Two fey slaves and a small army of monsters.
“Umbră!” I cried. “Atac pe fata!”
A shot rang out, echoing around the street, but the girl was already gone. Just disappeared. Where—
Then she was in front of us. How did she get there so fast? Quicker than lightning, she lashed out with a kick, knocking my brother through the table and scattering the rest of us in his wake.
“Simon!” Yolanda cried, rushing towards her downed boyfriend.
She had that well in hand. I would handle the fey.
I wasn’t really sure what to call her, since she clearly wasn’t a fey fey, but that was something to worry about later. I dashed forward with the strength of my warlord buffs, whipping around my steel-like tail to—
How had she dodged so fast?
Then I saw them. Translucent green, like a cicada’s, sprouting from her back and fluttering in the breeze.
Actual, functional WINGS.
They were three pairs of insect wings, similar to what you sometimes saw on a traditional mythological fairy. Even as I watched in stunned fascination, they blurred, beating too fast to keep track, sending the woman back a few steps and holding her hovering a few inches off the ground.
“Seena…” I heard behind me. “…you have a tail?”
I turned to regard my brother. “Yes, just…I’ll explain later, all right?” The changelings were already getting him, his girlfriend, and Leon out of danger. Steve and Eric were running in the other direction with Laura, while Derek, Akane, Flynn, and Adam were fending off another horde of smaller monsters I hadn’t even noticed coming from another direction.
Lily was huddled in a corner, eyes squeezed shut and hands over her ears. She didn’t like fighting, so that was only to be expected. At least the fey never attacked her. Well, they used to never attack her. What if that rule had changed as well?
Nine Hells, where were my soldiers? “Umbră! Este timpul pentru a lupta!”
There was an explosion from one of the nearby ‘scrapers, about where the earlier shot had come from. I peered up, cursing the twilight, and saw what looked like pojoes milling around in the flames.
“I-mi cer scuze, onorat nobil,” my Mal bodyguards called. “Dar suntem OCUPATI!”
“Seena,” I heard again from behind me. “Listen.”
“Not a good time, Simon!”
“No, it’s—Nine Hells, get over here!”
His tone brooked no argument, so I backed up, keeping my eye on the fey and her monsters, until I was next to my brother.
I looked down at him, but he seemed mostly fine, with Yolanda tending his injuries. He couldn’t be dying, not from something as small as getting thrown through a table. But he clearly wasn’t in the best condition to begin with…
His eyes were strong, at least. “The winged girl. Just hit her.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks, that never occurred to me.”
“No, I mean…even with three pairs of wings, she has to be really lightweight in order to fly like that. I mean, seriously. I doubt she even has a real skeleton any more, probably got it replaced by cartilage…” he coughed, spitting up blood. That wasn’t good. What if he was bleeding internally? “She probably weighs like, fifty pounds. Just hit her. She’ll crumple like wet cardboard.”
Okay. That was actually good advice. That was something I could use.
“You guys keep them safe,” I told the changelings. “I’ll handle Miss Butterfly.”
But Eccretia pulled out her rifle with a hard look. “I am far from helpless, Noble Nyashk. I can provide support.”
Simon gurgled. “Noble what?”
We both ignored him. “How do I know you won’t shoot me in the back?”
“You don’t. Now hurry up before Derek and them get overrun, or we’ll have to fight on two fronts.”
I glanced at the other end of the street, where Derek, Akane, Flynn, and Adam were fighting, and saw she was right. They were doing very, very well, especially considering all four were baseline, but they were facing more monsters than us. We needed to finish off the two leaders quickly, then join them.
“Where are your changelings?” I grunted as I punched through a yokvel trying to claw at my face.
“With your Mals, I expect,” she responded in a crisp and professional tone as she fired off a few more shots, focusing on the deathmarked. “Holding off the third group.”
A few more quick punches and some swipes with my tail scattered the rest of the cats. “My nightstalkers aren’t front line fighters. What about yours?”
“Competent enough in most situations, and I’d normally say more than a match for any fey monsters.” She fired again, getting one of the ape-things in the eye, causing it to roar in anger. “But…”
“But the rules have changed,” the winged girl said as she fluttered in front of us.
She slashed at me with her open hand, which I barely managed to dodge even with the speed of my warlord buffs. In theory, she shouldn’t be strong enough to deal any meaningful damage to me. In practice, I didn’t want to find out what weapons the fey had decided to give their newest slave.
Still, I needed to keep her away from the baselines. I bull rushed forward, a move she dodged easily, but it had the intended effect of setting her up for Eccretia’s attack. The changeling fired off a few rounds from her Blue Knight ZF987, testing the fey’s response.
Our winged opponent dodged again, which was also anticipated. I swept my tail around, getting the crazy chick in the legs, sending her sprawling.
I had hoped that she would land on her wings and maybe damage them, but no such luck. She managed to land on her hands, and when I rushed forward again to finish her off, she zipped off, an inch above the ground, dodging my strike by a hair.
Before I could give meaningful chase, one of the deathmarked jumped me with a bellow, the tortured ape-thing swinging at me with a bony fist. I knew how powerful they were, so I dodged the first strike, then the second, and then—
And then I remembered that I was a warlord.
I dodged under the ape’s third strike, coming up inside its guard, and grabbed its wrist with my tail to keep it from grabbing me. Then, I unleashed a flurry of blows to its chest, sending it staggering back with a dozen cracked and broken ribs.
While it was reeling in pain, I shoved it aside; there was little point in trying to actually kill a deathmarked with anything short of high explosives, warlord or not.
The fey was upright now, floating a few feet off the ground. I leaped on top of the infernal dromo, dodged its tail, and then launched myself at the fey.
“Nine Hells,” I spat as I hit the ground at a roll. The monsters piled on top of me, but they got in each other’s way too much to do any real damage. I punched out a few more furless cats, tossed one crawler at another, and—
Where had she gone?
I had lost track of her while I was fighting the monsters. Most of them were dead or dying now, but they had served their purpose, distracting me from the fey. Had she escaped entirely? And where was the other one, the male? I hadn’t seen him since the fight started. I—
I heard a massive, clicking screech behind me.
Oh. Right. The dromo.
I turned to regard the beast. In most important respects, it was a giant scorpion about the size of a car, with four pairs of legs, two massive claws, and an arching tail with a poison stinger, all covered in thick black carapace.
Except it had been painted with red stripes.
The beast screeched again, spraying fire from its dripping maw.
So, yeah: Infernal dromo.
The fire didn’t get anywhere close to me; it wasn’t actually attacking yet, just letting me know it was angry. I backed up slowly, the instinctive reaction making me feel better even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Fire was only one half of the infernal package; the other half was aggression.
As expected, instead of taking my retreat as a sign of a competitor leaving its territory like most natural predators would, it screamed in triumph, recognizing my fear and sensing a weakness.
It charged forward.
So did I.
I didn’t have any specific training for dealing with dromos, but they’re not too hard to figure out. Stay away from the claws, the tail, and for the infernal variety, the mouth. The only problem was that they had reflexes like greased lightning, and would instantly skewer you if you made the mistake of jumping onto their back.
But I was a warlord.
I dodged the first strike from the tail, batting it aside with one hand and using the other to attack the tail directly, jabbing it with an open palm stronger than steel. The monster screeched in pain and bucked, trying to throw me off. I just redoubled my attack, trying to break the tail in half.
I managed to break through the carapace—
And was immediately reminded that this was an infernal dromo.
Boiling hot blood spurted out of the wound, searing my hand and missing my face by inches. I was forced to release the tail to dodge, which proved to be a mistake. The stinger stabbed at me again—blood spurting out again as the tail flexed—and I was only able to avoid it by jumping off onto the street.
I turned to face the beast again, not quite sure how I was supposed to—
An explosion burst up from beneath it, flipping it over with an unearthly screech.
And there was Eccretia, pulling another grenade from her belt even as I watched.
“Go after the fey, you idiot!” she cried as she pulled the pin and threw it. “I’ll handle the monsters!”
There wasn’t time to argue. I ran off, searching for the woman even as another explosion rocked the street behind me. Where was she? There was her mount, some four-legged monster horse thing that I couldn’t identify, and there was the man, riding into battle against Derek and the others, slashing with a sword.
But where was the woman?
The sun was mostly below the horizon by now, so my sight was much better than it had been at the start of this fight. I scanned the battlefield, trying to find her, but to no avail. I had a hunch she wasn’t the type to flee, especially not after making a big entrance, so she had to be hiding out somewhere, preparing.
Derek, Akane, Flynn, and Adam had that end of the street bottled up, which involved Akane swordfighting the male. My brother, Eccretia’s two changelings, and Yolanda and Leon seemed to be relatively safe, cowering behind a hasty barricade of tables. Lily hadn’t moved, but the monsters were ignoring her. Steve and Eric were trying to break into one of the nearby buildings for some reason.
Where was she?
If I were a delusional sociopath, where would I be? Not up in the building where my shadows had been hiding; they and the rest of Eccretia’s changelings were still fighting. They would have called if the fey showed up there.
Not with any of the monsters, not fighting anyone…
Wait, why were Steve and Eric trying to break into one of the buildings?
I rushed over to them—punching the recovering deathmarked as I passed—and skidded to a stop at their side.
“Boys,” I said by way of greeting. “Explain fast.”
“Steve says he say the winged girl go in here,” Eric reported. “I didn’t, but it’s the best bet. But the door’s locked, and we can’t get it open. I think it might be welded from the other side—”
I reared back and kicked the solid steel door, knocking it off its hinges with a single blow.
“You two stay out here,” I insisted. “I’ll deal with the fey.”
“No,” Eric hissed, grabbing my arm. “You have nighteyes, and she knows it! You need someone who’s not vulnerable to light!”
I shook him off. “You’ll just get in the way. Stay here.”
The Dagonite glared at me. “You know I’m going to ignore you. Why even bother saying it?”
“Because this way, when you get shot in the face, I can say I told you so,” I growled as I brushed past him.
To my surprise, a young kemo—he ran past too fast for me to identify his subculture—screamed by me, followed by a few more kids. It took me a minute to realize they were probably fleeing from the fey.
As I plunged deeper into the gray corridors of the apartment building, running into more and more fleeing civilians, I quickly realized that I had no idea where I was going. All the halls looked alike, and the fey wasn’t really leaving a clear path to follow.
I grabbed a vampire as he rushed past me, causing him to scream and flinch back in fright.
“Young drake,” I said with as much politeness as I could muster considering that he was pummeling me ineffectually with his weak fists. “Calm down. I need to find the fey.”
To my surprise, he did calm down, and pretty quickly too. Probably realized pissing off a Noble wouldn’t end well for him, whether he was in my subculture or not.
“She was on floor twelve a few minutes ago,” he managed without stammering. “She’s forcing everyone out.”
I blinked. “Out? What do you mean, out?”
He shrugged. “She’s knocking down doors and throwing people out of their apartments. Scaring everyone.”
Huh. That…was weird. Could she be trying to avoid innocent bystanders? No, neither one of us were armed. It would be child’s play to keep our duel from causing too much collateral damage, if that were actually her purpose. No, there was something else going on here…
I released the young vampire, done with him, and he ran off gratefully while I pondered this new information.
Well, whatever she was planning, I needed to find her first. Floor twelve, he had said? That was nine floors up. I had to hurry before the trail went cold again.
One of the side benefits of the warlord package I hadn’t really noticed before now was increased endurance. I ran up nearly a dozen sets of stairs at full speed and wasn’t even breathing hard by the time I reached the top. Lot better than the days when I could barely jog a block without gasping for breath.
Not that it mattered. The twelfth floor was empty by the time I got there, all the doors open to empty apartments, the inhabitants having all fled. I guess the only option was to keep climbing. Maybe she was expecting reinforcements on the roof or something? I’d have to—
Wait. One door wasn’t open.
The lock was broken, but otherwise the door was unharmed; still firmly attached to the frame and tightly closed.
If that wasn’t suspicious, I didn’t know what was. I moved as carefully and quietly as I knew how, sidling up to the door and easing it open without a sound.
The reason this particular apartment had been spared was immediately obvious. The living room I could see from the door didn’t look like a home so much as a machine shop. Countless tools lined the shelves, with blueprints pinned to the walls like posters and spare parts scattered around like a child’s toys.
The fey I was searching for was tinkering at a workbench in front of the window, her back to me. I couldn’t tell exactly what she was doing, but the simplest answer would be assembling a bomb. That would be the easiest and most dangerous thing an amateur could build quickly.
I quietly grabbed something big and heavy off the floor—looked like one of those miniature fusion cell things—took careful aim, and threw it at the back of the fey’s head with all my might.
Nine Hells, she must have seen the reflection in the window. I leaped forward, arms outstretched and tail ready, in order to try and take advantage of the limited space to keep her from dodging past me with those stupid wings of hers.
Then I noticed she had something in her hands and froze.
It was not a bomb.
I didn’t know what it was. It looked like some unholy cross between a boom box, a music player, and a small metal bucket, all married together with a liberal application of duct tape, with far too many wires poking out every which way.
But it had a trigger.
“Sorry, Noble Nyashk,” the fey said pityingly. “It didn’t have to be this way. But the Wild Hunt must go on.”
Then all the clues fell into place.
Not the babbling about the Wild Hunt, whatever that was. But the genuine apologetic tone, from a fey-slave, who was scarily competent with machines…
“Veda?” I whispered. “Is that you?”
She grimaced, and fired.
Behind the Scenes (scene 203)
The “miniature fusion cells” Seena describes are at approximately the level of 3D printers in the real world. That is, they are available to civilians, but prohibitively expensive, frustrating to use, and not particularly reliable. In Domina City, MFC’s go for about ten thousand dollars each and usually die after about a day. Not that it matters, but the owner of the apartment built that one himself.