Yolanda brushed my arm gently, unintentionally tugging at the countless scars. “Are you sure?”
I did my best not to wince. “Yeah. Look, you can if you want, but I don’t want to go back up just yet.” I suppressed a shiver. “I don’t want to see anyone right now.”
“Then I’m staying too,” she promised, snuggling closer on the bed.
While I appreciated the sentiment—and her presence—I didn’t want her to have to do anything like that. She had her own life to live, and I wasn’t going to die any time soon. “You need to at least go to school. You’ve already missed an entire week because of me, right?”
“Oh, please. No one’s going to school any more. Between the Composer and the fey, most of the classes are canceled, and the rest are empty.”
I smiled at that. “Is it ironic that while everyone else is dodging school because of the fey, you’re actually seeing one on a regular basis?”
She was silent for a moment, thinking. “…I don’t think so. No, I’m pretty sure that’s not irony.” I felt her shrug. “Besides, I don’t see Titania on any kind of schedule.”
That was true. The Queen had only come by once since I woke up on Monday. She stopped by a couple days ago to double-check my wounds and see to a few projects among the succubi.
Eisheth Zenunim, the warlord doctor, had been a more permanent fixture. She checked on me twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, to make sure I was healing smoothly. And internally, I was. My bones were knitting together nicely, my new organs were showing no sign of rejection, and the old ones were taking the repairs well.
But on the outside, I still looked like I had lost a fight with a blender.
I knew I needed to get over it. Life and hope and all that. Besides, I had a beautiful girlfriend who didn’t care what I looked like.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked quietly, as she traced circles on my bare chest with her finger. It took an effort of will not to wince.
After a moment, I came up with a believable lie. “My sister. I went through the balor reconstruction to make sure she stayed safe and…” I shrugged helplessly. “Now I’m not sure if she is.”
“Liar,” she whispered. “But that’s still a good point. And you know the easiest way to check is to go back up to the surface.”
Though I was happy she hadn’t asked what I was lying about, I still shook my head at her suggestion. “No.”
“You look fine—”
“My vanity is only a small part. More importantly, I’m worried about Nhang.”
She sat up in the bed. “He did try to kill you, yes.”
“Well, not really. He disposed of a failed experiment.” I shrugged, tugging at my scars again. “Hopefully that means once I convince him I’m not going to call in Necessarius to oversee retribution, he’ll be content to leave me alone.”
“Maybe,” she muttered, as she slid off the bed and started looking for her shirt. “But he might not be satisfied with that.”
I smiled—and nearly winced again as the motion tugged at the scars on my face. “You were the one trying to get me to go topside not five minutes ago. You’ve changed your mind already?”
She gave me a mock glare. “I don’t mean that. I just mean be careful about parading in front of your old Power. Get in touch with Seena and the others first, that kind of thing.”
That got me thinking along rather dark paths. “The others…who else is left? Jelena and Zusa are dead, Kevin is dead and Steve’s in a coma—”
“Pretty sure Steve came out of the coma. Probably still in the hospital, though.”
“Still. Veda’s…gone, and I doubt Delphie is still alive. So, what? That’s pretty much just Seena left, right?”
“There’s Eric,” she reminded me as she slipped her top back on. “Not to mention Derek, Adam, and Laura.”
“Did you even meet Laura?”
“No, but you guys have mentioned her.”
“Well, she and Derek are busy all the time doing whatever. And Adam is kinda…weird.”
She smacked me lightly on the shoulder, sending arcs of pain through my scars. “He’s not a Dominite. Be nice.”
“That’s not what I mean. During that gargant attack, I think he was coming at us with knives.”
My girlfriend looked at me sideways. “You sure? That seems unlikely. If he wanted to kill us, he would just use his guns.”
“Look, I don’t get it either. I’m just telling you what I saw.”
“Well, whatever. If you don’t want to talk to Adam, there’s still all the others.” She paused, considering. “And Pam.”
Unable to stop myself, I made a face. “Eugh. No thanks.”
She glared. “What’s wrong with Pam?”
“You mean besides the fact that she’s a changeling who’s been lying to us for as long as we’ve known her?”
“In fairness, we’ve only known her since school started. You can’t expect her to just open up to a randomly-assigned roommate.” She gave me a level look.
Right, got the point. If I made an issue of it, we were going to have an argument about how it related to her secrets.
“Besides,” the succubus continued as she pulled on her pants. “She’s a changeling warlord. Or…” she cocked her head to the side. “Do changelings have warlords?”
I shrugged, then winced. Stupid scars. “I think so. Everyone on Fundie was calling them ‘Paragons,’ so…yeah. Don’t know what the changelings themselves are saying.”
“They’re all hackers. Aren’t they online most of the time?”
“Probably, but if they do, they don’t tell people they’re changelings.”
“Understandable. But whether Pam is called a warlord or what, she’s still one of the founders of the clans, and your friend.”
“Hmph,” I grunted.
How Yolanda managed to ignore such a well-thought out argument I’ll never know, but she just continued as if I hadn’t said anything. Or, uh, made any noise. “Plus, she had a crush on you.”
That made me sit up. “Wait a second. She did? All she did was glare at me.”
“Well, she glared at everyone. But, yeah. She actually told me, after we got together, when I noticed her glaring at me.”
I strode up from the bed, ignoring my screaming scars, to lay my hand on her shoulder. “She didn’t threaten you, did she?”
The blonde demon placed her hand on my cheek and smiled up at me. “No, sweetie. She just explained why she didn’t like me. She’s not the type to hold a grudge.”
As she started scrounging around the room for her discarded jacket, I considered it. “Pam isn’t really the type to let her emotions get in the way at all,” I mused.
“Yep,” Yolanda confirmed.
“So why do you think she’ll shelter me from Nhang?”
I kinda expected that to set her back on her heels a bit, but she didn’t even blink. “Because it costs her next to nothing, and puts you in her debt.” She smiled at me from across the room where she had finally found her jacket. “I know you don’t like politics, but this is pretty basic diplomacy.”
“Unless of course, dearest Eccretia has already been contracted by your enemies,” a new voice, warm like honey, pointed out. “In which case she would kill you on sight.”
“Lady Titania!” Yolanda shrieked, before blushing and bowing her head deeply. “I…I…”
“Oh, hush, little demon. I’m not here to disturb your love nest.” The fey Seelie Queen turned to me. “I just need to check on your man again.”
I sat down on the bed again, having gone through enough of the matron’s administrations to know what to do. The beautiful fey—in a gorgeous yellow and white sundress woven with gold—produced a stethoscope from somewhere and started listening to my heartbeat.
“So, uh,” I said a little slowly, but when she didn’t stop me I continued on. “Pam—I mean, Eccretia—has been contracted to kill me?”
The Queen of Earth and Light looked at me with surprise. “What ever gave you that idea?”
“Um, you did. Just now.”
“Oh, that.” She smiled, continuing her tests. “No, lucky for you, you don’t have too many enemies left, and none with the money to hire dearest Eccretia.”
“Narek Nhang might,” I noted. “He’d also be in a position to know I know her.”
The fey laughed. “Nhang? That’d be a trick. Besides, even aside from the obvious problem, I doubt he would have the money to spare. Dearest Eccretia is far from cheap.”
I blinked. “Wait, you said something important.”
“Everything I say is important, Honored Devil,” she reminded me. Then she quirked her head, looking at the scars on my chest. “Did you know the scar above your heart looks exactly like Artemis in this light? Yolanda, come look at this—”
“No, what I mean is you said there was some obvious reason Nhang couldn’t hire Eccretia. Do they hate each other or something?”
“I suspect so,” she nodded solemnly as she wrapped up the stethoscope. “Silly little changelings hate the toy maker and everything to do with it. But mostly, he can’t hire her because he’s dead.”
My heart stopped in my chest.
“I’m sorry,” I choked. “What was that?”
“He’s dead,” Titania repeated, cheerfully oblivious to the effect those words were having on me. “Killed by Noble Nyashk, of the Mals. Retribution has been paid and everything.”
The fey, finally noticing something was wrong, frowned at me. “Oh, dear, did you want to kill him yourself?” She patted me on the head in a motherly fashion. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll make plenty of other enemies who will be happy to wait around to be killed by you.”
With only a few more words, Titania left, as easily as flicking off a light in a room.
For my part, I was still too stunned to move. After a few minutes, Yolanda sat down next to me and leaned against my shoulder.
She didn’t say anything, but I knew what she was thinking.
I was losing excuses not to go back up to the surface.
Behind the Scenes (scene 187)
This came out better than I expected.