I TRUDGED UP THE STAIRS TO MY APARTMENT. My feet refused to move, as if filled with lead. My back hurt. I was so tired. In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve fought for my life twice and been healed with magic both times. Medmages accomplished miracles, but they used the body’s own resources to heal, and whatever Doolittle did had drained me down to nothing. I was spent.
My eyes kept wanting to close and a couple of times I almost pitched over into the snow, because it looked soft and inviting. If it weren’t for a Biohazard van I flagged down, I might have taken a nap along the road and frozen my ass off. As it was, the Biohazard medtechs gave me a ride, cutting my travel time down to a third. I’d scored fifteen minutes of half-sleep in the van on the way, safe and warm. My luck had to be turning for the better. One flight of stairs and I’d be home.
The splinters of my front door littered the landing in front of it. Fatigue vanished, burned in a rush of adrenaline. I stepped through the gaping doorway and stopped breathing.
Chunks of furniture and fabric lay scattered across my floor. Wooden shards protruded from the wall, marked with gashes and holes. The door to the library had vanished. The bookshelves inside had been pulverized. Four dozen glass bottles lay smashed, their contents staining the floor, mixing with torn pages of rare books and Greg’s prized artifacts, now crushed and shattered. Herb dust swirled in the draft from busted windows.
My house wasn’t just trashed. It was obliterated, as if a tornado had swept through it.
The bathroom door had been torn off its hinges. Deep gouges scoured it, too big for Grendel. Erra must’ve brought the Beast in. I checked the bathroom. No Grendel. No blood either. If she’d killed him, she would’ve left the body on display for me.
In the kitchen, holes gaped in the plaster where she’d ripped the cabinets from the wall. The wood was broken, not cut. She’d kicked them to pieces.
I stepped back into the living room, walking over the floor filled with mutilated books. One of Greg’s dirks protruded from the wall, piercing Julie’s pictures. Cuts sliced the photographs—Erra had stabbed Julie’s eyes and face, again and again. Ice climbed down my spine. If she could’ve found Julie, I would be cradling my kid’s corpse with her eyes sliced out.
I had to do the world a favor and kill the bitch.
When Greg died, he’d left the apartment and everything he owned to me. The books, the artifacts, the weapons. I couldn’t let it go. I’d moved here, to Atlanta, to keep his memory alive. He was my last link to anything resembling a family. I assumed his place at the Order, and made his apartment into a home. This was my space. My corner of the world where I felt safe and secure. A shelter for me and Julie. And Erra had violated it. She’d torn it apart.
There was no coming back from this. It was all gone. No matter what I did now, I couldn’t restore the library or the apartment to its previous state. She had destroyed it so completely, it would never be the same.
It felt a little like dying. I’ve stared at death often enough to recognize being in a tomb. I should’ve felt something more, a deeper sadness, a sense of loss, but I just stood there, numb.
She’d made her hit. It was my time to hit back.
A small noise floated from the stairs. Grendel dashed into the apartment and hit me, pawing at me.
“Hey, you idiot.”
I grabbed him and hugged his smelly neck, running my hands along his sides. No blood. His sweatshirt hung in shreds, but he seemed no worse for wear.
“Let’s get out of here.”
I walked out the door, the dog in tow, and didn’t look back.
Twenty minutes later we made it to Andrea’s, where I used my mad detective skills to deduce that she wasn’t home. Her door was locked, and she didn’t answer when I knocked. She was probably at Raphael’s. That left me with one option: the Order. The Order had the added benefit of military-grade wards. It would take a small army of mages to break through them. Or my aunt. What a pleasant thought.
I dragged myself to the Order. Sleep still clung to me and fatigue made me slow and stupid. It took me over a minute to get the foldaway cot from the armory. I set it up in my office, and collapsed on it. Grendel flopped next to me and we passed out.
I HAD EXCELLENT REACTION TIME. THAT’S WHY I didn’t run Andrea through with my saber when she barged into my office. Instead I dropped Slayer a fraction of a second after I’d grasped it and sat up slowly. Best friend, no kill.
Andrea glared at me. “You’re here!”
“Where else would I be?”
She shut the door. “You have no idea.”
“My apartment is in shambles. I stopped by your place, but you were gone, so I came here. It’s safe and warm and there is coffee.”
“You were at Jim’s last night.”
“Yes. Jennifer and Aunt B were about to have a fight and I made my escape. Normally I would’ve paid money to see something like that, but I had to go and get my dog. Where is my spawn of hell, by the way?”
“He was scratching by the door, and I let him out. That’s how I knew you were here.” Andrea shook her head.
“After you left, Doolittle broke up the fight. Eventually everyone calmed down enough to realize you’d taken off. Doolittle wigged out because he’d loaded your tea with sedative and he thought you would pass out somewhere in the snow. Both the wolves and the boudas have been combing the snowdrifts for hours looking for you.”
I picked up a book and bumped my forehead on it a few times. Why me? Why?
“And nobody thought to call here and check?”
“Jim called, but Maxine told him that you weren’t here and she would give you the message when your shift started.”
Of course. Standard policy of the Order meant that when a knight was off, she was off, unless it was an emergency. Otherwise knights tended to work themselves into complete exhaustion.
I concentrated. “Maxine?”
“She is out. Ted dragged her off to some meeting. There is nobody here but you, me, and Mauro.”
“I have no idea.” Andrea waved her arms. “Kate!”
“Focus. Jennifer, Aunt B, and Doolittle are going to tell Curran this morning.”
Hi, Your Majesty, we drugged your love muffin and then let her walk out into the dark, in the snow. Her apartment is destroyed and we’re not sure where she is . . . “He’ll need a lot of metal plates.”