Tag Archives: Steven Nabassu

Scene 208 – Motus

MOTUS

AKANE

I recognized Derek’s plan immediately. It was one we had used on gangs of street thugs several times. While he was busy fighting the champion, I’d handle the support. Simple enough.

Except we didn’t know enough about the vampire triplets to know if the tactic was even viable. They had somehow made a dozen Mals commit suicide; I didn’t want to get anywhere near them. At least Flynn was out of this fight due to an injury he received while fighting the fey monsters.

But orders were orders, even if they were merely implied. My path was clear.

I cranked my speed up as high as it would go, slowing the world to a crawl, and rushed past Elizabeth to attack the triplets.

They weren’t there.

Neither was anyone else.

The entire crowd had just…disappeared.

I wheeled back around, but Derek and the others were gone too. The entire street—which up until a second ago had been packed with men and monsters—was completely, absolutely, bare.

Not only was the crowd gone, but there was no noise. The constant din of the city, the distant car alarms and gunshots that provided a steady undertone to anything and everything, was gone.

Just…gone.

Okay, I needed to stay calm. If I assumed this had something to do with how the Mals had committed suicide, then panicking would probably just end my life faster.

First things first, I sheathed my sword. Call me stupid, but I figured that if I wasn’t waving the thing around, I had a better chance of not being made to stab myself with it.

Next was…

Next was what?

How should I know what was next? I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. The fact that I wasn’t dead yet seemed like a good sign, but I had no way to know for sure. If this was some kind of illusion, my body was probably lying helpless in the real world. Derek and Adam would be trying to protect me, but against Elizabeth and four of her Blackguards, what could they do? I could be only moments away from death I could—

I took a deep breath.

No time to panic.

My dad had always said that meditation was good for the soul. And when you feel angry, or scared, that’s when you need it the most.

I drew my sword, slowly, savoring the sound of it sliding out of its sheathe. Eyes closed, I held it in front of me with two hands, in the most basic of stances.

Deep breath. In, and out. Deep breath…

Everyone meditates a different way. My dad was pretty traditional: Sit down on the ground with your legs crossed, and concentrate on emptying your mind.

That had never worked for me.

I took a step forward and slashed, a simple diagonal downward attack that I had done a thousand times. A second step and a follow-up strike, bringing the blade up high again. Then another diagonal slash…

Spin, a hundred and eighty degrees, a full about-face. Slash, stab. Step forward, slash again.

Spin again, this time just to the side. Step back once, step back twice, then step forward, riding the stab. Slash the blade out—

And suddenly a vampire, blood dribbling from her mouth, was in front of me.

Bitch,” she whispered. “How’d you know I was here? I had you trapped in a dreamworld.”

“Didn’t know,” I admitted. I brought the sword around again, slicing deeper into the wound in her gut I had already made. “Just exercising.”

The vampire’s marble-black eyes rolled up into her skull as she fell over. “Bitch.”

Then everything came rushing back.

The crowd, the monsters, the blood on the ground, the Composer battling Derek and Adam, and Brannigan staring at me in shock.

The sound came back a second later.

It hit me like a wave. Like a physical wave of force. The screaming crowd, the roaring monsters, even the background noise of the city…it all came rushing back, all at once.

I stumbled, nearly slipping over the corpse of the Blackguard vampire I had just killed. Brannigan looked like he wanted to rush forward and see if he could heal her, but realized that was a bad idea. I didn’t know how strong he was, but I doubted he could bring back someone with her guts spilled across the sidewalk.

But he did remind me of an important detail: He was a healer, and he needed to die.

I readied my sword and prepared to rush forward—only to find I couldn’t move.

What in Musashi’s name—

No, I could move, but only barely. It felt like someone was physically holding me back. Telekinesis, maybe? I glanced at Ritter, but he was still dead on the street a few yards away. Besides, with his power, I could feel a physical force attacking me. This felt more like…

More like my own muscles were fighting against me.

I turned my head to see one of the vampire triplets with her hands held out in my direction, and eyes closed in concentration. She looked pale, paler than five minutes ago I mean, and the third triplet was still on the ground screaming.

Oh. They were podbrains. Like those demons from the alley. Interesting.

It also explained a lot, like how they had made the Mals commit suicide. The first triplet traps them in a dreamworld, and the second takes control of their bodies while they’re distracted.

But that meant she couldn’t fight me for too long while I wasn’t distracted. I released one hand from my sword, hoping that her control would slip a little if she couldn’t see what I was doing. I reached for a knife; I only needed a second of speed—

My shoulder screamed in pain.

I stumbled again, cursing as I dropped the knife I had been going for. At least I kept a grip on my sword.

But my shoulder was still throbbing. Clarke had rebuilt the thing completely, put me in the toy box and knit the shattered shards of bone together piece by piece, but it still hurt. How could it not? Nine days ago, my shoulder had hit a window so hard it exploded.

I didn’t have time for this. I needed to concentrate, to finish off this second vampire before someone decided to take advantage of my helpless state. Derek and Adam still had the Composer busy, judging from the sounds behind me, but what about Brannigan? Was he fighting them too? But there was still the third vampire to contend with…

Then there was the echoing crack of a gunshot, and the podbrain who was concentrating on me fell to the ground, little more than a bloody mess where her head used to be.

My body was my own again. I used the newfound freedom to glance over to where the shot had come from. As far as I could tell, considering the light differences making it hard to see too far, it had come from the cafe where Laura and the other noncombatants were holed up. Clearly she had found at least one combatant. One with what seemed like an Olympian Nike, judging by the amount of damage the shot had caused. Goddess of victory indeed.

I didn’t know what the third podbrain’s power was, and I wasn’t in the mood to find out. She was still weeping on the ground; without a shred of hesitation, I zipped forward and sliced her head off, not even waiting for her body to start to fall before looking around for new targets.

Brannigan was a little bit too far away, past Adam and Derek fighting with Elizabeth, and my reservoir hadn’t replenished sufficiently to reach him. I guess I needed to help Derek, then, since there was no way I could dodge around the swirling whirlwind of glowing orange blades that was Elizabeth Greene.

And she was a whirlwind. Not literally, of course, but as close as a swordsman can get. She moved like lightning, using one sword to fend off Derek from getting too close while using the other to harry Adam and keep him from fleeing to a range he felt more comfortable with. She moved so fast, switching between offense and defense, between parrying Derek’s shield bashes to striking at Adam’s poorly-armored limbs, that she really did look like a whirling dervish.

I needed to help. If I jumped into the fray, that would give Adam the leeway he needed to fall back and shoot her. It wouldn’t kill her, but at least it would actually slow her down enough to do something.

Before I had a chance to close the distance, however, the choice was taken out of my hands.

Something slammed into the street in front of me, hitting with enough force to throw up a cloud of dust and shattered asphalt. I coughed, waving my hand in front of my face in a futile effort to clear the air so I could see what was going on. My hand didn’t help, but in a few moments, the wind shifted, revealing…

Robyn Joan Clarke, sitting in a small crater in the street and breathing heavily.

It took me a second to realize she was covered in more red than usual.

I scanned the impact site, searching for clues—and quickly found them. A scrap of a silk suit there, a scattering of red flesh around the crater…it was obvious what had happened.

Robyn had used her power in the same way as back in G’Hanir, stacking a few gravities on top of each other and forcing Elizabeth’s demon butler into the ground at speeds he simply was not equipped to deal with.

Nor was she, now that I thought about it. Her legs were likely broken, and she’d be lucky if that was her only injury. But why wasn’t she screaming? It had to hurt, and I doubted she had any reasonable painkiller buffs. Plus, there was the fact that she grew faint at the sight of blood…

She threw up on her own feet, then collapsed onto the street with a dull thump.

Ah. Delayed reaction. Shock, probably. Right, she’d keep for the moment. Now onto the Composer—

Elizabeth’s glowing orange blade erupted out of Adam’s chest.

“Silly little boy,” the monster shaped like my childhood friend hissed, grinning broadly from ear to ear. “Never let your guard down around an enemy.”

She pulled out the blade, kicking Adam aside carelessly.

“Now…who’s next?

Behind the Scenes (scene 208)

The podbrains (Andreea, Eugenia, and Rodica Dalca) are actual triplets. That was part of the reason they were chosen for the experiment. Andreea is the one with the illusion powers, Eugenia the one with the ability to control bodies, and Rodica has a powerful variant of telepathy that links the three together very effectively.

Advertisements

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 117 – Sequi

SEQUI

AKANE

It took a few minutes of running along the wall before I felt my reservoir was replenished enough for another jump. It wasn’t a big one—I just leaped about ten feet to the nearest ‘scraper—but I was still leery. Jumping to the top of the wall had strained my reserves, and I had nearly fallen. I needed to practice that more. Later, and from lower altitudes.

Now, I had to be quick. Lizzy was already out of sight, and I could barely keep an eye on her demonic follower. I think the only reason I was able to follow as closely as I did was because he was relatively new; he had to rest more often than me to let his reservoir fill.

Luckily, Domina was still Domina, and I was able to keep out of his sight pretty easily without even trying, simply because of all the different building heights. He didn’t seem to understand how my power worked, either. He certainly wasn’t acting like he knew I could follow him.

He made another jump, this time across an entire street and up a couple stories to land on another skyscraper. It wasn’t a leap any normal person could make, and his destination building didn’t have the built-in handholds to make climbing easier. It was the tallest ‘scraper around, too, so merely jumping to it from a nearby one would normally be impossible.

Of course, I wasn’t normal.

I could have jumped straight to the top, but that would have resulted in me facing at least one guy with powers, and with a drained reservoir to boot. So instead, I leapt straight across to the building itself, about ten floors below the roof.

When I said it wasn’t designed for climbing, I wasn’t kidding. It didn’t even have windowsills. The only place to grab onto was the tiny recesses the windows themselves sat in. It was less than half an inch, and even a kemo with full climbing claws might have trouble hanging on.

But once again, my power proved its worth. Physics got a little…bendy when I used my power, which was one of the reasons I could jump so far. It was like it took gravity a few seconds to catch up to me.

I didn’t have my speed cranked up anywhere near as high as it would go, but it was enough to give me the leeway I needed to use the windows as handholds. I steadied myself on the miniscule ledge and jumped up to the next one, gripping the edge of the next floor’s window with my fingertips. Then I scrambled to my feet and repeated the process, until I was finally at the roof.

I didn’t pull myself up, though. I didn’t want to give myself away. Instead, I let go of my speed and just dangled from the roof by my fingers, waiting for my reservoir to replenish. It was difficult, but years of training gave me the strength to keep from falling even without the help of my power.

The second my reservoir was full, I cranked my power up as high as it would go, peeked over the edge of the roof, and saw…

Nothing.

No, wait, there was the demon, flying north to another building.

Dammit. I let my speed go and scrambled onto the roof, making sure I kept Lizzy’s demon in sight. He was jumping farther than before; using the height of this building and his wings, he could glide halfway across the district. It would be hard for me to follow.

That gave me pause. It was the exact sort of tactic he would use if he knew he was being tailed.

I shook my head. No, he was probably just being paranoid. He knew we would want to follow him, so he made sure to be careful, just in case. He wasn’t actually certain.

Not important right now. I could lose him if I wasn’t paying attention.

I waited for him to waft to the ground—and it definitely was the ground, I watched him drift between two buildings—and leapt after him, using my speed for a brief moment on takeoff to improve my distance. Unlike the demon, I aimed for a ‘scraper about three or four buildings away from his destination.

I made sure to activate my speed at full power a split second before I landed. I threw up a huge cloud of dust and grit and dented the roof a little, but nothing (including me) broke, so it came out all right. I didn’t know how exactly I was able to use super speed to pull of tricks like that, and I didn’t really want to know. I just did what felt right, and somehow managed to absorb the impact or outrun inertia or whatever.

I brushed off my pants and scanned the alley below me, confirming that it was empty of any hostiles—or anyone at all, really. It was perpendicular to the one Lizzy’s demon had gone into, and hopefully far enough away so that he wouldn’t hear me. I dropped down the ten stories carefully, glanced around again to confirm I was alone, and stalked towards the corner of the alley, where I should be able to see the demon and his destination.

I could hear raised voices, not far from where I was. I pressed my back against the brick wall, edged towards the corner, and…

A hand covered my mouth from behind and pulled me back.

“Shh!” a woman hissed, as I started to struggle. “The Blackguards will hear you.”

I slowly stopped thrashing, realizing this wasn’t an attack, but the woman didn’t remove her hand.

“Something wrong?” the voice came from the other alley, perhaps ten feet in front of us. I hadn’t realized they were so close.

“I thought Akiyama was tailing me,” a smooth, cultured voice I recognized as the demon’s replied. There was a pause. “I suppose I was mistaken. Let’s go.”

I heard the grunt of someone moving something heavy, then the metallic scraping and thump of a manhole cover being moved aside. Then the sound of boots on a metal ladder, and the sound of the manhole cover being slid back into place.

Only then did the woman who had ambushed me remove her hand.

I whirled on her, hand on my sword. “Explain. Now.”

If I was forced to describe her, I would simply have said average. But in all fairness, all I could see of her was a pale face and thin mouth framed by short-cropped black hair; the rest of her was covered by a large hooded cloak. Not the most inconspicuous of disguises, but it would conceal her identity well enough.

“Apologies, Honored Paladin,” the woman whispered. “There was no time to explain.” She pointed a slender hand at the alley I had been about to walk into. “The Lady Greene has sensors in the ground. You would have set off the alarm.”

I frowned. This wasn’t looking good. “Here?”

The woman shook her head. “Only the one alley, closest to the entrance of the Endkeep.” She smiled slightly. “I suspect she tried a wider sensor net at her old lair, and ended up with more information than she knew what to do with.”

Sensor overload. Yeah, that happened. Especially since she seemed to like the sewers; she’d just end up knowing the migratory patterns of a bunch of monsters. Our approach had probably gotten buried under all that.

But I didn’t take my hand off the hilt of my sword. “How did you know?”

She shrugged. “I’ve lived here a long time. And I was watching when she moved in this morning. I just paid attention, that’s all.”

I weighed my options carefully. It didn’t seem like the strange woman was lying, but she was still far too mysterious for my tastes.

I shook my head. It didn’t matter who she was.

“Thank you…for the help,” I said with some difficulty. “Bye.” I turned back to the alley, ready to jump into the sewer and attack.

“There are at least a dozen Blackguards down there, Honored Paladin,” the woman noted. “And they will know you are coming. I don’t recommend going alone. Or at all.”

I turned back to her, struggling to keep my face under control, and waited for her to elaborate.

She shrugged again. “The five of you could probably take them out. But by yourself, you’d just get killed. And that’s assuming Elizabeth hasn’t made any more of the Blackguards since I last checked.”

I cocked my head. “Blackguards.”

She chuckled a little. “Of course. The opposite of the Paladins, the Blackguards. What else would they be?”

I sighed. I didn’t have time for this. I walked past her, towards the street and away from the lair.

“They’ll be gone by the time you’re back with your friends,” she noted. “They suspect you followed Nabassu, and they won’t risk it. They’ll pack up and find a new lair.”

I turned and glared at her.

The cloaked woman grinned. “And even if you were willing to throw a few dozen lives away by calling in Necessarius—which you’re not—the only ‘sarians nearby are completely green. They wouldn’t even scratch the bad guys before getting slaughtered.”

“You know too much,” I said quietly.

She smiled a little sadly. “That’s the truth.”

I eyed her carefully, but as far as I could tell, she was completely baseline. Of course, she could have had eight arms hidden under that cloak and I wouldn’t have noticed.

I met her gaze. “Who are you?”

Her smile returned, sadder than before. “No one important, Akane Akiyama.” She turned away. “Go back to your master. He needs you, as always.”

I considered attacking her while her back was turned. Even just tackling her to the ground and ripping the cloak off her would give me something to work with, some idea of who she was.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I walked away, towards the Necessarius post across the street, to requisition a car to get back to my friends.

Behind the Scenes (scene 117)

A bit more about Akane’s powers, and the city itself.

Oh, and about creepy cloak lady: She’s going to be explained in the next scene. One less mystery to worry about.

Scene 116 – Proditor

PRODITOR

ADAM

“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.

But…

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.

“Did…we win?”

“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.

Scene 67 – Destitutio

DESTITUTIO

LING

I could hear the screams, far to the north. MC had called me three times, but I had ignored her every one.

This was a mistake.

But I had no choice. Turgay needed me.

“Thanks for patching me up,” the crow said. “I still don’t know how I got hurt.”

“Shut up, Pig,” Turgay responded tiredly. “Ling, we can only lay low for so long. Sooner or later, people will come looking for you.”

That was an understatement if there ever was one. Turgay had enlisted my help Sunday night, and it was now Tuesday morning. I had managed to delay inquiries simply going to class yesterday, but they had almost been caught twice in the process. There was no way I had the time for a screamer fight. But that meant the second it was over, everyone would be looking for me.

“We have maybe six hours,” I said decisively. Probably a little more, actually, but it’s best to be safe. “We need too have you back with Soaring Eagle before then.”

He licked his beak. “We’re no closer to finding her than we were Sunday. She was nomadic even before she got on the ‘sarians most wanted list.”

I suppressed my frustration as best I could. “You have to have some idea where she would be.”

He shook his head. “The only one I ever dealt with was Delia, one of her lieutenants. But she’s dead or in custody now, so she’s no help.”

I closed my eyes. “There has to be someone.”

The crow spoke up. “There’s Delia’s boy, that…Sharptalon guy.”

“Kevin,” Turgay said in the same tired tone as before. “Useless. He’s one of her warhawks.”

Pigeon frowned. “What does that have to do with—”

“All her warhawks were with her.”

“But—”

“Shut up, Pig.”

The crow finally shut his beak.

I rubbed my forehead. This is what happens when you get involved in dinky little revolutions where no one has thought anything through. Everything starts going to hell in a hand basket the second a single thing goes wrong.

None of my friends would be of any use. Even if they didn’t turn us in—which was a pretty big if all on its own—Necessarius would find us very quickly. Aves stood out, and lugging the toy box around would only make it worse.

Couldn’t go to Matron, or anyone else at the orphanage. Even ignoring the fact that she was an avid supporter of Butler, she didn’t have any power. At least Derek and Laura would be able to negotiate; the Big Boss had nothing he wanted from a bunch of orphans.

I started paging through my address book. In all honesty, I should have probably throw my phone away, but the screamers should distract everyone from bothering to check my location with it. I may as well use it.

Not that it mattered. There were over a hundred names, and none of them would be of any help. Helena, Mitchel, Abigail, Harry, Thuron, Lily, Negi, Hayate, Adam, Akane, Derek, Laura, Lizzy—

Lizzy. She might work. Laura said she had contacts, right? She was a voice actress or something. She made a decent living, which meant she had a support network. Maybe a small one, but hopefully one that had no connection to Necessarius.

But would it work? She was actually stupider than me, and generally solved her problems by calling Laura. Was it worth the risk?

Yes.

There was nothing else to do. I pressed the call button and put the phone to my ear. It rang three times, an eternity between each, before she picked up.

“Liga bak…hello? Who is this?”

“Lizzy? It’s Ling.”

“Ling?” There was a brief pause. “Oh! Ling! Tīng dào nǐ zhème hǎo! Nǐ shénme bù kāixīn?”

Right. That was the other reason I had been leery about this. “I don’t speak Chinese, Lizzy.”

“Mmm…forgot. Yes, right, no Chinese. You’re an otaku. Nani ga mondaina nodeshou ka? ”

“I don’t speak Japanese either,” I sighed. “Look…nevermind, it’s not important.”

She stopped me before I could hang up. “No, you woke me up, you have to explain why. Not like I can get back to sleep, with those screamers.”

Right. She also had a power. Didn’t know what it was, but she had one. “I’m in a bit of a bind. I need to find someone and deliver something to them.”

“O-kay…why not just call MC?”

“The thing I need delivered is not something she would like to know I have.”

There was a brief pause. “Wait one second. You stole something?”

I didn’t, a friend of mine did.”

“A…friend.”

I scowled. “Yes, dammit, a friend. And he came to me for help. I need to get to Soaring Eagle, the ave Animal King, with two aves and a package about the size and shape of a coffin. Can you help?”

I shouldn’t have said that, but she was annoying me. I know the whole ‘my friend has this problem’ was an old cliché, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be true sometimes.

Turgay looked at me a little sideways. “Ling, are you sure—”

I shushed him and turned back to my phone. “Lizzy. Can you help?”

There was a long pause. “I’m still not quite sure what you expect me to do,” she said slowly. “I don’t exactly have very much experience with grand theft.”

I took a deep breath and counted to ten before speaking. “I just need you to find Soaring Eagle and arrange a meeting. You have contacts and everything, right?”

“Well…some. I mean, she’s a prominent member of the community, so I guess I could arrange something…”

“Okay, you just need to tell her we have the Pigeon.” From what Turgay had told me, the Animal King would remember the names of the men who had the toy box. Probably. “That should be enough.”

I could practically hear her nodding. “I can do that. Where are you now?”

I frowned. “Why is that important? You can just call once the meeting is set up.”

“That’s not quite how this works. You have to do most of it in person. It’s polite, and this crowd is big on that.”

I rubbed my forehead again. Whatever. She knew it all better than I did. “Fine. We’re in the basement of the dorms. In the farthest laundry room.”

“Really?” She seemed very surprised. Why should she be? There weren’t many other places we could hide. “Why aren’t—not important. I’ll be there in…half and hour.”

Wait, what? It was only six in the morning, and her first class wasn’t until noon. “Where are you?”

“About half an hour outside of campus,” she replied tersely. “I’ll see you soon. Sit tight.”

True to her word, she found us within thirty minutes. We were huddled in the corner, covering the aves and the toy box under as many towels as possible, while I pretended to be a maid. It was a laughable disguise, and any idiot could tell we were hiding something.

“It took me a little while to find you,” the bronze-skinned amazon said when we finally managed to wave her over. “It’s a good disguise. This your friend?”

Well, that was hardly getting things off to a good start, but it was a little too late to back out. “You have a meeting ready?” I gestured to the towel-covered box behind me. “And somewhere to stash this?”

She bit her lip in an almost ridiculously cute way. “Oh, right, you can’t just drag that along behind us, can you?” She looked around, as though hoping a closet would materialize out of thin air. “I guess…we need a truck?”

“That would be helpful,” I said with as much calm as I could. “And we probably need a doctor for the crow. He got hit by some shrapnel.”

Lizzy leaned over, looking at him. “It doesn’t look so bad.”

Odd reaction. It wasn’t life threatening or anything, but it looked bad. Blood was already oozing into the white bandages, despite the fact that I changed them an hour ago. It was beyond my expertise, anyway. “Can you call someone? You have doctors and drivers, right?”

She shifted her feet a little. “Well…I have people. But I’m not sure…”

“Anything is better than nothing,” I assured her. We were out of options, whatever she had was enough. The screamers were distracting enough without having to deal with her whining about helping.

She bit her lip again. “Okay, let me make a couple calls.” She shook her head violently, like a dog drying off. “Sorry, the screaming is distracting me.” She pulled out her phone and headed out of the laundry room. “One second.”

The second she was gone, Turgay turned to me, an uncertain look in his eye. “You sure about this, Ling? She’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. And what was that about the screaming?”

I sighed, and decided to simply deflect his uncomfortable question rather than try and find a decent lie. “She’s all we got. If you don’t like her, you shouldn’t have stolen the damn box.”

He shut his beak at that. He knew I had a point. How did he even get in this situation in the first place? He wasn’t a complete moron, he knew better than to screw with Necessarius.

Before I could think too much on that line, Lizzy came back, closing her phone with a satisfied snap.

“A truck is on the way,” she promised. “And the ave woman has been called. Everything is under control.”

The crow perked up. “Really? What’d she say?”

“Shut up, Pig,” Turgay grumbled. “She didn’t actually talk to her.”

“I’m not sure if we should be here for this,” I said slowly. I had seen allies who knew too much killed enough not to stick around. “I think this is an internal ave thing.”

Lizzy just shrugged. “If that’s what you want, we can leave them to it once my truck gets here.” She brightened. “Ooh, we can go for ice cream!”

Pigeon gave an ave grin. “That sounds great! Can we come?”

Turgay rolled his eyes. “Shut up, Pig.”

I sighed again and nodded to both birds. “There’s still that maintenance sign on the door, so you guys should be fine.” I turned back to Lizzy. “How long until the truck gets here?”

“No more than half an hour,” she promised. “Now, about that ice cream…”

I rolled my eyes. “Sure, fine. Let’s go.”

I’ll admit I felt bad about leaving them alone like that, but there shouldn’t have been any problems. And I really didn’t want to let Lizzy’s driver know my face. I’m sure she trusted them, but stuff like that tended to get spread around.

But as we walked out of the laundry room and up to ground level, a large white van pulled up. A man stepped out of the passenger side almost before it finished stopping.

He was tall and thin, dressed in an immaculate suit and tie. He was a demon with red skin and small, sharp horns, and I saw a tail flicker briefly behind his legs. I couldn’t tell precisely what subculture he was from, but that didn’t mean much. Lots of modders, especially demons, never bothered with specific subcultures.

The demon bowed deeply. “Mistress Greene, we are ready whenever you are.”

Lizzy raised an eyebrow. “That was fast. Were you waiting for my call?”

Her servant didn’t raise his head. “Yes, we were.” I noticed his tail thrash once. “That…is not a problem, is it?”

Lizzy grinned widely. “Far from it. I think I just remembered why I keep you around.” Her grin faded. “Is it just you and the driver?”

“Yes. Oleander is the driver, though.”

She nodded. “Good. The aves aren’t going to be much help, especially since one is injured. Get him inside first, then worry about the package.”

Her servant finally straightened. “Aves? Then I am I to understand the package is…”

“The toy box, yes,” she answered in an annoyed tone. I was a bit surprised; I wouldn’t have thought anything could crack that cheerful shell of hers. But then she quickly smiled again. “I’ve already made arrangements with Soaring Eagle. Just take them to the meeting point, and it will be fine.”

The demon raised an eyebrow. “You are not coming with us, Mistress Greene?”

She grinned wider and grabbed my arm. “Of course not. I saved the day, that means I get ice cream!

The demon smiled slightly and bowed again. “Of course. Now if you’ll excuse me…” he straightened and hurried past us, down to the laundry rooms. The driver got out as well, revealing himself as a giant—a Jotuun, if I was any judge.

Lizzy dragged me off by the arm, tugging me towards the eastern side of the campus, where the food court was.

It took me a minute to figure out where we were going, mostly because I was so surprised. “You like the school meals?”

“Only the ice cream,” she admitted. The Amazon had let go of my arm and was now dragging me by the hand. “It’s really good, and cheap too.”

“I believe you. Now can you let go of my hand?”

“There’s also a nice spot under the trees, but next to the air conditioner,” she said cheerfully, clearly not listening. “You get shade and warm air pumped out of the building shot at your feet. No one else seems to like it, which is perfect.”

I frowned. “I’m not sure I like the sound of it either.”

“The chef knows me,” she continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “He’ll make our ice cream himself. What kind would you like?”

“Uh…” she stared at me expectantly, waiting for an answer. “A sundae? I guess?”

“Good choice!” she chirped. “Me, I prefer just a simple cone, but I’ll get a sundae this time too.”

We found the table Lizzy had mentioned quickly enough. As she had said, it was unoccupied. I found the air conditioner a little too close for comfort, but didn’t say anything.

A small baseline man (except for some violet eyes) came up with a pad. “Hello again, Lizzy. The usual?”

“Actually, my friend would like an ice cream sundae,” the girl responded promptly and cheerfully. “And I’ll have the same.”

The waiter nodded. “A good choice. I always say that you should expand your horizons. I’m glad you’re finally doing so.”

Lizzy grinned at him, golden eyes glittering. “I think I’ve already tried enough, Mark. I know what I like.”

He wisely chose not to retort, just smiled, inclined his head, and went inside quickly.

“It will be a little while,” Lizzy explained. “Dessert is on the sixth floor.” She grinned again. “In the meantime, what’s going on with you? Other than helping kemo minorities commit grand theft, that is.”

This girl…I know she didn’t mean it, but she could be a little abrasive. “Ah…not much. Just soccer and school.”

It was a bit awkward. I mean, she knew about the screamers, obviously, but I couldn’t exactly tell her how involved I was in the whole thing. And other than that…what was I doing, really?

But she just nodded, not noticing my troubles. “Yeah, I’m about the same. School and voice acting.” She grinned. “And shopping. Lots of shopping.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure that’s loads of fun.”

“It is!” she insisted. “Hunting down the perfect item is quite satisfying. There’s a rush to it.”

“So…that’s it? That’s all you do?”

She chuckled. “Like you’re much better. What do you do in your free time? You must have some. College can’t be too time-consuming, I seem to be passing easily enough.”

Well, I hadn’t actually been doing anything recently other than sleep, since the screamers kept waking us up at weird hours, but there was always the old fallback. “Mostly, I watch anime and stuff.”

Lizzy nodded. “I think Laura mentioned that before. What kind?”

“Shounen, mostly. What about you? What’s your favorite anime?”

Her face scrunched up as she thought. “Welll…nothing specific. Just seinen in general, really. Though I’ll admit a lot of them have too much sex.”

I nodded in agreement. “I hear that.”

My phone buzzed. I reached down and turned it off without even considering answering it.

Lizzy blinked. “Shouldn’t you—”

“No,” I said firmly. “I should not.”

She winced. “Boyfriend troubles, I take it?”

Now it was my turn to blink in confusion. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Derek, I mean,” she elaborated, looking at me with those guileless golden eyes. “You two are dating, right?”

I was glad our food hadn’t come yet. I probably would have spit it all out over Lizzy.

Instead, I merely coughed. “No…ah, no. No, I’m not. We’re not, I mean. There is…no.”

“Oh, that’s a shame.” She leaned back, allowing the waiter who had suddenly appeared behind her to place our sundaes in front of us. “You’d make a cute couple.”

Thankfully, with the food in front of us, I had a good excuse for not answering, and by the time we were done eating, she had apparently completely forgotten. The next hour was much of the same, and passed in a pleasant and talkative blur.

Punctuated every five minutes by my phone ringing.

 

Behind the Scenes (scene 67)

This came out better than I expected. And as for Lizzy being able to get in touch with Soaring Eagle so quickly: Remember that until very recently, the King was considered an upstanding member of the community, with many friends. She still has most of those friends, even though they’re a little more wary now.