“Well, no one can say you haven’t had a productive day,” I admitted, eyeing the dirty band of Paladins—along with Lily and Flynn—sitting in my office. I checked Kelly’s report again. “Derek, I was under the impression that some of you were quite badly injured.”
Adam grunted from his spot lounging in a chair never designed to be comfortable. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Lily glared at him as she checked his bandages again. “Bad enough.”
Derek grimaced. “Not bad enough for a report. I’ve got some bandages on my wounds and some fresh blood in my veins. I’ll last long enough.” Adam nodded; he clearly felt the same.
I sighed. “The emergency is over, young Huntsman. That means it is time to rest.” I checked the file and made a note of the medic who had given him a stimulant. He was unconscious after the fight with the Composer, and should have stayed that way long enough to heal.
But he just shook his head stoically. “I was the only witness to a lot of the important stuff. I need to give my report before the details start getting fuzzy.”
Ah, that man. All the stubbornness of his mother, combined with the black and white heroism of his father. Pretty impressive, considering he never met the latter.
Yes, he was definitely going to kill me one day.
But that wasn’t important right now. “Fine. Let’s start simple.” I tapped through the pad in my hands. “Elizabeth Greene is secured in a warcage built by Dispater himself, and guarded by a multi-cultural team comprised of Tecumseh’s lupes, the Thors, a number of ursas, fully half of Hanesdottir’s cans, the Andros, the warbloods, Obould’s orcs, a number of hellions from different Legions, and even a few Muspels sent by Dame Sinmara.” I put the pad aside. “And my own Necessarians, of course.”
Laura leaned forward. She was in the best shape of the whole group, which was only to be expected. The strategist would spend the majority of her time in relative safety. She still had quite a bit of dust in her hair that she hadn’t managed to brush out yet, though. “I talked to Titivilus. They’re going to be building a ceramic warcage to enclose the steel one, as fast as possible.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “I thought St. John was the one who got her out last time. Isaac still has his corpse on ice.”
The girl shrugged. “She might have more renegades with rust powers. I hope we got them all, but I don’t want to risk it. Do you?”
“No, I think you have quite the right idea,” I agreed somberly. “I’ve also had the entire cage rigged with enough explosives to vaporize a mountain. If she escapes again, that might slow her down.”
Laura made a small tsk sound. “That won’t stop her. What about that liquid nitrogen I asked for?”
“On its way. Zero Forge has enough on hand, but it’s going to take a day or two to get it all moved. They also tell me they need it for building superconductors and some other similar high-tech computer parts.”
“Tell them to get over it, this is more important.”
I smiled. “Yes, I did. Well, not in quite so many words, but…”
“Well then,” Derek grunted. “If that’s all—and if you don’t mind, of course—I think it might be time to call in Doctor Clarke after all.”
“Oh, now he calls for the doctor,” Mary Christina muttered from the wall speakers.
I waved my hand, still smiling a little. “Yes, yes. Just get some orderlies from the medical wing over here.”
Once the entire group was moved over to the white-walled hospital, it became apparent that their injuries were both better and worse than we had feared.
The only ones who had been stabbed were Derek and Adam, and while Elizabeth had missed anything too vital, Adam still needed bed rest for a few days. Derek’s wounds were actually worse—he had extensive internal damage that Isaac couldn’t quite identify the cause of—but putting him in our toy box would sort him out within a few hours.
Flynn had quite a few bites and slashes from the fey’s monsters. They hadn’t used poison, apparently, but he still needed more than a few bandages. He waved off treatment, insisting he had stim packs back at his dorm.
Laura had a few scrapes and bruises, but she hadn’t been involved in the actual fighting, so she was mostly fine. Akane’s shoulder was fractured again, but that could be repaired quickly enough. Lily, of course, was completely unharmed. The fey never attacked her, and it wasn’t clear if the Composer had even noticed she was there.
The real problem was Robyn Joan.
Physically, Isaac’s daughter was fine. Her ankles were pretty badly sprained from her meteor move—it was a miracle she hadn’t snapped her legs—but she had already been given something for that, and she’d be fully healed in a few hours at the most.
No, the real problem was something we couldn’t fix with the toy maker.
She sat on a cot, legs pulled up to her chest, staring off into space. She nodded or shook her head whenever anyone asked her a question, but otherwise didn’t react, and according to Akane, she hadn’t said a word since she killed Elizabeth’s butler.
“So what happened to the fey after I collapsed?” Derek asked, shrugging off Isaac’s attempts to remove his bandages. “Tell me there wasn’t another fight.”
“You really shouldn’t be wasting time,” Isaac insisted. “Just jump in the toy box—”
“Five minutes won’t kill him,” I assured my old friend. “Besides, if we don’t tell him now, he’s going to twitch and spasm with worry while he’s in there, making it take twice as long.”
Isaac sniffed with disdain, but took a step back from the young man.
“All the fey monsters self-destructed once you contained Elizabeth,” I explained. “No explosions or anything, they just died. The Princes themselves fled.”
The blond boy blinked. “Really? Why?”
“According to Kelly’s report, they were also helping against Elizabeth. Or at least, not hindering your efforts. Is this true?”
He nodded. “Yeah, they stopped fighting us when she showed up. But where was the retinue—”
“On the other side of the intersection, fighting the other monsters.”
Derek sighed. “How many of those damn things did the fey bring for their stupid Wild Hunt?”
Mary Christina piped in from the speakers. “Hard to say. You know the really weird thing? That’s the only place they did it. They didn’t try and start the Hunt anywhere else simultaneously.”
Derek opened his mouth, then closed it again, frowning as he tried to digest the implications.
Laura caught on faster. “When they announced the reformatting of the culture, they did that everywhere at once. What was different this time?”
“Well, they did choose to attack two warlords having coffee with all the remaining Paladins,” Mary Christina noted. “Surely that means something.”
Derek grunted and looked away.
At his side, Laura sighed and answered for him. “Several fey have expressed an interest in Derek and Akane before. I guess that at least one of those girls survived their little war.”
“Your parents were witnesses to the signing,” I mused as I leaned a bit more heavily on my cane. “I suppose that could have had more than a little to do with it.”
“Who knows?” Adam muttered from his spot on a nearby table, where Lily was helping oversee the lab techs who were changing his bandages. “Every time I think I understand those guys, they turn around and do something crazier.”
Derek blinked at him. “My parents?”
“No, you idiot, the fey.”
“Oh.” The blond monster slayer nodded. “I’ll give you that, at least.” He turned to me, frowning. “I don’t pretend to know what they’re thinking. And we were mostly occupied fighting their monsters, so we can’t help with their princesses or whatever.”
I waved my hand. “Don’t worry your head about that. Others were right in the thick of it, and I am already in negotiations with Nyashk and Eccretia to get copies of their reports.”
Adam stared as best as he could, considering his position on the table. “These idiots are negotiating with information like that?”
All I could do was shrug. It was painful, but then, so was everything. “It is far from uncommon. The Mals were first founded when Baal bought some information from me and put it to good use, after all. Besides, it’s mostly a diplomatic formality. I’ll have everything I need by tonight, at the latest.”
Derek nodded. “Okay, so everything from last night is wrapped up, at least for the moment. But there’s still Ling to consider. Elizabeth didn’t mock me about her, so I’m guessing she doesn’t know she’s captured. Do we have any more leads?”
“I did tell you about that blind angel, right?” Adam called.
Before Derek could do much more than frown in confusion, Laura shook her head. “No, that was me. Alex sent me Grigorii’s information, and MC and I collated it.”
“We’ve narrowed down Ling’s most likely location to six ave labs,” Mary Christina chirped. “It didn’t take long to find five good teams to send. Assuming the aves have her, we’ll find her before dawn.”
“Five,” I noted. “Why not six?”
“The retinue is the sixth.”
“Bah,” I grunted. “No, they’re not. They’re injured too. Assemble a sixth team, send them all out simultaneously when they’re ready. The aves are diurnal, so night is the best time.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” she said with only the barest trace of smugness.
“That should be everything for now.” I nodded at Isaac, and he moved over to the toy box, making last-minute adjustments. “Derek, get in the box and try not to move. Everyone else, just rest up.”
“There is still the matter of publicity to consider.”
I was surprised at who spoke. Robyn Joan, still in the same position she had been in a few minutes ago, only with sharp eyes staring at me. I had assumed we’d have to call in a psychiatrist before we’d even be able to move her.
“Everyone saw Derek use his shields,” she continued, voice dead. “Akane’s speed and my flight might be written off as advanced toys of some type or another, but no one can mistake his shields for anything but a power. And he’s well-known enough that it won’t take long before someone recognizes him from the pictures.”
I noted Mary Christina didn’t say anything; her attention was probably too focused on getting that sixth team ready.
I sighed. I had known from the start that this ridiculous cover up wasn’t going to last long, but I hadn’t really cared enough to insist the Paladins go public. I should have taken better precautions, asked Mary Christina to keep a lid on any viral videos like this. At the very least, I should have come up with a real plan for what to do when their identities were inevitably exposed. If I had a few days to plan—
Wait. Was it really that simple?
“You need a vacation,” I insisted. “All of you do, actually. We can hold the Composer long enough to let you rest for a week or so.”
Everyone—lab techs included—turned to stare at me.
“Uh, pardon my rudeness,” Derek said slowly. “But… what? Where’d that come from?”
“If you all stay here for the next week, your lives are going to be a circus. Everyone’s going to want to meet you, and ask you questions you won’t know how to answer.” I had enough similar experience to attest to that. “You need a few days somewhere where you’re just ordinary people. A few days to breathe.”
“A few days to give you time to come up with a real plan,” Laura said, grinning.
I nodded slightly, conceding the point. No need to hide it.
“But where would we even go?” Robyn Joan asked. “Everyone in the city will know our faces soon. I doubt even the Dagonites will be completely out of this one.”
“Then don’t stay in the city,” I pointed out. “You can take a plane to New York.”
“Leave Domina City?” Derek demanded, aghast.
But Laura was nodding thoughtfully. “Yes… close enough so that you can easily extract us if something goes wrong, but it’s still disconnected from Domina, so no worries of anyone recognizing us. And we won’t cause a scene, since we’re all baseline.”
“I guess I can’t go, then,” Lily said a little glumly.
Laura waved her hands in a panic. “No, that’s not what I meant! You’ll be fine! We’ll just get you a hat, some big glasses, and you can hide the tail—”
“Actually,” Adam cut in. “I was going to stay here.” He looked his girlfriend in the eyes. “If you don’t mind, I’d prefer you stay with me.”
She smiled and nodded vigorously.
“While in some ways that makes logistics easier, the point is for all the Paladins to leave,” I noted.
He shrugged. “I don’t have a power. Will anyone even care about me? Besides, I have a forgettable face. My most distinguishing feature is my guns; I won’t carry them around for a few days.”
“Perhaps,” I muttered, wheels in my brain turning as I considered his request. “It would also be better if Ling had a few familiar faces around, once we rescue her. I doubt she will be in a mood to go flying off to a strange city after what she’s been through.”
“If I could interject,” Derek said, doing just that. “Why don’t you want to go to New York, Adam? You’re from there, don’t you want to see your parents?”
“A bit. But I really don’t want to explain what I’ve been doing the past few months. Besides.” He patted his stomach with a wince. “I’m still injured, and I can’t be magically fixed like you. It’s easier this way.”
“He’s right,” Isaac added. “He could travel, if he had to, but this is hardly an emergency. He will do better, here, where I can keep an eye on him.”
“Then it is settled,” I declared. “Laura, if you would, help Mary Christina with the final organization for the assault teams. Derek, get in the damn toy box before your guts start falling out. Everyone else, pack your bags. You’ll leave for New York tomorrow morning.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 210)
This is one of those set-up scenes that doesn’t really contribute much on its own.