Monthly Archives: April 2017

Scene 313 – Aestas Domus

AESTAS DOMUS

JEFFERIES

Baile Samhraidh was like something out of a fairy tale.

When I realized we were being led into the sewers, I had expected… well, a sewer. The kind of thing you see in games. Dripping water, green slime, gelatinous monsters. And Domina’s sewers didn’t disappoint there. But just because Baile Samhraidh was in the sewers didn’t mean that it was a sewer.

We had been here for two days, and I still hadn’t gotten over the majesty of it all. The fey had dug down deep, creating a single room thirty feet tall, a hundred feet long, and about forty wide. Massive concrete pillars, crafted to look like stone, held up the ceiling. There were smaller side rooms and hallways, but there was no question that this one area—called the Park—was the center of it all. The walls were steps, like a Mesopotamian pyramid, and filled with beautiful plants and flowers.

In fact, the entire room was filled with plants, anywhere they could fit. Flowers around the edges. Bushes and herbs in plants along the walkways. There were thick trees wrapped around the stone pillars like vines, their leaves covering the ceiling above. Even with the canopy, the bulbs set in the ceiling created perfect artificial sunlight, providing light and nourishment to the plants below while making the entire place feel like a natural forest.

Despite it still being winter outside, the entire demesne was a balmy eighty degrees. It was comfortable enough that most of the feyborn walked around in short sleeves and shorts. The whole place smelled of life and nature, and I could even hear birds somewhere. It was easy to forget that you were under a city when you were here.

I was sitting on one of the steps, looking at a butterfly that had alighted on a nearby flower. Seriously, a butterfly. I couldn’t believe that they could even survive down here, so far from the sun. I was so distracted I almost didn’t notice when someone sat down next to me.

I turned to see Maiden Aurora, the Princess of Soil and Flame, smiling at me. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, and she wasn’t the one in charge of this entire demesne.

“Enjoying yourself?” she asked.

“This is a very beautiful place you have,” I said, keeping my voice carefully polite.

Her smile turned sad. “That’s not what I asked.”

I looked away.

She put her hand on my shoulder. “I know that the treatments are painful.” She chuckled. “And Titania’s bedside manner leaves much to be desired. But we’re almost done fixing your flawed body. By the end of the week, there will be no difference between you and a natural-born human.”

“That’s just the problem,” I said. “What do I do once I’m not dying?”

“…I assumed you’d contribute to the betterment of the city. Get a job. Slay monsters, fight Nessians. Something like that.”

I gave her a look, and lowered my voice. “Most changelings… they’re made from scratch, right?”

She nodded. “Mostly. We throw in a bit of DNA from random human samples and let it cook in an artificial womb. We let it grow to a random age, give it an imprint from the game maker, and then wait for them to escape.”

I frowned. “Game maker?”

“It’s a memory modification device,” she said. “Like the toy maker, but for minds.” She chuckled. “Hilariously impractical, though. It has absolutely no effect on normal brains. It only works on newborn changelings because they’re blank slates. It wouldn’t work on anyone else, even a newborn baby. Even then, we can’t do much more than give them basic instincts. Give them a starting point to learn language, motor skills, and so on more easily early on. If we didn’t use it, every changeling would take about eighteen years to grow to adulthood.”

I stared. “Is… is that something you should be just telling me?”

“People already know about the game maker,” she said, unconcerned. “It’s been on the open market for almost fifteen years—it’s just completely useless to everyone but us. And you already know where changelings come from.” She leaned back on her hands. “Though I am curious how you got your mind.”

I shook my head. “We’re getting off track. My mind is what I wanted to talk about. I’m not just a vatborn human. I’m a clone, body and mind, of a specific man. One of the President’s bodyguards.”

“That seems odd. Why was he chosen?”

“I was told it would be harmless,” I said. “And it was, I think. They needed someone loyal and self-sacrificing, someone who was in peak physical condition. That was me.” I paused. “Him. It was him.”

She frowned, but nodded. “Okay, let’s put aside the question of how the memories got copied so perfectly. What’s the problem?”

I sighed. “The problem is that there’s already someone out there living the life I want. My dream job, my dream family… I can’t even use my old name.” I put my head in my hands. “This was all so much easier when I only had weeks to live. I figured I’d either go to the afterlife and deal with this then, or not, and never have to worry about it.”

Aurora snorted, a surprising sound from her. “I don’t trust the afterlife. I much prefer to obtain real, tangible immortality, rather than just hoping in something beyond death. Every religion feels like a scam to me.”

“Uh…”

She forced a smile on her face. “But this isn’t the time to discuss my views on religion. The point is that you were procrastinating. Trying to put off the decision to later, when hopefully it wouldn’t matter. Now it is later, and it does matter. You have to decide who you want to be.”

I remained silent.

“Thankfully, you’re not alone.” She stood, and I followed her gaze to see Lieutenant Backstrom and Hall walking towards us. “I’m sure that your friends have opinions that could be helpful. One way or the other.”

“Private,” Backstrom said by way of greeting. She nodded at Aurora. “Honored Princess.”

“So polite,” Aurora said. “I’d love to speak with you more. But I’m sure you three have much to discuss, so that will have to wait for another time.” She patted me on the hand as she left. “Good luck, Mister Jefferies.”

Backstrom watched her go with a critical eye. “I’m still not sure I trust that woman.”

I shrugged. “If she wanted to kill us, why bring us here? Why feed us, shelter us, and heal me?”

“Because the fey are crazy,” Hall said. “Even the feyborn say that.”

“Regardless,” Backstrom said. “Even if she isn’t planning on killing us, she clearly wants something. She wouldn’t be investing so much unless she expected to reap some reward in the end.”

“Maybe.” I stood up, stretching. “I’m not going to worry about it, though.”

Backstrom raised an eyebrow. “You’re not?”

I shrugged. “What would it get me? Some ulcers? No choice but to deal with it when the time comes.” I winced and poked at my side. “I was going to take a walk. Either of you want to tag along?”

“You shouldn’t,” Hall said. “You don’t want to strain yourself.”

“I won’t go far,” I said. “I was just going to walk down Primrose Path.”

“I’ll come with you,” Lieutenant Backstrom said. “The last thing we need is for you to have an accident or something.” She shook her head. “I’m guessing that without you, our contract with the fey would be voided.”

Hall frowned. “What makes you say that? The fey didn’t mention it.”

“I just went for the most inconvenient thing I could think of. It seems like what they would do. Anyway, Hall, you go back to our quarters, make sure the others haven’t set anything on fire or gotten themselves killed or something.”

Hall looked like she wanted to argue, but just shrugged and saluted, then ran off.

I started walking towards the exit—the Primrose Path was in that direction—and Backstrom gave me a look. “You are going to be all right, aren’t you?”

I gave her a weak smile. “For this walk? Yes. For good? I have no idea. This body wasn’t designed to last more than a couple weeks at most. The fact that the fey have kept me going for as long as they have is a miracle.”

Backstrom fell into step beside me. “You never told me why you agreed to get cloned in the first place.”

“I thought—” I sighed. “Sorry, Bryan Jefferies thought that he was serving his country.” I chuckled. “The doctors say it’s important that I distinguish myself from him. We have all the same memories up until my creation, but we are not the same person.”

“So he’s still alive?”

I nodded. “Yeah. Secret Service, personally protecting the President.”

Really.” Backstrom shook her head. “That just raises more questions. Why would you—I mean, he—agree to this, or even be selected in the first place? And then they sent you off as a random grunt in a war. I’m not sure what the point was.”

“Proof of concept, mostly,” I said. “For both the clone bodies and the memories. As for why Bryan was selected, part of it was his peak physical fitness. The much bigger part, though, was his self-sacrificing nature. They wanted clones who wouldn’t mind that they were going to die after just a few weeks.”

Backstrom stared. “That might be the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard.”

I shrugged. “What would you prefer? Pick people who aren’t willing to die? Or just choose people at random, without giving them any say in the matter at all? I’m sure they learned a lot from me and my…” I waved my hands. “Whatever you’d call the others. My brothers, maybe? I dunno. I’ve never had brothers.”

Backstrom sighed, then gently took my arm and led me down a side passage. It wasn’t the Primrose Path yet, but I could smell it. “I suppose of all the terrible ways this could have gone, this was the best solution. Though I still don’t understand why it was important in the first place. What concept was being proven? Is there really such a use for a dozen clones bodyguards?”

“That’s way above my pay grade. I think they wanted to find a way to copy skilled people so that there can be more than one of them around at a time, but that’s just a guess. They didn’t tell me much.”

“Of course,” she said bitterly. We took a turn, and there was the Primrose Path before us. It was just another tunnel, but it was lined with primroses. Hundreds of them, of every color imaginable. It was beautiful, and smelled heavenly. Good thing, too, since this was the path to the sewers themselves. There was a guard at the far end of the path, a bored kemo standing in front of the door.

“I’m sure it’s for a good cause,” I said. “They were prepping for full production when I left, and they’d only do that if they had a really good reason.”

Backstrom frowned. “What is full production, exactly? How many?”

“I heard someone say ten thousand.”

TEN THOUSAND!?” she screeched. She glanced around, then continued in a lower voice. “What could possibly require ten thousand short-lived clones of a Secret Service agent? I don’t care if you—”

“Bryan,” I said.

“Whatever! I don’t care if these clones come out as the best soldiers the world has ever seen! I can’t imagine how they could ever be worth the cost. From both a monetary and moral perspective.”

I shrugged again. “I trust them.”

“What, a bunch of scientists who wouldn’t even tell you why?”

“No, I mean the clones. They wouldn’t do anything crazy, like execute a coup or destroy the country.”

She paused for a minute, staring at me. “Well, I suppose you know yourself well enough.”

I chuckled. “Yeah. I guess so.”

“I’m still curious how the memories were transferred, though. That’s far beyond what the toy maker is capable of.”

“Aurora mentioned something called the ‘game maker.’ Apparently it’s like the toy maker, but for memories.” I shook my head. “Except it can’t do anything like this either. Not yet, anyway. They use it to implant their new changelings with basic skills, but that’s about it. Full memory transfer should be impossible.”

Backstrom pursed her lips. “I’d like to say they’re underestimating America, but given all we’ve seen…”

“If the fey say something is impossible, I’m inclined to believe them,” I said. We reached the end of the path, with the kemo guarding the door. “But obviously, it happened. There’s no use arguing about it.”

She chuckled. “You’re just letting everything slide off your back, aren’t you?”

“I could die any day,” I said. “I don’t have time for stress.” I turned to the kemo. “Can we go outside?”

Backstrom frowned. “Jefferies!”

“What? You’re with me, you’re armed. It will be fine.”

“Lot of monsters just find bullets annoying,” the guard said. “Especially sewer monsters. You gonna try to shoot a jumper swarm? A school of mudfish? Fur and fang, even a basic leapeater will probably kill you before you can pump enough lead into it.”

“We’ll take our chances,” I said.

Backstrom rubbed her forehead. “Jefferies…”

“What, I’m not allowed to take risks?” I said. “Come on. I just want to see something besides flowers for once.”

“So you want to go out into a sewer.”

I shrugged. “Better than nothing.”

“Most people would disagree. It is, in fact worse than nothing, because it’s a sewer.”

“Filled with monsters,” the kemo added.

I shrugged again.

Backstrom sighed. “You know what? Fine, I don’t care. Let’s go.” The kemo opened the door for us, and she paused. “If we come running back here with monsters on our tail, you’ll open the door for us, right?”

He smirked. “Sure. Funny as it would be not to, Aurora would get mad.” His smile disappeared. “No one wants to see Aurora mad.”

I nodded in thanks and stepped outside.

The sewers… well, they were sewers. Not modern sewers, either. They were like underground rivers, flowing down stone tunnels with walkways on the sides. The walls and ceilings looked like they were stone blocks, but I was pretty sure that was just a texture on top of concrete. Or whatever it was what modern sewers were normally made of. Metal, maybe? No, that would rust. Plastic, then?

I started walking north. It was slightly darker than the other direction. Most of the electric lights had broken, and the only illumination came from the phosphorescent glow of insects too small to see.

“Jefferies,” Backstrom said, her tone curt. “Where are we going?”

“Just walking,” I said.

“You’re walking too fast for someone who is just walking. You have some goal in mind, and you’ve been too set on the sewers from the start.” She stepped in front of me and turned to face me, hands on her hips. “Tell me what your plan is or I’m dragging you back to the demesne. Are you running away?”

I rolled my eyes and handed her the note Aurora had given me. “Here.”

She frowned and took it. “’Walk the Primrose Path to the sewers, then turn to the darkness. You will find something interesting.’” She looked up. “Who gave this to you? One of the feyborn?”

“Aurora herself,” I said. I pushed past her. “I didn’t see much of a choice.”

Backstrom hurried to follow. “Fine. And what if this is a trap?”

“Aurora doesn’t seem that malicious.”

“Maybe trap is the wrong word. Possibly-lethal prank, maybe?”

I winced. “Okay, yeah, that’s more in-character for her.” I sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think she’d do anything to risk me, but it’s hard to tell with her.”

“Then why go along with it?” She waved the note. “This doesn’t promise any reward.”

“I just thought it was a good idea to obey her,” I said. “Keep her happy. Besides, maybe ‘something interesting’ will be a good thing.”

I heard gunfire up ahead. Just a single shot, echoing through the tunnels.

I stopped dead and glanced at Backstrom. We waited a few moments.

“Monsters don’t use guns,” I said. “And a person would have kept shooting.”

“Unless the monster killed them after the first shot,” Backstrom said.

I struggled to make a decision, then ran forward. If I wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror tomorrow, I didn’t have a choice. I heard Backstrom grumble something, but she followed a moment later.

It wasn’t far, which was good, because my body still wasn’t in perfect shape yet. I was already panting at the first turn, but we found what we were looking for right there. A bodyguard’s eyes were sharp, and I took in the scene in a glance.

Three people stood on the sides of the sewer. One was big with jet-black skin and a powerful tail, one was a baseline male with a ‘sarian band tied around his arm, and the last was a kemo female with the same band. She had feline ears, maybe tiger. Hard to say. She was the one with the gun out, though it was pointed at the ground.

In the middle of the sewer, in the water itself, was some kind of gargant. Large, maybe eight feet long, and muscled like a linebacker. It seemed to be quadrupedal, but it might have just been on its hands and knees. It was covered in hair so thick that it was impossible to tell much else about it. I couldn’t see a mouth or eyes. For all I knew, it didn’t have any.

Backstrom pulled her gun out with a practiced motion and pointed it at the gargant. “Friendlies! What’s the plan? Fight or retreat?”

The kemo and the one with the tail stared at her, but the baseline reacted quickly. “Neither. Diplomacy.” I noticed that he had a gun of his own, though he hadn’t drawn it. “Where’d you two come from?”

“Baile Samhraidh,” I said. I jerked a thumb back the way we came. “One of the side exits is pretty close. Situation stable?”

The man glanced at his partner and frowned. “…stable enough.” She gave him a glare, but pointedly holstered her gun. He turned to us. “I’m Detective Abraham Gosling. This is Detective Utako Tora, and Noble Nyashk of the Mals.”

“I’m—” I stopped as his words sunk in. “Wait. Why is Necessarius running around the sewers with a vampire warlord?”

“I am helping them with…” She glanced at the gargant. “…their problem.”

“What are you doing here?” the kemo—Tora—asked. Her hand was still on her gun.

I forced a smile onto my face. “I am Curtis Jefferies. Just Jefferies will do fine. This is Evelyn Backstrom. We were sent out here by one of the fey.”

“Which one?” Nyashk asked.

“Aurora. Maiden of Summer.”

The three of them glanced at each other.

“Aurora… took something from me,” Nyashk said. “At least, I believe it was her. It was before the reformatting.”

Backstrom shook her head. “Before we get into the politics, can we please discuss the giant ugly gargant?”

The gargant growled and rose out of the water. I could see two beady little red eyes under the fur, glaring at Backstrom. And there was… something else. A feeling in my chest. Not quite pain, but definitely pressure.

Nyashk rushed over and smoothed down his fur, whispering something. The pressure in my chest faded, but the gargant still stood there, glaring.

“…what was that?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Nyashk said. “He didn’t like her tone, that’s all.”

“Lady, I’ve worked with animals before.” Well, Bryan had, but whatever. “Backstrom’s tone was fine. Her words set him off. He understood her.”

The gargant slowly turned to face me. The pressure in my chest returned.

“And he has a power, doesn’t he?” I whispered.

The pressure in my chest increased.

Nyashk pet the gargant more, whispering where his ears should be. The pressure eased up again, but slowly.

Gosling coughed to get my attention. “As far as we can tell, the fey engineered him with a blood weakness so that he couldn’t turn on them. Either too high pressure or too low pressure, I’m not sure, but he needed them to fix it. Then when the Rampage hit, he gained the power to control blood, including his own. And suddenly he didn’t need them any more.”

I clutched my chest. “So he—”

“If he wanted you dead, he’d make your heart explode out of your chest,” Gosling said. “He’s done it before.”

I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. I really hated these powers. Monsters, I could deal with. Yeah, they were weird, but in the end they were just big animals. The powers… I could deal with those on a case-by-case basis. Pyros were just like people with a flamethrower, telepaths were basically just really good spies.

But a gargant with a power… that was something else.

What did Aurora expect me to do here? Kill him? I’d probably have more luck killing a mountain. Take Nyashk hostage to force his compliance? She was a warlord. Besides, I still didn’t know what exactly their connection was. Maybe it would just send him into a mindless rage.

“How?” Backstrom asked.

I frowned. “What?”

“How did he get a power? None of the other monsters did. What makes him special?”

I stared at her. “You really don’t know?”

“Know what?”

I glanced at the others. The ‘sarians looked embarrassed, but I wasn’t sure Nyashk was even listening. She was still petting the gargant and whispering into its ear.

“I don’t exactly know the full details myself,” I said. “I just made some guesses. Maybe you guys can fill in the blanks?”

“…I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Tora said. “I think this whole thing might technically be classified something or other. It’s not really a standard case. I mean, it started as a standard case, and then everything went sideways…”

“Tora,” Gosling said. “Who are they gonna tell? The fey? They obviously already know.” He jutted his chin at the gargant. “I’m guessing they’ve got a tracker in our friend here. It’s the only way they found us so easily.”

“Will someone explain something?” Backstrom demanded. “I have had it with insane fey, monsters, and now super-powered gargants—”

“He’s my son,” Nyashk said.

Backstrom’s mouth shut with a click.

“I wasn’t sure about the son part,” I said, “but otherwise… yeah. Only humans got powers when the Composer hit the whole city.” Aurora had helped a bit with recent history. “If he got a power, that means he’s human. Simple as that.”

“I…” Nyashk took a deep breath. “I made a deal with the fey. Maybe it was a good idea, maybe it wasn’t, but I made it. They weren’t supposed to… anyway. They took one of my eggs. They grew the egg.” She patted the gargant again, tears in her eyes. “Modified it. Turned it into a weapon. I still don’t know why.”

“What about the other gargants?” Backstrom asked. “Were they all human—”

“He is human,” Nyashk snapped, eyes flaring.

“Right. Sorry. My point is, do the other gargants have powers?”

Nyashk glanced at the ‘sarians.

“No one has seen any,” Gosling said. “And no one has ever seen a gargant—besides this guy—display anything more than bestial cunning. I’m guessing the rest are just what we always thought: Normal animals, horrifically modified.” He looked sadly at the gargant. “Then someone got a bright idea to modify humans in the same way.”

“Like changelings,” I said.

Everyone stared at me.

“I mean, sort of.” Changelings were homunculi like me, made from scratch, but as far as I knew there was no reason they had to be. “In the end, isn’t that pretty much what he is? A changeling that’s more monstrous than usual? I heard that some of them don’t even look human when they escape. And, well…” I shrugged uncomfortably.

“You know, that’s a good point,” Tora said. “The changelings might be able to fix him. Revert the modifications.”

“He was modified as an egg,” Gosling said. “Not even as an embryo, a God-dammed egg. I think you’d find it easier to grow a human from scratch than fix him.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Nyashk said. She was still petting the gargant. “I have a friend among the changeling warlords. She’ll be willing to take a look, if nothing else.”

The gargant seemed to like that idea. He nuzzled her hand, and she smiled. But how much did he really understand? Yes, his monstrous appearance was making me underestimate his intelligence, but how long had he been alive? How much knowledge or experience could he have accumulated?

Huh. Accumulated. I was spending too much time around the feyborn. A lot of them were college-educated toy nerds. Their higher vocabulary was rubbing off on me.

“Well, good luck,” I said with a smile. I was afraid if I said too much more, I’d say something stupid and insensitive. “We should really be getting back.” I grabbed Backstrom’s arm. She raised an eyebrow, but didn’t resist.

“Wait,” Tora said. “That’s it?”

I frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You’re not going to… I dunno… try to capture him? Or us? Or convince us to bring him to Summerhome?”

I smiled. “I don’t have any orders here. Not even a suggestion of an order. If Maiden Aurora wanted me to do something, she should have said so. Not just thrown me in this direction and hoped for the best.” I nodded politely. “Hopefully we will see you around, detectives, Noble. It’s been a pleasure.”

They didn’t say anything as we walked away.

Backstrom pulled out of my grip once we turned the corner. “Interesting choice.”

“Only choice, from my perspective.”

“Uh-huh. And what if this is what the fey intended from the start? For you to drive the gargant into the waiting arms of the changelings? Maybe use it to ferret out some hidden base or destroy a troublesome warlord?”

I sighed. “I think, at this point, I can safely say that it’s just not our problem.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 313)

The gargant has been a long time coming. His plot is mostly done, but there’s still a little bit left.

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Scene 312 – Ingens

INGENS

SEENA

“Noble Nyashk,” my majordomo said, bowing low. “May I introduce Detectives Abraham Gosling and Utako Tora, of Necessarius.”

The two people who stepped into the conference room were obviously Necessarius. While there was no formal dress code, Butler’s detectives liked to wear nice suits that could take a beating, in addition to the ‘sarian armbands and prominent guns. The man was baseline, while the woman was a kemo with just tiger ears.

The conference room was nothing special, just a big room with a long table and a nice wide window. The window was of course polarized to keep light out. It was only two or three—I hadn’t checked the clock—and the sun was high in the sky.

“Thank you,” I said to my majordomo. He bowed and left. I turned to the ‘sarians. “Badges, lawmen. I’ve been feeling paranoid of late.”

They both nodded and pulled out their badges, presenting them without complaint. I peered closely. They looked authentic enough. I could have someone check to make sure later, after they left.

“Thank you,” I said, sitting down. “How may I help you two today?”

They glanced at each other.

“Please, sit,” I said. “Did you want something to drink? We have water, iced tea, whatever you want.”

They took their chairs a little hesitantly, sitting across from me at the end of the table.

“Honored Noble,” the man said. Gosling. “There’s no easy way to say this…”

I sat up, a chill running down my spine. “Is Simon all right?”

“What? Yes! I mean—” He glanced at his partner. “Uh, we don’t know anything about your brother. Someone from our precinct was looking for him a few days ago for something unrelated, but couldn’t find him.”

I took a deep breath. “I’m sure that’s nothing. He’s been spending a lot of time with that girlfriend of his, Yolanda.” I smiled. “He had an… accident recently. He’s resting up a bit.”

“Right,” Tora said. “But that’s not what we came here to talk to you about.”

“This is a very strange situation,” Gosling said. He still looked hesitant. “I’m just going to come out and say it, because I don’t know how to soften the blow. There’s a gargant that’s been killing people.”

I smirked.

Gosling chuckled. “Okay, yeah, that sounds… redundant. But this one is acting like an assassin. Moving intelligently, killing specific people. The current theory is that the fey put a homunculus control module inside a gargant.”

I frowned. “I’m not sure that’s possible.” I shrugged. “Maybe you should go looking for my brother after all. He likes toy maker theory, though he’s not that great at the actual art of it all.”

“Regardless, its latest victim managed to rip a few hairs off it in the struggle. We had them tested, and…” He paused. “We found your DNA.”

I stared at him.

“What?” I said after a moment.

“Necessarius has your DNA on file. Pre-Nyashk, anyway. Something about a blood drive before they figured out how to clone blood with the toy maker—”

“Yes, yes, I know all about that,” I said tiredly. “But… a gargant can’t have my DNA. What did they do, clone me?”

The detectives glanced at each other again.

“Out with it,” I snapped.

“The gargant has half your DNA,” Tora said.

Half.

That was how much a child of mine would have.

Like the child I sold to the fey.

“Our first thought was that they stole a sample of your blood,” Tora said. “Mixed it up with whatever they wanted for the gargant. But we got a hit on the other half of the DNA, and…” She paused. “We can stop if you want.”

“Why would I want that?”

“Honored Noble,” Gosling said quietly. “You’re crying.”

My hand went to my cheek. I felt something wet there.

I sniffed and wiped the tears away and forced my voice to remain level. “Thank you for informing me of this, detectives. Is there anything else?”

Gosling nodded. “We didn’t come here just to tell you about… well. We have someone at the precinct with a scrying ability. Uh, that means he can—”

“See distant places,” I said. “Yes, I know. Several of my drakes have variants of it. I also know that it is rarely so convenient as to simply choose who you want to scry on. What do you want from me?”

“His ability is bloodline locked,” Tora said. “Or… bloodline boosted. Not sure about that. Anyway, if this gargant is… what we think it is, he should be able to use you as a focus for his power. Use you to find the gargant before it kills again.”

“He hasn’t had a chance to try it on a homunculus,” Gosling said. “So we’re not sure how it works with clones—”

“The gargant is not a clone.”

The detectives didn’t say anything. They had suspected, but hadn’t wanted to step out of place by saying it aloud.

“How urgent is this?” I asked after a moment.

Very,” Gosling said. “We haven’t been able to determine any sort of pattern for the attacks. Sometimes they come within just a few days of each other.”

“Oh, good.”

He stared at me. “Good?

“I just wanted to know if I should wake up Zepar and go with you right now. I’m the only Noble awake at the moment.”

“Oh.” He relaxed. “Okay, that’s fine. So you want to do this tonight?”

“We can even bring him here, if that would make things easier,” Tora added.

I considered it. “No, I will go to meet him. I will be safer than he would be. Besides, I’ve been cooped up in here for too long.”

They both nodded in agreement.

“Is ten PM a good time?” I asked, rising.

They rose as well. “That should be fine,” Gosling said. “I’ll double-check that he’ll still be around and give your secretary a call.”

“You can get his card—”

Gosling flipped out a card. “Got it right here.”

I smiled. “Of course. Thank you both for your attention to detail on this investigation.” I frowned. “Actually, I am curious. Why are you involved in this at all? I thought I heard something about the Paladins and their retinue investigating a string of gargant attacks.”

They exchanged a look again.

I rolled my eyes. “Detectives…”

Tora winced, her ears laying flat against her head. “The retinue…” She shook her head. “They’re having problems. Don’t know the full details. But we got the case because it intersected one of ours. Pure coincidence, really.”

“Ah. Well.” I indicated the door. “Please, see yourselves out. I am sure you have much to do today, and I would like to rest up for tonight.”

They both bowed slightly and left.

I collapsed into a chair the second the door closed.

I put my face in my hands. How long was this going to come back to haunt me? One mistake—a big mistake, but still just one—made years ago. I should never have dealt with the fey. I should have taken off running in the opposite direction the second I had seen that naked bitch.

At least the ‘new’ fey were showing their true colors now. Using an old project to attack innocent people didn’t fit with their friendly new ‘culture.’ Well, okay, innocent was a nebulous concept in Domina City, but—

I frowned. Wait one second.

I flipped out my phone and called the front desk. “Have the ‘sarians left yet?” I asked without preamble.

The secretary sounded surprised. “Uh, yes. They just left. Two seconds ago.”

“Bring them back in.”

“Honored Noble, I don’t have my daygoggles, I’ll need to fetch someone—”

Now.”

“Yes, Honored Noble.” There was a pause, then he returned, out of breath. “They are on their way, Honored Noble.”

“Thank you.” I took a deep breath. “I promise, this is important.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

I smiled. “Of course not.” I hung up.

A few minutes later, the detectives walked back into the conference room, looking confused.

“Apologies,” I said with a smile. “But I thought of something I would like to ask.”

“All right,” Gosling said. I didn’t sit, so neither did they.

“This gargant,” I said. “My—” I couldn’t say it. “This gargant. You said there’s no pattern to its attacks. But is there a pattern to its victims?

“Possibly,” Tora said, still confused. “Where are you going with this?”

“Are they all criminals?” I asked. “People who couldn’t be touched through normal channels for whatever reason.” I shook my head. “I don’t even know what I’m asking. Maybe they were escaped criminals who changed their faces or something.”

“Or something,” Gosling said. He kept his face impassive. But I could smell something from him—sweat, mixed with something else. I wasn’t good at determining emotions from scents, but there was something there.

Tora shook her head. “Honored Noble, where is this coming from?”

“I was thinking about the fey,” I said. “They’ve stopped their Hunts. They never act aggressively, but they fight ruthlessly when on the defensive. They’re trying as hard as they can to look like a respectable culture.”

The detectives didn’t say anything. I couldn’t tell if they hadn’t figured it out, or if they just didn’t want to accidentally give me any clues.

“That means that whatever they’re doing with this gargant, they think it’s important. Either important enough to their culture to risk their reputation, or important enough to the city that they’ll be vindicated in the end.”

Gosling shuffled on his feet. “…everyone knows that the fey are crazy,” he said after a moment.

“And everyone used to know the world was flat,” I said. “The fey often have insane goals, but their means are always simple and logical enough. If you want to cause chaos, unleashing hordes of monsters works perfectly. The fact that they have soldiers and so on is proof of that.”

“How are soldiers proof of chaos?” Tora asked.

“I mean proof that they’re rational,” I said. That had gotten away from me a bit. “The monsters weren’t cutting it, so they got soldiers. And apparently that wasn’t working either, so they got a new type of gargant.” I shook my head. “Why my baby, I have no idea. Maybe they wanted to draw my attention for some reason. Who knows. The point is, there has to be a pattern.”

Gosling glanced at Tora. “Are we allowed to tell her?”

Tora closed her eyes. “I have no idea. The boss will get pissed if we bother her with this. She’s still busy entertaining the Senator.”

Gosling scratched his head. “Honored Noble. What I am about to tell you is top secret. If there are any recording devices in this room, you need to turn them off.”

I flipped out my phone and pressed a few buttons. “There we go. All off.”

He still looked hesitant, but he nodded. “Okay. It’s simple, really. The gargant is attacking American spies.”

I frowned. “What? Wasn’t this going on since before the war?”

“America has been sending spies to Domina since before the Fall of Eden,” Tora said. “They normally get eaten up and spat out, but they’ve been getting smarter. And like you said, there was the war. We’ve suddenly become much higher priority, and a number of enemy soldiers survived by hiding out in the city.”

I sat back. “And now the fey are cleaning house,” I said.

“Lady Mab claims that the gargant has slipped the leash,” Tora said. “She refuses to give any more information beyond that. Whether it’s true or not, this gargant is dangerous, and needs to be neutralized before it hurts anyone else.”

“I’m surprised you’re so protective of American spies.”

Gosling sighed. “Honored Noble, how do you think a gargant assassinates people?”

I frowned. “I would assume in a similar manner to my own culture. Swiftly, violently. Why?”

“This isn’t some steel-plated gargant that has learned how to slip through defenses and attack from stealth,”Gosling said. “It’s a big one. There’s some name for it, one second…” He flipped out his pad to check his notes.

“Category three,” Tora said. “The same size as a brick-plated gargant.”

I blinked, then felt a mounting horror in my heart. “Its not just killing the spies. It’s killing everyone who happens to be around them at the time.”

Gosling nodded. “And it’s been getting more violent.” He shook his head. “There are some… oddities. Conflicting reports about the way it kills. Regardless, we need to find this creature as soon as possible.”

“Which is why we are thankful you agreed to help,” Tora said. “We’ll see you tonight.”

“No,” I said. I grabbed my daygoggles off a hook next to the door. “We’ll go now. If my—if this gargant really is the threat you think it is, there’s no reason to delay.”

They both relaxed visibly. They hadn’t wanted to push me, but there did want to rush.

“Thank you, Honored Noble,” Tora said.

Gosling took out his phone. “I’ll call ahead, let them know to be ready for us.”

I forced myself to smile. “Hopefully we can sort this out without too much more trouble.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 312)

I’m certain I put the gargant on the back burner for far too long. But this is still the best time to polish off this old story line, along with a couple of others.

Scene 311 – Scobis

SCOBIS

SIMON

I grunted as I helped shift a bit of rubble to the side. It was a small bit; I wasn’t very strong these days. But I still wanted to help. Shendilavri hadn’t been hit that hard in the American attack, but it had been hit. Just a few stray rockets and one or two squads of soldiers. Since the domain was already basically rubble, I had assumed it wouldn’t be a big deal. But it turned out that a couple of the secret entrances to the underground succubus lair had been destroyed.

So that meant shifting rubble.

I leaned against a building, panting in the dust-filled air. My scars screamed at me, but I fought to ignore them. I knew from experience that despite the pain, they never started bleeding again. Titania and Eisheth Zenunim had done their work well.

Someone put a water bottle in front of my face. “Hell of a way to start the year, huh?”

I took the bottle and drank half of it in one long pull. It was as cold as ice, and I swore I could feel it washing away the dust coating the inside of my throat.

The man who had given it to me was an incubus with red skin and purple horns. No tail, though, and he was wearing normal clothing. There were a lot of demons like him picking through the rubble, trying not to look like they were affiliated with the succubus culture. People still remembered Malcanthet too well.

But we had an excuse to be out here. We weren’t that far from the Gate, so there was a lot of damage that needed to be repaired. Most of the damage was superficial, but it still needed to be handled. Rubble moved, bodies collected and recycled, that sort of thing. The Rampage had been worse.

I realized the incubus was still waiting for a response. “Might be a good way to start the year. Cooperation. Working together.” It was the second of January, so we had been doing this for about a week now. Well, the city had been doing this for a week. The succubi had been hiding in Shendilavri for most of that time.

The incubus frowned, looking past me. I turned to see some hellions glaring at us while they patrolled around the ruins. They didn’t like anybody poking at Shendilavri too much. Everyone was worried that Malcanthet had left some trick or trap behind. I couldn’t tell if they thought we were idiot kids poking a hornet’s nest or Riven working for the Queen.

They started towards us, probably planning to push us around a bit. Maybe kill one or two of us to scare the rest off. I wiped my brow—scratching the scars there—while the incubus got ready to run. I knew I’d never be able to outrun hellions. I was too weak.

Before they got too close, they were intercepted by another group of hellions. The two groups argued for a minute, and then the first group scowled and marched off in the opposite direction. The leader of the second group turned, nodded to me, and walked off as well.

He had a very prominent eye patch. Though I couldn’t see the color of the eye he had uncovered, I knew it would be a dayeye. It was mid-morning, far too bright to use his nighteye.

“You think that’s him?” the incubus said. “Julian Keller?”

I shook my head and worked on moving some more small pieces of concrete. “Nah, that’s probably just one of his devils. I hear a lot of the Kellions have started doing the half dayeye, half nighteye thing.”

“Huh,” the incubus said. “I’m surprised more people don’t use dayeyes. Seems like they’d be useful.”

“That’s because you’ve never used them,” Yolanda said, walking up. She was covered in a thin layer of dust so that her entire body looked gray. She wiped off her face with a wet rag, then tossed it over her shoulder. “Any and all shadows are as deep as darkest night to dayeyes. They’re really not worth the trouble unless you have the ability to glow.”

The incubus shrugged and resumed working.

“What happened to you?” I asked as Yolanda kissed me. She tasted like dirt, but I ignored it.

She rolled her eyes. “Some idiot dropped half the building about two feet away from me. Stirred up enough dust to choke the whole city.” She chuckled. “Eisheth is giving him an earful right now.”

I smiled too, though the action tugged at my scars. I had been on the receiving end of Eisheth’s lectures more than once. It was nice for someone else to have to deal with it for once. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

She started to shift some rubble. “We got lucky all around. The war could have hit us a lot harder than it did. No one was defending Shendilavri. What if the Americans had decided to use this place as a base?”

I chuckled. “They barely got five feet from the gate! If they had broken through the lines, I’m sure we would have fled. But they didn’t, so it’s fine.” I shook my head. “You worry too much.”

“Yeah,” she said, grunting as she moved a slab of sheetrock. “But what about next time?”

“Next time?” I said with a frown.

She nodded. “Sooner or later, they’ll figure out our strengths and work around them. They’ll be back, mark my words.”

“That’s what the peace talks are for,” the incubus said. I had forgotten he was still there. “The reason Sargeras and the rest of them went off. You don’t have to worry. They’ll keep this from blowing up again.”

Yolanda didn’t look convinced.

I chuckled. “C’mon. Worst case scenario, they can kill the American diplomats. Sure, the war will still restart, but at least they’ll have cut the head off the snake.” I thought about it. “Maybe they’ve done that already.”

“That would probably just make things worse.”

“Which is why the Mother Monster won’t let them,” the incubus said. I should really figure out his name, but now we had been talking so long that it would be awkward to ask. “She knows what she’s doing.”

“Huh,” I said. “I didn’t know she was involved.”

“She wasn’t in the procession leaving the city, but she was mentioned in the press release.”

“All right then.” I nodded to Yolanda. “I’m with him. Lilith will handle things.”

She wasn’t impressed. “And if they try to take her hostage?”

I chuckled. “Now you’re just being silly. If they take her hostage, the ambassadors will be able to tear them apart with clear consciences. There’s no way that the Americans would be that stupid.”

She brushed her hair back, then looked at her dusty hand as if she had forgotten. She shook her head and looked up. “I know. Really. I know I’m just being paranoid. But, it’s just…” She sighed. “I can’t do anything to help. So I worry.”

I tossed aside the rubble I was working on and put my arms around her shoulders. “You know what you need? Ice cream. And a shower.” I looked down at my clothing. I wasn’t as bad, but still dusty and sweaty. “I think we both do, actually.”

Yolanda managed a smile. “We cleared away the rubble from one of the entrances. That’s actually how I ended up so dusty. We can go down there and find… something to do.”

I rolled my eyes as we walked away. “Fun as that sounds, I think ice cream would do you better than sex right now.”

“Blasphemy!” the incubus called after us. Wow, he had good ears.

“Private conversation!” I called back, in a joking tone.

“Hey, you’re leaving me to do all the work alone! I get to make a few jokes as you go!”

I shrugged. Fair enough.

Yolanda took the glove off my hand. At first I thought she just wanted to hold hands, but I soon realized she was inspecting my scars.

“It’s fine,” I said. “Nothing broke open.”

She nodded and bumped her shoulder against mine. “I know. I should trust Titania more. It’s just…” She sighed. “She keeps saying you’re too weak to use the toy box again. But I’ve seen it used on coma patients. You’re up and walking around, that should be more than enough.”

I plastered a smile on my face. “It’s no big deal.”

She looked at me sideways. “I see the way you wince every time you move. You’re good at hiding it, but it’s there.”

I was silent for a moment.

“Shouldn’t I have stopped noticing by now?” I whispered. “I don’t notice gravity weighing me down or my heart beating in my chest. But no matter how I move, my scars pinch and ache.” I looked down at my ungloved hand. “It’s like they didn’t heal me. They just glued me back together, and at any moment I could fall apart.” I concentrated, and my hand was wreathed in shadow despite the sun shining overhead. “Why couldn’t I get some healing ability instead of this? This stupid little cantrip?” I dismissed the darkness and smiled wanly at Yolanda. “I’m sorry for the rant.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I understand what it’s like to have a power that’s… underwhelming.”

I smiled. We still hadn’t figured out exactly what her power was. When she activated it, she seemed to burst into electricity and reappear somewhere else. But she had no control over it. She didn’t even remember what happened while she was electricity. It was like a randomized teleport with a laughably short range.

“We’ll figure yours out eventually,” I said. “I checked Fundie, and there are support groups for people who need help figuring out their powers.” We ducked down to enter a small tunnel that looked like it didn’t lead anywhere. “Maybe you should look into one of those.”

“They’re scams,” she said. “Trying to lock down new and interesting powers for use in… whatever they’d be useful in.” She smiled at me. “The angels and the vampires would both kill to get a hold of you.”

I sighed. I knew they would. “Thankfully, nigerkinesis isn’t really that rare, relatively speaking. They’ll find someone else.”

She quirked her head. “Is that right?”

“Yeah, a lot of vampires have—”

“No, I mean the name. Nigerkinesis. You’re not really manipulating shadows, you’re making shadows.”

“So what would that be? I’m terrible at Greek. I barely even know the basic prefixes and suffixes.”

“Nigergenesis, I think. That might be Latin.”

We turned the corner that made the tunnel look shorter than it was. “I know genesis was from the Bible,” I said. “Was that first written in Latin or Greek?”

“Wasn’t Rome conquered by Greece at around that time?”

“I thought it was the other way around.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Why would the Romans take the gods of the people they conquered?”

“Apparently they did that a lot. Appropriating things from conquered cultures.”

She shook her head. “I guess that makes sense. But I’ve never seen anything like that before. Did the lupes take anything from the cherves when they conquered them? Anything besides their domain, I mean.”

I smirked. “The cherves have been conquered six times. You’re going to have to refresh my memory.”

“Three times,” she said.

I frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Veda was a cherve, remember?”

“Oh, right.” We turned the last corner and passed into the underground cavern of Shendilavri itself. “I thought she didn’t really care about it, though. That’s why she gave it up so easily.”

“All I know is she once gave me a lecture on the history of the cherves.” She paused as we walked down the street towards our apartment. “I wonder if she’s in New York right now.”

“What, with the fey?” I asked. I shook my head. “I don’t think so. You saw the procession. Maeve just had the stealth, the tank, and the other one with her. I guess since Veda is a Prince, she’s too important for something so minor as guard duty.”

“And spying.”

I chuckled. “When has Veda ever been a good spy? She’s an engineer.”

Yolanda smiled. “Okay, that’s fair. It took her what, ten minutes to blow her cover during the Wild Hunt?”

“That’s what Seena said.” I thought back to the last time I had seen her. “I wonder what she’s doing right now.”

Yolanda raised an eyebrow and pushed open the door to our apartment. “I don’t think we should worry about your sister right now.”

I frowned. “But she could be anywhere. Doing anything. She could be in trouble, or causing trouble, or—”

Yolanda put a finger to my lips. “I meant, we shouldn’t worry about your sister right now.”

She closed the door behind us and started pulling me towards the shower.

I smirked. “Oh. Well, that I can understand.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 311)

To be completely honest, I didn’t know what to do with Simon for the longest time. I knew I wanted his plot to parallel Seena’s, but I also knew I didn’t want them both to become warlords. Before the Balor Reconstruction, I was briefly considering killing Seena off, but I changed my mind. I think this works much better, with him falling as she rises. But at the same time, he is happier than she is, because he has far fewer responsibilities.

As for Simon and the toy maker, that’s a bit complicated. I can’t go into it without a ridiculous amount of technobabble, but the short version is that the procedure that saved his life is fragile. Day to day living won’t pull his wounds apart, but the way the toy maker works means it might. Like solvent for a glue. It’s possible that Titania and Eisheth Zenunim could work fast enough to save him using the toy box, but it’s also quite possible that they wouldn’t. It’s simply not worth the risk.

Scene 310 – Insopor

INSOPOR

CHRIS

I yawned as I walked into the waiting room. It was almost midnight. Weren’t they done yet?

The meeting room was filled with people. For a certain definition of ‘people,’ anyway. There were demons like Malcanthet and Lily, but also men with black eyes, people with so much fur or scales I couldn’t tell their gender, people with white skin who didn’t seem to have gender, and people so tall their heads scraped the ceiling.

There were a few who looked normal, though. Adam was sitting at a table with two of them.

“What’s going on?” I asked as I walked up.

“They sent the guards away as a sign of good faith,” he said. He had his eyes closed, and looked like he was trying to nap while sitting up. “Last I checked, they were ironing out trade details.”

“These things always take forever,” one of the men said. He had golden hair and tanned skin, an odd combination.

I nodded. “Still, I would have thought they could take breaks.”

The man shook his head. “That’s why it’s taking so long. Everyone’s worried that if they take a break, the war will restart when they’re not looking. Whether they realize it or not, they’re trying to finish this whole thing in one session.”

“Huh,” I said.

“I’m Ferenil, by the way,” he said. He held out his hand to shake. “Ferenil of the Never-Known Thieves.”

I frowned, but shook his hand anyway. “Chris. Uh, Clemens.”

“I’m Domothon,” the other man said. He had the same shimmering golden hair as Ferenil, but pale skin. “Also of the Never-Known Thieves.”

“…right.” I looked around to try and hide my confusion and apprehension. “Lots of bored muscle here. Is that going to be a problem?”

Domothon snorted. “Of course not.”

Ferenil glared at him. “What my friend here is trying to say is that no one will defy their warlords like that. They have all been ordered not to start the war, and they will obey.” He chuckled to himself. “Especially not with Lily watching.”

“There will be spies, though,” Domothon said. “No one is going to miss this opportunity.”

Adam cracked an eye open. “You said you know most of the people here. You said they’re career bodyguards and some monster slayers. Not spies.”

Domothon smirked. “Of course. Hide a needle in a haystack. But one or two people in each entourage are going to be spies, and everyone is going to have orders to keep an eye out.” He leaned back in his chair and grinned. “Except us, of course.”

To my surprise, Adam actually nodded at that. “Spying isn’t Pam’s style.”

“Eccretia,” Ferenil said.

“Right, sorry, Eccretia.” Adam frowned and shook his head. “Usually I’m good about that.”

Ferenil shrugged. “It happens.”

I looked around, then leaned down to the table. “So who are the spies, do you think?”

“Maeve’s is obvious,” Adam said. Both his eyes were open now, and he nodded at one corner of the room. Three women were standing there, not interacting with any of the other entourages. One woman was almost as big as the giants, another was average size but had pink hair, and the third was small and lithe. She had her back slightly bent, like she was used to walking around in a crouch. Her eyes danced around the room.

“Hm, yes,” I said. “The little girl couldn’t look more like a spy if she tried.”

Adam snorted. “She’s not a spy, she’s an assassin. My money is on the big one being the spy.”

Domothon and Ferenil nodded. “Yes,” Ferenil said. “I can see that.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I could see the pink one being the spy, but the big one is too… well, big. She’ll be spotted wherever she goes.”

“People underestimate the intelligence of giants,” someone said from behind us. I turned to see one of the giants from before standing near our table. He was almost eight feet tall, with a neatly trimmed red beard. “Using Pauline as the spy might be a little obvious, but it is hard for people to put aside their prejudices.”

Adam nodded. “Thrym and Surtr have gotten quite a lot of mileage out of that fact. I imagine Skrag has an even larger advantage.”

The giant sighed. “Honestly, I don’t even know. One minute he is the perfect gentleman Titan, the next he’s a frothing berserker. It must be an act, but if so it’s a very good one.” He shook his head. “Apologies. I complain about his manners, and then forget my own. I am Henry. I am a Muspel, as I am sure you already guessed.” He smiled. “You two are Never-Known Thieves, correct?”

Ferenil nodded. “I am Ferenil, and this is Domothon.”

“And where are the representatives from the Forgotten Names and the Firstborn, Honored Paladin?”

Domothon grinned. “Out spying.”

Ferenil kicked him under the table, but Domothon just laughed it off. Henry smiled as well.

“I’m Chris Clemens,” I said. I didn’t hold out my hand to shake. His hands were as big as my head, and I was worried he’d crush me in a handshake. “This is Adam Anders.”

Adam nodded politely. “Sorry I forgot to introduce myself.”

“No need,” Henry said. “We all know who you are, Honored Paragon.”

I frowned. There was that word again, paragon. People said it like a title.

Henry turned to me. “But I have not met you before. Are you a close friend of the Honored Mother?”

It took me a second to realize what he was talking about. “No, nothing like that. I’m not from Domina. I’m from here. From New York.”

Henry raised an eyebrow. “Interesting. Very interesting indeed. May I ask how you came to be here?”

Adam chuckled. “It’s a long story. We wouldn’t do it justice. Lily will tell it to MC soon, and she’ll do a full press release.”

“The short version is that I followed Adam,” I said. “I’m his bodyguard.”

Henry threw back his head and laughed, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.

“Muspel,” one of the black-eyes called. “What’s so funny?”

He grinned and indicated me. “This one is Anders’ bodyguard.”

Everyone in the room laughed at that. Not the deep belly laugh Henry had produced, but still genuine amusement.

I frowned, then turned to Adam. He just smirked.

“Domina City is smaller than you’d think,” he said. “You’d be surprised how easy it is to become famous.”

“Earlier you told me it’s bigger than I could possibly imagine.”

“Yeah, it’s that too.”

I sighed. “Whatever.” I eyed Henry. “Do you know how long that meeting will go? They have to take a break eventually.”

The giant shrugged. “I think everyone in there except Eccretia has the Insomniac gland.”

“And Eccretia has Insomniac soda,” Domothon said. “She can keep going with the rest of them.”

Henry nodded. “Yes, of course. I know the White Cat brought a few cases.”

I didn’t bother asking what an Insomniac gland was. The name was clear enough, and I’d look like an idiot if I brought it up. “Even if that’s true, the Americans don’t have anything like that.”

Henry frowned. “They could… share?”

Domothon laughed. “The White Cat, sharing?”

The doors opened, and everyone turned to see the ambassadors walking out.

Lily was first. She walked with a straight back, pad held professionally at her side. Her tail was low to the ground, and didn’t swish to the sides much. She smiled at everyone she passed, then jerked her head at Adam. He stood, preparing to escort her out.

Behind Lily were the wheelchairs, being pushed by the vampire. Adam had called him Dracul a few hours ago. I was surprised that someone of his level was willing to do menial labor. Maybe the others agreed, because two of the giants ran up and took over. Dracul smiled and said something to them, before stepping out of line and walking over to his men.

Adam grabbed me by the arm before I had a chance to watch the rest of the procession. He nodded goodbye at Domothon, Ferenil, and Henry, and we walked up to Lily. She was standing at the doors leading out of the room, waiting.

“The meeting has been put on hold until ten in the morning,” she said. “Most of the Americans, and some of the Dominites, were almost ready to pass out. Continuing would have been counter-productive.”

I nodded. Made sense.

Lily led us out the doors and took us down a hallway. I glanced behind us, but no one else was coming out. They were probably getting up to speed with their entourages.

“We’ll need somewhere to stay the night,” Lily said. “Is your house still an option?”

Adam thought about it. “Maybe. But the Americans should have offered you a hotel room or something.”

Lily’s shoulders slumped. “I… don’t trust them.” She said it like she was admitting to some horrible crime.

Adam put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “It’s all right. Better safe than sorry.”

“What are you worried about?” I asked. “Bugs in the room?”

“I don’t care what they overhear,” Lily said. “I’m worried they might decide it’s easier to get rid of me than talk.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Really?

She gave me a sad smile. “I am far from invincible, Miss Clemens. Surviving some low-caliber rounds and a gasoline fire hardly makes me immune to assassins.”

“That’s not what I mean,” I said with a smile of my own. A much happier smile. “Nobody uses assassins. Not since the 1970’s, anyway. The international community comes down really hard on that sort of thing.”

Adam frowned. “The 1970’s? Do you know the exact date?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Uh, no. There is an exact date, though. North Korea tried to assassinate literally every other leader in the world, completely failed, and the international community went crazy. Passed new laws, the whole thing.”

“And everyone was about to attack North Korea,” Adam said, clearly remembering his history classes. “But then the North Korean leader committed suicide.” He frowned. “And he killed his entire cabinet or something, right?”

“Sounds familiar, but I’m not sure.”

“Huh. Convenient.”

I chuckled. “Convenient would be if he had done it decades earlier.”

“Maybe she couldn’t do it then.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” He shook his head. “Anyway. It’s nice that the outside world is all civilized and everything, but I’m still with Lily. Better safe than sorry. Maybe they’ll decide that we don’t count when it comes to assassins because we’re backwater savages. Or whatever.”

“Or they found out about Artemis’ ghosts and want to return the favor,” Lily said. She didn’t sound happy.

Adam sighed. “The ghosts are—”

“Necessary. I know.” She shook her head. “Let’s just get out of here. We can take a cab.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 310)

Korea has been reunified for a few decades now. That means that it has started to pass from the realm of “miraculous recovery of a tortured people” to “class, this test will be worth ten percent of your grade.” Chris was a kid when it happened, so she remembers it pretty vividly, even if she’s fuzzy on the details. Adam wasn’t even born yet.