Akane, Derek, and Adam. The changeling warlord, Eccretia, might be of some use as well. The two bodyguards she had left behind—Domothon and Ferenil, I believe—would be best left where they were for defense. Yolanda could be useful, but with her boyfriend passed out on the floor, she wouldn’t be able to focus on the fight anyway. She was better suited to looking after him right now. Robyn was unknown. Last time I saw her, she was being pursued by Elizabeth’s butler. She might already be dead.
Goal: Keep the Composer from infecting or just plain killing the civilians. Kill as many renegades as possible.
Secondary goal: Shoot Elizabeth in the face a few times. We might not be able to kill her, but inflicting enough pain should force her to retreat. Plus, it was satisfying.
Akane had already managed to kill Fillip Ritter, so that was one problem down. Teleporter or not, the big baseline would soon follow. But there was no way they were all Elizabeth had on hand. She had to be keeping a few more in reserve…
We needed to draw them out.
I couldn’t give Akane and Derek instructions directly, since they didn’t have earbuds. Calling them would just distract them and get them killed. At least the fey had turned off their jamming at some point. Needed to…
“Yolanda,” I said curtly to the blonde demoness crying over her boyfriend. “What weapons do you have? Besides the 89/12.”
She bit her lip, thinking. “Well, except for a pair of 89/2 Combat Gloves…”
I stared at her. “Silver and gold, what good are those things?”
She shrugged uncomfortably. “I dunno, mom always said…” She shook her head violently. “Not important.” She brought her backpack around to her front and started rustling around in it. “Two party-poppers, a 90/3.0 pocket sniper, some spare rockets for the 89/12—”
“Wait, back up. You have a sniper rifle?”
The demon looked up at me, wincing. “Well, I mean…yeah. But it’s useless. It’s a three millimeter caliber. That’s like, a dart gun. Plus it has the stopping power of a BB gun—”
“It’ll work,” I promised, holding out my hand. “Give it here.”
She did so grudgingly, handing me a small black plastic box, maybe six inches wide, deep, and tall, with a handle on top.
“Changelings!” I called to our guards. “Which of you is the better shot?”
“I am,” the dark-skinned guard said curtly. “But I’m not going to fire into a melee—”
“You don’t have to.” I handed him the cube. He blinked in surprise, but started unfolding it, clicking the pieces into a gun shape. “I need to get Seena’s attention.”
He nodded. “Right, yeah, shooting her with this will work. It’s weak enough that even a baseline would survive. Honestly, the biggest danger is that she won’t even notice. But wait, what about her cell phone?”
“I tried it earlier, no response. I think it got smashed in the fighting.”
“Of course it did. What happens after I shoot her?”
I collected a whiteboard from behind the counter, just a small little thing they used to display the daily specials. Finding a marker didn’t take much longer. “Then she looks over here, and follows my instructions.”
As I scrawled as quickly as I could while keeping my handwriting somewhat legible, I noticed out of the corner of my eye the blonde frowning at something outside.
“Yolanda,” I said curtly, getting her attention. “If the tactical situation is changing, I need to hear it. What’s happening?”
“Oh, well…nothing, I guess. Nothing you need to worry about, I mean. People are just taking pictures and stuff with their phones.”
I stopped writing mid-sentence. I hadn’t thought of that. I hadn’t really considered the tactical implications of a crowd of people, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that civilians would be doing much other than running for dear life.
No matter which way this went, our identities weren’t going to be secret much longer.
It had been inevitable, I knew, and in fact we had been considering going public before this. Still, I wished it was a situation we had more control over.
Another flash of light caught my attention. Elizabeth had broken her sword on Derek’s shield. She roared in rage and cast it aside, dodging past Akane to try and rip the man apart with her bare hands.
We didn’t have time to waste on stupid things like publicity. I finished my message on the board, and nodded to Ferenil. “Do it.”
The golden-haired changeling nodded, raised the rifle to his eye, paused briefly, and fired.
The explosion the gun provided upon shooting was not the distinctive, echoing crack of a firearm, so much as a muffled whumph more typically associated with the rush of air from slamming a door in a small room.
But it did the trick. I saw Seena, on the ground just a few yards outside the light of the streetlamps, flinch and look around in our direction.
Her eyes found the whiteboard I was holding in front of me very quickly; she squinted slightly, then nodded, and turned to the girl on the ground next to her. I couldn’t tell who the second person was, and it didn’t really matter. She had received my message.
“How long until something happens?” Domothon asked as Ferenil swapped out the flimsy McDowell weapon for the Olympian Nike sniper rifle he had been using earlier.
“A minute or two,” I snapped, scanning the battlefield carefully. “Now stay sharp. And don’t shoot our reinforcements on accident.”
The pale-skinned changeling muttered a curse under his breath as said reinforcements started appearing. “What about shooting them on purpose?”
I couldn’t really blame him for wanting to. Seena’s Mals were leaking out of their hiding places, sneaking towards the bright light of the streetlamps carefully and quietly. From our angle, we could see them easily, but hopefully Elizabeth couldn’t.
Ah, and it appeared we were in luck—Eccretia, wherever she was, had taken the hint. I could see her changelings aligning in nearby stores and windows, waiting for the signal to strike. In hindsight, I should have asked Domothon to call her, but her phone was probably broken too. And it had all worked out.
It was a classic two-pronged assault with multiple victory conditions. If the other renegades showed up, that was great, and we could take them out. If they didn’t, we could capture Elizabeth again. Maybe drop her in a volcano or something this time.
Just a few more seconds. There were over a dozen vampires, and they were almost inside the circle of light. That would be the ambush, and Akane would be smart enough to get Derek and Adam out.
The circle of assassins tightened, tightened…come on, just a few steps more…
They stepped into the light, paused for a moment, and then every single one of the Mals, to a man, put their guns into their mouths and pulled the trigger.
Fifteen vampires fell dead to the ground, timed so closely together it sounded like one simultaneous whumph.
Elizabeth turned to regard the scene with a raised eyebrow, then sighed. “Did you have to? You could have let at least a few in. Takes all the fun out of it, if they kill themselves.”
“Apologies, Lady Greene. Your freedom was more important than your happiness.”
The speaker, a vampire girl, strode into the light from the streetlamps with a wince. She had overly large fangs that jutted out from under her lips, and wore her long hair tied up in a bun, held in place with what appeared to be chopsticks, but I had a feeling were knives.
Then two more identical girls entered the light behind her, with General Brannigan just a few steps in their shadows.
They looked like triplets, but I had a feeling they weren’t. Something about the way they moved was…off, almost like…
Ah. Almost like they were one person in three different bodies.
Another podbrain. Wonderful. Apparently the demon girls from the alley ambush weren’t enough. And worse yet, it looked like at least one had a very dangerous ability.
Mind control. And strong enough to force fifteen experienced soldiers to commit suicide. This wasn’t going to be fun.
But wait, there had to be a limit. Otherwise Elizabeth would never have had to resort to hypnotism. If we could find that weakness, and exploit it—
“Whatever,” the Composer muttered. “I was getting bored anyway.” She turned her attention to Derek. “Huntsman. I now hold this entire crowd hostage. Fight me alone, or they all die.”
No, don’t be stupid—
My childhood friend stepped forward, pushing Akane and Adam back. “Fine by me.”
I sighed. Oh, yes, there was no way this could go wrong for us.
Silver and gold, it was a miracle that idiot had survived this long.
Behind the Scenes (scene 207)
Mostly just a setup scene.