“How are the subjects coming along?” Aurora, the Maiden of Summer, asked.
“Well enough,” I admitted a little grudgingly. There was a reason she was asking, and I didn’t need to be reminded. “A few glitches here and there, but that is to be expected.”
“There was one in particular you had your eye on…the kemo girl. What was her name?”
“Veda. She is an interesting one.”
My Summer counterpart cocked her head. “How so?”
“She watched me kill two of her friends and horrifically injure a third, but still volunteered to be a guinea pig.”
Aurora tapped something into the keyboard in front of her while she thought about what I had said. Technically we didn’t need keyboards anymore, or even monitors. We all had interfaces wired directly into our tanks that basically let us control our computers by thought, not much different than how our homunculi worked. But in our bases we preferred to to stick with the cruder interfaces. Made us feel human.
“I assume you’ve ruled out the possibility that the girl is a sociopath?” Aurora said finally.
“Not quite ruled out, but it’s definitely at the bottom of my list.”
“That’s what I just said.”
The brown-haired girl rolled her eyes and stepped away from the computer. “Were you going to move her, or leave her here?”
I blinked. “Uh…leave her here? I guess? Why would I move her before her transformation is complete?”
She scowled. “You haven’t looked outside recently, have you?”
I frowned, but did as she suggested, using my interface to tap into the exterior cameras. It didn’t take long to pinpoint the cause of the Maiden’s concern.
The sewers outside our base were swarming with enemy forces.
I cursed under my breath. Gods of men and darkness…the cameras weren’t particularly high quality, so it was hard to get a lot of detail, but as far as I could tell, this was no organized attack. A smattering of vampires, demons, kemos and giants hacking their way through our monsters the hard way. While that meant they weren’t fighting with any real tactics, it also meant there would be more random groups behind them. Kill a few soldiers in an army, and the army pauses to regroup. Kill a few men in a mob, and the mob just gets mad.
They were still a good distance away from the base, maybe two or three hours (more if they got lost), but that wasn’t enough time. Veda wouldn’t be done for at least another day. It would have been faster, but we had to use painkillers, which interfered with the process. Not to mention that I had forgotten we needed to use painkillers at first, so she had spent the first hour screaming until her vocal cords snapped—repeatedly.
We didn’t use painkillers on our homunculi, since all their pain sensors were mechanical, so we could just switch them off when needed. And when making changelings, we wanted them to hate us as much as possible, so extra pain during the process was a plus. It had completely slipped my mind to change the settings for poor little Veda.
I shook my head. Regardless, the problem was clear. Our attackers might just be random adventurers banding together for revenge, but they’d be able to deal enough damage. This wasn’t a fortress, just a minor outpost that had been nearby. It barely had any defenses; why bother, when the only people who were ever here were our homunculi? Under normal circumstances, the most valuable thing would have been the signal repeaters we had installed to help us remote-control the bodies amongst all the interference.
But that was before we had decided to become a true culture, with underlings and servants. They could not be replaced, flash-cloned in a tank like our homunculi.
This was ridiculous. The fey, hiding from a mob. Not to mention that in the sewers, there were hundreds of threats that should have wiped out this silly little party before it had gone ten feet. Where was Obox-ob, the Prince of Vermin? The warlord of the ekolids normally did not take kindly to anyone encroaching on his territory like this. But he had been missing for a while now. Sometime around when the aves managed to restart the Nosferatu civil war.
“We need a plan,” I declared. “What do we have in reserve?”
Aurora raised an eyebrow. “Here? We have a box of leapers that no one has checked in a month. They’re probably all dead by now.”
Leapers? Perfect. I strode over to the freezer, yanking out the crate filled with frogs. They were stuck together from the frost, so I started separating them, careful to avoid damaging them.
One of the reason we used frog-based monsters as our most basic line of defense was because they took to freezing temperatures very well, simply falling into a state of hibernation. Not all baseline frogs could do it, and it could take them days or longer to wake up, but we had bred and molded them carefully. These leapers would be jumping around in under ten minutes.
Once I had finished pulling them apart, I put them all back in the crate, walked outside, and simply tossed them into the sewer. I closed the door behind me, confident that they would slow our enemies down, if only by a few minutes. But that wasn’t their true purpose anyway.
“A couple toads won’t do much good, Maeve.”
I scoffed. “The leapers aren’t here to defend us. They’re bait for the defenders.”
The Princess of Soil and Flame narrowed her eyes. “You seeded the sewers with leapeaters?”
“Abyssal leapeaters, to be precise.” Abyssal was a term popularized for describing monsters that had nighteyes and fire resistance. You’d be surprised how well those two went together. Normally, they wouldn’t be much use against a horde of well-armed adventurers. Many of the men and women clawing their way here would have nighteyes, and they’d be able to handle a few angry ostriches pretty easily.
But there was more wandering the sewers than just frogs and birds.
Aurora nodded slowly as she realized what I was planning. “That might actually work. The only question is if he’ll be hungry enough.”
“He’s always hungry enough,” I insisted. “For anything and everything. The real danger is that he might try and bash his way in here.”
“Then why are you baiting him?”
“Is that a serious question, or are you just trolling me?”
She sighed. “Yes, it is serious. If we stop your Veda’s procedure now, we can escape with her to someplace safer.”
I shook my head. “The modifications are extensive. If we take her out early, she’ll die in minutes.”
“So you think your favorite gargant can kill…” she paused, and her gaze went distant as she checked the cameras. “…almost a hundred men?”
I grinned. “Really dear, you’ve seen him.”
She snorted. “Been killed by him, more like.”
“Exactly. You know that a few kids with guns won’t be able to stop him.”
“Fair enough, I suppose. Though still…” a thoughtful look crossed her face.
“What?” I raised an eyebrow. “What’s the problem?”
“It’s like you said. They’re just kids. Whipped into a frenzy by our little stunt. Should we really let them get slaughtered by a creation we can’t even control any more?”
Maybe she had a point. No fey was adverse to a little bloodshed, of course. Improving a city of murderers and criminals wasn’t going to happen by handing out flowers.
But this wasn’t the usual. This wasn’t us sending a horde of monsters to break up another angel/vampire race war, or ‘randomly’ deciding to slaughter a band of slave traders.
We had brought these people here. We had known they would come, prepared for it. I hadn’t quite remembered it when I was putting Veda in the toy box, but this was part of our plan.
However, we hadn’t quite decided how to deal with them. This was the important part. This would shape much of public opinion regarding the new fey. If we simply ran, it implied we cared more about lives—both ours and those of others—than before. If we fought, killed them all, it meant more of the same. Except now, the fey wouldn’t be some mysterious group they could ignore most of the time. We were a full-fledged culture.
Was that really what we wanted? To be a culture known for murder and bloodshed?
“Yes,” I said, and pushed a button on the console.
Deep underground, through miles of twisting sewers, a massive gate dropped open.
The creature inside the cage would take time to stir, then longer to follow the trail left for him. But he would be here soon. An hour, two at the most.
And he’d be hungry.
Behind the Scenes (scene 148)
Well, clearly this is not going to end poorly for anyone.