It was October 10th, a Wednesday. Two days after Akane had managed to snap me out of my depression, two days after I had decided we needed to prepare for Elizabeth’s inevitable escape. That was how long it had taken to gather everyone.
Obould of course, Power of the orcs. One of my closest friends and allies. I couldn’t have kept him away if I wanted to.
Aleksander Hagebak, also known as Thor. One of the lesser Colossi of the Aesir, and son of Odin. He preferred to keep out of the Culture Wars. He had only come because Elizabeth had killed his Hammer, Mjolnir, but that was good enough for me.
Speaking of giants, Sinmara, wife of the Muspel Colossus, had come in person as well. Hagebak was glaring daggers at her, but the blacksmith was better behaved than that, and just sat in a chair in the corner, staring at a wall.
From the kemos, we had Senator McDowell of the Iluvatar party representing the ursas, Alpha Hannesdottir for the cans, and Alpha Tecumseh for the lupes. Evangel wasn’t technically a warlord, but his political ties were more than enough. He might just make up for Hannesdottir—the crab kemos didn’t really have anything to bring to the table.
Only a single vampire had come: Titivilus, from the warbloods. He was Dispater’s second in command, and had assured me that the only reason the old Noble hadn’t come himself was because he still refused to leave the Iron Tower.
I had hoped for more from the vamps, but I shouldn’t have. While I was technically on good terms with the Canians, Mephistopheles was still understandably upset that we had killed one of his favorites. The ghouls were obviously out—Akane had a tendency to hunt down and destroy their outposts when she got bored. The Nessians were still angry about Shendilavri, and the Nosferatu were still disorganized from the bats incident. I didn’t really know any of the other subcultures, which was probably for the best.
But we did have one ace in the hole: Pale Night, Power of Androlynne. I was surprised she had answered my summons. I had done a few favors for her over the years, but only minor ones, and she was pretty high up the totem pole to come personally. She was basically the very first warlord, the ‘Daughter of Lilith’ and the mother of demons.
“Thank you all for coming,” I greeted them sincerely. “Especially for coming personally. I understand that it would have been easier to just send a messenger.”
Wait, crap, would Titivilus take that as an insult? It wasn’t Dispater’s fault for being agoraphobic, and I understood that sending his nuncio was the next best thing…
Thankfully, the pale-skinned vampire just winked at me. He understood.
“What is this place, anyway?” Tecumseh growled. He wasn’t angry, it was just that he was one of the first lupe anthros, and his modifications had screwed with his vocal cords a little. He was always growling. “It smells like an ammo dump.”
‘Here’ was the BOB skyscraper Akane had burned down Monday morning. It was perfect—it had only been two days, so there were no squatters yet, and the company had written the whole building off, so we technically weren’t even trespassing. Other than a few half-burned speakers that had somehow survived the fire, everything of value had been removed.
“Just another warehouse slated to be torn down,” I assured the warlords. “We won’t be bothered. Although I wouldn’t recommend going much higher than the first floor.” I indicated the walls, still covered in scorches and smoke. I could hear the distant sound of dripping water, from where the firefighters’ had attacked particularly bad sections. “Fire damage has left the place a bit…unstable.”
“Why don’t we get down to business?” Evangel suggested gently. As a politician, he had the most experience with how meetings like this usually went. I assumed he wanted to keep us from getting sidetracked. “Huntsman, this is your show. You were quite vague in your message. What exactly is this about?”
I nodded in thanks, and leaned against the wall in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner. “This is about the Composer, as you all know. We need to be prepared when she escapes.”
Obould spoke up for the first time. “Necessarius has her, she’s not going anywhere—”
“Why aren’t there any ‘sarians here?” Hagebak interrupted. “I’m sure Butler would be too busy, but there has to be someone who can come.”
“I still want confirmation that Lizzy is this Composer,” Jasmine insisted. Despite the fact that she was a crab anthro, her speech was surprisingly clear. As I understood, she still had her human lips hidden under everything else. “I just can’t believe—”
I held up my hand to silence them, and was mildly surprised when they took the hint.
“I will answer all questions in time,” I promised. “But let’s start with the easy ones. First: Yes, Elizabeth is the Composer.” I locked eyes with the can warlord. “No ifs, ands, or buts. I don’t have any video footage for evidence, but in our most recent confrontation she was quite clear.” I smiled a little sadly. “She seemed to find the idea that it was still in doubt to be hilarious.
“Second, there are no ‘sarians here because if Elizabeth has any more spies or sleepers, Necessarius is the most logical place to find them. I have tacit approval for Butler for anything and everything, but he doesn’t know any details, just in case.”
“And third, she is immortal. We can’t kill her, so her escape is only a matter of time.”
There was silence at that.
“When you say ‘immortal,’” Titivilus said slowly. “What exactly do you mean?”
“She can regenerate from any injury. Shooting her just pisses her off, and blowing off her head slows her down for less than a minute. Her exact words were ‘you do not possess the ability to end my life.’”
The vampire drummed his fingers on the scorched desk he was sitting on. “Well, the most logical assumption is that she was simply lying—”
“She wasn’t. One of the Paladins can tell when someone is lying.”
He rubbed his forehead. “Damn. Then I’ve got nothing.”
“We could always toss her down an underwater trench,” Evangel suggested.
“She’ll survive, and come back pissed.”
“Wait,” Jasmine interjected. “Even if I do agree that Lizzy could be the Composer—”
“She’s tried to kill me three times in the last two weeks,” I noted drily. “We are far past ‘could be’ at this point.”
She waved her massive claw. “Whatever, Composer or not, immortality is just ridiculous!”
I sighed at the crab anthro. “Honored Hunter, our city is currently under attack by superpowered zombies. We have witnessed eight different powers, from electricity control to light control, not counting what the Paladins have access to.” I spawned a glowing blue shield, a small buckler attached to my arm. I held it up so the Alpha could see it leaking azure mist. “Immortality doesn’t seem all that far-fetched any more.”
“Broken fang,” Tecumseh spat. “This city is screwed-up enough without…” he waved his hand at my shield, trying to find the words. “Damned witchcraft.”
I let the shield fade. “We’re not sure what it is, but I am not going to refuse to use a weapon at my disposal—”
Hagebak raised an eyebrow. “Then why don’t you use guns?”
I sighed. “Because I’m no good with guns, Honored Titan,” I lied smoothly. It wasn’t like it was a big lie; I definitely wasn’t great with guns. “Nothing moral about it.”
Sinmara smiled. “Yes, I remember when you came over to buy a gun for your Akane. We tried to get you one too, and you took it to the shooting range…” she chuckled. “You were impressively bad.”
“Thank you for the reminder,” I managed through gritted teeth, cutting off a more caustic reply. “I’m sure you understand why I prefer hand-to-hand combat.”
She nodded. “Forge and fire, yes. My son is still annoyed that he could never beat you in training.”
I blinked. “He…what?” I would remember that. Sure, I had wrestled giants before, even won, but not every time.
“He wasn’t a giant yet,” the Colossus explained, reading the question on my face. “He’s always been big, but he only got the buffs last year.”
I frowned. “Wait…over six feet, brown skin, built kinda like a dump truck?”
“Yeah! That’s Jose!”
“Huh. I never knew he was your son. How’s he doing these days?”
“Not bad, not bad. He—”
“Can we focus, people?!” Tecumseh barked. Literally. “This is about the witch.” The old lupe turned to the others. “Does anyone have anything that will help?”
“I own a factory that makes shotguns that fire rockets,” Evangel noted mildly. “That can’t hurt.”
“There’s a reason no one uses McDowell guns, Senator,” Titivilus cut in. “Your brother’s designs are too crazy to be useful.”
Obould laughed. “You clearly aren’t a monster slayer, warblood. Once you find their niche, McDowell guns are some of the best on the market.”
Hannesdottir made a clicking noise. “Well, we aren’t fighting monsters.”
I smiled a little sadly. “And you clearly haven’t fought screamers. They’re like monsters—dangerous, but stupid. They don’t have much beyond instinct.”
A low, husky feminine voice spread through the room. “The screamers are not the problem. The renegades are.”
It took me a moment to identify the source.
A tall, willowy woman, wrapped completely in a white silk sheet, barely showing her soft curves. The sheet stayed pure and untarnished, despite all the ash and charcoal in the room, giving her an…untouched and innocent appearance.
Appearances can be deceiving.
“Pale Night,” I said slowly.
The first demon, the obyrith, architect of the tanar’ri, Keeper of the First Gate of Hell. Power of Androlynne, where she sat upon the Throne of Chaos and watched the other demons from above. Self-proclaimed daughter of the Mother Monster. Founder of the demon culture, inspiration to Malcanthet, Orcus, and Sargeras.
One of the most powerful people in the city, and she had showed up to my impromptu meeting. Personally. I had invited her, true, but I hadn’t expected her to actually send anyone, let alone show up herself.
I steeled myself before replying. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean. The renegades are something to worry about, but the screamers can do far more damage.”
“There will be no more screamers,” the woman declared in her calm, soothing voice.
I looked at the others; they seemed as confused as I was. “Ah…what makes you say that?”
“The Blackguards are guns, while the screamers are swords. She will not use the screamers any more; she has no need to.”
I sighed. And here I had been hoping for some actual reasons. “Okay, sure. We’ll be careful about that.”
The sheet fluttered. “You do not believe me.” It wasn’t a question.
With effort, I kept my tone polite. “It’s not that, it’s just…” I shrugged. “We don’t really know anything about how she thinks, her goals, anything like that. It seems like a pretty big leap.”
“Making assumptions about your enemies never ends well,” Titivilus agreed.
Pale Night turned to face him. With the thick shawl obscuring her features, the effect was a little unnerving. “Mock me if you will, Disian, but I have seen more wars than you have years. This is not a guess, or an assumption.” She turned back to me. “I know the girl’s type. More concerned with blood and carnage than actually defeating the enemy. Combined with her supposed immortality…”
“She’ll fight personally as much as possible,” I finished, finally following her line of reasoning. “Using the screamers wouldn’t be any fun.”
She nodded. “She was hiding her identity, for whatever reason. Now that she no longer has to worry about that, the screamers are superfluous.”
“Hm,” Obould murmured thoughtfully. “I can see your point…she hasn’t been reusing screamer types, I suppose it makes sense that she’d ignore them completely now.”
“So…what?” Hagebak asked in an annoyed tone. “Just wait for these…” he waved his massive hand. “Renegades, these Blackguards, to pull Greene out of whatever hole Necessarius dropped her in, and everything starts over again like nothing happened?”
Tecumseh snarled. “Weren’t you listening, boy? With just Greene and her Blackguards, we’re talking just a squad or two at a time.” He grinned toothily with his wolf-maw. “We can handle that, no problem.”
“I wouldn’t say no problem,” I warned. “The last batch we fought had some interesting ways of using their powers, and I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse.” The lupe growled, but I ignored him. I had known him long enough to understand he was just frustrated, not angry at me specifically. “But it will be easier than the screamers, that’s for sure. Speakers—Paladins and Blackguards—can’t infect people.”
“But still,” Hannesdottir said slowly. “He’s right, isn’t he? We can’t do anything but wait for the Composer to make a move?” She made an angry click. “Of course, that’s assuming you’re right about Lizzy anyway.”
I didn’t bother responding to the second part. “There’s not much we can do, true. But we can prepare. You can lend soldiers to the ‘sarians.”
Sinmara shook her head. “Bad idea. I trust my men, but Butler doesn’t. I doubt he would want them anywhere near Greene. You remember what happened last time.”
“We can help with that indirectly,” Evangel pointed out. “Shore up the peacekeeper forces and so on, give them slack to send the most trustworthy to guard her.”
I nodded. “That’s what I meant. Even if it only gets one more person guarding the Composer’s cage, this meeting will have been worth it.”
That wasn’t the real purpose of the meeting, of course. We needed to forge alliances, bonds of trust between the disparate clans and cultures. Just getting eight warlords in a room without having to threaten violence was a massive step in the right direction.
“For the time being, why don’t we table the issue of the Composer?” Jasmine asked slowly, her giant claw clicking nervously. “We have bigger things to worry about right now.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Bigger than Elizabeth Greene?” The crab winced, which was my intent. She didn’t want to admit the Composer’s identity, so I needed to hammer her with it as much as possible. “I’ll confess I don’t pay much attention to politics. What happened now?”
Evangel stared at me. “You…don’t know? I mean, it’s been a full day.”
“That’s my bad,” Obould apologized. “He gets most of this kind of news from me, and I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to even toss him an e-mail.”
“About what?” I was getting exasperated now. Couldn’t they just get to the point? “By now, I’m half-expecting that one of the fusion reactors exploded when I wasn’t looking.”
“That would be less destructive,” Hagebak muttered. “In the long run, I mean.”
“The fey have reformatted themselves into a true culture,” Pale Night cut in with all the bluntness of a sledgehammer. “With only six fey, split into Seelie and Unseelie courts—Summer and Winter, that is. They have also started recruiting.”
“And they announced all this with a couple dozen monsters each,” Tecumseh growled. “Minimal deaths. A couple hundred, maybe less. Some of the ones missing might have been kidnapped or recruited.”
I closed my eyes and slumped my back against the wall. Silver moon and golden sun…how in the world did I not hear about this before?
“And it was yesterday, you said?”
“Around noon,” Evangel confirmed.
“You should also know about the hundred or so fools who rushed into the sewers after the Unseelie Princess,” Titivilus added cheerfully. “Hearts in the right place, of course, but they were still idiots. We’re not even sure what the fey used to kill them. There were no survivors, and not as many body parts as there should have been.”
I kneaded my forehead. Come on…
Jasmine shrugged her carapaced shoulders. “So they threw a gargant at the poor bastards. I don’t see why everyone is making such a big deal.”
“These weren’t a bunch of random kids, Honored Hunter,” Obould corrected. “They were disorganized, but they were experienced monster slayers. The fact that there were NO survivors, not to mention no evidence they even managed to injure their opponent, is…worrying.”
“Okay,” I said slowly. “Okay.” I nodded. “Let’s focus on that for now.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 149)
More new characters. I think I’ve got too many running around right now.