Monthly Archives: January 2014

Scene 145 – Queentia

QUEENTIA

VEDA

The outpost the monsters had taken us to was…small. Cramped. I think it was underground, but I couldn’t be sure. More than a few cultures had bases in the sewers, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if the fey had done the same.

I looked around groggily, but I couldn’t do much. I was still tied down, and the fey’s drugs or whatever were making me dizzy. It took me a minute to realize I wasn’t tied to the beast any more, but a cold stone table.

“Veda,” the fey known as Maeve said kindly as she smiled over me. “How are you feeling?”

I gulped. “Um…I’d prefer not to be strapped down, actually.”

She patted me apologetically on the shoulder. “An unfortunate necessity, I’m afraid.”

“Um…for what?”

“For your transformation, of course.”

Was it just me, or was her smile getting creepier? “Right. When you say ‘transformation,’ you mean…”

The beautiful fey’s face crinkled into a frown. “Honestly, dearest, you’re almost making me regret choosing you to receive this gift.”

I shook my head as much as I could in the restraints. “No, that’s not it at all! I mean…” I scrambled to work through my fear and excitement to unravel her riddle. “By transformation you mean using the toy maker. Obviously. I’m just wondering exactly what kind of transformation.” I gulped again, remembering changeling horror stories. “I’m…I’m not going to be turned into a monster, right?”

Maeve put her finger to her lips. “Hm. Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of monster. Outside Domina, many would call you a monster just for those pretty little ears.”

“…I just meant I would prefer to remain mostly human.”

“Oh, okay.“ She nodded sagely. “Duly noted. We’ll try to keep you mostly human.“

Something about the way she said that made me worried. “Right. But if I could get a more specific—”

“We’re putting you in the toy box now,” the fey said, cheerfully ignoring me. She pushed on my torso, sliding me along the table until I fell into something that seemed disturbingly similar to a coffin.

“I-I’m still not sure about this—”

“I am.” The Maiden of Wind and Snow smiled at me, a smile that seemed like the first real one I had seen from her. “You’ll do fine…Honored Chosen.”

Then she shut the lid, and the toy box hummed to life.

It was then that I discovered the reason for the restraints. Clarke’s method of modding someone—which the majority of the city uses—included a heavy dose of painkillers, or simply putting the patient asleep.

However, these drugs have side effects, and can interfere with the process.

So the fey don’t use them.

I screamed so much that my vocal cords snapped under the strain.

Then the toy box healed them. And they snapped again.

Behind the Scenes (scene 145)

The fey’s honorifics for their new culture will be explained later.

I know this one is short (really short), but there will not be an extra update Wednesday. Next two updates are a pair, so it just doesn’t work.

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Scene 144 – Mutata

MUTATA

ECCRETIA

My name is not Pam.

I am not from a small orphanage in South-West Outer, which conveniently burned down a few years ago.

I am not a college student with too much rage and not enough power.

I am not an unremarkable baseline no one would look twice at.

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy playing the role. For six months and ten days, I got to be a normal kid. No life or death decisions, no dealing with Necessarius or the cultures. Just a bit of light hacking and physical training to keep my skills up, while I took a relaxing vacation.

But I had put off my return for far too long.

I am Eccretia, of the Never-Known Thieves. Along with Meldiniktine of the Forgotten Names and Feless of the Firstborn, I am one of the first three changelings to escape from the fey, thirteen years ago. I founded the Never-Known Thieves, and through them the White Hat changelings.

Recently, with the rise of Butler’s Paladins, I’ve been called the warlord of the changelings, which I suppose is accurate, but still feels strange.

But the thing about warlords is this:

Even if you order your followers to leave you alone, even if you threaten them with excommunication and death, they will always make sure you are protected.

The Princess sighed and rolled her eyes at my defiance. “That’s great and all, but can you get out of my way? I don’t have time to deal with one little girl right now.”

I smiled thinly. “I am a changeling, Honorless Maiden. I am never alone.”

Then a sniper shot Maeve in the head.

I recognized the sound of the gunshot, echoing around the street. It had the distinctive stuttering bark of a White Knight ZF090, which came from the way the firing chamber was built. It was a good, reliable 5.5 millimeter rifle made by Zero Forge Guns. It was known for its extended magazine and hardy construction, which even allowed for it be used as a melee weapon in a pinch without damaging it. Some people even added blades to facilitate this.

What it was not known for was its stopping power.

“Aaaah,” the fey whined, rubbing her skull as if she had just gotten smacked by a fist, not a mid-powered rifle. She was bleeding, but not much, and I could already see the blood clotting. “What was that for? Ugh, now I’ve got blood on my dress…”

“Domothon!” I called. There was only one of my men who used a White Knight above all else. “The eyes!”

My subordinate answered immediately with four more pinpoint shots, a pair aimed at each of the Maiden’s eyes. That was the true strength of the ZF090. The massive magazine, coupled with a greatly reduced recoil, turned it into something almost like a rapid fire sniper rifle.

But the fey was prepared now.

She moved so fast I couldn’t even see a blur. One second she was there, then she wasn’t, and there were a few new holes in the concrete.

Then I felt an arm wrap around my neck from behind like a steel vise.

Maeve giggled into my ear. “It has been a while, hasn’t it, Eccretia?” She sighed mournfully. “I remember the good old days, when you would try to kill me personally, instead of ordering your red shirts to do it for you.” I could feel her pouting. “Now you’ve gone and gotten him killed!”

My heart skipped a beat, and I drove an elbow into her ribs. I’m not sure she even noticed. “Bitch, if you touch him—”

Her arms tightened around my throat, cutting me off mid-sentence. “Really, dear, where did you found that mouth? It wasn’t from me, that’s for sure.” The fey giggled. “Oh, that’s right, dear Isaac was the one who remodeled you! Maybe he made a mistake somewhere along the line, hm? Gave you a sailor’s tongue on accident?” She cackled gleefully.

This was getting ridiculous. Thankfully, the Maiden didn’t see me as a threat—the fey never treated changelings seriously. So I was able to unholster my pistol without too much difficulty, and shoot the homunculus in the foot.

She wined, loosening her grip long enough for me to slip away. Not that she cared. She seemed more concerned with her bleeding foot. Not actually in any pain, mind. Just mildly annoyed.

I had dropped my gun, and couldn’t find it anywhere. Dammit, she’d counterattack any second…and why wasn’t Domothon shooting? She didn’t have a hostage now.

Paying more attention, I realized that she had dodged out of his line of fire without me even noticing. He was probably repositioning himself right now, but that would take time we didn’t have.

“Now you’ve made me angry,” the black-clothed fey pouted. “My pets are after him now. Really, dear, couldn’t you have just left well enough alone?”

“No. She couldn’t.”

I turned, surprised to find that Yolanda was the person behind that iron voice. She had finally found her gun, and was still sitting on the street with it.

Maeve sighed, the giggly mask slipping. “Miss McDowell, please don’t make me kill you. I was actually hoping to be able to recruit you today. I realize that is probably off the table, but there is no reason we cannot part amicably.”

“Stay out of this, demon,” I ordered. “The fey are a changeling problem.”

“The fey are everyone’s problem,” the girl retorted. But despite her bold words, she still hadn’t actually raised the weapon.

The fey in question smiled at her a little sadly. “Shooting me isn’t going to solve anything at all. It won’t even mildly inconvenience me; I’ve made my offer, recruits will find me whether in this body or the next.”

Yolanda finally raised her gun, slowly, making a great deal of effort to hold it steady with both hands. I immediately recognized it as a MD92/14.5, one of the most powerful handguns on the market. So powerful that no one actually bothered to use it.

It was a McDowell gun.

“I just have one question before I shoot you,” Yolanda McDowell managed, with only the slightest quaver in her voice. “My parents died eight years ago, when their warehouse exploded. Was that caused by the fey?”

Maeve looked at her for a good, long minute.

Yolanda clicked back the hammer on the gun, readying to fire.

“No,” the fey said finally. “I honestly don’t know why you would think otherwise. None of us ever had any quarrel with those two.”

Yolanda smiled, and lowered her gun. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. I always knew those idiots just managed to blow themselves up. Mom probably didn’t think twice about smoking in an ammo warehouse.” The demon’s eyes turned hard, and she raised her gun again. “Thanks. That’s all I need.”

She fired. The roar of the gun almost managed to cover up the sound of both her wrists snapping.

The bullet struck Veda in the shoulder, shattering the bone like glass and creating a fist-sized hole in her flesh. The cherve screamed and stumbled to the ground, but the momentum from her desperate charge made her slide across the broken street, grinding dirt and glass into her skin until she stopped at the fey’s feet.

“Veda?!” I cried. “What the hell are you doing?!” Yolanda, for her part, was curled up in a ball around her gun. I would be surprised if she was still conscious.

Simon slid over to his girlfriend, while Seena rushed towards the fallen cherve, only half a step behind me.

But we were both forced to stop as the fey interposed herself between us and our target.

She giggled.

“I like you,” Maeve chirped at Veda, still lying on the ground, barely breathing. “Sacrificing yourself to save a homunculus? Fantastic!” She squatted down next to her, smiling broadly. “I take it you want something, right? Perhaps you want me to help the murid?”

Our fallen friend coughed. She was still conscious? Gods of men and darkness, what was she made of?

“Y-yes,” she managed, blood spurting from her lips. Probably a few internal injuries from when she landed. “But I also…”

“You want something else, too?” The woman pouted. “Now that’s just greedy.”

“I want to join you.”

I…she…what?

The fey blinked, and the giggly mask slipped. “Wait, what?”

“I…want…”

She put a finger to the cherve’s lips, stopping her, and patted her head. “That’s enough, dear. I know it hurts. And I accept.”

Maeve, Princess of Wind and Frost, Maiden of the Unseelie fey, bent down and kissed Veda full on the lips.

I recognized the tactic. The fey occasionally secrete chemicals in their mouths for just this sort of situation. The one she was using right now was probably some sort of painkiller, or maybe just a simple knockout drug.

I could have stopped her. Tackled her to the ground, or something. Yeah, the fey was about a hundred times stronger than me, but still…

I should have done something.

I couldn’t react, even when the fey lifted Veda up in her arms in a gentle princess carry, then tied her securely onto a pack mule monster that I hadn’t even noticed walk up.

“This brave young girl will become the first of the new fey!” Maeve announced to the much-reduced crowd. I couldn’t bring myself to turn and see their reactions, but I could hear their uneasy murmuring. “By her own choice, she will gain power and prestige in the Unseelie Court!”

What the hell was I supposed to do in this situation? I wasn’t even armed, since I had dropped my gun when I scrambled out of the fey’s grip. I was a changeling, a master of deceit, not combat. I couldn’t go head to head with a thrice-damned homunculus.

“You put her down!” Yolanda cried. Next to her, Simon raised a gun—not the massive MD92/14.5, the simpler MD91/6.0 revolver. Still pretty big, but not to the same ridiculous extent as the first. Its most notable feature was a ridiculous twenty-six round cylinder. It looked like a damn hubcap.

He fired, but it didn’t do any good. He wasn’t much of a marksman, but that wasn’t really the problem. Even though the bullet managed to smack the fey in the shoulder, it didn’t do anything worse than draw a bit of blood.

The Princess grinned, rushed forward, and backhanded the purple demon with the sound of a cracking whip. He fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes, clutching his face.

“I think that’s enough, don’t you?” Maeve said jovially. Her giggly mask was back up; she was grinning like a loon. “Just let me heal your friends, alright?”

No one seemed able to muster the courage to object as the fey lifted up Delphie carefully and tied her to a beast next to Veda’s. The murid wasn’t making any noise, but she had to be okay…

No one moved as Maeve kissed Delphie, likely to spread the same numbing agent she had used on the the cherve.

But when she started to lead the beasts away, I managed to act.

I found my gun.

“Eccretia, please,” the fey said chidingly, as if speaking to a small child. “Hasn’t there been enough violence today?”

I didn’t lower the pistol. It wasn’t very high-powered. Certainly not at the same level as either of the McDowell guns that Yolanda or Simon had used. But it was powerful enough, and I was a good shot. A bullet through the eye should do the trick.

The Princess looked over the curved, streamlined gun in my hands carefully. “A Necessarian Saint Jude…a good weapon. Fitting, don’t you think?” She grinned. “The patron saint of lost causes. Perfect for a changeling.”

“Make sure you tell anyone stupid enough to join you,” I retorted. “That by siding with the fey, they’re at war with the changelings.”

Then I shot her.

She tried to dodge, but I was ready for that. The fey don’t place any real value on their homunculi, so they tend to charge head-first into danger. My first round missed, but the next one caught her as she ran forward and punched through her left eye just as intended.

The Maiden stumbled and fell as the hot chunk of lead bounced around inside her skull, destroying the delicate cybernetics the fey used to control the body. The corpse slid to a halt just a few feet away from my combat boots. It started to give off an acrid stench moments later; that would be the self-destruct sequence, making sure there was nothing left for enemies to salvage.

The street was completely silent. No one said a word.

I looked around at my friends and all the random bystanders, wondering whether they were more shocked at witnessing the death of a fey, or the fact that a changeling was the one who had done it.

Eh, didn’t matter. I stepped over the steaming corpse to rescue my friends—

Wait. Where were Veda and Delphie? The beasts they had been secured to were here just a few seconds ago. The girls weren’t conscious, and even if they were, I doubt they would know how to give the monsters commands…

Maeve. Damn, stupid fey. Usually, in situations like this, killing the fey would leave their nearby monsters acting on whatever their last orders were. If they were rampaging through a store, they’d continue rampaging through a store. If they were waiting for further instructions, they’d continue waiting.

Should have known that the rules were different now. If the fey could give themselves names, they could plan ahead a little better. Clearly, she had given one last order to the monsters while I was distracted.

“Domothon!” I called. “Where’d the pack beasts go?”

My old subordinate poked his head out of an open window three or four stories up on the nearest ‘scraper. “North, ma’am!”

“Then take Ferenil and follow them!”

He nearly tripped over himself, trying to pack up his sniper nest at top speed. “Yes, ma’am! Sorry, ma’am!”

I shook my head and sighed. Gods damned…

I pulled out my phone and hit speed dial 9. He picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”

“It’s Eccretia. I need a squad at Kagurazaka Street, near Carne Sandwiches.”

He did a brief double-take. “Wait, you’re…uh, right. Of course. That’s Nervi’s place, right?”

“No, her son’s.”

“That’s what I meant. Anyway, we’ll be there in a few minutes. What’s the occasion?”

“Fey attack. The aftermath, anyway.”

“Gods of…any special party favors we need to bring along?”

I looked around the devastated street, at the red-tinged crater Jelena left behind, at the people who had been stomped on or otherwise injured trying to flee from the gargants or the fey herself.

“An ambulance.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 144)

One might wonder why Maeve’s head wound didn’t bleed more. After all, unless her skin is bulletproof (it isn’t), then it should have caused at least a shallow injury, and head wounds bleed a lot.

The thing is, head wounds bleed a lot because of all the blood feeding oxygen to the brain. Homunculi don’t have brains. True, the device the fey uses to control the body remotely is centered in the skull, but blood is an ineffective coolant, so the fey don’t use it. A homunculus’ head doesn’t have any more blood than any other part of their body—less, actually, since there isn’t anything up there that needs more than a little oxygen.

Scene 143 – Veritas

VERITAS

VEDA

My name is Veda Korrapati. I’m a cherve, a deer kemo, not that that means much. Really, I just liked the ears. I used to be a lupe, but when my brother died I removed those toys and left it all behind.

I’ve never really done anything interesting in my life. Other than arguing with Jelena, I avoid fights, both political and physical. Well, I do enjoy gaming a bit, and won the StarCraft district tournament a few years back. Come to think of it, that’s probably my greatest accomplishment.

So why was I one of the first people to meet the new fey?

“It is so nice to meet all of you,” Maeve said with a giggle, twirling around like a little girl, trying to address everyone at once. “I’m here to inform you the fey have undergone some…” She tapped her lip, searching for the right words. “…reorganization. There are only six of us now, a Maiden, a Matron, and a Crone for two courts, Seelie and Unseelie—that’s Summer and Winter.”

I swallowed, looking around at my friends. My roommates, Yolanda and Jelena, were both as freaked out as you’d expect. Poor Yolanda was just a demon with no experience with the real world, and after Jelena’s previous encounter with the fey, I was surprised she wasn’t currently in the throes of a psychotic episode. As it was, they were both frozen, the demon clinging to her boyfriend and the Glasyan to Zusa.

Zusa, for her part, didn’t look much better. The ferret—ah, I mean, Nosferatu vampire—was wide-eyed and trembling with fear. She had always been a bit of a wild card, which meant she was fun to be around, but she wasn’t prepared for something like this. Not to mention that she had already been acting weird the last few months…

Speaking of acting weird, Seena and Simon didn’t look scared. They looked…determined, and braced for whatever might come. Since around the time Lizzy got named the Composer, Seena had been disappearing for hours on end. Simon seemed to know what she was up to, but he wasn’t talking. Maybe that had something to do with their new found courage.

Delphie had her nephew Leon in an iron grip, trying to keep him away from the gargants. Her eyes kept flickering between the fey and the monsters, unsure which was the bigger threat. Leon, on the other hand, seemed a little too happy about being squished in his aunt’s boobs.

Pam was still sitting over at the table, gun still drawn. She hadn’t moved an inch. Normally, I would think she was preparing for an opportunity to strike. She had always been a cautious fighter.

But the look on her face wasn’t one of anticipation, or preparation, or anything like that.

It was a look of pure, unadulterated shock.

She knew the fey was going to kill most of us.

Now, I didn’t know as much about the fey as I should have. I could identify them by their different hairstyles (short are maidens, normal are matrons, long are crones), but that’s about it. I didn’t know what each hair color meant, or what the different courts were or any of that. I knew the Glasyans and the sibriex dealt with them on occasion, but I didn’t know which courts in particular, or how their deals worked.

All I knew is that the fey were ridiculously, extremely dangerous.

But…we were still alive, right? I mean, she hadn’t even killed a few to make an example or whatever. That had to be a good sign.

Delphie managed to step forward on shaky legs, still clutching her nephew close. “What do you want?”

The fey smiled. “I just want to inform you all about the changes the fey are currently undergoing as a culture.”

An older man standing to my right, maybe thirty years old, blinked. “The fey don’t have a culture. You’re just…the fey.”

The black-haired woman pouted. Her hair was boyishly short, so that matched what she had said about being a Maiden. “That’s not nice. We’re people too, you know.”

Another man pulled at the first’s arm. “Let’s not antagonize the unkillable abomination of life and science, okay sweetie?”

Maeve giggled. “Oh, that’s quite all right. I think I’ll forgive you that.” She spun around again, addressing both crowds in a clear and carrying voice. “From this day forth, the fey courts are…accepting applicants.”

I blinked. Wait, what?

No one else seemed to understand quite what the woman meant either. The air filled with whispered questions as everyone murmured to each other, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

The fey gave us a few minutes to stew before speaking again. “Simply put, in addition to cutting down to six courts, we will now be operating much like other cultures.” Her grin widened. “Recruiting, using the toy maker on our members…everything.”

Zusa stepped forward. “Wh-what—” She took a deep breath and started again. “What in the world are you talking about?”

Maeve raised a finger and continued as if the Nosferatu hadn’t spoken. “Ah, and I almost forgot. One of the few things all six of us agreed on. Our honored will be called Chosen, the deviants Forgotten, and the warlords Princes. Yes, even the girls. The actual fey—”

Stop it!” Zusa screeched so loud her voice cracked.

To everyone’s complete surprise, the fey obeyed, shutting her mouth mid-sentence.

When I say everyone, I mean Zusa too. She seemed more surprised than anyone else.

After a long silence, Maeve finally spoke up again. “Was there something you needed, Honored Nightstalker?” She brightened. “Ooh, were you interested in joining?”

Zusa swallowed. “You…where do you get off? What the hell are you doing, playing games? Darkest night, you’re having fun.” She indicated both groups, trapped by the gargants. “Sending monsters against defenseless people? What is wrong with you?

The fey didn’t answer, just waited politely for her to finished.

Zusa took another deep breath, steeling herself, seemingly gaining some strength from the simple action. “I don’t understand how you can do this. How you can get off on playing with people like pawns on a chessboard—and with your real body miles away, no less.”

The fey who had called herself Maeve looked at Zusa sideways. “You ARE an interesting one. You’re different.”

The Vietnamese Nosferatu stood a little straighter. “Because I’m standing up to you?”

“No,” the fey corrected. “You are a different person than you were a few moments ago.” She narrowed her eyes. “I take it I am speaking to the Composer now?”

I did a double take. Fur and fang, what was she talking about? How could she think—

Zusa relaxed, resting one hand on her hip and grinning wickedly. The change was striking. In just a few seconds, she went from a brave little girl standing up to the bullies to an arrogant and dangerous equal to the bully.

Oh shit.

“Not quite,” she admitted. Even her voice was different; her words were sharp and mocking, but her tone was soft and gentle. Like a silk whip.

“Zuzu’s Song is telepathy,” the thing in my friend’s body continued. “She is using it to allow me to…” she indicated herself. “…borrow her.”

The circle of people warily watching the conversation slowly drew back as everyone realized the kind of danger we were in. Some of the most powerful things in the city were in front of us. Provoking them—

One of the men watching, a twenty-something kemo with furry ears, pulled out a pistol and pointed it at Zusa. His hands shook with fear, and tears were streaming down his face.

He fired anyway.

A wall of concrete molded itself up from the ground, blocking the shot. Before he could do much more than stagger back in surprise, the wall rushed forward and enveloped him, driving him to the ground.

Bones crunched loudly, only to be quickly drowned out as most of the crowd screamed and ran for their lives.

I stayed, of course. As did Delphie, Jelena Simon, and Seena. Leon hared off, and I saw Eric running after him, hopefully to make sure he stayed safe. The fey stayed, of course, as did maybe two or three dozen more people.

Zusa stayed.

She had an…interesting expression on her face looking at the crushed kemo. Not horror or disgust, or regret or anger or anything else I could quite put a finger on.

It was…disdain?

“Such a waste,” the thing claiming to be the Composer muttered. “That would have been infinitely more enjoyable in my own body.” She eyed the fey with contempt. “I have no idea how you people can stand it.”

“Practice,” Maeve replied dully. “While we didn’t expect to see you here, we have questions.”

“Me first!” the Composer chirped happily, suddenly grinning from ear to ear like a loon. She extended her hand to the self-proclaimed Princess of Winter. “I’ll ask again: Will you join me?”

I felt an iron grip on my shoulder and nearly jumped three feet in the air. Thankfully, it was just Delphie.

But the look on her face…

Delphie is a strong, capable young woman. Maybe overwhelmed by the responsibilities placed on her due to her sister’s death, but still strong.

For as long as I live, I will never forget the look of complete and unadulterated horror on her face.

I had heard rumors from the others leading me to believe Delphie had some connection to the fey. Whatever it was, it was enough to terrify her of any chance of them allying with the Composer.

“Why?” Maeve said after a long pause. She had still not shaken the hand of the creature in front of her.

The Composer cocked Zusa’s head. “Isn’t it obvious? You should join me so I can give you Songs. Powers, as you call them.”

The fey didn’t relent. “Yes, but why? Why do you want us to join you? What do you want?

“Well, that’s simple.” The Composer grinned, and it seemed she had far too many teeth to fit into Zusa’s small mouth. “I just want to kill everyone and everything that has ever lived. Is that so wrong?”

“Mjolnir, Hammer of Thor,” Maeve muttered.

The Composer laughed musically. “Oh yes, that was a fun night. Hammie died too quickly, but everyone else…” she licked her lips. “They were ever so much more enjoyable.”

The fey looked…angry? Why did she look angry? That wasn’t too different from what they did, was it? “You killed one of the most important men in this city…because it was fun.” She ground her teeth. “And what about the others? Do you remember the names of anyone else you’ve murdered? The orphans you had St. John kill? Or the aves you killed yourself?”

Zusa’s slender shoulders shrugged apathetically. “Eh, a few, a few. Most of my targets didn’t die, really. Bad luck all around. That’s what I get for delegating. Kevin Irwin and Melanie were pretty much the only ones.”

I blinked. She…she was the one who had killed Kevin? I…but…wasn’t that just random gang violence? And what about the Melanie girl? Who was that?

That question got answered quickly enough.

You killed her?” a very low, very dangerous voice hissed.

To my utter shock, it was coming from Delphie.

I had never seen her like this. All the fear of a few minutes ago had vanished completely, replaced by cold, seething rage. The force of her presence made me back up a step. Even when she had faced Pam, it hadn’t been this bad.

“You killed my sister,” she whispered, her iron-hard eyes locked on Zusa. “You killed my sister…because it was fun?

The Composer didn’t seem perturbed, either by Delphie’s glare or by the strong smell she was giving off. “Not really. I wasn’t even there.” She waved her hand. “She was in my way. I had her removed. Not exactly complicated.”

The smell Delphie was giving off was only getting stronger. It was…a strange, cloying scent, impossible to compare. I couldn’t place it, but I knew I had encountered it before. It was…

It the same smell as when Delphie had nearly fought with Pam.

It was the smell of control pheromones.

I glanced around. There were a few mice and rats scurrying closer, but not enough to fight a fey or…whatever was piloting Zusa.

Maeve seemed to realize the danger, though. “Calm down, Honored Hunter. That’s your friend.”

Delphie clenched her fists so tight her palms bled. “Are you sure about that? Sounds to me like she called this murderer here.”

The black-haired fey winced. “Yes…but you need to understand, the Composer’s Blackguards are controlled—”

“I DON’T CARE!” the mouse roared, and the rodents she had summoned screeched in symphony. The small crowd backed up even more, leaving a large empty space around us. A few more people ran away, but not many. There were only a couple dozen left anyway.

“I don’t care,” she repeated, quieter, her gaze still fixed on Zusa like a guided missile. “My sister is dead. Her children orphaned. Her culture in shambles.” She ground her teeth and fell into a fighting stance, legs bent with one hand to the ground, ready to sprint. “She dies.”

But then Jelena stepped in front of her, arms spread, blocking Zusa with her own body. “Don’t do this, Del.”

This time, the murid ground her teeth I think I heard them crack. “Get out of my way.”

The Glasyan took a step backwards, closer to Zusa. “No. You can’t kill her.”

Delphie’s eyes held enough murder to make me back up a few steps, and it wasn’t even directed at me, but Jelena held her ground without anything worse than a gulp of anxiety. How was she so calm? She wasn’t even shaking.

“Give me one good reason, vampire,” the murid hissed. “And I’ll consider it.”

Wait, no, Delphie wasn’t hissing.

The hundreds, if not thousands of mice and rats were doing it for her.

The street was covered with them, enough so that you couldn’t see the concrete underneath in some places. I took a step back and nearly tripped over one of the bigger rats, but it didn’t seem to notice.

“Del, she’ll kill you,” Jelena pleaded. “Let it go.”

“I would be happy to settle this later, in my own body,” the Composer put in with an amused tone. “But it’s no fun like this.”

This didn’t have quite the effect on Delphie she might have hoped. “You bitch!

I tried to hold her back, with little success. It was only a matter of time before she wriggled out of my arms and tackled Zusa directly. Even if by some miracle I could keep her back, I had no control over the rats that were already seething forward.

“We don’t have time for this,” Maeve spat. “Jelena! Target priority: Zusa Pham!”

The Glasyan turned without hesitation and tackled the girl she had been protecting just moments before.

Not that it really did any good. Jelena didn’t have any substantial buffs, but Zusa was a Nosferatu. She might not have very many enhancements, but her claws were enough to tear bloody scratches in the Jelena’s back.

The Glasyan didn’t scream. Not so much as a peep. I’m not sure she even noticed the damage being done to her body.

Fur and fang…the look on her face…

There wasn’t one. Her face was a blank mask, completely devoid of expression.

She was completely under the control of the fey.

Everyone had known this was coming, we just hadn’t known what to do about it. Killing her had been the most logical choice, but no one had the heart.

Delphie threw off my hold, throwing me back, and rushed forward. “OUT OF MY WAY!”

The fey snapped her fingers.

Jelena exploded.

Standing fifteen feet away, I was thrown back by the force of the blast, covered in the shattered remains of chairs and tables. There was something warm on the entire front side of my body, but I couldn’t tell what it was. My vision was blurry, and there was this ringing screech in my ears…

Slowly, my eyes cleared, and though I was too wobbly to trust my legs, I managed to get a look around.

Devastation.

Where my roommate had been standing, there was nothing but a black blast crater, tinged with pink. Looking closer, I noted that the tables and furniture I was still mostly buried under had wounds that seemed to have been made of some sort of liquid.

Acid. They had used some kind of industrial grade acid on us. That made sense—it would be impossible for a living person to pack enough explosives inside their body to do significant damage. At least, not without them noticing something was very wrong.

That’s when I identified the source of the screeching sound. I had assumed it was just in my head. But as the ringing died down, it became clear what it was.

It was Delphie screaming from having half her face blasted off.

She was on her knees a few feet from the epicenter, clutching her ruined face. It was blackened and corroded, like an old and horrific burn. She wasn’t bleeding—a small blessing from the acid, no doubt—but she’d still be in serious danger if she didn’t get attention soon.

Delphie wasn’t the only one screaming, but she was certainly the loudest. Glancing around, it seemed like everyone else was just panicking, rather than actually injured. The gargants were still keeping everyone pinned in, but now the people were flooding the storefronts, trying to find back doors and exits. I doubted that would work.

How was I so calm? How was I not screaming with the rest of them?

I had killed a couple people in my time. The vampires who took my brother from me, but no one else.

That shouldn’t have been enough. Shouldn’t have been enough to inure me, to give me a resistance to all this pain and devastation.

How was I so calm?

I turned my attention back to the fey herself, standing in the middle of the street, that beautiful black dress fluttering in the wind.

I don’t know what I expected. I guess I thought she’d be all giggly, laughing tastelessly at the misfortune she was causing.

Instead, she was the calm in the eye of the raging storm, with a serious look on her face that contrasted strongly with her previous persona.

“Ever ever dies the storm,” she said, loud enough to hear, but not at the level of a yell.

No.”

I turned to see Simon, Yolanda still clinging to his arm, glaring at the fey defiantly.

“Ever ever dies the storm,” she repeated.

“No!” the purple demon cried again. “I’m not playing games anymore! You just killed three of my friends, and for what? To make a point in some pissing match with the Composer and the other fey?”

Maeve didn’t seem fazed by the sibriex’s angry accusations, and I had a feeling she had been expecting that answer. “We still have it. The egg.”

“Liar!” his sister shrieked from a few feet away. I hadn’t even seen her; what was she doing, hiding in the rubble? “Zepar said you approached him. I know you broke your promise.”

“I made no promise to you, Noble Seena,” the Maiden admonished gently, her face still sharp and serious as ice. “I stole an egg—along with many other things—from the Queen-Mother of Dayborn Light when I killed her. I then grew that egg.”

The black-skinned vampire slammed her fist on the ground, sending up a cloud of dust. Her glare wasn’t quite on Simon’s level, since she had lost her daygoggles at some point and had to squint a bit, but I was still glad I wasn’t on the receiving end of it. “You bitch.”

The Princess clicked her tongue disapprovingly. “Really now, there is no need for name calling. This is me being nice. I have no obligation to aid you in any way.”

“If you feel like being nice, help Delphie!” I cried. She had stopped screaming, which I suppose was a good sign, but she was still spasming in pain and half her body was covered in burns. I could see her bones showing through in some places. I had a terrifying thought that she had only stopped screaming because her vocal cords snapped.

“I am sorry,” the fey said quietly. “But she would require a toy box, and I cannot take her into my inner sanctum.” She shook her head. “I did not wish for any of this to happen, but casualties are impossible to avoid completely.”

There was a metallic clatter from Simon’s direction. It took me a second to notice that Yolanda had dropped her gun into the rubble, and was scrambling to pick it up with shaky hands.

No one moved as the fey started to lead her monsters away, with a few of the flesh-eaters holding open a path through the silent crowd.

But there was someone standing in the way.

Pam. Back straight, stance wide, and eyes strong. Her hands were held relaxed behind her back, but she wasn’t hiding her gun. It was holstered on her hip. The buckle wasn’t even undone.

The Maiden cocked her head. “Ohh, you’re that girl from before. The one who couldn’t shoot me.” She giggled. “What’s your name, little girl?”

“Pam!” I cried. She’d be killed!

“Eccretia,” my friend said. “Of the Never-Known Thieves.”

“A changeling,” Maeve muttered, most of her good humor gone. “I should have known.”

I…

I…

What?

WHAT?

Eccretia was the FOUNDER of the Never-Known Thieves, one of the first changelings, and one of the most powerful women in the city. Pam was just Pam. Seena’s roommate, with a sharp tongue and a plain face. Other than her dirty red hair, there was nothing exceptional about her at all. For the hunt’s sake, that was somewhat exceptional in…and of…itself…

She had a plain, unexceptional face. In an age where any unattractive blemishes or wrinkles could be fixed with pocket change, she still had scars from teenage pimples.

She never used the toy maker. Barely even acknowledged its existence. Fur and fang, I should have seen it.

“We are not afraid of you,” the changeling warlord continued, her voice as strong as iron. “No matter how many…” her eyes flicked to Delphie, still lying at my side. “…friends you take from us. No matter your tricks and cons. We will endure.”

The Princess sighed and rolled her eyes. “That’s great and all, but can you get out of my way? I don’t have time to deal with one little girl right now.”

Pam—no, Eccretia—smiled thinly. “I am a changeling, Honorless Maiden. I am never alone.”

Then a sniper shot Maeve in the head.

Behind the Scenes (scene 143)

Phew, long one. I’m a little worried there’s too much going on here, but I think it came out all right.

Scene 142 – Novum Die

NOVUM DIE

DELPHIE

“This is my nephew, Leon,” I explained, patting the small boy sitting next to me on the head. “Say hello, Leon.”

“Hello,” he muttered. He was ten years old, and actually looked it, unlike a lot of kids these days. He also looked baseline, but as the son of the murid warlord, I doubted that was completely true. I had never seen his toy receipt, but then my sister had always been quite secretive.

“I’m sorry about your mother,” Yolanda said gently, while leaning against Simon’s arm. “I know it’s hard.”

He shrugged noncommittally.

I frowned, but didn’t say anything. It had been just a little over a week since his mother died. I could let him be anti-social for a while longer.

“Is your dad still around?” Eric, the green-haired baseline we had saved from the iron-lord gargant, pressed. “Do you have anywhere to go?”

Leon shook his head again.

“His dad died a while back,” I explained apologetically. “He’s staying at the domain for now.”

Eric nodded in sympathy. “Yeah, that’s rough.”

This guy was getting a little too close. I barely even knew him; Seena and Jelena had gotten some seaweed rum from his Dagonite roommate, and then Seena started inviting him places. Maybe she was trying to get in his pants or something; damned if I knew what that vampire was thinking. She had been acting weirder than normal since around when the Composer was captured.

Speaking of Seena, she elbowed her friend in the ribs half-heartedly. “Don’t be mean.”

Green-hair seemed genuinely confused. “How was that mean?”

“You’re mocking him!”

“What!? How is that mocking?”

“Both your parents are alive.”

Everybody started a little at that. It was pretty rare to see anyone like that. I think the only person our age I knew with two living parents was…

Um…

Oh, Derek’s friend Robyn. Doctor Isaac Clarke’s daughter. Living under the wing of Artemis Butler increased your life expectancy significantly.

Eric, for his part, had the good grace to look embarrassed. At least he knew better than to complain how annoying his parents were while surrounded by orphans.

He shifted in his seat. “My parents are close advisers to Arthur Curry. So…you know…they’re pretty well protected.”

Leon looked confused, and I couldn’t blame him. That name didn’t sound familiar…

“Wait,” Jelena said after a minute of silence. “You’re a Dagonite?

Veda cocked her head quizzically at the Glasyan vampire. “We weren’t supposed to know? His roommate’s one, I thought it was obvious.”

“He does use Dagonite curses,” Pam pointed out.

Eric shook his head. “Salt and spear—” Then he stopped when he realized what he was saying. “Ah…I mean…God dammit.” He shook his head again. “I spent three years unlearning Dagonite curses, and then by pure dumb luck, I ended up with Conway as my roommate.”

“Why?”

Eric seemed surprised Leon had finally said something, but shrugged and answered. “Whoever was in charge of room assignments probably did it on purpose. It’s usually a good idea to put people of the same culture together. Keeps fights to a minimum.”

“No, I mean why try to unlearn Dagonite curses?” The little murid twiddled his thumbs. “I mean…people go to a lot of trouble to learn them in the first place.”

Eric smiled a little sadly. “People…do not always stay with their culture.”

Jelena nodded. “My culture gets a lot of requests to quietly remove toys. It’s more common than you’d think.”

That caught my attention a little. I turned back to Eric. “So you’re an actual ex-Dagonite?” I had assumed his buffs were just internal, like mine.

“Well, yes, except I was never a Dagonite in the first place.”

Simon’s eyes widened. “A Rahab?”

Eric scowled. “No! Why does everyone always assume that?” He waved his hand impatiently. “Enough about me! Someone else talk.”

There was a pretty long pause.

“Steve is getting out of the hospital soon,” Simon noted.

That surprised everyone, but Pam got the words out first. “He is? When did he wake up?”

“A few days ago.”

The plain little baseline leaned forward eagerly. “Did he get a good look at his attacker? The one who killed Kevin?”

Simon shook his head sadly. “He went down in one hit, apparently. Never knew what was happening.”

Yolanda, of all people, gave her boyfriend a quizzical look. “Didn’t he get hit in the face? How could he not see anything?”

“Well, he saw the bat they hit him with, and that’s about it.”

Pam leaned back in her chair, almost bumping into the table behind her. The people there glared at her, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“I’m still mad about that. Kevin was fun. Steve is just boring. Why couldn’t it have been the other way around?”

Seena pushed her in the arm, nearly toppling the baseline. “Don’t say stuff like that. How would you feel if you survived, and someone said that about you?”

“I wouldn’t care. I know I’m boring.”

Her midnight-skinned roommate sighed. “Not what I meant.”

Simon shrugged. “Besides, Steve is more interesting anyway.”

Yolanda took her head off his shoulder long enough to punch him in the side.

“Ow! What?”

His sister nodded. “Thanks, Yolanda. And she’s right. Don’t be a dick.”

Our dirty red-haired baseline, however, seemed to take the question more seriously. “Steve’s just an errand boy. Watching Kevin play around was a lot more fun.”

The sibriex rubbed his side, eying his girlfriend warily before turning his attention back to Pam. “I considered him a friend, and he was a good roommate, but I wouldn’t call him fun.”

“I just thought it was hilarious,” she insisted. “Watching his ham-handed attempts at espionage.”

Simon blinked. “Wait, what?”

“He was a passer. A spy for the Jotuun. Didn’t you know?”

What?” Everyone shouted at once.

“No, that’s impossible,” I insisted. Fur and fang, I had liked him. “Even ignoring the fact that he was like four feet tall—”

She snorted derisively. “You don’t really expect a Jotuun passer to have the Bigger package, do you?”

“—there’s no way he could be a giant. I met friends from his old orphanage. It was deep in orc territory, so if he’s a passer for anyone—”

“Faked,” Pam said in a bored tone while examining her nails. “Rather amateurishly, too. They paid off a couple kids to pretend to know him. It’s much easier to just say the old orphanage burned down and everyone died.”

I rubbed my forehead. “No. Just…no way. He’s definitely an ex-demon. He knows way too much about their cultures to just be a random—”

“He’s a spy. Of course he knows a lot about the other cultures. Also, he doesn’t use demon curses, which isn’t very suspicious on its own, I’ll admit—”

Jelena perked up. “Oh, right! Back at that thing with the iron lord gargant, he used Jotuun curses. I thought it was weird.”

Pam rolled her eyes. “Not as weird as knowing the location of a secret Nif outpost. that’s what confirmed it for me.”

“WHY—” Simon took a deep breath to calm down. “Why didn’t you mention any of this?”

The baseline shrugged. “Like I said, I thought you knew. Besides, it’s not like it really mattered. Most of the stuff he would be searching for you told him.”

“Like what?”

“Like the monster guarding the sibriex servers.”

I blinked. “Wait, I didn’t hear about this.”

Zusa finally spoke up. “Yeah, me neither.”

That’s it. Nothing more. She had been acting odd recently; normally she would chatter on for an hour while everyone else tried to get a word in edgewise. But ever since a week or so before school started, she had been really weird.

No one else seemed to think it was odd, though.

Simon waved his hand. “That was…I mean…”

“What ever happened with that, anyway?” Pam asked. “I don’t think you ever said.”

“Zusa and I still don’t know what it is.”

Simon ignored me. “Well, I never did manage to get in touch with MC, and once the Composer outed herself, it kind of became moot.”

“Oh, Aramazd was going to actually talk to her?” A warm and gentle voice said from behind me. “That’s really sweet.”

We all turned to the source, standing just a foot behind me. She was a tall, pale-skinned woman with boyishly short black hair and a flat chest. She wore an elegant dress—a stunning black gown with a wide skirt, no sleeves, and black silk gloves that stretched to her elbows. The entire outfit sparkled with a few conservatively-placed white gemstones, which twinkled like stars.

While we were all caught off guard by the sudden appearance of a beautiful woman with a dazzling smile, I managed to recover first. “What?”

Okay, maybe ‘recover’ is a strong word.

The woman…or girl? Her age was a bit hard to place. She raised a hand to her mouth and giggled. “Sorry. It’s just that Aramazd has always been so paranoid. The fact that he’s willing to put his own fears behind his desire to protect the city is really heartwarming.”

No one seemed to know how to respond to that.

Pam had an idea, at least. She pointed her gun at the woman’s heart. “Who are you?”

“And how do you know anything about Aramazd?” Simon added. “I never told anyone his name.”

The girl backed up a step, but she seemed more appalled at her lack of manners than the gun. “Oh! I’m so sorry. I forgot to introduce myself.” She shook her head and sighed. “My sisters and I went to all this trouble to set this up, and I fumbled it.”

I looked around, not seeing anyone other than a hundred or so people watching on the street, who seemed about as bewildered as those of us actually sitting at the cafe, listening to the woman talk.

Oh, and I saw my stupid nephew leering at her. I needed to have a talk with him, but now was not the time.

“Just talk,” Pam ordered, her gun not quavering in the slightest. There was, however, a confused frown on her face. “I know you from somewhere…”

The black-dressed woman grinned broadly. “Both of my sisters are setting up in other spots in the city.” The smile faded. “Unfortunately, my stupid cousins are probably doing the same…”

Simon stood up, pulling Yolanda with him, and started backing away. “I don’t know who you are and I don’t care. Everyone, we need to go.”

Everyone else seemed to agree, and rose to follow. Many of the other customers followed suit, walking off in every direction. Even the maintenance man installing a speaker on the corner seemed inclined to finish his business and leave as fast as possible. I grabbed Leon and dragged him behind me. I glanced back at the woman…

Only to see Pam, still sitting there with her gun pointed at her.

“I know you…”

Again, the woman didn’t seem very concerned about the gun. She seemed more upset that she was losing her audience.

“Don’t go!” she cried. “It’s not time yet!”

I scoffed. Whatever. Just some attention whore in a nice dress.

Since I wasn’t looking where I was going, I ran smack into a gargant.

I scrambled back from the beast and got a better look. It was a flesh-eater gargant, one of a trio blocking the street to keep us from passing. The beasts weren’t particularly large—more like really big dogs—but they were exceedingly dangerous. They had shark-like maws with countless razor-edged teeth, ready to tear through muscle and bone like tissue paper.

A properly buffed individual has nothing to fear from a flesh-eater. It doesn’t take more than a couple skin enhancement buffs to make their teeth more annoying than harmful, and while they were fast, they would go down in a few good hits.

None of the people here had those kind of buffs. Oh, maybe there were a few with the strength and reflex toys necessary to fight, but the lesser skin enhancements can be identified at a glance, and of the hundred or more people trapped between the gargants (there was another trio at the other end of the street), it was obvious no one had anything useful.

The gargants growled at us, forcing us to back away, but didn’t attack.

We—almost everyone at once—turned to the woman in the black dress, still standing at the cafe, ignoring the gun with a huge smile on her face.

She curtsied, first at my group, then at those on trapped at the other end of the street. “My name is Maeve,” she said cheerfully. “Princess of Wind and Frost, Maiden of the Unseelie fey.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 142)

Eric’s explanation of people learning new verbal tics is actually something that happens in real life, albeit more rarely. It takes a lot of effort, but you can change your own curses and catch phrases. Most people just don’t care enough to do so. It’s like unlearning an accent, really.

Extra update Wednesday. Not because this one (or the next one) is short; they just work much, much better closer together.

Scene 141 – Cruciatum

CRUCIATUM

LAURA

I made a small incision, only one inch long, and watched it heal slowly.

“One-inch incision begins repair after twenty-two seconds,” I said aloud for the benefit of my phone, which I had set on record. “Repair takes fourteen seconds.”

“I-haln Iten jeren-polar!”

I ignored the words, carefully making another cut and waiting. “Two-inch incision begins repair after twenty-one seconds. Repair takes thirteen seconds.”

Vasanis trono?”

“Three-inch incision—” I was briefly interrupted by more wild screaming. “Three-inch incision begins repair after nineteen seconds. Repair takes eleven seconds.”

No change from the last few days, then, though I didn’t say it aloud. “Moving on to today’s tests.”

I grabbed a gallon of gasoline and used it liberally. “Subject has been doused with gasoline.”

“Vasanis Itenar elgamass’n!”

I eyed my watch. “Starting test…now.”

I lit the gas from the approximate center, in order to ensure an even burn.

I winced as the flames spread, but not out of any pity or remorse. The screams became a thousand times louder the second the match touched, forcing me to cover my ears or risk being deafened.

The screams lasted for five, maybe ten minutes, until suddenly cutting off with a wet gurgle. Not long after that, the flames died down as well.

I stepped forward carefully, taking a closer look. “The fires have burned out, but the subject is already mostly healed. It is possible it is the same phenomenon as observed with the skins; the repair process interrupts combustion somehow.” I waited another few seconds. “Repair is now complete. Will have to check exact time later, but it appears to be far faster than previous tests. The repair seems to accelerate under extreme stress.”

“Ottid trono?”

I looked up, surprised that her vocal cords had regenerated so quickly.

Elizabeth Greene met my gaze with her unflinching golden eyes filled with hate and anger. I had her bolted to the wall in a spread-eagle position, and had already removed that blood-drenched dress of hers. We still didn’t know the full extent of her capabilities, so there were shackles on her wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and ankles. She couldn’t even twitch her arms or legs.

Since we knew she had a form of kinesis similar to Ling’s, the entire room was made out of solid steel rather than concrete. It was a Necessarian warcage, built for containing warlords and other extremely dangerous individuals. Normally the prisoner would be locked inside alone, but we needed to do more than just contain her.

She was too powerful; we had to discover any weaknesses before she escaped. And she would escape. As I watched, the last burns on her face disappeared as if they had never existed in the first place.

She was immortal. She’d escape eventually, even if the only weapon she could use against us was time.

“I yudu’n nitil-dra, gahmbi’n daina-dra!” She spat in my face. “Vasanis-olj zeif naka!

I smiled. “Maybe,” I said, enjoying the look of surprise when she thought I actually understood her. “But I think I have the advantage here.”

Then I grabbed my Occisor off the table and shot her in the head.

Blood splattered the walls as the lower half of her face disintegrated. I realized a bit late that ricochet was a real concern when trapped in a steel box, but luckily the Occisor is not an especially powerful pistol, so the bullet lodged in her skull somewhere.

Obviously, I couldn’t actually understand what she was saying. I was recording everything, so hopefully MC would be able to decipher it, but I didn’t have much hope on that front. It was a language, but that was about all we had at the moment.

“Ahh…” She hissed slowly like a snake as her jaw regenerated. “Ubbilar…huucum ubbilar.” She clicked her jaw a few times, before looking at me and grinning. “Ubbil-draki lemen Iar.”

“Hm,” I muttered to myself. “That’s getting annoying.” I needed to find a way to silence her, but I didn’t want to get my fingers too close to her face. Her teeth were the only weapon she had left; I knew she’d take any opportunity to use them.

I turned back to my desk, doing my best to ignore her babbling. I didn’t have much equipment with me, because I didn’t want her to have many resources if she somehow overpowered me.

I had my phone, keyed to my voice, and I had my gun. Those wouldn’t be enough to get her out of the room, especially since the ‘sarians outside had strict orders to drop the warcage into the ocean if I didn’t check in every hour.

Of course, I also had an array of shiny medical instruments, spread out on a gleaming silver tray. Knives, saws, scalpels…everything I could get my hands on with such short notice. It wasn’t really much, all things considered, but it would get the job done.

I selected one of the larger blades, as well as a few smaller scalpels. The scalpels I placed in my leather-lined lapel, while I took the knife and carefully sliced Elizabeth’s right forearm completely open.

She screamed wordlessly, but more in anger than pain. She grunted and spat as I dug around with the knife, slicing around the elbow in an attempt to cut the nerves. After a few moments, her hand stopped flexing, so I assumed I had succeeded. Her cursing redoubled when she realized what I had done; again, she seemed far angrier than in any sort of pain.

I didn’t have much time now, so I quickly cut off a large strip of muscle from the dead section of her arm, which I then placed in a small metal container that I then locked.

“Retrieved tissue sample from right arm,” I reported for the benefit of the recorder, hopefully loud enough to be heard over her screaming. “Secured. Awaiting results.”

I didn’t have to wait long.

In seconds, the blood splattered on the floor flew back off the ground and back into the wound, while the large gash sealed itself shut even as I watched. Her fingers started to twitch, and Elizabeth moaned as sensation returned.

And the box on my desk began to rattle.

As if the piece of flesh inside was struggling to return to its master.

I slapped my hand on the box to still it. I wasn’t very worried about it breaking—it was a good heavy metal box, so it was going to take more than a thumb-sized lump of muscle to smash its way out.

Elizabeth Greene has a way of ignoring conventional wisdom.

The sample shot out like a bullet, tearing a quarter-sized hole in the box. I didn’t actually see it rejoin the main body; it moved far too fast for that. By the time I looked, the wound I had inflicted had disappeared completely, and Elizabeth was grinning at me.

“Sample returned of its own volition and under its own power,” I noted, making special effort to keep any of my panic from reaching my voice. “Repair complete.”

If separating the pieces didn’t work, we were screwed. I had already cut off her head and destroyed her brain a few times, which hadn’t done anything. I had hoped this experiment might give us more positive results. From there, it would have been easy to just bury her head in a box at the bottom of White-Cap Bay or something.

Still, I kept tight hold of my emotions. I wasn’t done yet. I had more ideas. I just needed a few more materials, that was all.

I walked over to the wall and knocked in a quick pattern.

There wasn’t a pattern, of course. Well, not really. The only rule was that it had to be different every time. Hopefully, if Elizabeth did manage to get out, that part would slip her up.

But I still couldn’t help but feel like a little kid, trying vainly to hide from an angry parent. Were any of our precautions really going to help in the end?

One of the walls cracked open, and a line of light flooded in. I slipped through quickly, cursing as my chest scraped against the wall, and dusted myself off as the cage slammed shut behind me. There was a dull whumph as they turned the electromagnet back on. The prison was pretty solid already, but with the magnetically sealed locks, nothing was getting out.

Kids hiding from parents…

The ‘sarian operating the magnet, a large demon with impressive horns but no other obvious toys, saluted me. “Paragon.”

I sighed. “Don’t call me that.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am.”

Well, I guess that was a step up from ‘dame’ and ‘honored’ and all that. “Don’t worry about it.” I looked around. “Where’s the truck?”

“Over there,” he pointed next to the warcage, a spot that had been in my blindspot as I slipped out of the prison. “We figured it would be better if it wasn’t the first thing she sees, if she escapes.”

“Might buy us a couple minutes while she’s confused,” the other guard added.

“Good thinking. Keys?” He tossed them to me. “Keep an eye on that door. It opens a crack, toss a grenade inside.”

“Yes, Honored Paladin,” they said in unison.

For the love of…

But I didn’t snap at them. It was just…something I’d have to get used to.

I walked around to the back of the large eighteen-wheeler shipping truck, unlocked the padlock, and rolled up the back.

The truck was another gift from Necessarius, filled at my exact specifications. As I had requested, the trailer was arranged like a well-stocked lab, with all the chemicals and tools I couldn’t afford to keep within reach of Elizabeth.

A mouth-watering array of microscopes, mass spectrometers, and more exotic devices lined one wall—all completely useless if I couldn’t figure out a way to keep Elizabeth’s pieces from returning to the main body.

On the other hand, opposite the equipment were the things I could find a use for. Chemicals, of all types and descriptions. Acids, poisons, preservatives…even just a few odd items, like garlic and holly wood, on the off chance that Elizabeth was a mythical creature of some sort.

I grabbed a few of the more obscure materials, in addition to the chemicals I actually thought would be useful. Sure, she probably wasn’t a werewolf, but stabbing her in the heart with a silver knife would make me feel better.

Back in the warcage, I set down my equipment and smiled at Elizabeth, feeling a little better about my chances. “Ready to get started again?”

“Shial.”

I cut her throat with the silver knife.

Blood spurted from the wound as she tried to scream at me, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was a wet gurgle and more blood. Her raging eyes communicated better than words ever could anyway.

Unfortunately, while the silver clearly hurt her, the damage was no more permanent than the scalpels. After a few moments, the healing began again, with the spilled blood flowing back into place and the torn flesh re-knitting itself, leaving no trace of a scar.

“Maskin Itenar?” she snarled.

I eyed her warily. “You are becoming more annoying with each passing minute, you know that?”

Actually, that was a lie. Every time I watched her heal, a new test or experiment occurred to me. There were so many thongs we could do with an immortal test subject…

But I couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. She was such an unknown variable, and a dangerous one at that, that I had to kill her.

And that’s what this equipment was for. A couple more tests, and I might be able to actually do it.

“Tronis Itenar?” Elizabeth moaned, eying the object in my hands with disdain. “Kirill-ki genedess. Arvauruis Iar.”

I grinned at her, and removed the lid from the small metal container. “You’ll enjoy this one, I promise.”

Her gaze slowly turned wary. “Likel neuv-moikin-ki?”

I set my phone on the table again, clicking it to record. “Beginning test.” I set down the container, then retrieved one of my scalpels.

“Retrieving sample.”

The Composer snarled. “Liga bak, I—aaaaagh! Sangli Iten.” She spat in my face.

I just smiled, before turning to the container on my desk, dropping the large chunk of flesh inside, and quickly locking the lid closed.

I turned back to Elizabeth, watching her sweating and cursing under her breath. After a few moments, the shed blood jumped back to her wound, sealing it shut…

Almost.

The chunk of flesh I had cut out was still missing. Even after the rest of the wound healed, it did not. Like before, it couldn’t finish the repair without all the missing pieces.

And the metal container behind me remained silent. It didn’t rattle or vibrate as the piece inside tried to return to the host.

I felt a smile spread slowly over my face, despite my best efforts to stifle it.

I had won.

Then Elizabeth’s wound finished healing.

The piece I had locked away hadn’t blasted out of the box. The wound just…healed. Completely. Filled in as easily as smoothing out a wrinkle in the sand.

I scrambled back over to the box on my desk, ignoring Elizabeth’s triumphant gaze, cursing at the pain of touching it unprotected.

The lump of flesh I had cut off was still there, frozen in the small pool of liquid nitrogen. I’m not sure what I had expected. Maybe I thought it had teleported out? Plus, it felt like I was forgetting something. Something I should say…

I glanced at Elizabeth; she was grinning from ear to ear. She, at least, had seen this coming.

Okay, so if the pieces were too damaged, she could just create new ones out of thin air. Unfortunate, but maybe not an insurmountable problem.

Because now I had a piece of the Composer I could analyze. It was hard to get a DNA test when the blood jumped out of the test tube before you even had a chance to start.

My hands were shaking as I put the lid back on and placed it carefully out of her sight. If I ran it out of the warcage right now, it would be too obvious that I had figured something out.

I tapped on the wall again, a subtly different pattern than before.

The door cracked open a sliver. “Yes?”

“I need more equipment.”

They let me through without complaint, once again shutting the door behind me. “Why didn’t you grab it before?”

“It’s an entire vat of liquid nitrogen, and I’ll need your help with it. I didn’t want to make you before I tested it on a smaller scale.”

The baseline tipped his hat. “That’s a kindness, but an unnecessary one. We’re here to help, Honored Paladin.”

“…right. Well, come on. And get some more ‘sarians on that door.”

“Already taken care of, ma’am,” a gruff voice noted. It came from a kemo of unclear subculture, taking position beside the door with a partner. “We also have snipers at the ready.”

Good enough for me.

It took a good hour for the demon and the baseline to wrestle the tub out of the truck and slide it into the warcage. It was twenty gallons, a bit less than half the size of a bathtub, which would have been heavy enough on its own. But full of liquid, it weighed a couple hundred pounds.

All the Necessarians guarding the warcage—including the two with me now—were wearing MC’s noise-canceling headphones, so at least I didn’t have to worry about them turning because they heard a pretty song.

Elizabeth’s eyes were narrow slits. “Iten genedess, Highlander.”

“That all?” the demon asked a little meekly, trying very hard not to look at the girl strapped to the wall. MC had been careful to recruit people who didn’t believe Elizabeth was being framed, but it was still hard to see anyone like that.

“Actually, no. One last thing.”

The soldiers swallowed their anxiety and nodded, ready for more orders.

Okay, so being a de facto warlord had some perks here and there.

I turned to the silver tray, arrayed with tools, and selected a large machete, which I handed to the demon.

“Chop her head off,” I instructed as I started unlocking the nitrogen. Hesitantly, the baseline followed suit.

“Genedess,” Elizabeth said. She was trying to stay calm, but I could tell she was angry. Still not scared, just angry.

The demon looked at our captive, then at the machete in his hand, then back at me. “Are you sure, Dame Laura?”

“Yes, absolutely. Just be careful not to let her snap your fingers off.”

He recoiled a bit, but at the same time seemed to find his resolve. With the Composer staring daggers at him—but still strangely quiet—he walked up to her, paused for a moment, then sliced her head off with a single swipe.

It thudded onto the ground with a wet and heavy thump, while the body relaxed for the first time in four days, slumping in the restraints like a rag doll. Both my bodyguards stared in horror, as though they couldn’t believe what they had just done. I was beginning to think MC had chosen poorly.

“Honored Devil,” I snapped in a commanding tone. “Bring that over here. Quickly, please.”

If nothing else, he was well-trained. He obeyed instantly, lifting the severed head by the sides to avoid any possible threat from the mouth, then rushing over and plopping it in the tub of liquid nitrogen. Some of the sub-zero liquid splashed around, making us all yelp as we tried to dodge, but we managed to survive with only insignificant injuries.

“What are we waiting—”

“Shush!” I reprimanded the baseline, without taking my eyes off Elizabeth’s corpse. Mercifully, he fell silent.

I should have been narrating for the benefit of the recorder, but I couldn’t bring myself to break the silence. I felt as though if anyone spoke, something unexpected would happen.

After five minutes of waiting, I was finally beginning to relax…

When suddenly her body twitched.

First it twitched. Then it stretched, flexed, and pulled as much as it could still restrained.

Then her head started to grow back.

It was beautiful and horrifying to witness, like a gory building being put together at incredible speed. The gray matter of her brain slowly built up, as though placed piece by piece by an invisible hand. As it continued, the skull started assembling around it, then skin and hair and…

That stupid, grinning face, with those golden eyes and that perfect skin.

“Genedess kalb-dra.”

My baseline bodyguard wretched in the corner.

It took an effort, but I made sure not to follow suit. Instead, I nodded to the demon. “There’s a mop in the truck. We’ll clean this up first.”

The demon looked a little green as well, but knocked on the door, and was let out within moments. He’d follow orders, no matter how much he hated it.

I looked in the tub of liquid nitrogen. As I suspected, Elizabeth’s head was still there, a grisly mirror of the one now grinning at me from her body. What that meant, I couldn’t say, other than the fact that I had a much bigger sample now. We just needed to get it out without her noticing. Should be able to do that while cleaning the vomit.

The baseline wiped his mouth, cringing. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m just not used to anything like this. Once we clean this up, I’ll get out of your way.”

“Not quite yet.”

He skipped a beat. “Uh…okay. What else do you need?”

I turned to look him in the eye. “Once you finish this, I want you to get me the woodchipper.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 141)

For the record, Laura’s power doesn’t work on languages she doesn’t understand.