Tag Archives: Laura Grand

Scene 162 – Inlaqueaverunt

INLAQUEAVERUNT

LAURA GRAND

My name is Laura Grand. I am a Mal passer, a vampire trained to look and act like a baseline. Every culture has people like us, though most of them deny it. Considering that we have a reputation as assassins, it’s to be expected that they’d want to distance themselves from us.

Of course, some of us are assassins.

Myself, Frank Goebel, and Serena Delgado worked together on missions like this. Our last mission—to take out the Paladins’ retinue—had been scrapped during the restructuring of our warlords. Our new Noble, Nyashk, had asked me how I felt about that.

I had answered with the truth: I felt that it was an order, and I would carry it out. I hadn’t really understood why she was asking, but that wasn’t my job. Soldiers don’t question, they obey.

Such as this mission. It was simple enough: Infiltrate the Necessarian camp under the guise of guards, and make the kill. Don’t kill any ‘sarians.

There were plenty of questions I could ask. Why now? Why not let Necessarius handle it? Why even bother with passers? Why not just send in a shadow squad, with toys optimized towards pure stealth?

But we didn’t ask questions. We just obeyed.

Getting past the perimeter had been surprisingly easy, mostly because there wasn’t one. They were relying on secrecy to protect this place, not armed guards.

Not that there weren’t plenty of those, too, but they kept themselves hidden. A dozen snipers on the city wall, looking down like hawks. A number of carefully-placed shipping containers to provide cover, and some more soldiers posing as ‘random’ Ring residents, apparently lounging in the shacks and lean-to’s.

The only thing that was obviously guarded was the crane, a giant old yellow thing with the Necessarian red-on-black hastily painted on the main structure. There were three men armed with assault rifles guarding the controls, and another five patrolling around it.

Obviously, that wasn’t the actual cell. It was just a decoy. But where WAS it? We couldn’t just go up to someone and ask, they’d capture us or worse.

Frank was the one who noticed that the power magnet the crane used to grab things was directly above a certain shipping crate…a crate that a couple Dagonites happened to be eating dinner in front of.

It was dark, so we could probably sneak past them, but we didn’t want to risk them having nighteyes. Not to mention getting into the cell itself would probably be loud.

“The Big Boss said we’re your relief,” Serena said cheerfully as we walked up. “Go home.”

The pair looked at each other, then back at the tall blonde passer. “We just got here this morning. I thought he said we had to stay on site for two days?”

Serena shrugged. “Men and monsters, don’t ask me. He says jump, we ask how high on the way up.”

The Dagonites eyed us oddly, but slowly put away their sandwiches. “No complaints here. But if it turns out we were supposed to stay, you’re taking the fall.”

“That’s only fair,” my comrade admitted. “But it won’t come to that.”

As the ‘sarians left, one of them turned back. “Be sure to check on the prisoner.” He tossed two heavy pairs of keys at us, and I caught them. “We just let one of the lab techs in a second ago.”

I glared at him. “You shouldn’t have let him in unsupervised.”

He shrugged. “Clarke’s techs know better than to poke things. I’m sure he’s fine.” They waved as they headed off.

“Eternal night,” I muttered under my breath, stomping over to the shipping crate with Frank and Serena in tow. “Butler’s hiring standards seem to have relaxed since last I checked.”

Turns out the reason there were two pairs of keys was because there were two locks, which had to be turned simultaneously. Serena and I handled that while Frank kept guard with his rifle. In a couple seconds, the door was open, and we slipped inside.

And there was Elizabeth Greene.

Manacled to the steel wall, like a butterfly pinned down for study, it was only expected for her to look weak. She was captured, defeated. It was only expected that she should lose some of her fire.

But she hadn’t.

She still looked as healthy as if she was living in a five-star hotel. Her bronze skin had lost none of its color, her golden eyes still shone as bright as stars. Even her hair retained its sheen. The only sign that she was even the slightest bit uncomfortable was her unkempt hair. And even then, it looked like she had just rolled out of bed, not been trapped in a Necessarian warcage for a week.

And then there was the lab tech the idiots had let in five minutes ago.

He looked about seventeen, and tall, with the ruddy skin of a pacific islander, and garish green hair. That color looks bad in general; contrasted with his skin it looked horrific. He was standing too close to Greene for my taste.

Serena stepped back, letting me take charge. “You there. Step back from the prisoner.”

The tech eyed me warily. “And who are you?”

I didn’t waver. “The new guards. Now step back.”

He smiled thinly. “I have a better idea.” He placed his hand on the wall.

And ten square feet of steel just rusted away, like a thousand years had passed in a handful of seconds.

The three of us stumbled back. Eternal night, what was—

Elizabeth Greene landed lightly on her feet, not even stopping to rub her wrists, apparently completely unharmed from being pinned to a wall for eight days.

And she was grinning, showing gleaming white teeth, and canines nearly as sharp as a vampire’s.

“Thank you,” she said to her minion. “I assume Nabassu and Oleander are nearby?”

“Oleander only,” he replied crisply. “Nabassu wanted to minimize the people involved.”

“Hm, I suppose I’ll allow it.” She turned her attention to us, still grinning. “You can kill these three.”

I’ve spent most of my twenty-six years on this Earth around guns. Worked for the McDowells when I was a kid, before they blew themselves up. Did some escort duty for Zero Forge Guns for a little while, until I joined the Mals.

ZFG was where I got the Red Knight ZF678. A nice, stable 6.00 mm hand cannon, generally referred to as a hip gun.

Twenty-six years around guns meant I could draw steel faster than pretty much anyone on the planet. A few carefully chosen internal toys lowered the number of people faster than me by a good amount.

And when I was using a Red Knight ZF678, a gun designed for being drawn from the hip at lightning speed, I was the fastest on the planet.

I didn’t hesitate. Not for a single millisecond. I whipped that gun out and emptied eight rounds into Elizabeth Greene’s skull before anyone had a chance to blink.

That’s not hyperbole.

6.00 mm is pretty big. Big enough that one is usually enough to take a fist-sized chunk out of the back of someone’s head. Eight was enough to reduce it to a fine red mist.

I sighed in relief as the Composer’s headless corpse slumped to the ground, then nodded to my companions.

“Take care of the Blackguard,” I said, indicating the green-haired boy. My gun was empty, and I felt too emotionally exhausted to reload. “No loose ends.”

“You’re right,” a female voice hissed. “No loose ends.”

Then Elizabeth Greene rose from the floor, grinning from ear to ear.

I stepped back, horrified, sputtering wordlessly. I reloaded my gun hurriedly, even as Frank and Serena started firing into the woman’s chest.

But although bloody wounds erupted in the Composer’s flesh, she didn’t seem more than mildly inconvenienced by them.

“Sorry, kids,” she said mockingly, that too-broad grin still on her damn face. “It doesn’t work like that!”

She killed me before I finished reloading.

 

Behind the Scenes (scene 162)

I hate scenes like this, where nothing important is going on. Oh well. There’s always gotta be a little filler, right?

Scene 154 – Responsio

RESPONSIO

SEENA

“Hail, Noble Seena,” Laura Grand said, raising her mug in salute.

I growled. “Nothing has been decided yet.”

She snorted as she took a sip of her drink. “Sure.”

“You’re already on target,” Serena insisted gently. “You’re not going to change your flight path at the last second.”

I rubbed my forehead. “I’m not…it’s a massive decision to make, and I’m just not sure—”

“What is there to think about?” Laura cut in. “You were offered a position as warlord in a powerful—”

“Declining,” Frank muttered.

Laura glared daggers at him. “—in a still powerful culture. That’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, make no mistakes about that.”

I sighed, and got up from the table, regretting the decision to sit down in the first place. “Thanks for the drink, but I think I need some time alone.”

The short, brown-haired passer slammed her mug down, nearly toppling the other drinks. “Look here, there’s no cause to be rude—”

“Laura,” Serena said, placing her hand on her friend’s shoulder to calm her. “Just leave her be.”

I turned and walked away before anyone else had a chance to react.

They were right, of course. I had already made my choice. I was already on target to become Nyashk, and nothing would stop that. If I was really still on the fence, I wouldn’t have let Zepar announce that I was thinking about it. He had wanted to keep it secret, have ‘Seena’ die in some accident and then bring in ‘Nyashk’ a few days later.

But I hate all the lies of politics and…ugh. I just hate dealing with that kind of crap. So I insisted that if we were doing this, we were doing it out in the open. He had jumped on that quickly.

By all Nine Hells and the black gates that guard them…I shouldn’t have to deal with this. A nineteen year-old college student shouldn’t be forced to…

I’ve fought before. Killed before. Whenever the orphanage needed a bit more food or whatever, Simon and I would go rat hunting.

But that’s not much. That’s…that was like I had played soccer once or twice, and then got asked to join the South Central Zeroes.

But…

If I were in that situation, wouldn’t I do it?

If you’re given a once in a lifetime opportunity, don’t you have to take it? Otherwise, you’d spend the rest of your life wondering.

Yeah, this was a bit more dangerous. Yeah, the reconstruction could have side effects, or I could get assassinated in the night, or I could accidentally start a war, or one of a million other things could go wrong.

But what could I do right?

I spun on my heel and marched right back up to the audience chamber, everyone who saw me quickly rushing to get out of my way when they saw the look in my eyes.

The penthouse room was still in ruins from the fight last Monday, but Zepar was still waiting patiently, sitting on the ground with his legs folded under him, mighty tail twitching, and gently sipping tea.

“I’ll do it,” I declared without preamble.

The dusk-skinned vampire smiled, but still decided to play dumb. “Do what, Honored Nightstalker?”

I growled. Yeah, this was making me enjoy my decision. I plopped down in front of him, well aware he would drag this out as long as possible, and not wanting to spend the next ten minutes standing.

“I’ll become Nyashk,” I said. “I’ll go through the reconstruction. I’ll even pretend I was sleeping with Baal, if that makes things easier.”

His smile broadened, revealing his fangs over his teacup. “Oh, no worries on that front. I’ve already been spreading enough rumors. I couldn’t stop them now if I tried.”

That made me scowl. I was beginning to hate this man. “Whatever. When can we do it?”

Suddenly serious, he put down the teacup. “Whenever you’re ready. I’ll call in Baftis, and she can get you started within the hour.” He pulled out his phone and tapped a few buttons.

I sighed in relief. “Good. Hells, I just want to get this over with.”

The warlord frowned. “Ah, right, about that…any chance you can take the time to correct your speech patterns?”

Suddenly, my anger was back. “I’ve always spoken like this.”

“Well, yes, but having a vampire Noble speaking like a demon is—”

I held up my hand. “I don’t want to have this argument. But just…I’ll try, okay? I’ll try.” I had never made a conscious attempt to change the way I spoke, mostly because I had never seen the problem with it. My orphanage Patron had been a demon, so I spoke like a demon. That was really all there was to it.

“Miss Lancaster?” a gentle voice spoke up. I turned to see a pretty young vampire with a crimson body and spiral horns. She was wearing a large, thick lab coat that didn’t quite hide the fact that her back appeared to be glowing.

She winced at my gaze, specifically moving her back out of sight. As she squinted in the darkness, I noticed that she had violet eyes. Not dayeyes, but still definitely not nighteyes.

“I-I’m sorry,” she stammered, probably misinterpreting my look. “Noble Nyashk, can you please come with me? I’m ready whenever you are.”

Ah, this would be Baftis. Our reclusive head scientist. Our only scientist. No wonder she kept out of the public eye. With a demon’s horns and an angel’s dayskin, she probably got stared at constantly. But why didn’t she just have them removed?

Whatever. I could always ask her later. Right now, it was time to become a warlord.

Finally, I would be strong enough to be a player in the power struggles of Domina City, rather than just another victim and bystander.

Finally, I could protect my brother.

Behind the Scenes (scene 154)

As Seena implies here (and you may have already figured out due to Ling), sports are a pretty integral part of Domina culture. Currently, there are limits on what buffs you’re allowed in order to play, but those have been relaxing recently. The story hasn’t been focusing on the sports, because, to put it bluntly, I don’t care about them. The South Central Zeroes are named after the most prominent landmark of the district: The Zero Forge.

Scene 123 – Adstutia

ADSTUTIA

SEENA

Simon kept twitching at every shadow, as though someone might jump out and attack us at any moment. It would have been sad if not for those massive light amplification goggles on his face. They made him look absolutely ridiculous, so it was hard to take him seriously.

At least the traps started to thin out as we headed back downstairs. They weren’t really dangerous, since they were mostly designed to teach the kids how to avoid traps, but Simon took forever to get through even the simplest of them. I had a ball on a string I could use to trigger the traps safely, but he needed the exercise. I made a mental note to get him a toy voucher for some dexterity buffs our next birthday. Or maybe a gym membership.

“How much farther?” he panted, as he limbo-ed under a chest-height tripwire.

“Not too far,” I promised. “They’re probably at the bar just—ah, here we are.”

The three assassins we were looking for were easily spotted, as they were sitting at the only table with a light, albeit a dim one. Still, in the peaceful darkness of the rest of Maladomini, they may as well have set out a flare.

Frank, Laura Grand, and Serena were passers, people who appeared baseline despite belonging to a culture. Although technically the word could be used to refer to people like Delphie, who stuck to internal toys, it was usually used more in this context. These three didn’t have any obvious toys intentionally so that they could blend in better.

It was easier to assassinate people that way.

Most Mals preferred a more traditional sort of assassination. Slip into a building in the dead of night, sneak past the guards, and slit the target’s throat while they were sleeping. These three were of the more subtle variety, who would bump into a target on the street. Then, four hours later, the victim would die without ever realizing they had been poisoned in that brief collision.

The three didn’t always work together like this, but it wasn’t their first time. They chatted together amiably, not a care in the world.

“You’re completely missing the point,” the tall and blonde Serena insisted.

The short, brown-haired Grand waved her hand dismissively. “I understand the point quite well. You’re the one who keeps adding on unrealistic restrictions.”

Frank, the quiet one, just rolled his eyes and didn’t interrupt.

Serena wasn’t quite so mature. “It’s just the opposite—I’m trying to add realistic restrictions, to reasonably simulate the situation.”

“You really think its realistic to assume these people won’t be willing to kill?”

“Yes, actually, I do. Clearly you haven’t done enough research.”

Grand sighed. “Fine. Fine. If we assume no one will kill…” she shook her head morosely in defeat. “Batman would win. Superman would spend too much effort holding back, and Bruce could use to opening to floor him.”

Serena grinned and spread her hands wide. “Was that so hard to admit?”

The shorter girl punched her friend playfully in the shoulder. “Don’t be a dick.”

Frank peered out of their little oasis of light. “Company.”

That was our cue. “Hello again, guys.”

“Hey, Lancaster,” Grand greeted me with some warmth. “Who’s the demon?”

“This is Simon, my brother.”

She whistled softly. “Deep night, you didn’t mention he was a cutie.”

I rolled my eyes. “Sorry if I don’t go around talking about my brother that way.”

“Well, you should. Advertise him a little more.” She grinned at Simon. “Puteţi veni în camera mea de mai târziu, dacă doriţi să.”

Simon met her gaze levelly. “Nu, mulţumesc,” he replied flawlessly. He switched back to English right away, though. “If you really meant that, you would have said it in a language you knew I understood.”

Grand blushed deeply, and hid her embarrassment in her mug of coffee.

I looked at my brother sideways. “Since when do you speak Romanian?”

“Since you joined the Mals. What, you don’t?”

“Well, I’ve been learning a bit here and there, but I haven’t really had time for full lessons.”

“You really should take the time. Aren’t you supposed to be teaching classes in Romanian?”

“No, I’m supposed to be teaching classes on Romanian—”

“Guys,” Serena interrupted. “Please, let’s get to the point. What are you doing here?”

Nine Hells, I shouldn’t have let myself get off topic like that. I fished around in my pocket and pulled out the general’s signet ring. “I have orders from General Abigor. The attack on the retinue is called off.”

The three gave me a puzzled look, then just shrugged. “Fine,” Grand said.

I blinked. “Really? Just like that?” I had half-expected them to draw weapons.

Serena chuckled. “Why not? We can always kill them later. Defying an order would be a bloody lot worse than letting them run around for another day or so.” She gestured to the waiter for a couple more stools. “Sit down. Tell us the whole story.”

After ordering a few drinks (and turning down the light to a level that was more comfortable for me), it all came out. How the Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow had told me about the attack, and how I had spent the last month frantically searching for any scrap of information to confirm it. They knew that part already; I had confronted them about it earlier once I had enough evidence, and they hadn’t tried to hide it for even a moment. They were surprised at Abigor’s reaction, though.

“He’s always had some problems with the ‘sarians,” Serena said slowly. “Bileth implied the whole thing was his idea.”

My mind slowly spun its gears. “I hope this wasn’t all a red herring. What if he’s sending out another team right now?”

Grand shrugged. “Then the retinue dies. Does it really matter?”

I wouldn’t have been able to believe my ears—except they had said similar things last time. They were all members of the Kongeegen party, the social Darwinists. Actually a lot of Mals were, they were just more open about it. “It will start a war with Necessarius. A war we cannot win.”

Serena waved her hand dismissively. “By the night, stop your preaching. The generals know what they’re doing. If they want the retinue dead, its all for the best.”

“Stop and think for a minute,” I insisted. “It wouldn’t just start a war, it would weaken the war against the Composer. What possible reason could there be behind that?”

“Weed out the weak,” Frank answered instantly. “Natural selection.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Simon quietly put his head in his hands. I knew his views on this subject. Mine were a little bit more open, mostly because in a culture of assassins, you have to get used to hearing stuff like this. Not to mention Pam could get a bit loud about her beliefs when monsters showed up.

“Ignoring the pros and cons of social Darwinism, don’t you think its in everyone’s best interest to unite against something that’s trying to destroy all of us?”

“You’re missing the point,” Grand insisted, jabbing her finger in my direction for emphasis. “This ‘Composer’ is still hypothetical. We have no way of knowing that there is anyone behind these zombies at all. If there isn’t, then its just like any other weather pattern. Let everyone fend for themselves.”

I narrowed my eyes, not bothering to point out that the Paladins had discovered her identity. I had barely believed it; these three would never trust anything Necessarius said. “You have any kids?”

“Five,” she replied instantly. I couldn’t tell if she knew where this was going. “Two boys and three girls.”

“I have two,” I said, nodding in camaraderie. “A boy and a girl. Simon, you have two boys, right?” He nodded, and I turned back to the assassin. “I take it you put them in an orphanage, like we did?”

Her eyes were very narrow slits now. She had figured it out, but she had to let everything play out anyway. “Yeah.”

“What if the orphanage was attacked by screamers?”

“I’d stop it.”

I ignored the fact that she was bending the rules of social Darwinism a little bit. “You’ve never fought screamers before. Besides, you could be on the opposite side of the city. You gonna sit outside the window for the rest of their lives?”

“Don’t talk to me about them, Lancaster. I can—”

“What if the retinue could save them?”

“Deep night,” she cursed. “The Paladins are still gonna be around. And don’t you dare try and use slippery slope fallacy on me. The generals love the Paladins.”

I nodded in agreement on both counts. “True, true. But the Big Boss assigned them the retinue for a reason. What if they’re not fast enough without trusted companions watching their backs?”

This, more than anything else, was what I knew I had to hinge my argument on. Sometimes it was hard to feel strongly about children you had given up—I know sometimes I found myself forgetting the names I had given to my babies before handing them off.

But these three were soldiers, through and through. They knew you need someone you trusted watching your back, always. That was just how it worked.

Not that it mattered. Frank just shook his head. “The generals want them dead, they die. Move on.”

Yes, being a soldier meant having someone watch your back, so they could sympathize with the Paladins and the retinue. But the other half was following orders—and they were very, very good at that part.

Arguing with them was a waste of time, anyway. We might be a small subculture, but the generals would be able to find someone else willing to take the mission while we were dealing with them. That was probably why Abigor had sent us down here in the first place.

“C’mon,” I said, grabbing Simon’s arm. “We have to go.”

He raised an eyebrow as I pulled him out of earshot. “Look, I know you want to help the retinue, but I don’t think we have any chance of convincing your warlords to change their minds.”

“I agree,” I admitted. “But what do you think will happen if the fey find out that the retinue is in danger, even after I was warned?”

He didn’t answer, but he didn’t have to.

Sooner or later, everything in Domina ended in blood.

Behind the Scenes (scene 123)

I would just like to remind everyone that the views expressed by the characters do not necessarily mirror the views of the writer.