Tag Archives: Aramazd

Scene 172 – Ferus

FERUS

SEENA

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

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

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

“Which is why I brought friends.”

The demon hissed. “You have no right—”

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

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

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

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

I gave him a pitying look.

“I lied.”

One of my snipers shot him in the head.

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

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

“Din nou!” I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before he had a chance to obey, day broke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

“Then it is done.”

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

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

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

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

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

Besides, there was someone I needed to check on.

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

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

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

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

“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I removed my hand slowly.

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

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

“Show me.”

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

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

A few more minutes passed.

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

Our guide shrugged helplessly. “Sorry.”

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

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

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

She obeyed with almost indecent haste.

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

“Can you find the center of this room?”

“Easily. Why?”

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

Razvan shrugged. “Whatever. Just follow me.”

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

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

“Sibriex?”

“No,” I said calmly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My brother told me.”

I could see his brain working slowly. And then…

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

I raised an eyebrow. “Simon mentioned me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop babbling and talk.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrugged. “I suppose so.”

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

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

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

Hm.

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Scenes (scene 172)

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

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Scene 155- Martyrium

MARTYRIUM

SIMON

I couldn’t move.

I could open my eyes, but only the barest crack; I couldn’t see anything.

At first I thought I was tied down, strapped to an operating table with a bright light above my head, but I slowly realized that wasn’t the case.

If there were any ropes or bindings, I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t feel…anything.

No, that wasn’t quite right. There was…something at the edge of my awareness. A bare tingling in my fingers and toes.

But I couldn’t move. Couldn’t even twitch.

And it was very, very cold.

“This is your fault, you know,” a sibilant voice hissed.

I stiffened. Well, I felt like I stiffened, anyway. I couldn’t move enough to actually do so. Was he talking to me?

“You wanted a lab rat just as much as I did,” a second voice pointed out angrily. I recognized it, but I couldn’t quite place…

You led me to believe it would work. That we’d have a grateful balor running around, not a twisted waste of flesh!”

“Honored Power, you of all people know that mistakes are often more useful to science than successes. Mister Lancaster served his purpose quite well.”

Oh no. Oh, by every Heaven and every Hell, no.

The Balor reconstruction had failed.

I had failed.

I couldn’t…what use would I be to my sister now? How could I protect her? Or myself, for that matter. After they restored me, I’d be in debt to the culture for the rest of my days even if I lived to a hundred.

Nhang—I could identify his voice now, it was the lower, hissing one—grumbled. “I don’t understand what went wrong. It worked fine last time.”

“Well, everyone is a little bit different,” the second voice replied, which I now recognized as Aramazd. That also explained the cold. They must have dragged me to the server room, so that the guardian could look over me personally. “Judging by the muscle damage, I’m guessing there was some protein imbalance we didn’t account for. He must have a slightly different diet than the other one.”

I struggled to remember what I had eaten recently that could account for anything screwing up the process, but I couldn’t think of anything.

Okay…I could find a way out of this. I could buy my way out of this debt I could…

No. There was nothing.

I didn’t really have any marketable skills. Oh, I could play around with the toy maker well enough, but every other sibriex was a thousand times better than me. I wasn’t bad with a gun, but no one would hire me for protection instead of a hellion or warblood. And my hacking skills were laughable.

There was nothing I could do that a thousand people couldn’t do better.

There was no way out of this. Nhang was going to own me for the rest of my life, and there was nothing I could do to change that.

“Well,” my warlord said with a sigh. “Point me to the garbage chute. Let’s get this over with.”

Wait, what?

“North side of the room,” Aramazd rasped. “Did you actually forget, or are you just being a dick?”

“A little from column A, a little from column B…”

The gurney or whatever I was on started to roll forward, almost certainly from someone pushing it towards the north side of the room.

They couldn’t possibly—

A shadow flitted across my vision briefly, as though someone was looking down on me.

“You think he’s awake?” Nhang asked.

“Who knows?” Aramazd’s voice was farther away now. “It doesn’t really matter. He’s got about an hour left to live no matter what we do. Though if you were willing to let me vivisect him—”

“No, I think not. We have taken more than enough from this young man already.” I felt the gurney roll to a stop. “Most of his internal organs are failing, and his heart can’t support the irregular blood flow Let him die in peace.”

“And of course, you won’t be the one actually killing him. That would be the environment.” There was a bitter, gurgling laugh, under which I heard the rusty squeak of some sort of metal door opening. “Keeps your hands pretty and clean.”

“Be silent,” Nhang spat back. “One of us is still human.”

“Only in your dreams, Honored Devil. Only in the sweetest of your dreams.”

Then my warlord gathered me up in my arms, and dumped me down the garbage chute, into the sewers some twenty-six or so floors below.

Behind the Scenes (scene 155)

Yes, another short one, unfortunately. Basically, this and the previous scene should be taken as a pair.

Scene 147 – Supremus

SUPREMUS

SIMON

“Wait, you want what?”

I stood as straight as I could, pulling away the ice pack I had been using to nurse my still-bruised face. “I want to undergo the Balor reconstruction process. Sir.”

Narek Nhang, Power of the sibriex, just stared at me.

He looked different than when I had last seen him a few weeks ago, but that was no real surprise. He was called the Unfleshed Lord for a reason; he never stuck with a single form for more than a month. He had been known to switch within hours of finishing a procedure.

Today, he had a vaguely Asian skin tone along with short (but sharp) spikes covering his arms. His eyes were solid gold, and I wasn’t completely sure he could actually see. But either way, it didn’t slow him down at all.

One of the other sibriex, a young girl who’s name I could never remember, spoke up. “The process worked perfectly fine last time. I don’t think there’s any undue risk.”

“This isn’t about risk!” the Power snapped. “Lancaster doesn’t have any money to pay for such a procedure! And I am not willing to extend that kind of credit to a brand-new demon who hasn’t even earned his keep.”

I bristled at that. “Hey, I’m not brand-new!” My Power glared at me, and I hurriedly backstepped verbally. “Uh…sir. I’ve been here two months, playing gopher and lab assistant to everyone. I helped confirm Magorian’s theories on plant-based uses of the toy maker—”

“You’ve been here two months, and you haven’t submitted a single page of original research. Reviewing everyone else’s work will only get you so far.”

“Peer review is the basis of science—”

“That’s not the point!” He stomped forward until those creepy golden eyes of his were only inches away. “I’m not going to turn an untested imp of unclear loyalty into a walking juggernaut!”

I swallowed my fear as best I could. “Sir, if you’d just let me explain—”

“Explain?” He settled back a little. “Explain what? Unless you were talking about something other than the Balor package, we have nothing to discuss.” He starting counting off on his fingers. “Enhanced strength, durability, speed, adrenaline, bulletproof skin, claws, horns, and a strong tail. Why would I give those to you?”

I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have just bit my tongue, like always.

But something about Narek’s aggressive behavior made me angry. He reminded me of the bullies from my old orphanage. Seena and I had always just run away, never confronting them. We were never very strong.

I shouldn’t have said anything.

But against this bully, I had a weapon.

“Aramazd thinks it’s a good idea.”

The girl raised an eyebrow. “Who the Hells is Aramazd?” She sighed and turned to the Power. “Knight Nhang, I can have him thrown out if you—” she stopped talking, with a sound like she was choking on her own tongue.

She had finally noticed the look our warlord was giving me.

He looked like he had just stepped on a land mine.

“How do you know that name?” He said, so quietly I could barely hear it. I couldn’t tell whether he was terrified or angry.

Probably both.

I faced him down without fear…mostly. I managed to hide it pretty well, anyway. “From the man himself, of course.” I paused, as though thinking over what I had just said. “…though I’m not sure man is the right word.”

Narek narrowed his eyes to slits. “What happened to you, Lancaster? Where is the simpering little orphan I recruited?”

I met his gaze evenly. “It…has been an eventful few days, Noble Nhang. The Composer is captured, but free enough to see and hear through the eyes of her minions. The fey have made an unexpected move, and many of my friends are dead.” I shrugged. “I can either become more powerful or die. I’m sure you understand my choice.”

My warlord took a step back in surprise. “Wait, the fey did what? I haven’t heard anything like that.”

That was odd. Yeah, it was only a few hours since the attack, but surely it would be headline news around the city.

I scratched my horns, a little self-conscious. “Uh, yeah. Their war apparently ended, with only six survivors, split into two courts. One of them, Maeve, showed up and started recruiting.” As the memory resurfaced, I felt my heart flutter. I quashed the feeling. “People…died.”

I didn’t meet anyone’s eyes.

“Hmph,” my warlord muttered. He waved his hand. “Leave us.”

The three other sibriex in the room looked at each other before the girl responded. “Uh, sir—”

Now.”

“Yes, sir.”

It only took a few minutes for the them to gather up their things at top speed and run from the room.

“Fine,” Nhang said after the others were gone.

I blinked. “Uh…sir?”

“Fine. I’ll let you go through the Balor reconstruction process.”

I swallowed my anxiety as best as I could. “Th-thank you, sir.”

“Aramazd will oversee the procedure. Since we don’t have a toy box, he’s the only one with the skill to pull it off.”

He was? I didn’t know that. I guess I had just assumed he was the culture’s hacker, and hadn’t thought it through much beyond that. But if he was just a hacker, what had he been doing for the months he was disconnected from the internet?

Playing with the toy maker, I’d guess.

“Of course, you understand what happens if you try to cross me.”

“Uh…sir?”

The Power of the sibriex leaned in close again. “I’m giving you warlord level toys here. I know what that kind of power can do.” He narrowed his golden eyes. “But your sister isn’t a warlord.”

“Is…is that a threat, sir?”

“Yes,” he said unflinchingly. “It is. I’m not letting you walk around in bulletproof skin without making sure I have some collateral on you.”

“Bulletproof skin? Really?”

The old demon sighed. “Yes, really. The package is based on the toys the Mother Monster herself has. You’ll be able to spit fire once we’re done with you.”

I managed a weak smile. I had to admit I hadn’t read the brochure as thoroughly as I should have. “So. When do we start?”

“Now,” the golden-eyed demon replied immediately, spinning on his heel and heading towards the door opposite the one the other sibriex had exited through. “To Aramazd.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 147)

I’m doing too many short ones. And they always seem to take longer to write. Why is that?

Scene 59 – Furtum

FURTUM

SIMON

The sibriex only had a single building to our name: Arhestanots, the Fleshworks. It’s right at the edge of South Middle, only a few blocks from both South-West Middle and South Central. It was pretty far from the domain of any other culture, which was a good thing. We might like playing with the toy maker, but that didn’t mean we were soldiers.

Arhestanots was a small skyscraper, only thirty stories. Our most sensitive data was secured on floor twenty-five, a floor without windows or any entrance except for one closely-watched door.

It was disturbing, really, how easy it was to break in. Obviously, I had an easier time than most due to my membership, but I had still managed to hack my way into our data center with nothing but a pad and some off-the-shelf virus programs. I couldn’t help but think it would have been much more difficult if we had even a single guard physically watching the door.

But I suppose it was a good thing it was so easy. It was Friday night. It was my last chance to steal the Helix for the Queen of Loveless, and the fey were not known for their leniency. And if there had been a guard…I don’t know what I would have done.

And I don’t want to know.

This wasn’t the first time I had done something stupid for my sister, but usually it was small things. Stealing candy when we were kids, that sort of thing. Not treason.

Well, it was too late to back out now.

I crept through the rows of servers, my breath creating little puffs of fog in front of my face. It wasn’t actually freezing, but it was pretty damn close, in order to keep the servers as cool as possible. I had never been here before, but I knew the layout well enough. Even a low-ranked member like myself had access to the blueprints.

When I reached the center of the room, however, I found out that not everything is on the blueprints.

There was…something in front of me. It was hard to tell in the dark, but nestled between three servers creating an open-faced box was a mass of pink flesh ten feet high and about five wide. It was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and smelled terrible—at least the cold dulled it a bit. Sparse hair sprouted here and there, mostly on the thing’s rounded top, which was far too lumpy and misshapen to be called a head. The mound of flesh shrank back as I watched, then expanded again, then shrank back…

It was breathing. It was alive.

Then it’s eyes snapped open, and I jumped about three feet.

They were located almost dead-center in its chest, and as big as golf balls. They were a harsh silver, matching the fog and mist of the server room, and positioned just over what I now realized was a closed mouth.

Then the mouth opened, revealing a too-large tongue and broken, twisted teeth.

“Sibriex?” the mouth asked, in a deep, rumbling male voice.

I opened my mouth to speak…then closed it again. I couldn’t find the words.

“SIBRIEX?” the creature asked again, punctuating its demand with a turret that collapsed out of the ceiling and pointed itself at me.

“Yes!” I said, finally finding my wits. “Yes, yes, I am a sibriex.”

There was a long rush of air, which I slowly realized was a sigh.

“Never get to shoot anything,” the creature muttered. Then its eyes fixed on me again. “Password?”

I swallowed. “I’m sorry?”

Password,” it repeated, and the turret whirred as it prepared to fire. “Any real sibriex would know the password.”

“I’m new!” I insisted. “I don’t know any password!”

“It is the fourth thing sibriex are taught, imposter,” the fleshy beast hissed. “You would have learned it on your very first day.”

I blinked. Wait, the fourth thing I had been taught was…

“Never leave an experiment unattended, no matter how harmless it seems?”

That rush of air again, and the turret withdrew. “Correct.” He grumbled to himself. “Never get to shoot anything…”

“Uh, right,” I said a little anxiously. “Wh-who are you, exactly?” I had been about to say what, but had a feeling that wouldn’t have gone over too well.

The mouth laughed, spewing some fluid I didn’t want to identify all over my black sweatpants and sweater. “They still haven’t told you?” The mound of flesh quivered with amusement. “Narek said they were keeping me hidden, but I didn’t think he meant from our own culture.”

I blinked. Narek Nhang was the sibriex warlord…well, I use ‘warlord’ a bit loosely. More like CEO. He was far more interested in experimenting with the toy maker than politics and violence. Then again, that described most sibriex pretty well.

“I…don’t understand why he would hide you,” I said slowly. “From anyone, not just us.”

There was a long, long pause.

The fluid on my clothes slowly began to drip onto the floor.

“Frozen hells,” the creature finally muttered. “You’re serious. Are you an idiot?”

I frowned. “No need to be rude. I just don’t get it. However you were made, you’re clearly an impressive use of the toy maker. Why wouldn’t he want to show you off?”

“You kids have skewed priorities,” he grumbled. He was speaking easier now. I wondered if that was because he hadn’t spoken in so long and needed to warm up first, or if he had just been faking before. “What do you think the Servants would do if they discovered me?”

The Servants were…hard to categorize. Based in the Cathedral, they were the closest thing Domina City had to an organized religion. Sure, we had a few churches here and there to every major religion and quite a few minor ones, but none of them had really taken root. The Servants had grown from the city itself, and thus had a much stronger following. Even though most people thought their beliefs were a bit weird, they were highly respected for their humanitarian efforts.

But what would they do if they found a creature like this?

“Probably nothing, actually,” I said slowly. They just weren’t hostile in general. “I’m not sure why you’d think otherwise. Besides, they have a lot more on their plate than worrying about one slightly creepy experiment.”

The creature laughed again. “It’s cute that you think that. Haven’t you ever wondered—wait. What’s on their plate right now?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, they’re pretty involved with cleaning up after the screamers. They don’t really have time for much else.”

The mound of flesh shivered. “Screamers? That a new subculture or something?”

I blinked. Huh. “When’s the last time you talked to someone, or checked Fundie or anything?”

His eyes closed. “Ahh…not sure. Six months for the internet…about a month since I saw an actual person.” The mound of flesh quivered. “But that’s not so strange. I mostly just keep an eye on our servers here.”

I rubbed my hair back. “Right…I’m guessing you stay off the internet to stay out of MC’s sight.”

“Exactly,” he confirmed. “I don’t know what she’d do to me, and don’t particularly want to find out. However,” his tone turned serious again. “You’re avoiding the subject. What are these screamers you mentioned? Last I heard the Rahabs were the only gang that was still giving Necessarius trouble.”

I closed my eyes. “Superpowered zombies.”

He chuckled. “No, really.”

“Really,” I replied seriously. “I figured you wouldn’t believe me, but its the truth.”

“Uh-huh,” he deadpanned. “I’m sure—” He stopped talking suddenly. “That’s odd.”

“What is?”

“My scans indicate you’re telling the truth. That’s very…odd.” He quivered again. “Do me a favor—see that loose cable behind you?” I searched behind me and found an inch-thick cable next to a nearby server. “Yeah, that’s the one. Hook it up to that port there, would you?”

I did as the creature suggested, and heard the hum of another machine powering up. “That your internet connection?”

“Yeah…” he muttered, his eyes distant. He licked his…I’d like to say lips, but he didn’t really have them. He licked the area around his mouth with a too-long tongue. “One second, I’m just gonna—”

He stopped. Dead.

Crap, had I killed him? “Uh…dude? You alive?”

He gurgled wetly. I couldn’t tell if that was a confirmation or one last death throe.

“I’m gonna go find help,” I promised. Hell if I knew what I’d tell anyone to explain my presence, but I’d think of something.

But just before I ran off, he recovered. “No, no, I’m fine. Just…” He swore in a language I didn’t recognize. “Dzhokhk…need a minute to digest all this.”

I could relate. The entire city was still reeling a bit. Between the biters, the burners, the bats and the bleeders…it was a lot to take in.

He spoke up sooner than I expected. “Has anyone been able to determine where these powers come from? What they are, how they work?”

I shrugged. “By now, you probably know more than I do. All I know is that Doctor Clarke is working around the clock to figure that out, but he hasn’t reported any results.”

“I need to talk to MC,” he muttered. “Wonderful.”

“Uh, didn’t you just say—”

“Let me rephrase that: You need to talk to MC for me.”

I blinked. “Wait, how’s that work?”

“We’ll set up an anonymous server that I can look at. I might not be as good as her, but I can at least make sure she can’t detect me. Then, you ask her questions.” He grinned with that mouth too-full of teeth. “Simple.”

“That’s not what I meant. Why me? Surely there’s someone else better suited.”

He grunted in annoyance. “Did you miss the part where I haven’t seen anyone in a month? Nhang and I aren’t on good terms.” He quivered. “No, you’ll have to do. Tell me your e-mail address, and we can get down to business.”

I opened my mouth to complain—then quickly shut it again as a thought occurred to me. I could use him. He’d realize I was using him, of course, but this was still the perfect opportunity.

“I’ll do that,” I said slowly. “But first you have to do something for me.”

There was a short pause.

“This is the part where you tell me,” he said after a moment, annoyed.

I winced. Not the best start. “Right. I need a copy of our Helix. Without there being any trace it was copied.”

He licked his teeth. “Hm…simple enough. Of course there’s always the risk…I assume you have a flash drive ready?”

I almost said yes, but thought better of it. “No. I don’t have any with the spare space.”

“Good,” he said, quivering in what I thought was a nod. “I half expected you to try and upload a virus.”

That was my worry too, actually. I could imagine plenty of reasons the Queen of Loveless would want the record of the sibriexs’ experiments—but I could think of many more reasons why she would want the creature that kept an eye on our servers dead or incapacitated in some way.

One of the servers that made up his little nest spat out a flash drive, which I retrieved carefully.

“That has everything you need,” he promised. “Check it, if you like.”

I did, plugging it into my pad and scanning through it quickly. It was just text, which I was thankful for. My programming skills were sub-par, but it was harder to hide things in a pure text file. A quick glance was enough to tell me that it at least seemed in order.

I removed the drive, pocketed it, and bowed deeply. “Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you.”

“And now for your end,” he prompted. “Your screen name?”

“Obyrith576,” I replied without hesitation. “Spelled the normal way.”

“Hm, good,” he muttered. “Found it.” His eyes darted up to my face. “When’s the last time you updated your picture?”

I winced. Long before I got my skin and hair cosmos, that was for sure. “Maybe…a year?”

He rolled his eyes. “Well, this is clearly you. I’ll contact you soon and give you instructions for the interview.” His tone had a sense of finality to it, and I knew it was time to go.

But before I did, a thought occurred to me, and I turned back to him. “What’s your name, anyhow? You never said.”

He grinned, too many teeth shining in the dim lights of the servers. “Aramazd.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 59)

This took much longer than it had any right to.