Tag Archives: Veda Korrapati

Scene 269 – Sollemne

SOLLEMNE

DEREK

A party felt like a stupid idea.

But we needed this, dammit. After months of stumbling from crisis to crisis, we needed something that didn’t involve monsters or assassinations or superpowered goddesses from the future.

More people had come than I expected. In addition to the rest of the Paladins and the retinue, five of Akane’s kensei—plus both her nephews—had come, and were chatting amiably with the half-dozen scientists Laura had brought. It seemed like they had met before at NHQ, and were now discussing some old missions. Akane had more kensei, but they seemed to mostly be busy right now.

The real surprise was that Simon, Seena, and all their friends had come as well. I recognized Simon’s girlfriend and Eccretia of the Never-Known Thieves and her bodyguards (who had been polite enough to leave their guns at home), but the last girl, who Seena had called Veda, was unfamiliar. She wore a big concealing cloak and seemed to be avoiding me, which usually meant that I had tried to kill her at some point. Oh well, as long as she didn’t start something, it was fine.

“Nice party,” Adam said with a smirk as he walked up, Lily on his arm.

She elbowed him in the ribs. “Be nice.”

He rolled his eyes. “Sorry.”

“I know this might seem like a bad time to throw a party—”

He laughed. “You kidding? It’s the perfect time. I grew up in New York high society. Most of the best parties were when there was some crisis that everybody was trying to distract themselves from. But this…” He winced. “At least the food’s nice.”

I raised an eyebrow. “It looks like people are having a good time.”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

“They are,” Lily said, half to me and half to Adam. “They’re not just putting on a show. They’re genuinely enjoying themselves.”

“Except for the retinue.”

I glanced over at the group. They were easy to spot, due to George being the only giant on the roof. George was eating something mechanically, and Kat was doing something on her phone. Jarasax actually seemed to be having an animated conversation with one of Eccretia’s bodyguards, but Alex…

Alex looked like a zombie. I wasn’t sure he was even conscious of where he was.

After everything that had happened with Kelly, it was probably a miracle he even got out of bed in the morning. Actually, considering that he didn’t sleep, it might be that he just hadn’t gone to bed after all this happened.

Kelly… Fierna… had released a statement to the rest of the city, declaring the Belians and Phlegethos hers. There had been talk of war, but right now she seemed to be busy purging her house of discontent. None of the other vampires, or Necessarius, wanted to deal with her.

“It’s a miracle she didn’t kill him,” Adam said quietly. “That’s gotta be freaky.”

I didn’t say anything. I hadn’t mentioned what I had overheard, and didn’t see a need to do so now. I shouldn’t have heard it in the first place. Should have just left when I had the chance, no need to stay…

“You have that look in your eye,” Lily said wryly.

“What look?”

“The look you get when you’re blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault.”

I sighed. “I don’t need you to mother me, Lily.”

She raised her hand, forestalling the point. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m just saying this as a friend, Derek. Whatever it is, let it go. You did everything you could, and it would have turned out worse if you weren’t there.”

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t even know what it is.”

She smirked. “You always do everything you can, and it always turns out better from your presence. You really aren’t a hard one to read, little hero.”

Please don’t start calling me that.”

She laughed, and pulled Adam away. “Come on. Nervi’s set up some of her pumpkin roast. Have you tried it yet?”

I shook my head as they walked away, and nearly ran headlong into Laura, who was walking up with a couple drinks. Sodas, thankfully. Good thing Nervi didn’t cater alcohol—I would have drank most of it already.

“This one is yours,” Laura said without missing a beat, handing me a can of Cerean something or other. The logo was stylized, I couldn’t tell what it said. The only reason I knew it was from Ceres was because their cans are always rectangles.

I took it, but frowned at the more normal can in her hand. “Shouldn’t we switch?”

She shrugged, taking a swig. “That was the last one.”

She had been trying to get me to try some Cerean brand for a while now. I guess this was it. I cracked open the lid, slightly annoyed at the lack of fizz (carbonation was a horrible idea when shooting giant packages through space) and sipped at it. It tasted light and fruity.

Laura smirked. “You don’t like it.”

“No, I do, I just—” I stopped. “I don’t know why I even thought of lying to you.”

She took my arm lightly and led me to one of the groups. Scientists, I was pretty sure, but most of Akane’s kensei had left their swords at home, so it could be them. “Don’t worry, I’ve heard worse. Try overhearing a man telling his wife where he was last night, and realizing every word is a lie.”

I winced. “Oh. What’d you do?”

“Blackmailed him later,” she said pleasantly. “That was fun.”

Yet another reminder not to get on her bad side.

“Derek, these are some of the Clarke’s researchers. You’ve probably met them all before at some point or another.”

“I know I’ve met you,” I said, indicating a kemo with bat ears. Those were rare. I couldn’t even remember what the subculture was called. Well, microculture. “You’ve helped patch me up once or twice.”

She nodded. “I have a degree in medical applications of the toy maker. One of my main projects is to study our Honored Mother, to make sure her newest toys can be added safely.”

“You know she doesn’t like being called that,” one of the men warned.

The bat kemo smiled slightly. “I know. She tells me it every day.”

“What about the rest of you?” I asked, steering the topic onto grounds I felt more comfortable with. “What do you all do with Clarke? Are any of you working with him on…” I frowned, and turned to Laura. “What’s that thing he’s working on these days?”

“The heart,” she answered. “Macro-scale muscle and bone generation. He almost cracked it before the Rampage, and now he basically has.”

The male researcher, the black man who had warned about the Mother Monster, snorted. “Yeah, using his power he’s cracked it. But that’s cheating. What happens if he dies, or if he’s just busy and we can’t find another exomorpher? He needs to focus more on the toy box itself, not playing with his power.”

“I’m still catching him morphing his skin when he thinks no one is looking,” Laura said. “It’s going to take a bit longer for the novelty to wear off.”

“Are people like Clarke that rare?” I asked. “With that power, I mean.”

The researcher thought about it. “A little. No one here has it, but there are more than a few scattered around NHQ. But that’s not the point. We don’t understand these powers, and shouldn’t be trusting them. What if Silk comes back and snaps her fingers, turning them all off?”

I glanced at Laura, who didn’t look as concerned as she should have. The man had a point. Silk had given us a way to disrupt powers, who knew what else she could do. I still didn’t trust her, no matter that Laura had been pointing her power at her the entire time. For all we knew, she had some way to dodge that ability.

“Excuse us,” Laura said as she tugged on my arm, pulling us away from the group. “Speaking of Clarke, his daughter just landed.” She was right, Robyn had just floated down, carrying a case of beer. Still, the second we were out of earshot, she quietly said “You had that look on your face.”

I sighed. “Everyone is noticing looks on my face tonight. What is it this time?”

She smirked a little, but quickly turned serious. “That look when you’re worrying about something you shouldn’t.”

“Is that the same as my ‘everything is my fault’ face?”

“No, of course not.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I am worried about Silk.”

“Don’t be.”

“Why not?”

“Because there’s absolutely nothing you can do about her.”

Before I could retort, we were within a couple steps of Robyn, and Laura was all smiles for her. “I thought you had decided to skip.”

She managed a small smile of her own. “Nope. Just grabbing some beer.” She hefted the six-pack.

I raised an eyebrow. “Is that really a good idea?”

She shrugged. “Probably not. Want one?”

“Yes.”

No,” Laura cut in. She gave me a look. “If I can’t drink, you can’t drink. That was the deal.”

“I said that when I thought there wouldn’t be any alcohol here at all,” I grumbled.

Robyn looked between us. “Why can’t you drink?” Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “Are you pregnant?

What?

“Of course not!” Laura added. “Silver and gold, when would we even had time to do that?”

I glanced at her. “That’s why you think it’s improbable? Just timing?”

Robyn snorted. “Please, if this city wasn’t constantly in danger, you two would never leave the bedroom.”

I felt myself go beet red, but Laura didn’t seem surprised at all. “Don’t exaggerate. Technically, we’re not even dating.”

“Technically nothing!” I squeaked. “We’re not dating! Period!”

She gave me a sidelong glance.

I thought back to the last month or so. Farther back, actually, all the way to the reveal of Elizabeth’s identity. About the amount of time we had been spending together, the lunches and dinners we had taken alone, without anybody else around, and all the other girls I had been turning down.

“Crap,” I muttered.

Robyn smirked. “I know a nice jewelry store if you need to apologize.”

I sighed. “I’ll think about it.”

Laura was amused as well, but she kept a better lid on it. “No need for jewelry, I promise. The look on your face is apology enough.”

“Glad you find my pain funny.”

She just smiled. “Come on. You need to meet some people.” She pulled me away.

“Robyn, share,” I called back. “Don’t drink all of that by yourself.”

She flipped me off with a winning smile.

We walked across the roof, weaving through the crowd, and I tried to find the words. “I’m… sorry. That I didn’t notice we were dating.” Then I chuckled. “I think that might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever said.”

“I’m sure you’ve said worse.” She squeezed my arm tighter, laying her head on my shoulder briefly. “And I knew you were being an idiot, but didn’t say anything. It’s as much my fault as yours.”

“That’s not true and you know it. A little your fault, sure, but I think this is a time I really do deserve the lion’s share of the blame.” I blinked as a thought occurred to me. “Do our parents know?”

“I haven’t mentioned it to them, but that doesn’t mean much. Thieves are good at figuring things out, especially when they’re close friends with Butler.”

I groaned. “Butler knows.”

“Of course he does. Clarke doesn’t, if that makes you feel better.”

“It does, actually.” We slipped into the edge of the crowd of swordsmen and swordswomen at the corner of the roof. “Akane! How are you enjoying the party?”

At the center of the group, Akane sat on a table, sipping a drink and smiling. I couldn’t remember the last time I really, truly saw her smile, but here she was.

She raised the drink in my direction. “Derek. Good party.”

“Auntie Akane was just telling us about the first time you two fought a gargant,” one of the younger swordsmen explained. One of her nephews, obviously. Yuuki, I was pretty sure. “Was it really a full-sized blind-rammer?”

I rubbed my forehead. “Oh, don’t remind me of that disaster. It’s a miracle the thing didn’t bring the whole building down on us.”

“And somebody forgot to buy insurance,” Akane said, still smiling.

“And I forgot to buy insurance,” I said. “So we were liable for the damages.” I shook my head. “I think we spent the whole next year paying that one off.”

“She also claims you managed to kill a deathmarked,” another kensei said. This was the other nephew, Yuudai.

“We crushed it in a car compactor. It’s dead.” I swallowed. “Pretty sure.”

Sometimes I still had dreams of that thing coming after us.

Laura tugged on my arm before the silence could get too awkward. “We’ll let your boss regale you with her old war stories, kids. Mister Huntsman and I need to speak with Noble Nyashk.”

I knew an out when I saw one, and gave polite nods to them as we left. I was actually a little surprised when she pulled us towards Seena and her group, which included her brother and his girlfriend, the changeling warlord and her bodyguards, and the hooded woman.

“Noble Nyashk,” Laura said by way of greeting. “I’m pleasantly surprised that you came.”

“Dame Laura,” Seena answered in kind. “I got your invitation. It seemed downright criminal not to put in an appearance.”

“How is your new job treating you?”

She sighed. “I’m one of two warlords trying to hold the Mals together, and the other one is Zepar. It’s difficult, and I’m not sure the culture is going to survive the winter.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I said. “People always need assassins.”

“Our methods are going out of style. People prefer more subtlety than knives in the dark. Contracts are starting to dry up.” She shrugged. “But powers change the game. We’ll see, we’ve had some recent successes.”

“What’s your power, by the way?” I asked.

She smiled pointedly. “My secret weapon.”

“Mine’s one of the stock vampire ones,” Simon said before things could get awkward. He held out his scarred hand, and shadows writhed in his hand. “I can make darkness. Shadows deep enough that even a vampire can’t see through them. Cool, huh?”

“And you?” I asked his girlfriend.

She shrank at the attention. “It’s… weird. I kind of… turn into electricity?”

I frowned. “And what? Attack people?”

“No, I don’t have enough control for that. I’m just… electricity. It kinda works like teleportation, but I have no control over where I end up, I just kind of randomly rematerialize somewhere within ten feet of my starting point.” She shrugged. “Like I said, it’s weird.”

Laura, however, looked thoughtful. “There might be something more to that. Maybe you can stop by NHQ tomorrow morning, we can run some tests.”

Yolanda shivered. “I’m not big on tests.”

“Exercises, then. No needles.”

“…okay.”

“I fix things,” one of Eccretia’s bodyguards said. Ferenil, I think.

His boss glared at him. “That’s supposed to be a secret.”

“I reverse time!” the other man, Domothon, said.

Eccretia sighed. “And that definitely is.”

“Well, that’s an easy fix,” I said. “Reverse time, and keep your mouth shut this time.”

He winced. “I just did. It was out of reach.”

I blinked. “…five seconds is out of reach?”

“Yes,” he grumbled. “And it takes forever for my reservoir to recharge. I mostly just use it in emergencies, like when I get shot.”

Ferenil slapped him across the face.

“Gods of men and darkness, what was that for!?

“Just checking that your reservoir was really depleted.”

Domothon rubbed his cheek and glared.

“I’m guessing you don’t feel like sharing, Honored Paragon,” I said to change the subject.

Eccretia scowled. “No. I might as well at this point, but I’m not going to. I’m sure you understand. You all hid your powers for as long as possible.”

I shrugged. “We were considering coming out for a long time. Elizabeth forced our hands.”

“Robyn hid it from us for a while,” Laura added. “We only found out when she saved us from an ambush.” She shook her head and took a sip of her soda. “Irresponsible. Understandable, but irresponsible.”

“It all worked out in the end. And besides, she was helping us.” The others looked at me blankly. “MC knew,” I explained. “Robyn acted as her scout. So she saved our lives a few times.” I tried not to grind my teeth. “…but she could have done better.”

There was a moment of awkward silence.

“Miss Korrapati,” Laura said to the girl in the hooded cloak. “What’s your power? My first guess would be speed, or perhaps shapeshifting.” She shook her head. “No, any form of identity concealment wouldn’t need the hood, of course…”

The girl shuffled on her feet. “Kinesis. You know, moving things with my mind? Small things, mostly. I’m a tinkerer, so it helps me build things.” She shrugged. “Simple, but nice.” She chuckled. “Better than this friend of mine. He got one of those vampire draining things. He refuses to use it, so he’s basically powerless.”

“What does he drain?” I asked.

“Life.”

“Ah.” Yes, that would be hard to use ethically.

“I’m sure he could find a use for it,” Laura said, smiling pleasantly. “Has he tried draining animals?”

The hooded girl shook her head. “Only works on humans, as far as he can tell.”

I snorted. “That sounds arbitrary.”

“Lots of powers are,” Laura said. “One of the ‘sarians at NHQ can’t use her telekinesis unless she’s wearing leather gloves. Pretty powerful when she has the gloves, though.”

While I frowned in confusion, everyone else nodded. I guess they all had more interaction with weird powers than me. I mostly just knew the Paladins and Akane’s kensei.

I opened my mouth to say something, but Simon looked at something behind me. “Who’s that waving at you?”

“Hm?” I turned to see George the giant waving from across the rooftop. “Oh, that’s the retinue.” I paused, thinking. “I don’t want to just leave you guys—”

They waved us off. “No, it’s fine, just go.”

I nodded in thanks then peeled away, Laura still on my arm as we navigated the crowds.

“Be careful,” I told her quietly.

She blinked and frowned. “Careful of what?”

“Just in general. We don’t want to depress them any more than they already are.”

She looked like she had a retort ready for that, but didn’t say anything as we walked up.

“George,” I said with a smile. “What’s up? You enjoying the party?”

He smiled weakly. “Best as I can, sir. Best as I can. I was just wondering if you had any specific plans for us during the battle.”

I winced. “You don’t need to be involved.”

“With all due respect, sir, working makes us feel better.”

Kat and Jarasax nodded. Alex hadn’t so much as acknowledged our presence.

“All right…” I thought for a moment, before turning to Laura. “Vampire domain?”

She nodded. “Best place to put them. Alex will be most useful there, and the rest are used to working in those sorts of conditions. We’ll stick you on East Gate.”

I frowned, then leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Where are the Belians going to be, again?”

She stiffened, then cursed under her breath. “Of course. West Gate, then, with the angels.”

George nodded. “Probably for the best.”

I gave Alex a look. “You fine with that?”

He shrugged. “The Saints have forgiven the ‘sarian angels. Mostly.”

“Not what I meant.”

He turned away. “Yeah, well, it’s the most pressing matter. I’ll live.”

I sighed, and turned to the kemo of the group. “Kat. How is your power treating you? It must be hard, since you didn’t get one that matches your personality.”

She shrugged, and signed something.

“She’s been going to a support group for the bats and bleeders and so on,” George translated. “She’s doing okay.”

She signed something else.

“The biters have it worse.”

I nodded. Yeah, that was a weird one. The skins and the bleeders too, but at least they didn’t have that permanent morphing thing. That wasn’t going to be fun if it wasn’t what you wanted, deep down.

“And you, George?” Laura asked. “What’s going on with you these days? I know the giants are still having some difficulties without the Hammer, but war hasn’t broken out yet.”

He waved a massive hand. “I barely pay attention to the culture any more. Yeah, what’s happening to them sucks, but they’ll survive. I’ve got my own stuff going on.”

“Which is?”

“Well, besides the retinue, uh…” He thought for a minute. “Been pretty big on online gaming recently.”

“Need to do something with all that free time,” Jarasax said with a smile.

“Isn’t the Big Boss sending you on missions?” I asked. “Helping the CS-squad, that sort of thing? You have the most experience with powers, so I just assumed you’d be part of it. Maybe get folded in completely.”

Sax shook his head. “We were, but with… everything that’s happened, we’re kind of on enforced leave right now.”

I winced. “That might not be the best idea.”

George nodded. “I’d feel better if we were working regularly.”

“I’m sure if you explain the situation, he’ll be happy to put you on more missions.”

“Now isn’t the time for it, though,” Laura said. “With war just around the corner.”

“They haven’t attacked yet. May as well get this settled, instead of just waiting around forever.”

“Guys…” Sax said, jerking his head at Alex.

The poor angel looked like his brain was shutting down. This was simply not something he wanted to think about.

“…another time, then,” Laura said. “We’ll see you around.” She led me away.

“Well, at least that wasn’t a complete disaster,” I muttered.

“It could have been worse,” she agreed. “I have no idea how, but it could have been.”

“Yeah…” I shook my head. “Poor bastards. I think they might be looking forward to the war a little too much.”

She winced. “You don’t think they’ve gone suicidal.”

“Alex is the only one I’m really worried about.”

“…but the rest are spoiling for a fight.” She nodded. “They want to do something. Maybe you’re right about them needing more jobs. I’ll talk to Butler tomorrow. See if he can’t find something for them to do.”

“Maybe we can—” I frowned as I realized she was leading me to the stairs. “Were are we going?”

“Downstairs.”

“Yes, I got that.”

She squeezed my arm and laid her head on my shoulder. “I meant back to the dorms.”

“What do you—oh.” Huh.

That was…

Huh.

She chuckled. “You’re cute when you’re flustered.”

“I think gobsmacked might be a better word.”

She smiled. “Maybe. But flustered is cuter.”

I opened the door for her. “After you.”

Her eyes twinkled, and she laughed as we left the party.

Behind the Scenes (scene 269)

I had a huge romance arc for Derek and Laura planned. A long arc revolving around the remnants of his mind control, their interactions as children, and the reason she left South Central in the first place. I decided to go with a simpler option, keeping it mostly offscreen, because it just wasn’t working. Too reliant on cliches and so on.

break

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Scene 238 – Arcana

ARCANA

SEENA

“Noble Nyashk!” the fey with the shoulder-length black hair cried joyfully. “So wonderful of you to join us! Would you like a seat?”

“…I’ll stand, thank you,” I said thickly. A young kemo with blue fur offered me something in a delicate wine glass; I brushed it away. “I’m here to see Veda.”

The fey domain, their demesne or castle or whatever, didn’t have a name that I was aware of. Mab—the Unseelie Matron who owned the place and was now smiling at me—probably had some unpronounceable name for it based on some obscure Irish myth, but I didn’t care enough to ask.

The demesne was underground, which was only to be expected, with the only entrance from the surface that I knew of a small service tunnel from the nearby sewers. The entrance, directly behind me, was a long metal walkway over the water, covered in a thick layer of frost like a freezer.

I stood now in some sort of receiving hall, a mid-sized concrete chamber with a cold mist swirling in the air. The floor was a soft white carpet probably meant to look like snow, and the walls had grills for the hidden fans that kept the place below freezing.

There were a few other exits from the room, apparently unguarded, likely leading deeper into the domain. The only other features of note were the dim lights in the ceiling (off now, since we all had nighteyes) and the variety of chairs and couches scattered around, all carved carefully from living ice.

My warlord buffs were impressive, and made the arctic temperatures feel only barely chilly, but you can understand why I declined to sit.

The girlish fey tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Veda, Veda… can’t say that rings any bells.”

“Razvan,” I ordered.

One of my bodyguards stepped forward and fired, shooting at one of the grills in the wall. The device screeched in protest as the bullets chipped off pieces of the spinning blades, which quickly lodged in sensitive areas and ground to a halt.

The fey-slave, or whatever they were called these days, flinched away from the display of force, but Mab wasn’t impressed. “Vandalism is not going to help you,” she said chidingly. “Do you know what prince she serves under?”

That did help, actually. Back at the Wild Hunt, when Veda had introduced herself, she had… well, she had introduced herself. I couldn’t remember what name she had used, but the title was simple enough. “She is the Prince of Night’s Southern Autumn. She was the announcer for the Wild Hunt, with the Prince of Day’s Southern Autumn.”

The fey blinked her black nighteyes in something that almost looked like surprise. “Oh, you mean Aitil Péine? Why didn’t you say so? Yes, she’s here. She lives in the Killing Sparrow quarter of the demesne.”

“Thank you,” I managed with forced politeness. “Would you please take us there?”

“I could, but she is not there at the moment. She is in the Forgotten Dawn quarter.”

It took me a second to recall what that meant. I had been reading up on the fey quite a bit these days, all things considered. “That would be… Night’s Eastern Spring?”

Mab beamed. “Correct! You see, the demesne is constructed in a natural pattern—”

“That’s not really important at the moment,” I interrupted. “Can you just take us there? Or tell her to meet us here, or something?” On second thought, having her meet us here was a bad idea. Walking through the fey domain would provide us with invaluable information on the way they had formatted their ‘culture.’ I shouldn’t have suggested anything else. I still wasn’t thinking like a warlord, even after everything.

“Sure!” Mab chirped. “Bláth Sioc will take you to her.”

Luckily, the fey were still crazy.

Mab disappeared down one of the hallways with a vague wave goodbye, leaving us behind. The blue-furred kemo—well, he wasn’t actually a kemo, I guess—who had offered me a drink bowed politely. “This way, Noble Nyashk. If your guards could stay behind, I’m sure Matron Mab would be most appreciative.”

Marcel, my other bodyguard, stepped forward with a frown. “We’re not going to—”

I silenced him with a raised hand. “It’s fine. Just stay here and make yourselves comfortable.” That was code for ‘watch the warlord.’ They’d follow Mab down the other hallway and report on her movements.

Bláth Sioc bowed again, and led me down the hallway that his Lady had not taken. It was about the same as the waiting room—cold, with every available surface covered in frost—except there was no carpeting on the cold concrete floor. That was fine with me, but still something I found interesting.

After a dozen or so twists and turns over a relatively short walk, clearly meant to confuse newcomers as much as possible, we finally exited the hallway, and I realized we were in the demesne proper.

Now that I saw it, I felt silly for calling the waiting room a part of the domain. Oh, it was, but it was like a restroom in NHQ. It was not intended to be anything impressive; it was just a minor, functional room.

This was not a minor room.

This was clearly intended to be impressive.

And by all Nine Hells and the Black Gates that guarded them, it worked.

We came to an open area the size of football field, stretching nearly out of sight both left and right. We were in a corner, and across from us the walls were so distant that they were just featureless blurs. If there were any tunnels like this one, I couldn’t see them.

And then there was the pit.

A deep black pit that started ten feet from where I stood. No, that was the wrong way to describe it. Rather, the massive, square pit the size of a football field was ringed by a lip of stone ten feet wide. It was deep enough that I couldn’t see the bottom, but I could hear the splash of water and sirens’ songs. Was there a tunnel to Whitecap Bay down there?

But while the bottom of the pit was too distant even for my enhanced eyes to see, the walls of the hole were another story. The walls were sloped sharply, like an upside down pyramid, and would eventually create a sharp point at the bottom if taken to their logical conclusion.

The walls had windows carved in them, and even a scattering of wooden walkways constructed to lead from one to another. There weren’t too many people trotting on the scaffolding, but enough to confirm that that was their purpose, and to divine the meaning behind the windows themselves.

It was a city, where the fey-blessed could live and work. It really was like an inverted pyramid. After the hole was dug—however they managed that miracle—they must have started carving out rooms from the walls.

“Noble Nyashk?” my guide asked pleasantly. “Is something wrong?”

I shook my head. “No… nothing. Can we see the Forgotten Dawn quarter from here?”

He nodded. “Yes, of course. It’s right there.” He pointed to a point across the pit, near the top. I frowned, realizing that he was indicating the east wall of the pyramid. Was that intentional? Mab had been saying something… gah, I should have paid more attention.

“We can just walk over there, right?” I asked. “You don’t need to have wings?”

Bláth Sioc smiled. “Most of us do not have wings, Honored Noble. Prince Péine, while not quite unique in that respect, is still exceptional. They are still in extremely early stages, you understand, and cost a lot of time and money to maintain.”

I nodded. Made sense.

“Now please, follow me, and stay away from the edge. You might be able to survive the fall, but I really don’t want to find out on my watch.”

I smiled as I fell into step behind him. “I promise I’ll watch my step.” I peered over the edge, once again hearing the sound of water splashing deep below, followed by laughter. “Are those sirens down there?”

“Of course. The Unseelie court has had a positive relationship with a number of the Whitecap Bay cultures since the end of the war. This is one of the few places we can interact with them on their terms, since we can’t exactly go hang out on the Ring in plain sight.”

I smiled at the thought of it. There would be riots.

“As I understand it, the Princess of Wind and Frost has a particularly good relationship with the sirens. She might be down there now, you could meet her later.”

Wind and Frost was… Maeve. The one who had recruited Veda and killed Delphie. Failed to save her. Whatever. “I think I’ll pass on that, actually.”

“As you wish. If memory serves, she is the one who recruited and modified Prince Péine, so I assumed you would enjoy the chance to speak with her. And I personally find her quite charming. She is a delight.”

Huh. Honestly hadn’t expected that. The fey had been sniping at each other for so long, I had just assumed that their followers would be the same. Maybe Bláth Sioc served the Unseelie as a whole, rather than one of the individual Ladies?

We really did need more intelligence. Hopefully, Marcel and Razvan would have luck on that front. I couldn’t afford to be distracted from my goal right now.

It didn’t take long to reach the east side of the pit, where the furry little fey-blessed showed me a door in the wall, which hid a set of stone stairs spiraling down. We only had to go down two floors before getting off at Forgotten Dawn.

I found Veda the second I opened the door.

She looked the same as she had the day she had announced the Wild Hunt, an event that had been interrupted by the Composer. Honey-brown skin, brown hair, and onyx black nighteyes. Even her three pairs of translucent insect wings had been repaired.

She wasn’t wearing the dress from that night though. Instead, she had on a pretty basic black t-shirt, with most of the back missing to make way for her wings. It had to be cold in this environment, but she showed no signs of it. Only to be expected, I guess.

The feyborn Prince nodded to me. “Noble Nyashk.”

“Cut the crap, Veda,” I snapped. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”

Veda turned to my guide. “Thank you, Bláth Sioc. I can handle it from here.”

The blue-furred man bowed and left without another word.

Now that I had a moment to calm down, I noticed that the room we were in was surprisingly small and austere. Everything was bare stone, with the wall with the window angled due to the inverted pyramid shape of the hole outside. Other than a cabinet in the corner, a table, some chairs, and a rug on the floor, the room was completely empty.

“What is this place?” I asked. “I was under the impression it was Forgotten Dawn’s audience chamber, not… a broom closet.”

“It is. The audience chamber, that is. Or, I suppose it’s more of a meeting room. A simple little spot we can use to talk to each other. Nothing so large or ostentatious as the ones we show to outsiders.” She smiled and indicated I should sit; I did, hesitantly. She crossed to the cabinet. “Would you like some wine?”

“No thank you,” I declined graciously. Though with my new metabolism, I could knock back a couple dozen bottles before I started to feel the effects. Outside the window, I caught another peek at the massive construction. “When did the fey have time to build this place, anyway?”

“They’ve been around pretty much since the beginning, you know,” she reminded me. “Since shortly after the angels were formed.” She thought about it. “That’s… what? 1986? So yeah, they’ve had fifteen years or so.”

That still seemed like a lot of work to finish in fifteen years, especially in secret. But I suppose having an army of slaves and a complete lack of morals helped speed the process along nicely.

Regardless, that wasn’t why I had come. “Veda, I’ve got a lot of questions for you.”

My transformed friend nodded as she poured herself some wine. “Understandable.”

“All right, let’s start simple. Why’d you join the fey?”

“I needed a patron, and Delphie needed a rescue,” she said blithely. “It was a simple exchange, and one I was happy to make.” A dark look passed her face, and she took a sip of her wine as she sat down. “Though I’ll admit it was more painful than anticipated.”

“And where is Delphie now?”

“Dead. She did get half her face burned off, after all. Lady Maeve did her best, of course, but it was too little, too late. In addition, the acid was poisonous.”

“If your reason for being here is gone, you should leave.”

“My reason is not gone,” she said. “Weren’t you listening? I was looking for a patron. I was a powerless kemo of a quasi-culture so small we literally did not have a single warlord to our name. I wanted this.” She eyed me over her glass. “As a warlord yourself, I would think you’d understand.”

I sighed. “Fine. You’re ambitious. I get it. Tell me what was up with that Wild Hunt.”

“No.”

I blinked. “No?”

“No,” Veda repeated. “I think, if everything had gone as planned, I would have explained. But with the Composer interrupting and then giving everyone in the city powers…” She sighed. Things are a bit too crazy at the moment.”

“Too crazy to explain for five minutes?” I snapped. “Come on! It can’t be that complicated!”

“It’s not,” she admitted, as she swirled the wine in her glass. “It’s just… with the powers, and whatever happened with that Elizabeth look-alike, and Soaring Eagle fleeing the city, and the colleges, everything is just too jumbled up right now. It’s not that the Wild Hunt is too complicated to explain. It’s just too irrelevant to explain right now. There are simply other things to worry about.”

“Like these colleges you mentioned?”

The fey Prince nodded. “Exactly. You’ve heard of them, I take it?”

I shook my head.

“Oh.” She pulled another glass from somewhere, and poured out some wine for me. “This might take a while.”

Scene 205 – Prædandum

PRÆDANDUM

SEENA

I had a massive headache.

I groaned as I picked myself up the floor, rubbing the side of my face that had landed on some scrap metal. Heh, if I didn’t have my warlord buffs, falling on that probably would have killed me.

Okay, thinking about that wasn’t making my headache any better. First, I needed to get my bearings. A quick glance around the room confirmed that Veda was long gone, and it also elicited another pang from my skull.

What in all Nine Hells had she shot me with? There hadn’t been any muzzle flare, just a weird, screechy noise. I could see the gun where she had abandoned it, the hastily-applied duct tape still smoking from dangerous overheating—

Still smoking. That meant I hadn’t been out for long. I might still be able to catch her!

I rushed out of the room at top speed, only pausing briefly at the door to nurse my headache. If I could just find her again—

I nearly tripped over Eric as I ran to the stairs.

“Eric!” I cried, skidding to a stop and plopping down next to him. “What are you doing? Did you see V—the fey?”

He blinked twice.

Nothing else.

“Uh,” I said slowly. “Okay, so…” I saw what looked like a snake bite on his neck. Some kind of paralysis poison, I guess. “Right. Blink once for no, twice for yes.”

He blinked twice.

“Right, good. Did the fey pass by here?”

Two more blinks.

“Did she go up or down?”

Glare.

“Sorry, sorry…did so go up?”

One blink.

“Okay, so she went down.”

Two blinks.

What else could I ask? I couldn’t think of any decent yes/no questions, and there was no way to know if he had seen anything more. It’s not like I could just ask

Oh. Duh.

“Is there anything else you can tell me?”

Another two blinks.

Wonderful. Now I had to figure out what he knew. “Okay, how about—”

A whistling sound from outside interrupted me.

I moved over to the window to see a massive crowd outside, just filling the intersection, hemmed in by monsters on every side.

And Veda, standing in front of the very building I was in right now.

I didn’t wait. I ran down the stairs as fast as my legs would take me.

I heard her yelling something to the crowd, but I couldn’t tell what. I heard the effect, though—more screaming, the sort of raw, animal scream that can only be made by a fleeing mob.

Then I heard the clapping.

And when I reached the door, I saw Elizabeth Greene.

One of my oldest friends. The girl all the boys—especially Derek—had drooled over. The sweet, innocent girl who wouldn’t even go to action movies, because she couldn’t stand to see people get hurt. The girl who handed out cheap presents like candy, and voiced a few minor characters in anime and cartoons.

The girl accused of being the Composer.

And there she was, covered in blood.

I recognized the dress she was wearing. I had bought her the dress. It had once been a fluffy white thing, designed for our warm and humid summers, but now there were only a few splotches of off-color white here and there. The rest…was just blood.

And she was grinning from ear to ear, her golden eyes glittering like stars in the night.

I had never seen eyes that dangerous. I was the warlord of a culture of assassins, and I had never seen eyes like that.

I’ve met sociopaths before. Tons of them. They tend to do well in Domina City, and even better in the Mals. A lack of empathy is a powerful weapon for an assassin.

Sociopaths have cold eyes. Not cold like ice, cold like the ocean. Not hard and dangerous, but soft and dangerous. Uncaring. They didn’t kill you because they enjoyed it, just because you were in their way.

Lizzy’s eyes weren’t soft and uncaring. They didn’t have the hardness that comes from repressing your emotions, either. They were alive. Alive with light and music and emotion. She knew exactly what she was doing.

And she loved it.

This was the Composer. I knew that now. How could she be anything else?

“An interesting plan, fey-slave,” she noted with a chuckle, presumably referring to something Veda had said. “Not as hands-on as I would prefer, but…” Her grin widened, if that was possible, and suddenly there were two glowing orange swords in her hands, leaking mist like fire. “But that’s what I’m here for.”

No hesitation.

I wasn’t armed, but it didn’t matter. My warlord buffs would be more than enough. I rushed forward as fast as lightning, not trying for anything fancy, just tackling her bodily.

She dodged to the side, avoiding my attacks while simultaneously swiping at my torso with one of her blades, and at my tail with the other. The hit to my chest burned as though it was on fire, the smoky sword cutting deeper than I would have liked or had expected and sending shocks of pain through my body.

Oddly enough, my tail didn’t hurt. It should have. I had quite a few nerve endings there, and it was quite a bit less durable than my chest and—

My tail was gone.

Not all of it, but a full foot from the tip, just gone. Lopped off like a dandelion.

Now it started hurting.

I tumbled to the ground screaming as my legs gave way in the middle of my charge, clutching at my bleeding stump of a limb.

A foot kicked me, flipping me over onto my back, but I couldn’t do anything beside desperately try to endure the pain as Lizzy look down at me with disdain.

“Pathetic,” my old friend muttered. “This is the new warlord of the Mals? I was hoping for some fun. You’re just a weak little girl.” Then she grinned, pulling back her sword to strike. “Or rather, you were.”

She was tackled before she could cut out my throat.

I had a handle on the pain now. My whole body was going numb, though I couldn’t tell whether it was from shock or willpower, so I was able to contort my body around to see who had just saved my life by attacking the most dangerous woman in the city.

Veda.

She had slammed into Lizzy at full speed, even her lightweight frame packing quite a punch at that velocity. The pair tumbled almost a dozen yards down the street, civilians and monsters alike fleeing before them. By the time they skidded to a stop, they had a nice, clear arena to fight in, surrounded by gawkers either too stupid to run or just incapable of escaping through the thick crowd.

Veda dusted herself off quickly, but I could see her wincing at her wounds. She didn’t have anything too bad, thankfully; a few scrapes on her knees and arms, plus her entire body covered in dirt, gravel and blood, but her wings were still intact.

Lizzy’s wounds were about the same, though with a nasty gash above the eye. They were even, if nothing else, and if Veda could take advantage of that head wound…that…was…closing up even as I watched…

Veda, along with the entire crowd, just stared as Lizzy brushed herself off, revealing a few more wounds that were almost done healing themselves. Blood flowed backwards into the wound, skin knit, and she was left without even a scar from her rough tumble.

“Now,” the Composer said as she summoned her swords again, grinning like a wolf. “Aitil Péine, was it? Some obscure reference to some random comic book, I assume?” She laughed wickedly. “The fey are getting soft. Since when did they name their furniture?”

Veda let out a strange, keening war-cry that probably wasn’t possible with a baseline throat, and flew at her opponent so fast she wasn’t even a blur.

Elizabeth was faster.

I barely had time to register the glowing orange swords disappearing as the bloodstained woman blurred with speed no human being should be capable of. Suddenly, Veda was impacting the nearest wall in a cloud of dust.

The fey girl stumbled out of the crater she had made, but even with my minimal combat expertise, I could tell that the one blow had finished her. Whatever her mistresses had done to her skeleton had kept it from shattering under the impact; she seemed mostly in one piece, and all her limbs still bent the right way.

Except for her wings.

Her perfect, miraculous wings were twisted and crumpled like discarded paper. As she pried herself out of the wall, one of the wings was stuck, and torn in half as she carelessly tried to pull too hard. She cried out in pain, falling to the ground in shock.

Lizzy didn’t give her the chance to recover.

Suddenly, the Composer was just there, standing in front of her with a demonic grin on her face and a glowing sword in her hand. She swung at Veda’s neck—

Gealach Tapaidh tackled her from the side.

“Stop doing that!” the golden-haired woman cried as she swiped at the new feyborn, only for him to dodge the clumsy blow. “Stupid slime, just LET ME KILL PEOPLE!”

She brought around her other sword, with far more speed and skill than the first. The Prince of Day’s Southern Autumn would not be able to dodge, not at that range.

So he blocked.

His own sword, a powerful broadsword with what looked like Gaelic runes scrawled up and down the blade, deflected her strange weapon with ease. Pretty impressive, considering how it had sliced through me like bread. I didn’t know what his weapon was made of, but it definitely wasn’t base steel.

Elizabeth screamed in rage, striking at him with a flurry of blows that would have turned me into a pureed mush. The feyborn was far better than me, though, and blocked each strike with calm, lightning efficiency. He was forced into what even I could tell was a defensive stance, and slowly backed up as he deflected the wild attack, but he was still in control. All he needed was to stay alive until something tipped the odds in his favor.

Then, as he was stepping back, his foot found a loose rock.

He slipped, and fell.

The Composer was on him like fire on dry tinder, both swords plunging down into his chest like the fangs of a snake.

The fey coughed up blood, struggled on the blades for a moment, then lay still.

“Blind moron,” Lizzy growled as she yanked out her swords, making the body jerk again. “You might have actually had a chance if your eyes worked.”

Oh, right, he had dayeyes, and it was already too dark for even baseline eyes to see reliably. Wait, he was fighting almost completely blind? Nine Hells and Nine Gates, she was right. He must be an absolute monster when in top condition.

“Well,” the bloodstained woman said blithely. “Is that everyone willing to fight back? I’ve been told I’m not thorough enough, so I want to make sure I get everyone at once before—”

She fell to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut.

Veda struggled to her feet from where she had crawled up to the Composer below her sight range. She wiped her mouth, eyes hard and victorious. “The paralysis will keep her out for an hour.” She stumbled over to me. “Noble Nyashk, I’ll call off my monsters, please bring some of your men down—”

A glowing orange blade erupted out of her chest.

Elizabeth Greene, fully recovered in less than ten seconds, tossed my reconstructed friend aside like a rag doll.

“This is starting to become less than fun,” she growled. She glared at the crowd, as though trying to decide who to kill next, and I took the opportunity to slide across the street—biting my tongue to keep from moaning in pain—towards Veda.

I don’t know if Eccretia realized what I was trying to do or if fate just nudged her in the right direction, but she opened fire on the Composer with one of those Blue Knight guns, causing Lizzy to scream in rage and launch herself at the changeling warlord. I saw my friend take cover behind the dromo from earlier, but that wouldn’t last forever.

As I suspected, Veda was still alive, though her breathing was shallow. The wound on her chest had largely sealed up; no doubt she or my brother would be able to describe how that worked in great detail. All I knew was that she wasn’t likely to bleed out any time soon.

“Veda,” I hissed into her ear. “You awake?”

“Yes,” she muttered, so quietly I could barely hear her. “We both are.” It took me a second to realize she was referring to her partner, the princeling with the dayeyes. “But if she realizes that, it won’t last.”

“Right, I understand.” I glanced up at the fight; Eccretia was holding her own, but Lizzy was making good use of her healing ability. She dodged in order to turn wounds that would have been crippling into merely debilitating ones. And those, of course, healed up in moments.

Eccretia couldn’t keep this up for long.

I turned back to my downed friend. “The monsters. How do you control them?”

“Pheromones.”

“And you can use those without moving?”

“Of course.”

“Then can’t you order them to only attack Lizzy?”

“No,” she said, and my heart fell. “They’re dumb animals. They aren’t smart enough to distinguish individuals. Their orders are given based on scent, and location. As in ‘kill everything in this building except things that smell fey.’”

Wait, that didn’t sound right… “But what about for assassinations, or captures or whatever? How does that work?”

Veda’s eyes snapped open in surprise. “You’re right! If you hit her with target pheromones, we can order the monsters to attack her! And she won’t be able to just heal them away like the poison I bit her with!”

I nodded eagerly. Now we had a plan. “Right, great. Where do I get these target pheromones?”

She winced. “You need to chop off my arm.”

“Wait, what?”

She squirmed a little on the street. “The gland is on my wrist. I’ll set it to secrete a liquid version of the pheromones, then you just need to wipe Lizzy with it.”

I tried to scratch my head in exasperation, but only succeeded in pulling my chest wound and making me wince in pain. “Ow…okay, but do I have to cut off your arm? Why not get a towel or something?”

“Not potent enough. They’re designed to dissipate quickly if not used on someone, so that they can’t be used against us.”

“Right, yeah, that’s fair.” I looked around for something sharp, trying not to think about cutting off my friend’s limb. She’d be fine, her bosses had literally the best medicine in the entire city…

But even Clarke had barely gotten the heart working. The fey wouldn’t have the ability to regenerate limbs yet, right?

“Seena,” Veda hissed. “What’s taking so long? We don’t have much time!”

She was right. Eccretia was losing. She might be one of the most powerful baselines in the city, used to fighting against overwhelming odds, but she was still baseline, and Lizzy was something she had never trained to fight.

Then the lights came on.

All at once, the streetlights around the impromptu battlefield were switched on, nearly blinding me, and eliciting screeches of pain from other vampires as well.

“Sorry for the light,” a strong male voice called. “Need to be able to see what we’re doing.”

And there, striding through the mob like an explorer through waist-high grass, was Derek Huntsman. He had a few cuts and bruises, plus his face and clothes were splashed with monster blood, but for the most part he had survived in one piece. Akane followed a few steps behind, the blue ribbon in her hair far more vivid than usual, considering it was the only part of her not wet with blood.

Next to me, Veda chuckled. “Oh, good. I get to see him fight before we all die. At least that worked.”

I glanced at her. “You did this?”

“I can’t give the monsters specific targets, but I can tell them to stand down.”

Before I could formulate a proper response, someone else spoke.

Huntsman.”

Elizabeth had her blades out again, and was staring at the man who had been in love with her since we were kids with naked and undiluted hatred. If looks could kill, she wouldn’t need the swords.

“You are a cockroach,” she hissed, as she slowly fell down into a fighting crouch. “You keep popping up in the most annoying places.”

Eccretia, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, was taking the opportunity to retreat, and presumably find a better tactical position.

Derek fell into his own fighting stance, a simple open-palmed one that even I recognized as being one of the most basic. He didn’t think he could beat an immortal with martial arts, did he?

“Let’s hurry this up,” he said, grinning mockingly. “There are some cartoons I want to watch later.”

Elizabeth screamed and roared forward, trailing orange mist like a blazing demon.

Behind the Scenes (scene 205)

For the record, Aitil’s and Gea’s names are not references to “some random comic book.” Aitil Péine means “juniper pine,” while Gealach Tapaidh literally means “moon quick,” and might be translated by someone poetic as either “quick as the moon” or “moon’s quickness.” Maeve and Aurora just liked the sound of the names, that’s all.

Also, for the sake of nipping some of the more rampant speculation in the bud, the “Gaelic runes scrawled on the blade” of Gea’s sword is simply his full name and title. An extremely powerful Seelie Maiden with a rather childish sense of humor might compare it to a boy’s mother writing his name on his underwear.

Scene 204 – Fera Venari

FERA VENARI

VEDA

I tossed aside my makeshift gun—it had blown out after the first shot—and stepped over Seena’s unconscious body. It was a miracle she had been the one to follow me; anyone but a warlord would be bloody chunks after that. She’d live. Probably.

Of course, I was unarmed again, and couldn’t risk staying in the apartment long enough to build anything new, but between my monsters and my partner, I should be able to handle the crowd of civilians and the rest of my friends without too much difficulty.

Lady Maeve had given us a few tips to make our lives easier—don’t attack Lily, don’t torture anyone or Huntsman will get mad, so on and so forth. The point of this was to cause chaos, not death, so there shouldn’t be too much interference. Derek was the big problem, but he’d be tied up between the monsters and containing the civilians.

I tapped my ear, activating the earbud communicator there. “Gea, how are things over there?”

“My name is Gealach Tapaidh, Prince of Day’s Southern Autumn,” his snobbish voice sounded in my ear.

“I’ll be sure to remember that, Gea,” I deadpanned. “Judging by your response, you’re not dead?”

“Barely. That Akiyama is quite the swordswoman. She fought me off easily, and killed my mount. I’m hiding out in a nearby building while I wait for reinforcements to arrive. The crowd seems to be keeping her busy for the moment.”

“You drove everyone out, right?” Those were our orders; drive as many people as possible out of the surrounding buildings, get everyone ready for the main event. The Ladies would be here soon, and we didn’t want to disappoint them with a lackluster turnout.

“Didn’t really need to. It’s the building where the changelings and Mals are fighting Horde number three. Pretty much everyone fled already.”

As I reached the staircase, a baseline with green hair rounded the corner with a pistol in hand and fired. Wait, no, not a baseline, the Dagonite, Eric. Former Dagonite, whatever.

Anyway, I dodged his clumsy shots with ease, and jabbed him quickly in the throat. As he stumbled back, coughing, I snapped forward and bit him in the shoulder, using the snake fangs that I had deployed the moment I saw him.

The paralytic turned him into a limp rag doll nearly instantly, and I caught him before he went tumbling bonelessly down the stairs. I grunted at the effort; I was much, much, much stronger than someone of my weight had any right to be, but that still wasn’t saying much. Maeve could fill me with all the super toys she wanted, I still only weighed fifty pounds and didn’t have a proper skeleton for leverage.

I set him down carefully out of the way next to the stairs.

“I know you can hear me,” I said as I pocketed his weapon. “The poison should wear off in half an hour. The Wild Hunt will have moved on by then. Just don’t do anything too stupid, and you’ll survive this.”

The only thing he could move was his eyes, but he gave me as good a glare as possible anyway.

It would take a bit more than that to kill me. I patted my friend on the head and started back down the stairs again. Sure, I could fly, but I wasn’t in much of a hurry, and I wanted to examine Eric’s gun.

It was an AIG Coldbore v12 pistol with a digital sight and some accelerator coils added. That was a pretty obscure model, even for a Dagonite. AIG didn’t really make gunpowder weapons like this any more; they stuck with the weirder stuff their client base preferred.

Whatever. Made my life easier. I could easily rework this into something more useful, especially with the coils. There wasn’t much I could have done with one of those stupid sonic cannon things they were peddling these days.

As I started to dismantle the weapon, I got another call on my earbud. I cursed under my breath and bumped my ear into a nearby wall to activate the thing, since both my hands were busy. “Gea, what is it? I thought you said you had everything under control.”

“Aitil,” a calm, melodious female voice sounded in my ear. “What news from the front?”

I stopped dead in my tracks and nearly dropped the parts in my hands from shock.

I recognized the voice. It wasn’t Gea. And it wasn’t Lady Maeve, either.

“I—Lady Ériu! I, um, didn’t expect—” I swallowed my anxiety. “Apologies, Honored Crone. I assumed you were my partner. May I inquire as the the reason for this most unexpected honor?”

The Maidens dealt with us Chosen, not the Queens or Queen-Mothers. I didn’t know if it was because we were beneath the notice of the higher Ladies or what, but it was not normal for freaking Mother Summer to call me up in the middle of an operation.

Especially since I served the Princess of Wind and Frost, the Maiden of the Unseelie Court. Ériu was the Seelie Queen-Mother. While the courts weren’t at each other’s throats as much as they liked to pretend, they still did keep their minions separate.

“Just checking in with all the feyborn involved in the Hunt, dearest. Making sure nothing has gone wrong. It hasn’t, has it?”

“No, of course not! Civilians are running around screaming, Derek is busy handling a small horde of monsters, and Lady Maeve is on her way. Everything is going according to plan.”

There was a short pause.

“Derek Huntsman, you mean?”

Oh dear. I knew that tone of voice. “Um, yes. Why, is that a problem?”

“Tell me who is with him.” Ériu’s order was curt and to the point.

“Well, last I checked, Akane Akiyama, Laura Medina—she’s hiding, though—and Adam…Anders, I think is his last name.”

“And Miss Yu?”

That name didn’t sound familiar to me. “I don’t think so.”

“Short, blonde Chinese girl.”

“Not last I checked, no.”

The Queen-Mother swore under her breath. “Ghrian agus tine…what about Robyn Joan? Red hair and red eyes, usually wears a red jacket.”

“No, the only other people around are Seena—who I shot with a homemade differential pulse cannon—Eric the Dagonite, Simon, Yolanda McDowell, Leon Murinae, and some swordsman friend of Akane’s.”

“Eric’s surname is Papadopoulos,” she muttered distractedly. I blinked; no wonder he avoided mentioning his last name. “No one else? You are certain?”

“Well, there’s Pam—” I facepalmed. “—I mean, Eccretia of the Never-Known Thieves. I am sorry, my Lady, I’ll—”

“Eccretia and her changelings are irrelevant,” Ériu interrupted. “She doesn’t care about them, and we already accounted for them in our calculations. Who else?

I leaned against the wall with a sigh. “With all due respect, Honored Lady, I might be able to help more if I knew what you were looking for.”

“Never you mind. Just keep everything…contained. Maeve may be a little late.” The call abruptly cut off.

Wonderful. Most of the fey had become significantly less mysterious after I had joined the newborn culture. The crones had done the opposite. Okay, well, whatever. I had my orders. Keep everything contained. Shouldn’t be too hard, with two warlord-level fey and multiple hordes of monsters.

I stepped out of the building to find complete and utter chaos. The once-empty street was now completely flooded with civilians, all screaming and running from our monsters, but unable to flee far—we had the exits sealed off with a few choice beasts.

There were only two exceptions. Off to my right was Eccretia, her back to the wall of the cafe while she defended everyone inside with a few ZF guns. Presumably, that’s where Simon, Steve, Lily, and the other noncombatants from the earlier meeting were.

The other exception was at one of the entrances to the intersection, where Derek, Akane, Flynn, and Adam were holding off nearly an entire horde of monsters by themselves. I couldn’t see clearly enough to tell exactly what they were doing, but I could tell that they had largely blocked off the street with the corpses of their foes.

Gea, that idiot, what was he doing? Had he really not been able to come up with any tactics better than ‘send everything at them?’

As usual, it was up to me to fix everything. I pointed my stolen gun at the sky and pulled the trigger, the modified round whistling through the air like a flare. It didn’t actually glow or explode or anything, but the sound was enough to get everyone’s attention riveted on me.

The fact that I ordered the monsters to stop fighting at the same moment may have helped.

“Ladies, gentlemen,” I said by way of greeting, reciting my lines with ease. “I hope you enjoyed the prologue, but now the real fun begins.” I spread my arms wide. “This marks the beginning of the first Wild Hunt Domina City has ever seen.”

I paused slightly, long enough to let a slight murmur run through the crowd. Perfect.

“The rules are simple.” I grinned wolfishly. “Join, hide, or die. Those are the only choices when the Wild Hunt comes to call.”

Dead silence.

Then they began to run.

Like a herd of cattle, they panicked, simple prey instinct taking over and forcing them to run as far away from me as possible. But they were trapped in a cage, with monsters on every side.

The results were predictable.

When people fell, they were crushed. Shoved or tripped, it mattered not. If they were lucky, the fallen received bruises and broken bones. More likely, they ended up as little more than gory puddles splashing onto the boots of their fellows.

While watching the slow, methodical suicide of several hundred people, I had a grin on my face that would make a shark proud, but it didn’t reach my soul.

Scare the sheep, look like you’re having fun, pull out when the crowd hits fifty percent causalities. These were my orders.

But I didn’t have to like them.

Then I heard something. The crowd heard it too, and something about it dug into their primitive fear state, dragged them back to rationality, and made them stop killing themselves in their impossible dash for freedom.

Clapping.

I turned to my left to see a woman. A tall, stately woman with bronze skin, chocolate colored hair, and golden eyes. She would have been beautiful, if her white sundress—out of season for this weather, a distant part of my mind noted—was not drenched red and brown with blood new and old. Her hair, once long and luxurious, was unkempt and snarled, matted with blood and gore.

Her shark-like smile was not fake.

“An interesting plan, fey-slave,” Elizabeth Greene noted with a chuckle. “Not as hands-on as I would prefer, but…” Her grin widened, if that was possible, and suddenly there were two glowing orange swords in her hands, leaking mist like fire. “But that’s what I’m here for.”

The Composer.

This was not according to plan.

Behind the Scenes (scene 204)

AIG stands for Atlas Island Gunsmiths. If anyone cares.

Oh, and about the new fey names: Lady is the proper honorific, like Noble Nyashk, but the “honored” honorific can also be applied broadly. For example, Ériu’s formal title is Lady Ériu, Queen-Mother of Summer, Crone of the Seelie Court. Honored Lady, Honored Ériu, or Honored Crone would all be correct forms of address. As would Honored Queen-Mother, but that sounds a little odd, so most people don’t use it. Honored Princess or Honored Queen is common for the Maidens and Matrons, though.

Scene 203 – Venatio

VENATIO

SEENA

Two fey slaves and a small army of monsters.

No hesitation.

“Umbră!” I cried. “Atac pe fata!”

A shot rang out, echoing around the street, but the girl was already gone. Just disappeared. Where—

Then she was in front of us. How did she get there so fast? Quicker than lightning, she lashed out with a kick, knocking my brother through the table and scattering the rest of us in his wake.

“Simon!” Yolanda cried, rushing towards her downed boyfriend.

She had that well in hand. I would handle the fey.

I wasn’t really sure what to call her, since she clearly wasn’t a fey fey, but that was something to worry about later. I dashed forward with the strength of my warlord buffs, whipping around my steel-like tail to—

Miss. Again.

How had she dodged so fast?

Then I saw them. Translucent green, like a cicada’s, sprouting from her back and fluttering in the breeze.

Wings.

Actual, functional WINGS.

They were three pairs of insect wings, similar to what you sometimes saw on a traditional mythological fairy. Even as I watched in stunned fascination, they blurred, beating too fast to keep track, sending the woman back a few steps and holding her hovering a few inches off the ground.

“Seena…” I heard behind me. “…you have a tail?”

I turned to regard my brother. “Yes, just…I’ll explain later, all right?” The changelings were already getting him, his girlfriend, and Leon out of danger. Steve and Eric were running in the other direction with Laura, while Derek, Akane, Flynn, and Adam were fending off another horde of smaller monsters I hadn’t even noticed coming from another direction.

Lily was huddled in a corner, eyes squeezed shut and hands over her ears. She didn’t like fighting, so that was only to be expected. At least the fey never attacked her. Well, they used to never attack her. What if that rule had changed as well?

Nine Hells, where were my soldiers? “Umbră! Este timpul pentru a lupta!”

There was an explosion from one of the nearby ‘scrapers, about where the earlier shot had come from. I peered up, cursing the twilight, and saw what looked like pojoes milling around in the flames.

“I-mi cer scuze, onorat nobil,” my Mal bodyguards called. “Dar suntem OCUPATI!”

“Seena,” I heard again from behind me. “Listen.”

“Not a good time, Simon!”

“No, it’s—Nine Hells, get over here!

His tone brooked no argument, so I backed up, keeping my eye on the fey and her monsters, until I was next to my brother.

I looked down at him, but he seemed mostly fine, with Yolanda tending his injuries. He couldn’t be dying, not from something as small as getting thrown through a table. But he clearly wasn’t in the best condition to begin with…

His eyes were strong, at least. “The winged girl. Just hit her.”

I rolled my eyes. “Thanks, that never occurred to me.”

“No, I mean…even with three pairs of wings, she has to be really lightweight in order to fly like that. I mean, seriously. I doubt she even has a real skeleton any more, probably got it replaced by cartilage…” he coughed, spitting up blood. That wasn’t good. What if he was bleeding internally? “She probably weighs like, fifty pounds. Just hit her. She’ll crumple like wet cardboard.”

Okay. That was actually good advice. That was something I could use.

“You guys keep them safe,” I told the changelings. “I’ll handle Miss Butterfly.”

But Eccretia pulled out her rifle with a hard look. “I am far from helpless, Noble Nyashk. I can provide support.”

Simon gurgled. “Noble what?

We both ignored him. “How do I know you won’t shoot me in the back?”

“You don’t. Now hurry up before Derek and them get overrun, or we’ll have to fight on two fronts.”

I glanced at the other end of the street, where Derek, Akane, Flynn, and Adam were fighting, and saw she was right. They were doing very, very well, especially considering all four were baseline, but they were facing more monsters than us. We needed to finish off the two leaders quickly, then join them.

“Where are your changelings?” I grunted as I punched through a yokvel trying to claw at my face.

“With your Mals, I expect,” she responded in a crisp and professional tone as she fired off a few more shots, focusing on the deathmarked. “Holding off the third group.”

A few more quick punches and some swipes with my tail scattered the rest of the cats. “My nightstalkers aren’t front line fighters. What about yours?”

“Competent enough in most situations, and I’d normally say more than a match for any fey monsters.” She fired again, getting one of the ape-things in the eye, causing it to roar in anger. “But…”

“But the rules have changed,” the winged girl said as she fluttered in front of us.

She slashed at me with her open hand, which I barely managed to dodge even with the speed of my warlord buffs. In theory, she shouldn’t be strong enough to deal any meaningful damage to me. In practice, I didn’t want to find out what weapons the fey had decided to give their newest slave.

Still, I needed to keep her away from the baselines. I bull rushed forward, a move she dodged easily, but it had the intended effect of setting her up for Eccretia’s attack. The changeling fired off a few rounds from her Blue Knight ZF987, testing the fey’s response.

Our winged opponent dodged again, which was also anticipated. I swept my tail around, getting the crazy chick in the legs, sending her sprawling.

I had hoped that she would land on her wings and maybe damage them, but no such luck. She managed to land on her hands, and when I rushed forward again to finish her off, she zipped off, an inch above the ground, dodging my strike by a hair.

Before I could give meaningful chase, one of the deathmarked jumped me with a bellow, the tortured ape-thing swinging at me with a bony fist. I knew how powerful they were, so I dodged the first strike, then the second, and then—

And then I remembered that I was a warlord.

I dodged under the ape’s third strike, coming up inside its guard, and grabbed its wrist with my tail to keep it from grabbing me. Then, I unleashed a flurry of blows to its chest, sending it staggering back with a dozen cracked and broken ribs.

While it was reeling in pain, I shoved it aside; there was little point in trying to actually kill a deathmarked with anything short of high explosives, warlord or not.

The fey was upright now, floating a few feet off the ground. I leaped on top of the infernal dromo, dodged its tail, and then launched myself at the fey.

I missed.

“Nine Hells,” I spat as I hit the ground at a roll. The monsters piled on top of me, but they got in each other’s way too much to do any real damage. I punched out a few more furless cats, tossed one crawler at another, and—

Where had she gone?

I had lost track of her while I was fighting the monsters. Most of them were dead or dying now, but they had served their purpose, distracting me from the fey. Had she escaped entirely? And where was the other one, the male? I hadn’t seen him since the fight started. I—

I heard a massive, clicking screech behind me.

Oh. Right. The dromo.

I turned to regard the beast. In most important respects, it was a giant scorpion about the size of a car, with four pairs of legs, two massive claws, and an arching tail with a poison stinger, all covered in thick black carapace.

Except it had been painted with red stripes.

The beast screeched again, spraying fire from its dripping maw.

So, yeah: Infernal dromo.

The fire didn’t get anywhere close to me; it wasn’t actually attacking yet, just letting me know it was angry. I backed up slowly, the instinctive reaction making me feel better even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Fire was only one half of the infernal package; the other half was aggression.

As expected, instead of taking my retreat as a sign of a competitor leaving its territory like most natural predators would, it screamed in triumph, recognizing my fear and sensing a weakness.

It charged forward.

So did I.

I didn’t have any specific training for dealing with dromos, but they’re not too hard to figure out. Stay away from the claws, the tail, and for the infernal variety, the mouth. The only problem was that they had reflexes like greased lightning, and would instantly skewer you if you made the mistake of jumping onto their back.

But I was a warlord.

I dodged the first strike from the tail, batting it aside with one hand and using the other to attack the tail directly, jabbing it with an open palm stronger than steel. The monster screeched in pain and bucked, trying to throw me off. I just redoubled my attack, trying to break the tail in half.

I managed to break through the carapace—

And was immediately reminded that this was an infernal dromo.

Boiling hot blood spurted out of the wound, searing my hand and missing my face by inches. I was forced to release the tail to dodge, which proved to be a mistake. The stinger stabbed at me again—blood spurting out again as the tail flexed—and I was only able to avoid it by jumping off onto the street.

I turned to face the beast again, not quite sure how I was supposed to—

An explosion burst up from beneath it, flipping it over with an unearthly screech.

And there was Eccretia, pulling another grenade from her belt even as I watched.

“Go after the fey, you idiot!” she cried as she pulled the pin and threw it. “I’ll handle the monsters!”

There wasn’t time to argue. I ran off, searching for the woman even as another explosion rocked the street behind me. Where was she? There was her mount, some four-legged monster horse thing that I couldn’t identify, and there was the man, riding into battle against Derek and the others, slashing with a sword.

But where was the woman?

The sun was mostly below the horizon by now, so my sight was much better than it had been at the start of this fight. I scanned the battlefield, trying to find her, but to no avail. I had a hunch she wasn’t the type to flee, especially not after making a big entrance, so she had to be hiding out somewhere, preparing.

Derek, Akane, Flynn, and Adam had that end of the street bottled up, which involved Akane swordfighting the male. My brother, Eccretia’s two changelings, and Yolanda and Leon seemed to be relatively safe, cowering behind a hasty barricade of tables. Lily hadn’t moved, but the monsters were ignoring her. Steve and Eric were trying to break into one of the nearby buildings for some reason.

Where was she?

Where?

If I were a delusional sociopath, where would I be? Not up in the building where my shadows had been hiding; they and the rest of Eccretia’s changelings were still fighting. They would have called if the fey showed up there.

Not with any of the monsters, not fighting anyone…

Wait, why were Steve and Eric trying to break into one of the buildings?

I rushed over to them—punching the recovering deathmarked as I passed—and skidded to a stop at their side.

“Boys,” I said by way of greeting. “Explain fast.”

“Steve says he say the winged girl go in here,” Eric reported. “I didn’t, but it’s the best bet. But the door’s locked, and we can’t get it open. I think it might be welded from the other side—”

I reared back and kicked the solid steel door, knocking it off its hinges with a single blow.

“You two stay out here,” I insisted. “I’ll deal with the fey.”

“No,” Eric hissed, grabbing my arm. “You have nighteyes, and she knows it! You need someone who’s not vulnerable to light!”

I shook him off. “You’ll just get in the way. Stay here.”

The Dagonite glared at me. “You know I’m going to ignore you. Why even bother saying it?”

“Because this way, when you get shot in the face, I can say I told you so,” I growled as I brushed past him.

To my surprise, a young kemo—he ran past too fast for me to identify his subculture—screamed by me, followed by a few more kids. It took me a minute to realize they were probably fleeing from the fey.

As I plunged deeper into the gray corridors of the apartment building, running into more and more fleeing civilians, I quickly realized that I had no idea where I was going. All the halls looked alike, and the fey wasn’t really leaving a clear path to follow.

I grabbed a vampire as he rushed past me, causing him to scream and flinch back in fright.

“Young drake,” I said with as much politeness as I could muster considering that he was pummeling me ineffectually with his weak fists. “Calm down. I need to find the fey.”

To my surprise, he did calm down, and pretty quickly too. Probably realized pissing off a Noble wouldn’t end well for him, whether he was in my subculture or not.

“She was on floor twelve a few minutes ago,” he managed without stammering. “She’s forcing everyone out.”

I blinked. “Out? What do you mean, out?”

He shrugged. “She’s knocking down doors and throwing people out of their apartments. Scaring everyone.”

Huh. That…was weird. Could she be trying to avoid innocent bystanders? No, neither one of us were armed. It would be child’s play to keep our duel from causing too much collateral damage, if that were actually her purpose. No, there was something else going on here…

I released the young vampire, done with him, and he ran off gratefully while I pondered this new information.

Well, whatever she was planning, I needed to find her first. Floor twelve, he had said? That was nine floors up. I had to hurry before the trail went cold again.

One of the side benefits of the warlord package I hadn’t really noticed before now was increased endurance. I ran up nearly a dozen sets of stairs at full speed and wasn’t even breathing hard by the time I reached the top. Lot better than the days when I could barely jog a block without gasping for breath.

Not that it mattered. The twelfth floor was empty by the time I got there, all the doors open to empty apartments, the inhabitants having all fled. I guess the only option was to keep climbing. Maybe she was expecting reinforcements on the roof or something? I’d have to—

Wait. One door wasn’t open.

The lock was broken, but otherwise the door was unharmed; still firmly attached to the frame and tightly closed.

If that wasn’t suspicious, I didn’t know what was. I moved as carefully and quietly as I knew how, sidling up to the door and easing it open without a sound.

The reason this particular apartment had been spared was immediately obvious. The living room I could see from the door didn’t look like a home so much as a machine shop. Countless tools lined the shelves, with blueprints pinned to the walls like posters and spare parts scattered around like a child’s toys.

The fey I was searching for was tinkering at a workbench in front of the window, her back to me. I couldn’t tell exactly what she was doing, but the simplest answer would be assembling a bomb. That would be the easiest and most dangerous thing an amateur could build quickly.

I quietly grabbed something big and heavy off the floor—looked like one of those miniature fusion cell things—took careful aim, and threw it at the back of the fey’s head with all my might.

She dodged.

Nine Hells, she must have seen the reflection in the window. I leaped forward, arms outstretched and tail ready, in order to try and take advantage of the limited space to keep her from dodging past me with those stupid wings of hers.

Then I noticed she had something in her hands and froze.

It was not a bomb.

I didn’t know what it was. It looked like some unholy cross between a boom box, a music player, and a small metal bucket, all married together with a liberal application of duct tape, with far too many wires poking out every which way.

But it had a trigger.

“Sorry, Noble Nyashk,” the fey said pityingly. “It didn’t have to be this way. But the Wild Hunt must go on.”

Then all the clues fell into place.

Not the babbling about the Wild Hunt, whatever that was. But the genuine apologetic tone, from a fey-slave, who was scarily competent with machines…

“Veda?” I whispered. “Is that you?”

She grimaced, and fired.

Behind the Scenes (scene 203)

The “miniature fusion cells” Seena describes are at approximately the level of 3D printers in the real world. That is, they are available to civilians, but prohibitively expensive, frustrating to use, and not particularly reliable. In Domina City, MFC’s go for about ten thousand dollars each and usually die after about a day. Not that it matters, but the owner of the apartment built that one himself.

Scene 156 – Damnum

DAMNUM

MAEVE

“The murid is dead.”

Veda tried to jump off the cot. Thankfully, she had been given a localized paralytic; otherwise, she would have wrenched her spine and undone days of work. “Delphie? Where is she? I need to see her!”

I placed my hand on her chest, more as a gesture than anything—she wasn’t going anywhere. “In time, little one, in time. Right now, we need to worry about you.”

She settled down, and nodded as best she could. “How…” she teared up. Clearly, she was still fixated on her friend.

“Three days,” I answered her unfinished question. I needed to focus her on other things. “We kept you under for three days straight. It’s Friday now.”

She looked down at her body. “I don’t…look different.”

“Most of what we did was internal,” I admitted. “But we had to cut it short. We repaired your wounds, and made what modifications we could while we were in there, but we were more worried about getting you ready to move as fast as possible.”

The girl blinked, finally realizing that something must be wrong—besides our inability to save the life of Delphie Murinae, that is. “Wait, is something happening? Are you…are we under attack?”

I smiled. Good, she was already thinking of herself as part of a new culture. It could take a while, sometimes.

“Yes and no. We were under attack, but managed to fight them off with…” I searched for the right words. “…a gargant. That’s scared them off for the past couple days, but they’ll be back sooner rather than later.”

She struggled in her restraints again before settling down. “Right. Well…when are we…” she swallowed nervously. “You’re not planning on leaving me here, are you?”

“Of course not.” I produced a small syringe. “This will reverse the paralysis. Be careful, though; you’re still not fully healed.”

She winced. “I don’t like needles.”

I injected her anyway. “Not a lot of options at the moment.”

As I undid the restraints, Veda slowly flexed her fingers and toes, trying to accelerate the blood flow.

“It’s all pins and needles,” she muttered with a wince.

“It will pass in a few minutes.” Some dust fell from the ceiling. Not much. I doubt Veda even noticed. But I saw the cause through our cameras.

They were here. And they had explosives. Lots of explosives.

“Unfortunately, that is time we don’t have.” I scooped the surprised girl up in my arms before she could protest. My homunculus had more than enough strength, though I did find myself thankful we had taken the time to decrease her bone density.

“W-wait! Don’t you have defenses—”

“They’re already past the first line, and they’re almost through the second.” I headed towards the hidden door—currently open, revealing a brick-lined side corridor that ran away from the sewers.

“Second out of how many?”

“Three. And the last one is just some frogs and a blast door.” I jabbed the button with my elbow, causing the brick wall to slide into place behind us. That might slow them down.

“I figured the fey would have more robust defenses…”

“We do—for our demesnes. This is just a minor outpost. Doesn’t even have a name.”

The girl fell silent, for which I was grateful. I was having enough trouble splitting my attention as it was. One part of my brain kept an eye on the cameras, while I was also wirelessly setting up a proximity overload on the toy box I had left behind. The box itself was just another cheap knockoff, but it was still worth millions.

The corridor shook, nearly knocking me off my feet. I cursed and struggled on, while I felt Veda’s heart beating like a drum.

“What the fang was that?!” she shrieked, a little too close to my ear for my liking.

“My toy box,” I muttered. “I figure that gives us maybe another five minutes to play with.” It depended on how organized they were. A random mob might see a dead end and turn back. But if they had a leader who knew what they were doing…

“Maeve,” a voice in my head spoke up clearly. “We need to talk.”

I stumbled again. “Ice and shadow—”

Veda twitched. “What now?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just concentrate on breathing.” I turned my attention to Aurora, the one yelling in my brain. “Not a good time,” I snapped at her without moving my mouth. “Running for my life.”

“Just detonate the homunculus and get back here. This is important.”

“Correction: Running for Veda’s life.”

“Oh. Well…” There was a long pause. “How much did you want her?”

I grit me teeth. “A lot. What’s wrong?”

“About a dozen of our outposts are under simultaneous attack. Professional, too. Not like the mob from last time.”

“Eccretia,” I muttered. I was beginning to regret not killing her. We tried to leave changelings alone, but sometimes they crossed the line.

“Probably. I doubt she’s leading the charge personally, but she’s definitely driving it.”

I heard a howl behind me. I didn’t bother turning; they had found my bolt hole.

“We can talk later. Right now, I need to focus.”

“Ah, right, the running. Just kill yourself.”

Aurora—”

“I’m serious. Just stash the girl in a corner, and use your homunculus as a bomb against the mob.”

I rounded the first corner and immediately put on another burst of speed, pushing my body to the limit. It’s not like I didn’t have spares.

“Maeve? You there?”

“There’s nowhere to stash her, and Veda can’t even walk right now!”

“What, seriously? What did you do to her, chop off her legs?”

“No, I just gave her a paralytic, and it hasn’t quite worn off yet.”

“Oh. Well, then why don’t you do what I said?”

“Because she can’t walk!

The Maiden sighed in my ear. “I know she can’t now, but give it a few minutes, and she’ll be fine.”

That stupid…

Actually, that was a pretty good point.

I turned my attention back to my pursuers. They were gaining, but I was still maybe five minutes ahead of them. If Veda recovered fast enough…

“Veda,” I said aloud. “How are your legs? Can you move them?”

“Um…a little. Maybe.”

“Oighear agus sneachta,” I muttered. “We don’t have any other options.” I skidded to a stop, and laid her in a seated position against the brick wall of the corridor.

“Maeve?” the girl asked plaintively. “Uh…Lady Maeve? What are you doing?”

“Sacrifice play.” I pulled a GPS bead out of my pocket and slipped it into her pants. Marvelous things, pockets. I had forgotten how useful they were. “Start running in the opposite direction the second you can. I’ll have some people meet up with you. Password is ‘oíche.’ Repeat that for me.”

“Oíche.”

“Good girl.” I kissed her lightly on the forehead. No soporifics or paralytics this time; just a simple kiss. I smiled at her wide eyes.

She’d be a good one. I knew it.

“You stay safe,” I ordered. “You’ll see me again soon.”

I made sure to bring the ceiling down where it wouldn’t fall on her.

Behind the Scenes (scene 156)

A little on the short side, but I think it works.

Scene 145 – Queentia

QUEENTIA

VEDA

The outpost the monsters had taken us to was…small. Cramped. I think it was underground, but I couldn’t be sure. More than a few cultures had bases in the sewers, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if the fey had done the same.

I looked around groggily, but I couldn’t do much. I was still tied down, and the fey’s drugs or whatever were making me dizzy. It took me a minute to realize I wasn’t tied to the beast any more, but a cold stone table.

“Veda,” the fey known as Maeve said kindly as she smiled over me. “How are you feeling?”

I gulped. “Um…I’d prefer not to be strapped down, actually.”

She patted me apologetically on the shoulder. “An unfortunate necessity, I’m afraid.”

“Um…for what?”

“For your transformation, of course.”

Was it just me, or was her smile getting creepier? “Right. When you say ‘transformation,’ you mean…”

The beautiful fey’s face crinkled into a frown. “Honestly, dearest, you’re almost making me regret choosing you to receive this gift.”

I shook my head as much as I could in the restraints. “No, that’s not it at all! I mean…” I scrambled to work through my fear and excitement to unravel her riddle. “By transformation you mean using the toy maker. Obviously. I’m just wondering exactly what kind of transformation.” I gulped again, remembering changeling horror stories. “I’m…I’m not going to be turned into a monster, right?”

Maeve put her finger to her lips. “Hm. Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of monster. Outside Domina, many would call you a monster just for those pretty little ears.”

“…I just meant I would prefer to remain mostly human.”

“Oh, okay.“ She nodded sagely. “Duly noted. We’ll try to keep you mostly human.“

Something about the way she said that made me worried. “Right. But if I could get a more specific—”

“We’re putting you in the toy box now,” the fey said, cheerfully ignoring me. She pushed on my torso, sliding me along the table until I fell into something that seemed disturbingly similar to a coffin.

“I-I’m still not sure about this—”

“I am.” The Maiden of Wind and Snow smiled at me, a smile that seemed like the first real one I had seen from her. “You’ll do fine…Honored Chosen.”

Then she shut the lid, and the toy box hummed to life.

It was then that I discovered the reason for the restraints. Clarke’s method of modding someone—which the majority of the city uses—included a heavy dose of painkillers, or simply putting the patient asleep.

However, these drugs have side effects, and can interfere with the process.

So the fey don’t use them.

I screamed so much that my vocal cords snapped under the strain.

Then the toy box healed them. And they snapped again.

Behind the Scenes (scene 145)

The fey’s honorifics for their new culture will be explained later.

I know this one is short (really short), but there will not be an extra update Wednesday. Next two updates are a pair, so it just doesn’t work.