“Hey, Red,” Lori said as she leaned against the pier, water streaming out of her hair. She adjusted her daygoggles. They were flat and sleek like swimmer’s goggles, even though she never wore them underwater. “You have fun?”
I sat down on the wet concrete, leaning my back against one of the barbecues. “It’s a war, Lori. It wasn’t fun.”
She grinned with shark teeth. “You were stuck indoors, weren’t you?”
I grinned back ruefully. “I spent most of the time organizing the kensei. I barely got to fight at all.” I had been looking forward to fighting on of those echoes, but I hadn’t had the chance.
“At least you got a new sword.”
I rolled my eyes. “This is Flynn’s. I keep putting off getting a new one.” The old one had sentimental value, so I felt bad for replacing it. It was like what happened with my father’s sword all over again. I still had the pieces of that sword in a box under my bed.
Lori brightened up. “Ooh, I keep hearing about this Flynn. Why didn’t you bring him with you?”
“Now he’s looking after the kensei. It’s mostly just keeping them from partying too hard, really.” I shrugged. “They’re still just a bunch of kids, and they won a war. They’re enjoying themselves.”
Lori frowned and floated away from the pier for a moment. “Why’d you rush over here?”
“I heard you got a bit too close to a boat explosion.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, that. Just got my head rattled, no big deal.”
“Weren’t you the one who told me you’d just be acting as a scout?”
She floated closer again. “You know how these things go. There was a boat that needed killing, and we needed some shifters to get on the deck.” She grinned. “Those marines were so funny. They never saw it coming.”
I smiled too. “I cut a bullet in half today. The poor idiot actually dropped his gun.”
She laughed, a high-pitched, almost dolphin-like sound. “See? Like that!” She settled down, still smiling. “You need to come visit more. When’s the last time we really talked like this? When you and Derek helped with that murder?”
“No…” I thought about it. “We have to have talked since then, right?”
“Definitely not since the Composer started playing around,” she said. “Sometime before my last birthday, I think.”
I nodded. “Yeah, sorry I couldn’t make that.”
She waved her webbed hand. “Don’t worry about it. We went hunting for a leviathan. Not something that’s safe for a surfacer, with or without those diving fancy pods of yours.”
“How are things with the fey?” I asked. Talk of leviathans reminded me of them. “After their reformatting and all that.”
She shrugged. “Same as ever. They’re still making monsters, but they’re also making nicer deals. They got a couple recruits from us, but not many. They set a couple leviathans on the Rahabs, though. Saved Timaeus from a pretty big attack.”
I made a face. “I’m still having trouble with ‘fey’ and ‘helping people’ in the same thought.”
“Yeah, it’s kinda been like that down here, too. The Atlanteans are making a stink—again. They think Butler should keep them under control.”
I rolled my eyes. “How is he supposed to do that?”
“They are officially a culture now. He has ways of controlling them.”
“Guiding them,” I said. “Tax breaks and so on. But you know how the fey are. They laugh off that kind of stuff. It’s not like he can slap them with retribution just for talking to you guys.”
“Hey.” She pointed at me with a claw. “Don’t lump the Dagonites in with the Atlanteans. We’re fine with it. Salt and spear, they’re giving us some fun new toys that are proving helpful.” She shook her head. “But the fey always get their due. It’s fair, and people don’t like fair.”
I frowned. “Of course they like fair! The whole point of deals and democracy and so on is to make things more fair.”
Lori gave me a pitying look like I was some kind of simpleton. “No one wants things to be fair. They want things to be unfair in their favor. Can you really tell me that you don’t fight with every advantage you can scrounge up?”
I remained silent. I had never been shy about fighting hard and dirty. Codes of honor were for people who knew they’d win.
“But the fey keep things fair,” Lori said. “You can’t trick them or intimidate them. And now that they’re a culture, they’ve got Necessarius behind them. You break a fey deal, and they won’t bother sending a horde of monsters. They’ll request retribution, and they’ll usually get it.”
I rubbed my forehead. “Yeah, I’ve been hearing a lot about that recently. One of my kensei got in trouble for killing a homunculus. I had to pay a few thousand dollars for that stupid clone body.”
“What did you do with the kensei?” Lori asked, leaning forward eagerly.
“Took his sword for a week.” I smiled. “I was tempted to make him do some volunteer work for the fey, but that would have been cruel and unusual.”
Lori laughed again. “I’ve missed this. Just talking. I gave you that phone for a reason.”
I shrugged. “Been busy with the Composer and now these new powers. I’m sure you’re busy down below, too. I heard they were working on widening the South Downward Run. You involved in that at all?”
She groaned. “No. Well, yes, but only in the bad ways. The mud from the construction keeps drifting down with the current, covering everyone downstream. I wake up in the morning, and my cubby is completely blocked off.” She shook her head. “I only have one door, it’s not like I can just go around the back!”
An idea struck me. “Why don’t you live up here for a week or two? Just while they’re doing the construction.”
She shook her head. “My shifting only lasts a few minutes. It would never work.”
“That’s not what I mean. A wheelchair should be enough, and there are plenty of saltwater pools in NHQ.”
“Aren’t you still at the dorms?”
“Technically, but I’m never there any more. Barely anyone is going to school, and I just have too much to do at NHQ. Besides, with Ling gone, I don’t want to be there too much. I still feel bad.” I rapped my fingers on the concrete for a moment. “I should finish moving my stuff soon.”
Lori grinned. “Is this all an elaborate ploy to get me to help you move? Because I’m probably literally the worst person to ask.”
I chuckled. “No, no, I’d wait until after you left. More than anything, you’re giving me a chance to procrastinate—”
There was a rush of air behind me. I turned, hand on Flynn’s sword, to see a dozen men and women, mostly baseline. They were setting up umbrellas and starting the barbecues. As far as I could tell, every single one of them had a beer in their hands.
One of them noticed me and waved drunkenly. “Hey, it’s cool if we party here, right?”
“Uh, sure,” I said. “Where’d you come from?”
“Teleporters!” he said. “It’s awesome! We were in North Middle thirty seconds ago!”
I smiled. “Have fun.”
“Will do!” He raised his beer. “Ad victoriam!”
“AD VICTORIAM!” the others all cheered.
I smiled again as they all laughed, and turned back to Lori as the music started playing. “You want to talk about this somewhere quieter? Maybe over there, on the Ring next to those shipping crates?”
She chuckled. “A fish laying out on the concrete on a hot day? No thanks.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“I can call myself a fish,” she said. “Anyone else does it, them’s fightin’ words.”
I patted her on the forehead. “See you around, Lori. Make sure to tell me if you need a place to stay after all.”
“I’m too stubborn for that.” She smirked. “Give me a day or two. A couple more mornings breaking my own door down might change my mind.”
I rose, smiling. “See you around, Lori.”
“You too, Akane.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 293)
Lori was the first Dagonite character I came up with, so I wanted to give her more scenes. Not too much, just a reminder that she’s still there.