Take a few days off, Akane had said. Sort through all the feelings about killing and the orphanage and so on. Don’t let the war break you.
She had said that Monday.
It was Wednesday now. That was long enough, right?
She had rushed out a few minutes earlier—something about MC finding ‘them,’ whatever that meant—which made this the perfect opportunity to sneak out.
Not that I needed to sneak out. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Nothing wrong at all. I was just going out for a walk.
It’s not like I was looking for anything in particular.
And I certainly wasn’t at the ruins of my orphanage on purpose. No, no, my feet just sort of…carried me here on their own. Just a coincidence.
It hadn’t been long since the arson, but a small group of Servants was already cleaning up the area and preparing it for whoever owned the land now.
Normally, the Servants wouldn’t be involved in something like this. While they did consider it their job to keep the city clean, they usually limited themselves to picking up litter around their shrines and stuff like that. Whoever owned the area must not have the money to hire a real cleanup crew.
“Something wrong, Miss Yu?”
I blinked, surprised by the demon girl who had sidled up to me when I wasn’t paying attention. And how’d she know my name…? Oh, right, MC. She probably hadn’t told the Servants we were the Paladins, just spread the word that we were important.
I rubbed my forehead. “Sorry. It’s just…” I licked my lips, an idea beginning to form. “This was my orphanage. If you don’t mind…I’d like to take a look around.”
Watch fifty million detective shows, and sooner or later something will stick.
First rule of investigating: When lying, use the truth as much as possible.
The Servant didn’t seem to find anything odd about that statement. “Fair enough. We’ll give you an hour or so.” She called to the others. “Oy! Lunch time!”
I nodded in thanks as the dozen or so men and women walked off the site, mostly towards the light rail station and presumably food. There was still some random maintenance worker installing a speaker on a nearby corner, who wasn’t affiliated with the Servants, but when he realized what was happening he quietly took a break as well.
I turned to the blackened remains of the building and rubbed my hands together. It had already been a few weeks, true, so if I just looked, I wouldn’t be finding anything more than what the Kellions and other investigators had found.
But I had one or two advantages they didn’t.
I took only a few steps into the ruins, crinkling my nose as pungent ash drifted into the air at my steps. I had come too far to let something as small as a bad smell stop me, so I plopped down in the dirt, charcoal crunching under my butt, placed my hands on the ground, and closed my eyes.
Deep breath. And then…
This aspect of my power was still limited. When touching stone or dirt, I could sense anything nearby that I could affect with my ability. Here, sitting in the dirt and ash, surrounded by the concrete foundations of my orphanage, it was like I could see, even with my eyes closed.
I could also sense solid objects that I couldn’t affect with my ability, but only in the most vague sense, like trying to identify something through triple-strength glass.
It was like…like the bones of the orphanage were covered in snow. No, that wasn’t right, because I could see what lay under the snow, the blurred objects my power couldn’t perfectly identify.
It was like…
I didn’t have words for it. Like trying to look at myself while I was under a heavy blanket…
Yes, that was it. Except not seeing. I could feel the earth and stone, the cold foundations, shattered by the Servants’ hammers and picks, scorched by week-old fire. I could feel them as if they were my own flesh and bone.
There was the pantry, where I had walked in on Helena and a couple boys. Nothing left but something I couldn’t quite see, probably broken shelves and shattered glass.
There was the laundry room, where I nearly killed myself the day I found out I was pregnant. I could feel the shattered floor, a small crater not caused by the investigators or cleaners. A gas line that had burst during the fire, or maybe where he had set off a bomb.
And I was sitting in the dining room. The room that had been dominated by that great oak table, which had probably cost more than the rest of the building combined. The table I had tried to write my name on, the table where Drake had spewed milk out his nose, where Greg had thrown up twice, and where the entire orphanage had caught Helena with some ferret who’s name I never did learn.
The table where I had first been called a whore.
Maybe…some things were better left ash.
At least this way, there was no one left alive who knew what I had been. Except Mitchel.
I felt something on my hands. Surprised, I opened my eyes to see that there was something dripping on my hands, which I had folded on my lap. Was it raining? I didn’t—
Ah. Of course.
My body already knew what my brain hadn’t quite decided yet.
If it was a choice between my family and my reputation…
I’d scream my past from the rooftops if it would bring a single one of my friends back.
Behind the Scenes (scene 152)
Short, but I still like it.
Extra update Wednesday.