No one spoke.
Not the changeling Jarasax, driving the van. Not the ex-Belian Kelly, sitting in the passenger’s seat, cleaning her gun. Not the ogre George resting in the corner, or the angel Alex sharpening his mirrored knives.
And not the five Paladins, all glaring at me as if I had killed their puppy.
Well, that’s unnecessarily harsh. Laura and Derek were staring daggers at me, but Ling still looked shell-shocked, and Akane just stared out the window. Adam seemed too busy trying to get comfortable in the cramped confines of the van to care.
Derek cut me off immediately. “When were you planning on mentioning you had a power?” He waved his hand airily, as though trying to bring something to mind. “That you’re a…”
“Speaker,” Laura put in helpfully, without taking her eyes off me.
“Yes. When were you going to mention that you’re a speaker?”
“Don’t give me that. MC would have told us if you hadn’t asked her not to.”
“I…I was her spy. Her scout. Revealing my identity would have—”
“Would have done what? Ruined your fun?” I stared at the floor of the van, vibrating slightly as we drove towards NHQ. I didn’t want to look in those ice-cold eyes. “There is no tactical or strategic reason to keep any of this from us.”
I swallowed. “To be fair, I didn’t find out about my power until after you guys met with Butler…”
Laura scoffed. “What does that have to do with anything? You still should have told us.”
“Look, it wasn’t about you guys, it was about my dad. I didn’t want him to get all protective again.” One of the primary reasons NHQ had been built in the first place was because when I was four, I almost got killed by some random gang. They probably would have built it eventually, but the reason it was done then was because my father convinced Butler he needed me kept safe.
Derek just gave me that look of his. The fact that his mouth was still covered in his own blood only served to underline it. “Yeah, because there is no reason to be worried about your daughter flying around a zombie outbreak.”
I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “That’s…look. All I can do is fly. That’s it. Other than scouting, what good is it?”
“Rescuing civilians, I assume,” Adam noted from his spot in the corner. He still had that bored look on his face, but I guess he was paying attention after all. “Depends on how much you can carry.”
Derek’s eyes narrowed as he noticed the guilty look on my face. “Robyn…you were rescuing people whenever you got the chance, right?”
I swallowed nervously. “It’s complicated…”
“But your power is strong enough to carry more than one person, right?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“Then what possible reason could you have for not using it to rescue everyone you could?”
“I’m not…” I closed my eyes. “I’m not a fighter. You know that. I can’t just…dive into combat.”
His eyes were pitiless. “Not even to save a life?”
I looked away.
Laura scoffed. “Coward.”
I gritted my teeth. “Say that again.”
She leaned forward until she was inches from my face. “Coward.”
I glared at her for a moment…before looking away and scooting back. “Bitch.”
Derek sighed, wincing a little as he touched the bandage around his torso. He should really be asleep, resting, but that would have to wait. “If you two insist on fighting like a couple of cats in a bag—”
“Not now,” Laura snapped, pointedly not looking at either of us.
The vampire in the front seat eyed us with a slightly annoyed expression on her face. “Right. So are you in love with Derek too?”
Derek turned red as a beet, and I felt heat flush to my face. Behind me, Akane coughed a few times. Laura didn’t seem to react, but that was suspicious in and of itself.
“Signs point to yes,” Adam snarked. I turned to glare and realized that he wasn’t even looking at us; he was cleaning his pistol.
I turned back to the others and cleared my throat. “It’s…not like that. I respect and admire Derek, but love is a bit of a strong word—”
“Lie,” Laura noted without turning around.
My blush deepened. “I-I’m not—”
“It’s okay,” the vampire assured me in a bored tone. “Seems like this happens to every straight woman who spends more than ten minutes around this idiot.” I swear I could see steam coming off Derek’s face. “Personally, he’s not quite pale enough for me, but then again…”
“Can we not talk about this?” Derek hissed. “Ever again?”
“Well, not for the next ten minutes, at least,” the changeling driver promised, as the van slowly rolled to a stop. “We’re here.”
I flung open the door and leaped out as fast as my legs would carry me—
And immediately noticed something was wrong.
“This isn’t NHQ,” I said slowly. I had grown up in the densely-packed fortress of skyscrapers; this place was similar, but smaller, and I didn’t see the ‘sarian emblem anywhere.
A door slammed, and I turned to see the vampire woman standing next to the van. “The Big Boss didn’t want the Composer near anything sensitive.” She indicated a wide loading door, and the truck that had followed us from the ambush started forward. The door rolled up as it got close.
“Are you sure this will be able to hold her?” Laura asked, still ignoring me. Derek was still in the van, but poked his head out to see. Everyone else seemed to be out as well…except for Ling, who was still moping in the corner.
“They aren’t completely sure,” the angel admitted as he walked up. “The cage is solid steel, which hopefully she won’t be able to affect—Ling can’t, and isn’t your working theory that she has all your powers?”
The pale girl nodded. “But that’s no guarantee. Her powers are at least a little different from ours. Derek can’t make blades, for example.”
“The cuffs in her lair were made of stone, right?” the giant pointed out. “The only reason to do that would be if she had the ability to manipulate stone, but not metal.”
“That’s what we’re hoping.”
“Robyn, make yourself useful. Scout the area.” Derek’s tone was cold and uncompromising. It was never a good idea to argue with him when he got like that. Besides, it was a good idea anyway.
I floated up slowly, careful to keep myself balanced so I didn’t accidentally flip end over end. Once I was about fifty yards up, I stopped rising and just hovered, surveying the area.
The place chosen—by who, I didn’t know—to host our prisoner was a small out of the way shipping yard, one of dozens or more scattered around the Ring that skirted the city. I hadn’t even noticed us driving outside of the city proper. I guess I had been really out of it.
Regardless, it was a good location, with lots of large steel shipping containers to hide the prison from casual scrutiny, and even a crane if anything needed to be moved. Snipers were already carefully taking up positions on the walls, and plains clothes guards were setting up fake homes and hovels.
I frowned at that. Fake homes and hovels. Why couldn’t they just use the existing ones? Speaking of which, where were all the Ring residents who would normally be here? This yard was a bit far away from the docks and the gates, so it wouldn’t be too populated, but there should have been at least a dozen ghouls and rusalka.
Spying the closest guards, a pair of ‘sarians struggling with the pole and cloth of a lean-to, I dove down head first to meet them, pulling up at the last minute to land lightly on my feet.
I probably should have called out to the men first. They jumped back and pulled out pistols, some Necessarian model I didn’t recognize—which wasn’t saying much. They both marginally relaxed when they realized who I was, but still looked on edge.
“Sorry about that,” I said genuinely. “I just had some questions, if you don’t mind.”
“Uh, sure,” one of the men, with the distinctive bluish-green skin that some Dagonites preferred, said with a small nod. “Whatever you want, Miss Clarke.”
“Where are all the homeless who should be squatting here?”
“You know, I was wondering that myself,” the second ‘sarian, this one with the black eyes of a vampire, piped up. “I really hope the Big Boss didn’t clear them out. Morality aside, that sort of thing would attract attention.”
He was right on both fronts. I knew that Uncle Arty was willing to do whatever it took to keep the city safe, but he knew better than to slaughter a bunch of vagrants just because he needed a location. Angering a city’s homeless population was never a good idea, especially in Domina, where most homeless people could eat you.
“Maybe he paid them off?” the first one, the Dagonite, mused. “I mean, there’d be fifty, tops, probably more like ten or twenty guys here. Give them a hundred bucks each, tell them to keep their mouths shut, and they can take their stuff with them.”
“That doesn’t sound right,” I muttered. “That would still cause rumors. But—”
“Robyn,” a sharp, strong female voice snapped from behind me. I turned to see Laura walking up, her face as stony as ever. “Stop bothering the workers. There will be problems if this doesn’t get done fast enough.”
“But I was just asking—”
“And to answer your question, the fey drove everyone off this morning.”
The ‘sarians and I all nodded. That made perfect sense. The fey were like a wild force, but more predictable. Each court would attack somewhere in their territory once a day—with the day and night courts, that meant eight attacks every day. Usually, they were big and showy.
But they also occasionally attacked smaller targets without rhyme or reason. It was generally assumed they did it for scientific reasons, testing their newest monsters or capturing more subjects, but it was impossible to know for sure.
Necessarius had just gotten lucky here, that was all. Even after the homeless population was forced to flee an area for whatever reason, they always came back eventually. This wasn’t prime real estate, but it wasn’t bad. We must have only had a small window where there were no prying eyes around, so that we could move our own fake squatters in.
We left the workers to their task with smiles and a few kind words, and started walking back towards the van. “Which court was it, anyway?” I asked Laura. “I’ll admit I’m a little turned around right now.” I remembered her infamous sense of direction. “Maybe you’re the wrong person to ask.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, stop. I have GPS. I know exactly where we are. We’re technically in the west city—barely—so this would have been Murdered Asp.” She frowned and checked her phone. “Wait, no, that’s Night’s Western Autumn. Day’s is Virtuous Dusk.”
“All right, just curious.”
We came up to the van, and the larger truck holding Elizabeth Greene. The crane had been moved into position when I wasn’t paying attention, and had a shipping container suspended only a couple feet above the ground.
Derek was directing some Necessarians as they moved the Composer’s unconscious body into the container, while Akane stood guard nearby with her sword drawn. There weren’t any other guards nearby, but they’d come running if Elizabeth started to stir.
“That sleeping gas you used on her,” Laura began. “Where’d you get it?”
“My dad’s private stock.” That was also where I had gotten the antidote I had used on the rest of them, but I didn’t mention it. “She should be out for another five hours.” I also didn’t mention that I had no idea how an immortal would react to it.
My old friend nodded. “He have any more?”
I shook my head. “I used up most of it turning it into a grenade. It was poison darts, originally, but I knew she’d just dodge or deflect them.”
“Silver and gold,” Laura murmured under her breath. I wasn’t sure if she even realized she had said anything. “That mean we’re going to have to rely on the more basic forms of sleeping gas again.”
Something MC had told me floated to the top of my mind. “I thought a screamer threw himself into the main manufacturing plant a while back. Isn’t there a city-wide shortage of the normal sleeping gas right now?”
There was a pause, and it quickly became clear that there was nothing to elaborate on.
“Red dusk,” I murmured under my breath.
Behind the Scenes (scene 134)
Whoops, sorry, the uploader glitched and I didn’t notice it until today. I was a bit busy yesterday. Extra update tomorrow (Wednesday) to make up for it.
For the record, the schedule has each of the four gates opening four times a day, once every six hours, staggered so that no two are open at a time. That’s partly for security, and partly so that if someone misses one, they can theoretically get to another instead of having to wait six hours.