Tag Archives: succubi

Scene 311 – Scobis

SCOBIS

SIMON

I grunted as I helped shift a bit of rubble to the side. It was a small bit; I wasn’t very strong these days. But I still wanted to help. Shendilavri hadn’t been hit that hard in the American attack, but it had been hit. Just a few stray rockets and one or two squads of soldiers. Since the domain was already basically rubble, I had assumed it wouldn’t be a big deal. But it turned out that a couple of the secret entrances to the underground succubus lair had been destroyed.

So that meant shifting rubble.

I leaned against a building, panting in the dust-filled air. My scars screamed at me, but I fought to ignore them. I knew from experience that despite the pain, they never started bleeding again. Titania and Eisheth Zenunim had done their work well.

Someone put a water bottle in front of my face. “Hell of a way to start the year, huh?”

I took the bottle and drank half of it in one long pull. It was as cold as ice, and I swore I could feel it washing away the dust coating the inside of my throat.

The man who had given it to me was an incubus with red skin and purple horns. No tail, though, and he was wearing normal clothing. There were a lot of demons like him picking through the rubble, trying not to look like they were affiliated with the succubus culture. People still remembered Malcanthet too well.

But we had an excuse to be out here. We weren’t that far from the Gate, so there was a lot of damage that needed to be repaired. Most of the damage was superficial, but it still needed to be handled. Rubble moved, bodies collected and recycled, that sort of thing. The Rampage had been worse.

I realized the incubus was still waiting for a response. “Might be a good way to start the year. Cooperation. Working together.” It was the second of January, so we had been doing this for about a week now. Well, the city had been doing this for a week. The succubi had been hiding in Shendilavri for most of that time.

The incubus frowned, looking past me. I turned to see some hellions glaring at us while they patrolled around the ruins. They didn’t like anybody poking at Shendilavri too much. Everyone was worried that Malcanthet had left some trick or trap behind. I couldn’t tell if they thought we were idiot kids poking a hornet’s nest or Riven working for the Queen.

They started towards us, probably planning to push us around a bit. Maybe kill one or two of us to scare the rest off. I wiped my brow—scratching the scars there—while the incubus got ready to run. I knew I’d never be able to outrun hellions. I was too weak.

Before they got too close, they were intercepted by another group of hellions. The two groups argued for a minute, and then the first group scowled and marched off in the opposite direction. The leader of the second group turned, nodded to me, and walked off as well.

He had a very prominent eye patch. Though I couldn’t see the color of the eye he had uncovered, I knew it would be a dayeye. It was mid-morning, far too bright to use his nighteye.

“You think that’s him?” the incubus said. “Julian Keller?”

I shook my head and worked on moving some more small pieces of concrete. “Nah, that’s probably just one of his devils. I hear a lot of the Kellions have started doing the half dayeye, half nighteye thing.”

“Huh,” the incubus said. “I’m surprised more people don’t use dayeyes. Seems like they’d be useful.”

“That’s because you’ve never used them,” Yolanda said, walking up. She was covered in a thin layer of dust so that her entire body looked gray. She wiped off her face with a wet rag, then tossed it over her shoulder. “Any and all shadows are as deep as darkest night to dayeyes. They’re really not worth the trouble unless you have the ability to glow.”

The incubus shrugged and resumed working.

“What happened to you?” I asked as Yolanda kissed me. She tasted like dirt, but I ignored it.

She rolled her eyes. “Some idiot dropped half the building about two feet away from me. Stirred up enough dust to choke the whole city.” She chuckled. “Eisheth is giving him an earful right now.”

I smiled too, though the action tugged at my scars. I had been on the receiving end of Eisheth’s lectures more than once. It was nice for someone else to have to deal with it for once. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

She started to shift some rubble. “We got lucky all around. The war could have hit us a lot harder than it did. No one was defending Shendilavri. What if the Americans had decided to use this place as a base?”

I chuckled. “They barely got five feet from the gate! If they had broken through the lines, I’m sure we would have fled. But they didn’t, so it’s fine.” I shook my head. “You worry too much.”

“Yeah,” she said, grunting as she moved a slab of sheetrock. “But what about next time?”

“Next time?” I said with a frown.

She nodded. “Sooner or later, they’ll figure out our strengths and work around them. They’ll be back, mark my words.”

“That’s what the peace talks are for,” the incubus said. I had forgotten he was still there. “The reason Sargeras and the rest of them went off. You don’t have to worry. They’ll keep this from blowing up again.”

Yolanda didn’t look convinced.

I chuckled. “C’mon. Worst case scenario, they can kill the American diplomats. Sure, the war will still restart, but at least they’ll have cut the head off the snake.” I thought about it. “Maybe they’ve done that already.”

“That would probably just make things worse.”

“Which is why the Mother Monster won’t let them,” the incubus said. I should really figure out his name, but now we had been talking so long that it would be awkward to ask. “She knows what she’s doing.”

“Huh,” I said. “I didn’t know she was involved.”

“She wasn’t in the procession leaving the city, but she was mentioned in the press release.”

“All right then.” I nodded to Yolanda. “I’m with him. Lilith will handle things.”

She wasn’t impressed. “And if they try to take her hostage?”

I chuckled. “Now you’re just being silly. If they take her hostage, the ambassadors will be able to tear them apart with clear consciences. There’s no way that the Americans would be that stupid.”

She brushed her hair back, then looked at her dusty hand as if she had forgotten. She shook her head and looked up. “I know. Really. I know I’m just being paranoid. But, it’s just…” She sighed. “I can’t do anything to help. So I worry.”

I tossed aside the rubble I was working on and put my arms around her shoulders. “You know what you need? Ice cream. And a shower.” I looked down at my clothing. I wasn’t as bad, but still dusty and sweaty. “I think we both do, actually.”

Yolanda managed a smile. “We cleared away the rubble from one of the entrances. That’s actually how I ended up so dusty. We can go down there and find… something to do.”

I rolled my eyes as we walked away. “Fun as that sounds, I think ice cream would do you better than sex right now.”

“Blasphemy!” the incubus called after us. Wow, he had good ears.

“Private conversation!” I called back, in a joking tone.

“Hey, you’re leaving me to do all the work alone! I get to make a few jokes as you go!”

I shrugged. Fair enough.

Yolanda took the glove off my hand. At first I thought she just wanted to hold hands, but I soon realized she was inspecting my scars.

“It’s fine,” I said. “Nothing broke open.”

She nodded and bumped her shoulder against mine. “I know. I should trust Titania more. It’s just…” She sighed. “She keeps saying you’re too weak to use the toy box again. But I’ve seen it used on coma patients. You’re up and walking around, that should be more than enough.”

I plastered a smile on my face. “It’s no big deal.”

She looked at me sideways. “I see the way you wince every time you move. You’re good at hiding it, but it’s there.”

I was silent for a moment.

“Shouldn’t I have stopped noticing by now?” I whispered. “I don’t notice gravity weighing me down or my heart beating in my chest. But no matter how I move, my scars pinch and ache.” I looked down at my ungloved hand. “It’s like they didn’t heal me. They just glued me back together, and at any moment I could fall apart.” I concentrated, and my hand was wreathed in shadow despite the sun shining overhead. “Why couldn’t I get some healing ability instead of this? This stupid little cantrip?” I dismissed the darkness and smiled wanly at Yolanda. “I’m sorry for the rant.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I understand what it’s like to have a power that’s… underwhelming.”

I smiled. We still hadn’t figured out exactly what her power was. When she activated it, she seemed to burst into electricity and reappear somewhere else. But she had no control over it. She didn’t even remember what happened while she was electricity. It was like a randomized teleport with a laughably short range.

“We’ll figure yours out eventually,” I said. “I checked Fundie, and there are support groups for people who need help figuring out their powers.” We ducked down to enter a small tunnel that looked like it didn’t lead anywhere. “Maybe you should look into one of those.”

“They’re scams,” she said. “Trying to lock down new and interesting powers for use in… whatever they’d be useful in.” She smiled at me. “The angels and the vampires would both kill to get a hold of you.”

I sighed. I knew they would. “Thankfully, nigerkinesis isn’t really that rare, relatively speaking. They’ll find someone else.”

She quirked her head. “Is that right?”

“Yeah, a lot of vampires have—”

“No, I mean the name. Nigerkinesis. You’re not really manipulating shadows, you’re making shadows.”

“So what would that be? I’m terrible at Greek. I barely even know the basic prefixes and suffixes.”

“Nigergenesis, I think. That might be Latin.”

We turned the corner that made the tunnel look shorter than it was. “I know genesis was from the Bible,” I said. “Was that first written in Latin or Greek?”

“Wasn’t Rome conquered by Greece at around that time?”

“I thought it was the other way around.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Why would the Romans take the gods of the people they conquered?”

“Apparently they did that a lot. Appropriating things from conquered cultures.”

She shook her head. “I guess that makes sense. But I’ve never seen anything like that before. Did the lupes take anything from the cherves when they conquered them? Anything besides their domain, I mean.”

I smirked. “The cherves have been conquered six times. You’re going to have to refresh my memory.”

“Three times,” she said.

I frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Veda was a cherve, remember?”

“Oh, right.” We turned the last corner and passed into the underground cavern of Shendilavri itself. “I thought she didn’t really care about it, though. That’s why she gave it up so easily.”

“All I know is she once gave me a lecture on the history of the cherves.” She paused as we walked down the street towards our apartment. “I wonder if she’s in New York right now.”

“What, with the fey?” I asked. I shook my head. “I don’t think so. You saw the procession. Maeve just had the stealth, the tank, and the other one with her. I guess since Veda is a Prince, she’s too important for something so minor as guard duty.”

“And spying.”

I chuckled. “When has Veda ever been a good spy? She’s an engineer.”

Yolanda smiled. “Okay, that’s fair. It took her what, ten minutes to blow her cover during the Wild Hunt?”

“That’s what Seena said.” I thought back to the last time I had seen her. “I wonder what she’s doing right now.”

Yolanda raised an eyebrow and pushed open the door to our apartment. “I don’t think we should worry about your sister right now.”

I frowned. “But she could be anywhere. Doing anything. She could be in trouble, or causing trouble, or—”

Yolanda put a finger to my lips. “I meant, we shouldn’t worry about your sister right now.”

She closed the door behind us and started pulling me towards the shower.

I smirked. “Oh. Well, that I can understand.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 311)

To be completely honest, I didn’t know what to do with Simon for the longest time. I knew I wanted his plot to parallel Seena’s, but I also knew I didn’t want them both to become warlords. Before the Balor Reconstruction, I was briefly considering killing Seena off, but I changed my mind. I think this works much better, with him falling as she rises. But at the same time, he is happier than she is, because he has far fewer responsibilities.

As for Simon and the toy maker, that’s a bit complicated. I can’t go into it without a ridiculous amount of technobabble, but the short version is that the procedure that saved his life is fragile. Day to day living won’t pull his wounds apart, but the way the toy maker works means it might. Like solvent for a glue. It’s possible that Titania and Eisheth Zenunim could work fast enough to save him using the toy box, but it’s also quite possible that they wouldn’t. It’s simply not worth the risk.

Scene 281 – Furor Inferorum

FUROR INFERORUM

YOLANDA

My name is Yolanda McDowell. Daughter of the so-called ‘Loony Lovers,’ niece of Senator Evangel Athanasius Kane McDowell. Succubus of the Mahathallah clan, follower of Agrat Bat Mahlat. I’m dating a nice boy who was broken by the toy maker, and am going to school at Akamatsu University. Sometimes it felt like I was the only one still bothering to show up for class.

And now, little old me was stuck in the middle of the battle for Demon’s Gate.

I hadn’t planned it this way. Everyone in the city knew the Americans were coming, and it was obvious that they would strike at the Gates. Where else would they attack? But unfortunately, the ruins of Shendilavri—the ruins under which modern succubi had hidden their domains—were just a stone’s throw from South Gate.

I didn’t want to be here. I had no combat skills but some stupidly-designed guns left to her by my insane parents.

I was wrong.

“Hands above your head,” the man said. He was definitely American. He had a few patches on his camo-uniform indicating that he was a sergeant. Beyond that, I couldn’t say.

As I raised my hands, I found myself looking over his gun, trying to identify the model. It wasn’t a gun we got in Domina, but I still recognized a high-caliber military assault rifle when I saw one. Any demon fiend with up to date bullet resistance buffs would have a hard time surviving a burst from a gun like that. I, of course, didn’t have any bullet resistance buffs, so it would chew through me like tissue paper.

Another American, this one a lieutenant, stepped forward. He picked up the gun I had dropped on the ground and looked over it. “What’s this?” When I didn’t answer, he frowned. “I asked you a question.”

There wasn’t much fire in his voice, but I still flinched. I wasn’t good with confrontation. “’s a gun, sir.”

“I can see it’s a gun. What kind is it? I’ve never seen one like it.”

“…’s a McDowell gun, sir.”

“All right, fine. Nothing important. We’ll—”

“Nothing important?” I demanded, all shyness forgotten in the face of simple stubborn familial pride. “That is a McDowell MD91/5.0 ‘Snake Eyes-Shooter,’ a two-round 5.00 mm revolver. It was intended as a sniper’s pistol, and while no one knows what the Hells that means, it has found use as an excellent hold-out weapon. If I hadn’t been holding it when you found me, you’d never know I had it until I put a bullet in your skull! And while the width of the chambers are only enough to accommodate 5.00 mm caliber bullets, the length is larger than necessary, allowing for custom-made bullets that are longer than normal. Bullets with extra powder are common, as are shrapnel rounds and even exotic darts or battery bullets.”

The lieutenant, the sergeant, and the six privates all stared.

“I also have an MD90/3.0 ‘Pocket Sniper’ in my back pocket, and while I can’t get it out before you shoot me, it has also become a staple of the city’s arsenal due to its impressive concealment capabilities! It isn’t strong enough to beat even the weakest bullet resistance, but assassins who use it on a regular basis are known as ‘eye poppers’ due to their penchant for shooting their targets right through the eyes!”

The grunts circled around me, slowly, to keep an eye on me from all angles.

“And then of course there is the MD90/200.0 ‘Anti-Infantry Grenade!’ A shaped explosive strong enough to breach tank armor, it was, as the name suggests, originally intended as a weapon for use by infantry against other infantry! The shaped charge means that I could blow you up at this distance without so much as ruffling my clothing, sir!”

The lieutenant took a step back. “And you… have one of these on you?”

“No, sir!”

“No? Then why—”

A succubus walked up, completely naked.

“Hello boys,” she said, eyes twinkling with passion. “Would you like to help me out with something?”

The soldiers were completely and utterly gobsmacked. It’s hard to do anything when confronted with a naked succubus—a creature with a body as perfect as the toy maker can make it—and not just take a minute to stare.

The fact that she was pumping out enough pheromones to make a gay man straight didn’t hurt, either.

I knew to keep my eyes away from her. The pheromones were tugging at the edge of my brain, whispering all sorts of little promises that made me blush, but I kept my head. I was in a position to see when three more demons slipped out of the shadows. They came up behind the soldiers, slitting their throats before anyone even knew they were there.

I felt the pheromones cut off, and I took a deep breath of clean air while trying not to look at the corpses on the ground. “Thanks, girls.”

The naked succubus accepted a robe from one of the others. “No thanks necessary. It is the duty of all Daybringers to aid any succubus or incubus who may be in trouble. Besides, you did a good job distracting them.”

I shrugged awkwardly. “Honestly, I was just upset about what he said about my guns.”

“Ah, yes.” She bent down to pick up the fallen Snake Eyes-Shooter. It was inches away from the pool of blood expanding from the lieutenant’s body. “You’re that McDowell. I always forget. Still, good job regardless. Are you ready to come back to the domain?”

I nodded. “I don’t think I’ll survive much longer out here alone.”

She cocked her head, listening to the sound of gunfire on the air. “It seems like they haven’t quite reached Shendilavri yet, but it’s only a matter of time.”

“Are there troops defending it?”

She chuckled. “Of course not. That would just make it obvious that it was something worth defending. The hope is that people will just avoid it.” She shrugged. “The demons will, at least, but I don’t know about the hired Gravers.”

“I just want to get home. My boyfriend is down there, I need to make sure he’s safe.”

“I’m sure he’s fine. Shendilavri is a haven—”

“He’s not an incubus.”

“Oh.” She grinned. “In that case, I’m definitely sure he’s fine. Left alone with a thousand succubi… assuming his heart doesn’t pop from sheer pleasure, he’ll be right as rain by the time you get down there.”

I blushed, and all the Daybringers laughed. “He won’t… they won’t…”

The leader clapped me on the back. “Relax, kid. They won’t actually steal your boy-toy.” She sobered. “Especially at a time like this. They’ve got more important things to worry about.”

I stepped around the corpses of the soldiers, making sure not to look down. “Can we get going, then? I don’t want to stay out here longer than necessary.” There was an explosion from the direction of South Gate. “I really don’t want to stay.”

“I think that was Keller,” she said, not quite paying attention to me. “He always did like explosions. Hopefully he pointed it at those stupid echoes of theirs.” She noticed the look on my face, and smiled. “It should distract everyone long enough for us to get back. Come on.”

They headed out, and I followed, surrounded on all sides by Daybringers. Rather than focusing on what they were protecting me from, I tried to distract myself with their guns.

The leader—I still hadn’t caught her name—had a Crisis 08091945, named after the Nagasaki bombing. It was a 12-gauge double-barreled shotgun. It was overpowered against infantry, but it would get the job done.

Another had a Hiroshima Crisis, the 08061945. That was a 10-gauge single-barreled shotgun, with a good amount more stopping power. I had no idea what we could face that could need that amount of firepower. Maybe if there were any crazy warlords running around, that might be able to drive them off. Depended on what kind of ammo she had loaded.

The other two both had Hellion guns. Good and reliable, if a little boring. They sacrificed raw damage in favor of accuracy and magazine size. It took me a second to identify them as the 93-061 Assault, an improvement on the 93-060. There was a manufacturing flaw in the 060, a minor quirk in the barrel that reduced accuracy and range. The Hellions had released the fix within two weeks.

All their guns had suppressors, good ‘sarian made ones with the digital status indicator on the side. They couldn’t eliminate sound completely, but they were the best on the market. With the amount of ambient noise from the war right now, they were as close to perfect silencers as you could get.

Odd choices, all around. Soldiers usually preferred to have the same caliber so that they could swap ammo. The ones with the Hellions could do that, but the Crises couldn’t. It just seemed like a stupid risk to take, especially since we weren’t fighting anything that required heavy firepower. We could most likely all survive just by using the naked distraction trick a couple more times.

“How did you get grabbed, anyway?” the leader, the one with the 12-gauge, asked as we walked for a few minutes. “It’s not like these guys have a whole lot of patrols out this far. The Erlking is holding them pretty well at Demonia.”

Demonia was one of the more formal names for South Gate. I had never liked it. Sounded too pretentious. Better than North Gate, though—some people called it Kemoia, and that was just silly.

“I think they were scouts. Or deserters, maybe. Anyway, I was running, and they found me. Then they saw my gun, and they freaked out. I don’t think I would have been able to keep them from shooting me for long. They’ve got it into their heads that anyone who uses the toy maker is the enemy.”

12-gauge spat on the ground. “Blame Soaring Eagle for that. She had their president’s ear for a while. Long enough to tell him all sorts of sweet little lies.”

“You think she’s still out there?” I asked.

“I heard she died,” one of the girls with the 93-061 Assaults said. “Isn’t that the reason for this invasion? Or his excuse, anyway. Straw that broke the camel’s back or whatever?”

12-gauge smiled. “I don’t know about that last part, but yeah, word is she’s dead. I heard it from some of my informants who work at some of the companies that talk with America. Rumor has it that it’s a Dominite that killed her, but then of course they’d say that.”

“Might be true,” 10-gauge said.

“Not by Butler’s order. And not any other warlord, either. Who would be that stupid?”

“The fey,” everyone said at once.

Everyone except me. “I don’t think they’d do this.” I blushed when they looked at me.

12-gauge nodded. “She’s right. We’ve all met Titania. She’s a little harsh, but not enough to start a war with America. I doubt the other fey are much different.”

“Have you met any?” one of the girls asked me.

I shook my head. “Just Titania.”

The other Assault girl cocked her head. “Oh! You’re Scarboy’s girl, aren’t you?”

“…please don’t call him that.”

“Right, sorry.” She smiled. “Thought I’d recognized you. Yeah, you spent a lot of time with the Matron. You agree with the boss? Not crazy enough to assassinate a wayward bird for no good reason?”

I thought about it. Would Titania do that? She had no connection to Soaring Eagle, other than the fact that the kemo had stolen a toy box. A toy box that the fey had already sold, and had no claim on. She wasn’t prone to revenge or flights of fancy anyway, and had been building up a reputation as a doctor. It would have been one of the Winter fey who did it. But no, it wouldn’t have been them either.

“Not flashy enough,” I said finally.

Everyone remained silent to consider this.

“Fair enough,” 12-gauge said finally. “We would have heard about a horde of monsters or people with wings or whatever. The fact that we didn’t means this was probably just a quiet knife in the dark. That’s not their style.”

“Might have been us, actually,” 10-gauge said, a little eagerly. “I heard that Soaring Eagle was actually—”

“Enough,” 12-gauge snapped. She glared at the other woman. She relented when her withering gaze caused her target to, well, wither. “Enough,” she said, more softly. “These are just rumors. We don’t need anyone spreading them around.”

The two girls with the Assaults leaned forward. They didn’t say anything, in case the other two remembered they were still there. Succubi liked gossip, and the Daybringers thrived off it.

“It’s not just a rumor,” 10-gauge said, a little petulantly. “I overheard Naamah talking to Agrat Bat Mahlat and Eisheth Zenunim. They were definitely talking about Soaring Eagle when they said that—”

Enough,” 12-gauge said, firmer this time. “Not in front of the others.”

All three of us deflated a bit when 10-gauge frowned at us. Whatever secret connection Soaring Eagle had to the succubi, we weren’t going to discover it today. She was probably just a secret lover of someone important. That happened a lot, for obvious reasons.

“Come on,” 12-gauge said. “One of the secret entrances isn’t far. We’ll be back underground before you know it.”

No one else spoke, but I knew everyone could tell that there seemed to be more gunfire than there was a few minutes ago. And we were headed straight towards it.

Behind the scenes (scene 281)

Yolanda is an interesting character to write for due to her shyness combined with her love for guns. I need more chances for her to shine.

Scene 239 – Somniatus

SOMNIATUS

LING

Nine Years Ago

I touched the horns on the top of my head gingerly. “Are you sure they’re still supposed to hurt? I don’t think they should still hurt…”

The senior succubus guiding me through the halls of Shendilavri patted me on the back. “Don’t worry about it, little one. It always hurts the first time.” She chuckled at some private joke. “But it will fade, in time. For now, we need to find you a matron devil to train you and protect you before you’re ready to become a part of the culture for real.”

My heart fell. “You mean… I’m not a part of the culture yet?”

She noticed my consternation and pulled me into a quick hug as we walked. “You’re just a little young and inexperienced, that’s all. A seed that needs water and light to grow.” She gestured at our surroundings. “Spend some time here, and you’ll grow into a fine Riven.”

‘Here’ was, as noted, Shendilavri, specifically Rivenheart, the center of the succubus domain in more ways than one. The building itself was nothing special, just a drab gray concrete hab block, but the Queen had ordered her followers to spruce it up a bit.

Now, despite its humble beginnings, the Fourth Gate of Hell, the Lover’s Gate, was a beautiful and inviting place that felt like home. Thick carpets lined the floors, and beautiful velvet banners were hung on the walls, depicting all sorts of romance scenes. Even the windows were kept clean to allow the sunlight to shine through, despite the thick salty air that tried to encrust everything this close to South Gate.

South Gate had nothing to do with the Gates of Hell. When I was younger, it had taken me a long time to realize that, and my life had been confusing for a while.

“So if you’re not going to be my matron, then who will?”

The blue-skinned woman thought for a moment. “Not sure. Catherine, maybe, though Nevan could be available too. It all depends on who has room to take on another new follower.”

I nodded. I had expected this. I knew the succubi worked on the master-apprentice system, though most cultures didn’t. “But you don’t? Have room, that is?”

She laughed out loud. “No, child, I don’t. Not by a long shot.” She opened a door at the end of the sun-dappled hall, still smiling. “Now, you just wait here while I go get them. It might be a while. That’s part of the test.”

I looked at the women already in the room. “Are they, too?”

“What are you—AGH!” My guide jumped nearly three feet in the air. “H-honored Devils! I didn’t know you were… here…” She bowed low, so low her back was completely horizontal. “Please forgive my intrusion, Dame Malcanthet.”

At mention of that name, I took a closer look at the succubi in the room.

The one at the head of the briefing table, the one my superior was bowing nervously to, was an inhumanly beautiful woman with long black hair, accented by a single stripe of white. Her horns were simply two small nubs, and her dress a draw-droppingly elegant black thing that seemed to be painted on—and without much paint, either.

“Rise, Georgina,” the Queen of the Succubi ordered, the hint of a playful smile on her lips. “It is my mistake. I changed the meeting room at the last minute.” Her deep, red eyes fixed on me. “Who is the girl? A new Riven?”

“Yes, Dame Malcanthet.”

“A little young for a succubus,” the woman on the Queen’s left noted. She was also strikingly beautiful—of course she was, they all were—though of a slightly different form than Malcanthet. Her pointed ears and sharp claws, combined with the gnarled horns sprouting gracefully from her brow, gave her a more demonic appearance than any I had seen. Her eyes were also golden, and seemed to see right through me.

The succubus across from her, the one with pale, almost white skin and long blonde hair, shrugged. “She came to the culture willingly, didn’t she? What does her age matter?”

“It matters if the Big Boss decides to carpet-bomb us for pedophilia,” golden-eye snapped. She turned to Malcanthet. “Dame Meretrix, I strongly recommend you get rid of this girl, for everyone’s safety, including hers.”

I felt my heart stop in my chest. Everything I had worked for… gone, just like that?

“Don’t be a fool!” the blonde one snapped. “Just keep her out of the way until she is of age, and then—”

“Out of the way where? In a box in the basement?”

“You know full well that’s not what I—”

“Shami-Amourae,” the Queen interrupted, and the blonde one fell silent instantly. “Do not be baited.” She turned to the one with the sharp golden eyes. “Xinivrae. Don’t bait her in the first place.”

Shami-Amourae, the Lady of Delights, bowed her head. “Apologies, Honored Sister.”

Xinivrae, the Black Widow, mimicked the gesture. “Yes, Dame Meretrix, apologies. You know how I feel about Butler, Honored Sister. I should not have used this opportunity to try and force the issue.”

“Correct,” Malcanthet noted regally. Her gaze turned to the last succubus at the table, a demon who appeared in a relatively innocuous guise as a voluptuous red-haired woman with pointed ears. I wondered if that was what she had originally looked like, but dismissed it as irrelevant. “Lynkhab. You have been even quieter than usual. What are your thoughts on this?”

The woman looked up. “I am wondering, Honored Sister, if you set this up to prove a point.”

The other two women blinked in surprise, then turned to glare at their elder.

The Succubus Queen was unfazed, and simply addressed the two of us who had invaded this meeting. “Thank you for your help, both of you. Georgina, please take Miss Ling Yu to Eluvia’s Arch. It will be good place to learn more of the culture’s history while she waits for a matron.”

“Yes, Dame Malcanthet,” my guide assured her hurriedly. She grabbed me by the sleeve and pulled me backwards out of the room so fast I nearly fell to the ground. “Hurry up, girl!” she hissed into my ear. “Be glad the Honored Devil isn’t in a bad mood!”

Once we were outside the conference room, and by outside I mean she had dragged me down the twisting hallways of velvet and silk until we were about a dozen turns away, she finally took a deep breath and leaned against the nearest wall. “Velvet hells, that was too close.”

I observed her, frowning. “What’s the problem? Dame Lynkhab said it was all the Queen’s idea in the first place for us to show up. Why would she be mad?”

“We weren’t supposed to know it was a setup,” she murmured. “No one was. The girls were supposed to learn their lesson and we’d be on our merry way. They’re gonna be mad she tried to play them, and Malcanthet doesn’t like us to see her fighting.”

I quirked my head. “…because she is the Gatekeeper of Love?”

A nod. “Yeah. It’s unbecoming for her to be anything but perfect. And if we had happened to see her as anything less than perfect… ” She shuddered. “Let’s just say that you wouldn’t need to worry about finding a matron any more.”

This was all going way over my head, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Instead of trying, I just composed a quick mental prayer of thanks to the Mother Monster and moved on to safer topics. “What about this arch she told you to take me to?”

“Eluvia’s Arch,” my superior said with a nod, regaining her composure. “Yes, it’s a stone arch in one of our interior gardens. It is the symbol of the history of our culture, and it will be a good place to learn.” She frowned. “Unless… how old are you, girl?”

“Ten.”

She made a face. “That is pretty young. Maybe Dame Xinivrae had a point about your eligibility. Either way, you’re definitely too young to see what people like to do under that damned Arch.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, which I suppose was the idea. I simply remained silent, allowing her to fill in the silence.

My guide was still considering. “Hm… perhaps the Fields of Harmony.” When she noticed the confused look on my face, she continued. “Another indoor garden, this one actually for food. It uses hydroponics and other space-saving techniques, of course.”

“Of… course,” I managed, as if I actually knew what she was talking about. “Do you think I’ll be able to find a matron there?”

She paused, considering. “You know, that’s actually a very real possibility. I didn’t even think about it. Deminsha and her step-sister like to hang out there. And Kaito, but he’s an incubus, so hardly a good match.”

I frowned. “Why not?”

“Because he’s… an incubus. And you’re a succubus. Well, a succubus imp anyway.” She grimaced. “Velvet hells, I’m going to have to give you the whole birds and the bees talk, aren’t I? I’m gonna find whoever was in charge of your orphanage and strangle them.”

I flushed with anger. “I know about all that!” I was ten years old. I wasn’t a kid any more. Of course, the matron of my orphanage hadn’t been the one to tell me. I had managed to trick one of the older kids into entering his password when he didn’t think I was paying attention, and then used it and its advanced privileges to look up everything myself. It was what had led me to Shendilavri in the first place.

“I also know that it’s not always birds and bees,” I continued. “Sometimes birds like birds and bees like bees. And Malcanthet’s followers are known for broader tastes than the rest of the city.” That last part was quoted directly from an online article. “Would I be any safer with a succubus than an incubus?”

“Well,” my guide muttered, looking away. “He’s a Gancanagh anyway. Best to steer clear of him regardless.”

That word was genuinely unfamiliar to me, and I had a feeling she wouldn’t explain it if I asked. Besides, I still didn’t like dealing with older men. If she didn’t want me apprenticed to an incubus, I wouldn’t complain.

But I did need to be apprenticed to someone. And after that confusing and frightening meeting with the culture’s warlord, I thought it was best to find someone who could protect me in this strange new life I had dragged myself into. And sooner rather than later.

Finally, after what felt like hours of walking in silence—but was likely no more than ten or twenty minutes—we reached a metal door at the end of a short corridor. It was labeled ‘side entrance,’ and bright light spilled out from under it, accompanied by the sounds of laughter and the gentle smells of earth and plants.

My guide placed her hand on the doorknob before turning to me.

“This is it,” she said seriously. “Your first real introduction to the culture of Rivenheart. If you have any second thoughts, now is the time to voice them. After this, there’s no going back. Not easily, anyway.”

I had second thoughts.

I didn’t voice them.

Instead, I simply nodded once.

My guide nodded as well, and then opened the door.

Behind the Scenes (scene 239)

This takes place in 1992.

Scene 164 – Superessendam

SUPERESSENDAM

SIMON

The first thing I felt when I woke up was very, very surprised.

Hadn’t expected that. Waking up, I mean. The sibriex had a deal with a nearby ghoul bloodline; they disposed of the flesh from our failed experiments for us, and nobody on either side asked any questions. I had assumed my bones would be picked clean by the end of the weekend.

The second thing I felt was a horrific headache. I mean brain melting out your ears bad. Thankfully, I was somewhere pitch-black, because I suspected bright light would have made it a hundred times worse. I groaned loudly, and flopped backwards.

Which is when I felt the third thing: Comfortable. I was in a bed. Not my bed; this one was softer than air. It was almost distracting me from my headache. Almost.

“Here,” a soft female voice said from my side. “Drink some water.”

I felt a glass being pushed towards my mouth, and I took it, only spilling a little bit in the process. The second the liquid touched my tongue, I realized I was so thirsty I could hardly stand it, and drained it in a single gulp. And then nearly hacked it all up, as more than a little went down the wrong pipe.

“Sorry about that,” the voice said, and I felt a towel dabbing the spilled moisture from my mouth. “We’ve had you on an IV,” which was when I became aware of the tube keeping me from moving my arm too much. “But I knew you’d want some water anyway.”

My headache was dying down, if only slightly. “Th-thank you.” I looked around, not that it did any good. There were a number of eye buffs you could get to improve night vision without going full nighteyes, but I hadn’t gotten around to them yet. My eyes may as well have been closed, for all I could see. “Where am I?”

There was a brief pause. “Underground.”

Why did that voice sound familiar? Still, I chose to focus on her words instead of her voice. “I kinda guessed that. Next you gonna tell me we’re on Earth?” I snorted in derision, then immediately moaned in pain. Snark apparently makes headaches worse.

“Shh…don’t speak.” A damp cloth dabbed at my forehead, which soothed the pain a little. “Just rest.”

But I did need answers. “I will. After you answer my question.”

“South Outer,” she said after a moment. “About a block away from South Gate.”

“Ah, okay.” That sounded familiar, too. Something about that area was nagging at my brain…

“A small group of ghouls found you in a waste dump,” the woman explained as she continued dabbing my head. “Still alive, if barely. Whatever your culture did to you, it left you…” she paused, searching for a word. “…broken. Twisted. Your bones were brittle, your muscles spastic and unresponsive. And you looked…” the damp rag stopped for a moment before resuming. “They weren’t completely certain you had started out human. You were lucky you had your ID in your wallet.”

I swallowed. If it was really that bad, it was a miracle I had survived at all, not even accounting for the fact that the ghouls who had found me apparently didn’t enjoy eating the living.

And while I still couldn’t see, I could feel my body well enough. It seemed to be healthy and whole. As far as I could tell, my only problem at the moment was possible malnutrition.

Someone had reversed the failed effects of the Balor Reconstruction.

But who? Who would be able to use the toy maker to fix something that two of the most accomplished toy designers in the city couldn’t?

And why couldn’t I see?

I swallowed, slowly coming to a few disturbing realizations. “Can…you turn the lights on, please? I’d like to see who I’m dealing with.”

There was a pause.

“But…the lights have been on the entire time.”

I took a deep breath. Then another.

“Simon, calm down.”

“No,” I whispered. “No no no.” Nine Hells, I couldn’t deal with being blind. Not again.

“She’s right,” a new voice said from somewhere behind me. “You’ll hyperventilate like that.”

I strained my ears to listen. I couldn’t be sure, but I was mostly certain that the newcomer was alone. Okay, I could deal with that.

But I couldn’t deal with…with being blind. I spent the first few years of my life blind, until my sister and I got involved in testing some eye modifications for the toy maker. I would not go back to that.

I’d kill myself before I went back.

“You’re not blind,” the new voice said calmly, as if she could read my mind. The tone was gentle but firm, like a mother or older sister. “But your eyes are heavily damaged. I gave you a chemical cocktail to shut them down temporarily. Give them a chance to heal.”

I…wasn’t blind?

Not permanently?

I took another deep breath, but that was the last one.

There was no danger here. I was just…

Okay. I could stop and think now.

“Thank you for saving me,” I managed slowly. “I’m not sure I can ever repay you. But I am still going to need to know who you are. And why you saved me.”

“I saved you for a number of reasons,” the motherly voice answered, sidestepping the question of her identity with an ease I found disconcerting. “Chief among them being that I wanted to see if I could. The damage your culture did to you…” she clicked her tongue. “It was quite extensive.”

I swallowed. “How extensive?”

“Your bones were shattered,” she said bluntly. “Calcified and made brittle by their ham-fisted attempts to strengthen them. They broke like glass when they dropped you down the shaft. Knitting everything back together was difficult, but not the hardest part. Are you aware of the vampire curse?”

I frowned, searching my memory. “It’s…a disease. The angels commissioned the Avernans to make them something to make vampires more vulnerable to light. Make it so they’d actually burn. But that never got off the ground.”

“Not as such, no. They couldn’t turn it into a disease. But making a toy that causes your skin to catch fire when exposed to ultraviolet light wasn’t too difficult. They gave you that too; lucky for you, they dumped you at night.”

I rubbed my forehead, only to find my nurse’s hand going to dampen it with the wet rag again. She withdrew quickly, and I did my best to ignore it. There was something wrong with my skin, but I couldn’t quite place it.

“Now that’s just stupid. What possible reason would they have for giving me that?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea. Perhaps they wanted to give you the ability to set parts of your skin on fire as a weapon?”

“Hm.” That made some sense. In some legends, Balors did have that ability. But still, how stupid could you be?

“They tried to give you godeyes, as well. I’m sure you know those—perfect eyes that can see in any light.”

I swallowed. “Normally, it just makes you blind.”

The motherly voice scoffed. “Yes, it is a very difficult procedure. But they even managed to screw that up. Luckily for you, the procedure went wrong at the very beginning of the process, before the damage was permanent.”

I nodded. “Okay, bones, skin, and eyes. Anything else?”

“They placed pyrophoric glands in your throats, apparently in an attempt to give you the ability to spit fire. One of them burst, but luckily the damage from that was relatively minimal. Though we still had to replace much of the skin on the inside of your throat.”

That explained some of the pain, anyway. “Nine Hells…”

“I’m not done. Your ears. It is not clear exactly what they were trying to do, but your eardrums had torn by the time you got here. Thankfully, ears aren’t very complicated, but I suspect your hearing is a little different than before. It may take some getting used to.”

Again, I nodded. At least that wasn’t so bad.

“About half of your blood vessels ruptured. They gave you increased oxygen levels and a few healing glands—both of which greatly increase your blood pressure—without reinforcing your vessels first. We pretty much had to strip out your old circulatory system and start from scratch.”

That…was extensive. Extremely extensive. I was pretty sure not even Clarke could pull that off. “How?”

She ignored me. “The one thing they did right was your heart. It’s quite a bit bigger than it was before, to the point we actually had to alter your new ribcage so it could fit. It also has an emergency adrenal gland. If you have a heart attack, you’ll immediately get a huge shot of adrenaline, which might get it pumping again. Or kill you faster.”

My mouth felt very, very dry.

“Madame,” I said slowly. “Again, I cannot begin to find the words to express how much I appreciate you and yours saving my life.” I took a deep breath. “But I think I deserve to know who you people are.”

There was a long pause.

“I am the Queen of Earth and Light, Titania,” the motherly voice said quietly. “Matron of the Seelie Court.”

I closed my eyes. Not that it mattered; I still couldn’t see. “The fey.”

Of course. You’d need a toy box to do even a hundredth of what she had, and the skills of a fey to pull it off even then.

“Yes, but not in the way you think. This girl is not one of mine, and you are not in my demesne. My help was called for, and I came. That is all.”

I put my hands on my face and breathed deeply. “I’m not sure I can trust the word of—wait.” I felt around my face with my hands. Something…was wrong. It took me a second to place what it was, but it felt like…

It felt like my face was covered in scars.

“What did you do to me?” I whispered.

“The toy maker is a glorious miracle,” the fey said quietly. “And the toy box another on top of that. But there are still limits. In time, your scars may be healed, but there is only so much your body can—” She went silent suddenly. “Please stop crying.”

I sniffed, and wiped at my eyes. I could feel them now. Not just on my face, but on my entire body. Deep scars, carved into my flesh like a bored angel had doodled on me with a knife. Hells…it felt like I had more scar tissue than non.

“Please,” the fey said again. “We can’t put you back in the toy box right now. Not for something cosmetic. It would be too dangerous. Extensive modifications take a lot out of a body, and you’ve lost a lot of blood and nutrients.”

“When?”

The fey remained silent.

“WHEN?!”

“If I had my way, you’d never use the toy box again,” she replied bluntly. “But if you insist, we can put you under in about a month. The toy maker itself would be fine as soon as tomorrow, but it would take years to undo damage this extensive.”

I couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe.

I’m…not vain. Maybe a little, but I was a sibriex. I took pride in looking weird.

But this was something else entirely.

“To answer your other question,” Titania continued. “You are currently under the ruins of Shendilavri.”

Wait, what? “Malcanthet’s domain?”

“The succubus domain, to be a little more accurate. Malcanthet specifically controlled only Rivenheart, a small part of the building, which took up the entire block. But when Necessarius dropped their bombs, they didn’t discriminate.”

“What am I doing here? Why wouldn’t the ghouls bring me to Minauros or wherever?”

The Queen chuckled. “The ghouls at Minauros are ruled by Doresain. He is kind on the surface, but has…appetites. Those who do not wish to indulge him have found allies in the succubi.”

Wait… “You mean they’re still here? In Rivenheart?”

“Shendilavri. And yes. The succubi re-established their culture almost before the dust finished settling.” The girl, who hadn’t spoken since the fey had stepped into the room, dabbed at my face with the rag again. It took me a second to realize she was wiping away my tears. “Even in the beginning, not all the succubi followed Malcanthet. And as her methods grew more extreme, those opposing her swelled in number. She was not long for this city, even if she had not made the foolish mistake of kidnapping the Mother Monster.”

I breathed deeply.

“All right,” I said after a moment. “I think that’s all the questions I have right now.”

“Really? That’s all? You don’t want to know why your culture tried to kill you?”

“I know exactly why they did it,” I muttered. “I was a failed experiment.”

“What about your friends, your family? Don’t you want to know what they have been doing?”

“Of course!” I spat. “But does it matter? No! They’re looking for me, but they won’t find me. No one would think to look here.” Nine Hells, I was crying again. “And I don’t want them to. I don’t want anyone to see me like this.”

There was a slight pause.

“Why does this bother you?” the fey asked curiously. “I will admit, it is far from ideal. But what are a few scars compared to your life?”

“My girlfriend hates scars,” I muttered. “I’ve lost enough girlfriends. Cathy got scared off by my sister, Uma thought I wasn’t dangerous enough, Jelena turned out to be a lesbian—after she found out she was pregnant—and so on.”

There was no response but silence.

“I’ve lost enough girlfriends,” I said again. “I guess I was hoping this one would last a little longer.”

Again, there was a long silence.

“I suppose I can understand, then,” Titania admitted slowly. “Though I can’t offer much sympathy, I will leave you alone. Perhaps that will be enough.”

There was the clicking noise of a door being closed quietly.

I sighed again.

“Great job, Simon,” I muttered. “Can’t even get a freaking fey to care about the crazy abomination of science for more than five minutes.”

Then a wet rag dabbed at my forehead.

“NINE HELLS!” I cried, nearly ripping out my IV as I jumped in surprise. The girl administering to me shrieked in shock. “Hells below, I didn’t know you were still here.” When she didn’t speak, I held up a placating hand in what I thought was her direction. “Sorry, I thought you left with the fey.”

“…no,” she said quietly. “I didn’t see a reason to leave.”

“Okay, yeah, that’s fine. I’m fine with that.” I made an effort to control my breathing before I hyperventilated. “Just…surprised me, is all.” I lay back down in the bed again. “I don’t like being blind.”

There was a long pause, where she didn’t say anything or wet down my forehead or anything like that. Then there was a clicking noise, much softer than the one before.

“What was that?” I asked, half suspecting she had left.

“I turned off the overhead light. It was way too bright. It’s better like this.”

“I’ll have to take your word on that.”

“Hm. I suppose so.” A pause. “She didn’t tell me she disabled your eyes. I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you.”

“It’s fine,” I assured her. “Like you said, you didn’t know. And I’m sure it will wear off soon.”

“Yeah.”

Awkward silence fell.

After a few minutes, she returned to my side with the wet rag, but didn’t say anything.

It wasn’t until she finished wiping away my tears again that she spoke.

“Why would your girlfriend leave you?”

I swallowed. This was going to be a sore subject for a long while, but I suppose she deserved an answer to anything she cared to ask. “I realize I can’t see myself right now, but I can imagine it well enough. And the fey’s reaction clinched it. I look like I lost a fight with a blender, right?”

“That’s one way to describe it. But I don’t see how that leads to your girlfriend dumping you.”

“She’s beautiful,” I said bluntly. “I’m not. Cut off from my culture, in debt to a fey, and my skin feels like sandpaper—and again, looks worse. I can’t think of a reason for her to stay.”

“That’s a very shallow way of thinking.”

“Well, I have a tendency to date shallow women. It’s a flaw of mine.”

I didn’t mean to sound bitter, but…well, I was. All of my relationships had ended in humiliating failure. It spoke volumes that before Yolanda, my most successful relationship had ended with my girlfriend realizing she was a lesbian. I think I deserved to be a little cynical.

My nurse apparently disagreed, because that’s when she kissed me.

It was a long, slow kiss, and she put her entire body into it. It made my head swim, and when I came to, I wasn’t sure it was even the same day.

“Simon Lancaster, if you ever say anything like that again, I’m going to shove this stupid rag down your throat until you choke to death.”

I was still having trouble recognizing the voice, but the kiss was unmistakable. “Y-yolanda?”

“Who else?” she asked, and kissed me again.

 

Behind the Scenes (scene 164)

So, there’s been a bit of confusion over Hells, domains, Shendilavri, and all that.

A domain is a subculture’s territory. Each culture has their own term for them, some of which are used more than others. Demon and angel domains are almost exclusively referred to as Hells and Heavens, while kemo domains usually aren’t called grounds (as in hunting grounds) very much. The fey have always used the term “demesne,” but nobody knows where they are, so it’s not really relevant.

Domains vary widely in size. The sibriex domain, Ani Kamakhym, consists of a single skyscraper, Arhestanots. The succubus domain was also only one building—but that building was an entire block.

Shendilavri was the succubus domain, the Fourth Hell. Rivenheart was a small corner of that domain, and was where Malcanthet held court. The fact that the succubi split one building into multiple sub-domains confused outsiders to no end, which is one of the reasons Necessarius just bombed the whole thing. They didn’t have time for more detailed intelligence. Though honestly, they probably would have done the same thing even if they had color-coded blueprints detailing exactly which parts of the block were owned by which warlord. Butler was not in the best of moods, and was never very worried about overkill anyway.