It took an effort of will not to crush the phone in my grip. The mere thought of it hurt the weak bones in my hand. “What do you mean, they were ambushed?”
Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Vovk didn’t show any signs of being intimidated. “Just what I said, sir. The Paladins were on the roof of their dorm for some reason, and Greene dropped in on them with…” There was a tapping sound, as he checked a pad. “…a Vanir giant named Oleander. He’s dead now.”
“Well, that’s some good news,” I muttered. The less of these…renegades we had running around, the better. “What about the Paladins? Any injuries?”
“Kelly said that Akiyama had a few minor injuries, but nothing worth mentioning.”
“Hm, good. Keep me posted.”
“Will do.” He chuckled. “I gotta admit, it’s a bit weird getting conscripted by someone I ordered around not too long ago.”
I frowned, trying to figure out who he was referring to. “You mean Huntsman?”
“No, Kelly. She was working directly under me before the retinue got formed. Did you forget that?”
I rubbed my forehead. “I did, actually.” I had a million things to do each day, interviews with warlords and generals, not to mention the paperwork. I could never remember some minor details of a reassignment that happened months ago.
But still, I wished I had. I prefer having a close relationship with my troops.
“Well, my boys and I were just in the area, and she grabbed us and started barking orders. Gave me a start. What’s her new rank, anyway?”
“Technically, she’s still a corporal. But she has broad discretion in recruiting for emergency situations.”
He laughed. “Oh, remind me not to tell my boys that. They thought she was a lieutenant at least.”
I smiled. At least someone in this city was enjoying themselves. “I’ll make sure to. Talk to you later, Nate.”
“Same, Artemis.” He hung up.
I sighed and settled back into my chair, letting my tired muscles rest, as I flipped my phone closed. I needed another session in the toy box soon; my body was already falling apart again. It seemed too soon. “Apologies for that.”
“No, uh…” Flynn Neilson coughed, and squirmed a little in the seat in front of my desk. “I understand. Duty calls, and all that. I can wait.”
Patience was a good quality in anyone. I quietly made a note of it on my computer.
“Just because you can wait doesn’t mean you should have to. Now, it’s been about a month since you started teaching self-defense classes for us. I’d like a report.”
He blanched. “I…uh…I’m not really prepared—”
“I prefer it that way.”
“And it just seems odd for someone like me to report to you directly—”
“Well, you do come highly recommended. I need to make sure you’re not just coasting on Akiyama’s reputation.”
He coughed again. “I’m—I wouldn’t—”
I smiled. “Flynn, please, relax.”
The boy took a deep breath, and nodded once.
“I’ve only heard good things about you,” I assured him. “I just want to hear your side of things.” I steepled my hands in front of me. “Now, tell me how the classes have been going. Start from the beginning.”
He took another breath. “Okay, I can do that. Okay.” Another deep breath.
“Flynn,” I prodded gently.
“Right, yes. So, as you know, Akane got me the job after the skins attacked. Pretty sure she was trying to keep me out of trouble, but don’t tell her I said that.”
I smiled slightly. “You have my word.”
“Good. Right, okay. So, things started out pretty slow. You know, it was short notice and everything, so not all the parents gave permission, so it was a small class at first. It was a group of eight and nine year-olds from a soldiers’ day care, so it was mostly ‘sarians.
“I don’t teach anything major, like weapon skills, just a few simple unarmed exercises to get their muscles moving. Most of them enjoy it, though we did have one kid drop out because it was too boring for him.”
I nodded. That happened, and I encouraged it within my organization. Some people were not cut out for physical combat, and that was fine.
“But over a few days, the parents told their friends I was doing well, so I started getting more and more kids. Even a few stay-at-home moms and dads started bringing their kids, sometimes staying to watch. I didn’t get any complaints, so I guess they thought I was doing well.”
“And you?” I pressed. “How did you feel about it?”
He fiddled a little bit in his seat, and I heard a clicking sound. It took me a second to realize he was playing with his sword in its sheathe.
“I’ve always liked kids,” he said slowly. “I mean, I don’t have any family, so no little ones running around bugging me while I was growing up, but…” he shrugged.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I noted.
The young swordsman just smiled. “I was actually enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would, sir. The kids were great, I was getting a good workout and doing something important…I think it might be a dream job.”
“But then everything started going wrong.”
He nodded. “With the Composer…attendance has been dropping recently. Men and monsters, the day after the fey came out, one kid showed up for class. I’ve got five regulars now, but I’m not sure that’s enough.”
Men and monsters. That was my curse. Interesting, that he would use it.
But that wasn’t important right now. “I think that’s all I need from you at the moment, Mister Neilson. Unless you had anything else to add?”
“Good man. I think I’ll be calling you back in here in a few days, when I have a plan to get your students back. For the moment, just stick with the ones you have.”
I extended my hand to shake, and he did the same as he rose from his chair. He had a good, firm handshake, which should be expected of a swordsman.
Once he was gone, I just leaned back in my chair and sighed, both in contentment at being able to relax my broken body a bit, and in sheer frustration.
He really was a good young man. I had been a little leery about him at first, since the only people recommending him had been a girl clearly smitten and his roommate, but he was working out for the best. The fact that his classes were declining was not his fault, and I wouldn’t hold it against him.
But I had other things to deal with today. The fey were being unusually quiet, and my scouts hadn’t been able to find anything. But I couldn’t just sit around waiting for them to attack.
If they were really serious about reformatting into a culture, they’d submit the relevant paperwork to be officially recognized. Most people didn’t remember that particular law, but the fey were very good with details.
When I first wrote it, the six cultures had already been around for a few years, so there was no real need to actually make anyone come in and fill out all the paperwork. Dracul, Pale Night, Odin, and Zaphkiel did so anyway, but we didn’t make a big deal of it, and the other two cultures were dealt with in absentia. There hadn’t been any new cultures since, so again, anyone who had cared at the time would have forgotten by now.
But if the fey did go through the trouble, Necessarius would have to treat them as an official culture. And that meant giving them the same rights as everyone else.
That…could be problematic.
Well, for now, I’d just have to be satisfied with increasing our security, to make sure that no fey spies could sneak in. Right now, the thing I needed to deal with was the Composer.
Elizabeth Greene. I’d never expected it to be her, which really should have been a hint to someone as paranoid as myself. True, I had only met her once, in a very brief run-in over ten years ago, but that should have been enough.
Bah. Dwelling on the past wouldn’t help anything.
The important thing was that now that she had made her move, we could retaliate.
Because it was necessary.
Behind the Scenes (scene 171)
This could have been a little better, but I still think it works.