“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?