I closed my phone with a click. My class was over, Akane was still at the hospital with Adam and the retinue after a gargant hunt, and Laura was shopping with Lizzy again.
This time, I wasn’t wasting time with a swimsuit. Lingerie under a bath robe is impossible for even the most thick-headed hero to misinterpret. That didn’t mean everything would go perfectly, but I’ve seen this show enough to know what happens. Even if the hero turns down the beautiful, naked love interest, that just signifies that it will evolve into something more real later.
So, this was a win-win for me. Either it worked, in which case I would have a very nice night, or it didn’t, and I’d eventually end up dating Derek for certain.
This time, I wasn’t taking any chances. It was about four, and I had just finished soccer, so I made sure to take a shower first. Then I put on the lacey black lingerie. I called around, making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be—that is, far away from Derek. I finished it off by calling Derek himself, and acting surprised that he was in his room. He invited me over without delay.
I didn’t lock the door behind me; I didn’t have anywhere to put my keys, so I didn’t really have a choice. Across the hall, Derek’s door was closed, but almost certainly unlocked. I just took a deep breath—remembering the similarities to last time—and knocked.
“It’s open!” he called out. I nodded to myself, opened the door, and quickly closed it behind me.
Derek looked up and smiled. “Good, you’re here. Do you have clothes on under that?”
The way he said it threw me off-balance. It was like he wanted me to be naked. “Uh…no? Just some underwear…”
“Perfect,” he said, grinning. “He’ll be here in a couple minutes. You can try it on then.”
“I…” I was at a loss. What the hell was going on? If someone else was coming, this obviously wouldn’t be a good time to go through with my plan; I made sure to tighten the bathrobe—didn’t want it to fall off at the wrong moment.
I pretty much just stood there for about ten minutes, while Derek tapped away at his laptop, oblivious to my discomfort. He seemed to be reading something about gargants, if the pictures were anything to go by, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to lean in closer to get a better look.
Thankfully, there was a knock on the door before things got too unbearable; I jumped forward and opened it. The man standing there, a large cardboard box in his arms, was an orc.
Orcs were a bit complicated. Technically, they were a subculture of demons, but there was so much variety among them it was hard to identify them. Unlike most of the other Houses, orcs pretty much only connected ideologically. Their buffs and cosmos had little to do with their beliefs.
That being said, there were a few things they were known for. Orcs were the death-wranglers, the ones who had forced the vampires to work together long enough to stand a chance against the angels. Therefore, they shared a lot of buffs with the vampire bloodlines. The orc at the door may as well have walked out of the Codex. He was, without a doubt, the stereotypical disciple of Orcus.
He had black horns, longer than normal, curling out from under his hair, and nighteyes hidden by daygoggles. He had large, sharp claws, as well as big tusks jutting out from his lower lips. He had a long mane of dark hair, clean but poorly brushed. He didn’t have a beard, but he did have the stubble of a couple days without shaving.
He pushed past me quickly, muttering a hurried apology, and set the box down on Derek’s bed. Then he turned to me and held out his hand to shake. “Are you Ling?”
I recovered myself quickly and took his hand. His grip was loose, probably to keep me from getting cut by his claws. “Yes, I am. And you are?”
“Obould. I’m here to see how your armor looks.” He started unpacking the box.
I blinked. I had heard of Obould, of course, but I had never met him or even seen him. At least that explained his appearance. He wasn’t pandering to the stereotype; he was the stereotype.
“I asked Ob to get some armor for you and Akane,” Derek explained, turning away from his laptop. “That’s why she asked you for your measurements.”
Ah, right, now I remembered. I had assumed that was in preparation for my birthday.
The orc looked around. “Speaking of which, where is your Akane? Bathroom?”
“No, at the hospital. Some of our friends got injured taking down that gargant.”
Obould clicked his tongue, his tail (which I had just noticed) twitching. “I hope they’re all right.”
Derek nodded. “They should be. Oh! That reminds me.” He gestured to his computer, still displaying the same page as before. “I read your article. Seems interesting.”
The orc grinned, his tusks widening his smile even more. “Yes, it was a new type. Steel-plated gargant, we’re calling it.” He waved his hand. “I haven’t even begun dissecting it, so the current article is just a preliminary report.”
“It’s good,” Derek insisted. “Very in-depth and detailed.”
Obould chuckled. “You flatter me, Huntsman. But ah, now I’m reminded as well. I transferred the money into your accounts. We agreed on twenty thousand for the corpse, correct?”
I choked, and both men turned to me curiously. I waved away their attention.
Twenty thousand? I mean, I knew monster slaying could be lucrative, but that was just…
“Yes, that’s right,” Derek replied. “And we got thirty thousand for killing it in the first place.”
I coughed, trying to get my breath back. What?
This time, they knew better, and ignored me. Obould at least seemed a little surprised. “That seems a bit much.”
The blond hero shrugged. “The park committee freaked out a little and overestimated the bounty. But you can understand where they’re coming from, with that bus it chomped down on. Also, Akane said it was completely steel plated?”
The orc scratched his hairy chin. “Yes, its completely bulletproof. Even the killing blow had to go through the eye. Though if Akane’s report is accurate, the open mouth would have been a better target.” He dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand. “Regardless, all payments have been made. And you—” he turned to me. “—need to try on this armor.”
He held up what looked like a black wetsuit, covered with small pebbles. Each tiny stone had a hole drilled in the middle, and was carefully sewn to the fabric. I touched it gingerly.
“When did you make this?” I muttered. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of pebbles. He would have had to do it all by hand.
He shrugged. “My kids did it. This is just the prototype, of course. We’re hoping it can be a sort of powered armor.”
I frowned. “Wait, what?”
“Obould knows about out powers,” Derek explained. “He wouldn’t have been able to make decent armor if he didn’t.”
That seemed…unnecessarily risky. I might not be the tactician of the group, but even I knew you don’t spread around that kind of secret. Okay, yes, we told Flynn…
“Relax,” Derek admonished me with a chuckle. “I’ve known Ob for years. Just put the suit on, see how it feels.”
“Ah…all right.” I took the armor, such as it was, from the orc. Both the men got up and stepped into the hall while I changed.
Once they were gone, I sighed and dropped my bathrobe, revealing the almost completely see-through lingerie beneath. Such a waste.
The armor was a simple two-piece suit. The comparison to a wetsuit was apt; I think it might have actually been made from one. I slid it on carefully, wary of the rocks, which clicked against each other every time I moved. The bottom was fine, but the top was a little bit tight. I realized I had forgotten to tell Akane I had gained a bit of weight in the chest area recently; I had just rattled off my sizes from memory. Oh well.
I felt silly covered in those pebbles, but I still took a few cautious steps around the room. Nothing fell off, and the suit felt very snug, but it didn’t look like it would actually be effective as any type of armor. Of course, anything is better than nothing, so it was worth a shot.
“Okay, come back!” I called. They came in quickly, nodding approvingly. “I’m ready to try it.”
This was the real payoff. The actual armor quality wasn’t important; it was seeing if I could use it to enhance my strength. And if some of Laura’s theories about out powers improving were right, that would in turn help strengthen my ability.
“Let’s start slow,” the orc counseled. “Try using your power to move your left arm.”
I nodded and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath, concentrating my awareness on my left arm. I could feel the stone woven into the fabric. I reached out and pulled it very, very gently.
My arm moved. An inch. Probably less, actually.
“Okay, good,” Obould said. “Now move it side to side a few times.”
I did, moving it a little father than before. The pebbles didn’t seem to be in danger of ripping off; whatever the suit itself was made out of was stronger than I thought.
“Good, you’re doing great,” the orc said. I heard him move around; my eyes were still closed. “Now, I want you to hold the suit steady while you fall backwards.”
“Try and fall backwards, but use the suit to hold yourself upright. It’s either this or throw you off a building.”
“Okay,” I cut in quickly, before that idea had too much time to take root in his head. “I’m doing it.” I concentrated on my entire body, grabbing the pebbles of the suit as best I could. Then I fell backwards.
Or rather, I tried. I could feel the pressure on the suit, both against my skin and in my mind, as my power fought against gravity and my muscles. My reservoir was draining relatively fast; I could only keep this up for maybe a minute.
But it was working.
I grinned, keeping my eyes closed. “I’m doing it. It’s working.”
“Good,” Obould said cheerfully. “Let’s try something a little more difficult.” He pushed me on the chest, hard, upsetting my balance. I tried desperately to regain control.
The suit exploded.
I landed hard on my ass and swore, opening my eyes just in time to see Derek’s shield snap out of existence; he had protected himself instinctively. A thin film of rock dust was in the air, and Obould was coughing. I could hear the soft click of pebbles rolling around the room, having not quite expended their kinetic energy yet.
Derek glanced at me, decided I was unhurt, and turned to the orc. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” he replied as graciously as possible, sputtering a little to get the dust out of his throat. “Lucky I was wearing the goggles.” He frowned, and pulled something out of his mouth.
It was one of the pebbles, ripped in half. Not shattered, ripped. I inspected my suit; the threads that were supposed to tie the rocks to it were mostly intact. It was the stone that had failed.
“Huh,” Obould muttered, tossing the pebble away. “Interesting. Well, at least she has the power for it.”
I managed to get to my feet. “The power for what, exactly?”
He grinned. “Flight! I think if we cover you in stone, you can fly!”
I just stared at him.
Derek didn’t seem at all troubled by my destruction of the suit. He touched one of the arms, noting the same things I had. I was a little busy enjoying his grip to pay too much attention.
“Maybe you can get thin pieces of granite or something,” he suggested. “Sew them into a pocket. Think plate mail rather than chain mail.”
Obould frowned. “Well, maybe. Stone doesn’t always shape the way you want, though.”
I looked up. “I could help with that,” I pointed out, feeling useful again. “I can—”
“Affect the viscosity of stone. I know.” The orc nodded, and I didn’t mention I wasn’t sure what viscosity was. “That might work.” He grabbed the box off the bed and upended it, both to remove the pebbles at the bottom and the second set of armor. It also looked a bit like a wetsuit, but without anything sewn to it.
Derek glanced at it. “That Akane’s?”
The old man nodded. “Yeah. Let me know how it fits her.” He turned to me. “Give me back yours, and I’ll let you know when I need your help shaping the stone.”
I shrugged. I wasn’t particularly worried about my armor situation, but if Derek thought it was a good idea, I wasn’t going to say anything. “Sure, let me just give you my e-mail.” I glanced around the room, looking for a pen, but stopped when I remembered something else. “But first, leave so I can get changed.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 50)
Ling could, in fact, fly if she had the proper equipment. Hell, she could just grab a rock and levitate that around. The only limit is her own reservoir. Flight is one of the easiest tricks to pull off. Note trick. There is no power simply called “flight.” The closest would be personal levitation, the ability to control gravity. Even then, it’s more “falling up” than real flight.
But again, flight is very common. Pyrogenics can create rockets, psychokineticists can lift themselves, morphers or shifters can grow wings, people with super speed can jump really high…the list goes on.
Also: Fifty posts! A minor milestone, but worth celebrating nonetheless. You know what? Extra update Wednesday. I don’t really like this scene anyway; seems like as good a time to move on as any.