My name is Chris Clemens. I have worked for the Anders family for over ten years. They are an eclectic bunch, and I have been involved in throwing surprise parties for strangers, fighting off infiltrators looking for the secret family beer recipe, and arranging a fake arrest on Adam’s first date.
I had never been captured by heavily-armed businessmen and hand-cuffed to a chair, though. That was new.
We had been dragged into a large break room with red walls, the kind with a built-in kitchen and breakfast nook. It looked nice, or at least it had. Our captors had taken three chairs and hammered them to the floor with large pins. Then they tied us to the chairs. That was going to keep us from going anywhere.
Even so, we were well guarded. Three large beefy men in nice suits paced the room, their large guns relaxed but ready. I didn’t recognize the guns, but the men wore them comfortably. I was sure they would work well enough. Oddly, the workers outside in their cubicles didn’t seem to be paying attention to us. The door was glass and they could see right in, but they didn’t even glance our way.
The oddest thing, however, was Adam’s calm reaction to the situation.
“You should let us go,” he said to one of our guards. He seemed to be the one in charge. Probably not in charge of anything ultimately important, but at least in charge of the other two. On the few occasions I had been forced to take prisoners, I had always designated a man like him. Who he was didn’t matter too much. I just made sure he knew he was responsible if things went sideways.
He didn’t respond to Adam at all. So he at least had the ‘stay strong and silent’ part down.
“There are ten Dominite ambassadors in the city right now,” Adam said. Again, he was so calm. I expected him to be sweating like a pig. No, I expected him to be crying, but that wasn’t fair. He wasn’t so soft and sheltered to break down like that.
Maybe he was much harder than I had thought.
“What do you think will happen when they find out about this?” Adam said. “You think they won’t demand retribution?”
The guard didn’t say a word. He just pulled out a pistol and pressed in to Adam’s forehead.
My heart just about stopped. Adam was my charge. My duty. I should have dragged him away the second I knew he was planning something dangerous. Shouldn’t have even bothered waiting to find out what it was.
Adam didn’t seem concerned with the gun to his head. I was beginning to think he had lost his mind in that damned city. “She’s going to want to talk to us. All of us. I have information she needs.”
The guard cocked the hammer, making a loud click.
Adam cocked his head, the gun still pressed against his skin. “That’s a Black Knight, right? Zero Forge Guns?”
There was a pause. Then the guard grunted. “Yes.”
“Huh. A machine pistol is a bit overkill in this situation, don’t you think?”
The guard growled. I almost thought he would kill Adam right then and there, but he controlled himself.
“Is that the ZF740, or the 750? I can’t read the model number from this angle.”
If Adam thought he would trick the guard into pulling back the gun to check, it didn’t work. “The 750.”
Adam looked worried. “Oh dear.”
He seemed so earnest, even the guard had to be curious. “What? What is it?”
“You do know those tend to explode, right?”
I rolled my eyes at the obvious lie—until I got a look at the guard’s face. He was trying to keep a poker face, but I could tell. He knew what Adam was talking about.
Adam knew it too. “The 740 is a much more reliable weapon. I wonder why she didn’t just get you those…” He chuckled to himself. “Ah yes, of course. How silly of me. Because the 750s were cheaper.”
The guard pressed the gun harder against Adam’s forehead. I had to fight my instincts, which wanted to struggle out of the chair and tackle the guard to the ground. Trying wouldn’t do anything but make the guards jumpy.
“Ninety nine times out of a hundred, these guns fire fine,” the guard said. “You willing to bet your life on a one percent chance?”
Adam smirked. “Are you?”
They stared each other down for a moment.
The guard withdrew the gun and put it on the counter. He turned to one of the others. “Go find me another gun. Not a 750. One of those Hell… Hellion guns.”
“The 88-006 is good, if you have it,” Adam called after the retreating guard. “The 87-609 is a decent backup!”
The lead guard flipped a knife out of his boot and held it in a reverse grip. “This won’t explode if I try to kill you with it. So maybe you should just shut up.”
I closed my eyes briefly. If Adam’s plan had been to disarm our enemies, it didn’t seem to have worked. Honestly, they didn’t even need knives. We were tied to chairs bolted to the floor. What were we going to do, spit on them?
Adam raised an eyebrow. He still looked calm and in control. “What is an explosion?”
The guard looked at him like he had sprouted a second head. “What?”
“An explosion,” Adam said calmly, “is simple. It is the same as any other form of motion, just bigger and faster. Every breeze is an explosion, in a way. Every waterfall. Every rustling leaf in the forest.”
The guard lowered the knife. “You are a crazy—”
Adam exploded into motion.
He jumped out of the chair, leaving the handcuffs behind. He tackled the guard to the ground and bashed the man’s head, hard. Before he had a chance to recover, Adam grabbed his knife and stabbed him in the throat.
The second guard grabbed his gun, but hesitated. It was the same type of gun the other had been using, and now Adam had made him paranoid.
The hesitation only lasted a moment, but a moment was all Adam needed. He took his stolen knife and charged straight at the guard, plunging it deep into the man’s chest like a rhino’s horn. The tackle bore them both to the ground, and the guard coughed up blood from the impact. Adam withdrew the knife from his throat, then stabbed him in the throat.
I stared. I had seen people do incredible things in desperate situations. But Adam wasn’t moving desperately. He was moving quickly and efficiently, killing with the bare minimum of effort. He was covered in blood—neck wounds were messy—but barely seemed to notice. He grabbed a rag to wipe his face, but that was it.
I felt hands behind me, working on my cuffs. There was a brief pinch, and then one loosened. Then another pinch, and the other came free too. I turned to see Lily crouching behind my chair. She smiled and held up the broken cuffs.
They looked twisted and mangled. Almost like she had ripped them apart with her bare hands.
“Canny is cheap,” Lily explained. “These things are barely better than toys.”
I nodded slowly. Of course. Toys. They… they must have been made of plastic.
I resolutely ignored the memory of the cold steel cuffs on my wrist.
Plastic. They must have been plastic.
Adam glanced through the glass door. “They haven’t noticed yet, but it’s only a matter of time.” He started patting down the corpses. He pulled out a few more knives and two key cards. “Lily, how drugged are these workers?”
Lily thought for a moment. “There’s a limit to how much she can drug them and still expect them to be productive. Plus, like I said, she’s cheap, and drugs are expensive. If they see any actual blood, I think they’ll freak. Anything short of that should be fine.”
Adam looked down at his bloodstained clothes. “…great. Should have worn red today.”
I rubbed my wrists, then looked down at myself. “I’m still clean. I can give you my shirt, then I’ll just wear the blazer on top of my bra.” I turned to Lily. “Do you think they’ll notice?”
She made a face. “It’s really hard to say. Probably not? But there have to be at least a few sober people in the building. The guards seemed clear-headed.”
“So we’ll avoid the guards,” Adam said. He looked in a closet, but didn’t seem to find anything interesting. He looked like he was considering dragging the bodies inside, but thought better of it. They had bled too much. Hiding them would be impossible. “Chris, give me your shirt. Lily, I want you to hide in here.”
I expected her to object. Instead she glanced at the corpses, shivered, and nodded.
I got my shirt off, and Adam didn’t even blink at my nudity. I did notice him carefully looking me in the eyes, though. I smirked, handed him the shirt, and started buttoning up my blazer. Anyone with half a brain would notice I was naked underneath, but apparently there weren’t many of those around.
Adam took off his bloody shirt and tossed it into the closet. His jeans were a bit bloody too, but they were dark enough to be mistaken for water. He washed his face at the sink and tried half-heartily to clean his pants. It didn’t work, but it did help disguise the blood by getting his pants wet.
I frowned at his bare chest. He seemed to have a lot of scars. They were mostly healed correctly, but it was still startling to see so many of them. I saw claw marks, straight cuts like from knives, a couple gunshot wounds, at least one burn…
Lily didn’t react to the scars, so I didn’t say anything. This wasn’t the time.
Once Adam was sure he was clean, he put on my shirt, buttoning it up quickly. Then he tossed me the gun from the counter, along with a holster. I nearly dropped it, I was fumbling so much. I glared at him, but he just smirked.
“What the hell?” I demanded. “I thought you said these things explode!”
“Only once out of a hundred,” he said as he buckled on a holster with a second gun. “Besides, it’s actually less than that. I have a friend who’s a big gun nut. She says that some of them are more flawed than others. If the guards have been shooting these things recently, that means they’re probably the safer versions. It’s probably more like one shot out of a thousand makes them explode.”
“Great,” I said dryly. “I feel ten times safer.”
He smiled. “It’s mostly for intimidation. People take you seriously if you have a gun.”
He sounded like he was speaking from experience. I had so many questions, but not right now. Right now, my only priority was getting him out alive.
I looked behind me and saw Lily closing the closet door behind her. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to leave her here?”
Adam nodded. “She hates violence. I don’t want her to have to see more of this than she has to.”
“But how will she escape?”
He frowned. “Escape?”
“Isn’t that what we’re doing? Looking for an escape route?”
He chuckled. “No. Definitely not.”
His eyes were as hard as ice, and his smile was manic. “We’re going to find the queen bee and kill her.”
The way he spoke, the way he moved… it all painted a picture. I wasn’t sure what I had thought. Maybe I had been hoping that years of violent video games had desensitized him to violence. That didn’t explain how he was good at it, but I had been latching on desperately to that ridiculous explanation.
But this plan of his… it wasn’t one born of desperation. He wasn’t fighting to find the only way out.
He just wanted the queen dead, and he was the only person he trusted to pull it off.
“Okay,” I said. I took a deep breath. “How many do you think there are?”
“The Riven? I dunno. There are probably a couple hundred people in the building, but not all of them are going to be combat-capable.” He carefully opened the door and started walking out. I followed him quickly.
“This is a bad idea,” I hissed as we walked down the rows of cubicles.
“Act like you belong,” he said. He strode down the aisles with a straight back, nodding politely to people we passed. “If you sneak, they’ll know we have a reason to sneak. We can’t fight the whole damn building.”
While I was skeptical, he quickly proved to be correct. One or two people glanced at us, but no one gave us a second look. Whether it was the drugs or their work, they knew we weren’t their problem.
“She’ll probably be at the top,” I said, hitting the button to call the elevator.
Adam nodded, but pulled me towards the stairs. “And the elevator will be trapped.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Well, maybe not.” He opened the door, swept the landing expertly with his gun, and gestured me inside. “But if nothing else, it will have cameras. They would have called her once they figured out where we were going.”
I looked up the stairwell. “About how many do you think it is?” I didn’t know how tall the building was.
He shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe ten flights or so.”
I groaned. “Wonderful.”
He chuckled. “This is nothing. Remind me to tell you about the time I had to run up twenty flights in full kit.”
I stared at him as he started up the stairs. Once again, he moved with military efficiency. He rounded the corner quickly, swept the landing and the stairs up, then continued. He didn’t waste time watching his back, either. He clearly expected me to serve as rearguard.
I did so, keeping an eye behind us, but I couldn’t help glancing at him every few minutes. What happened to the silly little gamer who had left for Domina a few months ago? He used to refuse to play shooters online because he was so bad at them.
I could have asked. Maybe would have even gotten an answer. But I remained silent, following him up the stairs.
He kept a good pace. Fast enough to eat up the steps, but slow enough that we didn’t get exhausted. We’d probably be facing a fight once we reached the top.
Eventually, we stopped outside a door. Unlike the others—which were just labeled with numbers—this one had a sign. It used strange characters I didn’t recognize. But they seemed familiar somehow…
“What’s that?” I asked. I kept the stairs down covered, just to be safe.
Adam brushed his fingers over the sign. “Demonscript. German with Cuneiform characters. I’ve only seen it a couple times. It’s a lot more rare than the angel version. Demons aren’t very unified.” He shook his head. “I didn’t think Malcanthet, of all people, would use it.”
“Can you read it?”
“No, but I can ask—” His hand went to his pocket, but he stopped himself. “Never mind.” He glared at the sign as if it was mocking him. “It’s probably nothing important. I’m sure it just says something about how employees aren’t allowed through here without special permission.”
“What if it says ‘warning, lethal gas area?’”
Adam glared at me. “I don’t remember you being this snarky.”
“We didn’t really spend a lot of time together.”
He shrugged. “Fair enough.” He played with something in his pocket for a moment, trying to come to a decision. “It’s not worth the risk. We’ll just have to go in blind.” He put his hand on the doorknob. “Ready?”
I brought my gun up and nodded.
He took a deep breath and pulled open the door. I stepped inside, sweeping the room.
It wasn’t like the office floors down below. The floor was thick carpet, and there was plush furniture scattered everywhere. Velvet tapestries covered the walls, scrawled with artistic designs. It was clean, for the most part, but there were a few glasses and bowls scattered around on love seats. Not much, but enough to tell me that this place was used. It wasn’t some waiting room, ignored until it was needed.
There were two guards. They looked out of place sitting on the comfy furniture in their sharp suits. They blinked as I entered the room, but they recovered quickly. They rose, hands going to their guns.
I shot them both, one after another. Dead center in the chest. Both men crumpled to the ground.
The gunshots didn’t echo much; there was too much plush in the room. But someone would still have heard it. We didn’t have long before someone came running.
Adam pushed past me, his gun out as well. He glanced around the room and spotted the fallen guards. Then he walked over to them and calmly shot them both twice in the head.
I started. “What the Hell!?”
“Just to be safe,” he said. He looked at me. God, those eyes… cold as ice. “Is there a problem?”
I swallowed. “No. You just surprised me.”
He nodded, then knelt down and inspected the bodies. He smirked and exchanged his gun for one the guards had. “Of course. Her elites get the 740s.” He tossed me one. “Use that one. It’s mostly the same, just doesn’t explode. Don’t swap bullets, though.”
I looked it over. He was right; it looked exactly the same as the 750, except for the different serial number. Though they both had a small lever, similar to a safety. On the 750 it was off, but on the 740 it was in the on position.
“What’s this?” I asked, pointing to it.
Adam frowned at looked at his own 740. “Not sure. It’s not a…” His face cleared. “Oh, right. I forgot. The Black Knight is a machine pistol.” He flicked the lever. “The guys downstairs had theirs on single-shot mode, these guys used full-auto.”
I clicked mine to single-shot too. “Seems like a small mag for a machine pistol.”
“Yeah, but it can be useful in the right circumstances.” He pulled something else out of the guard’s pocket. “Key card. Not sure we’re gonna need it. They might open the door for us.”
I frowned. “Why would they do that?”
He smirked. “So that they can come out and kill us, of course.”
There were three entrances to this room: The stairwell we had come from, a more ornate door to the left, and the elevator to the right. Adam and I both turned to cover the ornate door. At least we’d hear the elevator.
“Derek told me that Rivenheart had Kevlar furniture,” he said. “I have no idea if that’s true here. Just keep it in mind.”
I didn’t ask who Derek was or what Rivenheart had been. This really wasn’t the time.
I heard shouting from the other room. The guards were getting ready.
“How many are we looking at?” I asked.
Adam shook his head. “No idea. Room of that size could fit twenty armed men.”
I glanced at him. He looked worried, but not scared. Calm, determined.
“No.” He glared at me. “Do you have any idea where these people came from? All these slaves who she has drugged into mindless obedience?”
“I would assume she hired them and then started spiking the coffee.”
Adam smirked, but controlled himself. “Maybe some. But not all. One of her favorite tricks is brainwashing her enemies to fight for her.” He turned back to the door. “Fight to the death or jump off the roof. Those are your options.”
There was another option: Escape. Or rather, there had been another option. He was right, by this point it was off the table. If this ‘Malcanthet’ had half a brain, she would have cut off our escape routes by now.
The door opened.
Adam fired, once, twice, then dove behind cover. I followed suit, even though I hadn’t actually seen anyone returning fire. My paranoia was proven justified when bullets streaked through the air.
I waited a heartbeat, popped up, and fired in the direction of the door. I didn’t get a good look, but I did see a few men. I dropped back down again before I could count exactly how many of them there were.
I checked my clip. “Half left.”
Adam frowned. He popped up and fired twice before dropping down again. It was a very clean and professional maneuver. Who the hell had trained him? “You have some spare mags, right?”
“One,” I said.
“Shit.” He peeked out from around the corner of the couch and fired twice. I heard the sound of bodies hitting the floor. He withdrew just as the survivors returned fire. The bullets tore into the floor and threw up splinters of wood from underneath the carpet.
I took the opportunity to pop up and take a shot at the guard in front. I got him in the shoulder, and he cried out in pain.
I ducked back down. “I think three are neutralized. Unless you got more with your first shots.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
The guards started shooting again. Bullets hit the couch, but none punched through. I couldn’t tell if Adam was right about the Kevlar, or if the bullets just didn’t have enough penetration. “At least it doesn’t sound like twenty men,” I said. “I’d say six more, max.”
Adam cocked his head, listening to the gunfire. “Based on reloads… I’d say three.”
I nodded. I had been rounding up to be safe.
The gunfire slowly subsided.
I glanced at Adam. “You think that’s a good sign?”
He frowned. “No. I really, really don’t.”
“Assassin!” someone called. It was a melodious voice that made every hair on my body stand on end. Just that one word was like my first kiss all over again. “You are surrounded! Lay down your weapons and you will not be harmed!”
I almost stood. How could anyone disobey that voice?
Adam grabbed me and dragged me back down. “You’re not a lesbian.”
I frowned. “What? Of course not. What does that have to do with anything?”
“She has pheromones,” he explained patiently. “You haven’t even seen her and she’s already seducing you. Just remember: You’re not a lesbian.”
I took a deep breath, struggling to remain in control. Adam seemed unfazed. He must have more experience with this sort of thing.
“I have grenades!” that perfect voice called. “I would prefer not to ruin my sitting room further, but I will if I have to!”
I bit my hand, hard. The pain kept me centered, focused on the moment.
Adam watched dispassionately. I couldn’t tell if he thought I was weak and useless or weak and pitiful.
“If you don’t come out, I will execute your friend!”
I grabbed Adam before he could leap out. The cold look in his eyes was gone, replaced by rage and fire.
“It’s a bluff,” I hissed. “She knows there were three of us. She’s just trying to draw us out.”
“We caught her in the elevator. She will make a fine addition to my collection.”
I gripped Adam’s arm so hard it hurt. “It’s a bluff. Why would Lily go to the elevator anyway? It’s terrible tactics.”
Adam closed his eyes. “Lily… is not good at tactics.”
I frowned. Before I could say anything, the elevator dinged.
Adam and I both pointed our guns in that direction before the doors even opened. We didn’t shoot, though. Not with Lily in the way.
One of the guards pushed her out in front of him. He had a gun to the back of her head, and her hands were tied behind her back. Maybe she could get out of that, but even if she could deal with one guard, the rest would kill her before she could reach cover.
“See?” the voice said. “Come out before I get impatient.”
Adam slowly lowered his gun.
I kept mine up. “Are you sure?”
He sat there for a few moments before answering.
“No,” he said finally. “I’m not sure.” He tossed his gun over the couch, well out of reach.
I sighed and did the same. Then we both stood, hands up, and turned in the direction the voice had been coming from.
That was when I received my first look at the Succubus Queen.
The first thing I noticed was her glittering white smile and her razor-sharp teeth. She had perfectly tanned skin, curves that would make a model jealous, and was wearing a set of lacy bra and panties that would make a porn star blush. She had strange, abstract tribal tattoos all over her body, especially around her breasts and groin. Her eyes were red, but her hair was wavy black. It went down to the small of her back, but she kept it carefully brushed away from her forehead. The better to show off her horns. They were just small red things, about the same size and shape as Lily’s.
In fact, she reminded me a lot of Lily. Lily was much shorter, and had absolutely no curves to speak of, but other than that they were very similar. Even the tattoos were of the same general theme. Lily almost looked like she was aping the Queen, except for the tail. Lily had one, the Queen didn’t.
Malcanthet quirked her head. “Hello, little demon. Have we met before?”
“I’m not a demon,” Lily said. I was surprised by the strength in her voice.
“Whatever you say.” Malcanthet clapped her hands and smiled. “I lost two, but gained three. Hardly ideal, but a net gain in the end. I’ll take it.”
“You won’t get away with this,” Adam warned.
The Queen laughed. “What are you, five? Of course I will.” She grinned wolfishly. “That annoying little drug of yours will wear off in a day or so, and then you are all mine.”
“Ten ambassadors from Domina are here in New York right now,” he said. “They will come for you.”
“No. They won’t. They don’t even know I’m here.” She smirked. “Even if you did have enough presence of mind to warn them before you were captured, it won’t matter. They would much prefer to just ignore me. I’m out of the city, I’m no longer their problem.”
“Domina is changing, Lupa,” Adam said. “We look beyond our borders now.”
Malcanthet had stopped smiling. “Don’t call me that. And I looked you up, Mister Anders. You are not a Dominite. You are just some random idiot outsider.” She shook her head. “The fact that you survived in that city for months is proof that they are going soft.”
Adam frowned. “You mean you don’t have spies on the inside?”
Malcanthet rolled her eyes. “Butler and Naamah have been hunting down my Riven ever since I left. I haven’t had anyone in the city for months.” Her grin returned, lips slowly peeling back to expose those shark teeth. “But perhaps I will send you back as my spies, hm? Yes, that will do nicely…”
“Leave Lily out of this,” I said. The pain from my hand had faded, and I had to struggle to ignore how drop-dead gorgeous Malcanthet was. “She has nothing to do with any of this.”
Malcanthet grinned. “I don’t think—” Her grin faded. “Lily?” She glanced over at Lily. Then her eyes widened.
“Canny, please,” Lily said. “You don’t have to do this.”
“LIES!” Malcanthet shrieked. She stumbled back. “It’s—it’s a trick! Anyone can claim to be her! She changes toys so much, can’t ever be sure what she looks like today! It’s just a stupid trick!”
“Canny—” Lily said again.
“DON’T CALL ME THAT!” Malcanthet grabbed one of her guards by the shoulder. “SHOOT HER!”
I paled. “Wait—”
Before I could say anything else, the guard shot Lily dead center in the forehead.
Behind the Scenes (scene 306)
Demonscript uses one of the simpler forms of Cuneiform. It doesn’t track perfectly with the German alphabet, but it is close enough that any German word can be spelled without too much difficulty. They also modified the numbers, since the Sumerians used a more complex and less efficient system.
Chris discusses Adam’s training here. I’m still unsure whether or not I should have had it offscreen or not. Ultimately, I decided on only a couple of scenes with him fighting monsters, in addition to the screamer scenes. Unfortunately, this created the impression that he was entirely self-taught during combat. There was a lot of that, of course, but he also received real training from Derek, the retinue, Necessarius, and a few of Derek’s monster slayer friends.