Tag Archives: Ferenil

Scene 269 – Sollemne

SOLLEMNE

DEREK

A party felt like a stupid idea.

But we needed this, dammit. After months of stumbling from crisis to crisis, we needed something that didn’t involve monsters or assassinations or superpowered goddesses from the future.

More people had come than I expected. In addition to the rest of the Paladins and the retinue, five of Akane’s kensei—plus both her nephews—had come, and were chatting amiably with the half-dozen scientists Laura had brought. It seemed like they had met before at NHQ, and were now discussing some old missions. Akane had more kensei, but they seemed to mostly be busy right now.

The real surprise was that Simon, Seena, and all their friends had come as well. I recognized Simon’s girlfriend and Eccretia of the Never-Known Thieves and her bodyguards (who had been polite enough to leave their guns at home), but the last girl, who Seena had called Veda, was unfamiliar. She wore a big concealing cloak and seemed to be avoiding me, which usually meant that I had tried to kill her at some point. Oh well, as long as she didn’t start something, it was fine.

“Nice party,” Adam said with a smirk as he walked up, Lily on his arm.

She elbowed him in the ribs. “Be nice.”

He rolled his eyes. “Sorry.”

“I know this might seem like a bad time to throw a party—”

He laughed. “You kidding? It’s the perfect time. I grew up in New York high society. Most of the best parties were when there was some crisis that everybody was trying to distract themselves from. But this…” He winced. “At least the food’s nice.”

I raised an eyebrow. “It looks like people are having a good time.”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

“They are,” Lily said, half to me and half to Adam. “They’re not just putting on a show. They’re genuinely enjoying themselves.”

“Except for the retinue.”

I glanced over at the group. They were easy to spot, due to George being the only giant on the roof. George was eating something mechanically, and Kat was doing something on her phone. Jarasax actually seemed to be having an animated conversation with one of Eccretia’s bodyguards, but Alex…

Alex looked like a zombie. I wasn’t sure he was even conscious of where he was.

After everything that had happened with Kelly, it was probably a miracle he even got out of bed in the morning. Actually, considering that he didn’t sleep, it might be that he just hadn’t gone to bed after all this happened.

Kelly… Fierna… had released a statement to the rest of the city, declaring the Belians and Phlegethos hers. There had been talk of war, but right now she seemed to be busy purging her house of discontent. None of the other vampires, or Necessarius, wanted to deal with her.

“It’s a miracle she didn’t kill him,” Adam said quietly. “That’s gotta be freaky.”

I didn’t say anything. I hadn’t mentioned what I had overheard, and didn’t see a need to do so now. I shouldn’t have heard it in the first place. Should have just left when I had the chance, no need to stay…

“You have that look in your eye,” Lily said wryly.

“What look?”

“The look you get when you’re blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault.”

I sighed. “I don’t need you to mother me, Lily.”

She raised her hand, forestalling the point. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m just saying this as a friend, Derek. Whatever it is, let it go. You did everything you could, and it would have turned out worse if you weren’t there.”

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t even know what it is.”

She smirked. “You always do everything you can, and it always turns out better from your presence. You really aren’t a hard one to read, little hero.”

Please don’t start calling me that.”

She laughed, and pulled Adam away. “Come on. Nervi’s set up some of her pumpkin roast. Have you tried it yet?”

I shook my head as they walked away, and nearly ran headlong into Laura, who was walking up with a couple drinks. Sodas, thankfully. Good thing Nervi didn’t cater alcohol—I would have drank most of it already.

“This one is yours,” Laura said without missing a beat, handing me a can of Cerean something or other. The logo was stylized, I couldn’t tell what it said. The only reason I knew it was from Ceres was because their cans are always rectangles.

I took it, but frowned at the more normal can in her hand. “Shouldn’t we switch?”

She shrugged, taking a swig. “That was the last one.”

She had been trying to get me to try some Cerean brand for a while now. I guess this was it. I cracked open the lid, slightly annoyed at the lack of fizz (carbonation was a horrible idea when shooting giant packages through space) and sipped at it. It tasted light and fruity.

Laura smirked. “You don’t like it.”

“No, I do, I just—” I stopped. “I don’t know why I even thought of lying to you.”

She took my arm lightly and led me to one of the groups. Scientists, I was pretty sure, but most of Akane’s kensei had left their swords at home, so it could be them. “Don’t worry, I’ve heard worse. Try overhearing a man telling his wife where he was last night, and realizing every word is a lie.”

I winced. “Oh. What’d you do?”

“Blackmailed him later,” she said pleasantly. “That was fun.”

Yet another reminder not to get on her bad side.

“Derek, these are some of the Clarke’s researchers. You’ve probably met them all before at some point or another.”

“I know I’ve met you,” I said, indicating a kemo with bat ears. Those were rare. I couldn’t even remember what the subculture was called. Well, microculture. “You’ve helped patch me up once or twice.”

She nodded. “I have a degree in medical applications of the toy maker. One of my main projects is to study our Honored Mother, to make sure her newest toys can be added safely.”

“You know she doesn’t like being called that,” one of the men warned.

The bat kemo smiled slightly. “I know. She tells me it every day.”

“What about the rest of you?” I asked, steering the topic onto grounds I felt more comfortable with. “What do you all do with Clarke? Are any of you working with him on…” I frowned, and turned to Laura. “What’s that thing he’s working on these days?”

“The heart,” she answered. “Macro-scale muscle and bone generation. He almost cracked it before the Rampage, and now he basically has.”

The male researcher, the black man who had warned about the Mother Monster, snorted. “Yeah, using his power he’s cracked it. But that’s cheating. What happens if he dies, or if he’s just busy and we can’t find another exomorpher? He needs to focus more on the toy box itself, not playing with his power.”

“I’m still catching him morphing his skin when he thinks no one is looking,” Laura said. “It’s going to take a bit longer for the novelty to wear off.”

“Are people like Clarke that rare?” I asked. “With that power, I mean.”

The researcher thought about it. “A little. No one here has it, but there are more than a few scattered around NHQ. But that’s not the point. We don’t understand these powers, and shouldn’t be trusting them. What if Silk comes back and snaps her fingers, turning them all off?”

I glanced at Laura, who didn’t look as concerned as she should have. The man had a point. Silk had given us a way to disrupt powers, who knew what else she could do. I still didn’t trust her, no matter that Laura had been pointing her power at her the entire time. For all we knew, she had some way to dodge that ability.

“Excuse us,” Laura said as she tugged on my arm, pulling us away from the group. “Speaking of Clarke, his daughter just landed.” She was right, Robyn had just floated down, carrying a case of beer. Still, the second we were out of earshot, she quietly said “You had that look on your face.”

I sighed. “Everyone is noticing looks on my face tonight. What is it this time?”

She smirked a little, but quickly turned serious. “That look when you’re worrying about something you shouldn’t.”

“Is that the same as my ‘everything is my fault’ face?”

“No, of course not.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I am worried about Silk.”

“Don’t be.”

“Why not?”

“Because there’s absolutely nothing you can do about her.”

Before I could retort, we were within a couple steps of Robyn, and Laura was all smiles for her. “I thought you had decided to skip.”

She managed a small smile of her own. “Nope. Just grabbing some beer.” She hefted the six-pack.

I raised an eyebrow. “Is that really a good idea?”

She shrugged. “Probably not. Want one?”

“Yes.”

No,” Laura cut in. She gave me a look. “If I can’t drink, you can’t drink. That was the deal.”

“I said that when I thought there wouldn’t be any alcohol here at all,” I grumbled.

Robyn looked between us. “Why can’t you drink?” Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “Are you pregnant?

What?

“Of course not!” Laura added. “Silver and gold, when would we even had time to do that?”

I glanced at her. “That’s why you think it’s improbable? Just timing?”

Robyn snorted. “Please, if this city wasn’t constantly in danger, you two would never leave the bedroom.”

I felt myself go beet red, but Laura didn’t seem surprised at all. “Don’t exaggerate. Technically, we’re not even dating.”

“Technically nothing!” I squeaked. “We’re not dating! Period!”

She gave me a sidelong glance.

I thought back to the last month or so. Farther back, actually, all the way to the reveal of Elizabeth’s identity. About the amount of time we had been spending together, the lunches and dinners we had taken alone, without anybody else around, and all the other girls I had been turning down.

“Crap,” I muttered.

Robyn smirked. “I know a nice jewelry store if you need to apologize.”

I sighed. “I’ll think about it.”

Laura was amused as well, but she kept a better lid on it. “No need for jewelry, I promise. The look on your face is apology enough.”

“Glad you find my pain funny.”

She just smiled. “Come on. You need to meet some people.” She pulled me away.

“Robyn, share,” I called back. “Don’t drink all of that by yourself.”

She flipped me off with a winning smile.

We walked across the roof, weaving through the crowd, and I tried to find the words. “I’m… sorry. That I didn’t notice we were dating.” Then I chuckled. “I think that might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever said.”

“I’m sure you’ve said worse.” She squeezed my arm tighter, laying her head on my shoulder briefly. “And I knew you were being an idiot, but didn’t say anything. It’s as much my fault as yours.”

“That’s not true and you know it. A little your fault, sure, but I think this is a time I really do deserve the lion’s share of the blame.” I blinked as a thought occurred to me. “Do our parents know?”

“I haven’t mentioned it to them, but that doesn’t mean much. Thieves are good at figuring things out, especially when they’re close friends with Butler.”

I groaned. “Butler knows.”

“Of course he does. Clarke doesn’t, if that makes you feel better.”

“It does, actually.” We slipped into the edge of the crowd of swordsmen and swordswomen at the corner of the roof. “Akane! How are you enjoying the party?”

At the center of the group, Akane sat on a table, sipping a drink and smiling. I couldn’t remember the last time I really, truly saw her smile, but here she was.

She raised the drink in my direction. “Derek. Good party.”

“Auntie Akane was just telling us about the first time you two fought a gargant,” one of the younger swordsmen explained. One of her nephews, obviously. Yuuki, I was pretty sure. “Was it really a full-sized blind-rammer?”

I rubbed my forehead. “Oh, don’t remind me of that disaster. It’s a miracle the thing didn’t bring the whole building down on us.”

“And somebody forgot to buy insurance,” Akane said, still smiling.

“And I forgot to buy insurance,” I said. “So we were liable for the damages.” I shook my head. “I think we spent the whole next year paying that one off.”

“She also claims you managed to kill a deathmarked,” another kensei said. This was the other nephew, Yuudai.

“We crushed it in a car compactor. It’s dead.” I swallowed. “Pretty sure.”

Sometimes I still had dreams of that thing coming after us.

Laura tugged on my arm before the silence could get too awkward. “We’ll let your boss regale you with her old war stories, kids. Mister Huntsman and I need to speak with Noble Nyashk.”

I knew an out when I saw one, and gave polite nods to them as we left. I was actually a little surprised when she pulled us towards Seena and her group, which included her brother and his girlfriend, the changeling warlord and her bodyguards, and the hooded woman.

“Noble Nyashk,” Laura said by way of greeting. “I’m pleasantly surprised that you came.”

“Dame Laura,” Seena answered in kind. “I got your invitation. It seemed downright criminal not to put in an appearance.”

“How is your new job treating you?”

She sighed. “I’m one of two warlords trying to hold the Mals together, and the other one is Zepar. It’s difficult, and I’m not sure the culture is going to survive the winter.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I said. “People always need assassins.”

“Our methods are going out of style. People prefer more subtlety than knives in the dark. Contracts are starting to dry up.” She shrugged. “But powers change the game. We’ll see, we’ve had some recent successes.”

“What’s your power, by the way?” I asked.

She smiled pointedly. “My secret weapon.”

“Mine’s one of the stock vampire ones,” Simon said before things could get awkward. He held out his scarred hand, and shadows writhed in his hand. “I can make darkness. Shadows deep enough that even a vampire can’t see through them. Cool, huh?”

“And you?” I asked his girlfriend.

She shrank at the attention. “It’s… weird. I kind of… turn into electricity?”

I frowned. “And what? Attack people?”

“No, I don’t have enough control for that. I’m just… electricity. It kinda works like teleportation, but I have no control over where I end up, I just kind of randomly rematerialize somewhere within ten feet of my starting point.” She shrugged. “Like I said, it’s weird.”

Laura, however, looked thoughtful. “There might be something more to that. Maybe you can stop by NHQ tomorrow morning, we can run some tests.”

Yolanda shivered. “I’m not big on tests.”

“Exercises, then. No needles.”

“…okay.”

“I fix things,” one of Eccretia’s bodyguards said. Ferenil, I think.

His boss glared at him. “That’s supposed to be a secret.”

“I reverse time!” the other man, Domothon, said.

Eccretia sighed. “And that definitely is.”

“Well, that’s an easy fix,” I said. “Reverse time, and keep your mouth shut this time.”

He winced. “I just did. It was out of reach.”

I blinked. “…five seconds is out of reach?”

“Yes,” he grumbled. “And it takes forever for my reservoir to recharge. I mostly just use it in emergencies, like when I get shot.”

Ferenil slapped him across the face.

“Gods of men and darkness, what was that for!?

“Just checking that your reservoir was really depleted.”

Domothon rubbed his cheek and glared.

“I’m guessing you don’t feel like sharing, Honored Paragon,” I said to change the subject.

Eccretia scowled. “No. I might as well at this point, but I’m not going to. I’m sure you understand. You all hid your powers for as long as possible.”

I shrugged. “We were considering coming out for a long time. Elizabeth forced our hands.”

“Robyn hid it from us for a while,” Laura added. “We only found out when she saved us from an ambush.” She shook her head and took a sip of her soda. “Irresponsible. Understandable, but irresponsible.”

“It all worked out in the end. And besides, she was helping us.” The others looked at me blankly. “MC knew,” I explained. “Robyn acted as her scout. So she saved our lives a few times.” I tried not to grind my teeth. “…but she could have done better.”

There was a moment of awkward silence.

“Miss Korrapati,” Laura said to the girl in the hooded cloak. “What’s your power? My first guess would be speed, or perhaps shapeshifting.” She shook her head. “No, any form of identity concealment wouldn’t need the hood, of course…”

The girl shuffled on her feet. “Kinesis. You know, moving things with my mind? Small things, mostly. I’m a tinkerer, so it helps me build things.” She shrugged. “Simple, but nice.” She chuckled. “Better than this friend of mine. He got one of those vampire draining things. He refuses to use it, so he’s basically powerless.”

“What does he drain?” I asked.

“Life.”

“Ah.” Yes, that would be hard to use ethically.

“I’m sure he could find a use for it,” Laura said, smiling pleasantly. “Has he tried draining animals?”

The hooded girl shook her head. “Only works on humans, as far as he can tell.”

I snorted. “That sounds arbitrary.”

“Lots of powers are,” Laura said. “One of the ‘sarians at NHQ can’t use her telekinesis unless she’s wearing leather gloves. Pretty powerful when she has the gloves, though.”

While I frowned in confusion, everyone else nodded. I guess they all had more interaction with weird powers than me. I mostly just knew the Paladins and Akane’s kensei.

I opened my mouth to say something, but Simon looked at something behind me. “Who’s that waving at you?”

“Hm?” I turned to see George the giant waving from across the rooftop. “Oh, that’s the retinue.” I paused, thinking. “I don’t want to just leave you guys—”

They waved us off. “No, it’s fine, just go.”

I nodded in thanks then peeled away, Laura still on my arm as we navigated the crowds.

“Be careful,” I told her quietly.

She blinked and frowned. “Careful of what?”

“Just in general. We don’t want to depress them any more than they already are.”

She looked like she had a retort ready for that, but didn’t say anything as we walked up.

“George,” I said with a smile. “What’s up? You enjoying the party?”

He smiled weakly. “Best as I can, sir. Best as I can. I was just wondering if you had any specific plans for us during the battle.”

I winced. “You don’t need to be involved.”

“With all due respect, sir, working makes us feel better.”

Kat and Jarasax nodded. Alex hadn’t so much as acknowledged our presence.

“All right…” I thought for a moment, before turning to Laura. “Vampire domain?”

She nodded. “Best place to put them. Alex will be most useful there, and the rest are used to working in those sorts of conditions. We’ll stick you on East Gate.”

I frowned, then leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Where are the Belians going to be, again?”

She stiffened, then cursed under her breath. “Of course. West Gate, then, with the angels.”

George nodded. “Probably for the best.”

I gave Alex a look. “You fine with that?”

He shrugged. “The Saints have forgiven the ‘sarian angels. Mostly.”

“Not what I meant.”

He turned away. “Yeah, well, it’s the most pressing matter. I’ll live.”

I sighed, and turned to the kemo of the group. “Kat. How is your power treating you? It must be hard, since you didn’t get one that matches your personality.”

She shrugged, and signed something.

“She’s been going to a support group for the bats and bleeders and so on,” George translated. “She’s doing okay.”

She signed something else.

“The biters have it worse.”

I nodded. Yeah, that was a weird one. The skins and the bleeders too, but at least they didn’t have that permanent morphing thing. That wasn’t going to be fun if it wasn’t what you wanted, deep down.

“And you, George?” Laura asked. “What’s going on with you these days? I know the giants are still having some difficulties without the Hammer, but war hasn’t broken out yet.”

He waved a massive hand. “I barely pay attention to the culture any more. Yeah, what’s happening to them sucks, but they’ll survive. I’ve got my own stuff going on.”

“Which is?”

“Well, besides the retinue, uh…” He thought for a minute. “Been pretty big on online gaming recently.”

“Need to do something with all that free time,” Jarasax said with a smile.

“Isn’t the Big Boss sending you on missions?” I asked. “Helping the CS-squad, that sort of thing? You have the most experience with powers, so I just assumed you’d be part of it. Maybe get folded in completely.”

Sax shook his head. “We were, but with… everything that’s happened, we’re kind of on enforced leave right now.”

I winced. “That might not be the best idea.”

George nodded. “I’d feel better if we were working regularly.”

“I’m sure if you explain the situation, he’ll be happy to put you on more missions.”

“Now isn’t the time for it, though,” Laura said. “With war just around the corner.”

“They haven’t attacked yet. May as well get this settled, instead of just waiting around forever.”

“Guys…” Sax said, jerking his head at Alex.

The poor angel looked like his brain was shutting down. This was simply not something he wanted to think about.

“…another time, then,” Laura said. “We’ll see you around.” She led me away.

“Well, at least that wasn’t a complete disaster,” I muttered.

“It could have been worse,” she agreed. “I have no idea how, but it could have been.”

“Yeah…” I shook my head. “Poor bastards. I think they might be looking forward to the war a little too much.”

She winced. “You don’t think they’ve gone suicidal.”

“Alex is the only one I’m really worried about.”

“…but the rest are spoiling for a fight.” She nodded. “They want to do something. Maybe you’re right about them needing more jobs. I’ll talk to Butler tomorrow. See if he can’t find something for them to do.”

“Maybe we can—” I frowned as I realized she was leading me to the stairs. “Were are we going?”

“Downstairs.”

“Yes, I got that.”

She squeezed my arm and laid her head on my shoulder. “I meant back to the dorms.”

“What do you—oh.” Huh.

That was…

Huh.

She chuckled. “You’re cute when you’re flustered.”

“I think gobsmacked might be a better word.”

She smiled. “Maybe. But flustered is cuter.”

I opened the door for her. “After you.”

Her eyes twinkled, and she laughed as we left the party.

Behind the Scenes (scene 269)

I had a huge romance arc for Derek and Laura planned. A long arc revolving around the remnants of his mind control, their interactions as children, and the reason she left South Central in the first place. I decided to go with a simpler option, keeping it mostly offscreen, because it just wasn’t working. Too reliant on cliches and so on.

break

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Scene 237 – Interrogatus

INTERROGATUS

SIMON

“How in all Nine Hells did you keep this secret for so long?” I demanded.

Derek rubbed his forehead. “Simon, I’ve got a huge headache right now, and a million things to do. Can we please put this off just for a couple more days? At least until I figure out this thing with Io.”

On the other side of the small Necessarius training room, Pam—Eccretia—was paring her nails at a table, flanked by those guards of hers. “He’s right, Lancaster. He’s got a looong list of problems right now, and you’re pretty low on it.”

I whipped my hand in her direction, as if throwing something at her. Instantly, her head was enveloped in an inky black cloud that blocked her vision, causing her to curse violently and claw at it without success.

Her bodyguards, the pale and dark-skinned golden-haired Domothon and Ferenil, respectively, raised their guns in my direction, slightly bored.

I took the hint and snapped my fingers, dispelling my darkness. The motion had tugged at a few of my scars unpleasantly, so I was already regretting the action. Next to me, Yolanda recognized the look on my face, and put her hand on my shoulder for comfort.

“Childish,” Eccretia snapped, eyes sharp and dangerous. “You should be thankful that I am mature enough not to use my power every time I am annoyed.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, not looking at her. “I’m sorry, all right? I got carried away.” I turned my attention back to Derek. “The point is, why didn’t you tell us you were a Paladin? Fighting to save the city from zombies? What’s there to be ashamed of about that?”

My old friend seemed mildly amused by my antics, but ignored it in favor of the matter at hand. “I wasn’t ashamed, it was just…” He shook his head. “We wanted to retain our normal lives as long as possible. Didn’t want to be recognized everywhere we went.”

“But Aunty Akane said you guys are monster slayers,” Yuudai, the younger of the swordswoman’s two nephews, chirped cheerfully from his spot at another nearby table. Apparently Derek had been watching them practice before I barged in. “Were you ever normal?”

Derek smiled. “We were a little normal.”

I laughed at that. “Buddy, when you were twelve you marched on Rivenheart with Orcus and Dispater. You were never normal.”

His cheeks flushed slightly with embarrassment. “…I was fourteen, actually.”

Eccretia smirked. “There’s nothing wrong with getting a late start.”

Domothon gave her a look. “Not everybody founds a clan at age four.”

Yolanda stared at her. “You were four?

Eccretia just shrugged. “Who knows? I was the size of a four year-old, so that’s the body Clarke gave me. For changelings, our legal ages are pretty much just educated guesses. I was probably already an adult before the fey got a hold of me, but it doesn’t really matter.”

“No,” I said, mostly to myself. I kept letting myself get sidetracked. I pointed my finger at Derek. “Why keep all this a secret? We could have helped you with all sorts of things.”

“I have never taken you into a battle, Simon, and I wouldn’t have started with freaking zombies—”

“Not that. You know, school stuff. Or I could have brokered a deal between the sibriex and the ‘sarians, to work on some sort of cure or whatever.”

“You have read the Necessarians’ statement regarding their conversation with Elizabeth’s sister, right?” Eccretia asked from her corner of the room. “In hindsight, I highly doubt having a few extra hands studying the screamers would have helped.”

“But they didn’t know it at the time,” I snapped back. “And then there’s Seena. Did you know the Mals were plotting to assassinate the retinue? She could have run interference if we were kept in the loop.” Okay, we ran interference anyway, but that required nudging by a fey, which was never an enjoyable process.

Derek sighed. “What do you want me to say? I am sorry. I know it wasn’t the smartest move, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. We were trying to keep everyone safe. We didn’t want the Composer targeting people close to us.”

“Well, it turned out the Composer was the girl you had been crushing on for almost ten years—”

“Yes, yes, I know. I said seemed.”

“Well, at least you admit you were wrong.”

“Okay, this has gone on long enough,” Eccretia muttered, standing. “Lancaster, you don’t have a leg to stand on, and you know it. Let’s start with the fact that you found out that there was an attack being planned against the retinue, and didn’t tell anyone. Then there’s your little decision to become a warlord, and how that turned out—”

The older of Akane’s nephews, Yuuki, I think, finally stopped exercising, interrupting the changeling by walking in front of her on his way to the water cooler. “You tried to be a warlord? Is that what happened?”

At the reminder of the failed Balor Reconstruction, I became aware of the pain in my scars, the ache that I normally kept buried in the back of my mind. I ignored the kid—who wasn’t much younger than I was, honestly, and focused on Eccretia. “Excuse me, but what in the Hells are you even doing here? Shouldn’t you be at your domain, I don’t know, hacking or something?”

“I’m here to discuss some things with Akiyama.” At Yuuki’s surprised look, she corrected herself. “Akane Akiyama, sorry. I have some questions about her and her new hire, the baseline she has training these two. He is extremely suspicious, and her employment of him even worse.”

It took me a second to realize precisely what she had just said. “Wait, you’re checking up on her solely for hiring some guy?”

“It’s slightly more complicated than that.”

“No, but seriously, whatever happened to all that personal freedom crap you’re always spewing?”

Yolanda tugged at my arm. “Simon, calm down…”

I ignored her, though a distant part of my brain knew that was a bad idea. “In case you didn’t realize it, Honored Paragon, you are in Necessarius territory. The Necessarius territory. Did you seriously come here to play police state?”

She glared at me. “Please listen to your girlfriend, Honored Devil. This is not your concern. If your sister were here, she’d agree with me.”

When I opened my mouth to retort—loudly—Derek stopped me with just a frown and a quick word.

“Where is Seena, anyway?”

Behind the Scenes (scene 237)

Why do the short ones always take so long?

Scene 207 – Desciuit

DESCIUIT

LAURA

Assets:

Akane, Derek, and Adam. The changeling warlord, Eccretia, might be of some use as well. The two bodyguards she had left behind—Domothon and Ferenil, I believe—would be best left where they were for defense. Yolanda could be useful, but with her boyfriend passed out on the floor, she wouldn’t be able to focus on the fight anyway. She was better suited to looking after him right now. Robyn was unknown. Last time I saw her, she was being pursued by Elizabeth’s butler. She might already be dead.

Goal: Keep the Composer from infecting or just plain killing the civilians. Kill as many renegades as possible.

Secondary goal: Shoot Elizabeth in the face a few times. We might not be able to kill her, but inflicting enough pain should force her to retreat. Plus, it was satisfying.

Akane had already managed to kill Fillip Ritter, so that was one problem down. Teleporter or not, the big baseline would soon follow. But there was no way they were all Elizabeth had on hand. She had to be keeping a few more in reserve…

We needed to draw them out.

I couldn’t give Akane and Derek instructions directly, since they didn’t have earbuds. Calling them would just distract them and get them killed. At least the fey had turned off their jamming at some point. Needed to…

“Yolanda,” I said curtly to the blonde demoness crying over her boyfriend. “What weapons do you have? Besides the 89/12.”

She bit her lip, thinking. “Well, except for a pair of 89/2 Combat Gloves…”

I stared at her. “Silver and gold, what good are those things?”

She shrugged uncomfortably. “I dunno, mom always said…” She shook her head violently. “Not important.” She brought her backpack around to her front and started rustling around in it. “Two party-poppers, a 90/3.0 pocket sniper, some spare rockets for the 89/12—”

“Wait, back up. You have a sniper rifle?”

The demon looked up at me, wincing. “Well, I mean…yeah. But it’s useless. It’s a three millimeter caliber. That’s like, a dart gun. Plus it has the stopping power of a BB gun—”

“It’ll work,” I promised, holding out my hand. “Give it here.”

She did so grudgingly, handing me a small black plastic box, maybe six inches wide, deep, and tall, with a handle on top.

“Changelings!” I called to our guards. “Which of you is the better shot?”

“I am,” the dark-skinned guard said curtly. “But I’m not going to fire into a melee—”

“You don’t have to.” I handed him the cube. He blinked in surprise, but started unfolding it, clicking the pieces into a gun shape. “I need to get Seena’s attention.”

He nodded. “Right, yeah, shooting her with this will work. It’s weak enough that even a baseline would survive. Honestly, the biggest danger is that she won’t even notice. But wait, what about her cell phone?”

“I tried it earlier, no response. I think it got smashed in the fighting.”

“Of course it did. What happens after I shoot her?”

I collected a whiteboard from behind the counter, just a small little thing they used to display the daily specials. Finding a marker didn’t take much longer. “Then she looks over here, and follows my instructions.”

As I scrawled as quickly as I could while keeping my handwriting somewhat legible, I noticed out of the corner of my eye the blonde frowning at something outside.

“Yolanda,” I said curtly, getting her attention. “If the tactical situation is changing, I need to hear it. What’s happening?”

“Oh, well…nothing, I guess. Nothing you need to worry about, I mean. People are just taking pictures and stuff with their phones.”

I stopped writing mid-sentence. I hadn’t thought of that. I hadn’t really considered the tactical implications of a crowd of people, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that civilians would be doing much other than running for dear life.

No matter which way this went, our identities weren’t going to be secret much longer.

It had been inevitable, I knew, and in fact we had been considering going public before this. Still, I wished it was a situation we had more control over.

Another flash of light caught my attention. Elizabeth had broken her sword on Derek’s shield. She roared in rage and cast it aside, dodging past Akane to try and rip the man apart with her bare hands.

We didn’t have time to waste on stupid things like publicity. I finished my message on the board, and nodded to Ferenil. “Do it.”

The golden-haired changeling nodded, raised the rifle to his eye, paused briefly, and fired.

The explosion the gun provided upon shooting was not the distinctive, echoing crack of a firearm, so much as a muffled whumph more typically associated with the rush of air from slamming a door in a small room.

But it did the trick. I saw Seena, on the ground just a few yards outside the light of the streetlamps, flinch and look around in our direction.

Her eyes found the whiteboard I was holding in front of me very quickly; she squinted slightly, then nodded, and turned to the girl on the ground next to her. I couldn’t tell who the second person was, and it didn’t really matter. She had received my message.

“How long until something happens?” Domothon asked as Ferenil swapped out the flimsy McDowell weapon for the Olympian Nike sniper rifle he had been using earlier.

“A minute or two,” I snapped, scanning the battlefield carefully. “Now stay sharp. And don’t shoot our reinforcements on accident.”

The pale-skinned changeling muttered a curse under his breath as said reinforcements started appearing. “What about shooting them on purpose?”

I couldn’t really blame him for wanting to. Seena’s Mals were leaking out of their hiding places, sneaking towards the bright light of the streetlamps carefully and quietly. From our angle, we could see them easily, but hopefully Elizabeth couldn’t.

Ah, and it appeared we were in luck—Eccretia, wherever she was, had taken the hint. I could see her changelings aligning in nearby stores and windows, waiting for the signal to strike. In hindsight, I should have asked Domothon to call her, but her phone was probably broken too. And it had all worked out.

It was a classic two-pronged assault with multiple victory conditions. If the other renegades showed up, that was great, and we could take them out. If they didn’t, we could capture Elizabeth again. Maybe drop her in a volcano or something this time.

Just a few more seconds. There were over a dozen vampires, and they were almost inside the circle of light. That would be the ambush, and Akane would be smart enough to get Derek and Adam out.

The circle of assassins tightened, tightened…come on, just a few steps more…

They stepped into the light, paused for a moment, and then every single one of the Mals, to a man, put their guns into their mouths and pulled the trigger.

Fifteen vampires fell dead to the ground, timed so closely together it sounded like one simultaneous whumph.

Elizabeth turned to regard the scene with a raised eyebrow, then sighed. “Did you have to? You could have let at least a few in. Takes all the fun out of it, if they kill themselves.”

“Apologies, Lady Greene. Your freedom was more important than your happiness.”

The speaker, a vampire girl, strode into the light from the streetlamps with a wince. She had overly large fangs that jutted out from under her lips, and wore her long hair tied up in a bun, held in place with what appeared to be chopsticks, but I had a feeling were knives.

Then two more identical girls entered the light behind her, with General Brannigan just a few steps in their shadows.

They looked like triplets, but I had a feeling they weren’t. Something about the way they moved was…off, almost like…

Ah. Almost like they were one person in three different bodies.

Another podbrain. Wonderful. Apparently the demon girls from the alley ambush weren’t enough. And worse yet, it looked like at least one had a very dangerous ability.

Mind control. And strong enough to force fifteen experienced soldiers to commit suicide. This wasn’t going to be fun.

But wait, there had to be a limit. Otherwise Elizabeth would never have had to resort to hypnotism. If we could find that weakness, and exploit it—

“Whatever,” the Composer muttered. “I was getting bored anyway.” She turned her attention to Derek. “Huntsman. I now hold this entire crowd hostage. Fight me alone, or they all die.”

No, don’t be stupid

My childhood friend stepped forward, pushing Akane and Adam back. “Fine by me.”

I sighed. Oh, yes, there was no way this could go wrong for us.

Silver and gold, it was a miracle that idiot had survived this long.

Behind the Scenes (scene 207)

Mostly just a setup scene.

Scene 206 – Rector

RECTOR

SIMON

Yolanda’s hands shook as she fussed over the bloodmaker bandages wrapped around my chest. “Just hold on, you’re going to be fine…”

“You’re right, I am,” I assured her. “That stim did the trick. My bones are knitting even as we speak.”

She glanced behind her, out the door of the cafe that was being guarded by Eccretia’s changelings. “I’m not…not so sure. All those monsters outside—”

“Derek and Akane are professional monster slayers,” I reminded her soothingly. “Plus Anders is good with those guns, right? Between them and the changelings, the fey don’t stand a chance.”

“Seena and Eric followed the fey-girl into a building,” Steve said, his habitual grin a little strained. “That means they’ll have this wrapped up nice and quick.”

One of the changelings at the door—Domothon, I think—shook his head. “Monsters are the least we have to worry about now. Noble Nyashk is strong, but she’s not a fighter. And Eccretia won’t last long either.”

I grunted in pain as I readjusted myself where I was lying on the ground. “Somebody needs to explain why people are calling my sister a warlord. And why she has a tail, while we’re at it.” Before the changeling could answer, my brain caught up with the rest of what he had said. “Wait one second. What do you mean by ‘least we have to worry about?’”

The pale, golden haired changeling looked at me oddly. “Uh, the Composer? She’s not known for leaving survivors.”

Everyone hiding in the cafe stared at him in shock. “What!?

He flinched back from the outburst. “Didn’t I mention that? Greene is fighting the fey-girl.” He looked out the window. “Ny—Seena is down—” My heart skipped a beat. “—but she’ll survive. Just needs a new tail.”

Laura appeared from somewhere behind me, where she had been scrounging through the cafe for supplies. “I need your radio. I have tactical information your warlord needs.”

The other changeling, Ferenil, raised a finger. “Point of order, she’s technically not a warlord. That’s—”

Laura gave him a glare almost as good as one of Derek’s.

“—a sore…point…” the dark-skinned changeling trailed off, then sheepishly handed her his radio.

“Eccretia,” Laura barked into the device immediately. “Can you hear me? I have intel for you.”

“Medina?” the not-warlord’s voice crackled over the speaker. “How did you get this channel? If you tortured my men—”

“And I thought I had trust issues,” Laura muttered. “No, they gave it to me. They’re both still alive. You’re planning to fight Elizabeth, I take it?”

There was a slight pause on the other end, then Eccretia was all business. “Yes. You got advice?”

“Don’t let her get in close. She’s a horror with those swords. She has a number of other powers as well, but the swords are her favorite. She’ll probably use super-speed too. Two things about that: First, her mind isn’t sped up with the rest of her, so she can pretty much just run in a straight line. Second, she can only use one power at a time, so the swords will disappear right before she uses the speed.”

“One power at a time…” Eccretia mused. “Wait, that means her healing—”

“Is always in place,” Laura interrupted. “Always. It works differently than other powers, I don’t know why. Not even cutting off her head will kill her, though it will slow her down for a few minutes.”

“Hmph. Well, that’s some good news. Any way of taking her down permanently?”

“Not that I’ve found. But extreme cold seems to be harder for her to heal. You have any liquid nitrogen on you?”

To my surprise, I heard the woman on the other end of the line chuckle. “I’ve got some solid nitrogen shrapnel rounds for my Blue Knight. You think those will do the trick?”

“Really?” Great, now Laura was curious. “Nitrogen melts at negative two-hundred and ten degrees Celsius. How are you keeping them cold?”

Before the changeling could answer, I spoke up. “I think there’s more important things to worry about, don’t you?”

Laura shook herself out of her fugue. “Right, sorry. Eccretia, I need—”

The sound of gunfire burst from the radio, followed a split second later by the real thing echoing down the street.

“She’s engaged the enemy,” Domothon reported, peering in the direction of the fey from earlier. “Both fey are down, but the boss is putting up a fight.”

“Silver and gold,” Laura cursed, tossing the radio back to Ferenil. “I need to call Derek, he might be able to do something. Where’s my phone?”

Something dawned on me. “Wait one second. How did you know all that stuff about the Composer, anyway?”

“I worked with Necessarius,” she muttered distractedly. “Now shush.” She had found her phone, and was dialing. Then she cursed and tossed it aside. “The fey jammers are still up! What is wrong with those idiots?”

Then the lights in the street went on.

Even a complete idiot could tell something big was about to happen.

“Steve, drag me closer,” I begged. “I need to see this.”

The big baseline moved to help, but my girlfriend tried to stop him. “No! Your wounds—”

“Please,” I whispered. “I need to make sure my sister is okay.”

Yolanda stared at me for a second, before nodding once and moving aside.

Steve was a big guy, but he wasn’t used to carrying living packages, and especially not wounded living packages. I survived being carried to the window, where I could see the entire street, but I had to bite my tongue hard enough to make it bleed just so that I didn’t scream in pain.

Although it probably wouldn’t have mattered. A bunch of vampires in the crowd—including my sister, on the ground near the winged fey—cried out in pain as soon as the lights came on.

“Sorry for the light. Need to be able to see what we’re doing.”

Derek Huntsman, with Akane Akiyama right behind him.

I don’t think I had ever been so happy to see my best friend and his bodyguard. Between them and Eccretia, Lizzy might just retreat.

But her reaction dashed that hope instantly.

Huntsman.”

It was the way she said it. Not fear, not even simple wariness of a powerful enemy, but pure hatred, colder than ice, almost matched in intensity by her angry glare.

“You are a cockroach,” she hissed, as she slowly fell down into a fighting crouch. “You keep popping up in the most annoying places.”

She wasn’t going to run. She was going to kill Derek, here and now. That was the only way this could end.

Maybe the rest of us could escape. Yes, that was it, I needed to talk to Laura, organize some kind of retreat while the Composer was distracted…

But I couldn’t move.

I had to watch this.

I owed it to him to at least watch him die.

But Derek didn’t seem to see it that way. Judging by the grin on his face, he seemed to be under the impression that this would be a fair fight. He fell into some wrestling stance or another, palms open and ready.

“Let’s hurry this up. There are some cartoons I want to watch later.”

I rolled my eyes. Yes, antagonize the voice actress turned homicidal maniac. That couldn’t possibly cause problems down the line.

The Composer screamed a wordless battle cry and rushed forward, her blazing orange swords held at her sides.

And then Akane was there.

I didn’t even see her move, but she was there, deftly blocking Lizzy’s sword with her own, then dodging the second.

Elizabeth spat out a curse in a language I didn’t understand and jumped back, disengaging from the duel. “NABASSU!”

A demon in a sharp suit dropped out of the sky, the bat-like wings on his back disappearing into smoke as he touched the ground. His cargo was a tall, thin man with violet hair and an evil grin. Both were unarmed, but Derek and Akane were still outnumbered.

“ROBYN!” Derek called.

And then Robyn Joan Clarke dropped out of the sky.

She didn’t have wings. Or…or a jetpack, or a parachute, or a zipline, or a miniature plane, or anything else that would let a human being drop out of the sky like that. She just…floated down, easy as you please, carrying Adam Anders in her arms.

Robyn didn’t have any weapons that I could see—not surprising; she got shaky in fights—but Adam was covered in enough guns to arm a small squad. I wasn’t an expert like Yolanda, but I was able to identify the rifle slung over his left shoulder as an Olympian Athena, and the massive shotgun in his hands as the famous ‘sarian St. George. The pistol and submachine guns on his hips were simple and functional…probably Telum, then.

Adam brought up his shotgun and fired without hesitation, ignoring Elizabeth for her renegades. I think he was aiming at the demon who could fly, but it was hard to tell.

Because his shot twisted in mid air and hit the ground instead.

The violet-haired man grinned even wider in the bright glow cast by the streetlights. “That all you got, little baseline?”

Laura stepped up next to me, muttering to herself. “Akane needs to handle Ritter, at least for the moment. Once he’s distracted, Adam can kill Nabassu. Robyn won’t be useful…” She cursed and tapped buttons on her phone angrily. “Silver and gold, why can’t you idiots have earpieces?”

Both of them moved into action, almost as if they had heard her. Akane moved around violet-hair in a flanking maneuver; he flicked his hand at her—

And suddenly she was five yards away, while the ground she had been standing on exploded.

How had she moved that fast? I hadn’t even seen it! Maybe…she was another of the fey’s new pets? But no, that didn’t make sense, they had always hated the fey…

As Laura had said, while Akane kept violet-hair distracted, Adam fired again at the demon, filling the air with high-velocity pellets.

It worked, but not in the way he had intended. The man Akane was fighting waved his hand, sweeping aside the projectiles with a grimace.

But it distracted him.

Only for a moment, but long enough for Akane to rush forward—how was she moving that fast?—and cut him in two—

But no, he caught her in time, bringing both hands around to grab her with some invisible force, some kind of telekinesis, and throw her charge off target.

Elizabeth herself was staying in the background, blades gone, watching the fight intently with narrow eyes. It made me nervous. This was the first time I had ever seen her fight, and even I knew this was out of character for her. What was she planning?

Whatever it was, Robyn didn’t seem interested in finding out. Now that Adam was firmly on the ground, she took off—just shot off like an arrow from a bow, straight up, with no visible means of propulsion—trying to get out of a fight she had no training for.

The demon had other plans.

He crouched down, those bat-like wings appearing on his back in a puff of mist, and launched himself after Clarke’s daughter like a lion after a gazelle.

They flew off out of sight, but I could guess what was going to happen.

The gazelle rarely wins the fight against the lion.

But what in all Nine Hells was going on? I had heard on the news about the Composer’s Blackguards, the opposite of the Paladins. Was that what was going on here? Lizzy and her Blackguards showed up, so Derek decided to fight them? But how the frick could Robyn fly?

Derek lunged forward, past Akane and violet-hair, aiming at Elizabeth herself. I found myself briefly hoping that he didn’t have to kill her—she was obviously just a puppet of some kind—but I knew Derek would do what he had to, one way or another.

She didn’t seem particularly interested in letting him get too close, though. In the space of a blink, she had dodged to the other side of the impromptu battlefield, apparently trying to use her super speed to escape.

Her way was blocked by monsters.

The infernal dromo, both deathmarked, a venom-touched bloodbear I hadn’t noticed earlier, and more crowding behind.

I turned in shock to my sister, still lying on the ground near the edge of the light provided by the streetlamps, grinning through the pain at the Composer’s frustration. The fey girl, Aitil or something, lay with her head in her lap, breathing slowly.

Well. I guess the fey weren’t completely inhuman after all. Some empathy remained.

I turned my attention back to Elizabeth, as she turned her attention to Derek, who was still charging at her. She had a couple seconds, but she had nowhere to run. She’d summon her swords, and then—

Instead, she threw back her head and howled a name.

A name I recognized.

“GILLESPIE!”

Next to me, I heard the dull whoosh of displaced air. I turned to see nothing but a fading cloud of red mist where my roommate had been moments before.

No, it couldn’t—

Then he reappeared in an explosion of crimson mist, two feet above and behind Derek, aiming a kick straight at his head.

Derek didn’t see the attack coming—how could he?—and got hit with a powerful kick with almost two hundred pounds of muscle behind it. He was an experienced fighter, though; he rolled with the blow, bouncing along the ground for a few yards before he found his feet again.

He kept his eyes on Steve, ready for him to make the next move.

And Steve…

He looked the same as ever. A broad, sappy grin on his face, a friendly twinkle in his eye…

But he had a power.

And he had answered the Composer’s call.

My roommate was a Blackguard. That was the only logical explanation. How long? How many chances had he had to kill me? Oh Nine Hells, Nine Gates, and Nine Keepers, had he been the one to sabotage my Balor reconstruction?

No, no, that was extremely unlikely, and not important right now anyway. What was important was that three of my baseline friends were fighting three super powered puppets of a zombie making sociopath.

I turned to the changelings who were guarding the door. “Is there any way—”

“Not without hitting Huntsman or Akiyama,” Domothon muttered angrily, his rifle already up and tracking. “And I am not shooting until those two are clear.”

My girlfriend was next. “Yolanda. Please tell me you have something.”

She pulled a gun out of her backpack sheepishly. “MD89/12-Gauge,” she identified it. “Fires custom-made rockets. Completely useless.”

“May as well toss a grenade,” Domothon agreed. “Least it would be cheaper.”

“Or you could just wait,” Laura noted, her tone unconcerned, but her eyes sharp and watching. “They’re not dead yet.”

Even as I watched, Steve teleported—teleported, I was never going to get used to that—behind Derek, but this time the blond monster slayer was ready. He dropped down, dodging the first kick, then reached up and grabbed my roommate’s leg. Before Steve could react, Derek was flipping him over backwards, sending him sprawling to the street.

Steve might have crazy super powers and be built like a truck, but he had never been a fighter. Derek was.

While Steve was still dazed and disoriented from the unexpected counterattack, Derek pressed the advantage, stomping hard on Steve’s knee—breaking it with a crack loud enough to be heard over the Blackguard’s sharp scream—and grabbing his opponent’s shirt with one hand while punching him in the face with the other.

Apparently, the Composer did not like seeing her toys broken. She ground her teeth in rage and rushed forward, glowing orange swords leaking mist as they swung at Derek’s head.

And suddenly Akane was there, blocking one of the blades.

Just there. She crossed ten yards in the space of a blink, leaving Adam alone with violet-hair…

Who fell apart, cut diagonally in half.

What?

Before I could make sense of what was happening in front of me, I realized that Akane had only blocked one of Elizabeth’s blades. The other was still heading straight for Derek’s—

He blocked it.

With a glowing shield that appeared on his forearm, leaking blue mist.

Wait.

The Composer spat a curse in some language or another and dodged back again, her blades fading as she put some distance between her and her opponents using super speed. Steve teleported next to her, sporting a broken nose and what looked like a cracked jaw, and immediately collapsed on the street due to his knee.

Wait one second here.

The shield on Derek’s arm shrunk until it was about the size of a small buckler, which wouldn’t interfere with his movements so much. He fell into another combat stance, hands open and ready to grab, while Akane returned to his side at super speed. Adam took his place behind the swordswoman, checking his SMG.

This wasn’t—

“He used a power—” I heard Yolanda mutter. “But that means—”

The changelings guarding the door had dropped their guns in shock, and next to me I think Leon might have actually fainted.

Derek had a power. That he was using against the Composer.

That meant he—and Akane and Robyn Joan—were the Paladins who had been fighting the screamers this entire time.

That explained a lot.

However, it seemed like my weakened body had decided this was the last straw. I felt a sharp pain in my head, my girlfriend’s voice calling something unintelligible, and then everything went black.

Behind the Scenes (scene 206)

There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not sure Simon’s viewpoint is the best one.

Scene 202 – Abscondens

ABSCONDENS

SIMON

This was a bad idea.

“This is a wonderful idea,” Yolanda said cheerily as she clung to my arm, tugging at my scars. “I’m glad you finally agreed.”

The train slowed to a stop, and we piled out as the doors opened. “I just think…” I said slowly. “I just think that we should have thought this through a bit more, you know? Planned it out a bit more—”

She kissed me lightly on the cheek. “You’ve been underground for over two weeks—”

“Fifteen days, actually,” I muttered. Wait, that was how long I had been awake. How long had I been down there before I woke up? I knew they told me, but I couldn’t recall…

She ignored me. “And you still haven’t told your friends you are alive. I think coming back to the surface is a good thing.”

I winced up at the sun. “Maybe. But I wish I had at least remembered sunglasses.”

My girlfriend rolled her eyes. “It’s twilight. Give it another half hour and it will be dark.”

It was October 31st, Halloween. Eleven days after Titania had mentioned that my former Power, Narek Nhang, had been killed. Fear of him had been one of my primary reasons for staying in the ruins of Shendilavri, but not the only one. I had been able to put it off for a while, but now I had run out of excuses.

Yolanda led me to a small coffee shop not a block from the station, mostly abandoned except for a single demon girl waiting on the sole occupied table. The street outside, while not excessively crowded, was busy enough that it took us a few minutes to navigate through the throng. We almost knocked over a man on a ladder installing a speaker on the corner; he glared at us, but didn’t say anything.

“Hey there, Yolanda!” Adam called, making the rest of the group turn to face us. “Who’s your friend?”

Laura, sitting between Adam and Derek at the large table, put her drink down with wide eyes. “I think that’s…Simon?”

Derek slowly stood, a disbelieving look on his face. “No, I thought Simon died! He couldn’t have just…”

I grinned as best as I could, considering the scars. “Don’t write me off too soon, bastard.”

My old friend grinned as he came around the table and wrapped me in a massive bear hug, squeezing so hard I could barely feel my screaming scars over my cracking ribs. “You stupid demon, why didn’t you call!?”

“Put him down,” Yolanda begged. “He’s still not completely healed.”

The baseline did so quickly, as the rest of the table came up to pat me on the back. All my surviving friends were there. An extremely well-armed Pam, that Dagonite Eric, a grinning Steve, a surprised Laura, a glowering Akane, Delphie’s nephew Leon…

And Seena.

There was something different about her, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but that wasn’t the important part. She was staring at me, daygoggles off, as if she had seen a ghost.

“Simon,” she whispered very, very quietly. “You…I…you were dead. Nhang said you were dead.”

I grimaced. “Well, he wasn’t far off. I just got lucky. Found by some ghouls who didn’t feel hungry, that whole thing.”

“Is that what happened to your cosmos?” Adam asked. “Your purple skin, the horns, and…” He frowned. “What’s up with the scars, anyway? Toy maker should be able to get rid of those, right?”

Another grimace. “It’s a long story. Can we sit down?”

Lily—who was the ‘demon’ girl I hadn’t recognized earlier—stole two chairs from nearby tables, and we all sat down, me a little bit more gingerly than the others.

“Let’s start simple,” the waitress said firmly. “Introductions all around. Who here doesn’t know Simon?” Three hands were raised a little meekly. “Okay, everyone, this is Simon Lancaster, Seena’s brother. Simon, this is Akane’s boyfriend Flynn—” The man in question blushed slightly, and Akane punched Lily in the shoulder hard enough to break bone. She didn’t react. “And these are Eccretia’s bodyguards, Domothon and Ferenil of the Never-Known Thieves.”

I nodded at the swordsman, and the two golden-haired changelings. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Flynn nodded back politely, and the changelings—seated at a smaller table nearby—waved in response.

“Why didn’t you call?” Seena demanded the instant introductions were over. “I thought you were dead!

What was it that was different about her? I mean, her voice sounded a little different, but since my ears had been rebuilt, everything sounded a bit off.

I tried to find an answer that wouldn’t end with Derek leading Necessarius into the ruins of Shendilavri. “It’s a long story. I wasn’t exactly mobile for a while, and the place where I was resting didn’t have any phones.”

Laura looked up, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Really. No phones at all.”

I squirmed under her gaze. “I…I dunno. No phones I could use, anyway. They didn’t trust me not to do something stupid.”

That seemed to placate her for the moment. “Fine. But why come up now? Healed up sufficiently?”

“Mostly.” I smiled as best I could. “Besides that, it’s Halloween! It’s like, the most important day of the year, right?”

Pam snorted. “Subtle subject change.”

Adam, however, was willing to humor me. “How is Halloween the most important day of the year? I mean…” he indicated Lily and my sister. “…it kinda seems like there’s no point in dressing up.”

Lily just gave him a look. “What do you mean, no point? I’ll have you know, I look wonderful in a dress.”

He waved his hands frantically, realizing there was some cultural miscommunication here. “No, sweetie—” Oh, right, those two were dating. I kept forgetting that. She wasn’t really known for steady relationships. Plus, she only dated outsiders, which limited her opportunities. “I mean, on the mainland, on Halloween people dress up as monsters and stuff. I’m guessing that doesn’t happen here.”

Laura nodded. “Right, I remember hearing about that. And they visit strangers’ houses for candy, right?”

Leon perked up. “Candy?”

But Pam placed her hand on the boy’s head, quieting him, and gave Laura an odd look. “That sounds remarkably dangerous. Screening the candy for poison seems like it would be impracticable.”

“These are kids,” Laura noted.

Everyone at the table nodded in sudden understanding; we all knew what happened if you hurt children. Everyone nodded except Adam, that is.

“What? No, they don’t not poison the candy just because kids are involved! They just…don’t poison the candy.”

“Why not?” Pam pressed. “As long as you’re careful only to hand out the poisoned ones to enemies—”

“Most people outside this city aren’t willing to murder!

The changeling nodded. “Right, I understand leaving children out of it—”

“Not just children!” Adam nearly shrieked. “No murder! At all!”

The well-armed woman blinked, then turned to Laura. “You’ve been outside Domina. You know what he’s talking about?”

“Oh, yes,” the Spanish baseline admitted. It took me a second to recognize the look on her face as a smirk. “But I think it’s better for him to explain it.”

Before anyone could ask him any more questions the man in question threw up his hands. “So! What do you do on Halloween?”

Derek shrugged. “I dunno, I didn’t really have any plans…”

“I meant what does the city do. Your idea of a social event is a monster hunt.”

“Well, that’s part of it,” Lily admitted. “There are a lot of hunts on Halloween. Orphanages and stuff go after rats and other easy things like that to give the kids some experience.”

“But that’s a kid thing,” Derek cut in. “The professional slayers just try and keep the more dangerous stuff out of the way for the night.”

My sister spoke up. “Most adults go to parties. Fancy balls and dinners. All very elegant and everything, I assure you. My culture is actually hosting one tonight, if anyone is interested.”

I raised an eyebrow. “The Mals are having a public party?”

“Not at Maladomini. We rented a space.” She shrugged. “Just a good-will public relations boost. It was Moloch’s idea.”

Pam nodded. “I expected as much. I knew your viceroy before he joined Baal, you know.” She thought for a moment. “Before Baal founded the culture, now that I think of it.”

“Oh right,” I muttered. “I keep forgetting you’re a freaking warlord.”

She glared at me. “Don’t call me that. Warlords are for the cultures. The changelings are not a culture.”

“…wait wait,” Derek said with an upheld hand. “I think we missed something. You’re a warlord?”

The changeling turned to glare at him in turn. “No. But I am Eccretia, of the Never-Known Thieves. Didn’t we go over this earlier?”

“…no, no we definitely did not. I just remember you from…” he waved his hand. “A couple months ago. Around when school started. You were just Pam.” He looked her up and down. “And you were less well-armed.”

Flynn, the guy introduced as Akane’s boyfriend, didn’t seem particularly surprised. He grinned. “What, the changeling bodyguards weren’t a clue?”

“I thought they were just more friends of Seena’s, or something. Strangely enough, my first thought was not ‘bodyguards for one of the original changelings.’”

“I said they were bodyguards,” Lily put in.

“And the others?” Akane asked quietly.

Her boss shrugged. “Figured they were spies. Assassins. The usual.”

Yolanda and I looked at each other in confusion. “…what others?”

“There are about a dozen baselines—or changelings, rather—watching us right now,” Derek noted nonchalantly. She gave Pam a sideways look. “I’m assuming they’re yours.”

The Paragon nodded. “I am impressed you noticed them, though.”

“I’ve been stalked by vampires. Changelings aren’t very hard to spot, compared to that.”

Akane started to speak. “There are—” but she fell quiet when Derek gave her a look.

There was an awkward silence for a moment there, before Lily spoke up. “I’m not sure how I feel about a Mal party, but maybe we can go somewhere. Eccretia, what are the changelings planning?”

Pam raised an eyebrow. “Nothing. Why would they?”

“Uh, actually…” Domothon piped up from the other table. “We’ve got a few things set up. The Jovian Killers and the Murdered Summers have rented a small warehouse just inside the borders of NHQ, with the Elder Lights handling security.”

His superior stared at him, hard. “Why didn’t you tell me about this? Actually, why didn’t Gan’neeg, Kish-kish, or Difnaal tell me?”

The golden-haired changeling shrugged. “C’mon, boss, you haven’t gone to a single party in fifteen years. No one invites you to anything any more.”

Pam looked annoyed, but didn’t argue. “Fine. Whatever.” She sighed. “Anyone want to go to that party? I’ll pay for everyone.”

“I’m in!” Steve cooed with a grin, to the surprise of no one. “Never been to a changeling party before. What kinda food you guys got? Any beer?”

The not-warlord ignored him. “Anyone else?”

Derek looked contemplative. “Well, it would be safer than most of the alternatives. And we could use a night off…” He looked at Laura. “Our parents will be at the Big Boss’s party, so we’ll probably have to poke our heads in there, at least for a few minutes.”

“And I’ll need to put in an appearance at the Mal party,” Seena added. “Zepar will be pissed if I don’t spend an hour or two schmoozing.”

What an odd thing to say. “I…guess I can go with you,” I said slowly. “I don’t really want anything to do with the sibs any more.” I turned to Yolanda. “Unless you wanted to go somewhere else…?”

“My friend is doing something.” From the look in her eyes, I could tell by ‘friend,’ she meant one of the succubus warlords. “But I think I can skip that. I’d prefer to be with you.”

“My vote’s the changeling party,” Adam spoke up. “No offense to everybody, but I think I’d like going somewhere where being baseline is the norm, not the exception.”

His girlfriend nodded. “I’ll admit, that’s what I was thinking as well.”

Adam gave her an odd look. “Um, sweetie, you’re not exactly baseline yourself.”

She grimaced. “Baselines…don’t treat me the same way as everyone else. Sometimes it’s nice to just be another girl, albeit one with horns.”

Her boyfriend looked confused for a moment before nodding in understanding. “I—got it. Okay. I guess…sure. I’m with you.”
She grinned and kissed him on the cheek.

“What about you, Leon?” my sister asked, addressing Delphie’s orphaned nephew, sitting beside Pam. “You want to go to a changeling party?”

“I’m already going!” he chirped happily. “I’m the cook’s assistant!”

Seena blinked her nighteyes in the twilight. “You’re what?

Pam growled. “Another thing I wasn’t told about, Dom?”

The changeling bodyguard shrugged. “He saw all the party prep, and he wanted to be involved, so…”

I looked between the two changelings. “Wait, what’s going on? Am I missing something?”

“Leon’s living with the Never-Known Thieves for now,” Eric, the Dagonite who didn’t really look like a Dagonite, explained. “No one really trusted Delphie’s hunters to look after him.”

Oh. I guess that made sense. “Well, what time is that? The party, I mean. Seven or so?”

“Six, actually,” Domothon corrected. “Though you can show up whenever. I’ll call ahead, make sure…they know to…expect…” he trailed off, looking at something behind me.

The rest of the table was staring, too.

I swallowed. “So. How big is the monster that’s sitting right behind me?”

“Oh, not too big,” a friendly female voice giggled.

I turned, slowly, careful not to provoke her, only to find…

A girl with honey-brown skin, brown hair, and eyes as black as night sat astride a monster I didn’t recognize, some sort of four-legged beast vaguely resembling a horse. The girl wore what appeared to be a backless black dress of purest midnight.

Next to her, astride a similar beast, was a man with alabaster skin, a fine white silk shirt, and similarly made white pants. His eyes, while violet, appeared otherwise baseline, but could have been dayeyes. His hair was a relatively subdued blond, but done up as spikes that would have been impossible without a lot of product.

Behind them were their monsters.

At least two massive alley-crawlers, bigger than any I had ever seen, reared up over the horde. A dozen small yokvel, like furless cats with iron claws and a disposition to hunting in packs, prowled around the crawlers. Two deathmarked—powerful ape-things with bones visible through their thin and hairless skin—stood directly behind the mounted man and woman, like an honor guard. I even spotted an infernal dromo, a fire-spitting scorpion the size of a car.

I doubted very, very much that this was the limit of what these two had brought.

“My name is Aitil Péine,” the woman said. “Prince of Night’s Southern Autumn. And this is Gealach Tapaidh, Prince of Day’s Southern Autumn.”

The fey woman grinned at us.

“The Wild Hunt has begun.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 202)

Isn’t it interesting that this would happen not a day after the fey received the full rights of a culture?

Scene 186 – Diversis

DIVERSIS

SEENA

Steve Gillespie cocked his head as he looked at me. “I don’t think you look that different.”

I glared at him. “Really? I haven’t seen you since Kevin died and you got put into a coma, and that’s the first thing you say to me?”

He just shrugged. “Well, the first thing you said was ‘I know I look different,’ so yeah, that’s the first thing I say.”

Leon looked me up and down, frowning. “Did you get taller?”

“I also got a tail,” I noted, flicking it lightly towards his face.

“Well, I saw that right away.”

I was glad Leon had managed to survive the fey attack—mostly due to Eric—but I wasn’t sure how to tell him that his aunt was dead. I didn’t want to burden him with that so soon after his mother’s demise. Okay, sure, it wasn’t confirmed that Delphie was dead, but she had been in pretty bad condition, and there hadn’t been any sign of her since.

It had been Eric’s idea that we all meet up today, at one of the many nearly-empty cafes near AU. The Dagonite had called me, not sure what to do with Melanie’s son. I hadn’t really been able to think of anything either—Delphie would come back from the grave and throttle me if I brought Leon to the Mals—so he had suggested gathering everyone together and seeing what we could all come up with.

Steve had gotten out of the hospital yesterday, so this was a good chance to catch up. Simon…Simon was dead, and Yolanda nowhere to be found. With no one else to call, I had done the unthinkable.

I had called Pam.

I had called Eccretia, Paragon of the Never-Known Thieves and co-founder of the changelings. One of the most powerful women in the city.

And she had come.

She didn’t look anything like before. Instead of her bland shirt and pants, she was wearing a light ceramic body armor overlaid with Kevlar. The kind of thing that would ward off animal bites as easily as bullets, but it was probably ungodly heavy.

And that was just the start. In addition to the pistol she had always carried before—a Black Knight ZF740, if I remembered correctly—she also had a Necessarian Saint Jude on her opposite hip, and some kind of Hellion machine gun strapped across her back, with a spare ammo belt slung over her chest.

She looked ready for war, but I suppose I wasn’t one to talk, what with my new found ability to punch through concrete and such. And with the Composer running around slaughtering people, I guess there was no such thing as being over prepared

Only her eyes were the same. Cold, hard, and calculating.

She had brought two young men with her, who I assumed to be more changelings. The one with pale skin and bright golden hair put his coat over the back of a seat and pulled it out; my plain-faced friend sat down without looking at him. He adjusted the rifle slung over his shoulder and took a seat nearby, next to another changeling with similar hair, but a slightly darker complexion.

Eccretia didn’t take her eyes off me.

I coughed. “So, I take it you understand why I called you here?”

“You said it was because of Delphie’s nephew,” she noted. “But I’m guessing that’s not the extent of it.”

I averted my eyes from hers, glad my daygoggles disguised the action. “Let’s focus on Leon right now. The murids are already searching for him.”

The changeling warlord raised an eyebrow. “Why? I assume if they honestly wanted to help him in memory of their Alpha, you’d have handed him over already.”

“You probably know better than I do. But from what I’ve gathered, the culture is on the verge of imploding. Every hunter and wanna-be Alpha is trying to hold it together by consolidating around their chosen leader—themselves, usually.”

Pam—Eccretia nodded. “They want Leon as a figurehead. No one will pretend he’s the leader, but if they can convince everyone else he’s on their side, the memory of his mother will earn them a lot of converts.”

Leon looked like he was going to say something, but Eric silenced him just by placing his hand on his shoulder. Instead, the Dagonite spoke. “How many murids are there, anyway? Ballpark.”

“I dunno…” I thought about it. “A little over ten thousand. But I don’t know how big Plague’s group was—”

“There are eleven thousand, three hundred and eighteen murids as of the last census report,” Eccretia corrected. “Nine hundred and four followed the Lady of the Plague.”

I blinked in surprise. Not at the changeling knowing the numbers—I should have guessed she’d have that data—but at the numbers themselves. “She had almost a thousand people under her? Seriously? I thought it was a couple hundred, tops.”

“What’d you think when you heard ‘biggest murid subculture?’”

“I don’t know, but less than ten percent!”

“That is less than ten percent.”

“You know what I mean. A lot less.”

She shrugged. “Plague was very charismatic and driven. There’s a reason she was assassinated; no one can really take her place.”

I sighed. “Well, I mean, I guess I understood that, it just never quite…clicked.” I waved my hand. “I mean, c’mon, a single mother—”

I stopped breathing as I suddenly remembered something very important.

Steve leaned in with a frown. “Seena? You alright?”

“Leon,” I managed. “What happened to your sister?”

He looked guilty. “Um…I’m not sure. I haven’t seen her since the nest was attacked—”

“Nine Hells,” I hissed, grabbing him by the shirt. “Didn’t you say it’s your job to look out for her? If—”

“Calm down, Nyashk,” Eccretia said soothingly. “Sable is fine. One of Plague’s hunters spirited her away the second things started going wrong. We’re keeping an eye on them, but he seems to have everything in hand.”

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding. “You could have mentioned that.”

“I just did.”

“Wait one second,” Eric said, looking at me strangely. “Nyashk? I thought your last name was Lancaster.”

It took an effort of will not to wince. “It…is. I’m just…” I took another deep breath. “There’s a bit of a story behind my new toys.”

The pale-skinned changeling at Eccretia’s side looked confused. “I thought you just decided to get some buffs after your brother died.”

Steve choked, crushing his glass in his hand in the process. He didn’t seem to notice. “Simon is dead? When did that happen?”

“Domothon,” my sour-faced changeling friend admonished her pale bodyguard. “Don’t act like you knew him.” She turned back to Steve. “Yes, Simon is dead. The exact details are unclear, but apparently a sibriex experiment went awry.”

The massive man jumped to his feet, making the whole table shake. “Then we need to do something! Call—” he choked again, searching for an answer. “The ‘sarians! Someone! I—”

“It’s been dealt with,” I said tiredly. “Sit down.”

He blinked at me, slowly. “What do you mean, dealt with?”

“Nhang is dead,” I explained. “Necessarius witnessed the attack. A retribution fee has been issued, and paid. It’s done.”

Except for the treaty with Aramazd, which Zepar had jumped on like a hound on a bone. New toys in exchange for some simple protection? My fellow warlord had literally hugged me at the news.

“How is the new Power?” Eccretia asked curiously. “I don’t have any information on him.”

I shrugged. “He’s a misshapen bundle of flesh tied to a server farm. I’m not really sure what to make of him.”

The bodyguard who had spoken before piped up again. “There are a few weird things going on there. Narek Nhang was the Gatekeeper of the Eighth Hell, Ani Kamakhym, which is named after an Armenian mythological site. But Nhang was Chinese, and his first name—though Armenian—a pseudonym. I don’t understand—”

“You’re right, you don’t understand,” his boss interrupted, causing his mouth to snap shut. “For example, you don’t understand that Ani Kamakhym was the main sanctuary of the father-god of the Armenian pantheon.” She fixed me with a steely glare. “Aramazd.”

That set me back in my chair. “Nhang’s subordinate was named after the highest figure in his chosen pantheon? That seems odd. There’s no way he would have missed that reference.”

“Maybe he just didn’t want to change his name?” Leon said, a little quietly. “I mean, a lot of warlords do like my mom did, but I know Auntie Delphie thought it was stupid, and that crab lady kept her real name.”

Steve laughed. “That’s a point. Maybe it was just the server-monster, and no one cared enough to make a fuss. Did any of the other sibs have Armenian references in their names?”

“How should I know?” I muttered. “Until thirty seconds ago, I didn’t even know Aramazd meant anything important.” I huffed. “Hells, I didn’t even know Ani Kamakhym was Armenian.”

The second changeling, the one with darker skin but the same golden hair, finally spoke. “But you did know the Eighth Gate was Ani Kamakhym, not Arhestanots, right?”

I nodded. That was a mistake people made a lot with the various one-building domains. The sibriex domain was Ani Kamakhym, but since that domain only consisted of a single building (Arhestanots), a lot of people confused the two. The Mals got around that problem simply by not naming our building. Our domain was Maladomini, and that was it. Simon had always had trouble—

I closed my eyes, willing tears to stay back.

Nine Hells, was this going to happen every time I thought of my stupid brother?

I felt a hand on my arm, and turned, blinking, to see Eric looking at me with concern.

“It’s going to be all right,” he insisted. “Eventually.”

Steve and the changeling bodyguards looked a little bit uncomfortable, but Eccretia and Leon just looked confused.

“What are you two talking about?” she asked. “Did Aramazd do something I didn’t hear about?”

The pale changeling, the one I think she had called Domothon, sighed. “Gods of men and darkness, boss, learn to read the mood.”

The boss in question just glared at her subordinate, and he immediately shut up.

I forced a smile on my face and changed the subject. “Actually, I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced.” I held out my hand to shake.

The pale one took it firmly. “Domothon of the Never-Known Thieves,” he confirmed. He indicated his darker companion with a jerk of his thumb; the second man didn’t seem interested in shaking hands. “This is Ferenil, also of the Never-Known Thieves.”

“You two brothers?” Leon asked innocently. “Your hair is the same.”

The changeling pair winced, and I couldn’t help but feel for them. Leon was a bit young to understand the whole…loss of identity that fey-slaves went through.

Thankfully, Domothon recovered quickly, managing a pained smile. “No, it’s nothing like that. We just happen to have the same hair color, that’s all.”

“Oh. That’s boring.” He turned back to me. “I want to hear more about what happened with Seena and Simon.”

Steve’s perpetual smile was briefly replaced by a small scowl. “Don’t be rude, boy. I’m sure she’s still hurting.”

I’m still hurting?” I asked, a little incredulous. “You got out of a coma yesterday.”

“Actually, I woke up on the sixth. I was released yesterday—”

I barreled on as if I hadn’t heard him. “A coma you were in because someone tried to kill you and succeeded in killing your roommate.” I managed to shrug, a nonchalant gesture I didn’t feel. “I got my revenge. I think you need help more than me.”

The not-giant looked pained. “It’s…complicated. It’s not clear who attacked us—”

“Probably the Aesir,” Eccretia noted, taking a sip out of her cup. “Maybe the trolls or the ogres, but I’m betting on the Aesir. It was two days after Mjolnir’s death. I think they were just lashing out.”

Steve glared. “Look, Pam—”

“Eccretia,” she corrected.

He chuckled a little, waving his hand. “Yeah, yeah, I heard. I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but you’re not much older than me. You don’t get to act all high and mighty.”

The warlord raised an eyebrow. “Steve, I escaped from the fey when I was physically somewhere in the neighborhood of four years old. I’ve been leading the Never-Known Thieves ever since. You’ve been a courier for the last three years. So yes, I do get to act ‘all high and mighty.’ Especially when dealing with Jotuun spies.”

The large black baseline frowned briefly, before barking out a bitter laugh, which contrasted strongly with his normal happy chuckle. “For crying out loud—just because I’m big doesn’t mean I’m a freaking Jotuun.” He shifted in his seat a little uncomfortably, as though reminded he didn’t quite fit in it. “I thought you were better than that.”

“So you didn’t know Kevin was a Jotuun spy?” she replied blandly. “Interesting.”

Steve blinked. “He what.”

“Yeah,” I piped up. “Pam told us…” I thought back, then winced. “Right before the fey came out and grabbed Veda.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me!?”

“You were in a coma.”

“I meant after!”

“We just did,” Eccretia said with that same damnable calm. “What does it matter? He’s gone.”

The baseline rubbed his bald scalp in apprehension. “It matters because apparently the reason behind the attack was because he was a spy!” His eyes were going wild; I didn’t understand why he was freaking out so much. “Good God…if I had known…”

“Steve, you’re scaring me.” I could feel my tail twitching a little—that had been happening recently, and I frowned as I tried to get it under control. “Everybody has spies. Yeah, you got caught in the middle this time, but is it really such a big deal?”

“It…it…” he wet his lips. “Michelle. He had a sister, Michelle Irwin. What happened to her?”

I turned to Eccretia, but she just shrugged. “I stopped paying attention to all that after Kevin died. Don’t look at me.”

I shrugged too. “I don’t know either. Simon might—” I fell silent.

Eric managed to break it quickly enough, though. “Simon had a girlfriend, right? The demon? Maybe she’d know.”

“I haven’t been able to get in touch with her,” I muttered, still sullen. “She hasn’t been back to the dorms that I can tell, and no one has seen her at school.”

The green-haired Dagonite winced. “Yeah, I can see how this would be a hard time for her. She probably ran back to her orphanage for a while.”

“Yolanda has a surviving uncle,” Eccretia noted. “Our own Senator McDowell, actually.”

Eric blinked. “Wait, the guy they called a vote of no-confidence on?”

“Yes.”

“Huh.” He scratched his chin. “Well, I guess she’s probably off with him, then. My roommate went on about how awesome this guy was yesterday when we got the call, so she must be fine.”

That got Steve’s attention again. I was also happy to see his normal half-smile was back. “So you didn’t vote to out him?”

“Why would I?” Eric asked with a shrug. “I have nothing against the man. Besides, did you see the guys who would be replacing him? The Granit is the one who has the most support. No thank you.”

My phone beeped; I checked it to find a message from Zepar. Some minor discipline problem had come up back at the domain, and he wanted me to take part.

“I’ve gotta go,” I said to the others apologetically. “Eccretia, can you get Leon to those murid hunters who are looking after his sister?”

“I can, but I’m not sure it would be best.”

Please,” I begged. “It’s better than leaving him with a defenseless Dagonite.”

“Point of order,” the man in question piped up. “I’m not a Dagonite any more—”

“Shush,” Eccretia interrupted without taking her eyes off me. “The adults are talking.” She bit her lip, thinking, before nodding. “I’ll look into the hunters. If they don’t work out, I can keep the boy at my base for a week or so.”

Such a generous offer surprised me, but I kept it off my face, and just nodded. “Thank you, Dame Eccretia.”

She grinned thinly. “Thank you, Noble Nyashk.”

Steve, Eric, and Leon all blinked owlishly and said in unison “Noble who?

“Gotta go,” I chirped as I rocketed out of my chair. “Call if you get a hold of Yolanda!”

Behind the Scenes (scene 186)

“Arhestanots” is Armenian for workshop. Which summarizes what the sibriex do pretty well.

And in regards to Eccretia’s age, remember that changelings can only guess on anything except what their DNA explicitly codes for. She might have looked about four or five by the time they had stripped her of all her fey toys, but she definitely didn’t act like it.