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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.