Monday night, our last class. By a bit of luck, I had one with Derek. And Akane, as I had half expected. I had chosen a seat next to him, while she sat directly behind. I had a feeling they always sat like that.
The last few days were a blur. No new screamers, but MC had contacted me and sent me to a Necessarian shooting range. I spent pretty much every spare minute there; natural talent or not, I didn’t have enough experience with guns. I hadn’t had a chance to exchange more than a few words with Lily, but when I had seen her briefly, she seemed to understand.
As expected, classes were mind-numbingly boring. They probably wouldn’t have been interesting in the first place, but compared to guns and zombies, I was fighting to keep my eyes open. Although too much time at the shooting range probably didn’t help.
All day, people were discussing the screamers. Everyone had seen Butler’s announcement, and I was surprised how many people believed it—nearly everyone, really. Those who disagreed were treated with the same amount of scorn as people who thought the Apollo 11 mission was faked.
The general mood seemed to be apprehensive, but patient. In every class, the students agreed that we’d get more information in time. It was interesting to watch. I had never really seen a population react to a crisis first-hand; my parents were always quick to whisk me away when things went south.
But the current class, a history GE, didn’t even offer that reprieve. The teacher, a surly old dog—what were they called? Canes?—had made it clear from the beginning that he wouldn’t allow off-topic discussion.
On the other, hand, I finally got to meet Lizzy, Laura’s roommate.
She was tall, first off, and easy to approach. She had a guileless smile that invited friendship. She also had bewitching golden eyes and long brown hair that framed her face; it was easy to tell why Derek was smitten.
And he was smitten. That much was obvious. He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her for more than ten seconds. For her part, Elizabeth answered his questions warmly, but she didn’t seem as interested in him. Akane pointedly ignored their interactions.
I was just giving up on taking notes and about to start browsing the internet when all three of them—Derek, Akane, and Lizzy—sat up and started looking around. I didn’t hear anything, and it didn’t look like anyone else in the class did either; the professor was still droning on without a care in the world.
I leaned over. “Screamers?” I whispered. Derek nodded. “Then we need to leave.” I glanced at Lizzy. “Should she—”
“No,” he whispered back. Elizabeth looked at us, a questioning frown on her face, but she couldn’t hear us. “She’s not getting involved in this.”
He stood up, packing his things, and Akane followed his example. She just had to pick up her sword, still in its bag, and tuck her notebook under her arm. Derek and I had to wrap up the power cords for our laptops and wrestle them into our backpacks. I also had to pick up my gun case; unlabeled, thankfully. I doubt even this city would turn a blind eye to me toting around enough firearms to arm a platoon.
“Excuse me,” the dog called out in an annoyed tone. I was surprised. I figured he wouldn’t even notice us leaving. “Is there something wrong with my lecture?”
“I’m sorry sir, it’s an emergency.” I noted that Derek hadn’t lied. I had a feeling he avoided it when possible.
The professor sighed and waved his hand, dismissing us. We left before he could change his mind.
Outside, the night was cold, but I had remembered a sweater this time. Laura and Ling met us quickly, from opposite directions.
“We’ll need to hurry,” Laura pointed out. “We’ll need to stash our stuff somewhere when we get there.”
“Actually, that won’t be a problem.”
I turned to see who had spoken.
To my surprise, it was a vampire, one with larger fangs than I had grown to expect and a strange device on her left arm. She was standing next to a parked black van with a red stripe painted horizontally across the side; the emblem of Necessarius, as it was. The door of the van slid open, and four more people tumbled out.
We couldn’t see them very clearly. “Who are you?” I asked with some trepidation. I had a bad feeling.
The vampire cursed and put on thick goggles. “Alex, light.”
The person closest to her began to glow, not brightly, but enough to illuminate the five. It was a woman, albeit a petite and gangly one, dressed in a white t-shirt to emphasize her swirling white tattoos. Those were the source of the glow, and they pulsed gently as she gave a small mock salute.
So this was an angel. Somehow I had expected something more. Her tattoos threw me off, too; I’ve seen phosphorus before, and it was nowhere near as bright as this. I had a feeling Derek was a bit misinformed on exactly how that worked.
“I’m Alex Gabriel,” she introduced herself. Her voice was unique, breathy and deep at the same time. I really didn’t know what to make of it. “Pleased to meet you.”
Next to her, an eight-foot tall giant grunted out “George,” which I assumed was his name. He didn’t have the force of presence Butler did, and his body proportions were a little off—his arms too long and his shoulders too wide. I assumed, then, that his extra mass was the result of a toy, probably an expensive one.
Next to George was what appeared to be an ordinary human, of some kind of Middle-Eastern ethnicity I couldn’t identify. He saluted with a machine gun. “I’m Jarasax of the Blood-Doused Hunters.” He jerked his head to the right, indicating the last person in line. “This is Katherine. Call her Kat.”
It wasn’t hard to tell where the woman earned her nickname. I had seen a few cat kemos running around, but her modifications were the most extensive. She seemed to have fur, an extremely thin, tawny coat. She was filing her claws at first, but when she heard her name she hid the file and retracted her claws.
Her face was the most interesting, however. It was clearly a cat’s face, complete with nose and whiskers. Her teeth were a bit oversized for a feline, and her eyes were jet black and wincing—now that I had experience, I could identify them as the nighteyes of the vampires. Her cat ears had replaced her human ones on the sides of her head, unlike some kemos who just added them on top. I doubt they would do much good up there.
She also held a very large sniper rifle, nearly as tall as she was, resting against her side, with the butt of the gun on the ground. She wasn’t very tall, admittedly, but a five foot long gun is still impressive.
Laura stepped forward. “Is that a railgun? I thought those were still in testing.”
Kat shook her head, and her hands flashed in a pattern I couldn’t decipher.
“She doesn’t talk,” Jarasax apologized. “But she says the railguns still aren’t reliable.” Her hands flashed again. “And that it’s nice to meet you.”
“And I’m Kelly,” the vampire finished in an annoyed tone, scratching the device on her arm. “We’re you’re retinue. Now get in the van and point us towards the zombies.”
It was a tight fit, especially with George and his massive minigun, but we made it. Like I said before, we didn’t have much other than laptops and weapons. Kelly promised she’d keep those in the van.
Derek and Laura provided Jarasax (who was driving) with directions. Akane was quiet as usual, and I couldn’t hear a damn thing, so I was little help. After a minute, Ling poked me gently in the ribs.
“You should get to know these guys,” she advised. “You’ll be fighting with them more than us.”
I frowned. “Just because I don’t have powers…”
She rolled her eyes. “Defense sticks with defense, and offense sticks with offense. We’re offense, we go in and fight. You’re defense, you make sure nothing bad happens. Our tactics are…” she waved her hand. “You know…self-contained. We’re all on the same team, we’re just playing different positions.”
She was right, I guess. But after a moment, I had a question. “Who’s goalie in this metaphor?”
She shrugged. “The truck, I guess?”
I shrugged right back. Worked for me.
Per Ling’s advice, I turned to the closest member of our retinue, the giant George. “So what’s your role here?”
He grinned, revealing enlarged canines, and patted his minigun. “To spread bullets like water.”
Well, nothing wrong with that. The cat was obvious too; even I knew you never turn down a sniper’s help. I was a little worried about the angel, though.
“Isn’t glowing in the dark a little…tame for what we’re facing?” I asked her, trying not to sound confrontational. She just laughed.
“I can do more than that,” she promised. “But I’m not combat, anyway. I’m a scout and tracker.”
“We have people who can literally hear these things from miles away.”
She shook her head. “The screamers, yes. But the Big Boss thinks someone is pulling their strings, and even if not, there’s always use for a tracker.” She clapped me on the shoulder. “I hear you’re good, but you don’t have a lot of experience. Stay with us, you’ll see.”
“We’re here,” Derek declared before I could respond. After a moment, the van pulled to an abrupt stop.
“This is as close as I can get,” Jarasax promised. “Give us a bit of a buffer.”
Now that I was paying attention, I could hear the distinctive screams, maybe a block off. There were a lot of them, mixed with the sound of gunfire and more traditional panicked yelling.
I opened my gun case, ready to head into the fight…which was when I realized I didn’t have a holster or anything. That would limit my options. I bit my lip, trying to decide which one to take.
Kat shoved something in my face. It took me a moment to realize it was a pair of belts, or rather a belt with two holsters for my pistol and SMG, and a back strap for the shotgun and rifle. The belt had a few packs on it where I could store ammo, and the chest thing—bandoleer, I think—had room for shotgun shells.
“Thanks,” I said. I was surprised, pleasantly so.
The sniper nodded, then her fingers moved quickly in a pattern I couldn’t discern.
I turned to George. “What’d she say?”
He shrugged. “Hell if I know. I only met her two days ago. Sax and Kelly are the only ones who understand her.”
Kat looked frustrated, but waved her hand when I leaned forward to ask the two. She mimed readying a weapon (hers was already done, apparently), mimicking the pair. The message was clear: It’s not important, don’t bother them.
Well, that was fine. I belted on the items in question and found they fit perfectly, though I pretty much expected it by that point. My Sica went on my right hip, the Caedes on my left, with the Saint George over my right shoulder and the Athena my left.
I’ll admit, I felt pretty badass by that point, and was ready to take on pretty much anything. The only thing missing was some armor, but the screamers didn’t seem to be able to use weapons anyway, so I wasn’t that worried.
Kelly was the last one out, carrying a short rifle without anything more complicated than iron sights. She handed Alex some sort of headset, which looked like night vision goggles. I remembered something about how angels had special eyes that saw great in the light, but horrible in the dark. I guess she couldn’t do the brightness thing all the time.
“Everyone ready?” Derek asked. We all nodded. “Good. Akane, you’re on point, I’ll be right behind you. Adam, stay close to me. Ling is behind the retinue, watching the rear. Laura, you’re in the middle. Kelly, keep her safe. Let’s move.”
I was impressed. Derek certainly seemed to know what he was doing. Judging from a few things he had said in the past few days, I understood that he and Akane had been taking missions from the job board for years, so I suppose he got practice. It also explained some of why she followed his orders so unquestioningly, but it still didn’t quite sit right with me. But, people grow pretty close after fighting together for years, so maybe there wasn’t anything else to it.
We advanced slowly, ten people a bit too big a group to move with both stealth and speed. But we inched our way towards the screamers with certainty, sure we’d be ready.
We had only gone a little less than half a block—very close to where the screams were originating—when Akane held up her fist, signaling a stop. She pointed emphatically to a nearby wall, but didn’t say anything.
I looked where she was indicating, but only saw a weird piece of graffiti, written in glowing neon ink. It seemed to be a circle with wings.
The rest of the party, however, immediately started cursing violently.
“Calm down,” Derek ordered. “They might be an ally. What court is it?”
“You can’t reason with them,” Alex chided. Derek just glared at her.
“What court is it?”
“Night’s southern autumn,” Kelly replied. Hell if I knew what that meant.
Derek just rolled his eyes. “I know that. I mean what’s the name?”
“Killing Sparrow,” Akane whispered. She blushed when everyone turned to her.
Derek blanched. “That means—”
“Aw, did you finally figure it out? I was hoping to watch you fight.”
It was a female voice, coming from above. I looked up to see a naked Caucasian woman with short brown hair, maybe twenty-five years old, serenely sitting on the edge of the building, about ten feet above the neon symbol. With a small grunt of effort, she leaped down, about twenty feet, and landed without any sign of difficulty.
I wasn’t all that surprised—I had seen stranger things in the four days I had been in Domina—but every single member of our band, even Laura, looked ready to fight.
“Little Derek and Akane…so wonderful to see you again. Did you come to play? Or were you drawn here by that song?”
Kelly cursed and glanced at Derek. “You know her?”
He gulped, and nodded. “May I introduce the Princess of Killing Sparrow, the Maiden of Night’s Southern Autumn.”
The girl in question giggled, causing her breasts to jiggle distractingly. “That’s me!”
I looked around at the tense faces of my companions. “What is—”
Kat immediately made a chopping motion with one hand. Later. Got it. Message received.
“Honored Maiden,” Laura said carefully, bringing her hands away from her gun. “You said something about a song. Would you care to elaborate?”
The girl laughed, a melodic sound, and her chest shook. It was…distracting.
“So polite! Better than this one,” she sidled up to Akane, who was clearly making a conscious effort not to flinch away. “She killed me the second she saw me.”
I got within whisper range of Jarasax. “Is she insane?”
“Yes,” he whispered back without hesitation. “But not like you think. Talk later.”
I shut up. I’d leave this to the people who seemed to know what was going on.
“It wasn’t the loss of the homunculus that upset me,” the girl mused aloud, sliding away from Akane again. “It was that they killed so many of my peataí.” She gave an exaggerated sigh. “But I forgave them, in the end.” She grinned like a madman, revealing teeth like a shark. Looking closer, she also had vampire eyes. “It was soo much fun to watch.”
“The song, Honored Princess,” Laura reminded her gently.
“The amhránaithe are smart,” the girl continued. I wasn’t really sure whether she was answering Laura’s question or not. “They’re looking for me, you know. But those aren’t the ones you’re looking for, is it? No, you’re here for the caointhe.” She grinned widely. “You can hear them, can’t you? Their screams?”
“Why are the amhránaithe looking for you?” Laura prodded. Everyone else was keeping very quiet, though I noticed their hands stayed near their weapons. I decided to follow their example.
The girl just looked at Laura like she was an idiot. “So they can sing to me, of course. And then I will spread the song farther than they could hope.” She tapped her lip, thinking. “You know, I might go looking for one of them. The song does sound interesting.”
“Honored Princess, please, I don’t understand. What is this song you are talking about? Why would you spread it?”
The naked girl gave a great heaving sigh (emphasis on the heaving), as though talking to a troublesome child. “The amhránaithe sing, and anyone who hears them becomes a caoin. But the caointhe only have a flawed understanding of the song, which is why they scream. It’s also why their powers are weaker.”
That brought us all to attention. She was talking about the screamers the entire time? I stepped forward. “What else can you tell us?”
The girl turned to me, her shark-grin wide again, while Laura glared at me from behind her back.
“Well, what do we have here? A new leanbh, untested and untried?” She glanced at my shotgun. “You have at least some congress with Necessarius, I see. Their Saint rides at your shoulder.” Apparently she didn’t realize the retinue were ‘sarians. None of them were wearing their red and black armbands.
“Please, Honored Princess,” Laura said in an apologetic tone, trying to steer the conversation back on track. “That one belongs to Lily.”
The girl’s head snapped around, and her face contorted with rage.
“Lily? Lily? That diabhalta gadaí has already sunk her salach crúba into this one as well? Beidh mé a mharú, gearrtha a géag ó géag.” She looked at me, murder in her eyes. “Beidh mé ag tosú leis an gceann seo.”
She leaped forward, her jaw opened wider than I could have believed possible. But I was ready; I whipped out my pistol quickly and shot her three times in the chest. She staggered, but didn’t fall. I took the opportunity to take careful aim at her forehead, and pulled the trigger again. My Sica barked, and a large chunk of her skull evaporated.
By the time she hit the ground, only Akane had managed to get her weapon out. Everyone else was still fumbling, and Kat nodded in appreciation of my skills. I better be good; I had spent seventy of the last seventy-two hours at a shooting range.
“What language was she speaking, anyway?” I asked. It seemed like a stupid question, but I had so many I didn’t know where to start.
“Irish,” Jarasax answered. Kat’s fingers made a sign. “Bad Irish,” he corrected.
“…why would she be speaking Irish?”
“Because she’s crazy,” Derek replied. “She thinks she’s a faerie from Celtic mythology.”
“Thought,” I corrected reflexively.
“No, thinks. She’s not dead.”
I looked carefully at the naked corpse. It wasn’t breathing. “She sure looks dead.”
He sighed. “It’s a little complicated. She has these things called homunculi, they’re like remote-piloted clones. All the fey have them.”
I blinked. “Fey?”
If Derek was planning to dignify that with a response, I didn’t hear it. Kat’s rifle barked loudly, nearly shattering my eardrums. I turned to see her target; it was a giant dog, about the size of a Great Dane but with the muscle of a pit bull. Despite taking a shot to the skull, it was still moving. Kat fired again, and this time the thing’s head exploded.
“That would be her peataí,” Derek cursed. “More monsters will be coming.”
Everyone had their guns out now, even Laura. She glared at Derek.
“She’s not going to be forgiving this time. What’s up with her and Lily?”
“Silver and gold–hell if I know.” He hemmed in another dog with a barrier; I shot it twice while it was distracted by the sudden appearance of a glowing blue shield.
More started coming, from all directions except to the left, down an alley. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the only direction we didn’t need to go.
A lot of the monsters were various breeds of dog, but there were giant rats and even horribly misshapen humans scattered through as well. All of them were heavily modified, and they all had the solid black eyes of a vampire.
We formed a defensive formation at the mouth of the alley. Right now, there were only a few dozen of the things, and careful shots killed the leaders as they crept forward. But more were coming with every minute. I had a feeling that they were waiting for enough before swarming us.
Behind the Scenes (scene 16)
Any and all inconsistencies with the Irish grammar shall henceforth be answered by “The fey are crazy, and not actually Irish.”
Oh, and cat kemos are called fels. George is actually an ogre, a giant with the cannibalism buff.