“We really should have seen this coming.”
Butler dropped a pad on the desk and resumed pacing. Silver and gold, I was never going to get used to that. “Yes, well, we didn’t. We’ll have to figure out how to move from here.”
“I think you two might be overreacting,” Derek said from his own chair in front of Butler’s desk. “Why can’t we just leave well enough alone and see what happens? It worked out fine last time.”
I rubbed my forehead. “…Derek, we currently have groups of people with similar powers banding together and forming gangs to fight each other. You should remember the last time gangs had a hold in this city. It took years to crush them. The Rahabs are still around.”
“It’s better to strike quickly,” Butler agreed. “Rip out the weed by the roots before it has a chance to get too established.”
Derek shook his head. “No, no, you guys are are looking at this wrong. They’re not like the gangs, they’re like the cultures. Groups of people with similar interests banding together for the common good.”
“You choose to be a part of a culture,” I reminded him. “Don’t want to be a demon? Pull off the horns and get some nighteyes. These, these… ” I searched for a word to describe them. “…colleges aren’t the same. They’re more like the old gangs, split along racial lines.”
“Okay, so they’re not cultures. But they’re not gangs, either. They’re just… people.” He turned to Butler pleadingly. “There’s no need for this to turn to violence, especially so quickly. If you treat them peacefully from the start, it will go a long way.”
The Big Boss sighed. “Fine. You have a point. I will give them a chance to prove themselves reliable and safe enough, rather than just bands of criminals. But I suspect you will be disappointed.” He started shuffling through the pads on his desk. “For now, let’s get a better idea of what we’re dealing with. Where’s that list?”
I pulled out my own pad and paged through it. “Here. There aren’t too many, as is to be expected.” It had only been a day, after all. “The Kytons control metal and prefer chains. A demon named Vucarik is leading them.”
Derek looked up. “Isn’t Vucarik the guy who lasted a couple hours deaf during the MEE? He was fighting against the entire city of zombies, and he survived longer than expected.”
I nodded. “Yes, but you’re missing something important. He didn’t just survive, he was actively fighting against them. Cut through them all like so much wheat. Judging by the cameras, he only got turned when he had the bad luck to get hit by some blood.”
“Other than that, not much is known about him,” Butler rumbled. “Mary Christina is looking into it. He will either be a valuable ally, or a blood-crazed psychopath.”
We all knew which one he thought was more likely.
“Anyway, what else?” Derek asked as he leaned over my shoulder to read the list. I tried very hard to ignore his close proximity, but it was more difficult that I would like to admit. “…Lilitu? Lilith started one of these college things?”
“Of course not,” I snapped, more angry at myself for my reaction to his closeness than anything he’d actually done. “The word means roughly ‘female spirit.’ They have the ability to turn incorporeal for a time. And they are all women.”
He leaned back, clearly a bit confused at my unexpected aggression, but he didn’t say anything about it. “…right, okay, I guess that makes sense. They have a leader, or are they like the Nosferatu and so on?”
“They likely have a leader somewhere,” Butler said. “But for now, we don’t know who that might be. She will be a top priority once she reveals herself. With their powers, these Lilitu could be more dangerous than Elizabeth in some ways.”
Derek chuckled mirthlessly. “I doubt that. But I see your point. For the time being, we need to just take advantage of what Silk has given us.”
“The anti-power device?”
“Elizabeth’s absence.” He shook his head, smiling. “Can you imagine how difficult this would be if we still had her running around attacking people?” He frowned. “Actually, we probably should have asked how long she’d be gone.”
“Long enough, I’m guessing,” I said, thinking back on the annoyingly helpful woman. “I have a feeling Elizabeth will find her way back here a few days after we have everything stabilized. It seems like the sort of thing Silk would do.”
Derek shrugged. “Probably. It’s hard to tell. For now, our only choice is to do our best.” He poked at my pad, though he couldn’t read it from his current angle. “What’s this last one? We only have three of these colleges to worry about right now, we should know as much as possible about all of them.”
I frowned and shook my head. “I haven’t the slightest idea. They were actually the first… college, but I don’t know anything about them.” I thought about it and shrugged. “Though, in fairness, they were only founded about four hours before the others.”
“Well, considering the timeline…” Derek trailed off with a smirk.
I rolled my eyes at the poor joke. “Anyway. As I said, we currently don’t know anything about these ones. We don’t know their powers, their organization, or their goals. All we know is that they call themselves Gravers. Their leader is a complete enigma.”
“Does the leader have a name?” Derek pressed.
Butler, having finally found his own pad, answered. “Grave.”
“Well, that sounds promising,” Derek muttered darkly. “No one ever calls themselves the Giver or Light or Life or whatever.”
“Actually, one of Lady Titania’s titles is the Lady of Light and Life.”
He rubbed his forehead. “She’s the… Summer Queen, right?”
I nodded. “The Queen of Earth and Light, the Matron Titania.”
“Wonderful.” He glared at Butler. “And you let them become an official culture.”
The lord of Necessarius weathered the glare without flinching. He had survived worse.
Derek sighed. “Whatever. There’s not much anyone can do but wait and see.” He pulled out his own pad. “For now, I’m more worried about Io.”
“Wait,” I interrupted with a frown. “I heard he died. Yesterday, was it?”
“Yeah. But his children—”
He was interrupted by the door slamming open.
“Sir!” a kemo in the armor of the CS squad said to Butler by way of greeting. His silencer, as people were calling the anti-power device, was on, and another two of his squad members were following close behind. “We have a bit of a situation.”
Butler raised an eyebrow. I noticed that he was leaning a bit on his desk. Due to the way his power worked, the silencers wouldn’t instantaneously revert the enhancements he made to his body to defeat his many physical maladies, but he would still notice their effect.
“This better be important,” he rumbled.
“It is,” the ‘sarian guard promised. He nodded to one of the others, and the door was opened again. This time, Akane and Flynn came in. Akane had a small Asian girl asleep in her arms. her face was even more unreadable than ever.
“A child?” Butler murmured, brow furrowed. “Explain.”
“Niece,” Akane muttered, before falling silent again.
Flynn continued for her. “This is Akane’s niece, Saki Akiyama. She has a very dangerous power that allows her to charm most people she comes in contact with. She needs to be contained until she learns she can’t use this on everyone she meets.”
“…you want to know where the silenced cells are?” I asked. “They should be in the new wing. Look for the signs of construction. Or better yet, ask someone. Pretty much anyone who works here will know where it is.”
Flynn blinked at me. “Laura? And Derek? What are you doing here?”
He had only just noticed? Well, Butler did tend to dominate the room. “I’m helping advise on a variety of different topics as a general consultant,” I explained. “Derek wandered in while looking for snacks.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “You’re a jerk.” He turned to Flynn. “I’m sure you had a better reason for being here—especially bringing a dangerous power into the heart of NHQ—than to ask a question any random worker could have told you the answer to.”
“They need permission.”
Everyone turned to the Big Boss, who had rumbled like a mountain.
“They are planning to put a child into a small, uncomfortable cell, where she will be guarded day and night for an indefinite period of time,” he continued. “They needed to make sure I wouldn’t have them shot.”
Flynn inclined his head. “Your attitudes toward children are well-known, sir.”
Butler sighed and turned away, looking at the wall. “These powers are still barely more than a day old, and our society has not had time to adjust. We have no laws in place to counter them, no rules on how long we may hold someone with a dangerous power.” He shook his head. “If we are not careful, we could end up with more filled cells than when the screamers were running around.”
“There might be an alternative,” I said. “Clarke is working on a variant of the silencer device that can be worn on the wrist, and will enable us to lock down one person’s power without affecting those around them. If we just—”
Butler raised a hand for silence, and my mouth clicked shut mid sentence.
“That is good news,” he admitted to the quiet room, still not looking at anyone. “And it bodes very well for the future. But as of this moment, that is simply not an option. We have to make do.” He finally turned to face his men, as well as Akane. “Put her away. Make her as comfortable as possible, then write up a report. I want one from each of you, as detailed as possible. I need to know what we’re dealing with here.”
The squad filed out slowly. Akane bowed deeply—careful not to drop the girl in her arms—before following them.
“Are you sure that was a good idea?” I asked in a warning tone.
“There was no other choice,” Butler noted. “Especially since the girl was awake the entire time, just waiting for an opening. Combined with what your Akane said, she is clearly too dangerous to leave wandering around right now.”
Derek smirked. “Akane didn’t say much.”
Butler waved his hand. “What Flynn said. Irrelevant.”
Derek turned serious again. “It’s unfortunate that she had to handle this herself, though. I realize no one expected things to turn out this way going in, but it would have been nice if Flynn could have handled it alone.”
“Or even her nephews,” I mused. “She treats them like kids, but they are almost as old as she is. And they have the same power.”
He nodded. “That’s definitely interesting.”
“Very.” I turned my attention back to Butler, who was standing strong again now that the silencers had left the room. I wondered how much of his apparent weakness had been psychosomatic, or even an act. “Which is why we need to get a census done as soon as possible. Figure out how the powers relate to families and so on.”
“Agreed,” the man said with a nod. “I have Mary Christina performing an internal one of Necessarius as we speak. But that will take at least a few more hours, more likely days.” He tapped one of his pads. “For now, I’d like to talk more about Io, and his dragons.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 242)
Spoiler alert: Those devices Clarke is working on will become relevant later.