I came out of the toy shop feeling dejected. How the hell else was I supposed to feel? I didn’t know people could be immune to the toy maker. That was like being immune to organ donation. I adjusted the empty cage in my grip and turned to ask Derek about this newest roadblock. But before I could say anything, he stopped dead in his tracks, looking at someone else.
I followed his gaze. He was staring at a girl standing a few yards away, a thin young woman with shoulder-length black hair and pale skin, wearing a diamond ring on a chain around her neck. She was pretty, but she wasn’t my type; she was sharp like a knife, in every way. In the way her jaw was set, in the way her eyes narrowed, in the clothes she wore, in—
In the gun on her thigh.
“Derek,” she said. Her response was cold as ice, like an experienced soldier told that she was being ambushed. Her hand went to the gun in it’s holster, but she passed over it with only the barest hint of hesitation.
“Laura! It is you!” Derek rushed forward to give the girl a hug. She deftly stepped back, and this time her hand did go to her gun.
“It’s been a while, Derek.”
My roommate looked hurt. “Laura, don’t be like that…”
“Derek, don’t antagonize her,” I advised, while my brain worked to find the nearest escape route . Yeah, piss off the crazy girl with the gun. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that plan.
She looked at me quizzically. “Who’s this?”
He glanced at me before turning back to her. “This is Adam, my new roommate over at AU. But never mind that—what are you doing back in South Central?”
She eyed him warily, clearly weighing whether she should tell him the truth or not. “I’m going to AU for school. So I had to come back.”
He grinned genuinely. “That’s great! I barely even recognized you. If d—your father hadn’t shown me some pictures from last Christmas, I think I would have walked right by.”
Her eyes showed no compromise. “A pity, that.”
“Laura and I grew up together,” Derek explained to me. “But she left the district seven years ago for school. I never really knew why.”
“It was your fault,” she replied icily. She wasn’t angry, just harsh. “That’s why I left.”
Derek crossed his arms and frowned. “I can’t apologize if you don’t tell me what I did wrong, Laura.”
“No, you can’t.” She sighed and took another step back. “We done here? I don’t need this today.”
“Yeah…yeah, I guess we are.” Poor Derek looked like he had lost his best friend. Maybe he had. “We’ll…see you around, Laura.” He started off, while Laura waited for him to leave, but I glanced around first.
“Oh, hey, a linens place,” I said. With a name like ‘Linens and Things,’ it was hard to miss. “I need sheets and a pillow. Let’s go in here.”
The girl glared at me.
Derek shrugged. “Works for me.” He headed inside…and Laura followed without a word. I blinked, sighed, and followed as well.
It looked pretty much the same as the other stores I had seen. One big room with the products displayed—in this case, different sheet designs hung on the walls like curtains, with pillows and blanket samples on shelves in the center—and a single register to the left of the door. Laura headed straight for the clerk, and I cautiously followed, with Derek staying by the door.
The clerk was another demon girl, younger than Lily. I was already getting used to the toys, but I was still…twitchy about Laura’s gun. No one else was commenting on it, however, so I tried to ignore it.
“I need a set of sheets for a single-size bed. And some pillows.” She turned to me. “I’m guessing you need the same?”
“Uh…yeah.” That gun was really bothering me, and some part of me wanted to take it from her before she had a chance to use it. I resisted the impulse. “The cheapest you’ve got.”
“Same for me,” Laura told the clerk. The demon scurried off to the back of the store, presumably to plunder the storeroom.
Derek was trying to sound nonchalant, but his old friend wouldn’t have any of it. “What.”
Whatever he had been planning to say, he seemed to change his mind before speaking. “I’ve been meaning to ask…where’d you get the gun?”
Finally. Maybe she’d stop wearing it if she knew it bothered people.
“Dad gave it to me for my fifteenth birthday,” she replied curtly. If there was more of a story behind it, she didn’t elaborate.
But Derek started. “You too? He gave me one, but he didn’t mention that you got one. Can I see it?”
Laura popped off the buckle on the holster, made sure the gun was safetied, and handed it off without so much as looking at it. Derek, I noted, was much more careful, and didn’t let his fingers anywhere near the trigger.
“Occisor Mk. 2.” He turned it over in his hand. “’To my beautiful daughter, may you never need this, and always have it.’ It’s the same model he gave me.” He chuckled. “My inscription is a little different, though.” He handed it back and she took it without a word.
Before I got the chance to put a word in—maybe recommend not carrying loaded guns around, just a thought—the clerk came back with two sets of sheets and a pair of pressed pillows, all wrapped in plastic.
“16.96,” she said, plopping out purchases down on the counter. She started ringing them up.
“Isn’t that a bit expensive for sheets and a pillow?” Laura asked. I hadn’t been sure, but it did sound high.
“The sheets are 5.99, and the pillows 2.49.” The demon stopped messing with the register. “Did you still want them?”
“We’re buying them separately,” I clarified.
The clerk fixed her mistake without complaint, and Laura and I paid separately. We walked out, and when we reached the street she glared at me again. “You can stop following me now.”
I glared right back. “We’re going the same way. Unless you feel like sitting on a bench holding your sheets just to avoid us.”
She scowled. “Fine. Whatever.” She crossed the street with us beside her.
“I’m sorry about the thing at the toy store,” Derek said to me after a moment. “I didn’t realize there would be a problem.”
“It’s not your fault,” I assured him. “How were you supposed to know I’m…uh…what’d he say?”
“Lutum informis, I’m guessing?”
I glanced at Laura and shifted the load in my arms. The sheets weren’t much, but the cage was annoying. “Yeah, I think that’s right. The clerk said it means I can’t use toys.”
She scoffed. “He’s a moron, then. You can still use them, it just makes things more complicated. It’s going to be ten times harder and cost fifteen times as much to do anything.”
I sighed. “Well, then I guess I don’t get vampire eyes. Not that I really wanted them.” I frowned. “But hang on, I thought the toy maker worked on everyone?”
“Approximately one person in a million is lutum informis. For all intents and purposes, it works on everyone.” She smiled a bit sadly. “Congratulations, you have a rare physiological defect.”
“Thanks,” I snarked back, starting across the next street. “Always nice to be unique.” I sighed again. “I know I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up, but I was really looking forward…” I glanced around. Laura and Derek had stopped walking, and were at the curb with quizzical looks on their faces.
“Do you hear that?” he asked me.
I didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary; I shook my head.
Suddenly, Laura’s eyes bulged. “TRUCK!” she roared.
That’s when I realized I was standing in the middle of the road, with a sixteen-wheeler bearing down on me.
It had a tall undercarriage—I might be able to dive under it. But no, if the driver swerved, I’d get crushed by the wheels, and even if he kept going straight, it was a long shot. With no other choice, I jumped to the right, away from the curb, but the driver swerved in that direction as well, probably trying to avoid Derek and Laura on the sidewalk. I noted it ran over my sheets and the cage, which I had dropped in my panic.
I was going to die. Run over just like my stupid sheets.
I looked back at the curb for some reason, I’m not really sure why. Just some last reflex.
And I saw Derek running forward, an iron look in his eyes.
He tackled me at full speed, trying to throw me—well, us—further out of the path of the truck. Luckily, it was the only vehicle on the road at the moment, so we didn’t have to worry about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
It almost worked. Almost. But the driver didn’t have time to swerve away again. It was going to hit us. Not head on and not at full speed, but a truck that size would kill us at pretty much any speed.
Derek put his body between me and the truck and braced himself, while I kept my eyes open and glued on our impending doom. It edged ever closer, and then…
It crashed into a force field.
A dome of blue light, dripping azure mist, had enveloped Derek and me. The truck stopped with a hugecrash like it had hit a wall, but the barrier held. After another moment, is disappeared, leaving only a massive dent in the truck’s grill to mark its existence.
I couldn’t stop staring. What?
Laura ran up as fast as she could. “Derek! You all right?” She glanced at the truck. “What the hell was that light?”
He swallowed slowly. “I…think that was me.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 6)
Laura’s gun is more of Domina’s oddness showing through. Most citizens of the city don’t think there’s anything strange about carrying a gun around in plain view. And unlike the toy maker or the monsters, most of them seriously do not know that it’s strange. After all, what’s the second amendment for if guns aren’t legal?
Also, Laura is inaccurate about her statistics here: Lutum informis is far more rare than one in a million. In Domina City, there are four. Total. That’s including Adam.