Scene 131 – Insidiae

INSIDIAE

LAURA

It was October the fourth, a Thursday. Five days after we discovered the Composer’s identity, four days after her attack on the ave lab, three days after the ambush at Derek’s History class, and two days after Adam brought thirty pounds of boar meat to the dorm room instead of Maria’s house like he was supposed to.

We had skipped class today and yesterday, for obvious reasons, and I don’t think anyone expected that to change any time soon. We had been sticking together as much as possible, but we were beginning to grate on each other. We had only really been coming together for missions; although no one had said anything, everyone was well aware that we could only put up with each other for so long.

Ling talked too much for Akane and I to feel comfortable, and we disapproved of her lifestyle philosophy enough that she was beginning to notice. Adam was fraying at the edges a little, but that was more because he hadn’t really had any free time to spend with Lily than personality clash. Of course, we were all still on edge around him, with the whole sociopathy thing. Derek was watching him like a hawk, and if his roommate stepped out of line, Derek wouldn’t hesitate to put him down. Regret it later? Probably. But he’d do it.

Speaking of Ling’s lifestyle, watching her try and convince Derek to practice wrestling with her got annoying pretty quickly.

“You can always practice with me,” Adam piped up as we walked down the street. It wasn’t really clear which of the pair he was talking to.

Ling, at least, decided he was addressing her, and grimaced. “I’d rather not. You’re guns, not hand-to-hand. You have enough to learn already; I don’t want to add more.”

That last part, of course, was a lie. I squeezed Derek’s shoulder, signaling that my ability had triggered, though I’m sure he had figured it out already.

“Both of you stop,” he said tiredly. “We still haven’t figured out where we’re going for lunch.”

“Not here,” Akane muttered. “You idiots walked into a dead-end alley.”

I looked at her sideways. “So did you.”

Derek rubbed his forehead. “Ugh, I wasn’t paying attention. Let’s just go to Nervi’s.”

“Or, you could stay here,” a voice called from the end of the alley.

I snapped my head around to see three men and three women of various cultures blocking the dead-end alley. An ambush. Lizzy? Maybe, considering the mixed nature of our assailants. Something to worry about later.

Assets:

Ling, Akane, Derek, and Adam. Cramped alley—which seemed to have been chosen to keep us isolated—might be to our advantage. Ling was wearing her armor under her clothes, Akane had her sword, and Adam had all his guns. Derek, of course, was dangerous with his bare hands, but I’d be nothing but dead weight. And Ling had been having moral issues recently, so she might have trouble killing.

Goal: Escape, prioritizing Derek’s life. Akane could leap out with him, and Ling could effectively fly, so Adam and I were the only problems.

Secondary goal: Capture the enemy alive, find out who they were working for. Two kemos, a giant, and three demons wouldn’t play nice normally. But the fact that they were clearly used to fighting side by side was more of a tactical problem than a strategic one at the moment.

The kemos were a pair of crocs or gators, fully anthropomorphic and covered in thick scales. Probably bullet-proof, and I wasn’t sure if Adam had anything armor-piercing left.

The giant seemed to be a troll, judging by his orange skin, so he probably had hidden claws. He was seven feet tall and had the lean, wiry look of someone with whip-strong muscles.

The three demon girls looked like triplets, though I doubted that was actually the case. Other than red eyes and short horns, they didn’t have any toys—except for the thick, powerful tails whispering out from under their skirts.

Solution: Obvious.

“Akane takes the laces,” I said quietly, just loudly enough for the others, now clustered around me protectively, to hear. “Adam shoots the troll, and Ling and Derek handle the demonesses. I’ll stay in the back, since I’m the weak link.”

“Kill yours quick,” Derek advised Adam. “Trolls tend to be a horror in melee.”

“You ladies done chatting about your periods?” one of the crocs called. His long, toothy snout made it look like he was always grinning, but I could tell that he really was now. “I’ve got things to do after I eat you.”

I glanced over at Adam. Covered by Derek, he had managed to slip on his bandolier. He pulled out his Caedes, checked the SMG’s chamber, and nodded.

“Go,” I whispered.

Akane sprung forward like lightning, moving so fast all I could see was a faint blue smear, the same color as Derek’s shields, that was the ribbon in her hair.

She sliced the first croc so fast he didn’t notice at first. It was only when he turned to strike her that his top half fell off, and blood began fountaining from the wound.

Our little swordswoman didn’t stop or slow down, but the trick didn’t work twice. The second kemo exploded into a cloud of green smoke, which Akane’s sword sliced through harmlessly.

I expected the smoke to coalesce into a new form, like the bats and other shifters, but it didn’t. It simply reverted back to the kemo’s normal shape.

But Akane was off balance now, and her reservoir dry.

The croc dodged her next strike by dropping down, then quickly backstepped to avoid her flurry of stabs. The second he sensed an opening, he whispered forward and drew a long gash across her face with his claws.

Adam’s SMG roared out a rapid thunder right next to me, and I clapped my hands over my ears, wishing I had remembered earplugs. Bullets tore into the troll, ripping bloody chunks out of his flesh and knocking him back—back, but not down. Once the clip was exhausted, the giant just grinned.

There was a light patter of something metal clicking against concrete; it took me a second to realize they were the slugs, getting pushed out of the troll’s body as his wounds healed.

Shit. Not another one.

Adam had the same reaction, though with more swearing. He dropped his Caedes without a second thought and whipped out his Saint George, barely even bothering to aim before pulling the trigger.

I expected another of those earth-shaking god slayers, but apparently he had something else in the chamber. The massive shotgun belched out a burst of fire, a thin cone that only barely missed frying the other combatants as well.

The troll howled in agony, but rushed forward, trying to ignore the damage by sheer willpower. His orange skin caught fire, but only briefly. It was like with the skins. Something about the healing or shifting process seemed to interrupt combustion. Was that intentional, or just a coincidence?

Either way, Adam dodged to the left, out of the troll’s line of attack. I dodged right a bit belatedly, and he almost managed to grab my wrist. Other than a bad scratch, I got away clean, but he sensed weakness, and knew better than to leave it unexploited.

He rushed me again, his toothy maw grinning and throwing drops of drool everywhere in anticipation of the kill. I reached for my gun—silver and gold, why didn’t I have it out already?—but fumbled the strap on the holster, wasting valuable seconds.

I felt hot, smelly breath on my face. I looked up to see he had closed the distance, and had his clawed hand in a backswing, already accelerating forward again…

Something tackled him from the side, throwing him off his attack vector and hurtling into the brick wall I was standing next to.

The wall caved in with a crash, sending red dust everywhere and leaving a gaping hole in the side of the building. I could see startled people on the other side, but my attention was mostly on the giant, lying in a writhing ball on the floor.

He was wrestling furiously with Derek—obviously, the one who had tackled him in the first place. Goddamned idiot. He should have just used a shield.

I turned back to the others; Derek could handle himself well enough. With my pistol, I might actually be able to contribute to this fight.

The three demoness triplets hadn’t moved, as far as I could tell, while Adam and Akane dealt with the kemo. Suspicious, but right now I was thankful for the respite.

The lace certainly knew how to use his power effectively. He could dodge her un-augmented sword strikes easily, only shifting to mist to counter her power. Adam couldn’t shoot much, not while our swordswoman was in melee with the croc, and the few shots he did fire were easily avoided.

The lace wasn’t attacking, which was a good thing, at least. But Adam would have to reload soon, and the balance of the fight would shift quickly—perhaps lethally.

I widened my stance, raised my Occisor with both hands, aimed, and fired.

The Occisor is a kid’s gun. Sure, it’s 6.0 mm, which is a pretty good caliber, but it doesn’t have the stopping power or penetration to handle anything armored. The scaled kemo would be able to shrug it off with nothing worse than a bruise.

But he didn’t know that.

Tungsten-core rounds, Avernan diamond darts, poison…there were a thousand things and more my dinky little gun could be loaded with that would make it a nightmare for anyone less than a warlord.

It wasn’t, of course.

But he still shifted to mist, allowing the bullet to pass through him harmlessly rather than risk taking it head-on. More importantly, a split second later when he solidified again, Akane and Adam were ready.

Akane jumped back to give our gunman more space, and he didn’t waste the opportunity. He sighted down his massive 6-gauge, grinned, and fired.

The Teflon-coated armor-piercing slug hit the croc in the forehead, slightly above one eye, and wasn’t slowed for even a moment by the thick scales. A fist-sized chunk of skull exploded in a burst of red mist, splattering the nearby walls.

The anthro teetered for a moment as his body tried in vain to stay upright without input from his brain, but it didn’t last. He fell to the side, landing on the dirty alley floor with a dull thump.

After a moment, with the sounds of the battle between Derek and the troll behind us still ongoing, the demon girls finally reacted.

“I liked him,” the one on the far left said, staring down at the croc’s corpse through half-lidded eyes.

“He was funny,” the middle sister agreed. Something was wrong with her, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

“I suppose I’ll have to kill you now,” the third sighed. “Fighting gives me headaches. I was hoping they could deal with you.”

All three girls fell into identical fighting stances, tails raised and ready, and it hit me.

They were one mind. One mind in three bodies.

Not literally, of course—though with powers, I wasn’t ruling anything out. But some people, like Malcanthet and Belial, had experimented in improving efficiency in their slaves by using brainwashing to convince a small group that they were a hive mind. As I understood it, there hadn’t been appreciable gains until they started using pheromones to coordinate the bodies. They still weren’t actually one person in multiple bodies, but they managed to fake it enough to be dangerous.

But at the same time, there was an easy counter.

“Just try and kill one,” I advised my allies. “Then the other two will break.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Adam agreed. “Which—”

He screamed as lightning tore through him.

Blue sparks arced around his body, following his high-pitched, animal yell, and left behind angry white burns.

I cried out in alarm, but quickly squashed my terror in favor of remembering my first-aid training. First rule of dealing with electricity: Cut off the power. Which girl was—

I blinked, surprised to find that one of the demons seemed to be creating the lightning, just holding it between her hands, while one of the others was causing it to arc into her hands, and then into Adam.

A power combo. Min-maxing their advantages, as Ling would say. Clever.

The lightning cut off, and Adam staggered, but managed to keep his feet. He coughed, sputtering up blood. He really should just bow out, but there was hate in his eyes. Ironically, it made him look more human than normal. Anger in combat is to be expected. But Adam…Adam usually didn’t show any emotion when he fought. No remorse, no rage. Creepy as all get out.

The baseline raised his shotgun shakily, and I was suddenly reminded of the last time I had seen someone electrocuted.

Their gun had exploded in their hands.

Why hadn’t the same thing happened to Adam? He was covered in guns and ammo just waiting to cook off. Was it just random luck? Did supernatural lightning work differently than real electricity? Or had the girls somehow intentionally avoided anything explosive?

It didn’t matter. We couldn’t take any chances. I stepped in front of him before he could fire and shoved him back, hoping he would get the message.

The third girl moved her hands into the same position as the lightning demon. But instead of crackling electricity jumping between her fingers, roaring orange flame spun out of nothingness.

A pyrogenist, an electrogenist, and an electrokineticist. Fun times.

Adam seemed to have realized the danger; he jumped back a few steps and started shedding his guns onto the floor. But like Ling had said earlier, he wasn’t hand-to-hand. He was mostly out of this fight.

Speaking of, where was Ling? I had lost sight of her when the troll charged. She was what we needed here. Lightning wouldn’t be able to do much against a concrete wall.

The pyro’s flames suddenly shot toward Akane, who was able to dodge easily enough. They bent and snaked after her, but…

But it wasn’t the pyro who was controlling the flames.

It was the second demon.

The one who had aimed the lightning.

Of course. The same combo as before, just more than expected. The other two create the weapons—fire and lightning—while the middle sister manipulated and aimed it.

But still…she had two powers? Or just one, the general power to manipulate energy?

AGH, we still didn’t know anything about anything.

Before I could dwell on the problem too much, I heard a sharp snap from behind me. I turned to see Derek throwing off the corpse of the troll, the latter’s neck at an impossible angle. He thrust out his hand, and a misty blue shield popped into existence in front of me, blocking a lightning bolt I hadn’t even noticed.

“When are the ‘sarians getting here?” he growled.

“I haven’t had a chance to call,” I admitted. Besides, trying would have made me too tempting a target. And the retinue had been called away about an hour ago, so they were out too. “So whenever they notice the fight.”

“Silver and…fine. We need to finish these three off quickly, then. Where’s Ling?”

“No idea.”

“Wonderful. And Adam’s—”

“Out of the fight, basically.”

“So it’s three on three.”

“Two on three. I’m not going to be useful.”

He closed his eyes briefly. “Fine.” He turned to Akane. “Start with the one doing the aiming.”

She blurred forward instantly, but the demons saw her coming. A cone of lightning-tinged flame erupted from the center girl’s hands, fed by her sisters to either side. I could feel the heat from fifteen feet away, and the ozone made my hair crackle with static electricity.

Akane couldn’t dodge; the fire filled the entire alley. So she just dove right in.

I had to grab Derek to keep him from doing something stupid. He almost followed her, but my hand on his arm held him back.

I wasn’t sure if our swordswoman could survive this, but I wasn’t about to waste the opportunity she had provided. I nodded to Adam, and he picked up his Caedes and started shooting at the lightning girl, filling the air with thunder and the smell of gunsmoke.

Then Ling dropped down from the roof onto the pyro.

She landed heavily, crashing the demon to the ground and shattering the concrete with the impact.

Adam’s bullets found their mark at nearly the same time, dropping the psycho-electro with a few dozen well-placed pieces of lead.

As her power sources were suddenly cut off, the middle demon grabbed her head and started screaming.

It was heartbreaking. I could almost hear her vocal cords straining, as whatever link she had to the others snapped back and took her mind with it. She clawed at her own face, drawing blood and—

The screaming cut off as suddenly as it started, as Akane sliced her head off.

I slowly lowered my hands from my ears as the corpse hit the ground with a wet thump. Once I was certain all three were dead—it didn’t take long to be sure, not in their states—I turned my attention to Akane.

She looked all right, mostly, just a few singes to her hair and extremities, but I was worried about internal damage the lightning may have caused.

I fished around in pocket for my phone, resisting the urge to sink to the ground in exhaustion. I hadn’t been the one fighting, after all.

“Rest a bit, guys,” I advised as I put the phone to my ear. “Necessarius will be here shortly.”

Then my phone exploded.

I screeched in pain as bits of hot metal and plastic embedded themselves in my face and hand. Big pieces, too; the explosion hadn’t been that big, so there weren’t too many pieces.

But it still hurt like hell, and I nearly had to swallow my tongue to keep from ripping my vocal cords with my screams. Still, I managed it, and the pain became manageable within a few moments.

“Aw, now that’s too bad. I love it when you scream.”

I turned to look behind me, to find the source of the voice.

Elizabeth Greene, stepping through the hole in the wall Derek and the troll had created. Still wearing the same white dress as before, stained completely red with blood. There were a few flesh splashes, which I assumed came from the inhabitants of the building she had just come through.

She stepped on the troll’s corpse without a glance, discarding it without so much as a second thought.

“I am a little disappointed you killed my directors,” she mused, grinning with those too-white teeth. Her golden eyes lingered on each of us in turn, and her grin widened. “But then, that just leaves more for ME!

Behind the Scenes (scene 131)

I had a lot of trouble with this one, but I think it sets up the next scene well enough.

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