“You could have given us some warning!”
“At least an hour!”
“Or more than five bleeding minutes—”
“The people are panicking. My constituents are actually talking about leaving the city.”
“It’s only a matter of time before riots start. There’s widespread looting—”
“There’s always widespread looting!”
“I meant more than—”
I slammed my fist against the desk hard enough to crack the wood.
The large television, an entire wall filled with hundreds of arguing faces, instantly fell silent as each and every one of those faces shut their babbling mouths. I had always been able to project a presence when I wanted to. My ability to stand strong on my own two legs without a cane was only enhancing that.
“Warlords. Senators,” I said calmly, once I was sure I had everyone’s attention. “I do apologize for the abrupt and unforeseen announcement. I would like to lay this blame on the American president—his address was quite a surprise to his nation as well as our city—but he has enough to answer for already. No, this was my fault. I could have delayed the announcement, at least until the senators and major warlords knew. I chose not to.”
“Why not?” the Dragon asked. He seemed largely unconcerned, even amused, by the turn of events. But then, when you’re one of the strongest things in the entire city, it was hard to feel threatened by anything. “I’m not trying to undermine you, Knight Butler. I’m genuinely curious why you made this decision. I doubt very much that it was rash and spur of the moment.”
The rest of the members of our impromptu virtual meeting waiting patiently for my answer.
I paused, considering my words carefully.
“Domina City has never been united,” I said slowly. “My rule is largely based on allowing everyone to do whatever they want. You all bicker and grumble about my laws, about my ‘sarians, but you comply because your lives would not be significantly improved by overthrowing us in any capacity. It simply isn’t worth the risk.”
“Don’t underestimate your importance, Butler,” Eccretia of the Never-Known Thieves noted. “We might fight amongst each other, but this city is no longer a killing field filled with roving gangs of blood-thirsty murderers. There is law, and there is order, even if neither are traditional.”
I inclined my head in thanks. “Perhaps. But you bring up an important point: We fight amongst each other. The Guruhi and the Nictuku were nearly wiped out because they couldn’t stop fighting during the bats attack. Days, hours after the Rampage, the war between the sasquatches and the yetis was back in full force. All it took was the death of Mjolnir to destroy years of friendship between the trolls and the Thors.”
“We survived Elizabeth Greene,” Ulr, a senator from North Outer, said confidently. “We can survive this.”
“Greene was a fluke,” Mephistopheles said with a bitter laugh. “She was supposed to fail. You can’t expect the same to be said of the United States military. They are still the greatest military force on this planet.”
“So you expect us to just lay down and die?” Hextor, Power of Scourgehold, hissed through razor-sharp shark teeth.
“No,” I cut in before anyone else could speak. “That’s what I was getting at. We fight. We always fight. We can win this. We just have to work together.” I smiled grimly. “We are Domina City. We do far worse to each other on a daily basis than anything America can dream up.”
The warlords and other city leaders pondered my words, sitting in their distant domains and offices, considering whether or not I was right—whether or not we actually had any chance of fighting a war apparatus that could probably conquer the entire world if need be.
“They won’t be able to use tanks,” Dispater said. “Not until they establish control of at least one port. And even then they will be heavily limited by the gates. They’re not going to be able to knock down the wall with anything less than a battleship.”
“The Dagonites will be able to handle any oceangoing vessels,” Ambassador Georgia promised us. “But we can’t do anything about anything in the air. What happens if they decide to just carpet-bomb the city? We’ll be fine; you won’t.”
“They want to capture the city, not level it,” I assured her. “That’s also why we won’t have to worry about artillery shelling us from the mainland. If they get sea superiority, they might make a few pinpoint strikes with their ship cannons, but nothing major.”
“If we annoy them enough, they might decide to make a very loud and dangerous example,” Chronepsis, the Wyrm of the Dispassionate Watchers, noted. “Do we have any form of point-defense, anything to shoot down enemy missiles or shells?”
I shook my head. “None, unfortunately. We can talk to our space-based allies, but they won’t have much to offer, and depending on when the attack comes, might not be able to get here in time anyway. Our only hope is to keep them from taking such drastic measures.”
“The Heavens and a number of other angel outposts can have their lasers reconfigured for defense,” Sealtiel, the Defender, offered. “Nothing strong enough to take out an artillery shell, but a couple missiles shouldn’t be too hard.”
Nemeni of the Blood-Doused Hunters looked thoughtful. “Lots of ‘scrapers have turrets on them, especially now that fliers are… ” She waved her hand. “Flying around. Shouldn’t be too hard to point those at the sky and shoot down anything incoming. They’ll need some new target programming, but the changelings can provide that easily enough.”
“So it will turn into an infantry battle,” Gruumsh grunted. “We can fight infantry battles.”
“If the general in charge has any brain at all, he won’t try to take the whole city at once,” Juan Keller cut in. “He’ll focus all the men he can spare on one gate, try to establish a foothold as fast as possible. We will be fighting at least dozens, more likely hundreds of soldiers at once. None of us have any experience with that sort of scale.”
“But we have been fighting in urban warfare our entire lives,” Laura said as she stepped up beside me, into camera range. I had no idea how long she had been there, but knew better than to act surprised. “This isn’t going to be easy. But we have the homefield advantage, not even mentioning our powers—which the Americans will have no ability to anticipate. Soaring Eagle fled before the MEE, and might not have even mentioned the screamers and Elizabeth.”
“Speaking of the traitor,” Tiamat, one of Chronepsis’ sisters, spoke up. She was specifically the warlord of the Unholy Ravagers, which was pretty much everything you needed to know about her. “When do we get to take revenge on Soaring Eagle for betraying the city? The outside world has never cared about us; seeing an ave anthro wouldn’t change their minds. She had to spin up quite the tale, promise that president a lot, to make him do her dirty work for her.”
There were murmurs of agreement; I silenced them with a single raised hand.
“Soaring Eagle is outside our reach at the moment,” I reminded them all. “Outside the reach of anyone and everyone affiliated with Domina City, even our ghosts. For now, we must focus on more important things.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 264)
Short scenes never sit well with me, no matter how well they come out. I was actually seriously considering removing this one completely, but I needed to show some planning.