“Miss?” a young woman asked quietly, as she walked up to us, a cell in her hand. “You have a phone call. Your sister.”
Lily frowned. “Why wouldn’t she call on…” she started patting herself down, then closed her eyes and cursed under her breath. “I think I left my phone at your place,” she said to me.
Not entirely unexpected. Lily had been waiting in my room last night, but when Laura told us how she thought Derek had needed some alone time, she had rushed out so fast she left a blur. And I wasn’t far behind, although since I took the elevator and she took the stairs, I still got down to the lobby first. I guess we left some stuff behind.
The woman with the phone had a tattoo on her left shoulder, a circle of vines or something around the Latin words ‘Cervientes Autem Civitati Domina.’ ‘Serving the City of the Lady,’ if my Latin wasn’t too rusty. That explained why she was playing messenger, at least.
Lily took the phone with a sigh. “Sorry about that, I know you don’t like using the Servants. I left my—” she frowned again. “What? You—but you know I can’t…” there was pause. “Right. He’ll be there in a sec.” She hung up, handed the phone back to the woman with a nod, and headed south at a jog.
I followed her quickly, barely registering the messenger bowing slightly as she turned away. “Wait, what’s the problem?”
“Lizzy is attacking the lab. The ave lab where they’ve got the toy box,” she said. She glanced around, looking for something, and dashed off towards the south gate, which was barely in sight. “You have to help them.”
I cursed and followed. I had really hoped I’d never have to deal with that lab myself, but I hadn’t had high hopes on that front. That Turgay was an idiot—stealing from Necessarius was the stupidest thing I had ever heard of—but he didn’t deserve to die.
And he would, I had no illusions about that. We still didn’t know much about the Composer, but ‘ridiculously dangerous’ was on the short list.
“Hang back once we get there,” I instructed her as we rushed past a man installing some speakers under the eave of a building. “She still might be able to turn people. We don’t want more potential victims than necessary.”
She glanced back, but kept running. “What about you?”
“I’ll be fine,” I lied smoothly. “Just worry about yourself.”
“I was gonna stay back anyway,” she promised. “Just keep yourself safe.”
South gate was already open, thankfully, so I didn’t have to wait for the mechanisms to slowly grind away. Lily stopped there, kissed me quickly, and told me the lab was to the left.
Then she was gone, and I was on my own.
I took a deep breath, drew my Caedes, and stepped through the gate.
I never would have found the place, even with Lily’s quick directions, under normal circumstances. Everything on the docks looked about the same to me, and the aves were pretty good at hiding their tracks.
But they weren’t in the lab any more.
To my left, a shipping container had the doors blown off, and the Ring around it splashed bright red with blood. Maybe a dozen aves, led by an anthro I assumed to be Turgay, huddled around the area, tending to the wounded. The concrete of the Ring was molded into odd shapes and hills, forcing the containers into disarray. Ling’s handiwork, no doubt. And also the reason the birds weren’t inside.
However, I quickly stopped paying attention to the aves, as I finally realized what was happening before my very eyes.
Ling and Lizzy were fighting.
And Ling was losing. Horribly.
She was covered in blood and dirt, a hundred small slices in her clothes hinting at the cause of that. There was a very long and deep slash across her face that was bleeding profusely; she wouldn’t be able to stand much longer, even in optimal conditions.
As I watched, the little Chinese girl molded the concrete in front of her into a wall—faster than I had ever seen before. The wall was thicker and taller than normal, too. Any screamer would pound against it uselessly, gaining Ling valuable time.
Lizzy wasn’t a screamer.
The bronze Amazon just laughed and blurred—she had super speed??—over the wall, landing on Ling and crashing her heavily to the ground.
Ling rose a couple inches, likely using the armor she wore under her clothes, and it seemed like she might gain the advantage again. But Lizzy laughed again, and without doing anything I could see, Ling smashed into the ground once more.
It didn’t take me long to figure out what had just happened. Lizzy had Ling’s power as well, and had used it against her.
We needed to finish this fast. No time to think. So I raised my submachine gun, aimed carefully, and opened fire.
Lizzy whipped her head in my direction the second my Caedes began to roar. A few bullets hit her in the torso, but before my storm of lead could do any real damage, she interposed a shield between us. It was just like one of Derek’s shields, except it was an angry orange instead of royal blue. It looked almost like it was on fire, although the breeze caused the faint mist to drift everywhere instead of merely up.
She dodged away, leaving the barrier up, which I took as a good sign. Derek’s shields could be broken with enough effort, and clearly the same was true for hers. And the mere fact that she was using a shield made it clear that whatever regeneration she had, it wasn’t perfect. She was probably worried about what would happen if her reservoir ran out while I was still shooting at her.
I thought that sounded like a very interesting experiment.
I followed her quickly, past Ling and her wall (the barrier had dissolved), to the edge of the Ring to the right of the gate. The second I had a clear shot, I took it. Lizzy got another barrier up, but as I had expected, it was centered on her torso.
Her legs, while not completely undefended, were still less protected. A few bullets got her in the ankle, and she dropped to her knees with a cry of rage. The downside of my tactic was that now the barrier covered her completely, and I could see her ankle healing. She’d be able to stand soon.
Before she had a chance, Akane sped behind her and stabbed her through the heart.
The samurai girl’s face was half-covered in blood, and there was a nasty gash on her forehead. I guess Lizzy had tried to take her out first, and had thought she succeeded.
The Composer cried out in pain and dropped the shield, but she wasn’t done yet. She twisted around, ripping the sword out of her with the motion. She stumbled a moment, but the wound was already healing. She grimaced in pain, then summoned another barrier.
This one wasn’t a shield.
In her hand, there was suddenly a glowing orange sword leaking mist, a mirror to the katana in Akane’s own grip. The Amazon grinned, blood from previous kills on her teeth, and fell into what even I could tell was an advanced sword stance.
Akane seemed stunned, and in normal circumstances, Lizzy probably would have used that hesitation to kill her already. But instead she was taking advantage of the lull to let herself heal.
I couldn’t get a shot off; they were too close. I switched to my pistol as I ran closer, but before I got a chance—
Something unexpected happened.
What I expected was for one of the girls, probably Elizabeth, to dash forward and start the fight proper.
Instead, a giant landed next to Lizzy.
He wasn’t really that big for a giant. Maybe six feet, with a bit of width on him. He was some flavor of South-American, which lead me to believe he wasn’t one of the Aesir—those guys were mostly white. What were the other ones? The Jotuun? That sounded right.
But he had definitely fallen out of the sky, right next to the Composer, in a way that reminded me of the day we had seen her fly after killing the gargants with the calciophage.
He had a power.
Elizabeth laughed and let her sword fade. Akane probably should have struck then, but instead she walked backwards to stand next to me.
“Surprised?” Lizzy asked mockingly. “Come on Adam, didn’t you wonder why I never gave you powers?” She grinned. “Hint: It’s not because I can’t.”
Another shape landed on the Composer’s other side. This one was a demon with red skin and a tail, clad in an immaculate suit and tie. As he landed, I saw batlike wings on his back vanish into smoke. A shifter, then.
“We need to go, Mistress Greene,” the demon said calmly. “There are too few allies here.”
She sighed, annoyed. “Yes, thank you, Nabassu, for pointing that out in front of the enemy.” She tilted her head at the giant. “Oleander will carry me. Let’s go.”
The Jotuun did as was suggested, scooping the blood-soaked girl into a princess carry and leaping into the air.
“HEY!” Akane cried, dashing forward far too late.
The demon, Nabassu, bowed quickly, smoked in his wings, and used them to leap onto the wall, a hundred feet high, with only a few quick beats.
“I’m sorry,” he called down, to all appearances genuinely contrite. We could barely hear him. “But we don’t have time for a chase scene at the moment.”
“STOP!” Akane looked like she was getting ready to jump, but the demon just leapt off the wall, out of sight, presumably flying away.
“Akane,” I cautioned, putting hand on her shoulder.
She brushed me off. “I’m going.”
I shook my head. “I think that might be harder than you’d like.”
The swordswoman finally noticed the same thing I had.
There was a third minion of the Composer on the battlefield.
A massive red-skinned demon, maybe eight feet tall and four wide, strode through the gate. He was shirtless, revealing a fat belly and limp muscles, but I knew better than to underestimate him. Maybe it was some dangerous gleam in his violet eyes. Maybe it was just a gut instinct.
Or maybe it was the massive axe slung over his shoulder.
The handle was five feet long and four inches thick. The head was a massive steel affair, shaped more like a wedge than a traditional axe. The flat end was two feet wide on the long side and another foot on the short, and slowly tapered into a sharp edge on the other side. Both the blunt end and the blade were splashed with something red that could have been rust, but was almost certainly blood.
The whole thing had to weigh a hundred pounds.
The fat demon lifted it as if it were made of tissue paper.
He grinned, revealing a mouth overcrowded with far too many sharp fangs, and pushed hard on the gate with his free hard. The mechanisms in the door screamed in protest, and I heard the sounded of gears and pistons breaking, but the massive gate slowly slammed shut.
“You’re trapped,” the beast said in a voice like a meat grinder. “Nowhere to run.”
He was right. There was nothing we—
No. I was trapped.
Akane was not.
“Follow Lizzy,” I muttered to her out of the corner of my mouth.
Her head snapped in my direction in shock. “But—”
“Follow her,” I insisted. “Call the others if you can. I think I can handle this guy.”
She shook her head. “No. Not leaving you alone.”
“Derek would give the order if he were here,” I pointed out. “Now go.”
She glared at me, well aware I was manipulating her, but then nodded. What I said was true and she knew it.
The swordswoman turned to the wall, crouched down, took a deep breath, and leaped, nearly straight up, landing on the top of the wall, a hundred feet off the ground. I couldn’t really tell, but it looked like she wobbled near the top. Luckily, she found her balance again soon enough, and started running along the wall.
I shook my head. Her reservoir was probably completely empty right now, but that was still damned impressive. These guys were getting scary strong.
The demon laughed. “Your pet director abandoned you, baseline.” He grinned. “You had a chance before. Not now.”
I holstered my Caedes and slowly drew my Saint George. “Any chance you’ll tell me what your power is?”
He laughed again, and spun his axe over his head a few times. “You can’t tell?”
I shrugged, stalling for time as I loaded my last god slayer. “Call it a dying man’s last wish.”
Elizabeth’s pet demon roared with laughter at that. “Oh, I like you.” He grinned. “Very well. I am Molydeus, born George Nabassu, and my power is super strength.”
I smiled pleasantly. “See? Is it so hard being a little bit polite?”
Then I shot him in his grinning mouth.
The round punched past his teeth easily enough, but apparently the back of his throat was made of sterner stuff—or perhaps the rocket just ran out of fuel. I had been a little worried it would punch right out the other side.
Regardless, the secondary explosive activated, and high-velocity uranium shrapnel bounced around inside his mouth.
The result was that his skull became nothing but a fine red mist covering ten yards in every direction. As I was standing about five feet away, I probably got the worst of it, and was completely drenched in crimson life fluid. I sputtered a few times to get the taste off my tongue, but it just seemed to make it worse.
The demon’s headless corpse teetered for a moment before falling, splashing into a pool of its own blood. His axe seemed to shake the entire Ring as it landed on its head, handle horizontal. Turgay took that as his cue to run over, slipping in the blood that was still covering everything.
“Hardly,” I muttered, still sputtering. I suppressed the urge for the moment. “Akane’s out there chasing Lizzy, we’re trapped here…” I blinked, cursed, and ran over to Ling.
She was still breathing, but she was lying in a pool of her own blood, and her pulse was decidedly weak.
The anthro joined me quickly. “I can get a stretcher,” he said, and I saw him give the other aves some kind of signal. “This isn’t all that bad, and we have one of the most advanced medical devices in the city with us. She’ll be fine.”
I sighed. “Good.”
Without any immediate purpose to keep me going, I collapsed onto the concrete, still wet with the blood of both friends and foes, and was asleep within seconds.
Behind the Scenes (scene 116)
Elizabeth has a number of powers, but the orange sword/shields are both the same: Fragmatism, the power to create force fields. She has two talents: Machafragmatism (the sword) and aspifragmatism (the shields, the same talent Derek has).
Also, Adam references the incident with the calciophage again as though Lizzy was the one who did it. As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, it was actually Robyn, but the other Paladins haven’t quite realized that.