In fact, it turned out that Elise couldn’t get silver knives in Yesler Terrace.
She couldn’t get silver anything in Yesler Terrace.
“Illegal?” Elise echoed dully. “Since when?”
“Since Genesis,” said Hailey. She was obviously struggling to be patient with Elise, as though it could possibly be more difficult to put up with her roommate than with her hideous litter of children.
“Are you just repeating everything I say now?” asked Hailey.
“Tell me what Genesis is,” Elise said.
“You know,” she said slowly, “when everyone in the entire world fucking died? Because of the gods?”
Elise stared back.
I killed everyone?
She must have had good reason for it.
Maybe it was James’s fault. It seemed like the kind of asshole move James would have pulled.
Hard to imagine Elise wouldn’t have considered killing everyone in the “entire world” (according to Hailey) important enough to remember once she substantiated into an avatar, even though she did remember what it felt like to kiss James when he hadn’t shaved in a week.
“Genesis got rid of silver?” Elise said.
“The laws after Genesis did,” Hailey said.
That was incredibly inconvenient.
If silver was unavailable, Elise would have to inflict a wound that a shifter simply could not heal.
Elise jerked a knife from the block on the counter. It was cheap but sturdy, with a full tang; it would require only a little sharpening and a smidge of patience to become deadly. “Shifters can’t regrow heads, can they?”
“Oh my gods,” Hailey said. “I’m going to call the cops.”
“Yeah, do that,” Elise said, swiping the knife repeatedly over the sharpening stone from the drawer. “Give me an hour and then call. Tell them I’ve murdered a thug screwing with one of Seattle’s neighborhood, along with many of her friends.”
“An hour? Why should I give you an hour?”
“Because if I get arrested before Corina dies, she will come for your children.”
Hailey hesitated. Two of her wild little kittens were growling from the next room while decapitating Barbies.
“I’ll watch Victoria for you,” she said softly.
That wouldn’t be necessary. It would be easier, of course, to murder without the burden of a useless seven pound weight hanging from her body, but that would require trusting someone—anyone—to watch her daughter. And Elise felt strangely panicky about the idea. Much more panicky than she felt about the idea of slaughtering shifters.
Victoria was presently lying on a blanket on the floor and staring at nothing in particular.
“Laptop,” Elise said.
The panther stood by while Elise ran a quick internet search. She gave a tiny gasp when Elise used the knife to cut a cotton bed sheet into a long strip, but she did help Elise situate the shrieking Victoria on her back while she strapped her into position. The instructions on the internet were helpful. Superior to getting help from an old woman in an RV.
Once Victoria was strapped down, resting high enough on Elise’s back that the baby’s ruddy cheek was pressed on mom’s shoulder blade, Elise jammed the knife into her belt.
“So you aren’t going to kill Corina?” Hailey asked.
“One hour,” Elise said. “Then call the cops. Tell them Elise Kavanagh is going to kill a lot of people.”
She was halfway to the door before Hailey remembered how to speak.
“But the baby!”
Elise slammed out of the apartment.
The last night that Elise and James had spent together had been north of Reno, Nevada.
They’d bought a house there after concluding their archaeological dig. Danäe McCollum and Daniel Hawker (a very uninspired choice of pseudonymous surname on his part) had purchased a tract of land in Palomino Valley containing a well with water rights, a stables, and a house from the 1960’s stranded among the endless planes of sagebrush. They had taken care to get a mortgage, and planned to spend the next thirty mortal years paying off that mortgage, allowing cash to trickle into their accounts in order to cover it.
The amounts of money concerned were so small that they’d believed they should go unnoticed. Perhaps they’d gotten a bit neglectful about it—after all, they’d navigated Marut University and the early years of their careers without being caught.
At that point, it almost felt like nobody was looking for them.
Elise had been sitting on the porch on that hot summer night hating her life. Her belly had been irrationally large. There had been inadequate breeze to cool her, and James had been trying to fix the air conditioning unit, and the fact that he hadn’t done that yet had definitely been his fault.
“Where the fuck is my cold air?” she’d shouted at him.
He’d called back cheerfully from the other side of the house, “Think I might have figured it out this time!”
His response had been punctuated by something very heavy falling. Judging by the sound, it had broken.
James was very bad at using his hands to accomplish things rather than magic. They’d been avoiding anything resembling preternatural powers while on Earth, though. It was a challenge that James had risen to meet with enthusiasm.
Elise’s enthusiasm had vanished around the same time as her ability to shave her vulva around the giant-ass basketball of her stomach.
She’d pushed herself off of the bench on their stoop, waddled down the stairs, and glared at James.
The fact that he’d been pleasingly sweaty while working shirtless on their air conditioning unit hadn’t done a thing for Elise’s mood. The last trimester of pregnancy had sucked away her sex drive along with her sense of humor—or so Elise had been convinced at that particular instant. When she didn’t want sex, she was convinced she had never wanted it before, never in her life, and especially not with that James asshole who had inseminated her. When she did want sex…well, James hadn’t needed a cast on his ankle for very long.
“Fix the fucking air conditioner,” Elise had ordered, biting out each word. “Fix it right this fucking second or I will fucking murder you.”
“You look radiant,” he’d said.
She loathed James. “Fix it. Whatever it takes, fix it.” She glowered at him with all the impassioned might of a woman wronged. “I mean it. Whatever it takes.”
And Elise had waddled back inside to abuse the punching bag.
She’d maintained her workout routine throughout pregnancy. That had included jogging up until that week, when jogging had begun to make her ankles balloon to elephant-like proportions, and lifting heavy weights until the horrified obstetrician at St. Mary’s Hospital had begged her to stop.
Nobody could take punching from her, though.
Elise had been obsessed with knocking the stuffing out of the punching bag on that particular night, heat or not. She’d shortly been drenched in sweat, heart pounding, and fists aching.
Why did her fists ache? She’d punched thousands of demons hard enough to break their stupid ugly faces in, resulting in fists tough as steel. But now she was pregnant, and everything hurt, all of the goddamn time.
Eight months down. One more to go.
It wasn’t a comforting thought.
“James!” she’d shouted through the cracked window. “I need cold air!”
At that point, the air conditioning unit had finally clicked on.
He came inside to stand below the vent. Or at least, he’d tried to stand below the vent, but Elise had elbowed him away because she wasn’t sharing.
“Took you long enough,” she’d muttered. Belatedly, she added, “Thanks.”
“I resorted to magic,” James had said.
Elise should have taken that as a bad sign—a huge red flag warning her that it would be their last night together on Earth for quite some time.
It was probably the magic that had led their enemies to them.
Later, she preferred to think that it had been the mortgage. The weird cashflow out of nowhere.
Not the holy, blessed magic that had given an eight months pregnant demon hunter air conditioning on a ninety degree desert evening.
Elise had tipped her face back, eyes closed, to bask in the coolness. She fanned the neck of her shirt and sighed.
A hand had rubbed the small of her back.
“I meant it when I said you look radiant,” James had murmured into her ear. He’d swept her hair over her right shoulder to expose her sweaty neck to the air conditioning.
“I meant it when I said I’d murder you,” Elise had replied.
He’d kissed her shoulder. “I love you.”
“Whatever.” But she’d tilted her face toward his and kissed him back. “I love you, too.” Those were words that neither of them had quite grown tired of saying or hearing. After all they’d suffered to reach that point, it had become holy ritual to verbalize that which shouldn’t have needed to be spoken—a reminder that it was all worth it.
Once his hands had rested on her hips, Elise had suddenly remembered that she did, in fact, still have a sex drive. And she’d been able to think of nothing except yanking James’s belt off and shoving him to the floor next to the stuffing that she had knocked out of the punching bag.
“Gentle,” he’d admonished, catching her on the way down.
“I’m not glass.” She’d ripped his jeans open.
“But this…” James had curved his hands over her belly.
The fetus within had kicked his palms. Delight had spread over his face.
Elise would have been lying if she’d said she wasn’t at least amused, if not exactly delighted as he was.
The baby kicked him again.
“Sweet little love,” James had said. “Darling Mercutio.”
She’d reared back, resting her full weight on his hips. “Mercutio? No. No fucking way.”
“Rosalind if it’s a girl,” he’d said, like that was supposed to make her feel better.
“Cut the Shakespeare bullshit, Daniel. You’re not calling our baby anything that stupid.”
James pulled her down to kiss her. “I like it when you call this thing ‘our’ baby.”
The baby’d kicked again, even harder. It seemed to approve of the conversation.
“Quiet, you,” Elise had ordered the baby. “You’re a mood killer.” Her tone was fractionally softer than it had been when addressing James. Only fractionally.
It had turned out the baby wasn’t really a mood killer. Nothing was a mood killer once Elise had made up her mind.
They’d made love that night under the blissful chill of the vent. The curtains had been open to let them see the glassy evening sky, the wild horses roaming the hillside, the streaks of falling stars vanishing on the horizon.
James hadn’t held Elise like she was glass. He knew her better than that.
Well. That had been the last of the idyllic moments.
Elise wasn’t sure if she’d forgotten the moment James was abducted or if she’d deliberately purged it from memory. She wasn’t aching to recall it, that was for certain. She wished that she could remember who had come into their house—their home, goddammit—so that she could more easily find her enemy and kill the shit out of them, but Elise didn’t need those particular details.
She was going to find James. He was going to have that baby he’d so desperately wanted.
They would have vengeance.
In her younger days—before the world had ended, before Elise had borne a uterus, before she’d needed to shave her vulva because androgen insensitivity meant no pubic hair—she had been a traveling fighter, roaming the world to hunt demons. She’d lived out of a backpack.
Her belongings had been few, so what she considered worthy of carrying had been valuable. Oftentimes her backpack had held priceless artifacts. Other times it had held delicate spellwork that her husband had created—though that had been before they were married, of course.
Fighting with a baby on her back would not be all that different, she decided.
Elise had little trouble finding Corina. That mindless minion, Bruce, hadn’t gotten far; he’d joined with another minion to whine about how much he hurt on the street outside the shelter. Elise tracked their rust-pocked van through the streets of Seattle.
Corina worked out of a print shop four blocks away. It was on the street level underneath ten floors of condemned condominiums. Bruce circled the building twice before taking the van into a below-ground parking garage, likely thinking that it would be clever and somehow prevent him from being tailed.
Victoria drooled on Elise’s back as she climbed a fire escape to the roof.
Elise crouched behind a greenhouse, peering around the corner to examine Corina’s guards. The stairs into the condo were protected by a lone, bored-looking shifter who didn’t even have a gun. Corina most likely believed the gold eyes would be deterrent enough. And against average humans, it would have been.
She eased the knife out of her belt.
The shifter wouldn’t even see her coming.
That was the plan, at least.
Victoria chose that moment to squirm, produce a very wet fart, and then begin to wail.
So maybe fighting with a baby on her back wasn’t quite the same as with a backpack.
The shifter guard, to his credit, was on top of Elise within moments; incompetent as he may have been, he was nevertheless a shifter, with all of the preternatural speed that implied.
Elise had the presence of mind to twist herself so that he struck her left side, most distant from the baby, and allowed the momentum of the impact to carry her several yards. It put necessary space between herself and her assailant.
She didn’t plan to let him get that close again.
“Who are you?” he snarled. He wavered when his only response was Victoria’s screaming. Confusion flashed over his golden eyes.
Elise hurled the knife at him.
Even sharpened enough to penetrate bone, it was not silver. He didn’t die on impact. He was properly startled to find a knife jutting from his breastbone, though, and he fell to the rooftop.
Shock held him still enough for Elise to jump on his stomach. She wrenched the knife free. The blood that gushed forth pulsed in time with his heart.
Elise tested her theory that a decapitated shifter wouldn’t regenerate.
Her theory proved good.
A few violent minutes later she stood, panting and blood-soaked, and kicked the shifter’s head across the rooftop to ensure it wouldn’t heal. The eyes blinked at her for another minute. At least he couldn’t keep screaming like that.
Victoria took care of the crying on his behalf, though.
“Fuck me,” Elise muttered.
She wiped most of the blood off of her hands.
She carefully removed Victoria from the sling.
Then she sat against the corner of the roof to nurse that damn baby.
Murdering thugs had been so much faster before motherhood.
Sirens began wailing ten minutes later. Hailey hadn’t waited the full hour to call the police. She must have been worried on Victoria’s behalf.
“I don’t know why,” Elise said to the pug-like squished face of her offspring, who had fallen asleep immediately after one letdown of milk and seemed happy to suckle for the rest of eternity. “You’re obviously just fucking fine.”
The sirens grew closer.
Again, Elise said, “Fuck me.”
Time to kill Corina.
It was much more difficult to get Victoria on her back a second time. The newborn didn’t appreciate having the nipple removed from her mouth and immediately flung herself into a back-arched, red-faced, hysterical fit. And Elise didn’t have Hailey’s assistance in mounting her where she belonged at the apex of the spine. The howling sirens motivated Elise adequately. She got Victoria both secure and bounced to silence before the first of the cops rounded the corner.
Elise kicked open the door to the stairwell and leaped onto the top level of the condominiums.
The penthouse suite, if it could be called such a thing, was empty of furniture, though the pile of blankets on the floor held enough spoons and empty OJ bottles to indicate a dozen heroin users had lived there for months. The mushroom-edged water stains and shattered drywall suggested nobody reputable had lived there since Genesis. Corina did little to care for her territory.
Elise paused to glance through the window. Cop cars were forming a crescent near the entrance to the print shop. There was at least one black SUV among them, suggesting that Hailey had tipped off the Office of Preternatural Affairs as well.
Perfect. The more attention Elise got at this point, the better.
It would have been better in another twenty minutes.
The condominium’s hallways were equally wrecked but unoccupied. Elise found no signs of life until she reached the rooms directly above the print shop. Then she heard voices emanating from beyond the door labeled “2B.”
“Fuck,” said a woman. “What the fuck are those assholes doing, fucking around in my shit?”
“Did you pay your tithes?” asked a man, whose voice was muffled even though Elise pressed her ear to 2B’s door.
“Of course I fucking paid the fucking tithes!” That was shrieked by the same woman who had spoken first.
The whole building shook. Someone had knocked in the door downstairs.
“What the fuck?”
From behind, Corina didn’t look like much. She was short and wiry. Her hair was like yellow grass.
But she was surrounded by a lot of very big, adoring shifters who were wearing intake bracelets—the favored way of taking lethe, a powerful drug—and she was clearly the one who’d been administering the product. She had the drugs, the money, the power.
Victoria had the sense to be silent up until the moment that Elise came up behind one of Corina’s guards and slit his throat.
He cried, the baby cried, blood splashed on the ground.
Elise’s muscles flexed as she severed his head. She did it faster the second time. She was almost as strong as she used to be again.
“Catch,” she said, kicking him to the ground.
She lobbed the guard’s head at Corina when the shifter turned.
“Who the fuck are you?” Corina asked.
“I’m friends with Hailey,” Elise said, which was not strictly true, but it had the desired impact.
Which was to say, none at all.
Corina just looked confused. She didn’t know who Hailey was. Corina was happy to take money from the local preternaturals, but she hadn’t a clue who any of them were.
She’d earned this death.
Boots pounded through the print shop downstairs.
Elise swung into motion.
Four surviving shifters guarding Corina, and Corina herself. By the time she’d plunged the knife into the next man, Elise had already decided how each of them was going to die.
It helped that Corina was carrying a silver hammer on her belt.
That would make things much easier.
Elise skewered a third guard, and he fell atop the second. Both of them shook with the healing fever. Shifters should have been able to recover from a non-silver wound near instantaneously, but the lethe had weakened them; the seizures indicated that it would be quite some time before they got up again.
She was moving toward the fourth when her hip crumpled.
Corina had swung the hammer. Smashed it into Elise’s thigh. There was enough force that it felt like her pelvis might have broken.
Her pelvis still wasn’t in great shape from giving birth. It hurt a lot.
“You crazy bitch,” Corina spit.
She swung again.
Elise caught the shifter’s wrist, redirecting it so that the hammer smashed a hole into the floor instead of her baby’s head.
Corina had aimed for the baby.
The woman had tried to kill Victoria.
Elise jerked the hammer out of her hand, and she swung it with less force than Corina had. She didn’t have shifter muscles, after all.
But she had enough anger to make up for it.
She swung and she kept swinging through the warm white buzz of rage.
Elise was splattered. Things cracked. Bodies thudded.
And when the Office of Preternatural Affairs finally kicked down the door of Corina’s condominium, they found Elise standing among a collection of bodies that looked like they’d been through a meat tenderizer, while she herself was drenched in blood. A lot of flashlights shined on her, blinding Elise.
She dropped the hammer and lifted her hands.
“Take me to the Alpha,” Elise said. “Tell her that Elise Kavanagh wants to see her.”
There were rumblings about taking the baby away from Elise after she was arrested. Nobody seemed that serious about the threat, because nobody attempted it.
However, they did zip tie her hands together. And there were a lot of guns aimed at her as she was escorted onto a helicopter.
Elise remained standing in the chopper as it cut through the rainy clouds. From above, Yesler Terrace looked as much a shithole as it had on the ground level, but it was a shithole sans one douchebag shifter who had been bullying the likes of Hailey, so it was better than when she’d come in.
She’d forgotten how good it felt to fix things. To be a hero.
Elise licked her lips. There was blood on them. Even though she wasn’t a demon anymore, she still sort of enjoyed the taste. It tasted like victory.
She’d forgotten that too.
Victoria seemed to enjoy the sound of the helicopter’s engine and the gentle swaying motion. She only woke up when Elise was transferred to a private jet at an airstrip—still continually surrounded by terrified looking OPA agents, who must have been warned who Elise Kavanagh was, or at least how much damage she could do—but Elise quickly put the baby back to sleep with the help of a brave female agent who removed Victoria from the sling and placed her in Elise’s arms so that they could breastfeed.
It was becoming natural to nurse the baby every time she made a noise, even if the act remained unpleasant. Elise did, however, enjoy the way that the agents stared at her as she performed that biological maternal act, as though they were equal parts disgusted and confused by the blood-drenched monster with a whelp nestled against her chest.
Elise stared back at them. She kept staring as the jet cut through the night.
They landed at a shapeshifter sanctuary after many hours.
Even in the night, Elise recognized the location from her last lifetime. Not the giant wolves who encircled the jet—she’d never gotten good at identifying werewolves in their animal forms—but the waterfall, the steep valley, the trees.
Elise had very violent memories of the shapeshifter sanctuary outside of Northgate, and that was as close to fond memories as she could come.
She was starting to get excited when the agents escorted her off of the plane. It wasn’t necessarily that she was excited to see Rylie Gresham, the werewolf Alpha, for social reasons—Rylie was a nice kid, but that was about it.
No, Elise was excited because Rylie had at least three children already, and she’d know what to do with Victoria.
Elise would be able to ditch the newborn with someone trustworthy—someone who could eat any and all attackers—and go about the business of finding who had kidnapped James.
But when she set foot on the airstrip, it was not Rylie Gresham who emerged from the mass of furred wolf bodies.
Rylie was a petite blond woman with knobby knees.
This was a cute, scrawny black girl with kinky hair and well-fitted leather trousers. She must have been about twelve years old. She wore spiked boots with silver buckles and so much attitude that the air shivered around her.
“Where is the Alpha?” Elise asked. “I’m supposed to see the Alpha.”
The black girl said, “My name is Deirdre Tombs. I am the Alpha. The question is, who are you, and why are you claiming to be god?”