I rubbed my forehead. “Mary, are they ready?”
“In a minute, sir,” she replied quickly. The real her, not one of her fakes. This was far too important to leave to a hacked-together bundle of code. “The Nessians are yelling about having to deal with the Nosferatu.”
“Cut them out,” I said tiredly. “I don’t know why I even bothered.” The Nessians, the followers of that bastard Asmodeus, were slavers and nothing more. They had tried to usurp the power structure of the vampires a while back, and been cut down to a shadow of their former glory as a result. In the process, their leader was poisoned by one of the Nosferatu. An exceptionally virulent poison that the toy maker couldn’t cure. Apparently he was in constant, agonizing pain. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
“Done,” she quipped. “Anyone else you want me to nix?”
“No. We need as many as will stay. Everyone else will play nice with others. Probably.”
“If you call in Kelly, the Belians will fall into line easier.”
“No. She has made her feelings on the matter clear.”
“No. Mary Christina, this topic is closed.”
“Fine,” she muttered a bit angrily. “Anyway, everyone is set up. Starting video conference now.”
My screen crowded up completely with dozens of windows, each with a single face. Many were mostly human, but some more monstrous. The Nosferatu, the sibriex, the cans and the Glasyans were only human in a legal sense at this point. Others were normal enough on the outside, but still terrifying inside. The Dagonite ambassador was an excellent example of that.
There were a few missing, but that was hardly unexpected. Some still didn’t trust me, while others didn’t understand the danger the Composer represented.
“Ladies, gentlemen,” I said by way of greeting. “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.”
“As if we had a choice,” Nicholas, representing the Aesir, grumbled. “The screamers are a threat to us all.”
“Not quite all,” the Dragon, the leader of the Draculas, noted. He grinned, displaying his prominent fangs, and nodded to something I couldn’t see; presumably, another of the ambassadors on his own screen. “Georgia and her Dagonites don’t have much to worry about.”
The woman in question huffed. “I’m sure this Composer will find a way. Although I doubt we can be of much help; we have limited abilities, and the war with the Rahabs is straining us.”
“Your support is appreciated regardless,” I told her honestly. Considering how much I had to deal with trying to make the other subcultures see a problem that was on their very doorstep, it was refreshing to see someone who could anticipate the threat.
“Has Doctor Clarke had any progress on finding some sort of cure or vaccine for the screamers?” Evangel asked. The big ursa senator wasn’t the leader of his subculture by any means, but the others had agreed to let him act as an ambassador for all of them.
“No, unfortunately,” I admitted. “He isn’t having any luck whatsoever. He hasn’t even managed to find out what causes the condition. I believe he’s given up on it.”
“We can take a look,” Tharizdun, the sibriex representative, offered. I wasn’t sure if Nhang had sent him as an intentional slight, or if the warlord just didn’t have time to deal with anyone himself. “I doubt we’ll have much luck, but a few more eyes are always helpful.”
“My people will help as well,” Glasya, the Noble from Malbolge, put in. She had a bit of a friendly rivalry with the sibriex, so it was nice to see her so eager to work with them.
“Thank you both, and I will accept any help you can offer. If the Avernans could lend their aid as well, that would be much appreciated.”
Bel scratched his hairy chin. It wasn’t actually hair, but a patch of short, poisonous barbs. Much of his body was covered in the strange buff. “We’d be happy to, of course, but I’m not sure how useful we’ll be. Our methods are geared towards the toy maker, not general research.”
“You’re avoiding the main problem,” Nick, warlord of the Host of Glorious Destruction, pointed out. “The Composer needs to be dealt with. Everything else is secondary. You said you may know where he is. Why haven’t you attacked?”
“We have no idea what this creature is capable of, Honored Daybreaker,” I replied with as much patience as I could muster. “If you read through the data I sent you, you’ll see that Doctor Clarke has theorized it may be able to jump between bodies. Killing the one it is currently in will do nothing but make it more cautious in the future.”
“But you don’t know,” Jasmine, the can ambassador, clicked. “You don’t know anything about this…thing.”
“We know that there is an intelligence behind the screamers,” I reiterated. “Not much else. The fact that it seems to have a base does imply it has a physical body, with physical limitations. Hopefully, that means a lead-based solution can be applied here. But we must be cautious.”
“Then just kill all the screamers and then move in,” Mephistopheles insisted. “I don’t know why you’re keeping them alive.”
Evangel huffed. “It is still possible these people can be cured, Canian. Don’t be so quick to abandon them.”
“But the pyro has a point,” Dispater cut in. As leader of the warbloods, the military arm of the vampires, I knew his grasp of strategy would be valuable. “Clarke thinks this Composer is limited to using screamers as hosts. If we kill all the screamers, it will have no where to go.”
“And what if he is wrong?” the Dragon asked calmly, his godeyes twinkling. Godeyes were rare beyond imagining; they were the fusion of dayeyes and nighteyes, and almost impossible to make work. It took over a hundred thousand dollars to even try, and usually the subject just ended up blind. I only knew one other person in the city that had them. “If the Composer can use bodies other than screamers, we’ll have murdered several thousand people for no good reason.”
The other representatives murmured uneasily, but it was Nick who voiced their concerns. “There can’t truly be that many, can there?”
“Not quite that many,” I assured her. “Only barely a thousand.”
“And that’s a thousand more than there should be,” Simba pointed out angrily. It took me a second to realize he was just angry in general, not at me specifically. “If we could find a way to give more people powers, or at least make them immune to infection, everything would go much more smoothly.”
I saw Obould lean forward before speaking. “I’ve spoken with the Paladins a little. They’re more than happy to help with this crisis, but they are limited. Sooner or later, the Composer is going to stop playing around, and they aren’t going to be able to keep up.”
Greyanna shook her head. “Preposterous. A thousand screaming, half that dead, and you think this Composer isn’t even trying? Trust a man to—”
“Oh put a sock in it, Lolth,” Halisstra interrupted. “Put aside your prejudices and think about it. The incident with the burners confirmed that a singer can infect people over the radio or the phone. The Composer could easily hook up some giant speakers and infect half the city. Why hasn’t he?”
“I have some failsafes in place to prevent that,” Mary Christina interjected.
“Yes,” Dispater noted, “you do now. But why didn’t he just do it before we knew about that capability? It doesn’t make any sort of tactical sense.”
“He could just be a moron,” the Erlking suggested.
“That’s a dangerous thought path,” Sargeras, representing the hellions, cautioned. He was one of the most respected warlords here—as one of the founding members of the demon culture, he was one of the very first warlords. “In a situation like this, you have to assume the enemy is smarter than you. Anything else will lead to ruin.”
“Isn’t this all secondary?” Hyalinix of the Time-Lost Shadows cut in. “I haven’t heard anyone actually promise to work together.”
“The sibriex, the Glasyans, and the Avernans have at least agreed,” I pointed out. But only an uncomfortable silence greeted my words. I frowned. “You said you would help.”
“Help, yes,” Bel admitted grudgingly. “We’ll share data. But that’s very different from actively working together.”
“Exactly,” Nick muttered, clearly not enjoying even such a minor agreement with a vampire. “You’re suggesting sending troops into battle side-by-side, correct? They’ll never stand for it.”
“We can work up to that,” the Dragon mused. “But even working together at a strategic level would make a huge difference in the war effort.”
“My men won’t fight beside angels,” Dispater cautioned. “But that wouldn’t be a good idea regardless. Anyone else, they will help gladly. And of course, I would be happy to lend my expertise.” He started a little, as though surprised at his own words. “Ah…from the Iron Tower, of course.”
The other vampire ambassadors just rolled their eyes. Dispater’s agoraphobia was well-known. But, he was useful, so everyone put up with the fact that he refused to leave his base.
“My hellions should be able to support the angels,” Sargeras offered. “And I can speak with the other leaders as well.” He nodded to a corner of his screen. “No offense, Honored Daybreaker, you just don’t have the numbers to wage this kind of war.”
“None taken, Honored Devil,” Nick replied graciously.
“I’m also not opposed to cooperating,” the Great Wolf admitted. “There will be some logistics problems, as we keep mortal enemies away from each other, but surely we can all leave off killing each other long enough to fight for our city.”
Doresain shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Though like you said, we’ll need to be mindful of prejudices. I know I wouldn’t want to fight next to a lupe, and I doubt any of my men are going to feel differently.”
“I think we can leave that to the more military-minded leaders,” Focalur of the Mammonites pointed out. “Best not to get in their way.”
The taur representative, an ugly Baphomite named Cairne, raised an eyebrow. “You would be willing to follow the orders of another, thief?”
Focalur just laughed. “Like you said, I’m a thief. I don’t know how to fight a war.” He became serious again. “But Dispater, Sargeras—whoever ends up giving the orders. Just remember the strengths and weaknesses of your allies. We can’t stand up to front line combat like you.”
Sargeras nodded. “We will of course take everything into consideration. We’ve been fighting against you for quite some time. We know what you are capable of.”
The Beast growled, literally. “This is ridiculous. I will not put myself under the command of any other kith, and I know my followers will feel the same.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Then leave, abomination, and don’t come crying to us when the screamers appear on your doorstep.”
The Satanist growled again, and his window went dark. Honestly, I was pleased. His subculture was almost as bad as the Nessians. I had known all along they would be trouble. I was surprised it had taken him this long to voice his objections.
“Good riddance,” Tripurasura, the Akoman daeva, muttered. “He would have set his men on us like hounds on roadkill.”
The cane and lupe representatives both shouted at once. “HEY!”
The vampire winced. “Sorry. Figure of speech.”
“I am pleased you have all seen the wisdom of working together,” I said slowly. Using violence to force the issue would have just made things worse in the long run. “But there is one thing I don’t think anyone will like.”
I found myself unable to speak. This was going to be a nightmare. I still had a chance to change my mind.
Everyone just looked at me, clearly apprehensive. My silence was only making things worse. Senator Nagi, representing the laces, was the one who spoke up. “And what’s that, Butler?”
“Tharizdun and Glasya, I need…” I paused, then sighed and bit the bullet. “I need you to open up communications with the fey.”
The sudden outcry was almost explosive. Every single representative started shouting. Even the more level-headed ones who were trying to calm everyone else, like Evangel and Nagi, had to yell just to have a chance of being heard.
I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t hear any individual arguments in the noise, but I knew what they were saying. The fey were crazed monsters who would kill their own mothers for no reason other than because they felt like it. They were almost as big a problem as the Composer. Allying with them was insanity.
After a few minutes, there was a brief lull. Not really a lull; just a short pause, nothing but coincidence. I seized the opportunity to speak. “If we don’t ally with them, the Composer will,” I said quietly.
Everyone choked on the words they were going to spit out, and dozens of faces stared at me in shock.
“If we don’t ally with them, the Composer will,” I emphasized. “Perhaps he’ll infect them, or perhaps he’ll just pay them off, but either way he’ll have access to their armies and their toy box. We cannot allow one of those to fall into the wrong hands.” I glanced at Soaring Eagle’s window; she winced at the reference to her own crimes.
Still, nobody spoke.
I leaned back in my seat and sighed. “I understand this is not easy. I understand that they might ask for things we are not willing to give. But we don’t have a choice. They are too powerful to simply leave waiting for the Composer’s control.” I closed my eyes. “That is all. Mary Christina will contact you shortly with more information on the details of the alliance.”
I cut the connection.
It was necessary.
Behind the Scenes (scene 64)
Homework question: Why would the leader of the Draculas be called the Dragon?
And yes, every single one of these people (and the subcultures they represent) was named for a reason. Some of these reasons are simpler than others, however. For example, Jasmine, the can ambassador, is named because that’s her birth name, and she thinks changing your name to match some mythical character you find kinship with is stupid.
Oh, one last thing: There are seven cultures (six, since most people don’t count the fey), but that’s only the ones that use the toy maker. Changelings, therefore, are not a culture, nor is Necessarius.