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.
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.
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?”
“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—”
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
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.