I knew this story very well. Voron had told it to me long ago, except in his version Erra was a man. Even Roland’s War-lords didn’t know everything about him.
“Roland decided they didn’t have the troops to hold the city. Marduk was greatly revered, so they’d have to put up with a lot of native resistance and the infrastructure was too complex to easily take it over. Roland makes war to acquire, not to subjugate. He wants to take cities with minimal damage, install his own government, and build them up to make them better. He moved on. But Erra dug her heels in. Something about Marduk must’ve rubbed her the wrong way.
“Erra took a chunk of Roland’s army, and along with her seven, they invaded Babylon. She took the city and ran Marduk out, but the Babylonians refused to bend over and take it. Erra decided to break Babylon. She bombarded them with plagues and let the seven run amok in the city. Halved the population, wrecked the holy places, engaged in unbelievable atrocities. It was hell on earth. When there was nothing left to hold, she left. Marduk later came back to the city and rebuilt it, but it took centuries for it to rise to prominence again. What we know now as Babylon from archaeological records is a pale imitation of what once was.” I looked at Dali to make sure she understood. “They had magic defenses that we can’t even dream of. And Erra crushed them and walked away laughing. I need you to tell this story to Jim.”
Dali swallowed. “Why?”
“Because Erra is here. Curran killed Deluge and I just took out Tremor.”
“Is she after us?”
“I think so. She has her seven warriors with her. They are undead. She pilots them like vampires.”
Dali shrugged her shoulders, as if shaking off dread. “How sure are you of this?”
“I’m very sure. Erra makes plagues. In ancient times, she walked before Roland’s army. She’d pass through the place and the next morning there would be nothing but corpses. A few days later, once the land aired out, Roland’s troops would roll in. We know that Roland wants to do away with the Pack. Erra is the perfect person to do that. She has the power to panic animals and it works on shapeshifters.”
I quoted, “ ‘I devastate the land and shatter it to dust, I crush the cities and turn them into waste, I crumble mountains and panic their wild beasts.’ She drives shapeshifters mad, Dali. She makes you go wild. You’ve heard about the witnesses to the fight at the Steel Horse. All of them went wild. You can’t fight her. Explain this to Jim. I don’t know if it’s her personal power or if she’s using one of the warriors to do it, but she has the Old Magic, the kind that the Pack can’t counter. You can’t engage her, because she will make all of you insane.”
The car skidded to a halt and I realized we had reached my apartment. I jerked the door open and jumped out. Grendel followed.
“Kate?” Dali’s eyes were huge on her face. “How do we fight her?”
“I don’t know. You can’t fight her directly and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you don’t have to.”
I slammed the door closed and ran into my building.
I CHARGED UP MY APARTMENT STAIRS, SLAYER in hand and my sweatered demon spawn in tow.
My apartment door. In one piece. No sign of a break-in.
I forced myself to slow down, slid the key into the lock, and swung the door open. The poodle trotted in. I followed softly on my toes.
I nudged the bathroom door with my fingertips. Clear.
My living room. Clear.
Library/Julie’s room. Clear.
Clear. The apartment was clear.
I had to hide Julie.
I scanned the apartment. Too much. I could throw away the pictures, but signs of her were all over my place. Clothes, teddy bear with vampire teeth, half-painted black bedroom with a big KEEP OUT stenciled on the wall
. . . Sooner or later Erra would make it into my apartment, and she would find something I’d missed. She would look for Julie, and if she found her, she would kill my kid and she’d do it slowly to torture me with it.
Think. Think, think, think . . .
I grabbed scissors, marched into Julie’s closet, and pulled out her favorite Goth dress. Two snips, and I had two pieces of black ribbon. I snatched glue out of the utility drawer and fixed black ribbon over the corner of two photo frames.
Funeral pictures. That was what Voron did when Larissa died. She was a wererat, who traveled with us for a while, and when she died, he fixed the ribbons on her photo. I had a kid, but she died and I kept her funeral pictures in plain sight.
I pulled the paper drawer open, took the folder with Julie’s school papers, and pushed the books off the woodstove. A bit of kerosene, some crumpling, and two minutes later Julie’s school records went up in flames.
Okay. I had the phone number of the school memorized. There was no record of it. And if Erra thought Julie was dead, she wouldn’t look for her. I grabbed the phone and dialed the school’s number. In ten seconds I was patched through to security and gave detailed instructions: Julie was not to leave the grounds. She was not to contact me until I contacted her.
I ended the call, dialed the Order, and hung up. If Erra knew how to use redial, it wouldn’t lead her to Julie either.
The papers burned to ash. I sat on the floor and stared at the flames.
I beat her. If she broke in now, Julie would be safe.
Grendel wandered over to me and whined softly.
“Give me a minute,” I told him.
All my life had been focused on avoiding this moment. My family had found me. Even if I killed her, which was a huge “if,” it wouldn’t exactly go unnoticed.
I had to go. I had to grab my shit and take off into the wilderness, where she couldn’t track me. I knew where to hide. Voron and I had planned out several escape routes years ago.
What about Julie? She was safe at the school but she wouldn’t understand. She would think I’d abandoned her. Taking her with me was out of the question. Julie wasn’t me. I could take a knife, melt into the forest, and come out on the other side weeks later, leaner, but no worse for wear. Julie wouldn’t be able to handle it. The responsible thing would be to leave her where she was.
She’d run away and go looking for me. She’d run away in a heartbeat.
All I could do would be to send a message to the school and tell them that I had to go and she had to stay and trust them to keep her there.
No good choices. When you care about people, they tie you down.