I knocked on the door with my left hand; my right arm was occupied with holding Ling tight around the shoulders. I was a little worried about how this looked, but I didn’t have time for that now.
The door opened quickly, Lily looking at me in confusion. “Adam? What are you doing here?” Her crimson eyes darted to Ling. “With her?”
I shrugged awkwardly, which had the unintended effect of causing Ling to nestle into my chest. “Uh, it’s a long story. She needs someone to talk to. Can we come in?”
Lily took another long, hard look at the girl in my arms, but slowly nodded and stepped aside to let us past, without taking her eyes off the little blonde delinquent for a second.
“I wasn’t sure you’d even be here,” I admitted, as I sat Ling down on Lily’s bed, the only part of the apartment not covered in boxes and other assorted junk. Lily had the Insomniac gland, so she didn’t actually need to sleep. She mostly just used this place to store the various odds and ends she had collected over the years.
“Work canceled,” she said bluntly, as she closed the door with a soft click. “Between the Composer and the fey, no one is really going anywhere. Little call for me.”
I frowned at the girl, almost a full foot shorter than me—and I’m not too tall myself. “But the fey haven’t attacked. Why is everyone still running scared?”
She smiled a little, which made me happy. I had been worried bringing Ling here had broken some unspoken taboo. “The fey always make appearances. I would have thought you’d have noticed.”
I shrugged. “Been busy.” Derek had said about the same, though.
“Well, it’s a little disconcerting for them to just suddenly disappear, so everyone’s a little on edge. I talked to that Maeve girl, but she was very tight-lipped.”
That made me do a double take. “Wait, you talked to her? When?”
“Yesterday,” she replied nonchalantly. “I went over to her place for tea. Of course, it was a bombed-out ruin due to her little trick with that homunculus, but she stuck around long enough to make me think they’re planning something big.”
I held up my hand. “Back up. You…were planning on having tea. With one of the fey.”
She nodded. “I do it all the time.”
I looked to Ling for support, since I was failing to articulate just how batshit insane that was.
The Chinese girl shrugged. “The fey have always been quite friendly and open. I got invited by…” she chewed her lip. “The Matron of Eternal Silver, I think it was, a few years back.” She shrugged again. “Getting in touch with them isn’t hard. Making deals with them, and giving them things you shouldn’t, is the problem.”
“Okay, whatever. That’s not why we came here.” I looked my girlfriend in the eye. “Lily, I was wondering if you could talk to her a little.”
Her face was neutral. Extremely neutral. “About what?”
“She’s having trouble…” I coughed, suddenly embarrassed. “…with some of the more unsavory aspects of her job.”
Lily glanced over at my friend. “Is that so.”
“Uh, yeah. I mean, she tried to explain it to me, but I’m not exactly the best person to talk to about something like this.”
There was a pained look on her face for a moment, so brief I though I imagined it. “Yes, of course.” She took a deep breath. “I’m just not sure I’m up for this.”
Ling blinked slowly. “What’s the problem? You’re good at understanding, right?” She reached out to grasp Lily’s hand.
To my surprise, my girlfriend sidestepped away to avoid being touched.
“I should rephrase that,” she said quietly, her face still a stony mask. “I’m not sure I’m up for talking to you.”
Now it was my turn to blink like a deer caught in headlights. “Wait, what’s the problem with Ling? What has she ever done to you?”
“Nothing,” she admitted. “It’s what she is.”
Ling made a small eep of surprise and fear.
Lily smiled grimly. “Ah, now you understand.”
“Uh, I still don’t,” I noted. “Obviously your problem isn’t that she’s a Paladin, or that she’s a girl, or…” I frowned. “Is this a race thing? Is it because she’s Chinese?”
Lily laughed musically, which I really should have expected. The country you’re from is pretty much completely irrelevant in a city where you can change skin color on a whim. “No. Not that.” That brief smile went hard again. “Not something so…minor.”
“This was a mistake,” Ling whispered. She got up and headed for the door. “Thank you for your time, Honored—”
“I need to know what the hell is going on here,” I interrupted, grabbing the short little delinquent by the arm to keep her from running out on me. I turned back to my girlfriend. “Lily, you’re one of the most compassionate people I know. You keep insisting on humane treatment for the screamers, even. What makes Ling any different?”
Lily gave the girl in my grip a sideways look. “Do you want to tell him, or shall I?”
Ling looked away.
“This girl has only been baseline for the last couple years,” Lily explained patiently. “Before that, she was a daeva for five years.”
I frowned. “Daevas are…those vampire prostitutes, right?” I shook my head. “I mean, not prostitutes, but you know what I mean. The vampire version of the succubi.”
“That’s quite an apt summary,” Lily purred, her gaze locked on Ling, who was looking anywhere but my girlfriend’s eyes. “In fact, the daevas were a very small culture until Malcanthet started going crazy, driving away her housemen.”
“What do you—” It took me a second to realize what she was saying.
I looked at Ling in confusion. “You…used to be a succubus?”
“Only for a year,” she whispered. “I got pregnant right after I got the package, and they didn’t want to do any modifications while I was…” she trailed off, then looked me in the eye. She seemed close to tears. “I was never a succubus, not really. It was just a mistake that snowballed—”
“A mistake. Yes, I’m sure,” Lily said mildly. “That’s quite similar to what Malcanthet said, last time I saw her some five years ago.”
Ling flinched as though she had been slapped.
“I have no interest in touching anything that has anything to do with Malcanthet,” Lily managed in an even voice. I turned my attention back to her, and realized she was clenching her fists so hard her nails were making her palms bleed. “Take the whore somewhere else.”
Rage blossomed on Ling’s face, she turned to face her accuser, the building shook—
And then she stopped, like a puppet with its strings cut.
“Why bother?” she muttered. “I’m leaving. I’ll be outside when you’re ready, Adam.” She shambled through the door, pulling it closed behind her.
I turned to Lily angrily. “Was that really—”
She threw herself into my arms before I could finish speaking.
“Mother of fire…” she whispered. “That poor girl.”
I wrapped my arms around her. “If you feel that bad, you can talk to her—”
“No!” she hissed, burying her head deeper into my chest. Her horns hurt a little, but now wasn’t the time to bring that up. “No. I—I can’t deal with a succubus, Adam, I just can’t.”
I rubbed her head. “She’s not a succubus any more, you know that.”
“I know, I just—” She sniffed. “I can’t.”
“Okay. It’s fine, all right? It’s okay.” I gently pulled her off my chest, so I could look at her face. She wasn’t crying, not yet, but it was close. “We’ll deal with this some other way.” A thought struck me. “What about your sister? Can she help?”
She bit her lip in that adorable way she did, and nodded slowly. “I don’t think personally, but she’ll at least know of someone.”
“Okay, that’ll work.” I kissed her lightly on the lips. She felt colder than normal. “I’m just going to walk Ling home, and then I’ll be back, okay?”
She smiled. “I think…I’ll be fine. Just expect a call.”
I nodded. “That’s fine.” I kissed her again, a little longer this time. “Either way, I’ll see you soon.”
I left quickly, since I was worried Ling might have ran off in the past few minutes, but luckily my fears were unfounded. She was still waiting at the door.
I smiled. “Ready to go back?”
She nodded, not saying a word, and we started walking in the direction of the dorms.
“Lily is going to make a few calls, see if she can find someone to talk to you,” I promised. “Until then, no more running off on your own, okay? It’s too dangerous. Actually, no running off on your own even after we get you someone. Seriously, you’re the geek, you should know better.”
She smiled a little at that. “I suppose you’re right.” She breathed out a sigh. “Won’t happen again.”
I nodded. “Good. We’re outnumbered enough as it is.”
“Inverse ninja law,” she quipped. “As long as they outnumber us, we can’t lose.”
I grinned. That was actually a reference I understood.
We spent maybe ten minutes walking in silence through the steadily darkening night, just enjoying the chill air. But eventually, I realized something was bugging me.
“Ling, I was wondering…”
She eyed me warily. “Yes?”
“You got rid of the nighteyes a year ago—”
“Okay, and you were a vampire for five years…”
“And before that a demon for one.”
“That’s what I said.”
I double-checked the math in my head, then triple checked it. “That means you got pregnant when you were ten?”
Ling’s face was impassive. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 169)
Just to be absolutely clear: This is not the norm for the city. At all. Getting pregnant at fourteen is pretty odd, but other than a few glares, it’s not treated as a big deal unless one of the pair is older. Any earlier than that and the law gets involved. In Ling’s case, Necessarius didn’t get there in time. Her boyfriend was scattered over half the city before they even had anyone assigned to the case.
Domina City does not take kindly to anyone who does anything to children.