Tag Archives: The Composer

Scene 141 – Cruciatum

CRUCIATUM

LAURA

I made a small incision, only one inch long, and watched it heal slowly.

“One-inch incision begins repair after twenty-two seconds,” I said aloud for the benefit of my phone, which I had set on record. “Repair takes fourteen seconds.”

“I-haln Iten jeren-polar!”

I ignored the words, carefully making another cut and waiting. “Two-inch incision begins repair after twenty-one seconds. Repair takes thirteen seconds.”

Vasanis trono?”

“Three-inch incision—” I was briefly interrupted by more wild screaming. “Three-inch incision begins repair after nineteen seconds. Repair takes eleven seconds.”

No change from the last few days, then, though I didn’t say it aloud. “Moving on to today’s tests.”

I grabbed a gallon of gasoline and used it liberally. “Subject has been doused with gasoline.”

“Vasanis Itenar elgamass’n!”

I eyed my watch. “Starting test…now.”

I lit the gas from the approximate center, in order to ensure an even burn.

I winced as the flames spread, but not out of any pity or remorse. The screams became a thousand times louder the second the match touched, forcing me to cover my ears or risk being deafened.

The screams lasted for five, maybe ten minutes, until suddenly cutting off with a wet gurgle. Not long after that, the flames died down as well.

I stepped forward carefully, taking a closer look. “The fires have burned out, but the subject is already mostly healed. It is possible it is the same phenomenon as observed with the skins; the repair process interrupts combustion somehow.” I waited another few seconds. “Repair is now complete. Will have to check exact time later, but it appears to be far faster than previous tests. The repair seems to accelerate under extreme stress.”

“Ottid trono?”

I looked up, surprised that her vocal cords had regenerated so quickly.

Elizabeth Greene met my gaze with her unflinching golden eyes filled with hate and anger. I had her bolted to the wall in a spread-eagle position, and had already removed that blood-drenched dress of hers. We still didn’t know the full extent of her capabilities, so there were shackles on her wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and ankles. She couldn’t even twitch her arms or legs.

Since we knew she had a form of kinesis similar to Ling’s, the entire room was made out of solid steel rather than concrete. It was a Necessarian warcage, built for containing warlords and other extremely dangerous individuals. Normally the prisoner would be locked inside alone, but we needed to do more than just contain her.

She was too powerful; we had to discover any weaknesses before she escaped. And she would escape. As I watched, the last burns on her face disappeared as if they had never existed in the first place.

She was immortal. She’d escape eventually, even if the only weapon she could use against us was time.

“I yudu’n nitil-dra, gahmbi’n daina-dra!” She spat in my face. “Vasanis-olj zeif naka!

I smiled. “Maybe,” I said, enjoying the look of surprise when she thought I actually understood her. “But I think I have the advantage here.”

Then I grabbed my Occisor off the table and shot her in the head.

Blood splattered the walls as the lower half of her face disintegrated. I realized a bit late that ricochet was a real concern when trapped in a steel box, but luckily the Occisor is not an especially powerful pistol, so the bullet lodged in her skull somewhere.

Obviously, I couldn’t actually understand what she was saying. I was recording everything, so hopefully MC would be able to decipher it, but I didn’t have much hope on that front. It was a language, but that was about all we had at the moment.

“Ahh…” She hissed slowly like a snake as her jaw regenerated. “Ubbilar…huucum ubbilar.” She clicked her jaw a few times, before looking at me and grinning. “Ubbil-draki lemen Iar.”

“Hm,” I muttered to myself. “That’s getting annoying.” I needed to find a way to silence her, but I didn’t want to get my fingers too close to her face. Her teeth were the only weapon she had left; I knew she’d take any opportunity to use them.

I turned back to my desk, doing my best to ignore her babbling. I didn’t have much equipment with me, because I didn’t want her to have many resources if she somehow overpowered me.

I had my phone, keyed to my voice, and I had my gun. Those wouldn’t be enough to get her out of the room, especially since the ‘sarians outside had strict orders to drop the warcage into the ocean if I didn’t check in every hour.

Of course, I also had an array of shiny medical instruments, spread out on a gleaming silver tray. Knives, saws, scalpels…everything I could get my hands on with such short notice. It wasn’t really much, all things considered, but it would get the job done.

I selected one of the larger blades, as well as a few smaller scalpels. The scalpels I placed in my leather-lined lapel, while I took the knife and carefully sliced Elizabeth’s right forearm completely open.

She screamed wordlessly, but more in anger than pain. She grunted and spat as I dug around with the knife, slicing around the elbow in an attempt to cut the nerves. After a few moments, her hand stopped flexing, so I assumed I had succeeded. Her cursing redoubled when she realized what I had done; again, she seemed far angrier than in any sort of pain.

I didn’t have much time now, so I quickly cut off a large strip of muscle from the dead section of her arm, which I then placed in a small metal container that I then locked.

“Retrieved tissue sample from right arm,” I reported for the benefit of the recorder, hopefully loud enough to be heard over her screaming. “Secured. Awaiting results.”

I didn’t have to wait long.

In seconds, the blood splattered on the floor flew back off the ground and back into the wound, while the large gash sealed itself shut even as I watched. Her fingers started to twitch, and Elizabeth moaned as sensation returned.

And the box on my desk began to rattle.

As if the piece of flesh inside was struggling to return to its master.

I slapped my hand on the box to still it. I wasn’t very worried about it breaking—it was a good heavy metal box, so it was going to take more than a thumb-sized lump of muscle to smash its way out.

Elizabeth Greene has a way of ignoring conventional wisdom.

The sample shot out like a bullet, tearing a quarter-sized hole in the box. I didn’t actually see it rejoin the main body; it moved far too fast for that. By the time I looked, the wound I had inflicted had disappeared completely, and Elizabeth was grinning at me.

“Sample returned of its own volition and under its own power,” I noted, making special effort to keep any of my panic from reaching my voice. “Repair complete.”

If separating the pieces didn’t work, we were screwed. I had already cut off her head and destroyed her brain a few times, which hadn’t done anything. I had hoped this experiment might give us more positive results. From there, it would have been easy to just bury her head in a box at the bottom of White-Cap Bay or something.

Still, I kept tight hold of my emotions. I wasn’t done yet. I had more ideas. I just needed a few more materials, that was all.

I walked over to the wall and knocked in a quick pattern.

There wasn’t a pattern, of course. Well, not really. The only rule was that it had to be different every time. Hopefully, if Elizabeth did manage to get out, that part would slip her up.

But I still couldn’t help but feel like a little kid, trying vainly to hide from an angry parent. Were any of our precautions really going to help in the end?

One of the walls cracked open, and a line of light flooded in. I slipped through quickly, cursing as my chest scraped against the wall, and dusted myself off as the cage slammed shut behind me. There was a dull whumph as they turned the electromagnet back on. The prison was pretty solid already, but with the magnetically sealed locks, nothing was getting out.

Kids hiding from parents…

The ‘sarian operating the magnet, a large demon with impressive horns but no other obvious toys, saluted me. “Paragon.”

I sighed. “Don’t call me that.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am.”

Well, I guess that was a step up from ‘dame’ and ‘honored’ and all that. “Don’t worry about it.” I looked around. “Where’s the truck?”

“Over there,” he pointed next to the warcage, a spot that had been in my blindspot as I slipped out of the prison. “We figured it would be better if it wasn’t the first thing she sees, if she escapes.”

“Might buy us a couple minutes while she’s confused,” the other guard added.

“Good thinking. Keys?” He tossed them to me. “Keep an eye on that door. It opens a crack, toss a grenade inside.”

“Yes, Honored Paladin,” they said in unison.

For the love of…

But I didn’t snap at them. It was just…something I’d have to get used to.

I walked around to the back of the large eighteen-wheeler shipping truck, unlocked the padlock, and rolled up the back.

The truck was another gift from Necessarius, filled at my exact specifications. As I had requested, the trailer was arranged like a well-stocked lab, with all the chemicals and tools I couldn’t afford to keep within reach of Elizabeth.

A mouth-watering array of microscopes, mass spectrometers, and more exotic devices lined one wall—all completely useless if I couldn’t figure out a way to keep Elizabeth’s pieces from returning to the main body.

On the other hand, opposite the equipment were the things I could find a use for. Chemicals, of all types and descriptions. Acids, poisons, preservatives…even just a few odd items, like garlic and holly wood, on the off chance that Elizabeth was a mythical creature of some sort.

I grabbed a few of the more obscure materials, in addition to the chemicals I actually thought would be useful. Sure, she probably wasn’t a werewolf, but stabbing her in the heart with a silver knife would make me feel better.

Back in the warcage, I set down my equipment and smiled at Elizabeth, feeling a little better about my chances. “Ready to get started again?”

“Shial.”

I cut her throat with the silver knife.

Blood spurted from the wound as she tried to scream at me, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was a wet gurgle and more blood. Her raging eyes communicated better than words ever could anyway.

Unfortunately, while the silver clearly hurt her, the damage was no more permanent than the scalpels. After a few moments, the healing began again, with the spilled blood flowing back into place and the torn flesh re-knitting itself, leaving no trace of a scar.

“Maskin Itenar?” she snarled.

I eyed her warily. “You are becoming more annoying with each passing minute, you know that?”

Actually, that was a lie. Every time I watched her heal, a new test or experiment occurred to me. There were so many thongs we could do with an immortal test subject…

But I couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. She was such an unknown variable, and a dangerous one at that, that I had to kill her.

And that’s what this equipment was for. A couple more tests, and I might be able to actually do it.

“Tronis Itenar?” Elizabeth moaned, eying the object in my hands with disdain. “Kirill-ki genedess. Arvauruis Iar.”

I grinned at her, and removed the lid from the small metal container. “You’ll enjoy this one, I promise.”

Her gaze slowly turned wary. “Likel neuv-moikin-ki?”

I set my phone on the table again, clicking it to record. “Beginning test.” I set down the container, then retrieved one of my scalpels.

“Retrieving sample.”

The Composer snarled. “Liga bak, I—aaaaagh! Sangli Iten.” She spat in my face.

I just smiled, before turning to the container on my desk, dropping the large chunk of flesh inside, and quickly locking the lid closed.

I turned back to Elizabeth, watching her sweating and cursing under her breath. After a few moments, the shed blood jumped back to her wound, sealing it shut…

Almost.

The chunk of flesh I had cut out was still missing. Even after the rest of the wound healed, it did not. Like before, it couldn’t finish the repair without all the missing pieces.

And the metal container behind me remained silent. It didn’t rattle or vibrate as the piece inside tried to return to the host.

I felt a smile spread slowly over my face, despite my best efforts to stifle it.

I had won.

Then Elizabeth’s wound finished healing.

The piece I had locked away hadn’t blasted out of the box. The wound just…healed. Completely. Filled in as easily as smoothing out a wrinkle in the sand.

I scrambled back over to the box on my desk, ignoring Elizabeth’s triumphant gaze, cursing at the pain of touching it unprotected.

The lump of flesh I had cut off was still there, frozen in the small pool of liquid nitrogen. I’m not sure what I had expected. Maybe I thought it had teleported out? Plus, it felt like I was forgetting something. Something I should say…

I glanced at Elizabeth; she was grinning from ear to ear. She, at least, had seen this coming.

Okay, so if the pieces were too damaged, she could just create new ones out of thin air. Unfortunate, but maybe not an insurmountable problem.

Because now I had a piece of the Composer I could analyze. It was hard to get a DNA test when the blood jumped out of the test tube before you even had a chance to start.

My hands were shaking as I put the lid back on and placed it carefully out of her sight. If I ran it out of the warcage right now, it would be too obvious that I had figured something out.

I tapped on the wall again, a subtly different pattern than before.

The door cracked open a sliver. “Yes?”

“I need more equipment.”

They let me through without complaint, once again shutting the door behind me. “Why didn’t you grab it before?”

“It’s an entire vat of liquid nitrogen, and I’ll need your help with it. I didn’t want to make you before I tested it on a smaller scale.”

The baseline tipped his hat. “That’s a kindness, but an unnecessary one. We’re here to help, Honored Paladin.”

“…right. Well, come on. And get some more ‘sarians on that door.”

“Already taken care of, ma’am,” a gruff voice noted. It came from a kemo of unclear subculture, taking position beside the door with a partner. “We also have snipers at the ready.”

Good enough for me.

It took a good hour for the demon and the baseline to wrestle the tub out of the truck and slide it into the warcage. It was twenty gallons, a bit less than half the size of a bathtub, which would have been heavy enough on its own. But full of liquid, it weighed a couple hundred pounds.

All the Necessarians guarding the warcage—including the two with me now—were wearing MC’s noise-canceling headphones, so at least I didn’t have to worry about them turning because they heard a pretty song.

Elizabeth’s eyes were narrow slits. “Iten genedess, Highlander.”

“That all?” the demon asked a little meekly, trying very hard not to look at the girl strapped to the wall. MC had been careful to recruit people who didn’t believe Elizabeth was being framed, but it was still hard to see anyone like that.

“Actually, no. One last thing.”

The soldiers swallowed their anxiety and nodded, ready for more orders.

Okay, so being a de facto warlord had some perks here and there.

I turned to the silver tray, arrayed with tools, and selected a large machete, which I handed to the demon.

“Chop her head off,” I instructed as I started unlocking the nitrogen. Hesitantly, the baseline followed suit.

“Genedess,” Elizabeth said. She was trying to stay calm, but I could tell she was angry. Still not scared, just angry.

The demon looked at our captive, then at the machete in his hand, then back at me. “Are you sure, Dame Laura?”

“Yes, absolutely. Just be careful not to let her snap your fingers off.”

He recoiled a bit, but at the same time seemed to find his resolve. With the Composer staring daggers at him—but still strangely quiet—he walked up to her, paused for a moment, then sliced her head off with a single swipe.

It thudded onto the ground with a wet and heavy thump, while the body relaxed for the first time in four days, slumping in the restraints like a rag doll. Both my bodyguards stared in horror, as though they couldn’t believe what they had just done. I was beginning to think MC had chosen poorly.

“Honored Devil,” I snapped in a commanding tone. “Bring that over here. Quickly, please.”

If nothing else, he was well-trained. He obeyed instantly, lifting the severed head by the sides to avoid any possible threat from the mouth, then rushing over and plopping it in the tub of liquid nitrogen. Some of the sub-zero liquid splashed around, making us all yelp as we tried to dodge, but we managed to survive with only insignificant injuries.

“What are we waiting—”

“Shush!” I reprimanded the baseline, without taking my eyes off Elizabeth’s corpse. Mercifully, he fell silent.

I should have been narrating for the benefit of the recorder, but I couldn’t bring myself to break the silence. I felt as though if anyone spoke, something unexpected would happen.

After five minutes of waiting, I was finally beginning to relax…

When suddenly her body twitched.

First it twitched. Then it stretched, flexed, and pulled as much as it could still restrained.

Then her head started to grow back.

It was beautiful and horrifying to witness, like a gory building being put together at incredible speed. The gray matter of her brain slowly built up, as though placed piece by piece by an invisible hand. As it continued, the skull started assembling around it, then skin and hair and…

That stupid, grinning face, with those golden eyes and that perfect skin.

“Genedess kalb-dra.”

My baseline bodyguard wretched in the corner.

It took an effort, but I made sure not to follow suit. Instead, I nodded to the demon. “There’s a mop in the truck. We’ll clean this up first.”

The demon looked a little green as well, but knocked on the door, and was let out within moments. He’d follow orders, no matter how much he hated it.

I looked in the tub of liquid nitrogen. As I suspected, Elizabeth’s head was still there, a grisly mirror of the one now grinning at me from her body. What that meant, I couldn’t say, other than the fact that I had a much bigger sample now. We just needed to get it out without her noticing. Should be able to do that while cleaning the vomit.

The baseline wiped his mouth, cringing. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m just not used to anything like this. Once we clean this up, I’ll get out of your way.”

“Not quite yet.”

He skipped a beat. “Uh…okay. What else do you need?”

I turned to look him in the eye. “Once you finish this, I want you to get me the woodchipper.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 141)

For the record, Laura’s power doesn’t work on languages she doesn’t understand.

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Scene 115 – Timor

TIMOR

LING

“Why in Musashi’s name did she kick us out of our rooms?” Akane muttered, pulling her jacket a little tighter. She had settled down a little after being rudely waken up by Laura pounding on our door, but she was still pissed.

I sighed. “She didn’t kick us out. She was right: We need to figure out if Turgay’s okay, and he isn’t answering his cell.” I felt wretched about that. I find out the girl I introduced him to is evil—or possessed or whatever—and don’t even bother to call and mention it? Tezuka, what was wrong with me?

“She could have gone herself.”

I looked at her a little sideways. “She’s never met Turgay.”

“Neither have I.”

“You’re my bodyguard, remember?” That wasn’t me being snarky; Laura had actually ordered Akane to escort me to Turgay’s secret lab.

And Akane had done it without a word of dissent. That made me curious. Well, okay, she was dissenting now, so maybe I was just giving this too much thought.

It had already been about an hour since we had left our room. Turgay’s lab was apparently outside the wall, at the southern docks. We had taken two light rails to get here, but had to walk the last couple blocks on foot.

Around us, the city was like a ghost town, even though it was early in the morning, when normally there were a good number of people around. Baselines, mostly, but lots of non-vampires and angels used this time to get work done.

Not today. The streets were completely deserted. What few people we saw were well-armed and traveling in groups. The cultures’ domains were sealed up like fortresses, with very few people entering or leaving. No one was taking any chances.

The news about the Composer’s identity had a lot of people scared. Before, it had just been this distant enemy, possibly fictional. Now that she had been outed, people were waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Many people were confused too. As a moderately successful voice actress, Lizzy wasn’t anything like a household name, but she was definitely known among certain circles. She had a well-deserved reputation as a kind, if ditzy, young girl. Most people who knew her personally assumed it must be some kind of mistake.

I would have thought that too, if I hadn’t been there last night.

Whatever was riding around in that girl’s body was evil and dangerous, I had no illusions about that. But it was still difficult to believe. The girl I had been spending time with these past few weeks couldn’t be the Composer. Something had to be going on.

“This is really weird,” Akane muttered. “No one is eying me.”

I raised an eyebrow. She’s not hard on the eyes, by any means, but she isn’t the type to expect to turn heads as she walks down the street. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Normally people notice the way I walk,” she said quietly. “The bullies take confidence as a challenge, so they look me over to see if they can take me.” She shrugged. “If I’m in a bad mood, I let them think that they can.”

“Ooookay.” It took me a minute to work through that. “So you’re mad because no one wants to pick a fight?”

“Yeah.” She frowned, and shook her head. “It’s weird.”

Then I realized the implications. “Ah. Of course. You’re still upset over Lizzy.”

She didn’t say anything, and we walked in silence for another block or so.

“I’ve known her for eight years,” she said finally, as we passed a gun shop with three heavily-armed men guarding the entrance. The rest of the ‘scraper was probably pissed about the impact that was having on their sales. “I’ve never been exactly friends with her, but…” she shook her head. “This is all too much to swallow. Was the Composer always there, watching and pulling the strings? Or did she only drop by every once in a while, like to hypnotize Derek?”

“It’s impossible to know for sure,” I admitted. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” I brightened a little. “Though at least now that the hypnotism is gone, Derek’s finally started to notice us.” I grinned and elbowed her lightly in the ribs. “Wanna make a fight out of it?”

The swordswoman just glared at me. “One of our closest friends was brainwashed for…what? Over a decade? And you want to turn his affections into a game.”

My grin faded. I had to admit, teasing him had been more fun when I didn’t understand why he was refusing my advances.

I wasn’t going to stop, of course. That’s just not who I am. Especially now that I was pretty much the only one in the running. But I could be a little more tactful about it.

“Yeah,” I said slowly, covering my embarrassment with a cough. “Ah…sorry about that. I wasn’t thinking.”

After a few more minutes of silence, we reached the wall. Thankfully, we had told MC to expect our arrival, so we didn’t have to wait twenty minutes for the stupid gate to creak open. We just slipped through the small crack and out the other side without any trouble.

The docks of Domina were a bit weird. At each of the four compass points, there was a long, traditional dock right outside the gate, over a hundred yards long. It was solid concrete and rebar, supported from underneath by powerful concrete columns that reached all the way to the bottom of Whitecap Bay. This was where the rare visitors to the city docked, and where the barbecues were located. They were completely abandoned today, which was not unexpected.

The weird part was the Ring; a twenty-yard wide concrete belt circling the entire city. This was where most of the baseline fishermen lived and worked, in shacks and lean-to’s built right up against the wall. They were easy to miss if you didn’t know where to look, since they were the same dull gray color as the wall itself, and buried between stacks of abandoned shipping containers people used as restaurants and shops.

Although I said ‘baseline,’ most of the people here had a few toys to make it easier to live exposed to the elements. People who preferred a warm roof over their heads instead of a dingy little shelter that barely kept out the rain generally commuted.

I couldn’t see Turgay’s lab anywhere. I don’t know what I expected; it wouldn’t be outdoors, obviously, but there was really no idea where to start. I wish he had given me better directions.

I heard the squeaking sound of a metal door opening and turned to see a girl in a lab coat standing outside an open shipping container, set in a long row with a bunch of others. She waved us over, and we came with little hesitation.

Once we were closer, I saw feathers in her hair, and any doubts about whether or not this was the right place disappeared.

“I’m Jenna Strigi. You’re…Ling?”

I swallowed. I wasn’t very worried, but it was still a secret lab researching one of the most important objects in the city. I was allowed to be a little apprehensive.

“Ah…yeah. I’m Turgay’s orphan-mate,” I indicated Akane. “And this is—”

“Her bodyguard,” Akane finished. Her face was set in stone; if she was joking, I sure as Tezuka couldn’t tell. Was she really taking Laura’s suggestion that seriously?

Jenna, however didn’t seem to find anything in the least bit odd about that. “Of course. Come in.” We did, and she closed the door behind us with a loud clang.

It was nicer than I had expected; they had knocked down most of the walls of the containers to free up space, and used white-painted plywood when they needed privacy. I liked the design. It had a very comfortable, homey feel to it. But I knew from Turgay that most aves didn’t like confined spaces—after all, the reason they joined the subculture in the first place was usually because they wanted to fly. This probably wouldn’t be a very fun place to work for them.

“I’ll fetch the Director right away,” Jenna promised. “Stay here.” As she walked off deeper into the complex, the heavily-armed aves on either side of us drew meaningful mechanical noises from their guns. I could take a hint, and made sure not to look at them.

Akane, however, decided to take her sword out of her bag and holster it at her waist. It was a testament to the guards’ training that they managed to restrain themselves from shooting.

I grinned at them a little weakly.

“Ling?” I glanced up to see Turgay striding forward, a concerned look in his eyes. He was the only anthro around; he looked like practically royalty. Everyone else had only one or two toys, and looked like they were trying to mimic him.

“Ling, what are you doing here?” He hugged me fiercely, then glared at me sharply. “You weren’t supposed to come unless there was an emergency.”

After Lizzy went missing yesterday, Turgay had been forced to give the location of the lab to MC. While she hadn’t told me explicitly where it was until today, I had been able to guess pretty well based on the sewer entrance we had used when we were tracking Lizzy.

“It is,” I insisted. “Guy, is Lizzy here?”

He frowned. “No, of course not. I assumed you found her. She’s not still missing, is she?”

I rubbed my forehead. “It’s…complicated. Is there somewhere we can sit down?” Now it was my turn to frown. “Actually, Jenna said she was going to go fetch the Director, maybe we should wait…”

“No,” he assured me. “That’s me. I’m the Director.” He grinned at my shock. “Come on, I have seats in my office.

His ‘office,’ as I had expected, was just a slightly larger area deeper in the complex, cordoned off with plywood walls and a thick sheet for a curtain.

I sat down in a dinky little folding chair and glared at him. “You didn’t mention that you were in charge down here.”

He shrugged. “You didn’t ask.” As though that settled anything.

Whatever, not important. I needed to figure out a way to explain everything without…

You know what? Screw being sensitive. This guy was the leader of a secret, illegal project studying stolen technology that brainwashes anyone who spends too much time around it.

So, I just looked him straight in the eye and said “Lizzy is the Composer.”

He frowned and leaned back in his chair. “Yes, we heard about that during our last status update, but I can’t believe it. Are you sure?”

“Positive,” I said firmly. I waved my hand. “There might be demonic possession or some weird power involved, but the point is is that whatever is driving around in Lizzy’s body is unbelievably dangerous.”

“Immortal,” Akane noted.

I nodded. “That too. Laura shot her face off, and she just laughed.”

“Laura shot her own face off?”

“No, Lizzy’s.” I sighed. I could tell he didn’t believe me, even though I didn’t have all that much experience reading anthros. “Look, just…stay away from her, all right? Call Necessarius if you see her.” I stood to leave, and Akane rose as well.

Turgay shook his head. “Lizzy has given us quite a bit of help. I’m not going to just throw her out in the cold if she comes calling.”

“She could kill you all,” Akane said bluntly.

Before the anthro had a chance to answer, his plywood wall—the one facing the door—exploded inwards as the body of one of the warhawks was thrown through.

“No, I will kill them all.”

I knew what I’d see before I even turned.

And there she was, in all her glory. Elizabeth Greene. Still over six feet tall with skin like a bronze goddess. Still in the white dress from last night—now stained completely crimson, with darker patches underneath the still-wet blood, indicating older battles. She was barefoot, and stood with one foot in the shattered ribcage of a warhawk on the floor, laying unmoving in a puddle of ever-widening blood. Behind her, the other two guards were little more than red splashes against the walls.

In her hand she held Turgay’s assistant Jenna by the throat, as casually as if she weighed nothing more than a bag of groceries. But judging by the way the ave woman was struggling, there was nothing casual about the strength of her grip.

Everything about Lizzy was different, from the haughty way she stood to the cruel smile, to the natural way the blood of her enemies looked, splashed upon her skin. She looked like an entirely different person, pretending to be Elizabeth Greene.

The only things unchanged were her eyes. Still the same, unflinching gold, nearly glowing in the dim light of the illumination strips on the ceiling.

Her eyes were the same as always. But in the context of everything else…

They weren’t kind eyes anymore. These were the eyes of a hunting panther, watching her prey from the shadows.

“Hey, Ken. Ishi,” she said. The monster grinned, her pearly white teeth accentuating the blood splashed on her face even more. “Prepare to die.”

Behind the Scene (scene 115)

The “Ken” refers to Akane again (Sword), while the “Ishi” refers to Ling (Stone).

Scene 79 – Propsiti

PROPSITI

The COMPOSER

Stupid directors. Stupid, stupid.

They had met that idiotic flying girl. I knew that for a fact. And they just let her run away, without so much as ‘You know, a flier would really help us out.’ Stupid, stupid directors. Also, couldn’t she have shot Anders with the calciophage in the process? Would have made my life easier.

“Lakerine,” I spat, as I ripped the intestines out of some stupid ghoul who had decided to ambush me in an alley. “What’s going on outside?”

A voice appeared in my mind. “You’re never cared about outside the city before. Why the sudden interest?”

I ground my teeth hard enough for a few of them to crack. “Because right now it’s boring. No one’s doing anything interesting. The cultures have fortified. I could turn them, but no, that would be genocide. You crazy little…”

“Fine,” the voice interrupted. “Ru Yu’s escape from Shaohao Station generated the kind of attention we were hoping for, and the buyout was drowned in heavy public opposition. They won’t be able to try that trick for a while yet, hopefully long enough for you to complete your work.”

I snorted in derision. Right, my work. Well, it didn’t really matter who’s idea it was, I was following the plan regardless.

“The secessionists on Titan are beginning to stir. Besceriul is encouraging them, to a point. He can’t do much directly.”

“Of course not,” I muttered, as I rooted around for the ghoul’s spine. “He’s a gutless bastard.”

The voice didn’t bother to acknowledge my little pun. “The loyalists on Charon are taking the initiative, and making weapons designed for use against rebellious colonies. Things that can function in vacuum.”

I frowned. “Isn’t the Charon base just five guys in a lab?”

“Fifty, actually, but yes. They’re mostly just doing weapon design. They only barely have the facilities to test their theories. Luckily it’s distracting them from their dig.”

I rolled my eyes. Who cared if a bunch of stuffy scientists found some stupid meteorite? But it was important to the Nine, so I didn’t say anything.

“Interestingly enough, the para are missing.”

I paused. That was interesting. “How is that possible?”

“Don’t know,” the voice admitted. “But when Vearon went to check on the para, they weren’t there.”

“There’s no reason for them to deviate. They should be exactly where they’re expected. Did Vearon backtrack their path?”

“To a point. He only had so much time, and his scanning equipment is sub-par. But they’re nowhere to be found.”

I chewed my lip and cracked a few more of the ghoul’s ribs. Very odd. The para were…well, honestly, they weren’t really very important, but finding out they weren’t where they’re supposed to be was like finding water running uphill. Odd.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts. It was a little interesting, but not really important. “I don’t care about Vearon’s stupid cyborgs, sage. Give me something else.”

“Here’s something a bit more relevant to your interests, then,” the voice said in a slightly miffed tone. “The United States president is taking a more active interest in Domina. He’s worried about your screamers.”

I took the ghoul’s leg in both hands and broke it off at the knee. “Why would he be? I thought Butler always handled that kind of thing. Propaganda, information control.” Intelligence wasn’t really my territory.

“Well, that’s the thing. Butler convinced the outside world that the chorus are just another gang, but now the president is convinced he can actually help.”

I barked out a laugh. “Unlikely.”

“True. But he’s annoyed at the Shaohao situation slipping out of control. He thinks if he can stabilize Domina, he can make his mark on history and maybe solve the secession crisis in the process.”

I snorted again. “He’s a moron. Even I know that they’ll never accept help from an outsider.”

“His heart is in the right place,” the voice chided.

I licked my lips. “That just means it tastes better.”

The voice sighed. “Anyway, the point is he’s going to try and send a few more spies into the city. If you can turn them, that would be helpful.”

I shrugged. “Easy enough.”

“Not that I think it will be necessary,” the voice mused. “Like you said, they don’t like outsiders. They stick out like a sore thumb, especially spies. They’ll probably be dead in a week.”

I reached into the ghoul’s chest and finally pulled out his heart, dripping in rich blood, a little thicker than in a baseline human.

“Well, that’s no fun,” I whispered. “I don’t get to kill nearly enough people.”

Then I ate the heart.

Behind the Scenes (scene 79)

Spies really do not do well in Domina. There are about a thousand reasons for that, not least because it’s low priority, which means less-experienced spooks get sent there. Butler and the cultures also keep a close eye on who comes into the city, and spot the suspicious ones quickly enough. There aren’t really that many people trying to immigrate, so it’s easier than you’d think. Not to mention that it’s an island.

Scene 65 – Impero

IMPERO

HORACE

My name is Horace Warfield. I am a hellion under the command of General Sargeras, specifically a 2nd Lieutenant. I am one of the most respected officers of the 9th Special Reconnaissance Division, well-known for my unconventional tactics and the high moral of the men under my command. I consider it a point of pride that I have never been defeated, despite several dozen pitched battles to my name.

And I had no idea where I was.

“Feeling better?” my father asked.

I looked up and saw…someone. It wasn’t my father. The build wasn’t right…or was it? My head. Something was wrong with my head.

“Good,” the person purred. Its voice was changing. It wasn’t my father’s any more. It was my first girlfriend’s, the one who dumped me when I got my horns. “I want you to have a clear mind for this.”

“What…what are you?”

The shape before me flickered like a shadow. It had a tail, but bigger than anything the toy maker could produce. Then the tail disappeared like smoke. “Well, not a completely clear mind. I want to gloat, but I still have to be somewhat smart. What would happen if you escaped and told everyone who I was? Then I’d have to kill you and everyone you’ve ever met. That would be…” the voice, so much like my old drill instructor’s, paused, as though savoring the thought. Was it licking its lips? “So…terrible.”

“What’s going on?” I tried reaching out to touch the shadow, only to find I couldn’t move. My arms and legs were bound to some sort of examination table, angled to give me a better view of the room. The manacles were…stone?

“It’s been so long since I had a chance to properly gloat,” the voice mused. “So much secrecy. And for what? So a couple more mud-apes can live out their dreary little lives? Pah. Worthless.”

“You’re…” dammit, what was wrong with my head?

A claw gripped my chin and forced me to look into my captor’s glowing red eyes. Except it wasn’t a claw and the eyes weren’t red. Every time I tried to look at the…thing talking to me, my brain seemed to shy away from the subject.

“I am the Composer,” the shadow said in a clear female voice. It was beautiful, like carefully tuned bells. “I am the one who is going to burn this city to the ground.”

It let me go, and I tried to look around the room, in the hopes of actually discerning my location, but I didn’t have much luck. It looked like a small maintenance room for the sewers, judging by the large pipes running throughout the chamber. There were only two entrances I could see, one to my left and one to my right, but I couldn’t see any light coming from either of them. That didn’t help much.

“Stop that,” a voice much like my mother’s ordered, and I felt the manacles twist and tighten. But when I looked down, nothing was touching them. They were just moving on their own. “Don’t bother trying to figure out where you are.”

“You’re a screamer,” I whispered in horror.

The Composer rolled its eyes, and for a brief moment, I saw the face of a beautiful woman with red skin. Was it real? It felt real, but so did the rest. “No, I’m a composer. I have more than just one power. I have three different types of kinesis—stone, fire, and electricity—two types of fragma—shields and blades—a basic sapizo power, one of the better forms of tachytita, two types of detection, a very minor allagi power, and most importantly, hypnotism.”

I blinked. “Was I supposed to understand any of that?”

The shadow clicked its tongue in disappointment. “Actually, yes. You should have stayed in school longer.” Another pause. “Of course, I destroyed most of my schools, so I’m not one to talk.”

“What do you want with me?”

“Two things,” a high-pitched child’s voice explained. “First, I want you to just stay a while and listen. I need to get all this gloating off my chest or else I’ll end up actually telling it to someone important, like the Paladins.

“Second, I need you to disrupt the alliance.”

I frowned. “What alliance?”

The Composer sighed. “Butler finally managed to get his act together, and is forcing a truce between all the cultures and gangs. All to hunt down little old me.” I saw a flash of gleaming white teeth as it grinned, but it disappeared quickly. “I can’t have that. It would be best to just make Butler break the treaty himself, but he’s too well-protected. There’s no way I can get to him.”

A treaty with Necessarius was perfect. It was exactly what the General had been looking for. Yes, we hellions had prejudices of our own, but we would be able to put them aside for the greater good. Hopefully, the other subcultures would feel the same.

But something my captor had said was nagging at my mind. “Wait, how are you going to break the treaty? You’re not a part of it…” I felt a surge of horror. I still had no idea who this person was, but it couldn’t be that bad. “…right?”

The shadow laughed again, the sound of bells returning. “Oh, that would make things far too easy! No, I’m not a part of your silly little games. No, I’m going to make you do it.”

I marshaled my will and tried to sound more confident than I felt. “There’s nothing you can do that will make me betray the General and his cause. If he wants this treaty, I will hold to it.”

The Composer laughed. Bells again. Why was it always bells? “Silly little hellion. Were you even paying attention?” Those gleaming white teeth returned. “Why do you think you can’t identify me? Why do you think you can’t remember how you got here?”

I closed my eyes for a moment, shutting out that confusing, shifting visage, and my wits returned to me. “You drugged me.”

“Not drugged,” it said cheerfully. “Hypnotized. So much more useful. Harder to detect. Harder to defend against.”

“You can’t hypnotize me if I don’t want you to,” I insisted.

It just chuckled. “Not that kind of hypnotism.” It leaned forward and brought its hand in front of my face, moving its fingers in a pattern I couldn’t identify, but was riveting. “Here’s what you’re going to do…”

Right before my mind fled completely, whatever previous hypnotism placed on me wore off, or perhaps was overwritten by the new one. Regardless of the cause, I could suddenly see the Composer in all its glory.

I couldn’t tell if it was male or female, young or old; it was too brief a glimpse for that. I only identified one thing.

Earlier, I had thought the creature had red skin, which would probably mark it as a troll or goblin. But it turned out I was incorrect.

The Composer’s skin wasn’t red.

It was just completely drenched in blood.

Behind the Scenes (scene 65)

In the grand tradition of pseudo-scientific technobabble everywhere, the powers all have proper names in Greek. The Composer dropped a few basic names here.

Kinesis I’m sure everyone knows; it literally means “movement,” and is used to describe the ability to move things with your mind. Stone, fire, and electricity kinesis are referred to as petrakinesis, pyrokinesis, and ilektrikinesis, respectively.

Fragma means approximately “barrier,” and refers to the type of power Derek has.

Sapizo means “rot,” which is actually a bit more specific than how it is used in relation to powers; while rot and sapizo imply only biological decay, it is used to refer to all forms, including things such as rust.

Tachytita means “speed,” and as you may have guessed, simply means super speed. Akane’s power is one form it comes in.

The translation for detection is actually anakalypsi, but the Composer didn’t bother using it. Partly because it doesn’t quite fit with the way the power works, but mostly because “detection” just covers it so much better. This is Laura’s power, specifically the power to detect lies.

Allagi means “change,” and will be translated as “morphing.” This is what the biters had, and should be understood to be different from allasso (literally “shifter”), or “shifting,” which is what the bats had.

And finally, any inconsistencies with Greek grammar shall be henceforth blamed on the fact that the one who originally named the powers was not Greek, he just thought the names sounded cool. (now ask yourselves whether I meant in-universe or out)

Scene 57 – Inopinatum

INOPINATUM

The COMPOSER

I thrust my hand quickly into my captive’s chest, found her heart, and ripped it out with a squelching sound. Blood splashed everywhere as her ribs were bent violently back to allow my fist to exit, and I was showered in gristle and bone.

It made me feel better, but it didn’t solve my problem.

“What do you mean this was planned? No one told me!”

“It didn’t concern you,” the voice in my head admonished. No, not a split personality, I don’t have those. Just telepathy. “There was no need for you to know.”

“No need? You threw an escape pod at my city, of course there was need!”

“What would you have done differently? The USP cannot be allowed to reacquire Shaohao Station. If they do, they control the main supply line to the rest of the colonies vying for independence from Earth. They will be able to simply starve them into submission.”

“Who the hell cares about that?” I cried, ripping another organ from my technically-still-alive prisoner. I think it was the liver. “I wanted to see the corpses!”

“Of course,” the voice said in a dry tone. “And here I thought you were motivated by something silly, like common decency.”

“The crash killed a bunch of people in that building it hit,” I insisted. “Giants, too. They’re fun to watch die, cuz they never see it coming. They think they’re invincible.”

“I cannot express just how much I do not care.”

I smashed the captive’s skull in. I shouldn’t have done that. They’re always more fun when they’re still moving. “I’m doing my job, you’re doing yours. But when they intersect, I should know!”

Fine. Here’s how they intersect: Stay in Domina, don’t kill the astronaut.”

What?” I tossed the corpse away and grabbed another girl, a tall, thin thing with a gold eyes cosmo. “Why not? I thought you wanted to keep this under wraps.”

“No,” the voice said with exaggerated patience. “That’s what the USP wants. We want to spread awareness of this as far as possible. Sabotaging the pod to land in Domina was the perfect way to do that.”

I broke one of the girl’s hands. “Wait, you said something earlier about…something.”

“Wonderfully specific.”

“Shut it. No, that’s right…you said Domina needed to remain separate, independent. Isn’t this going to bring heat down on the city? The USP will be able to trace the leak back here.”

“My, are you actually concerned? I’m honestly impressed.”

“I don’t see why,” I muttered, as I shattered the girl’s other hand. She had already broken down, crying for her mother. Seriously. It was like she had never been tortured before. “If they send armies, I won’t be able to play around any more.”

“Ah. Yes, I should have expected that. That’s more like it.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

“It’s simple. Butler is good at keeping America away from the city, and Mary Christina is good at preventing information leaks. Between the two of them, they’ll get the word out without actually implicating themselves.”

I grinned and started peeling the skin off the girl’s fingers with my nails. Blood welled up quickly, and she sobbed. “So I get to keep my playground?”

The voice sighed. “Yes, you get to keep your playground. But do remember that you have duties as well. You can’t just run around killing people.”

“I’m restraining myself,” I pointed out. “I’m only killing orphans.”

“About half the city consists of orphans,” the voice said drily. “Just…keep the body count below triple digits, all right?”

I paused in my torture. “Not including chorus and related casualties, right?”

The voice sighed again. “Correct.”

“Well,” I said slowly. “I think I can work with that.” I cut the link.

The gold-eyed girl was weeping, her lips silently mouthing the words ‘no no no’ over and over again.

I like the ones with weird eye colors. They’re like a spice sprinkled over a meal. Just a little bit, here and there, makes the entire experience so much more enjoyable.

I reached forward to tear the skin off her chest, but stopped, frowning, as something occurred to me.

Had they meant a triple-digit body count per day or total? Because one of those might be a problem.

Behind the Scenes (57)

So the Composer’s allies aren’t as crazy as he/she/it/they is/are. Of course, no one is as crazy as the Composer.

Extra update Wednesday.

Scene 45 – Comprimo

 COMPRIMO

The COMPOSER

I killed my newly-created conductor very quickly, reaching under his ribcage and ripping out his heart. It wasn’t anywhere near as much fun as torturing him to death, but I had limited time here.

The problem was that when I granted them their songs, I didn’t know which song and instrument they’d manifest until they actually had it, and I couldn’t take it back. Well, not without killing them, so it wasn’t all bad.

Take the corpse on the floor. His song was Immunity, and his instrument immunity to hypnotism. That was bad. Very bad. Of course, he didn’t start immune, just resistant, but that was beside the point. He would throw off my hypnotism too quickly, maybe even start to remember things. And it wouldn’t take long for his instrument to evolve towards immunity to the Score itself. I wouldn’t be able to control him at all.

Hence the killing.

Oh well. There were plenty more where he came from. That was the great thing about this city. So many people, all stuffed together on one big island.

It was the perfect target.

Unfortunately, my plans were stifled a bit, now that they knew that killing the conductors would cure the chorus. I had been forced to reset everything, so now they were connected to me directly, meaning that they’d have to kill me in order to cure anyone. This did limit the usefulness of the conductors, but it was a small price to pay.

It was about time to activate a new conductor, but I had to decide which one. I could only use them sparingly, so I had to make sure their instrument would help spread the Score as quickly as possible.

There were too many variables. The biters had no ranged capabilities, so they were easily dispatched. The bats did pretty well, but the angels incapacitated them too quickly. Fliers would be less than useless; they’d just be sitting ducks, waiting to be netted and captured.

Which reminded me, those stupid Paladins still hadn’t recruited the fifth member. They had to know who she was. If nothing else, she had to know who they were. That was the entire reason I had chosen her—and the others, for that matter—in the first place.

But I didn’t have to keep this up for much longer. Just a few more, large attacks, and then…

Something.

Crap, what was the plan again? It didn’t involve mass slaughter, so it was hard to remember.

No, wait, that was the plan. Attack as much as possible, do as much damage as possible, while killing as few as possible. That’s what they said, anyway, and its not like I had much of a choice. The Nine were stronger than me individually, and as a group I didn’t have a chance against them.

But they had promised this would work out in my favor. I didn’t trust them, of course, but I did it anyway. This would all come together in the end.

Back to the matter at hand. I needed a conductor with a strong instrument, something that would naturally lend itself to infecting others. I could take control of any of my conductors or chorus directly, of course, but that was difficult. Far easier to just guide them, and let their instincts do the rest.

Without a decent instrument, though, I wouldn’t have a choice. I had a number of good combat conductors ready. Their instruments weren’t suited for infection, but if I was careful, I could use them to spread the Score and just keep them out of harm’s way.

But the Paladins weren’t fools. They’d notice the discrepancy quickly, and go hunting for my conductors. And if they killed them before I managed to reset the chorus’ connections, I’d have a horde of angry directors, immune to the Score and baying for my blood.

Actually, that might be fun.

No, no, I couldn’t do that. The Nine were very clear on that. Avoid making directors if at all possible, except for the Paladins.

But that meant…

I licked my fingers, tasting the blood from the immunist I had just killed.

Yes…that meant I could kill the little changeling. Who would miss him? He was a changeling. Well, his clan might come after me. But that was even better. More blood, more killing. And I was just following orders, of course, just defending myself…yes, this could work beautifully.

I’d still need a distraction. A new batch of chorus. And I definitely wouldn’t be around to play them myself; they’d have to be an instrument that could infect on their own.

I mentally paged through my options. There were a few telepaths and detectors, useless to me. Lots of kineticists, and genists, those were always popular. Healers…maybe. The internalized ones, who healed themselves, might work…swarm the enemy, bleed on them, infect them…

Blood.

Of course.

I grinned. This would be fun indeed.

I thrust out my mind, finding the conductor I was looking for. He was awake, though drunk, and stumbling down a street about a mile south of AU. The street was pretty crowded; it was only one in the morning, which is midday for half the population of the city.

I whispered a command into his mind, and he began to sing…

 

Behind the Scenes (45)

Yes, another short one. However, the next one is going to be pretty long, so I think I get a free pass. Actually, this was a supplementary update anyway, so I don’t have anything to apologize for.

Scene 11 – Conpedis

CONPEDIS

The  COMPOSER

My subject was chained down and screaming. I don’t really know why. I hadn’t even done anything to her yet, but she was already weeping and begging for her life. Seriously, I was almost glad that I wouldn’t have a chance to torture her. Takes all the fun out of it.

“Please, just let me go, I just want to go home…”

It was ever so tempting to flay her alive (only a little bit, she’d live), but I resisted. Because I have willpower. That’s the secret to success, really. Prioritize what you need over what you want.

Instead, I whispered a song in the girl’s ear. Her weeping slowed, then ceased, as she was caught up in the beauty of the music. After a moment, I stopped singing, but the girl didn’t start crying again. I unlocked the chains with a wave of my hand.

I snapped my fingers and she followed the sound, thought she didn’t come out of the trance. I carefully waved my fingers in front of her face, back and forth, in a simple pattern.

“None of this happened,” I explained to her in a gentle voice. “You woke up and decided to go for a walk.”

“I woke up and decided to go for a walk.”

“That’s right. Now leave this place and forget it ever existed.”

My new conductor did as she was ordered, leaving my little lair without so much as a word.

I sighed, this time with pleasure. The chorus were the most obvious of the ‘zombies,’ but far from the real threat. Butler and his little gang would chase them around, while the conductors kept everything under control. Until the time was right for the good guys to win, of course. And I had pieces already in play for just that occasion.

Five directors running around, ready to stop a zombie apocalypse. Well, four directors and that idiot Adam. He’d die soon and get replaced by my fifth director. What was she doing? The others had to have contacted her by now. I couldn’t have made mistake…

Bah. It would be easier to just kill them all and start over with a fresh batch. But I had already invested too much effort in these. If only my goal was easier, I wouldn’t have to deal with all this frustrating planning.

What I needed was to kill something. Run off into the night like a chorus, screaming my head off, and just rip through a cafe or something. But that would skew all my results. The directors would hear the screaming, they’d come investigate, so on and so forth. I couldn’t risk playing my hand so early in the game.

So annoying.

But, such was my curse. Greater good and all that.

Heh. Greater good. That wasn’t my goal. I just wanted to kill things. But, it’s been pointed out to me more than once that if I didn’t do this right, I would eventually run out of things to kill. So, I’d wait and bide my time.

I glanced at the clock. It was five in the morning. I grinned. It was a little ahead of schedule, but why not give those fools a nice wake up call?

With a snap of my fingers another conductor I had created a few days earlier lost all conscious control of her body and began to sing. There weren’t that many people around her, but there were a few, and they stopped to listen to this hauntingly beautiful music.

And then, one by one, they became chorus, and they began to scream, an endless, emotionless cry that shook the soul.

Five people sleeping soundly in their beds woke up with a jolt.

I grinned to myself.

“And…here…we…go.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 11)

Here’s the main villain! Ominous, yes? We’ll call him/her/it/them “the Composer” for now, fitting in with the musical theme.