Tag Archives: Adele Lucifer

Scene 201 – Anxietudo

ANXIETUDO

ADAM

Kelly leaned back in her seat, groaning slightly. “Couldn’t we do this some other time?”

George grunted with effort. “Maybe stop complaining, boss. You’re not the one who has to row this stupid paddle boat across Whitecap Bay!”

We were currently headed to North Fusion island, the site of one of the city’s four great fusion generators, and supposedly the hiding place of Adele’s brother, who might know something about Ling.

And for some reason, we were making the journey in a tiny little boat that had no power source other than me and George.

“Why…exactly…” I gulped down breaths of air. “Are…we the ones paddling?”

“George is the strongest,” Kelly said in a bored tone, covering her eyes against the sun with one hand, even though she was already wearing her daygoggles. “It’s only logical for him to be paddling.”

“And…me?”

“You need exercise. Get some muscles on your bones.”

Bitch.”

“Builds character, too.”

Scroafă.”

The vampire looked up, eyebrows raised. “Did you learn Romanian just to insult me?”

“Just…a few…words.”

“Huh. I probably shouldn’t be impressed.”

“Please stop flirting,” Adele, sitting cross-legged at the front of the boat. “We’re almost there.”

I didn’t bother to correct her accusation. “About…the paddling…”

“A speedboat to the Fusion Islands would attract too much attention,” the angel answered before I could finish. “The ‘sarians guarding the generator are notoriously paranoid, and liable to shoot a missile at us without checking to see if we’re authorized first. My brother has a similar mindset, though he’s more likely to run and hide than kill us. Not to mention, there are also the Dagonites to worry about.”

“But…”

“Plus, it builds character.”

Kalba.”

The angel turned and grinned at me. “Oh, you’ve picked up some Hebrew, too? You are impressive, aren’t you?”

“He’s only got a few of the simpler swear words,” Jarasax noted idly as he checked something on his phone. “Not even the fun ones.”

“Shut…up…you…stupid…” I took in another few breaths, trying to think.

Mac soith is probably what you’re looking for,” he said, unconcerned.

“He doesn’t need any more swear words,” Kelly grunted.

Before I could manage to articulate a response—preferably using what little Romanian I knew—Adele spoke up. “We’re here. Everyone, get ready.”

I turned to look behind me, in the direction we were traveling, and saw North Fusion island for the first time.

It didn’t really look all that impressive. It was an artificial island like Domina itself, but on a far smaller scale—a hundred, maybe three hundred feet wide at the most, with a small band of beach around it, built from gray pebbles and stones.

On the actual island was a two or three story building, with a few pipes and similar high-tech machinery connected to it. That would be the fusion generator itself; the power lines to the city went underground, and came out under the water. It was the only feature worth noting on the small, flat island.

Other than the space cannon, of course.

I almost didn’t see it at first. It was an angular, streamlined design, built with the ability to fold down into a recess at the back of the island, where it was both inconspicuous and probably easier to load.

If the thing fired at this range, we would probably all be instantly deafened. The retinue and Adele would be right as rain in a day or two, but I would take longer. I had no idea how long it would take for the toy box to fix something like that for me, if it even could. Not something I wanted to test if I didn’t have to. Luckily, it was long past noon, when the cannons fired their payloads up to the waiting space stations and colonies. We’d be fine.

We pulled onto the beach, the hull making a crunching sound as it scraped again the pebbles, and Kelly and Sax quickly jumped out to push the boat out of the way of the gentle tide.

I just dropped the paddles and lay there for a moment, exhausted. The sound of the waves, splashing against the shore, almost lulled me to sleep, but the jolting movement of the boat and the sharp taste of salt in the air—sharper than usual in Domina, anyway—kept me awake.

Once I had my breath back, I took another glance around the island, trying to pin down what was bugging me. “I’m not really seeing any…caves, or anything. Lucifer, where’s this brother of yours?”

“We’ll ask the scientists,” she said, holding up her arms in a peaceful gesture. “Just be quiet for now.”

I gave her an odd look before popping open my gun case to make sure it wasn’t waterlogged. “Sure, whatever. Remember we’re not here for chatting, we need to—

Suddenly I was face first on the beach, my arm twisted behind my back and my face ground into the rounded pebbles of the shore.

I tried to yell, but just got a mouthful of salty rocks for my trouble.

“Stop struggling, Anders,” Kelly called in a bored tone. “They only grabbed you because you were playing with your guns.”

I wasn’t playing with—

My captor shoved me into the ground harder, and I finally got the hint and stopped fighting quite so much.

“Kepler says let the boy up,” a gruff voice ordered. “MC called. They’re authorized.”

My captor released me—though not before giving me one last shove—and I pulled myself to my feet slowly, making no sudden moves, before looking around at the soldiers who had ambushed us.

There were over a dozen of them, and they were definitely Necessarians. High-quality weapons and armor expected of elite troops, with the red and black band on their shoulders marking them as belonging to the biggest gang in the city. Their black-painted ceramic armor covered simple civilian clothes; Butler wasn’t big on uniforms, so most of his men chose to wear jeans and t-shirts under whatever equipment they were issued.

The one who was in charge—I couldn’t read his rank insignia, but the others clearly deferred to him—eyed me warily before turning to Adele. “Honored Daybreaker. Apologies for the rough welcome. Between you and the maintenance men installing the new speakers, it’s been a busy day for us. What can we help you with?”

“I’ll get straight to the point, Captain.” Ah, so that was his rank. “Apparently, my brother is squatting on a cave on this island somewhere. Have you seen or heard anything odd—”

“He’s on the east side of the island,” the captain interrupted. “The entrance is pretty small, but the cave itself was uncovered while building the underground portions of the facility, and is large enough. I can show you to him now, if you like.”

The angel blinked in surprise. “I’m…sorry, I didn’t expect you to be…I didn’t think you even knew he was here.”

“He’s not really hiding from us. He knocked on the door and introduced himself, first day he got here.” The soldier grinned. “Brought a fruit basket.”

Adele sighed. “Yes, that sounds like my brother. Well…lead on, if you would.”

It didn’t take long to find the cave, though if the soldiers hadn’t known what we were looking for, I doubt we would have ever found it. It wasn’t even a cave, really, just sort of a hole in the ground, with a lip of stone on the shore side that would keep out the tides.

“We’re going back to our patrol,” the captain said curtly. The soldiers left without another word.

“Fricken’ Fusion Guards,” Kelly muttered. “My dad had better manners.” She pulled her daygoggles off, wincing, and peered into the hole. “Looks like it widens out as it gets deeper.”

“I should hope so.” I opened my gun case, pulled out my pistol, and holstered it just in case. “Do you think it’s big enough for all six of us?”

“Probably. George should still go first, though.”

The giant nodded, and moved forward obediently, clambering down the pit very carefully, making sure he had solid footing with each and every step. It didn’t take long for him to disappear from sight, and only a moment after that that we heard his feet hit something solid.

“I think it’s big enough for everyone,” he called up. “The walls aren’t wet or slippery, but still be careful.”

We all made it down easily enough—Alex slipped, but the giant caught her—to find ourselves in a small cave, maybe ten feet wide and tall, running forward maybe a dozen feet before taking a sharp left turn. I thought it was suspiciously dry for a cave, especially one so close to the waterline, before I spotted a few small drainage grates in the corners.

I pulled out my pistol; I didn’t like this place. “Adele, is your brother the type to use traps?”

The angel rubbed her forehead. “I doubt you have to worry about anything. He doesn’t have many enemies, so if anyone comes after him, it will be angels.” She waved her hand. “You can already see that trap.”

I looked around, but didn’t see anything. “Uh…what?”

“It’s dark. If an angel starts glowing, he’ll notice.”

“Ah. Well, none of that then, you two.” I nodded at Kelly. “Our vampire can guide us just fine.” For crying out loud, even I could have guided us. It wasn’t really that dark in the cave, it just didn’t have any extra lights.

We pressed on, with Kelly in front, George and Sax in the back, me shadowing Kelly, and the angels in the middle. Adele had forgotten her nightvision goggles, so she had to hold Alex’s hand to walk safely.

I expected to run into a twisting maze of underground passages, but it was nothing of the sort. The caves—which were blatantly man-made, judging by the strong right angles of the corners—took a few more sharp turns, but there was always only one option, so there was little chance of getting lost.

However, with each turn, the reflected light from the entrance became dimmer and dimmer, until we were all holding onto one another, with Kelly in the front leading a chain of blind idiots. If this guy decided to attack right now, we were all dead, and that was the end of it.

“Hey, guys.”

I jumped so high at the unexpected voice that I think my head might have hit the ceiling.

“I found Grigorii,” Kelly deadpanned. “By the way, we’re in a bigger cave now.”

“Dawn and saints and darkened Heavens—Greg, turn on the stupid lights.”

“Sis? That you? One sec, it’s around here somewhere…”

I heard the sound of someone scrambling around the room, searching for something, and only remembered at the last second to cover my eyes before the lights came on. Judging from the curses from George and Jarasax, not everyone had taken the same precaution.

“Sorry about that,” the speaker, a small man over by a light switch on the far wall, said.

It took me a second to even realize he was an angel—sure, he had the dayskin tattoos on his face and hands, but those were the only parts of him I could see. He was wearing a light blue bathrobe that covered the rest of his body pretty completely. It was…an odd choice of clothing for an angel. They usually preferred to show as much skin as possible, so they could get the most bang for their buck out of their daybreaks.

“Sorry,” he apologized again. “Haven’t really been…” He trailed off, trying to tidy up the dusty cave—empty except for a plastic table, a few matching chairs, a fridge in the corner, and empty snack bags everywhere—without meeting anyone’s eyes. “…sorry.”

His sister looked around the small room with obvious disdain. “Please tell me you aren’t sleeping in here. Grandpa will rise from his grave and strangle me if you aren’t sleeping in some kind of bed.”

He waved his hand again. “Of course, of course. Secret door in the wall, leads to the bedroom, bathroom, and server room.” He paused. “Ah, those are all separate rooms.”

Adele frowned. “Greg, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you looking at me?”

“What? Nothing. No reason. I’m, uh…just…mad that you didn’t call first. Yes, that’s it…”

The feminine angel rubbed her forehead. “You don’t have a phone. You said they were baby-killing cancer machines.”

“I never said I didn’t own one of those baby-killing cancer machines anyway.”

Kelly cocked her head at the strange angel. “No, don’t change the subject, Adele had a point. You’re not meeting anyone’s eyes.”

“Well, um…”

“Greg,” Adele said in a low voice. “What did you do to your eyes?”

“Okay sis, what you need to understand is that I had all theoretical probabilities accounted for, and according to my calculations it was perfectly safe—”

“Saints ABOVE!” she shrieked, stumbling back. “You, I—WHAT DID YOU DO!?”

He had no eyes.

Just two scarred pits in his skull, staring out at us like a pair of black holes.

It was bad—okay, it was really bad, and I was feeling a little queasy from just looking at it—but I had seen worse stuff during the cleanup after the skins incident. “I don’t know too much about the toy maker, but I’m guessing growing new eyeballs is out of reach?”

He nodded, once.

“O—kaay…um, right.” I scratched my forehead. The others didn’t really look like they knew what to say either, and Adele was green enough I was pretty sure she was going to actually retch soon. “So…how can you see?”

“Echolocation,” he muttered, not looking at his sister. “There are subsonic pulse units built into the walls, that give a constant feed to a small cybernetic implant in the back of my head. Gives a pretty good 3D image of the tunnels. No color, obviously, but…”

That seemed unnecessarily complex. “Why not just use cameras?”

“The implant for that was way too big. I mean, I could, it just takes more processing power than I feel comfortable shoving into my skull.”

“Oh. What about when you leave the tunnels?”

“Well, I don’t, really.” He shrugged. “I have a portable sonar unit, but the picture is fuzzy, and kemos get annoyed at the sound.”

“Some vampires, too,” Kelly grumbled.

The angel grinned. “Uh, yeah. Anyone with ears enhanced over a certain threshold.”

“You still haven’t explained what you did to your eyes,” Adele growled.

Her brother shrugged. “Isn’t it obvious? I removed them. They weren’t working.”

Why weren’t they working, Greg?”

He shuffled on his feet. “Well, as you know, I am a professional information broker.”

“Who never sells any info,” Alex noted.

Grigorii Gabriel continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I managed to intercept some of the Mother Monster’s data dumps to Clarke—”

Jarasax put his hand on his gun, still in its holster. “You what?

“Oh, calm down, changeling. She’s never really cared who knows her secrets. Anyway, most of it was not particularly useful to me—” He waved his hand dismissively. “Some details about poison glands in her mouth, irregularities with her heart, so on. But her eyes—”

Adele sighed deeply. “You tried to give yourself godeyes.”

Godeyes. I had heard of them, of course, from Lily. The pinnacle of Clarke’s science, a combination of the angels’ dayeyes and the vampires’ nighteyes, they gave the ability to see absolutely perfectly in any light, from so close to pitch black you thought there was literally zero light, to staring straight at the sun.

I didn’t pretend to understand the science of it, but apparently combining the two was like mixing an acid and a base. It just didn’t work without a lot of time, effort, and money, and even then usually ended with the patient blind. Only two people had ever done it successfully: The ‘Mother,’ and the warlord of the Draculas.

“Wait one second here,” George said, raising a finger. “I’m far from an expert, but I know a few people on the bad side of a godeyes attempt. None of them actually physically lost their eyes. It’s a lot of damage, yeah, but the toy maker can fix it.”

“Yeah, well, mine went bad.”

Adele glared at him. “How bad?”

Her brother just pointed at his empty eye sockets.

“No, George is right,” Alex said slowly. “Any competent doctor should have been able to fix—” She closed her own eyes as realization dawned. “Oh, you idiot.”

Adele turned to the other angel, a confused look on her face. “Yeah, he’s an idiot. What’s new about that?”

“He tried to give himself godeyes,” Alex deadpanned.

“…yes?” I said slowly. “Welcome to five minutes ago.”

“No. He tried to give himself godeyes.”

We all slowly turned back to Grigorii as the full implications of that sunk in.

“Heh,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “Yeah. Not my smartest move, right?”

His sister was not amused. “YOU TRIED TO PERFORM SURGERY ON YOURSELF!? WHAT IN THE LIGHTLESS NIGHT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?”

He winced. “Not so loud, sis, ow.”

She stomped forward, grabbed her brother by the ear, and yanked him closer to her face. “It took twenty of the best doctors in the city to give the Dragon his eyes, and you thought you could do it by yourself, to yourself!?”

“I had—ow—information he never did! It seemed simple enough!”

“IT REQUIRES PULLING THE EYES OUT OF YOUR SKULL AND DOING PRECISION SURGERY ON THEM WHILE THEY ARE MUTATED BY THE TOY MAKER!”

“Um…” I said. “We were here for a reason—”

“Shut up!” Adele snapped. “Greg, you—”

“You’re here for a reason?” the blind angel chirped excitedly. I couldn’t tell if he was genuinely excited that I might need something from him, or if he was just happy to have an excuse to dodge his sister. He shook himself out of her grip with practiced ease. “Well, what is it?”

“It’s…” Behind him, Adele was struggling to grab her brother and wring his neck, but George held her back. “It’s a friend. She was kidnapped, we think by the aves, October 21st. That’s the Sunday before last. We haven’t been able to find her.”

“Anders, SHUT YOUR MOUTH! I’M NOT DONE YET!”

We both ignored her, while Kelly and George struggled with her. “Hm. Interesting.” The blind angel scratched his head. “The obvious solution is to talk to the aves still in G’Hanir, but Butler took the ‘scraper a week ago, so you’d have already tried that…besides, they’ve largely split off from the Soaring Eagle’s group anyway.”

“Exactly.” At least he seemed well-informed. “So can you help?”

Grigorii made a face. “…maybe. I can give you a few leads, at least.” He fished a pad out of his bathrobes, tapping at it. It made a surprising number of squawks and beeps, which I belatedly realized were probably for the benefit of his sonar devices. “Soaring Eagle’s core group is extremely loyal, so I haven’t managed to suborn any of them.”

“Uh,” I interrupted. “Not sure I understand that word.” I quickly amended the question, to keep from sounding stupid. “In this context, that is.”

He smiled a little. “Of course. I just mean get them over to my side. Usually, that means bribes or blackmail.” He shrugged. “Like I said, the core birds are loyal. They won’t even tell me little things, like what district they’re going to next, or when they’re leaving the current one.”

Adele, who had calmed down by this point—but was still being held carefully by George—stared at her brother. “No info at all? Seriously? Are you sure you’re doing it right?”

The information broker in question sighed. “Yes, I am, thank you very much. I am not the one who slept through Pistis Sophia’s espionage classes.”

“I never attended those classes.”

“Because you were at home, sleeping.”

Anyway,” Kelly interrupted before the siblings could get into another full-fledged argument. “We’re looking for a blonde baseline girl named Ling Yu.”

Grigorii turned to her in surprise. “Wait, the stoneshaper Paladin? She’s the one you’re looking for?”

I blinked. “You…know her?”

“You guys haven’t been doing a very good at keeping yourselves secret,” he noted, looking thoughtful. “Anyone with access to a Beta-level Necessarian security pass knows, and not all of them are immune to bribes.”

The full implication of what he had just said sunk in. “Wait, you know who I am—”

“But I didn’t know she had gone missing,” he muttered, ignoring me. “Yes, that does explain the increased activity over the past few days…I assumed it was just because of that thing with the fey…”

I was starting to get impatient. “Look, if you can’t help us, that’s fine, just—”

He held up a single finger and tutted at me. “Hardly. I can determine Soaring Eagle’s most likely hiding places—I assume she took the Paladin personally?—but it will take a day or two to collate all the data.”

“Send it to MC when you’re done,” Kelly ordered. “If you don’t want her to get a look at your network, carry it over to the lab by hand and have them send it. I’ll tell them to expect you.”

The angel nodded. “Good, yes, perfect, that should do it.”

At least this was over. I turned to leave, before stopping as I realized something.

I turned back to Adele’s brother. “We need to arrange for payment. What’s you price?”

He thought about it. “Normally for something like this? A hundred thousand. But considering that you kept her—” he jerked his thumb at his sister, who glared at him but didn’t otherwise react. “—from killing me, not to mention the safety of a Paladin directly relates to the safety of the city itself…”

He chuckled.

“This one’s on the house.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 201)

Note that unlike most full angels, Grigorii never did get around to the operation to remove his reproductive organs. It just never seemed like the right time, what with his mother’s funeral, then his father’s funeral, then his brother’s and sister’s and uncle’s…and then the other angels found out from Adele that they had never had any living family members, and he was just making up excuses to get out of it. That would be when he fled the culture.

Scene 172 – Ferus

FERUS

SEENA

Nhang stood outside his domain, blocking my entrance to the ‘scraper. It was just before dawn, so he had been sound asleep, and it showed in his pale, drooping eyes. “You are not welcome here, Noble Nyashk.”

I smiled grimly. “I thought you might say that.” I signaled with my tail.

Six heavily-armed Mals stepped out of various hiding places, their weapons trained on the sibriex Power.

“Which is why I brought friends.”

The demon hissed. “You have no right—”

Right?” I spat. “You have taken something very precious to me. It is you, I think, who is outside your rights here.”

Nhang’s eyebrow—hairless today—twitched. “You won’t win this fight, vampire. Go home.”

“How many soldiers do you have, Honorless Fiend?” His eye twitched again at the insult. “Because we both know the sibriex have always been a toy culture.” I shrugged. “Which is fine, of course. Nothing wrong with that.” I felt my smile slide back onto my face. “But how many of your scientists are willing to fight for you?”

The Power didn’t answer my question, choosing to sidestep it instead. “Two days ago, when you left this domain, you said we were even. That between my…” he clicked his tongue derisively. “crimes and your trespassing, there was no need to use violence to settle things.”

I gave him a pitying look.

“I lied.”

One of my snipers shot him in the head.

The pale demon staggered, gurgling, but did not fall. After being hit by a high-caliber sniper round, his head should have popped like a tomato, but instead there was simply a large bloody wound.

Apparently the Unfleshed Lord put more money into his defenses than our spies had suggested.

“Din nou!” I shouted.

My snipers immediately complied, two more shots ringing out like early-morning thunder.

Narek Nhang, Gatekeeper of the Eighth Hell, Power of the sibriex, and the Unfleshed Lord of Ani Kamakhym, fell to the ground like nothing more than a sack of meat.

No one rushed out of the ‘scraper to his side. I wasn’t even sure the other sibriex were awake yet.

“Huh,” I said. “You know, I can’t help but feel like that was kind of a let down.”

One of the Mals who had stepped out of hiding for intimidation gave me a sideways look. “What, did you want a full-scale fight? We don’t have the numbers for that.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know, it’s just anti-climactic. I guess I thought the death of a warlord would be a bigger event.”

Another of the Mals poked the corpse with his boot. “Well, he’s kinda squishy for a warlord. Maybe most of his toys were weapons, and he didn’t get a chance to use them?”

“In that case, move back,” I advised. “The body might be dangerous.”

Before he had a chance to obey, day broke.

I screeched in pain and rage, but was able to bear the light just by raising my arm to shield my eyes. My men weren’t as lucky, and I heard several screeches cut off abruptly as they fell unconscious from the sheer sensory overload.

“Who’s there?” I called. “Show yourself!”

“You picked an interesting first act as warlord, Noble Nyashk,” a calm, measured voice called out. The daybreak did not dim at all. “Even from a Mal, the murder of a Gatekeeper will not go unnoticed.”

I scowled, trying to peer into the harsh light with little luck. “He murdered one of the members of his culture and erased him from the records.”

“Then you should have called Necessarius,” the angel replied. It had a voice that was slightly more feminine than masculine, so I decided she had been female before she took the glow. “We would have handled it. Instead, you may have started another war.”

I gnashed my teeth, slashing my tongue in the process. I spat the resultant blood onto the ground. “Let the night come back, and we can talk about this eye to eye.”

“Fair enough.” The glow receded to far more manageable levels, and I was able to lower my arm.

There was an angel in front of me—presumably, the one I had been speaking to—who was not glowing, flanked by two younger angels who were the source of the light. A quick glance at everyone’s tattoos told me that the leader was indeed a Lucifer, which was not unexpected, specifically of the Eclipse caste. They all had red and black bandanas tied to their arms, making their ultimate allegiance clear.

What surprised me was that the two glowlings at her side were Jegudiels of the Dawn caste. Very odd. In angelic tradition, Jegudiel was the Name of workers, the angels who performed manual labor like construction and so on. The Dawn caste were warriors, and counted very few Jegudiels among their number. In fact, I couldn’t remember ever seeing a Jegudiel outside a Heaven. Maybe it worked differently in Necessarius.

“I am Adele Lucifer,” the daybreaker said in that same calm voice as before. “I am going to need some explanation for this behavior.”

I didn’t really want to explain this to a glory of angels, but I guess I had no choice. “He killed my brother.”

She clicked her tongue. “Yes, you did mention that. I need to know why you felt the need to kill him yourself. This clearly was not a crime of passion.”

I resisted the urge to grind my teeth again. My tongue was in bad enough shape as it was.

“This was my business. I didn’t see a need to call Butler.”

The angel sighed. “That’s not the way the world works. You don’t get to pick and choose when the law applies.”

“Whatever. You are authorized to declare retribution, correct? Let’s just get this over with.”

“Fine.” She cleared her throat and stood up straighter, preparing for her speech. “Noble Nyashk of Maladomini, seventh of the Black Crypts, you are hereby charged with the murder of Knight Narek Nhang, Power of Ani Kamakhym, the Eighth Gate of Hell. How do you plead?”

“Extenuating circumstances,” I muttered, trying to not sound too bored.

The Lucifer nodded. “After intense deliberation, this judge will adjust the crime to unauthorized execution, with a class-1 fine as penalty, to be paid to the survivors of the injured culture. A jury of your peers will review this judgment, and an invoice with the exact fine will be delivered to your domain within the week. You may contest this ruling at any time within the next year, including now. Would you like to contest this ruling at the moment?”

“No.”

“Then it is done.”

“Good. Now get out of my way, I’m going inside.”

The angel nodded slightly and stepped aside to let me and a pair of my vampires pass. Of the ones still awake, most would stay behind to look after the others. Although it was tempting, I managed not to shove Adele as I stomped by. I actually owed her.

Even though a class-1 fine was about the worst fine I could get without them bending the rules to make me pay more, it was still pretty lenient. It meant that if any of the sibriex retaliated, they would be doing so illegally, rather than as just retribution. She could have given them a free pass to tear me apart.

“Marcel, take the first floor,” I ordered as we entered the empty lobby. “Razvan, you’re with me.”

We stalked up the stairs quietly, but still going at a recklessly fast pace. I didn’t really expect any trouble; from the last time I was here, I knew at least some of the sibriex didn’t have a high opinion of their warlord. But still, I wanted to make sure no one would be plotting to put a dagger in my back any time soon.

Besides, there was someone I needed to check on.

“Boss, I was wondering…” Razvan said slowly.

“Yes?” I tried not to sound impatient. Razvan was a good man, but not known for his brains. If he had a thought, I wanted to encourage it.

“Well, how’d the angel know we were even here? I mean, we were pretty quiet about it until you called Nhang out, and then they showed up two minutes later.”

“Zepar probably called them.” The bastard. “He’s the only one who could have.”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

“Yes, now shush. I think I hear someone.”

The young vampire immediately went as quiet as the grave, reminding me that no matter his faults, he had gotten his fangs almost fifteen years ago, with Dracul himself being the only surviving vamp who had converted before him. He knew what he was doing.

So when the sibriex passed by our corner hiding spot a few moments later, she was completely unaware of our presence. I was able to ghost behind her, grab her, and cover her mouth before she even knew what was happening.

“Your warlord is dead,” I said without preamble. “And Necessarius has ruled the crime justified. Understand?”

She nodded vigorously. I noticed belatedly that she was the same pink-haired demon who had been manning the front desk a few days ago. What was she doing up at this hour? She was fully dressed and everything.

“Now, I don’t want to kill anyone else. I just want to see where Simon died.”

She tried to say something, but I couldn’t understand her with my hands over her mouth. Still, I wasn’t going to trust her outright.

“As I said, I don’t want to kill anyone. So I hope you know better than to scream.”

She nodded again, like a fish caught on a line.

I removed my hand slowly.

She coughed once, twice, but managed to keep it mostly quiet, and waited a minute to get her breath back before speaking.

“I don’t know where he died,” the secretary managed in a scratchy voice. “But last I saw him, he was in the server room. There’s a lab in there too, so maybe—”

“Show me.”

“Yes ma’am.” She led the way up carefully and quietly, taking us to an elevator I would never have been able to find on my own, and pushing the button for the twenty-fifth floor.

A few minutes later, Razvan coughed lightly and scratched his nose.

A few more minutes passed.

“This is a very slow elevator,” I noted.

Our guide shrugged helplessly. “Sorry.”

Finally, there was a chime, and the doors slid open, letting in a sudden blast of cold air. The girl shivered, but Razvan and I were fine. He was too well-trained to let something so minor affect him, and with my buffs it was barely even noticeable.

“I’ve only been up here once,” she whispered, pulling her arms around herself. “I’m not really sure where—”

“That’s fine,” I interrupted. “We’ll take it from here. Go back downstairs.”

She obeyed with almost indecent haste.

Once the elevator doors closed behind us, my companion gave me a look. “We gonna be okay without a guide?”

“Can you find the center of this room?”

“Easily. Why?”

“That’s where he’ll be. That’s the only point of interest on this floor.”

Razvan shrugged. “Whatever. Just follow me.”

The place wasn’t that big, and the maze of humming servers not really all that confusing. In hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have taken me too long to find my target even without a guide, but I was glad for him regardless.

When we found the pulsing mass of flesh sitting nestled between a few servers, it immediately cracked open an eye.

“Sibriex?”

“No,” I said calmly.

A turret immediately popped down from the ceiling and pointed at me, but by the time it had oriented in my direction, Razvan already had his pistol drawn and aimed at the creature’s center of mass. It was a dart gun, so it was far less powerful than a firearm, but his darts were loaded with a neurotoxin that could take down a gargant.

I smiled pleasantly at the thing in front of me, trying to refrain from throwing up instead.

“Yes, we both have nice big guns. Now, we can either wave them around a bit and compare size, or put them away and talk things out.”

The monster grunted, and the turret recessed back into the ceiling. Razvan took the hint and holstered his weapon at the same time.

“Where’s Narek?” the creature asked. “He should be here for this.”

“Your warlord is dead,” I said, not bothering to sugar-coat it. “I’m here for you. Aramazd, correct?”

His beady little eyes narrowed. “Yes. But you shouldn’t know that name. With Narek dead, there shouldn’t be anyone left alive who knows it.”

“My brother told me.”

I could see his brain working slowly. And then…

His eyes widened. “The Mal. Of course.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Simon mentioned me?”

“No, but after he reconnected me to the internet, I made some cursory background checks on him. I found his sister’s profile soon enough. By the way, who joins assassins and then publishes it on Fundie?”

I managed a smile that was almost not a grimace. “I…didn’t see the need to hide anything.”

“Hm, yes, well, you haven’t changed much since you last updated your picture. Better than your brother.”

I blinked. “Haven’t changed much? Are you blind?” It was an honest question. You never knew.

“No, I can see fine. Why are you surprised? You look about the same to me. Your skin is a little darker tone, you’re clearly not used to your new strength yet, not to mention the tail, but none of that is really anything to write home about.”

I turned to Razvan, looking for support, but he just shrugged.

“He’s right, actually. I don’t know why you and Honored Zepar were acting like it was such a big deal.”

“I’m six inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier!”

Another shrug. “Your face is the same. Besides, all the weight is on the inside, right? Muscles and bones. You don’t look heavier.”

I sighed and turned back to Aramazd. “Anyway. What do you know about my brother’s death?”

He quivered. “Oh, it was a terrible mistake. Just from the very start, I knew we shouldn’t do it, but they insisted—”

“Stop babbling and talk.”

The creature took a deep breath to steady himself. “Narek has been searching for someone to test the Balor Reconstruction on, and Simon volunteered.”

I frowned. “Balor, balor…” I chewed my tongue. Damn it, I needed to stop doing that. “That sounds familiar.”

“The process is named after an Irish mythological giant-king,” he explained. “Or, more precisely, named after a type of demon named after said king.”

I nodded. “Fair enough. What was the nature of the package?”

“Full improvements across the board. Strength, endurance, speed, durability, senses…everything. Enough to bring Simon up to warlord level.”

“Hm, Simon did mention something like that. When did he get the promotion?”

The mound of flesh quivered again. It took me a second to realize it was shaking its head. “No, that wasn’t the point. He might have received a promotion after, but the point was to prove a few of Narek’s theories. This was the crown jewel of the culture. He was convinced it would catapult the sibriex to prominence, but he had never gotten it to work before.”

Now it was my turn to shake my head. “Wait, you’ve lost me. What’s so unique about this package? Making a warlord is impressive and all, but anyone can do it with time and money.”

His lip less mouth stretched into a wide grin. “Ah, but I didn’t call it a package, Honored Noble. I called it a reconstruction. A single seed, able to completely rebuild a human body over the weekend.” He shrugged—at least, I think it was a shrug. “Though there were a few additional improvements on top of that. Godeyes, that kind of thing.”

“Okay, I’ll admit that would be pretty impressive…” I frowned. “Wait. Why would he add godeyes, or anything else? Basic science says to limit the number of variables in an experiment.” Even I knew that, and I had only passed high school science by copying off Simon.

“Don’t get me started,” the beast grumbled. “I can’t tell you how many times that idiot…” He sighed. “Nevermind. The point is, the reconstruction failed, and…Simon was deemed no longer useful.” His tone turned gentle. “I’m so sorry, I tried to stop it, but, well…”

Yeah. Not a lot he could do in this state.

The sibriex creature took a moment to compose himself. “What happens now?”

I thought about it. “We’re not going to try and assimilate your culture, if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve found what I was looking for, and punished the one responsible for my brother’s death.”

“So…you’re going to just leave us alone?”

I shrugged. “I suppose so.”

His mouth slowly twisted into a grotesque grin. “Well then, Honored Noble, perhaps you would like to make a deal?”

I felt my eyes narrow. “What kind of deal?”

“Oh, nothing too complex, I assure you. Just a simple trade agreement. We give you fun new toys, you protect us while we’re in this time of…” A long tongue came out and licked where his lips would be. “…transition.”

Hm.

Well, on the one hand, it sounded like a good deal. But on the other…I’d need to discuss this with Zepar. Equals or not, I couldn’t just do whatever I wanted without consulting him. Besides, he’d have more experience with this sort of thing.

“We’ll have to see,” I said begrudgingly. “Send us a proposal, and we’ll look it over.”

He quivered in a way I thought was a nod. “As you wish, Noble Nyashk.”

I managed to force a smile onto my face. “Goodbye, Honored Devil.”

Before I could leave, that too-wide grin was back on his face. “Honored Power, my dear Noble. Honored Power.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 172)

When one examines Domina City’s justice system, they need to remember two things: First, there are no prisons, just temporary jail cells. Two, the system was created by criminals. Therefore, the law is simple and brutal, with the only punishments being varying levels of fines and full-on execution. While that sounds weird, the real quirk is that if you can prove you had a good reason for the crime, Necessarius will grant a reduced sentence. Such as turning a murder (which would normally result in summary execution) into a fine.

Scene 35 -Consili

CONSILI

LAURA

Assets:

Derek was in an ambulance. Safe, for now.

Ling was unaccounted for, but had fulfilled her objective. Possibly injured or in danger.

Akane was also unaccounted for, likely still chasing after Kat. Low possibility of danger; more likely, she just didn’t see the need to check in. She might have something to do with that smoke I could smell on the air, but there was no way to know for certain.

Adam and the retinue were suppressing the Nosferatu. They were holding up fine, but if the vampires didn’t give in soon, they would be in danger of being overrun.

The general’s troops were split between fighting the screamers who were trapped on this side of the fallen skyscraper and the Nosferatu. They were in the most danger, though they were handling themselves admirably.

Our Nosferatu allies were mostly containing their less-cooperative brethren. They were having trouble, but with the retinue’s distraction they were gaining the upper hand again.

The angels were currently not engaging the enemy, and were guarding the ambulances by the light of a few portable streetlamps. Zero danger, unless something truly unexpected happened. Call it low probability.

Goal: Defeat the screamers, capturing as many alive as possible. Subdue the Nosferatu, capturing as many alive as possible. Minimize the creation of new screamers.

There were very few screamers left on this side of the fallen ‘scraper. Neutralizing them quickly would free up resources to fight the Nosferatu. Seeing a hopeless situation, they would surrender or flee, possibly even joining our forces. Then the screamers on the other side of the wall could be dealt with at our leisure. Any ferrets on the other side should be considered lost. They were heavily outnumbered, and melee fighters. By now, they would all be turned.

Conclusion: The solution was obvious.

I turned to the nearest angel. “Honored Daybreaker. I need a dozen angels, no more. Quickly, please.”

The young woman—and it was a woman, she wasn’t actually a full daybreaker yet—nodded and ran off. There were enough angels here that I suspected it wouldn’t take long at all to find the required troops.

The general coughed from his cot on the ground. “What’s the plan, girlie?”

I didn’t bother responding. After getting a slash across the face, he should have been in an ambulance with the other wounded, but he had insisted on staying to oversee the battle. I might have been able to order him back regardless, but I still wasn’t quite sure how much authority I had. I was beginning to regret not ironing out exactly what rank Butler had awarded us when I had the chance.

“C’mon, Highlander. I can help.”

That was a new one. I blinked down at the prone general. “What did you call me?”

It was a little hard to tell under the bandages, but I think he grinned. “That’s what you are, right? A montañes. A Cantabrian.”

This was starting to get weird. I barely even knew that my mother was from that part of Spain. “Speak up, general. How the hell did you know that?”

He shrugged, though it clearly pained him. “Your name.”

“Medina isn’t even close to unique to that region. And Laura is obviously out. How did you know?”

He laughed, sputtering up blood. “Just let an old man have a few secrets. Is that so much to ask?”

I frowned, but turned away. This wasn’t worth my time. “I suppose not.”

“Thanks, Highlander.”

Before I had a chance to retort again, the runner I had sent out jogged up with twelve angels in tow. She saluted crisply. “A dozen daybreakers, as ordered, Honored Paladin. Six Gabriels, three Michaels, and three Uriels.”

I shelved the general’s little joke for the moment. Right now, we had bigger things to worry about.

“Have you already determined your precedence?” I asked the angels crisply. Last thing I needed was to send them into battle before they decided who was in charge.

A tall, thin and completely naked angel stepped forward with a nod. He was the only one without any clothing at all, but most of them were wearing less than most would consider appropriate. When your skin is a weapon, any coverings are just hampering your own abilities. “We have, Honored Paladin. I’m in charge. What are your orders?”

“Take out the screamers on this side of the downed ‘scraper as quickly as you can. Alive if possible, but prioritize keeping anyone else from turning. Don’t melee—their blood will infect you. Once that is done, eliminate any Nosferatu who are still rebelling.”

The angel nodded and turned to the others. “You heard the Paragon. Melee fighters, we’re support for the gunners. Move out!”

As the angels jogged off, I frowned. “Paragon?”

“Oh, you didn’t hear?” the angel runner spoke up. I hadn’t noticed she was still around. “Ever since you baselines got ‘paladins’ for your honored, people have been trying to come up with a good name for your warlords. Paragon seems to have stuck.”

“Fine, whatever. Go find that Lucifer who was in charge earlier. Adele, I think.”

She nodded. “Yes, Honored Paladin,” and trotted off.

I sighed. Had the earliest nightstalkers and titans felt this way when everyone was first calling them by their titles? Or was I the only one who thought it was ridiculous?

Whatever. We had a battle to win. The enemies on this side would be dealt with soon enough, but the rest would present a larger problem.

“Lieutenant,” I addressed one of the nearest ‘sarians, the communications officer. He had brought a light folding desk with him; he needed the space for papers and tablets. “I need an update on the other side of the wall. Are the screamers spread out, or clustered?”

He listened in the headset for a moment, then nodded. “Clustered. They seem to be repeatedly trying and failing to get over the wall.”

“Well, that buys us some time. But they’ll figure it out eventually. What about that air strike I requested?”

The baseline shook his head. “No luck. The nearest helicopters are down for refit, and next closest is almost an hour away. If we can wait—”

“No,” I said swiftly. Silver and gold, this was the problem with living in the middle of the ocean. The salty air corroded everything, so most vehicles had much higher maintenance costs, both in time and money. “What about the package? Can we get the sleeping gas here in time?”

He shook his head again. “An hour by ground. And that’s being optimistic.”

Wonderful. We needed a new plan. Even with the angels, we didn’t have the numbers to take out the screamers in a head-on fight. And it was only a matter of time before they gave up on their futile attempts to attack us, and started looking for easier targets.

Penning them in could work, but we couldn’t use Ling’s trick again. One fallen building was going to be enough of a headache. Three more would be an absolute disaster.

But what other choices did we have? The fact that they could fly negated a lot of options. Fire wouldn’t work. Razor wire wouldn’t work—if we could even find enough and set it up quickly.

Our only choice was the old-fashioned way: Men and trucks. The trucks wouldn’t be a problem, but we didn’t have the manpower to reliably keep them confined.

Well, sometimes we just have to make do with minimal resources. It was either that or lob a few bricks of C4 over the wall. Not that the idea wasn’t tempting, but it would kill too many of them. Definitely a last resort.

I turned back to the comms officer. “Tell them to get the sleeper gas here as soon as possible. We might be able to hold out long enough. And if they can pack in some gas masks, that would be even better.”

If he was planning on responding, I didn’t hear it. That was the moment the Lucifer who was leading the ‘sarian angels chose to stride up.

“You called for me, Dame…?”

“Laura.” I didn’t bother telling her to dispense with the honorifics. It’s hard getting even random people on the street to stop; the angels were the most traditional culture by a mile, even the defectors. I’d have better luck stopping the tides. “Adele, was it? I’ve already sent a few of your daybreakers to contain the threat, but I need a more detailed assessment of your forces.”

“Well, there are a total of two hundred of us here. I have most of them guarding the ambulances right now.”

“Hm. And mostly Dawn caste, I assume?”

“A few Nights as well. Less than a dozen, I think. I can get you the roll sheet if you—”

“That’s quite all right.” A plan was beginning to take shape in my mind, but more than anything I needed information. “Find me your best two Night caste daybreakers. I have orders for them.”

“At once, Dame Laura.”

I sighed again as she left. I suppose that as one of the official Paladins, I did deserve that honorific. But it was still very strange. I hadn’t ever had much interest in the toy maker, so I had never expected to be on the receiving end of any honorifics more complicated than ‘ma’am.’ Now I was a warlord. Technically. Wonders never cease.

“I still think Highlander suits you better.”

“Is this really the time?”

He scoffed, then started coughing and spitting up blood. I couldn’t bring myself to care. Besides, he recovered after a few moments, and grinned.

“If you can’t joke during life and death situations, what’s the point?”

“You do realize I have a gun, right?”

He chuckled. “You wouldn’t do it. The boss would be pissed.”

I glared down at him. “No, he wouldn’t.”

The communications officer leaned back in his chair. “Give him some whiskey. At first it gets him talky, but pump enough in him and he’s out like a light.” Seeing the surprised look on my face, he elaborated. “He’s my uncle.”

That made me smile—silver and gold, did I need it. “Nepotism, in Butler’s Necessarius? I should alert the press. This might be a first.”

If they were planning to reply, they never got a chance. Adele came back with two angels—presumably the Nights I had requested. Their glowing tattoos could tell me, but I still couldn’t read angelic script. I didn’t even know what language it was based on? Sanskrit? No, that didn’t sound right.

The scouts thumped their fists to their chests and bowed slightly. Angelic salutes typically involved putting your hands together in a brief prayer stance. I guess they didn’t feel I deserved that, for whatever reason.

Not that I cared. “Thank you, Adele. You two—scout the other side of the wall. Avoid being spotted by the screamers if at all possible, and stick together. If you find survivors, get them somewhere safe if at all possible. You have radios?”

“Yes, Dame Paragon.”

“That’s…great. The lieutenant here can give you our comms code. Check in as often as possible.”

They bowed again, a little deeper this time, and ran off towards the base of the broken ‘scraper. I guess they thought it would be easier to get through on that side.

“Any other orders?” the Lucifer asked as her men jogged off.

I shook my head. “Not right now. We’re just waiting for the moment. Though I would like a status report on the injured, if that’s reasonable.”

She nodded and jogged back to the medical stations she had set up. Knowing some exact numbers wouldn’t be all that helpful, but I might be able to find some use for it.

Adam came up a few minutes later. It was still interesting seeing him like this, decked out in four different guns, some ammo belts, and a grenade he had scrounged from somewhere. He still didn’t have any real armor, though. We needed to do something about that.

“The Nosferatu are dealt with,” he reported. “Most of them defected once bullets started flying. We’re cleaning up the screamers now.”

I frowned. “Where’s Kelly?”

“Shooting things. She says it makes her feel better.”

“Hm. Well. Report—let me know when the screamers are taken care of.” He spent so much time with the retinue, it was easy to forget that technically he outranked them, and was on equal level with me and the others. He wouldn’t take kindly to direct orders. “Try to keep an eye on the vampires, though. They might revolt again if they think they have a chance. Especially when they find out they have to work with angels.”

He rested his rifle on his shoulder. “What’s with that, anyway? The angels don’t seem so bad.”

I sighed. “You’ve only met ‘sarians. Most angels are racists who will kill a vampire given the slightest provocation.”

He cocked his head. “That really seems like overkill. I mean, the Nosferatu are kinda bad, but…”

“I don’t have time to explain,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Just understand that there was a time not so long ago when the angels were hailed as heroes, and every dead vampire was considered a victory.”

The bland little man seemed to be ready to ask more, but then he realized we were in the middle of a war zone, and just shrugged. “Fine by me. But I expect an explanation at some point.”

“Ask Lily,” I called after him as he trotted back to the wall. “She’ll know more than me.”

He didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t heard me or what. Though on second thought, Lily didn’t like talking about all that, so maybe she wasn’t the best to ask. Had he met Obould yet? He’d be perfect.

Bah, not the time. We had work to do.

“Lieutenant, what’s the word on that gas?”

“Still on its way.”

“But the screamers are still clustered?”

He checked something briefly, then nodded. “So MC says. The Night angels you sent out haven’t called back yet, though.”

Hopefully they were just practicing radio silence. Scouts, spies, and assassins weren’t exactly the type to check in every two minutes. Still, we needed fallback options, just in case. I pointed to the small map of the area he had spread out on his desk, next to his radio. “Send squads Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie here, here, and here,” I ordered, indicating the three unsecured streets surrounding the screamers. “Tell them to keep out of sight, but start fortifying.”

My phone beeped briefly. I checked it; it was a text from MC, noting that Akane was safe and Kat was secured. One less thing to worry about, I suppose. I sent a nearby ‘sarian to check on Ling—the angels I had sent out had probably seen her, but still, I wanted to be sure. Derek would be upset if he woke up to find anyone hurt.

“I have those numbers,” Adele reported as she strode up. “About a hundred wounded, but they’ll mostly survive, except for a couple that got struck with some really bad ferret poison. Twelve dead. A lot better than I expected.”

I shrugged. “Well, with screamers any injury usually results in the victim turning.” Normally, dead allies are better than injured ones, especially in the short term. You can abandon a corpse, but you have to take care of the injured. Screamers, however, were the worst of both worlds. There was no chance to fix them—at least not that we had been able to find—but they were still dangerous, and we had to spend resources capturing and containing them.

Domina City did not have any long-term prisons at all, so the ‘containment’ part was by far the biggest problem. Butler was converting old hospitals, but he was fast running out of space.

Why was my mind wandering so much today? Normally I was better about this.

“Gather all the angels you can spare,” I told the Lucifer. “I need you to reinforce the others in containing the screamers. Keep them clustered.”

“Consider it done,” she replied. “Though I should warn you that we don’t have enough ropes to capture more than a few of them.”

“Not a problem,” I promised. “We just have to hold them off for an hour.”

She raised an eyebrow. “An hour? What happens in an hour?”

“The sleeping gas gets here.”

She smiled. “Well, that should get the job done.”

“Hopefully.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 35)

Honorifics are complicated, mostly because there are no hard rules on who qualifies. Laura is an Honored (in her case, Honored Paladin) because she is respected by those around her, not because she was formally granted a rank. Warlords are a bit easier to identify, and refer to the leaders of subcultures and gangs. Until this point, baselines weren’t even considered to have warlords, but that has slowly changed. And yes, this means Butler is a Paragon as well.