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