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.”
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.”
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.