Tag Archives: Dagonites

Scene 323 – Balæna

BALÆNA

RICHARD

I really hated boats. I had hated them ever since my uncle took me on a fishing trip when I was ten. I had been sick for days after that. Hadn’t stepped onto one ever since, not even for naval ceremonies.

But now, I didn’t have a choice. For the first time, Artemis Butler was willing to meet face-to-face, hopefully as a lead-up to discussing the para, and he wanted to do it on neutral ground. Since no such thing actually existed, a boat was the next best thing. He had even been magnanimous enough to allow it to be a US ship. Everyone told me it was diplomatically super important and all that, but all I knew was that it was on a god-damn boat. Before this day was over, I was going to find a way to have a meeting with him on solid land.

“Thank you for meeting with me, Mister President,” Butler said as he shook my hand. “This is Laura Medina.”

The young woman shook my hand as well. “Pleasure,” she said. She had sharp eyes and a good grip. She was one to watch out for.

“The pleasure is all mine,” I said. Her smile faded a little bit when I said that, for some reason, but I pressed on. “My, ah, assistant wasn’t quite clear exactly why you called this meeting.” I tired to look apologetic. “He’s new, you see, I… lost my previous one.”

“It wasn’t my idea, actually,” Butler said. “Miss Medina suggested it, and Mayor Konstantopoulos thought it was a wonderful idea.”

I frowned. “I’m sorry, but… who? I thought you were the mayor of Domina City.”

“President, actually,” he said. “But Konstantopoulos is actually the mayor of Timaeus.”

“I’m still lost.”

Butler frowned, and glanced at Medina. She smirked. “They’ve been very careful about keeping themselves secret. I think it would be best not to spoil the surprise.”

Butler sighed. “Fine.” He smiled at me. “You are in for a treat, Mister President. Of course, you were anyway, but… well. Perhaps the surprise is worth a bit of extra skulduggery on our part.”

I smiled. “Just as long as you promise that this isn’t an ambush.”

Medina frowned, but Butler chuckled. “No, of course not. We didn’t even bring any bodyguards. The only power here right now is you and your ships.”

“Ship,” I said.

He frowned. “What?”

“It’s just the one ship.” I waved a broad hand at the empty horizon. “Where would we be hiding them?”

“…you didn’t bring any extra ships?” he said. “Into White-Cap Bay?

“Well, no.” I glanced at the captain of the ship. She was starting to look concerned. “It was a show of trust. You’re not going to attack us, so bringing extra firepower just seemed…” I trailed off. “…unfriendly.”

Butler turned to Medina. “Call Mary Christina.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “Well, not Mary Christina, but her—”

“Yes, yes,” she said, pulling out her phone and putting it to her ear. “Send a broadband announcement to all Dagonites in the area. We need however many pods they can get here, as soon as possible. Tell them Necessarius will pay triple standard bodyguard rates.” She paused again. “Good.” She flipped the phone closed. “Ariel is on her way with her honor guard. She’s the only one confirmed, but she’ll bring anyone else she can.”

“I doubt she’ll find anyone fast enough,” Butler said. He gave me a calculating look. “I am considering suggesting we turn back.”

“What exactly are you so terrified of?” I asked. I was starting to sweat, now. Butler and Medina seemed collected, but not calm. They were panicking, but they were still in control of themselves. “There’s nothing for miles!”

“Very few threats in the ocean travel on the surface,” Medina said.

“The—the Daggon—”

“Dagonites,” she corrected before I could finish. “And no, they are not a threat. They are the ones who have been protecting you from the threats.”

“What—”

“Captain!” someone called. We all turned to see a sailor running up. “We’ve got a sonar ping, underwater!”

“A sub?” Medina asked. The captain had barely opened her mouth. “Or a pod? A group of human-sized blips, that is.”

“Uh…” The sailor glanced at his captain for confirmation, but she was no help. “I’m not sure that sonar is sensitive enough to detect something that small…”

Medina cursed. “Silver and gold. We could be surrounded, and your idiotic equipment wouldn’t even notice! What’s the radar profile look like?”

“It’s a submarine,” the captain snapped. Probably annoyed at Medina talking over her. “It doesn’t matter what its exact class is, it has too many weapons for us.”

Medina rolled her eyes. “It’s not a sub, it’s a wreck. If I can identify it, I can identify the captain, which means I can predict their tactics.” She took a deep breath and turned to the sailor. “Now. Radar profile.”

The sailor looked between Medina and his captain.

“Answer her,” I said quietly.

“…the sonar operator said it looked like a Gleaves-class destroyer,” he said. “Which makes no sense, because even if they weren’t all fifty years obsolete, they’re surface ships, not subs. They couldn’t—”

“That means either McKenzie or Thatch,” Medina said, half to herself. “How fast was it moving?”

“Fifteen knots.”

“It’s McKenzie,” Butler said. “Tiberius can’t go that fast until Thatch redlines the drives.”

“Which she might do, if she’s fought Saltbreaker recently,” Medina muttered. “He always gives her ideas.” She was typing something frantically on her phone. “Captain. Call battle stations.”

The captain was turning red now. “I’m not going to do anything until you explain—”

“Captain,” I said, tired. “Please.”

She frowned, but took a deep breath. “All hands! Battle stations! Prepare for—” She glanced at Medina, who barely seemed to be paying attention. “Submarine attack.”

“Close enough,” Medina said. She addressed Butler without looking up. “We can’t confirm which one it is until they start shooting, and by then it will be too late. Thatch could sink us in one volley.”

“McKenzie will take at least two,” Butler said. “Augustus has shorter range, as well.”

There were a lot of names and concepts being thrown around, but I forced myself to remain calm. “Whatever happens, I trust you.”

Medina rolled her eyes. “Please stop lying.”

I blinked. “I’m sorry?”

Before she could say anything, something burst out of the water and splashed onto the deck.

I didn’t even wait to see what it was—I remembered well the stories of the sailors who met the Dagonites at the battle of Domina City. I stumbled and fell on my butt, but couldn’t spare any attention to be embarrassed.

Medina and Butler stumbled back as well, which surprised me. For some reason I expected them to step forward and start swinging.

The creature on the deck, dripping seawater, had green scales, webbed fingers and toes, razor-sharp shark teeth, and flat eyes. It hissed like a snake and brandished a wickedly hooked spear.

“Aléxandros stélnei tous chairetismoús tou!” the creature spat. It charged towards us—though it was hard to tell which of us specifically—stabbing forward with that shiny spear.

Medina whipped out a gun and fired twice. Her shots went wide, but it was enough to break the creature’s charge. It dodged to the side, hissing, and for a second I could swear that its eyes glowed.

Oh wait, these people had superpowers. They might have actually glowed.

I tackled Medina to the ground on instinct, and felt the heat from the creature’s eye beams scorch the air above us.

I really hated this city.

Someone threw open the hatch from belowdecks. I was surprised to see a young Japanese woman with a sword, of all things, in addition to a long blue ribbon in her hair. She took in the scene at a glance, grabbed her sword, and then suddenly she was standing in front of us, sword out. I hadn’t even seen her move.

“Surrender,” she said to the creature. “Or retreat.”

It grinned with those shark teeth it had. “Do you want to see if you can run faster than light, little girl?”

The swordswoman narrowed her eyes, but before she could do anything stupid, Medina slowly stood up.

“Captain McKenzie,” she said. “Please, call off your men.”

The man—and it had to be a man, I realized that now—laughed. It sounded like sandpaper on skin. “So it’s captain now, is it? Apologies, Dame Medina, but the contents of this boat are far too valuable to let slip by. I think—” He unexpectedly turned and shot lasers out of his eyes again, aiming at the swordswoman. I was caught completely off guard.

She wasn’t.

Somehow, she managed to dodge, even though the beams had to be moving at the speed of light. She leaned to the side, then ran forward so fast that she was a blur, far faster than any human should be able to. Her sword struck out in a glittering arc, and McKenzie screamed as his arm went flying in a spray of blood.

She drew back for a killing stroke, but somehow she was too slow. McKenzie moved like lightning to dodge a blow aimed at his neck, then dove over the side and into the water.

The swordswoman frowned, but wiped her blade clean and then slid it into its sheathe.

I slowly clambered to my feet. “That was…”

“Sloppy. Apologies.” She bowed to me. “Wasted too much reservoir dodging the lasers, then didn’t go for the killing blow fast enough.”

“It’s fine, Akane,” Medina said soothingly. “I think in this case, it might be better to have let him get away. This way he can order the Augustus to retreat. They probably would have kept attacking if he was killed.”

I frowned. “I don’t know much about tactics, but retreating after only one person is injured—even the captain—seems like a silly idea.”

“McKenzie is deeply pragmatic,” Butler said, walking up and wiping off his shirt. “Boasts aside, he has let bigger catches than this slip through his claws, and for smaller injuries than losing an entire arm. He doesn’t like risk.”

“Uh, sir?” one of the crew said. “The ship—the Augustus, you said? It’s moving away.”

The captain managed a small smile. “Excellent. Maybe I’ll forgive you people for getting blood all over my decks.”

The man swallowed. “There are two more pings incoming.”

“Silver and gold,” Medina muttered. “They must have followed McKenzie here, knowing he’d cover their approach and that if he retreated they’d be in a position to attack. Can you identify the ship classes?”

The man glanced at his captain, then looked down at his pad. “Um, one is another Gleaves-class destroyer.”

“That’s the Tiberius,” Butler said. “She’ll be in range soon, and Thatch isn’t going to offer surrender.”

“What’s the other?” Medina asked.

“It looks like a Wickes-class, which makes no sense, those things are even older than the Gleaves. I think the last one was decommissioned in the forties—”

“The Constantine,” Butler said, sounding resigned.

“Oh, good,” Medina said, her tone deadpan. “We get to die in a new and interesting way. Is Saltbreaker still doing that thing where he launches sharks at people?”

“Did you say sharks?” I asked, more confused than afraid. What was he going to do, toss it up on the deck and have it flop at us?

“I haven’t heard of that one in a while,” Butler said, ignoring me. “He might shoot a few mosscrabs at us, though. They can kill everyone on the ship without damaging anything valuable. Then his men can get anyone who tries to escape into the water.”

“Assuming Thatch lets him,” Medina said, thoughtful. “Do you think we can play them against each other somehow? I don’t know much about their relationship.”

“I don’t either, but it’s better than nothing. Get us a radio link.”

My head was spinning. “Okay, wait. What exactly is going on?”

“We’re trying to distract two Rahab wrecks by making them fight over who has the right to kill us,” Medina said as she fiddled with her radio. “If we can distract them for long enough, reinforcements will arrive.” She shook her head. “Of course, it will have to be a lot of reinforcements. Thatch and Saltbreaker will run if they have to, but they’re not going to do it at the first sign of trouble like McKenzie.” She handed the radio to Butler.

“Every extra minute alive is an extra minute to find a way out of the predicament,” he said. He turned the knob on the radio and spoke into it. “Captain Thatch, we surrender unconditionally. We are powering down engines, please do not shoot.” Our own captain moved to give the order, but he stopped her with a raised hand, then turned the knob again. “Captain Saltbreaker, we surrender unconditionally. We are powering down engines, please do not shoot.” Then he nodded, and our captain ran off to order the engines powered down.

“How long do we have?” Butler asked.

“That should buy us a few minutes,” Medina said.

“How long do we need?

She shook her head sadly.

Butler sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Does anyone on this boat have any useful powers? Shields, hydrokinesis, anything like that?”

“Nope. The only Dominites are you, me, Akane, and two ‘sarians down below.”

“What are their powers?”

“Healing and the ability to take damage meant for someone else.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That sounds like a powerful combo. So someone shoots Butler, the guy down below grows a bullet hole in his shoulder, and his buddy heals him?”

Medina looked at me oddly. “That’s exactly right. I usually have trouble explaining it to people, though. It’s a pretty rare power.”

“I play games sometimes,” I said. “Well, I used to, I guess. Haven’t had time. Anyway, that sort of thing is pretty common on tanks.”

Butler didn’t seem to be paying attention to our conversation. “What if we send Akane to get help?”

Medina shook her head. “They’d see her and open fire early. Same if we call for help. Now we just have to hope that our people get here fast enough.”

There was an explosion off one side of the ship, drenching everyone on the deck.

“BRACE!” the captain called.

“That wasn’t Thatch!” Medina yelled over the sounds of sailors shouting orders at each other. “Explosion was too small! That was Saltbreaker—keep an eye out, something weird is coming!”

The captain scowled. “Can’t you be a bit more specific?”

“It’s probably not a shark!”

Before anyone else could yell anything, there was another explosion, this time from the other side. And it was accompanied by high-pitched, inhuman screeches.

For the first time, Butler looked scared.

“Are those—”

“Scream-stealer eels! Yes, Derek showed me some Mohamed caught once! Everyone, the eels have paralysis poison! Don’t touch them, and don’t touch anything they’ve touched!” She turned to the captain. “Is there any chance this stupid boat has a high-speed escape pod? We need to get Butler and the president out of here.”

The captain stared. “An escape what?

“Never mind.”

I drew myself up to my inconsiderable height to make a proclamation. “I don’t want to abandon you in your—”

“Don’t be stupid,” she snapped as she typed through her phone. She didn’t even look at me. “If you die out here, the war will be back in a blink, aliens or no. And whoever wins will be easy pickings for the para.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.”

Someone grabbed my arm, and I nearly screamed.

I turned to see Senator Grain, half-dressed and wild-eyed, clutching my arm like a lifeline.

“Mister President, with all due respect, what the hell is going on?”

I frowned. “Were you sleeping? In the middle of the day? You know the only way to cure jet lag is just to power through it.”

“RICHARD!”

“We’re under attack,” I said with a calm I didn’t feel. It was far too much fun to needle Grain like this. “We fought off one, but there are others, and apparently he likes weird things. We’re probably going to die.”

“Because you idiots have fewer safety features on your boat than a vampire in a blood drive,” Medina said as she continued typing furiously at her phone.

Grain stared at her. “Who the hell is this?

“This is the woman who might get us out of here alive,” I said, trusting my gut.

Might?

“Remember what I said about us probably dying? That’s still true.” There was another explosion near the front of the ship, and it took all my willpower not to dive for cover. But I could act presidential when the situation called for it—such as making a friend look like a skittish little girl. “Maybe you should go back down below. Get some more sleep.”

He took a breath to yell at me again, but was interrupted by a massive explosion. It nearly capsized the boat, and my professional demeanor dissolved as I had to desperately grab the nearest railing to keep from flying around like a ragdoll. I glanced to the side and saw many of the monsters go flying off. That was a small piece of luck.

The scariest thing was that the explosion wasn’t close to us. I could see a huge plume of water maybe a mile away. I was only seeing the tail end of it, water falling back into the ocean, but it was still hundreds of feet high.

“What was that?” I asked.

Butler raised an eyebrow at Medina. “Indeed. Did Thatch blow Saltbreaker out of the water?”

She was still typing furiously. “Maybe. Not sure. Radar?”

The sailor from before took a second to realize she was talking to him. “Uh, it’s all messy right now, can’t really see anything. Also, it’s sonar, not radar, not sure if you know the difference…”

Medina clearly wasn’t paying attention to him any more. “Much as I’d like to think that was our miracle, it’s much more likely it was Thatch blowing up the Constantine. In other words, the worst case scenario.”

“How is that the worst case?” I asked. “We have one less enemy to fight, and maybe the Constantine managed to damage, uh, Thatch’s ship—”

“The Tiberius. And it’s a wreck, not a ship.”

“Right.” I paused. “Why is that?”

She finally sighed and looked away from her phone. “Because the Rahabs raise shipwrecks from the ocean floor, repair them enough to run, and use them to launch raids. The mobile ones, like the ones we’re facing now, are the ghost ships. And the problem is that the Tiberius has a much greater range than the Constantine. I’m sure she sank him long before he could fire back. Once Saltbreaker makes repairs, he might go after her, but we’ll be long dead by then.” She shook her head. “If he had been the survivor, we might have had a chance. Weird weapons mean sometimes you get lucky. Thatch just uses guns and shoots until everything stops moving.”

There were more explosions, more plumes of water. They were closer than before, but still too far to do any real damage to us—half a mile, maybe, and they were much smaller than the one that had apparently sunk the Constantine.

“What’s she doing now?” I asked. “Ranging her shots?”

Medina frowned. “No, definitely not. The Tiberius has some of the most advanced weapons systems on the planet. She could hit a fly from—” Realization dawned. “She’s not shooting at us. The Constantine is still afloat.”

Even I understood the implications of that. I grinned. “Which means that the captain will be pissed, and forget about little old us.”

“Yes! Exactly!” Medina settled down. “Of course, the second they see us running, they’ll put aside their differences for long enough to sink us. We could outrun them on the open water, but we’d have to turn around first. Right now, we’re facing them, and running through them would be suicide.”

“We’re not quite facing them,” the aide said. I noticed the captain glowering at him. She hadn’t said anything; she knew she was out of her depth and wasn’t going to be pissy about it, but she wasn’t happy either. “Why don’t we just run straight? We’ll be out of their range in a few minutes.”

“That’s a few minutes we’ll be in their range,” Butler said. “At this stage of the battle, there will be no playing around. A few minutes will be more than enough for both of them to sink us. Or at the very least cripple our engines.”

More plumes of water exploded out of the ocean—and they seemed to be closer than before. “I think whatever you decide to do, it will need to be fast.”

Medina raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have a suggestion?”

I raised my hands in defeat. “I am not a sailor. I don’t know anything about naval combat, let alone whatever the hell this is. I’d just get in your way.”

Medina quirked her head to the side. “Honesty. Interesting.”

“Hey, I’m always honest!”

She rolled her eyes. Okay, that was fair.

Before anyone could say anything else, there was one more massive explosion, right next to the ship. Everyone on deck was drenched, again. No one really seemed to mind except Grain, who sputtered and shook himself like a cat who fell in the bath.

Then a phone rang.

It was Medina’s. I was surprised it still worked after all the water, but she wasn’t. She answered instantly. “Yes, hello?” She blinked. “…oh. Uh, yes. Of course. Well, thank you then. I’m glad you got my message—oh. Yes, he’s right here.” She hung up, a curious expression on her face.

“…so we’re not all going to die?” I asked.

“Sonar is back!” the aide said. “They say the two ships—sorry, wrecks—are moving away, but there’s something big right next to us. Like, really big. They have no idea what it is.”

“He wanted to meet the president,” Medina said. “That’s why he was in the area, and was able to get here so fast.”

“Me?” I said. “Who wants to meet me?”

Another wave crashed over the ship, but this time it wasn’t from an explosion—more like a really big splash. As the ship stopped rocking unduly and the water cleared from my eyes, I was clearly able to see what had surfaced right next to us.

It took me a minute to identify it. It seemed to be a whale, maybe a blue whale. It was about eighty feet long from nose to tail if I compared it to the length of the ship, and I had no doubt that it could capsize us with one flipper, but it was just sitting there peacefully.

It was also covered in guns.

Great cannons that looked like they had been ripped off a battleship had been strapped to the beast’s back and sides with leather and metal. There were six big ones that I could see—two on top and two on each side—but also at least a dozen smaller ones, which meant they were ‘only’ big enough to fit my hand in the barrel instead of my entire head. There were even smaller machine guns, little things that were strapped anywhere they could fit, even on the bigger guns in some cases. They moved and twitched constantly, pointing in every direction.

“You tamed whales to carry guns for you?” I asked. Or maybe I whispered it. I was staring at an animal carrying as much firepower as a mid-sized battleship, I was a little bit in awe.

Medina grinned. “No,” she said. “We didn’t.”

The beast gave a massive groan that reverberated through the ship and through my bones.

It took me a moment to identify it as laughter.

“So this is the president?” a calm, male voice asked. There was a mechanical quality through it, like it was being piped through a speaker. “He seems competent enough. Smaller than I expected, perhaps.”

I took a step back. The voice was coming from the whale.

A small metal globe detached itself from the bulk of steel and floated over. It had a glass window of some—ah, it was a camera. The lens whirred and focused on me. “My name is Johnathan Tar, Mister President,” the voice said. It had a subtle Southern drawl to it. “It is very nice to meet you.”

I swallowed. “Ah, likewise? But, I mean… who are you, exactly?” It had taken an effort of will to say ‘who’ instead of ‘what.’

“I’m one of the warlords of the Dagonites,” he said, the camera bobbing up and down slowly. “A Trident, I guess. Got a few other titles, but that’s the big one. I’m one of the people in charge of keeping the Bay safe.” He chuckled. “Safe from you, lots of times, in fact.”

“Me?” I blinked. “I mean, us? America? What did we ever do to you?”

“Oh, nothing major,” he said. “Just couldn’t let you get too close to the city. You would have caused problems if you discovered it.”

“But… we’ve always known about Domina City.”

He chuckled, the sound coming from the whale itself instead of from the camera. “That’s not the city I’m talking about.”

I opened my mouth, then shut it. I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t betray my ignorance.

The camera turned to Medina. “Laura, is it? One of the Paladins?”

She bowed. “Correct, Honored Trident.”

“No need for that, miss, just wanted to thank you for all you’ve done.”

“And you as well, Whale-Lord,” she said.

He chuckled again, sending a bone-rumbling vibration through the decks. “Fair enough.” The camera turned back to me. “Do tell me next time you are in the Bay, Mister President. I would welcome the chance to speak with you further.”

I nodded dumbly.

The camera turned briefly to Butler. “Artemis,” the whale said cordially.

Butler nodded in turn. “Johnathan. Good hunting out there.”

“It always is.”

The camera floated back to Tar and nestled in a cradle under one of the medium-sized guns. He turned and dove underwater, his massive tail slapping down and sending yet another wave crashing over us. I heard chattering laughter and saw creatures leaping out of the water nearby. At first I thought they were dolphins, but then I realized they were people, men and women with fish tails following their lord. In moments they were gone as well.

For a few minutes, the only sound was water dripping to the deck from our clothes.

“Well,” Butler said with a chuckle. “I doubt anything Konstantopoulos has in store can top that. Besides, we’re running late. I’ll tell her that you’ll come see her on the way back, after the meeting.”

I still had no idea what he was talking about. “Yeah. That sounds good.”

“Excellent! Captain, please resume our course towards Domina. We have a busy day ahead of us.”

Behind the scenes (scene 323)

Johnathan Tar is a telekinetic. That’s how he was able to make the camera hover like that, and these days it’s how he controls most of his guns. He used to use a custom-made keyboard in his mouth that goes all the way around the inside rim of his teeth, but he mostly doesn’t have to worry about that any more. He does still have it though, just in case. You don’t get to be a Dagonite warlord without being at least a bit paranoid.

Scene 293 – Salis

SALIS

AKANE

“Hey, Red,” Lori said as she leaned against the pier, water streaming out of her hair. She adjusted her daygoggles. They were flat and sleek like swimmer’s goggles, even though she never wore them underwater. “You have fun?”

I sat down on the wet concrete, leaning my back against one of the barbecues. “It’s a war, Lori. It wasn’t fun.”

She grinned with shark teeth. “You were stuck indoors, weren’t you?”

I grinned back ruefully. “I spent most of the time organizing the kensei. I barely got to fight at all.” I had been looking forward to fighting on of those echoes, but I hadn’t had the chance.

“At least you got a new sword.”

I rolled my eyes. “This is Flynn’s. I keep putting off getting a new one.” The old one had sentimental value, so I felt bad for replacing it. It was like what happened with my father’s sword all over again. I still had the pieces of that sword in a box under my bed.

Lori brightened up. “Ooh, I keep hearing about this Flynn. Why didn’t you bring him with you?”

“Now he’s looking after the kensei. It’s mostly just keeping them from partying too hard, really.” I shrugged. “They’re still just a bunch of kids, and they won a war. They’re enjoying themselves.”

Lori frowned and floated away from the pier for a moment. “Why’d you rush over here?”

“I heard you got a bit too close to a boat explosion.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, that. Just got my head rattled, no big deal.”

“Weren’t you the one who told me you’d just be acting as a scout?”

She floated closer again. “You know how these things go. There was a boat that needed killing, and we needed some shifters to get on the deck.” She grinned. “Those marines were so funny. They never saw it coming.”

I smiled too. “I cut a bullet in half today. The poor idiot actually dropped his gun.”

She laughed, a high-pitched, almost dolphin-like sound. “See? Like that!” She settled down, still smiling. “You need to come visit more. When’s the last time we really talked like this? When you and Derek helped with that murder?”

“No…” I thought about it. “We have to have talked since then, right?”

“Definitely not since the Composer started playing around,” she said. “Sometime before my last birthday, I think.”

I nodded. “Yeah, sorry I couldn’t make that.”

She waved her webbed hand. “Don’t worry about it. We went hunting for a leviathan. Not something that’s safe for a surfacer, with or without those diving fancy pods of yours.”

“How are things with the fey?” I asked. Talk of leviathans reminded me of them. “After their reformatting and all that.”

She shrugged. “Same as ever. They’re still making monsters, but they’re also making nicer deals. They got a couple recruits from us, but not many. They set a couple leviathans on the Rahabs, though. Saved Timaeus from a pretty big attack.”

I made a face. “I’m still having trouble with ‘fey’ and ‘helping people’ in the same thought.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda been like that down here, too. The Atlanteans are making a stink—again. They think Butler should keep them under control.”

I rolled my eyes. “How is he supposed to do that?”

“They are officially a culture now. He has ways of controlling them.”

Guiding them,” I said. “Tax breaks and so on. But you know how the fey are. They laugh off that kind of stuff. It’s not like he can slap them with retribution just for talking to you guys.”

“Hey.” She pointed at me with a claw. “Don’t lump the Dagonites in with the Atlanteans. We’re fine with it. Salt and spear, they’re giving us some fun new toys that are proving helpful.” She shook her head. “But the fey always get their due. It’s fair, and people don’t like fair.”

I frowned. “Of course they like fair! The whole point of deals and democracy and so on is to make things more fair.”

Lori gave me a pitying look like I was some kind of simpleton. “No one wants things to be fair. They want things to be unfair in their favor. Can you really tell me that you don’t fight with every advantage you can scrounge up?”

I remained silent. I had never been shy about fighting hard and dirty. Codes of honor were for people who knew they’d win.

“But the fey keep things fair,” Lori said. “You can’t trick them or intimidate them. And now that they’re a culture, they’ve got Necessarius behind them. You break a fey deal, and they won’t bother sending a horde of monsters. They’ll request retribution, and they’ll usually get it.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Yeah, I’ve been hearing a lot about that recently. One of my kensei got in trouble for killing a homunculus. I had to pay a few thousand dollars for that stupid clone body.”

“What did you do with the kensei?” Lori asked, leaning forward eagerly.

“Took his sword for a week.” I smiled. “I was tempted to make him do some volunteer work for the fey, but that would have been cruel and unusual.”

Lori laughed again. “I’ve missed this. Just talking. I gave you that phone for a reason.”

I shrugged. “Been busy with the Composer and now these new powers. I’m sure you’re busy down below, too. I heard they were working on widening the South Downward Run. You involved in that at all?”

She groaned. “No. Well, yes, but only in the bad ways. The mud from the construction keeps drifting down with the current, covering everyone downstream. I wake up in the morning, and my cubby is completely blocked off.” She shook her head. “I only have one door, it’s not like I can just go around the back!”

An idea struck me. “Why don’t you live up here for a week or two? Just while they’re doing the construction.”

She shook her head. “My shifting only lasts a few minutes. It would never work.”

“That’s not what I mean. A wheelchair should be enough, and there are plenty of saltwater pools in NHQ.”

“Aren’t you still at the dorms?”

“Technically, but I’m never there any more. Barely anyone is going to school, and I just have too much to do at NHQ. Besides, with Ling gone, I don’t want to be there too much. I still feel bad.” I rapped my fingers on the concrete for a moment. “I should finish moving my stuff soon.”

Lori grinned. “Is this all an elaborate ploy to get me to help you move? Because I’m probably literally the worst person to ask.”

I chuckled. “No, no, I’d wait until after you left. More than anything, you’re giving me a chance to procrastinate—”

There was a rush of air behind me. I turned, hand on Flynn’s sword, to see a dozen men and women, mostly baseline. They were setting up umbrellas and starting the barbecues. As far as I could tell, every single one of them had a beer in their hands.

One of them noticed me and waved drunkenly. “Hey, it’s cool if we party here, right?”

“Uh, sure,” I said. “Where’d you come from?”

“Teleporters!” he said. “It’s awesome! We were in North Middle thirty seconds ago!”

I smiled. “Have fun.”

“Will do!” He raised his beer. “Ad victoriam!”

“AD VICTORIAM!” the others all cheered.

I smiled again as they all laughed, and turned back to Lori as the music started playing. “You want to talk about this somewhere quieter? Maybe over there, on the Ring next to those shipping crates?”

She chuckled. “A fish laying out on the concrete on a hot day? No thanks.”

I raised an eyebrow.

I can call myself a fish,” she said. “Anyone else does it, them’s fightin’ words.”

I patted her on the forehead. “See you around, Lori. Make sure to tell me if you need a place to stay after all.”

“I’m too stubborn for that.” She smirked. “Give me a day or two. A couple more mornings breaking my own door down might change my mind.”

I rose, smiling. “See you around, Lori.”

“You too, Akane.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 293)

Lori was the first Dagonite character I came up with, so I wanted to give her more scenes. Not too much, just a reminder that she’s still there.

Scene 286 – Dagon Ira

DAGON IRA

LORI

My name is Lori Lemaris. I am a morgen Dagonite living in the mouth of the South Depthward Run. It’s one of the small underground rivers that runs beneath Domina City. Our Tridents deal with the fey, but I’ve surfaced once or twice to talk to cityfolk. Met enough of them to know that I wanted to be involved in the fight to save the city from invaders. It’s what separates us from the Atlanteans, who just sit on the ocean floor all day. Or even the Rahabs, who killed anyone and everyone who got too close.

The Dagonites also killed anyone who got too close, but we did it with style.

I swam through the depths. My mermaid tail gave me more than enough acceleration to outpace the Dagonites who were still using boring old human legs. I glanced up towards the surface, wincing at the light, but saw what I needed: The shadows of the surviving American ships.

I turned my gaze lower, to the deeper and darker waters where broken pieces of ships and lifeboats were raining down. The merrow would be living like kings from the salvage for months, if not years.

But I wasn’t interested in the salvage. Or even in the sailors, struggling against the Dagonites pulling them down to the depths. My job was a different one, but still important. I swam upwards, towards the surface and that distant ship. I kept my nighteyes squeezed shut so that the light didn’t blind me.

There was a distinct rush of water and air that could only come from one thing—a torpedo launch. I opened my eyes, squinting and trying to locate the weapon. That was the game here. I had to find it before it found any of us.

There. Wasn’t that hard. It was speeding away from me, down deeper towards the floor of White-Cap Bay. It might even be aimed at one of the Atlantean cities. They would be easier for the ships to target than individual Dagonites.

I was tempted to just let it hit them, teach them a lesson about banding together in a crisis, but I knew I couldn’t. The Atlanteans weren’t bad people, they just stayed underwater all the time. It wasn’t hard to understand their insistence that this war had nothing to do with them. Who cared what some kemo did? Most of them didn’t even know what Soaring Eagle had done, why she’d brought warships to the city.

I sighed, bubbles rushing out of my mouth, and tapped the band on my wrist. It was strapped tight and as flush with my scales as possible, to cut down on water resistance. “This is Lemaris,” I said, more bubbles escaping as I did. “Torpedo heading depthward in sector SG-009. Seems to be heading straight down, maybe for Tolkien itself.”

“Copy that,” a voice said over the radio. It was high-pitched to carry better through the water, though my ears were used to it. “We’ve got a team on the way. Keep an eye out for more. We think they should be running low.”

I glanced up at the shadow above me, a massive dark shape on the otherwise glittering surface. “Any luck getting bombs on the ship?”

“Negative.” There was a pause. “Lori, don’t you dare do anything stupid.”

“Wasn’t planning on it,” I said. And I really wasn’t. I had better things to do with my day than try to sink a ship by myself. I wasn’t a boat-killer or anything of the sort. I was just a whale-watcher, and that was my role in this fight.

But it was still annoying that this ship and a few others had managed to get lucky and drive us off. When ships started sinking across the Bay, this one had launched a torpedo. It took out half the demolition team and scared off the rest. Now, the crew was prepared for most of their tricks. That was why they were still afloat and raining artillery on Domina City.

They were prepared for most of our tricks. Not all.

“Control, this is Lemaris. I have a stupid idea.”

Control jumped on me instantly. “Lori, don’t you dare—”

I shut him off by tuning to a different channel. “MC?”

“Yes?” her tinny, fake voice came over the line. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“About how many enemy soldiers would be on the ship above me?”

“The USS Huron boasts a crew of sixty seven, along with a marine complement of fifty.”

“Do you know how many of them are still onboard?”

“I’m sorry, I do not have that data. I can, however, tell you that the ship left New York City harbor on time. Nothing was reported as having gone wrong.”

Okay, so they left with the full complement. We hadn’t managed to pull more than a handful off the ship. That meant I could expect to fight nearly a hundred men at once. Hardly good odds.

I tuned my wrist-phone to the general channel. “This is Lemaris. Requesting all shifters in sector SG-009 meet me below the ship. We’re going fishing.”

I heard a few chuckles and cries of appreciation over the general channel. Control soon drowned them all out, yelling about how he’d court martial me and everyone I’d ever met. Of course, I wasn’t actually an official member of any military, so he couldn’t do much besides yell.

Within a few minutes, a few dozen Dagonites had swam up to meet me. Most of them were the more monstrous examples of our culture. Morgen and merrow, kappa and vodyanoy. Definitely no rusalka or vodnik.

I probably wasn’t the highest-ranking Dagonite in the pod. Salt and spear, I wasn’t even a razor, much less a Trident. But I was the one who called them, so all the shifters deferred to my authority.

“We’ll wait for the next torpedo,” I explained. My modified vocal cords let me speak at a high enough pitch to carry through the water. “That will give us a big enough window to finish this once and for all.”

The others nodded.

The torpedo came fast, and nearly slammed right through a kappa with claws the size of swords. But he got out of the way in time, and the torpedo continued on, before heading down at an oblique angle.

“Control, this is Lemaris. Torpedo heading depthward in sector SG-009. Seems to be heading towards SG-007, maybe the Coral Graves.”

“Lori, if you attack that ship, then I swear I am going to have you chopped up as ten-damned fish bait—”

I turned him off again. “All right, people! Everyone here is a shifter, right?” They all nodded. “Good! Let’s do this!”

I powered up towards the surface, beating my tail like mad with my arms held at my sides to gain maximum speed. Around me, the others swam as well, some faster and some slower, but all as fast as they could manage.

Then, all at once, we broke through.

Our speed brought us up, out of the water, arching over the ship itself, tumbling down onto the deck.

When Elizabeth Greene had infected the entire city with her song, she hadn’t forgotten the merfolk. The Atlantean cities were rigged with speakers to fill them with that damnable sound, and all the Rahab radios were hacked. Even the Dagonite nests and cubbies were seeded with those same speakers, installed over months so that no one noticed anything odd. Between them all, the waters within ten miles of Domina City had vibrated with the song, and every single one of us was infected.

Which meant, of course, that now we all had powers.

Shifters weren’t unique underwater, but we were more common under the waves. Even the simplest of merfolk toys was a huge investment in time and money, so it was unfeasible to just switch back and forth on a whim.

Powers were based on whatever the person wanted most. As it turned out, a lot of us wanted to be able to shift back to human form, if only for a few moments.

I concentrated, and felt myself envelop in black mist, the same as the other Dagonites flying with me. In a heartbeat, my scales were gone, my webbed fingers split, my shark teeth flattened. Even my black nighteyes, blinking and squinting in the light of day, were baseline again.

And most importantly, I had my legs back.

I landed, barefoot, on the slippery metal deck, my Dagonite loincloth barely covering me. All around me, the other Dagonites landed, some gracefully and some not. But they had time to recover, because the sailors and soldiers on the deck of the ship were too shocked to do anything but stare.

I grinned with my perfect white baseline teeth. The first few moments were always the most fun.

I pulled a spike out of my loincloth. It was nothing but a metal rod, about six inches long. It had been sharpened for spearing fish that happened to wander too close while I was swimming. It wasn’t any good against a prepared opponent.

These men weren’t prepared.

I stabbed the closest man. He was a soldier with a big bulky rifle that he was having trouble bringing around fast enough. I got him right in the gap between the plates of his plastic armor, and he went down like a sack of potatoes.

Another man raised his gun at me. Before he could pull the trigger, he was tackled by the merrow, who had managed to keep her fangs in the shift. She ripped his throat out with her teeth, spraying blood everywhere.

Someone was screaming, but I tried not to pay attention to it. It was like when hunting a pod of dolphins—all the angry clicking had to just be background noise. If you let it get to you, you’d hesitate, and hesitation equaled death.

I dove at another soldier, tackling him to the ground and stabbing him repeatedly with my spike. He was moving and rolling, trying to keep me from hitting anywhere vulnerable, and it was working. My spike kept glancing off his armor, not sinking in anywhere squishy.

I tried to bite at him, but my teeth had not survived the shift. You could do a lot of damage with human teeth if you knew what you were doing, but not if you were used to shark teeth. I was biting him in entirely the wrong way. Maybe if I—

My reservoir was depleting.

It was like an alarm went off in my head, warning me that I had only seconds left. I had trained myself to keep one part of my mind always watching my reservoir. I knew I would be beached if it went empty at the wrong moment.

I gave the soldier I was fighting one last punch before clambering off him. I ran for the side and leaped over the railing. Most of the other shifters jumped with me. Maybe it was because their own reservoirs were almost gone. Or maybe it was because they thought I was the leader and that they should follow me.

My reservoir emptied completely half a second before I hit the water.

Suddenly I had webbed fingers and a tail again, shark teeth and gills, scales and nighteyes. I took a deep breath of water, letting it filter through what they called the mermaid lungs. Once I felt comfortable again, I flipped over so that I could swim down while watching the boat on the surface. I saw shifters hitting the water and swimming down again, but I couldn’t count how many. A dozen? Two dozen? I should have counted them before we launched the attack in the first place. Should I go back and check to make sure everyone was okay? Should I go back to attack again? My reservoir wasn’t quite filled, but it was getting there.

“Lori!” my wrist chirped. “You there?”

I rolled my eyes. Should have known he’d find a workaround. He might have asked MC for help. “Yes, Control, I’m here. If you’re going to give me a lecture—”

“Are you off the boat?”

“What? Yes, I’m off the boat. Pretty sure everyone else is, too.”

“Good. Tell them to get away from it, fast.”

I frowned I confusion, before suddenly realizing what he meant. “Copy that.” I switched to the general channel. “All units at surface sector SG-009, withdraw from the ship. Repeat, withdraw. Put some distance behind you.”

There was a pause. Five seconds that felt like a thousand years.

Then, the explosions.

The first one hit the starboard bow. It blossomed like a yellow and orange flower underwater, before dying nearly instantly. Another five exploded along the length of the ship, one after another. They sent shockwaves out through the water strong enough that I could feel them even a hundred yards away. If I had been much closer, they would have knocked me around like a pinball, maybe even torn me apart.

Pieces of the ship were starting to rain down into the water, steaming scrap metal and shattered remnants of crates stored in the hold. There was a terrible groaning sound as what was left of the ship tried to hold itself together, but it wouldn’t last long. I could already see men jumping into the water, and there were a few lifeboats being hastily paddled away before the undertow could get them.

I raised my wrist to my mouth. “Plato’s eyes! Control, was that you?”

“I figured I may as well take advantage of your recklessness. You served as an excellent distraction while my boat-killers placed their bombs.”

I watched more Dagonites swarm up from the depths to attack the swimmers and lifeboats. I felt a pang of regret, but pushed it aside. They had made their choices. This was war. People died in war.

“Have any of the sailors been captured?”

Control sounded confused. “What, from that boat?”

“No, just in general. From all the sunken ships, how many captures have we had?”

“Uh, I dunno. I’ll have to check. Not quite my department. Why?”

I sighed. “No reason. Just curious.” I pulled the harpoon gun out of my loincloth. “I’m going hunting. See if we can get some live ones to talk to.”

This was war. People died in war, and expecting anything else was naive.

But that didn’t mean I had to kill indiscriminately.

Behind the Scenes (scene 286)

“SG” simply stands for “South Gate,” for the record.

Note from the future:  The torpedo was originally heading for Critias, an Atlantean city nowhere near South Gate.  I changed it to Tolkien, a Dagonite town built into the west side of the island.  Makes far more sense this way.

Scene 285 – Oceanus Album

OCEANUS ALBUM

JEFFERIES

My name is Franklin 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.

I was on one of the boats surrounding Domina. The flagship, the USS Puerto Rico. By sheer blind luck, I had ended up attached to General Hoshi as her aide. She had pointed at me and demanded I stick with her; that was it.

Don’t stand out, they had told me. Well, they should have mentioned my situation to Hoshi.

“New orders to all captains,” President Martinez said tiredly through the radio. “Weapons free. Support our men, and put some more holes in that wall. I want more landing sites.”

“Yes, Mister President,” Hoshi said without hesitation. She handed off the radio to me without even looking, then nodded to the captain.

The captain—I had never gotten his name—nodded in turn and grabbed his own radio. “Full order to the fleet! We’re giving the army boys artillery support! All ships except Hewlett and Jefferson, open fire on the wall. Hewlett, you’re firing at the enemy at South Gate, and Jefferson, you’re on East! Danger close, get those freaks off their backs!”

The ship groaned as massive guns turned towards their targets. Machines ground away to deliver their huge rounds to the waiting firing chambers.

Then they fired, and the whole ship shook.

There was a roar like a dragon, and I had to clap my hands over my ears like some greenhorn. I guess it worked out, since it made me look like the stupid little newbie I was pretending to be.

The guns only fired once, then fell silent. Even I thought that was odd.

“What’s going on?” the captain demanded. “What was that?”

I thought he meant why the ships stopped firing at first, but his own aide just shook his head. “No idea sir. Equipment malfunction?”

The captain scowled. “How could that be an equipment malfunction?” He grabbed his radio. “Fire again!”

The guns didn’t groan as much this time, as they were already in position, but the actual shooting was just as loud. This time I was ready for it, and was able to track the massive rounds as they whistled towards the city…

And slammed into a glowing blue forcefield, leaking blue mist, that appeared out of thin air.

Hoshi snatched the radio back from me. “Sir, the city is surrounded by some sort of… energy barrier. Our shots can’t punch through. Orders?”

There was only a brief pause on the other end. To his credit, the president didn’t waste any time trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I knew I was still in shock, and most of the soldiers on deck were too.

“Continue firing,” he ordered. “If they could keep that up indefinitely, we never would have landed. We’ll figure out where they got this thing later.”

“Sir,” Hoshi said slowly. “I’ve never heard of anyone suggesting shields were anything outside the realm of science fiction. Let alone actually making one work, and over an entire city, no less—”

Later, Hoshi. Just keep firing. Our only hope is that they’ll run out of whatever is powering it before we run out of shells.”

“Yes, sir.” She looked a little unhappy, but nodded to the captain. He got on the radio and ordered the assault to continue. The guns started roaring again. The four of us—the general, the captain, and the two of us aides—walked back into the wheelhouse and closed the door. That deadened the roars of the guns to something that was at least manageable.

The sailors inside saluted the officers. “Captain! General! North Gate reports that the beast-men have retreated for now, but they’ll be back. The big ones take way too much ammo to put down, and they’re running low.”

“Have the nearest ship resupply them,” the general ordered. “Other than that, just hold the line. What of West Gate?”

“Bad, sir. Most recent report said something about their base camp being destroyed by giant icicles.”

That made all four of us sit up and take notice.

Icicles?” Hoshi demanded, more bewildered than anything. “As in… what, thrown like spears? Tossed by catapults?”

“No, sir. They just burst right out of the ground, sir. The whole base was cut right in half, and it looks like the ones on the far side have had to surrender.”

The general glanced at the captain, but he just shrugged. “All right, tell them to get more men and materiel from their ships. How are the echoes doing on that gate?”

“They hadn’t even managed to offload them before everything happened.”

She grunted. “Of course. Tell them to put the echoes on barricade building. Hold the line.”

“And South Gate?”

“Orders haven’t changed.”

Hold the line. Hold the line. Hold the line.

That was all she was telling anyone. This was a war that was supposed to be a complete cakewalk. A genuine liberation of a city held in thrall to criminals. And yet it was all anyone to do not to be pushed back into the sea.

My phone rang. Five simple beeps.

Hoshi raised an eyebrow at me. “You brought your phone?”

I shrugged helplessly. It was a holdover from my bodyguard days. So to speak. “Sorry, I’ll turn it off—”

She waved magnanimously. “Answer it. It could be important.”

A little hesitant, I did as ordered, holding it up to my ear. “Hello?”

“Is General Hoshi with you?” a pleasant female voice said far too loudly. I winced and pulled it away. It had been set to speakerphone somehow.

“Uh, yes?”

“Please hold.”

I stared at Hoshi, who looked just as confused as I felt. I had been a bodyguard for ten years—or I remembered being one, anyway—and no one had ever called me to get a hold of my employer.

Within moments, another voice came over the phone, also female, but this time short and curt. “General Hoshi. I understand you command the ships clogging up the waters of White-Cap Bay.”

“Who is this?” Hoshi demanded, glaring at my phone. “How did you get this number?”

“I am Admiral Janelle Ursler of Necessarius North Fleet, flagship NS Aquilo. I have called to discuss the circumstances under which you will immediately cease fire upon my city.”

Hoshi grinned, and I understood her enthusiasm. If the barrage wasn’t a threat, they wouldn’t be trying to make a deal. “What are you offering?”

“Your ships and your lives.”

Hoshi’s smile disappeared. “I’m not in the mood for pointless grandstanding.”

“Neither am I. This is quite simple: You can stop firing of your own accord, giving you the freedom to land your detestable troops on our shores. Eventually, your reserves will be exhausted and you limp will back to your country. Or, we kill you all.”

“That is a tiresome bluff, admiral.”

There was an explosion below decks, which reverberated throughout the entire ship.

Moments later, the ship groaned, tortured metal screaming and rending the air. The deck titled, and we slowly began to sink.

The captain opened the door to shout out some quick orders, but otherwise didn’t seem worried. Neither did the general, or the captain’s aide, or any of the sailors I could see. Was I the only one who cared that we were sinking?

Hoshi raised an eyebrow. “You smuggled explosives on the ship. Cute. But the loss of the flagship won’t cripple the fleet. All the sailors have those modified lungs to breathe underwater, and the rest of us can get to the lifeboats. We’re pretty good swimmers.”

“Not good enough.”

There was a scream on the deck.

Hoshi narrowed her eyes. “What was that?”

“Your death song, General. The Dagonites will sing you to your rest.”

Hoshi stared at the phone, more perplexed than scared.

There was another scream.

“Weapons free,” the general said, still just a bit confused. “Jefferies, you’re in front.”

I swallowed nervously, but nodded. I pocketed the phone and pulled out my sidearm, flipping off the safety as I did. It was the first thing they taught you in the Secret Service.

What I hadn’t been taught was what to do when I was on a sinking ship under enemy attack by who knows what. The deck was already listing away under my feet, and I could hear things sliding around belowdecks.

There was another scream.

Stealing myself, I stepped out onto the deck, gun raised.

Most of the sailors were running to and fro, trying desperately to get lifeboats down to the water. Some marines had their guns out, panicked expressions on their faces, and pointed at the ocean—which was noticeably closer than the last time I had checked. I didn’t actually see any enemies, though. Where were these Dagonites the Admiral had said were coming for us?

Another scream. I looked back, and realized that one of the marines was gone. His remaining friends fired into the water a few times, but if it had any effect, I didn’t see one. Water was better than a brick wall at blocking bullets, once you were more than a foot under the surface.

Water was lapping at my boots now. “General, we need to get to the lifeboats!”

She was still frowning, confused rather than scared. I was pretty sure she should be very scared. “This doesn’t make any sense. None of this makes any sense. The bombs, now this… is this all a terror tactic?”

“General, please!”

Something tackled me, dragging me underwater.

I shook my head to clear it and opened my eyes, ignoring the burning in my lungs. Most of the sailors could breathe underwater, but I couldn’t. White-Cap Bay was known for crystal-clear waters on a calm day, but I still couldn’t see far—

There! Something moved! A shape, swimming far too fast to be a person, circling around and then charging straight at me—

It hit me like a freight train, nearly knocking what little wind I had left out of me and dragging me farther down. I did get a good look at it, though. A flat face, with pure black eyes, rows and rows of triangular shark teeth, and flapping gills on the neck.

And a large, powerful fish tail propelling both of us further into the depths.

A mermaid. A monstrous, horrific mermaid. Or some sort of merfolk, at least, as I wasn’t confident of the gender.

There was no sabotage. No spies on our boats. These… Dagonites had put the bombs on the underside of our ships from the outside.

For years, there had been rumors of something keeping unwanted ships away from Domina City. We had assumed bribes, careful usage of rumor, and perhaps torpedoes and divers at worst. But this

There were more of them around, dozens if not more, judging by the swirling shapes around me. Most of them were dragging their prizes to the depths, like some monstrous sea creatures returning food to a nest. Others were playing with their food, circling struggling sailors and swimming in only to nip at them and dodge away again. And why shouldn’t they? Everyone was completely outmatched. Most of the sailors weren’t even armed.

But I was.

I still had a death grip on my gun. I managed to bring it around to the thing’s chest, even as the pressure built up, making it feel like my head was going to crack like an egg. With the last of my strength, I pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

Well, of course not. The stupid thing wouldn’t work underwater.

The Dagonite grinned with those shark teeth, and pulled something out of its belt—a garment which seemed to be made of the same material as wetsuits. It took me a moment to realize that the object was a gun, built with a much larger grip and no trigger guard. It seemed like it was designed to accommodate hands with webbed fingers.

The Dagonite turned, peered up at the surface, and fired its gun with a dull whumph I could feel in the water. Something spun out of it, trailing a line—it was a harpoon. A tiny little harpoon gun.

The Dagonite turned back to me, grinned, and winked. Then it pressed a button on the gun, reeling in the line and swimming up to meet its prey.

Leaving me behind. Like a small fish tossed back into the lake.

I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I still had some air left, and I could see light, far above. Far, yes, but not impossibly far. It was close enough that I could see the splashes where the Dagonites were dragging their hapless victims down.

I kicked off my boots and swam up with all my might, shrugging off my jacket between strokes. I dropped my gun in the process, but it was little more than a paperweight at the moment anyway.

Dagonites passed by me, close enough that I could feel my wake, but they ignored me. Did they really think I was no threat, or did they just think it would be more fun to kill me just when I thought I was free?

No, no thinking, only swimming. Just keep swimming.

Just keep…

I burst through the surface with what I was sure was the last stroke of my life. I gasped in a breath so hard it actually hurt, then I did another and another, both as hard. I settled down quickly, taking more normal-sized breaths, and looked around.

The flagship was half-sunk. Most of its lifeboats had launched, but those were torn to shreds except for one or two. All of those were on the opposite side of the sinking ship from me, of course. I’d never get to them. Just being this close might tow me under again. The ship itself was mostly empty, with just a few splatters of blood to mark some particularly energetic resistance.

There were a few sailors on the surface, but not many. I didn’t see General Hoshi anywhere.

And the rest of the fleet…

I couldn’t see more than a handful, but I could tell that most of them were in trouble. I saw one ship sinking, another on fire—there was a secondary explosion as its ammo magazine went up—and another seemed to be missing entirely. It had probably already disappeared completely beneath the waves.

I didn’t see a single ship unharmed.

I looked down. The water was too choppy to see much, but I could see dark shapes flitting around. They looked just like fish from here, as harmless as trout, but I knew better than to underestimate them.

I looked up again, this time at the city. Every few seconds, that blue dome-shield would flash into visibility again. I had to assume someone was still shelling the city. Someone had managed to keep their ship afloat. But with our firepower so drastically reduced, would we be able to make a dent in it? Hell, we didn’t even know if the whole fleet could have made a dent.

We had completely misunderstood the threat we were facing. It wasn’t like fighting gang-bangers and having them pull out automatic weapons. It was like fighting spear-wielding natives and having them pull out laser rifles.

Which, apparently, the Dominites actually had, judging by the reports from East Gate. Lasers and energy shields. What was next? A black-hole bomb? Shape-shifting spies? Truth serums and brainwashing and God-damned spaceships?

This was not my world any more. It might not have ever been my world. My only consolation was that I was going to be dead in a week anyway. I wouldn’t have to see the aftermath of this debacle.

I felt a strong webbed hand grab my ankle, and then I was pulled down below the waves.

Behind the Scenes (scene 285)

I’ve had the Dagonite reveal on my mind for a long time. I’m curious how many people saw this coming. At least some, I’m sure.

Scene 64 – Foedus

FOEDUS

ARTEMIS

I rubbed my forehead. “Mary, are they ready?”

“In a minute, sir,” she replied quickly. The real her, not one of her fakes. This was far too important to leave to a hacked-together bundle of code. “The Nessians are yelling about having to deal with the Nosferatu.”

“Cut them out,” I said tiredly. “I don’t know why I even bothered.” The Nessians, the followers of that bastard Asmodeus, were slavers and nothing more. They had tried to usurp the power structure of the vampires a while back, and been cut down to a shadow of their former glory as a result. In the process, their leader was poisoned by one of the Nosferatu. An exceptionally virulent poison that the toy maker couldn’t cure. Apparently he was in constant, agonizing pain. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

“Done,” she quipped. “Anyone else you want me to nix?”

“No. We need as many as will stay. Everyone else will play nice with others. Probably.”

“If you call in Kelly, the Belians will fall into line easier.”

No. She has made her feelings on the matter clear.”

“But—”

“No. Mary Christina, this topic is closed.”

“Fine,” she muttered a bit angrily. “Anyway, everyone is set up. Starting video conference now.”

My screen crowded up completely with dozens of windows, each with a single face. Many were mostly human, but some more monstrous. The Nosferatu, the sibriex, the cans and the Glasyans were only human in a legal sense at this point. Others were normal enough on the outside, but still terrifying inside. The Dagonite ambassador was an excellent example of that.

There were a few missing, but that was hardly unexpected. Some still didn’t trust me, while others didn’t understand the danger the Composer represented.

“Ladies, gentlemen,” I said by way of greeting. “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.”

“As if we had a choice,” Nicholas, representing the Aesir, grumbled. “The screamers are a threat to us all.”

“Not quite all,” the Dragon, the leader of the Draculas, noted. He grinned, displaying his prominent fangs, and nodded to something I couldn’t see; presumably, another of the ambassadors on his own screen. “Georgia and her Dagonites don’t have much to worry about.”

The woman in question huffed. “I’m sure this Composer will find a way. Although I doubt we can be of much help; we have limited abilities, and the war with the Rahabs is straining us.”

“Your support is appreciated regardless,” I told her honestly. Considering how much I had to deal with trying to make the other subcultures see a problem that was on their very doorstep, it was refreshing to see someone who could anticipate the threat.

“Has Doctor Clarke had any progress on finding some sort of cure or vaccine for the screamers?” Evangel asked. The big ursa senator wasn’t the leader of his subculture by any means, but the others had agreed to let him act as an ambassador for all of them.

“No, unfortunately,” I admitted. “He isn’t having any luck whatsoever. He hasn’t even managed to find out what causes the condition. I believe he’s given up on it.”

“We can take a look,” Tharizdun, the sibriex representative, offered. I wasn’t sure if Nhang had sent him as an intentional slight, or if the warlord just didn’t have time to deal with anyone himself. “I doubt we’ll have much luck, but a few more eyes are always helpful.”

“My people will help as well,” Glasya, the Noble from Malbolge, put in. She had a bit of a friendly rivalry with the sibriex, so it was nice to see her so eager to work with them.

“Thank you both, and I will accept any help you can offer. If the Avernans could lend their aid as well, that would be much appreciated.”

Bel scratched his hairy chin. It wasn’t actually hair, but a patch of short, poisonous barbs. Much of his body was covered in the strange buff. “We’d be happy to, of course, but I’m not sure how useful we’ll be. Our methods are geared towards the toy maker, not general research.”

“You’re avoiding the main problem,” Nick, warlord of the Host of Glorious Destruction, pointed out. “The Composer needs to be dealt with. Everything else is secondary. You said you may know where he is. Why haven’t you attacked?”

“We have no idea what this creature is capable of, Honored Daybreaker,” I replied with as much patience as I could muster. “If you read through the data I sent you, you’ll see that Doctor Clarke has theorized it may be able to jump between bodies. Killing the one it is currently in will do nothing but make it more cautious in the future.”

“But you don’t know,” Jasmine, the can ambassador, clicked. “You don’t know anything about this…thing.”

“We know that there is an intelligence behind the screamers,” I reiterated. “Not much else. The fact that it seems to have a base does imply it has a physical body, with physical limitations. Hopefully, that means a lead-based solution can be applied here. But we must be cautious.”

“Then just kill all the screamers and then move in,” Mephistopheles insisted. “I don’t know why you’re keeping them alive.”

Evangel huffed. “It is still possible these people can be cured, Canian. Don’t be so quick to abandon them.”

“But the pyro has a point,” Dispater cut in. As leader of the warbloods, the military arm of the vampires, I knew his grasp of strategy would be valuable. “Clarke thinks this Composer is limited to using screamers as hosts. If we kill all the screamers, it will have no where to go.”

“And what if he is wrong?” the Dragon asked calmly, his godeyes twinkling. Godeyes were rare beyond imagining; they were the fusion of dayeyes and nighteyes, and almost impossible to make work. It took over a hundred thousand dollars to even try, and usually the subject just ended up blind. I only knew one other person in the city that had them. “If the Composer can use bodies other than screamers, we’ll have murdered several thousand people for no good reason.”

The other representatives murmured uneasily, but it was Nick who voiced their concerns. “There can’t truly be that many, can there?”

“Not quite that many,” I assured her. “Only barely a thousand.”

“And that’s a thousand more than there should be,” Simba pointed out angrily. It took me a second to realize he was just angry in general, not at me specifically. “If we could find a way to give more people powers, or at least make them immune to infection, everything would go much more smoothly.”

I saw Obould lean forward before speaking. “I’ve spoken with the Paladins a little. They’re more than happy to help with this crisis, but they are limited. Sooner or later, the Composer is going to stop playing around, and they aren’t going to be able to keep up.”

Greyanna shook her head. “Preposterous. A thousand screaming, half that dead, and you think this Composer isn’t even trying? Trust a man to—”

“Oh put a sock in it, Lolth,” Halisstra interrupted. “Put aside your prejudices and think about it. The incident with the burners confirmed that a singer can infect people over the radio or the phone. The Composer could easily hook up some giant speakers and infect half the city. Why hasn’t he?”

“I have some failsafes in place to prevent that,” Mary Christina interjected.

“Yes,” Dispater noted, “you do now. But why didn’t he just do it before we knew about that capability? It doesn’t make any sort of tactical sense.”

“He could just be a moron,” the Erlking suggested.

“That’s a dangerous thought path,” Sargeras, representing the hellions, cautioned. He was one of the most respected warlords here—as one of the founding members of the demon culture, he was one of the very first warlords. “In a situation like this, you have to assume the enemy is smarter than you. Anything else will lead to ruin.”

“Isn’t this all secondary?” Hyalinix of the Time-Lost Shadows cut in. “I haven’t heard anyone actually promise to work together.”

“The sibriex, the Glasyans, and the Avernans have at least agreed,” I pointed out. But only an uncomfortable silence greeted my words. I frowned. “You said you would help.”

“Help, yes,” Bel admitted grudgingly. “We’ll share data. But that’s very different from actively working together.”

“Exactly,” Nick muttered, clearly not enjoying even such a minor agreement with a vampire. “You’re suggesting sending troops into battle side-by-side, correct? They’ll never stand for it.”

“We can work up to that,” the Dragon mused. “But even working together at a strategic level would make a huge difference in the war effort.”

“My men won’t fight beside angels,” Dispater cautioned. “But that wouldn’t be a good idea regardless. Anyone else, they will help gladly. And of course, I would be happy to lend my expertise.” He started a little, as though surprised at his own words. “Ah…from the Iron Tower, of course.”

The other vampire ambassadors just rolled their eyes. Dispater’s agoraphobia was well-known. But, he was useful, so everyone put up with the fact that he refused to leave his base.

“My hellions should be able to support the angels,” Sargeras offered. “And I can speak with the other leaders as well.” He nodded to a corner of his screen. “No offense, Honored Daybreaker, you just don’t have the numbers to wage this kind of war.”

“None taken, Honored Devil,” Nick replied graciously.

“I’m also not opposed to cooperating,” the Great Wolf admitted. “There will be some logistics problems, as we keep mortal enemies away from each other, but surely we can all leave off killing each other long enough to fight for our city.”

Doresain shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Though like you said, we’ll need to be mindful of prejudices. I know I wouldn’t want to fight next to a lupe, and I doubt any of my men are going to feel differently.”

“I think we can leave that to the more military-minded leaders,” Focalur of the Mammonites pointed out. “Best not to get in their way.”

The taur representative, an ugly Baphomite named Cairne, raised an eyebrow. “You would be willing to follow the orders of another, thief?”

Focalur just laughed. “Like you said, I’m a thief. I don’t know how to fight a war.” He became serious again. “But Dispater, Sargeras—whoever ends up giving the orders. Just remember the strengths and weaknesses of your allies. We can’t stand up to front line combat like you.”

Sargeras nodded. “We will of course take everything into consideration. We’ve been fighting against you for quite some time. We know what you are capable of.”

The Beast growled, literally. “This is ridiculous. I will not put myself under the command of any other kith, and I know my followers will feel the same.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Then leave, abomination, and don’t come crying to us when the screamers appear on your doorstep.”

The Satanist growled again, and his window went dark. Honestly, I was pleased. His subculture was almost as bad as the Nessians. I had known all along they would be trouble. I was surprised it had taken him this long to voice his objections.

“Good riddance,” Tripurasura, the Akoman daeva, muttered. “He would have set his men on us like hounds on roadkill.”

The cane and lupe representatives both shouted at once. “HEY!”

The vampire winced. “Sorry. Figure of speech.”

“I am pleased you have all seen the wisdom of working together,” I said slowly. Using violence to force the issue would have just made things worse in the long run. “But there is one thing I don’t think anyone will like.”

I found myself unable to speak. This was going to be a nightmare. I still had a chance to change my mind.

Everyone just looked at me, clearly apprehensive. My silence was only making things worse. Senator Nagi, representing the laces, was the one who spoke up. “And what’s that, Butler?”

“Tharizdun and Glasya, I need…” I paused, then sighed and bit the bullet. “I need you to open up communications with the fey.”

The sudden outcry was almost explosive. Every single representative started shouting. Even the more level-headed ones who were trying to calm everyone else, like Evangel and Nagi, had to yell just to have a chance of being heard.

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t hear any individual arguments in the noise, but I knew what they were saying. The fey were crazed monsters who would kill their own mothers for no reason other than because they felt like it. They were almost as big a problem as the Composer. Allying with them was insanity.

After a few minutes, there was a brief lull. Not really a lull; just a short pause, nothing but coincidence. I seized the opportunity to speak. “If we don’t ally with them, the Composer will,” I said quietly.

Everyone choked on the words they were going to spit out, and dozens of faces stared at me in shock.

“If we don’t ally with them, the Composer will,” I emphasized. “Perhaps he’ll infect them, or perhaps he’ll just pay them off, but either way he’ll have access to their armies and their toy box. We cannot allow one of those to fall into the wrong hands.” I glanced at Soaring Eagle’s window; she winced at the reference to her own crimes.

Still, nobody spoke.

I leaned back in my seat and sighed. “I understand this is not easy. I understand that they might ask for things we are not willing to give. But we don’t have a choice. They are too powerful to simply leave waiting for the Composer’s control.” I closed my eyes. “That is all. Mary Christina will contact you shortly with more information on the details of the alliance.”

I cut the connection.

It was necessary.

Behind the Scenes (scene 64)

Homework question: Why would the leader of the Draculas be called the Dragon?

And yes, every single one of these people (and the subcultures they represent) was named for a reason. Some of these reasons are simpler than others, however. For example, Jasmine, the can ambassador, is named because that’s her birth name, and she thinks changing your name to match some mythical character you find kinship with is stupid.

Oh, one last thing: There are seven cultures (six, since most people don’t count the fey), but that’s only the ones that use the toy maker. Changelings, therefore, are not a culture, nor is Necessarius.