Okay, so I probably shouldn’t have told Ling about her Blackguard arch-nemesis or whatever helping the aves. I get that. But what else was I supposed to do? Better she hear it from a friend, right?
Akane apparently felt otherwise. “Adam, next time keep your mouth shut!”
I glared at her. “She would have heard sooner or later.”
“Yeah, but we could have…” she ran her hand through her hair, making her beads click together. “Musashi’s sword, just go after her!”
I did a double take. “What, why me? You’re the one with super speed!”
“Your problem, you’re the one who fixes it. Go!”
“Fine, fine,” I grumbled, heading out the door after Ling. I couldn’t help that think Akane was more concerned with getting me out than actually stopping her roommate from doing something stupid.
Now that I thought about it, she might actually have a point. Did Ling even know where any ave bases were? What, was she just going to wander around until she found one? Thankfully, I found her only about a block away from the martial arts studio, stopped at a ‘sarian checkpoint. One of those goat-demons was arguing with her.
“Miss, please,” she said in a placating tone. “I just need to know where you’re going.”
“This is bullshit!” the diminutive blonde nearly shrieked. By some stroke of luck, she had hit the checkpoint at a traffic lull, so there was no one except for the soldiers around to hear her make a fool out of herself. “I can go wherever the Hells I want!”
“Miss, with all due respect, I’m just following orders.”
“Look, I may not be up to date on the exact letter of the law, but I do know you can’t ask me questions like that! You can stop me if you think I’m dangerous, and that’s it.” She waved her alpha-level security pass. “So either charge me with something or swipe me through.”
The demon looked pained. At least, I think she did. She had fur and everything, so I had a bit of trouble reading her face. “Miss, you don’t understand. I was ordered to find out where you, specifically, were going.”
There was a slight pause.
Then Ling said in a very low voice “What.”
The ‘sarian was clearly aware she had just wandered into a minefield. “Miss—uh, Honored Paladin—”
Before things could escalate too quickly, I stepped into view of both women. “Ling, let me see if I can help.”
She glared at me. “I can handle this.”
I didn’t back down, or even acknowledge her assertion. I just turned to the demon. “Where’s your CO? Bring him out.”
Credit where it’s due, despite the girl knowing full well Ling could kill her and get away with it, she didn’t jump at the opportunity to pass responsibility off to some random stranger. She stood her ground. “Sir, please, this is an internal manner. Wait in line, we’ll have things sorted shortly.” She swallowed visibly. “One way or another.”
I didn’t bother arguing. I just flipped out my own alpha-level security pass.
The guard gave a small eep. “Uh…so sorry, sir—um, Honored Paladin.” I couldn’t be sure with all the fur, but I think she was sweating. “Please, just…wait one moment.”
She scurried off, her long tail wrapped around her body like a security blanket, leaving the two of us alone with a baseline and a heavy-set man who looked like a giant. Which were the South-American ones? Jotuun? I think that was right…
“I told you I’d handle it,” Ling muttered angrily, not looking at me.
“I’m sure you could have,” I assured her. “But in your current mood, I think that would involve too much destruction.”
She winced, but the gesture was gone so fast I thought I might have imagined it. “…maybe. But no one would have actually died.”
“You need to be more careful.”
The blonde girl rolled her eyes. “Please. I think I can take a tongue-lashing over destroying one little checkpoint.”
I noticed the ‘sarians subtly loosen their guns in their holsters.
Still, I kept my attention on Ling. “That’s not what I mean. You’re looking for the aves. Do you know where they are?”
“Yes,” she replied, to my complete surprise. “At least, I have a general idea. There’s this one intersection where Turgay always seems to find me. It should be around there.”
“Hm.” It wasn’t as good as an address, but she probably would be able to find them with that. They had a lab and everything, so there were only so many places they could set up shop. “And then what?”
She gave me a look. “What do you mean, and then what? Then I figure out where Mitchel is.”
I didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question about what she’d do with him, since she still had an aversion to killing. “The aves already got attacked once—by Elizabeth herself, you’ll remember.”
“So they’re prepared. Prepared for someone with your power—and more, in fact. And you’re still not the most experienced fighter.”
Ling looked away. “Yeah, well, I guess I’ll improvise.”
Before I could point out the problem with that statement, the goat-demon came back with her superior.
“I have been informed of the situation,” the black man, somewhere in his early thirties, said without preamble. He eyed Ling. “I am sorry, but my orders are signed by the Big Boss.” He held out a pad for us to see.
“’Any time the Paladin Ling Yu attempts to pass through a checkpoint of Necessarius, she must provide her destination before being allowed to continue. If she states she will do anything illegal, or the questioning officer believes she is lying, she is to be detained.’” Ling ground her teeth. “Wonderful. What brought this on?”
I thought about it. “When’s the last time you passed through a ‘sarian checkpoint?”
“An hour ago, when Akane called me here!” She glared at the goat-demon, who shrank behind her boss. “This bird-watcher asked me where I was going, I said training, and that was it. I thought she was just making small talk!”
“No, I mean before today.”
“Uh…a while ago. I mean, I come in with Akane every once in a while, but I guess…” She tapped her arm, her nails clicking against the armor plating hidden under her long sleeves. “After the skins.”
“Well, then it’s a mystery for the ages,” I deadpanned. “Can’t think of a reason why Butler would want some way to track your location after that.”
Ling winced, but didn’t speak.
“Okay, hang on, I’m confused,” the other baseline ‘sarian piped up. “If he wanted to track her, why not just ask MC? She’d never even know, and it’d work better than asking her.”
Huh. That was actually a pretty good point…
“I pull the GPS out of every phone I buy,” she muttered, not looking at anyone. “First thing I do.”
Oh, right. “Because of the—”
The former succubus glared at me, silencing me before I could mention that fact. “Yes. Because of that. I don’t like people knowing where I am.”
The Necessarians looked at her like she had grown an extra head. “You don’t trust MC?”
She glared at them as a group. “You just admitted she can track anyone whenever you want.”
The CO didn’t seem to know quite what to say. “But it’s MC.”
Ling waved her hand helplessly. “I don’t know. It’s just…I know she won’t do anything bad with it, but what about Butler? Or—” Then she stopped. “Why am I talking with you people about this? Get out of my way before things get violent.”
I rolled my eyes. We had everything we needed, so there was no need to draw this out any longer. I sighed. “I’ll make this easy on both of us.”
She blinked. “Wait, you’re not—”
“She wants to attack the aves, who she believes are working with the Blackguards,” I explained to the ‘sarians, who looked as awkward as if they had just wandered into a sibling spat. “However, I’m going to take her home instead.”
“That’s all we needed,” the CO said before Ling could vent her obvious frustration. He swiped her card across the reader with almost indecent haste, and did the same with mine when I handed it to him. He held out both cards with a strained smile on his face. “Have a nice day, Honored Paladins.”
Ling snatched her pass back angrily, before stomping through the checkpoint, causing minor earthquakes with every step. I followed quickly, before she had a chance to get mad and really use her powers.
“You should have let me handle it,” she reiterated once we were out of sight of the soldiers.
“Either nothing would have gotten done or something very bad would have. This was the best for everyone.”
“Whatever. I’ll see you later.” She started to walk off in another direction.
“Dorms are this way,” I reminded her.
She stopped and glared at me. “You can’t seriously have meant what you were saying back there.”
I shrugged. “I always mean what I say.”
“Whatever, I don’t care. I’m going after the aves, and you can’t stop me.” She started walking away again.
“You’re too weak,” I said quietly.
She stopped dead in her tracks.
“You are not a killer,” I reminded her. “You’ve said so yourself. You can’t intimidate five or ten warhawks on your own—and that’s assuming there aren’t any Blackguards. Leave this one to Butler.”
I’m not really sure what I expected her to do. Normally, she’s not the type to scream and yell, but this had been a bad day for her. If she decided to attack me, I had to be ready to dodge away.
Whatever I expected, her agreeing with me definitely wasn’t it.
“I’m not good at fighting,” she mused. “I don’t like it, I’m not good at it, and I’m horrible at killing.” She turned to me. “But you aren’t.”
I frowned. “Wait, what?”
“You picked up a gun on your first day in the city, and killed a woman like you were snipping the head off a flower.”
I…had I? I mean…I guess I hadn’t really thought about it. Hadn’t really considered the implications of a pampered rich kid being able to fight on an even level with a couple monster slayers.
Butler had called me a ‘natural-born killer,’ but I hadn’t really thought about what he meant. Maybe I…
Then Ling smiled.
It wasn’t her usual smile. That one was either a shy, slender thing peeking out from behind a wall, or a giggly and honest laugh that accompanied talking about her favorite anime.
This was a cold, confident smile, the smile of a crocodile or a panther before the kill.
Since when the hell could she smile like that?
“I’m not a killer,” she said, but I was beginning to have my doubts about that detail. “So why don’t you come with me?”
I felt myself grinning involuntarily.
I suspected it was an exact match for her own.
Behind the Scenes (scene 176)
“Bird-watcher” is an insult to bulezau (goat-demons), referencing their leader, the former ave Pazuzu. This whole incident might have gone more smoothly if someone else had been the one stopping Ling.