The woman bowed low. “Greetings, Honored Paragon. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“I need to speak with Maeve,” I said without preamble.
The fey slave didn’t so much as blink at my rudeness. “The Honored Princess is quite busy at the moment, sir.” She indicated one of the chairs in the frozen, ice-encrusted waiting room. “If you like, you can take a seat while I call her.”
“She has five minutes.”
She frowned. “Threats will get you nowhere, sir.”
I chuckled. “No, you misunderstand. Not five minutes until I go crazy and try to fight your entire little…” I waved my hand at the refurbished sewers. It had probably been some forgotten unused maintenance area before the fey got a hold of it. “Demesne, or whatever you’re calling it. Five minutes until I leave, and never come back.”
The receptionist frowned again, but this time in confusion, not anger. “Sir, I—”
“Just tell her,” I said.
A little hesitantly, she picked up the phone.
Four minutes later, Maeve walked through the door.
She was wearing a much more conservative dress than usual. Rather than something studded with diamonds or anything else ludicrously expensive like that, she simply had on what appeared to be a large fur coat—black, of course. She didn’t appear to be wearing anything under it, but she had it nicely buttoned up, so I didn’t make an issue of it.
“Derek Huntsman,” she said warmly. “This is a pleasant surprise. You here about my dinner with Mother last night? Because I swear, I didn’t mean it as an insult. I was just making a comment about her boyfriend’s physical—”
“The gargant,” I said sharply.
The girl arched one elegant black eyebrow. “You’re going to have to be just a little bit more specific, dearest. I, personally, have several hundred gargants running around the city right now. There’s a giant alley crawler in the sewer under your dorm, but it hasn’t eaten anyone last I checked. Is that what you mean?”
“The one running around killing outsiders.”
For just a brief moment, her friendly, flighty mask slipped.
Then it was back, and she turned to the receptionist. “Please hold my calls. The Paragon and I have things to discuss.” She turned back to me, and indicated the exit. “Please, walk with me.”
Recognizing the need for silence, I kept my mouth shut as we walked out of the fey domain and into the sewer outside.
I was sure the fey had other entrances to their demesnes, but this was the only one I knew of. At least it was one of the cleaner parts of the sewer system. This was one of the parts that brought in ocean water to be desalinated, so it didn’t even smell.
Maeve led me down the concrete tunnel for a few dozen yards in silence, until we were out of sight of the entrance to her domain. A couple turns later and we reached a dead end, the river disappearing deeper into a grate.
I wasn’t worried about an ambush. She could have attacked me at the domain if she felt like it, but hadn’t. She knew I would have told everyone—or at least Laura, who was currently following up on the immigration lists with Butler to see if they could find anything there—and so killing me would only bring retribution down on her head. Besides, I could handle a single homunculus. It honestly would be easier than fighting Elizabeth.
“Can you see fine?” the fey asked quietly.
I nodded. Light was sparse in the sewers, but there was a dim red nightlight nearby that provided enough for me to watch my step. I might not be able to read in this light, but I wouldn’t trip and fall into the water.
Maeve turned to face me, a serious expression on her face. It was odd to see that on a fey, but they had been weird for the past few months, and I had seen weirder, even from them. “This gargant. What do you know of it?”
“Not much,” I said. “It’s big, hairy, and last night killed a dozen outsiders who might have been spies. It’s smart, too. Dodged about a hundred cameras at Nishrek. All we got was a few shots of its back.”
The fey rubbed her forehead. Something about the way her long nails caught the light bugged me. Were they made of diamond? Sure, industrial diamonds were cheaper than ever now that we could manufacture them ourselves and didn’t have to rely on the shipments from Mons Agnes, but still.
“You’re mostly right,” she said. “This gargant is intelligent. I’m sure you’ve been hearing about the weird gargant attacks since we reformatted?” I nodded. “A number of them are false leads to draw attention away and some are rumors that just sprung out of thin air, but we have been using this creature as a sort of… brute-force assassin. His coming out party was when we had him kill those adventurers who were assaulting one of our outposts.”
I had heard about that. I had known some of those guys. Not the best monster slayers in the business, but good enough that one gargant shouldn’t have been able to take them out. If it was intelligent, that explained a lot.
“After killing the adventurers, he was pleased with his abilities and wanted to try more difficult assignments, to see what else he could—”
“Wait, wait.” I held up a hand to forestall her. “I know it’s intelligent, but… you make it sound like it’s human intelligent. Like, it can talk and everything.”
“He can. He’s young, but we gave him a basic memory package through the game maker.”
I rubbed my forehead. “The… what?”
“Memory alteration device.” Then she shrugged. “Well, that was the original idea. It doesn’t work on an adult brain, or even on the brain of a child older than ten or so. Stuff starts to solidify at that age. We’ve had the damn thing for fifteen years, and we still can’t do anything detailed.” She sighed. “Like copying the Mona Lisa with finger paint.”
“O… kay…” That was a million kinds of disturbing, but it also explained more than a few things. “So this basic memory package. What does it consist of?”
“Motor skills, language, limited social skills, basic knowledge of the cultures and the city and how everything fits together, and all the combat instincts we could fit in there.” Her expression turned sour. “Which wasn’t much. Finger paint.” She sighed. “Basically, even though he’s less than a year old, he acts about your age in most respects.”
“All right. So you sent him around the city on various missions.”
“Minor things, out of sight. Putting down one or two rogue gargants, destroying old ave labs, hunting a Nessian slaver ring… that sort of thing. Simple challenges to test his limits while improving the city.”
“Yes, you’re a real saint,” I snarked.
“We controlled him through medicine,” the fey continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “Specifically, a relatively simple blood-thinner. You see, I made a slight error when making the gargant. His blood was too thick for his veins. Not a major problem, but his blood pressure was unhealthily high, especially during combat.”
Despite how useful this was, I had questions. “Why are you telling me all this?”
She sighed and leaned against the wall. “Why do you think, Huntsman?”
I closed my eyes. “He escaped your control.”
“What happened, did he get a hold of his own stash of blood-thinners?”
“In a manner of speaking,” she said. “He got a power.”
“A gargant,” I whispered. “With a power?”
She nodded. “When we came to after the Rampage, we discovered that his cage had been torn apart from the inside, and he was nowhere to be found. That shouldn’t have happened; we keep him off the drugs when he’s home to keep him calm. If he got too excited, his heart should have popped. But he was fine, and escaped.”
“A gargant,” I said again. “With a power.”
“That is relatively low on the list of problems, Mister Huntsman,” she snapped. “He is a confused, angry, and violent child who outmasses most cars, and faster than them too. He is strong enough to carve out entire new tunnels, and tough enough that enough poison to pickle a rhino would only slow him down.”
No, she was right. The fact that he had a power wasn’t really important. Like finding out that the tank about to roll over you liked to coat its shells with poison. The CS squad was worthless here.
“Does he have any weaknesses?” I said after a moment. “Besides the heart thing.”
“He’s not bulletproof,” the fey said with a roll of her black nighteyes. “But he’s still got enough mass that it’s gonna take more than a single god slayer to take him down. Besides that and his size…” She shrugged. “That’s it.”
I rubbed my forehead. “…thank you, Lady Maeve. This has all been very helpful.”
As I started to walk away, she called after me. “Remember, if anyone asks, I tried to kill you.”
I waved… then stopped as a thought occurred to me.
“Hey,” I called, turning back to her briefly. “Why’s he targeting outsiders?”
The beautiful woman smirked.
“Why do you think? Because that’s what we made him for.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 257)
I know these are short, but it’s important.