Erra’s eyes narrowed. “You like him.”
I arched my eyebrows.
“You like the lion.”
“I can’t stand him. He’s an arrogant ass.”
“Your bed is rumpled and there are claw marks on your windowsill and the inside door frame. Are you rutting with him?”
I leaned back and crossed my arms. “What’s it to you?”
“Are you a slut?”
I stared at her.
“Not a slut, then. Good.” Erra nodded. “Our blood’s too precious to rut with every pretty man you see. Besides, that’s just asking for heartbreak. You have to guard yourself or you will never survive your first century. The pain other people cause you will tear you apart.”
“Thanks for the lecture.”
“About your half-breed. They are great fun in bed, little squirrel, but they always want children and family. Family is not for you.”
I arched my eyebrows. Decided for me, did she? “How do you know what’s for me?”
She laughed. “You know what you are? You’re a pale imitation of me. Weaker, slower, smaller. You dress like me, you talk like me, and you think like me. I saw you fight. You love to kill. Just like me. You attack when you’re scared, and right now you wonder if you could’ve shattered the ward on your door the way I did. I know you, because I know myself. And I am a terrible mother.”
I petted Slayer on my lap. “I’m not you.”
“Yes. And that will be your undoing. The key to survival is moderation. You haven’t learned that and now you never will.”
Getting a lecture on restraint from the woman who threw a hissy fit and blew up Babylon. That’s rich.
“Speaking of moderation, the Casino belongs to the People. Does my father know you attacked one of his bases?”
Erra shrugged. “Im would approve. It’s so . . .” She frowned, obviously searching for a word. “Gaudy. It’s everything I dislike about this age: too loud, too bright, too flashy. Nobody even notices the beauty of the building behind all the colored light and banners. The music sounds like there is a band of monkeys inside beating on cooking pots.”
“They reported it to the authorities.”
Erra’s eyes widened. “They did? Pussies.”
Ghastek didn’t know what she was but Nataraja might have been close enough to Roland to have met her and know she was erratic enough to reduce the Casino to dust on a whim. He didn’t want to take any chances.
Erra erratic. God, maybe the word was invented to describe my aunt. That would be crazy. “What did the Guild do to offend you?”
Erra rolled her eyes. “Is this my day to give lessons?”
“How often do you get to teach?”
She chuckled again. “Very well. When you want to take over an army, you walk up to them and say, ‘Send your strongest man.’ They do, and you kill him while they watch. You make it fast and brutal, preferably by hand. And while they’re reeling from it, you shoot the small guy with a big mouth who heckled you when you first approached. That shows that you could’ve shot the big man, but you chose not to.”
I nodded. Sounded reasonable.
“When you want to take over a city, you have to destroy the illusion of safety it provides. You have to hit the large well-protected establishments, find the powerful people who run them and are viewed as invincible, and kill them. You want to destroy the morale first. Once the people’s resolve is gone and everyone is scared for their own skin, the city is yours. The Guild is full of little people who think they’re strong. I could’ve killed their leader in his rooms, but instead I dragged him down and murdered him before their eyes. Not only will they not oppose me now, but they’ll spread panic every time they open their mouths. And then, of course, the First wandered into the place as I was pulling my boys out. It was too tempting not to take a shot.”
So Solomon’s shapeshifter status was a coincidence. She’d targeted him because he was the head of the Guild, not because he turned furry. “But then you made Tremor look like Solomon. Why?”
Erra rolled her eyes. “Your father makes weapons and armor. I can do that as well, but mostly I make flesh golems. But a golem must be infused with blood fuel before it can move. When blood is introduced to the body, it takes on the visage of the blood donor. The stronger the magic, the better the golem moves and the more it resembles the donor. The first seven I’d made lasted for a couple of centuries, because I’d used my children. Now I have to rely on found talent, and pickings have been slim.”
I choked a bit on my tea. “Let me see if I have it straight: you killed your children and piloted their undead bodies.”
“Yes. Does that shock you?”
“No. You’re a psychopath.”
“What does that mean?”
I got up and brought her a dictionary. She read the definition. “That sums it up well, yes. The idea of social rules is false at the core. There is only one rule in this world: if you’re strong enough to do it, you have the right to do it. Everything else is an artificial defense the majority of the weak set up to shield themselves from the strong. I understand their fear, but it leaves me cold.”
She was what Voron wanted me to be. No regret, no hesitation, no attachments.
I smiled at her. She smiled back. “Why the big grin?”
“I’m happy I’m not you.”
“Your mother was very powerful, from what I’ve heard.” Erra added more honey to her cup. “But her spirit was weak. What sort of woman gets herself killed and leaves her child to fend for itself?”
Nice. “Testing me for sore spots?”
“Must be hard to grow up without a mother.”
“It helps to know your father killed her.” I drank my cold tea. “Keeps you motivated.”
Erra peered at me from above the rim of her cup. “I kept fish as a child. They were these bright beautiful fish with vivid fins delivered especially for me from far away. I loved them. My first one was blue. He only lived two years. When he died, I cried for days. Then I got another one. Yellow, I think. My memory is fuzzy. He also died a few months later. Then I got another one. In the end, when my fish died, it became routine. I’d feel a pang of sadness, burn their little bodies with incense, and get a new one when I felt like it.”
“Is there a point to this sob story?”
Erra leaned forward. “People are fish to us, child. Your mother’s death hurts, because she was your mother and Im robbed your childhood of security and happiness. You’re justified in your revenge. But to him, she was only a fish. We live a long time and they don’t. Don’t make his crime bigger than it is.”