Scene 36 – Quiritationis

QUIRITATIONIS

KATHERINE

My name is Katherine Lisbon. It is not ‘Kat,’ but people called me that even before I became a fel, so I really shouldn’t expect them to stop now. Being mute makes it hard to argue, anyway.

I had woken up strapped down in a van, but before I had a chance to try and free myself I had been unbuckled and dragged into a lab. The last thing I remembered was the fight with Akane, in the burning building. Why had she attacked me?

There was a song in the back of my mind, more beautiful than anything I had ever heard. Something was wrong with it, though—pieces were missing, notes out of tune. It was beautiful, but it could be so much more.

I tried to sing it to Akane, but she didn’t react. She just continued to pin down my arm, while Ling kept hold of the other. I had fought Akane before. Why had she attacked me? I didn’t understand. I had tried to ask her, but she hadn’t responded.

Of course. I was mute. They couldn’t hear me. Why had I forgotten that? Everything was getting fuzzy…

How long ago had that been? It was getting hard to think. I had never spoken much to start, so I hadn’t cared much when I took a bullet to the throat.

They tried to fix it, but vocal cords were tricky things, and back then the toy maker was a bit simpler. Now it would probably be easy, but I honestly liked it. If you can’t talk, no one expects you to.

I saw Derek, looking down on me with a sad expression on his face. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, so I could see the large, bloodstained bandage across his chest, as well as a smaller one on his neck.

He was saying something. I could hear him, but I didn’t care enough to understand. Would he know the missing parts of the song?

Maybe…maybe that’s what he was saying. Maybe he was trying to tell me about the song right now.

With regret, I pushed the music to the back of my mind and concentrated on his voice. I still tried to sing, still tried to show everyone around me how beautiful it was, but it was more an unconscious action than anything else. It was no different than twiddling your thumbs.

“She hasn’t tried to transform?” he asked someone I couldn’t see.

I heard another voice. “No. That’s not that odd. A number of the captured screamers don’t use their powers unless threatened. They seem to vary between aggressive and merely defensive. Luckily, she is defensive.”

It was Doctor Isaac Clarke’s voice. That distinct, breathy excitement, like everything was the most important thing in the world…it was unmistakable.

Derek looked at me closer. “Is it just me, or is she thrashing less?”

“The defensive ones are smarter. She probably realized she couldn’t escape, and decided to conserve energy. Henry, get the clamps.”

A large man came into my vision, and I felt cold metal bands around my arms. I heard the sound of a power screwdriver, fastening me to the steel slab I was laying on.

“I doubt that will keep her contained if she transforms,” Laura’s voice pointed out.

“We don’t know enough about this power,” Clarke retorted. “She might not be able to wriggle out of this. Either way, we’ll get her in a cage as soon as possible.”

“Shouldn’t you be resting?” Ling asked from my left side, with a slight lisp. I noted blearily that she seemed to be missing a few teeth. The toy maker would fix that soon enough. She was looking at Derek. “You lost a lot of blood.”

He waved his hand. “I’ll be fine.”

“We can handle this,” Kelly said from behind me. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her shadow. “Go to sleep.”

He sighed. “Okay, okay.” He pointed at Ling and Akane. “But you both need to get some attention too. You guys got banged up pretty bad.”

They both left without another word, and I found myself singing louder again. Derek was clever. He would know the missing parts. I should have asked him when I had the chance.

The others were talking, but I wasn’t interested. I had to share the song. They couldn’t hear me. What could I do?

Change.

That would be a good idea. But why hadn’t I thought of it before?

Change.

It wasn’t my thought. It took me a moment to parse it, but it was an alien word, reverberating under the song. I knew I shouldn’t listen to it. I’m cautious by nature, and a sourceless voice in my brain wasn’t going to change my mind.

Change.

I changed.

It was a strange feeling, one that is difficult to describe. As my body dissolved into black smoke, I felt as though I had slipped into a cool pool of water. All my sensations disappeared, leaving behind nothingness. I couldn’t see or hear or feel. It wasn’t particularly unpleasant, but it wasn’t quite enjoyable either. It simply was.

But it faded quickly, as the smoke re-coalesced in a new shape.

I was smaller now, out of the restraints, and all the color had bled from the environment. I flapped my wings and flew off the table, fluttering past a shocked Akane.

I could feel…something. Some energy, some power source in my gut draining fast. I needed to escape, to share the song, before it emptied completely.

But I was trapped in a room, a lab twenty feet wide and long. There was nowhere to run to.

My reservoir depleted while I was circling one of the dim lights in the ceiling, and I instantly reverted to my original form. I landed on the floor easily; I’ve always had good reflexes, even before I became a fel.

I looked at my friends and the doctor, clustered around the table I had just fled. They eyed me warily.

Kill.

Now, hold on. Why would I want to do that? These were my friends, and even if Clarke was annoying, he hardly deserved to die. The thing with Akane was probably just a misunderstanding. Besides, I just wanted to share the song. They could hardly fill in the blanks if they were dead.

Kill.

No, I didn’t think so. Instead, I backed slowly into the corner of the room, keeping an eye on my friends. They weren’t armed, except for Akane, but they were still dangerous if they decided to attack for some reason.

Kill.

No. I wouldn’t. Not now.

As soon as I thought that, I felt a sense of freedom. The song eased in my mind, and I began to think more clearly. I quickly realized the implications.

I had thrown off the compulsion! If I could do it, so could others. It wouldn’t be easy, but with patience we could cure everyone. We just had to give them something to fight for, a reason to push aside the song.

Then my body lunged forward.

I tried to stop. I mentally hit the brakes as hard as I could, but nothing happened.

It wasn’t under my control any more. It was like my body belonged to someone else entirely. I could only watch as I attacked my friends, and Akane slashed at my legs, trying to immobilize me as quickly as possible.

Now it made sense. If throwing off the song was truly so easy, I wouldn’t have been the first one. No, the ‘defensive’ screamers were simply those who had been completely seduced by the song, and retained some semblance of intelligence behind it. The ‘aggressive’ ones, the far more common variety, were those who tried to fight the compulsions, and were rendered prisoners in their own bodies because of it.

Collaborator or slave. No choice at all, really.

The lights suddenly flashed, and I felt pain through my nighteyes. My body stumbled back, dazed. Before it could recover, Akane hit it hard in the center of the forehead with the hilt of her sword.

Unconsciousness swept over me like a warm blanket.

Behind the Scenes (scene 36)

Loga (the screamer changeling) went through a similar process as this when he was turned. Everyone does. And they never remember if they are cured.

Of course, there’s only one way to cure a screamer, and the Composer has made that option pretty much impossible. Sure, he/she/it/they has a few more obstacles that way, but that’s fine with him/her/it/them.

Extra update Wednesday.

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Scene 35 – Consili

CONSILI

LAURA

Assets:

Derek was in an ambulance. Safe, for now.

Ling was unaccounted for, but had fulfilled her objective. Possibly injured or in danger.

Akane was also unaccounted for, likely still chasing after Kat. Low possibility of danger; more likely, she just didn’t see the need to check in. She might have something to do with that smoke I could smell on the air, but there was no way to know for certain.

Adam and the retinue were suppressing the Nosferatu. They were holding up fine, but if the vampires didn’t give in soon, they would be in danger of being overrun.

The general’s troops were split between fighting the screamers who were trapped on this side of the fallen skyscraper and the Nosferatu. They were in the most danger, though they were handling themselves admirably.

Our Nosferatu allies were mostly containing their less-cooperative brethren. They were having trouble, but with the retinue’s distraction they were gaining the upper hand again.

The angels were currently not engaging the enemy, and were guarding the ambulances by the light of a few portable streetlamps. Zero danger, unless something truly unexpected happened. Call it low probability.

Goal: Defeat the screamers, capturing as many alive as possible. Subdue the Nosferatu, capturing as many alive as possible. Minimize the creation of new screamers.

There were very few screamers left on this side of the fallen ‘scraper. Neutralizing them quickly would free up resources to fight the Nosferatu. Seeing a hopeless situation, they would surrender or flee, possibly even joining our forces. Then the screamers on the other side of the wall could be dealt with at our leisure. Any ferrets on the other side should be considered lost. They were heavily outnumbered, and melee fighters. By now, they would all be turned.

Conclusion: The solution was obvious.

I turned to the nearest angel. “Honored Daybreaker. I need a dozen angels, no more. Quickly, please.”

The young woman—and it was a woman, she wasn’t actually a full daybreaker yet—nodded and ran off. There were enough angels here that I suspected it wouldn’t take long at all to find the required troops.

The general coughed from his cot on the ground. “What’s the plan, girlie?”

I didn’t bother responding. After getting a slash across the face, he should have been in an ambulance with the other wounded, but he had insisted on staying to oversee the battle. I might have been able to order him back regardless, but I still wasn’t quite sure how much authority I had. I was beginning to regret not ironing out exactly what rank Butler had awarded us when I had the chance.

“C’mon, Highlander. I can help.”

That was a new one. I blinked down at the prone general. “What did you call me?”

It was a little hard to tell under the bandages, but I think he grinned. “That’s what you are, right? A montañes. A Cantabrian.”

This was starting to get weird. I barely even knew that my mother was from that part of Spain. “Speak up, general. How the hell did you know that?”

He shrugged, though it clearly pained him. “Your name.”

“Medina isn’t even close to unique to that region. And Laura is obviously out. How did you know?”

He laughed, sputtering up blood. “Just let an old man have a few secrets. Is that so much to ask?”

I frowned, but turned away. This wasn’t worth my time. “I suppose not.”

“Thanks, Highlander.”

Before I had a chance to retort again, the runner I had sent out jogged up with twelve angels in tow. She saluted crisply. “A dozen daybreakers, as ordered, Honored Paladin. Six Gabriels, three Michaels, and three Uriels.”

I shelved the general’s little joke for the moment. Right now, we had bigger things to worry about.

“Have you already determined your precedence?” I asked the angels crisply. Last thing I needed was to send them into battle before they decided who was in charge.

A tall, thin and completely naked angel stepped forward with a nod. He was the only one without any clothing at all, but most of them were wearing less than most would consider appropriate. When your skin is a weapon, any coverings are just hampering your own abilities. “We have, Honored Paladin. I’m in charge. What are your orders?”

“Take out the screamers on this side of the downed ‘scraper as quickly as you can. Alive if possible, but prioritize keeping anyone else from turning. Don’t melee—their blood will infect you. Once that is done, eliminate any Nosferatu who are still rebelling.”

The angel nodded and turned to the others. “You heard the Paragon. Melee fighters, we’re support for the gunners. Move out!”

As the angels jogged off, I frowned. “Paragon?”

“Oh, you didn’t hear?” the angel runner spoke up. I hadn’t noticed she was still around. “Ever since you baselines got ‘paladins’ for your honored, people have been trying to come up with a good name for your warlords. Paragon seems to have stuck.”

“Fine, whatever. Go find that Lucifer who was in charge earlier. Adele, I think.”

She nodded. “Yes, Honored Paladin,” and trotted off.

I sighed. Had the earliest nightstalkers and titans felt this way when everyone was first calling them by their titles? Or was I the only one who thought it was ridiculous?

Whatever. We had a battle to win. The enemies on this side would be dealt with soon enough, but the rest would present a larger problem.

“Lieutenant,” I addressed one of the nearest ‘sarians, the communications officer. He had brought a light folding desk with him; he needed the space for papers and tablets. “I need an update on the other side of the wall. Are the screamers spread out, or clustered?”

He listened in the headset for a moment, then nodded. “Clustered. They seem to be repeatedly trying and failing to get over the wall.”

“Well, that buys us some time. But they’ll figure it out eventually. What about that air strike I requested?”

The baseline shook his head. “No luck. The nearest helicopters are down for refit, and next closest is almost an hour away. If we can wait—”

“No,” I said swiftly. Silver and gold, this was the problem with living in the middle of the ocean. The salty air corroded everything, so most vehicles had much higher maintenance costs, both in time and money. “What about the package? Can we get the sleeping gas here in time?”

He shook his head again. “An hour by ground. And that’s being optimistic.”

Wonderful. We needed a new plan. Even with the angels, we didn’t have the numbers to take out the screamers in a head-on fight. And it was only a matter of time before they gave up on their futile attempts to attack us, and started looking for easier targets.

Penning them in could work, but we couldn’t use Ling’s trick again. One fallen building was going to be enough of a headache. Three more would be an absolute disaster.

But what other choices did we have? The fact that they could fly negated a lot of options. Fire wouldn’t work. Razor wire wouldn’t work—if we could even find enough and set it up quickly.

Our only choice was the old-fashioned way: Men and trucks. The trucks wouldn’t be a problem, but we didn’t have the manpower to reliably keep them confined.

Well, sometimes we just have to make do with minimal resources. It was either that or lob a few bricks of C4 over the wall. Not that the idea wasn’t tempting, but it would kill too many of them. Definitely a last resort.

I turned back to the comms officer. “Tell them to get the sleeper gas here as soon as possible. We might be able to hold out long enough. And if they can pack in some gas masks, that would be even better.”

If he was planning on responding, I didn’t hear it. That was the moment the Lucifer who was leading the ‘sarian angels chose to stride up.

“You called for me, Dame…?”

“Laura.” I didn’t bother telling her to dispense with the honorifics. It’s hard getting even random people on the street to stop; the angels were the most traditional culture by a mile, even the defectors. I’d have better luck stopping the tides. “Adele, was it? I’ve already sent a few of your daybreakers to contain the threat, but I need a more detailed assessment of your forces.”

“Well, there are a total of two hundred of us here. I have most of them guarding the ambulances right now.”

“Hm. And mostly Dawn caste, I assume?”

“A few Nights as well. Less than a dozen, I think. I can get you the roll sheet if you—”

“That’s quite all right.” A plan was beginning to take shape in my mind, but more than anything I needed information. “Find me your best two Night caste daybreakers. I have orders for them.”

“At once, Dame Laura.”

I sighed again as she left. I suppose that as one of the official Paladins, I did deserve that honorific. But it was still very strange. I hadn’t ever had much interest in the toy maker, so I had never expected to be on the receiving end of any honorifics more complicated than ‘ma’am.’ Now I was a warlord. Technically. Wonders never cease.

“I still think Highlander suits you better.”

“Is this really the time?”

He scoffed, then started coughing and spitting up blood. I couldn’t bring myself to care. Besides, he recovered after a few moments, and grinned.

“If you can’t joke during life and death situations, what’s the point?”

“You do realize I have a gun, right?”

He chuckled. “You wouldn’t do it. The boss would be pissed.”

I glared down at him. “No, he wouldn’t.”

The communications officer leaned back in his chair. “Give him some whiskey. At first it gets him talky, but pump enough in him and he’s out like a light.” Seeing the surprised look on my face, he elaborated. “He’s my uncle.”

That made me smile—silver and gold, did I need it. “Nepotism, in Butler’s Necessarius? I should alert the press. This might be a first.”

If they were planning to reply, they never got a chance. Adele came back with two angels—presumably the Nights I had requested. Their glowing tattoos could tell me, but I still couldn’t read angelic script. I didn’t even know what language it was based on? Sanskrit? No, that didn’t sound right.

The scouts thumped their fists to their chests and bowed slightly. Angelic salutes typically involved putting your hands together in a brief prayer stance. I guess they didn’t feel I deserved that, for whatever reason.

Not that I cared. “Thank you, Adele. You two—scout the other side of the wall. Avoid being spotted by the screamers if at all possible, and stick together. If you find survivors, get them somewhere safe if at all possible. You have radios?”

“Yes, Dame Paragon.”

“That’s…great. The lieutenant here can give you our comms code. Check in as often as possible.”

They bowed again, a little deeper this time, and ran off towards the base of the broken ‘scraper. I guess they thought it would be easier to get through on that side.

“Any other orders?” the Lucifer asked as her men jogged off.

I shook my head. “Not right now. We’re just waiting for the moment. Though I would like a status report on the injured, if that’s reasonable.”

She nodded and jogged back to the medical stations she had set up. Knowing some exact numbers wouldn’t be all that helpful, but I might be able to find some use for it.

Adam came up a few minutes later. It was still interesting seeing him like this, decked out in four different guns, some ammo belts, and a grenade he had scrounged from somewhere. He still didn’t have any real armor, though. We needed to do something about that.

“The Nosferatu are dealt with,” he reported. “Most of them defected once bullets started flying. We’re cleaning up the screamers now.”

I frowned. “Where’s Kelly?”

“Shooting things. She says it makes her feel better.”

“Hm. Well. Report—let me know when the screamers are taken care of.” He spent so much time with the retinue, it was easy to forget that technically he outranked them, and was on equal level with me and the others. He wouldn’t take kindly to direct orders. “Try to keep an eye on the vampires, though. They might revolt again if they think they have a chance. Especially when they find out they have to work with angels.”

He rested his rifle on his shoulder. “What’s with that, anyway? The angels don’t seem so bad.”

I sighed. “You’ve only met ‘sarians. Most angels are racists who will kill a vampire given the slightest provocation.”

He cocked his head. “That really seems like overkill. I mean, the Nosferatu are kinda bad, but…”

“I don’t have time to explain,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Just understand that there was a time not so long ago when the angels were hailed as heroes, and every dead vampire was considered a victory.”

The bland little man seemed to be ready to ask more, but then he realized we were in the middle of a war zone, and just shrugged. “Fine by me. But I expect an explanation at some point.”

“Ask Lily,” I called after him as he trotted back to the wall. “She’ll know more than me.”

He didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t heard me or what. Though on second thought, Lily didn’t like talking about all that, so maybe she wasn’t the best to ask. Had he met Obould yet? He’d be perfect.

Bah, not the time. We had work to do.

“Lieutenant, what’s the word on that gas?”

“Still on its way.”

“But the screamers are still clustered?”

He checked something briefly, then nodded. “So MC says. The Night angels you sent out haven’t called back yet, though.”

Hopefully they were just practicing radio silence. Scouts, spies, and assassins weren’t exactly the type to check in every two minutes. Still, we needed fallback options, just in case. I pointed to the small map of the area he had spread out on his desk, next to his radio. “Send squads Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie here, here, and here,” I ordered, indicating the three unsecured streets surrounding the screamers. “Tell them to keep out of sight, but start fortifying.”

My phone beeped briefly. I checked it; it was a text from MC, noting that Akane was safe and Kat was secured. One less thing to worry about, I suppose. I sent a nearby ‘sarian to check on Ling—the angels I had sent out had probably seen her, but still, I wanted to be sure. Derek would be upset if he woke up to find anyone hurt.

“I have those numbers,” Adele reported as she strode up. “About a hundred wounded, but they’ll mostly survive, except for a couple that got struck with some really bad ferret poison. Twelve dead. A lot better than I expected.”

I shrugged. “Well, with screamers any injury usually results in the victim turning.” Normally, dead allies are better than injured ones, especially in the short term. You can abandon a corpse, but you have to take care of the injured. Screamers, however, were the worst of both worlds. There was no chance to fix them—at least not that we had been able to find—but they were still dangerous, and we had to spend resources capturing and containing them.

Domina City did not have any long-term prisons at all, so the ‘containment’ part was by far the biggest problem. Butler was converting old hospitals, but he was fast running out of space.

Why was my mind wandering so much today? Normally I was better about this.

“Gather all the angels you can spare,” I told the Lucifer. “I need you to reinforce the others in containing the screamers. Keep them clustered.”

“Consider it done,” she replied. “Though I should warn you that we don’t have enough ropes to capture more than a few of them.”

“Not a problem,” I promised. “We just have to hold them off for an hour.”

She raised an eyebrow. “An hour? What happens in an hour?”

“The sleeping gas gets here.”

She smiled. “Well, that should get the job done.”

“Hopefully.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 35)

Honorifics are complicated, mostly because there are no hard rules on who qualifies. Laura is an Honored (in her case, Honored Paladin) because she is respected by those around her, not because she was formally granted a rank. Warlords are a bit easier to identify, and refer to the leaders of subcultures and gangs. Until this point, baselines weren’t even considered to have warlords, but that has slowly changed. And yes, this means Butler is a Paragon as well.

Scene 34 – Persequemini

PERSEQUEMINI

AKANE

I slashed quickly, bisecting the bat cleanly. It burst into a cloud of black smoke, which quickly coalesced into two halves of a young Nosferatu, cut diagonally from shoulder to opposite hip. Underneath the claws and fangs and nighteyes, I was surprised to find an ordinary Asian girl, only a bit older than me.

Not much different from my sisters.

I shook my head to clear away the distracting thoughts. Now was not the time to relive those memories. Kat was gaining ground even as I stood here brooding. I had to catch her before she found victims. I sped forward, my power at about half strength, trying to make up for lost time.

I could see her ahead of me, albeit only barely. Her tawny coat wasn’t the best camouflage for a moonlit night, but she made up for it by turning into a bat every few minutes. Every time she did that, I almost lost her.

Where was she going? We were heading away from the battle, past locked and gated shops and apartments. The people here knew better than to poke their noses into a warzone, so at least I didn’t have to worry about even more screamers yet.

What was she thinking?

And she was thinking. There were two types of screamers Laura had identified: The more common ‘aggressive’ types, which were dumb as dirt, and the rarer ‘defensive’ screamers, which seemed at least as intelligent as before their infection.

Kat was obviously of the latter variety, based solely on the fact that she hadn’t just turned around and tried to kill me. But then that meant she had a plan. I just had to figure out what it was.

She dodged around a corner, and I hurried to catch up. I needn’t have bothered. By the time I rounded the corner, the street in front of me was completely empty.

Musashi’s sword, this was an annoying hunt. At least with monsters I knew what they were looking for, so I could predict them better.

I stalked forward slowly. I hadn’t lost her entirely; I could still hear her screaming with that weird sixth sense we had, but it wasn’t accurate enough to pinpoint her location.

“Hey.”

I stopped dead at the sound of the soft, feminine voice.

Unlike the screaming, this was easy to find the source of. To my left, from the bottom floor of the building, just a few doors from the corner. A large horizontal metal grate covered the door and windows, an anti-theft measure that proved equally adept at deterring wandering murderers and zombies.

“You’re not a ferret,” the voice noted. It was a female voice with an accent I couldn’t quite identify. It wasn’t Romanian though, and she didn’t sound like her mouth was overstuffed with teeth, so the chances of her being a Nosferatu were low. But still, I couldn’t take any chances. I nodded politely in her direction and headed forward again.

“Wait!” she hissed. “You’re chasing that fel screamer, right? We can help!”

I stopped and glared suspiciously at the door. “Why?”

“Trade for information. C’mon, get in here.” She opened the door wider and unbolted the grate.

Regretfully, I slipped inside the dark building. I knew from experience that if someone offered you help on a hunt it was always best to at least hear them out, but usually Derek did that part.

Once inside, it took me a second to notice the person I had been speaking to, hidden behind the door. As the woman stepped—or rather, slithered—out of the shadows, the first thing I noticed was that her legs had been fused into one long, sinuous tail, which was clearly strong enough to hold her upright. An ophidian? In vampire territory, no less? Odd.

But on second glance, I realized I was mistaken. Her horns and red skin marked her as a marilith, not an ophidian. That was pretty odd all on its own; mariliths weren’t all that rare, but ones who got the full package definitely were. And the Nosferatu were not exactly friendly to outsiders, so it was strange seeing anyone flaunting their toys so blatantly.

As she locked the grate and door behind us, I noticed a few other people scattered around the room, lit by dim light coming from one of the doorways. Two were normal demons, but one was covered in fur, had a long and powerful tail, and had the face of a goat, with the horns to match.

First a marilith, and now a bulezau? I hadn’t seen one of those in person since Shendilavri.

“This is the demon embassy to the Nosferatu,” the marilith explained as she slithered over to the others. She had probably noticed the confused look on my face. On second glance, I could see the demon flag hanging on the wall. It was probably outside, too. “We boarded up immediately once the fighting started. Is it really screamers out there?”

Too many people. “Yes.”

The woman frowned. “Are we safe here? I don’t even know what their powers are. I can’t find a way out without more information.”

The main draw of the marilith subculture was not the package, but the environment they had created—that is, the culture itself. They got accused of being armchair tacticians a lot, but most of them were actually extremely cunning strategists. It wasn’t at all uncommon to find one of them hired to help another subculture with one of their fights. They tried to stay out of politics, but even maintaining neutrality as a mercenary was difficult. Mostly, they helped defend against the fey.

The bulezau shook his head. “Superpowers…I still can’t believe it. What’s next? The angels will grow wings and open the gates to Heaven?”

“The aves are working on wings,” one of the other demons noted. “And depending on your definition of Heaven—”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“Safe,” I cut in before they had a chance to really start sniping at each other. “…probably.” I indicated the door I had just entered through. “Keep locked.” I blushed when I noticed they were all staring. “Ah…and the fel?”

The marilith clapped her hands. “Right, of course. It’s not much, but we do have some nets that should prove useful. Sobber is a birdcatcher.” She nodded at the bulezau. “He’ll go grab one.”

As the goat-demon growled left, the man he had been arguing with seemed to notice my confusion. “His name is Song of Blood, but he hates it—for obvious reasons. Call him Seth.”

“Well, that’s what happens when your parents are chem-head vampires,” the man in question noted as he returned from the next room, with a folded net in his arms. It was pretty big, but the holes were small enough that a bat shouldn’t be able to slip out. “They come up with really weird names and think they’re a good idea.”

I blinked. The toy maker was invented fifteen years ago. The vampires, the first culture, rose about six months later. Chems were a bit harder to pin down, but even if we threw that out completely, that would mean this bulezau was less than fifteen years old.

He could easily pass for thirty.

That was one of the side effects of the toy maker. It was hard to pin down someone’s age when they could change it on a whim.

Regardless, I took the net with a grateful nod. I still had to find her, but once I did at least I’d be able to catch her.

Although it ramped up the awkwardness more than a tad, I left as quickly as I could, with the marilith locking the gate again behind me. They had clearly wanted to wring me for more information, but that was hardly my strong suit. I made a mental note to tell Laura about them later. She could decide what they should know.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath of the cold night air, and concentrated. The screaming was…ahead, above and to the left.

I snapped my eyes back open. As I suspected, the screaming was coming from a building, a ‘scraper some forty or fifty stories tall. Hopefully it was an empty one, but I doubted it. This area wasn’t exactly residential, but it definitely wasn’t abandoned either.

Well, the situation wasn’t going to improve with me just standing here. I rushed across the street and pushed my way inside, past the flimsy security grate crumpled to one side. The sign on the door marked it as an apartment building. Not good. Too many potential victims.

Kat’s screams led up the stairs at the back, but I was more interested in the muffled whimpering I could hear off to my right. It might be a trap, but I felt confident it was genuine.

Kat had left survivors.

It didn’t mean much, I reminded myself as I strode towards the door in question. She hadn’t done it on purpose. But still, I couldn’t hear any new screamers, and I didn’t see any bodies. Whatever the cause, it boded well.

I rapped on the steel door twice, trying not to make too much noise, lest I attract unwanted attention. But whoever was on the other side evidently heard me; the whimpering stopped immediately, and I heard footsteps come up to the door.

“Hello?” a very small, probably male voice asked. He sounded young, probably five or six. Good. I could deal with kids. Usually.

“I’m a Paladin,” I said softly. “Are you all right? How many people are in there?”

“I’m fine. I-I think I am.”

“That’s good. What about everyone else? How are they?”

“I’m the only one in here. I don’t think…you’re the first one to come looking.”

The sole survivor was a kid? Well, at least there was a survivor. And better him than a dozen murderous Nosferatu.

“I’m Akane. What’s your name?”

“P-Patrick.”

“Okay Patrick, I need you to stay right here, okay? Don’t open the door until an adult tells you its all clear. Can you do that for me?”

“Uh-huh.”

“All right. Someone will be here soon enough.”

I turned back and started up the stairs, not bothering to use my speed. My reservoir was full, but I didn’t want to risk facing Kat with anything less than full power. I still wasn’t really sure how smart a defensive screamer would be, so I was being cautious, even though I didn’t see Kat anywhere nearby.

It was at the third floor that my caution became justified. I felt a tug at my ankles, and heard the distinct twang of a snare trap snapping.

I didn’t have time to think. I cranked my speed up to full and ran forward, desperately trying to escape the blast radius. But still, I couldn’t resist looking back.

Slow motion explosions are my favorite parts of most movies. Honestly, they’re pretty much the only reason I go. Whether it’s a real explosion or CG, the attention to detail required never ceases to impress me.

In real life, I found that it’s even better. The slowly expanding sphere of fire lighting up the stairwell was impressive enough on its own. But I could feel the rising heat. I could feel the air rushing past me into the temporary vacuum, feeding the hungry flame. Shrapnel, shards of the bomb and slivers of the stairwell, flew past me, shining like stars from the heat.

My reservoir dried up just as I managed to round the corner. I dodged the explosion by less than five feet. Worse yet, the fire had caught most of the stairwell. The entire ‘scraper would go up soon, if I couldn’t find the sprinkler system. Why wasn’t it already on, anyway?

But that could wait. Someone had set that trap, which meant they would be expecting an enemy. I had to get out of here quickly. They probably thought I was a screamer.

Turns out I was mistaken.

The trap hadn’t been set for screamers.

Something large and human-shaped dropped onto my back, short but sharp claws tearing at my flesh. I shrugged her off, losing a bit of skin in the process, and confirmed my suspicions.

Kat. She had set a trap and an ambush, and was trying to take me out before my reservoir could replenish.

Her fur looked a little singed here and there, probably from hanging from the ceiling just outside the radius of an incendiary grenade. But if it pained her, she didn’t show it. She slipped into a three-point stance as gracefully as one of the felines she was emulating. She kept her right hand up, claws out, ready to leap forward and strike.

Her mouth was still open, trying to scream, but nothing came out. But there was…something. Something in her expression. Anthros are hard to read, and nighteyes aren’t much better, but I could tell she was analyzing the situation. Considering it from a tactical perspective, unlike the other screamers, who just rushed in like blind animals.

I didn’t give her a chance to come up with a plan. I rushed forward, hoping to catch her off guard. I didn’t have my power to fall back on, but I’m still pretty fast when I want to be.

But I wasn’t packed with a few thousand dollars worth of buffs.

She dodged my slash easily by leaping to the side, landing on the solid railing of the stairwell with her hands. She then lithely brought her feet back down and started running up the rail away from me. I followed along the stairs.

Which, of course, was her intention.

The second trap wasn’t another grenade—either she ran out of explosives or she was afraid the first one would have set off the second prematurely. Rather, it was just a couple weak steps, probably weakened even more by the explosion. The second I stepped on them, they shattered under my feet without even a groan of warning.

I managed to grab the unbroken step in front of me with one hand as I fell, but it wasn’t enough to pull myself up. I scrambled to sheath my sword and get a free hand, but I didn’t have much luck.

Kat cartwheeled onto the stairs a few steps in front of me, the claws of her bare feet gripping the wood tightly.

I didn’t have a choice. I needed both hands.

So I dropped my sword.

My sword wasn’t all that important, in the long run. It wasn’t a very high-quality sword, and it was getting old enough that I really should be considering buying a new one. I definitely had the money to get one of the best on the market. It didn’t have any real importance other than the fact that it was a gift.

But it was my sword. A symbol of my dedication, a reminder of why I fought. No matter how little sense it made, some part of me was terrified that if something happened to it, my determination would suffer the same fate.

I steeled my heart as I heard it clatter to the ground three or four stories below. I could collect it later, but I had to be alive to do that.

With my newly unburdened right hand, I reached out and grabbed Kat’s ankle and yanked hard. She didn’t fall, but she did lose her balance long enough for me to scramble up out of my precarious position. On my hands and knees was better than dangling above a raging inferno.

The fire was climbing higher, the temperature was rising, and smoke was filling the air. But I didn’t have time to worry about any of that right now. Kat slashed upwards at my face with her claws, aiming at my eyes.

But I had some power in my reservoir now.

I didn’t drain it completely, just tapped into it enough to leap to my feet faster than she anticipated and dodge her attack. She stepped forward and slashed with her other hand, but I dodged that one by stepping inside her reach and slamming my shoulder into her.

I’ll admit, I’m not really used to fighting humans. Oh, I take care of a few angry ghouls now and again, and I’m at the top of my kendo class, but most of my skills are geared towards fighting monsters. Humans are a different beast altogether, and not just because they walk upright. The fact that I got caught in no less than two traps is evidence enough of that.

Kat, however, was used to fighting humans. She knew our tricks and how to play to our weaknesses. She was a sniper first and foremost, true, but a good sniper can mix it up in melee for when the enemy finds their nest. The furry little screamer had blackbelts in at least three different martial arts disciplines, and could give pretty much anyone in the city a run for their money in hand-to-hand.

Also, she had claws.

I bit my lip to keep from crying out as she embraced my tackle and started shredding my back. I was already bleeding from her earlier attack, but this was worse.

I threw the tawny cat girl to one side, intending to chuck her over the railing. But in my confusion, I accidentally threw her the wrong direction, thudding her heavily into the wall instead, stunning her for a moment.

I headed farther up the stairs as my shirt and bra fell away in shreds. Some distant part of my mind was scandalized at my nudity, but the more practical parts noted that the front of the shirt was still intact, and I should be able to turn it into a makeshift bandage. My wounds were already beginning to sting, and blood loss was getting to me, but I pushed it all aside for the moment. Everything could wait until I dealt with Kat.

I didn’t have any time to come up with a plan, though. Kat was tough all on her own, and the power package just made her tougher. Even though her skull had smacked hard against the wall, she shook off her disorientation and was after me in under half a minute.

Of course, she had a power as well, and she seemed to know how to put it to best use. She jumped back onto the railing and then leaped diagonally forward, towards a spot about ten feet ahead of me on the stairwell. She would never make the jump, but she didn’t have to. Just before she started to lose momentum, she exploded into black smoke, which reformed into a bat, flapping madly. It only lasted a few seconds before the process reversed, but that was more than enough time for her to get ahead of me and land gracefully.

The smoke was getting thicker as the flames devoured more of the building. I needed to end this before the entire place went up. Even before that, I’d start choking on the smoke soon.

My reservoir was mostly full at this point, and I still had the net clipped to my belt, but even at super speed I wasn’t confident I’d be able to capture Kat. The net was huge for bird catching, but only barely big enough for a human. If I tried to grab her, she would probably be able to just slip out as a bat.

While I hesitated, she acted. She leaped forward, claws out, ready to tear out my throat.

I might not have my sword, but that didn’t mean I was defenseless. I whipped out one of the combat knives I kept on my belt and met the fel’s attack.

Her experience reared its head again; while most people would have flinched away or taken the hit, she grabbed my wrist, moved my strike aside, and slashed at my bare chest with her other hand.

Not many people have ever had an angry cat claw at their boobs. Suffice it to say it hurts. I yowled involuntarily and tore her claws away, losing a bit more skin in the process and splattering her tawny fur with blood. She jerked her arm out of my grip and leaped backwards, where she could watch me warily.

Between the roaring fire and the blood loss…this was taking too long. But Kat still held the advantage due to the simple fact that she was trying to kill me, while I was trying to capture her. My only chance to even the odds was to stop holding back and start aiming to kill. Derek would be upset, and the retinue would be angry, but they’d understand.

I flipped my knife in a reverse grip and rushed forward without hesitation. She was ready for me, of course. She knew better than to try to grab my wrist again, but she had other tricks up her sleeve.

She dove at my feet, under my knife, probably to try and upend me. It was a risky maneuver, but a well-played one: It wasn’t something anyone would expect, and since she wasn’t injured and I was, she had a much larger margin of error to work with.

But by this point, my reservoir was full again.

I dipped into it to move at about ten percent of my maximum, just enough to give me the speed to hop up onto her head and run along her back. I let my power go and wheeled around; as expected, she was sprawled face down on the steps, just a few feet from the yawning hole that was already filling with flame from down below.

She was a bit stunned from the complete failure of her unorthodox maneuver (not to mention nearly falling to her death), and I didn’t intend to give her time to recover. I didn’t try and push her into the fire; she was ready for that, and it would snap her back to her senses faster than smelling salts. Instead, I did away with all that complicated tactical frippery and stabbed her in the back of the neck.

Except…

She was at my mercy now. Not for long, true, but I had a chance. It was a chance that probably wouldn’t come again; despite this close call, she was still fresh, while I was getting weaker by the second. Luck accounted for a lot in combat, but not everything.

But if I killed her, the retinue would be devastated. Kelly and Sax had known her for a while, and she was one of their only friends. Alex and George were warming up to her. Her death would create a rift that might never be repaired. Or, more specifically, her death at my hands would hit them like a bullet to the gut. Death was common. One friend killing another…less so.

So, using my speed to gain a little extra time, I flipped the knife back around and smacked her as hard as I could in the back of the head with the hilt.

I didn’t have time to worry about giving her a concussion. With her toys and the package, I wasn’t entirely sure I could knock her out.

Turns out I could. She slumped against the steps like a sack of sand, and a brief second with my fingers at her neck told me she was still alive.

But not for long, if I wasn’t careful. The fire was spreading. Looking down, maybe half of the lower floors were already aflame. That didn’t make much sense—fire tends to eat up faster than down—but I suppose there could have been something exceptionally flammable down there or whatever that caught when the grenade first blew.

After making a few quick bandages (including one that conveniently doubled as a bra), I wrapped Kat up in the net the bulezau had given me and strapped her to my back with my belt. My pants were a little loose without it, but I could manage. At least the fel was pretty light. If this were almost anyone else, I probably would have been forced to cut my losses and abandon them.

Once I was sure she was secure and my reservoir was full, I didn’t waste any more time. I jumped off the railing, aiming carefully for some of the non-burning floor four levels below.

The split-second before we landed, I cranked up my speed as high as it would go. For some reason, this works. When I have my speed up, the laws of physics—including the inertia that would kill me from a fall like this—don’t apply quite as strictly.

The floor cracked a bit as we landed and we threw up a huge ash cloud as everything within ten feet was blown away by air pressure, but other than that there was no harm. In fact, the ash actually put out some of the nearby fires.

I found my sword quickly enough where it had bounced under the stairwell, and took both it and Kat outside. I laid them on the sidewalk a door or two down, made sure Kat’s netting was secure, and headed back in. I couldn’t leave her alone for long, but I had one last thing to take care of.

I found the door from earlier without any difficulty. Thankfully, the fire seemed to have skipped over this part in favor of the more flammable back rooms, so there was no debris, and minimal smoke.

“Patrick!” I cried as I got closer. “Are you in there? We need to go now!”

I didn’t hear any response other than the flames roaring from every direction, but I didn’t have time to wait. I reared back and kicked the door, near the lock. It didn’t break, of course—it was a steel door—but I heard the lock squeal a little under the pressure. I kicked again, then again, and—

Then I realized that the sole of my shoe was melting from the heat of the door.

Then the door exploded.

I had weakened the lock sufficiently that the pressure of the hot air was able to do the rest of the job. Using what little of my speed I had left, I was able to dodge the brief fireball, although only by hiding behind the door and getting third-degree burns on my arm in the process.

I had more to worry about right now than a couple burns, though. The second the burst of flame had passed, I jumped back around and headed into the room. I knew what I was going to find, but I had to check—

I shouldn’t have. Musashi’s broken sword, I shouldn’t have.

Most of the room was on fire. Turns out it was one of those flammable rooms; the fire had just taken a roundabout route to get to it, through a cheap wooden door on another wall. There was a lot of old burning furniture, but no windows, which had probably combined to create the overpressure.

In the center of the room, laying on a couch, was the corpse of a small child.

I couldn’t tell any details. He was already burned mostly beyond recognition; the couch was burning violently, and had probably caught fire too quickly for him to run. I couldn’t tell if he had died in pain or not; the fire made it hard to tell what position his body was in—whether it was a horrible throe of pain or the gentle repose of a boy who died in his sleep.

I left quickly but quietly, knowing that if I stayed much longer I wouldn’t be able to function.

I had a job to do, and it wasn’t over yet.

The second I was out of the burning building, I flipped out my phone and dialed MC, even as I was checking Kat’s bonds again.

Once I got to the real MC, I didn’t waste any time. “I need an interrogation van over at the burning ‘scraper in Nosferatu territory. Make sure they have lots of sedatives. If she wakes up she’s going to escape, no matter what kind of cages they have on hand.”

“Wait, you set another building on fire? Sooner or later we’re going to start charging you, and not even you can afford that.”

I groaned. “This was not my fault. And neither was the dog house or the rat warren.”

“Yeah, yeah…” she muttered, distracted by something. Probably the main fight, with the angels and all that. “Whatever. You injured?”

“I need treatment for…” I winced and did a quick tally. “Multiple lacerations, a bad burn, severe blood loss…” I coughed. “And maybe a little bit of smoke inhalation. How soon can they be here?”

“Ten minutes,” she promised. “Along with a fire truck. Can you hold out that long?”

Ten minutes. “Yes,” I said weakly. “Just…” I focused on my breathing. “Just make sure they get here.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 34)

The building was mostly empty when the fire started, and those who remained were awake and ready to escape should the screamers get too close. Most of them survived relatively unharmed, though the people in the rooms closest to the grenade died pretty quickly.

Scene 33 – Reagunt

REAGUNT

ADAM

Kelly was bleeding, but it took me a second to realize it wasn’t from an attack. She was scratching violently at the device on her left arm, slashing the skin around it into ribbons and getting blood everywhere. She didn’t seem to notice. She was just staring off into space without blinking.

Suddenly, the entire street shook as a massive boom resounded from farther up ahead, where most of the fighting was. I couldn’t really tell what was going on, even with the moonlight. There was a lot of dust in that area, billowing around too much to see.

Not my problem right now. We needed to cover the ‘sarians. The angels were doing a lot of damage, but using their light painted giant targets on their heads, that even the screamers knew to take advantage of. Without Kat, we didn’t have a sniper, which might be an insurmountable problem all by itself. Without Kelly, I wasn’t sure we’d even be able to contribute.

“Drakela Sanguinas,” I said firmly. “Wake up, corporal. We’ve got work to do.”

She didn’t react. She just kept scratching mindlessly.

This was going to become a problem sooner rather than later. It was a miracle she hadn’t hit bone yet. I tried to grab her hand to stop her, but she just swatted me away, flicking blood in my face.

Okay. New plan. It would either snap her out of her little trance or get rid of dead weight. Either way, we’d be able to continue.

I pulled out my pistol, placed the muzzle against the vampire’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.

She moved fast. I mean holy shit fast. I think she could give Akane a run for her money. Before my finger even finished pulling back the trigger, she was already moving out of the line of fire. By the time the bullet exited the chamber and the gunshot echoed around, she was standing next to me, her bloody right hand around my throat. She didn’t squeeze, but I could feel her claws hovering millimeters above my skin.

“Hello, corporal,” I said calmly, ignoring the wet feeling as a few drops of blood ran down my shirt, when my bouncing Adam’s Apple cut itself on one of her claws. “Ready to get to work?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Did you know I would dodge?”

“Of course,” I lied smoothly. Though it was only a half lie, really. I did think she would probably dodge, I just didn’t really care either way. “We need your head in the game.” I nodded at her arm. “And we should probably bandage that up before doing anything else.”

“The hydra will clot the blood automatically,” she muttered distractedly.

Sax strode up from wherever he had been hiding—probably helping the medics with the wounded. “No, Kelly, it won’t. There’s no active hydra in your system any more. Remember?”

The vampire blinked very, very slowly, before nodding firmly. “Right. Of course, you’re right. Get me patched up. We have a battle to fight.”

I followed both of them to one of the ‘sarian ambulances, where George was waiting patiently. To my surprise I could see tear tracks in the dust on his cheeks. He was taking Kat’s turning a little harder than I had expected, but otherwise seemed okay. He nodded as we approached, and called over a medic.

The young doctor whistled. “You did a number on yourself there.” He peered closely at Kelly’s arm. “Almost managed to rip the needles right out. Now that would have been the cherry to top off the little disaster, eh?”

She didn’t react.

He sighed. “Fine, fine. One bandage, coming up.” He pulled a roll of gauze from a nearby box. It looked tinted red in the multicolored light of the moon and the ambulances, but I wasn’t sure if that was my imagination or not.

The vampire let him wrap it tightly around her wound without a word, all the while eying me warily.

Okay, maybe shooting her wasn’t the best of ideas in hindsight. Or maybe I should have just come up with a better lie. Either way, it was too late now.

“What’s the plan?” George asked as he hefted his minigun. His perpetual grin was still gone, but I had a feeling it would be back eventually. He was a tough one.

Kelly finally looked away from me, back towards the fighting, or more specifically at the slowly-settling cloud of dust.

“A skyscraper fell,” she noted calmly. “Probably Medina’s doing. We need to head back there and provide support. Hopefully the enemy forces will be split, and we’ll be able to help turn the tide.”

I extended my hand, indicating the street before us. “Lead the way.”

She frowned at me, but did as I suggested, George and Jarasax just a few steps behind. I hefted my own Caedes and followed as well.

While the Necessarian redoubt was still nominally intact, there were large holes here and there from where the Nosferatu or screamers had gotten too close and started ripping into the wall. The soldiers had managed to push the enemy back away from the barricade, and meant that those same holes acted as pretty good sniping positions.

My Athena was the only thing with a scope. Even though it wasn’t exactly a full sniper rifle, it would work well enough. Our targets were only about a hundred yards in front of us, probably less, so even though the others just had iron sights, they wouldn’t have too much trouble aiming. The bigger problem was hitting our allies.

Kelly didn’t have a scope, but she did have a pair of binoculars she was using to look at the battle. She lowered them and readied her rifle—a Saint Euphemia, if I remembered correctly. The ‘sarian Saints were pretty popular weapons.

“They seem to have taken care of the screamers,” she noted. “There are just some of the crazier ferrets left. Take out the big ones, and the rest will fall into line.”

“Are those Nobles there?” George asked with a grunt, hefting something I assumed was his minigun. “I still owe Cinder for Hathsin.”

“No,” Kelly admitted. She glanced at him, and smiled a little. “You probably won’t be needing that.”

I glanced back as well, and was surprised to find the giant toting Kat’s sniper rifle. It was so huge that even in his massive hands it looked big, and I found myself wondering once again how she even lifted the thing. She had called it a Crisis 04111970, from BOB’s Crisis line. More commonly known as the Apollo Crisis. Fitting, all things considered.

“Keep it handy,” I advised. “We might need it.”

Jarasax snorted. “That’s an anti-tank rifle. It’s overkill even for most warlords. I really don’t think we’ll need it.”

I raised an eyebrow. I still didn’t know much about strategy and tactics and so on, but I was learning, and I knew enough to know that there weren’t any tanks in Domina. You don’t field that kind of armor in a city—they just don’t have the mobility to do anything useful. “Why the hell did she even have one, then?” I shook my head. “No, scratch that, why would Bob even make something like that?”

The changeling shrugged as he hefted his own weapon, a sleek rifle I didn’t know the name of. “They’re good for other things. Bunker busting, gargant killing, that kind of thing. Not to mention they’re one of the few weapons that can reliably one-shot a warlord.”

“Besides, tanks do show up here every once in a while,” Kelly added without turning from the battle. “They have some uses in urban environments.”

George grunted. “Why are we talking about this? Let’s shoot something already.”

I eyed him. He was in a bit of a mood tonight, though I suppose he could be excused due to Kat’s turning. I hadn’t thought they were close, but who knows.

Whatever. He had a point. I steadied my rifle on the edge of one of the holes, aimed carefully through the sights, and fired. I was still getting used to the kickback, but I managed to keep it from bucking out of my hands this time.

A small Nosferatu covered in a black carapace—but otherwise seemingly unaugmented—flinched as a small chunk of his head exploded. He wavered on his feet for a moment, and likely would have fallen in short order.

But I had enough experience with this city now to know better than to ever assume someone was dead. I shot twice more in quick succession, popping his skull like a tomato. Not even a warlord would be able to survive that, and he proved it by crumpling to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut.

“They’re coming,” Kelly noted dispassionately, as a cluster of vampires split off in our direction. “Don’t worry about headshots. Just focus on hitting them.” She fired off a short burst from her boxy weapon, and one fell. “Focus on the legs, if you can.”

We all nodded, and braced for the incoming wave.

Behind the Scenes (scene 33)

The reason the bandage Kelly uses is red is because its infused with a specifically-engineered solution designed to speed up blood clotting and repair. If a normal person (such as Adam) used it, they would heal two or three times as fast while the toy lasts.

For someone like Kelly, who is augmented specifically to take into account things like this, it works much, much faster. Her blood started clotting before she even finished wrapping her wound. The only downside is that the toy burns out faster as well. For Adam, the bandage could last a day or two. Kelly needed a new one in five minutes (though she didn’t bother replacing it).

EDIT: Updated the character page to include every named character so far.  Formatting is still a little bit clunky, but I’m still ironing out my problems with the software.

Scene 32 – Fragor

FRAGOR

LING

I saw Derek fall through half-blind eyes, but I wasn’t close enough to catch him. Akane was still haring off after Kat, so she wasn’t much help either. I almost tried to cushion his fall with my ability, before realizing that would be worse than useless. A stone pillow would just ensure a concussion.

I rushed forward to check on him, and after a moment’s blind searching was relieved to find a pulse.

“He alive?” Laura asked from my ear, making me jump.

“Y-yeah. He’s gonna be sore as hell, though, and probably has a concussion.” I frowned as I realized my sight was clearing. “Wait—is the daybreak fading?”

“Yes. The Lucifer is smart; daybreaks are only effective if they’re sudden. Even nighteyes can adjust eventually. We’ll do another in a few minutes. I’ll text you a warning.” She glanced around. “Get Derek to the medics, then work on separating the ferrets from the screamers.” She ran off before I could ask for more detail (or remind her that she technically couldn’t give me orders), but it quickly became apparent anyway.

Now that I could see a little bit better under the light of the moon, it became clear that the Nosferatu were indeed still fighting each other almost more than the screamers. Morons. Seriously, was I the only one who ever saw a zombie movie?

On the other hand, Derek seemed to have had at least some effect. It was only a minority that were refusing to play nice. The rest seemed more than willing to cooperate with Necessarius against the infected and their erstwhile kin.

Of course, the ‘sarians couldn’t really tell anyone apart, so they were just shooting blindly. Hence the need to separate the screamers, so they had a better idea of who to fight. Not to mention the ever-present threat of infection.

Luckily, I managed to find a medic in seconds, and he carried off Derek, which left me with one less thing to worry about. Now on to the task at hand.

Even with my reservoir at full, I wasn’t sure I could get a good wall up that would actually block the bats at all. I mean, they could fly. Only a little, but—

Only a little.

They could only shift into bat form for a couple seconds; barely enough time to fly any real distance. The current wall the ‘sarians had up was doing a pretty good job of holding them back—we just needed another one.

A ten-foot high wall should be more than enough. But it would have to reach across the entire street. I was getting better, but that was definitely beyond me. And I couldn’t exactly just bring it up in sections.

Actually, that sounded like the best idea. I’d have to be careful, and my reservoir would take a few minutes to recharge each time, but…

No. Looking closer, it was impossible. If I was lucky, I’d be able to make a wall five feet wide and ten tall each time. The street was maybe fifty feet wide. It would take an hour or more to make the wall, and that was assuming nothing went wrong. I needed a new plan.

I glanced around, looking for something I could use, but I could barely see. Between the dim glow of the moon and the beams of light the angels were casting around, it was too chaotic to make anything out. I mean, yeah, I could see the horde, and I could see the buildings flanking the street, but that was about it.

I needed a new plan. What would Laura do?

Something smart. She’d…

I had no idea what she’d do. Quote Sun Tzu and outmaneuver the enemy, probably. But that wasn’t exactly my strong suit. All I could do was break things. And quote entire episodes of anime from memory. Only the better episodes, the ones I had watched like fifty times, but still.

That might be the answer right there.

I rushed to the corner building, a cafe with tables stacked into a crude wall against the zombies, and the glass storefront shattered. This might work…

I placed my hand on the wall and concentrated, trying to feel the building. I could vaguely sense solid objects as part of my ability, and I had a much more detailed sense of anything I could affect with my power.

I was in luck. The builders had been a little cheap; the first few floors were made mostly of concrete and rebar. Floor four and higher were mostly things I couldn’t really sense in detail, probably steel and other sturdier materials. It didn’t matter. The first few floors were all I needed.

How to do this? I had to be careful. The foundation was four concrete pillars supporting the similarly built second floor, so I should be able to do this just by tearing out the right supports. The walls were just plaster and sheetrock, they couldn’t actually support any weight. I chose the rightmost pillar, the one on the corner.

Placing my hand on it, I could feel that this should work. If I ripped this out, everything should go as planned. The only problem was the pillar itself.

I had never really destroyed anything before. With my power, I mean. I dipped into the city’s concrete foundation to make walls and weapons, but I hadn’t really done anything permanent.

I don’t like destroying things. Never have. You can’t get back something you’ve destroyed. I remember when I was a kid and one of my orphanmates destroyed my anime collection. Even when my matron had promised we could just re-download everything, I still didn’t stop crying for most of the day. A copy just never felt quite the same, even though it should.

But…I didn’t have time for this right now. Right or wrong, I had to do this. So following the example of all action protagonists ever, I buried my misgivings deep inside myself, and resolved never to think of it again. That should last for at least a few hours.

So, with my heart turned to stone, I concentrated on the concrete under my hand and pulled with all my power.

There was a snap, and a huge crack appeared in the pillar.

Not enough. Not yet. I pulled again.

The crack widened, and the building groaned as its weight shifted.

Just a little more…I had enough power to pull just a little harder.

I poured every last drop of power I had into it, wringing my reservoir dry as the pillar cracked, and the building above my head groaned dangerously.

The pillar exploded.

Dust and debris billowed out, covering me and the street behind me, and I felt pieces and slivers of concrete slice tiny gashes across my arms and face. Nothing serious, but I shouldn’t have been standing in the line of fire.

After a few moments of waving my hands around blindly and coughing, the dust began to clear. I opened my eyes…

And the building was still standing. Groaning louder than before, but still very much upright. A couple of the rebar bars in the pillar I had just destroyed were still intact, but even my nonexistent knowledge of architecture was enough to tell me that they weren’t providing any actual support.

Okay, so maybe it was built a little better than I thought. Still, most of the work was done. It just needed a little push.

I entered the ‘scraper cautiously but swiftly, worried about the unstable roof but knowing I had no other choice. I quickly crossed to the pillar diagonally opposite the one I had destroyed, knowing this was the point I needed to attack if my plan was going to work. My reservoir wasn’t quite filled yet, but that was fine. I still needed to assess the situation a little more anyway.

Placing my hand on the pillar gave me more than enough information. The building was teetering dangerously, but the foundation was still strong enough to support it. It might fall eventually, but not any time soon.

Well. I’d just have to do something about that.

I took a deep breath, my hand still on the pillar. I should be able to do this. My reservoir was full, so I had the power and to spare. My only worry was that I would screw it up and drop a building on myself. I might have some spare juice to protect myself, but I wasn’t very hopeful on that front. Most of the stuff that would fall on me wasn’t stuff I could affect anyway.

Still, it was too late to back out now. Gathering all my power, I pushed as hard as I could.

Only this time, I pushed up.

It quickly became apparent that my suspicions were correct. This was the crux point, and from here I could unbalance the entire ‘scraper in the direction I wanted. But it was still an entire building, and my reservoir was draining fast with little to show for it.

It creaked and groaned and dust fell on my head, but it didn’t seem to actually be moving. I could feel something happening through the pillar, both from the vibrations and my power itself, but I didn’t have enough experience to be able to tell if it was working.

But then a crack appeared in the pillar. A deep, horizontal gash.

The pillar groaned, and the crack widened.

It was working. Slowly, ever so slowly, but it was working.

And then—

My reservoir ran dry.

There was a muffled boom when my power snapped off, as the building settled back down onto its foundations. Even more dust rained down, and I had to cover my face with my shirt to even be able to breathe. Still, sheetrock and concrete got down my throat, and I coughed in an attempt to hack it back up.

I had been so excited my plan was actually working I had completely lost track of what was going on. My reservoir was still not very deep. I had some power to play with, but it was really only good for small bursts of energy. I should have known moving an entire skyscraper was beyond me.

But I could try again. My entire body ached from the overexertion, but my reservoir was still refilling. Except…it seemed slower than normal. Just by a hair, but still. Was that because I was so tired? Did that affect it somehow?

Huh. I made a mental note to talk to Laura about it. She’d have a better idea about what it might mean, and how to test the theory.

Still, right now I needed to focus on the task at hand. One more good push should be able to do it. It was probably for the best that it hadn’t worked on the first try, actually. This way, people would notice the dust billowing out and move out of the way, while the zombies would be too stupid to notice.

A few minutes of gulping down air proved to be enough. I would have liked some water to wash out the taste of dirt in my mouth, but I didn’t have any on me, and there was no time to find any.

This time, I didn’t waste any time letting my power out slowly. I pushed with everything I had from the very start, imagining my reservoir emptying out, grabbing the pillar with giant hands and lifting.

I don’t know if the imaging helped, or if it was just to all-or-nothing attack. Hell, it was probably just the fact that the pillar was already cracked.

But it worked.

The ‘scraper groaned overhead, dust filling the room in a blinding cloud, until finally…

Until finally, with a sound like a hundred dying gargants, the massive structure toppled to its side, crashing into the street with a dull boom that rattled my bones and shattered some teeth.

Laura’s order was complete. The screamers were now separated from the vampires.

Behind the Scenes (scene 32)

Originally, the angels arriving was supposed to be the end of the battle. Thankfully, I realized that this didn’t quite work, as it made light of the emotional impact the battle was supposed to have. Not to mention that it implied the vampires were far weaker to light than they actually are.

So there are three more scenes before the end of the fight. Adam’s will be up on Monday.