That’s what Maeve had called me. As if it had already been decided.
I’ll admit, it didn’t sound so stupid when she said it.
Zusa and Jelena were dead. Delphie and Veda were…out of reach. Yolanda had two broken wrists, and Simon had a small assortment of minor injuries plus a cracked jaw. And Pam turned out to be a damned changeling warlord.
The only one who had emerged unscathed was me.
Was it just luck? Or was there some reason for it? Maeve had seemed interested in me…could she have avoided injuring me on purpose?
No, no, that wasn’t it. She hadn’t really hurt anyone. Everything that had happened had been someone else’s fault. Even Jelena—
Oh lords of Hell, Jelena…
We had all known the fey had done something to her, that it was only a matter of time before their machinations were revealed. But it was one thing to know something was coming, and quite another to watch it explode in front of your face.
I still couldn’t get it out of my head…blood everywhere, the street sizzling with acid, Delphie screaming…
Would anything have been different if I had chosen to become a warlord? Would I have been able to stop Maeve, save Jelena and Zusa?
Zusa…I still wasn’t sure what to make of all that.
She had been my friend for years. Not a close friend, sure, but still. Her bubbly personality had kept me going more than once when I otherwise would have quit. Giving up my kids, the whole thing with Nikoli…she kept me afloat, a life raft in the writhing cesspool that was Domina City.
Then a few months ago, at the start of school, that all changed. She became introverted, closed off, with only small bursts of cheer and energy.
I had assumed that the Composer and the screamers had affected her emotionally. It was beginning to look like I was closer to the mark than I thought.
But…I mean, she had certainly looked like a willing volunteer when she confronted the fey. Like she had known what she was getting into.
“Sis? You listening?”
I blinked and shook my head to clear it. “I’m sorry, what?”
He groaned, shifting the ice pack he was holding against his head. “You keep spacing out! We need—” He winced, touching his jaw. The EMTs had done a great job patching him up, but he was still in a lot of pain. “We need an attack plan. Get Veda and Delphie back.”
I leaned back flat on the street. We were still on the same street where the attack had occurred, just moved down half a block to avoid most of the devastation.
Bustling EMT’s and field doctors ran to and fro, trying to keep the injured alive while waiting for ‘sarian reinforcements to show up with a toy box, or at least some better medical toys. Most people weren’t hurt too bad, but more than a few had been trampled, and had broken ribs and other internal injuries. Things were already starting to get back to normal, with a maintenance man installing or fixing a speaker on a corner.
“We can’t save them,” I said finally. “Nine Hells, we weren’t any help today. We’re not fighters.”
But if I became the warlord of the Mals, that would be a non-issue. Even ignoring the toys I’d get, I’d have an army of assassins at my fingertips. Enough to fight the fey? Probably not. But stealing back one cherve and murid would be easy enough.
“A warlord could save them,” Simon muttered.
I nearly jumped back up again. This was the one thing I had hidden from my brother. He couldn’t—
But there was something about the look on his face that told me he wasn’t thinking about me.
“Simon,” I said carefully. “What are you planning to do?”
He licked his lips nervously. “If I talk to Aramazd, I might be able to turn myself into a warlord strong enough—”
“It’s not worth a coup!” I hissed. “You think they’ll appreciate getting thrown in the middle of all that?” He looked away; I grabbed his face and forced him to look me in my eyes, ripping off my daygoggles to emphasize my point. “If you conquer a culture, you’ll paint a giant target on your back, along with anyone you’ve ever spoken to.”
My brother knocked my hand away. “I didn’t mean a warlord warlord. Just that power level. Hells, Narek will probably appreciate it. Everyone knows we need more muscle.”
I shaded my eyes to ward off a rising headache only partly caused by the light. “I doubt he’ll be too happy. Warlords don’t trust followers stronger than them.”
Simon’s shoulder’s stiffened. “Narek brings plenty to the table that I do not. Leadership, charisma—
I snorted, remembering the time I met the portly demon who I had suspected was intentionally breeding parasites in the pustules on his face and body. “Other warlords, maybe. But the sibriex are basically just a bunch of science nerds, and your Power knows it. You start acting like a real warlord, things will get ugly.”
He hunched over. “I’m not going to just show up with two hundred pounds of muscle and expect everything to go fine. I’ll talk to him first.”
“And I’m sure that will go GREAT. Oh, and by the way, the Mals are always looking for talented toy engineers. Just so you know.”
My brother scowled, then winced at his wounded jaw.
I bit back a smile. “I’m sorry, let me help with that.”
He glared. “No thanks. At this rate, you’d end up making it worse.”
“Oh, don’t be such a baby.” I pulled a small tube of ointment, made out of some sort of modified mold, and squirted it onto my hand. “This will make you feel better.”
“Wait, you had that the entire time?”
“Nine Hells Seena, why didn’t you use that before?”
I shrugged nonchalantly, unwilling to admit I forgot. “It’s like Patron Anton used to say: Pain makes you stronger.”
My brother scowled again, rubbing his jaw. “He was a Satanist, and got killed by…” he paused, trying to remember.
I took the chance to start rubbing the balm into his jaw. It would speed up the healing a tad, and also dull the pain. “A warblood. One of Dispater’s men. He was excommunicated after, though.”
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “That’s right…how could I forget something like that?”
I looked at him oddly. “What’s the big deal? So you forgot who killed him. Is that really so important?”
He pushed my hands away with a glare. “Of course it matters. It’s disrespectful to forget about people who have died!”
I sighed. My silly brother. His compassion might be a little odd in this city, but the really stupid thing was that he expected to keep this mindset after becoming a thug and enforcer for his culture. When we were kids, he sometimes felt bad for the rats and dogs we killed for dinner. How would he handle killing people?
He wouldn’t, that’s how. This warlord thing would be forgotten shortly.
Now me, on the other hand…
I was beginning to think I might be suited for that role after all.
It had a nice ring to it.
Behind the Scenes (scene 146)
Clearly nothing horrible can come from this!
Extra update Wednesday.