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.”
I chuckled. “Convenient would be if he had done it decades earlier.”
“Maybe she couldn’t do it then.”
“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.