers. Renegades, I think they’re being called.” He waved his hand. “Blackguards, whatever. Point is, she’s clearly recruiting.”
“Probably just more hypnotism,” I muttered. I wasn’t sure why I thought that would make me feel better.
“Were the…crap, who were they? The Nessians. And the…” he trailed off.
Oh. “You’re talking about the cultures that sided with Malcanthet, at the Battle of Shendilavri.”
The baseline winced. “Look, if its something you don’t want to talk about—”
“I was there,” I cut him off bluntly. “I fought against Orcus and his army. I killed orcs and warbloods and anyone else who tried to breach the fortress. Anyone who tried to rescue their Mother Monster” I closed my eyes and sighed. “I helped tried to break her. Personally. It’s a bit of a blur but…”
He stayed mercifully silent.
“Do you know what a Belian is, Anders? Other than being chem-heads, I mean.” I asked quietly. He shook his head, and I smiled a little. “Didn’t think so. That’s the part most people know.” I went to scratch the fixer on my left arm, but I was still holding the boar under my right. I almost dropped it.
“Whoa, there.” Adam jumped forward, but it was fine. “Ah, if you don’t want to—”
“There are toys that secrete chems,” I said. “Glands, I mean. Not the real high-level stuff, but the lower-end combat boosts. Buffout, hydra, jet, psycho…” I smiled. I wished those memories were bad ones. It would be easier to stay clean. “Most Belians are high on at least two or three at a time.”
“But a culture like that…couldn’t function,” Adam said slowly. “That’s what happens to gangs outside Domina, you know. If the leader is hooked on his drugs too, he’ll get caught sooner rather than later.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, that’s what happens with the microcultures. Some idiot pumps himself up with psycho or slasher, decides he’s going to start a rival gang with his buddies. The Nobles usually let them go; they’re doing everyone a favor by getting themselves killed.
“But…” My good humor faded. “Not all of the chems have detrimental mental side effects. Mentats provide a boost in brain activity—just a small boost, but it’s enough.”
“And that’s what the warlords are hooked on,” he breathed.
I nodded. “Yeah. Thankfully, people can’t use both the mental and physical boosters at the same time without lethal side effects.” Most people, a voice whispered in the back of my mind. I ignored it. “But with the lower-tiers strung out on everything you can think of, they’re ridiculously easy to manipulate. Basically just zombies.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I see your point.”
“It’s like what the Composer was trying to do with the fey. Why bother trying to grab individuals, when you can grab the guy at the top, and that nets you everyone under him?”
“Belial was one of Malcanthet’s sleepers.”
I laughed. “I wish. No, he had too many chems in his system for that. Pumping anything else into him probably would have killed him. She just seduced him the old-fashioned way.” I grinned grimly. “She’s not called the Queen of the Succubi for nothing, you know.”
“So what, that’s it? We’re going to be fighting a bunch of Belians and Nessians and succubi and—what are vampire succubi called?”
“Right. So Lizzy’s just going to grab their warlords, or they’re going to come to her, whatever. And we’re going to have to deal with a million Blackguards against our five little Paladins.”
I thought about it. “I don’t know…the ones you fought before didn’t seem to be from any particular subcultures. Maybe she’s recruiting from the dregs, rather than going straight for the top.”
“Why would she do that? The smart thing is to try for the warlords. Hell, she could do both.”
“Well, Laura did mention she was a moron.”
“I assumed that was part of her cover.”
“Maybe, maybe not. We’ll have to see.”
He seemed to expect me to say more, but I didn’t. He coughed to break the silence. “Look, Kelly, about…Shendilavri and the Belians and everything—”
“We’re here,” I interrupted, slipping into the dorm building—which a resident was helpfully holding open—before he could ask me any questions I didn’t want to answer.
Behind the Scenes (scene 130)
This is another of those I’m not entirely sure about. But still, I think it worked out okay.