I sat on the back bumper of an ambulance as the police led people away.
There had to be a couple dozen cop cars, surrounding the building completely. There were also SWAT vans, firefighters, news crews, the whole deal. I wasn’t sure exactly what Malcanthet’s people were being arrested for. Conspiracy? Drug abuse? For all I knew there was even some treason mixed in there.
The police had cordoned off the area, keeping the crowd of rubberneckers at bay. I didn’t even look at them. Adam had given me a job: Guard this ambulance. So while I looked like I was just sitting around like another victim, I was actually keeping an eye on anyone who got too close.
Lily was in this ambulance, crying her eyes out.
I still didn’t know what had happened. Not exactly. Either Lily was a lot older than she looked, or Malcanthet was just crazy and thought she was her mother. Since Malcanthet had lit them both on fire, I was leaning more towards the second explanation.
I glanced briefly in the back of the ambulance. Lily’s clothes were gone, but the paramedics had given her some new ones. Other than that, she was physically unharmed. There was some ash in her hair, but that was it.
She just sat there, sobbing. Weeping for a woman who would have killed us all or worse.
I sighed and turned my attention to outside again. I saw Adam walking over, leading a small Asian girl by the arm. She was glowering, but made no attempt to run. Her hands were in front of her, covered in a blanket. I recognized that trick. She must be handcuffed underneath.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Saki,” he said. “The one we were looking for, my friend’s niece.” He frowned at the chaos and destruction surrounding us. “I have half a mind to blame all this on her.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
He sighed. “No. She wanted to make an alliance, but she got captured instead. She’s just another of Malcanthet’s victims.”
She spit in his face.
He wiped it away but didn’t otherwise react. “Anyway, local prisons won’t be able to hold her. The Dominites will handle her, and then transfer her back to the city as soon as possible.”
“Why isn’t she saying anything?” I asked. “Does she not speak English?”
Saki glared at me. Adam smiled. “She does, but she’s mute. It’s a long story. We need to—oh. There you are.”
A Dominite had walked up. He was instantly recognizable by the small red horns growing out of his forehead. As far as I could tell, that was his only modification. Once he was sure we knew who he was, he put on a hat. He probably didn’t want to cause a riot.
“Sir,” he said to Adam. “The Power sent me.”
Adam nodded. “Yes, he called ahead. It’s not just you, right?”
The… demon pointed at a van just outside the police cordon. “Four more hellions ready and waiting, sir.”
“Good. You’ve been briefed on what she can do?”
“Even better.” Adam pushed Saki lightly by the shoulder. She stumbled into the demon’s arms, then glared at Adam. “Her bracelet is still on and working, but be careful all the same. You got a CS device in your van?”
Adam frowned, then reached past me into the ambulance. He pulled out a backpack I hadn’t seen there before. It was the same one he had been wearing when we picked him up from the airport. “Use this one. You know how it works?”
The demon nodded. “Honored Sargeras made us disassemble and reassemble them until we could do it blindfolded.”
Adam smirked. “Of course. I need to remember that. Anyway, if either the bracelet or the pack goes down, you shoot Saki.” His eyes were hard, and his smirk was gone. “No hesitation. Right between the eyes.”
The demon looked disturbed. “I—all right. But will Dame Akiyama accept that?”
“She understands what is necessary.”
The demon paused. Then he bowed. “As you wish, Honored Paragon.” He left, dragging Saki behind him. She continued glaring at Adam until she was out of sight.
I frowned at Adam. “What was that about?”
“Just helping out a friend,” he said. He smirked. “Akane would kill me if I let her niece run around free in New York.”
“I meant that paragon thing. And the bowing.”
“Oh, that.” He shrugged. “It’s a long story. Basically, people like me.”
I gave him a look. “That’s not ‘people like me.’ That’s…” I shook my head. “I don’t even know what that was. Who even bows these days?”
“It’s more common in Domina,” he said. “Laura says it’s due to influence from Asian immigrants.” He rolled his eyes. “Besides, sometimes the whole damn city feels like a feudal war ground. Lots of lords and ladies and masters and whatnot.”
I sighed and looked towards the building again, and all the people swarming around it like ants. “What’s going to happen to this place?”
Adam shrugged. “Dunno. Lily will probably figure something out. Maybe it will get torn down. She doesn’t like being reminded of Malcanthet.”
Adam was silent.
I scooted closer and lowered my voice. “Adam, what was all that about? Your girlfriend’s daughter was some insane… I don’t even know what to call her—”
“Hedonist probably works.”
“Sure. But you don’t seem surprised.” He seemed relaxed.
Adam sighed. “I knew about Malcanthet. She’s a boogeyman in Domina. Eat your vegetables or the Succubus Queen will come take you away.” He smirked to himself. “Wonder if her death will stop that kind of thing. Probably not.”
“Lily has a lot of daughters,” Adam said. “A lot of sons, too. I knew Malcanthet was one or hers.”
I glanced back at Lily. She didn’t seem to notice us. “How old is she, anyway?”
“Older than she looks. But not that old. Twenty-six, I think. Thirty at the outside.”
“And how many kids does she have?”
“Somewhere around four hundred million.”
I stared at him.
He smiled back. “It’s a city of orphans, Chris. Everyone wants a mother figure.”
I rubbed my forehead. “I can’t decide if that’s better or worse than her being an actual mother.”
“She is an actual mother,” he said, a bit of an edge creeping into his voice. “She loves every single person in that city. The fact that some of them are older than her doesn’t change the fact that they are her children.”
I didn’t dispute the point. I just sat there, silently, watching Malcanthet’s slaves get processed. There seemed to be no end to them. The police had to call in more cars and vans in order to have any hope of holding them all.
“I’m surprised the guards didn’t put up more of a fight,” I said. “Even if they weren’t drugged, I would have thought enough of them were loyal to make a ruckus.”
Adam stood, frowning.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You!” Adam said, grabbing a random cop.
“Hey, watch it, buddy! You crazy idiots are in enough trouble—”
“I’m one of the people who called you in.”
The cop’s demeanor changed instantly. “Uh, right. Sorry. Thought you were one of the crazies.” He looked at Adam’s hand, which still had any iron grip on his wrist. Adam didn’t let go. “Uh, what did you need?”
“Where are the Malcatari?”
“The guards,” Adam snapped. “Anyone with a gun. Really, anyone who is sober enough to walk in a straight line. I haven’t seen any of them being brought out. What’s going on with them? Are you holding them somewhere separate?”
“I don’t really know—”
Adam shoved him away. “Find out. Now.”
The cop looked a little shocked that a civilian was giving him orders. “What? Uh, okay. So these Mal—Malis—”
“Just ask your war—your boss if the guards are being kept anywhere.”
The cop gave a shaky salute and ran off.
I didn’t say anything. I just watched Adam. The way he moved, the way he gave orders… he wasn’t an amateur. These were things he had done before. He had experience with ordering cops around.
What the hell was going on in that city?
In a few minutes, the cop returned with a lieutenant. She dismissed him with a wave, then stood in front of Adam. She glared at him for a few moments, but to no effect.
“I am Lieutenant Katherine Vine,” she said. “I understand you have some intelligence to offer.”
“The Malcatari are still out there,” Adam said without preamble.
Lieutenant Vine raised an eyebrow. “The guards?”
“Malcanthet’s military,” Adam corrected. “We fought a few. But there were many still alive last I checked. If you haven’t found any, that means they’ve gone to ground.”
“Their leader is dead,” Vine said. “They will fade sooner rather than later.”
Adam shook his head. “When she was still in Domina, Malcanthet’s armies were the most loyal, most highly trained, most well-equipped in the city. If we’re lucky, her standards went down after she fled. But I doubt it. I think you need to consider the worst-case scenario here.”
“Which is?” Lieutenant Vine had an excellent poker face. I had no idea what she thought about Adam’s assertions.
“An angry terrorist force loose in your city,” Adam said. “They’ll know Malcanthet’s recruiting methods. They can kidnap random people, drug them up to the gills, and brainwash them into fighting for them.”
There was a pause.
“That seems a bit implausible to me,” she finally said. “Especially since two untrained kids managed to take out their entire headquarters in about an hour. Do you have any proof that these… Malcatari are anywhere near as dangerous as you say?”
Adam sighed. “No. None that you would believe.”
“Then I believe we have nothing more to talk about.” She turned to go, but patted him on the shoulder. “We’ll keep an eye out. I just think you’re overestimating them.” She walked away without looking back.
Adam shook his head. “These idiots are going to get killed.”
I was disturbed. They couldn’t really be as dangerous as he was saying, right?
He glanced at his watch. “We should probably get going. The meeting was supposed to start an hour ago. They’ll be willing to wait even longer if necessary, of course, but still. I should at least call ahead.” He flipped out his phone.
I frowned. “What meeting? Who are you calling?”
He smiled. “The Dominite ambassadors, of course.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 308)
One thing that doesn’t get brought up a lot, regarding the toy maker, is diminishing returns. Despite all the incredible things it can do, there is a limit to how much you can manipulate the human body. Ten strength buffs are not ten times as effective as one strength buff.
So, for example, Lily has more buffs than many entire cultures put together. But that doesn’t mean she is stronger than those cultures. In terms of raw power, she’s a very powerful warlord—but that’s all. In a fair fight, most warlords would have a low, but reasonable, chance of overpowering her. And that’s not counting things like training, minions, and so on.
I just wanted to make it clear that Lily isn’t some unstoppable juggernaut who can solve any problem by herself. She’s not, and she can’t. And that’s without even getting into her issues with violence.
Also, yes, Adam is technically a warlord at this point. He has no domain, all his men were given to him directly by Necessarius, and he gets paid out of Butler’s pocket. By most definitions, he’d just be an honored, which for baselines is simply called “paladin.” However, people still treat him like a full Paragon due to his actions during the Rampage.