Yolanda’s hands shook as she fussed over the bloodmaker bandages wrapped around my chest. “Just hold on, you’re going to be fine…”
“You’re right, I am,” I assured her. “That stim did the trick. My bones are knitting even as we speak.”
She glanced behind her, out the door of the cafe that was being guarded by Eccretia’s changelings. “I’m not…not so sure. All those monsters outside—”
“Derek and Akane are professional monster slayers,” I reminded her soothingly. “Plus Anders is good with those guns, right? Between them and the changelings, the fey don’t stand a chance.”
“Seena and Eric followed the fey-girl into a building,” Steve said, his habitual grin a little strained. “That means they’ll have this wrapped up nice and quick.”
One of the changelings at the door—Domothon, I think—shook his head. “Monsters are the least we have to worry about now. Noble Nyashk is strong, but she’s not a fighter. And Eccretia won’t last long either.”
I grunted in pain as I readjusted myself where I was lying on the ground. “Somebody needs to explain why people are calling my sister a warlord. And why she has a tail, while we’re at it.” Before the changeling could answer, my brain caught up with the rest of what he had said. “Wait one second. What do you mean by ‘least we have to worry about?’”
The pale, golden haired changeling looked at me oddly. “Uh, the Composer? She’s not known for leaving survivors.”
Everyone hiding in the cafe stared at him in shock. “What!?”
He flinched back from the outburst. “Didn’t I mention that? Greene is fighting the fey-girl.” He looked out the window. “Ny—Seena is down—” My heart skipped a beat. “—but she’ll survive. Just needs a new tail.”
Laura appeared from somewhere behind me, where she had been scrounging through the cafe for supplies. “I need your radio. I have tactical information your warlord needs.”
The other changeling, Ferenil, raised a finger. “Point of order, she’s technically not a warlord. That’s—”
Laura gave him a glare almost as good as one of Derek’s.
“—a sore…point…” the dark-skinned changeling trailed off, then sheepishly handed her his radio.
“Eccretia,” Laura barked into the device immediately. “Can you hear me? I have intel for you.”
“Medina?” the not-warlord’s voice crackled over the speaker. “How did you get this channel? If you tortured my men—”
“And I thought I had trust issues,” Laura muttered. “No, they gave it to me. They’re both still alive. You’re planning to fight Elizabeth, I take it?”
There was a slight pause on the other end, then Eccretia was all business. “Yes. You got advice?”
“Don’t let her get in close. She’s a horror with those swords. She has a number of other powers as well, but the swords are her favorite. She’ll probably use super-speed too. Two things about that: First, her mind isn’t sped up with the rest of her, so she can pretty much just run in a straight line. Second, she can only use one power at a time, so the swords will disappear right before she uses the speed.”
“One power at a time…” Eccretia mused. “Wait, that means her healing—”
“Is always in place,” Laura interrupted. “Always. It works differently than other powers, I don’t know why. Not even cutting off her head will kill her, though it will slow her down for a few minutes.”
“Hmph. Well, that’s some good news. Any way of taking her down permanently?”
“Not that I’ve found. But extreme cold seems to be harder for her to heal. You have any liquid nitrogen on you?”
To my surprise, I heard the woman on the other end of the line chuckle. “I’ve got some solid nitrogen shrapnel rounds for my Blue Knight. You think those will do the trick?”
“Really?” Great, now Laura was curious. “Nitrogen melts at negative two-hundred and ten degrees Celsius. How are you keeping them cold?”
Before the changeling could answer, I spoke up. “I think there’s more important things to worry about, don’t you?”
Laura shook herself out of her fugue. “Right, sorry. Eccretia, I need—”
The sound of gunfire burst from the radio, followed a split second later by the real thing echoing down the street.
“She’s engaged the enemy,” Domothon reported, peering in the direction of the fey from earlier. “Both fey are down, but the boss is putting up a fight.”
“Silver and gold,” Laura cursed, tossing the radio back to Ferenil. “I need to call Derek, he might be able to do something. Where’s my phone?”
Something dawned on me. “Wait one second. How did you know all that stuff about the Composer, anyway?”
“I worked with Necessarius,” she muttered distractedly. “Now shush.” She had found her phone, and was dialing. Then she cursed and tossed it aside. “The fey jammers are still up! What is wrong with those idiots?”
Then the lights in the street went on.
Even a complete idiot could tell something big was about to happen.
“Steve, drag me closer,” I begged. “I need to see this.”
The big baseline moved to help, but my girlfriend tried to stop him. “No! Your wounds—”
“Please,” I whispered. “I need to make sure my sister is okay.”
Yolanda stared at me for a second, before nodding once and moving aside.
Steve was a big guy, but he wasn’t used to carrying living packages, and especially not wounded living packages. I survived being carried to the window, where I could see the entire street, but I had to bite my tongue hard enough to make it bleed just so that I didn’t scream in pain.
Although it probably wouldn’t have mattered. A bunch of vampires in the crowd—including my sister, on the ground near the winged fey—cried out in pain as soon as the lights came on.
“Sorry for the light. Need to be able to see what we’re doing.”
Derek Huntsman, with Akane Akiyama right behind him.
I don’t think I had ever been so happy to see my best friend and his bodyguard. Between them and Eccretia, Lizzy might just retreat.
But her reaction dashed that hope instantly.
It was the way she said it. Not fear, not even simple wariness of a powerful enemy, but pure hatred, colder than ice, almost matched in intensity by her angry glare.
“You are a cockroach,” she hissed, as she slowly fell down into a fighting crouch. “You keep popping up in the most annoying places.”
She wasn’t going to run. She was going to kill Derek, here and now. That was the only way this could end.
Maybe the rest of us could escape. Yes, that was it, I needed to talk to Laura, organize some kind of retreat while the Composer was distracted…
But I couldn’t move.
I had to watch this.
I owed it to him to at least watch him die.
But Derek didn’t seem to see it that way. Judging by the grin on his face, he seemed to be under the impression that this would be a fair fight. He fell into some wrestling stance or another, palms open and ready.
“Let’s hurry this up. There are some cartoons I want to watch later.”
I rolled my eyes. Yes, antagonize the voice actress turned homicidal maniac. That couldn’t possibly cause problems down the line.
The Composer screamed a wordless battle cry and rushed forward, her blazing orange swords held at her sides.
And then Akane was there.
I didn’t even see her move, but she was there, deftly blocking Lizzy’s sword with her own, then dodging the second.
Elizabeth spat out a curse in a language I didn’t understand and jumped back, disengaging from the duel. “NABASSU!”
A demon in a sharp suit dropped out of the sky, the bat-like wings on his back disappearing into smoke as he touched the ground. His cargo was a tall, thin man with violet hair and an evil grin. Both were unarmed, but Derek and Akane were still outnumbered.
“ROBYN!” Derek called.
And then Robyn Joan Clarke dropped out of the sky.
She didn’t have wings. Or…or a jetpack, or a parachute, or a zipline, or a miniature plane, or anything else that would let a human being drop out of the sky like that. She just…floated down, easy as you please, carrying Adam Anders in her arms.
Robyn didn’t have any weapons that I could see—not surprising; she got shaky in fights—but Adam was covered in enough guns to arm a small squad. I wasn’t an expert like Yolanda, but I was able to identify the rifle slung over his left shoulder as an Olympian Athena, and the massive shotgun in his hands as the famous ‘sarian St. George. The pistol and submachine guns on his hips were simple and functional…probably Telum, then.
Adam brought up his shotgun and fired without hesitation, ignoring Elizabeth for her renegades. I think he was aiming at the demon who could fly, but it was hard to tell.
Because his shot twisted in mid air and hit the ground instead.
The violet-haired man grinned even wider in the bright glow cast by the streetlights. “That all you got, little baseline?”
Laura stepped up next to me, muttering to herself. “Akane needs to handle Ritter, at least for the moment. Once he’s distracted, Adam can kill Nabassu. Robyn won’t be useful…” She cursed and tapped buttons on her phone angrily. “Silver and gold, why can’t you idiots have earpieces?”
Both of them moved into action, almost as if they had heard her. Akane moved around violet-hair in a flanking maneuver; he flicked his hand at her—
And suddenly she was five yards away, while the ground she had been standing on exploded.
How had she moved that fast? I hadn’t even seen it! Maybe…she was another of the fey’s new pets? But no, that didn’t make sense, they had always hated the fey…
As Laura had said, while Akane kept violet-hair distracted, Adam fired again at the demon, filling the air with high-velocity pellets.
It worked, but not in the way he had intended. The man Akane was fighting waved his hand, sweeping aside the projectiles with a grimace.
But it distracted him.
Only for a moment, but long enough for Akane to rush forward—how was she moving that fast?—and cut him in two—
But no, he caught her in time, bringing both hands around to grab her with some invisible force, some kind of telekinesis, and throw her charge off target.
Elizabeth herself was staying in the background, blades gone, watching the fight intently with narrow eyes. It made me nervous. This was the first time I had ever seen her fight, and even I knew this was out of character for her. What was she planning?
Whatever it was, Robyn didn’t seem interested in finding out. Now that Adam was firmly on the ground, she took off—just shot off like an arrow from a bow, straight up, with no visible means of propulsion—trying to get out of a fight she had no training for.
The demon had other plans.
He crouched down, those bat-like wings appearing on his back in a puff of mist, and launched himself after Clarke’s daughter like a lion after a gazelle.
They flew off out of sight, but I could guess what was going to happen.
The gazelle rarely wins the fight against the lion.
But what in all Nine Hells was going on? I had heard on the news about the Composer’s Blackguards, the opposite of the Paladins. Was that what was going on here? Lizzy and her Blackguards showed up, so Derek decided to fight them? But how the frick could Robyn fly?
Derek lunged forward, past Akane and violet-hair, aiming at Elizabeth herself. I found myself briefly hoping that he didn’t have to kill her—she was obviously just a puppet of some kind—but I knew Derek would do what he had to, one way or another.
She didn’t seem particularly interested in letting him get too close, though. In the space of a blink, she had dodged to the other side of the impromptu battlefield, apparently trying to use her super speed to escape.
Her way was blocked by monsters.
The infernal dromo, both deathmarked, a venom-touched bloodbear I hadn’t noticed earlier, and more crowding behind.
I turned in shock to my sister, still lying on the ground near the edge of the light provided by the streetlamps, grinning through the pain at the Composer’s frustration. The fey girl, Aitil or something, lay with her head in her lap, breathing slowly.
Well. I guess the fey weren’t completely inhuman after all. Some empathy remained.
I turned my attention back to Elizabeth, as she turned her attention to Derek, who was still charging at her. She had a couple seconds, but she had nowhere to run. She’d summon her swords, and then—
Instead, she threw back her head and howled a name.
A name I recognized.
Next to me, I heard the dull whoosh of displaced air. I turned to see nothing but a fading cloud of red mist where my roommate had been moments before.
No, it couldn’t—
Then he reappeared in an explosion of crimson mist, two feet above and behind Derek, aiming a kick straight at his head.
Derek didn’t see the attack coming—how could he?—and got hit with a powerful kick with almost two hundred pounds of muscle behind it. He was an experienced fighter, though; he rolled with the blow, bouncing along the ground for a few yards before he found his feet again.
He kept his eyes on Steve, ready for him to make the next move.
He looked the same as ever. A broad, sappy grin on his face, a friendly twinkle in his eye…
But he had a power.
And he had answered the Composer’s call.
My roommate was a Blackguard. That was the only logical explanation. How long? How many chances had he had to kill me? Oh Nine Hells, Nine Gates, and Nine Keepers, had he been the one to sabotage my Balor reconstruction?
No, no, that was extremely unlikely, and not important right now anyway. What was important was that three of my baseline friends were fighting three super powered puppets of a zombie making sociopath.
I turned to the changelings who were guarding the door. “Is there any way—”
“Not without hitting Huntsman or Akiyama,” Domothon muttered angrily, his rifle already up and tracking. “And I am not shooting until those two are clear.”
My girlfriend was next. “Yolanda. Please tell me you have something.”
She pulled a gun out of her backpack sheepishly. “MD89/12-Gauge,” she identified it. “Fires custom-made rockets. Completely useless.”
“May as well toss a grenade,” Domothon agreed. “Least it would be cheaper.”
“Or you could just wait,” Laura noted, her tone unconcerned, but her eyes sharp and watching. “They’re not dead yet.”
Even as I watched, Steve teleported—teleported, I was never going to get used to that—behind Derek, but this time the blond monster slayer was ready. He dropped down, dodging the first kick, then reached up and grabbed my roommate’s leg. Before Steve could react, Derek was flipping him over backwards, sending him sprawling to the street.
Steve might have crazy super powers and be built like a truck, but he had never been a fighter. Derek was.
While Steve was still dazed and disoriented from the unexpected counterattack, Derek pressed the advantage, stomping hard on Steve’s knee—breaking it with a crack loud enough to be heard over the Blackguard’s sharp scream—and grabbing his opponent’s shirt with one hand while punching him in the face with the other.
Apparently, the Composer did not like seeing her toys broken. She ground her teeth in rage and rushed forward, glowing orange swords leaking mist as they swung at Derek’s head.
And suddenly Akane was there, blocking one of the blades.
Just there. She crossed ten yards in the space of a blink, leaving Adam alone with violet-hair…
Who fell apart, cut diagonally in half.
Before I could make sense of what was happening in front of me, I realized that Akane had only blocked one of Elizabeth’s blades. The other was still heading straight for Derek’s—
He blocked it.
With a glowing shield that appeared on his forearm, leaking blue mist.
The Composer spat a curse in some language or another and dodged back again, her blades fading as she put some distance between her and her opponents using super speed. Steve teleported next to her, sporting a broken nose and what looked like a cracked jaw, and immediately collapsed on the street due to his knee.
Wait one second here.
The shield on Derek’s arm shrunk until it was about the size of a small buckler, which wouldn’t interfere with his movements so much. He fell into another combat stance, hands open and ready to grab, while Akane returned to his side at super speed. Adam took his place behind the swordswoman, checking his SMG.
“He used a power—” I heard Yolanda mutter. “But that means—”
The changelings guarding the door had dropped their guns in shock, and next to me I think Leon might have actually fainted.
Derek had a power. That he was using against the Composer.
That meant he—and Akane and Robyn Joan—were the Paladins who had been fighting the screamers this entire time.
That explained a lot.
However, it seemed like my weakened body had decided this was the last straw. I felt a sharp pain in my head, my girlfriend’s voice calling something unintelligible, and then everything went black.
Behind the Scenes (scene 206)
There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not sure Simon’s viewpoint is the best one.