I kicked the door open, surprising the dozen people in the room. Eleven guns were pointed at me before I had taken two steps.
I ignored them all. “Are you the Malcatari?”
Eleven guns roared, bullets from pistols and rifles shredding my flesh and breaking my bones. In moments, I had enough lead in me to fill a bucket.
Then they ran out of ammo, and stopped firing.
I waited patiently as my healing pushed the bullets out of my body and re-knit my bones.
The leader—the one who hadn’t pulled a gun on me—slowly stood up. “You are one of those creatures from Domina City.”
I snorted. “No, I’m the one who made those creatures in Domina City. I’m Elizabeth Greene.”
This didn’t get the reaction I felt it deserved. Instead of shock, awe, and horror, they just kind of looked at me funny.
“The Composer?” I said. “Ringing any bells?”
The gunmen just shook their heads. A few of them tried to reload without me noticing.
The leader just stalled for time. “We don’t know you, lady. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a pleasant conversation. What do you want?”
I looked around the room. Other than a few couches and a single table, there wasn’t much to see. It seemed like everyone had been eating when I came in. There was a big pile of cash on the counter, which I assumed was from some bank heist or mugging or however it was that criminals made money.
“Is this all of you?” I asked.
“There are others,” the leader said. “Did Malcanthet send you?”
I chuckled. “She’s dead, boy.”
One of the others shot me in the head. I ignored him.
To the leader’s credit, so did he. Everyone else looked nauseated watching me heal again, but he didn’t seem concerned. “We know our lady is still alive. Are you here to insult the Succubus Queen, or do you have something important to say?”
“You know where all the other Malcatari are?” I asked.
“And does anyone else know?”
“My lieutenants.” I guessed that those were the other two men sitting at the table with him. “Why?”
I shrugged. “Wanted to make sure I wouldn’t lose anything important with your death.”
“Threats will get you—” He cut off as my glowing orange energy blade appeared in his throat. Throwing energy knives was difficult, since they took more energy to maintain the farther they were from me, but I had mastered the technique over the centuries.
The leader went down, and eleven guns snapped up again as everyone finished reloading.
I held up my hands before anyone could shoot. “Before you waste some more ammo, I have a proposal for all of you. You can’t kill me, and if you keep trying I’m just going to get fed up and kill you all.”
Everyone glanced at everyone else, but no one shot me. Good.
“Now, as I said, Malcanthet is dead.” There were angry mutterings, but I calmed them down with some gentle hand waves. “Your queen is dead. I’m sorry.” I was suddenly glad there weren’t any truthtellers in the room. “Artemis Butler has cremated her corpse, and Lilith herself is dismantling Miomanta. All the traitors who once lived there—the lesser guards and worker drones—have turned their backs on their queen.” I didn’t point out that this was mostly because Lilith had flushed the drugs out of their systems. This lot seemed to be continuing to use the prescribed drug cocktail. “Malcanthet’s legacy only lives on in you—her Malcatari.”
“Is there a point somewhere in all this?” one of them snapped.
With effort, I refrained from killing him. “You can stay here, waiting for orders that will never come, and let your queen’s legacy rot and die.” I smiled, displaying my sharp canines. “Or, you can come with me. Join me in revenge against that accursed city, and the monsters who murdered your queen.”
“What do you get out of this?” someone asked.
I gave him a look that was kind and pitying, instead of half a heartbeat away from brutal murder. “I get soldiers. I get revenge. But these are both things you want to give. You were never designed to go without a leader.” That was one of the reasons I had killed the only smart one in the group.
“All right,” said another. “Maybe we do need a leader.” He pointed an accusing finger at me. “But why do we need you? Why can’t we just find someone else? Someone who hasn’t killed one of us?”
“Because,” I said patiently. “No one else can give you powers.”
Shocked silence greeted my words.
“The same powers that the Dominites have?” one of the previous ones asked. I’d have to start learning their names soon.
“Close, but not quite,” I said. “You will have a more limited pool to choose from. But you will be able to choose, unlike the Dominites.”
They still looked hesitant. “What kind of powers can we have?”
“Does it matter?” someone else asked, annoyed. “Whatever we get, the Dominites will already have. It’s like trying to fight the army with guns. Yeah, we’ll have guns, but they’ll have so many more.”
Murmurs of agreement greeted this announcement. I noticed several of them giving me calculating looks, like they were trying to figure out if they could disable me and escape.
“I am not some one-note conductor,” I said. “I am a composer. I am not offering you a power. I am offering you your pick of two powers—each.” I smiled wickedly. “Perhaps more. Whatever it takes to wipe that city off the face of the planet.”
There was a pause.
The Malcatari glanced at each other. Several began to lower their guns.
“Can you give us a minute?” one of the lieutenants asked.
I managed to smile. “Of course. Take all the time you need.” But if they needed more than five minutes, I’d kill every single one of them and find another group to conquer. How hard was it to agree to serve the invincible immortal?
All eleven survivors clustered around the table, whispering furiously. I rolled my eyes and leaned against the wall. Such children. How had Malcanthet ever put up with this? Once I started hypnotizing them, the first thing I was going to do was make them more assertive. After the standard loyalty brainwashing, of course.
After four minutes and thirty-six seconds by my internal clock, they finally broke their little huddle and turned to face me.
“We have made our decision,” the lieutenant said.
“And?” I said, trying not to let my impatience show.
The lieutenant hesitated just for a moment, then knelt before me, eyes downcast.
All the others followed suit.
“We pledge allegiance to you, Elizabeth Greene,” he said.
I slowly smiled. “Excellent. Now, where are the other Malcatari? We will need their help before this is done.”
They glanced at each other.
I rolled my eyes. “Tell me you’re not all there is.”
“No, of course not,” he said quickly. “It’s just… it may take some time.”
“What, did you lose their phone numbers?”
“No, it’s just… there are so many.”
I frowned. “How many can there be? Malcanthet was only operating outside Domina for six years, and Miomanta wasn’t that big.”
“There were only a hundred in Miomanta, this is true,” he said, still keeping his gaze lowered. Humility was a trait I was fond of in minions. “But she trained us in recruitment, in the use of her purifying drugs. New recruits were only brought to Miomanta for the queen’s final blessing, and then sent to live in hiding. We have many brothers and sisters scattered around the entire country.”
“Thousands,” he said, still looking down. “Maybe tens of thousands.”
I felt a slow smile spread across my face.
It had been far too long since I had an army of thralls.
Behind the Scenes (scene 327)
This takes place on Monday, January 14th, four days after the para decided to contact Domina City.