It was Thursday night, shortly after dusk. November 29th. Why did that feel important?
“So we’re raiding the domain of a bunch of drugged-up vampires,” I said.
Laura didn’t even look at me. “The slaves aren’t the problem. The nightstalkers, the ones who still have their minds, are the issue.”
“But they’re not as strong as the sclavi,” Kelly said as she strode up to the edge of the roof next to us. She observed the skyscraper across the street with a critical eye. Phlegethos was the opposite of the angel domains in a lot of ways; while the Heavens were covered in light reflected and refracted a million times over, the Black Crypt was completely, utterly dark. Even at this distance, I couldn’t use my phone; the vampires had a ‘dark zone’ set up, which was sort of a specialized EMP field for taking out lights. It just had an annoying habit of killing most other electronics as well.
Even without the conspicuous darkness, the vampire domain would still be easy to spot. Two buildings next to each other were joined by walkways and paths. The walls were lined with spikes and blades, which I suspected were sharp enough to cut any kemo stupid enough to try to climb them. There were a few outcroppings here and there, manned by turrets that slowly scanned the area. Even the glass was black and bulletproof.
“I have ways of neutralizing the sclavi,” Kelly said, apparently unconcerned with the view before us. “But I’m not sure if it will work more than once or twice, so I’ll save it for an emergency. In the meantime, aim for the leaders, and the rest will scatter.”
“We still need to get in. Unless you’re suggesting walking in the front door?”
The ex-Belian shrugged. “They wouldn’t expect it, that’s for sure. But we need a better plan.”
“Roof?” Derek suggested. He nodded at Kat and Robyn. “We’ve got two fliers.”
“I can’t carry more than two people,” Robyn said.
“And Kat can’t carry anyone,” Laura said. “We can’t have Robyn make three trips; we’ll be spotted.” She frowned, then shook her head. “But it’s still a good idea. Robyn, go high. Really high. See what the security looks like on the roof.”
Robyn nodded and shot off like an arrow from a bow, likely more than happy to have a mission that didn’t involve getting in firing range of anyone. In a moment, she was out of sight, disappeared into the night sky.
“I still feel like we should have done this during the day,” I said. “Night gives them too many advantages.”
“We got here as fast as we could,” Laura said, still not looking at me. “Considering how clingy Ishtar was and how far Phlegethos is from Jealous Heart, we were lucky. We’re not waiting until tomorrow.”
“She’s always been clingy,” Kelly said. “The drugs aren’t helping.”
Kelly hadn’t gone into Jealous Heart with us. Considering how bad her ex-girlfriend was, I really couldn’t blame her. Ishtar was nice, even friendly, but she was still a Belian, and still crazy. Not fey crazy, but pretty out there.
I was getting distracted. We had more important things to worry about.
Derek’s phone beeped. He flipped it open and turned it to speaker mode. “Robyn?”
“I’m here,” her voice sounded out of the speaker. “The roof isn’t too heavily guarded, but I’d prefer not to test it. Three nightstalkers, all clear-headed, as far as I can tell. We wouldn’t be able to get them all before they called for backup.”
“Well that’s out,” I said. “Are there any sewers?”
“None big enough to crawl in through,” MC said, cutting into the conversation without missing a beat.
I sighed. “Of course not. Well, maybe a frontal assault is our only option. “Flynn—” He turned away from Phlegethos, then frowned. “Wait, where’s Flynn? Wasn’t he with us a minute ago?”
“I sent him back to NHQ to watch over the kensei,” Akane said without blinking.
I sighed again. Losing one of our main heavy-hitters was going to make this more difficult than it needed to be. “Okay, fine, whatever. Uh, then Akane, you’ll be on point, Derek you’re a bit behind, then the rest of us will take the rear, with Robyn and Laura staying out of it—”
“You’re missing something important,” Laura interrupted. “MC, any chance you have a list of the powers the Belians might have at their command? The slaves aren’t as important; focus on the nightstalkers.”
“Sorry, but they weren’t exactly interested in registering with Necessarius.”
“Vampires tend to gravitate towards powers of darkness and blood, though, if that helps.”
“A little,” Laura admitted. “Though it would probably help more if we had an angel.”
“I can go find one,” Robyn said through Derek’s phone. “That Adele Lucifer, maybe?”
“No, she’s busy.”
“Everyone’s busy,” I said. “Including us. We shouldn’t be here.”
Kelly glared at me. “Are you saying we should abandon friends to slavers?”
“No, I’m saying we should try to buy them back the ‘sarian way.”
But she shook her head. “Won’t work. If they were grabbed at random, maybe, but we’re pretty sure that they were targeted specifically. Calling and offering money will just make them accelerate their plans.”
“Why can’t anything be easy?” I shook my head. “I swear, things were simpler when the whole damn city was screaming.”
“A graveyard is simple too,” Kelly said. “That doesn’t mean you should make more of them.” She sighed. “But in this case, I think ‘simple’ might be our only option. There are no secret side entrances or anything, no other way into the domain besides the roof and the front door.”
Kat signed something.
“That still requires that Miss Clarke kill two guards as fast as possible,” Kelly reminded her. “You’re not going to be able to take out more than one before they call for help. Not an option.”
“Robyn could carry me up there, then Kat snipes one while I get the other two,” I said.
“Better,” Laura cut in before Kelly could speak. “But it still has problems. The roof is likely covered in cameras, and no one can get close enough to drop a transceiver on one before being seen.”
“If we go in from above—”
“You’ll have to start from high above. Do you have some kind of gas mask?”
MC snorted, a strange sound to hear from a phone. “We can get him a damn gas mask, no problem. The cameras, though… I think some of them are pointing up. I’m not sure that there’s any angle of approach where you won’t be spotted.”
“The roof is still a better option,” I said. “Even if reinforcements come.”
“Adam,” Derek said firmly. “Most of us can’t fly. You want to be trapped on a roof with no way out but a sheer drop to the pavement?”
“No, he has a point,” Laura murmured, half to herself. “It’s not designed to withstand any kind of siege; it’s out of reach of all other buildings, and they wouldn’t have had time to revamp it, even if they realized that fliers could come in that way.”
I tried not to look smug.
Apparently it didn’t work. “Wipe that grin off your face,” Kelly snapped. “This plan should work, but it’s still Plan B. Plan A is getting in undetected. Miss Clarke. Do you see any angle where you can get next to a camera and drop a node on it?”
“Uh… maybe. I think the north—”
I heard the metallic click of a gun behind us.
I pulled out my Sica as fast as humanly possible, spinning towards the sound.
Derek, seeing my panicked reaction, immediately covered us in a glowing blue force field, an entire globe covering us from every angle. Not a second too soon, either—bullets started bouncing off it almost before he finished making it.
Vampires were stalking onto the rooftop, vampires with the vacant stares that only the heavily drugged could manage. They were still well-armed, though, and I knew better than to underestimate a couple dozen men armed with machine guns.
“How long can you hold the shield?” I muttered.
“Not long,” he whispered back. “I don’t want to dissolve the back side, in case they try to snipe us from Phlegethos.”
I looked back towards the Belian domain, and realized he was right. If they had found us here, they could have already called the men on the rooftop and requested support. Give one of them a sniper rifle—or even a basic infantry rifle with a decent scope—and we were screwed.
Then another Belian strode onto the roof.
This one clearly wasn’t drugged—at least not to the extent of the slaves. Her black eyes were clear, her stride straight and strong. She walked right up to Derek’s shield, and smiled as she traced the force field with a long black talon.
“A bit of an overreaction, don’t you think?”
Derek was visibly sweating. “No.”
“Hm. Of course. Derek Huntsman, I presume?” The girl smiled, baring sharp fangs. “The first Paladin, the first Paragon, first in the fight against the evil Composer.” I wasn’t enjoying her mocking tone, but she just chuckled at our annoyance. “You all think you’re so clever. As if the rest of us don’t know how to deal with powers now.”
“Akane,” Derek hissed.
The shield blinked briefly, just long enough for his bodyguard to run out at superspeed, slashing at the Belian with a knife.
Next thing I knew, she was slammed against the wall on the other side of the roof. A moment later, she fell to the ground, leaving behind a massive crack in the concrete wall. She didn’t move.
“That was a clever trick,” the nightstalker said in a patronizing tone. “Very clever indeed. Even without a sword, the kenkami is dangerous enough that I’m sure there are very few people in the city who would survive. Even with my superspeed and judo training, it was very difficult.” She grinned again. “Thanks for that warning.”
I closed my eyes. Dammit, Derek.
“Well, I think it’s past time to take you all in, don’t you think?” the woman continued. “After all, your friends are already inside. The angel and the changeling, that is.” Her eyes twinkled like black stars. “We expected you ages ago.”
“That’s why you took them?” Laura asked thickly. “Bait?”
The vampire shrugged. “How should I know? I just follow orders.”
Derek swallowed. “If I drop the shield, do I have your word that no one will be harmed?”
“Derek,” Laura hissed.
He ignored her. “Well?”
The Belian placed her hand on her chest. “On my honor, you will all be escorted to Phlegethos safely.”
Derek nodded slowly. “Adam, everyone, drop your guns.”
I stared at him. “You can’t—”
Gritting my teeth, I slowly did as ordered. I heard a clatter as the others did the same.
The shield faded a moment later.
“Excellent,” the woman said. She clapped her hands, and the slaves moved forward to surround us more totally. “We’ll have to keep the guns pointed at you the whole time; security precaution, I’m sure you understand. We—” She frowned. “What’s she doing?”
We all turned—
Laura was the one who figured it out first. “No, don’t—”
With a scream, Kelly ripped the device off her arm, the needles taking a significant amount of her skin with them. What was left behind was little more than a bloody, ruined mess, with white bone showing through in places.
One of the slaves bashed her over the head with a rifle. She fell like a sack of potatoes.
“Idiot,” our captor muttered. “Come. The Nobles will wish to speak with you all.”
Behind the scenes (scene 260)
It’s hard to describe exactly what is wrong with the Belian sclavi. They’re not robots, and they’re not zombies; they retain their minds, in theory, and can take action on their own initiative. But they’re barely aware of their surroundings, and extremely susceptible to orders according to their programming.