TWO DAYS AGO
I grinned. “The Paladins have left the city.”
The ‘sarian torturer, Doctor Henry, frowned at me. He did that a lot—he didn’t like how little sense my anatomy made to him. Stupid backwoods yokel. “What? How could you possibly know that?”
“I can sense them,” I explained casually, enjoying the shock on his face. I couldn’t tell if the shock was from what I was telling him or just that I was telling him anything at all, though. “Anyone who has heard the Song can sense the general presence of anyone else who has heard the Song.” I shrugged as best I could, considering I was strapped to the steel wall of the warcage. “Range is a hundred miles and some spare change.”
He opened his mouth for some snappy retort, before closing it thoughtfully. “…a hundred miles and change. Domina City is a hundred miles in diameter.”
“Plus Whitecap Bay,” I noted. “Which is why I avoided the place.”
“That’s why you chose Domina? So you’d always be able to sense the screamers and the speakers anywhere on the island?”
“Well… yes and no.”
He waited for me to continue.
It’s always so delicious when you have something someone wants, and they have to actually come out and ask for it.
He bit the inside of his cheek before he managed to get the words out. “…what exactly do you mean by that? Is that not why you chose this city?”
I did my little half shrug again. “Kinda. More specifically, it’s the reason we built this city.”
“That’s impossible. You’re not even twenty.”
I laughed out loud. “Oh come on! You’re not going to seriously make the mistake of trying to gauge an immortal’s age by her face, are you?”
The doctor cursed under his breath. “Fine. Thirty years ago, you had Domina City built to provide the perfect playground for you and the Paladins, where you could sense each other from anywhere on the island.”
I nodded… then frowned. “Okay, no, that’s my mistake. Kind of… misleading word choice. Composers can sense anyone who has heard the Song within a one-mile radius. Directors can only sense chorus and conductors.”
“You mean speakers, screamers, and singers.”
“Call them whatever you like. I don’t care.”
The Necessarian selected a few tools from a rack. One was a very interesting device that looked like a cross between a blowtorch and a small hose. The hose probably spit out liquid nitrogen; he wanted to see how I dealt with fire and ice at the same time.
I didn’t flinch as he brought the torture implement closer—it would hurt, but it wouldn’t kill me, so I really did have nothing to fear—but he paused before switching it on.
“You didn’t build this city to be your playground,” he said slowly. “You’ve been far too restrained for the past twenty years or so for that. The screamers and the Paladins… they were an experiment.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, yes, congratulations, go get a cookie. But the interesting part is this:” I leaned in as close as I could, considering my position. “What is the experiment?”
He met my gaze without fear—which just proved he was an idiot. “I suppose you’re going to tell me?”
Pulling back, I snorted derisively. “Hardly. Not like I even know. Something about… something. And stuff. I dunno, there were some rules I had to follow and a bunch of stupid stuff like that. I stopped asking questions a couple centuries back.”
“So there is someone pulling your strings.”
“Duh. Do you think this stupid city would still be in one piece if I was allowed to do whatever the hell I wanted?”
“And you want me to figure out their goals for you.”
I laughed again. “What gave you that idea?” I chuckled, and shook my head to throw a lock of hair out of my eyes. “No, no, I don’t care what their goals are. Knowing her, it’s something stupid, anyway.”
Henry had put the nitrogen/blowtorch thing down, and had a genuinely confused expression on his face. “Then why are you telling me all this? What’s the point?”
That made me grin as wide as possible, baring my too-sharp teeth. “Isn’t that obvious? It’s so much more fun to kill people when they know they have information their friends need.”
He realized how close he had gotten to me, and slowly started backing towards the door.
“Yes,” I hissed, still grinning like a cannibal. “That’s the look I wanted to see, good doctor. The look of the cow at the slaughterhouse, who has realized why he’s been fattened up.”
“All your Blackguards are dead,” he muttered in a shaky voice. He clearly didn’t believe it.
“You’re right,” I admitted, to his surprise. I sighed in mock disappointment. “Every single one I gathered over the years is dead and gone. I overplayed my hand recently. Let too many of them get within sword range of Akiyama.” I grimaced. “Strategy has never really been my strong suit.”
He swallowed; he knew better than to relax. “Then you can’t escape.”
“Oh? Tell me, good doctor… didn’t you ever notice that I have some of the same powers as the Paladins?”
He frowned, thought for a moment, then opened his mouth to answer.
“I have some of my Blackguards’, as well.”
Then I placed my bare palm on the steel wall, and felt it rust away beneath my touch.
Doctor Henry tried to run.
I love it when they try to run.
Behind the Scenes (scene 221)
I debated for a long time whether to include this one or not. In the end, I decided that it does fit, despite being short.