Scene 226 – Nulla Fabrica

NULLA FABRICA

ADAM

Zero Forge didn’t really look much more impressive the second time around, on the outside at least. Peering at it from atop a building across the street, the only difference I could see at all was that there were almost a hundred screamers patrolling the entrances. None of them had guns or even knives, but somehow that didn’t make me feel better.

“Any info on their powers?”

MC’s response was prompt. “Not all, but the ones I do know are all violent. That cane by the junk heap has super strength, the feyborn by the door has pyrokinesis… that kind of thing.”

I peered closer at the second girl, the pyro. It had only been a couple days since the fey unveiled their new culture at the Wild Hunt, so I hadn’t seen more than two of their feyborn. She didn’t look like much, other than the fact that she had pointed ears, but I had a feeling she had more impressive toys underneath.

Plus, you know, the fire powers.

I sighed and took a step away from the edge. “I have no idea how I’m supposed to get in there. I take it there’s no sewer entrance this time.”

“Nope. Unless you can squeeze through a pipe the size of a softball, you’re not getting in that way. And Elizabeth cut all my connections, so I can’t even turn on a couple lights or machines as a distraction.”

That familiar feeling was coming, the tickling at the back of my mind that meant my subconscious had an idea. “Wait… you can control stuff in Zero Forge?”

“Normally I can control everything in Zero Forge. It’s a safety precaution. Everything short of the doors—and even a couple of those—I can play with as much as possible. Of course, there are manual overrides to cut me out of the system, and she’s already thrown every single switch.”

“But I can… unthrow them, right?” I waved my hand. “You know what I mean. I can run in there and turn your connections back on.”

“Nope, sorry,” she apologized. “When I say cut, I mean, cut. The lines are physically severed. It’s a salt the earth defense policy.”

I cursed under my breath. “Of course. This city never does anything the easy way, does it?”

“Not as long as I’ve been around, no.”

This was too good an idea to give up, though. Most of the infrastructure was still in place; the only thing keeping us from controlling the Composer’s entire lair were a couple cut wires.

“I know a bit about wiring…” I said slowly. “If I have the proper tools, I might be able to fix it. I’d basically just have to braid the lines together.”

“Well… it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you’re right, you could do it. Only problem is that there are over two hundred severed lines, all deep in hostile territory. No matter how fast you are, you’ll get spotted. And that’s assuming she hasn’t posted guards, which I doubt.”

“But if I get the first one, you can use the machines to defend me on the way to the second.”

Her text was blunt and to the point. “Nope. No defenses in Zero Forge. No turrets, no drop-doors, no pop-up barricades. There isn’t even an armory, though I think they’ve got a couple rifles in a locker.”

I wasn’t willing to let this one go so easily. “You could move the machinery or something.”

“Not really. Most of the stuff is stationary, and what isn’t is just on unpowered wheels and has to be pushed.”

“Well, now you’re just intentionally being difficult,” I grumbled.

“Yes, actually. We wanted to make sure no one could take complete control of Zero Forge just by some mild hacking.”

“But what if you—” I stopped as a thought occurred to me.

“Adam? You still alive?”

“What? Yeah. Where’s the nearest changeling outpost?”

“Changelings? Uh… there’s a Hate-Forged Flames base a couple blocks south… wait, there’s also a Chapel’s Singers outpost just a couple buildings to the west.” A GPS marker popped up on my eyepiece. “But what do you need changelings for?”

“Nothing,” I quipped vaguely, having way too much fun to give her a more detailed answer. “I don’t need changelings for anything.”

About forty-five minutes later, I was on top of a different building with a similar view of the Zero Forge, and a large black briefcase at my side. Thankfully, the outpost had been empty, so it hadn’t taken too long to retrieve what I was looking for.

“You’re being unnecessarily obtuse,” MC texted, clearly annoyed. “What’s the plan?”

I opened the briefcase, carefully giving the eyepiece a good view.

“…ah. Clever,” she admitted. “Yes, that could work.”

“Point me to the first break,” I ordered as I tweaked the devices I had taken from the changeling compound to the proper frequency. “Preferably one that’s only lightly guarded.”

“I don’t have cameras yet. But I think… north-west corner.” A new GPS beacon appeared.

The entrance MC had selected for me was just a dull service entrance with a loading dock and a steel door, guarded by a single angel. Even though his mouth was open in the same eternal scream as the other zombies, he seemed… almost bored. He was just pacing in front of the door, not really paying enough attention.

I could have sniped him with my Athena without difficulty, but I never had managed to find any silencers, so doing that would bring every screamer in a hundred yards down on my head. I could always backtrack to a gun store, but I wanted to gain at least a small foothold in the Composer’s base before retreating.

I rappelled down the side of the building—the Chapel’s Singers had a lot of cool adventuring gear, and I had grabbed some of the less bulky stuff—careful to keep out of sight of the angel. It was still midday, which meant his eyes were going to be far better than mine, but there was really no way around that short of waiting six hours for the sun to go down.

Still, there were enough parked trucks and so on that I could sneak up on the entrance pretty easily. Now I just had to take him out without him raising an alarm. I just waited until he was pacing away from me, snuck up behind him, and snapped his neck with a twist. Just like Derek taught me.

One advantage of fighting screamers was that they were all, well, screaming. If they had any way to talk to each other, I hadn’t seen it, and they certainly didn’t notice when one voice went missing out of the constant screechy chorus.

Though something I hadn’t expected (but MC reminded me) was that when fighting intelligent enemies, it’s important to hide the bodies before somebody stumbles on them. And corpses are fricking heavy. Seriously, it took me like ten minutes to lug that stupid daybreaker into a nearby truck that happened to be open.

But I did it, and soon was officially inside Zero Forge, having bypassed the door with one of those automatic lock picks I found in the changeling outpost.

“Okay, I’ve found the break,” I said aloud for MC’s benefit, as I sat down in front of a large red lever labeled ‘Emergency network shutoff’ in the drab gray entrance corridor. “What now?”

“Well, first off, move ten feet farther down the hallway. That’s where the physical break is, but the wires aren’t close enough to the surface to be useful.”

I cursed under my breath, got up, picked up the briefcase, and took another ten steps, scowling the entire way. “What am I looking for? Somehow, I doubt this one will be labeled as well as the lever.”

“See the machine in front of you?”

There was some sort of device nestled in an alcove, a pumping thing with lots of dials and meters and warning labels, letting off small bursts of steam every few seconds. “…yeah. What the hell is it?”

“Coolant rinse regulator. Don’t worry about that. Look behind it, where it connects to the wall.”

I peered at the spot indicated, finding the three-inch wide pipe running from the wall to the machine pretty easily. I was very careful not to touch any part of the thing. The ice dripping from it made me nervous. “Sure. Can you see it?”

“Barely. Take a knife, jam it into the seam, and cut up about two feet.”

It took about two full minutes of sweating and cursing, but I managed it. “Now what?”

“Pry off the sheetrock. To the left, please.”

I did so, once again having quite a bit of difficulty trying to struggle with avoiding the machine while working on something almost out of reach, but I eventually managed to messily tear off a large chunk of the sheetrock, exposing the inside of the wall.

It was mostly pipes, cobwebs, and electrical wires, but there was also a large black ribbed plastic tube with ‘Network connection cables’ stenciled on the side. The plastic was of the thinner type though, rather than the hard heavy-duty industrial material.

“I see it,” I confirmed. I readied the knife. “Want me to cut it open?”

“What?” she texted, then added more before I could respond. “Oh, right, it’s covered in a plastic sheath. I thought we hadn’t gotten around to that upgrade. No, don’t worry about it. It’s covering a steel pipe anyway.”

I rubbed my forehead. “If it has a steel cover, why does it need the plastic?”

“Insulation from stray electricity. Also, it makes it easier to distinguish from the other pipes. You’d be surprised how many people cut through those when they thought they were fixing the plumbing.”

“I… can imagine.”

“Sure. Anyway, get one of those things out. Quickly, screamers might be by any minute.”

I returned my attention to the briefcase, setting it flat on the ground and opening it carefully before pulling out one of the small devices held in the pre-cut foam casing.

The thumb-sized gadget look sort of like a small stack of quarters with antennae coming to the top; it was a squat cylinder, with one side flat and magnetized and the other a very small digital readout and some buttons.

It was a wireless transceiver, a bug designed to provide a hacker with access to a system that normally couldn’t be touched from the outside. It just had to be tuned to the right frequency, and we were good to go.

“608742 is your frequency, right?” I asked, just to make sure.

“Yes,” she responded, and if I hadn’t known better, I could swear I could hear her clipped and annoyed tone. “Now press it against the plastic casing.”

I did as she asked, feeling a bit silly holding it there. “I hope you have a better plan than me just sitting like this forever.”

“Hush. Of course I do. It can’t even make a connection like this; it needs more direct contact.”

“Then what do you expect me to—”

The small device jumped out of my fingers, burrowing through the plastic casing with a quick and sharp acrid burning smell.

“What the—”

“Look away,” the hacker advised. “I’m activating the thermite.”

It took me a second to realize what she meant.

I spun around as fast as I could the second I figured it out, though.

The thermite wasn’t hot enough for me to feel from a couple feet away, or bright enough to see with my back turned, but I could smell that unique stench of molten slag. The entire Forge was suffused with it, of course, but that was just a background level. This was like a sudden and concentrated assault on my nostrils.

When I turned back around, the transceiver had melted past the plastic casing and buried itself in the metal pipe, presumably cutting through to the network cables and making a firm connection.

“Done,” MC confirmed. “Nothing interesting on this network though, other than the cameras. I’m going to need more in order to do anything.”

“Fine. Point me towards the next one.”

As it turned out, the inside of Zero Forge wasn’t actually very well guarded. I suppose it had something to do with all the cramped machinery and industrial devices scattered around, making it impossible to find a real patrol path. And while MC insisted it was perfectly safe, I knew I was a little worried about all the vats of molten metal everywhere. Some of it, the stuff being molded on conveyor belts, was close enough to singe the hairs on my arms.

My hacker ally also claimed that part of the problem was that the entire factory was unspeakably loud; what few guards there were couldn’t hear me if I was five feet away from them. Obviously I couldn’t tell that right now, but I could at least remember last time I was here, and I did recall it being pretty loud.

Still, by the time the tenth transceiver finished burrowing its way into the pipe, I was starting to get a little annoyed. Yes, the lack of guards was nice, but we weren’t making much more progress.

“Is there anything here that can help me fight Elizabeth?” I muttered. “A liquid nitrogen sprayer or something?”

“I told you there are no defenses. Besides, why would there be a liquid nitrogen sprayer?”

“I don’t know, putting out fires or something.”

“That would be a massive and expensive case of overkill. You don’t need that much power to extinguish a fire.”

I waved my hand at one of the nearby vats of molten steel. “What about that? Somehow, if that spills, I don’t think one of those little hand-held extinguishers is going to do much to slow it down.”

“It has a cap on it, and more safeties than you can shake a stick at. It’s not gonna spill.”

“I can feel the heat from here!”

She was starting to get exasperated, I could tell. “Look, this wasn’t my idea. I said you should find a safe place and wait for Derek. You’ve already done a great job getting me back into the network—you’re not expected to personally fight the entire city.”

Stupid uptight little ro—

With a sigh, I shoved the darker thoughts to a corner of my mind. What was the use? Mentally cursing at my only ally was going to do precisely nothing to solve the situation.

And she was right, of course. I hadn’t been much use the last couple times we had fought renegades, which is what these guys basically were. I didn’t even have the slightest plan, other than getting MC connected again. Which I had done. So… what now?

She couldn’t actually help me fight an entire building of screamers and the Composer. Sure, the place was empty right now, but I knew they’d come running if Elizabeth called. The most violent thing MC could do was turn on a conveyor built unexpectedly, or move the cap off an empty chemical vat. Yeah, that would surely help me defeat a crazy immortal and her four hundred million minions.

“Fine,” I muttered with a sigh. “Find me a route out of here. I think I’m heading back to that Chapel’s Singers outpost. Maybe check out that Hate-Forged Flames base you mentioned.”

She put a marker on my eyepiece, and I started walking. “Just so you know, I think you’re doing the right thing. I know it feels like giving up, but—wait, I’ve lost a couple cameras.”

I frowned. “The transceiver blew?”

“No, just a couple cameras… one second.”

Then I turned a corner and almost ran straight into Elizabeth Greene.

She had a presence about her, always has, a strong awareness of her own body. She still had bronze skin, chocolate hair, and gold eyes. She still had a tall and imposing figure, only enhanced by a rather magnificent corset under a surprisingly subtle white sundress.

And just like last time I saw her, she was covered in blood.

Her hands were by far the most stained, caked in the rusty brown flakes of old blood, as well as dripping—literally dripping—with the results of newer murders. Her white dress had bits and splotches here and there, but not as much as the last time I had seen her; she must have changed recently.

She was singing.

Obviously, I couldn’t hear her, so to me she just looked kind of silly with her mouth hanging open, and I couldn’t really tell the difference between her endless song and the zombies’ eternal screams.

All I knew was she had found me.

She grinned, exposing perfect pearly white teeth flecked with blood.

I whipped out the gun I had closest to hand, the Occisor Mk 3, and shot her right in the head. I missed, of course—firing from the hip was a hell of a lot harder in real life than in the movies—both with the first shot and the second. But the third round got her in the eye, sending her flinching back a step long enough for me to take aim and fire three more bullets straight into her skull.

Massive chunks of her head blew off, enough that I could even see the gray matter of her brain beneath the blood and shattered bone. She was down for the count.

I ran.

I’m not ashamed of it. I knew my limits, and I couldn’t beat the Composer like this. On a good day, with my hearing intact and an entire armory at my disposal? Maybe. But not deaf with only a couple decent guns and a single god slayer.

“MC!” I spat. “I stopped the singing! How are the screamers?”

The words arrived on my eyepiece almost before I could finish asking. “Still screaming.”

“OF COURSE THEY ARE!” I made the mistake of craning my head back to look behind me, and saw Elizabeth, already almost done regenerating. I turned my attention back to the twists and turns in front of me.

“You used the Occisor, right? Try the St. George. You said you had some anti-infantry steel shot left.”

I holstered my pistol as I ran, cursing every god I could name, and struggled to pull the massive shotgun off my back without tripping and breaking my neck. Okay, now I had it out, now I needed to flip off the safety, check the chamber—

Then Elizabeth was in front of me. Alive and whole, if covered in blood and with a dangerous hunger in her eyes. How had she gotten around? She must know this place better than me.

I didn’t have time to think about anything. I just brought up my St. George, flipping off the safety in a single motion, and fired straight at her torso.

I had a number of different ammo types for the ‘sarian shotgun. The god slayers were my favorite, but they were expensive, so I never kept them loaded at all times. Normally I kept the standard slugs, but there was also the anti-infantry shot and the anti-armor slugs to consider.

As it turned out, I still had it loaded with the dragon’s breath rounds.

The second I pulled the trigger, dozens of small ceramic beads loaded with pyrophoric dust were propelled down the barrel, smashing into each other and shattering, releasing their contents and igniting on contact with the air.

The result was that a massive cone of flame belched forth from my weapon, engulfing the charging woman in a burning cloud that would scorch her to the bone. All that was left was a tall flaming pyre, as if I had set a scarecrow on fire.

But she was immortal.

A burning hand reached forward, narrowly missing my neck and singeing my face. She stretched forward with her twisted claws blindly, which I barely managed to avoid by dropping to the ground. But her eyes would regrow quickly, and I doubted it would improve her mood.

I picked up my shotgun and ran, on all fours for a moments before regaining my feet and flat-out sprinting.

“MC, I need an out,” I hissed. “Something. She’s not gonna give up until she’s wearing my guts as a hat!”

“Yeah… you probably shouldn’t have shot her with dragon’s breath.”

It was an accident! And now is not the time anyway!”

“I don’t have any ideas! She can’t fly, try going up?”

I didn’t bother to mention that I couldn’t fly either; it was still a better plan than I had at the moment, which was ‘run around aimlessly until she catches and kills you.’ At least MC gave me somewhere to run to.

Finding a ladder up proved to be easier than expected. I scaled the metal thing quickly, scraping my elbows in my haste, but decided that was far better than the alternative.

The ladder brought me up to the first level of scaffolding, overseeing the majority of the factory floor. From this position, I could see more vats of molten metal being capped, glowing red-hot bars and other metal parts, not to mention all the conveyor belts running every which way.

“I have an idea,” I muttered. “MC, show me the quickest way to the south side of the Forge.”

“The scaffolding doesn’t extend there, you have to get down and go through the doors.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw gouts of flame flying left and right. Elizabeth, taking out her rage on inanimate objects. But she’d find me sooner or later; I was in plain sight up here. I could go down, but then I’d just get crushed by something she threw some fire in my direction.

Besides, for my plan to work, I needed her to follow me.

“There has to be something,” I insisted as I started running for the wall that partitioned the north and south halves of Zero Forge. “Don’t materials get carried from one side to the other?”

“…yes. But it’s just a couple small conveyor belts!”

“You said you control the conveyor belts!”
“Not all of them!”

I felt the platform I was on shake, and glanced back to see Elizabeth, nearly naked but healthy as could be, glaring at me with murder in her eyes from a hundred feet away.

“MC, do it!

“Fine!”

A blinking dot appeared on my eyepiece map.

I followed it without a single moment’s hesitation, dodging the things my pursuer was throwing at me—either glowing orange force-field knives or fire, I couldn’t really tell. I just knew I needed to get away.

As expected, the GPS locator brought me to a small conveyor belt, maybe a foot wide, made of a fine metal mesh and covered in red-hot tiny machine parts that it was slowly taking towards a square hole in the wall.

I jumped on it without so much as a pause, only taking the time to knock off the hot bits of metal before they could burn me after I knew I wasn’t going to fall off.

I turned to see Elizabeth closing, murder on her face.

“Hit it.”

Suddenly, the engine was kicked into overdrive, and I was being driven feet-first at that tiny hole in the wall at a hundred miles an hour.

I almost jumped off. It would have killed me, of course, but I almost did it. I’ve never been afraid of cramped spaces, or speed, but in this particular situation, anyone in the world would have their heart jack-hammering in their chest.

Then I was in.

Then darkness. All I could feel was metal walls, zipping by inches away at lightning speed.

Thankfully, it didn’t last long. A moment later, I was out in the light again, and the conveyor belt was slowing down as fast as was safe.

The south side of Zero Forge wasn’t lit quite the same way as the north. Both had the same cool halogen lights set into the ceiling, of course, but for the north, most of the light actually came from the molten metal being shipped and shaped and hammered. It created a lot of light, but most of it was shifting at all times, which meant lots of flickering shadows, like torchlight.

This side was different. The vast majority of it was room-temperature or colder chemical work, and despite what movies claim, most of those don’t glow. The only light was from the ones in the ceiling, which glowed gentle white-blue. The result was a cool and gentle feel to the entire massive warehouse-like factory that seemed quite at odds with the dangerous nature of the work here.

“Reverse it!” I cried, referring to the conveyor belt that I was even now jumping off of. The second my feet hit the scaffolding, I took off running.

“Done,” MC texted. “I’m also working on your plan, but it will take a second. I have to disengage literally over a hundred safeties.”

I almost asked what she was talking about, until I realized that she had just managed to deduce my plan on her own. Good, that saved me time from having to explain it. Still, if it took too long, I’d be dead. And if Elizabeth figured it out, I’d be dead.

“I’ve also locked all the exterior doors. There are a couple screamers still inside, but that’s gonna keep most of them out.”

“Until they use super strength to break the doors down.” I remembered Yolanda’s friend Steve. “Or just straight-up teleport.”

“Well, on the plus side, I think Elizabeth wants to kill you personally now. She might not let the screamers do the job for her.”

Great,” I muttered sarcastically, though I knew it really was good news. Even if it just delayed my imminent demise by a minute or two, that might be enough to enact our plan. Of course, we had no guarantee that it would work, in any manner of the word, but it was better than just crossing our fingers and hoping she went away.

Whether she realized I was being sarcastic or not, she responded with assurances quickly. “Just need another minute or two. I’ve bypassed the safeties and the pumps are working.”

“Good, I—”

The scaffolding shook.

Once again, I turned to look behind me. Once again, Elizabeth was there, angry.

The wall behind her, the one with the small hole for the conveyor belt, no longer had a small hole. It had a huge one, a ten foot wide and tall crater in the solid steel barricade that partitioned the two sections of the Forge. The edges of the hole were ragged and the color of old blood, and I smelled something on the air.

Rust. She had rusted her way through.

But she couldn’t possibly have much power left after a move like that. She wouldn’t be able to use her speed, or any of her other powers for another minute or so. Lucky for me; that was the same amount of time until MC was ready.

The only problem was that Elizabeth could still kill me with her bare hands, and she was already stalking forward with a will.

Once again, I ran, quickly ducking off the straightaway and onto the network of twisting and turning scaffolding designed to give good views of the capped vats of chemicals below. Other than the railings, the metal walkways were pretty bare (the only exceptions being the monitoring computers above the vats), so I knew I couldn’t really hide.

I still didn’t expect her to grab me so quickly, though.

She kicked me from behind, sending me sprawling forward on my face and cutting myself in a few places on the metal grating. I managed to keep a grip on my shotgun through sheer luck, and tried to load a round into it.

Elizabeth casually kicked the ammo out of my hand.

I had more, but the message was clear: She wouldn’t give me time to use it.

“MC,” I whispered. “Really pressed for time here.”

A text appeared on my eyepiece immediately. “Try to keep her in that general area. I’m trying to get it off. One minute, maybe less.”

Okay, I could hold on for one minute.

I flipped onto my back, where I could see my foe approaching. The bronze-skinned monster was almost completely naked, with only a few burned scraps of clothing still clinging to her form, but she obviously didn’t care—and honestly, neither did I. It takes a pretty unique person to think someone trying to kill them is sexy.

More importantly, she was stalking forward slowly, warily, even as she was still singing. I couldn’t tell how much of it was her being genuinely cautious and how much was just her playing with her food, but either way I was grateful. I just needed a momentary distraction, so I could get a gun out.

“Plan: Elevator,” I hissed.

The Composer raised an eyebrow at me. There was a brief pause, and I was afraid that MC hadn’t understood the reference.

But then Elizabeth’s head snapped around, gazing at some distant corner of Zero Forge, where I was guessing she had just heard an explosion or something.

It wasn’t much but it gave me a second to load a round into my St. George, and bring my Caedes up to attack. She noticed the latter move, but by the time she was stepping forward, it was already too late.

I fired my submachine gun at point-blank range to her chest.

The Telum Caedes is hardly the most powerful gun on the market, but at that range, pretty much anything is going to make you sit up and take notice. She stumbled back, gripping the safety rails in an attempt to stay upright, and glared at me even as her healing started to push the bullets out of her gut.

As I scrambled to my feet, I fired another burst, one-handed so I could hold my shotgun in the other. Not as many hit, but I just needed to keep her off me until—

And then she was on me.

Pinning me to the hard metal grate, with her knee grinding painfully into my back, she leaned down and put her mouth close to my ear. I assumed she was whispering something, but I had no idea what. Had she not noticed I was deaf, or was she just ranting for her own benefit?

“MC,” I managed to grunt out. “Now.”

“I can’t!” she texted. “I’m going as fast as I can, but the emergency pneumatics can only be activated from the control panel above the vat!”

The control panel that was sitting on the safety rail about two feet away from me, literally within arm’s reach. It may as well have been on Shaohao Station for all the good it did me.

Elizabeth grabbed my neck, squeezing like a vise with her iron grip. The world started to go black…

And then her grip loosened.

I didn’t waste time pondering my good fortune. I just immediately bucked my unwelcome rider, scrambled forward, and turned my St. George on her with my back to the opposite railing.

It didn’t take long to figure out what MC had done. The control panel was sparking; she must have found a way to overload it remotely, activating the emergency pneumatics and speeding up the process.

Because large chemical storage vat 090, situated directly below a gap surrounded by the walkways so that the engineers could observe it directly from above, was open. Completely uncapped, the contents open to the air.

And it was filled to the brim with liquid nitrogen.

Elizabeth Greene turned to face me, her back to the railing that was the only thing keeping her from falling into one of the only things cold enough to slow her down, and stared at me in complete and utter shock.

Not fear. Just shock.

She honestly hadn’t thought I could do this to her.

Eh. Not as satisfying as fear, but I’d take it.

“See you later, Lizzy,” I quipped, and fired.

My last Necessarian god slayer, which I had loaded into the St. George just moments before, flew forward right on target, aimed straight for her chest. What happened next, I didn’t fully understand until I reviewed the security tapes later.

Her first mistake: She didn’t dodge.

Elizabeth was an immortal. There was nothing in the world that we knew of that could permanently damage her. Therefore, her first instinct would never be to dodge. Why would it? She could heal from any wound, not to mention she had shields like Derek’s.

Which brings me to her second mistake: She put up a shield.

A glowing orange shield, leaking mist like dry ice, appeared in front of her. I had seen her shields before; they had stopped my Caedes and a few other guns.

But it wouldn’t stop a god slayer.

The rocket-propelled round punched through the strange barrier like it was made of cheese. The force of the impact ignited the secondary charge, setting off a shaped blast that propelled shrapnel into the Composer’s body hard enough to knock her back over the railing, sending her falling into the vat below.

And finally, her third mistake: She tried to kill me one last time.

She could have grabbed a railing, or maybe rusted the vat, or put a shield under her feet or something to save herself. But once again, she was an immortal. She wasn’t used to having to save herself.

Instead, she threw a few glowing orange knives at me.

She missed. Completely. I didn’t even have to dodge.

Then she was in the nitrogen, splashing the liquid everywhere. It was far enough down that I didn’t have to worry about getting any on me, but I still winced as I saw splotches of it flash-vaporizing on the ground, as the room-temperature floor was enough to turn it instantly to steam.

After a few moments, the thrashing slowed, then stopped. A moment after that, the cap slowly began to shift back into place.

I let out a deep breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, clicked the safety back onto my St. George, and holstered it. “Good work, Mary Christina.”

Even just in text, I could read her wry tone. “You only get to call me that once.”

“I think I’ve earned it.” I breathed deeply, trying to bring my heart rate down to a level that didn’t feel like it was going to physically jump out of my chest. “I need a route out of here. Back to that Chapel’s Singers outpost. Then figure out what to do about… ” I sighed. “…everything. Any chance you can call Derek yet?”

“I doubt it.” A brief pause, then: “Oh. Yes. Satellites are back up. I wonder when that happened. I’ve been so focused on Zero Forge for the past hour, I wasn’t even checking.”

I blinked. “What? Really?”

“Well, I haven’t actually called him yet. I’m just gonna look around the city, find you a way home, then we’ll deal with that.”

I nodded. “Sounds goo—”

IT WORKED

I frowned. “What?”

“Killing Elizabeth! Freezing her, whatever, it WORKED! ALL THE SCREAMERS ARE SANE AGAIN!”

I…

Had no idea how to respond to that.

I had just written every single one of them off as dead, that I…

My legs gave way.

Suddenly I was lying on the hard metal walkway, one of my guns jabbing uncomfortably into my side.

I wanted to get up. I wanted to go outside, and see what I had wrought. See people I had assumed gone forever, happy and alive.

But I couldn’t stop crying.

I had beat the odds. Literally four hundred million to one, and I had survived. Better than survived, I had won. By any sane definition of the word, I was the victor of the fight between the entirety of Domina City and Adam Anders.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Behind the Scenes (scene 226)

I always have trouble writing about Zero Forge. I hope this came off well.

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