Veronica crushed me in a bear hug that put Maria’s to shame.
“You should have come by sooner!” she cried, apparently unaware that I couldn’t breathe. “Why didn’t you tell me you finally found your nephews?”
I struggled to get my face out of her chest, but to no avail.
“Let the poor girl go,” Derek’s mom chided. “She can’t help clean this place up if you smother her to death.”
Thankfully, Mrs. Arrow complied, and I suddenly found I could breathe again, though I had to lean against the wall for a moment.
We were in the Arrow apartments, specifically the first floor kitchen where Veronica served meals. Last time I had been here, the place had been under guard by the Hellions and some other demon clans, trying to protect Obould from the Composer despite his protests. Mrs. Arrow had done her best to ignore them all and continue making her famous meals.
Now, there were more demons than last time, but most of them weren’t guarding. They were scattered around the apartment, helping to clean up the massive mess made by the MEE—and Veronica Arrow’s personal rampage.
The clean white walls of the kitchen were covered in dust and dirt produced by the massive rents and tears that dug down to the sheetrock. The pictures of friends and family—including myself—carefully framed and hung at eye height had been thoughtlessly knocked down, the glass shattered and scattered across the floor carelessly. The oven appeared to have been actively attacked, with massive dents and gouges as if it had been struck repeatedly with an axe.
The beautiful oak table and chairs had been reduced to kindling, but those had already been replaced, albeit with temporary cheap plastic ones. There were a couple Kellions (judging by the emblems on their shoulders) sitting down eating, but they hastily stood when they realized who we were.
Derek waved them off. “Please, don’t get up on our account.” He took in the destruction with a critical eye. “It’s not quite as bad as I expected. But I thought when Elizabeth turned the city, most people retained their minds enough to not just destroy anything in sight. Were you one of the exceptions?”
The big Italian woman shook her head. “No. Well, we don’t have cameras, so it’s hard to be sure. But as far as we can tell, it’s just that I wouldn’t stop trying to use my new found ability.” She shrugged. “I can’t control it, so this is what happened.”
Yuudai looked at her, wide-eyed. “Mama Arrow, you did all this?”
She smiled fondly at the boy. ‘Mama’ was a title usually given to the matrons of orphanages. You know, when it wasn’t being used for actual mothers. “You would be… Yuuki, correct? The younger of the pair?”
“I’m Yuuki,” the boy in question corrected from my side. “The older. That’s Yuudai.”
She nodded in apology. “Well Yuudai, yes, I did do all this.” Her smile turned sad. “Quite a few people did things… that they would later regret. During the Rampage, I mean. All things considered, I am lucky most of my home survived intact.”
“Too true,” Maria said, patting her old friend on the shoulder as she and Victor walked by and put their bags on the table, ignoring the demons eating there. “But the best thing to do is move past it, and start working on fixing things.”
They might be ignoring the demons, but the demons seemed well aware of who they were, and weren’t interested in getting in anyone’s way. They suddenly found that they had other, very important things to do, and fled with their food as fast as their legs could carry them.
The pair and Veronica didn’t seem disturbed by the sudden exodus, if they even noticed, and Victor spoke after shuffling through his bag for a moment. “All right, I’ve got some white paint here, but that’s for later. Anybody got spackle compound for the walls?”
One of the women who was working—and hadn’t fled—reached around a corner and pulled out a small container. She was a hag, of all things, judging by the fresh needle marks on her arm, but she seemed surprisingly together for a drug-addled loon. “Here. Probably not enough for everything, though.”
Victor took it without even looking at her. “Thanks. Maria, you have the tools, right?”
“You said you had them.”
“Yes, for painting, but I mean—”
“I didn’t know what else we needed. How would I?”
“I don’t know, you seemed to know what you were doing!”
I rolled my eyes and patted my nephews on the shoulders. “This can go on for a while. Why don’t you two go upstairs and try to find Obould? He should be in his office. It’s labeled.” I pulled them away from the shouting and pushed them towards the stairs around the corner.
As the boys left, I turned to see Flynn standing before me. When I jumped, he shrugged. “Sorry. Thought you were leaving.”
“So you decided to follow me?” I asked, a little skeptical. What, was he a stalker now?
“Rather than stay and watch Derek’s parents yell at each other? Yes, actually.” He looked over his shoulder and frowned. “Actually, that hag creeps me out. Never thought seeing someone normal instead of giggling and insane would be so weird.”
“Is she a hag?” I asked. “I saw the needle marks, but she could be from another clan…”
“She has a jacket with the hag emblem,” he explained.
Again, that wasn’t iron-clad proof of her subculture, but it took a very, very stupid person to wear the hag symbol openly. Even most hags, drugged out of their minds, weren’t that stupid. Usually.
But this girl wasn’t drugged out of her mind. She seemed… intelligent. Lucid. Her eyes were sharp, and her mind was clear. I felt like I was missing something very important about the whole situation.
I shook my head. That was a problem for another time. “Let’s go down to the cellar. Get some food Mrs. Arrow can make to interrupt the arguing.”
He followed me to the small door that led downstairs. “Are you sure she can? I mean, I’m not sure her oven is working.”
“No idea,” I said as we headed into the dark cellar. There was a light switch around here somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. It was a small room, mostly too small; leaving the door open would illuminate things well enough. “But that oven of hers was a gift from Dispater. It’s tougher than it looks.”
Flynn started gathering up cans seemingly at random. “If you say so. If nothing else, she can throw something in the microwave.” He frowned at one of the cans he was holding. “…what is Atlantean god-crab?”
“Giant crabs,” I explained as I carefully selected a few items of my own. “Fey-modified, of course. They’re at the bottom of the bay, so we don’t see them much.” But Mrs. Arrow would have the connections necessary to get a hold of them—the bigger question was why. “Here. Take this.”
He hefted the covered plastic bucket I handed him without complaint. “This thing has water in it? Some kind of fish, I’m guessing?” He sloshed it around a little before nodding to himself. “No… more crabs. They alive?”
“Kinda. They’re hibernating.”
“I’m not sure. These are fey coral-sleepers. They sit still for days or weeks waiting for something to happen by. They might have been modified to hibernate so that they could go without food forever.”
Flynn frowned again as he hefted the bucket. “This feels kinda light for its size, but it feels completely full, too. These some of those helium fish that float or whatever?”
I chuckled. That was one of the fey’s more public failures. Most of their failures either never left their labs or did enough destruction once outside that the fey didn’t care. The helium fish had just been embarrassing.
“No.” I checked the label. “That’s fifty pounds. Sounds about right.”
“It’s—” He stared at the bucket in his arms in shock. “This is fifty pounds? That can’t be right! It feels like…” He bounced it in his arms, trying to gauge the weight. “…twenty? No, closer to thirty, I think.”
“The power package increases your physical attributes,” I noted as I led the way back up the stairs and out of the dank, cramped cellar. “Strength, agility, toughness. Not much, but enough to be noticeable.”
“I didn’t hear anything about this!” he cried, seemingly unaware that he was hefting the fifty-pound bucket up the stairs without any difficulty whatsoever. “When did you figure all this out?”
“Way at the beginning. The first night, when Laura made us test our powers. Wasn’t it part of the ‘sarian announcements after the MEE?” I had been in New York at the time, and hadn’t cared enough to look it up online after.
“Well, I didn’t see it, I was so busy with everything, and I figured I knew everything I needed to know about the powers anyway…” He shook his head. “It seems like people would be making a bigger deal out of this.”
“You mostly hang out with the Paladins,” I noted as we walked into the kitchen. I placed my armful of canned goods on the scarred countertop next to the oven. Flynn followed suit with the bucket of crabs. “We got all of that out of our systems before the worm hunt.”
Maria and Victor, it seemed, had likewise gotten something out of their systems, and had stopped arguing, and were now having a pleasant conversation in the corner with the hag. I made a mental note to keep an eye on her.
Derek was speaking with Victoria near one of the walls, apparently discussing the damage to the walls. He didn’t notice us come in, but she did, and walked over to us with a smile.
“Very good job, you two. Ooh, and you brought the butter too. Good.” She ruffled my hair, making my beads click. “You always forget the butter.”
I smoothed my hair back into place as she turned to remove the lid from the bucket and inspect the crabs. “That was once, and I was twelve.” If I recalled correctly, she hadn’t even given me a list, just told me ‘go get the stuff for dinner.’
She ignored my protests, and just started pulling crabs out. “Flynn, could you be a dear and get me the pot? The big one, of course.”
Flynn raised an eyebrow at me. He had never been here, so he had no idea where she kept anything. I rolled my eyes and led him down the pantry, the hallway behind the kitchen where the Arrows stored all their kitchen hardware. Finding the crab pot didn’t take long, and we went to fill it up at the sink.
Which didn’t work.
“Oh, right,” Veronica said mournfully. “I cut a few of the pipes during the Rampage.”
“You can just use the water the crabs came in,” Maria suggested.
Mrs. Arrow sighed. “Maria, this is why none of your food is edible. That water has been home to a few dozen crabs for a couple months. It is not fit for drinking at the moment. It probably won’t kill us after it’s brought to a boil, but it will taste terrible.” She turned back to us. “The bathroom sink still works. Get it there.”
I hefted the pot, Flynn following, and found the bathroom in question down the hall and to the left. Getting it into the sink was a pain, and we ended up splashing more water onto ourselves than into the pot, but we finally managed to collect a respectable amount of liquid, and returned to the kitchen.
By that point, Yuuki and Yuudai were back, and they had brought Obould with them.
Obould smiled at us as we walked in. “Oh, you’re helping with the food? That’s not necessary, I could have handled it just fine.”
“Last time you said that, dinner was three hours late,” Derek said idly as he tapped something on his pad. No wait, it wasn’t his pad, it was Veronica’s. He handed it back to her and she nodded in thanks, placing it on the counter where she could read it while cooking.
Obould didn’t seem offended. “But it was a good meal, you have to admit.”
“Either way,” I said as Flynn and I placed the pot on the oven-top stove. “Here is your water, Mrs. Arrow. Did you need anything else?”
She smiled, trying to focus on me and the cookbook on her pad at the same time. “Bless you, no. You’ve done enough. I would like someone to set the tables…” She trailed off, glaring at her husband. He completely failed to take the hint.
I sighed and turned to my nephews. “Past the stairs is the dining room,” I explained, in a louder voice than normal. “You’ll find all the plates and place-mats and silverware in the cupboards. Help Knight Obould set everything out.”
The knight in question looked up, blinking owlishly. Odd, he wasn’t squinting. The kitchen light wasn’t exactly glaring, but it was certainly there, and someone with naked nighteyes should have found it annoyingly bright. A couple of the other orcs we had seen scattered around were wearing their daygoggles.
But that was a mystery to be solved later. The orc Power frowned, confused, as Yuuki and Yuudai led him towards the dining room, understanding my request even if he didn’t. That would keep all three of them out of trouble for half an hour or so.
“Thank you for that,” Veronica said graciously as she started placing crabs in the warming pot. “You know how he can get. He’s been distracted by that gargant.”
Derek, speaking with his mother, frowned and looked up. “What gargant? I thought the fey weren’t attacking any more.”
“There are still a couple, here and there. The strikes are seemingly random, but they also have a surgical precision that you don’t often see with the fey. Enter a shop, kill everyone inside, remove everything of value, and leave. Cameras fried before they even get within sight.”
He considered. “You’re right, that doesn’t sound like the fey, new or old. Are you sure—”
“They’ve taken credit,” she interrupted. “Paid retribution fees and everything. But they can’t keep this up for long. It’s only been a day, and there are already murmurings of discontent. Butler’s going to start demanding they pay their retribution in blood rather than cash soon.”
“Wait, it’s only been a day?” Flynn asked as he took a seat. I followed suit. The plastic chairs were hard and uncomfortable, but I had dealt with far worse. “How does he know it’s a gargant? That sounds like some dangerous new power, to me.”
“The bodies were killed in the same way as the ones from when the fey announced their changes.” She turned away from the pot for a moment, and seeing everyone’s blank looks, elaborated. “Eccretia of the Never-Known Thieves organized a band of adventurers and monster slayers to head into the sewers, and they were slaughtered to a man. It’s still not clear exactly what killed them, but it’s the same as now.”
“And since there appears to be only one, it’s only logical to assume a new gargant,” Derek mused. “What exactly have they been taking?” He shook his head before she could answer. “No, right, you said everything.”
“Clearly meant to cover their tracks, hide their true goals.”
“Right. Well, what kinds of places were attacked?”
“That’s the thing. There’s no pattern—which, admittedly, makes it sound more like a fey ploy. There have been three restaurants, four banks, two gun shops, and even the Graveyard, of all places—”
“Graveyard?” Derek and I interrupted at the same time. We glanced at each other, and he continued. “Haven’t heard of that one. Some sort of bar or club, I’m guessing?” There were no graveyards in Domina City. There had just never been room. Generally, the dead were either dissected by companies for research, eaten by ghouls, or cremated. We had the Halls of the Dead, of course, but those were just names carved into the walls.
Veronica glanced at Maria and Victor, who just shrugged, before turning back to us. “Sorry, I assumed you knew. The Graveyard is what they’re calling…” She paused, trying to find the right words. “…Ling’s tomb.”
“Her WHAT?” Derek jumped up, knocking over the cheap chair in the process, and I was only a half moment behind him. “Ling’s dead!?” He took a deep breath. “That’s not… I mean, we knew that was a possibility.” His eyes turned hard. “But when was she found? And silver and gold, how does she have a tomb?”
“Guys, you know this,” Flynn said gently. “That ave lab she destroyed right as Silk came.”
I blinked, feeling some of the shock washed away by understanding. I had heard about that, a lab completely and utterly destroyed by massive concrete spikes, bursting out of the ground and the building itself in impossible ways. “I thought they hadn’t found Ling’s body. Or even confirmed that it was her.”
“It had to be her,” Derek muttered, distracted, as he righted his chair and sat back down. “No one else has that kind of level of power yet. But other than that, you’re right. Last I checked, the ‘sarians digging there hadn’t even found the toy box.”
“Well, they found it,” Victor said quietly. “Entombed in concrete, with a twisted corpse inside. It was too… broken to identify, but Isaac confirmed Ling’s DNA. She must have tried to retreat to the box after destroying the lab, but it was too late.”
“The toy box was nonfunctional?” I asked, frowning. Those things were supposed to be indestructible. The originals, at least. They were covered in enough amorphous metal to deflect a small nuke.
“No, it was still working. Still on, I think, but the body…” He looked away. “There are some things even the toy box can’t fix.”
The room fell silent as everyone gave Derek and I some peace.
After a few minutes, Mrs. Arrow banged the side of the pot, sending out a chime. She smiled slightly. “There will be time enough for tears and depression later. For now, it’s time to eat.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 244)
Veronica’s lack of control is one of the more common discords.
And as for the physical ability increase that comes as part of the power package: It’s additive, not multiplicative. So you’re not going to find giants doubling in strength; for them, the increase was such a small part of their total strength that they likely didn’t even notice. Butler, on the other hand, noticed it immediately, since he was always so weak beforehand.