“Ten million dollars, Akane,” Derek whispered, kneading his forehead. “Million. If BOB didn’t have everything insured, I’d be paying for it out of my own pocket.” He sighed. “It will be an absolute miracle if no one dies.”
I looked away. “Not my fault.”
“You always say that.”
Flynn, sitting next to me, looked up from the white worms wriggling around his plate. “’Always?’ How many times has she burned down a building?”
Derek shook his head. “I have no idea. MC has the numbers, if you care.”
It had started out as a simple mission. The three of us—Derek, Flynn, and myself—took a job to clear out one of BOB’s factories. Somebody had managed to get it infested with fire ants, which were never fun, but we could handle them. The only hard part was the fact that the job was at midnight.
So last night, Sunday the seventh, we all met at the factory building. It had already been evacuated, of course, so we didn’t have to worry about casualties or anyone seeing our powers or anything. We could get in, spread some poison on the main nest, and then just wait for it to spread to all of them.
Of course, it wasn’t that easy.
I would like to point out that the ‘scraper was already a total loss when I started throwing incendiary grenades around. The ants had completely torn apart the assembly lines, following the smell of gunpowder, and they had picked clean most of the storage rooms. The whole building would have had to been torn down anyway. Now, it was going to be a bit easier.
The firefighters—at this hour, they consisted mostly of Canians—had the fire well in hand, so we weren’t needed there. But we couldn’t go too far, so now we were stuck at a vampire cafe at four in the morning, waiting for Necessarius to come find us for a proper debriefing.
If there was a waitress, I hadn’t seen one. We were just sitting at the outdoor tables since there was nothing better to do.
“So how’s that job going anyway?” Derek asked, addressing Flynn in a blatant attempt to change the subject.
The swordsman absentmindedly traced a few symbols in the ash on the table. We were close enough that the wind sent a light dust at us every few minutes. “Well…it was going okay. The kids were fun to be around, and I felt like I was doing something important.”
Derek nodded. “Sounds perfect. What went wrong?”
Flynn rolled his eyes. “What do you think? The Composer.” He sighed. “After she was outed, people started panicking. And then we found out she killed the Hammer of Thor—”
“Unconfirmed,” I noted. I immediately regretted opening my mouth; some bitter flakes of ash found their way onto my tongue.
Flynn nodded, conceding my point. “True. But people certainly think she killed him, and no matter who did it, the point is that Mjolnir is dead. That’s freaked people out.”
“I hear Odin has gone on a bit of a rampage recently,” Derek put in.
“Yeah. The Hammer was like a son to him. If Elizabeth—or whoever—was trying to start a war, screwing with one of Butler’s oldest allies is a great way to start.” He waved his hand. “But the point is that parents have been pulling their kids from my class.”
“Huh.” Derek drummed his fingers on the table, thoughtful. “You know, part of the reason my mom lets me fight and train so much is because my dad got killed by a couple thugs. I would think parents would want their kids to be able to defend themselves.”
“Not normal,” I grunted. “Most parents turtle when they think their kids are in danger. Pull them close, don’t let them go.” I remembered my mother’s reaction to a similar situation was about the same, albeit more…heartless.
“Yeah, that’s about the size of it,” Flynn agreed. “Though now that you’ve caught her, maybe they’ll come back.” He smiled ruefully. “At least, forty-two percent of them.”
I blinked. That was awfully specific. “Forty-two percent?”
“You didn’t hear? That’s from MC’s official poll of the city. Forty-two percent believe Elizabeth is the Composer.”
Oh. I had voted, but I hadn’t realized the results were up.
Derek buried his face in his hands. “Of course. She somehow managed to convince the entire city she’s a saint.” He looked up, a curious expression on his face. “What are the demographics on that?”
“Mostly older people, I think.”
“The kind of people that wouldn’t watch her shows or meet her in person.”
Derek sighed. “Of course.”
“Now it’s your turn,” Flynn noted. “What have you guys been up to since you captured her?”
“Not much.” Derek shrugged. “Mostly missions like this, though usually with Adam.” He paused to think. “Laura disappeared, after we caught Elizabeth.”
“She didn’t disappear,” I noted absently. “She called to say she’d be gone for a little while.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but doing what? Her dad doesn’t know where she is either.”
“Sorry to interrupt, but are you the ones who burned down that ‘scraper back there?”
I turned around in my seat to see that a haggard vampire in a scorched yellow firefighter jacket (with the Necessarius red and black band on his arm) had approached from the direction of the burning building.
“We are,” Derek said a little defensively. “There a problem?” He leaned forward intently. “Has anyone been hurt?”
“We’re still assessing the situation, but it doesn’t look like it,” the drake assured us. “You called it in fast enough, so we managed to keep it contained.”
Derek breathed a sigh of relief, and I couldn’t blame him. We had gotten lucky so far—no civilians had ever gotten killed during one of our hunts. But our luck had to run out one day.
Flynn was the one who asked the obvious question. “Then what’s the problem?”
“Not really a problem, just…” the firefighter scratched the back of his head, trying to find the words. “The Canian warlord wants to talk to you.”
Derek blinked. “Mephistopheles is here?”
“Oh, no no! Not the warlord warlord, just a high-level Nightstalker. Didn’t catch his name, though.”
Derek thought for a second. “Sure. As long as you don’t think we’ll be in the way.” That was the reason we had left in the first place.
“Wait, don’t we get a say in this?” Flynn asked as Derek rose to leave.
The blond Paladin clearly hadn’t even considered that. In fairness, neither had I. “Uh…sure. Did you not want to come?”
“Of course not! I have enough pyrovamps to deal with already.” As I rose from my seat to join Derek, his eyes flicked over to me briefly. “…but I guess I should come anyway.”
I blushed deeply, but luckily it was too dark for baseline eyes to notice. If the vamp saw anything, he didn’t mention it. We headed off, and were back at ground zero in under ten minutes. Even with all the firetrucks and foot traffic surrounding the still-blazing building, it only took about five minutes to find the Canian who had summoned us.
He wasn’t a large man, and he didn’t have any obvious toys besides the eyes. But he still had a commanding presence, something about him that made everyone follow the orders he barked without question.
“Smith, tell the ‘sarians to stop trying to undercut us. Finley, double check the north firebreak. Hanson, Raptis, get the hoses over to quadrant six. Negrescu says something might fall there. It will bypass the firebreak; minimize the damage. What do you want?”
It took me a second to realize he was talking to us, so my brain stuttered for a moment. Thankfully, Derek is in charge for a reason.
“We’re the ones who set the building on fire,” he explained crisply. “You wanted to see us?”
The Canian adjusted his daygoggles—which were necessary despite the dark night due to the bright flames—and tsked. “Yes. What possessed you idiots to use fire against gun eaters?”
Derek didn’t waver. “There were too many. We were surrounded, and it was either burn them or die.”
The vampire shook his head. “Miracle you survived. Miracle you didn’t turn the ‘scraper into a giant bomb and spread your entrails across the district. Fire ant hives are basically giant ammo dumps, you know.”
“Really? I hadn’t heard.”
“Don’t be a smartass, punk. You cost the city over a million dollars tonight—”
“Ten million, actually. And BOB has it all insured.”
“That’s not the point—look. I’m sure you’ve done all sorts of wonderful things for the city, but you’re not needed here. You can go home.”
Derek narrowed his eyes, and I backed up a little, pulling Flynn with me. Derek wouldn’t strike first, but the way things were going…
But thankfully, neither of the men were that stupid.
“All I ask is that MC call us if there are any casualties,” the blond slayer insisted as he turned to leave. “Think you can manage that?”
The vampire eyed him with scorn. “I think so,” he responded sarcastically.
“Good. Akane, we’ve got a few hours before our class. Let’s get back and grab some showers and sleep.”
I sighed and followed, Flynn close behind.
Leaders and their pissing contests…
Behind the Scenes (scene 137)
“Warlord” is a bit of a blurry term in the city. Anyone who leads a subculture is a warlord, no question. But below them are lieutenants and clan leaders, who can be difficult to quantify.