I tossed aside my makeshift gun—it had blown out after the first shot—and stepped over Seena’s unconscious body. It was a miracle she had been the one to follow me; anyone but a warlord would be bloody chunks after that. She’d live. Probably.
Of course, I was unarmed again, and couldn’t risk staying in the apartment long enough to build anything new, but between my monsters and my partner, I should be able to handle the crowd of civilians and the rest of my friends without too much difficulty.
Lady Maeve had given us a few tips to make our lives easier—don’t attack Lily, don’t torture anyone or Huntsman will get mad, so on and so forth. The point of this was to cause chaos, not death, so there shouldn’t be too much interference. Derek was the big problem, but he’d be tied up between the monsters and containing the civilians.
I tapped my ear, activating the earbud communicator there. “Gea, how are things over there?”
“My name is Gealach Tapaidh, Prince of Day’s Southern Autumn,” his snobbish voice sounded in my ear.
“I’ll be sure to remember that, Gea,” I deadpanned. “Judging by your response, you’re not dead?”
“Barely. That Akiyama is quite the swordswoman. She fought me off easily, and killed my mount. I’m hiding out in a nearby building while I wait for reinforcements to arrive. The crowd seems to be keeping her busy for the moment.”
“You drove everyone out, right?” Those were our orders; drive as many people as possible out of the surrounding buildings, get everyone ready for the main event. The Ladies would be here soon, and we didn’t want to disappoint them with a lackluster turnout.
“Didn’t really need to. It’s the building where the changelings and Mals are fighting Horde number three. Pretty much everyone fled already.”
As I reached the staircase, a baseline with green hair rounded the corner with a pistol in hand and fired. Wait, no, not a baseline, the Dagonite, Eric. Former Dagonite, whatever.
Anyway, I dodged his clumsy shots with ease, and jabbed him quickly in the throat. As he stumbled back, coughing, I snapped forward and bit him in the shoulder, using the snake fangs that I had deployed the moment I saw him.
The paralytic turned him into a limp rag doll nearly instantly, and I caught him before he went tumbling bonelessly down the stairs. I grunted at the effort; I was much, much, much stronger than someone of my weight had any right to be, but that still wasn’t saying much. Maeve could fill me with all the super toys she wanted, I still only weighed fifty pounds and didn’t have a proper skeleton for leverage.
I set him down carefully out of the way next to the stairs.
“I know you can hear me,” I said as I pocketed his weapon. “The poison should wear off in half an hour. The Wild Hunt will have moved on by then. Just don’t do anything too stupid, and you’ll survive this.”
The only thing he could move was his eyes, but he gave me as good a glare as possible anyway.
It would take a bit more than that to kill me. I patted my friend on the head and started back down the stairs again. Sure, I could fly, but I wasn’t in much of a hurry, and I wanted to examine Eric’s gun.
It was an AIG Coldbore v12 pistol with a digital sight and some accelerator coils added. That was a pretty obscure model, even for a Dagonite. AIG didn’t really make gunpowder weapons like this any more; they stuck with the weirder stuff their client base preferred.
Whatever. Made my life easier. I could easily rework this into something more useful, especially with the coils. There wasn’t much I could have done with one of those stupid sonic cannon things they were peddling these days.
As I started to dismantle the weapon, I got another call on my earbud. I cursed under my breath and bumped my ear into a nearby wall to activate the thing, since both my hands were busy. “Gea, what is it? I thought you said you had everything under control.”
“Aitil,” a calm, melodious female voice sounded in my ear. “What news from the front?”
I stopped dead in my tracks and nearly dropped the parts in my hands from shock.
I recognized the voice. It wasn’t Gea. And it wasn’t Lady Maeve, either.
“I—Lady Ériu! I, um, didn’t expect—” I swallowed my anxiety. “Apologies, Honored Crone. I assumed you were my partner. May I inquire as the the reason for this most unexpected honor?”
The Maidens dealt with us Chosen, not the Queens or Queen-Mothers. I didn’t know if it was because we were beneath the notice of the higher Ladies or what, but it was not normal for freaking Mother Summer to call me up in the middle of an operation.
Especially since I served the Princess of Wind and Frost, the Maiden of the Unseelie Court. Ériu was the Seelie Queen-Mother. While the courts weren’t at each other’s throats as much as they liked to pretend, they still did keep their minions separate.
“Just checking in with all the feyborn involved in the Hunt, dearest. Making sure nothing has gone wrong. It hasn’t, has it?”
“No, of course not! Civilians are running around screaming, Derek is busy handling a small horde of monsters, and Lady Maeve is on her way. Everything is going according to plan.”
There was a short pause.
“Derek Huntsman, you mean?”
Oh dear. I knew that tone of voice. “Um, yes. Why, is that a problem?”
“Tell me who is with him.” Ériu’s order was curt and to the point.
“Well, last I checked, Akane Akiyama, Laura Medina—she’s hiding, though—and Adam…Anders, I think is his last name.”
“And Miss Yu?”
That name didn’t sound familiar to me. “I don’t think so.”
“Short, blonde Chinese girl.”
“Not last I checked, no.”
The Queen-Mother swore under her breath. “Ghrian agus tine…what about Robyn Joan? Red hair and red eyes, usually wears a red jacket.”
“No, the only other people around are Seena—who I shot with a homemade differential pulse cannon—Eric the Dagonite, Simon, Yolanda McDowell, Leon Murinae, and some swordsman friend of Akane’s.”
“Eric’s surname is Papadopoulos,” she muttered distractedly. I blinked; no wonder he avoided mentioning his last name. “No one else? You are certain?”
“Well, there’s Pam—” I facepalmed. “—I mean, Eccretia of the Never-Known Thieves. I am sorry, my Lady, I’ll—”
“Eccretia and her changelings are irrelevant,” Ériu interrupted. “She doesn’t care about them, and we already accounted for them in our calculations. Who else?”
I leaned against the wall with a sigh. “With all due respect, Honored Lady, I might be able to help more if I knew what you were looking for.”
“Never you mind. Just keep everything…contained. Maeve may be a little late.” The call abruptly cut off.
Wonderful. Most of the fey had become significantly less mysterious after I had joined the newborn culture. The crones had done the opposite. Okay, well, whatever. I had my orders. Keep everything contained. Shouldn’t be too hard, with two warlord-level fey and multiple hordes of monsters.
I stepped out of the building to find complete and utter chaos. The once-empty street was now completely flooded with civilians, all screaming and running from our monsters, but unable to flee far—we had the exits sealed off with a few choice beasts.
There were only two exceptions. Off to my right was Eccretia, her back to the wall of the cafe while she defended everyone inside with a few ZF guns. Presumably, that’s where Simon, Steve, Lily, and the other noncombatants from the earlier meeting were.
The other exception was at one of the entrances to the intersection, where Derek, Akane, Flynn, and Adam were holding off nearly an entire horde of monsters by themselves. I couldn’t see clearly enough to tell exactly what they were doing, but I could tell that they had largely blocked off the street with the corpses of their foes.
Gea, that idiot, what was he doing? Had he really not been able to come up with any tactics better than ‘send everything at them?’
As usual, it was up to me to fix everything. I pointed my stolen gun at the sky and pulled the trigger, the modified round whistling through the air like a flare. It didn’t actually glow or explode or anything, but the sound was enough to get everyone’s attention riveted on me.
The fact that I ordered the monsters to stop fighting at the same moment may have helped.
“Ladies, gentlemen,” I said by way of greeting, reciting my lines with ease. “I hope you enjoyed the prologue, but now the real fun begins.” I spread my arms wide. “This marks the beginning of the first Wild Hunt Domina City has ever seen.”
I paused slightly, long enough to let a slight murmur run through the crowd. Perfect.
“The rules are simple.” I grinned wolfishly. “Join, hide, or die. Those are the only choices when the Wild Hunt comes to call.”
Then they began to run.
Like a herd of cattle, they panicked, simple prey instinct taking over and forcing them to run as far away from me as possible. But they were trapped in a cage, with monsters on every side.
The results were predictable.
When people fell, they were crushed. Shoved or tripped, it mattered not. If they were lucky, the fallen received bruises and broken bones. More likely, they ended up as little more than gory puddles splashing onto the boots of their fellows.
While watching the slow, methodical suicide of several hundred people, I had a grin on my face that would make a shark proud, but it didn’t reach my soul.
Scare the sheep, look like you’re having fun, pull out when the crowd hits fifty percent causalities. These were my orders.
But I didn’t have to like them.
Then I heard something. The crowd heard it too, and something about it dug into their primitive fear state, dragged them back to rationality, and made them stop killing themselves in their impossible dash for freedom.
I turned to my left to see a woman. A tall, stately woman with bronze skin, chocolate colored hair, and golden eyes. She would have been beautiful, if her white sundress—out of season for this weather, a distant part of my mind noted—was not drenched red and brown with blood new and old. Her hair, once long and luxurious, was unkempt and snarled, matted with blood and gore.
Her shark-like smile was not fake.
“An interesting plan, fey-slave,” Elizabeth Greene noted with a chuckle. “Not as hands-on as I would prefer, but…” Her grin widened, if that was possible, and suddenly there were two glowing orange swords in her hands, leaking mist like fire. “But that’s what I’m here for.”
This was not according to plan.
Behind the Scenes (scene 204)
AIG stands for Atlas Island Gunsmiths. If anyone cares.
Oh, and about the new fey names: Lady is the proper honorific, like Noble Nyashk, but the “honored” honorific can also be applied broadly. For example, Ériu’s formal title is Lady Ériu, Queen-Mother of Summer, Crone of the Seelie Court. Honored Lady, Honored Ériu, or Honored Crone would all be correct forms of address. As would Honored Queen-Mother, but that sounds a little odd, so most people don’t use it. Honored Princess or Honored Queen is common for the Maidens and Matrons, though.