Tag Archives: Delphie Murinae

Scene 144 – Mutata

MUTATA

ECCRETIA

My name is not Pam.

I am not from a small orphanage in South-West Outer, which conveniently burned down a few years ago.

I am not a college student with too much rage and not enough power.

I am not an unremarkable baseline no one would look twice at.

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy playing the role. For six months and ten days, I got to be a normal kid. No life or death decisions, no dealing with Necessarius or the cultures. Just a bit of light hacking and physical training to keep my skills up, while I took a relaxing vacation.

But I had put off my return for far too long.

I am Eccretia, of the Never-Known Thieves. Along with Meldiniktine of the Forgotten Names and Feless of the Firstborn, I am one of the first three changelings to escape from the fey, thirteen years ago. I founded the Never-Known Thieves, and through them the White Hat changelings.

Recently, with the rise of Butler’s Paladins, I’ve been called the warlord of the changelings, which I suppose is accurate, but still feels strange.

But the thing about warlords is this:

Even if you order your followers to leave you alone, even if you threaten them with excommunication and death, they will always make sure you are protected.

The Princess sighed and rolled her eyes at my defiance. “That’s great and all, but can you get out of my way? I don’t have time to deal with one little girl right now.”

I smiled thinly. “I am a changeling, Honorless Maiden. I am never alone.”

Then a sniper shot Maeve in the head.

I recognized the sound of the gunshot, echoing around the street. It had the distinctive stuttering bark of a White Knight ZF090, which came from the way the firing chamber was built. It was a good, reliable 5.5 millimeter rifle made by Zero Forge Guns. It was known for its extended magazine and hardy construction, which even allowed for it be used as a melee weapon in a pinch without damaging it. Some people even added blades to facilitate this.

What it was not known for was its stopping power.

“Aaaah,” the fey whined, rubbing her skull as if she had just gotten smacked by a fist, not a mid-powered rifle. She was bleeding, but not much, and I could already see the blood clotting. “What was that for? Ugh, now I’ve got blood on my dress…”

“Domothon!” I called. There was only one of my men who used a White Knight above all else. “The eyes!”

My subordinate answered immediately with four more pinpoint shots, a pair aimed at each of the Maiden’s eyes. That was the true strength of the ZF090. The massive magazine, coupled with a greatly reduced recoil, turned it into something almost like a rapid fire sniper rifle.

But the fey was prepared now.

She moved so fast I couldn’t even see a blur. One second she was there, then she wasn’t, and there were a few new holes in the concrete.

Then I felt an arm wrap around my neck from behind like a steel vise.

Maeve giggled into my ear. “It has been a while, hasn’t it, Eccretia?” She sighed mournfully. “I remember the good old days, when you would try to kill me personally, instead of ordering your red shirts to do it for you.” I could feel her pouting. “Now you’ve gone and gotten him killed!”

My heart skipped a beat, and I drove an elbow into her ribs. I’m not sure she even noticed. “Bitch, if you touch him—”

Her arms tightened around my throat, cutting me off mid-sentence. “Really, dear, where did you found that mouth? It wasn’t from me, that’s for sure.” The fey giggled. “Oh, that’s right, dear Isaac was the one who remodeled you! Maybe he made a mistake somewhere along the line, hm? Gave you a sailor’s tongue on accident?” She cackled gleefully.

This was getting ridiculous. Thankfully, the Maiden didn’t see me as a threat—the fey never treated changelings seriously. So I was able to unholster my pistol without too much difficulty, and shoot the homunculus in the foot.

She wined, loosening her grip long enough for me to slip away. Not that she cared. She seemed more concerned with her bleeding foot. Not actually in any pain, mind. Just mildly annoyed.

I had dropped my gun, and couldn’t find it anywhere. Dammit, she’d counterattack any second…and why wasn’t Domothon shooting? She didn’t have a hostage now.

Paying more attention, I realized that she had dodged out of his line of fire without me even noticing. He was probably repositioning himself right now, but that would take time we didn’t have.

“Now you’ve made me angry,” the black-clothed fey pouted. “My pets are after him now. Really, dear, couldn’t you have just left well enough alone?”

“No. She couldn’t.”

I turned, surprised to find that Yolanda was the person behind that iron voice. She had finally found her gun, and was still sitting on the street with it.

Maeve sighed, the giggly mask slipping. “Miss McDowell, please don’t make me kill you. I was actually hoping to be able to recruit you today. I realize that is probably off the table, but there is no reason we cannot part amicably.”

“Stay out of this, demon,” I ordered. “The fey are a changeling problem.”

“The fey are everyone’s problem,” the girl retorted. But despite her bold words, she still hadn’t actually raised the weapon.

The fey in question smiled at her a little sadly. “Shooting me isn’t going to solve anything at all. It won’t even mildly inconvenience me; I’ve made my offer, recruits will find me whether in this body or the next.”

Yolanda finally raised her gun, slowly, making a great deal of effort to hold it steady with both hands. I immediately recognized it as a MD92/14.5, one of the most powerful handguns on the market. So powerful that no one actually bothered to use it.

It was a McDowell gun.

“I just have one question before I shoot you,” Yolanda McDowell managed, with only the slightest quaver in her voice. “My parents died eight years ago, when their warehouse exploded. Was that caused by the fey?”

Maeve looked at her for a good, long minute.

Yolanda clicked back the hammer on the gun, readying to fire.

“No,” the fey said finally. “I honestly don’t know why you would think otherwise. None of us ever had any quarrel with those two.”

Yolanda smiled, and lowered her gun. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. I always knew those idiots just managed to blow themselves up. Mom probably didn’t think twice about smoking in an ammo warehouse.” The demon’s eyes turned hard, and she raised her gun again. “Thanks. That’s all I need.”

She fired. The roar of the gun almost managed to cover up the sound of both her wrists snapping.

The bullet struck Veda in the shoulder, shattering the bone like glass and creating a fist-sized hole in her flesh. The cherve screamed and stumbled to the ground, but the momentum from her desperate charge made her slide across the broken street, grinding dirt and glass into her skin until she stopped at the fey’s feet.

“Veda?!” I cried. “What the hell are you doing?!” Yolanda, for her part, was curled up in a ball around her gun. I would be surprised if she was still conscious.

Simon slid over to his girlfriend, while Seena rushed towards the fallen cherve, only half a step behind me.

But we were both forced to stop as the fey interposed herself between us and our target.

She giggled.

“I like you,” Maeve chirped at Veda, still lying on the ground, barely breathing. “Sacrificing yourself to save a homunculus? Fantastic!” She squatted down next to her, smiling broadly. “I take it you want something, right? Perhaps you want me to help the murid?”

Our fallen friend coughed. She was still conscious? Gods of men and darkness, what was she made of?

“Y-yes,” she managed, blood spurting from her lips. Probably a few internal injuries from when she landed. “But I also…”

“You want something else, too?” The woman pouted. “Now that’s just greedy.”

“I want to join you.”

I…she…what?

The fey blinked, and the giggly mask slipped. “Wait, what?”

“I…want…”

She put a finger to the cherve’s lips, stopping her, and patted her head. “That’s enough, dear. I know it hurts. And I accept.”

Maeve, Princess of Wind and Frost, Maiden of the Unseelie fey, bent down and kissed Veda full on the lips.

I recognized the tactic. The fey occasionally secrete chemicals in their mouths for just this sort of situation. The one she was using right now was probably some sort of painkiller, or maybe just a simple knockout drug.

I could have stopped her. Tackled her to the ground, or something. Yeah, the fey was about a hundred times stronger than me, but still…

I should have done something.

I couldn’t react, even when the fey lifted Veda up in her arms in a gentle princess carry, then tied her securely onto a pack mule monster that I hadn’t even noticed walk up.

“This brave young girl will become the first of the new fey!” Maeve announced to the much-reduced crowd. I couldn’t bring myself to turn and see their reactions, but I could hear their uneasy murmuring. “By her own choice, she will gain power and prestige in the Unseelie Court!”

What the hell was I supposed to do in this situation? I wasn’t even armed, since I had dropped my gun when I scrambled out of the fey’s grip. I was a changeling, a master of deceit, not combat. I couldn’t go head to head with a thrice-damned homunculus.

“You put her down!” Yolanda cried. Next to her, Simon raised a gun—not the massive MD92/14.5, the simpler MD91/6.0 revolver. Still pretty big, but not to the same ridiculous extent as the first. Its most notable feature was a ridiculous twenty-six round cylinder. It looked like a damn hubcap.

He fired, but it didn’t do any good. He wasn’t much of a marksman, but that wasn’t really the problem. Even though the bullet managed to smack the fey in the shoulder, it didn’t do anything worse than draw a bit of blood.

The Princess grinned, rushed forward, and backhanded the purple demon with the sound of a cracking whip. He fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes, clutching his face.

“I think that’s enough, don’t you?” Maeve said jovially. Her giggly mask was back up; she was grinning like a loon. “Just let me heal your friends, alright?”

No one seemed able to muster the courage to object as the fey lifted up Delphie carefully and tied her to a beast next to Veda’s. The murid wasn’t making any noise, but she had to be okay…

No one moved as Maeve kissed Delphie, likely to spread the same numbing agent she had used on the the cherve.

But when she started to lead the beasts away, I managed to act.

I found my gun.

“Eccretia, please,” the fey said chidingly, as if speaking to a small child. “Hasn’t there been enough violence today?”

I didn’t lower the pistol. It wasn’t very high-powered. Certainly not at the same level as either of the McDowell guns that Yolanda or Simon had used. But it was powerful enough, and I was a good shot. A bullet through the eye should do the trick.

The Princess looked over the curved, streamlined gun in my hands carefully. “A Necessarian Saint Jude…a good weapon. Fitting, don’t you think?” She grinned. “The patron saint of lost causes. Perfect for a changeling.”

“Make sure you tell anyone stupid enough to join you,” I retorted. “That by siding with the fey, they’re at war with the changelings.”

Then I shot her.

She tried to dodge, but I was ready for that. The fey don’t place any real value on their homunculi, so they tend to charge head-first into danger. My first round missed, but the next one caught her as she ran forward and punched through her left eye just as intended.

The Maiden stumbled and fell as the hot chunk of lead bounced around inside her skull, destroying the delicate cybernetics the fey used to control the body. The corpse slid to a halt just a few feet away from my combat boots. It started to give off an acrid stench moments later; that would be the self-destruct sequence, making sure there was nothing left for enemies to salvage.

The street was completely silent. No one said a word.

I looked around at my friends and all the random bystanders, wondering whether they were more shocked at witnessing the death of a fey, or the fact that a changeling was the one who had done it.

Eh, didn’t matter. I stepped over the steaming corpse to rescue my friends—

Wait. Where were Veda and Delphie? The beasts they had been secured to were here just a few seconds ago. The girls weren’t conscious, and even if they were, I doubt they would know how to give the monsters commands…

Maeve. Damn, stupid fey. Usually, in situations like this, killing the fey would leave their nearby monsters acting on whatever their last orders were. If they were rampaging through a store, they’d continue rampaging through a store. If they were waiting for further instructions, they’d continue waiting.

Should have known that the rules were different now. If the fey could give themselves names, they could plan ahead a little better. Clearly, she had given one last order to the monsters while I was distracted.

“Domothon!” I called. “Where’d the pack beasts go?”

My old subordinate poked his head out of an open window three or four stories up on the nearest ‘scraper. “North, ma’am!”

“Then take Ferenil and follow them!”

He nearly tripped over himself, trying to pack up his sniper nest at top speed. “Yes, ma’am! Sorry, ma’am!”

I shook my head and sighed. Gods damned…

I pulled out my phone and hit speed dial 9. He picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”

“It’s Eccretia. I need a squad at Kagurazaka Street, near Carne Sandwiches.”

He did a brief double-take. “Wait, you’re…uh, right. Of course. That’s Nervi’s place, right?”

“No, her son’s.”

“That’s what I meant. Anyway, we’ll be there in a few minutes. What’s the occasion?”

“Fey attack. The aftermath, anyway.”

“Gods of…any special party favors we need to bring along?”

I looked around the devastated street, at the red-tinged crater Jelena left behind, at the people who had been stomped on or otherwise injured trying to flee from the gargants or the fey herself.

“An ambulance.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 144)

One might wonder why Maeve’s head wound didn’t bleed more. After all, unless her skin is bulletproof (it isn’t), then it should have caused at least a shallow injury, and head wounds bleed a lot.

The thing is, head wounds bleed a lot because of all the blood feeding oxygen to the brain. Homunculi don’t have brains. True, the device the fey uses to control the body remotely is centered in the skull, but blood is an ineffective coolant, so the fey don’t use it. A homunculus’ head doesn’t have any more blood than any other part of their body—less, actually, since there isn’t anything up there that needs more than a little oxygen.

Scene 142 – Novum Die

NOVUM DIE

DELPHIE

“This is my nephew, Leon,” I explained, patting the small boy sitting next to me on the head. “Say hello, Leon.”

“Hello,” he muttered. He was ten years old, and actually looked it, unlike a lot of kids these days. He also looked baseline, but as the son of the murid warlord, I doubted that was completely true. I had never seen his toy receipt, but then my sister had always been quite secretive.

“I’m sorry about your mother,” Yolanda said gently, while leaning against Simon’s arm. “I know it’s hard.”

He shrugged noncommittally.

I frowned, but didn’t say anything. It had been just a little over a week since his mother died. I could let him be anti-social for a while longer.

“Is your dad still around?” Eric, the green-haired baseline we had saved from the iron-lord gargant, pressed. “Do you have anywhere to go?”

Leon shook his head again.

“His dad died a while back,” I explained apologetically. “He’s staying at the domain for now.”

Eric nodded in sympathy. “Yeah, that’s rough.”

This guy was getting a little too close. I barely even knew him; Seena and Jelena had gotten some seaweed rum from his Dagonite roommate, and then Seena started inviting him places. Maybe she was trying to get in his pants or something; damned if I knew what that vampire was thinking. She had been acting weirder than normal since around when the Composer was captured.

Speaking of Seena, she elbowed her friend in the ribs half-heartedly. “Don’t be mean.”

Green-hair seemed genuinely confused. “How was that mean?”

“You’re mocking him!”

“What!? How is that mocking?”

“Both your parents are alive.”

Everybody started a little at that. It was pretty rare to see anyone like that. I think the only person our age I knew with two living parents was…

Um…

Oh, Derek’s friend Robyn. Doctor Isaac Clarke’s daughter. Living under the wing of Artemis Butler increased your life expectancy significantly.

Eric, for his part, had the good grace to look embarrassed. At least he knew better than to complain how annoying his parents were while surrounded by orphans.

He shifted in his seat. “My parents are close advisers to Arthur Curry. So…you know…they’re pretty well protected.”

Leon looked confused, and I couldn’t blame him. That name didn’t sound familiar…

“Wait,” Jelena said after a minute of silence. “You’re a Dagonite?

Veda cocked her head quizzically at the Glasyan vampire. “We weren’t supposed to know? His roommate’s one, I thought it was obvious.”

“He does use Dagonite curses,” Pam pointed out.

Eric shook his head. “Salt and spear—” Then he stopped when he realized what he was saying. “Ah…I mean…God dammit.” He shook his head again. “I spent three years unlearning Dagonite curses, and then by pure dumb luck, I ended up with Conway as my roommate.”

“Why?”

Eric seemed surprised Leon had finally said something, but shrugged and answered. “Whoever was in charge of room assignments probably did it on purpose. It’s usually a good idea to put people of the same culture together. Keeps fights to a minimum.”

“No, I mean why try to unlearn Dagonite curses?” The little murid twiddled his thumbs. “I mean…people go to a lot of trouble to learn them in the first place.”

Eric smiled a little sadly. “People…do not always stay with their culture.”

Jelena nodded. “My culture gets a lot of requests to quietly remove toys. It’s more common than you’d think.”

That caught my attention a little. I turned back to Eric. “So you’re an actual ex-Dagonite?” I had assumed his buffs were just internal, like mine.

“Well, yes, except I was never a Dagonite in the first place.”

Simon’s eyes widened. “A Rahab?”

Eric scowled. “No! Why does everyone always assume that?” He waved his hand impatiently. “Enough about me! Someone else talk.”

There was a pretty long pause.

“Steve is getting out of the hospital soon,” Simon noted.

That surprised everyone, but Pam got the words out first. “He is? When did he wake up?”

“A few days ago.”

The plain little baseline leaned forward eagerly. “Did he get a good look at his attacker? The one who killed Kevin?”

Simon shook his head sadly. “He went down in one hit, apparently. Never knew what was happening.”

Yolanda, of all people, gave her boyfriend a quizzical look. “Didn’t he get hit in the face? How could he not see anything?”

“Well, he saw the bat they hit him with, and that’s about it.”

Pam leaned back in her chair, almost bumping into the table behind her. The people there glared at her, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“I’m still mad about that. Kevin was fun. Steve is just boring. Why couldn’t it have been the other way around?”

Seena pushed her in the arm, nearly toppling the baseline. “Don’t say stuff like that. How would you feel if you survived, and someone said that about you?”

“I wouldn’t care. I know I’m boring.”

Her midnight-skinned roommate sighed. “Not what I meant.”

Simon shrugged. “Besides, Steve is more interesting anyway.”

Yolanda took her head off his shoulder long enough to punch him in the side.

“Ow! What?”

His sister nodded. “Thanks, Yolanda. And she’s right. Don’t be a dick.”

Our dirty red-haired baseline, however, seemed to take the question more seriously. “Steve’s just an errand boy. Watching Kevin play around was a lot more fun.”

The sibriex rubbed his side, eying his girlfriend warily before turning his attention back to Pam. “I considered him a friend, and he was a good roommate, but I wouldn’t call him fun.”

“I just thought it was hilarious,” she insisted. “Watching his ham-handed attempts at espionage.”

Simon blinked. “Wait, what?”

“He was a passer. A spy for the Jotuun. Didn’t you know?”

What?” Everyone shouted at once.

“No, that’s impossible,” I insisted. Fur and fang, I had liked him. “Even ignoring the fact that he was like four feet tall—”

She snorted derisively. “You don’t really expect a Jotuun passer to have the Bigger package, do you?”

“—there’s no way he could be a giant. I met friends from his old orphanage. It was deep in orc territory, so if he’s a passer for anyone—”

“Faked,” Pam said in a bored tone while examining her nails. “Rather amateurishly, too. They paid off a couple kids to pretend to know him. It’s much easier to just say the old orphanage burned down and everyone died.”

I rubbed my forehead. “No. Just…no way. He’s definitely an ex-demon. He knows way too much about their cultures to just be a random—”

“He’s a spy. Of course he knows a lot about the other cultures. Also, he doesn’t use demon curses, which isn’t very suspicious on its own, I’ll admit—”

Jelena perked up. “Oh, right! Back at that thing with the iron lord gargant, he used Jotuun curses. I thought it was weird.”

Pam rolled her eyes. “Not as weird as knowing the location of a secret Nif outpost. that’s what confirmed it for me.”

“WHY—” Simon took a deep breath to calm down. “Why didn’t you mention any of this?”

The baseline shrugged. “Like I said, I thought you knew. Besides, it’s not like it really mattered. Most of the stuff he would be searching for you told him.”

“Like what?”

“Like the monster guarding the sibriex servers.”

I blinked. “Wait, I didn’t hear about this.”

Zusa finally spoke up. “Yeah, me neither.”

That’s it. Nothing more. She had been acting odd recently; normally she would chatter on for an hour while everyone else tried to get a word in edgewise. But ever since a week or so before school started, she had been really weird.

No one else seemed to think it was odd, though.

Simon waved his hand. “That was…I mean…”

“What ever happened with that, anyway?” Pam asked. “I don’t think you ever said.”

“Zusa and I still don’t know what it is.”

Simon ignored me. “Well, I never did manage to get in touch with MC, and once the Composer outed herself, it kind of became moot.”

“Oh, Aramazd was going to actually talk to her?” A warm and gentle voice said from behind me. “That’s really sweet.”

We all turned to the source, standing just a foot behind me. She was a tall, pale-skinned woman with boyishly short black hair and a flat chest. She wore an elegant dress—a stunning black gown with a wide skirt, no sleeves, and black silk gloves that stretched to her elbows. The entire outfit sparkled with a few conservatively-placed white gemstones, which twinkled like stars.

While we were all caught off guard by the sudden appearance of a beautiful woman with a dazzling smile, I managed to recover first. “What?”

Okay, maybe ‘recover’ is a strong word.

The woman…or girl? Her age was a bit hard to place. She raised a hand to her mouth and giggled. “Sorry. It’s just that Aramazd has always been so paranoid. The fact that he’s willing to put his own fears behind his desire to protect the city is really heartwarming.”

No one seemed to know how to respond to that.

Pam had an idea, at least. She pointed her gun at the woman’s heart. “Who are you?”

“And how do you know anything about Aramazd?” Simon added. “I never told anyone his name.”

The girl backed up a step, but she seemed more appalled at her lack of manners than the gun. “Oh! I’m so sorry. I forgot to introduce myself.” She shook her head and sighed. “My sisters and I went to all this trouble to set this up, and I fumbled it.”

I looked around, not seeing anyone other than a hundred or so people watching on the street, who seemed about as bewildered as those of us actually sitting at the cafe, listening to the woman talk.

Oh, and I saw my stupid nephew leering at her. I needed to have a talk with him, but now was not the time.

“Just talk,” Pam ordered, her gun not quavering in the slightest. There was, however, a confused frown on her face. “I know you from somewhere…”

The black-dressed woman grinned broadly. “Both of my sisters are setting up in other spots in the city.” The smile faded. “Unfortunately, my stupid cousins are probably doing the same…”

Simon stood up, pulling Yolanda with him, and started backing away. “I don’t know who you are and I don’t care. Everyone, we need to go.”

Everyone else seemed to agree, and rose to follow. Many of the other customers followed suit, walking off in every direction. Even the maintenance man installing a speaker on the corner seemed inclined to finish his business and leave as fast as possible. I grabbed Leon and dragged him behind me. I glanced back at the woman…

Only to see Pam, still sitting there with her gun pointed at her.

“I know you…”

Again, the woman didn’t seem very concerned about the gun. She seemed more upset that she was losing her audience.

“Don’t go!” she cried. “It’s not time yet!”

I scoffed. Whatever. Just some attention whore in a nice dress.

Since I wasn’t looking where I was going, I ran smack into a gargant.

I scrambled back from the beast and got a better look. It was a flesh-eater gargant, one of a trio blocking the street to keep us from passing. The beasts weren’t particularly large—more like really big dogs—but they were exceedingly dangerous. They had shark-like maws with countless razor-edged teeth, ready to tear through muscle and bone like tissue paper.

A properly buffed individual has nothing to fear from a flesh-eater. It doesn’t take more than a couple skin enhancement buffs to make their teeth more annoying than harmful, and while they were fast, they would go down in a few good hits.

None of the people here had those kind of buffs. Oh, maybe there were a few with the strength and reflex toys necessary to fight, but the lesser skin enhancements can be identified at a glance, and of the hundred or more people trapped between the gargants (there was another trio at the other end of the street), it was obvious no one had anything useful.

The gargants growled at us, forcing us to back away, but didn’t attack.

We—almost everyone at once—turned to the woman in the black dress, still standing at the cafe, ignoring the gun with a huge smile on her face.

She curtsied, first at my group, then at those on trapped at the other end of the street. “My name is Maeve,” she said cheerfully. “Princess of Wind and Frost, Maiden of the Unseelie fey.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 142)

Eric’s explanation of people learning new verbal tics is actually something that happens in real life, albeit more rarely. It takes a lot of effort, but you can change your own curses and catch phrases. Most people just don’t care enough to do so. It’s like unlearning an accent, really.

Extra update Wednesday. Not because this one (or the next one) is short; they just work much, much better closer together.

Scene 136 – Relaxatio

RELAXATIO

SIMON

“Where’s your sister?” Yolanda asked as she slurped some hot chocolate through a straw. “I thought she was going to be here.”

I waved my hand dismissively. “Something about the Mals. I don’t know.”

Yolanda gave me an odd look—perhaps sensing I wasn’t being entirely truthful—but let it slide. She had been acting like she was treading on eggshells around me recently. Probably worried that I was upset she was a succubus.

I wasn’t, though. I mean, maybe I should have been worried about mind-control pheromones or whatever, but those were just stupid rumors on the net. They weren’t real.

Delphie leaned forward intently. “I think I heard her saying she was going to talk to the ‘sarians about Lizzy. She’s really worried.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, the whole thing is ridiculous. Butler’s dropping the ball on this one.” I still wasn’t sure whether or not Lizzy was the Composer, but Necessarius should be more careful about their propaganda. They knew no one thought she was the Composer, at least.

“Ah, but…” Yolanda started to say something then blushed as everyone turned to her. “I…I can see where they’re coming from. The Composer has everyone running scared. They say the murid Alpha was killed by sleepers.”

I blinked. “She what? I hadn’t heard about that.” I turned to Delphie. “When did that happen?”

“She shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable. “Sunday.”

“Huh.” I shook my head. “That’s…I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

“Yeah, but…she was always so nice to me.” I smiled. “I remember she used to steal meatbuns for us.”

The tiniest hint of a smile flitted across the brunette’s face. “Yeah. And Seena kept dropping them because they were too hot. Every single time.”

“She’s the one who introduced me to Glasya,” Jelena put in. “They barely knew each other, but Plague spoke up for me and convinced Glasya to take me in.”

Veda and Yolanda looked confused. “You all…knew the Lady of the Plague? Personally?” The deer kemo asked.

Delphie brushed her hair back a little nervously. “Yeah. She’s…my sister.”

Veda’s phone snapped shut. “Your sister was a warlord and you didn’t even mention it?” she shrieked. “You knew I was looking for a patron!”

Delphie raised an eyebrow. “Veda, you’re a cherve.”

So? I’d become a mouse for that!”

Pam snorted. “Way to show loyalty, there.”

Veda jabbed her finger in the baseline’s direction angrily. “Don’t give me that.”

The bland girl eyed the finger with narrow eyes. “You touch me, and you’re going to lose that finger.”

The dark-skinned girl continued as if she hadn’t spoken—though she also didn’t press the point and touch her. “The cherves are not a subculture. We’re barely even a quasi-culture. Census reports put our numbers at under a thousand. That’s for the entire city.”

“That’s more than the sibriex,” I pointed out. “Or the Mals.”

“Not what I mean and you know it,” she snapped angrily. “Subcultures are just big gangs. The kemo subcultures are more like cultures unto themselves. There are over ten million kemos in Domina City. That put it in perspective?”

She was way off. Of the two-hundred and forty million or so people in the city who identified as part of a culture, almost sixty million were kemos. The other five cultures were about equal, at forty million or so each. Well, the other four cultures were equal, with the angels skewing the stats quite a bit.

Still, her point was valid. Most kemos were fels, lupes, or ursas, since those were the three founders. The rest had little power, and even if they did have their own cultures and warlords, not everyone joined. There were over ten thousand murids in the city, but only a tiny fraction served under the Lady of the Plague.

“I’m sorry, Veda,” Delphie apologized grumpily. “I didn’t see the need to mention it.”

The cherve huffed. “Well, when your fang-torn sister is a fledgling warlord who needs all the recruits she can get, it’s only expected that you might mention it once or twice.”

“Um, for the record…” my girlfriend said quietly. Once again, she turned red as a tomato when everyone looked at her. “It’s just…I agree with Delphie, that’s all.” She stared into her cup. “I know I don’t always like people knowing my uncle is a senator…I’m sure being a warlord would be worse.”

There was a brief minute of silence. Veda turned away, her mouth firmly shut.

“Thank you, Yolanda,” Delphie said sincerely after a moment. “That is exactly what I was trying to say.”

The blonde demon turned even redder, if that was possible, and took a shaky sip of her hot chocolate.

Pam drummed her nails on the table, a thoughtful expression on her face. “I’m curious…your sister created the murids herself, right?” She waved her hand. “The culture, I mean, not the package.”

Delphie looked suspicious. “Yes. Why?”

“Well, that means this is the first time they’ve lost their warlord.”

“Yes, yes,” the murid snapped. “What’s your point?”

The baseline grinned like a wolf. “Doesn’t that mean you could be the next warlord?”

Huh. I hadn’t thought of that.

I guess it made sense. There wasn’t really any sort of standardized rules for this sort of thing, but it wasn’t uncommon for the title to pass to the next of kin or the next strongest in the culture. Delphie was both, so it was pretty much hers if she wanted it.

The look on the girl’s face, however, made it clear none of this had occurred to her either.

“I-I can’t lead a culture!” She stood up and started circling the table, staring at the ground. “Ratko would never accept it, and then the Arrnet twins would back him…”

When she came within reach a third time, Pam pulled her back down into her seat. “Calm down. Let’s start slow. How many murids officially followed your sister?”

“One hundred and ninety, as of last month’s census.”

Pam nodded. “Census, good. That means someone is organizing things. Your sister’s right hand, so to speak. Who is that?”

“Chuot. But he’s not…he wouldn’t follow me…”

The bland little baseline grabbed her friend by the chin, forcing her to look her in the eyes. “Then make him.”

“Pam, please,” Jelena said plaintively. “There are about a billion things wrong with what you’re saying, starting with the fact that Delphie doesn’t know if she wants to do this. Being a warlord is a massive responsibility.”

“What’s there to discuss?” Pam asked. She seemed genuinely bewildered. “There are a hundred and ninety mice scrambling to figure out what to do, and she can tell them. I don’t see how there’s even a question.”

“Why the hell do you even care?” the mouse in question snapped. “You’re usually all about Darwinism and the strong devouring the weak and all that.”

If Delphie expected that to pierce the baseline’s armor, she was in for a disappointment. “And if you take over the culture, you’ll either devour or BE devoured. There’s no contradiction.”

“Well, I don’t feel like doing either.”

“Apathy is death.”

“Says the baseline who punched a Necessarian recruiter.”

Pam narrowed her eyes. “You did not just imply that the only worthwhile organizations are the cultures and the ‘sarians.”

The murid didn’t back down, which made me wince. She had to know this was a bad subject. I guess she was still upset about her sister. “What else is there? All the old gangs are dead. Well, except the Rahabs, but that’s a Dagonite problem.”

Veda pulled out her phone again, muttering something about how that was why the Rahabs had survived this long.

Pam didn’t seem to notice. “Most corporations aren’t owned by cultures.” She indicated Yolanda. “McDowell Guns is operated by an ursa, and doesn’t discriminate. BOB is still owned by Robert Bailey, and as I understand, he won’t hire people who are officially a part of a culture. And then there’s government work.”

Delphie spat on the ground. I couldn’t tell if she was making a point or if she disliked her coffee. “That’s all crap. The corporations and government don’t have any real power—push comes to shove, they call for a friendly culture or Necessarius.”

“You both make great points,” I interjected in the friendliest manner possible. “But why don’t we calm down and—”

“Shove off, Simon,” Pam growled without taking her eyes off her verbal opponent. “The sheltered little ojou wants a lesson in the real world, I’m happy to give it to her.”

Sheltered?” Delphie said with false calm. Her voice might be steady, but her eyes were on fire. “I’m in this stupid city because my parents got caught robbing banks. My sister earned our fortune by killing anyone who stood in her way.”

The only baseline at our table didn’t back down. “You said before that your parents were both born rich, and they were robbing banks because they were bored. And killing anyone who stands in your way isn’t that impressive if no one stands in your way.”

Delphie stood up suddenly, sending her chair clattering back, and slammed her hands against the table. The other patrons at the cafe stared and started edging away, but the girls didn’t pay them any mind. I pulled Yolanda close, but otherwise didn’t move. I wanted to be close enough to stop the girls if they came to blows.

“Shu Zhu killed nearly three hundred people before my sister stopped him,” she said quietly, dangerously. “He was picking off murids, specifically, because they didn’t have any protection. My sister cut through his army by herself to save the hostages.”

Pam gave her a dull look. “One sociopath and his drinking buddies hardly counts as an army.”

“Butler himself couldn’t defeat—”

One green, understaffed company does not represent the full might of Necessarius.”

“Girls, please calm down…”

Suddenly, Pam whipped out her pistol and pointed it at Delphie’s head.

Now the rest of us, including the rest of the customers, scooted back hastily. Pam was the only one armed, and none of us had any buffs that would even the playing field. Even a maintenance worker in the background, installing speakers in the corner, got off his ladder and took cover.

Again, the girls didn’t seem to notice. In fact, they both had calm, almost serene looks on their faces. It was disturbing as hell.

“Call them off,” Pam ordered in a level voice.

Delphie didn’t flinch, but she did allow a razor-thin smile to spread across her face. “Lower your gun.”

“You started this, you first. Call off your mice.”

Mice? What was she talking about?

Then I spotted something moving around her ankles, and it made sense.

While they were arguing, Delphie had used her pheromones to summon a small swarm of mice—half a dozen or so, it seemed—and prepare them to attack. Pam seemed to have noticed earlier than intended. It wasn’t quite a Mexican standoff, since the gun would kill far faster than the mice, but Delphie could at least ensure she didn’t die alone.

“All right, this has gone too far.” I turned to see the speaker, a tall black-furred kemo with the ‘sarian black and red band tied around his arm, pointing a shotgun at Pam. “Peacekeepers. Weapons down, everyone.”

The baseline ignored his order and narrowed her eyes. “Not until she calls off the vermin.”

I heard the sound of a safety clicking off, and saw the Peacekeeper’s partner, another kemo of undetermined culture (something with fluffy ears), pointing a revolver at Delphie. “Sounds fair to me.”

“Tch,” Delphie muttered. “Few minutes too late, boys.” But I heard a quiet puff of air, like when someone blows on a dog whistle, and the mice clustered around Pam’s feet withdrew. She holstered her pistol a moment later.

As Delphie sat down, Pam remained standing, glaring at the lawman with the shotgun. “We under arrest?”

“Not unless you want to be,” he replied, not lowering his weapon an inch.

“Good,” the baseline grunted, dropping back into her own chair. “Then shove off. We’re busy.”

Thankfully, the ‘sarians chose not to make anything of the comment, holstering their weapons and withdrawing. The rest of the patrons, including me, Yolanda, and Veda, slowly returned to their seats.

“Get us some shots,” Delphie called to the terrified waitress. “Some shots for a toast. In memory of my sister, warlord of the murids.”

“And you,” Pam added. “In honor of you, the next Alpha.”

Delphie glared at her for a moment…then turned back to the waitress.

“Fur and fang, why not. Two rounds.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 136)

Yes, those demographic numbers are correct. Remember that Domina is a circle with a diameter of a hundred miles. It’s BIG.

Scene 113 – Negatio

NEGATIO

SEENA

“It’s in excessively poor taste,” I said, sipping my drink through the curled straw.

Yolanda shook her had, frowning. “I don’t know, Seena…Necessarius wouldn’t lie like that.”

“I’m with the demon,” Veda admitted. “I mean, I could understand them hiding it, or something like that. But flat-out naming a girl as the Composer seems way too serious to be some sort of propaganda.”

“But it’s Lizzy,” I insisted. “There’s no way she would hurt a fly. Steve, you’ve met her, right? Other than that gargant thing, I mean.”

The big baseline nodded. “I have. She’s needed a courier more than once. I can’t believe that she would be the Composer. It’s…” he shook his head. “It’s impossible to even consider.”

Delphie just sighed. “Guys, its a weird situation. We don’t know what’s going on. I mean, super powers are involved.”

“She’s got a point,” Jelena put in. “The prevailing theory on the internet is that the Composer is some sort of body-jumper, and Greene is just the latest victim.”

“I think I’d prefer if it really was her,” Pam mused. “I don’t like the idea of someone able to just jump into my body whenever they feel like it.”

I snorted. “Whatever happened to all that Darwinist crap about weeding out the weak?”

The baseline scowled. “Don’t do that. This is different.”

“Why? Because you can’t defend against it?”

“No, because it takes away free will. I have the same problem with those mind-control pheromones they’re working on.”

Delphie blinked. “Wait, the what?”

I ignored the murid. “And what, death doesn’t take away freedom?”

She met my gaze evenly. “Death is inevitable for everyone; moving around when someone dies—that is, killing them—is morally inconsequential. Mind control is not inevitable. It is a deliberate assault on the freedoms of another.”

Yolanda put her head on the table. “Velvet hell, can we please not get into another argument? Especially not the old Darwinist/Transhumanist one. It seems like all we do these days is argue.”

Our resident deer kemo just shrugged. “We live in difficult times. It’s to be expected that everyone will have a different idea how to fix it.”

The succubus waved her hand. “Let’s at least change the subject. Since Lizzy is the Composer—”

“She’s not,” Steve cut in instantly.

“…okay, fine. Since Lizzy is being mind controlled by the Composer or whatever, what does that mean? What will change?”

Veda checked something on her phone and answered without looking up. “It probably means the ‘sarians will shoot her in the face, and then she’ll jump to a new body.”

“Why are we even talking about this?” I muttered. “Let’s ignore the ridiculousness of Lizzy doing anything violent. It’s not our fight.”

“She’s your friend though, right?” Yolanda asked with a quirk of her head. “You have to think about this at least a little. What will you do if you see her again?”

“I…” I adjusted my daygoggles, stalling for time. “I…”

“Hey guys, look at this.” Veda leaned forward, showing her phone to all of us. I leaned forward, eager for any escape from the uncomfortable questions.

The small screen had a picture of a blood-drenched room, with what looked like bodies strewn everywhere, though it was hard to really tell at that size.

Jelena frowned. “I can’t even tell what that is. A murder scene?”

The cherve nodded. “Yeah, over in West Central. An inn got hit, and everyone’s dead.”

I narrowed my eyes, though I doubt anyone would have noticed. “I see where this is going. You think Lizzy did it?”

Veda shrugged. “You tell me. I think it’s that inn you said she likes—Thor’s Rest?”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Steve said with a barely-contained snarl. “It could easily be a coincidence.”

She shrugged again. “Maybe. But the Hammer himself was there.”

Kevin, who had thus far been completely silent, occupied with his drink, looked up in shock. “Mjolnir was there?”

“Apparently he moonlights as a bouncer, for whatever reason. He was killed too, his heart ripped right out of his chest.”

“Gods of men and darkness,” Pam whispered, a look of horror on her face that was mirrored by Kevin’s expression. “If she killed Thor’s Hammer…”

Kevin looked like he was about to throw up. “He was the strongest warrior the giants had. If he could be defeated…”

“Bleeding dusk, that’s not the point!” Jelena snapped, pounding her fist on the table hard enough to make our drinks jump. Thankfully, none of them fell over. “That stupid old titan was the only thing keeping the culture from descending into all-out war. He was dating a Jotuun, and his sister was a troll. With one murder, that’s all gone. The giants are finished unless someone starts damage control right now.”

“And she’ll be doing the opposite,” I noted with a sigh, familiar with the tactic to some point. The Mals taught that assassination wasn’t enough; you had to make sure the target’s death made enough of a splash so they couldn’t just be replaced. Lizzy…the Composer would make sure this didn’t go smoothly.

“Why do I have the feeling our lives are suddenly a lot more complicated?” Delphie said with a sigh. “Lizzy has always been a bit unpredictable, but now…”

“It’s not her,” Steve insisted. “Stop saying its her. Its not.”

I leaned back in my chair, staring up at the sky.

“Maybe, maybe not. But something is going to change, no matter what.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 113)

Short, yes. Extra update Wednesday.

Scene 101 – Caelo Cecidisse

CAELO CECIDISSE

DELPHIE

“So,” I said bluntly. “Heaven has fallen.”

“Just the one,” Pam grunted.

“And it will be back up soon,” Yolanda added insistently. “It’s only been…six hours? Six hours or so, and they’ve already started rebuilding. The Draculas and the ‘sarians were able to take care of everything.”

Pam chuckled darkly. “Vampires helping rebuild a Heaven. Never thought I’d see the day.”

I scratched behind the ears of the mouse cradled in my lap. “Well, I’m sorry that I think one-seventh of the angels being dead or screaming is worth worrying about. Clearly I’m just overreacting.”

“It’s not that bad,” Zusa cut in. “I mean, most of the Chronians got away, right?”

Seena snorted. “Does it matter?”

Simon rubbed his forehead, between the horns. “Nine Hells sis, not you too…”

The Mal threw up her hands. “What? They assassinated my boss, and I’m not allowed to be a little pissed at them?”

“He wasn’t your boss yet,” I noted absently. I really didn’t want to get dragged into another rehash of the Twilight War. At least there weren’t any angels around, so it probably wouldn’t get physically violent.

“He was one of the better men in the city, and he got killed for no better reason than because he’s nocturnal.”

Veda quirked her head. “He was also the warlord of the Mals. He was an assassin, dearest. Maybe a moral one, but he definitely wasn’t innocent.”

Seena sipped her coffee. “Yeah, yeah. That’s what everyone says.”

“Probably ’cause it’s true.”

“Shove off, Headlights,” Jelena muttered. “A lot of people at this table have lost friends to angels.”

Zusa frowned. “That doesn’t mean we have to perpetuate the cycle of hatred. People are dead. Can’t we just call it a tragedy and ignore everything else?”

“Maybe once vamps stop getting killed in the street.” She shook her head. “Seriously, I think if I saw the Composer today I’d give him a medal.”

Yolanda glanced between the two, concerned. “You guys usually don’t get involved. What up?”

“There was an attack when I was still being held by the fey,” Jelena explained. “Mostly hit the Belians, but also the daevas and the ghouls.” She took another swig of coffee. “The cute Akoman I had my eye on got killed by some glowling you hadn’t even earned his knives.”

Pam spoke up. “You were gonna date a daeva?”

“Maybe,” the Glasyan muttered. “Never gonna know now.”

Something tugged at my subconscious, and I sniffed, trusting my enhanced olfactory senses to explain the situation. They didn’t disappoint.

I reached forward—careful not to dislodge the mouse in my lap—grabbed Jelena’s ‘coffee’ and sniffed it. “Fur and fang, what the hell is this?” It was clearly alcohol, but not of a kind I had ever seen.

Jelena snatched it back, spilling a little in the process. I swear the table started to sizzle where the liquid hit. “It’s just rum, Mom. No big deal.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I’ve smelled rum before, and—”

Seena hiccuped. “Seaweed rum. Got some as a thank-you gift from that Dagonite we rescued last week. Eric.”

I shivered. Just remembering the events of seven days ago made my heart race, and not in the good way. Caught between two gargants was not the way I expected to go.

Of course, thinking about my friends drinking seaweed rum wasn’t really helping my nerves any. “Ah…tell me you guys at least watered that down with something.”

Seena nodded sagely. “Yes. Rum.”

“Whelp, I guess I know what I’m getting you for Christmas,” Simon said bitterly. “I’ll pay to repair your alcohol-induced blindness.”

His sister winced, but still took another swig. “It’s not that bad…”

The sibriex fixed her with an icy glare. “Yes, it is.”

Yolanda stared at her boyfriend. “…am I missing something here?”

Seena adjusted her daygoggles, annoyed at having to explain. “Our mother was an alcoholic.” She shrugged. “Also, we were born blind. I’m pretty sure that’s unrelated, but I dunno.”

The little blonde demon bit her lip. “So you were blind for the first…” She squinted as she did some quick math in her head. “Three years of your lives?”

“Seven,” Simon corrected. “Toys like that weren’t available right off the bat, you know.”

She blushed. “I-I’m sorry! I didn’t—”

Zusa patted her hand in a friendly manner. “Most of us didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on when we were kids. I’m sure Simon understands.”

The sibriex didn’t say anything.

“I said I’m sure Simon understands.”

He suddenly winced and grabbed his leg under the table. “Ow! Why’d you kick me?”

The Nosferatu just smiled innocently. “Oh, no reason. You’re just being an ass again.”

“What—hey, I was just thinking.” He rubbed his leg, or more specifically his ankle. “This whole thing just reminded me of Jacob.”

“That would be…” I tapped my finger on the table. “I can’t remember. Was he one of the ones in the shootout at the beginning of the semester?”

Simon shook his head. “No, that was David. Jacob died years ago. I don’t think you ever met him.”

“Hm. Who else died in that one? The shootout, I mean? It was in vamp territory, so…”

“Orbek,” Seena noted, sipping at her drink again. Simon frowned and snatched it away from her. She grimaced, but didn’t protest. “I think you remember him. Young orc with fighting claws? Some Levisans snipped them off with bolt cutters. David killed most of them, but…” She shrugged. “All he had was a pistol. He got killed pretty quickly.”

Simon sniffed the drink and winced. “Ugh, Nine Hells, how can you—nevermind. I thought you didn’t know how David died.”

His sister shrugged. “Malach told me.”

Pam blinked. “That’s an angel name.”

It was also a name I recognized. “He’s still sweet on you?”

The vampire assassin shrugged and slumped against the tabletop. Her answer was muffled by her arms. “I guess. He didn’t try and kill me, anyways. He just thought I might want to know how a friend of mine kickstarted the Twilight War.”

“Again,” Jelena deadpanned.

“Again,” Seena corrected, with a small pained smile. “Though the war kinda lost steam with the Composer and everything.”

“I wonder if that was the point?” Pam mused, leaning back in her chair and staring up at the sky. “Everyone’s been wondering about the Composer. None of his actions make sense.” She shrugged. “Maybe he’s trying to be an enemy for us to fight, to unite against.”

“Spare us the Social Darwinism,” Seena grunted. “Over three thousand people are dead. Plus Chronias.”

Pam leaned forward again and shook her head. “No, that’s exactly my point. Only a few hundred people are dead. Three thousand are screaming—and if there’s a cure out there, then suddenly the deaths are barely a blip on the radar.”

Simon closed his eyes. “Pam, you…” he shook his head. “I’ve heard that argument before, but I just don’t buy it. There’s too much chaos and destruction.”

The plain baseline shrugged. “Well, yeah. It wouldn’t be much of a threat if he didn’t do any damage at all. But it’s still less than the angels and vampires would do if they had a chance.”

Yolanda gripped her boyfriend’s arm to get his attention. “You know…my uncle did say they were worried that the next Twilight War would drag the whole city into it. Maybe that’s related?”

“I think you’re all thinking about this too short-term,” Veda said slowly, not looking up from her phone. “Zaphkiel sponsored a lot of orphanages, and he made sure the kids were raised right. No brainwashing them with angelic propaganda, just letting them grow up. Who knows what will happen now, with him out of the picture?”

The mouse in my lap perked his head up, probably hearing something I couldn’t, and leapt off my lap. I ignored it, in favor of pondering the implications of the cherve’s statement. “So you think maybe this had something to do with toppling the Watcher from his position as leader?”

“Erathoal is in charge of education,” Jelena muttered. I was surprised she had been paying attention. “Maybe he wants more propaganda?”

It was a sign of how drunk the vampire was that I had to explain politics to her. “The Arch-Saints don’t fight amongst each other, you know that.” The angels in general were pretty good about keeping out of civil wars, but they weren’t perfect. The Hebdomad, however, were close friends, and had founded the culture together. I couldn’t imagine them turning on each other.

Simon leaned back in his chair, as if exhausted. “Nine Hells, its obvious. Why didn’t I think of it before?”

Other than the drunk girls, we all stared at him skeptically. Think of what?

He shook his head. “Don’t you see? This isn’t about politics or propaganda or whatever. Remember the bats? They spread the fastest, because it was a vampire domain.”

Pam frowned. “Yeah, so?”

“So?” the demon shook his head again. “So this attack was to weaken the angels, the natural enemy of the vampires, and the ones most capable of fighting them. So that when the Composer starts sending them to infect the city, there’s less resistance.” He gripped Yolanda’s hand gently.

I closed my eyes as I figured it out. “He’s preparing for his end game.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 101)

This…could have gone better.

Oh, and the Dagonite just delivered the rum to Seena and Jelena today. It took him a while to find them.

Scene 94 – Homines et Monstra

HOMINES ET MONSTRA

SEENA

Out of the corner of my eye, I registered my brother protecting his girlfriend with his own body, but I knew I had bigger things to worry about. The gargant’s iron-armored hand was flailing about the store, searching for us, and it was only a matter of time before it found someone.

I dove in the opposite direction of the trembling couple, towards the baseline with the guns, hoping that if nothing else, I could grab one of his weapons and maybe take out one of the iron-lord’s eyes.

For his part, the bland man was doing a much better job than five minutes ago. He seemed to know what he was doing, now that we were in the heat of battle and he didn’t have to think as much.

He ran away from the gargant, heading for the back of the store, and vaulted over the counter separating the main store from the back rooms. He pointed a submachine gun in my direction, and I winced, expecting to get killed by a hail of lead.

When he fired, however, he only hit the giant hand that had been about to crush me. The beast’s iron skin kept it from actually being hurt by the attack, but it definitely gave it pause, and I took the opportunity to scramble to the back as well, tugging the Dagonite and Zusa behind me.

I cursed myself for getting distracted watching the baseline. I should have been paying more attention to my surroundings.

I wasn’t a soldier, as my Mal superiors kept reminding me, but I should have been better than I was. What if an angel burst into a class I was teaching, and the children were hurt because I wasn’t paying attention?

There was another roar from the gargant, and I was yanked back to the present. This was my problem. All the buffs in the world wouldn’t save me if I kept getting distracted.

I scampered over to the baseline. “Hi. I’m Seena. You are?”

He stared at me for a moment before answering. “Adam Anders. A friend of Yolanda’s. And Laura’s, actually.”

“Good. Great.” I jerked my thumb in the direction of the rampaging monster. “She ever tell you how to deal with an iron-lord gargant?”

“No.” He checked an ammo pouch and cursed. “And I don’t have anything with the punch to hurt it. Any better ideas?”

“We just have to exploit its weaknesses.”

The gunman frowned. “Okay…and those are what, exactly?”

There was a muffled boom from the street outside; it sounded like something had exploded. A grenade? No, something bigger.

“Seena,” Adam said, grabbing my arm. “Focus. How do we kill it?”

Jelena slid up next to me, wincing in the light. She had lost her daygoggles at some point; I imagined the constantly shifting daylight as the gargant moved around was torturous. “We really don’t have time to wait. Sooner or later, it’s gonna get bored and find something else to kill.” She glanced at the creature and immediately regretted it, wincing towards the dark rear of the store. “It’s a miracle it’s still here, really.”

“Yeah,” Adam muttered. “A miracle that’s trying to kill us.” He holstered his shotgun, a massive thing that looked like it was designed for use against tanks, but was little use here. “What are those weaknesses you mentioned?”

I thought for a moment before speaking. “If it gets cold enough, it will break itself to pieces.”

He looked thoughtful. “Like ice cold?”

The Dagonite I had dragged along barked out a laugh. “More like liquid nitrogen cold.”

Adam rubbed his forehead. “Wonderful. I don’t—” the gargant roared again as its thrashings managed to collapse part of the ceiling on its hand. It wouldn’t actually hurt it, but it gave the others enough time to join us. “I don’t suppose anyone has liquid nitrogen on hand?”

Pam plopped next to me casually, opposite of the spot Simon and Yolanda had chosen, seemingly unconcerned about the amount of danger she was in. “Why should we even bother? Let the gargants run wild.”

Everyone stared at her.

She didn’t seem to care. “Think about it. The monsters—all the monsters—fill a vital role in the city, by melting away weakness in the crucible of battle. Hell, the screamers are the same way. The weak get killed, and the strong—”

Every single gun in the room was suddenly pointed at her face. Including her own; she had left it on the ground next to me, and I snatched it up.

“Stop talking,” I said, speaking for everyone. “Right now.”

The red-haired girl scowled and looked away, muttering something about how we were all sheep.

I lowered her gun slowly and took a deep breath. “Okay, so any chance anyone knows a place nearby that would have something cold enough? Actual liquid nitrogen would be best.”

The green-haired man nodded. “There’s a Niflheim outpost down the street. They probably have something.”

“You moron,” the Dagonite muttered. “There are gargants attacking and you didn’t think to mention that there were frost giants nearby?”

The man shrugged uncomfortably. “Yeah. I’m not even supposed to know about it. What’s the big deal? I didn’t realize they could help until now.”

“No use crying over spilled milk,” Adam declared, checking his submachine gun. “If these guys are anything like an ogre I know, they’ll have lots more than just liquid nitrogen on hand. We just need to get there fast enough so that there’s something left to save.”

My brother finally spoke up. “We can’t all go. Some of us need to keep the iron-lord distracted.”

“I’ll go,” Veda said instantly. “I have some friends in the Nifs. I might be able to help.”

“And me, obviously,” Adam added.

I nodded. “I’ll go too, in case we need nighteyes. That should be enough.”

“Me too,” Jelena volunteered.

“No!” nearly everyone shouted at once. Well, not Adam, the Dagonite, or the green-haired baseline, but everyone else.

The Glasyan glanced around. “What the hell? Why not?”

Adam, bless his crazy little heart, managed to come up with a plausible lie before awkward silence fell. “Because if they have some lights to knock out vampires, this way we’ll only need to carry one back instead of two.” He shrugged. “Of course, you can still come if you want, but we’ll probably end up leaving you there.”

Jelena seemed to accept that. Good thing, too; we couldn’t have the fey watching through her eyes at a time like this.

“We should hurry,” Veda muttered, glancing at the gargant in our path. “It’s gonna pry the roof off sooner or later.”

Adam nodded. “Agreed. Everyone else, hide deeper in the store. There’s probably a back exit you can escape through if things get really bad. Let’s go. Uh…” he paused. “Green-hair—”

“My name is Eric.”

Adam didn’t miss a beat. “You’re right behind me. Stay close. The kemo and Seena are next. Everyone good?” We nodded. “Good, let’s go.”

The baseline led the way, keeping his gun trained on the gargant’s searching hand like a pro. The rest of us followed a bit hesitantly. After all, Veda didn’t have any weapons, and myself and our green-haired new friend only had pistols.

Getting out was easier than I expected. Avoiding the hand wasn’t too hard, and the shattered storefront meant we didn’t have to use one small exit. We just had to slip out the corner when the beast wasn’t looking.

The second we were outside, Eric pointed down the street in the direction the iron-lord had come from, and we set off. Behind us, our friends were still keeping the big metal ape occupied, and farther back the blind-rammer was still rooting around for something or other.

In front of us turned out to be a bigger problem. Although the street was empty of pedestrians, all of them having fled in the face of the fey’s monsters, they had left behind haphazardly-parked cars and a few burning wrecks. It would be impossible to get through it all quickly.

“Always the same,” Adam muttered under his breath. “One day I’ll find a disaster where everyone has parked carefully out of the way.”

I raised an eyebrow under my daygoggles. “Seen a lot of monster attacks recently?”

He ignored me. “We need to head to the rooftops. It will be faster that way.”

Our new friend Eric blanched. “I—I’m not good with heights. There’s an alley we can—”

Veda snorted impressively. Although it didn’t look like it from the outside, her nostrils were enhanced to give her sense of smell a boost, so when she wanted to, she could make a lot of noise. “Use the alleys, when there are fey around? C’mon, you know they’ll have monsters swarming down there. I’m with the baseline. Let’s go up.”

The green-haired man looked around nervously. “Maybe I could just tell you the way, and you could—”

But I had had enough of this. People were dying. Acrophobia was the least of our problems right now. I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him towards the closest ‘scraper built with kemo’s handholds. This was kemo territory, so most of them were built to make climbing as easy as possible.

None of us had claws, of course, but we would be able to scramble up pretty easily. Each handhold was a few inches deep and wide; more than enough.

As Adam holstered his guns, I clambered up, going as fast as I could while still being careful. Which was actually pretty fast, despite my inexperience. The handholds made it only a little bit harder than using a ladder.

Even with Eric protesting the entire way up, it didn’t take more than ten minutes to go up thirty floors. Adam scanned the empty roof quickly, then nodded.

“Good. I was half expecting an ambush. Eric, which way?”

But the green-haired man was laying near the edge of the roof, gasping. He couldn’t hear us.

Veda’s furry ears twitched. “You know, maybe it wasn’t the best of ideas to drag him up here…”

“Well, too late now,” Adam noted. He grabbed the man by his disheveled collar. “Up and at ’em, buddy. Which way is the outpost?”

Our poor guide raised a trembling arm, pointing farther away from the rampaging gargants. As if on a signal, there was a great roar from behind us; I turned to see the iron-lord thrashing in a cloud of dust as more of the ‘scraper our friends were hiding in collapsed.

“We don’t have much time,” I warned. “We need to go now.”

“One second,” Adam promised. “Eric, what’s the address of the outpost?”

“Th-three seven two one. Should be the second-to-last building on this side of the street. The entire ‘scraper is theirs.”

The armed baseline patted him on the shoulder. “That’s all we need. Stay put, we’ll be back soon.”

If Eric responded, we didn’t hear it. Adam bounded off in the indicated direction, and it was all Veda and I could do to keep up. Not bad for a baseline.

If this wasn’t kemo territory, our rooftop flight would have been significantly slower. However, for most of their subcultures running on roofs was only slightly less common than running along the streets, so most buildings were designed to accommodate that. Zip lines, simple bridges…all sorts of nifty little things sped us on our way.

Besides, we didn’t have all that far to go, really. Five jumps later, we landed on the roof of the second-to-last ‘scraper.

I glanced at the street address helpfully painted on a small sign near the edge. “This is it. Should we climb down to street level, or just use the stairs?”

After thinking for a moment, Adam proclaimed “Stairs. Less chance the fey are watching up here, and the giants probably won’t be able to ambush us from this direction. At least, not before we’ve had a chance to explain ourselves.” He nodded at the stairwell in the middle of the roof, protected by a large metal door. “Can one of you girls pick that?”

Veda sauntered over to the door, removing a lockpick set from her pocket. I had left mine at home, so I didn’t bother trying to do it myself. The alarm would sound once she started, of course, but hopefully we’d still have time to explain ourselves before the Nifs started shooting.

“You going to be fine with just that?” Adam asked as we waited, indicating Pam’s pistol, which I had taken with me. “You probably need a higher caliber for giants.”

I shrugged. “Hopefully, we won’t need to shoot at all.”

The baseline laughed heartily, then stopped suddenly when he noticed I wasn’t joining in. “Wait, you’re serious?”

I frowned. “Yeah, of course. There’s a fey attack nearby, I’m sure the Nifs will see reason.”

He snorted and checked his submachine gun. “This is the same city where people were perfectly willing to fight a civil war while a zombie apocalypse dropped on their heads. Somehow, I don’t think a couple gargants will be enough to convince these guys we need to work together.”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Veda called. We looked over to see that she had gotten the door open. “They’ll be here soon.” She stood to the side, to let us go first. Made sense; she wasn’t armed.

Adam brushed past her quickly, gun raised, with me close behind. A few seconds after I entered the stairwell, I heard Veda’s feet behind me, and then the door closed.

It was dark enough so that I couldn’t see with my daygoggles on. As we exited the stairwell I moved them to my forehead, making it seem like the entire room was lit as bright as day. My eyes watered a little, and I blinked to clear them, but they slowly adjusted. The room wasn’t very big, and was mostly empty except for what looked like the remains of an unmanned barricade oriented towards the stairs we had just exited.

Adam noticed my discomfort. “I can see well enough. You might want to leave the goggles on.”

I shook my head. “No, we’ll need the advantage. Besides, I’d be basically blind with them on.”

“I think you’re blind enough without them.”

Adam instantly turned his gun on the man who had spoken; a small Mexican boy with angry eyes, nonchalantly standing in the doorway to the next room. It took me a second to recognize him.

“Kevin?” I said. I motioned for Adam to lower his gun; he did so grudgingly. “What are you doing here?”

My brother’s roommate shrugged as he holstered his Raaze on his hip. “Seemed like a good spot to hide. You?”

“Looking for something to stop those gargants outside.”

“Isn’t there a gun shop nearby?” a friendly voice from behind Kevin said. The smaller man stepped aside, and Steve walked through the doorway. My brain did a double take. Was he a giant? He was almost big enough, but I had always assumed the dark-skinned baseline was…well, baseline.

Veda managed to get me back to the matter at hand just by answering the man’s question. “It’s a blind-rammer and an iron-lord. It’s gonna take a bit more than a couple god slayers.”

Steve frowned. I think it was the first time I hadn’t seen him smiling. “Blind-rammer…those are the gargant trackers, right? They hunt something down by scent? What are they looking for?”

I shrugged, which seemed to be enough of an answer for him. Who knew what the fey ever wanted?

“It’s not important,” Adam said decisively. “We need to talk to whoever is in charge of this outpost. Get something that can kill the iron-lord, at least.”

Kevin nodded. “Fair enough. I know the Colossus in charge, I’ll take you to him.” He headed back to the stairwell we had just exited and quickly disappeared downstairs.

I was almost too surprised to follow. He knew the local warlord? It really seemed more logical to assume Steve.

The large man seemed to understand my confusion. As he walked over to the stairs, he shrugged, giving me a silly little grin. “Don’t look at me. I just followed him here. I don’t know anything about the place.”

I shook my head to clear away distracting thoughts and followed the rest of the group down. There would be time for all that later.

Kevin led us down to the third floor from the bottom, where the Nifs seemed to have decided to make their stand. I had to put my daygoggles back on because of the light, but that was about the only problem. The giants parted to let us through, apparently trusting Kevin wasn’t leading enemies into their base.

There weren’t that many, maybe half a dozen. But all the giants were bare chested and heavily armed with weapons that looked too big for me to even lift. At first I was a bit surprised by their choice of clothing—or lack thereof—but then I noticed them sweating and realized what it was.

Nifs liked cold weather, and usually kept their bases at around freezing. However, this outpost had apparently been a secret, so they were forced to keep everything at normal temperature to avoid arousing suspicions. The cool room must have felt like a sauna to them.

Kevin glanced around, frowning. “Where’s Eva?” he asked the giants. “I need to talk to her about something.”

The biggest one, a bearded man almost eight feet tall, shrugged and rested his shotgun on his shoulder. At least I think it was a shotgun. It was big enough to be mistaken for a missile launcher. “She left the second the gargants attacked. Said she wasn’t going to let them kill people.”

My brother’s small roommate—made even smaller by the giants surrounding him—cursed under his breath. “Titan’s testes. Of course she did. And why didn’t she bring the rest of you? She couldn’t believe she’d have a chance on her own.”

“She thought a half-dozen Nifs appearing in the middle of kemo territory would be suspicious.”

I frowned. “Makes sense. Who’s domain is this, anyway?” While some of the domains were mostly permanent, such as the skyscrapers belonging to the vampires or angels, most of them were fluid, and changed every few weeks as the subcultures gained and lost territory. This area was generally kemo, but other than that I didn’t pay attention to who was in charge.

“Canes,” he explained. “Since a couple weeks ago.” He shrugged. “It’s actually been pretty quiet over here. Nothing really worth fighting for, not with the screamers distracting everyone.”

Adam rubbed his forehead. “The politics and so on are interesting—really, they are—but we need weapons. You got some kind of…” he wiggled his hand back and forth. “Liquid nitrogen…thing?”

The giant snorted. “I wish. Nothing but basic air conditioning, and that died during the last attack. We do have some rocket launchers, but those aren’t gonna be enough.”

Veda scratched her chin. “Maybe…depending on what kind of air conditioning set up you have, I might be able to rig something…”

Adam glanced at her in surprise. “Really? You can do that?”

The cherve rolled her eyes. “Don’t act so surprised. You don’t know anything about me. I’m majoring in Military Engineering, and my main class this semester is Scavenging and Repair. If the air conditioner isn’t enough, I’ll build you a nuke out of a few sticks of gum.”

The baseline took the joke in stride. “No nukes, please. We’re trying to save the area, not level the entire city.” He nodded to the giant who had been speaking. “Honored Titan, please, show my friend to your air conditioner.”

The titan signaled to one of his men, who gently pulled Veda in the direction of the stairs. As they started going up, she turned back. “I’ll also need some tools and those rocket launchers, if anyone wants me to do anything useful.”

Adam glanced at the titan, who nodded. He turned back to the kemo. “It will be up in a minute. Just do your best.”

Veda grinned. “My best? Of course not. You already said no nukes.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 94)

Not much to say about this one, really. I think it came out well, though.

EDIT:  For some reason, this missed its scheduled update.  Gonna have to look into that.

Scene 93 – Expertus

EXPERTUS

SIMON

It was Friday afternoon, two days since Yolanda and I started dating. It was going better than I expected; most of my relationships crashed and burned by this point. Either they decided I wasn’t worth dealing with, or I accidentally insulted them, or they turned out to be a lesbian. Okay, that last one only happened once, and at least Jelena and I were still friends.

So I was understandably concerned when she called me this morning, saying she wanted to talk. I was terrified that I had done something wrong again, and this would go the same way as all my other relationships. Or maybe she was pregnant. That was never fun.

Thankfully, it turned out to be just poor word choice on her part.

The bland baseline reached across the table to shake my hand. “Hi, I’m Adam. I’m in Applied Firearms with Yolanda.”

I shook his hand a little hesitantly. He had a good strong grip, which wasn’t unexpected for a gunner, but I was still reeling.

“Sorry,” I said slowly. “I…” I glanced at Yolanda; she was smiling innocently. I turned my attention back to her friend. “Sorry. Didn’t really know what to expect.”

He grinned. “Living in this city, I’d assume you’d learn to expect anything.”

“Well, that’s just it. You’re not from the city, are you?” I shrugged. “I guess I was just expecting something other than a baseline.”

“That’s pretty much exactly what outsiders are,” Yolanda noted with a smile.

“Except for the cyborgs,” Adam noted mildly, as he sipped his coffee. “About sixty percent of the population has metal bits instead of fleshy ones.”

I stared…then frowned. “And now you’re just screwing with me.”

He grinned over his coffee cup. “And you’re smarter than you look.”

I rubbed my forehead, between my horns. “Oh, this is going to be…interesting.”

Yolanda gripped my hand. “Simon, be nice.”

Adam put his coffee down, frowning. “Wait, Simon…I’ve heard that name before.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, yeah. Not exactly rare.”

“No, that’s not it.” He reached into his pocket, searching for something. “She said a purple demon named Simon…crap, what was the last name?” He retrieved a slip of crumpled paper and glanced at it. “…Lancaster?”

Now it was my turn to frown. “Yeah, that’s me. What’s the problem?”

He rubbed his forehead, muttering curses under his breath. “Uh…I’m a friend of Laura’s. Laura Medina? You guys knew each other from…somewhere.”

“Yeah, from before she moved.” The waitress placed my drink in front of me; I thanked her and took a sip. “Ack, too hot…sorry, but why did Laura tell you about me?”

“She, uh…” he floundered for a second before finding the right words. “I’ve only met like three people beyond my roommate and my girlfriend, so she keeps trying to introduce me to new people.”

I blinked. “You’re dating Laura?”

Thankfully he had only just started reaching for his drink; otherwise he would have probably spat it all over us in surprise. “Wait, what—no, no! I’m dating Lily! Lily, uh…” He frowned. “You know, its really hard to describe people when half of you don’t have last names.”

Yolanda chuckled. “Don’t worry, we know who you’re talking about.”

I was still skeptical. “You’re the baseline she’s dating?”

“Um…yes.” He scratched briefly behind his ear. “Why?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know, I kinda figured it was just a stupid rumor. She’s never gone steady with anyone before.” I paused, thinking. “Unless Malcanthet counts.”

“She doesn’t,” Yolanda said immediately and firmly. “By any stretch of the definition. How could you even think that?”

I winced. “I just…c’mon, from a certain point of view—”

“No. Not from any point of view. Seriously, where’d you get your info? The gossip blogs?”

I sighed. “Let’s just drop it, okay?”

Adam, thankfully, swooped in quickly to help change the subject. “Laura mentioned you have a sister, Simon. Where’s she?”

I latched on to the distraction quickly. “Seena? She’s off with her culture right now. Probably more training.”

He took another sip of his coffee. I noticed that he had a small white cloth concealed in his hand. What was that for? Was he worried about spills or something? “Laura said she’s a vampire.”

“Yeah, a Mal. Got recruited right before school started.”

“Can’t say I know them.”

I blinked, surprised. The Mals weren’t exactly a huge subculture, but still…then I nodded in understanding. “Ah, right, most of what you’ve heard about the cultures would be through Lily. She doesn’t like talking about the Mals.”

The baseline frowned. “Really? What’s so bad about them? I mean, she avoids any talk of succubi or daevas like the plague, but—”

“The Mals are assassins,” Yolanda explained. She waved her hand airily. “Lily has some weird thing about that. Doesn’t even think about it if she has to.” She bit her lip adorably and turned to me. “There’s a word for that. I just can’t recall…”

I closed my eyes, trying to remember. “Starts with a ‘p,’ I think…”

“Pacifism?”

I snapped my fingers and pointed at Adam. “Yes, that’s it. She’s a pacifist.”

The baseline stared at each of us in turn. Then he just shook his head. “This goddamned city…”

Yolanda cocked her head questioningly.

He waved the hand that wasn’t holding his coffee—which, I noticed, also had a small white rag concealed. “Don’t worry about it. So you’re a…”

“Sibriex,” I explained. “We invent new ways to use the toy maker. Or…well, the rest of the culture does. I’m really not very good at it.”

He sipped briefly from his coffee. “I thought that was a vampire subculture.”

“You’re probably thinking of the Glasyans. And yeah, they’re basically the same, but for vampires.”

The waitress, a dae with a big bushy tail, sashayed up to the table with an empty glass pitcher balanced on a tray. “You guys all right? Anything else I can get you?”

I smiled politely. “Ah…no. We’re fine, thanks.”

“Well, let me know.” She turned to go.

Turned a little too fast, actually. Her tail smacked me full in the face. I spluttered as hair got in my mouth, and started flailing around, trying to push it away.

That was the exact wrong thing to do. I knocked her off balance, and the platter immediately went flying. She yelped and dodged to the side, while the pitcher landed on the table and shattered.

Glass went flying everywhere. I tried to shield Yolanda, and got small pieces in my back for my trouble. Thankfully it was some kind of safety glass, so it broke it little pebbles rather than razor-sharp shards, but it still hurt like hell.

“God, you guys okay?” I turned to see Adam rushing forward, my enhanced eyes spotting something glinting in both of his fists, still gripping those little white towels. What the hell? Was he coming at us with knives?

I would never learn the answer to that question, because a split second after he leaped out of his chair, a roar shook the entire building.

I looked behind me, past the dae waitress still cowering on the floor, to see what all the fuss was about. It was a street-level open air cafe, so I had a pretty good view of what was going on.

It was a gargant.

A massive one.

It was bigger than a bus—had to be at least thirty feet long and fifteen tall. It had six legs, each as thick as a tree trunk, splayed about its body. Its belly was low to the ground, and a rational part of my mind noted that this probably indicated it was built from some kind of lizard.

It didn’t have a tail, but its entire body was covered in thick plates of cartilage, fitting together like the scales of a crocodile. These were a dull yellow, giving the impression the gargant was armored in gold.

The most distinctive part of its anatomy, however, was the creature’s head. It had no eyes or mouth, and no visible nostrils—though I knew from my studies that there would be a large number of very small ones scattered around its skull. The gargant was blind and deaf, but that was intentional.

I knew from my time with the sibriex that it was a blind-rammer gargant. Not the most dangerous creation of the fey, but dangerous enough, and very hard to kill. But something about it bothered me…

I tabled my thoughts about the gargant itself for the moment, cursing my luck at having been caught in a fey attack. They liked doing one big attack a day—each—so it was inevitable to get caught up in one every once in a while, but they usually didn’t use full gargants.

The beast stumbled forward into a storefront, thankfully one that had anticipated its arrival and evacuated. Metal screeched as the gargant broke concrete and twisted the rebar supports, nosing through the crushed window for…something. What, exactly, was unclear. Blind-rammer gargants were quite rare, so there was little data on the reasons behind their behavior patters.

It was clearly seeking something, though what was impossible to say for certain. Maybe it was trying to track something by smell? It was pretty much the only sense the poor thing had left.

“Grace, get up,” I heard from behind me. I turned to see Adam helping our waitress to her feet. “You need to run.”

The dae blinked. “Wait, what?”

“Run until you can contact MC. Quickly.”

The girl fished for something in her pockets, presumably her phone. “What are you talking about? I can just—”

“The phone’s are down,” the baseline insisted. “I already tried. This is not a random attack.”

The kemo swallowed, then nodded and ran in the opposite direction of the rampaging behemoth.

I mentally noted the fact that Adam seemed to know our clumsy waitress—I was starting to get more than a little suspicious of him, but there were more important things to worry about at the moment. “You think the fey sent this one?”

“Obviously,” he said as he plopped his gun case on the table, opened it up, and took out a massive shotgun. He checked it briefly, then started belting on a bandolier and holster. “But yes, I do think they sent it here for someone specific.”

“That’s what I meant,” I corrected myself. “Obviously the fey sent it. But who for?”

“Damned if I know. Crap, I knew I should have bought more god slayers when I had the chance…”

“Wouldn’t do much good here,” Yolanda muttered. She was clinging to me very tightly, but was otherwise composed. She wasn’t even trembling. Or maybe I just couldn’t feel it under my trembling. “Unless you can get a round through one of its nostrils, we’re pretty much out of luck.”

Adam muttered a curse under his breath. “Not likely. I’m not all that accurate. If Kat was here…” he stopped suddenly.

“Kat?” I asked after a moment.

“Friend of mine,” he explained. “Got too close to some screamers—the bats, actually—and got turned.”

Yolanda winced. “Sorry to hear that. Maybe there’s a cure…”

“Maybe we should save that for later,” I reminded them. “The gargant is coming this way.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t charging yet; it was just lumbering forward, head to the street, sniffing for something. Everyone else had already fled to safety behind it, where it had already searched, but there were still a few of us in front of it. And if we tried to run past it on the relatively narrow street, it would sense us through the vibrations, and likely attack outright.

I glanced around at the other cafe patrons, hoping to see some better weapons, but we didn’t seem to be in luck. Pretty much everyone had a few guns, and there were some nice big shotguns, but the only thing heavy enough to breach its hide would be a missile—and no one carried those around.

Too bad we were in kemo territory. If this were a giant domain, there probably would have been a few missile launchers or portable anti-air weapons stashed around. Something that would have been effective against a blind-rammer, at least.

Well, we didn’t have a chance, and thankfully Adam realized that. He started ordering the shocked patrons away from the lumbering beast while I was still standing around wondering what had happened with the dae. If this had been a random attack, he probably would have saved us all.

Unfortunately, it was not, and crazy as they are, the fey are still quite intelligent when they have reason to be.

The gargant roared again, and I finally realized what had been itching my brain for the past five minutes.

Blind-rammers couldn’t roar. They didn’t have mouths.

Iron-lord gargants, however, could.

Coming around the corner from the other direction, right in the path we were fleeing, was a massive ape-shaped creature, fifty feet tall easily. It knuckle-walked forward hesitantly, eying the screaming and panicking little humans at its feet warily.

A giant ape wouldn’t be that difficult to beat, especially at that size. Take out the knees, and its own weight would quickly do what no amount of bullets could do. That’s why you didn’t see ape-rager gargants and their ilk around any more; everyone knew how to kill them, so the fey didn’t bother making them.

This was far more than a giant ape.

Its flesh was iron.

Thousands, maybe millions of tiny plates of steel were stitched to its skin, so small and so fine that at first glance the creature appeared to be made of metal. I don’t know what arcane process the fey used to get around the Square-Cube Law, but apparently it wasn’t easy, since iron-lord gargants were some of the only ones they used it on.

The ape-thing leaned forward, noon light gleaming off its shiny skull, and bit a pedestrian in half with its razor-sharp teeth.

Blood spewed everywhere, especially on the gargant’s face, and I could hear the sound of crunching bones over the constant screaming, as the beast slowly chewed its meal.

Over all the incoherent cries of terror, I heard a voice I recognized. “Simon!”

“Wait—Seena?”

My sister rushed forward, away from the iron-lord, a number of other people in tow. Some of them I didn’t recognize, and seemed to be random strangers she had grabbed to keep them safe, but I quickly spotted Pam, Veda, Jelena, Delphie, and Zusa.

“We’re cornered, and the phones aren’t working,” Pam said grimly, as my sister glomped me in a bear hug. Behind her, I watched Zusa curse and adjust her daygoggles. “Unless you have a couple tanks in your pocket, we need to find some place to hide.”

“This way,” Adam said with some conviction, dashing off to the right and hopefully out of the path of the gargants. The rest of us followed, and found ourselves ducking into an abandoned storefront. “With luck, the monsters will fight each other.”

“That’s your plan?” one of Seena’s rescues snorted in derision. “The fey use pheromones to control their pets. They don’t attack each other.”

“The Dagonite has the right of it,” another one admitted, a young green-haired man. “New plan, please.”

Seena blinked at the first speaker, looking him up and down. “You’re a Dagonite?”

The man wiggled his hand back and forth. Ish.

“Not really the time,” I reminded them. “Adam, any ideas?”

He frowned. “I’m not really…tactics are Laura’s area.”

I tried to keep my calm. I sure as hell wasn’t a strategist either, but he definitely sounded like he had a better chance at leading us out of this than me. I just had to convince him, first. “Laura isn’t here. What would she tell you to do if she was?”

The baseline thought for a moment, then indicated the clothing racks scattered around the store. “Roll those over to the front, make a barricade. We should be able to hold out until help arrives.”

“Do you really think that will help?” Zusa asked, in a tone of voice that very specifically did not imply that she thought Adam was a moron. She really was a born diplomat.

“It’s mostly a visual barricade,” Adam explained, as he started tugging the racks over. The rest of us leaped to help. “Hopefully they won’t notice us.”

There was a roar, and the storefront exploded inward, showering everyone in glittering pebbles of glass.

The iron-lord gargant poked its head in, searching with its bright eyes, and then reached in the store to try and grab some fresh victims. It was all I could do to shield Yolanda, and that would be only slightly more protection than tissue paper if the beast decided we were it’s target.

Nothing left to do but pray.

Behind the Scenes (scene 93)

Adam didn’t pull that “60%” figure out of nowhere; that’s the percentage of people in Domina who identify as part of one of the cultures. That doesn’t mean that’s the number of people who use the toy maker. Everyone uses the toy maker, except the changelings and the clays, who account for less than 0.1% of the population.

Extra update Wednesday to make up for all the site issues everyone has had to suffer through.