Tag Archives: Angels

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.

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Scene 299 – Relinquo

RELINQUO

ADAM

January 1st, 2002. A Tuesday, of all days. It felt weird for this to be happening on a Tuesday. It just seemed… random. Which I guess it was. The fact that it was the first of the year was far more important.

I stood in a crowd at the square of South Gate, watching the ambassadors leave. South Gate was also called Demon Gate, which was an important symbol. The demons were the most open-minded culture, or so Lily had told me.

There were ten ambassadors, but they each had at least a handful of bodyguards. That made the procession a more confusing than it needed to be. Thankfully, Lily was standing right next to me the whole time.

“That’s Sargeras,” she said, pointing at an older demon in a crisp military uniform. He was tall and muscular with red skin, but just normally muscular. He didn’t look like a warlord. Most warlords looked like they bench-pressed cars in their spare time. “He’s one of the founders of the demon culture.”

I nodded. I wasn’t completely ignorant. “He’s the leader of the hellions, right?”

“The first one, at least, and he leads the largest Legion. But calling him the leader of the entire subculture is a stretch.”

Sargeras continued marching, looking straight ahead. His face was impassive and unreadable, and his six bodyguards looked about the same. One of them had a flagpole with two flags. I recognized the demon flag on top, but underneath it was another one. That was probably the hellion flag, or even Sargeras’ personal one.

“That’s the Dragon, right?” I said, pointing to the next group in line. The vampire leader was easy to pick out—he was the only one not wearing daygoggles. He smiled and waved at the crowd, those perfect eyes of his twinkling. His entourage remained stone-faced, like they were just putting up with his antics. He had a flag-bearer too, but his only had one flag. That must have been a statement; the Dragon didn’t need his own flag. The vampire one was more than enough.

Lily nodded. “Dracul is the one who started all this, you know.”

I frowned. “I thought it was Butler and President Martinez.”

“Not that. I mean he’s the first one who decided to come himself, rather than send a representative. Everyone else decided to follow suit. That’s why they each sent a major warlord instead of just a diplomat.” She smiled. “He often does things like that.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You like him? I thought a lot of people had problems with him.”

She shrugged. “I like everyone. I see the best in people.”

Fair enough. That was why we were dating.

“Here come the angels,” Lily said. “That’s Pistis Sophia up front.”

The woman was… well, she wasn’t quite a woman any more. She was naked, but she had no sex organs at all. Even her breasts werelittle more than bumps. Her skin was a light green and glowed just a tiny bit. It was hard to see under the morning sun. She smiled and waved at the crowd, but her six angels didn’t. They wore large, concealing brown robes, probably to hide their dayskin from American eyes.

I struggled to remember. “She’s in charge of… the spies, I know that, but which Heaven…”

“Solania,” Lily said. “The Crystal Heaven.”

“Ah, yes.” The second flag on her pole was crystalline. “I should have guessed. Should the angels be sending spies to these things?”

She smiled at me. “They’re all spies, dear.”

“That’s not what I meant. I mean one so obvious.”

“Ah.” She shrugged. “She has her uses. The Hebdomad knows what they’re doing.”

I sighed, and nodded to the next in line. “Who’s the fel?”

He was a full anthro, with a squashed face and white fur. I was pretty sure he was wearing clothing, but it was hard to tell. The fur was light and fluffy, and obscured most of his body. He gave a few half-hearted waves to the crowd, but otherwise didn’t seem to be paying much attention.

“That’s the White Cat.”

“Never heard of him.”

Lily chuckled. “Oh, you are such a dear. That’s the founder of the fels. One of the three founders of the kemos, in fact.” Her smile faded. “He’s the last one alive.”

I watched him walk by. He didn’t seem all that impressive.

His entourage was far more interesting. There were two fels, two lupes, and two ursas. There was one flag-bearer for each, with a different flag underneath the kemo one. I didn’t recognize the flags, but I was willing to bet that they were the fel, lupe, and ursa flags.

Next were the giants. Most of the subcultures were represented in their entourage. I recognized the trolls, Nifs, and Muspels, but they were easy. There were a few hairy guys who I assumed were either sasquatches or yetis. I didn’t recognize the ambassador himself, though.

“Who’s that?” I asked. “That’s not Thor, right?”

Lily chuckled, but she seemed a bit sad. “No. That’s Skrag the Slaughterer.”

I stared at her.

She shrugged. “He was the only option. The ogres are mostly neutral among the giants.”

I turned back to the procession. I should have known Skrag was an ogre. He was shirtless, with a big bouncy sumo belly. His muscular arms were adorned with tribal tattoos. Broad, sweeping designs that probably meant something important. Not that I knew what. He had a short beard and was bald. This contrasted with the other ogres in his entourage, who wore their hair wild.

Behind the giants was another group. Their leader was a beautiful young woman in a stunning black gown dusted with diamonds. Her black hair was cropped short, like a boy’s, and her eyes glittered like stars. She smiled at everyone as she passed, but no one smiled back. I didn’t need Lily to tell me who this was.

Maeve, the Princess of Wind and Frost. Maiden of the Unseelie Court.

One of the bigger girls behind her was carrying a flag. It was one I hadn’t seen before. It seemed to be a standard mythological fairy, with cute wings and long hair. It looked absolutely nothing like Maeve or any of the other fey I had seen. I wondered if that was the joke.

“I’m surprised one of the actual fey is going,” I said. “Are they sure the homunculus will be able to operate so far from the city?”

Lily nodded. “That one has an upgraded radio package. She could pilot it on Luna with only a tiny delay.”

“Do you recognize anyone in her entourage?”

She shook her head. “No. But they might have been altered too much to tell for sure. Maeve is loaded for combat, though. The big one is a tank, the little one is stealth. With those two, she could probably conquer New York if she felt like it.”

“What about the medium-sized one?”

“Either a support gunner or something specialized. Poison, maybe. Now shush, the changelings are coming.”

They were. I was surprised they were right behind the fey, but I guess whoever decided the order of the procession had a reason for it. I recognized Eccretia in the front, followed by Domothon and Ferenil. There were two other changelings I didn’t recognize. They were probably representatives of the Black Hats and the Gray Hats. They were all glaring at the fey in front of them, but Maeve didn’t even seem to notice. The changelings didn’t have a flag, which made them seem a bit awkward among the other proud cultures.

Behind them came something unexpected: Two women, twins. They appeared to be completely baseline, but I wasn’t fooled. They both worked together to hold up a a flagpole with two flags. The top was a twisting fish, and underneath it a shark.

“Those the Dagonites?” I asked.

Lily nodded. “Hevatica and Dilithase. They’re both sirens, which is only to be expected. The Naiads almost managed to get one of their own chosen as the ambassador, but fought with the Nereids and the Oceanids. The twins swooped in and took the place themselves.”

“Why don’t they have an entourage?”

“They do. Made up of representatives from both the Atlanteans and the Dagonites. But the twins are the only ones with a power that lets them stand for long enough to be part of this procession.”

I glanced at her. “What are they going to do for the actual discussions? Wheel in a fish tank?”

She smiled. “Maybe. The merfolk don’t need much from America. They just need to make sure they don’t get screwed over when they’re not looking.”

“Well, I—” Something caught my attention. “Who is that?

The last group in the procession consisted of five people. They strode with their heads held high, but I didn’t recognize their culture. They had thick scales, more like a crocodile than a lizard, and some of them had long and narrow snouts. Each of the five had different color scales: Red, green, white, blue, and the woman in front was silver. Her eyes were strong, and she smiled an anthro smile at everyone she passed.

I didn’t recognize the flag, either. It looked like ten triangles arranged in a circle around a sphere. It was more geometric than some of the other ones.

“That is Tamara, the Mercy,” Lily said. “Wyrm of the Compassionate Healers. They’re one of the ten dragon subcultures.”

Oh, right, dragons. I had forgotten they were a thing now. Laura had tried to explain to me the politics of Io’s death, but I hadn’t been able to pay attention. Tamara appeared to have wings on her back, but they were folded up and were hard to spot.

“I’m surprised they’re allowed to send an ambassador.”

“They’re an official culture. They registered with Necessarius and everything.” She smirked. “Besides, can you imagine the riots if the fey were allowed to go and the dragons weren’t?”

I chuckled. Yeah, even someone as politics-blind as me could see how that would be a bad idea.

Lily watched for a few moments longer, then pulled me away, away from the procession.

I frowned. “What is it? Isn’t the ‘sarian delegation coming up next?”

“Yes, but you need to leave soon.”

I sighed as she pulled me through the crowd, down a few side streets. I had been trying not to think about it. “I didn’t—maybe I made a mistake. Maybe this isn’t the best time for me to leave the city.”

“You need a vacation,” Lily said. “Besides, this is the perfect time. With the ambassadors coming in, no one is going to pay attention to you.”

That would be nice. I was beginning to miss my anonymity. Even now, some of the people we passed whispered and pointed me out. Well, some of them pointed to Lily, but most noticed me first. I had tried not to make a big deal of it, but I had saved the city pretty much by myself. That was the kind of thing people remembered.

“Do I have to take a plane?” I asked. We were out of the crowd now. Lily hailed a cab. “Couldn’t I just… I don’t know… hide out on the ambassador boat?”

She rolled her eyes.

“Okay, fine, that wouldn’t work.” For like a million reasons, starting with the fact that the ambassadors wouldn’t let me. “But can’t I just take a different boat?”

“All the ‘sarian ships are either escorting the ambassadors or remaining behind to guard the city, just in case. There aren’t any others available.”

The cab pulled up, and we piled inside. “What about the prisoner transfer boats? I came in on one of those. Not as a prisoner, but you know what I mean.”

“The airport, please,” Lily said to the driver. He nodded and drove off. She turned to me. “Those boats are controlled by New York, not Domina. Calling for one would attract a lot of attention. Defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?”

I sighed and sat back in my seat.

Lily cocked her head at me. “Are you that worried about your parents?”

I rolled my eyes. “No. They’re annoying, but it’ll be fine.”

“They won’t force you to stay home or anything?”

“No, nothing like that. They’ll tell me to be careful about a million times, but that’s all. They’re big on the whole trusting me to make my own decisions thing.” I smiled. “Besides, what are they gonna do? Cut me off? I make more money monster hunting already.” I thought about it. “I should tell them to stop sending me money. It’s not like I’m going to class any more.”

I never used to think about that sort of thing before I met Lily. If someone offers you money, you take it. Well, you check that it’s not a trap first, but you don’t worry about morality. Growing a conscience was annoying.

“Then what’s the problem?”

I paused, embarrassed. “I’ve… never been on a plane before.”

Lily blinked, then laughed. “You’re scared! That’s so cute!”

I scowled. “It is not.”

“Yes it is! You fight monsters on a daily basis, but one little plane ride has you looking for escape routes! That is just adorable.” She pinched my cheek and giggled. “Oh, I wish I had more time to make fun of you for this.”

I pushed her off. It took two tries. The first time, she accidentally used her strength to resist me. I couldn’t even move her an inch. “I’m getting on the plane, don’t you worry about that. I almost came to the city in the first place on a plane! I just…” I shrugged helplessly. “I just wish that there was another way.”

She just sat there, smirking.

I sighed. “What are you going to be doing while I’m gone? More work with Clarke?”

“No, we’re mostly done with that. I will be doing a few things for Necessarius, but nothing directly related to Clarke’s experiments or the toy maker. It’s a bit complex, not something to discuss in the back of a cab.”

I nodded. “Fair enough.” The cabbie didn’t seem to be paying attention to us, but that didn’t mean anything.

“We’ll talk more next time I see you,” Lily said. “But for now, let’s just enjoy the drive.”

She leaned up against me. I put my arm around her, and we spent the rest of the drive to the airport like that.

Behind the scenes (scene 299)

Lily/Adam scenes are a bit too cute for me to write regularly. But they also work great since Lily has so much knowledge of the city, while Adam is still lagging behind everyone else on that front.

Scene 278 – Portam Nocte

PORTAM NOCTE

JEFFERIES

My name is Robert Jefferies. Private First Class, or so they tell me. A month in basic training, and then put on a boat and shipped off to fight an American city.

“This isn’t what I signed up for,” a soldier next to me, an Indian man with bright blue eyes, muttered to himself. In the cramped confines of the troop transport, it was hard not to overhear. “Supposed to be an easy paycheck…”

I remained silent. Scared as I was, this was exactly what I had signed on for. It was literally the reason I had been born. No time for complaining now. The boats would be nearing the shore at any moment.

“Ten seconds until landfall,” a calm voice sounded over the radio.

The Indian man next to me started praying in German. Most of the other soldiers tensed up as well, expecting the worst. We were packed into the metal can like sardines, which didn’t help.

Not me. I was going to die. If not today, in a week. That gives a certain clarity of purpose.

The hull scraped against something solid. Light flowed in as the gangplank opened, slamming down onto something.

We rushed out with the haste and surety of training, and quickly found ourselves on a long concrete dock, outside the walls of the city proper. There was no one else here, but there did seem to be barbecues, of all things, set into the concrete itself.

Our squad leader barked an order, and we all moved down the dock, towards the wall, guns up and ready.

The wall itself was huge. It felt like a hundred feet tall, but that couldn’t be right. The gate, a giant metal monstrosity that looked like it was designed to stop nukes, was firmly shut.

“Anybody see a doorbell?” someone muttered. Laughter rippled through the group.

Our sergeant smiled, but didn’t otherwise acknowledge the joke. “Breachers, forward!”

A dozen soldiers with large, bulky backpacks pushed through the ranks and started slapping small discs onto the metal door. They even tossed a few up higher, where they clamped on magnetically.

“Back up!” the sergeant cried, and we all obeyed in a wave. “Three… two… one… breach!”

I was expecting an explosion. Instead, gears inside the massive door whined, and it began to creak open.

“Everyone in!”

I was among the first to slip through the widening crack between the doors. I scanned the city with my gun held ready, establishing a beachhead. The first thing I noticed was that it was dark. Somehow, despite it being mid-morning, the sun just didn’t penetrate here. Midnight would have been less dark. At least there would have been stars.

The light from the gate illuminated some, but not much. Wide, empty streets and tall buildings without any lights on. There seemed to be a shopping center or open-air food court of some type. There were tables and chairs scattered around in a wide open pattern. Looking up, I thought I saw the edge of some sort of tarp far above, strung between the buildings to provide shade. How odd.

We could hear distant gunfire, but it didn’t seem to be directed at us. It was just echoing through the streets like the ghost of a battle. I almost thought that was the sound of the other gates, but that didn’t make sense. Even if they had already engaged, we wouldn’t be able to hear them from here. There must be a gang fight deeper in the city.

“Put on your lamps,” the sergeant grunted. He already had his on, and I hastened to obey. “No flashlights.”

We had been issued light amplification goggles—lamps—ahead of time. No one had explained exactly what they were for. I guess this was it.

I slipped mine on and hit the switch, then winced. The dark streets were suddenly as bright as day—and the gate behind us as bright as the sun.

“We’re leaving the gate open!” the sergeant said before anyone could ask. “Need a line of retreat. Just don’t look at it.”

In a few moments, we had about a hundred men through the gate, all wearing lamps and ready for anything. More would be coming, but this was more than enough to advance, maybe set up a base camp a few streets up.

We marched forward in tight formation, guns up as we traversed the dark streets. But there was nothing. We didn’t encounter so much as a single person, though at one point I did see a pair of dogs eating from a dumpster. They ran off before we got too close.

“This is creepy,” the Indian man next to me muttered, looking back the way we had come. We had taken a few turns at this point, so the bright light of the gate was out of sight. “Maybe we should start knocking on doors.”

The sergeant heard him. “Orders are not to disturb the civilians more than we have to. We’re here to save this city, not conquer it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Hold.” The sergeant stopped us as we began to turn a corner. I was near the front, and could see what had stopped him. There was someone in the middle of the street up ahead, a naked man with skin as white as chalk. “You three. Forward. Everyone else, eyes sharp. This could be a trap.”

The three soldiers he had indicated walked forward slowly, guns steady. The man wasn’t too far away, maybe ten or twenty yards.

“Sir?” one of them said as they got close. “You all right? We’re from America, sir. We’re here to help you.”

The man stood. Our soldiers took a few visible steps back, nervous. The man was easily six feet tall, and had muscles like a linebacker. He was also completely naked, revealing a smooth crotch like a Ken doll.

“I—uh—” The soldier who had been speaking glanced back at the sergeant.

The man spoke first.

“Your services to your country are to be commended,” he said with a friendly and fatherly voice. “I salute you.”

“Yeah, that’s… thanks, man. I just—”

“I am sorry.”

And then day broke.

Some instinct led me to rip off my goggles as he raised his arms, so the blinding radiance he suddenly emitted didn’t hit me as hard as everyone else. I heard screams, and the sounds of bodies hitting the ground. Dead? Unconscious? I had no idea.

I might not have been hit as hard, but I was still completely blinded. It was like a second sun that had been born in the street in front of us. Shielding my face barely helped at all, and I could feel tears streaming down my cheeks. And someone was… singing?

Someone was singing in Hebrew. I didn’t recognize more than one word out of ten, but the tone of the song was low and sad, almost apologetic.

It was a death song. I knew that suddenly. Someone was singing us to our graves.

I scrambled back, away from the fight, and into an alley we had passed moments ago. I still couldn’t see, but my memory had always been good. I put my back to a dumpster and pointed my gun in front of me, blinking as fast as I could to try and clear my eyes.

Things started to get blurry, but that was an improvement on the shapeless mass of white my sight had been moments ago. There was someone in front of the alley—a soldier? The man from the street? No, neither. This man was smaller, and had something in each hands. Knives.

I made a decision, and fired.

Bullets cut through the air, and the thing at the front of the alley dropped. A moment later, someone else fired, and I thought they were shooting at me. They weren’t. Must be some of the others from my company, realizing that shooting was their best chance of survival.

The gunfire didn’t last long.

Within a minute or two, it faded, but so had my blindness. Of course, now I couldn’t see anything because it was still dark as night. I wasn’t planning on putting my lamp back on, but it was better than nothing. And the death song had faded as well, which was a good sign.

I crept up to the front of the alley and poked the corpse with a boot. It was… a person, but too androgynous to tell what, exactly. They had white tattoos that looked like Hebrew, but I couldn’t read them. The knives they had been carrying were buffed to a perfect reflective sheen. Like mirrors.

I turned around the corner again, gun up, to find maybe fifty of my fellow soldiers in a panicked huddle. They were surrounded by corpses. Some of the corpses were the naked people, but most of the bodies were American soldiers.

Including the sergeant.

I swallowed. I wasn’t supposed to draw attention to myself, but…

“Everybody, form up!” I called. I stalked over to the sergeant and ripped off his radio. “Defensive positions, we don’t know when they’ll come back! Strip ammo off the bodies, then leave them!”

The men looked a little hesitant, but they obeyed. They were trained well, considering how horribly this had gone.

“Control, this is the forward company,” I said into the radio. “We’ve been ambushed. Half our men are dead, sergeant’s dead, and I don’t think we made a dent in the enemy. They’ve got some… light ability, don’t know what to call it. Don’t use the goggles. Just use flashlights.”

There was a brief pause, then the radio crackled. “Confirmed, forward company. We’re sending reinforcements. Infantry first, then the echoes. Stand by.”

I took a deep breath. Echoes. Good. With those, we’d be fine. We should have led with them. “Confirmed, command. We’ll hold. You have our position?”

“Loud and clear. GPS is solid.”

“Good. Over and out.”

I swallowed, trying not to let my nerves show to the men. I had no idea what the plan was here. But whatever the plan was, it had gone to hell in a hand basket. So I guess the sergeant wouldn’t be doing much better than me if he had lived.

Our eyes were starting to adjust to the dark, if barely. Still couldn’t see real detail, but at least we could see if someone was coming. The fact that they hadn’t yet had me worried. Whoever and whatever these people were, they clearly knew exactly what they were doing.

After several heart-pounding minutes, two more squads ran up the street. Their flashlights bounced around like rays from heaven.

“Echoes are about twenty minutes behind,” the man in front said. He was a sergeant, and I quickly fell into step behind him. “This will be our base camp! Drag those dumpsters over here, we need some more walls!”

Men moved to obey, and I pulled the sergeant aside to speak with him. “Did you see what these people could do?”

He shook his head. “Something about light?”

“I don’t know what to call it. I think we’re outmatched.”

He gave me a look. “We can handle a couple nightlights, private.”

“That’s not what I meant. I meant that this is not something we expected the toy maker to be capable of. We’re operating on flawed information here, in the enemy’s home. We’re sitting ducks.”

“…are you suggesting we retreat?”

I shook my head. “No. I’m suggesting we switch to defensive until we have more intel. Fortify this position and the gate, shoot or capture anyone who comes too close. Don’t overextend ourselves.”

He nodded slowly. “Good ideas. Very good. Did you try for officer corp?”

I cursed inwardly. Don’t draw attention…

“We’ll talk about that later. For now, organize some men, secure the perimeter. I’ll grab some grunts to move the bodies out of the way.”

“Good idea, sir.” I walked over to a small group of soldiers who didn’t seem to be busy.

Before I could get to them, the flashlights started flickering.

One of the soldiers frowned and started whacking it as if that would fix it. But the problem was with all the flashlights, not just his.

“We put in fresh batteries this morning,” he said. “I don’t know what would—”

He was interrupted by all the lights going out at once.

A few moments later, they returned, revealing him dead on the ground with his throat cut.

“GUNS UP!” the sergeant yelled. Everyone obeyed instantly. “You see something that’s not us, SHOOT IT! No questions asked!”

I backed up towards the sergeant, keeping my gun level and eyes scanning. “This is different from before.”

He nodded. “The first group makes us get rid of the lamps, then the second group comes in under the cover of darkness. Simple and effective.”

“How do you think they got our flashlights like that?”

“No idea. Some sort of electromagnetic distortion, like an EMP but weaker?”

The flashlights started flickering again.

“Everyone STAND READY!” the sergeant yelled. “No surprises!”

I had a thought as the flashlights kept flickering, and the men shook so hard I could hear their gear clicking. The light-people shouldn’t be directly involved in this ambush. So that meant if I put on the light amplification goggles…

I slipped them on just as the flashlights died. Just in time to see someone sneaking up behind another of the soldiers.

I didn’t hesitate. I fired, hitting him solid in the chest. He stumbled, but didn’t fall, turning towards me and hissing. I heard other soldiers shooting. Were they panic-firing, or shooting at friends of this one?

He had black eyes and massive fangs, in addition to the long, sharp claws on his hands. He rushed forward, almost faster than I could see. I fired again and again, finally piercing the Kevlar body armor he must have been wearing.

He fell to the ground, dead.

The flashlights came back on.

I cursed and ripped off my lamp, blinking away the brightness from my eyes.

The sergeant clapped me on the back. “Good shot.”

Before I could answer, rumbling laughter rolled through the city.

“You shouldn’t have done that, boy,” a deep, amused voice said. “They take it personally when you kill one of their own.”

I raised my gun, searching for the source of the voice, but didn’t respond.

The sergeant did, though. “Who are you? Show yourself!”

“I am called the Dragon.”

“These your men!?”

“No. These are men and women of Domina City, who do not wish to see their homes defiled.”

The sergeant swallowed and looked at me, at a loss for words.

Don’t stand out…

“We’re not here for your homes or your people!” I called. “We’re just here to get rid of the gangs!”

That same rumbling laugh as before. “The gangs are the homes and the people, little boy… no, no wait.” His tone changed, to something curious. “Glasya tells me you’re not a boy at all. You’re a homunculus.”

My blood froze in my veins.

That wasn’t what I was actually called. There was some long name that spelled out a meaningless acronym I hadn’t bothered to learn. AGBHC or something like that. But I had looked up some terms online, learned which ones applied to me.

Homunculus. A word the Greek alchemists used.

It meant false-man.

How had they known? How could they possibly have known? I was made from the toy maker, but that shouldn’t mean anything. American scientists were completely cut off from Dominite ones. Did they have some magic device that let them detect things made from the toy maker?

I took a deep breath. “I’m more of a man than you. Come down and show yourself!”

He chuckled. “Tempting, bruscar. More tempting than you know. But I did not reach my position by taking stupid risks.” The flashlights began to flicker again. “Our nightstalkers will handle you just fine.”

As before, when the lights went out, I slipped on my lamp. This time, most of the other soldiers followed my example.

It gave us just enough time to see almost a hundred of the black-eyed assassins dropping down from the sky.

Behind the Scenes (scene 278)

“AGBHC” stands for “Artificially Grown Biological Humanoid Construct,” by the way.

Domina Cultures – Angels

AngelFinal

Lunia the Silver

the Messenger’s home

Mercuria the Golden

the Mercy-Bringer’s tomb

Venya the Pearly

the Seer’s school

Solania the Crystal

the Ascetic’s monastery

Mertion the Platinum

the Crusader’s armory

Jovar the Glittering

the Defender’s keep

Chronias the Illuminated

the Watcher’s throne

The Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia (translated from Hebrew)

When Striga announced the vampires at Bloody Thirteen, she was exploiting pure, animal fear of darkness and the unknown to protect herself and her followers. She never considered that anyone would find the strength to rise up against her.

A young man sent to the city for little more than petty theft had an idea. The story of how Striga had tricked the toy maker out of the hands of the Mother Monster gave him an inkling of a plan. While she was now under heavy guard, he was still able to find her, and survived her bodyguards long enough to beg for a favor. He needed a weapon, and the city needed a savior.

Lilith was eager to rectify her earlier mistake, but she had learned wisdom quickly. Rather than giving him her copy of the toy maker, she allowed him to be modified, enhanced in such a way as to be perfect for fighting Striga’s vampires. If he was able to fight successfully, she would grant the gift to others.

The experiment was a complete success. The young man, now known as Zaphkiel, cleared out a small vampire nest by himself, cutting through the surprised nighteyes like a hot knife through butter. He returned to the Mother Monster with friends and allies, and the angels were born. Before Striga had even realized what had happened to the destroyed nest, Zaphkiel led the newborn angels in a daring raid on Poenari Castle, the very seat of the Vampire Queen’s power. Zaphkiel himself killed Striga with his mirrored sword, and the skyscraper was left to burn while the vampires scattered.

In the beginning, the city hailed the rise of the angels, and many were happy to donate men and resources to help build their fortress, a double skyscraper called the Pearly Gates. The defeat of Striga was a day of celebration, and the Watcher became a household name.

But while the fall of Striga broke her soldiers beyond repair, the vampires survived.

Without Striga around to conscript vampires to fight for her cause, they were free to live their lives as they wished. Although the angels hunted them throughout the city, this actually proved to their advantage in some ways, scattering them far and wide, giving them more chances to recruit others. Various warlords, both well-meaning and non, rose and were slapped down by the angels.

It was the Dragon who changed all that.

With his godeyes, he was immune to the daybreaks of the angels, and declared the vampires under his protection. Zaphkiel and his saints saw little need to discuss him, and sent several Night-caste angels to assassinate him, a tactic that had served well against many others. When Dracul killed them, Zaphkiel was forced to admit that this one might be different. Despite the council of Raziel and Pistis Sophia, the Watcher agreed to a cease-fire.

While the Dragon and his men honored the deal, Malcanthet’s Riven did not. A persistent rumor claims that the Dark King hired her to circumvent the agreement, but most historians agree that she was just taking advantage of the lowered angelic defenses. Using her new pheromone toys, Malcanthet seduced her way through the Pearly Gates with ease, and killed fully half of the fledgling culture in what was literally an orgy of destruction.

The angels managed to recover, helped most by the fact that most of them were outside the domain at the time. Zaphkiel, however, decided that their sexuality was too obvious a weakness, and used the toy maker to remove his genitals and most other mechanisms for arousal. While not a perfect defense against Malcanthet’s pheromones, it proved an extremely effective one nonetheless, and many other angels—including all of the Watcher’s saints—followed their leader’s example as a show of commitment to the cause.

At this point, the war between vampires and angels would likely have been re-ignited at any moment. Despite the Dragon’s protests, most angels believed he was the one behind Malcanthet’s attack, and small brawls between nightstalkers and daybreakers were becoming more common by the day.

Levistus simply made things worse.

From his Black Crypt of Stygia, Levistus declared vampires to be the eternal enemies of the angels, officially starting the Twilight War with a daring attack on the Pearly Gates. While the vast majority of vampires were not involved, this was more than enough proof for the angels. They were more convinced than ever that every vampire was a monster that needed to be put down. Zaphkiel reformatted the culture, naming Barachiel, Domiel, Erathoal, Pistis Sophia, Raziel, and Sealtiel as his Arch-Saints, the Hebdomad of Heaven. Each Arch-Saint was given a domain, a Heaven from which to launch attacks on the vampires.

This proved to be their undoing. While Levistus and his men fought tooth and nail, the vampires heavily outnumbered the angels, and most were content to just live their lives in peace. When angels firebombed vampire businesses or apartment buildings, filling the night with daybreaks and angelsong, the average people of the city didn’t care about Striga or the source behind Malcanthet’s attack. All they saw were innocent people being murdered by terrorists.

Public opinion turned against the angels, and the money stopped pouring in. They were forced to scale back the war and improve upon their infrastructure and businesses. Barachiel started up a very profitable messenger and delivery service, while Domiel provided volunteers to the Servants to help maintain the Halls of the Dead as a good-will gesture. Erathoal founded schools, often referred to as the first schools in Domina—even though many schools already existed, the Seer’s were safer, and survived far longer. Pistis Sophia used her spy network to find mercenary missions for Raziel and Sealtiel, while Zaphkiel himself built orphanages using money from Necessarius.

But throughout it all, the angels remained true to their core purpose: Destroy all vampires. Skirmishes with the other cultures were common, and the fey especially enjoyed antagonizing them, but vampires were always the target. Historians agree that until the culture finally throws off this racist origin, they will remain the smallest and weakest of the cultures—even if their fury and zeal allows them to make up for their numbers.

Angel honored are called daybreakers, while their deviants are known as Fallen. Their warlords are called Saints, with the Hebdomad being the Arch-Saints.  Their novices are glowlings. The angels do not have traditional subcultures or microcultures, but they do have Hosts, company-sized forces that act mostly independently.

Angel Organization

Castes

Angel castes are like the gangs of other cultures, and represent the individual angel’s occupation and area of expertise. Their Names (below) are their talents, or callings. As far as they’re concerned, the Name is something you simply are, while castes are a choice.

Dawn

The warriors, the soldiers, the generals, made up largely of the Gabriels and Michaels. The Dawn caste tends to congregate to Hosts sponsored by Raziel and Sealtiel, but they are the most common caste, and thus are spread broadly throughout all seven Heavens.

Zenith

The evangelists, both social and religious. They count a number of Lucifers among their ranks, as teaching is just another form of evangelism, but all Names are welcome, and the Raphaels often find a place with them. They work especially well with Barachiel and Erathoal, and are most common in Lunia and Venya.

Twilight

The scholars and scientists of the angels. While they attract more than a few Lucifers, it is actually the Jegudiels who make up the majority of their numbers. They excel at an intelligent, determined march towards progress. They spend most of their time in Venya, domain of Erathoal, the Seer.

Night

Most angels would be happy not to speak of the Night caste. The spies and assassins of the Heavens, they go against many ideals the angels hold dear. They attract many Uriels, and work very closely with Pistis Sophia in her home of Solania.

Eclipse

The angels most likely to be encountered by outsiders in a peaceful setting, the Eclipse caste make up the ambassadors, diplomats, and negotiators. Lucifers and Raphaels both find this caste attractive, but it is far from uncommon to see other Names as well. They flock to Zaphkiel in Chronias, but Domiel in Mercuria has also found many uses for this caste.

Names

Names are an angel’s calling, and one is only very rarely changed once determined. It becomes the angel’s surname, and members of the same Name are considered family.

Gabriels

Warriors, “the strength of god.” Gabriels are known for being aggressive, strong, and dangerous. They also have a reputation for leaping before they look and failing to follow orders they don’t agree with. The other angels often blame them for the continuation of the Twilight War, which is not fair—but not entirely untrue, either.

Jegudiels

Workers, “the laudation of god.” Outsiders rarely meet members of the Jegudiel Name, as they spend most of their time at the Heavens, handling paperwork, bureaucracy, heavy labor, and anything else that requires hard work and dedication. While they are often ignored and forgotten, other Names will quickly sing their praises if asked.

Lucifers

Teachers, “the lightbringer.” Arguably the most important Name of them all, the Lucifers are those angels who lead and teach. They plan the tactics and the strategies, watch over the orphanages and schools. Zaphkiel keeps a close watch on them, as he considers raising intelligent and informed children more important than brainwashing new angels.

Michaels

Protectors, “the name of god.” Like Gabriels, the Michaels are powerful soldiers. But while Gabriels prefer to strike first, ranging far and wide in search of enemies, the Michaels believe in defense before offense. They are the protectors of the Heavens and anywhere else the Saints deem needs defending, and are held in high esteem even by non-angels. They do, however, have a reputation for stubbornness and immovability, as well as a lack of imagination.

Raphaels

Doctors, “the healing of god.” A valuable Name that tries to stay at the Heavens, Raphaels often find themselves on the front lines to patch up their brothers and sisters. In addition to being doctors and surgeons, Raphaels are the primary keepers of the toy maker. A number of medical advancements can be credited to them, especially those Raphaels who joined the Twilight caste.

Uriels

Hunters, “the light of god.” Solitary trackers and spies, the Uriels are a quiet bunch who do not interact with others much. They are the most socially awkward of the angels, rarely getting along even with each other. But they are still praised by the Saints and Arch-Saints due to their skills. Among other cultures, they would be valuable, but among the stealth-impaired angels, they are invaluable.

Angelic Saints

The Hebdomad

Above all other Saints are the Celestial Hebdomad, the seven angels who first took the glow. They are the ultimate authority on all angels that fall under their domain, but rarely interfere directly with anyone below Saint rank. They are sometimes referred to as Arch-Saints.

Barachiel

The Messenger, Lord of Lunia, the Silver Heaven. He is in charge of all forms of angelic communication.

Domiel

The Mercy-Bringer, Lord of Mercuria, the Golden Heaven. His charge is protecting the sanctity of death, and is in charge of the Halls of the Dead for all the angels who have fallen in battle.

Erathoal

The Seer, Lord of Venya, the Pearly Heaven. He is in charge of intelligence and schooling, and watches over the Book of Glory.

Pistis Sophia

The Ascetic, Lord of Solania, the Crystal Heaven. She commands the charge of pure and unvarnished truth, unfettered by pain or despair. Somewhat paradoxically, she is also in charge of the spies.

Raziel

The Crusader, Lord of Mertion, the Platinum Heaven. He is the Arch-saint of War, and the commander-in-chief of all angelic armies.

Sealtiel

The Defender, Lord of Jovar, the Glittering Heaven. His charge is protecting Celestia, which he does with a terrifying will.

Zaphkiel

The Watcher, Lord of Chronias, the Illuminated Heaven. He is the highest angel, and dispenses wisdom and advice to all other members of the Hebdomad. He also watches over orphans and children; Chronias has more orphanages than any other domain.

Notable Hosts

Angel armies and guilds are referred to as hosts, and are best described as similar to the microcultures of other cultures. Angelic hosts do not compete with each other, however (at least not officially), and always claim members of multiple Names.

The Host of Glorious Destruction

Nick

The elderly Saint of the Host of Glorious Destruction is not well-known for her restraint. She is often called upon to strike down a vampire nest swiftly and mercilessly, and is known for her love of fire especially. She is, however, also known for being surprisingly egalitarian. In an organization where racism is seen as passion, she holds no grudge against vampires—though she holds no love for them, either. The Host of Glorious Destruction is sponsored by Pistis Sophia, and recruits angels of both the Gabriel and Uriel Names.

The Host of Radiant Nights

Ash

Although his Host is known for shooting first and asking questions later, Saint Ash is calm, collected, and polite at all time… unless you’re a vampire. Or suggest that maybe killing vampires on sight is a bad idea. Or that angels aren’t the beacons of righteousness they make themselves out to be. He claims credit for the disappearance of Levistus, and the continuation of the Twilight War is often laid at his feet. The Host of Radiant Nights is sponsored by Raziel, and recruits angels of the Gabriel Name almost exclusively.

Scene 198 – Indago

INDAGO

ADAM

I rubbed my forehead. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think I hate angels.”

Kelly nodded, her eyes firmly closed even under her daygoggles. “Yep.”

Alex glared at us. “Is this really the time?”

Kelly and I both replied at the same moment. “Yes.”

Angels, as I had discovered during the incident at Chronias, liked light. A lot. Their dayeyes gave them perfect sight at light levels that would be literally blinding for baselines. Scrambling around the abandoned Illuminated Heaven had been extremely annoying, to say the least.

Turns out it was even worse when the angels were actually around.

In our search for Ling, Alex had taken us to Lunia, the Silver Heaven, home to Barachiel the Messenger. Not that we thought they had her, or anything. No, it was just that Alex still had some friends among the non-‘sarian angels, and she thought they might be able to help.

It was still mid-afternoon, so the outside of the Heaven used an tree-like array of mirrors and lenses to refract and direct the sunlight into aesthetically pleasing shapes. My eyes weren’t exactly designed to handle all that light, but it still looked pretty impressive, like a tree made from light, glowing from every branch and leaf.

Inside? Everything was glowing. And I mean everything.

The floors glowed. The walls glowed. The speakers installed in the corners glowed. The cubicles and computers and freaking paper glowed. I had to wear daygoggles just to get by without tripping over my own feet.

“I do apologize,” the androgynous angel guiding us said with blatantly feigned humility. “We are just not used to entertaining blinders—I mean, those still burdened with baseline eyes.” He/she smiled winningly. “Perhaps one of the heretic Hosts with Necessarius would better serve your needs?”

“The sexless racist has a point,” I grunted, gaining some small pleasure from the brief angry look on the angel’s face. “Why do we need to deal with these guys, exactly?”

“Not all angels who break with the saints join Butler,” Alex said as she led us down the hallway, past angels working away at their desks. What was the worker caste? Jegu…no, wait, castes were named after times of day. The Names were what I was thinking of. Now what was that Name… “The records here will be able to tell us where some of my old friends are.”

Our guide huffed. “I doubt very much that the Silver Archives will be of much use to you. Yes, we note where the Fallen claim they are going as well as their contact information, but it is not as though we keep track of what they are doing, or even make any real effort to confirm their information.”

“You don’t,” Alex admitted. “But Pistis Sophia does. Which is why we’re here for the Crystal Archive, not the Silver.”

The Lunian angel stumbled. “I—you—you know about that?”

“For the rest of us,” I grumbled, as I felt my way along the wall. “Care to explain?”

“Barachiel, Lord of Lunia, is the Messenger,” Jarasax explained, while Alex and our guide glared at each other. “He records contact information and so on. Pistis Sophia is the angelic spymaster—”

“The Lady Ascetic is not something as uncouth as a spy—”

“Save it,” I cut off the angel. I nodded at the changeling, indicating he should continue.

He just shrugged. “Right. Well, that’s about it. Pistis Sophia sends out spies to keep tabs on everyone, especially angels who leave the culture. All the really good stuff will be locked up in Solania, the Crystal Heaven, but there will be notes on the Silver Archive’s own data stored somewhere nearby.”

“The basements,” Alex added, opening a door to a stairwell leading down to underline the point. “Angels are big on keeping the underhanded stuff literally underground.”

Our guide, annoyed, muttered to himself angrily. “It is symbolic, representative of how we are above such things and—”

It took about twenty minutes to find the right room. I had no idea where we were going; we took so many different turns I don’t think I could have found my way back up if my life depended on it. How Alex knew the way, I’ll never know. Then again…there was that angelscript stuff that was invisible to baseline eyes. Maybe she was just following the signs?

However she did it, we eventually found ourselves in front of a thick metal door at the end of a long hallway. The first thing I noticed about the door was that while the hall was as stupidly bright as the rest of the domain, the door didn’t have any of those glowing strips on it. It was still glowing a little, but that was all reflected light; the difference was hard to spot, but with the daygoggles, I could see it. I imagine the angels saw it as painfully obvious.

“That’s the Silver Archive, or whatever?”

Our guide sighed deeply. “No, that’s the door to the Silver branch of the Crystal Archive. Often referred to simply as the Silver Crystal.” He/she produced a key—glowing, of course—from his/her loincloth, and opened the door to a white room.

It took me a second to realize, despite first appearances, the room wasn’t glowing any more than the door was. All the light was just from the hallway. Stepping inside, I could actually see shadows hiding behind the waist-high counters. The first time I had seen shadows since I got to Lunia.

“You have one hour,” our guide warned, standing at the door warily, but not coming in. “Act quickly.”

“Start in ‘G,’” Alex suggested, pointing at a particular counter. “Grigorii Gabriel.”

I wandered over to where she had indicated, opened the drawer, and started shuffling through files. It didn’t take me long to realize I would be of no help.

“These are all written in angelscript,” I noted. “I can’t even see the words.”

The ‘sarian daybreaker cursed. “Day and dawn…and of course, even if you could see them, it’s written in angelic script, so you wouldn’t be able to read it…” It took me a second to remember that angelscript was the invisible ink stuff, while angelic script was the code they used based off Hebrew. Why were the names so similar?

“I can read angelic script,” Kelly piped up. “But I can’t do much if I can’t see it.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Black lights reveal invisible ink, right?”

“Lights don’t work in here,” our guide called from the door. “There’s a strong dark zone.”

“Uh…” I turned to Alex. “Dark…zone?”

“It’s a low-level electromagnetic field, tuned to fry lights,” Kelly said before the angel could answer. “Vampires use them sometimes. They have an annoying tendency to fry other stuff too, though.”

The angel at the door huffed. “Please. We are not some nightspawned wretches tossing out darklights like grenades. The field is very carefully tuned. Only lights are affected.”

“Sure they are,” George said, checking his phone. “That’s why my military-grade brick smells like burnt silicon.”

I went to check my own phone, but Kelly stopped me. “Don’t. It will have a better chance of surviving if you don’t mess with it.”

I sighed. “Fine. What’s your suggestion for these files?” I waved them around. “I don’t think Alex can check them all alone.”

The angel in question took the papers from my hand. “I don’t need more than a few names. Grigorii should be enough…assuming he’s even still alive.”

“What’s so special about this guy?”

“He’s a freak of nature, for one thing. Crazy bastard is a hermit squatting on one of the Fusion Islands. Don’t know which one.”

“Fusion Islands—you mean the four islands with the city’s primary fusion generators?”

The angel raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. Are there any others? But from there, he keeps an eye on everything. He’s a bit of an information broker, except he never sells any information. Very odd.”

“So he might know something,” Kelly finished. “Worth a shot, at least.”

“Okay, that all…kinda makes sense,” I said slowly, looking back and forth from the vampire to the angel. “But why will he help us?”

Alex flipped through the file without looking up. “His sister is Adele Lucifer, that ‘sarian angel who helped with the bats. She can probably convince him it’s in his best interests to help.”

“Couldn’t we have just asked her where he is?”

“She doesn’t know. Like I said, he’s a hermit.”

“But you know now, right?” Kelly asked. “It’s in the papers, I mean? So we can go now?”

The angel scanned through the file quickly. “North Fusion island…in a cave on the eastern shore? No wonder Adele could never find him. He was always claustrophobic before.”

“So that’s everything?” the vampire demanded, scratching the device on her arm.

“Yep!” the ‘sarian angel said with a cheerful smile. “I think we might finally have a lead!”

“Good,” Jarasax grunted from the hallway, where he was checking his phone. “Because Medina just texted me. Huntsman killed St. John.” He nodded at Alex. “You better hope this lead pans out, because it’s the only one we’ve got left.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 198)

Angels bearing the Name “Jegudiel” are the workers of angelic society. They are the bureaucrats, the builders, the lawyers, and the paper-pushers. Thankless jobs, but essential.

The other Names are Gabriel (warriors), Lucifer (teachers), Michael (protectors), Raphael (doctors), and Uriel (hunters). The teachers should have the Name Samael, but the Archsaints weren’t exactly experts on Christian theology.

break

Scene 98 – Musicae

MUSICAE

ADAM

I took out another singer with my Athena. Kelly and the rest of the retinue were busy keeping the screamers off Derek, but they’d overwhelm him soon. We were out of reach for the moment, on top of a short building, but that couldn’t last. The zombies were starting to notice us, and would start scaling the building pretty quickly.

I had tried shooting out the lights, but my aim wasn’t good enough, and the streetlights were only a small part of the problem anyway. Most of the glow—bright enough to illuminate the entire street as if it was day—came from inside the buildings.

At least we had found a way around the singers’ infection. We were all wearing big, bulky headphones that filtered through all the external noise, removed any hint of the song, and played it back for us. There was a lag of a few milliseconds, which was very dangerous in the middle of combat, but it was either that or stab out our own eardrums.

“Some Draculas will be here in about half an hour with an EMP,” MC said into my ear. “Can you hold out ’til then?”

I shot another singer in the chest. I wasn’t quite good enough to reliably get headshots. “Maybe. But Derek and the girls won’t, and if we try to protect them we’ll get swarmed too.”

There was a brief pause. “One sec, I think they’ve got an idea.”

I turned my gaze to Derek’s azure force field, flickering every time a laser struck it. The attacks were coming in faster, and it was clearly taxing him to keep up the shield. But then…

The street swallowed them.

The asphalt under their feet opened up, like a great big maw, and sealed itself up after they fell in. The screamers milled around in confusion for a few minutes, before they began to notice us again.

“MC,” I said as calmly as I could. “Are they all right?”

“Yeah. I mean, I can’t get a signal, so I’m not sure…”

I switched to my Caedes as the horde pressed closer. “But that was the plan, right?”

I could almost hear her nodding. “Yes, yes, that was the plan. In a few minutes, once their reservoirs are replenished, they’ll pop back up and sneak attack the horde.”

I frowned as I unleashed a barrage on some of the closer zombies. “But isn’t their only attack Ling? And she needs to conserve her strength.”

“Derek will flicker the shield long enough for Akane to run out and attack. I have stuff to do. Focus on the screamers in front of you.”

I nodded, slightly chastised. Derek knew what he was doing. I needed to stop asking questions. “Got it.”

“Oh, there is one more thing. Keep an eye out for Zaphkiel. We think he jumped the fence.”

I cursed under my breath. Wonderful. Now we had a crazy racist running around.

But I didn’t have time to worry about that. The screamers were scaling up the side of the building—though not all the structures in the area had handholds for easy climbing, enough did to make our lives annoying—and would be in laser range soon. We kept them at bay as best we could, but the angle was bad, and there were so many of them. It seemed like every angel in the district was turned.

We were forced away from the edge, where we put our back to a wall—the stairway down, to be exact. It wasn’t much protection, but at least we could flee inside if we had to.

Even though they were trying to kill us, I found the screamers’ attack interesting. It really did look like they grabbed rays of light and threw them at us, as if they were spears. Each laser caused a small, smoking explosion where it hit. The holes weren’t much bigger than those caused by a small-caliber firearm, but there were so many that they were dangerous enough.

“At least their aim sucks,” I muttered.

Surprisingly, it was George who answered. He hadn’t really spoken much since Kat was turned. “We need to fall back. Too many of them.”

Kelly hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “We can’t help Huntsman if we’re dead. Sax, the door.”

The Middle-Eastern changeling complied quickly, opening the roof access door and dodging inside. Alex was next, followed by Kelly and myself. George held the way for us, unleashing bursts of fire from his minigun to force the zombies back.

“George, now!” I called. He was the one who suggested running. Why wasn’t he running?

He ignored me, but as luck would have it, that was about the moment the screamers started to find their range. A laser struck him in the shoulder, throwing up a burst of acrid smoke and causing the ogre to bellow in pain. At the same time, a few more beams lanced forward, but the giant was already stumbling back into the dubious safety of the building.

I pulled the door shut behind him as fast as I could and sabotaged the lock, which should keep them from picking it. Yes, it sounds stupid to assume zombies can pick locks, but apparently everyone in the city can do it in their sleep, and it just took two seconds to jam it anyway. I stuck a bobby pin in and broke it off.

“Let’s secure the building,” Kelly said quickly, scratching that device on her left arm as she always did. “Or at least one floor.”

I glanced around as we came away from the stairs. It seemed as if the place was another office/apartment complex, which at least meant there would be lots of supplies to use to make the place defensible. Maybe even some ammo.

“We need to find…the manager’s office. He should have maps and floorplans…” I frowned when I realized what was bugging me about the place. “Why are there no signs?” There weren’t any names or numbers over the doors—or anywhere else, for that matter. I picked up a sheaf of paper off one of the cubicle desks. It seemed blank, but it had creases and other signs of use. There were a bunch of other similar papers scattered around.

Alex read over my shoulder. “’Staff meeting tomorrow at noon to discuss budgetary concerns.’” When she noticed me staring at her, she just shrugged. “Invisible ink. Also called angelscript. You need dayeyes to read it.”

“All right then. Lead on, Honored Daybreaker,” I said with a bow and a flourish.

She rolled her eyes, but led me to the manager’s office as requested.

It took a few minutes of scrambling through his drawers, but eventually we found a carefully-labeled floorplan. I couldn’t read it, of course, but Alex took a look at it.

“Exits are here, here, and here,” she said, pointing to them around the floor. “There’s a supply closet over here.”

“Kelly, you guys secure the exit,” I suggested. “We’ll look at the supplies.” The vampire waved us on, nursing a headache from the lights.

The odd thing about this building (not to mention most of the others in the area) was that there were lights everywhere. Every surface, including the floor, was covered in fluorescent light strips, usually shaped into aesthetic designs. It looked a lot like the patterns of an angel’s dayskin, actually.

Luckily, this place was built to accommodate people with baseline eyes as well, so while the lights were bright, they weren’t blinding. Alex said they were ‘angelic script,’ which was somehow distinct from angelscript, and used it to help us navigate.

“This is just a janitor’s closet,” she reminded me. “Don’t get your hopes up.” She started picking the lock, and after a few minutes it clicked open.

“Why does this city even bother with mechanical locks any more?” I muttered as she pulled open the door.

“There’s an electric sensor inside that’s much harder to defeat,” she explained. “It sets off a silent alarm. We don’t have to worry about it, but a real thief would have much more trouble trying to explain why he’s picking locks.”

I nodded and glanced around the closet. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like there was anything useful.

“Maybe the break room will have something,” I mused. Last time I was in this situation, I found a half-empty case of ammo in a break room. Just sitting there, next to some doughnuts. This city was pretty seriously messed up.

Alex laughed. “What? No, this is more than enough. Haven’t you spent enough time with Kelly to know by now?”

She handed me a bunch of cleaning supplies—bleach, windex, Comet…

I was having trouble holding it all. “Wait, hang on. What’s all this for?”

The androgynous angel grinned, picking up her own armful. “Kelly will mix it all together. Always remember: Belians are very good with chemistry.”

“I don’t think we need meth,” I complained as we walked back to the stairway, which the others had already blockaded pretty solidly.

She just smiled. “What you need is to have faith.”

Before I could retort, there was a knock on the barricade.

I glanced at Alex, and she nodded. She had heard it too.

The knock came again, a little louder this time. Something had come up the stairs and was trying to get in. Politely, too.

“Hello?” I called, putting down the chemicals and readying my shotgun just in case. “Who’s out there?”

There was a long pause, and for a moment I thought they had simply left.

Then the barricade exploded.

Wood from the tables flew everywhere in a blinding flurry. Something long and hard—probably one of the metal legs—clipped me in the shoulder, but I just shielded my face with my hand and stayed put, keeping my Saint George as steady as I could.

It only took a moment for the dust to clear.

And there was Zaphkiel, one of the highest angels in existence, standing there as if nothing was wrong.

He looked about the same as before, except his skin—all his skin—was softly glowing. His dayskin didn’t have any patterns, and for a moment, I was curious as to why.

But that question fled my mind when I noticed that he was screaming.

His jaw was open so wide it was practically unhinged, and his eyes tracked us with single-minded purpose. We couldn’t hear him; the headphones must have a glitch or something. They were filtering out that too. But he was definitely turned, there was no question about that.

I opened fire on him mostly out of reflex, hitting him full in the chest with a load of buckshot, but he didn’t so much as flinch. It didn’t even bruise his alabaster skin. Buckshot isn’t exactly designed for penetration, but it should have still had some effect.

Alex was uninjured from the explosion, but white as a sheet and trembling like a leaf. “A warlord…a warlord has been turned.”

Zaphkiel raised his hand in an aggressive gesture.

Without bothering to explain, I tackled Alex as fast as I could, throwing her out of the way and behind a desk just as the Saint’s laser exploded at the spot we had occupied moments before.

“We can’t kill him,” I muttered. “Angels will have our heads.” I glanced at Alex. “You got any ideas?”

But she was still trembling. “A warlord…”

I frowned. It would only be moments before the bigger angel realized where we had gone. At least he was as stupid as the others. “Alex, c’mon. How do we beat him?”

She swallowed visibly, and shook her head. “He…he’s a warlord. He stands a decent chance against armies.” She licked her lips, thinking. “Perhaps…perhaps Kelly…”

What the hell would she be able to do? Ah…the chemicals. But wherever the vampire was, it wasn’t here, and she probably wouldn’t be much use against someone built specifically to fight her kind anyway.

Looked like it was all up to me, as usual.

But I couldn’t kill him. Even if it was within my ability, he was probably the most important angel in the city. Laura’s little history lesson on the way over hadn’t been very detailed, but she had managed to get it into my head that Zaphkiel was the founder and leader of the culture. They would not take kindly to his death, however necessary it was.

My thoughts were interrupted as the floor next to me started burning.

It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t an attack. It looked like someone was writing with a pen that used fire for ink—in other words, a laser.

But that particular train of thought quickly screeched to a halt when I realized that the screamer was writing words.

I am the Composer, the scarred floor proclaimed. Join me.

I licked my lips nervously. I had to keep him talking. Unlikely as it might seem, Kelly and the others might be able to get us out of this. They’d be here soon enough.

“Join you?” I asked, trying to make it seem as though I was considering the offer. “And do what?”

Kill, the laser wrote.

I frowned. “Kill who?”

Anything. Everything.

“Any chance I can change your mind on that? Maybe you should get interested in sports.”

No. Tried that. Kill everything.

I stared, convinced I was misreading. This guy had decided to go omnicidal because he sucked at sports?

“Look, just because you fail once—”

The laser wrote again, faster and angrier. No. Tried everything. Love. Power. Wealth. Knowledge. None of it is of any interest. There is only killing.

“There’s other stuff besides killing,” I insisted. I really doubted I’d be able to reason with him, but I was the only one in a position to try.

To my surprise, Zaphkiel laughed. Oh? The laser wrote. Tell me, Adam Anders, other than killing, what has caught your interest lately?

I froze. Not because he had made some deep, cutting remark that made me question my entire life—no. That wasn’t it.

He knew my name.

Oh shit.

Apparently, he took my hesitation for something else entirely. Join me, and you can have the powers that were denied to you.

I answered before I could stop myself. “Wait, what? You can give me powers?” Then I realized my mistake, and I rolled my eyes. “Oh, yeah, like I want to spend the rest of my life as a zombie. No thanks.”

No. Not like this one. Like Derek, like Akane. Power, no strings attached. Just so long as you use it to kill.

I’d like to say that the offer wasn’t enticing. After all, a guy who made zombies was offering me vague promises of power; it was pretty clear where that ends.

But…

I had meant what I said when we first discovered these powers. I hadn’t wanted one. We didn’t know anything about them. But as time wore on, it was becoming increasingly clear that there were no downsides—at least none that popped up too soon.

I would like to say to that I would have turned him down, preferably giving him my reply in the form of a god slayer to the face.

But I would have said yes. If out of curiosity, if nothing else. It was just too interesting an offer to refuse, too much power for the taking. This story would have ended very differently, in that case.

But then the Draculas detonated their EMP, and all the lights went out, leaving only the warlord, glowing like a nightlight.

So I ran.

The fact that the retinue got out as well was nothing but a lucky coincidence.

Behind the Scenes (scene 98)

Angelscript is slightly more advanced than traditional invisible ink, though it does still show up under the right kinds of UV light.

Oh, and angelic script is actually a simple code based on the Hebrew alphabet, specifically Rashi script, combined with English. Alex’s dayskin, for example, is the Hebrew letter “G” for Gabriel, then the letter “N” for Night (not the Hebrew word for night, the English one). The rest is a poem about his character and personality. It gets repeated three times: Once on the left side of his body, one on the right, and once on his back.

Scene 97 – Caeli Ruina

CAELI RUINA

LING

“Ling,” a harsh voice called, while rough hands shook me. “Ling, wake up.”

“Nnngh?” I opened one eye a crack to see an annoyed Akane standing over me.

“Screamers again,” she said without preamble, and started dressing at super speed.

Now that I was awake and she had mentioned it, I could hear new screamers, far to the north. It was just hard to sift it all out from the background noise of the captured ones.

It had been a week and two days since the shopping trip with Lizzy, not to mention a little over two weeks since the last screamer attack—which, of course, I hadn’t participated in.

I was tired. It was barely even morning, sometime around two, and I had been up late playing with my armor. In fact, I had fallen asleep with it on, which hadn’t helped anything.

“Five more minutes,” I muttered.

I heard Akane step up to my bed. “By Musashi’s sword, that’s not happening.”

I instantly snapped awake as I felt her grab me by the torso and yank me out of bed at super speed, pulling me towards the open window.

Despite the danger, I couldn’t help noticing the strange sensations of super speed. Akane had never mentioned it, which was hardly a surprise. Maybe it was different for her, or maybe she just didn’t feel like talking about it. But for me, it felt like being dragged underwater. Warm and fluid, like every molecule of air was trying to hold me back.

Then she threw me out the window, and everything went back to normal.

Except the fact that I was falling thirty floors to my death, of course.

With the cold wind and burst of adrenaline, all thoughts of sleep were gone. Thankfully, I had enough experience with getting thrown in soccer that I didn’t waste any precious seconds screaming or flailing in terror.

The first thing I did was flip so that my feet were facing the ground, using my powers on the plates in my armor (which I thanked Tezuka I had worn to bed). Fighting gravity was more difficult. I had the power, no question, but that was part of the problem. I had too much power, so I usually just ended up sort of bobbing up and down until my reservoir ran out. When I was practicing, it was no big deal. Here, it was a matter of life and death.

Luckily, I had been practicing, and I was able to pull up on my armor with enough strength and control to slow me down. I still hit hard, and my ankles buckled under me, but I was alive. Sore, yes, but alive and kicking.

I settled onto my hands, breathing deeply and willing my jack-hammering heart to slow. Velvet hell, what was that? Even if Akane had known I was wearing my armor, it still seemed…like an overreaction. To say the least.

But I didn’t have time to get mad about it, I was sure, and I doubted anything good would come of confronting her about it later. I guess…I guess I’d just have to forget about it.

Yeah, forget about being thrown out a window. I’d get right on that.

Kelly appeared at my side within moments, her pistol held at the ready in a two-handed grip. “You okay? What happened?”

I shook my head. “I…” I sighed. “I decided to jump out the window. You know, as a test.”

The Belian raised an eyebrow. “Did you try to flirt with Derek around Akane again? I told you she’d fight back eventually.”

“No, actually,” I admitted, standing slowly. I was a little nauseous from the spinning on the way down, but it was fading fast. “I wouldn’t get out of bed.”

“So she threw you out the window?”

“She’s not a morning person.”

“I gathered.” The vampire glanced back at the van, scratching the fixer still strapped to her arm. “Well, whatever. I hope the others are down quick. The attack is at North Outer this time. Janelle is having a hell of a time.”

I didn’t know which Janelle she might be referring to, and that wasn’t the most important part anyway. “Where’s the attack? Exactly, I mean?”

“Chronias,” the vampire said flatly. “The Illuminated Heaven.”

The others came down quickly enough, and after a few questions about why I decided to jump out the window, we were off. Jarasax was insisting on driving faster than normal—which was saying something—and we were able to use some Necessarian shortcuts, but it still took nearly an hour and a half to reach our destination.

“How much longer?” Adam asked, glancing at the GPS on his phone. “We should be there already.”

“We are,” the driver said grimly, pulling to a stop next to a dark ‘scraper on an even darker block. Now that I was paying attention, I realized I hadn’t seen any lights for a few minutes. “This is it.”

I had already noticed the screamers were nearby, of course, but Adam didn’t have that luxury. We weren’t quite close enough to hear with normal senses yet.

“I thought we were stopping by Chronias?” Alex inquired. “The actual headquarters, not just the general domain.”

“We are,” the changeling repeated. He pointed to the skyscraper, over a hundred floors high and without a single light on. “That’s it.”

I think my heart stopped in my chest.

That…

That couldn’t be.

It was impossible.

Alex slid open the van’s door as fast as he could and stumbled outside, retching onto the unlit street.

Adam was just confused. “What’s wrong?”

Laura was the one who managed to answer. “What the hell do you think the angels’ sanctuary would look like, you moron?”

He glanced around at our horrified faces. “More…light, I guess?”

That was the understatement of the century. The Heavens were impossibly beautiful. Covered in mirrors and magnifying glasses stretching out from the central structure like the limbs of a tree, during the day Chronias reflected the sunlight with unspeakable perfection, looking like nothing so much as a giant tree made of light.

At night, depending on the state of the moon, artificial lights would be used to produce a similar effect, but even more striking. Without the sun to interfere, the light architects could craft even more impressive displays, such as a small-scale aurora borealis that would hang about the Heaven like a warm cloak. Even though the sky was overcast, the skyscraper should have been glowing bright enough to see for miles.

But it was dead. Completely dead, not even the smallest spark of light dancing in its heart. I might not have any love for the angels, but seeing them brought low so quickly…

“It’s not as bad as it looks.”

We all turned to see a demon, cloaked in soft red light from a lantern hanging from a staff he carried, standing on the street a few feet from Alex. He nodded to the dark ‘scraper. “The screamers here can manipulate light. They had to turn everything off, otherwise it would be like just handing a bomb to the enemy.”

That made sense, to everyone’s unimaginable relief. It also explained why all the other lights in the past few streets were off as well.

“The compound isn’t far,” the demon promised. “We actually saw you guys drive past.”

We all filed after him quickly enough, though Alex took some coaxing. He kept glancing back over his shoulder, as though to reassure himself the Heaven hadn’t crumbled into dust when he wasn’t looking.

It quickly became clear that we really had driven right past the ‘sarian redoubt. It was nestled in a wide alley just a few minutes walk from where we had stopped, out of sight of the road.

Once we clambered past a hastily-erected barricade made of parked cars—parked, not stacked—we found ourselves in a small tent city. The alley was nearly big enough to be a road itself, but it was a dead end with nothing important, so no one had bothered to give it a name.

The entire camp was illuminated by that same soft red light as before. It was nightlight; nothing special, just bright enough for baseline eyes to see, but not so bright to blind nighteyes.

I noticed that none of the armed men and women were angels, though only a small fraction wore Necessarian armbands. What few angels I did see were sitting on the ground, as though waiting for something.

Laura noticed the same thing. “The angels can’t see in this light?”

“Barely,” our guide answered as we navigated the small maze of tents. “They raised a fuss at first, but then some idiot daybroke over at Camp Beta, and the whole place was nearly destroyed. Quieted down, after that.”

Derek was the next with a question. “How many of these camps do you have?”

“Ten. Got about two hundred souls in each.”

Derek frowned. “I hope that’s more than it sounds.”

“Nope. There are about five hundred thousand people in the threatened area. There aren’t that many screaming yet, but that will change. They’re just hiding in their houses, that’s no defense.”

We had reached the end of the camp by now, blocked off by the back wall of a building. An old woman, maybe fifty years old, looked up from a table strewn with papers. “Thank you for getting them up to speed, Gavin. Return to your duties.”

The demon saluted, then left quickly.

The woman came out from behind the table, and even in the dull red light, it became clear she wasn’t baseline. Although her upper body was normal, her legs had been replaced—or, more accurately, fused together. Whatever the exact process, the result was a long, sinuous snake tail, which she used to slither over to us with ease.

“I am Admiral Janelle Ursler,” the ophidian said without preamble. “And you would be the Paladins. What do you need to know?”

“First, we need to know more details about the screamers,” Laura said, stepping into her role as strategist smoothly. “Gavin said they could control light. To what extent?”

“Also,” I couldn’t help myself asking. “Why is an admiral in charge?”

“They can shoot beams of light which explode on contact,” she said, ignoring my question. “Not a big explosion, not even enough to kill a man, but it adds up quickly. We’ve also spotted quite a few singers, which is how it’s spreading so fast. We killed a couple, but it hasn’t had much effect.”

Laura frowned. “I should have expected as much. I take it you killed any angels they captured? Otherwise, we’d have seen their light.”

“Actually, we found an alternative solution.”

We all turned to see a massive naked and androgynous angel stride forward with all the grace he could muster, despite the fact that he clearly couldn’t see more than two feet in front of him.

He was nearly seven feet tall, with unblemished alabaster skin, even in the dull glow of the nightlights. He was muscled like a championship boxer, but moved gracefully—again, even though he was basically blind.

I don’t pay too much attention to the angels, but even I recognized him.

Zaphkiel, the Watcher, founder of the angels. Arch-Saint of Chronias, warlord of the Illuminated Host. He hadn’t led a battle in years, but warlords spent millions on their bodies. I had no doubt that this man could fight off armies with his bare hands, half-blind or not.

But against an enemy that can infect you with a single drop of blood, he was powerless.

“We spread angelweight through the air,” he explained. “It negates the abilities of the dayskin, rendering the turned angels powerless.”

“I’ve heard about that,” Laura said slowly. “It’s a drug,” she explained for the benefit of the rest of us. “It works through skin contact, acts fast, with few side effects, and is very easy to cure.” She turned back to the warlord. “You have a stock of the Grace?”

The massive angel tapped what looked like a watch on his wrist. “Every angel in our domain has one of these. It is a simple matter to administer some Grace, which will cure the angelweight in minutes. However, the screamers are not intelligent enough to use it.”

“Inspired,” Derek admitted. “Hopefully, we can finish this up soon. With the drug distributed, the skies are safe, and we can spread some sleep gas around.”

“Can’t,” Laura cut in. “We’re out.”

I blinked. “The entire city is out of sleeping gas?”

She glared. “Yes, actually. They’ve been using a lot of it, to get the screamers to the prison facilities. And then a few days ago, the manufacturing plant shut down when one of the employees threw himself down a very important maintenance shaft.”

I shivered. That would be more sleepers, no doubt. Laura said she had something in the works regarding that, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence on that front. Villains don’t have their main plots foiled because a scientist finally figured out a cure or whatever. Maybe if this was a sub-plot…

Derek interrupted my thoughts with his accusatory tone. “You were going to mention this when?

Laura just rolled her eyes. “Until today, I had no reason to suspect it was anything but an accident. Silver and gold, it might have been. We still don’t know how the Composer works.”

The blond man opened his mouth to say something, then apparently decided not to bother arguing. “That’s a question for another time,” he said decisively. “Akane, Ling and I are going back the way we came, to see if we can make a dent in the screamers.”

I frowned. I hated being ordered around. The fact that his orders actually made sense made it easier to deal with, but only barely.

“Good luck,” Laura said. “And be careful.”

We left swiftly, finding our way back to the disturbingly dark Chronias within a few minutes. Once we were out of the nightlights, our eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, but with the cloud cover, it was still only enough to see vague shapes.

“It’s times like this I wish I had nighteyes,” I muttered. That got a smile out of the others, but nothing else. It’s not like we had time to rectify that.

It wasn’t hard to find the screamers, even without any light. Even without our ability to sense them at a distance, we would have stumbled upon them soon enough.

There were a lot of them. A thousand, maybe more, just standing in the streets screaming. Apparently, without light to manipulate, they were largely helpless. Sure, they smashed windows and threw garbage cans around, but it was nothing a few small community cleanup projects wouldn’t fix. It almost seemed silly.

No. Silly wasn’t the right word. Petty. The Composer had a horde of night-blind, helpless screamers, and was angry about it. This was all he could do with them.

Which made me realize something.

“The Composer is going to be here soon with light,” I warned. “Or he’ll manage to use one of these to turn on a light switch.”

Akane shrugged. “Kill them before then, then.”

Derek shook his head. “No. No killing unless absolutely necessary. We can capture them, like the others.”

“No time, like Ling said,” Akane admonished with a frown. “On the clock here.”

“Then we’d better move fast.” His tone brooked no argument. He headed forward, into the crowd of blind, violent screamers, and we reluctantly followed.

It became clear that we didn’t even need to fight. Most of the zombies had dayeyes, and thus were completely nightblind, so all we had to do was be a little careful to keep out of their way. The majority of the civilians had apparently managed to keep away from the singers, which was definitely a good sign. Without a source of fresh bodies, this battle would just take time.

Time we didn’t have, unfortunately.

“Singers are in the middle,” Akane noted after a minute of moving very cautiously through the screamers, avoiding their flailing limbs by inches. “If we can kill them, this gets much easier.”

“Unless Derek insists we can’t kill them,” I muttered drily.

“We wouldn’t be able to carry them out,” Derek replied. “And with the package, nothing short of killing will keep them down for long. A few dozen deaths for a few thousand lives is an acceptable trade.”

That’s what he said, anyway. But the firm set of his shoulders and frustrated look in his eyes made it clear that he didn’t like the idea.

“Akane, scout ahead,” he ordered tersely, likely to distract himself.

She sped off without a word, while we followed at a slower pace. Stopping was out of the question; the zombies were easy enough to avoid while moving, but if we stayed in the same place they’d pile on us in seconds.

“Counted about a dozen,” the swordswoman informed us as she blurred to Derek’s side. “Probably more.”

Derek nodded. “Let’s kill them quickly. If we’re lucky, the screamers will be cured.”

It was a long shot, and everyone knew it, but there was still the chance.

But then the lights turned on.

I shielded my face against the sudden glare, but even half-blind I could tell what was going on. Every building along the street, every streetlight…the entire horde was suddenly bathed in light. On the other side of the street, opposite of where we came, I saw screamers maintaining a number of portable generators, which were probably hooked up to everything else.

And suddenly, the screamers could see us.

A trap. Wonderful. Should have known it was too easy.

Behind the Scenes (97)

I did actually research lasers and so on, but there’s only so much you can do in this situation. Physicists give you weird looks when you tell them you need to know how light would act when weaponized using fosikinesis.