Scene 235 – Gladius

GLADIUS

AKANE

“Sefu,” I said by way of greeting, as I entered the small training hall. “How goes it?”

“Well,” he assured me. He nodded at my nephews, currently balancing on a series of large poles. The poles were about head height, and padded; they were clearly intended to be used as simple punching bags. But he appeared to have found another use for them.

I nodded in appreciation. My father had done something similar. This sort of exercise was a great way to teach the basics of balance and control of your own body. “When will you start making them jump between the poles?” If that stage of the exercise had a formal name, I didn’t know it.

“Soon. They can already do it at speed, but even there they are having trouble. It will be some time before they can do it without their powers.” He glanced away from the boys’ efforts, and frowned at me as if noticing my expression for the first time. “Are you all right? You look… worn.”

Worn. That was a good word. Yesterday, I had discovered Elizabeth had an identical twin sister, lost my sword, sat through a looong interview with her, and then watched her casually remove her sister from our custody, all without being able to raise a hand against her. Yeah. I was worn.

“Yesterday was… an interesting day,” I managed. I was far from comfortable enough with this man to discuss my emotions with him. Sure, I was letting him help train my nephews, but we were in the middle of NHQ. No one in their right mind would hurt children in Butler’s own fortress.

“Morning, Sefu. I got that—oh.”

I turned to see Flynn standing at the entrance of the room, a box under one arm and his sword in the other. He seemed surprised to see me. “Akane. I thought you would still be with Derek, handling the fallout from that… thing with Elizabeth’s sister.”

I just shook my head. “That’s theirs to clean up. I can’t help.” For once, I was happy I had no stake in this. I had a feeling the city was not going to be happy when they found out we had given Silk her sister without a fight. MC and Laura might be able to spin it, but I doubted it.

Flynn placed the small box on the nearby table, next to a small water cooler. “Well, here’s those throwing knives you asked for.”

Intrigued, I walked over and opened the box to discover a large number of small, aerodynamic blades weighted for throwing—but padded, and not sharp.

“Practice knives,” I murmured.

My… employee? Was that what he was? Sefu strode up beside me and nodded. “That’s right. Those will still hurt when they hit, but they won’t kill. Especially if the boys are moving at speed. Good to start with.”

Flynn indicated the large, empty room. “You know Akane, I’m glad I caught you. I was meaning to talk to you about this ever since I met Sefu.”

When did they meet, anyway? Yesterday, when I brought the boys and their teacher back to NHQ? That would have been slightly before Silk’s arrival, I supposed. “What about?”

“This is a pretty big room for just two kids and their teacher,” he began slowly.

I raised an eyebrow. “You trying to move us somewhere smaller?”

“Quite the opposite, actually. I want you to consider taking on more students.”

I glanced at Sefu, but he just shrugged. “This is the first I’m hearing of it.”

“Is there even a particularly large demand for this sort of instruction?” I asked. Swordsmen weren’t exactly common, as he knew well. We weren’t quite rare, but swords were just automatically less useful than guns in most situations.

But Flynn wasn’t about to let it go so easily. “You’d be surprised. There are a decent number of people with varying types of super speed. That makes swords a lot more useful against guns than they were a few days ago. They’re going to need training.”

“We’re getting more students?” Yuudai asked, suddenly standing next to me.

I tousled his hair. “I think two are enough of a handful for now.”

“I understand it’s a big commitment to make,” Flynn said. “But I want you to think about it. Four hundred million people with powers need to be controlled in some way. Training speedsters in how to use their abilities, and what to use them for, could go a long way to keeping the peace.”

Now it was Sefu’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “What, like some sort of power-based culture?”

Flynn shrugged. “Maybe. Call it whatever you want. Just think about it.”

“…I will,” I promised. “If you’ll help me with my problem first.”

“Uh, sure. What problem? Is this about Ling’s attack on the ave lab yesterday?”

Necessarius had found the ruins of the ave lab where they had been keeping Ling yesterday, just minutes before Silk showed up. We weren’t completely certain she had been the one to destroy it, but the fact that every piece of stone and concrete in the lab was ripped and molded like clay to kill everyone in the building was likely beyond anyone else’s abilities. We didn’t find Ling, though, or the toy box.

“No,” I assured him. “It’s about Saki. My niece.”

“You have a niece?” He frowned at Yuuki, who had also sped over in the blink of an eye. “You guys have a sister? I didn’t hear anything about that.”

Yuuki shook his head as he collected some water from the cooler, handing his little brother a cup first. “She’s our cousin. Aunt Murasaki’s daughter.” He glanced at me. “I didn’t know she was still alive, though.”

Yuudai grinned. “We also didn’t know Auntie Akane was still alive, and she’s been running around the city as a famous monster hunter.”

“The point is,” I interrupted before the conversation could get away from me too much. “That MC was finally able to find her. She’s involved with the ferrets, though, and I doubt very much it’s willingly.”

He looked skeptical. “How old is she?”

“Eleven.”

Flynn nodded. “Okay, yeah, I think you have it right. Time for a rescue.” Then he stopped and thought about it. “You don’t need me, though. Talk to Butler. You know how he treats children. He’ll send an army if you ask.”

“We don’t know the circumstances,” I reminded him. “We should at least scout first.”

“All right, I think I can do that,” Flynn said thoughtfully. He looked up as he realized something. “You’ll also need a sword.”

Yuuki looked at me sideways. “Something happened to your sword? I was meaning to ask why you didn’t have it with you.”

I grimaced. “It was destroyed yesterday.”

Yuudai’s eyes went wide. “When the Composer’s lookalike came by?”

With a sigh, I nodded. “Yes. I attacked her, and she… rebuffed me.”

“We can stop by a store on the way,” Flynn suggested.

But I shook my head. “No. I want my next sword to be done right, not just grab a cheap mass-produced one for the sake of convenience. Getting a new one will take at least a few hours—longer, likely, since I’m probably going to get one custom built.”

He raised an eyebrow. “So you’re fine with going into a Nosferatu nest with nothing but your knives?”

“…yes,” I said after a moment’s hesitation. “It’s not preferred, but in theory, we shouldn’t have to even fight anyone.”

“You can use mine,” Sefu offered, picking up a sheathed katana from under the table. He handed it to me, pulling it out of the sheath just a little as he did so, and I could smell the strong scent of new oils. “I just bought it today.”

“I just said I—”

“I know,” he interrupted. “But you can use it for today. Once you’ve rescued your niece, you can look into having one forged brand-new.”

He had a point. Despite my bluster, I would feel far more comfortable fighting hordes of monsters with some kind of sword. I bowed slightly as I took the weapon. “Thank you very much.”
“So,” Flynn said as we headed towards the exit. “Where is this place they’re keeping her, anyway? The Nosferatu domain?”

I nodded. “Near the edge.”

It didn’t take us too long to get to ferret territory. It was only about five to ten miles southeast of NHQ itself. Of course, traffic would have been terrible, so rather than grab a taxi or what have you, we went roof hopping

It was much easier when you had super speed.

I soared through the air, jumping straight across the street without a care in the world. Next to me, Flynn grinned, turned his attention to our landing zone, and suddenly there was a subtle blur about his features as he activated his power to account for the impact.

I waited a moment longer to activate my own speed; I had more experience, and knew to conserve my energy as much as possible. I activated my power about a foot away from the roof, while Flynn did so about twenty away. My reservoir barely had a dip in it, while his was mostly empty.

“Sorry,” he said as the dust cleared. “I think I need to rest.” He grinned. “You’re clearly better at this than me.”

I shrugged with as much modesty as I could muster. “Well. I have had more experience.”

He nodded. “Of course.” He flexed his hand. “I’m still getting used to the mere idea of having a power, let alone learning how to use it effectively.” He looked up, grinning again. “Early on, did you ever use it on accident? You’re just cooking in the dorm kitchen, and then you drop a plate, and suddenly you’re moving at super speed to catch it?”

“Sure, all the time,” I admitted. “But most of that was on purpose. The accidental stuff was when I’d be waiting for a pot to boil, and then I’d realize I was at super speed, as if I somehow thought that would make it go faster.”

He blinked, then laughed. “I think that happened to me, and I didn’t even notice!” He chuckled and shook his head. “The city’s gonna get a lot stranger, before everyone gets a grip on these powers.”

“Give it a few days. Once people have a better idea of what they can do, they’ll start trying to exploit them. Like Sefu, stealing from that store.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He strode up to the edge of the roof. “It’s a good thing we’re doing this now, then. If we waited too long, the ferrets might be better equipped to stop us.”

“They might be anyway,” I warned. “They might not have any single reigning warlord, but they have a lot of mid-power ones like Cinder and Halifax.” We should be able to fight off a few vampires of that level, but we didn’t want to have to.

That was also why we were doing this in the morning. This was effectively the middle of the night for them; only the ones with the absolute strangest schedules would still be awake at this hour. That should make this rescue easy enough.

I joined Flynn at the edge of the roof, nodded at him, and we both slipped until the shadecloth stretched between buildings, and dropped down to the street thirty floors below.

The Nosferatu were clearly surprised by our sudden entrance, but despite their dangerous and inhuman appearances, they were not actually unthinking monsters. They knew better than to just attack anyone strong enough to do something like that.

Good. That would make this easier.

“I am looking for Ileana, a diplomat of the Nictuku,” I explained in a calm, carrying voice. “If anyone knows where she is, or can contact her for me, there is a modest reward.”

I stood there as I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The light leaking in through the edges of the poorly-maintained shadecloths wasn’t much, but it was enough to let me see how many people were around.

The vampires gave us a wide berth, but I could hear them whispering to each other. Ileana was working with Necessarius a lot these days, but she still lived only a few doors from where we landed. According to my sources, she should be here now. Maybe she could have gone off to a restaurant or something, but she wouldn’t be far.

When no one came forward with any information, I nodded to Flynn, and we sauntered off in the near-complete gloom caused by the sunshades far overhead, blocking out even the bright morning light.

Ileana’s apartment wasn’t really anything special, just a small one room, one bath hole in the wall on the third floor of a pretty standard cold gray concrete apartment complex. It was cold this time of year, since the landlord hadn’t spent the effort on heating, but Nosferatu normally had enough toys so they didn’t have to worry about that much.

“You know it’s not going to be as easy as knocking on her door, right?” Flynn asked.

I sighed and nodded. I had more than enough experience with how these things went to know that. Still, if nothing else, we’d be able to find some clues to her whereabouts here. I raised my fist and knocked on the wooden door twice.

It opened immediately.

“Yes?” the woman asked politely as she glanced between us. She was same the pale-skinned vampire I remembered from the bats incident. Her black hair was slightly tousled, but it didn’t seem like we had woken her up. “Is there something I can help you with?”

I just blinked in surprise. It… just seemed too easy.

Ileana turned her attention to Flynn and raised an eyebrow. “…she okay?”

“Uh, yeah. We just didn’t expect you to actually be here.”

“Ah,” she said with a nod. “Thieves. Got it.”

“No—” I began, stepping forward before she could close the door.

I smacked right into the closed door with my face.

I frowned, nursing my injured nose. The door was still open. But I had hit something

Then, before my very eyes, the open door and Ileana both blurred like a mirage, only to be replaced moments later by a very solid and very closed door.

What in Musashi’s name…

“An illusion,” Flynn murmured, running his hand over the door to make sure it was the real thing. “Very clever. I’ve seen a couple, but this is still impressive.”

I glared at him with an unspoken question.

“It’s a power,” he explained. “Ileana’s, I presume. She can make you see things that aren’t there. But she must be close.” He knocked on the door again. “Honored Nightstalker? We’re from Necessarius. We’re not thieves, we promise!” He fished his Beta-level security pass out of his pocket and held it in front of the peep hole. “See?”

After a long moment, the door finally creaked open, revealing a girl very similar to the illusion from moment’s before, only more disheveled and wearing flannel nightclothes. I hesitantly reached out and touched her shoulder to confirm she was real; unless she could fool my sense of touch, she was.

“…sorry about that,” she said nodding mostly in my direction. “I didn’t see you there, Honored Paladin.”

I quirked my head. “You remember me?”

“From the bats? Yes, I do. You were with Huntsman on the front lines, right? You and that Chinese girl.” I tried not to flinch at the reminder of Ling and her disappearance. You learned to deal with these things in Domina City, but still…

There was an awkward pause while I was too caught up in my memories to properly answer, but Flynn stepped in before things could get out of hand. “…can we come in? We just need some minor information about the area, and you seemed like the logical choice.”

Ileana nodded and stepped aside, allowing us into her apartment.

It wasn’t much more impressive inside than out. The walls and floors were built with nothing but the same cold concrete as the rest of the structure. There was a bed in the corner, a rug on the floor, and some posters on the walls, but not much else.

Ileana quickly crossed over to her bed and sat down. There wasn’t anywhere else to sit, so we just remained standing. “Well, what did you need?”

“My niece,” I said swiftly and stiffly, trying to power through the situation by sheer force. “Captive nearby. Held by Cinder’s man. Japanese baseline, eleven years old. Green eyes. You know her?”

“Yes, actually,” she said, seemingly a little taken aback. “You sure she’s captive, though? I mean, I didn’t really interact with her at all, but Ferula knows better than to mess with kids. Especially this close to NHQ.”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Flynn explained. “Anything you can tell us about the whole situation would be most appreciated.”

Ileana scratched her chin. “Well, Ferula isn’t really too powerful. He controls pretty much just this one block, and there’s nothing here really worth controlling. He was fighting Necessarius—just basic territory disputes, barely even any death—for the last year or so, but then Hearing moved away.”

“Hearing?” I asked.

“Ryan Hearing. The highest ranking ‘sarian on the block. Nothing really impressive, but good in a fight. Ferula liked sparring with him. After Hearing left the city for some inheritance thing in New York, Ferula didn’t really know what to do.”

Flynn was skeptical. “So, what, he kidnapped a child to get the attention of the Necessarians again? Just to play around? I have a hard time believing anyone could be that stupid.”

“Look, I don’t know,” Ileana insisted. “I just stopped by a week or so ago to talk to him about the blood bank on the corner, and I spotted a little Asian girl with really bright green eyes.” She turned her attention to me. “Really bright. They a cosmo? At her age, it seems odd.”

I smiled thinly. “Natural. From her mother.”

“Huh. Okay, well, the point is that the girl didn’t seem restrained, and Ferula didn’t try to keep me from seeing her or anything. If she’s in a cage, it’s a gilded one.” She stopped and thought about it. “…well. Relatively speaking. Nothing that man owns can be called gilded.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Ferula himself looks mostly normal, like Cinder,” she cautioned. “But he likes poison, and he’s got lots of sharp teeth and a jaw like a steel vise. If you fight him, stay out of arm’s reach as much as possible.” Her eyes lingered on our swords. “…relatively speaking.”

“Guns?”

“They have an armory, but he and his guards will use their claws and teeth as much as possible.”

“How many?”

“Guards? Two dozen, max.”

I snorted. I could kill two dozen guards by myself. “Thanks.” I turned to go.

Flynn grabbed my arm before I could go two steps. “Not quite.” He turned back to the girl perched on her bed. “What’s his power?”

Oh. Right. That was something we had to worry about now. Yeah, that was going to take getting used to. I had spent the last few months as the biggest kid on the block, with an ability that almost no one else in the world had. That was all gone now.

“…it’s complicated,” Ileana answered slowly. “I don’t know what Clarke would call it. But Ferula has been referring to it as vampirism. The ability to consume blood and turn it directly into strength.”

That was a new one.

“I don’t really know how it works. All I know is that when he drinks blood, he can move insanely fast, faster than some people with super speed. And he gets tough and strong, too.” She shrugged. “Not sure what else to tell you. But a good number of vampires have a power like it, at least among the Nosferatu.”

Flynn rubbed his forehead. “Yeah, that one is gonna be fun to deal with. Well, if we’re lucky, we can manage to come to a diplomatic solution.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “That means no drawing your sword until things go south.”

“Inevitable,” I noted. Neither of us were diplomats. Flynn was better than me, but that really wasn’t saying much.

Ileana pushed herself off her bed. “Then let me come with you.”

I just stared at her.

“You know it’s a good idea,” she insisted. “Think about it. I’m a trained Nosferatu diplomat, with experience with the vampire in question. If you go in there, it’s going to be a bloodbath. And not the good kind.”

Only a vampire could reference the ‘good kind’ of bloodbath with a straight face. “…fine. But Saki is priority one.”

My companion nodded. “If something goes wrong, grab the girl and hide. Can you use your illusions to become invisible?”

She shrugged a little uncomfortably. “Not really, but I can make something to hide behind.”

“Good. Do that. Obviously, if everything goes according to plan, it won’t come to that, but…”

“Things never go according to plan,” I finished, as I turned for the door.

I heard the swordsman sigh behind me. “Ain’t that the truth.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 235)

Consumption (the power that Ferula calls vampirism) can work using a variety of different substances to consume, just like how kinetics can move a variety of different materials. Vampires just tend towards blood, for obvious reasons. As a (very) rough rule of thumb, the more rare and difficult it is to obtain the substance in question, the more power the consumer gains from it. So blood-consumers gain more power than water-consumers, flesh-consumers gain more power than blood, and gold consumers gain more power than flesh.

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