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‘Because first of all, you were the target of that drowning as much as I was. Probably more than I was. And second, when I shout at you, you shout back and you usually make sense.’

Despite our situation, Winter chuckled. ‘That bothers you?’

‘Yes,’ I snapped back. ‘I don’t want sense. I don’t want pragmatism or calm thoughts or anything logical.’

‘You just want to shout.’

‘You got it.’

He pressed his lips together and pointed upwards. ‘Well, then,’ he said. ‘Go for it.’

I glanced at his hands. ‘You still have that silly sceptre?’

‘That silly sceptre saved our lives.’

My lip curled. ‘I still hate it.’

Winter leant in. ‘Me too.’

For a moment we grinned at each other. Then, slowly, Winter’s smile began to leave his face until his expression was something else entirely different. His eyes drifted downwards to my mouth and he raised his thumb, brushing it gently against my bottom lip. ‘Stray slime,’ he said softly. I shivered.

‘I still need to shout,’ I whispered. Someone had tried to kill him. No-one, I decided, was allowed to do that other than me. My rage was only building.

His nod was barely perceptible. ‘Go get’em, bruiser.’

I sucked in one deep breath then whirled round. I was most definitely on a mission.

When I reached the top of the stairs, I had to use considerable energy to force the door open. That meant that when it finally budged, I went flying out and landed at the feet of two startled Neophytes.

Maidmont hurried towards us from the other side of the hall. ‘What happened? Why are you all wet?’

I looked at the librarian. He was wringing his hands and seemed very concerned by our sudden, bedraggled appearance.

‘We have retrieved the sceptre,’ I heard Winter say behind me. I sniffed and picked myself up. He could return the stupid thing to its stupid display cabinet. I couldn’t shout at Maidmont; I’d already tried that once today and it was like kicking a puppy. I needed to find someone else.

I left Winter to explain what had happened and continued my march, storming out of the library and round the back to the next Order quadrant. There were many, many people staring. I couldn’t give a shit.

I flew along the pavement, ignoring the sudden chill wind that whipped at my wet hair. I was a tornado of fury and I was going to find someone to vent all that fury on. I had a good mind to head straight for the Ipsissimus. When I passed the sign pointing towards human resources, however, I changed my mind. At least with this lot I wouldn’t be kept waiting.

I made an abrupt turn left towards their small annexe. Slamming open the door so that it rattled violently in its frame, I pulled my shoulders back and stamped inside.

‘Hello,’ the brunette at the front desk called. ‘Isn’t it a wonderful day, today?’ Despite her words, her voice remained flat and unenthusiastic, as if she were merely repeating her welcome by rote. ‘Just look at all the sunny…’ She faltered as she took in my appearance.

‘All the what?’ I snapped. ‘All the witches conspiring to steal from the Order? All the witches conspiring to kill me and my partner? Or,’ I said, leaning forward with a dangerous glint in my eyes, ‘the people who fucked up and put me in this position in the first place?’

The woman recoiled. I realised, somewhat belatedly, that I probably smelled bad but I really didn’t care. ‘Who’s in charge here?’ I demanded.

She sniffed. ‘Adeptus Major Price. But if you want to see him you’ll need to make an appointment. He’s not here.’

Price. I’d heard that name before. I searched my memory until I remembered that was who Tarquin was supposedly running errands for. My eyes narrowed. The plot thickened.

‘Well, that’s convenient,’ I said. I was betting that Price was actually here. She just didn’t want to trouble him with a sodden, pyjama-wearing crazy woman. Tough.

I turned but, instead of leaving, headed straight for the door to the offices beyond.

‘Hey!’ the receptionist protested.

I ignored her. I stalked down a corridor until I reached a large, open-plan office filled with red robes. The witch nearest me, seated at a large desk with a pile of paper in front of him, sniffed the air, made a face and looked up. As soon as he saw me, his eyes widened with alarm. I bent down. ‘Where,’ I said icily, ‘is your boss?’

‘He … he’s not here.’

I folded my arms. ‘Where is his office?’

The hapless witch raised a shaky finger and pointed behind him. I spotted the door at the side of the room. Nodding, I abandoned the witch. If Price really wasn’t in, I would wait. Or I’d yell at every single person in this bloody office. Frankly, it could go either way.

I stomped over as more and more of the HR witches took notice. I paid them no attention and focused on the door. It was slightly ajar and I could hear voices from within. Aha.

‘If Price finds out that you screwed up like this,’ a female voice said, ‘he’ll chew up your insides. He’s in a lot of trouble with the Ipsissimus over this.’

I had a sudden mental image of the nervous-looking witch from the boardroom meeting. Adeptus Major Price didn’t seem likely to chew up anyone’s insides; in fact, from what I remembered, he appeared more likely to run and hide in the corner.

‘Price won’t do anything,’ returned a familiar voice with an even more familiar sneer. I tensed. You had to be kidding me. ‘He barks a lot but he’s got no real power. Don’t tell him. This will go better if he doesn’t find out.’

‘Why did you even send her up there?’

‘I told you,’ Tarquin said. ‘They’ve been having a lot of trouble.’

‘Eve Harrington is First Level. She should never be sent anywhere on her own like that. Anything could happen.’

‘Eve’s very talented. I’m sure she can handle whatever is thrown her way. Besides, Adeptus Bawdrip has gone after her now. She won’t be on her own for much longer.’

That was some good news, I supposed sourly. Tarquin was right on another point too: Eve was very talented. I kicked open the door and strode in. Both Tarquin and his companion jumped and turned guiltily.

‘Ivy?’ Tarquin looked me up and down. ‘What the hell have you been doing? Swimming in a sewer in your pyjamas?’

I marched up to him and jabbed him in the chest. ‘Funnily enough,’ I snarled, ‘that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.’

He blinked. ‘Oh. Adeptus Exemptus Winter really has been working you hard, hasn’t he?’

‘And I bet that really pisses you off.’ I crossed my arms. The little snippet I’d overheard was more than enough. ‘It wasn’t a paperwork mistake, was it? You deliberately sent Eve away because you knew she was your competition to be Winter’s partner. With her gone, the field would be clear for you to make your move.’ I glared at him. ‘You really screwed up there, didn’t you?’

A guilty expression that I knew only too well crossed his eyes. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘You’ve not changed a bit over the years, have you? You’re still just as conniving and devious as ever. Still overly ambitious and reaching above your station.’

Tarquin looked at the woman. ‘It’s probably a good idea if you let me deal with this.’

She stared at him and in that instant I knew he was sleeping with her. All the better to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. Tarquin was good at that. I should know.

‘Yes, love,’ I agreed. ‘Why don’t you piss off?’ She wasted no time rushing out of the room and closing the door behind her.

Tarquin looked at me, amused. ‘There’s no need to get jealous, Ivy.’

I snorted. ‘That’ll be the day. She’s welcome to you. Although I imagine that once she finds out what a snake you are, she’ll run for the hills.’

He tutted. ‘Such venom.’

He could tut all he wanted; now I knew the truth. ‘If I’d known you worked for HR, I’d have realised it sooner. You sent Eve away and blamed it on a mistake. You’ve probably done something to make sure that Price takes the fall for it. You reckoned that Winter would come running to you when he realised she wasn’t around.’

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