Scene 304 – Custos



“But why would she name her domain that?” I asked. “Or her company, whatever. Why risk being exposed?”

“It’s not much of a risk,” Lily said. We were across the street from Miomanta, at a small cafe. Hopefully they didn’t have any cameras pointed in this direction. “There are less than a dozen people in the world who would recognize that name. Malcanthet, myself, Sargeras, Pale Night, maybe Eisheth Zenunim…” She thought for a second. “Probably Naamah. She was always good at ferreting out secrets.”

“Really? That’s it?”

“If you’re counting the dead, Orcus and Malcanthet’s sister both knew, but I doubt Orcus told Obould—”

“Wait wait,” I said. “Malcanthet has a sister?

“Had,” she corrected. “Xinivrae, the Black Widow. You know her better as Soaring Eagle.”

I sat back, stunned. I hadn’t even considered what Soaring Eagle might have been before she became a kemo. I knew that people often transferred from the demons to another culture, but still.

“Anyway, here.” Lily slid something across the table. It was a small syringe filled with a clear liquid. “You’ll need this if we’re going to face Malcanthet.”

“What is it?”

“Something the Avernans and the Sibriex came up with. Long story short, it turns off your sexuality for about a day.”

I frowned. “It… what? Is that a thing?”

“Yes,” she said. “Sort of. Not really. It’s complicated. Look, the point is that Malcanthet won’t be able to seduce you if you use this.” She thought for a moment. “You might want to pretend to get seduced, though. She doesn’t like losing.”

Something clicked. “That’s the point of the name. It’s a game.”

Lily nodded. “She wants to see if anyone else is smart enough to figure it out. She’s always liked meaningless challenges like that. She likes being in control.”

I stretched out my arm, readying the syringe. “What can we expect, going in? Will she have a toy maker?”

“Not sure.” Lily took the syringe from me, tapped my vein, and jabbed me. I winced, but she knew what she was doing. The pain only lasted a second. “The destruction of Shendilavri made it difficult to piece together exactly what happened. But I’ve spoken to the Powers. They agree that—”

“Wait, which Powers?” I winced again as she withdrew the needle. I didn’t feel any change yet. She got a small bandage and applied it to my wound. “I know Obould and Dispater were there, but Derek doesn’t talk about it much.”

“Not the demon Powers. The succubus Powers.”

I stared at her.

She smiled. “Did you really think an entire culture would die so easily? They went underground. They remained safe, even as the city hated them. And soon, they will be able to reveal themselves again.”

I swallowed. It wasn’t really a big deal. But I had a feeling the rest of the city wouldn’t think of it that way. They’d probably react like if you found out your next-door neighbor was a Nazi.

“Naamah and her Daybringers searched the ruins as much as possible. They are quite convinced that Malcanthet only intended to leave the city for a short time. A few months, at most. It is unlikely that she had a toy maker with her.”

“And getting one outside the city would be nearly impossible,” I said. “I’d be surprised if there are a dozen in the country. All would be in military hands.”

Lily leaned back. “Yes. Malcanthet could seduce her way onto a military base, of course, but that would attract too much attention for only a minor benefit. I suspect that she is just making do with what she has.”

“And what does she have?” I asked.

“Pheromones, obviously,” she said. “Five years out of date, but still very effective. Especially when combined with her own skills in seduction. She’s also immune to most poisons, though the Avernans have invented a few since that would test her limits. Same with diseases. Not that we’d want to unleash a modded disease here…”

“She bulletproof?”

“Bullet resistant,” Lily said. She looked disturbed, but didn’t mention it. “She doesn’t have to worry about smaller calibers, but a hand cannon should be enough. I notice you don’t have your guns with you—”

“I’ll figure something out,” I said. “Steal one from one of her slaves.”

“The Riven won’t be armed with the kind of weapons you need. Malcanthet would never give her followers any weapons that could be turned against her.”

I sat back in my seat. “So, what? They’ll only have small caliber stuff?”

“And some odder things, as long as they can’t pierce her skin. Microflechette guns were her favorite. She was using the Reiner Gamma Crisis when she left, but I don’t know how many of those she had on hand. BOB doesn’t sell much outside of Domina.”

“I’m surprised they sell outside Domina at all.”

“People know quality.”

I smiled. I had a couple BOB guns. Butler had given me an Olympian Athena early on, but I had bought a few others since. The Reiner Gamma shot small darts tipped with poison. You could change the type of poison, so it was pretty common among monster slayers. I doubted Malcanthet’s men would be using sleeper toxin, though.

“Any chance you have a magic gas that will undo all her brainwashing?” I was joking. Laura and I had discussed Malcanthet’s brainwashing more than a bit, when we thought she might be the Composer. It was far too complex to be easily defeated.

Lily shook her head sadly. “No, nothing like that. My power might help, a little, but I can’t be sure.”

Her power. She didn’t talk about it much. “You’ve been practicing with it?”

She nodded. “As much as possible.”

I nodded. “Good. The more you practice, the stronger it gets. I think that might be Laura’s problem, she never pushes her ability to its limits.”

“I talked to her a bit about it. She organized a study, and she’s pretty sure the problem is actually the fact that it’s so easy to use—”

Someone sat down at our table.

Lily barely even blinked, but I jumped about three feet in the air. I got my knife out and brandished it. It was just the silly hunting knife my dad had bought me a few years ago, but it was the only weapon I had been able to find on short notice. Besides, six inches of cold steel was pretty intimidating.

Chris Clemens raised an eyebrow at the knife, but otherwise didn’t react. “Are you planning to do something dangerous, Master Adam?”

I thought for a moment, then sheathed the knife. “No. Not towards you, anyway. What are you doing here?”

“I followed you,” she said. “You were acting very suspicious. I am also interested in that device in your backpack.” She nodded at it. I had zipped up the backpack to keep from attracting attention. “Is it still on?”

“Yes,” I said. “Not that it matters. It needs line of sight to work.” The counter-song could work through some obstructions, but not many. We were still studying it. It seemed to be able to bend a bit, or maybe reflect off nearby objects. That meant that people usually didn’t block the effect, but putting it in a bag did.

Chris raised an eyebrow, but didn’t inquire further. “All right. So what are you doing here? You found your friend’s niece?”

“Yes,” I said. I nodded at the skyscraper. “She’s in there.”

“Why haven’t you gone in yet?”

“We’re planning our attack.”

She frowned. “There’s no need to attack, Master Adam. This is not Domina City. Go inside and tell the receptionist who you’re looking for.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“The building is a front,” Lily said before Chris could argue. “It is owned by a fugitive from Domina City.”

Chris sat up. “Fugitive? Then we need to alert the police.”

“No,” Lily and I both said instantly.

Chris scowled. “This isn’t time for jurisdictional—”

“Malcanthet will kill them,” Lily said. “She is a ruthless warlord, and the local police cannot handle her. We can. At least long enough to get Saki out.”

“And then what?” Chris asked, eyes narrow.

“Then we discuss things with the delegation,” Lily said. “We’ll figure it out from there.”

Chris looked annoyed. “Is this always how you solve your problems? Run in half-cocked and hope for the best?”

I chuckled. “Pretty much. Malcanthet is just a demon. She’s easier to handle than most of the stuff I’ve seen in the past few months.”

Chris turned to me. “And what, exactly, have you been doing these past few months?”

I smirked. “You know me, Chris. Nothing exceptional. Just some light exercise.”

She glared, but I didn’t break. After dealing with a warlord or two, baselines just weren’t intimidating.

“Fine.” She put something on the table and slid it across to me. When I picked it up, I was surprised that it was a pager. Who used pagers any more? “Just hit that button, and we’ll come in guns blazing.”

I frowned. “Who did you bring?”

“Almost everyone.”

“How many total?” Lily asked.


Lily and I shared a glance. Twelve wouldn’t be enough if Malcanthet decided to make a fight of it. I had read enough about the Succubus Queen to know that she was paranoid. I had no idea how many soldiers she had, but they would be numerous and fanatically loyal.

And that was assuming Saki hadn’t gotten control of them.

“We’ll try stealth first,” I said. “I’ll go in alone—”

“Alone?” Chris demanded. “No, I’ll go in with you, and—”

“And get us both caught and killed,” I said. “You have no idea what you’re walking into. I do. You don’t know what Saki looks like, or what she’s capable of. I do, and I do. You don’t have a CS device. I do.”

Chris frowned. “Now, wait here. My job is to keep you safe. I’m not about to—”

“It’s not a discussion.” I opened up my backpack, revealing the CS device. “Lily, have you found an entrance?”

Chris looked surprised at my defiance, but Lily didn’t pay attention to her. She peered at Miomanta. Her eyes were far, far better than mine. I’d probably need binoculars to see half as well as her. “Third floor. There’s an open window. Only a crack, but it should be enough.” She blinked, and turned her focus back to me. “What’s your climbing skill? On the kemo scale.”

“Oof. I never actually took the test. I think Kat said I was about a six? But she only saw me climb anything once or twice.”

“Hm.” She turned back to the building. “Should be enough. It doesn’t look like a very hard climb.”

“All right.” It was only three floors. I could do this. I stood. “Chris, you have a spare gun I can borrow?”

She chuckled. “No. Your parents would cut off my head if I gave you a gun.”

I rolled my eyes, but didn’t see the need to argue. I’d just get one inside. “Fine. I’m going. With luck, I’ll be back soon with Saki.”

Suddenly, everyone in the cafe turned around and pointed guns at us.

Chris nearly jumped out of her seat. Her hand went to her own gun, but I stopped her. I shook my head, and she nodded. One of the cafe patrons stepped up and grabbed the gun before she could change her mind. Another took the pager and carefully removed the batteries. We were on our own.

Lily didn’t look surprised so much as disappointed. “The Riven, I assume?”

One of the patrons smirked. “Of course.”

We should have known. Why would Malcanthet allow a cafe to exist freely right across from her domain? She wouldn’t. Of course she wouldn’t. She would buy or seduce every single person who ever stepped foot in the place.

The Succubus Queen did so like being in control.

Behind the Scenes (scene 304)

I’m always hesitant about setup scenes like this, but you can’t have all action, all the time.