“Wait, you want what?”
I stood as straight as I could, pulling away the ice pack I had been using to nurse my still-bruised face. “I want to undergo the Balor reconstruction process. Sir.”
Narek Nhang, Power of the sibriex, just stared at me.
He looked different than when I had last seen him a few weeks ago, but that was no real surprise. He was called the Unfleshed Lord for a reason; he never stuck with a single form for more than a month. He had been known to switch within hours of finishing a procedure.
Today, he had a vaguely Asian skin tone along with short (but sharp) spikes covering his arms. His eyes were solid gold, and I wasn’t completely sure he could actually see. But either way, it didn’t slow him down at all.
One of the other sibriex, a young girl who’s name I could never remember, spoke up. “The process worked perfectly fine last time. I don’t think there’s any undue risk.”
“This isn’t about risk!” the Power snapped. “Lancaster doesn’t have any money to pay for such a procedure! And I am not willing to extend that kind of credit to a brand-new demon who hasn’t even earned his keep.”
I bristled at that. “Hey, I’m not brand-new!” My Power glared at me, and I hurriedly backstepped verbally. “Uh…sir. I’ve been here two months, playing gopher and lab assistant to everyone. I helped confirm Magorian’s theories on plant-based uses of the toy maker—”
“You’ve been here two months, and you haven’t submitted a single page of original research. Reviewing everyone else’s work will only get you so far.”
“Peer review is the basis of science—”
“That’s not the point!” He stomped forward until those creepy golden eyes of his were only inches away. “I’m not going to turn an untested imp of unclear loyalty into a walking juggernaut!”
I swallowed my fear as best I could. “Sir, if you’d just let me explain—”
“Explain?” He settled back a little. “Explain what? Unless you were talking about something other than the Balor package, we have nothing to discuss.” He starting counting off on his fingers. “Enhanced strength, durability, speed, adrenaline, bulletproof skin, claws, horns, and a strong tail. Why would I give those to you?”
I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have just bit my tongue, like always.
But something about Narek’s aggressive behavior made me angry. He reminded me of the bullies from my old orphanage. Seena and I had always just run away, never confronting them. We were never very strong.
I shouldn’t have said anything.
But against this bully, I had a weapon.
“Aramazd thinks it’s a good idea.”
The girl raised an eyebrow. “Who the Hells is Aramazd?” She sighed and turned to the Power. “Knight Nhang, I can have him thrown out if you—” she stopped talking, with a sound like she was choking on her own tongue.
She had finally noticed the look our warlord was giving me.
He looked like he had just stepped on a land mine.
“How do you know that name?” He said, so quietly I could barely hear it. I couldn’t tell whether he was terrified or angry.
I faced him down without fear…mostly. I managed to hide it pretty well, anyway. “From the man himself, of course.” I paused, as though thinking over what I had just said. “…though I’m not sure man is the right word.”
Narek narrowed his eyes to slits. “What happened to you, Lancaster? Where is the simpering little orphan I recruited?”
I met his gaze evenly. “It…has been an eventful few days, Noble Nhang. The Composer is captured, but free enough to see and hear through the eyes of her minions. The fey have made an unexpected move, and many of my friends are dead.” I shrugged. “I can either become more powerful or die. I’m sure you understand my choice.”
My warlord took a step back in surprise. “Wait, the fey did what? I haven’t heard anything like that.”
That was odd. Yeah, it was only a few hours since the attack, but surely it would be headline news around the city.
I scratched my horns, a little self-conscious. “Uh, yeah. Their war apparently ended, with only six survivors, split into two courts. One of them, Maeve, showed up and started recruiting.” As the memory resurfaced, I felt my heart flutter. I quashed the feeling. “People…died.”
I didn’t meet anyone’s eyes.
“Hmph,” my warlord muttered. He waved his hand. “Leave us.”
The three other sibriex in the room looked at each other before the girl responded. “Uh, sir—”
It only took a few minutes for the them to gather up their things at top speed and run from the room.
“Fine,” Nhang said after the others were gone.
I blinked. “Uh…sir?”
“Fine. I’ll let you go through the Balor reconstruction process.”
I swallowed my anxiety as best as I could. “Th-thank you, sir.”
“Aramazd will oversee the procedure. Since we don’t have a toy box, he’s the only one with the skill to pull it off.”
He was? I didn’t know that. I guess I had just assumed he was the culture’s hacker, and hadn’t thought it through much beyond that. But if he was just a hacker, what had he been doing for the months he was disconnected from the internet?
Playing with the toy maker, I’d guess.
“Of course, you understand what happens if you try to cross me.”
The Power of the sibriex leaned in close again. “I’m giving you warlord level toys here. I know what that kind of power can do.” He narrowed his golden eyes. “But your sister isn’t a warlord.”
“Is…is that a threat, sir?”
“Yes,” he said unflinchingly. “It is. I’m not letting you walk around in bulletproof skin without making sure I have some collateral on you.”
“Bulletproof skin? Really?”
The old demon sighed. “Yes, really. The package is based on the toys the Mother Monster herself has. You’ll be able to spit fire once we’re done with you.”
I managed a weak smile. I had to admit I hadn’t read the brochure as thoroughly as I should have. “So. When do we start?”
“Now,” the golden-eyed demon replied immediately, spinning on his heel and heading towards the door opposite the one the other sibriex had exited through. “To Aramazd.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 147)
I’m doing too many short ones. And they always seem to take longer to write. Why is that?