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.”
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.