Monday, November 26th, started out pretty simple. March over to Zero Forge with Necessarius, watch Chronepsis and Lendys sign some papers Butler provided, then everybody shakes hands and munches on snacks for a while.
“I’m surprised you agreed to come to this,” my mother said with a chuckle as she stirred something into her tea. “I know you dislike stepping into the spotlight. What made you change your mind?”
“It was the right thing to do,” I grumbled.
She raised an eyebrow, but didn’t argue the point.
I knew she wanted to, though, and the reason why was obvious. Giving a potentially dangerous band of lizards the rights and responsibilities of a culture without vetting them at all looked like a really bad idea from the outside. There was a difference between cautious optimism and blind stupidity. Necessarius couldn’t even spy on them too much; part of the rights of a culture meant they couldn’t do that without just cause. They’d do it anyway, of course, and everyone knew it, but they’d have to keep it minimal.
But I had discussed this with Butler. Io had been a good man, and while his children were an eclectic band of characters, they worked well together when they allowed themselves to. Chronepsis, the new warlord of the Dispassionate Watchers, was not the type to break laws. If anything, his biggest problem was that he might just stand idly by while everyone else did whatever they wanted.
But that was what Lendys had been recruited for. He was not called the Balancer for nothing. The pair would work well together, building a culture that their brothers and sisters would be proud to be a part of.
But try explaining that to my mother. She was a criminal, born in the slums surrounded by criminals, and helped build this city with other criminals. She was a social Darwinist, a member of the Kongeegen party. She just didn’t understand altruistic motives.
I was being too harsh on her. She certainly tried her best, she just had difficulty always seeing the best in people. Mostly, she assumed everyone would betray her, and always stood in a position to take advantage of that. It made her surprisingly chipper.
“Well, if you don’t want to talk about it with me, you don’t have to,” she admitted. “But the Silent is coming this way. I think you’ll need to spend just a bit more time talking with him.” She patted me on the shoulder as she headed off.
The eight-foot tall mountain of muscle, scales, and other body modifications nodded politely to my mother as she passed, and then to me as well. “Honored Paragon. Thank you again for your assistance in this matter.”
“All I ask is that you live up to your promises, Honored… Wyrm. The city has enough cultures like the Nessians and the ekolids. I would appreciate it if the dragons were not added to that list.”
“A reasonable enough request,” the warlord rumbled. “Though I will admit I have heard little from the ekolids recently. Mister Anders’ reports from the Rampage noted that their nests seem abandoned. And Obox-ob has been missing for quite some time.”
“Rumor is that the Composer got him,” I said. “She didn’t say anything about it, but she rarely does. I don’t think she ever even took credit for Mjolnir’s death, now that I think back. Or anyone else, really.”
The dragon quirked his head, almost like a bird. “How are the Thors? I know that the Hammer was the glue holding them together. Thor himself has never been much of a leader of any sort.”
I sighed and sipped at some juice, beginning to wish I had picked something stronger. “Well, they haven’t imploded, but that’s about the extent of the good news. They ended up in a war with the trolls somehow—don’t ask me how, I have no idea—and last I checked the two were trying to destroy each other.” I shrugged. “Though that was before the MEE.”
“Wasn’t the Hammer dating a troll?”
I nodded. “A nice Manca girl doing research on…” I couldn’t remember. I had met her once, and she had told me, but it was a while ago. “…something. Something space related, maybe. Plotting more efficient angles for the space cannons? Anyway, the Thors adored Mjolnir. You’d think they’d follow his legacy and cut down on the racism. But they somehow managed to get themselves embroiled in a war instead.” I shook my head again as I sipped my drink. “At least the other Aesir clans and troll colors are staying out of it for now.”
“That is best,” the massive bronze dragon said with another nod. “Let them work it out. Interference breeds contempt. And worse.”
That made me smirk. “You named your subculture the Dispassionate Watchers. I already knew what your opinion on the matter would be.” My smile faded. “But it’s not like we have much choice. Everyone is too busy dealing with the fallout of the MEE to waste energy on two giant subcultures feuding.”
“Yes. But Anders’ CS Squads and your kensei are helping.”
“Well, I—wait. Adam’s CS Squads? They’re Necessarius.”
“Butler put Anders in charge of training them.”
“Really?” That was news to me. Silver and gold, why was I always the last one to hear about this sort of thing? “Good for him, then. I guess that explains why they’ve been doing so well.” If anyone had experience fighting people with powers, it would be Adam Anders. True, he fought screamers rather than speakers, but still.
I couldn’t read the expression on the dragon’s face. Not just because his elongated maw made it hard, but because he didn’t appear to have an expression. Again: Dispassionate Watchers. “The fact that the two most successful organizations of the moment are aligned with Necessarius helps cement his legitimacy.”
“As does a new culture requesting his permission to operate,” I added.
Finally, Chronepsis managed an expression I recognized—a smirk. “Yes. That helps.”
“Derek,” Laura said as she strode up, only giving a slight nod to the dragon. “We should probably leave. We have things to do today.” I was sure he couldn’t tell, but her stiff demeanor around the newborn warlord told me that she was afraid of him more than she would like to admit. I wondered if she even realized it herself.
“Quite right. Apologies, Honored Wyrm, but we should really be going.”
We bowed to each other slightly, Laura and I said goodbye to our parents, and we headed out through the ever-present noise of Zero Forge itself. It had been a few weeks since the battle between Adam and Elizabeth, and the engineers had done an excellent job of repairing the facilities. Other than a few banks of equipment being newer than the rest, you’d never be able to tell.
Laura remained silent even as we left the Forge, though, and passed through a couple ‘sarian checkpoints. It wasn’t until I realized that we were halfway back to the dorms that I finally decided to speak up.
“Okay, stop,” I said as I grabbed her arm. “What’s up with you? Weren’t you the one who said it was dangerous for us to be walking out alone?” The street was busy enough that people had to walk around us; I pulled us to the side. Many of them gave us second glances, but luckily it didn’t seem like they recognized us.
She took a deep breath. “This has just been a very long day, that’s all.”
“It’s not even noon.” I checked my watch. “Scratch that, it’s not even ten.”
“Yes, that would be my point,” she snapped. She closed her eyes, hand on the diamond ring hanging on a chain around her neck. Where did she get that? It was bugging me. She didn’t have it before she left the district years ago, but she said it was a gift from her mother. It was all very confusing.
I focused back on her. This was not the time to wonder about irrelevant things. “Laura—”
She sighed. “I’m sorry. The city is… changing, and we’re all in the middle of it. It’s very stressful. I just need some time alone, that’s all. I think I’m going to walk back alone.”
“That’s not a good idea. Are you even armed? Let me—”
“It wasn’t a request,” she spat, eyes suddenly hard. She threw off my hand and stomped away, in a slightly different direction than we had been walking before. That way was slightly faster, but it would probably involve walking through ghoul territory.
I sighed, waited until Laura was out of sight around a corner, and whistled.
A young man, fifteen or sixteen with ruddy red skin, dropped down beside me. His brown hair was longer than expected, and tied up in a ponytail with a red ribbon. He nodded deeply as a greeting.
“Honored Paragon?” he asked, hand on his sword.
“Follow her, please,” I ordered. “Without being seen. If there’s any trouble, handle it, but don’t worry about her seeing you in that case. She’ll figure it out anyway.”
“Yes, Honored Paragon,” the kensei said with another nod.
Then he was gone, the only mark of his disappearance being a red streak of light, the afterimage of his ribbon as he activated his speed and jumped to the top of the nearest ‘scraper.
Not all the changes the city was going through were bad.
Behind the Scenes (scene 249)
The kensei were one of the first things I thought of for the series, after the cultures. This has been a long time coming.
In other news, I’m finally getting a Patreon! Should have done it months ago, but it should be ready by next week.